A/N: OK, folks, this chapter was a lot harder to get out than I thought it would be, and I was anxious to get it done. Now that it is done, I'm a little sad. Why? Cuz this is the final chapter. For a while, at least. There are other stories that I want to work on, so I'm going to focus on those. I don't trust my multitasking abilities enough to try to keep up with this once, hence, the hiatus. Don't look for anything too soon though; the ideas I have are big projects and I might decide to post my story all at once (and yes, they're G/L…what else is there). But know that I am still writing, still reading, and still loving this fabulous pair!
Thanks for all the wonderful reviews, guys. I have been greatly motivated by them. I now give you…Revealed
Monday was as horrible as I imagined. People that never even talked to Judith were crying and hugging and sending Joan and the rest of us fleeting looks of sympathy and curiosity. Like they knew what Joan was going through. Like they cared.
"Can you believe this?" I said to Joan as we headed through the halls. "A person they hardly knew existed died and their world is coming to an end."
"Yeah, I'm suddenly the freak show who lost her friend," Joan agreed as she opened her locker. "Like my life wasn't already screwed up enough." Joan glanced to her side and noticed a couple of girls staring at her and whispering. "Can I help you?" she snapped.
When they continued staring I moved to Joan's other side, "Can't you take a hint? Shut your jaws, turn around and move on!" They both sneered at me before they turn around and walked the other way. "Morons," I said as I watched them go.
"Totally," Joan replied.
"Uh, listen," I began. "I think I'm going to pass on the service this afternoon." Judith's parents decided to forego the huge funeral, opting instead for a simple graveside ceremony. "It seems more like for family and close friends."
Joan stared at me blankly.
"I mean, you're going, right?" I asked.
"Why would I go to that?" she asked, looking at me like I was insane before walking away.
I looked after her. That girl was in serious denial.
"Hey," Luke said, coming from behind me. "It's a mad house."
"To say the least," I muttered. "This week can't go by fast enough."
"Yeah….hey…" He hesitated, like he had something to say but wasn't sure how to bring it up.
"Out with it," I ordered.
"Friday is my birthday."
"Really?" It occurred to me that I should know when my boyfriend's birthday was, but we were barely on speaking terms last year, and it hadn't come up since. I quirked a grin at him. "What do you have in mind?"
"Well, we usually have a family dinner."
I stopped and eyed him, knowing where this was going. "And this concerns me how?"
He glanced away and lifted his hands. "I was hoping you'd come."
I stared at him for a minute before I shook my head and continued down the stairs.
He followed me. "I know it's a lot to ask."
Understatement much? "Dude! Licking your floors would be a lot to ask."
"It's my birthday dinner," he pleaded, "my dad makes lasagna."
"I'll get you a present," I answered. How could have his mind on his birthday right now, anyway? "Besides, someone we knew is actually dead. How can you even think of celebrating?"
"It's dinner, Grace," he insisted. "You know, nobody's going to do the limbo or wear stupid hats."
He was missing the point. Going to his birthday dinner was like saying, "Hi my name is Grace, and I'm dating Luke Girardi."
"Look," I told him, "once your sister knows, the world knows. We might as well get married."
"Joan won't figure it out," he countered.
Birthday dinners always equal more than friends. He's the genius; he should know that. "She's not that stupid."
"Stupid, no. Self-absorbed? Paris Hilton has more perspective. I'll say we have to study later," he offered, and then continued to argue his case "It's my 16th birthday, you know, the one where you get a car. I mean, I'm just getting a diving watch. But, still, it's a watershed event. "
Diving watch? The guy once told me he hadn't been swimming in like three years.
"I thought you were afraid of the ocean," I inquired.
He ignored me. "Grace, this is what I want for my birthday, ok? Not a present, not a rain check," the level of his voice increased as his agitation grew. "Not 5 more minutes of make-out time."
"Shut up!" I hissed and rushed off. What was with him negotiating our relationship in public?
"This is a deal-breaker, Grace!" he called after me.
I whipped around to glare at him, but he saw Joan and Adam and bolted toward the Physics classroom. Not taking any chances, I darted across the hall to completely avoid them.
