A/N: Written for the Star Cross'd Challenge Round 10: Laundry.

The Ex Games

He was the one. Sure, my eyes had glazed over a little when he started talking about bait and fillet tables, but we'd get there. I was sure of it. Aaron's gorgeous face and inhumanly white teeth more than made up for the fact that he was a walking sleeping pill.

"Whenever the porgies are biting, I always make it a point to go out to Dana Point. But when you book a trip, you have to make sure not to bring any braided fishing line."

My stomach growled loudly, and he laughed, shaking his head.

"Sorry. I'm sure you didn't go out with me so we could talk about fish."

"It's fascinating," I said, smiling. I needed to nail the Second Date down, and then I could start teaching him how to be a better conversationalist. "It's true I'd rather eat it, though." We shared a laugh, but he didn't seem to know how to proceed from there, so I said encouragingly, "So why can't you bring braided fishing line?" That got him talking again, and I happily fell back into my state of half-consciousness.

I tried not to rub my hands together as the waiter put down my lobster. It was still covered by one of those old-fashioned domed plate covers, and I took a moment to appreciate that Aaron was paying for dinner. What a guy.

The waiter lifted the dome, and I kept watching Aaron as he talked, gesticulating wildly. Reaching for the fork, I felt something pinch my hand.

"Agh!" I exclaimed, dropping my fork with a clang. Aaron and I both looked down at my plate and the very much alive lobster, standing on a bed of lettuce and clicking its pincers angrily. I felt a scream building at the back of my throat.

Aaron paled. "Is this what they mean when they advertise fresh seafood?"

"I'm so sorry, Miss," the waiter was saying in a panicked voice. "This dinner will be on the house and I'll get you a new one…"

Their extraneous voices faded away, and the scream died from my throat as I saw the little folded piece of paper resting against the abdomen of the indignant lobster.

Your move. –DE

That was when I knew I couldn't scream. Because he was watching, and I wouldn't let him win.

I had broken up with Dante Emerson first. That was what I told everyone who asked. And I made sure they asked. The general assumption had been that we were certifiably insane for each other, and it hadn't been far from the truth.

We'd had the very definition of a whirlwind romance. I'd been swept away by the experience he exuded, the skeleton tree tattooed along his right arm and the tribal art on his left, and the sly smiles he used to send me across the room in English.

I'd been surprised and a little scandalized when he asked me out, but I couldn't say no to the challenging glint in his eyes. I enjoyed being in his company, and it seemed like he liked being in mine. So we went on another date, then another.

People who warned me that Dante was destruction humanized hadn't been wrong. He was a hurricane, uprooting and taking me into the eye of the storm, where I had a spectator's view of everything wrong with the world. His biting commentary on school, society, and people had unnerved me. Dante had an opinion on everything, and he had no problem sharing it, no matter how impolite. We had countless arguments that always ended in a frenzy of moving hands, hot breaths, and me waving the white flag of surrender.

That was why I'd broken up with him. He was too wild, too much of a force to be reckoned with. I'd agonized over it for weeks, but the conversation itself had gone a bit like this:

He'd dragged me in to kiss me, and I knew it was then or never. I could never think straight when Dante kissed me.

"Listen," I'd said, pressing my hands against his delightfully hard chest. "We need to talk."

He pressed a kiss to my collarbone when I pushed his face away from mine. "Can't that happen later?"

"Dante," I said seriously, shoving him away. I'd planned this conversation to have a lot more tact, but in the end the words just fell out of my mouth. "We need to break up."

He lifted his dark head and gazed at me with his unfathomable blue eyes. "Are you saying that because you don't want me to kiss you, or are you saying that because you mean it?"

I momentarily considered picking those words up and shoving them right back where they belonged. But I'd made my decision, and I wasn't going to go back on it now. "Yes. To the second part. I-I mean, yes to both. I've thought about it, and I actually have a couple reasons—"

Dante interrupted me. "You know I've always cared about what you wanted to say, but this time, I don't want to hear your reasons. Knowing how neurotic you are, you probably spent weeks trying to make this decision. So I'm fine with it."

I wasn't used to Dante being so agreeable, and part of me was disappointed. Maybe I'd been expecting a little groveling and extolling of my virtues, but this was fine. This made everything easier, really. "Really?"

He pulled me to him, and I thought it was a farewell hug, although it was really an opportunity for me to inhale him one last time, take in his intoxicating smell to stow away forever. His lips brushed against the shell of my ear. "Just try not to regret it," he murmured, and then he left me standing there feeling like I'd been the one who'd just been dumped.

And that was that. A conversation that took five minutes at best. The next week, Dante was going out with Jules Morley. Gorgeous Jules Morley. Her brother was in a frat and had access to copious amounts of cheap alcohol, which made her a popular target among the boys.

I started seeing them everywhere, and people wondered whether Dante had been cheating on me with her long before.

That was around the time that the first prank started. I'd been angry with Dante for not adhering to Break Up Rule #1: wait half the time you were together before you start dating someone new. We'd been together eight months, and it had only taken him a week to start entertaining the line of nubile girls clamoring for his attention. And Jules Morley.

God, I hated her.

On a day when I was particularly upset because I'd forgotten my TI-84 for a stats test, I spiked his Coke. I blamed it on the calculator, but it might also have been because he was wearing my favorite blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up and his tattoos showing.

I didn't use roofies or alcohol. I'm not that immature, and I'm much more creative. Instead, I made my own concoction of soy sauce and vinegar. And when he left his table, I replaced his coke with my own personal brand of revenge.

The look on his face had been priceless. He'd wrinkled his nose and tossed the coke into a trashcan with distaste, but on Dante, that was the equivalent of him throwing a screaming fit in the middle of the cafeteria.

My moment of glee was short-lived. The next day was really hot, and when I sat down in homeroom, I was immediately hit by the most obnoxious smell. The odor followed me the entire day, but I had no idea where it was coming from. People avoided me too, and I could tell from the discomfort on their faces that the smell was the reason, though they were too polite to say anything. When I got home and emptied my backpack, I saw the small can of tuna with water drained out, and a post-it.

Seizing every oppor-tuna-ty. –DE

A lot of things had changed since then. Dante and Jules weren't together anymore, and I had gone on more dates than I could stomach. But the pranks hadn't stopped.

Dante and I didn't talk to each other. We didn't so much as look at each other. We'd never hung around in the same circles before; the breakup had wiped any trace of history and affection from between the two of us. But making each other's lives hell? At this point, it was an art form.

