You suppose she's always been this way, this pretentious, haughty, holier-than-thou way. That's why you let it be, even though it bugs you.

She had actually been the sweetest girl you'd met in a long while - two years to be exact - which is why you'd said yes from the start even though it was the very first time you remember talking to her. Her brown eyes had sparkled in the sun, the color reminiscent of the pancakes your mum made for you over the years on Pancake Tuesday. The corrections began a few years later. "It's called Mardi Gras, Finnegan," she would say in that voice with her American warped British, British warped American accent. The sigh was always accompanied by an eye roll.

It was those same eyes, that same tone, that same eye roll that greeted you Monday morn while stood by her locker. "Oh my God, Finn, would you just calm down? You're making a huge deal out of nothing." The only difference was that her voice was distinctly more British than American.

Several retorts, each ruder than the last, fought their way to your lips. It was the eyes of the cluster of girls a little ways down the hall that kept you from uttering any of them. "Darcy. I'm telling you the truth. You need to stop seeing this ass. I watched him kissing Kelley while playing beer pong, and you're telling me you slept with him later that night? Darcy, even you-"

A wave of dark chocolate hair slapped you across the face. You blinked in irritation though you secretly enjoyed the smell - that familiar scent of freesia and orchid. "I'll do what I want, Finn. It's my life, and you don't even know Nelson, so just stay out of it. Besides, I would've thought that youof all people know me better than that." Her locker slammed shut with a clang of metal. The last you saw of her was one lock of her trademark curls sweeping around the corner.

Your groan escaped as a breathy sigh. Her locker protested when you dropped your head back against it, but you hardly noticed. The past weekend should have been like any other weekend; going home after school and then receiving calls from your friends about the parties that night.

It'd been years since you and Darcy spent the weekend together, lying across one of your living room couches in onesies with a large bowl of popcorn and a bucket of ice cream - either green tea or peach cobbler - shared between you. You hadn't expected to run into her upon your arrival at the club.

She'd given you a giggly smile. Her breath had reeked of alcohol. You'd wondered how long she'd already been there. Old habits resurfaced and died hard; you'd lingered by her giddy side rather than join the beer pong game. It was like the time she'd scraped her knee on the playground in primary school, when she'd ripped her favorite pair of jeans because she forgot that the pavement ended. Just as you'd sat with her in the nurse's office then, you were certain she'd be fine now. It still took your friends a good minute to pull you away. You didn't see her for the rest of the night.

You did, however, see more than enough of her boyfriend, Nelson. It was perhaps best that the two of you had never gotten to know each other. Mum had already gotten mad at you for sporting bruised knuckles when you'd returned home a few weekends ago; you didn't want to get in trouble again so soon after she'd finally let you go out again. That was probably why your aim had been significantly worse than usual. While you'd failed to count how many cups remained on the table, you'd succeeded in counting 23 prolonged kisses Nelson shared with a girl who definitely wasn't Darcy.

She'd blown off your calls all Sunday afternoon and only picked up that night to tell you to stop calling. She didn't believe you. For a girl like her, you were more than often surprised at how innocently and highly she thought of others.

The school bell rang, a warning to the late stragglers in the hall. You took off down the corridor, sliding into your English class before the final bell sounded. Though the two of you had fallen out over the years, you didn't want to see her hurt. You knew it'd get you into trouble, but you set your mind to it anyway.

In past years, you'd always complained that her house lacked a second story for the two of you to stargaze on. Now, you'd never been more grateful for her one story home.

Behind the pale curtains, her slim figure jumped at the sound of the tap upon the glass pane. The fabric shifted tentatively to the side. Red-ringed eyes widened. She threw the window open. "Where the hell have you been, and what happened to you?" Her voice quavered.

You ignored the second half of her query. "Defending your fucking innocence."

Her forehead creased and she bit her already-red bottom lip, but made no comment. "You're in so much trouble."

"Well, no shit. I know that. Want to help me out?"

This was the one part of her that had never changed over the years. There was no hesitation. She backed away and pushed her belongings out of the way. "Get in."

Your palms complained as you braced yourself against the windowsill. A soft hiss escaped when your right foot landed on her floor. Eyes that were already squeezed shut closed even tighter. Your left hand slipped. You didn't want to know why it was wet.

