Yes, it's me with another one-shot and another story focused on Eric and Angela. You're probably thinking, what, is this girl obsessed? No, but since they never really interacted there are so many different ways to imagine what would've happened if they did actually have scenes together.

I should probably say right off the bat that my two biggest pet peeves with Boy Meets World are 1) the ridiculous (but still funny) character that Eric became in the last season or two and 2) the rewriting of Shawn and Angela's breakup that happened in the beginning of season 7. Angela had a million and one reasons in season six to question Shawn's ability to commit to her but suddenly them being apart is her fault due to her never mentioned mother taking off on her? Always had a hard time buying that one myself. (This is where I will also mention that I was/am a fan of Shawn and Angela, but can't stand how his issues were swept under the rug.) I may come off a little harsh on Shawn in the story, but this is supposed to be what Angela's feeling.

As the summary says, this is an AU-ish story that takes place sometime after season six's Santa's Little Helpers.

Enjoy. :-)


Angela had to lie to come here. That in itself was absurd and she knew it. She had to lie three times to three different people- Cory, Topanga, and Shawn- in order to get some privacy. Ever since Christmas, when Shawn listened as she declared her love for him only to kiss her and then say he couldn't commit, she had been lying more. She schemed more. She snuck around more. Twice in less than six months she'd had her heart broken and she was expected to be friends and play nice for the sake of others. Never mind that for the longest time she couldn't be around Shawn without feeling like she was being stabbed in the heart with a hot poker or that every word he said reminded her of a promise he made that she had been foolish enough to believe. Instead of being given space to deal with their break up she was confronted with it every day. Whenever she felt like she was making progress, that maybe she was starting to get over him, he would be right beside her telling her that maybe he was wrong, and maybe they could work it out...but not yet. Oh, no, he wasn't ready yet. He just wanted to be sure Angela was in the reserves waiting for him to make up his mind. Okay, maybe Shawn wasn't that callous, but it certainly seemed like he wanted it both ways sometimes. She couldn't help but feel like he was using her as an emotional yo-yo and that yo-yo had hit the ground one too many times.

Then she had Cory and Topanga- interlopers at their best. Sure, they said they would respect her wishes and no longer try to force her and Shawn together romantically, but every time she turned around she was part of a foursome, being dragged along to activities like things had never changed. Angela went along with it for a while. Why cause trouble? She can still see their faces the day she decided to stop going along with it. Cory and Topanga wanted to go see the latest romantic comedy and suggested she and Shawn come along. She had been honest and said she just didn't feel up to it. She even suggested Shawn might have more fun bringing an actual date along. One would think she suggested they throw puppies on the highway during rush hour traffic the way they reacted. After that Angela decided it would just be easier to lie.

So, here she was, alone on a Friday night wandering around the museum in an exhibit on American Landscape. She'd never considered herself a huge fan of the genre, but there was something charming about the photos. She stopped when she came across a black and white picture of a church down a dirt road. The sun was shining, but it looked sad.

"Wedding or funeral?" There was a pause. "I think there's a wedding going on in that church."

She hadn't heard anyone come up behind her. "Are you kidding me? That is clearly the road to a funeral. Don't you see how desolate and..." Angela trailed off when she looked back and saw who her company was. "Eric? What are you doing here? Did Cory have you sniff one of my shirts to track me down?"

"What are you talking about?"

Angela shook her head, knowing anything else she said would only make her sound paranoid- though she wouldn't put it past Cory to sic Eric on her trail like one of those drug sniffing police dogs. "Nothing."

"I'm here to see this exhibit," he explained. "I've been looking forward to it for months."

"So, you're not following me?"

"Why would I be following you?"

"Why else would you be in a museum?"

"I like art," he said slowly, clearly annunciating each word. He momentarily wondered if he should've walked the other way when he saw her.

"Oh." Angela turned her attention back to the photograph in front of them. "Really, though, a wedding? Does anything about this scream love and happiness to you?"

"You're just not looking at it from the right angle." Eric stepped closer to the picture. "It's not a normal wedding. I think we're seeing it from the perspective of two people running off to elope. It seems isolated and lonely to us, but to them it's the only way they can be together. It's freedom. What's not beautiful and hopeful about that?" After she didn't respond to his interpretation he turned around and found her staring at him with an odd look on her face. "Something wrong?"

