Raini

It seemed surreal how much things could change in a mere few weeks. I went from having zero friends to gaining three. I could still count my grand total of friends on a single hand, although these were the kinds of friends that I had always wanted to have my whole life. Roxy, Tripp and Mig had carved a space in their trio and gave me a sense of belonging. It was something I never quite felt among Holly's group of friends, not that I would ever tell my cousin that. After that day in the principal's office and witnessing Tripp confront his father, my life had lately felt like one huge never-ending dream, but it was a dream that I didn't want to wake up from.

"Earth to Raini?" Holly poked my cheek. "What did you think of it?"

"Huh?" I stopped staring out my window to look at my cousin.

"My latest playlist for you! You listened to it, right? And not put it off for like months?"

Holly and I were sitting on my bed back home at my dad's apartment. I had missed this place and it felt good to be back after being away for so long. Holly and my aunt had been away last weekend for Thanksgiving, so I had pushed returning to stay at my dad's till the following weekend to spend time with both. My dad hadn't managed to secure a full-time job yet, but he had a few promising interviews lined up in the upcoming weeks. I was going to help him practice tomorrow before he drove me back to my mom's. I never used to consider my mom's place as another home for me, but after living there since summer, I started seeing it as a home away from home.

I snorted. "My reason was valid! I needed time to recover after that last jump scare you put into the playlist. And yes, I listened to it earlier this week."

Holly giggled. "Oh, honey, you thought the singer was screaming? That was him singing a lullaby. I have not yet blessed you with his angelic screaming."

I laughed. "You and Tripp share the same music taste it seems,"

"Tripp?" Holly's brows furrowed. "Oh right, Emerald Eyes. I'm so used to you referring to Patrick as that. I still can't believe this is the same guy that called you Mouse."

"Oh God, don't remind me!" I moaned in embarrassment. "You went on a tangent for days after I told you about his Firecracker nickname too."

"Hey! I had every right to be overprotective. I mean, who gives you nicknames like that?"

"He gives nicknames to all his friends," I said feeling defensive on Tripp's behalf. "He doesn't say them to be mean,"

"Hmph, he seems particularly fond of making up new ones for you," Holly grumbled. "Why can't he be like everyone else and call you Raini? A nickname created by yours truly,"

Holly's frosty attitude toward Tripp had thawed after I had told her about my visit to the principal's office back in September. I had omitted the events about Tripp's father and learning about his upbringing because that was personal to him and it felt like a secret that shouldn't be shared without his knowledge. So, whenever Holly complained about Tripp's behaviour based on what I told her, I knew she said it to give him some tough love and that she was sincerely happy for me to have made such caring friends. I giggled and poked Holly in the cheek. "Yes, thank you for coming up with my original nickname, Halls."

"Hm, I deserve a cute nickname too," Holly wrinkled her nose. "When are you gonna give me a better one?"

"I think Halls is cute," I smiled at her before my mind wandered back to the beginning of this week when Tripp and I had listened to Holly's playlist during our spare. The memory made me giddy. I couldn't remember when Tripp had begun calling me Rainers either. There was no reason behind it unlike his previous nicknames, and it seemed to be a slip of the tongue. I didn't want to point it out in case he became aware and stopped calling me by it.

Holly grinned. "All right, what's the latest scoop on Emerald Eyes? You've been spacing out on and off for the past five minutes. I know you've just been dying to give me an update since I came over,"

Aghast by her bluntness, I protested but Holly spoke over me and demanded that I spill it or else she would result to her favourite form of torture—tickling. So, I told her. I recounted everything I could remember about that Monday afternoon. It took longer to get through the story because I started blushing after recalling Tripp's muse comment.

When I finally finished the story, Holly didn't say anything right away, probably to process everything that was just said. I didn't normally talk for a prolonged period of time. Whenever I got the chance to catch up with my cousin, most of it was mentioning tales about my friends.

"Hold the fuck up, he actually said, 'I'll be your muse' and you said nothing?" Holly shrieked at me even though we were sitting in front of each other. I covered my ears with a laugh.

Holly grabbed my shoulders and shook me with a girlish squeal. "Raini! He was flirting with you!"

"What? No!" I exclaimed and held her elbows to stop. "He said he was joking. He does that a lot and says things without thinking before he takes it back. I've seen it happen a few times already and not just to me."

"Noo!" Holly continued to shout. "I can't believe I wasn't there to witness my dense cousin being flirted with!"

"Holly, he was joking!" I spluttered with a blush and then told my cousin to lower her voice or my dad would think something was wrong.

As I predicted, we heard padded footsteps approach my room followed by a knock on my door. It opened a crack and my dad's head emerged from behind it.

"Hey girls, everything okay?" he asked.

"Y-yes, Ba! We're just talking, and Holly got overexcited," I smiled sheepishly.

My dad bobbed his head once. "Okay, well, when you're done, I'll get pizza for us?"