"How was the date?" asked Ms. Chen after school. I was her TA, and when she wasn't terrorizing her students with spelling tests and SAT grammar pop quizzes, we gossiped. She knew all the dirty details of my life, and I usually could expect good advice from her, unless it was on the topic of Dante. She'd told me to stop our "ridiculous game," but I was in too deep to concede defeat.

"Good, except that he was boring and talked too much about fishing. Oh, and my food was alive." I dug through my bag (a new one, after the canned tuna incident), looking for my phone. I could've sworn I'd brought it with me. I'd had it next to me during lunch.

"There are plenty of cultures that eat live food. A bit barbaric, but tasty."

"Well, this was a lobster. It almost pinched my nose off."

"Did the chef forget to boil it?"

"Unless the chef is a fraud, I doubt it." I told her about the note, and she shook her head disapprovingly.

You two need to stop this childish game." She frowned. "Frankly, I'm amazed that Dante is even participating in this ridiculous endeavor. He's always seemed like an upstanding young man. You know, last year, he turned in this extremely well-written and legible essay analyzing Catcher in the Rye. The thesis itself was enough to send me into euphoria."

"Why do you doubt his participation?" I asked, offended and temporarily distracted from my search for my phone. "What about me?"

"Oh, Evelyn," Ms. Chen said in her typical charming way, "Your childishness has always been the best part about you."

"Childish we may be," I said, dumping my bag upside down and pawing through the contents, "but do children really find live lobsters out of God knows where and dump them on each other's plates?"

"No," Ms. Chen said. "They must be either extremely precocious or extremely unsophisticated."

"Ms. Chen," someone asked, "Does malicious have two l's or one?"

Shaking my head at the state of public education—Dante would have plenty to say about that—I crawled under my table, thinking maybe the phone had fallen on the ground.

"Have you seen my phone?" I asked Ms. Chen when she came back.

"Try Find my iPhone," she suggested, picking up a sheaf of papers she needed to grade. "In the meantime, I'm going to attempt to decipher these kids' handwriting and maybe even understand what they wrote."

I pulled up the application on my laptop and typed in my account information. To my relief, my phone showed up, but it wasn't anywhere on campus. A quick zoom showed the address.

"Son of a gun," I muttered when I realized whose address it was.

"I'd suggest bringing a hammer or weapon of some sort with you if you're going to get your phone back," Ms. Chen advised. "I've heard some scary stories about these phone thieves."

"Oh, Ms. Chen," I said grimly. "You don't know the half of it."

Turns out I did own a sledgehammer, but that wasn't part of the supplies I'd decided to bring to Dante's house. Dante's mother opened the door, which was unsurprising. I knew Dante liked to take naps after he got home from school. He never gave up sleeping for anything, including me. Our dates had always been planned around his naptimes. What a kid. I snorted as I remembered Ms. Chen's comment about him being an upstanding young man. Two-Faced here was born to be a politician.

"Evelyn!" Mrs. Emerson exclaimed, looking delighted but surprised. She knew about the breakup, but I guessed Dante hadn't told her the whole truth. She would've disowned him if he had. Mrs. Emerson had always loved me more than Dante, and I reminded him constantly of that while we were dating, to his masked irritation. "It's been so long. What have you been up to lately?"

Oh, just planning your son's painful demise. "Nothing, really," I said with a tight smile. "Is Dante home?"

"He just got back, actually." She turned around to call his name, but I stopped her.

"Actually, Mrs. Emerson, I'll just find him and save you the trouble." I punctuated this with a sweet smile. "He's expecting me." That wasn't a lie. Dante wasn't an idiot; he had to know I'd be coming after my phone.

"Sure thing, sweetie."

I snuck up the stairs. Dante slept like a hibernating bear, but that didn't mean I shouldn't be careful. He was probably on the lookout for me, too.

His room was the same as always with band posters and tattered book covers on the wall. He was sprawled over his bed, legs and arms out. His shirt was off, and he'd kicked off his covers. I tried to stop the warmth in my chest as I remembered how we'd sit on his bed, me with my head on his shoulder, his fingers gently sifting through my hair as we did homework or read.

Those days were over, I reminded myself. Now, all I had was the burning desire to make vengeance rain down upon Dante's head.

Carefully, I unzipped my backpack and took out the necessary elements. Pouring what I'd procured from my parents' cupboard into a plastic cup, I placed it on the nightstand next to Dante's goldfish, Mr. Pickles. Mr. Pickles swam around his bowl once and then stared at me with his big googly eyes like he knew exactly what I was planning to do and didn't approve one bit.

Shut up, Mr. Pickles.

The second part was a bit trickier, especially since Dante was currently sleeping with his mouth closed. If he was sleeping deeply enough, though, he would usually start snoring.

As if on cue, a soft rumble came out of his open mouth.

I ripped open the packet of hot sauce with my teeth and climbed onto the high bed, putting my other knee on the other side of his lean waist so that I'd have balance. At this point, Dante usually didn't wake up for anything, so I wasn't too worried. I watched him for ten seconds, noting the way his chest rose and fell, the tribal art twining around his bicep. I used to trace the limbs of the skeleton tree up the length of his arm.

Giving myself a mental shake, I turned back to my job. This bastard had ruined my date and stolen my phone. He was going to get it, but good.

Slowly, I tipped the bag of hot sauce over his slightly opened mouth. Being Asian, I'd grown up eating spicy Szechuan food, but Dante had no such training.

The heavily spiced glop of red began slipping out of the bag and I squeezed so the entire chunk fell into his mouth with a wet plop.

I hadn't expected how fast Dante would react. His eyes flew open, and he looked at me, still on top of him.

There was a heavy pause as Dante blinked and considered whether he was actually awake. I took advantage of the moment to scramble off, but he caught me by the waist and rolled me over. Looming over me, heavy and dangerous, he looked like he was going to either kiss me or punch me so hard that I went through the bed. But his cheeks were slightly puffed out like a chipmunk's, which only made everything comical. At least he was considerate about not dripping hot sauce on me.

"Water's there." I pointed helpfully to the nightstand. He pushed off of me, spitting the stuff in his trashcan and grabbing the cup.

Then he made a face, coughing up the vodka he'd just swallowed so eagerly. "Jesus Christ, Evelyn."

I smirked, sitting up on his bed. "Rise and shine, bitch." He gripped his nightstand and glared at me, and I glared back. "You took my phone," I said. "I'd like it back."

"After that stunt you pulled?" he asked with a short laugh. "Hell no."

"If you hadn't stolen my phone, I wouldn't have needed to do it!"

