If you are offended by male/male relationships, or male/male sexual relationships, then you shouldn't be here in the first place. If this conduct is illegal in your area, you must EXIT NOW. This story is not to be copied or posted elsewhere without permission from the author. If you are interested in a story about gay teenage males, then please take your time and enjoy. Feedback/comments/suggestions and even complaints are welcome at DomLuka@aol.com

The Ordinary Us

Chapter Twenty-three: It comes down to this 01/02

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.

I was torn between shock and anger. I was shocked for several reasons, I think. Then again, as I came to my locker and opened it just to give my hands something to do, it occurred to me that I was angry for just as many. I was definitely shocked that Marissa and Brad would have the nerve to confront me in a public place like that, and in front of Trina and Taylor, no less. I was definitely livid over that. Someone could have heard us and then where would I be? The small group of people who knew the truth about me would likely turn into the whole school, and that definitely wasn't a stress that I needed. But, on the other hand, as much as I hated to admit it, this was partially my fault. Marissa, at least, had tried to talk to me outside of school but I'd avoided it. I knew my ex-girlfriend well enough to know that when she didn't get her way she took matters into her own hands. I should have known that she would make sure we talked one way or another. I definitely hadn't been expecting the way it happened, though-or the way that I got the general impression that while Marissa was angry with me, she was on my side. I guess despite the fact that I was still wary of trusting her, I felt a little stupid for thinking that she was actually plotting against me and dragging poor Brad into it when really she'd been attempting to prove to me that we really were friends, by attempting to get Brad and I to talk to each other. Of course, I hadn't done anything to make it easy for her, and after the confrontation in the cafeteria I was convinced that Brad hadn't, either.

Brad. Maybe I should have been grateful that he'd sat down to talk to me at all. Maybe. Or, maybe I had every right to think that he was the biggest asshole I'd ever known. He couldn't even say he was sorry. Sure, maybe that was expecting too much, but... the bastard had treated me like shit! All I'd wanted was to talk to him and he did all but physically throw me out of his driveway. And why? Because I caught him at a bad time. Son of a bitch. Well, when I'd hit him it was because he caught me at a bad time. A really bad time. But, at least I was sorry for it. I struggled with and regretted the whole thing and I'd apologized to him. I doubted that he even felt sorry. As I opened my locker and began to unload my books into it I wondered why I'd bothered with Brad in the first place. I mean, I knew the answer. It was because he'd been my best friend for as long as I could remember. But, he couldn't even apologize. I didn't want his excuses. I wanted... to know he still cared. It was that simple. Showing up with Marissa, hardly seemed like enough. Expecting any more from him, however, seemed impossible. And he was supposed to be my best friend! At least, a few weeks ago that's what he was supposed to be. I felt so pissed that I swore I could have hit him all over again, which is why when I slammed my locker door and saw him standing there I actually took a step back, worried that I really would hit him again.

"Can we talk?" he asked, looking at me blankly.

I crossed my arms. Why would I want to talk to you? I wondered, feeling very much like a rebellious child.

"I don't mean now," Brad said. "Or here... I told Mar not to do that in the cafeteria."

"Then why'd you go along with it?" I demanded.

"You know how she is," he replied, a frown growing over his features.

"So? Does the word no ever occur to you Brad?"

"Don't even talk to me about that!" he retorted. "Before you went crazy you could never say no to her, either!"

"That was different," was my best argument.

"How the hell was it...shit." Brad groaned and shook his head, looking exasperated. "Quinn, I came to ask if you could meet me after school. You know it's time we talk-both of us."

"I can't do it after school," I said immediately. Despite my anger, I wasn't exactly opposed to talking to him, now that I was sure he wasn't plotting against me with Marissa. But, meeting Jude after school definitely seemed much more important. There was no way I was going to forget about him this time.

"Why not?" Brad wanted to know, sounding irritated. "You know even if you're grounded your mom will let you come over to my place, or I could go to yours, I don't really care which."

"I can't because I'm meeting someone," I explained, and watched his expression darken even more. It obviously didn't take much for him to figure out that Jude was the one who I was meeting.

"He can't wait?"

"No," I stated. "It's important... you wouldn't understand."

"Fine, then what about tonight?"

"Maybe," I responded noncommittally. On some level I knew that I was acting like a childish idiot, but I couldn't seem to help it. The look on Brad's face as he gritted his teeth, sobered me, though. So I added, "There's something I have to do after school, but if I can get out tonight, I'll call you."

"Fine," Brad responded, obviously unconvinced, as he turned and stalked off down the hallway. It wasn't until he was gone that the familiar feeling of regret hit me. I was definitely still angry, and it wasn't like I wasn't dealing with enough stress, but despite all of that there was still something in me that recognized that I couldn't just let Brad Clair go, even if I was constantly telling myself that I didn't have a choice.


I had no concentration for the remainder of the day. I was fairly certain that I didn't have any homework in my last classes-I certainly hoped not, because if I did, I didn't have a clue. I was too busy watching the clock to care, anyway. The unexpected visit from Brad and Marissa at lunch threw off my whole day, and now I was busy wondering whether or not I was actually going to see Brad tonight, what would happen if I did, and if I would have time at all because of everything going on with Jude.

Jude. I was getting nervous waiting to meet him. So nervous that I almost missed the final bell. The movement of the other students around me triggered me to it, and in an instant I had my bag over my shoulder and I was headed out the door. My departure was only interrupted for a moment when the teacher called me back to collect the books that I'd left on my desk.

My nerves got the better of me as I made my way to the tracks. It hadn't occurred to me until I was on my way that there was a chance that Jude wouldn't be there. If my mom had, god forbid, done something stupid, there was a chance...

The very thought made me pick up my pace as I crossed the school and practically flew out the doors. As I crossed the street to the tracks where a few crowds were beginning to gather my eyes darted around uncontrollably as I looked around for Jude's car. I can't even begin to describe the feeling that came over me when I realized that it really wasn't there, and neither was he. For the next several minutes I waited, looking down every street I could, hoping, but unfortunately not expecting, to see him approaching. It was just a feeling I had, a terrible feeling that Jude wasn't coming and that made me panic. By the time that someone's hand tapped my shoulder I was surprised that I hadn't started vomiting because of my nerves.

I spun around, a feeling of hope rising in me as I thought that it could be Jude, and I just hadn't seen him arrive. I should have known that I wasn't that lucky.

"What are you doing out here, Moore?" Taylor asked, in a way that suggested he was speaking to a small child that had just lost its parents.

"I'm supposed to be meeting Jude," I replied impatiently, continuing to look around as if Taylor weren't even there.

"You do realize that your sister's waiting for you, right?" he asked.

I looked at Taylor, not understanding. I wasn't waiting for Bree, I was waiting for Jude. What did Bree have to do with anything?

"I just saw her... by your car..." he continued slowly, as if I were stupid. Maybe I was, because it took me a full minute to catch on, and when I did, I cursed loudly, drawing attention from just about everyone around us.

When I'd agreed to meet Jude, I hadn't taken into account that I was supposed to drive Bree-and myself for that matter-home. Technically, I was under strict orders to come straight home every day after school, and I'd neglected to ask my mom if I could meet Jude at all. Yup, stupid. But, it made little difference to me now. In fact, there was only one thing I cared about now, as I looked at Taylor.

"I'm waiting for Jude," I decided aloud.

Taylor just shook his head and left me there to go meet Trina. I continued to wait. I found myself spinning in circles, waiting for Jude to make an appearance. Every minute that passed seemed like an eternity as the busses began to arrive and the crowds began to thin. Every once in a while I caught Taylor and Trina looking in my direction. Taylor looked unjustifiedly amused as always and Trina looked... sympathetic? I ignored them both as I wondered where Jude was, and what was keeping him. Maybe it would have been easier to wait if I'd left room for the possibility that he'd simply forgotten to meet me-but that, I wasn't willing to believe.

Taylor didn't approach me again until his bus arrived and Trina went to wait for him by it. I think I probably looked desperate as he faced me.

"Dude, he's not coming," Taylor stated. "Go home."

I didn't respond. I wanted to ask Taylor why Jude wasn't coming, because as of that moment, I'd come to the same conclusion. But, even if I asked him I doubted that he'd have an answer for me, so I watched as he boarded the bus with Trina, and then feeling defeated, I turned and headed back to the student parking lot where my car, and my sister, were waiting for me.

"Where have you been?" Bree demanded, looking put out as I approached. "I almost started walking home."

"Jude was supposed to meet me," I replied sullenly. "He didn't show up."

"Yeah, probably because Mom's holding him hostage at home," Bree said, rolling her eyes.

I paused and nearly slapped my forehead. Of course. That would be a reasonable explanation. My mother, while likely making him miserable, probably had him back at our house for one reason or another and Jude had decided that he'd just wait for me that way. It was definitely an explanation that made sense to me.

