A/N: Finally, chapter fourteen's up. Yes, yes, I know--what the heck took so long? That would be laziness, three stories of my own, beta-ing for a better writer than myself and the fact that I have no clue where I'm going with this story from one chapter to the next. That will be my answer every time, just so you know. Do not expect chapter fifteen anytime soon.
Anyway, there are some people I'd like to thank: KateM for being a wonderful beta. It's because of her this chapter doesn't totally suck.
LushBaby for letting me absorb her story Crazy For You into my universe. You should probably read it first. It's in my favorites.
Deadly Salami for picking up on the intentional edible symbolism. Joan's cone was symbolic, too, but I forgot what for. :)
Everyone who's reviewed my stories. I do love and appreciate them so.
And, last but not least, Observance for all your suggestions. They've been tumbling around in my mind for some time now (which hasn't helped speed me along) and I think some of them will be popping up in future chapters. Couldn't tell you when though.
Chapter Theme Song: Nobody's Supposed to Be Here by Deborah Cox.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but this storyline and a headache that nobody wants.
On with the story!
Grace marched to school from her house with her head bowed, desperately trying to keep her mind off of the events of Friday night. Her memory, however, was persistent and continued to recall instance after instance of the night by the lake as it had done all weekend. The sound of Madonna's voice, still sweet with youthful naïveté and daring, combined with the strong, steady thump of Luke's heart still thrummed in her ear. She shivered with the recollection of the tender breeze that stroked her cheek and neck as Luke tightened his arms around her and caressed her back, his cheek grazing her hair, which was still slightly wavy. They'd spent the night making out and sharing little memories of their childhoods they'd all but forgotten. He'd told her about the time Joan had accidentally blown up his first chemistry set. She'd told him, under threat of death, about playing the Tin Man in the third grade production of The Wizard of Oz. Grace suspected she drifted off during Luke's confession about his past obsession with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which he insisted was strictly scientific in nature.
Violently shaking her head, Grace blinked back the unbidden tears stinging her eyes. Why was she doing this to herself? As good as Friday night had been, she and Luke couldn't happen. Saturday had made that truth painfully clear. She held back a sigh. Saturday had started out so well. The chill spring air had informed her that she wasn't at home in her bed, but it wasn't until a pair of warm arms had wrapped themselves around her from behind that that knowledge had penetrated her sleep-dulled mind. Instead of being afraid, she'd felt safe as if the unusual circumstances she knew she was in could become commonplace and she liked the idea. She'd scooted back into the warmth, only stopping when she felt something hard poking her lower back. She'd stiffened, her eyes popping open. The lake was such a dazzling, sparkling blue in the morning light, it hurt Grace's eyes. It took a second for all the clues to coalesce in her mind, but the minute they did, she bolted upright, glancing behind her to find Luke waking up.
Yawning, he stretched his long frame, apparently unaware of the bulge in his tuxedo pants. Grace averted her eyes and fought the blush trying to heat her cheeks. She so wasn't going down that road, mentally or otherwise, no matter how tempting. She didn't look at him again until she felt his hand glide down her arm, and then she focused solely on his face. He was smiling up at her. "Hey."
"How'd you sleep?"
"Fine," she answered, a little thrown by how comfortable he seemed. Maybe he thought he was dreaming. She reached forward and gave a hard, sharp pinch.
"Ow!" Luke cried, rubbing the spot she'd assaulted as he sat up. "Why did you do that?"
At once dismayed and amused, Grace scrambled to her feet and brushed the dirt off of her clothes. "No reason."
"You know," Luke began in a hurt tone as he got to his feet, "I thought after last night you'd stop picking on me just for the sake of it. I thought that we'd reached a mutual meeting of the hea—minds." He turned his back to her and fiercely slapped at the dirt on his tux. "Apparently, I was wrong."
Seeing Luke's angry disappointment, Grace felt her shoulders slump. She hadn't meant to hurt his feelings. Why did seeing him upset hurt her so much? Sighing, she laid her hand on his rigid back. He jerked away from her touch like she'd burned him.