"Actually, I'm feeling hungry," I announced and ignored Holly's look. "We can get ready for dinner now?"

Ba nodded and disappeared as quickly as he came.

Holly harrumphed. "Don't think you're off the hook. Did I not tell you that sparks were gonna fly between you two once you decided to talk to him and let him get to know you?"

"You retracted that statement after the encounter during the summer," I said dryly. "It's hard to forget because you wouldn't stop grumbling about him for a week after we left."

"Well, I retract my statement of me retracting my sparks flying statement."

I laughed.

Holly smiled. "You've changed lately, Raini. You seem happier and I think Patrick's part of the reason. A spark has lit between you and him and I'm jealous of Roxy 'cause I won't be there every step of the way to watch it grow."

~xXx~

There was a week left until Tripp and Miguel's band gig on Halloween. Even though Holly dragged me to the Battle of the Bands event back in the summer, all the performances were such a blur that I honestly didn't even remember seeing Tripp or Miguel on stage, but that would all change in a week when I could see my friends perform live.

For Roxy to keep her yearly tradition going, she invited us to go to Fall Fest to celebrate the holiday early since they wouldn't be going on Halloween. The event took place on a family-owned farm and it occurred every autumn beginning in mid-September leading up to Halloween.

By day, Fall Fest offered a wide range of activities for families like a pumpkin carving contest, a scavenger hunt, hayrides and so on. By night, the farm became known as Fright Fest to attract teens and young adults alike who wanted to show off their valour in front of their friends. There was always a new attraction to invite people back to the event the following year.

Roxy told me that after Fall Fest, she, Miguel, and Tripp would sleepover at one of each other's houses and stay up late watching horror flicks and eating Halloween candies. This year it was her turn to host.

I had been so excited by her invitation that I had almost forgotten to ask my mom for permission. Sleepovers with Holly didn't count as she was family, but my mom had reluctantly agreed to let me sleepover after drilling me about Roxy yesterday:

Má: Where did you and Roxy meet?

Me: The library.

Má: Do you have any classes together?

Me: Yes, chemistry.

Má: Is Roxy an only child?

Me: Yes.

Má: What do her parents do?

Me: Roxy's mom is an elementary school teacher and her dad is a handyman.

Má: How many people are sleeping over?

Me: Three, including me.

Má: Any boys?

Me: Yes… Roxy's boyfriend and Patrick. You met him, remember? Roxy's our mutual friend.

Má: Hmph, I'm going to tell Roxy's parents to make sure that you and Roxy sleep in a different room than the boys. Understand?

Me: Yes, thank you, !

My mom's questioning was a tedious process and it was something I hoped would shorten over time. Me suddenly requesting to go out more often on Friday evenings and weekends was something wondrously new for the both of us. The constant spike of anxiety I felt about going out was eclipsed by the fact that things would be okay if my friends were with me. I had been fooled once into thinking that my social anxiety was cured when the panic attacks stopped for a while whenever I was out in public, but I wasn't going to let myself be fooled twice.

Several hours later, Roxy and I stood by the farm entrance waiting for Tripp and Miguel to arrive. Just an hour before, my mom and I had dropped by Roxy's house to meet Roxy and her parents. Our parents had chatted for ages before my mom had kissed me on the forehead upon departure and had told me to call her tomorrow to get picked up. Now Roxy was marching in place to keep warm against the autumn chill. It was a little after five p.m. on an early Saturday evening. The sky would be streaked with orange and yellow in a little over an hour. Even with a couple layers underneath our fall coats, I wasn't immune to the cold no matter how many winters I've lived through growing up. I was wearing thin gloves that were one-size-fits-all and a knitted toque that Holly gave me for Christmas last year. It was soft and fluffy, but it wouldn't guarantee the survival of my ears if worn during winter. Roxy's box braids were fashioned in a pretty half updo and she wasn't wearing a hat or gloves, although she did have a woolly maroon scarf wrapped around her neck.

Because I was a scaredy cat, Roxy promised me that we wouldn't stay for Fright Fest which began officially at eight p.m. as stated on a sign upon entry to the farm. If we had gone during the day, the farm would've been packed with parents and children and vice-versa at night. I had been worried that I would spoil her Halloween tradition of attending Fright Fest with Tripp and Miguel, but she had reassured me that it didn't matter what they did as long as I was present and enjoying myself with them.

"Ahh, I'm so excited! Fall Fest will be so much fun because you're here!" Roxy clasped her hands to her chest.

"Are you sure that you're okay with missing out on Fright Fest this year?"

Roxy nodded. "Yes, girlie, of course! We're all just happy that you could come hang out. And you're sleeping over tonight too! This already surpasses any Fright Fest I've been to by far."

I smiled brightly in relief. "Me too! Thank you for inviting me, Roxy."

"Girl, for sure!" Roxy exclaimed as she tucked her hands underneath her armpits. "Gah! What's taking the boys so long?"