My mom was going to be home that afternoon, which made the prospect of staying away as long as possible appealing. As I waited for someone I could stand to come along, I messed around on my skateboard in front of the school.
"Ahh, applied Physics," Luke said, coming up and leaning against the half wall by me as I did a grind. "Newton's third law, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When you press down on the skateboard, it ricochets and pivots..."
"OK, Einstein," I said, getting off the board and handing it to him. "Give it your best shot."
"Uh, maybe later," he hedged. I smirked and did another ollie. "How did you do on the test?" he asked.
I landed, stepped off the board and shrugged. "Fine I guess."
Adam came over with his girlfriend in tow who was whining about the test. "I'm such a loser. I should sign up for underwater basket weaving."
"No, you're not a loser." Adam said sincerely. Man, didn't the guy ever get tired of being perpetually supportive? "We can go over it, Jane, I'm sure if we…"
"No, not a chance!" Joan interrupted. "The only thing I wanna do is veg out in front of the tv and not think. Anyone up for Ever After?"
"Ugh, no! I'm going home," I declared, grumpy that there were no better options.
"No, Grace, come on, we should all just relax," Joan offered.
"You don't wanna just make out with Rove?" I asked.
"Well, yeah." Joan admitted, "but we can do that later."
"Too much information, Girardi! No chick flicks. Something cool."
"Pi," Luke suggested.
"No way. I get enough geek living with you," Joan shot back.
"Spider Man" I suggested.
"Fine, we'll watch some comic book movie," Joan relented.
"Good, let's go," Luke said.
"The science in this movie makes no sense, you know," Luke commented as he popped the popcorn. "The idea that a bite from a genetically engineered spider could endow someone with powers is…"
"In the comics, it's a radio-active spider, not a genetically mutated one," I said.
"That doesn't make sense either. Why would a radio-active spider change Peter's genetic makeup?"
"COM-ICS!" Joan exclaimed. "Geeze, can't you suspend disbelief for two seconds?" She pulled out four fruit rollups and tossed one to each of us. "It's called fantasy."
"Yes, but fantasy based on scientific fact is more interesting, because you can try to determine the probability of such a case happening. There is no way that Spiderman could ever exist, based on the events leading up to his incarnation." Luke poured the butter on the popcorn and went into the other room.
Joan watched him leave and shook her head. "Weirdo," she muttered and followed him.
Rove looked at me and smiled and shrugged and we joined the siblings. Luke had claimed his place on the end of the couch and Joan was putting the DVD in. Luke looked over at me with a raised eyebrow and I smothered a smile. The last time we did this, sharing the couch wasn't an option, but I figured it could be managed now.
"OK, let's get this show on the road," Joan said, picking up the remote and sitting on the couch next to her brother.
I paused in my tracks and shot Joan a dirty look while Luke frowned at her. Joan was too busy stuffing her face with popcorn to notice, though. Sighing, I let Adam take a seat by Joan and I sat on the other side of him.
As the movie began, it occurred to me that Toby McGuire was an excellent choice for portraying Peter Parker. He was good at portraying an average, somewhat awkward guy that oozed sex appeal.
"Wow," Joan said as I took a drink of my pop. "Peter Parker is as much of a geek as you are, Luke. No wonder he never had a girlfriend."
I coughed and sputtered on my drink.
"Sorry" I managed. I continued to hack up a lung for a few minutes before retaining control. "Stuff went down the wrong pipe."
He was waiting for me the in the biology closet two mornings later.
"Hey," I said, sitting next to him.
"Hi," he said, as he glanced up from what he was writing.
I sat next to him and waited while he finished whatever he was working on. After a couple of minutes he sighed and put his notebook aside and looked at me with pensive expression. I put my hands on his arms and kissed him. He returned my kiss, but it was almost mechanical.
I pulled away and looked at him. "Where are you, dude?" I asked.
He leaned back and shook his head. "I have to give a disposition tomorrow for the lawsuit. I've been trying to get my thoughts together."
I sat back on my hands. "It's a product of the corrupted judicial system. The accident victim gets sued and criminal punishment is meted out directly inverse to how rich the accused is."
"Yeah. You know, it was bad enough watching it happen. But now, everyone is reliving it and …it's like we're all thrust right back into that place." He ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "No one needs this right now. We were all finally moving on."