"Hey," she called.
"I wasn't picking on you."
"Uh-huh," he said disbelievingly as he lifted the blanket and began to shake it out.
Glaring at his back, Grace confessed, "I wanted to make sure you were awake."
Luke stopped and slowly glanced at her over his shoulder. "What?" he asked finally.
She stuffed her hands in her back pockets and gave him an embarrassed smile. "You seemed so comfortable waking up to find us together that I thought you might not realize it was really happening." He turned fully toward her, a slow grin spreading across his face. She looked away and shrugged. "Isn't this a little weird to you?"
"Yeah," he admitted softly. "But it's more nice than anything."
Grace opened her mouth and found that she didn't have any words. He'd literally struck her speechless. She cleared her throat and gestured vaguely toward the car. "We should go. My dad's probably freaking out right now."
"Wouldn't you consider that a good thing?" Luke asked as he headed to the car, pulling the keys from his pockets and popping the truck open.
"I rebel. I don't try to induce panic attacks and possible heart failure."
"Your dad has heart trouble?" Luke tossed the blanket in the trunk and closed it.
"No, I meant . . . forget it, geek." Grace turned toward the car and started in surprise. "Whose car is this?"
Grace stared up at him, her expression a mix of amusement and confusion. "Why do you have Friedman's mom's car?"
"He gave me the keys. Said he thought someone may have spiked his punch." Luke shrugged. "When you left, I went after you without thinking about whose car I was driving."
"And Crazy For You just happened to be in the stereo?"
Luke grinned. "His mom just got an eighties classics compilation. I know the probability of all that falling into place is exceptionally low, but I swear that's what happened," he said.
She didn't say anything for a minute. Then she broke out in a huge smile. "Friedman is so freaking out somewhere right now. I'd loved to see that."
Luke smiled as he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her a little closer. Grace's smile disappeared as he leaned toward her. "What are you doing?"
"Trying to kiss you."
"Dude, breath," she said, pointing to their mouths. "Bad on both ends."
He cupped her jaw, his eyes twinkling behind his glasses. "I don't care," he said as he claimed her lips.
Despite her concerns, Grace found herself leaning into him, her hands pressed against his chest. As his arm tightened around her waist and his hand slid from her jaw into her hair, she wondered what it would be like to be kissed like this all the time. Like she was the beginning, the middle, and the end of his world. She sighed against his lips as her hands fisted in his shirt and she arched into him. She could definitely get used to this.
An eternity later, Luke lifted his head. "Now we can go." He opened her door for her and closed it behind her after she got in. Then he got in himself, started the car and pulled off as "their" song began to play again.
They sang along with the songs while simultaneously making fun of them the entire ride to her house. Luke cut off the ignition and turned toward her. "Do you want me to walk you to the door?"
"I think I can get there on my own."
He grinned. "Can I see you tonight?"
"Probably not," she said, genuine regret in her voice.
Grace shook her head. "My parents will probably be all over me. The closer graduation gets, the clingier they become. But," she said when his face fell, "there's always instant messaging."
"I can live with that," he said as he brushed a quick kiss on her mouth.
She rolled her eyes but couldn't completely suppress her smile. "If you want your friend to see nightfall, or the afternoon even, you'd better return the car."
"Right," he said as she climbed out of the car. "Grace?"
"Yeah?" she asked, poking her head back in.
"You really are beautiful."
Her lips curled in their usual smirk, but she couldn't help feeling flattered. "Thanks." She closed the door and jogged up the walkway to her house, giving him a little wave before she went inside.
"Grace?" her father called as she closed the door behind her.
She felt her good mood plummet. The last thing she wanted to do right now was argue with her father. She considered ignoring him and going to her room when he said, "Grace, is that you?"
She sighed. "It's me," she said and plodded to his study. She found him sitting behind his desk, a binder resting on his lap.