"Let's wait inside the gift shop till they arrive," I suggested.

"Good idea. Let's go!" Roxy dropped her arms and looped one through mine and led us toward the gift shop. Along the way, there was a face painting station with photo displays, and Roxy made a detour toward it.

A girl with a skull face sitting at the station perked up as we approached her. She greeted us politely and asked if we were interested in getting our faces painted. Before I could decline, one of the painters beckoned us forward and Roxy pulled me along and we claimed two adjacent chairs.

Roxy flashed me a grin before turning to her painter and accepting a sheet from him. The girl assigned to me held out a laminated sheet filled with Halloween-themed designs. When I picked the smallest image of a plain orange pumpkin in the upper righthand corner, Roxy saw and clucked her tongue. She leaned over to point at a bottom image of a jack-o-lantern surrounded by swirls.

"Hey Raini, get matching face paint with me," Roxy pointed to an image next to the jack-o-lantern. "Mine will be a ghost and cobwebs on the left side of my eye,"

"Oh, okay, sure," I decided. The image that Roxy had chosen for me was much more embellished than the simple pumpkin I was going to ask to be painted on my cheek.

Before the painters begun, Roxy sent the guys a text of our whereabouts. I sat still as the painter mixed colours and swept the brush delicately over my face. When she had to paint near my eye, the girl instructed me to close my eyes until she told me that I could reopen them.

A few minutes later, I was allowed to open my eyes and found Tripp and Miguel waiting around and watching us from a distance. They nodded at me in greeting when our gazes connected, and heat crept up my neck after Tripp flashed me a thumbs up. They were both wearing faded unbuttoned denim jackets over their gray hoodies. I didn't understand what it was with guys never bundling up during fall and winter. You were no macho when you later fell ill because you refused to dress warmly. It seemed like Tripp and Miguel were no different than any other guy. I hoped they had strong immune systems then.

The painter exclaimed that she was done and held up a rectangular mirror to my face and let me ogle myself. The girl had done a lovely job. A jack-o-lantern about the size of a small medallion was painted underneath the corner of my left eye. Surrounding it was a series of black, white, and yellow swirls that curled down my cheek in faint wisps. I thanked the painter with a blush, and she smiled kindly before pushing her stool back and giving me space to stand up.

Roxy and I both stood up at the same time and went to pay the skull girl for our face paint. Once we were done, Tripp and Miguel approached us. Roxy greeted them both with a hug but only Miguel with a kiss. I tugged my toque further down my head while I waited.

When Roxy and Tripp parted and she stepped aside, Tripp stared intently at me, his eyes lingering on the left side of my face. We stood there awkwardly for a second before I dropped my gaze to the ground, and he took a step forward. He bent down close to my height and his arms enclosed around me before I had the chance to look up.

"Aww. You have to bend down to hug her." Roxy giggled.

In that moment, my lungs collapsed. My heart pounded in my ears. My brain short-circuited and failed to order my arms to lift themselves and hug him back.

AHHHHHHHH. My brain screamed at me. It was doing that a lot lately. Like just last week when Tripp jokingly offered to be my muse to get me into painting again.

My brain finally rewired itself and my body moved on its own. I went up on my tiptoes and gave Tripp the world's most awkward pat on the back.

Tripp's chuckle whooshed past my ear and a firm pat on my back was reciprocated before he pulled away. The hug couldn't have been more than a few seconds, but it might've as well lasted a few decades.

Tripp straightened his posture and gave Roxy a wry smile. "You have to do the same thing, Rox."

"Yeah, but you're flat-chested and I'm not," Roxy snorted.

My face flamed up and Tripp erupted into laughter.

Tripp has a nice laugh… The thought came out of nowhere.

Bits of my conversation with Holly after our dinner last weekend resurfaced to the forefront of my mind.

"Admit it. You like him!" Holly sing sung.

I shook my head vigorously. "W-what? No, we're just friends! I already have the hardest times making friends, Halls. Tripp and I are friends and I'm perfectly fine with this."

"What's wrong with being more than that? There's a strong possibility that he likes you too."

"M-me and T-Tripp? T-together?" I laughed in utter disbelief. "In what parallel universe?"

"This one!" Holly stressed.

I shook my head abruptly. Holly had been keen on making me admit that I had a crush on Tripp, but I had kept denying it.

Oh no, I thought bleakly. No. No. I do not like Tripp. I cannot like him. If I like him, it'll mess up our friendship.

Tripp noticed my headshake. "So, you vote no for the haunted hayride, Raini?"

My friends must've been discussing where to go first while my brain was too busy having a meltdown at the realization that I had a crush on Tripp.

"Huh? Oh, um, no. The hayride sounds fun!" I squeaked. Not scared of a haunted hayride, but scared of my feelings toward Tripp right this moment? Yes.