"Nothing's broken, is it?"

"Don't think so, since I hiked like...I don't know how far to get here." Your already-split lip oozed more blood when you bit down, trying to keep from groaning as you settled onto the carpeted floor.

"I'll be right back."

"Don't get caught," you mumbled.

She rolled her eyes. "Who do you think I am, Finn? I'm not going to."

You knew who she was. You that knew better than anyone else. Even if you hadn't been "best friends" for a good three years now, you still looked out for her. You knew whom she called her best friend, knew who she had a crush on, knew whom she hated. You knew everything about her.

Your older sister, Charlie, had always told you that Darcy was too much; she was a high-maintenance princess who thought too highly of herself. Your dad had always told you that Darcy was just like her father. Or at least, how her father had been in his early teenage years before he met Darcy's mum. Your mum was the only one you confided in. She alone knew why you continued to care for her even while the rest of the world got sick of her sass.

The door opened. You started, eyes wide with fear.

"Relax, idiot. It's me." Darcy shut the door behind her. In one hand she had a water bottle. In the other, a large tumbler filled with ice. Slung across her shoulders were a number of clean towels.

"Sorry. I couldn't help it."

"I know what you mean." She settled back on her heels in front of you and cracked the seal on the bottle, thoroughly dousing one towel in water before beckoning for your hands. "Hold this and wipe your hands off." You did as you were told. As rash and careless as Darcy acted, she always knew how to clean up after her messes, get back on her feet and reassume her poise and elegance. A pile of textbooks became your footrest. Another towel was tied shut around a handful of the ice and placed on top of your right ankle.

You kept quiet as she leaned in, gently pushing your hair back to inspect your face. Your left eye was swollen shut, but your right eye took in the sight before you.

Her curls were piled atop her head. A white bandana tied around her brow fashioned a makeshift headband. It was strange to see her without makeup. Her eyes, though red, were a beautiful shade of green-tinted hazel in the light of her yellow-tinged lamp. Her oversized tee shirt sporting her mum's alma mater hung to the middle of her thighs, effectively covering the Jack Wills logo of her grey sweats.

You saw the girl, Darcy, every day, but you hadn't seen her - Darcy - in years. It was the first time since you were 13 that you saw her like this. You hadn't realized how much you missed it until now.

A crooked smile teased the corner of your lips even as your head throbbed.

"What are you smiling about?" Her voice was gentle, not the accusing it had been just a few minutes ago.

Your eyes focused on her pale green walls, on the photo collage in the corner where she still had that photo of you kissing her on the cheek when the two of you were six. "Nothing. Just remembering the last time I was here."

Her own lips rose into a smile. "We were escaping from one of my parents' reminiscent moments, right?"

"Mmhmm. And your Dad had started his singing again."

She giggled. It was a relieving, sweet sound that made your heart beam. "Don't remind me. It's so embarrassing when he does. It's like he expects me to be impressed, you know?"

You'd just opened your mouth to reply when it happened.

Her hand froze against your forehead.

It came again. The knock at her closed door.

Speak of the devil and he doth appear.

"Darcy? Could I come in?"

Her eyes widened. "Uh..." You made to hide the evidence of your having been there, but it hurt too much to move very far. Besides, you had nowhere to go.

"It won't take long, Darce. I promise."

"I'm, um... I'm changing!"

You shot her a look. It wouldn't do to lie. You couldn't escape. It was impossible to get out without being noticed.

"Changing? You going to bed?"

"Shit!" she hissed. "Uh..."

"Darcy, I'm sorry for being so hard on you. I'd... I'd just like to talk."

"Does it have to be now?"

You swore you made a strange choking noise at her nerve.

"Well...if I'm going to sleep in the bedroom tonight, then yeah..."

In any other situation, you would've laughed. While Darcy found her father embarrassing, you loved him. He was an easy-going man with a fantastic sense of humor who was just enough in the know to be of help in times of need, but never overstepped his boundaries.

"Darcy? May I come in just for a moment? I promise I won't be long."

She turned to stare at the wall with her eyes squeezed shut. You willed yourself to disappear even as the doorknob clicked and the door swung open.