He glanced up at her and arched an eyebrow at her outfit. "You didn't wear that to prom," he half asked.
"I changed around midnight," Grace said, not wanting to go into detail.
"Ah, the Cinderella effect," he said.
With a roll of her eyes, Grace said, "Mrs. Girardi took pictures. She said she'd send you the extra ones of me."
"That's nice of her. Did you have a good time?"
"Not too good a time?" he said with a pointed stare.
Grace considered saying she had indeed had that good a time, but the barely veiled sorrow she felt radiating from him stopped her. "Not too good a time."
Rabbi Polonski nodded. "I'm glad." He stood, set the binder on his desk, and pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead. "Get some sleep, okay."
"Sure," she said, frowning at her father's unusual behavior. Why wasn't he laying into her for staying out all night without calling? "Dad?"
She grimaced at the endearment. "Are you okay?"
He nodded and gave her a sad smile, the same one he'd been giving her for the last month. "I'm fine. I just miss you."
"I haven't gone anywhere, Dad."
"You're about to," he said. "Get some sleep."
Grace watched her father climb the stairs and disappear down the hall, her brow furrowed in concern. Though she and her dad hadn't been close since she was ten, Grace couldn't help being worried about him. He was so sad all the time just like he'd been when all the mess with Aaron and Rachel happened. Even with the state of their relationship, she hated seeing him dejected. Figuring the binder might explain his melancholia, she took it upstairs with her and put it on the bed while she showered.
Half an hour later, she settled in her bed and flipped through the binder. It was a photo album with her name on the inside cover. It was filled with her baby pictures and photos of birthday parties and school activities. There were several shots of her with Adam and Ramsey, but there were even more of her with Aaron and Rachel. Aaron giving her a piggyback ride when she was five. Rachel putting lipstick on skeptical, six-year-old "princess" Grace's mouth. Aaron tickling a four-year-old Grace on the living room floor. Rachel showing Grace how to do some dance when she was seven.
Pages and pages of memories stopped right before her eleventh birthday. Rachel had just left and their mom had to leave home for a while too. Grace didn't have a party that year; she'd spent the week crying in her room. Try as he might, her father couldn't console her. As far as she was concerned it was all his fault. She'd never had another birthday party. Slowly, Grace closed the album and looked around her room. The bright yellow walls did nothing to make her to feel better.
A noise drew her attention to the laptop sitting on her desk. She climbed out of bed and lifted the monitor. In her rush to gather all of her prom things, she had forgotten to log off her computer. Now, an instant message waited for her response.
GravityBoy: Hey. Couldn't wait until later. Friedman's ride pulled up in front of his house just as I did so he drove me home. Somehow I don't think he's going to tell his mom I had the car. Then when I got home, Mom and Dad were giving Joan the third degree. Apparently, she was out all night, too. What did your dad say when you went in?
Grace sat at her desk, a tiny smile on her lips. Her hands were poised to answer when the little voice that had plagued her all night said, It's just a matter of time, Grace. She frowned, not entirely sure what the annoying little voice meant but hesitating anyway.
GravityBoy: Grace, are you there?
Remember, he's going to MIT in the fall, the voice reminded her. Then what do you expect to happen? He could just as easily forget about you. Could you handle that?
GravityBoy: I guess you're asleep. I'll IM you later. I'm really glad last night happened, Grace. I just want you to know that.
Watching the logged off notice flash on her screen, Grace wondered what she should do now. She knew that she didn't care about what dating Luke would do to her image. But what would dating him do to her? Could she really start something with him knowing that he was going to another state in a few short months? Was a summer romance (oh, God, but that sounded cheesy) worth the possibility of a fall breakup? Was it reasonable to expect him to make her a priority once he left for school when her own siblings hadn't?
She turned off her laptop and closed it before crawling back into bed. Once she was comfortable, she pulled the photo album into her arms and held it against her chest. She ignored the tears streaming over the bridge of her nose and into her ear.