"Cool," Tripp grinned. "let's head over then,"

The four of us made our way to two large brown horses harnessed to a wagon. Bundles of hay were cushioned together and there was just enough space left for us to squeeze in before the horses departed. I was squished in between Roxy and Tripp with Miguel flanking Roxy's right.

We sat across an Asian girl and a white guy who looked about our age along with a little girl that sat in the middle of them. The little girl looked no older than seven or eight and resembled the guy which made me wonder if they were siblings. The child had long dark hair and wore a wolf-ear headband. Her face was painted with a cute black puppy nose and freckles. The Asian girl wore a simple black dress with a pointy witch hat and the guy had fake elongated pointed ears and fangs. I had assumed he was dressed up as a vampire until I caught a glimpse of his golden contacts when our gazes accidentally met. I averted my eyes but not before he flashed me a toothy smile.

Throughout the ride, Roxy and Tripp made conversation with the witch girl and werewolf boy and they responded amiably making the hayride breeze by. The hayride itself wasn't very haunted, or maybe it was impossible to feel scared when I was sitting across a seven-year-old girl who was fast asleep and drooling slightly on the witch's arm, although the witch didn't seem to mind. When the wagon returned to the beginning of its course, we bid the costumed couple goodbye. I watched the werewolf and witch disappear into the crowd with the boy carrying his sleeping sister and the girl carrying the little girl's walker.

"They were such a cute couple!" Roxy sighed happily next to me. "Ah, childhood sweethearts! So romantic!"

"Yeah, they were." I agreed with a smile.

"All right, where to next?" Tripp leaned down in between us and draped his arms across my shoulders and Roxy's.

Miguel examined the pamphlet that we had picked up at the entrance. "Hm, what about the corn maze? Maybe we'll beat our record from last year. I think it took us forty-five minutes?"

"Yeah but that was at night during Fright Fest," Tripp commented. "It always takes us longer because scarecrows pop outta nowhere and chase you down dead ends before disappearing back into the stalks."

I gaped at them. That was something straight out of a horror movie.

Roxy noticed my fearful expression and quickly reassured me. "It's not like that during the day and it's completely safe. Parents take their kids into the maze all the time. But if you don't want to go, we can skip it."

How the three of them enjoyed going to Fright Fest every Halloween was beyond my comprehension, but I was enjoying the activities of Fright Fest's counterpart so far.

"No, it sounds fun to try and navigate. Let's go!" I nodded, feeling soothed.

"Onward!" Tripp steered us in the direction of the tall stalks of corn.

A tweedy worker dressed as a scarecrow manned the booth to the entrance of the corn maze. He gave us a timer and explained the scoreboards posted next to him. It had a ranking of the completion times of people who had solved the maze the fastest. The top three would be entered into a raffle draw at specific hours throughout the day for a chance to win prizes. There was a separate scoreboard for the maze times during the day and night. The contrast of completion times was stark. It took us about twenty-five minutes to navigate the maze. Our score landed us at the bottom of the first tier, but we had taken our time to stop and read fun facts about corn off the wooden signs throughout the route.

Before visiting another attraction, we made a pit stop at the restrooms and took a short break at a nearby picnic table. Roxy coaxed me into taking selfies with her using her phone before she designated Miguel as her personal photographer. My smile started wavering somewhere between the fifth and tenth photo before Roxy called out to a passerby and asked if he could take a group photo of us. The guys moved in and we sat cramped on the picnic bench. I ended up being sandwiched in the middle of Roxy and Miguel this time and I was internally relieved. Another potential hazard of me combusting on the spot due to direct physical contact with Tripp was avoided yet again.

After that, we explored a few more attractions before passing by the haunted barn for the hundredth time. The line was longer about half an hour ago but now there was only a few people loitering by the booth.

Miguel noticed me staring up at the old barn. "Do you feel brave enough to try it, Raini?"

"Huh?" I turned toward him. "Oh, um, we can try it?" My friends had given up attending the festival at night because of me. The least I could do was try a scary attraction with them.

"You sure?" Roxy smiled gently. "Doll, we don't have to,"

"I-I want to," I insisted. "I've been to a haunted house once when I was a kid with Holly. A barn is almost the same thing, right?"

"If it gets too much for you, tell us immediately," Roxy said. "there are emergency exit signs throughout the barn so we can leave any time,"

"If there isn't an exit and you want to leave, we'll make one ourselves," Tripp grinned mischievously.

I laughed at his comment.

"Yeah," Mig added. "we'll find a way to bust you out if it gets too scary,"

I smiled at my friends. "Thanks, guys,"

We waited in line for ten minutes before we were waved in. A few boys about Naomi's age joined our group and we entered the barn together. The doors automatically slammed shut on us and we were enveloped in darkness save for the eerie glows of the lights scattered on the dirt floor. The guys that had joined us let out a fake high-pitched girly scream.