"You left it on your lunch table. Either I took it, or somebody else would. At least with me, there's a chance of getting it back."

I crossed my arms. "Then give it back."

Dante crossed the length of the room and pulled a water bottle out of his backpack, chugging the entire thing down before he looked at me. "It'll cost you."

"What do you want?" I asked, even as apprehension coursed through me. Owing Dante Emerson was not a good position to be in.

He made a show of thinking, but I knew he'd planned this the moment he'd taken my phone. He was just dragging it out, trying to make me nervous. "A kiss," he finally said, giving me a wolfish smile.

"Absolutely not," I snapped, even as memories of his kisses whirled through my mind. Really, I wouldn't have been losing at all. I would've gotten one of those famous Dante Emerson kisses and gotten my phone back. But I didn't want to because it still felt like giving in to him, and didn't I break up with him to escape that?

Dante shrugged, unconcerned. "Okay. No phone then."

"This is against the rules," I insisted.

He stared at me with amusement. "You broke all the rules when you came into my house and poured hot sauce into my mouth while I was sleeping."

I sniffed. "It's a prankster classic. And you were just lying there, not moving and essentially the perfect victim. What was I supposed to do, not carpe the diem?"

"How much do you think I can sell your phone for?" Dante wondered. "I'm sure it'll fetch a good price on the black market."

What scared me about his threat was that he was actually capable of carrying it out. Dante was good friends with the school hooligans, including Isaac Zolnikov, who was rumored to have Russian mob ties.

"No," I said quickly. "I—okay."

"Okay?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Okay, I'll kiss you," I said angrily. "Just shut up." I walked up to him and looked up at his blue eyes. The amusement had disappeared, replaced with something serious.

Seriously hot.

Stop it, Evelyn.

I looped my arms around his warm neck, the movement coming naturally to me. He placed a hand on my shoulder and ran it down my arm, closing his fingers around my hand.

I'd planned on a chaste peck, but when I leaned in and kissed Dante, I wondered which idiotic part of me had thought that was possible.

He tasted of hot sauce and vodka, for obvious reasons. The spiciness crawled up my tongue and made my taste buds tingle, and he gripped my hand harder as his tongue swept through my mouth, insistent and possessive, like he was taking everything he could before it was gone.

His other hand moved to my butt, and that was when reason gave me a giant bitch slap in the face. What was I doing? I was all over my ex-boyfriend, whom I'd broken up with, like white on rice!

I shoved him off me, my movements made slow by the heady quality of the kiss. He blinked lazily at me, but his breaths were coming faster than normal.

"Phone," I said tersely, holding out my hand. He leaned against his closet.

"Already gave it back."


His mouth curved. "You didn't think I was trying to grope you, did you?"

I turned around, and sure enough, my phone was tucked in my back pocket.

The fact that I'd been completely consumed by the kiss and he'd had enough lucidity to slip my phone into my butt pocket pissed me off.

"I'm going to get you for this," I hissed.

Dante sat down at his desk, taking out his calculator and textbooks, already more taken by his math homework than he was with me. "Bring the pain, Evelyn," he said disinterestedly. "I look forward to it."

Ms. Chen was in the middle of teaching her students when to use whom when my phone's alarm went off, the dinging digging into my skull.

Ms. Chen stopped, annoyed. "That's been the fifth time today, Evelyn. I'm going to have to ask you to leave my classroom if you can't keep your phone on silent."

A few kids snickered, and my face flamed red. When I'd gotten my phone back from Dante, it had been unrecognizable. The lock screen had changed to a random blurry shot of his ceiling, and a scan through my photos showed thousands of pictures taken of Mr. Pickles. And he'd somehow set five hundred alarms that had gone off at random times during the day. I'd been deleting photos and turning off alarms all day in addition to fighting off the rising wrath within me.

I left Ms. Chen's classroom, shutting my phone off, wondering if it'd be less trouble to get a new one. I needed to get my revenge on Dante, but how?

Walking to my car, I gazed pensively at the corner where he always parked his. Dante loved his car. It was a black Acura TSX, all shiny paint and black leather interior. He always parked it in the farthest corner away from school, where he was convinced nobody would be able to damage it.

I was about to prove him wrong.

With a renewed sense of determination, I got into my car and drove to the nearest Home Depot.

"What can I help you with?" asked the salesperson.

I stared him down. "I'd like your sturdiest length of industrial-grade chain."

He blinked, probably wondering why a little Asian girl like me needed chains. "We have multiple types you can choose from. It really depends what you need to use it for."

"Art class," I said dismissively. "I want the longest one you have."

In the end, I needed the bemused salesperson's help to lug the chains to my car.

"That's some art project," he commented as we shoved it into my trunk.

"Oh, yeah," I said. "Mine will be a masterpiece."

I took the chains out of my trunk and dropped them next to Dante's car before I drove my own car far away. No sense giving him a reason to incriminate me.

There were thirty minutes left of sixth period before school let out and people started coming to the parking lot. I'd need to work fast.

Sweating and panting, I lugged the chain over the car carefully, making sure not to scratch the paint job (I wasn't that cruel) and dragged it under the body so it wound around the car like a second skin. I made sure to loop it around the tires, too. For good measure, I also tucked it around the tree he was parked next to. Finally, I closed off the whole project by attaching a padlock and hooking the two lengths of chain together. Then I slapped a post-it on his window in case Dante wasn't sure who was responsible for singlehandedly chaining his car to a tree.

Automobile or immobile? E

Standing back, I admired my hard work. Dante's car was now a mummy, covered by layers of shining metal. The shithead had left five thousand fish selfies on my phone. The least I could do was retaliate with five hundred feet of galvanized steel.

Skipping back to my car, I got in and unpeeled my daily banana, anticipating the scene that was about to unfold.

By the time Dante walked out with his books under one muscled arm, there were already people surrounding his car, taking pictures and giggling to each other. They all stepped back to let him approach, and he examined the display before turning around and looking straight at my car. I sunk further into my seat, even though I knew he couldn't see me. He slung his backpack onto the hood and dug inside for something that he stuck in his mouth, biting down. The paper clip glinted under the sunlight as he stuck it into the padlock, jiggling it until the lock popped open.

Now that the onlookers knew they weren't going to see Dante Emerson commit murder, they started leaving. I watched him go about the painstaking process of unlooping the chain and felt slightly bad. But he deserved this, I told myself. Sure, our pranks had gotten a little out of control, but all was fair in love and war, right?

Except this wasn't love. This was just a long and bloody war, and I hadn't won all the battles. I had to focus. Still, I could taste the sweetness of my victory this time around. Or was that the starch from the banana? Whatever it was, it felt good.