"It's okay, Grace," Adam said, playfully bumping her shoulder with his and breaking her out of her reverie. "Three more weeks and we're out of here for good, yo,"
Grace simply slid her eyes from the school's façade to Adam's gaze, too freaked to find herself standing in front of the school to respond, let alone move.
Adam stared back, understanding immediately dawning on his face. She didn't know if this comforted her or not. Before his mother died, she and Adam had been so close, they had their own psychic shorthand, instantly grasping what the other felt or thought. Now, as he stuffed his hands in his jeans pockets and hunched his shoulders, sympathy flooding his face, she wasn't sure if they still had that old connection or if her expression was that transparent.
"Luke's going to be crushed," Adam pointed out quietly.
She gazed back at him, feeling small and helpless the way she had when her father and brother would get into yet another screaming match.
He nodded as if he were answering a question she'd asked—maybe she had, God only knew what her face was saying—and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Resting his dark head against her blonde one, he gave her a small squeeze and asked, "Do you have to?"
Adam sighed. "Let him down easy, okay?" When she simply shrugged, he sighed again and nudged her toward the school.
They trudged up the steps and made their way to their respective lockers. Grace was just beginning to hope she'd dodged the Luke bullet for now when she felt a hand on the small of her back and knew that he was standing behind her.
"Hey," he greeted cautiously.
"Hey," she returned coolly. "I have to get to homeroom."
Luke frowned at her. "Since when do you care about getting to homeroom on time?"
"Since when do you not care?" she tossed back as she maneuvered around him and started down the hall at a brisk clip.
He followed her. "Grace, what's going on with you? If it's about prom night..."
Grace whirled on him, the scowl on her face contradicting the tightness in her chest. "Forget about prom night, geek boy."
"Forget about it?" he asked quietly. The disappointment and confusion he felt melded with the hurt her words caused. Grace's heart constricted painfully at the sight of his wounded eyes. God, why was she doing this? "You want to forget about it?"
"Yes," she hissed, hating herself even more when he flinched. "It's not going to happen between us, so just drop it."
She turned away only to be stopped by his hand on her arm. "Why are you doing this? Why didn't you IM me back this weekend?"
"I told you—because we're not going to happen, so just let it go."
"Okay, I get it. You're scared. You're afraid of how it'll look if we …"
"I don't give a damn how it'll look," she ground out, frustrated with him for making this harder for her. Didn't he know this was the last thing she wanted to do? "For the last time, you and me? Never. Going. To. Happen. There will never be a repeat performance and you should forget about the first one. Remember that because I'm not saying it again." With that, she stomped away, feeling like she was grinding her heart to dust with each footstep.
It's better this way, she told her protesting heart. It really is better. This way it won't hurt so much when he leaves.
You don't know that he will, her heart replied. He might surprise you.
He already has, she answered, resisting the urge to take one last glance at him. But he'll still leave.
You don't know that.
Grace slipped into her homeroom seat and stared out the window. The warm, beautiful May morning did nothing to alleviate the sadness hanging on her. The soft strains of someone humming reached her ears and she realized it was her. She was doing it again, humming that damn song Luke insisted on calling theirs. Just like she'd found herself doing all weekend. Crazy For You. Crazy. That's exactly what this whole situation was. Ridiculous. Ludicrous, even. She was Grace Polk, for goodness' sake. She did not get all emotional and heartbroken over boys. Especially not tall, skinny geeks with warm blue eyes that made her want to believe things could be different, better. Folding her arms on her desk, Grace dropped her face in them, hiding her turmoil from the rest of the room. What the hell had she been thinking to let things get this far? What had possessed her to let him get this close? What kind of masochist was she?
You don't know that he'll leave, her heart reiterated as if it hoped to change her mind.
"Yes, I do," she whispered. Grace knew better than her heart. It had happened too many times before to think that things would turn out differently just because she wanted them to. They all leave, she reminded her pathetic, optimistic heart. Even him.