"Who are you?"

"What do you mean?"

"You look like Eric and you sound like Eric, but the words coming out of your mouth are so not Eric."

He averted his eyes and instead focused on a photo across the gallery. "What do you mean?"

"Come on, the Eric I normally see would need to be attached to one of those toddler harnesses to make sure he didn't go through the protective glass. He wouldn't be offering up philosophical interpretations of artwork."

"You have to give the people what they want."

"Huh?"

"What do you think of this one," he asked, moving on to another picture. "Now the sand dunes, these look lonely and desolate."

"I think they're beautiful. They look like the last place one can truly be alone in the world."

"Why would you want to be alone in the world?"

"To be at peace."

"I think if you need to escape to dunes to find peace you must not be hanging around with the right kind of people."

"Maybe," Angela conceded.

"Cory starting to get to you?"

"He means well."

"That doesn't make it okay. He and Topanga shouldn't keep trying to force you and Shawn together if it's not what you want."

"How the hell do you know about that?"

"I see all," he said with a wink.

"What does that even mean? Do I need to get a restraining order against you or something?"

"I'm not a stalker."

"Sorry, when someone says they see everything…"

"Your mind jumps to a crazy place?"

"You'd know a lot about that, wouldn't you?"

"What?"

Angela shook her head. "How about we look at the next picture?"

"Great."

For the next couple hours they wandered the exhibit, each offering their own interpretations of the pictures. She honestly couldn't believe all of the insights and thoughtful commentary coming from Eric. Not that she knew him very well, she realized. They hardly ever spent any time together. Most of what she knew came from things Cory, Topanga, and Shawn would mention. Angela figured at best he was silly and immature and at worst someone bordering on insanity. How could this guy and the goofy nutcase others talked about be one in the same? It didn't make any sense. The Eric standing in front of her was so normal, so interesting. She could have a conversation with this guy. She'd be friends with him.

"Wow, that's something, huh?"

Angela looked at the picture Eric had stopped in front of. It was trees along the edge of a river and the fall colors were reflected in the water. It was absolutely breathtaking. "It's beautiful."

"It reminds me of camping. If you go in late September or early October it looks like that. It's like you're in your own little world- just you and nature."

She was going to make a joke about how he seemed to always be in his own world but stopped herself. He was being so sincere. "That sounds nice."

"Have you ever been camping?"

"You mean like out in the wild, sleep in a tent, catch your food, and nature is your bathroom type of camping?" He nodded. "No. The closest I ever got was spending Christmas in a cabin with my parents. I think I was seven. We made s'mores in the fireplace." That was probably the best Christmas Angela could ever remember having. She loved it when she got to be alone with her parents without work and travels to get in the way.

"That sounds nice. Your dad's in the military, right?"

"He's a master sergeant in the army. I hardly ever get to see him." She sighed sadly. "I miss him a lot."

"Is your mom in the military, too?" Eric noticed her tense up before she moved on to a picture across gallery. "Did I say something wrong," he asked, trailing behind.

"No, no, you're fine. I'd just really rather not discuss her. The less said the better."

"Sorry. What's your dad like?"

She smiled. "He's a great guy. He likes to think he's tough and intimidating, and I guess he is to people who don't know him, but he's so not that guy with me. Everyone else sees the grizzly bear and I get the teddy bear. I call him up to say hi and he's asking how much money I want or if there's anything I need him to buy me."

"That's a nice deal."

"Maybe, but I'd trade all of that if it meant I got to see him more often. I'd jump at the chance to spend more time with him." Angela wondered why she was talking about her dad with Eric. She was pretty tight-lipped about her family circumstances, rarely brought it up with Topanga or even with Shawn when they were together. She didn't want to be labeled as the poor girl with the MIA workaholic father and a mother who walked out on her. She refused to let their actions define her.

Eric tried to imagine going long periods of time without seeing his parents and couldn't. "Yeah, I guess I'm lucky there."