A tap at my window made me jump.

I rolled down my window, peering out at Dante, unable to stop the smirk. "Here to hear me gloat? I'm flattered."

"Enjoy that banana," he said expressionlessly. "It's going to be the last one you ever eat, after I'm through with you."

I took a big chomp of my banana, chewing exaggeratedly. "You, being the masochist that you are, asked me to bring the pain. I brought it. No need to be a sore loser."

"I learned from the best," Dante said.

I bristled. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Isn't that why this all started? Because you were a sore loser?" He raised his eyebrows at me. "Don't play innocent with me, Evelyn. You didn't like Jules, and when you don't like something, you always make sure someone knows about it."

"You had no respect for me," I argued. "You went out with someone a week after we broke up. It was like… like you didn't care about me at all." My voice cracked slightly, and I finished my banana before shoving my key into the ignition.

Dante's voice was gentler now. "You broke up with me, Evelyn. It wasn't the other way around."

"For good reason," I muttered, wondering what breaking up mattered when we were still at each other's throats, just without the make-up make-out afterwards. "Get off of my car before I run you over."

Dante didn't budge. He rested his elbows on the window and said, "You entered my house without permission—"

"Your mom let me in," I said. "She still loves me more, by the way."

Dante ignored me. "You also screwed with my car. You've now infiltrated my property twice. I was trying to be a gentleman before, but you've left me no choice but to get my hands dirty."

"Oh, yeah?" I sneered. "I'd like to see you try."

"Of course," he said, pushing away from my car and slipping on his Ray Bans. "You know how I hate to disappoint you."

I sullenly watched as he walked away. Well, his ass definitely didn't disappoint.

Get it together, Evelyn.

"Mom, have you done the laundry yet?" I called, dropping off my bag. Today was White Shirt Wednesday, I'd bought a new white shirt over the weekend, and I wanted to wear it on my Thursday date with Aaron, but my mother had this thing where she thought any unwashed, store-bought clothes could contain STDs, fatal diseases, and terminal illness all at once. I always told her that I doubted I'd drop dead from putting on a t-shirt, but she wouldn't believe me.

"Have you washed dishes, scrubbed floors, cleaned toilet?" she called back.

"No," I yelled.

My mother switched to Chinese, and I knew I was going to get it. She always made her death threats in Chinese. They came out so much more eloquent that way. "Me neither. Either wait for me to get through my never ending list of maternal duties, or do your own laundry, you ungrateful wench!"

I huffed, gathering my clothes and stalking to the laundry room. Out of spite, I hurled my mom's bras into the washer instead of zipping them into the bag that she used to keep them from hooking onto other clothing.

"Evelyn! Your friend here!" my mom screamed.

"What friend?" I hollered back, measuring detergent. I'd only snagged this second date because Aaron felt guilty about the lobster incident, but I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He was nice, he wasn't bad looking, and I knew that if sea levels rose and California went under, he'd catch enough fish to keep us alive.

"It's White Shirt Wednesday, isn't it?"

I turned around and stumbled back into the washer. Dante leaned against the dryer, turning a tiny bottle around in his hands.

"Mom!" I screeched, not taking my eyes off of him. "Do you know who you just let in?"

My mother was very aware of my relationship or lack thereof with Dante. She called him that tattooed ruffian the entire time we were dating, but when we broke up, she started nagging me about why I'd dumped a boy who had no history of high blood pressure or diabetes and would have passed that same sparkly clean genetic record on to our children.

My mother, the queen of double standards.

"Is he burglar? Rapist?" My mother paused, and I braced myself. "Is he Dick Cheney?"

"No, Mom," I said, annoyed.

"Then I don't care!" she yelled back.

"She really doesn't," Dante noted. "The door was open and she told me to come in and close it before the mosquitoes got in and infected us all with malaria."

"What are you doing here?" I asked. "Do you know how sacred my home is? Huh? If you don't believe me, check out the altar we've set up for Satan in the back."

Dante kept turning that bottle around, examining it like it was the most fascinating thing ever. "Why are you so eager to get your clothes washed?" He appraised me. "I didn't know hygiene was so high on your list of priorities."

I ignored his barb. "It is, right next to getting laid. And I happen to have a date this Thursday."

Dante stopped looking at the bottle in his hands. "Don't tell me it's with Aaron again." I didn't say anything, and he rolled his eyes. "Seriously? That lobster wasn't enough to scare him off? He's either madly in love with you or brainless."

"Aaron is a nice guy," I said.

"He makes me want to be a pescaterian."

"And maybe he is madly in love with me," I said flippantly.

Dante chuckled. "Then he's also brainless, because he fell in love with that ridiculous girly act you put on whenever you go on a first date."

My mouth fell open. "I don't put on a girly act."

"Let me guess. Did you keep encouraging him to talk about himself? Ask him solicitous questions about his interests while giggling and sticking out your pinky while you drank from your glass of water?"

Whenever accused by your ex-boyfriend of ploys engineered to seduce him and other boys, always resort to plausible deniability. "I'm not girly," I insisted. Maybe I had done these things, and maybe I thought they were the only reason I'd charmed guys into a second date. Now I felt silly. I clearly remembered that during my date with Dante, I had fluttered my eyelashes every time he looked at me. He'd informed me exactly a month after that he couldn't stop looking at what he'd thought was an eye twitch, effectively dispelling my illusion that he loved staring into my eyes.

"Right," Dante said slowly. "You're just a woman who needs a man to fulfill all your needs and that you can whip into a socially acceptable caretaker and breadwinner."

"That is just like you to pigeonhole me."

"And it's also just like me to be one hundred percent right." He shrugged. "I thought you could use my advice. You wore white on our first date too. Maybe you should change it up."

"It worked," I said triumphantly. "You asked me out again."

"I would've asked you out again if you came naked with a parrot on your shoulder."

"Of course you would've asked me out again if I came naked, you horny mothertrucker."

"Yup. But those days are past," Dante said with finality, "And so are the days of you wearing white." He weighed the small bottle that he'd been holding in his palm, and I had a moment to catch the flash of red before he pitched it into the washer.

I followed the trajectory of the bottle with dread, my mouth opening in a slow motion O as I rushed to the washer, looking in. The bottle of red food coloring, clear and tiny, was nowhere to be seen.

I looked at Dante, murder in my eyes. "You're not getting away with this."

He ignored me, surveying the buttons. "Is this the one you press to make the water come out?" he mused, reaching a finger out to poke it.

