five.

"Okay, Adam, I know you got in late and it's a little early, but I need to ask you a few questions."

Aunt Bailey drops onto the bed next to me, the screen from her computer lighting up her entire face. She frowns, scrolls a bit, and taps me on the shoulder. "Adam, are you awake?"

I grunt in response and turn over, covering my head with a pillow. She sighs, settling in, and clears her throat loudly.

"You know, it won't be pretty if I have to fill this Scruff profile out on my own. Okay… I wouldn't say you're a bear, would you? And as far as I know you're not into leather… We'll put you down as a student. Older men tend to like younger guys, don't you think?"

I sit up. The light from her computer screen blinds me, and I have to squint just to make out her blurry features. "I am trying to sleep. If you're going to ruin my life, please do it somewhere else."

"Oh, look," she says. "Someone's already woof'd you."

"Woof'd me? What is that?" I lean a bit closer, studying the website. It's all black and hardcore lettering. Sure enough, there's a notification stating that my profile had been woof'd by another member.

"Um, I don't really know. I think it means they like you or something—oh, no, look at him. He's almost twenty and he's in leather, your mother would absolutely die if she saw him. What about this guy?"

I take a closer look at the screen. This one's young, my age, and his name is Rian. He's smiling in his profile picture, all arrogance, and something about the way his hair falls across his forehead reminds me of-

Danny.

I scramble, my phone slipping between my fingers and landing on the bed before sliding and falling onto the floor. I twist my legs free and topple over the edge. I follow the phone's descent, my fingers frantic in their search for his reply. Did he, even? Did he bother to respond to me, or has he let it drop? Are we done?

"Adam?" Aunt Bailey peeks over the edge of the mattress. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah." My fingers shake as I slide the button across the screen to unlock my phone. I have five new messages: three from Fitzy, one from Brynne, and one from—thankfully—Danny. I ignore the first four texts and go straight for the last.

I get off work at eleven. Meet me then and we'll talk.

The time at the top of my screen says it's almost ten thirty. I rake a hand through my hair and close my eyes. Do I have time to shower?

Aunt Bailey peers over the edge of the bed, her eyes on the phone clutched between my hands. "What's wrong, Adam?"

I think furiously. How do I tell her I need to leave without letting her in on everything happening with Danny? "I need to leave," I say, picking my words carefully. "I'll be gone an hour, tops. If you—can you distract Mom, or something? This is important."

I can see her trying to figure the situation out. She looks from the phone to me and then back to the phone, the gears in her brain grinding as she does the math and comes up with a conclusion. She is constantly torn between being the cool aunt she always is and trying to be the parent she knows I need. I put her in a bad position, I know, but I need her to be the cool aunt for once.

She shuts the laptop and reaches over. My bedside lamp flickers on at her touch and she stands, tucking the laptop beneath her arm. "Your mother mentioned running to the market for some fresh fruit for a salad she's making. Give me fifteen minutes, and we'll be gone."

I quickly calculate the times in my head. If I don't get stopped at any intersections, I'll make it to World Wide Waffles by eleven.

Aunt Bailey turns to go, sounding very much like a grumpy great aunt rather than the person I know she is. "This better be seriously important, Adam. I hate fruit and now I'll be listening to your mother rant about it for half an hour."

"It is, I swear." I catch her by the arm and hug her, hard. "Thanks."

She smiles and smacks my cheek lightly before leaving the room. I dash down the hall to the bathroom, tugging at my shirt as I go.

She hasn't given me much, but it's the one thing I asked for.

Time.

xXx

The parking lot of World Wide Waffles is half-full when I put into the lot at eleven. I sit there in my car for a few brief moments, my hair barely dry and my jeans pockets untucked, and catch my breath. I rest my forehead agains the steering wheel and try to think of how I should even begin explaining the entire situation to Danny.

When I glance up, he's pushing through the front doors and waving to someone still inside. He lopes down the walk and hops off the curb. His sneakers kick up dust from the dirt and gravel parking lot and then he's there, his fingers tapping gently on the passenger side window.

I press the unlock button and he slips into the seat next to mine. He settles in, the scent of syrup and bacon drifting through the car with the air conditioner, and then he turns to me.

"Hey," he says. His voice is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It's now, sitting here in the car, that I realize just how much I've missed him.

I swallow hard and stare at him from behind my aviators. "Hey," I say stupidly. As if that wasn't eloquent enough, I add, "I'm here."