"You are. Don't ever take it for granted." She took in the image in front of her- a waterfall carefully nestled between some rocks flowing down into a stream. "I'm supposed to see my dad during Spring break. He swears he won't let anything postpone this visit, but he'd made that promise before." She crossed her arms. "When the military says jump he can't help but automatically ask how high- even if it means he jumps over me in the process."

"How long has it been since you've seen him?"

"We spent a few weeks together last summer after I graduated. That was about seven months ago."

"That's a long time."

"It is." Angela was ready to talk about something else. She didn't like to dwell on her family for too long. "So, is there anything interesting going on in your life?" It was a lame question, but she couldn't think of anything else to ask him about. She simply didn't know Eric very well. She didn't know him at all. The little she thought she knew had gone out the window after tonight.

He was momentarily thrown by the subject change, but didn't challenge it. "Do you remember when I was the mall Santa for Christmas?"

"Vaguely." Christmas, in her mind, signified the last nail in the coffin between her and Shawn. She remembered little else from the holidays.

"After meeting all those kids from the orphanage and seeing how happy they were with so little- one girl was thrilled with an empty bag if you can believe that- I decided I wanted to do more. I finished my background check and interviews last week and this morning I got the call that I was approved to be a big brother."

"Eric, that's great."

"I'm hoping I can be matched up with Tommy, but they haven't assigned anyone to me yet."

"Who's Tommy?"

"The little boy I brought back to my parents' house for Christmas." He noted her blank stare. "He has red hair and was holding a fire truck."

She shook her head. "Sorry, I was a little preoccupied at Christmas."

"Oh, well, when I was Santa he said all he wanted for Christmas was parents. I felt really bad that I couldn't give him that, but I knew I could at least give him Christmas with a family. After that I couldn't get him out of my mind- actually I kept thinking about all of the kids. I had to find another way to help. Just giving one kid one day of happiness didn't feel like enough."

"That's so sweet."

He shrugged. "It's the least I can do." They both looked up when an announcement came over the P.A. system letting them know that the museum would be closing in ten minutes. "Wow, okay, tonight went by pretty fast."

Angela checked her watch and couldn't believe how long they'd been here. It hadn't felt like a few hours went by. "I know." They stood there, staring awkwardly for a moment. "I guess we should get going. I need to catch the bus."

"I'll give you a ride."

"Oh, no, Eric, you really don't have to do that."

"It's no problem. I have to pass the campus on the way back to my apartment anyway. It's not out of the way."

What are the odds he'd morph back into weird during a quick drive? "Okay."

"Great, we can get some dinner. I was thinking either burgers or Chinese, but you can pick."

She stopped in her tracks. "Whoa, wait a minute, dinner?"

"Yeah, you know- food that is eaten in the evenings? I haven't had dinner yet and- unless you snuck food in your purse despite all the no food signs in big, bold print- you haven't either."

"You want to get dinner…with me?"

"I think I made that clear." He shrugged. "We have to eat, right?"

"And we'd go together?"

"We can sit at different tables if you want, but it would make having a conversation really difficult." He took a few steps back. Eric didn't know why she was being so standoffish all of a sudden. He thought they'd been having a nice time. True, it was probably the first time they've ever had a real conversation, but it seemed to go well. "If you don't want to go, just say so. You won't hurt my feelings. It's just two friends getting dinner."

That's right, it was just dinner. It was just dinner with Eric. And he'd been relatively normal all evening with no indication he would flip back like a switch. Of course, when they first ran into each other she'd had no idea he wouldn't be the silly person she usually encountered. Wait a minute…what did he call them? "We're friends?" For a moment she had flashes of Cory and his determination to become her new best friend. She didn't know if she could take another Matthews chasing after her with flowers and balloons, waiting to talk when she gets out of the shower.

He shrugged. "We're not strangers."

That much was true. "You won't stick chopsticks up your nose at the restaurant, will you?"

"Of course not," he scoffed. "Do you have any idea how painful it is to have a splinter in your nose?" He shook his head. "It's not worth it."