I let out an inhuman scream and tackled him.

We landed on the ground, and I'm pretty sure I stepped on his face as I boosted myself up on the washer and leaned in, looking for the red food coloring.

"Look at that," Dante said sadly, his voice muffled as I dug through my clothing. "You've made me late for my nap." I heard his footsteps leave the room, then my mother's scream.

"Did you scare that boy away again, Evelyn? You no cook, you no clean, you no get good husband. What kind of daughter did I raise?"

"A daughter that saves your underwear from the Red Death," I muttered to myself. I'd been leaning against the side for balance, but I was short and couldn't reach the bottom. Sliding more and more of my body over the edge, I suddenly slipped and found myself doing a headstand inside my washer.

"Agh!" I exclaimed, scrambling for purchase inside the machine, hoping it didn't go all Final Destination on me. Scrabbling my hands around the clothes, I encountered something smooth and wet.

Oh, no.

I lifted up the bottle and dug through the clothes to see how many it had touched. My mother would make me bleed as red as this food coloring if her bras got stained. Luckily, none of her things seemed to have been hit, but I lifted the white shirt I'd bought. The front now had a ghastly red splotch that was still spreading like a wound to the chest. I clutched the ruined shirt to my heart and rested my head against the clothes, staring up at the stained ceiling above me.

If that son of a bitch wanted to bring a knife to a gunfight, I was going to bring a goddamned meat cleaver.

I was grading spelling tests in Ms. Chen's class and cringing at the number of people who confused discreet and discrete when some kid poked me in the shoulder.

"Hey, you're the chick who chained up Dante Emerson's car, right?"

I turned around and looked at the guy in the leather jacket with a chain dangling out of his pocket and pockmarks all over his face. He looked like a tween version of a Greaser.

"You got that right, brother."

Okay, so maybe I'd always harbored a secret dream of becoming a backstreets criminal. It just seemed so badass.

He looked at me weirdly. "Why you talkin' like that?"

Double standards. They really were everywhere. "What's it to you?" I said defensively.

"I just wanted to say what you did was real wicked," the boy said, nodding. "Maybe we'll do it to the principal for our senior year prank." He grinned. "We'll tell the teachers that we got the idea from you. You'll be famous."

"Uh," I said. "I'd rather you didn't."

"Why'd you do it?" he asked.

"Me and Dante have a little something I like to call M.A.D."

"Mad?" He looked confused. "What, like you mad?"

"Mutually Assured Destruction," I corrected him kindly.

He gaped. "Like what the Germans did to Brazil in the World Cup?"

"Bigger than that," I assured him, even though there was nothing mutual about what Germany had done to Brazil. "Like… Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Rape of Nanking combined. With Dementors."

He whistled. "Y'all motherfuckers need Jesus. What's Dante to you, anyway?"

Just some guy I'd dated who had mistakenly thought I had an eye twitch because I flirted too hard.

"Nobody," I said vaguely.

"You hear about that girl he was dating?" He lowered his voice. "I heard she was a real tightass."

I tossed my hair, then grimaced. Did I really just do that? "Yeah, Jules Morley. Totally."

"No, the other chick. Everyone was sayin' that Dante was crazy over this girl. Nobody got it. 'Cause, y'know, she a tightass."

I looked down at my butt. It didn't seem very tight. It didn't seem very loose, either.

"But you don't even know her," I said carefully.

"Don't gotta know a tightass to know a tightass."

I blinked, trying to find the sense in that statement.

"Jules Morley, though. She's smokin' hot." He nudged me. "Amirite?"

"Charlie, please stop harassing Evelyn and go back to your seat." Ms. Chen came up from behind us and stared at him sternly. "And don't move until you can formulate a coherent sentence."

"Aw, Ms. C. Why you gotta be trippin'?"

"Girl," I chimed in. "Don't be trippin'."

Charlie looked at me grimly. "Don't ever say that again." Apparently, my street speak left something to be desired.

Ms. Chen grimaced. "Just listening to you abuse the rules of contractions makes me terrified for the future of American children."

"I say good for Jules Morley, though," Charlie continued, blissfully unaware. "I hear Dante Emerson's got a huge—"

Ms. Chen cleared her throat loudly. "Still here, Charlie."

"Huge vocabulary," he finished innocently. "I dunno what you were thinkin', Ms. C."

"Go to your desk before I give you detentions until you turn eighty," Ms. Chen threatened.

When he'd scampered off, she turned to me. "And you. You and Dante are both mature adults now. Yes, you were adorable while you were together and I purposely put made you two read the roles of Romeo and Juliet because I saw the little staring contest you were playing with each other, but a break-up is supposed to be final, Evelyn. None of this food poisoning and chaining cars to trees nonsense. It's just prolonging the inevitable."

I didn't want to agree with her, but in a way, she was right. These pranks were the only things tying Dante and me together. I enjoyed making his life miserable because, A, I was sadistic, and B, I was deathly afraid of what would happen if I stopped.

"That's why you made us sit together?" I asked disbelievingly. "You didn't tell me that."

"I'm a romantic, Evelyn. Being responsible for getting you and Dante Emerson together over a star-crossed, suicidal couple? It's every English teacher's dream."

It was true that these pranks were taking their toll on me. I was now paranoid every hour of the day and suspicious of anyone who offered me anything free. I'd almost brutally assaulted this guy during lunch because he'd offered me his leftover fries. They'd smelled funky, and I was certain Dante had done something to them, but apparently the garlic had just gone kind of bad.

My phone beeped, and I saw that I'd gotten a text message from an unknown number. One look, and I knew the games were far from over.

It was a picture of my locker, covered in toothpaste and condoms. Dante had even gotten creative and written Hygiene in messy, fluoride-ridden letters, then spelled out Getting Laid with the condoms. He'd also attempted a deranged smiley face with condom eyes and a toothpaste mouth.

"One more," I said, showing the picture to Ms. Chen. "I need to get him back for this. And then I'm done."

Ms. Chen sighed. "It's your funeral." She wrinkled her nose, peering at the picture more closely. "You kids need to learn to conserve condoms. They have a habit of disappearing when you really need them, you know."

After I'd spent a good hour disgustedly peeling condoms off my locker and rubbing off the toothpaste, I smelled like mint and lubricant, and I was more pissed than my mother when she lost at mahjong.

I got into my car, heading straight for Dante's house. This time, when I knocked on the door, he answered.

"I wasn't expecting you," he said in a way that implied the opposite.

