If you have a problem with sex between two guys, this story isn't for you. If this content is illegal in your area, or if you're legally too young to be here then you should leave, or take responsibility for your own actions. This story is a work of fiction. Any similarities to real life is completely coincidental.

Desert Dropping

Chapter Twenty: Things that mean nothing

A/N: Thank you to Jim the editor for volunteering his time to sort through all of my mistakes to make this chapter more readable (better) it is appreciated.

My hands were torn up and dry, I was exhausted, but the patio looked nice. I guess. There was much more to putting it together than I thought there would be, but Tom seemed pleased with the end product. No one stuck around to see if his wife would be, too. Except Seth, I noticed. He didn't leave when everyone else did. This made Dave paranoid, and as we headed home he made Luke reassure him some more. Luke did, but he also mentioned that Angela's next boyfriend would probably be a real one, so Dave should act soon, or just forget about it. I had to agree, but didn't say anything. There was too much on my mind to get drawn into their conversation, at least until Luke dropped Dave off. I wanted Luke to drop Dave off so I could start questioning him about Seth. Unfortunately, Luke decided to bring Dave home with us, and I had to wait.

The two of them were so busy arguing over whether or not Dave should ask Angela out at Rick's party that neither of them noticed me slip away. I ended up in the basement again, and I took my second shower of the day. I would have said that I needed this one more than the first, but trying to wash Aaron off had seemed pretty important at the time.

As I wiped the steam from the mirror and looked over my reflection, my eyes fell to the hickey on my neck; and as I moved my fingers over it, feeling my pulse beneath, it seemed so much worse than the bruise that was still on my face. I think that's because I was a little disgusted with it--and with myself, for thinking that if things had been different, I might have been a little happier to have that hickey.

As I dressed and went to my room and my thoughts drifted to Aaron, I couldn't help wondering where he was, or what he was doing. Before I could stop myself, I even wondered if he felt bad over what had happened the night before. I wondered what had been going through his mind. I wondered if he really meant the things he said. As I stretched out on my bed, I wished that I had something that reminded me of him, so I could either destroy it or stare at it and try to remember what I ever saw in him that wasn't a result of physical attraction. I wondered if the big knot in my stomach was there because I missed him. It hadn't even been twenty-four hours yet. That notion seemed kind of pathetic to me.

Aaron was bad news. There was no doubt about that. But still... I couldn't help wondering about him. I couldn't help the way that my head was suddenly full of daydreams as I imagined seeing him again, him apologizing. Is that what I wanted? An apology? I didn't really know, and that was frustrating.

My mother unexpectedly entered my mind. She hadn't been around long enough for me to tell her about my first boyfriend. I wondered what she'd say about Aaron if she was around. I wondered what she would have thought of him when I first met him, and what she would have thought of him now. I wondered what she'd tell me if she knew how I felt right now. I wondered what she'd think of Luke. My mom would have liked Luke. I know she would have. She would have liked that he was a friend to me, when I didn't have anyone else. She would have liked him because he had the ability to make people smile. I doubted there was anything about Luke that my mom wouldn't like. I wondered what she would have said to me if I told her about how Luke and Seth had seemed way too cozy today. Given the kind of person Seth was, I doubted that she'd approve. She'd probably be worried about the same thing with Luke and Seth that she would have been worried about if she'd seen me with Aaron. She'd be afraid that Seth would get Luke into trouble, hurt him the way that Aaron hurt me. Maybe that's what I was worried about, too.

I found myself reaching under my bed, feeling around until my hand came over the top of the familiar box, my fingers searching what I knew to be smooth, shiny red paper, feeling the slight indentation of where my mom's handwriting was. Maybe I would open it before my birthday. That's what she would have wanted. My mom would have expected me to have opened it by now. But now, I couldn't. With everything else going on, that box scared me, or at least, what I would find in it scared me. Part of me thought that for the time being, I was better off not knowing. But that still didn't stop me from lifting the box as I turned over on my bed, placing it on my chest and then trying to guess what was in it. It wasn't something store-bought. I already knew that much. It was something personal. Maybe that was why I was so afraid of it. It was something personal, from my mom.

I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to picture her face. Sometimes, if I saw her smile, only for a moment, it would make everything bad just go away, and a moment felt like a lot when that happened. It didn't work this time. I could hear Dave and Luke. They were downstairs now. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but they had obvious happy tones in their voices. I wondered when I would feel happy like that. It irked me to realize that the last time I'd spent the majority of one day smiling, was with Aaron at the water park. That had been the best time I'd ever had with him. I reached for the phone, and started dialing his number. I was on the second half of it when I realized what I was doing and hung up. No more Aaron. That was final, and I'd just have to keep reminding myself of it. There were other things to focus on besides Aaron, anyway, like Luke, and what he was thinking when it came to Seth.

Maybe I was a little worried that Seth was beating Luke at the game he started, and would ultimately do something despicable; but the more I thought about that, the more it didn't make sense, at least where Luke was concerned. Luke would probably know better. Something told me that he wouldn't put himself in a situation where he could get burned like that, especially after Aaron. Hell, I wasn't eager to ever put myself in that situation again, either. Maybe if I had listened to the warnings, and gone with my gut every time something struck me as off with Aaron, last night never would have happened.

My bedroom door abruptly started to open and I sat up, pushing my mom's present back under the bed in the process. I didn't really feel like discussing with anyone why I didn't want to open it. I looked back up just in time to see Eddie step into my room, his eyes falling on me in the process.

"How do you feel about cheesecake?" he asked.


As it turned out, I liked cheesecake. It was one of the deserts that I had once a year, usually with Grandma Alice, because my mom hated the stuff. But, I figured cheesecake wasn't the main reason why Eddie had asked me to go up to the kitchen with him to help eat a few slices of the one he'd brought home from his lunch with Jase and his friends.

The sliding glass door was open, Jase, Luke and Dave outside, making sure all of the lights were working for Rick's party, and trying to figure out if the barbecue grill had enough propane. Eddie seemed uninterested in this as we stood on opposite sides of the counter. He was more interested in me as I sliced my food with a fork, trying to decide if I wanted to eat the filling and the graham-cracker crust together or separately. I had a feeling I knew what was on his mind, I was just waiting for him to bring it up--not that I really wanted to talk about it.

"Can we talk about what happened last night?" he finally asked.

Nope, still didn't want to talk about it.

"I guess," I replied, beginning to feel nervous. Maybe that's because this time, Eddie didn't seem nervous at all. More like determined.

"Okay, what happened last night?" Eddie asked. "I mean, the guy who brought you home--Seth..."

I couldn't help rolling my eyes. I wasn't exactly up for another sex talk. Jase had been almost impersonal and informative the night before; he just gave the facts. Eddie was assuming that I'd become `active' with someone I'd never even touched before. That was just aggravating.

"Listen," I said, hoping I could end this before it started. "I'm sorry about last night. It's just, I heard you and Jase talking about me like that, and..."

"Rory," he cut me off. "I'm... sorry about that. I don't do well with some things, okay? I mean, with talking. It can be a little intimidating, especially with you. Obviously, it was easier for you to talk with Jase than me about some things..."

"Did Jase tell you that?" I suddenly demanded, wondering if Jase had given Eddie details of our conversation. Even if Jase had done most of the talking, I'd been under the impression that it was a private conversation. It was easy for me to feel betrayed.