Their scream had startled me so much that the teens heard my reaction before exploding into rude manic laughter. I heard Tripp tell the boys to scram and they cursed at him but didn't object when the three of them paraded past us giving hoots and cracking dirty jokes to each other.

Roxy groaned under her breath. "Immature brats,"

"You okay, Raini?" Tripp asked.

I let out a shaky breath and the familiar constrictions in my chest that I hadn't felt in a couple weeks returned. I took a deep breath and rested a hand against my stomach.

"Y-yes, I'm fine," I stammered after releasing several deep breaths.

"Let's go back out," Tripp spoke.

"Yeah," Roxy agreed and called to me in the darkness. "Hey Raini, give me your hand,"

I fumbled and reached out in the direction of her voice. My fingers lightly brushed someone's hand and we both withdrew as if burned. I scolded myself for taking off my gloves before entering the barn.

"S-sorry! Whose hand was that?" I gasped.

"Not mine," Roxy mused. "Girl, where are you?"

"She's near me," Tripp cleared his throat. "anyway, let's head out,"

"N-no, I'm fine. Those boys just startled me, but they're gone, so it's fine," I protested.

"Raini, don't push yourself if you're scared. You don't need to act brave in front of us. We all know how brave you can be in the face of real danger," Tripp said fervently.

Roxy started cackling somewhere to my left. "Aww, you just love regaling about Raini to us. Tripp, I was there! I saw our doll scream at Sean."

"Man, I wish I could've seen you in action in telling Sean off that day, Raini," Miguel commented wistfully.

"Ohmygod that's not what happened at all!" I flushed in embarrassment at Tripp's reference to the confrontation with his father so many weeks ago. I was glad that we couldn't see each other well in the barn so my friends couldn't see how red I was.

Roxy's cackles transitioned into snorts. "Oh, Tripp, you're gonna be one of those guys in his thirties boasting about his sports car or latest bass guitar to all his friends. I can picture it now."

"Hey guys, check m'latest Fender bass. Oi got tree oter models like it but ain't she a fine ting?" a voice spoke in a low melodic accent.

"Who said that?" Roxy gasped loudly. "M-Mig was that you?"

"Wait, was that supposed to be an Irish accent?" Tripp asked incredulously.

A noise bubbled up my throat and I clutched my sides and bent over laughing.

"Hey, it worked!" Miguel chuckled triumphantly.

"HAHAHA," I wheezed. "y-you guys s-sounded so shocked when M-Mig spoke haha!"

"Holy shit, Mig," Tripp began to laugh. "I've never heard you mimic accents before!"

"I was imitating your future self after you move to Ireland one day to explore your roots and you develop an accent," Miguel explained in amusement.

My non-stop laughter became contagious and my friends soon joined in until we all sounded like a clan of spotted hyenas on a prowl in the dark.

When our laughter finally died down, all the tension that the rowdy teenaged boys had caused in me had dissolved completely.

"Thank you, guys," I voiced gratefully and wiped my eyes. "I-I really needed that,"

"Me too," Roxy giggled.

"Heh, well, I'm not planning to move anywhere any time soon. And Raini, if you really are okay to keep on going then we can head further in," Tripp sounded close to my right.

"Y-es, sounds good,"

One by one, we followed the path of faint lights embedded in the floor. Miguel led us fearlessly with Roxy right behind him and me beside her with Tripp at the rear.

All around us, orchestrated screams, pleas for help, howls and wicked laughter reverberated in my ears. Propped zombies, clowns, and monsters leapt at us like clockwork with flashing lights and arms popped out of the wall. One mechanical arm snatched Miguel's bicep when he brushed streamers aside for us. He yanked his arm back without so much as a gasp and I clutched Roxy's arm tightly as we passed underneath the streamers.

After a couple more minutes, we were out of the cramped passageway and stood in a wide-opened space with three paths to choose from. It was dimly lit, and I could finally see my friends' faces for the first time since entering the haunted barn.

"Should we split up?" Roxy asked.

"One of us has to pair up," Miguel said.

"Dibs on Raini. You lovebirds can go solo for once," Tripp snatched my hand and my relief at not having to venture alone masked the initial jolt at the contact.

Ohmygod, stop freaking out, Raini. You've grabbed his hand before.

This is different! My brain highlighted and proceeded to flood me with a flashback of the time Tiphany and her friends crowded around me. I was crouched low to the floor and Tripp was offering his hand to help me get on my feet.

"Not fair, I was going to ask Raini to pair up," Roxy laughed while eyeing our joined hands. We broke apart instantly.

"You snooze, you lose," Tripp continued. "Anyway, you take the one on the right, Mig takes the left and we'll take the middle. Loser has to buy us candy apples,"

"I can buy it," I offered.

Unbelievably, making friends turned out to be the easiest part. Keeping them and maintaining these friendships was a whole different story.

"We're not going to come out last," Tripp said to me.

"I can treat you guys regardless," I insisted.