"Get in the car," I ordered grumpily. Bree didn't argue, having already waited long enough for her ride home, and we were pulling up to the house about ten minutes later. It wasn't exactly encouraging that I didn't see my mother's, or Jude's vehicle outside.

"Where are they?" I demanded of my sister as we entered the house, as if she was supposed to know.

"Don't look at me, Quinn," she said defensively.

"Well what are they doing?" I wanted to know. "They still have to be together, right? Jude would have met me unless he couldn't, and that means Mom..."

"Will you just stop?" Bree interrupted, regarding me disapprovingly. "You're panicking again, Quinn. Look, I don't know what's going on, okay? Now if you can do it calmly, I'd suggest trying Mom's cell."

As soon as she said it, I was heading for the closest phone, the one in the living room, since I'd left my own cell upstairs that morning before heading to school. Bree was right behind me when I picked up the phone, but as soon as I started to dial we heard the front door open and close and I immediately dropped the phone to follow my sister there, where my mom was standing, sorting through today's mail.

"Hey guys," she said, smiling at us, completely oblivious to all of the tension surrounding her.

"Where's Jude?" I demanded, and she lifted a sharp eyebrow.

"What? No, `Hello?'" my mom countered. "No, How was your day, Mom?"

"Mom!" I had absolutely no patience at the moment.

"He's probably still with that obnoxious man he calls a friend," my mom replied, no doubt talking about Murphy. "I was going to take Jude to lunch with me but he talked him into working. Do you believe that? Jude's just a boy and that idiot has him working over forty hours a week and that doesn't include what he does on weekends." My mother shook her head in disgust. "He's not making nearly enough, either. It's a crime what he pays that boy-literally because it's all under the table."

"Mom, he doesn't have a choice!" I argued, feeling annoyed that I would defend Murphy just because I was fairly certain that was what Jude would do.

"Well, not for long," she stated, matter-of-factly.

"What is that supposed to mean?" I found myself raising my voice. To me, that last statement sounded more like a threat.

"Quinn!" My mom was frowning now, obviously not pleased with my outburst. "You know, I just walked in the door, what..."

"What are you going to do about Jude?" I demanded.

My mom crossed her arms. I knew what that meant. She wasn't going to tell me anything else until I apologized. Too bad I wasn't in any mood to be bullied like that.

"Fine, I'll just ask him myself," I said stubbornly, and passed her to get to the door.

"You get back here!" my mom ordered. "Quinn! You're not going anywhere acting like that, and you're still grounded, remember?"

"No, I'm not," I stated, and then paused, a little surprised with myself. My mom and my sister looked surprised too. "I'm not grounded," I said, and wondered if I could actually do that, but before I allowed my mom to decide whether or not I could for me, I continued. "I've been following your stupid rules for weeks. I've done what you wanted me to with the exception of going to see Jude the other day-which, by the way brought him back here just like you wanted. I'm staying out of trouble, my grades are up..."

"And you're acting like a spoiled brat!" my mom cut me off. "What's gotten into you?"

"I'm tired of this!" I shouted. "I'm tired of you sticking your nose where it doesn't belong! Jude's not even your kid and you can't stay out of his business! What's wrong with you, Mom? Don't you think he has enough problems without you adding to them?"

"You know, he's got a point," Bree said quietly.

My mom's jaw dropped as she turned on my sister.

"I've had about enough of your attitude, too," she said sharply. "Bree, I want you to wait for me in your room while I talk to your brother, and when we're finished you and I are going to have a long talk about why you've been so hostile lately."

"We are finished," I stated. But, the effect was entirely lost on my mother as my sister suddenly raised her voice.

"No! You can't send me off to my room like some little baby every time you don't like what I have to say," Bree argued. "I'm part of this family too and anything you have to say to Quinn is my business."

I looked at my sister, but I wasn't surprised by her outburst. She'd seemed irritated with my mom for the last two days. The only thing that did surprise me was that Bree was finally confronting her about it. I felt a small twang of guilt over this. I was definitely pissed off, but I'd had no intention of ganging up on my mom with my sister. But, it passed quickly enough.

"Bree, don't argue with me, and Quinn, get back in here!" my mom ordered. Obviously, the way that I was standing by the door with my hand on the handle was making her uncomfortable. I didn't budge.

"No," I stated. "I'm going to see Jude."

"You've been in everyone's shit ever since you've been home!" Bree snapped, obviously not willing to let anything go.

"Bree!" my mom sounded shocked, to say the least. "You won't talk to me like that!"

"Well you have!" Bree stated. "Mom, you're driving everyone crazy! A few weeks ago I could have talked to you about anything but now I don't want to talk to you at all! It's like you have to control everything. I was glad you're home, Mom, but it's not like me and Quinn haven't been just fine without you. We're not babies anymore, stop treating us like it!"

"Maybe that would be easier if you stopped acting like it," my mother retorted.

"It's not like you couldn't handle yourself better, either," Bree insisted. "Ever since Quinn's got into trouble-sorry, Quinn- you've been treating me like I was going to do it next. You even yelled at me for closing my door last week when I was talking to my friend on the phone. Since when don't I get any privacy around here?"

"Bree..." my mom started.

"It's not like Quinn shouldn't be complaining, either," my sister continued. "I mean, you were kinda out of line to take his door... you're just... out of line, Mom."

I looked at my sister, suddenly wanting to hug her.

"I will decide what's out of line!" Mom stated.

"That's exactly what she's talking about, Mom," I said, rejoining the conversation. "God... don't take this the wrong way, because Bree and me want you here, we've always wanted you here, but..."

"You're making everyone crazy!" my sister blurted.

"You need to lay off," I added, managing to say it calmly. "We get that you want to be involved, but you can't keep trying to control everything we do."

"That's enough," my mom stated, her voice sounding shaky. It was obvious we'd upset her and now she was attempting to maintain any composure that she had left. "I think we all just need a few minutes to cool off, so..."

"I'll be at Jude's," I stated, before she could even try to send me to my room. This time, there was simply no way that I was going to bend.

"Quinn, I told you..."

"It's not going to work this time, Mom," I stated.

I opened the door silently, fully expecting to hear screaming as I furthered my point by walking away, but instead, it was the sound of Bree's voice I heard as she passed my mom and followed me out.

"Drop me off at Kara's on the way," she said. It wasn't a request, and I wasn't going to argue at a time like this.

I didn't look back towards the house until my sister and I were both seated in the car, and by then my mom had closed the door. I wasn't sure what that meant, but it did nothing for the knots in my stomach as I silently buckled up and started to drive.

The feeling of liberation that claimed me as I left lasted all of two minutes. I'd stood up to my mother-but almost immediately, I felt guilty about it. That feeling was a struggle for me. If I took the last month of my life and tried to see it in perspective, I could see my own mistakes. But the thing is, I could see hers, too.

I couldn't help but feel that when it came to some things, my mother had been unfair to me. I could understand her need to worry, after all, my behavior had changed. But, it didn't seem fair that she would completely lose all faith in me. Before I stopped lying to myself about who and what I really was, I think I felt that my mom had relied on me too much, not that I minded. I'd always done everything she asked of me. I was responsible. In fact, when the two of them got together on those rare days that my mom would be home, Bree used to joke about how I was more responsible than my mom. I'd never let her down before, and as far as I was concerned, that entitled me to a few mistakes here and there. After all, I wasn't only just human, I was a teenager, too. All of her disappointment in me-the way she handled it-didn't seem fair. Only now, my concern was whether or not I was being unfair to her.

I think it would have been easier if Bree and I hadn't chosen to confront our mom about our issues all at once. I really did love my mom, and the idea of both of her children ganging up on her all at once even upset me. I didn't think she deserved that, but at the same time it felt necessary.

"Bree?" I spoke up, feeling ashamed of myself.

"It had to be done, Quinn," my sister stated. "She's turning into a freak."

"You don't even feel bad?" I asked incredulously.

"Of course I feel bad." My sister looked out her window, pouting. "But, I can't take it anymore. She acts like she doesn't trust us, Quinn. I mean... okay, so I lied to her a few times. That was wrong, but the thing is, I never would have even thought about lying to her if she hadn't turned into a control freak. And maybe you acted like an idiot for a while, but it's no reason for her to imprison you."

"But you think that because you know why I was acting like an idiot," I pointed out thoughtfully.

Bree fell silent, and then looked in my direction again.

"Are you thinking about telling Mom why?" she asked.

"No," I said honestly. "I don't think I'm ready for it and I'm too afraid to figure out whether or not she is."

"Well, even if she doesn't know everything, Quinn, I still think something needed to be said to her. I mean, just think about it, if we didn't she'd end up driving us both insane."

"So you think she even heard anything we said?" I asked doubtfully. "You know, when we go home she's probably going to expect us both to apologize and then make it up to her by grounding ourselves."

"Maybe I'll apologize..." Bree replied after a moment, sending a small smile in my direction. "But I kind of like your, I'm not grounded policy. If you actually get away with that, you're my new hero."