"No," Eddie replied, and the confused look on his face had me feeling a little better. "Jase didn't have to tell me that. I know you're not comfortable coming to me to talk."

"Oh," I said, suddenly wondering if I should feel guilty that what he was saying was true.

"I'm not saying it's a bad thing," he said quickly. "It's understandable, given the circumstances. I'm hoping that sometime in the future, you'll be able to come to me if you need to talk. We're just getting to know each other, Rory. I've made some mistakes, thinking that you can't handle some things, but obviously it was me who couldn't handle it. I think it's going to take a while for both of us to get used to each other."

"So maybe for a while... we can just stick to what we're comfortable with?" I suggested.

"Yeah," he replied. "I can agree to that, as long as, you know, every once in a while we can test those limits?"

"You're going to test those limits now, aren't you?" I asked ruefully, and Eddie smiled at me.

"You learned something from Jase last night? I mean, you know how to be safe and all that?"

I sighed, not even feeling comfortable enough to answer that question, but managed to nod.

"Good," Eddie replied, nodding. He sounded relieved. I wondered if that was because I'd learned something, or because it meant we didn't have to have the talk. "But, back to this guy who brought you home last night--where was Luke?"

"Did you ask Luke?" I asked nervously. If Luke had lied to Jase or Eddie about me being with him last night, there was no way I wanted him to get in trouble for it.

"I'm asking you," Eddie replied seriously.

"You know, it's not really fair for Luke to have to chaperone me everywhere I go," I said, suddenly feeling defensive. "I mean, does he have to be with me everywhere I go?"

Eddie shook his head, still looking calm and determined.


"Okay, `cause, he wasn't with me last night," I admitted, showing no fear, or as little as possible. "I asked him to drop me off at the park with... some friends."

"You were at the park last night?"

"No," I said, after a moment of debating. "Luke dropped me off at the park, and I went to a party." I noticed a slight frown in Eddie's brow when I mentioned party. "But, I didn't like the stuff going on there, okay? I mean, it's not like I'm into any of it. It's all just stupid, anyway."

"I take it there were no adults at this party?"

Well, there were legal adults, but I doubted that Eddie wanted to hear what kind of adults they were.

"It's not like I didn't try to leave," I said defensively. "I brought the phone, and Luke gave me his number in case I wanted to leave, but the stupid thing wouldn't work." I tried to look as horrified as possible. "There was a girl's butt on the phone in the apartment, but even if I could have gotten it I don't have any numbers memorized. I had to get a ride home with Seth, and everyone else was drunk, I think. I didn't drink," I added, for good measure, and then fell silent as Eddie spent a long time staring at me.

"I think you did the right thing," Eddie finally said.

"I did?"

"I take it you won't be going to any more parties with these friends?"

"It's not likely."

"Then you definitely did the right thing. But hey, I want to make sure you know that you have more than just Luke to call. If you ever need to get out of a situation like that you can call here, too, Rory. I... or Jase, we'll come get you, and no one is ever going to get upset because you were trying to do the right thing. So make sure you have all the numbers you need the next time you go out. Are we clear?"

"We're clear," I agreed, deciding that things could have been worse.

"So, do you like this Seth guy?" Eddie suddenly asked. Obviously, there was still time for things to get worse.

"Um..." I wondered how to go about explaining to Eddie that I hated the guy but let him drive me home, anyway.

"Did you... invite him over here tonight?"

"What? No, I didn't," I said quickly, as if I were defending myself from a horrible accusation. "Why would I do that?"

"For the party..."

"Oh that. Um... about that, I had a question."


"Would it be okay if I didn't go?"

"I thought you said you were okay with it being here," Eddie replied, suddenly looking concerned.

"I am," I said quickly. "It's just... I'm kinda tired, after this morning. And, since it's not going to be downstairs anymore... I mean, is it okay if I just hang out down there tonight?"

"I guess so," Eddie replied, still looking confused. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah," I lied. "I'm fine."


It was after four o'clock when Luke barged into my room. I probably wouldn't have noticed, being half asleep and all, if he hadn't made himself comfortable, sitting on my stomach. I grunted as my eyes snapped open, and he laughed at me when I glared at him.

"I can't let you do it," he said matter-of-factly.

"Do what?" I asked, trying to wake up.

"Stay down here all night. Eddie said you don't want to go the party. What the fuck is that?"

"Luke." I groaned.

"Look, I get the whole mourning process is kinda required after a breakup. They say that it takes half the amount of time you were with someone to get over them, so I figure it'll take you, what? A week and a half to get over Aaron. Less, I think, because he's Aaron."


"Okay, that wasn't exactly supportive," he admitted. "But you have to come upstairs. No way are you going to sit down here and mope when you could be up there having fun. Plus, I bet Rick twenty bucks you could hold your breath longer than he can. I'll give you half if you do it."

"Luke..." I shifted under his weight, trying to make it easier to breathe underneath him.

"Rory, if you stay down here all night, so will I. Then you get to feel guilty because I didn't have any fun."

It was an empty threat, and he knew that I knew it, but it still made me smile.

"Look, I appreciate it and all, but I'm fine. I'm tired, anyway. Look, I've just had enough parties for one weekend, okay?"

Luke slid off my stomach, allowing me more breathing room, but he didn't leave. Instead he stretched out on my bed, leaning on an elbow so that he was facing me and we were only inches apart.

"This isn't going to be like the last party," he insisted. "You'll actually want to be at this one. If you let yourself. And, you won't have to think about Aaron. Come on, Rory. Please? It won't feel right if you don't go. Plus, it's right upstairs, so you can't not go."

I stared at Luke, stretched out comfortably on my bed, as if this were a daily occurrence for him, and got the feeling that he wasn't just going to go away. It made me wonder where I was going to be when the party did start.


"Rory. I have the next three to four hours to convince you to come upstairs. And, you will go. If you keep arguing with me you won't even get in your nap first."

I couldn't help smiling at Luke's ability to be confident--even if it was to the point that it was annoying.

"I'm having a bad day, Luke."

"It can still get better," he pointed out.

I cocked my head at that, watching as his blue eyes studied me, and I wondered if he knew exactly how bad my day was going.

"Do you like Seth?" I suddenly blurted. "I mean, maybe I don't have a right to even care after Aaron, but..."

For Luke's part, he didn't so much as blink at the question. Instead, his brow knotted as he continued to look at me.

"Is this an attempt to change the subject?" he asked suspiciously, and I shook my head.

"Today with Seth, I thought you were trying to show Angela he was a jerk, but then..."

"Actually, I wanted Angela to figure out he was more interested in guys--if he in was. I mean, that would be fucked up, if he was just playing with her head. I figured if she figured out he was a jerk, too, it would be an added bonus. But, turns out she already knew he was into guys, and I've gotta level with you--he's not such a jerk. At least, that's what I thought."

I finally sat up, terrified of what Luke would say next. He didn't follow me. Instead, he turned onto his back and locked his fingers behind his back as he looked up at me.

"But," he said, and it was the best but that I'd ever heard. "That doesn't mean I trust him. He did some pretty fucked-up things with you--I mean, it seems fucked-up. I don't know if he's still hung-up on Aaron, though. I mean, I brought up his name three times today, and it was, like, every time Seth found a reason to walk away or change the subject. Something doesn't add up here, Rory. I don't know, maybe you should try to talk to the guy, figure out what really happened. It might make you feel better."