I shoved him aside and stomped up the stairs, unlatching his window and pulling it up. Then I grabbed the bowl containing Mr. Pickles and held it out over the ground. His goldfish swam around in panicked circles before hiding in its little stone castle.

Dante stared at me like he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. "Come on, Evelyn," he cajoled. "Not Mr. Pickles."

"Toothpaste and condoms?" I hissed. "Really?"

A smirk tugged at his mouth. "When you told me about your priorities, they stuck with me. So I thought I'd stick them onto your locker."

"Everyone saw that," I said. "What do you think they're thinking about me?"

"Everyone saw my car chained to a tree," Dante retorted blandly.

"What I want to know is what's in this game for you," I said. "Do you just enjoy beating me that much? You couldn't stop even after we'd broken up?"

Dante's eyes narrowed. "Why do you always seem to think I have the advantage, Evelyn? Do I need to remind you again who broke up with whom?"

"Because you're always like this. You talk, but I have no idea what you're really thinking. Did you ever feel anything for me those months we were going out, or did you just relish the idea of corrupting me?"

"I'm not the bad guy here, Evelyn," Dante said. "No matter how much you want to see it that way, and no matter how much I wish I could be." He stepped forward, and I startled, then scrambled to find purchase on the slippery goldfish bowl.

But it was too late. Mr. Pickles' bowl slipped from my clammy hands, and I made one last desperate grab before we listened to the sound of glass shattering on the pavement outside.

"Fuck," Dante said, rushing to the window next to me and looking at the street below. I knew what he was going to see. Broken glass, a little stone castle, and the sad body of his goldfish, scales glittering as he flopped around, gasping for the last breath that he'd take.

Dante turned on me, rage flashing in his eyes as he grabbed me by the wrist, completely disregarding the tragic expression on my face. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" he asked, his voice low.

"There's a rule." I was near sobbing now, over my situation or my shame over what I'd just done to Mr. Pickles, I didn't know. "You're supposed to wait! You're supposed to give me time to recover before you start dating other girls." It was a weak excuse. He could've countered it with anything: the dates I went on with guys, the fact I initiated this in the first place, but he chose the reason that hurt the most.

"She liked me, and I thought I could like her," Dante said frigidly. "Sound familiar?"

"Still," I said bitterly. "It wasn't very nice."

Dante's lips thinned. "What's the difference between four months and two weeks when I knew you weren't going to change your mind? You were looking for a reason to break up with me the moment I asked you out!" The madness had made its way into his eyes, and his hand around my wrist was cutting off circulation in my arm. "You always saw our relationship as a game, every conversation as something you needed to win."

He exhaled a shaky breath, running a hand through his hair. "I loved that about you. Your competitive spirit and the way you questioned everything I said. I wished I hated you, Evelyn, for the way you've treated me. And I think if I can convince myself to hate you even a little, the rest will follow, but you come in and I can't do it." He slammed his fist into the wall, uncharacteristically violent. "I wished I hated you," he repeated. "It would make everything so much easier."

"That thing you pulled with the food coloring," I whispered. "That wasn't a prank. It was just mean."

"You just assassinated my goldfish, and you're calling me mean?"

"I… Sorry," I muttered, but it was like he didn't hear me.

"You've always wanted to control me, Evelyn, manipulate me. But the one thing I can't be is malleable. You couldn't see past that fact to how we belong together. I thought the breakup would help you realize that, but you haven't changed at all. You're still ruthless, cunning, and willing to do whatever it takes to show you're the better person."

"You always argued with me," I insisted. "You never liked my opinion—"

"I valued your opinion. It's not the same as agreeing with it, but I didn't see it as a barrier to our relationship the way you did." He rubbed a hand over his eyes, and he didn't look like wild, antagonistic Dante anymore. He just looked tired. "You give me all this bullshit about following the rules, but at the end of the day, you only follow them when they help you."

"I think… I think this has escalated beyond what either of us expected," I said softly. "I'm sorry. About what I put you through."

He slowly released my wrist. "Yeah. It's easy to say it now, isn't it? After I came right out and told you all the things you did wrong, you finally realize it."

My eyes were burning, and I wanted to say something, but the lump in my throat prevented me from speaking. Dante and I had never had a shortage of things to say to each other, but it was like we'd never communicated at all. During our entire relationship, I hadn't known that he'd noticed these things, that he was passing judgment on my behavior the exact same way I'd passed judgment on his.

There was silence, and then Dante said, "We should stop. Everything, I mean. Okay? Even my goddamned goldfish, which I've had since eighth grade, is gone. You've won, Evelyn. It's over."

"O—okay," I said, shaking. "It is."

Dante blew out a breath. "Kindly get out of my house so I can give Mr. Pickles the funeral he deserves."

I trudged out of his room, feeling like someone had just taken a sledgehammer to my chest. There was the closure to the pseudo-breakup I'd initiated a month before. And now Dante had ended it definitively. No more paranoia. No more sneaking around, no more brainstorming ways to creatively humiliate.

It was over.

I hadn't deleted all the pictures of Mr. Pickles from my phone.

They all looked exactly the same, but I'd kept ten of them regardless. When I was feeling extra pitiful, I'd scroll through my photos and imagine him bubbling around in Fishy Heaven with a variety of fish flakes and pellets to choose from. Hopefully, something like that existed.

Ms. Chen stopped by my desk, her voice chipper. "And how are you today, Evelyn?"

"Ms. Chen," I said. "Is there a heaven for animals?"

She blinked. "That's… a very good question." She smiled kindly at me, and I couldn't help feeling a stab of resentment. Maybe if Ms. Chen hadn't given me that talk about the delusional quality of mine and Dante's tête-à-tête, I'd still be happily thinking up ways to make his life miserable.

It'd been a month, and I was still as deep in self-pity as I'd been since Mr. Pickles' untimely demise. I was beginning to think I'd never crawl out of the pit I'd dug for myself. I hadn't gone on a date or listened to a guy prattle on about something I didn't care about for the last four weeks.

Life really was shit these days.

What was worse was that I knew it was my fault. I had approached everything with a black-and-white attitude, and Dante had been patient in waiting for me to understand that his commitment extended beyond that, but I was too dense to figure it out. And yeah, I'd wanted to change him into someone tamer and more socially acceptable, but doing that would've made him into exactly the type of guy I'd never love.

I loved Dante. His wildness, his volatile attitudes, and the fact that he was one of the few people left on the earth who knew how to think for himself.

I loved Dante, and boy, had I picked a shitty time to realize it.

He and Jules looked really close these days. She always walked to class with him, smiling this special smile at him. I couldn't stomach watching them eat together at lunch. It made anything at the cafeteria taste more revolting than it already did.