/

A while later they were eating in a silence that wasn't exactly comfortable but wasn't awkward either. Every so often Eric would catch Angela shooting looks his way when she thought he wasn't paying attention. He couldn't quite read what she was thinking. It looked like disbelief, but he wasn't sure. He hadn't known how to react when he saw her at the museum. He had been looking forward to a night to himself where he didn't have to be on, with no one expecting constantly outlandish behavior from him, and was momentarily afraid that had gone out the window. But he decided to take a chance and be himself. It's not like he and Angela ever hung out together. She wouldn't expect him to act a certain way. "What," he asked after she tried to sneak another look. "Do I have food on my face?"

She looked back down to her own plate momentarily. "No, I'm sorry."

"Then why do you keep looking at me? I know I'm attractive, but try to control yourself," he said in a teasing manner.

She rolled her eyes and bit back a smile. "I just…I can't figure you out."

"What do you mean?"

"If you told me earlier today that we'd wind up at the museum together I would've envisioned the night ending with me trying to convince museum security that you meant no harm when you touched the priceless painting or broke the glass case and that they shouldn't press charges."

"But I didn't touch anything."

"That's exactly my point."

Eric wore a puzzled expression. "I think I need to buy a vowel because I don't get it."

"Who is the real Eric?" She decided it would be easier to cut right to the chase. "Is it the one who was at the museum tonight- the sweet, funny, intelligent guy who cares about people around him or is it the guy who steals tricycles from clowns and is surprised when they come and beat him up? Or the guy who set up hidden cameras in his apartment and filmed his roommates without their knowledge?"

"I'm curious about the human spirit," he exclaimed before grimacing. The whole hidden camera The Truman Showesque plot hadn't been his best idea. "You knew about that?"

"Word got around."

"At least Rachel no longer fears garbage disposals." He wilted slightly under her glare. "Yeah, it was a crappy thing to do. But in my defense it was supposed to be a show about me. It just got out of hand. How was I supposed to know people would find a girl walking around half-dressed more interesting than me?"

"Seriously? Isn't that like rule number one in the guy handbook?"

"They haven't given me my copy yet so I don't know. Probably."

She took a sip of her soda. "So, which is it? Who is the man behind the curtain?"

"Who says there's just one?"

"What?"

"It depends on my audience."

Angela waited for him to elaborate, but he didn't. "I don't know what that means."

"It means if people expect something you give it to them."

"Let me see if I get this," she began, trying to follow his logic, "you think people want to see you acting crazy so you act crazy?"

"It's what they expect." He took a big bite of his egg roll, hoping to delay any further questions.

"Yes, but…only because it's what you do. You act crazy because people expect it, but they only expect it because you do it." This was some bizarre chicken or the egg game he was playing.

"Then they won't be disappointed when I give it to them, will they?"

"That may be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. You're not being you because you think people want you to act insane? You think they'll be disappointed if you act any other way?"

"It's no stupider than what you're doing," he fired back.

"Excuse me?"

"You're letting Cory, Topanga, and Shawn dictate what you do and where you go. That's stupid."

"They don't have control over me."

"Really, because the study group you were supposedly meeting tonight must be full of invisible people because I didn't see anyone else at the museum with you."

Angela's eyebrows shot up. "How did you know I said I was going to a study group tonight? What happened to not being a stalker?"

"I heard Cory whining to Topanga about trying to find a date for Shawn."

"Oh." It was her turn to cram food into her mouth in order to avoid more questions.

"Why lie?" After a few minutes she still hadn't answered him. "I'm sorry. It's none of my business."

"They don't want to hear the truth. I'm done with Shawn- I need to be done with him, at least romantically. He doesn't want to see it and neither do Cory and Topanga."

"You still love him though, right?"

"Well, yeah, I don't think you ever completely stop with your first love, but I can't do it anymore. I can't be on this roller coaster where however Shawn's feeling that day decides the status of our relationship." She stabbed at her meal with a chop stick. "I was afraid of getting into an actual relationship with him at first because I never had one go past a few weeks, but once we decided to give it a try I was one-hundred percent committed to him. I never doubted for a second what we had. He's the one who wanted to see what else was out there. He decided he wasn't ready. And that's fine, people break up and relationships end. Okay. But why don't I deserve a clean break? What gives him the right to chase me and kiss me and write poetry about me and tell me he loves me but that he's not ready for the commitment of being with me?"