I forced myself to return her smile and reached over to flick her ear.

"I already am your hero," I remarked. "You said so."

"When?" Bree asked, looking skeptical.

"When you were eight."


I dropped off Bree at Kara's, but pretty much took off as soon as she was out of the car. I didn't go to Jude's apartment, though. The one useful piece of information that my mother had given me was that he'd had to work, which meant braving Murphy. I didn't much care, though. I'd tell the old fart where he could stick it if he tried to prevent me from talking to Jude.

I got out of my car when I reached the small shop, completely discouraged to find that Jude's car wasn't anywhere to be seen here, either. I didn't just leave, though. For all I knew Jude could have arrived there with my mom and I was just in time to give him a ride home.

"He's not here," a familiar, gruff voice said just as I was about to enter the shop. "And didn't I tell you to stay away from him?"

I frowned as I turned to face Murphy and decided to ignore his last remark.

"Where is he?" I asked.

"He probably went home."

"Oh," I said. I guess my next stop would be Jude's apartment. I didn't bother with the pleasantry of a goodbye as I turned back to my car. Murphy and I just weren't that close.

"So... that was your mom?" Murphy called after me, and I looked back to answer him.

"Yeah. Sorry about her."

"That's okay," he replied, a statement that struck me as a little odd and I turned to face him completely. At the least, I'd expected him to call me a troublemaker and order that I keep myself and all blood relatives away from his shop. "Think she'll be coming back?"

"I don't know," I said, still waiting for an insult.

"Huh. Okay, then." He shrugged, and turned to walk off-without the insult. Weird. I didn't have time for weird, though. A moment later I was back in my car and heading to Jude's apartment. When I knocked on the door, he didn't answer it, but I was more than just a little relieved when I heard a muffled, "Come in."

I opened the door and Jude looked up from where he was stretched out on the sofa, talking on the phone. He looked a little surprised to see me as he sat up and waved me in.

"Hey, Taylor, let me call you back," he said. "Yeah, it's Quinn. It's none of your business what we're going to do." Jude rolled his eyes and hung up the phone. "Hey," he said, talking to me now as I closed the door and he came to meet me. "Taylor said you were waiting for me after school. You didn't get my message?"

"Message?" I repeated, feeling lost.

"Yeah, I called your phone to tell you I had to work and that I'd have to meet you later. I wasn't expecting you to show up here."

"Is it bad that I'm here?"

"No," he said quickly, and when he suddenly took hold of my arms and leaned in to kiss my cheek I felt somewhat better, even if he was still in his work clothes and smelled like the grease he was covered in. "I'm glad you showed up. I was actually getting worried."


"Yeah, Taylor mentioned you were waiting for me and I was sort of starting to freak out a little bit." He smiled sheepishly. "Come in here." I followed him back to the sofa and watched as he twisted on his way there, trying to work a kink out of his back. "God, it's been a long day."

"Do you tell Taylor everything about me?" I asked.

"No," Jude replied, regarding me curiously as he sat down and I seated myself next to him, watching his hand as it dropped down on my knee. "Why?"

"Just wondering." I shrugged. "I sort of noticed that Taylor and Trina seem to know a lot about what's going on... like today Taylor called Brad on calling me a fudgepacker."

Jude studied me for a moment and then nodded.

"He told me. I talk to my friends a lot, Quinn," he admitted. "When you told me what Brad said to you I was little more...pissed, than I let on. I sort of vented it to Taylor. I do talk to both of them, but I'd never tell them anything...you know, private. Does it bother you that I talk to them?"

"No," I said, feeling somewhat relieved. "I was just starting to worry that you told them... everything."

"And deal with Taylor having that kind of information?" Jude laughed. "I don't think so."

I found myself returning his smile as he leaned forward and as he placed a light kiss over my mouth I lifted my hand and allowed my fingers to wander over his throat and up his chin where I attempted to rub away a black smudge he'd acquired at work with my thumb. Jude pulled back and flashed me an accusing look because of that, but he smiled again a moment later.

"I know." He sighed. "I need a shower. Don't go anywhere, unless you plan on joining me, okay?"

I blinked as he quickly leaned forward and kissed my forehead, and then just as quickly left the sofa to head to the bathroom. He almost got away, too, before I remembered the whole reason why I'd been so eager to see him in the first place and grabbed his hand before he could get away.

"Jude, wait!" I said, and he turned back with a smirk in place.

"Why, coming with?"

I tried to ignore the way that the lecherous look he was giving me was effectively making me blush and focused on an important question.

"What happened with my mom?"

Jude squeezed my hand where I'd taken hold of his and looked a little surprised.

"You haven't talked to her?" he asked.

"It didn't go very well."

"What happened?" he asked, frowning.

"That's what I'm asking you." I replied, getting irritated. I wanted someone to tell me what the hell was going on. "What happened today, Jude? My mom was talking about how she didn't like your job and then said something about how you wouldn't be working it for much longer! What happened?"

"Um... nothing," he said after a moment.

"Nothing?" I all but screamed at him. Jude dropped my hand and took a step back.


"I know my mom, Jude. Nothing isn't like her. You know I've been going nuts over this whole thing and now... nothing? What aren't you telling me? Is it really that bad? I mean, you can tell me. I promise whatever it is, I won't freak out."

Jude bent down, bracing his hands on his knees and leaned forward until we were practically nose to nose.

"Kind of like now?" he remarked.


"Okay," he said, obviously seeing my frustration. I was forced to lean back against the sofa when Jude suddenly turned and sat back down, almost right on top of me. I watched his hand as it went straight to my knee. "When I say nothing happened... I really meant a lot happened, but none of it affects us."

"What is that supposed to mean?" I demanded, narrowing my eyes on him. "Jude, I've been thinking about this all day, I'm out of patience, so will you stop being cryptic and just fucking tell me what happened?"

Jude's brow knotted and he frowned at my tone as he looked at me again.

"Your mom's not going to call anyone," he finally said. "That's all I care about, Quinn."

I opened my mouth, obviously needing more information than that, but before I could get any sound out Jude stood up and went to the bathroom. He didn't close the door, I noticed, and I saw a brief flash of him in the mirror as he pulled off his jumper before the water came on and he disappeared.

My mom wasn't going to call anyone?

Something told me that there was more to it than that. Maybe Jude just didn't want to talk about it. It would probably be just like him, too. I was beginning to notice that Jude was one of those people who liked to focus on the positive. I wondered what he did when there was no positive. If this situation was any indication, I'd say that he just ignored it. I, however, refused to ignore it until I knew exactly what it was that my mother was up to, and what he wasn't telling me.

I got up and went straight to the bathroom, intending to find out more, but even before I was able to call out his name, Jude pushed the shower curtain back, exposing part of his torso and his head and regarded me through the lines of soap and water running from his head down his face.

"You want to know what happened?" he asked, his tone more hostile than I expected. "Fine. This morning, I met your mom at nine o'clock. She made me eat breakfast before we came here. It was pretty good-waffles-although your sister's cooking is a lot better. Don't you dare tell either of them I said that. So anyway, we took separate cars. Your mom missed three lights and I had to stop and wait for her three times before we got here." Jude was raising his voice with every sentence. I actually took a step back as he roughly pushed his soapy bangs out of his eyes and turned in the shower to wash it out of his hair. He let the curtain fall from his hand and it slipped back so that his entire, wet, soap-covered body came into view. At the moment however, that hardly meant a thing to me. I was more focused on the way that he was yelling at me. "She walked in here, and started taking notes. Notes, Quinn! She walked around the whole damn place, even opened the refrigerator and started making a list. Now, I don't know if she was making a list of what was already in there-or what I should have in there, so if you want more details about that then you're going to have to ask her." I frowned. He wasn't only being standoffish, he was being standoffish towards me.


"You wanted to know," he cut me off, "so don't interrupt."

My eyes widened on him as I wondered what his problem was. He was acting like it was a huge burden for him to be talking to me at all, which was insulting. But... maybe it was true. It suddenly dawned on me that I hadn't exactly been nice to him when I was asking what had happened. He'd mentioned having a long day and I didn't doubt that for a second. Unfortunately, I'd slipped right back into my old habit of caring more about details than I did about him. At least, I'm sure that's the way that he took it, given his current behavior.

I watched, becoming a little concerned as he began to wrestle with another bottle of soap. He seemed to be having trouble getting the lid off and it was obviously frustrating him, among other things, I'm sure.

"Jude," I tried again, reaching into the shower to snatch the bottle out of his hands. It wasn't difficult to do because the shower was so small that I didn't really have to move at all. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault she came over here," he said blankly as I opened the soap and he immediately reached out to take it back.

"Not for that-I'm sorry I snapped at you like that." I sighed. I had a feeling that this conversation wasn't going to go well at all if I didn't at least apologize for that. "You didn't deserve that."

Jude paused and looked at me for a moment before his features softened and he shook his head, focusing on the soap as he poured it into his hands.

