I wake to the sound of the clock ticking on the far wall. My parched throat burns for water, and it's likely what caused me to wake up in the middle of the night. I'm in my room, I note, feeling the covers wrapped softly around my body. I try to remember how I got there, and the events of the night all rush back into my head.

Tears prickle my eyes again as I recall how my night had ended. I force myself to not let them fall.

I'm stronger than this, damn it.

I don't need to cry just because Lance Brown has been a douche to me. I know what kind of person he is. If anything, it's my fault for not getting away from him when I had the chance. I should have walked away the moment he appeared. I got over him once, and I can do it again.

"Drea?"

My eyes quickly adjust to the darkness and land on the outline of my brother, sitting up on the futon in my room.

"Paul?" My voice comes out hoarsely. "What are you doing here?"

Paul climbs to his feet and walks toward me. He sits on the side of my bed, the frame creaking under his frame. He reached to grab a bottle of water that is on my nightstand and hands it to me, "I knew you were going to wake up."

I gratefully accept the bottle and drink, almost finishing the entire thing in one guzzle. The cool water trickles down my throat, filling me with relief.

He is calmly staring at me as I drink. His brows crease in concern. I know what he is thinking.

I sigh, "I'm fine, Paul. He didn't hurt me."

"I'm sorry I wasn't there," his tone is full of remorse.

I try to give him a soft smile, but it falters. "You won't always be there to protect me, you know."

"Still, I should have been there," he returns firmly.

"You couldn't have known," I say.

"No, I should have…what happened during lunch should have told me something—"

I don't want Paul blaming himself. If we go down this road, it wouldn't be good for either one of us. "It doesn't matter. All that matters now is that I'm okay."

"Are you?" His eyes fiercely pierce through mine and I can read the genuine concern mirrored there. He can read me. He already knows what is bothering me and I haven't even told him anything.

"I will be," I whisper, giving him a reassuring smile.

I remember telling Elise the same thing. I will be.

My brother is silent for a moment.

"Tristan," Paul starts to say. "He brought you here."

"I know," I remember him pulling Lance of off me. I remember what he did after that.

"He came with Brent, your friend Elise, and two other girls. Jo was with me when3

Tristan called, and they all stayed for a while to make sure you were going to be ok. Dad...he wanted to know what happened, but I covered it."

"Thanks," I don't want my father to know about this. We never told him what happened freshman year and he couldn't know about this either. I never wanted to report it.

We stay quiet for a while, each of us lost in our own thoughts, recalling the nights' events.

"Tristan, he…he's not that bad of a guy," Paul muses, his mind lost in contemplation.

I glance back up at Paul, stunned by his words.

"He acts like it sometimes, but I think I understand," Paul murmurs.

"Okay," I don't know what else to say.

Paul gives me a slight smile, messing up my hair. "Get some rest, Drea." He stands up and starts walking toward the door.

I smile to myself. "Paul?"

He turns back.

"Good night," I tell him.

"'Night, sis," then he leaves.

I lay my head back against my pillow and close my eyes. I don't see Lance in my thoughts. He's buried in there somewhere, but my consciousness chooses not to focus on him. I focus on something else...on someone else. The last thing I remember as I fall back asleep is feeling safe.


Saturday is a better day.

Paul, Dad, and I spend the day out together, grabbing lunch and catching a movie—even shopping a bit. I decide to put yesterday's events behind me, and Paul even asks me if I am sure I'm feeling well about five times.

I guess he doesn't expect me to have the amount of energy that I do after what happened last night. I could keep blaming myself for what happened. I could chastise myself over and over for letting this happen again, or I can learn another lesson from it. I choose the latter. I didn't let it happen to me. I didn't ask for it to happen either. It just happened, and I can move on from it.

Today, I feel different than I did yesterday. I'm just happy to be out spending the day with my family and I just want to enjoy it as much I can.

Elise, Felicia, Courtney, and Joanna all call to check up on me. I appreciate it and I tell them all the same thing, but don't talk on the phone for long. Today is all about my brother and my father. I just want to be with them, do the things we used to do together as a family when mom was still around, and create new memories to cherish. Work misses me and my pockets are crying lately, but I tell myself I will make up for it by picking up extra shifts.

Scott calls me later on during the day when I'm back home in my room. At first, I'm not sure if I should answer, but eventually, I do.

"Drea?" He says once I answered. "Hey."

"Hi," I answer.

"I…how are you?" He sounds concerned, and uncertain of himself, almost like he doesn't know how to approach this subject. I don't blame him.