"It's not right. It's kind of a jerky move actually."

"And let's say I got back together with him- what then? How long would it last before he changed his mind again? A week? A month?" Angela reached for a napkin and wiped her eyes, annoyed with herself for getting upset. "I can't live with that uncertainty."

Eric started to reach out for her hand, but stopped himself, not knowing if it would be appropriate. "No, I get it. If someone is going to promise to be there and love you then that's what they should do. If he can't do that he should let you go so you can find a guy who can."

"I know Shawn's had a rough life and has issues with his parents, but he's not the only one. My dad has always put the army first and my mom took off on me, too, but you don't see me using them as an excuse to push people away and manipulate them." She took a deep breath. "Maybe that's a harsh thing to say, and I'm sure he's not doing it consciously, but emotionally I feel like one of those crash test dummies. No matter how wrecked I get, he and Cory keep trying to glue my head back on and load me back into the car for another drive."

"Let me know if you ever need me to beat Cory up."

She appreciated a reason to laugh. "What?"

"I'm his older brother. With that title comes with the inalienable right to pound the crap out of him when necessary."

"Ah, is that what it means to be a brother?"

"It's a huge plus."

She shook her head and stared at the table. "Cory means well, he means really well…but his way of going about things…I don't know. It's like he has this very narrow view of the world and what will make him happy and if something doesn't match up with the picture in his head…"

"He goes ballistic trying to fix it," Eric concluded.

"Exactly. When he's just being my friend he's amazing, but lately he's busy playing matchmaker. And when he's in matchmaker mode it's all I can do to stop myself from throttling him. "

"Is Topanga as bad as Cory and Shawn?"

"Not usually. Most of the time she tries to respect my wishes and not force me with Shawn, but she also wants to see Shawn happy. And she has Cory whispering in her ear." Angela grabbed a new napkin and began tearing it into little shreds. "They're freaks who have been in love since the sandbox and sometimes they don't understand any different." She looked up when Eric laughed. "What's so funny?"

He leaned forward as if he was about to let her in on some dirty little secret and whispered, "Cory and Topanga did not fall in love in the sandbox. Or the monkey bars, or any place else involving a playground. They haven't been in love since they were two." He sat back in his chair and resumed talking at a normal volume. "I don't care what they claim, it just didn't happen that way."

"Then how did it happen?"

"I don't know, middle school, high school? Before that Cory thought girls had cooties and that Topanga was a little weirdo hippie girl who communicated with otherworldly creatures for answers in math class." At least he thinks he remembers Cory and Shawn ranting about that once as kids. They had been pretty difficult to tune out at times.

Otherworldly creatures? "I'm sorry, she what?"

"He dated girls before her. And again when they broke up a few times, and he even talked to that little ski bunny when they were together so…"

"I get the picture."

"And I'm sure she dated before Cory and during their break-ups, too."

"Why dress it up? Falling in love in your early teens and still being together in college despite bumps in the road is pretty great."

"Let me tell you something about Cory and Topanga: they don't just want to be viewed as a great couple. They want to be special. They need to be perfect, to see themselves as the standard every couple sets out to be."

"I've noticed."

"I'm surprised they haven't altered history so the story goes that they were in love before they were born and my mom and Mrs. Lawrence put their huge stomachs together so pre-Cory and pre-Topanga could have play dates."

Angela shook her head in an attempt to rid herself of the mental image. "That would be weird."

"Any weirder than rewriting their history to say they fell in love before they were potty-trained?"

"No."

"You just gotta be like me."

"Like you how?"

"Stop caring about what people think. You don't want Shawn to keep stringing you along? Don't let him. Get out there and start dating again. I'm sure the second word got out that you were available guys were knocking themselves over to ask you out." Eric caught her look. "What? Sure, I don't know you that well and you're a little closed off, but you're hot and must have tons of guys…"

"Closed off?! What is that supposed to mean? I am not closed off." It wasn't the first time she's been told that and she hated it.

"All I meant was that you're not the easiest person to get to know."

"And you're an open book?"

"I think so, yes."

"Please, for all of your talk about not caring what people think you sure as hell seem to put a lot of stock in others' opinions of you."