"I can see that." Danny chuckles and glances around at the car. A piece of toilet paper trails from somewhere in the depths of the backseat to my trunk; he eyeballs it. "This must have been the getaway car?"

I shrug. "I prefer to consider myself guilty by association rather than simply guilty, if we're talking formalities here." He falls silent, his gaze focused on the various advertisements tacked along the length of the restaurant's windows. When he doesn't respond, I add, "What's with Meaty Monday, anyway?"

"Meaty Monday is the cleaner version of Audrey's brilliant Sausage Fest Saturdays. We both pulled for that one, but our boss seems to think this is a family restaurant. Gay innuendos don't really click with five-year-olds, you know? Anyways, Sausage Fest Saturdays would have been a sausage eating contest from eight to ten, winner takes home a free shirt. You sign up, you pay ten bucks, you pork out. That was Audrey's slang for it, by the way. If she heard me saying that—pork out, I mean—she'd probably try to sue me for copyright infringement."

I laugh. "Let me guess. The concept of Audrey's sausage fest is meant, in some metaphorically resonant way, to degrade the hierarchy of the straight male by forcing him to participate in a contest named after something that would initially attract homosexuals."

Danny flips the hair from his eyes and smiles. "I think I vaguely remember her saying something along those lines, actually."

I didn't expect this conversational small talk. I expected some sort of argument over whose band was better and possibly getting punched in the face, but instead I got conversation and now an awkward silence. I shift and play with the keys hanging from the ignition.

Danny must feel the tension, too. He reaches for his seatbelt and it clicks loudly into place. "God, I hate having to talk about serious shit. Should we drive and talk? Kids from school always come in for Saturday lunch and they'll run their mouths if they see us together."

"Uh, yeah." I start the car and back up.

He pops the console open and inspects the stack of CDs in it. He scoffs at one, snorts at another, and remains silent at several of them. Finally, he speaks. "All Time Low? Seriously?"

I glare at him from the corner of my eye. "What's wrong with All Time Low?"

"They're just… so punk pop. If you're going to listen to that genre, you should try for something that doesn't make you look like a hormonal teenage girl. Blink-182, for example."

I raise my brows and, at Danny's gesture, turn right onto the main road. "I'm guessing the rest of my music is trash, too?"

"Halestorm—let me guess, that's probably Brynne's—is music for a PMSing girl. You shouldn't even have that in your car. The Early November has some good acoustic stuff, though. Death Cab's always a good choice, and… Mayday Parade. They were better when there were two singers."

"Mayday Parade is essentially the same genre as All Time Low," I argue. "They've toured together."

He ignores me and continues. "Bayside's the shit, which anyone with eardrums should know—have you listened to their newer stuff? It's good. Why don't you have any of the music you cover in here? You not listen to it?"

"No," I admit. "Brynne and Fitzy pick out everything we cover. I prefer playing original music to covers."

"So you're a writer," he muses. Without looking up from the Mayday Parade case, he says, "Turn right here."

I press down hard on the brakes and make another right turn into the lower middle class section of town.

"Have you written any songs about me?" he asks suddenly.

My face heats despite the cold air coming from the vents. "Shouldn't we be discussing the fact that I broke some sort of boyfriend code last night?" I blurt.

I don't want to talk about the myriad of half-written verses slowly accumulating in the margins of my chemistry notes. Telling him I've written songs about him would make me look like some sort of a crazy fanboy, and that's not me. At all.

"Turn left. Yes, we should, and considering the fact that you've avoided my question, I would say that is a resounding yes as well. Are we boyfriends? I didn't realize we'd put a label on it. I fondly thought of it as 'members of feuding bands who casually fucked and then agreed to continue to fuck,' though the term 'boyfriend' has a much nicer ring to it." The wet kiss he plants on my cheek lets me know that he's joking and not pissed. "This is my house," Danny announces. He points to a small house just ahead of us. "It's not quite the Heights, but it's home."

I don't tell him that I live in the Heights. He doesn't ask where I live, and I don't tell him. Things seem somehow easier that way. Danny's not the type to be bitter, but the idea of a lower middle class kid dating someone from the Heights is daunting even from my end of the spectrum. "It's nice," I say, and I mean it.

I pull up next to the curb and put the SUV in park. His house is small but nice: someone's planted bright flowers down the driveway and in various parts of the landscaping; it makes the white siding on the house seem somehow cleaner.