At that moment, talking to Seth was not something I wanted to do, or even cared about. There was something else that seemed more important.

"So you're really not... interested in him? I mean..."

"Nah," Luke shook his head. "He's not really my type, and definitely way too shy."

Seth, shy? Now that, I couldn't believe.

"Besides," Luke continued. "There's someone else I kind of have feelings for, and until I'm over that, I'm not really looking for anyone, anyway."

This was new. Luke never mentioned to me that there was someone he was interested in, and it definitely piqued my curiosity.

"Who?" I asked.

"It doesn't matter," Luke replied.

"Why not?" I asked. "Seriously, who is it?"

"I'm serious, too. He's not interested, trust me."


Something told me that Luke was used to getting his way. He was probably always happy about it, too. At least, he was when he got me to go upstairs with him. He tried to talk me into wearing the one speedo I had, reasoning that he'd wear one too. That, I didn't go for, but I did change into swim trunks before we went up, and he seemed satisfied enough with that.

Eddie seemed happy that I'd changed my mind, too, and Luke and I helped him form ground beef into piles of hamburger patties. Eddie explained that Jase was driving Dave home so he could get what he needed. He also mentioned that if Jase started talking to Dave's mom, he'd probably be late in getting back.

"Okay," Luke said, facing off with Eddie, as Eddie handed me another chunk of meat to work with. "We'll keep down our music if you and Jase promise not to stare out the window the whole time. You'll make people nervous."

"How about you keep the music down, and we'll look out the window whenever we want."

"Eddie, come on!" Luke whined, and Eddie laughed.

"Can't you just trust us not to embarrass you?"

Luke considered this.

"No," he decided, and Eddie laughed again.

"We'll check in, but we won't crowd you," Eddie promised. "But, you make sure no one's running around the pool. I don't want this night to end with a trip to the emergency room."

"Okay," Luke agreed. "Oh... and can you guys keep Chey inside with you? I don't want her getting freaked out by all the people."

"She can stay upstairs if you want, or just leave her in the basement," Eddie suggested. "She should be fine. We should get the coolers out of the garage for the drinks. If this thing is going to be outside, it should stay outside."

"Except for bathroom breaks," Luke reasoned.

"They can use the one in the hall," Eddie responded, meaning the one closest to the kitchen.

"So how many people are coming again?"

"Brian called around today, and not including us, he's got thirty-four."

Eddie sighed. I think he'd been wishing that the number would have gone down.

"I don't want any police officers showing up at the door, Luke."

"We're in the middle of nowhere," Luke pointed out.

"Still, it seems like a lot of people. Just promise me things won't get out of hand. If anyone shows up that you guys don't know, or didn't invite..."

"We've got it covered," Luke insisted. "I'll get Brian to get them out of here. People don't argue with Brian."

Given his size, that was something I could see, even if Brian wasn't really intimidating at all.

"Alright," Eddie replied, still looking a little uncertain. "Why don't you go get the coolers. Are we going to have to run out for ice?"

"Probably," Luke replied. "But, we can ask Jase to pick it up on his way back."

"I'll do that," Eddie responded, and a moment later they were both leaving me to deal with the hamburger. I'd just placed another patty on the pile in front of me when the phone started to ring. I didn't move to get it, thinking that Eddie was close to it, anyway; but when he stepped into the kitchen with his cell phone at his ear, looking at me as if he wanted me to answer it, I quickly washed my hands and moved to the nearest phone.


There was no response. I figured that whoever it was had already hung up, and I started to do the same, but stopped when a quiet voice came from the other end of the line.


I knew that voice, and it instantly had my entire body going rigid as I looked over my shoulder at Eddie, who was still watching me as he spoke to Jase. I turned away from him and spoke in a hushed voice, hoping he wouldn't hear me.

"What do you want?" I demanded.

"What do you think," Aaron replied. "I want to talk to you. You totally fucking ditched me last night, and..."

"Excuse me?" I retorted. "Do you even remember what happened last night?"


"Don't call me anymore," I cut him off. "We're finished, Aaron."

I hung up the phone, fuming, and suddenly feeling very shaky. That wasn't a call I'd expected to get anytime soon, and it had managed to leave me more pissed off than anything. I made sure to control my reaction, avoiding Eddie's eyes as I went back to the meat, and he was off the phone a few moments later, ready to help again and regarding me curiously from across the counter.

"Who was that?" he asked.

I looked up at him, feeling trapped for a brief moment before I shrugged and said, "Some guy. He had the wrong number."

"Okay," Eddie replied, seeming satisfied. As for me, I was angry--and rightfully so, I thought. I'd never actually expected Aaron to call, but I had imagined it. But nowhere in my imagination had I ever thought for a second that he'd turn the tables and act like he should be pissed because I ditched him. Hell yes, I'd ditched him. He deserved it, too. And, I'd do it again. He's lucky that Eddie was in the room with me, or I might have let him know exactly how pissed off I was. I probably would have mentioned that I was disappointed his voice wasn't an octave higher after what I did to his balls, too. Fucker. "I'm glad you changed your mind," Eddie suddenly said, pulling me from thoughts that were doing nothing to control my temper. "You'll probably have a lot more fun out there with everyone else than you would downstairs."

"Yeah, probably," I admitted, now hoping that the crowd would help distract me from the phone call I'd just gotten.

Eddie must have noticed something in my tone, because he spent the next several moments studying me closely as I pretended I didn't see him doing it while I smashed more meat in my hands.

"I think this is enough food," I mused. "I mean, it's a lot of food."

"You're right," Eddie replied. "I think that's enough for now. We can freeze the rest of the meat. You want to put these plates in the refrigerator?" I nodded, and began to transfer the plates full of hamburger patties over to the refrigerator, while Eddie began to wrap up the rest of the meat. "So, I know I asked earlier, but are you okay?" Eddie suddenly asked. "You seem kind of down."

"I'm okay," I said quickly.

"Have you been talking to your grandma again or something?"

"No... I'm kinda taking a break with her. Look, I'm fine, okay? It's just been a long day."

"Okay," Eddie replied, and I was grateful when he let the subject drop.


If anyone ever told me that I'd enjoy flipping burgers, I would have thought they were crazy, but around eight thirty, when more than just Dave, Brian, and Rick showed up, and I started to help Luke on the grill--I liked it. I liked that I was off in my little own corner, able to watch everything without actually having to participate, unless people were coming to me for food. Luke liked it, because it freed him up to do something he did very well: socialize. But, he didn't just go off and party, and leave me on my own. Every few minutes he was at my side, helping to pass out plates and making sure that I was having a good time.

And, I think I was having a good time. This party wasn't at all like the one Aaron had taken me to. It wasn't like being trapped in a little apartment where people were puking all over each other. There was plenty of room, and with the pool lights on, and the porch light, there was plenty of light, even as the sun started to set. The pool was a little crowded, but that could have been because it was a warm night, and with an evenly mixed crowd of guys and girls, everyone seemed eager to strip down and get in the water. Jase and Eddie were in the kitchen for about the first half hour, looking out the window and getting dirty looks from Luke, but eventually they went down to the basement, deciding it was the quietest place in the house. People began to notice they were gone around the same time I was reminded that Luke was a wrestler when some of the guys there decided that it was the perfect time for practice; and Luke joined in almost immediately, laughing when he'd managed to toss his opponent into the pool. Of course, someone bigger was shoving Luke over the edge a moment later, but he didn't seem to mind.