"I do not. People can think whatever they want. It doesn't mean anything to me."

"Then how come you didn't have an answer when I asked which Eric is the real Eric?"

"Why does there need to be only one? I happen to be a multifaceted human being."

"You mean you're a scared one."

"I'm not…"

"The Eric I see in the student union wouldn't know multifaceted was even a word, let alone know how to use it in a sentence. You say I'm closed off? Well, if I am I'm not the only one. The only difference is you're more social and outgoing and hide it with a smile on your face."

He leaned back in his chair and nervously ran his hands through his hair. "What am I scared of?"

"I don't know you well enough to even begin to guess. If I had to throw a theory out there I'd say that you have a pretty good idea of who you are but you're afraid that if you let people see that then they'll reject you or something." She took a deep breath. Things had gotten out of hand. They had been having a nice time until she snapped at him and appeared to have hurt his feelings. "Look…I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bite your head off like that. I guess I got mad because you're not the first person to say I'm closed off and I hate that label.

"I had to listen to various counselors at every school I was dragged to as a kid tell my dad the same thing. 'Angela would rather read during lunch and recess instead of interacting with the other kids.' Or the ever popular, 'Angela is hesitant to make a friend.' No one seemed to care how difficult it was. Maybe I didn't go telling my life story to people I just met and prefer to keep things close to the vest until I knew them better, but so what? I moved around so much it was hard to make real friends. It seemed whenever I made one it was time to pack up and leave and start the whole process all over. It was hard being the new girl in class and I never stopped being the new girl."

Eric didn't know how to respond to that. He was able to stay in the same place, with pretty much the same group of people, his entire life. His family moved into their house before he started kindergarten and only traveled for the rare vacation or trip to a relative's house. "I'm sorry."

"I'm not looking for sympathy. As a kid I didn't know any different and it was fun seeing so many places. I had more stamps in my passport by age five than most people will in their entire lives. Believe it or not I actually had a pretty good childhood. It was just lonely sometimes."

"Did your mom get tired of the moves? Is that why she left?" He noticed she tensed up immediately at the mention of her mother. "Sorry…something else that isn't my business."

She waved him off. "It's fine. I think she just got tired of her life in general…every part of it."

"I'm sure she didn't get tired of you."

"If that were true she would've taken me with her, or at least she'd want to see me on occasion. I haven't seen or heard from her in years."

"Oh."

"It is what it is and I can't change anything. I'd rather move on and live my life the way I want."

"And living the way you want means hiding out at the museum on a Friday night?"

Eric had her there. "Clearly things aren't perfect but I'm working on it."

"That offer to beat up Cory is good. I'll even kick Shawn's ass a little if you want."

"But he's not your brother. Therefore the inalienable right to justify it doesn't exist."

"Eh, I've lived with him on more than one occasion. That gives me some right."

"I'll let you know," she said with a quiet laugh. "I suppose we should get the check." Angela reached for her purse, but he stopped her. "What are you…"

"It's on me."

"Oh, you don't have to…"

"I asked you to dinner so it's my treat."

She wanted to argue, but had a feeling she wouldn't win. "Okay."

"Besides, we're not done yet. We haven't opened our fortune cookies." He gestured to the center of their table. "And look, they gave us extra so we each get two."

She smiled at the excitement in his voice. It didn't seem to take much to make him happy. "Does that mean double the good luck or double the bad?"

"It depends on what our fortunes say. You pick first."

Angela grabbed a cookie and, after tearing the cellophane, broke open the cookie. She promptly doubled over with laughter. "It never pays to kick a skunk."

He laughed with her. "You don't want to scare one either."

"Please don't tell me you know that based on personal experience."

"Unfortunately."

"Why would you scare a skunk?"

"It was sort of a mutual surprise thing. I spotted something by my back tire and when I went to check it out let's just say I was the one who suffered."

"I can imagine. Okay, it's your turn."

"Your shoes will make you happy today." Eric looked down at his feet. "My feet don't hurt so I guess it's true."

Angela took her final cookie. "There is never a wrong time to make new friends."

"Now that is very true." He picked up the last remaining cookie. "Let's see if this fortune can beat shoes." He tore it open. "A short stranger will soon enter your life with blessings to share. What the hell does that mean? Should I be on the lookout for generous Oompa Loompas?"