Miguel smiled. "Good luck,"

I nodded and we all set down our separate paths. Tripp and I walked side-by-side without speaking or touching. Not much later, I let out a cry after losing my footing but didn't see what I stumbled on. It was probably a prop.

"Be careful, Raini," Tripp warned before catching me. "It's pretty hard to see. Here, take my hand."

I flushed and wiped my sweaty palms on my jacket before slipping my hand into his outstretched one. "T-thank you,"

We heard more creepy wails, but I was startled a lot less with Tripp. He would recite jokes or tell funny stories about his bandmates that had me forget my surroundings. After a while, I started hearing muffled voices of people outdoors and hope rose in my chest thinking that we were close to the exit.

"Huh, dead end," Tripp murmured and then turned us around.

"Huh, we're going back the way we came? You're not going to bust us out of here?"

Tripp froze in his steps before releasing a surprised laugh. "Holy shit, did you just make a joke, Rainers?"

Elation filled me up like an inflated hot-air balloon to have made him laugh for a change.

"You three must have all rubbed off on me," I smiled to myself.

"Hell yeah," Tripp sounded pleased.

By the time we made it out of the haunted barn, Roxy and Miguel were already waiting with candy apples. They handed one to each of us and we went indoors to munch on them. We spent two and a half hours at Fall Fest and stayed past sunset before we drove back to Roxy's house. Her parents greeted us warmly and asked us how the event was. After some small talk with her parents which Roxy did all the talking and we just listened, her parents bid us goodnight and joked that we wouldn't even know that they were home once they went upstairs. We changed into our PJs and Roxy and I washed off our face paint in the bathroom together. At first I had been a bit embarrassed at the amount of photos she took of us, but thinking on it now, I was delighted to have some mementos of today.

In the meantime, Roxy gave the boys the task of deciding on the theme for the movie marathon and prepping the snacks. It was around nine-thirty p.m. when we all settled down on the couch in front of the TV carrying plastic bowls of popcorn, assorted candies, and chocolates.

I unwrapped a chocolate bar from my bowl while Miguel pressed play on the remote control to start Zombieland—the first film in the zombie movie marathon.

The next film we played was Shaun of the Dead. By then, my eyelids started to droop and I shut my eyes for moment somewhere in the middle of Shaun obliviously buying canned beer at a wrecked convenience store and missing the bloody handprint on the glass fridge door to Shaun and Ed screaming at a zombie entering their flat.

I wasn't sure how long I dozed off for when I stirred from my nap and shifted my face. I was lying on my side and my head felt cushioned by something warm, solid, and bony. I rubbed my eyes before opening them fully only to discover that more than half my body was resting on top of Tripp.

I gasped audibly and scrambled to sit up, accidentally pushing Tripp in the process. A little too late, I realized he was starting to slip off the couch because I somehow took up most of the room. He slid right off the edge onto the carpet floor.

Tripp sat up instantaneously with a curse leaving his mouth and I apologized multiple times and asked if he was okay.

Roxy and Miguel startled awake and Miguel turned on a lamp next to the armchair that he and Roxy were sharing. I screwed my eyes shut and blinked several times to adjust to the yellow light. When had Roxy and Miguel moved so that Tripp and I conquered the couch?

"What happened?" Roxy mumbled groggily.

"I fell off the couch." Tripp answered with a yawn.

"How?" Miguel stretched. "You take up way more space than Raini."

"I pushed him by accident. I didn't know I fell asleep on Tripp!" I squeaked.

"Yeah, well, you were practically hugging me." Tripp glanced over with half-moon eyes and my jaw dropped.

"I'm joking, Raini." he laughed lowly. His voice was scratchy and thick with sleep. It was new to see and hear this side of Tripp. He looked boyish and unguarded and my stomach did a somersault.

"When you fell asleep on him, he started freaking out since he didn't know where he was allowed to place his arm on you." Roxy giggled.

Tripp narrowed his eyes at her but didn't deny it.

"Don't worry about it, Rainers. Rox and Tea fall asleep on my shoulder all the time." Tripp turned back to face me with a drowsy smile.

It wasn't just the shoulder! I fell asleep on half of your body! I internally screamed.

Tripp climbed back onto the couch and I scooted over for him. I found that we were on opposite ends of the couch and neither of us moved toward each other.

Why would he move to sit beside you? I chided myself. You shoved him off in the first place.

"Used to fall asleep," Roxy amended. "Mig's shoulder is my fave pillow to sleep on,"

Miguel blushed and Roxy kissed him on the cheek.

I got up from the couch then and everyone peered at me.

"U-um, gonna go to the bathroom," I stammered and left the living room to walk briskly to the bathroom. I let out a breath after flipping the light switch and locking the bathroom door. Turning on the tap, I shut my eyes and splashed cool water onto my face.

A gentle knock sounded on the door. "Raini? Are you okay?" Roxy called through the door.

I turned off the water and dried my hands on a towel. "O-oh, yes!"