"Darce, I -" His voice cut off abruptly. "Finnegan." The gentle, apologetic tone was gone. "Where have you been."

"Mr. Martin, I can explain," you began hastily. You wanted to get up, to present yourself while stood, rather than sprawled and broken, on his daughter's bedroom floor.

"I don't want an explanation. Do you realize what time it is, Finnegan? It's past one in the morning. Do you know how many times your parents have called us in the past five hours? Do you?"

"Dad, please," Darcy begged.

"Darcy, don't think you're in any less trouble than he is. Finnegan!"

You flinched. "I'm sorry, sir."

"Your mother has called me exactly forty-three times since eight o'clock this evening because you didn't answer your phone, Finnegan. None of your friends knew where you were. You didn't leave a note. The car was in the drive, but you weren't there. Now, I've been stupid in the past, but this... What were you thinking." His voice rose with each word. The cut on your head throbbed even more. It hurt to swallow.

As if you hadn't felt physically bad enough, now you felt exceedingly guilty for making Uncle Ed - not blood related, but a man who was as good as your second father - worry, and for entangling him into a mess that wasn't supposed to involve him.

"Edmund? Why are you yelling?" Aunt Elizabeth's voice floated down the hall.

"Call James."

"James? What happened?" Footsteps sounded.

"Finnegan's back," Uncle Ed stated with an edge.

The door pushed open further. Aunt Elizabeth's careworn face appeared around the door. Her hair was pulled up much like Darcy's was. "Finnegan - oh my God, Finnegan, what..."

Right. She hadn't had to deal with very many fights between stupid teenage lads. While Liam Martin, Darcy's older brother, had been a great mentor and friend growing up, he was on the quieter, more studious side and tended to avoid the party crowd. The "wrong crowd." The crowd you were in the midst of since the end of primary school. When you and Darcy grew apart because you stuck with the jocks, her with the simpering girls. You crossed paths, but generally steered clear of the other.

It was as if you were both ashamed of the persons you'd become.

"It's fine. Just a scratch," you sighed.

"Elizabeth, please call James."

"Edmund..." Aunt Elizabeth seemed suspended between going to Darcy, who was stood facing the wall, and the phone. "Why were you yelling?"

"Because Finnegan Harris is being an idiotic lad who doesn't know when it's the right time to stop."


"James said so himself!"

"It was different this time."

All eyes, yours included, turned to the new voice in the room. Darcy, face still hidden, finally spoke up. Her voice was muffled in her palms.

"Darcy. You had better have a good reason to be defending him because you have just gotten off being grounde-"

She cut her father off. "He took the beating because he was defending me. Happy? Okay? Can we let him be now and just make sure he'll heal up okay? So ground me. Fine. I don't care. I don't want to see these people anymore, anyway. Just let him be. He's done nothing wrong." While speaking, she gravitated naturally to take a defensive stance between you, prone on the floor, and her father, angry and bristling at the door.

"Defending you?" Aunt Elizabeth echoed. "Darcy."

You wanted to keep her from saying it. You knew how her parents had raised her, how she'd been a disappointment because of her partying ways. This would be the nail in the coffin for her. She never received your telepathic messages.

"There was a rumor going about school saying that I'd slept with Nelson - which isn't true - on top of the true fact that he'd cheated on me, and at first I didn't believe what Finn said about the rumor, but later, I found out from Janet that people had been saying both things, so when I finally realized that Nelson did cheat on me, I broke up with him, and then he started saying more shi - crap and stuff about me, so that's when I got in trouble at school for fighting with him, and you had to pick me up early. I don't know what else happened, but I know Finn was out beating up Nelson for me, so please don't punish him. He was just doing it for me."

The room was silent.

"Edmund, call James."

You held your breath. Darcy's dad opened his mouth, paused, then sighed. "Fine. Don't even think about starting without me."

"Even after all these years, you honestly think I'd start without you, Martin? Good lord…"

Both you and Darcy had difficulty stifling giggles at her parents' banter. Aunt Elizabeth seemed to know what you were thinking; she gave you a sidelong look that shone with underlying amusement but rang predominantly with the same warning as before. Just because she and Ed were acting "normal" didn't mean anything was in the clear yet.

"Finnegan, please come set the table."