I had never seen him so agitated over his family, and had no idea that the lawsuit was causing him so much anxiety.
"Dude, your family's going to get through this." I didn't know of a stronger, better family. The guy suing them was a creep, but I had no doubt the Girardis would pull through it.
Luke shrugged. "It's a mess, you know? Judith and now the deposition. I don't know what to do."
"Well," I rested my hands on his knees. "You can start by kissing me."
He looked at me like I was crazy, but his expression slowly melted into a smile and he brought his lips to mine.
"You're sure you want to do this?" Luke asked.
"Sure, I can handle it," Friedman answered, as the five of us headed towards Physics. "How hard can it be? You just jump around a lot."
"Friedman, gymnastics takes a lot of upper body strength," Luke said, "It takes years of training and.."
"And you in tights isn't anything I want to ever see," I finished.
"Think what you want, Marge, women find the Friedman hot." Friedman said.
"Shut up, putz." I turned and smacked him on the head before I headed into the classroom.
"Your girlfriend is vicious," I heard Friedman tell Luke.
"He actually did it, huh?" I asked, sitting next to Joan on the bleacher as Friedman jumped and grabbed the rings.
"Yeah, amazing," Joan answered. "Guy's willing to make a total fool of himself."
"Takes guts though, you gotta admit that," Luke said.
Yeah, it always takes guts to look like an idiot.
"It's not guts, it's stupid," Joan replied.
"Joan, Friedman is expanding his horizons. It's a classic case of the human spirit attempting to.."
"Bored now," Joan interupred, "I've told you before, dogboy, nobody cares." She rolled her eyes towards me. "What a loser."
I looked at Luke and then glared at his sister who was studying her nails. Without the ability to say anything without looking obvious, I changed the subject.
"The guy is insane," I said as we watched him hang from the rings and then fall. "Some kind of breakdown."
"It's because of Judith," Joan replied.
"Which is kind of sweet," Glynis said. I shook my head. Sweet is not a term that applies to Friedman.
"It's not about Judith," Luke said, "It's about price. He needs a sport for Harvard.'
"It's curiously appealing picturing him in maroon and white," Glynis commented.
OK, I got that the girl suffered a setback last spring, but seriously.
I looked over at her "Is everyone having a breakdown?"
She glared at me, but she didn't hold my gaze very long. I was pretty sure I scared her. I was OK with that.
I watched the gymnasts on the floor as Friedman waited for his turn on the vault and Adam and Joan discussed college plans. I was here only for the amusement factor, so I silently hoped that he'd give us more material.
When his turn cam, he ran, jumped on the platform, planted his hands on the vault, and did the splits right on it. Funniest thing I ever did see.
"Holy future Friedmans!" Glynis said, jumping up and bounding towards him. "Walk it off, Harvardian! Back in the saddle!"
I could tell that Joan was moping about something, but I was still too annoyed with her to really care. I got that Luke was her brother and she only saw him as a geek, but did she have to rag on him all the time? Luke deserved better.
A lot better.
Joan soon left and Adam loyally followed, leaving me alone with Luke. I couldn't believe I was about to do this. I knew that somehow, it would be the demise of our secret, and I wasn't sure I was ready for that.
Still, it had been a crappy week for everyone, and it was his birthday.
I sighed and said, "I will not sing. I will not wear a dress."
He didn't say anything, and I wasn't sure he heard me. Then, "What?"
"Those are the terms," I muttered through tightly-pressed lips.
"So you're saying yes?" he asked.
I could hear the glee in his voice and suddenly remembered his stupid ultimatum. I glared at the back of his head. "And it has nothing to do with that asinine threat. I will do all the breaking up around here. Got it?"
I gathered my things, and gave his head a nudge as I walked by. He could be a complete and total dweeb sometimes. My reputation was shot if anyone found out that I liked it.
He called after me, "Absolutely."
The next afternoon, I flopped on my bed, tired and frustrated. I had spent several hours wandering little shops in downtown Arcadia, looking for an adequate gift. I really had no idea what to give him, all I knew was that the gifts he had given me weren't ordinary. They held messages that he knew I wasn't ready to hear but he wanted to tell me, anyway. There were things I had to say too, things I couldn't put into words yet, but finding the right thing to say them proved impossible. What could he possibly want from me?