"I'm a little touchy right now, Quinn," he said softly. "I know I don't have it great, but I'm not used to anyone coming in here and telling me just how bad I have it. She wasn't even mean about it, you know? It just wasn't... comfortable."

"What did she do?" I asked as I watched his hands move to his body where he began to rub the soap into his skin, causing an ample amount of lather in seconds. He started with his neck, I noticed, and began to work his way down his arms and chest.

"I don't know," he said, sighing. "She started asking all of these questions about my parents and whether or not they care if I'm in school. Then, she started asking about school, like whether or not I ever wanted to go back, how much I've actually finished. Then, it got really weird and she wanted to know about what bills I had to pay-she started making another list, then. She asked how I met you, too. But, don't worry because I told her it was through someone we both knew from your school. Oh, and she wanted to know if I had any kind of health insurance, or when the last time I went to the doctor was. Then she found my cigarettes and started to lecture me. The only way I could get her to shut up was by flushing them down the toilet. That clogged it, by the way." Jude lifted each of his arms, one at a time as he continued to lather himself, working his way down from the golden patches of hair under his arms to his sides, and then suddenly, he bent over to work from his ankles upwards and I completely lost track of what he was saying. It was like it had just occurred to me that he was naked and bent over in the shower. I felt my eyes wandering, looking up from his long legs, over the defined calves as he washed around them; his stomach, flexed in the position he was in; his round, firm ass that somehow looked even better than it had in my own underwear. I watched the way that his wet hair fell in his face, and the way that the water rolled down his skin, washing away the soap and leaving a shiny effect under the light; the way that his perfectly kissable lips moved as he spoke to me, the effect completely lost at this point as I glanced down to see that the stirring I felt in my jeans was a little more than just a stirring, now.

"Damn it!" I cursed, and Jude shot up, looking alarmed at my outburst.

"What?" he frowned, and I immediately glanced away, blushing, but not before I saw the way that his eyes moved directly to the bulge in my pants. "Oh," he said, trying not to laugh.

"I can't talk in here," I mumbled. "Too distracting."


Jude smiled as I forced myself to meet his eyes again, and despite myself, I couldn't help smiling back.

"No you're not," I said.

"You're right, I'm not... give me two minutes."

I shook my head and retreated from the bathroom, trying to will away my erection as I took a seat on Jude's bed and held my head in my hands. I really did want to stay focused, and while Jude obviously had some control when it came to situations like this, I realized that it would take a lot of getting used to for me, especially after the last time we were together. You could say that it had been an eye-opening experience for me. I'd known that I wanted him before that, but now it felt like there was no controlling any urge I might get around him. But, in my defense, he was naked in the shower- hardly the proper location for a serious conversation. But still, I couldn't tell if I was disappointed or relieved when he momentarily came out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist and then went right back in and closed the door to dress in private. I had no doubt that he was only doing it because he thought I was uncomfortable. I noticed that he hadn't bothered with a shirt when he came back out, though.

I didn't bother moving over when he sat down next to me. It wasn't necessary, anyway. There was plenty of room on the bed, not that he used it, and I didn't mind the way he sat so close that I could feel that his skin was still damp from his shower, either.

"So what happened?" I asked. There was no way that I wanted to get off topic now.

"After your mom stopped taking inventory?"

I nodded.

"We went to the shop," Jude explained. He took a moment to push his wet hair back from his forehead and regarded me with a rueful expression. "It was horrible, Quinn."

"My mom?" I asked, sounding as apologetic as I could.

"No. She was pretty bad-Murphy, was worse."

"What happened?" I asked, already terrified of the answer.

"Well, first she started asking him all sorts of questions-he was under a car at the time. She wanted to know how much he paid me, and if it was under the table. Then she asked what kind of things that I did there. Oh god, you should have heard her when she found out that I got under the cars, too." Jude paused for a moment and actually laughed. "Anyway, I could tell it was annoying the crap out of Murphy. He finally got up when she started to walk around the shop and touched his tools-no one touches Murphy's tools. I swear I was getting ready to stop him from breaking her neck. But then... it got really weird."

"What do you mean?" I asked, not understanding

"He started flirting with her, Quinn. He was worse than me! It was disgusting."

I'm sure the look on my face agreed with that last statement. I didn't even want to think about Murphy flirting with my mom.

"He what?"

"Seriously," Jude said, nodding. "And it was bad. Then, your mom kept yelling at him, demanding to know how he could let me work all the time when he knew I should be in school. I thought she was going to get in her car and run him down when he asked me to work for the rest of the afternoon just after she said it. Anyway, Murphy tried to explain to her that it was a good thing-you know, teaches me responsibility, builds character- and your mom argued that it did nothing for my future. Murphy told her that his future looked fine and he'd been working in a shop his whole life, then he asked her if she wanted to have dinner. I swear, he's a good guy, but he sure can be stupid... that's about the time your mom left. She was pretty mad at me when I told her that I wanted to stay and work, so I promised I'd come by for dinner. That's the message I left you, I figured we can talk then... I'm glad you came over, though."

I smiled at that, but it quickly faded when I realized that even with all of this information-some of it quite unnerving-I still hadn't gotten the answer I was looking for.

"When did my mom say she wouldn't call anyone?" I asked.

Jude sighed, as if he didn't want to get into anymore, but he responded, anyway.

"When I asked her-more like begged her-not to. But the thing is, she didn't really seem interested in calling anyone. She mentioned something about taking legal action against my parents. She said if I did it I could still live by myself and it would be legal. I could also find a real job, or Murphy could stop paying me under the table. She also mentioned that I could enroll myself in school."

I found myself sitting up a little straighter, this new information catching my attention.

"Could you do that?"

"Maybe," he replied, but he didn't sound very convinced, and that discouraged me. "The only thing is, I might be eighteen before I even get into court. It would be pointless then. I mean, it's not like I have a lot of time left. I'd rather just ride it out."

"But Jude..."

"Quinn, like I told your mom, it doesn't make much sense for me to do it now. Maybe if it was last year... or even before that... I don't know. Look, your mom said that she was going to look into other options for me."

"Like what?" I asked nervously.

"I don't know... but, you know, I sort of think she'll find something."

"A good something or a bad something?" I asked.

"Depends how you look on it. She really wants me back in school. You know, I don't really like her nosing around, but when she said that she wasn't going to do anything without talking to me about it first-I believed her. It's been a really long time since anyone's mom has cared about me like that."

I watched as Jude looked across the room, a faraway look gracing his features. Something about the last thing he said hit me hard, and apart from feeling incredibly sorry for him, I felt guilt, too. But the guilt...was for my mom. My earlier argument with her came back to haunt me as I recalled exactly what I'd said. I'd voiced my disapproval of her getting involved in Jude's business. At the time, it hadn't occurred to me that she really wanted to help, not because she had some strange necessity to be everyone's mother, but because she wanted to help, because she cared about Jude. Now, what I was hearing from him was that he wasn't comfortable with her forced assistance, but at least part of him... wanted it. I wanted to agree with my sister when it came to whether or not my mom was going too far lately, but now, I couldn't help wondering if I'd been completely out of line earlier.

I found myself slipping an arm around Jude's waist as I rested my head against his shoulder, sticking to him where he was still wet. The contact was meant to comfort him as much as it was to comfort me. I was experiencing one of those moments where I felt like I was constantly falling. No matter what I did, I couldn't seem to get up, and even on the rare occasions when it felt like I'd found my feet again, something would come along and knock me right back down. The fact that I was usually that something, did absolutely nothing for me.

I felt Jude's lips brush over my forehead and looked up to find him watching me. His earlier lost look had faded and now he was more focused on me, looking somewhat curious. I felt myself blush under his eyes and it only then occurred to me that I'd sought him out physically without even thinking about it first. I was tempted to overthink it then, but after recent events briefly played through my mind I mentally rolled my eyes at myself and decided that there wasn't much left to be shy about, which led to my head finding its place on his shoulder again, this time somewhat higher as I rested the side of my face against his neck and inhaled, finding the mix of Jude and soap a pleasant one. He shivered as my breath hit his neck, but instead of attempting to escape the chill he moved an arm around me and leaned closer.

"You're still worried, aren't you?" he asked, and I nodded against his neck. You have to stop doing that, Quinn."

"I can't help it. Jude... you have no idea. When you didn't show up after school today I thought...actually, I have no idea what I thought. I was worried. I think I got this idea that my mom really did something stupid and I'd never see you again. Then, Bree said something, that you were probably just held up at our house, and I thought... I don't know. I got home and you weren't there, and I sort of got really..."

"Quinn, even if something would have happened you should know that I wouldn't have let it affect us. I mean, it's not like I'd ever just disappear on you."

"I got really angry," I interrupted him, finishing what I'd intended to say, and Jude leaned back to face me, looking concerned now. "My mom wasn't being really helpful and I sort of yelled at her."