But I couldn't blame him for it. I'd been a bad girlfriend. He deserved a nice girl who wouldn't pour hot sauce in his mouth and spike his Coke out of whimsy.

It just sucked knowing that if I had another chance to do it all over again, I would love him the way he deserved.

"Girl," drawled Charlie, randomly popping up at my shoulder, "Is there a reason you been lookin' like death warmed over?"

I sighed. "Just feeling kind of bad for being a shitty person."

"Aw, c'mon. Everyone's been a shitty person." He leaned in and whispered out of the corner of his mouth, "I dunno 'bout you, but bein' shitty has helped me once or twice. Like gettin' out of that dumb Grapes of Wrath project. Told Ms. C I was gettin' a tumor removed." He looked proud of that, and I briefly considered that Ms. Chen had probably excused him because she was going half-blind from reading his essays. When I corrected his tests, I couldn't even tell the difference between his t's and a's.

"You a cool chick, Evelyn. Definitely not a tightass," Charlie said, and when I looked up, he winked. "I think it takes a shitty person not to see that."

The bell rang, and Charlie slapped me in the back hard enough to make my teeth rattle. "See ya," he said, and joined the students filtering out of the classroom. Ms. Chen came to stand next to me.

"You know," she said. "Redemption is a big theme in a lot of novels. Take Crime and Punishment, for example."

"Ms. Chen, you know I've never considered that book anything but a glorified doorstop."

She sat on my desk, staring down at me. "I'm very aware of the shortening attention spans of America's gnat-brained teenagers. But redemption has been a theme passed down through the centuries."

I shrugged. "Guilt is a terrible thing."

"Yes, but that's why redemption exists. Because it shows us that guilt isn't permanent. Not if you don't want it to be." She played with my pen. "I can tell you've been bothered, and this is where I step in as an adult. You have to move past this because it's only ever going to drag you down, or you can take action. It's clear enough to me that you've figured out how irrevocably, disastrously, appallingly you've messed things up—"

"Thanks," I said dryly.

"So as someone who thinks you and Dante belong together just like Romeo and Juliet did—without the dying from a misunderstanding part—I think that you should stop throwing a pity party and do something about it."

I snorted. "Ms. Chen, you really are a romantic."

"Of course. That, and I want you to stop staining my tests with your tears. They make the red marks all runny."

I was willing to do anything to get Dante back, which sounded desperate, but was also the truth. I wanted to make up for everything, but to do that, he'd have to be willing to let me. So I went searching for a sign, and I found it in the lunch line.

Dante rarely brought lunch; his mother always insisted that she make sandwiches for him, and he never said no. But he drew the line on Food Folly Friday, which was basically when the cafeteria served the most disgusting food ever because they thought the students would be so excited the week was over that they'd hardly notice what they were putting into their mouths.

I didn't know why Dante was so enamored with expired goods, but he was always the first one in the line on Fridays.

I slipped in behind him, though I wasn't planning on eating any of the squishy beans or mashed corn. He was standing with Isaac Zolnikov.

"I don't understand why you eat this stuff. Is this your equivalent of a protein shake?"

Dante scooped a heap of brown stuff on his tray. "It reminds me I'm human."

Isaac's blonde eyebrows bunched up. "Bro, I could hook you up with better shit. Shit that doesn't have any laxative-like effects. Just say the word."

Oh, God. Was Isaac trying to sell drugs to Dante in the lunch line on Food Folly Friday?

I cleared my throat, readying myself to say something scintillating and witty that would remind Dante of all the great conversations he'd lost.

"Wow, those beans look delicious, Dante."

He whirled on me, and I stared at his face, trying to see if I'd elicited a reaction. At worst, he didn't really care. At best, he was kind of annoyed that I was raining on his Friday tradition of putting his digestive system through the worst hell imaginable. "I like them," he said.

"They look like shit," I retorted. "Literally."

The first time I talked to my ex-boyfriend, who I'd been pining after for a month, and we were arguing over expired beans. The lack of romance in the moment was overwhelming.

I waited for his mouth to twitch. I needed something, anything, to show that he could forgive me. His face remained closed-off. "I seem to have a weakness for shitty things."

I could feel myself getting defensive. There was no need for him to treat me like crap. Didn't he know Mr. Pickles' death was still haunting my dreams?

Isaac looked at the two of us, and I saw the classic expression of a guy when encountered by moody teenage drama. "Jules saved us seats," he said. Despite his hulking height and hugeness, he hightailed it.

That boy did have some sense in that giant head of his. Good for him.

"Well, go on," I said, gesturing towards the beans and focusing on their brown goopiness so I didn't break out in tears. Jules saved us seats. Talk about a lost cause. "You've made your feelings very clear, and you must be hungry."

Dante slammed his tray down, making me jump and look up. His blue eyes were fixed on me, something burning behind them, despite the iciness of his words. "Hungry," he said. "But not for food."

Dumping his tray, he stalked off, past the lunch line, past Jules and Isaac, and right out the door, much to the ire of the cafeteria lady, who should've been put behind bars anyway for agreeing to serve what probably had never passed the FDA.

For the first time in a month, I grinned.

In retrospect, confronting Dante might have been a better idea than psychopathically trapping him in an elevator. But I needed to talk to him, and what better way to make him listen than in a claustrophobic space with no way out?

Okay, rewind. Every year, the school sponsored a senior trip to a beachside resort. I couldn't enjoy a single moment of the sun or the sand without wondering whether Dante was prancing around somewhere on the beach, shirtless with his tattoos out for the whole world to see.

I was going to drive myself crazy.

Walking to the pool, I saw Ms. Chen sprawled out, sunglasses propped on her head as she read Anna Karenina, which was the farthest thing from a beach read that you could get.

"You're being a really good chaperone," I observed wryly.


"Do you have any idea where anyone is?"

Ms. Chen waved a hand at me dismissively. "The barbecue is taking place here. Trust me, nothing's more attractive to a bunch of hungry teenagers than dead animal slathered in sauce. They'll be back."

I winced, appetite lost. "Okay, I'm going to head inside. I'll see you later."

She waved at me, burying herself back in Russian-themed angst, and I headed inside to take the elevator to my floor.

The elevator doors were just closing when I entered the lobby, and I ran towards it, flip-flops slapping against the ground. "Hold the elevator!"

I dashed inside, huffing and puffing, my shirt slipping off my shoulder and revealing the yellow string of my bikini. I rearranged it and turned to my companion. "Thanks—"

Dante raised an eyebrow at me. He was wearing a soft-looking gray t-shirt, his skeleton tree snaking out from under the sleeve. "Care to finish expressing your gratitude?"