I shot up from my bed and went to my nightstand, opened the top drawer and pulled out the paper that was folded into quarters and lying on top of all my junk. It had actually been quite a while since I had looked at it. I stored it in my nightstand for safekeeping, but as I read it over, I shook my head and laughed. We had broken about half of the rules, and more importantly, I had violated the spirit of the thing by letting him into my life and world further than I ever thought possible.
As the great Doc Ock said, love should never be a secret.
I relented and let him pick me up that night. I figured I'd intercept him at the door, and we'd be on our way, so it wouldn't matter what shape my mother was in. I tried not to think about the evening ahead of me because every time I did I felt like throwing up. I knew I had been to that house a million times—was familiar enough with all of the occupants in it, but this was different. Tonight, I was going as Luke's girlfriend, to meet THE FAMILY.
I sat on my couch with my head between my knees.
He didn't know tonight was the night everything would be revealed. I wasn't going to tell him until after dinner and during cake and ice cream and presents or whatever the Girardis do. I pictured myself pulling the contract out and silently handing it to him. I was sure he'd look at me with confusion, and I would just shrug and tell him he could do what he wanted, but I recommended using it as a burnt offering.
My doorbell rang promptly at six. I sprung from the couch, grabbed my jacket, and called 'Later!' to anyone who was in hearing distance. As I paused on the porch to slip my coat on, I looked up to see him grinning from ear to ear.
"What?" I demanded, hoping that he hadn't noticed that I had changed and did my hair differently.
He looked at me for a minute, as if considering the consequences of saying something, and then shook his head. "Nothing," he said, smiling widely.
I rolled my eyes in what I hoped looked more like annoyance than the embarrassment I felt. "Let's jet," I told him.
He turned to me as we approached his driveway.
"You ready for this?" he asked.
I nodded. "Yup."
We opened the kitchen door, and I steeled myself to be met with the entire clan sitting at a full spread of food, and who knows what else. Probably streamers, knowing the Girardi's.
"Just in time, buddy," Luke's dad called.
We stepped into the dining room. Instead of the family and a celebration for Luke waiting for us, there were only his parents and a guest.
"Hey. Oh, Luke," his mom said, "you brought Grace. Uh, Luke, this is dad's boss Lucy Preston. Our son Luke and his friend Grace Polk."
"Study partner," I corrected automatically. The sight before threw me off balance, and my instincts to hide took over.
"That's not lasagna," Luke stated.
"Nope," his dad replied, "Mom's leg of lamb. Grab a seat."
Luke looked at table before turning to me with hurt in his eyes.
"I'm not hungry," he said, as he left.
I turned back to find that everyone at the table had their eyes on me, including the stranger that gave me the creeps. Needing to offer an excuse, to avoid embarrassment and to avoid making a scene, I said. "We have a lot of work to do," before I left.
I followed Luke as he slammed open the garage door. He stormed to the back of the garage and leaned against the workbench. I stood watching him for a while, having no idea what to do or say.
"Hey…" I began.
"It's so typical!" He exclaimed whirling around. "You know, most of the time when the world revolves around Kevin or Joan, I deal with it. I get that I'm not the star athlete or paralyzed…or…or the girl, but for one day a year…" He trailed off, turned around and moved to the furthest corner of the room, as though to widen the distance between us.
I sat on a stool and studied the back of his head. I had no idea that his family made him feel that way. His parents completely ignoring him on his birthday clashed with every other image I had of them. They were the kind of parents I wished I had as a kid. Ever present, ever supportive. I guessed it just went to show that all parents are capable of screwing up their kids' lives.
Still, the Girardi parentals looked like an attractive option from my view.
I still had no idea what to say to him. I thought about giving him the contract then, but I was afraid he would think it was a pity present; that I did it not because I wanted to, but because I knew it would make him feel better.
It was more than that.
I don't know how long we had been sitting in silence when I heard the door open behind me. I turned and saw Joan walk in. "Ah. So Luke and Grace really are in the garage," she said. "I thought mom was having a mini-stroke. What are you doing in here?"
"Studying," I replied, not wanting her to get the wrong idea.