"What did you do?" Jude demanded, his frown deepening.

"I ungrounded myself and came here after she told me not to," I replied, deciding to give him the simple version.

"You... can you even do that?"

"I don't know," I said, feeling exasperated. "I don't even know what to do. I should probably go home and try to talk to her but I don't even know if it'll do any good. And right now... the only thing I want to do is be here. I've had it, you know? I don't even know if I could stand to talk to her right now."

Jude fell silent next to me, but when I felt his eyes on me I looked in his direction to find him staring at me with a blank expression in place.

"I think you have to," he finally said, and I shook my head, but didn't comment. "Quinn, I know that this thing with your mom has more to do than with just me. But, you can't pretend that you don't care. Shit, sometimes it seems like it's all you care about..."


"You don't have to say it, Quinn," he cut me off. "I know you care about more than what your mom thinks, but you still care. You know as well as I do, if you don't fix this it's going to eat you alive. Besides, I'm supposed to be at your house in two hours for dinner and there's no way I want to walk into that. I think you should go home now, at least fix it before I get there."

I looked at Jude, feeling shocked. I was used to him giving me advice that applied to my needs-not his. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I didn't blame him for not wanting to walk in on a fight between me and my mother. It was just different-and to me, it was so out of character for him that I actually laughed. I couldn't help it.

"What?" Jude wanted to know, looking confused.

"You want me to make up with my mom so you don't have to deal with it," I accused.

"I want you to make up with your mom because it's the only way you're going to be happy, Quinn... and, I don't want to deal with it. If your mom's going to insist I have dinner over there at least three times a week then I want you at the table with me, not grounded in your room."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I'm sick of you getting in trouble," Jude said, nearly pouting. "This is the second time your mom's been angry because you came over here. I don't want to make a habit out of that. The next thing you'll know, she'll think I'm the one who's corrupting you."

"She already thought that," I pointed out, and Jude frowned. "It's different now, though," I added before he could say anything. "I'm pretty sure she thinks I'm the one who's the bad influence now."

"I still think you should go apologize," Jude replied, looking skeptical at my last comment.

"Why should I apologize?" I suddenly demanded, suddenly feeling defensive. "You don't even know everything that happened. I wasn't the only one who was wrong about a few things, you know."

"Quinn, you said you made a mistake. You could at least apologize for that and try to fix things. Look, I'm not telling you what to do. I'm just telling you what I think."

"You think I should leave then? I just got here."

I did not want to go home and deal with this now.

"No. I don't want you to leave now," he replied, and when I turned my head and met his eyes again he was quick to lean forward. I parted my mouth when his lips came over mine, closing my eyes as I felt his tongue brush into my mouth, if only briefly. It was enough to have me lifting my hand to the back of his head, not wanting him to move anywhere. But, Jude managed to pull back, anyway. "But...I will be over tonight, Quinn."

"It's not enough, Jude." I shook my head. It really didn't feel like enough, either. After my day, and constantly thinking about him, I was having a difficult time registering the idea that I needed to leave so soon. The fact that he was going to be over for me didn't mean much to me. It wasn't the kind of time that I wanted to spend with him. I guess I really didn't feel like sharing him with my family tonight. I wanted to stay right there with my arm around him, my hand on his bare side where I could feel the warmth coming from his body, and smell him, and even taste him if I felt like it. The whole day, thinking of him, being ambushed by my friends, not finding him where I was supposed to after school, telling my mom how I really felt, finding out that she'd promised not to complicate things for Jude but fearing that she still could... it had all left me feeling...clingy. Maybe I knew that eventually I'd have to go home, but I wasn't ready to go yet.

"Then I'll go with you," he offered. "I'm supposed to be over there soon, anyway."

I looked at him, and despite myself, I smiled. He knew that I wouldn't like that idea. There was a good possibility that there would be more fighting than yelling when I faced my mother and I didn't want him around for that. I guess I thought him offering that was a little funny. But, it meant more than he knew to me.

I sighed, letting out a breath. Jude was right. It made sense for me to go now and fix things before he was supposed to show up. Besides, I knew that clinging to him for the rest of the night to find comfort from the day's events was impossible at this point. I'm sure part of my apprehension about going was because it felt like it would never be possible just to be with him without feeling some sort of stress But, I decided right then to fix that. I would apologize to my mom for my comments about Jude, but this control freak thing, as my sister put it, was going to have to stop. I would go to school, I would go to work, but if I happened to stop by Jude's before or after either, or if I wanted to see him, or anyone else on the weekends, or during my lunch break...it wasn't going to feel like a problem anymore. I wasn't going to let it be one. At least, that's what I told myself. I had no idea if I could pull it off where my mom was concerned, but it did make sense to try while I was feeling a small streak of bravery which was likely more temporary than I wanted to admit.

I abruptly stood and looked back at Jude. I didn't need to say it, for him to know that I was going-alone. He simply nodded and grabbed my hand before he stood and walked me to the door where I turned just so he could pull me towards him, his arm going around my neck as I sank into his chest and returned the hug.

"I'll be over tonight," he reminded me, and I tilted my head back long enough for a brief kiss before I practically forced myself through his front door, wondering if I should stop by Kara's again to retrieve my sister. The idea of facing my mom alone suddenly seemed a lot scarier than it had a few moments ago.


I tried to pick up Bree. I really did. After all, this was one mess we'd gotten into together, and I felt that she should fix things with my mom as much as I should. But, when I stopped, there was no one at Kara's house and I was forced to go on by myself.

I'm not sure if it was an unfortunate coincidence, or fate, that I chose to take the back road to my house from Kara's when I saw that traffic was backed up on the main street. Maybe it was a subconscious decision on my part, wanting the extra three-and-a-half minutes to think before I reached home where I'd have to deal with my mom. All I knew was that when I crossed through the first stop sign and turned the corner, I knew that my arrival at home was going to be delayed as soon as I saw Marissa on the side of the road-the left side of the road, otherwise known as the wrong lane-kicking her mom's car, or more specifically, the right front tire, which had gone flat. She obviously hadn't been there very long. I had no doubt that one out of two cars would have stopped to help, especially if they'd seen a girl like Marissa on the side of the road.

Seeing Marissa there like that automatically made me think of Jude, and the first night we met. I immediately regretted leaving him so soon, because as soon as Marissa looked up and saw me I knew that it would be me changing a tire this time. I had no doubt that she expected it, too. I pulled over, on the right side of the road, and she was at my door waiting for me when I opened it.

"Quinn! I don't know what happened, I was..."

I was already past her and heading for her mom's car.

"Where's your spare?" I cut her off.

"My what?" she asked, wide-eyed and looking completely clueless. I rolled my eyes at her.

"It's me, Mar. Drop the incompetent-school-girl thing."

"It's should be in the trunk," she said, sighing, as I opened the driver's door to her car and popped the trunk. She didn't bother to finish what she was saying until I was already there and looking into the compartment where a spare should have been "But it's not there."

I frowned and closed the trunk, regarding Marissa as if she were a huge inconvenience. Maybe I'd seen a side of her that I wasn't used to at school today, but force of habit made me irritated that she was holding me up.

"You know you're on the wrong side of the road, right?" I asked, frowning. "You're supposed to merge right, Marissa."

"But I swerved," she pouted, suddenly looking very stressed out. "And now I'm late!" she suddenly shouted, looking completely agitated. "I'm supposed to help Brad babysit for the Clairs...Quinn..."

I sighed. "Just get your stuff," I said, heading back to my own vehicle. "And lock your doors, Mar. It's going to have to stay here until someone can come get it."

I seated myself behind the steering wheel, watching as Marissa retrieved what she needed from the disabled vehicle. She was looking incredibly put out at the moment, but I was sure she'd get over it. All it would take was one phone call to her parents and someone would be there to fix the problem. Hell, when I got her to Brad's house I'm sure she'd recruit him and it would be taken care of even sooner. There wasn't a reason to worry about the car at all. But, worrying about Marissa as she headed towards my vehicle was a different story entirely.

I found myself looking away from her as she neared, the awkward moment I'd expected coming into effect before she even reached the car. After walking away from Marissa and everyone at lunch earlier that day, I'd expected an awkward moment when I saw her again. I just didn't think it would be so soon. I think it was fair to say that I was confused about Marissa. The encounter at lunch had left me with mixed feelings towards my ex. I was frustrated and angry with her for ambushing me like that, but I was shocked as hell at her attitude towards me. Despite her bad judgment and horrible timing, it was almost like Marissa had been... supportive of me. I had no idea how to accept that.

I thought back to the night that I told her we should break up. It seemed like such a long time ago now. Everything had changed since then, but as I remembered the fear, and that inevitable sadness that I'd felt that night, I remembered that I really had intended to remain friends with her. I knew she was selfish then. I knew she cared about her reputation then. So, what had changed? I'd accepted those things about her before, but now I found myself suspicious and eager to distance myself from her. Now, this support I'd gotten from her had thrown me for a loop that had me wondering if my behavior had been just as bad as hers. After all, with or without a valid reason, I was the one who'd been avoiding Marissa to the point that it was clear I was willing to throw away a lifelong friendship.

