Seth shook his head in disgust, grateful that rounding the corner into the hall diminished the deafening noise in the living room. Since he'd arrived at the party, the stereo had been spewing the so-called "music" of Britney Spears and he wasn't sure how much more his emo and indie rock loving, pop music hating soul could take. If it didn't stop soon, it was entirely possible that the house's owner would discover Seth Cohen folded up in a corner of his/her home tomorrow morning, banging his head against the wall and muttering gibberish. He sent a silent plea skyward for better music or silence, well, actually ceiling-ward, if you wanted to get technical, and wondered who lived here anyway. This would be easier, quite possibly fun, if Ryan had come with him, but since Marissa was grounded until shop- lifting became a fashionable thing for the ladies of Newport to do, he decided he needed some "alone time" to just chill. Seth could understand that. The holidays had to be tough on him, even if he'd never admit it. He personally thought that Ryan having a tiny break from Marissa would do him some good. There was obviously something very deep between the two of them - maybe love, and he was happy for both of them, but being Marissa Cooper's boyfriend was - uh - challenging for the guy lately, to say the least.

His covert operation to find Summer without anyone actually knowing he was looking for her had been a resounding failure. He'd just begun subtly questioning Marissa over the phone when she'd cut him off mid-sentence with a half exasperated, half amused sigh and told him Summer might be at a party at this address tonight, then laughingly wished him luck. Apparently his hidden agenda was not hiding, and possibly was jumping up and down while waving at everyone he knew. Stupid agenda. He'd realized then that it didn't really matter who knew his quest; he'd just been trying to save face after his spectacularly idiotic decision regarding the two women in his life anyway. And who was he kidding? There was no face-saving to be had, oh no, not by Seth Cohen. The blonde and the brunette were no longer in his life, and that would be because he was Obviously Mentally Unstable. Summer had called him that once, and he'd disagreed at the time, but her diagnosis fit rather well into this equation. He'd told Marissa a Newport party was about the last place he wanted to be, just ahead of an ABBA concert with Satan as the opening act, and he'd just try to call Summer again tomorrow. But after staring at the wall in his bedroom for two hours feeling like he would explode if he didn't talk to her, he decided he couldn't wait till tomorrow. So here he was in he-had-no-idea-who's bathroom, avoiding the pod- people and the tragedy that was Britney Spears.

Marissa hadn't actually called him a pathetic loser on the phone, but he swore he could actually hear her thinking it. Kind of in a fond way. Right between "Good luck" and "Talk to you later, Seth". And the strangest thing about hearing Marissa's thoughts wasn't the part about hearing her thoughts. It was that he agreed with her.

He'd been ok with the decision, bummed that they didn't WANT to be friends, but still sure that he'd done the only thing that wouldn't leave one of them feeling hurt and rejected. Yes indeed, he'd been sure of it right up to the moment he walked into the pool house the next morning to see if Ryan was up and came face-to-face with the bed that he'd been on. With Summer. He'd turned back and looked at the wall by the door where he'd been shoved and kissed over and over again. By Summer. He'd swung back toward the bed, envisioning her lying on top of him, giggling while they talked and kissing with abandon. Seeing Summer, warm and soft and sweet underneath him, looking up with shy trusting eyes, her happiness at being with him (with HIM!) written all over her face; her hands running all over his back and neck and sides and in the middle of that reverent memory it had hit him like a Hummer2 driven by a blind crack addict.

He'd made a monumental mistake.

In his haste and worry about hurting anyone he'd managed to wound all three of them. The girls had WANTED him to choose and were ready to deal with whatever he said. But he'd lied to one of them and now it was too late to fix it.

He certainly hadn't experienced heart-stabbing pain when confronted with the bed he'd been on with Anna. In fact, he'd read, then slept in it all night without a problem.

He hadn't vowed to join his mom at yogilates so he could kick himself in the head when he'd looked at the spot in his room where he and Captain Oats and Anna had kissed. Nope. Even walked over it several times without a care.

Who had he wanted for 6 years? Summer.

Why had he not chosen her? Because he didn't want to hurt Anna's feelings. She'd liked him from the moment they met, unlike Summer, and had been an extremely good friend. Friend being the operative word. He didn't want to lose that ever. But Anna had known how he felt about Summer since day one, and if she was really a friend she'd sort of understand why his decision didn't go in her favor.

In the midst of this revelation in the pool house Ryan had looked up from his book. "Seth. What are you doing?"

Seth had turned to the chair his friend was lounging in with a stricken expression on his face and uttered something remarkable like "I - I - No you - I can't - It wasn't - Really what was I - She was - See - she - she -"

Ryan had held up a hand to quiet the flow of nothing coming out of his mouth. "I knew this was gonna happen. Just not this soon." At Seth's evident confusion, Ryan had continued. "You're having second thoughts about the girls, right?"

**Seth nodded. "You're wishing you'd have picked ...." Ryan thought hard. "Summer?" Seth closed his eyes briefly and nodded. Ryan gave him a rare look of sympathy and shook his head. "I told you to pick one all along, man. You don't LISTEN." Seth lowered his head and stared at floor. "Look, you want to talk about it?" He was surprised to hear Ryan offering himself as a sounding board, but shook his head no. "You want my advice?" Nodding. Definitely. Ryan stared out the window for a moment, then turned back to him. "Tough one. At this point, your only option is to find her and beg like crazy. If you ever speak again. I gotta tell you, as much as I sometimes wish you'd never talk? This is really disturbing."**

He had shrugged and made his way out of the pool house and up to his room.

Seth sighed and decided to make one more sweep through the party house and back yard, then head home if Summer wasn't here. Just as he opened the bathroom door, Jesus and Moses had mercy and Britney fell silent. He mouthed a "thank you" ceiling-ward and thought he heard a very familiar voice coming from further down the hall. The door to the room was still opened several inches, so he smiled and headed toward it, becoming alarmed and instantly switching to stealth-mode when he heard a male voice. Unmistakable sounds of kissing and making out followed, and Seth figured his chances of being busted were slim, seeing as the two people macking probably weren't paying attention to anything in the hallway. He crept to the door and spied through the crack, immediately squeezing his eyes shut in pain when he saw the couple groping each other on the bed. He forced himself to count to three, open his eyes and look again, just to be certain. The light was dim at best, after all. It could be someone else that kind of looked like her. He watched as she sat up, her hair shimmering and sweet face glowing in a beam of light thrown through the window by the streetlight outside. She peeled off her top in one fluid motion and Seth quickly turned away to rush quietly down the hall, sick and desperate to get out of the house.