"No...you're not studying," she observed in an uncharacteristic burst of insight. "You're pouting because everybody forgot your birthday."
Luke looked at his sister. "Wouldn't you?"
"Yeah," she admitted, "but... it's the deposition."
"So it's all about Kevin again. That makes it ok?" Luke shot back.
"Dude. Just take it easy on them, ok?" Joan answered. "When they remember, they'll feel so guilty, they'll buy you a car."
I looked over at him and smiled. He did say he wanted a car…
I looked at Joan when she pulled a kite from behind her back. "Didn't have time to wrap it," she admitted.
Luke got up, went over to her, and took it. "The kite," he said, clearly affected by her gift. "I never got it."
"Yeah," Joan said, "Well... it's only a few years late. Sue me."
Luke laughed, and it occurred to me that this was my chance, since the party clearly wasn't going to happen. I had told him that telling Joan was like telling the world, so really, she was the only one that had to be there.
"I got you something, too," I told him. Taking out the contract, I walked over to him and held it up for him to read.
"Our secrecy contract," he stated.
Holding his gaze so he would understand, I ripped the thing in half. He looked at me with surprise and mild confusion, so to clarify my point, I reached up, took his face, brought it to me, and kissed him. It wasn't a quick kiss, either. I wanted him—and Joan—to get my full meaning.
I pulled away and looked up at him. We must have had the same thought, though, because we both looked over at Joan. She looked from Luke, to me, and back to Luke before shuddering violently.
"OK, I think I just walked into the twilight zone. Come on," Joan said, taking the kite from Luke and heading towards the door. "Let's see if this thing is as amazing as you say." She turned and looked at me again, opened her mouth as if to say something, but then closed it and spun around with another shudder.
I laughed out loud as the door closed behind her. "Dude, I think we scarred her for life," I said gleefully.
Luke chuckled and the pulled me to him, wrapped his arms around me and held me close.
"Thank you, Grace," he murmured into my hair.
I closed my eyes and returned his embrace as his gratitude for what I did washed over me. I knew he would like it, but I didn't expect the overwhelming happiness he radiated as we stood there. More embarrassed than I liked, I pulled slightly away.
"Come on, let's go make sure that your sister doesn't destroy the thing."
He looked down at me, smiling, and I couldn't help but return it.
As we went to join Joan, he told me, "This kite is amazing, Grace, it needs hardly any wind. The material is rip-stop nylon so it can take a real beating and…"
His parents must have clued in at some point, because they wound up standing in the front yard watching Luke fly his kite. He was pretty adept at getting the kite to do some cool stuff, like fly it next to the ground and do figure eights with it.
About twenty minutes later, his parents announced they were going be inside.
"I'll make lasagna tomorrow," his dad promised as Luke landed his kite. "We'll make a whole evening of it."
Luke nodded and smiled, visibly pleased.
"And, Grace, you'll come?" Mrs. Girardi smiled.
My eyes shot over to Luke who was grinning idiotically at me. Had he said something to them when they came out? Joan knowing was one thing, but his parents!
But then, I realized, that's what you do when you're dating someone. You go to their family functions and try not to look too bored.
"Yeah," I exhaled, "Yeah, I guess I will come."
His parents laughed and said goodnight, and a few minutes later Joan said she was going inside.
She gave me a long look before she mumbled something like, "And they said I was crazy."
Luke and I put the kite away and he took it into the house before we walked back to my house. As we walked, we kept our hands in our pockets to protect them from the cold, but my shoulder was comfortably nestled against his side the whole way home. We traded stories and joked about stupid things on the way, and I wondered for the thousandth time what was it about this guy that made me feel so content.
We walked up to my driveway, and I stopped and turned to him. "Uhh…I'll say goodnight here…I don't know what's…" I wasn't sure if we'd be able to hear my mother on the porch.
He smiled at me and took my hand. I squeezed back, took a step closer, and wrapped my free hand around his neck and pulled him near me. His hand came around me as our eyes closed and his lips repeatedly claimed mine.
I pulled back to look at him, and saw his eyes shining down at me. I released his hand and placed mine around his waist.
"Happy birthday, Girardi," I whispered before I drew him to me and kissed him again.