I finally looked up as she seated herself in the passenger seat of my car, only to find that she looked just as uncomfortable as I did. Seeing her like that was a surprise to me. After all, the whole reason why I didn't even want to stop for her was because I was under the impression that it was impossible to shut the girl up, and I'd definitely expected another lecture. But instead, I got silence. Even as Marissa closed the door she said nothing as she blankly stared out her window. Oddly enough, I think this silence was even more aggravating than her normal behavior, because where Marissa was concerned, silence was practically unnatural. She said absolutely nothing until she finally turned to look at me, probably wondering why we were still sitting there.

"I thought you were taking me to Brad's."

I blinked, snapping myself out of my thoughts before I faced forward and started to drive. I didn't get very far. I hadn't even pulled back onto the road before I was stopping again to face her, all because she'd asked one little question.

"Why do you hate me so much?"

She wasn't even looking at me. In fact, if it wasn't for the nervous way that she was clasping her hands as she waited for a response, I would have believed that I'd been hearing things.

"I don't," I decided after a few moments of thinking about the question.

"Could have fooled me," she mumbled, glancing in my direction.


"Every time I try to talk to you it just makes things worse, doesn't it?" she continued. "I mean, I think I've figured that out. What I don't get... is why. What did I do, Quinn, that has you so angry with me?"

That question, I would have laughed at, if it didn't seem like such a fair one when it came to Marissa. I mean, she was annoying...and demanding...and selfish, yes. But again, those were things that I'd been willing to accept before, because she really was my friend. If I looked at her more recent actions, I could even still believe that. The night she came to my house after seeing Jude and me together came to mind. I still wasn't convinced that she did it for any reasons that weren't purely self-serving, but even I had to admit that her reaction hadn't been as terrible as it could have. At least she never said any of the things that she could have, and considering that I was pretty sure anyone associated with the word gay was not exactly... acceptable, to Marissa. If anything, her reaction had been better than Brad's, or even my sister's. It seemed like a mystery when it came to why I didn't at least credit her for that. Except, it wasn't. I think I knew exactly why I was so angry with Marissa. I just had to go back to our breakup to find the answer.

The incident in school, I remembered clearly. I'd just written those two defining words in my journal, the ones which at the time hung over my head like a dark cloud. The ones that changed everything.

I'm gay.

I remembered going to school, and I remember Marissa trying to strike up a conversation with me. Our public breakup was still in my mind then, and whether it was the focus of my stress or not, I'd felt betrayed by her. She'd disapproved of my at-the-time disheveled appearance that day. But in Marissa's world, commenting on it was the thing to do. I hadn't taken anything she had to say as polite and I hadn't even given her a chance. That confrontation, the one that ended with Brad intervening and me punching him in the face... it really had changed everything. I'd hated myself for that. Seeing Johns in the counselors' office was next, and if I hadn't already been convinced that there was something wrong with me, I did then. It was me. That was the turning point, when I began to isolate myself from my friends, Marissa included. Maybe even more from Marissa. It would make sense, after all. I'd been waiting for my friends to turn on me at that point, and in my head, she already had.

"Marissa, do you even remember what happened when we broke up?" I found myself asking, and she regarded me suspiciously, as if the question itself was meant to lead her into a trap.

"Just because we broke up doesn't mean we can't still be friends," she said. "It's not like we haven't done it before."

"I agreed to let everyone think that we were still together because you were afraid of what they'd think of you," I continued, ignoring her response. "Do you remember what I got for that, Mar? I tried to do you a favor and you told everyone that you dumped me because I cheated on you! What the hell was that? Maybe it's not your fault that you didn't know the shit I was already going through then, but it still doesn't change that you made it worse with the damn rumors, Marissa. Friends don't do that to each other!"

I sat back in my seat, staring at her. Yup, I guess I was mad. The way the whole thing happened left me feeling betrayed, and apparently, I hadn't gotten over it yet.

"But I didn't tell anyone..."

"You let them believe it," I snapped. "You could have told them the truth, that we just broke up, but you were too worried about what that would do to you. It's always you, Mar. You say we're friends, but how am I supposed to believe that when all you care about is yourself? It's the same thing when you came over and saw Trina at my place. You didn't really care why she was there, you just wanted her out because you hated how it would make you look."

"Hey," she said defensively, "it was weird seeing Trina there. How did you expect me to react? I mean, it's not like I was the only one who didn't like her. You didn't either! And how do I know that everyone didn't get the truth about us breaking up, anyway?"

"What?" I demanded. She'd completely lost me, and managed to annoy the crap out of me. This was just like Marissa, twisting around our arguments-or the few we had-until I was so confused that I was forced to agree with her. I hated that.

"For all I know, you could have cheated on me," she said.

"Marissa, you know I didn't go on that date with Elise until after..."

"Not with her, " Marissa cut me off. "And by the way, Quinn, Elise Welps? Eww. She's slept with half the school! I was talking about... guys, okay? You're gay... for all I know you could have been..."

"I wasn't!" I argued. "I was too busy trying to ignore it; you think I'd be out there with any random guy?" I felt completely offended.

"Or the one you're with," she said quietly, looking somewhat hurt as she redirected her eyes from me and stared at her hands.

I paused, the hot air abruptly leaving my lungs as Jude came to mind...and Marissa's original accusation. Technically speaking, I had met Jude while I was still with Marissa...and there had been that kiss. At the time I'd convinced myself that it wasn't cheating because in my mind, he kissed me. The fact that I could have kissed him back hadn't occurred to me then. I refused to let it, but now..."

"We broke up before I started anything with him," I said, and that was the truth. "But...before that, he might have kissed me." I had a feeling that this was a mistake, but somehow, I couldn't seem to let myself get away with not telling her. I mean, she'd been my girlfriend for years, and even if it wasn't the perfect relationship, I felt like I owed her something. "I don't really remembered if I kissed him back, things were sort of..."

"Eww!" I was abruptly cut off by her sound of disgust, and a reminder that while maybe she said she could live with me being gay, she definitely didn't want to hear about it. "Okay... so, see, you did cheat on me." She actually seemed happy about this, probably because she figured I'd just proved her point. I strongly disagreed.

"Marissa, I'm sorry it happened like that but I still didn't cheat on you. It's not like I was trying to sneak around behind your back, the way you let everyone believe!"

"Quinn, I'm not angry about it," she said calmly.

"Of course you're not! You already got the sympathy you were looking for...shit. Marissa, you wanted to know why I'm angry with you-this is it. And you're still turning it around on me!"

"That's not true!" she stated. "I'm just...I thought you were angry because..." she lowered her voice and released a breath before meeting my eyes again. "Look, this is coming out wrong, okay? I'm sorry I didn't stick up for you, maybe I should have. It was just easier to let everyone think that because... I wanted to believe it."

"You wanted to believe I cheated on you?" I asked incredulously.

"It would have made thinking you wanted to break up because you found out about me and Chad Barlow a lot easier," she said, suddenly lifting her hand to wipe at red eyes.

As for me... I was floored.

"What?" It was all I could come up with.

"I thought that was why you were breaking up with me," she explained, sighing. "I thought you found out about that stupid party I went to when you were out with Brad. Chad was there, and... " she left the sentence unfinished, shaking her head. "I thought you found out and you were just too nice to say anything... oh god, you didn't know, did you?"

"Barlow?" I still couldn't get past the name. "Chad? The jackass that's after my sister?" So this was why the idiot had freaked out when I caught him hitting on Bree. But oddly enough, I was more annoyed that an asshole was hitting on Bree than I was with the revelation that Marissa had cheated on me. I wasn't going to tell her that, though.

"After Bree?" Marissa demanded, obviously not liking this information at all. I think I was amused to actually hear jealousy in her voice, but it didn't last long as I began to reflect on things.

"So, let me get this straight...you cheated on me," and then I couldn't help but add, "with Chad Barlow, Mar? Eww. Isn't he a sophomore? And then you let everyone think that I was the one who did it to you? Are you actually trying to help yourself here?"

"You don't have to rub it in, Quinn!" she said angrily. "You have no idea how guilty I felt about that."

"You should feel guilty," I retorted, although I'm sure what I thought she should feel guilty about and what she thought she should feel guilty about were two completely different things. Either way, the look she flashed me said that I'd hurt her with my remark. I wasn't exactly satisfied by that, but at least it got her thinking.

"I do feel guilty!" she snapped. "I'm sorry, okay? What do you want me to do? Tell everyone that I was the one who cheated so they can all hate me?"

"That would be a start," I replied casually. I knew Marissa would never go through with it, but another shocked look on her face was worth it. Besides, she was the one who offered to do it. I was just beating her at her own game. Maybe I did still care about her, but if this conversation was any indication, I doubted that our friendship could be repaired.