Around the pool, a few girls were flashing, never losing their tops entirely, probably worried about Jase or Eddie returning. Most of the guys around the pool seemed to enjoy their efforts, nonetheless, and although I wasn't included in this number, the antics were fun to watch. Besides, it seemed to inspire a few guys to show off their assets, too. Lots of asses. Couldn't really complain.

I slowly started to noticed that more than soda was being passed out. I wasn't sure how the banned beverages got past Jase and Eddie, and I couldn't say who brought them, but I noticed even Luke didn't mind making his drink more interesting. But, unlike the other night, it didn't seem to bother me so much. Things here were just more... comfortable.

Brian and Cathy were making out like crazy, but couldn't seem to figure out where they were the most comfortable, so every time I turned around they were in a different spot. Rick was happy, because he was the center of attention, and Meg, who'd been clinging to him at the beginning of the night, was now seated with a different guy every time I spotted her; and Luke had gone streaking around the pool, earning himself an ample amount of attention from guys and girls alike, but had his shorts back on just before Jase stepped outside for a few minutes to check on us. He asked me if I was having a good time, being stuck at the grill, and after I assured him that I was having a better time than even I thought I would, I handed him a plate of burgers for him and Eddie and he disappeared into the house again.

A girl I hadn't met before asked me to go in the pool with her, but I declined, and had just handed her a hamburger when I spotted Dave coming towards me, dressed in blue swim trunks that probably hadn't even been in the water yet.

"I heard you joined the club," he remarked.

"What?" I asked, honestly confused.

"You know, the one where we all hate Aaron and want to do questionable things to him," Dave explained.

I couldn't help smiling at that. I was currently so pissed off at Aaron Keslin that I was ready to latch on anyone who thought he was an asshole.

"I guess so," I admitted, although saying it out loud, didn't feel as good as I would have liked it to.

"Hey... so, I'm sorry if it seemed like I was giving you a hard time about it before."

"You're not sorry."

Okay, I'm not about that," Dave admitted. "But, Luke told me what happened last night, and I'm sorry about that. Want me to kick his ass for you?"

I looked at shy, awkward, terrified-of-a-girl Dave and nearly laughed out loud when I realized he was completely serious. I guess like Luke, he wouldn't mind finding another reason to want to beat the crap out of Aaron. Although, with Luke I got the impression that the whole thing had more to do with sticking up for me than anything else. In a way, it was touching. Dave just seemed to be looking for an excuse. That was less flattering, but I think it was also his way of trying to make peace with me.

"Aaron doesn't deserve the effort it would take," I decided, and then held out a spatula with a grilled beef patty on it. "Are you eating?"

"I'm not really hungry," Dave replied, but lifted a paper plate and a bun, anyway. I dumped the meat on it and he handed it to a guy behind him who probably did want to eat. "Good party, though."

"It's not bad," I admitted.

"Yeah. So, have you seen Angela yet?"

I looked at Dave, not exactly surprised by the question. But, as I thought about it, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen Angela at all, and I'd seen just about everyone there, the way I'd been watching.

"Nope, sorry."

Dave sighed, looking over the faces filling the pool area.

"She said she was coming," he said. "I don't think she's coming."

"Why not?"

"Because she's not here," he replied, as if this were supposed to be obvious.

"Yes she is," Luke said, throwing an arm over both Dave and me as he stepped up beside us. I found myself leaning into him, the pool water dripping from his body and soaking my t-shirt becoming a cool ally after standing behind the grill for nearly the last hour. "She's right over there. But, it doesn't matter, does it? You're never gonna go talk to her."

Dave looked to where Luke had pointed, and my eyes naturally followed. Angela had probably just arrived, but she looked like she'd been there all night, the way she was already in the midst of a group of people, likely chatting up a storm. I glared. Not at Angela. I was glaring at the only person at the party wearing a baseball cap or jeans.

"I might go talk to her," Dave said defensively, and I was somewhat aware of him walking away from us. I was definitely aware of it when Luke turned his head to look at me, but I didn't look back. I was still glaring.

"He came with Angela," Luke said carefully. "Do you want me to ask him to leave?"

I looked away from Seth and redirected my attention to Luke after that question, feeling surprised.

"You could do that? He probably thinks you guys are friends now or something."

"Probably," Luke replied, shrugging against me. "But you don't want him here, right?"

"You'd ask him to leave?"

Luke dropped his arm from my shoulder seeming to give the question some thought.

"Look," he finally said. "He's here with Angela; and, I think it would kinda be fucked-up if he hasn't given me a reason to. But yeah, if you want him out of here, I will. So do you?"

Again, I was surprised. It wasn't just that Luke would be willing to place himself in an uncomfortable situation, it was also because he'd volunteered to do it for my benefit. Plus, the offer ridded me of any doubts I had when it came to whether or not Luke was actually interested in Seth, even though there wasn't that much doubt to begin with. I'd believed Luke when we talked earlier, except the part about whatever guy he was interested in. Even with further prompting he hadn't given me a name, or even a hint to who it was; and I couldn't even begin to guess because I highly doubted that there could be anyone who wouldn't be interested in Luke; and if there was, he was obviously an idiot.

I looked towards Seth again. I think I already knew that there was no way I was going to ask Luke to get him to leave, but I'll admit the offer was tempting. It was bad enough having to spend half the day with him around. His presence there now, just made me angry. It's not like he didn't know that I lived there. He'd been there the night before, dropping me off. It's not like he'd think for a second that I wanted him there. But then, for all I knew, maybe he thought Luke wanted him there. That really annoyed me. I remembered the way that he'd made me feel so unwelcome where he lived, and suddenly felt a strong desire to return the favor. But, as I watched him, I realized that I didn't need to make Seth uncomfortable. He was doing a good job of being uncomfortable on his own.

It took me a few minutes to get past the annoyance I felt over his presence, but once I had, and really watched him, I noticed that he was following Angela around, a lot like I'd followed Aaron around the night before. I immediately began to compare the situation. Unlike Aaron, Angela was doing her best to include Seth in conversation. She kept turning to him, and even with the distance between them I could see her mouth moving, speaking to him. She even took his hand a few times and subtly attempted to pull him forward. It was actions like that made it so easy to believe that they were something more than friends, and I found myself wondering if Angela had lied to me earlier. I decided she had no reason to, and continued to watch Seth. It was like he was refusing to allow Angela to pull him towards anything that would mean socializing. It was subtle, not meant to draw attention to himself, but he was still doing it, making sure to stay a step behind her, looking entirely out of place in high-tops among a sea of bare feet. I wondered if he even knew when he got here that it was supposed to be a pool party. Something about this behavior didn't seem very Seth-like to me, and Luke's mention that he was shy came back to me. I still didn't believe it. I decided that he wasn't shy at all. He was standoffish. He probably missed all of his fucked-up friends from the party last night. I just wished that he'd go back to them and get the hell away from me.

"Okay," Luke said, because I was obviously taking way too long to answer his original question. I looked down to see that he had removed the remaining cooked burgers from the grill, and was in the process of turning it off. "How about we ignore that he's here for now, and if you want him gone later, you can let me know. And, I think you should take a break."

"I'm fine here," I objected, reaching to turn the gas back on, but Luke grabbed my wrist and gave me a tug towards the pool.

"Pretty much everyone's done eating, anyway."

"There's still a lot of food..."