"Thanks for holding the doors," I finished stiffly.

He nodded at me, all gentleman-like. "You're welcome." Then it was silent, with the exception of the elevator music, which was playing "My Life Would Suck Without You" by Kelly Clarkson.

We were getting to my floor. I had to do something. I'd never get a chance like this again, that was for sure.

I smacked the red button, and the elevator thumped to a stop. "We need to talk," I announced.

"The funny thing about that phrase," commented Dante, "is that you usually say it before the breakup, not after."

"Shut up and listen to me."

"I'm done listening to you," Dante replied. He got up, pressing the button, and the elevator commenced moving.

I wilted under his rejection. Maybe I'd been wrong. Maybe he could really care less about me at this point.

The elevator stopped at his floor first, and he moved towards the doors, waiting for them to open.

Instead, there was a ping to indicate we'd reached the floor, and then the elevator kept moving up.

Dante was still standing there, staring at the doors. Then, he turned to me. "This isn't funny," he snarled.

"This isn't a prank, I swear," I said, going to the buttons. I pressed the button for the next floor, and the elevator stopped there too, but the doors didn't open and it kept going. "Although if it was one, it'd be pretty damned ingenious."

Dante stomped over to me. "What the hell is wrong with this thing?" He swept his hand over the buttons, lighting up each one. But the elevator just kept doing the same thing, stopping without the doors opening.

"You've got to be kidding me."

"Why would you do that?" I asked Dante, gesturing at all the lit-up buttons. "I bet you just made the problem worse."

He grabbed the phone and shushed me.

"Hello, can someone come and fix the elevator?" he asked smoothly. "Thank you. And please hurry," he added. "I'm trapped in here with a sociopath."

Then he hung up and turned to me. "Blaming me for exacerbating things. What an Evelyn thing to do—"

"You blame me too! That's the entire reason we broke up. Because you thought everything was my fault, which it kind of was, but you could've been nicer about it! I'm not as smart as you think I am. If you'd just told me, I would've tried to improve and be a better person for you!" My voice was whiny now. "Why do you have to go around making your feelings as complicated as college calculus?"

Dante blinked at me. "No, you wouldn't," he insisted in a low voice. "You would've continued to be hardheaded and arrogant, and I would've let you because I loved you—"

"Well, I love you too! Did you ever consider that, you jackass? I love you even though you're completely insensitive and expect me to get all the vague hints you drop—"

He grabbed my shoulders, giving me a shake, which made my sleeves fall off again. "Do you know how desperately I've avoided every thought of you? Trust me, Evelyn, you have no idea how it feels."

I smacked him in the arm. "I do too! I've been a miserable wreck this past month while you've been canoodling with Jules Morley—"

Dante laughed mockingly. "The story of Jules and me is simple. She liked me, I thought I could like her, but it didn't work because she was never the one on my mind." His thumbs brushed over the skin on my bared shoulders, and I struggled to conceal my body's reaction to his touch. "I don't lie to myself," he said huskily, "and the only person I've ever wanted is you."

We glared at each other, and I realized his face was alarmingly close, and all I wanted was to slap him and then kiss him.

He must have been thinking along the lines of the same thing, but without the slapping, since Dante never hit girls. With a frustrated noise, he pulled me in and his lips crushed mine.

Our tongues slid against each other aggressively, and I could feel his fingers playing with the bikini strings tied at the back of my neck. I slid my hand into the back pocket of his jeans, and we tumbled to the corner of the elevator, lost in the warmth and smell of each other. He nipped at my neck, and I wondered if Ms. Chen would say anything about my hickey, but quickly dismissed it.

There was a thump, but I thought I would cry if I stopped touching Dante and if he stopped roving his hands over my back.

"Hey, you called for help—oh, my baaaad!"

"Evelyn," Dante murmured, pressing a kiss to my lips.


He punctuated his every word with a small kiss. "There's. Someone. Here."

I rolled off him, shame at what my mother would say ("I raise a scarlet woman for a daughter!") if she ever found out about this.

The elevator had gotten stuck between two floors. There was a very familiar face behind the crack in the elevator doors, peering at us. Behind him, I could hear Ms. Chen's unconcerned voice. "They're okay, right, Charlie? I won't get sued?"

"I'll be totally mum about it, Ms. C. Although, about that Hamlet assignment…"

"Just get them out," Ms. Chen said, and I could almost see her rolling her eyes.

"I need somethin' to hold the doors open," Charlie said.

"Use this," Ms. Chen suggested.

Charlie turned to us and shoved her copy of Anna Karenina between the doors before standing up and shoving them apart further. He grinned at me, wiggling his eyebrows. "You kids didn't do this on purpose, did ya?"

"No, but when I find out who did—" I said threateningly, taking his hand as he helped me climb out.

"I'm going to shake his hand and congratulate him on a job well done," Dante interrupted.

Ms. Chen shook her head at the two of us, but a smile was stretching across her face. "You worked it out," she said with satisfaction. "Good. Now stop causing trouble for once, and try to enjoy this trip." She picked up her now-crumpled book and left.

The moment she'd gone through the sliding doors, Charlie held out his hand to Dante. "I believe a good handshake is in order for gettin' you back with your lady here."

"You," I said, gaping. "You did it."

If Dante was surprised that some twerpy Greaser was responsible for fiddling with the elevator, he didn't show it. He grabbed Charlie's hand and gave it a good pump. "Well done, sir," he said sincerely. "You were brilliant."

Charlie beamed and jabbed a finger at me. "How's that for bein' a shitty person?"

I laughed, and he picked up his toolbox. "Wait till everyone hears about this! I'm gonna be a legend," he crowed as he sauntered out of the lobby.

Dante cradled my face in his palms, his blue eyes intent. "Do I need to ask you to be my girlfriend again, or does it really matter when we've been seen by the two biggest gossips at school?"

I made a face. "Being your girlfriend… Remind me again what the perks are of that?"

He sighed. "You really need me to spell it out for you?" Then, he smirked. "Or would you rather I showed you...?"

I smiled cheekily, pulling away from him and catching his hand, twining my fingers with his. "No more pranks?"

"No more pranks." He reached into his pocket before patting it confusedly.

"Lose something?"

"My phone," he said, before looking up at the aforementioned object that I was waggling at him.

"You didn't think I was groping you, did you?" I chortled.

He lunged for me, and I ran.

A/N: Disclaimer: Don't try any of this at home.