"Okay," she said firmly, and now I was the one who was surprised. "Fine. If that's what it takes, I'll do it. Obviously talking to you isn't working, and apologizing isn't. If that's what you want, I'll do it."

I narrowed my eyes and studied her for a moment, fully intending to laugh out loud as soon as I saw any indication that she was lying to my face. After all, the whole thing was completely ridiculous. But, what I found on her face as she met my eyes head on was pure determination... I actually believed her.

"Fine, you do that," I said, as if to challenge her.

"I will," she stated, and we both fell silent.

Maybe I had been confused when it came to Marissa before she got into my car, but now I was really confused. I believed her. She would actually go to school and let everyone know that she was a lying bitch, which is exactly what quite a few people would be saying about her. If she did that, it would clearly be an indication that she cared less about her reputation than I thought. Of course, I would never really ask her to do this. In fact, I preferred that she didn't. The fact that she would was enough. But...it wasn't past me to tell her this later.

Marissa Rixis, had definitely surprised me. It wasn't necessarily an unwelcome surprise, but I didn't really know how to respond to it. I'd become so accustomed to believing that Marissa only cared about herself that I could no longer trust her. But, if I thought about the old Marissa-the one that used to put sand in my hair in the sandbox, or the one that used to rush home to get a bandaid every time I scraped my knee at the park near her house, the one who really was one of my best friends-then making things right was exactly something she would do.

I sat back, curiously studying my ex as I wondered if the old Marissa was coming back, or if she'd been there all along, and I was the one who'd been too self-centered to notice it. After all, I'd practically voted Marissa to be the one most likely to hate me when all was said and done, and I think I'd convinced myself that it would be easier to deal with if I focused on her less admirable qualities. Or, maybe this line of thinking resulted from a moment of weakness due to the shock that Marissa Rixis was willing to risk the rumor mill to keep a friend.

"The Clairs are probably waiting for me," Marissa said, breaking the silence. It almost sounded like she wanted to get away from me, too. That was a switch.

I nodded and shifted into drive, but I didn't take my foot off the brake, yet. I met Marissa's eyes and she looked at me expectantly.

"I don't care," I told her, and she frowned, looking confused.

"What do you mean?"

"You shouldn't feel that guilty about Chad," I replied. "I mean...I care...I'm disappointed that you would..." I sighed and shook my head, having trouble deciding what I wanted to say. "I'm sort of surprised that it didn't happen sooner."

"You're not mad at me?" she asked, sounding skeptical. "I mean, you don't even know what we did..."

"And I don't want to know, either," I insisted, probably a little rougher than necessary. Maybe I didn't feel as upset about her cheating on me as I should have, but I could definitely go without the details. "Look Mar, the reason we broke up was because... there was no..."

"We didn't click," she said, nodding. "I get it." She fell silent for a moment and then added, "But I guess it's good to know that it wasn't just me, huh? You don't like any girls."

I was about to ask her why she found that last remark necessary, considering she never seemed entirely interested in me, either, but when I looked up I realized she was smiling. It was simply her way of attempting to lighten the situation, and out of pure appreciation for that, I smiled back before I shifted into gear and drove the three blocks to my street.

It felt strange pulling up in front of Brad's house after everything that had happened lately, but that's exactly what I did. I waited for Marissa to get out as I glanced down the street at my own house, and saw that my mom's car was still in the driveway, a reminder that talking to the hard-to-please women in my life wasn't over yet.

"Quinn... so, are we okay?" Marissa's voice said, bringing me back to my current situation, and I frowned at the question as I looked at her.

"I don't know," I said honestly. "Mar..."

"So we need more time?" she asked, cutting me off.

"Probably," I said, nodding. But, I was actually feeling better about Marissa at this point. Maybe I wasn't ready to completely open up my life to her, but I found that quite a bit of hostility was gone.

"Can I at least call you?"

I had to think about that too, but ultimately I gave her a nod, and made a mental note to try to be polite to her. Maybe we'd never be as close as we once were, but I could at least give her that.

Marissa seemed a little disappointed, but also satisfied enough to leave my vehicle. Only, after she opened her door she suddenly paused and looked back at me.

"Quinn...about Brad..."

I opened my mouth to tell her that I'd already agreed to talk to Brad, at least call him, but she cut me off before I could.

"Look, I know you don't want me to pry, and he's already told me not to...but you should talk to him. It wouldn't be right if you didn't, Quinn. Maybe he's said some pretty bad things but it's not like you've been any better."

I frowned at that, totally disagreeing. Brad had been much worse than me, as far as I was concerned. But, I could have come to that conclusion because it seemed to me that he had more of a problem with me being gay than he was willing to admit. That idea was hard enough to think about. If he was pissed off because I hadn't told him sooner, fine. I could deal with that. I could even deal with it if he never forgave me for that. Ever. But, what I couldn't deal with was: Brad Clair, the homophobe. At least if he hated me for the honesty issue it was just a mistake on my part, something I'd brought upon myself. If he hated me for being gay... the idea turned my stomach to knots. I was having enough trouble accepting myself. If Brad thought there was something wrong with me, just because I liked the same sex and couldn't help it, I don't think I'd get any lower than that.

I looked at Marissa, and chose not to comment. I decided that it would be a mistake, now. Mentioning Brad probably wasn't a good idea on her part, and I had a feeling that if this conversation continued I'd probably take my stress out on her. It would probably be better to deal with Brad when the time came. I'd told him that we'd talk at some point tonight, but since my mom and the situation with Jude took priority for me, I tried to think of a good time to meet up with him tomorrow. It wasn't like I minded avoiding it for another day, either; after all, I was terrified of how things would ultimately turn out between us.

"I'll see you later, okay Mar?" I said, and she sighed, obviously taking the dismissal for what it was as she finally got out of my car.

"I'll call you," she said as her parting words, as a reminder that I'd told her she could.

I just nodded, and as soon as the passenger door was closed I focused on the street in front of me, intending to pull into my own driveway; but before I even moved I was stopped by the sight of my mom, getting into her car.

Any other time, I would have guessed that she was on her way to get what she needed for dinner, but not this time. I glanced at my clock. It was already late enough, too late for her to be running that errand. I stared down the street, studying the way that her shoulders looked stiff and her forehead had knotted into a frown. It was as good an indication as any that she was still pissed as hell at me and my sister, so I would have written that off, too, if she wasn't carrying the case she kept her laptop in. She hardly ever left the house with it, so that alone was suspicious.

I could have gone down the street to stop her but I didn't, as I watched her pull out onto the street, facing in the opposite direction. I could have gone home to wait for her. Maybe if I got dinner on the table before she got back I'd score enough points for her to accept my apology when the time came. But, I didn't do that, either. Instead, as she started to drive, and the sinking feeling in my gut told me that her destination was likely one I wouldn't like, I decided to follow her.

I'd made it about two feet before the sound of my own car door slamming startled me and I slammed on my brakes, looking to my right. The fact that Brad happened to be sitting in my car didn't escape my attention and I probably would have yelled at him for jumping into a moving vehicle if I wasn't so focused on where my mom was going or surprised by my unexpected passenger.

"You weren't going to call me, were you?" he demanded, looking as pissed as a Clair could. I inwardly groaned. I absolutely had no time for this.

"Get out."

Okay, so I probably could have been nicer about that, but I was in a hurry.

"Not until we talk," he replied stubbornly.

"Fine." I frowned, and hit the gas, eager to catch up to my mom.

"Hey!" Brad complained, reaching for his seatbelt. "Quinn, what are you doing?"

"I told you to get out."

"Yeah, but where are we going?" he wanted to know when it became clear that I had no intention of pulling into my own driveway. I came to the stop sign and as my mom did, turned right.

"Will you slow down?" Brad demanded, sounding alarmed. He had reason to be. I was almost fifty on a twenty-five-miles-per-hour street. But, as I spotted my mom's car stopped at a red light up ahead I abruptly pulled over. "What the fuck... hey, isn't that your mom?" I didn't respond. The light turned green and once my mom was through it I had to speed through yellow to catch up, and didn't feel relieved until both of our vehicles were on the main road, me being careful to stay far enough back so that she wouldn't see me. "Are you following her?" Brad demanded.

"Yes," I said simply, hoping that I was wrong and this was just a simple trip to the grocery store.

"Quinn, what are you doing?"

"Following my mom." Hadn't we just been over this?


"Because... it's complicated," I said, frowning as my mom passed by the street I'd expected her to turn on, the one leading to Jude's.

"Care to explain it?"

"Not really. Look, if you want to get out I'll pull over," I offered, deciding that I had time because my mom was stopped at another red light.

"You'd just ditch me on the side of the road?" Brad demanded, and I looked at him, feeling annoyed as we came to a stop at the same light, a few cars back from my mother.

"I didn't tell you to get in my car," I pointed out.