"Yeah, well some people ate before they came. We'll have leftovers. Come on, no fair hiding in the corner all night. It's a pool party, you're getting wet one way or another."


I let out a breath, deciding that it wasn't going to kill me to get into the water, as crowded as it was. I pulled my wrist out of Luke's grip, just so I could pull my shirt over my head. Once it was off, Luke was grabbing the garment out of my hand and tossing it over his shoulder, obviously not caring whether or not I ever saw it again. I didn't mind.

"I'm gonna get Rick," he announced. "You can hold your breath longer than him, right?" he asked, as if he suddenly needed reassurance. It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about before I remembered Luke's bet, and found myself searching out Rick, who was in the middle of a group of people, obviously liking the way that they'd made him the center of attention. I couldn't help rolling my eyes at Luke.

"Leave him alone," I insisted as we reached the pool. "It's his birthday."

"It's twenty bucks," Luke informed me, and in response I laughed and shoved him into the water. He came up sputtering, but smiling, and a moment later I was jumping in after him.

I swam just behind Luke as we navigated our way through various people, and the water was anything but calm. I felt crowded, and even if I'd been in plenty of crowded pools before, I definitely preferred it when there was just Luke and me occupying the water. I followed him, realizing quickly enough that swimming in itself wasn't an easy task with all of these people, and thought Luke had the right idea when I found a place on the wall near the deep end of the pool to hold into. Of course, that wasn't the most ideal place to be, considering people were jumping in or cannonballing every few seconds, splashing up an unreasonable amount of water. Luke and I turned towards each other, keeping our backs to the water in an attempt to keep such splashing away from our eyes; and as he pointed across the patio, towards the house, I followed with my eyes until they fell on Dave, who was all by himself, pacing in an invisible box that only stretched two feet, his eyes never leaving Angela Conner, and I laughed.

"Is it bad that I'm starting to feel really sorry for him?" I asked.

"No. You're just catching up to the rest of us," Luke said almost sadly. "I mean, it is sad. He doesn't get that way around anyone else. Just Angela. He's liked her for just about as long as I've known him. You'd think he'd be over it by now. Or, at least he'd be able to talk to her without stuttering. And, he doesn't think anyone notices that he gets like that, either. His last girlfriend actually broke up with him for it, but he still doesn't believe anyone when they tell him that's the reason." Luke sounded sincerely annoyed, and I was a little amused by it. But obviously, Dave's behavior when it came to Angela, was something that successfully annoyed Luke.

"If it bothers you, why don't you just tell Angela that he likes her?" I asked, glancing to where Angela was, but regretting it instantly when my eyes fell on Seth, too, and I quickly turned back to Luke, as more water splashed over us.

For a brief moment Luke looked as if he were taking my suggestion into consideration, but then shook his head, dismissing the idea.

"Dave would never forgive me."

"You could always ignore it, then."

"Yeah. Pretty much," Luke agreed, looking back towards his friend. I looked elsewhere, back to where Seth and Angela had been, but they weren't there anymore. I decided not to care, until I started turning my head back towards Luke and spotted them both directly in front of me, probably less than four feet away. It was a little unnerving, and I found myself wondering if Seth had even spotted me since he'd been there. His presence alone was enough to aggravate me, and so was the way that he suddenly looked more comfortable, now that he and Angela had moved away from the group she'd been talking to. A lot more comfortable. The two of them suddenly seemed to be in a very animated conversation, and when Angela abruptly began to poke at his ribs and he lurched away laughing, I found myself thinking that he looked too happy. That annoyed me more. I wondered if it annoyed Dave, the way that Seth suddenly moved towards Angela, playfully grabbing her around the waist and lifting her off the ground to stop her assault. It was at that moment, that his eyes suddenly seemed to stray, and met mine directly. It was only for the briefest moment, because I instantly looked away, but not before I saw his smile falter.

My eyes met Luke's quickly afterwards, and for a moment I felt my face heat as I wondered if Luke had caught me staring at Seth because of the careful way he was studying me. I was supposed to be ignoring the fact that Seth was even there. It wasn't as easy as I would have liked it to be.

"Aaron called me today," I said. I'm not sure why I made that announcement. Maybe it was because I suddenly felt put on the spot, or because Seth really was annoying me, or maybe I just wanted to tell someone how angry I was about that who would understand and be more than willing to agree that Aaron Keslin was, in fact, a jerk. And, even if I hadn't intended to mention this to Luke tonight, it came out easier than I thought it would.

But, that didn't mean that I didn't become unsure of myself immediately after I said it. Especially when Luke didn't say anything, only regarded me in a way that I couldn't read. I wasn't even sure if this topic was still off limits or not. Luke hadn't wanted to discuss Aaron with me yesterday; there was no reason why I should have thought he'd be interested in it today, just because I'd finally pulled my head far enough out of my ass to figure out that I'd been a complete moron.

"I didn't want him to," I insisted, when Luke failed to say anything. I felt that this was an important thing to get across.

Luke let out a breath and gave me a small smile, or, at least what looked like a smile. At least, I found it to be his acceptance of this conversation.

"What did he want?" Luke asked, almost cautiously.

"He wanted to know why I ditched him last night, and to let me know he was pissed about it," I said bitterly. "I told him not to call me anymore."

Luke laughed, but it was entirely humorless.

"What?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing," he replied, shaking his head. "It's just... that's classic Aaron. Completely predictable." I didn't quite understand, and it must have shown. "Whenever he fucks up," Luke went on to explain, "he has to find a reason for it to be anyone's fault but his."

I thought about that for a moment, deciding that it could make sense--and Luke definitely had a reason for thinking it.

"Yeah," I said, sighing.

Luke stared at me for another long moment.

"You're still hoping that he'll figure out how fucked-up he is and change, aren't you?" he asked, and when I looked at him, feeling defensive, it was only to find another small smile intact.

"No," I said anyway, deciding that there was no way I was pining for Aaron. Sure, I hoped that he'd change, but it had nothing to do with wanting to be with him, and I'm pretty sure that's what Luke was implying. "I'm not... I don't care anymore, okay? I just, want to forget about him," I finished sharply.

"Okay," Luke responded, and this time he was the one who sounded defensive. Although, he didn't look at all convinced. That bothered me. "So...do you want me to show you how to block his phone number later?"

It took me a few minutes to focus on Luke's question. Block Aaron's number. Good idea. Yeah, it was. But, not what was on my mind now. I did want Aaron to change. I wanted him to apologize. I wanted... how the hell should I know what I wanted? Last night. That's it. I'd had absolutely no time to deal with any of this and I had to remind myself that whatever I was feeling, was probably a result of that. I was...hurt. It hurt. I just hadn't really had much of an opportunity to feel it. Alone in my room earlier, I'd been miserable. But, other than that, there had been one distraction after another, this party the most recent. I couldn't help thinking that tomorrow morning when I woke up, there would be no distractions and I'd have to think about it again. I'd have to deal with it. I'd have to feel it. Who the hell needed that kind of stress? I sure as hell didn't.


"Yeah, we can do that," I said quietly.

Why did I have to feel anything towards Aaron, anyway? It wasn't like I'd known him very long. Sure, he happened to be a lot of firsts for me, but that didn't have to mean anything to me. Did it? Why did I have to feel hurt, or even angry? It was stupid. Aaron was a mistake. And it was really fucking stupid to feel anything for him anyway after last night. The way he touched me, the things he said to me. It was disgusting. Remembering it now had my skin crawling, but even that sensation wasn't enough to keep me from caring altogether. I hated that.