"I'm sorry we didn't wake you up. You won't get in trouble will you? I know your mom said we couldn't all sleep in the same room but…" Roxy sounded worried.

I unlocked the door and opened it. "O-oh, no, it's fine," I smiled self-consciously. "It was my fault for not asking to go upstairs to rest when I started to feel sleepy,"

"Tripp figured you might awaken after a few minutes but when you didn't, he asked me if I thought it was okay of him to bring you upstairs," Roxy explained. "We were going to but then you kinda latched onto him and he didn't want to rouse you,"

Mortified at what I had done, all I could do was gawk at her. I considered locking myself in Roxy's bathroom and calling it my new home. Before I could make that happen, Roxy announced to the guys that she and I were going to head to her room to sleep.

The guys called out goodnight to us from the living room and Roxy nodded at me to follow her upstairs. I saw Tripp and Miguel unrolling their sleeping bags on the way up but I spun around before they could catch me looking. Roxy had a double-sized bed, so I didn't have to use my sleeping bag. It was just shy of two-thirty in the morning once we buried ourselves alive under blankets and pillows in Roxy's bed, however, now I was wide awake. I couldn't believe that I had fallen asleep on Tripp and then clung to him like a koala hugging a tree.

"—to sleepover," Roxy whispered happily in the dark, pulling me from my thoughts. She flipped onto her side to face me even though we couldn't see each other.

"Huh?"

"You're still worrying over what happened, eh?"

"How can I not?" I exclaimed.

"Aww," she cooed. "I wish you could've seen him. He was—"

"Mortified?" I blurted out. "I still am,"

"Flustered," Roxy finished.

"That's basically the same thing!"

"No, no," Roxy rushed on. "He was a little nervous because he didn't want to move and wake you. It was quite endearing,"

"Ohmygod," I buried my face into my palms. "There's no way I can face him ever again!"

"He wasn't bothered by it at all, Raini," Roxy exclaimed. "You did nothing wrong,"

I pulled Roxy's blankets over my head and brought my knees up to my chest. Maybe Roxy's blankets could be my new home instead. Roxy fell silent for a while and didn't force me to come out from underneath her covers.

"Hey, Raini," Roxy began hesitantly. "do you like Tripp more than just a friend?"

I didn't answer for a long time and wondered if I could just pretend to be asleep. But then the blankets shifted, and Roxy pulled them over her head too.

"I thought I might as well join you if you weren't going to come out for a while," she whispered.

"W-what makes you think I like Tripp like that?" I murmured into her blankets.

"Girl, you're asking someone who eats, sleeps and breathes romance novels," Roxy snorted.

I smiled in spite myself. "A-and out of all the romance novels you've read, have you ever read a novel where someone like…someone like…"

"Someone with personalities like you and Tripp?" Roxy asked gently.

I clammed up.

Exposing your heart to someone was hazardous. They got to see what was beating inside and had the choice to accept your heart or throw it away. I'd rather break my leg. Bones could heal within a few weeks or more, but hearts didn't. I barely survived the last heartbreak and it took a long time to piece my heart back all together.

You could try filling the void with myriads of distractions, but when you really fell for someone who didn't reciprocate your feelings, the hole expanded into an endless abyss. Holly taught me that the ultimate cure to heartsickness was time. It differed for everyone and it was impossible to calculate how long it would take to recover, but one day you were going to wake up and not feel the heartache anymore. I couldn't say when I exactly got over Chase if someone were to ask, but since then I swore to myself that I wouldn't fall for another person ever again. If only my present-day self could tell my fourteen-year-old self that the oath she made three years ago was about to be broken.

"Y...es." My voice was so quiet that I thought Roxy wouldn't hear me. It was my answer to both her questions and it was up to her to interpret which question I was answering. Although, saying it out loud lifted the invisible weight pressing down on my chest. Maybe it was okay to admit it to myself and to Holly and Roxy who saw right through me. I wasn't going to act on it. I wasn't going to repeat the same mistake I did when I confessed to Chase all those years ago.

Roxy let out a squeal of delight and her long arms wrapped around me.

"Roxy!" I yelped.

"Ahh I knew it!" Roxy gushed effusively. "Oh my lord, if you two got together, we can go on double dates and everything! Y'know, I've been lowkey shipping you guys since the encounter with Sean when Tripp just charged in to protect you and every time Tripp references that day, I have to contain myself. You guys are my OTP."

Roxy's choice of using fandom vocabulary made me gasp with laughter. Terms like OTP and shipping were used to describe your favourite fictional pair and not two people in real life.

"W-what?" I laughed in shock. "B-but we don't even have anything in common except for our favourite colour! Not even music and that's everything to him."