"Maybe it means Tommy, or whatever child you end up being a big brother to," she suggested.

"Yeah, that makes more sense."

"And if you ever come across any Oompa Loompas let me know so I can run the other way."

"Aw, do they scare you?"

"No, I find little men with orange skin, green hair, and white eyebrows who sing in unison positively charming."

"When you put it that way they do sound kind of creepy."

"Kind of?"

"Fine, terrifying." He signaled to the waiter for the check. "I suppose we should get going."

"Do you mind if we stop for ice cream on the way? My treat."

"You can't just let me pay for dinner, can you?"

"I feel like some ice cream."

"You should know I like two scoops with my waffle cone."

/

A little while later they were leaving the ice cream shop. Though it was still winter it was pretty mild out and they decided to walk a bit before going back to the car. "I know you thought I was just joking around before," Eric began, "but seriously, there's got to be a ton of guys who have asked you out."

"I don't know about a ton."

"But there have been a few?"

Angela averted her eyes. "There's this guy, Ron, he's in my history class. He's asked me out a couple times."

"And why haven't we gone out with Ron yet," he asked. "Is he an uggo?"

"What," she said through giggles, "no! He's very attractive."

"Stupid, then?"

"No."

"He's not the professor, is he?" She gave him an incredulous stare. "I'll take that as a no. So what's the problem?"

"If I start dating again then…well, I'm dating again." She kicked a rock down the sidewalk. "Dating and relationships haven't been kind to me lately. I thought things with Shawn would be different, but I couldn't have been more wrong. What if my next relationship ends just as bad, or worse?"

"What if you meet the love of your life and you're together forever?"

"That's a nice thought, but I wouldn't place bets on that."

"You never know when or where you'll find love."

"Can I ask you a question now?"

"Sure."

"You like Rachel, right?"

"Um, hello, have you seen her?"

She rolled her eyes. "If you like her so much, why haven't you taken the chance and asked her out?"

"First of all we live together and that makes things kind of blurry. And also," he hesitated before continuing, "I think she likes Jack more."

"What?" He said the last part so quietly she couldn't hear him.

"I said I think she likes Jack."

"Based on what?"

"I don't know. It's the vibe I get. She looks at him differently. She doesn't look at me the same way," he admitted sadly. In his continued quest to compete with Jack for Rachel's affection he'd noticed little things, like the way she looked at him. Eric wasn't even sure if she realized it yet, but he had. It was just one of the many little things he'd picked up on between them lately. Something was going to happen there. It was only a matter of when.

"They could just be getting along as friends."

"I don't think so."

"In that case it sounds like you need to get back out there dating, too."

"My track record sucks just as bad as yours." There were a few girls he had really liked, but no relationship stuck. They usually imploded within a month, two if he was lucky.

"Yeah, but what was it you said? You never know when or where you'll find love."

"It's easier to give the advice than take it."

"Tell me something I don't know." She looked at him as they approached the car. "Maybe it's time we both break out of our comfort zones."

"Maybe."

/

/

"Hey."

Topanga looked up from the magazine she was reading. "Hi. I was starting to get worried about you. It's late."

"Sorry." Angela hung up her coat and set about gathering her belongings so she could brush her teeth and take a shower before going to bed.

"You missed a good movie."

"I'll catch it another time."

She couldn't help but notice her friend was being rather curt with her answers. "Are you mad at me?"

"I'm just tired, that's all."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Topanga."

"Where did you go tonight?"

"I told you I went to study group to prepare for the big test coming up in my Lit. class."

She walked over with a notebook in her hands. "This girl named Breanne came by a little while ago to return your Lit. notes. She said you let her borrow them."

"Oh."

"Come on, Angela, what's going on?"

She sighed and sat down on her bed. Even though she hadn't been sneaking around and lying for long she was tired of it. Her candid evening with Eric had been refreshing. "I needed to get out of here for a while. I needed to get away from you, Cory, Shawn, and your latest matchmaking attempts."