"Are you alright?" Luke asked me. I looked at him and got the general impression that he was regretting this topic. Maybe that was because I was regretting the topic, and I'd brought it up. Next time, I decided, I would pay more attention when Luke seemed reluctant to talk about something. His instincts about these things were obviously proving to be better than mine were.

"Does it always feel this fucking bad?" I asked in response, sounding somewhat forceful. "I mean, I feel like I shouldn't care, but..."

I stopped talking, wondering if I was making any sense at all. Luke, at least, seemed to understand, if the pitying look he was giving me was any indication. I didn't really like that look. I frowned to myself, beginning to feel like I was ruining the party because I couldn't keep things to myself.

"I think it's supposed feel like shit," Luke said after a moment, and when I met his eyes, he shrugged. "It usually does," he added, as if he couldn't help giving me an answer I really didn't want to hear.

"What usually does?" a female voice asked from behind us. Luke and I turned around, and I wasn't sure if I should be wary of Meg, who was floating in the water, holding onto an inflated beach ball, or grateful that she was there to get us off of this topic.

"Hemorrhoids," Luke told her. "They usually itch. Right, Rory?"

There was an abrupt silence that followed as Meg stared at Luke for a very long moment, with a very strange look on her face, and then looked at me with something equivalent to disgust; and as I realized what she was thinking the sudden embarrassment had me wanting to defend myself. Only, I was too speechless to do so and after what seemed like long moments of Meg just staring at us, she swam away. Luke lost his straight face instantly and cracked up, and I was surprised at just how quickly my laughter followed.

"Asshole," I remarked, right before I dunked him.

Bringing up Aaron with Luke was all but forgotten as we joined in the same kind of play that had been causing all of that obnoxious splashing. Only, I found that it didn't bother me quite as much when I was involved in it. Even when others joined in I didn't seem to mind, and in an interesting turn of events, I found myself in the shallow end of the pool, with a thin girl who I didn't even know on my shoulders, and I held her up as she knocked Rick off of Luke's shoulders and sent them both toppling over. This was repeated three times because Rick kept demanding a rematch, but I had a sneaking suspicion that he was purposely letting her win just so he could ask for a rematch. It was almost ten thirty by the time I found myself next to Luke, sitting on the edge of the pool with our legs dangling over the edge as we involved ourselves in talking to a crowded group of people as they shared their more amusing stories from school, several involving Rick, in honor of his birthday. I didn't exactly get involved in conversation, but it was nice not feeling like I was completely out of place, being able to laugh with them. I did manage to draw attention to myself once, though, when Rick handed me a plastic cup filled with soda. I'd been sticking to water, but took a drink, anyway. It suspiciously burned my throat and made my eyes water. Rick wasn't very amused when I managed to spit the offending beverage right back in his face, but no one else had trouble laughing at it, especially Luke, who took the drink from me, sniffed at it, and then guzzled it down with no problem.

I think it was safe to say that being around drunk people was going to make me nervous for a while. I think as I noticed more people drinking from plastic cups rather than soda cans, I kept expecting someone to change, or just snap and ruin everything. But, as I thought about how this wasn't Luke's first drink of the night, it occurred to me that nothing bad was really happening. People might have been a little rowdier than usual, but even when Eddie and Jase continued to come out and check on us, they didn't seem to think a bunch of teenagers having a good time was reason to end the party and send everyone home. And, as far as I could tell, Luke wasn't different at all. Maybe he was laughing at more things than he usually would, but other than that, he was still Luke. Maybe it was just Aaron who was an asshole when he drank.

There was a thought. I found myself wondering if last night could be blamed on his drinking; maybe I should talk to him, ask him not to do that around me anymore. But, I only entertained the idea for a moment before I realized what I was doing and shook it off. It would probably be in my best interest never to talk to him again, and that's what I wanted to stick to. Besides, Brian had suddenly come up behind Luke and me and pushed us both in the pool, thoroughly distracting me from my thoughts.


I'd just taken a bathroom break, and ran into Jase, who asked me to remind Luke that it was going on eleven thirty, and everyone was supposed to be gone in an hour. Then, he kept me for five minutes, asking if I was having a good time, and probably trying to figure out if things were getting too rowdy every time he and Eddie turned their backs. I insisted that everything was fine, and after reminding me again to remind Luke, he mentioned that he'd picked up more soda when he got the ice, and said that if we needed it, it would be in the back seat of his car. I probably would have ignored it if I hadn't heard someone say that drinks were going to get stronger because we were running low on coke. So, instead of heading back out to the pool, I headed out front, to Jase's car, and wondered if anyone would want the two liters of ginger ale in his back seat. The question was forgotten, however, when I looked towards the side of the road where everyone had parked, seeing Seth's truck parked there with the others, and a figure sitting on the tailgate with something glowing blue in his hand.

Until that moment, I'd pretty much forgotten that Seth was even there, but that could have been because, while I'd noticed Dave popping up every once in a while when I was hanging out with Luke, Angela and Seth had never joined our groups. But strangely, now I found that I wasn't feeling so hostile about Seth being there. Maybe that was because I'd been having a good time, and simply stopped caring about it.

I'm not really sure what provoked me when I started walking towards Seth's truck. It wasn't like I really wanted to talk to him, or even be anywhere near him. Maybe it was just curiosity as I wondered what he was doing out there all by himself. I wouldn't say that I was feeling particularly suspicious, or anything like that. Just, curious, which I decided must be another lapse in judgment as I carefully crossed the dirt road with my bare feet and moved past four other vehicles before I reached Seth's truck and saw that the figure on the tailgate was, in fact, Seth. I think confirming this was what brought me back to the fact that I didn't want anything to do with him, but before I walked away, I heard his voice and realized that the glowing device in his hand was a cell phone. It didn't take much before I took it upon myself to eavesdrop on his conversation.

"No," he was saying. "I'm still with Angela at that party I told you about. Yeah, I know what I said, but you know Angela. She asked me to stay." I found myself frowning, jumping to the most incriminating conclusion I could come to. Seth was talking to Aaron. The bastard. I'm not sure why the idea of that bothered me now, but it did. "I'm probably going to hang around here until she wants to go home," he continued. "No, it won't be long. Yeah, yeah, I won't complain when you wake me up bright and early. Bye, Dad."

I sighed, suddenly feeling like an idiot for standing there, glaring daggers into the side of Seth's head when he was obviously just having an innocent conversation with his father. It occurred to me then, that I'd probably gone out there just to find more things not to like about him, and I was a little irritated with myself for being disappointed that I hadn't found anything. I needed to knock this shit off. I doubted that trying to find reasons to hate people was supposed to be very therapeutic. I just needed to stop. I needed to stop thinking about Aaron, and now I needed to stop thinking about Seth. They were both officially out of my life. No more thinking about either of them, and definitely no more talking to either of them. Ignoring them both was my best option. Unfortunately, ignoring Seth wasn't so easy when I realized--much to my horror--that he was looking at me, as if he'd known I was standing there the whole time.

I blinked, doing my best to brace myself for when he snapped at me or something. It seemed like something Seth would do, and I was busy racking my brain for a retort that would work in any situation, when he turned away, looking straight ahead of himself without saying anything at all. Was he ignoring me? Well, I suppose I could live with that. There wasn't anything entirely insulting about it, so...