"Yes, Mum..." you called back down the stairs. You allowed yourself to take an extra moment to finish your sentence before marking your spot in your textbook and heading downstairs. "What's the occasion? I thought Dad was having dinner with friends."

"Change of plans; they had to go to the airport to pick up their kids from college."

"Oh, right… Charlie's coming home in a week right?"

"Just about, yes. And we need three more spots, Finn."

You must have been wearing a strange look because Mum laughed. "Ed, Elizabeth, and Darcy are joining us tonight."

"She's not grounded from family events either then?"

"No, her parents thought it would be good to keep her up to speed with family activities. A way of keeping her away from the wrong crowd, but not completely detaching her from the world. Just like you, young man. Don't forget. You are grounded."

You bit your lip to keep from smiling. Misery had always loved company, but misery particularly liked Darcy's company. Your recently healed split lip warned you from clamping your teeth too tightly.

"Something wrong?"

"No, nothing."

You didn't look up soon enough to catch your Mum's knowing look.

Darcy turned up looking younger than ever. But come to think of it, she hadn't been wearing as much makeup to school since the night you hauled your sorry ass through her window. It was as if the massive parental-talking-to had changed her mindset. You wouldn't have been surprised at any rate; it did for you. Her curls were pulled back into a long, loose braid down her back. A red flannel hung open over a white tank top and cut-off jean shorts. Flip-flops, chipped blue toenail polish, and a silver necklace completed the outfit.

It's not quite the same that night without your onesies or the following sleepover, but it's better than it's been in years. And for that, you're grateful that you'd gotten pummeled that night. You're glad that you'd stupidly challenged a group of four boys to a brawl to defend your best friend's reputation.

As you lay on your stomach in front of your big screen TV with her against your shoulder, you can't help but think that this girl, this Darcy, that you'd grown up with for the past 12 years is a far cry from the sassy know-it-all that the world has come to know her as.

The girl you know is the one beside you now. The one that makes a tiny sniffle as the kingdom releases hundreds of floating lanterns into the sky. You find yourself fighting your own tears, but she doesn't bother to hide the fact that she's being sappy. Her arm links through yours and she snuggles a bit deeper.

It's the years of receiving the short end of the stick on the playground for her petite size, of being the last on the swings even while waiting all of recess for them that's molded her into a scathing, guarded character. All the teasing that came about once she started wearing a back brace in Year 7 had done a blow to her self-confidence. You'd started getting into sports then. But there was no proper excuse to slack on being her best friend.

When Flynn begins singing on-screen, you softly sing the lines to Darcy. She joins you in the following chorus, but cuts out to let the movie finish the remainder of the song. You press a kiss to her forehead when Flynn makes to kiss Rapunzel. Despite the yearn in your heart, something keeps you from imitating the movie character further.

You suppose she's always been this way, this pretentious, haughty, holier-than-thou way. It's more than likely as much a part of her, even more so than the rods and screws in her back are, but that's not why you let it be, even though it bugs you.

The only reason why you let it be is because you know it's not who she really is. The "real" Darcy is a sweet, innocent, happy-go-lucky fairy of a girl who refuses to die even when people don't believe in her. The bratty princess act is a facade she puts up to defend herself against those who might try to cut her down. Again. Against those who you can no longer protect her from.

You wish you'd realized it sooner.

Not the fact that her snooty nature was a defense mechanism. No. You somehow always knew that in your heart.

But the fact that you love her for it. Love her for not wanting to be the damsel in distress, for wanting to seem brave and strong even when she was scared.

Both of you are off to college in the fall. You're going to Manchester. She's off to the States, to an undoubtedly big name university that will finally do justice to her brilliance.

You love her. You didn't say it. You don't say it.

It's too late.

You just want to see her happy.

Because that's what best friends are for.

Wanna be my best friend, Finnegan?

What does that mean?

That you'll always be there to make me happy!

Okay. But what should you do for me?

The same! I'll make you happy!

Oh, okay.

So will you be my best friend, Finnegan?

Yeah! But...only as long as you'll be my best friend, Darcy.

Okay. Pinky promise?

Pinky promise.

I'm really glad I have a best friend, Finnegan.

Me too, Darcy.