"But you did say you'd call me," he stated. "If you weren't going to, you could have said so."

"How do you know I wasn't going to tonight?" I demanded. "Fuck, it's not like I have time to drop everything just because you want me to. I have other things to do, you know."

"Like following your mom?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact."

I turned my attention back to the road as the light turned green, continuing to remain a respectable distance from my mom. Where the hell was she going?

"If you don't want to talk to me, just say it." Brad said.

"Brad! Can't you see that I'm busy?" I snapped irritably. "I don't have time for this shit, and I never said I didn't want to talk to you."

"Oh, so you do and the best way to go about it is avoid the hell out of me," he sarcastically retorted.

"Well gee, and here I thought avoiding you would be the best way to keep soap out of my eyes."

That shut him up. Momentarily.

"You hit me first," he pointed out.

"Fine, then I guess we're even."

"Not by a long shot, asshole."

I glanced in his direction then, feeling a little more than angry at the cold expression he was regarding me with.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"It means you lied to me!" Brad shouted. "Do you have any idea what it's like to find out your best friend isn't who you thought he was?"

"I'm still the same person. This is just me angry!" I retorted. "What would you rather have me do, Brad? Would it be better if I didn't tell you at all? Because that could have happened, you know."

"Oh I have no doubt you would have kept me in the dark as long as you could," he responded bitterly. "And why not? Obviously we weren't as close as I thought!"

"That's bullshit and you know it. You're just pissed because I'm a faggot and you can't handle it!"

This was the part where he was supposed to call me some unflattering name and tell me that I was an idiot. He was supposed to tell me that I was wrong. He was supposed to get pissed as hell at the accusation and he was supposed to yell or scream or say... something. He wasn't supposed to go silent enough for me to realize the sudden ringing in my ears and the sinking in my gut were the symptoms of officially losing my best friend. I looked over at him, hoping that I'd see something on his face, something that said I was jumping to conclusions, but, instead all I got was a guilty expression-right before it became panicked and Brad pointed ahead of us.


I looked up just in time to slam on the brakes and we came screeching to another halt just before I rear-ended a minivan.

"Are you crazy?" Brad hissed, just above a whisper. I was sure that he was shaking as much as I was. It had been a close call. But, I couldn't concentrate on it as I looked over at him, trying to hide the hurt I was feeling.

"You can't handle it," I repeated. It was a statement, not a question.

"Quinn, pull over," Brad demanded. "You're going to fucking get us killed."

But, as the light turned green, I went right back to following my mother, although where she was going seemed like less of a concern now.

"That's it, isn't it?" I said blankly. "It's because I'm gay. That's why you're so pissed."

"I never said that," he stated, but I shot him a look that said he didn't have to say it for it to be clear. "Look, it's complicated," he responded to my expression. "It's not what you think."

"Then what the hell is it, Brad?"

"You're gay!" he blurted, and then paused to roughly run his hand through his hair before he continued. "I mean, come on, Quinn, you couldn't have expected to drop something like that on me without getting a reaction."

"You have a problem with it." Again, it wasn't a question. I felt like I was going to throw up. So far, aside from Johns, I hadn't had anyone directly tell me that they couldn't accept this. God, I did not want to be the first to be Brad.

"Yes," he stated, and I had to rapidly blink my eyes as a feeling similar to blacking out took over me. I felt like I was choking. "But it's not what you think, Quinn... I mean, if it was anyone else, I don't think I'd give a damn. It's not like I haven't met gay people before, but..."

"You just choose not to be friends with them," I said angrily.

"That's not it! Other people... aren't you, okay?"

"So what, you're afraid I'm harboring feelings for you or something?" I demanded, feeling quite desperate at the moment; but as soon as I asked the question I regretted it as the summer I'd taken to groping him in the swimming pool came to mind. I could feel my cheeks heating as I wondered if he'd ever thought of it. I'm not sure it would have been possible to feel more ashamed of myself.

"God no! Don't be fucking sick, Quinn," he snapped, and while I could have taken offense to his reaction, I felt oddly relieved by it instead. "It's because you're... you're you. I'm supposed to know everything about you!"

"And if you had known that, would we even be here right now?" I demanded.

"I do know that and we are right here."

"That's not what I meant! Would we even be friends if..."

"How the hell should I know?" He cut me off. "I'm having a hard enough time dealing with it now, Quinn! I don't... I don't know what to say to you, okay? Fuck, if it were up to me we could just erase the whole month and..."

"But we can't erase it," I stated. My eyes were stinging. They felt swollen, but I wouldn't release the hot fluid straining to get out as I tried to see past the blur and pay attention to where my mom's car was headed. "I'm gay; either you can deal with it, or..."

"Yeah, well maybe I can't deal with it!" he cut me off, and I had to resist the urge to swerve through two lanes of traffic to tell him to get out of my car. I chose to turn where my mom was turning instead. "Yet," Brad suddenly added, and I was looking at him again.

"Quinn!" he shouted, pointing ahead and I braked again to miss another vehicle. "Fuck, will you pull over?"

"What do you mean yet?" I demanded.

Brad looked like he was fully ready to jump out of my car, the way he was clutching his seat. But, at least he decided to answer me while he was deciding what was more dangerous: my driving or, jumping.

"What do you think it means?" he replied, frowning at me from the passenger seat. "I need more time to... adjust. Like I said, you can't just drop something like that on me. Shit, Quinn, I don't even know if I'll ever be okay with it. I mean, it's...you!"

"If you can't deal then why are you even bothering?"

"Because..." For a moment Brad sounded unsure, and then he shrugged. "Because it's you." He let out a breath and I could feel his eyes on me, but at this point I was too busy concentrating on the road to look back. I wished that I could see him, though. I felt like I was hanging from a breaking limb, waiting for him to continue. "I need time to sort things out, Quinn. I mean, I know it seems like I've already had plenty of time but it's not like I haven't been busy, either. My dad's finally back but my mom's driving everyone crazy worrying about the baby. It's like she's afraid to be alone so I haven't had a free moment when my dad's not around..."

"Brad," I cut him off. Sure, I was curious to know how his mom was doing, and I didn't like that it seemed the answer wasn't a good one, but I couldn't deal with it at that very moment. Brad and I were in the middle of a conversation that I wasn't willing to lose track of. My tone of voice obviously told him that.

"Sorry...look... I just can't pretend that I'm okay with...everything, when I'm not."

"Right," I said shortly. Through the turmoil I could feel some control coming back as I focused on my mom's car. I'd let my emotions momentarily shut down. This wasn't the first time this had happened. I didn't necessarily feel as blank as the day that I walked out of John's office, but I was numb enough. That was good. It would make the next thing Brad said easier, because I was convinced it would be goodbye. For good this time.

"But I'm sick of fighting with you."


"Quinn!" He raised his voice, and I blinked, wondering if I was about to risk another car accident, but when I glanced at Brad I saw that he was simply annoyed with me.

"Are you paying attention?" he demanded. "Fuck. I'm sick of fighting with you, okay? I'm tired of you avoiding me, and Mar. If you have a few new friends, fine, but I'm done with this bullshit. If you don't want anything to do with me just say so already so I can fucking get on with things!"

"What?" He'd completely lost me.

"I mean, do you even care?" he demanded. "I'm trying to work things out here and I can't even get you to talk to me."

"Work things out?" I asked incredulously. "You can't stand who I am!"

"When did I say that?" he retorted. "I said I need time! Now I can't have time? Christ, Quinn, the gay thing...it's new to me, okay, and I don't know if I'm ready to deal with it but that doesn't mean that I don't want to work things out with you."

"They kind of go hand in hand, Brad."

"Why, do you plan on rubbing it in my face?"

"No, but..."

"Then can't we just call a truce for now or something? I can't fight with you anymore. I have too much shit going on and to tell you the truth, I could use my best friend right about now."

"Friend?" the word felt foreign in my mouth. I glanced over at Brad, feeling surprised. That final blow I'd been expecting hadn't come, and just like with Marissa, I didn't know how to react to it. "You hate what I am."

"Will you stop putting words into my mouth?" Brad demanded. "I never said I hate you, Quinn! There are just certain things I need to get used to! How could you even think..."

"You said yourself you have a problem with me," I said defensively.

"I do have a problem with you when I have to see a hickey another guy gave you!" Brad blurted, and then immediately calmed himself. For my part I was turning red with both anger and embarrassment. "I told you... I don't know how to deal with it!"

"Well maybe I can't deal with a friend who can't deal with it!" I shouted as I watched my mom's car turn into a very familiar parking lot, a destination that had me feeling like I'd just been kicked in the chest. "Oh shit," I whispered, my mouth having gone dry as I slowly followed the same path as she had.

"What?" Brad asked, frowning as he looked around. As we parked, he followed my eyes to where they were trained on my mom as she got out of her car and headed towards a building, looking somewhat nervous. "Whoa...hey, Quinn... why is your mom going into the strip club?"

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