I was about to go back to the house, deciding to ignore him in return, when he did something I wasn't sure what to make of. He slid over on his tailgate, as if making room for someone else to sit, but didn't look back at me. I found myself looking around, almost expecting to see someone else there before I stared at Seth for a long moment, not really sure what to think about anything. Maybe he'd slid over to get further away from me. It was possible, and likely, but there had been something so deliberate in the way he moved that it had me curious, and more than a little confused.

Against my better judgment, I moved forward, deciding that it was okay to temporarily lose my mind every now and then, so long as I didn't get bored in the process, and stopped as I reached the tailgate, feeling like I was testing the water for sharks as I waited for something nasty or obnoxious to come from Seth.


Not a word. Not even a glance in my direction. Maybe he was ignoring me. Now, it was getting a little insulting. I mean, I was right there. He knew I was there. Maybe he was waiting for me to say something. That wasn't going to happen, though. Unless I wanted to ask if he showed up tonight because of Luke. If he did, I'd probably be a little too happy to point out that he hadn't even talked to Luke tonight, and that Luke wasn't interested.

I slid up on the tailgate, wondering if I felt like being that cruel. It's not like it wouldn't be gratifying. After all he'd told me that Aaron was just using me. Now that I felt like there might be some hurtful truths behind that, it seemed like Seth had been bragging about it when he shouted it after me. Yes, being that cruel was definitely appealing to me. I opened my mouth to ask him about Luke, but before I got the words out, Seth was already speaking.

"I'm not trying to crash your party," he said. "Angela wanted me to stay with her, that's it. I wouldn't be here otherwise."

I glanced over at him without actually turning my head. Was he trying to explain himself? I wasn't sure what he was doing, but I found myself a little perturbed that he had to explain why he was there right away like that. It made it harder to bring Luke up.

"She not my girlfriend," Seth suddenly added, and I turned my head in his direction, now even more confused. What did that have to do with anything? "She told me when you talked to her today, you thought..." he started to explain, but stopped himself and pulled his eyes from mine again. As a silence dropped between us, I wondered if I should tell him that I didn't care. It wouldn't hurt to say that I had no interest in anything he might have to say. Of course, that would never explain why I was sitting on his tailgate, listening to him say it. "Aaron thinks she is, though," he suddenly said. "I didn't tell him that--I actually told him we were just friends when he asked; but he probably didn't believe me because in Aaron's world, the only reason why I'd want to spend my time with her instead of him, would be if she was my girlfriend--which she isn't."

"Why do you think I care whether or not she is?" I decided to say, and somewhat coldly at that.

"I don't. I don't know. It's not like you want to do me any favors, either, but I think I was hoping you'd tell your friends that we're not dating so they'll stop looking at me like I should be watching my back or something. Or, you could mention to Luke that he doesn't have to wave his ass in my face to figure out whether or not I'm really gay," Seth added, sounding a little bitter. "Asking would have been easier."

I felt my cheeks heat at that. If anything, I hadn't figured that Seth would be on to Luke's game. For a moment I even found myself feeling bad about it, but I quickly pushed the feelings away.

"You probably liked him waving his ass in your face," I remarked, deciding to quote him.

"Not really. He still had his pants on."

I looked over at Seth, who was still looking straight ahead, and bit down the urge to laugh outright. Was that a joke? Honestly, with him I wasn't even sure. Seth glanced at me from the corner of his eye, probably waiting for my reaction. The only one he got, was me looking away. I was suddenly feeling very uneasy. I'm not sure why that was, actually. It wasn't like he was an immediate threat, and he wasn't slinging insults at me... or, maybe that's what I found do disturbing about the entire situation. Seth was being nice. Like the night before, I was a little tempted to look to the sky just to make sure pigs hadn't started to fly.

"Did things get too loud for you or something?" Seth asked, when I didn't say anything. "Is that why you're out here? I mean, after last night, I didn't think I'd see you..."

"Why are you doing that?" I suddenly cut him off, feeling irritated again.

"Doing what?"

"Being nice to me," I said accusingly.

"Is there a reason why I should be mean to you?" he replied, and was met with an incredulous look. At that I saw his mouth curl up, cracking a small smile. "Okay, but you kinda made it easy before."

"Like you made acting like an asshole look easy?" I retorted, and Seth actually frowned, letting out a breath.

"You know, it was never about you--not really. Aaron just kind of brings that out with me. That's not me. I mean, that's not really what I'm like." He said that last part in a way that made it seem he wanted to get the point across. I wasn't buying it for a second.

"Yeah, right. You know, if you're so hung up on Aaron, I hear he's single again, so..."

"I'm not," Seth suddenly snapped, beginning to look frustrated. Good. I was tired of being the only one. "Shit, what makes you think I'm interested in Aaron?" He was met by yet another incredulous look, but this time I got the feeling that he really didn't understand it.

"Are you serious?" I demanded, and when he shrugged, I found myself doing my best not to outright yell at him. "Let's see," I said with my best sarcastic tone. "First you warn me off of him, and then you show up on our date, and then..."

"Okay," he relented. "I can see how that looks. But, I told you to stay away from him because..."

"I believe you called me an idiot, and then told me to stay away from him," I cut him off.

"Well, you were an idiot," Seth responded logically, and I bit my tongue and settled for glaring at him. "I mean, you get it now, right? What he's like. I was just pointing out the obvious. Telling you to stay away from him was me trying to do you a favor. And, I didn't show up on your date. Aaron invited me."

"That still doesn't explain why you stayed," I pointed out, and Seth looked away from me again.

"I can explain that," he said after a few moments, suddenly sounding uneasy. "I mean, I can explain a lot of things, it's just... I mean..."

"You like Aaron," I concluded, as he continued to beat around the bush. "So, why don't you get out of here and go see him. I'm going to stick to the theory that you two deserve each other." I slid off the tailgate, ready to get away from him now. Obviously, my temporary lapse in judgment was ending and I was ready to get back to the party, where I'm sure Luke would give me a reason to keep smiling. But, I hadn't gotten past the front of his truck before Seth was stepping in pace beside me. It probably wasn't hard for him to catch up. I was walking carefully, lack of shoes and all.

"Okay," he said. "I know I shouldn't give you anymore reasons to be pissed at me, but I'm probably about to, so..."

"It really doesn't matter," I assured him. "I couldn't possibly hate you anymore than I do now."

"Fine," he said, frowning, but still didn't walk away. "So, you remember the night you met Aaron at the park? You were there with Luke..."

I abruptly stopped and stared at him.

"How did you..." I started to ask, but suddenly realized that Aaron must have told Seth about how we met. It was a stupid question. Only, Seth had an answer that wasn't at all what I was expecting.

"Because I was there," Seth explained. "I met you... you don't remember?"

I paused. I guess it was possible. I'd met a lot of people that night, but I hadn't really remembered any of them.

"Rick was introducing you to everyone; that guy Kevin I was with last night--you shook his hand and he introduced you to me..."

I shook my head, indicating that I didn't remember a thing. Seth sighed, as if this annoyed him, but continued, anyway.