"I'm not trying to…"

"Stop." She pointed at Topanga. "I've told you before I'm done with Shawn and I mean it. I'm not going to keep putting myself out there like some fool when he's not ready or willing to do the same for me. I'm finished."

There was finality in her tone that hadn't been there before. "I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to force you back with Shawn." It drove her crazy because she knew how much Shawn still loved Angela and she'd been trying to be a good friend and support him. Apparently she hadn't been doing as good a job being a friend to the one she called her best friend.

"No? Then why have you been championing the double dates or "random" meetings almost as hard as Cory?"

She sat beside her. "I had this picture in my head of how college was going to be, you know? Me and Cory…you and Shawn…two young couples in love surviving their way through college together. I guess it's hard to let go of that image."

"You have to. You don't have a choice. Me and Shawn are done."

"Even as friends?"

"I don't know, but whatever we will be is going to take time."

"I just want you guys to be happy."

"I'm not happy. I need you all to back the hell off. Give me space. I need some room to breathe."

"How about the four of us get together to talk and…"

"No," Angela interrupted, exasperated, "you're not hearing me. There is no four of us, at least not the way it used to be and you need to accept that."

"Okay, I swear. I'll try."

"And you'll get Cory to chill?"

"I'm not a miracle worker," she said with a chuckle, earning a small smile from her friend. "I'll tell him it's in his best interest to mind his business."

"Tell him his physical safety depends upon it."

"You're going to beat him up?"

"Someone will." She grabbed her robe. "I'm going to take a shower."

"So where did you end up going tonight?" At Angela's look she added, "I'm not being nosy, just curious."

"I ran into Eric at the museum and then we grabbed Chinese food and ice cream."

Topanga laughed and went back to her magazine. "Fine, don't tell me."

/

/

The next morning Angela headed for the student union. She needed some coffee if she was ever going to get any studying done for her test. She momentarily froze up when she spotted Cory, Shawn, and Topanga sitting on the couch. Jack was with them sitting in one of the chairs. She considered leaving once she received her ordered coffee and muffin, but walked over. "Hi, guys."

Shawn was the first to speak up. "Hi, Angela."

"You missed a great movie last night," Cory told her. "Shawn said how much you would've liked it." Topanga elbowed him in the ribs. "Ow! What's the matter with you?"

"I'll catch it some other time."

Jack checked his watch. "Where's Eric? We can't sit here all day waiting for him to come make whatever announcement he has to make."

"Eric has an announcement?"

"He says he's finally found his purpose in life, whatever that means."

"Rachel's not here for it?"

"She has a Saturday class."

Just there Eric popped his head in the door. "Cool you guys are here," he said before disappearing again.

"Was he wearing a top hat?"

"I don't know. I was too distracted by the bowtie."

The door opened again and this time Eric came inside. He was indeed wearing a top hat along with a tuxedo and cape. "Ladies and gentleman, be prepared to be dazzled and amazed because I am…" he made a few awkward gestures with his hands. "…Eric the Great!" There was a popping noise and a banner dropped down from the ceiling that read Eric the Great.

"How did you do that?"

"Isn't it obvious, Jackie, I'm a magician. I'm devoting my life to magic and its mysterious ways." He threw his hands up and confetti shot out of his sleeves. "Who wants to be my assistant?" Angela was staring at him and it was impossible to miss her disappointment. It would be a lie to say it didn't bother him. "Would you like to be my lovely assistant?"

"I need to study." She'd hoped after last night she would see more of that guy, but apparently he was going back to his status quo. "It'd be difficult to do so if you chopped me up inside of a box."

He made a rose appear seemingly out of thin air and held it out to her. "What if I promise to put Cory in the box and make him disappear?"

"Hey!"

Angela accepted the rose. "That's tempting, but I'm going to study." It hadn't been funny to watch him act crazy before and now that she saw the other side of him, the one she suspected was closer to the real Eric, it definitely wasn't funny. "See you guys later."

/

Once back in her dorm Angela fully intended to start her work immediately, but spotted an envelope on the desk with her name on it. She opened it and found a picture inside. It was a miniature of the sand dunes she and Eric looked at last night. She flipped it over to see if there was a message. There was.

Now you can be at peace wherever you are.

She grabbed a tack and stuck it on her bulletin board.