"I'm fine, Scott," I tell him.

"Listen, can we talk?" He asks. "I need to talk to you, in person."

"Ok," I agree.

"Um, do you want to meet somewhere, or—"

"You can come over, if you want," I tell him.

"Yeah, sure, I'll stop by."

I give him my address. After a long day out, dad is taking a nap and Paul is meeting up with Joanna for dinner. So, I'm the only one home when Scott pulls up in my driveway.

I meet him outside and it's awkward to face him, but I push past it.

"Hi," I say when he walks up the front steps.

"Drea," he looks strange—worried. I gesture to the bench and we sit down.

I wait for him to speak but he just sits there, like he's struggling with himself. Like he doesn't know how to start.

"Are you alright, Scott?" I ask him.

He glances at me, "I should be the one asking you that."

I shrug, "I'm alright."

He shakes his head, "I'm not."

"What's wrong?"

"I've been an ass to you, Drea. That's what's wrong," he tells me. He wonders, "God, how are you still talking to me right now?"

"You didn't do anything wrong—"

He chuckles. "Don't make excuses for me. I did a lot wrong," he says. "You're just not used to people owning up to their mistakes. You don't expect apologies. You just accept things as they are, and you move on."

I consider his words for a moment and realize just how accurate that is. "What else am I supposed to do?"

"Not stand for it," he says. "No one deserves that. Especially you."

"Maybe I've just learned not to exaggerate my place in other people's lives."

Scott scowls, "That's bullshit, Drea."

"That's life," I state with a light shrug.

Scott hesitates for a moment, and then he looks at me and asks. "Is Brown your ex?"

I nod. "We dated for a while in our freshman year. He was charming at first, then soon he showed me his true colors. I broke up with him, but he was hard-headed. He harassed me for a while and eventually my brother had to step up. They fought and Paul won. He backed off after that and I... let it go."

"I wish you would have told me about him. I would have—"

"There is nothing you could have done, Scott," I tell him. "Last night...I didn't think he would do something like that, either, but he...well, I'm just glad Tristan showed up when he did."

Look at me, admitting I'm glad for Tristan Moore's existence.

Yeah, something is definitely different about me.

Scott looks back up at me, his eyes apologetic. "I feel horrible. I should have been there. I saw you and then—"

"Hey," I put my hand over his and squeeze. "It's my fault for ever liking the pig and going out with him in the first place."

I was naive back then. I had a horrible experience with a guy I liked. I was a freshman in high school, and I wanted to experience it all. Lance had been one of the popular athletes who showed interest to me, and I couldn't resist. We started going out and everything started out fine, but then came a party and things got out of control. He became forceful, and I didn't like it. He didn't care. I asked him to stop. He didn't. I got away somehow, but he never left me alone.

Until I told Paul and the rest, as they say, is history.

That's when I made the decision that I didn't want to experience it anymore...the partying, boyfriends...and it didn't help that my mother's health worsened after that incident. And my friendship with Callie fell down the drain.

"Don't you ever blame yourself for this happening to you. It's not your fault, Drea. Tell me you understand that?" Scott pleads with me.

"I do," I say and mean it.

"You deserve to be happy," Scott says, intertwining our fingers together. I look down at our connected hands, seeing how nice they look together. "You deserve a great guy in your life."

A part of me wants to smile, but I don't. Not when I know what he's going to say next.

"I think we both know that I can't be that the guy for you."

His words don't upset me as much as I expect. I already came to that realization myself. Scott and I...we're not meant to be together.

"You're right," I tell him, a small smile curving around my lips. "I get the feeling that you're better at being a friend than a boyfriend, anyway."

He gives me a dry smile, "Haha. That's so funny."

I can't help but laugh. "Seriously, though, I know one day some amazing girl will come and make you see that she's the one you've been waiting for, and I'll be there to tell you that I told you so."

He just rolls his eyes but smiles, anyway. "Sure, if that ever happens, you'll be the first to know."

"Good," I look at our intertwined fingers again before bringing my hand out of his grasp and folding my hands back on my lap.

"I'm glad you're okay, Drea," he tells me, a serious note in his voice. "You're too good of a friend to lose."

I can't help but grin as I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Scott doesn't tell me what I want to hear. He tells me what I need to. I know he cares about me and I don't want to lose his friendship, either.

I scoot up a little closer to him and put my arms around him. Even though it's awkward sideways hug, it was a hug nonetheless and he returns it. Being in his arms is nice, and the feeling of knowing that I'm going to be alright intensifies, especially with him as one of my closest friends.