"Whatever. Look, people were talking about you, because you were being introduced around as Luke's cousin and as Eddie's kid, and anyone who knew Luke sort of figured it was a load of crap, and technically, not possible," he explained, and I felt my face burning. I did not need another reminder of how everyone had found it necessary to lie to me. "Anyway... I was kind of curious, too. I mean, I didn't go asking any questions. But, I was curious. Then, Aaron showed up and I started talking to him. He started giving me a hard time about Angela, saying shit about how I was using her to make him jealous; I mean, he's gotta feed his ego somewhere. Anyway, we were arguing, and I said something, like, I'd go for a million other guys before wanted him back, and when he asked me to point someone out...I might have pointed at you."

"Might have?" I was suddenly feeling very perplexed, and actually took a defensive step back from Seth, wondering exactly what it was he was saying. I guess whatever it was, was as difficult for Seth to say as it was for me to hear, because I could have sworn that he was blushing, and that made me feel even more uncomfortable, if that was even possible.

"Look, it's stupid, okay? I mean, I was just trying to get him off my back, but the next thing I knew, he was over there talking to you, and it started pissing me off."

I swallowed, suddenly feeling very sick to my stomach as I wondered if the only reason Aaron and I ever met was to piss Seth off.

"He started calling me to talk about you," Seth continued. "He told me some things... it was just to get to me. I didn't..."

"What did he say?" I suddenly asked. Something about knowing what was said suddenly seemed very important to me, whether or not I would like it. I doubted I would, the way that Seth was suddenly frowning under his hat, ducking his head as if to avoid my eyes, and then he abruptly shook his head, as if making a decision.

"It doesn't matter," he stated, before rushing back into his story. If anything, the fact that he didn't want to tell me had me softening towards him a little--only a little--but, that didn't mean that I still didn't want to know. "Aaron had shown up at my place the night we found you walking. I told him to get lost--I was going out, anyway--but, he said that he just needed to talk so I let him tag along. I mean, we're not really friends. We aren't. He just... I just, still talk to him every once in a while. He was telling me all about what was going on with you... he sort of thought some of that was funny, and he was saying more... things."

"What things?" I demanded, not really wanting my question to be sidestepped again. I was quickly becoming pissed off. Seth either didn't notice or didn't care.

"Look, I was pissed off before you even got in the truck," Seth said, as if that explained everything. "Later, when I saw you and Aaron together... I mean, he's a jerk, okay? And, I might have felt a little responsible for you even being with him in the first place, so I tried to warn you. It just came out wrong. And, I stayed at the theater for the principle of the thing," he added indignantly. "Maybe it was fucked-up, and childish, but he wanted me there so he could rub you in my face. I thought sitting between you would cure that."

"He was using me," I said blankly, summing up the last time I'd had a disagreement with Seth about Aaron. And, maybe it was true. It was the reason why it was true that was hard for me to understand. "To make you jealous."

Honestly speaking, I didn't even know if I believed Seth's story. It had dwindled down to his word against Aaron's, and at this point, I wasn't sure who to believe. Maybe they were both just liars. But, I had to leave room to believe that there was a possibility that Seth was being honest. That would unfortunately mean, that the whole time I thought Seth was still hung-up on Aaron, it was really Aaron who was still interested in Seth, and that meant that everything with me had been... nothing. Nothing to him. It hurt to think about more than I wanted to admit. It hurt to think about what things he could have told Seth about me, and more than ever, Seth's entire confession left me feeling incredibly embarrassed, and like a true idiot. I was just brazen enough to share this feeling, and that's probably the only reason why I asked another question that hung in the air without an answer.

"So did it work?" I asked coldly. "Did it make you jealous?" Seth knew what I meant. The question immediately put him on the spot, and he suddenly looked even more uneasy than he had when I'd seen him in the middle of the party with Angela. But, after a moment, he looked at me pointedly and spoke.

"I wasn't happy about it."

I frowned. He didn't seem to be answering the question that I'd asked, but I guess it was good enough. Well, not good. Good didn't seem like the appropriate word. If Seth was telling the truth, and Aaron was trying to get a rise out of him, then Aaron had used me and he'd won. That just pissed me off. But still, I stared at Seth, becoming incredibly suspicious in a matter of moments, wondering if he could just be saying all of this to fuck with my head. It's not like I didn't have good reason to suspect that. I didn't really have the best track record when it came to people being honest with me. Thinking about that, took all of my insecurities and confusion and turned them directly into anger. I was pissed, I decided, and rightfully so.

"Look, all I can say is I'm sorry..." Seth started to say, but stopped abruptly when I met his eyes with a glare, right before I turned and stormed towards the house, ignoring the way that the ground was torture under my feet.

This time, Seth didn't follow me.


I didn't go back to the party. Couldn't. I needed a minute to compose myself, and get rid of the sudden burning sensation out of my eyes. I found myself in the basement, meaning to hide, but I'd completely forgotten that that's where Eddie and Jase had gone to avoid the noise. It looked like they'd spent the evening watching an assortment of movies, and this time when I walked in and froze upon seeing them, it was to see them looking very comfortable on the sofa together. In fact, I'm pretty sure that before I'd unexpectedly flicked on the light, they'd been making out. This opened a whole new world of horrors for me.

"Sorry," I said quickly, feeling even more embarrassed when they blushed and tried to suppress their laughter. Eddie seemed to sober first, surprisingly.

"That's okay," he insisted. "What are you doing? Get sick of the party?"

"Bathroom," I decided, not wanting him to suspect anything was wrong, and before he could ask anymore questions I'd locked myself in the bathroom, where I washed my face and did my best to get the conversation I'd just had with Seth out of my head. It wasn't that easy. I was upset, and at a loss of how to handle it. Unsurprisingly, I wanted to go straight to Luke with this new information. But, bringing up Aaron with him earlier hadn't been all that great, and he was having fun tonight. I wasn't interested in bothering him with my hurt feelings, especially since I was beginning to think that I deserved to have hurt feelings. Idiot. Seth may have a good point. And admitting that pissed me off even more.

I decided that I would go back to the party. It would be ending soon, anyway. Maybe a little more time spent distracting myself would be a good thing. Besides, if I tried to go to my room now, Eddie and Jase would ask why.

Eddie was on his way to the stairs by the time I left the bathroom, holding two empty glasses and some dirty plates.

"Going back up?" he asked me, and when I nodded, he waited for me so we could walk up together. "It's about time for me to check in, anyway," he explained. "So are you still having fun."

"Yeah, it's a good party," I said. At least that much was true.

"Did, um... Seth come?" Eddie asked, and I stopped myself from frowning.

"I saw him around," I replied casually, grateful that we'd reached the top of the stairs, and I could quicken my pace. But, Eddie was right behind me.

"Is he still here?" Eddie asked curiously.

"I'm not sure," I replied, shrugging as I reached the door and stepped out. I really needed to escape the questions.

I looked at the pool, spotting Luke, right where I'd left him, sitting at the edge of the pool, in the middle of a group of people. He waved to me and I started heading over, ready to go back to some more mindless fun. It never happened.


That voice had me turning on my heel, seeing Aaron as he started to walk across the patio in my direction, looking as out of place as Seth had. But I discovered very quickly that I hadn't been nearly as angry upon seeing Seth as I was when I saw Aaron. Maybe it was everything that Seth had just told me, or even the things that he didn't say, the things that were left to the imagination that had me reacting this way. And, maybe I was just standing there like an idiot, but I was reacting. Something inside was reacting. I didn't care why Aaron was there. I didn't care what he wanted. I didn't care that Eddie had stepped outside behind me, his presence bringing Aaron to an abrupt halt as they noticed each other. I didn't care. Aaron Keslin had used me, and I saw red.

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