"Girl, the saying opposites attract has a grain of truth in it," Roxy said fiercely. "I know he cares deeply for you, Raini. I want to thank you for seeing the good in my best friend when so few ever do. Like I know he's not the best-looking guy around compared to others and girls probably fawn over him only because he's in a band…" She paused with a soft laugh. "He's such a loyal friend if you get to know him. After everything he's been through growing up, he could have turned out a lot worse if it weren't for the people that came into his life at the right time. His aunt is a godsend and his sister was the first person to give him unconditional love—a love that he never received from his parents. I know Mig and I changed him too, but Raini—you transformed him."

Roxy was saying so much. My head spun and my heart hurt to hear again how neglectful Tripp's parents were when he was a child. No child deserved that.

"M-me change Tripp? I couldn't possibly…"

"It's true," Roxy said confidently. "It was subtle at first, but I can clearly see a difference in him now,"

In the end, I babbled, "Anyway, what are you talking about? He's good-looking. He plays bass, writes songs, and has a good sense of humour."

Roxy giggled. "Ohh, I'm telling him you said that!"

"Oh no, Roxy, promise me you won't tell Tripp!" I pleaded. "It'll change everything! I don't want things to change between us. I like what I have now with Tripp."

"I know, I know. I was just teasing you. I would never tell him if you didn't want me to," Roxy's voice became serious. "But thank you for confiding in me, Raini. It makes me ecstatic that my besties like each other,"

"B-but why would he even like me? He must have so many fans…and they actually like the music his band plays!"

"The girls who scream for Tripp and the band at the shows know nothing about him the way you and I know him. He's thrilled that you're coming to the gig next week by the way," Roxy tittered. "a-and he warned Oliver to be on his best behaviour,"

"R-really?" My eyes widened. "Why does Tripp have to tell him to behave?"

"Ol's very charismatic and he's frontman for a reason. Tripp was worried that Ol would start flirting with you," Roxy chortled. "As if I'm letting that troublemaker anywhere near you. He can go charm the pants off someone else,"

I giggled at the absurdity that someone would even want to consciously flirt with me.

"And Elliott's their drummer. He's super sweet," Roxy continued. "I think you'll warm up to them in no time."

"O-oh, I look forward to meeting them," I smiled.

"I'll tell you a little secret about Tripp," Roxy lowered her voice again to a whisper. "It took him over a year to accept hugs from me back in the day when we became friends. He was wary of any kind of physical contact if he wasn't the one initiating it. Hugs were something that he only reserved for his sister and later on, his aunt, but not his friends. The first time he hugged me back, I cried. I was so surprised."

My eyes welt up in tears imagining that precious moment between them.

Roxy sniffled. "Right, so, what I'm trying to say is that Tripp likes to reserve his hugging for people close to him. It's different when it comes to fans. He doesn't mind giving group hugs but going out of his way to hug someone individually isn't something he'd do unless a fan asks."

"O-oh," I replied. "I didn't know that about him. I thought he was open like this with everyone,"

"Nope," Roxy affirmed. "Mig's like this too with the fans. Although, Mig was always like this even before we started dating so the girls usually flock to Oliver."

"What about Elliott?"

"Mm," Roxy made a noncommittal noise. "you'll find out when you meet him,"

"Oh, okay,"

"Anyway, I'm so happy that you're comfortable with Tripp now. I think I teased him too much in the beginning saying that you hardly talked to him because of his godawful nicknames. For a while, he thought you hated him."

"I don't hate him," I murmured feebly. "I never hated him,"

"I know, Doll," Roxy's hand found mine through the covers and gave it a squeeze. "It's the complete opposite."


A/N: Heyo readers!

I'm back with another update! I didn't expect to be back so soon since my last update was just in mid-April haha.

When you forget that you set this story in 2013-2014 to avoid keeping up with current trends and memes and then had to edit Train to Busan to Shaun of the Dead (still one of my fave horror/comedy flicks of all time) in the movie marathon because the film didn't exist yet. Raini would have never fallen asleep watching Gong Yoo on screen, that's for sure 😂

Anywho, I got carried away with this chapter if the word length wasn't already an indication... and thanks to icaruswalks for wishing for longer chapters back when you first started reading this...it only took 26 chapters but here we are! And Emoddess, I've always aspired to reach your tier when it came to publishing long chapters instead of my usual ~2-3K word length and I somehow made it! This is by far the longest chapter I've ever written (~8K words LOL).

Also, for anyone that has checked out my other story, AWB, there was an Easter egg for you! 🐺 Some uncredited AU crossover cameos! Is this allowed? 😂

I hope you enjoyed Raini's whirlwind of thoughts about her crush in this chapter. Hm, I hope I didn't make her out of character haha. I know I made the group just huddle in the dark inside a barn for way too long but I think it gave Raini the chance to laugh wholeheartedly for once without worrying about how she'd look or sound. So, which bit did you like most about Fall/Fright Fest? 😊

Lastly, the Halloween band gig will be up next! 🎃 There goes the month of October in a span of a few chapters while September lasted an eternity lol.

Thanks for reading! ^_^

(05/05/20)