"We're getting you guys back. You're playing this Saturday, and like a good boyfriend-" he lets those two words sink in for effect "-I'm giving you a fair warning. We're sabotaging your set. I won't tell you how or when, but you need to learn a song. Think of it as a one-on-one battle. I'm sure that your friends will think of something even worse to get us back with, but give me a little fair warning when that happens. I mean…" he trails off and reaches across the console for my hand. He plays with my fingers for a moment before glancing back up at me. "I get that your band is important to you. Mine's important to me, too. This—us—will never work if we're not a little important to each other, though. Okay?"

I nod. I understand what he's saying. Brynne and Fitzy are my best friends, and they're important. Danny, however, is my boyfriend, and that's an entirely different game. Best friends and boyfriends, especially those in the middle of an insanely immature band rivalry, don't mix well. "You're important. I'm sorry for toilet papering that house, by the way."

He lifts one shoulder. "Don't worry about it. Next weekend will more than make up for it."

Danny does a quick glance over the neighborhood before leaning in and pressing a quick kiss to my mouth. It's gone before I can respond to it and my lips burn with the taste of his.

I frown. "Did you just use me for a ride home?"

He unbuckles his seatbelt and pushes the car door open. "I have to fix the alternator belt on my car today. It broke, I needed to talk to you, and I needed a ride. Did you really want to meet me at my house and talk, which would mean meeting my entire family?"

The look on my face must be horrified because he laughs and slips out. "They're not bad, actually. I think it's a little early for meeting the parents, though, don't you?"

"Yeah. I'll call you? Tonight, maybe?" I want to kiss him again, but the openness makes me too nervous. Kissing him here, in the daylight, is something I can't do.

I try not to let myself want it too badly.

Danny tucks a piece of black hair behind his ear. "Tonight would be good. And by the way, Adam, if you wanted a song written about you, all you had to do was ask." He waggles his brows and lopes up the drive to the front door. I sit there contemplating what he's just said, trying to figure out what it means, until it hits me.

The song. I grab the Mayday Parade case from where he left it on the seat and read the track list on the back of the album. I make a satisfied noise when I come to the title I want, and then I pop the CD from its case and push it into the player.

If you wanted a song written about you, all you had to do was ask.

Of course.

xXx

"Where have you been?"

I pause in the doorway of the kitchen. My mother stands in front of me, hands on her hips. Her boyfriend, Jefferson, crinkles the day's newspaper loudly. Aunt Bailey is nowhere to be seen.

Traitor.

I jab a thumb over my shoulder and come up with a half-lie. "I went to breakfast with some friends."

"Don't you think you've seen them enough?" she snaps. "You were out until two in the morning last night, Adam. Your curfew is midnight. Is this how you always act? The minute I leave, every rule I've set in place is just thrown out the window?"

I consider telling her that Aunt Bailey and I generally do the exact opposite of whatever she says but decide against it. Instead, I remain silent, glaring at her from my place in the doorway.

She takes my silence as permission to continue. "Do you want to come live with us, Adam? Is that what's going to have to happen just for you to start listening when someone sets rules in place?"

"Amelia," Aunt Bailey says, coming into the kitchen She has a sarong on over her bathing suit and her standard red wig has been replaced with natural graying brown hair. 'If you came here this weekend just to yell at Adam, I think it's best for you to head on home."

Aunt Bailey telling her this is okay. I don't want Mom here, and it's obvious that she doesn't want to be here.

My mother doesn't come home because she wants to. She comes home to make herself look like the doting mother with the angsty teenage son. She sends money and pays the bills for the house, but she doesn't want to deal with me. She never has, which is why she'd never actually make me live with her.

"Adam, go get your swim trunks on. I have a water aerobics class to teach and my assistant won't be there today."

I go upstairs and grab a pair of trunks from my dresser. I push past my mom and her boyfriend, muttering a quick goodbye as I pass. I go with Aunt Bailey to the YMCA. We spend an hour there teaching water aerobics to a group of senior citizens, and then we grab lunch at Fiesta Tacos. Neither of us mentions my mother.

When we get back, they're gone.

Author's Note

What do I have to say for myself? It's been two months since my last update. I know I'm awful, but this chapter was killer. Good news is, I absolutely cannot wait for the next! Sorry about the wait.

Review, please? Here's a question for you guys: How do you think Brynne and Fitzy will react to The Everyday Losers sabotaging their set?

(See, S. H. Marr, I kept up my promise! I'll go review you now, I swear!)

And, as always, all reviews are being returned!