A/N: Sorry there haven't been very many updates lately, but I'm finishing up with everything that has to do with my college career. YAY! This week I have finals, so, after that, it's just me, my writing, my boring job, and trying to find a REAL job. Hopefully, I'll be able to write more soon. Thanks for being patient with me. This piece is a one shot that was entered in a fic challenge. The prompt was the following quote: "You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes. Enjoy!

Charlynn

Gregarious Gracie

Grace Sanford Atwood, named both for the Grandfather who had made it possible for her parents to meet and because she was a blessing to her family, was sitting in her bedroom, hidden away from the rest of the world underneath the fort her Uncle Seth had helped her make the week before, angry, confused, desperate tears falling freely down her chubby face, pouting profusely and hugging her most treasured possessions tightly to her chest. In her short little arms, she held a wide assortment of her belongings: her favorite book her Mommy read to her from every night, the blanket her Grandma Sophie had made for her before she was even born, the dollar she had gotten two months before under her pillow from the tooth fairy, a well deserved prize, she told herself, for all the pain she went through to pull out her first loose tooth, her report card letting her know that she had passed kindergarten and would be continuing on to first grade in the fall, an impressive feat if anyone asked her, and a picture of her family, just her Daddy, her Mommy, and her all sitting together on their couch, smiles on all three of their faces. She intended to hold onto her favorite belongings for as long as she could, because they gave her strength, strength she needed. Everything was falling apart around her, and little Grace had no idea how to fix anything.

"Hi, Mommy," she had yelled in greeting as she ran into her house after returning home from the neighbors. That was where her best friend, Shannon, lived. "Whatcha doin? You look really pretty."

"I have a date."

"Really," Grace had beamed up at her Mom, jumping up onto her bed and throwing her arms around an already dressed Marissa. "You and Daddy are going to kiss and make up," she pronounced.

"I'm sorry, Gracie, but I'm not going out with your Dad. I'm going out to dinner with a friend from school, and then we're going to go and see a movie afterwards."

Confused, the little girl asked, "a friend like Aunt Summer?"

"Well, no," she watched as her Mom tried to explain the situation. Sitting down on the bed, she patted the space beside her, silently telling Marissa to sit down, too. "Mommy's going out with a guy, and it's supposed to be a romantic date. Do you know what that is?" Lost, Grace shook her head no. "How can I put this," she listened as her Mom searched for the right words. "When two people like each other, they go out on a date, and my friend likes me…like your Daddy used to."

"Daddy still likes you, Mommy."

"Not the way I'm talking about, baby," Marissa returned, growing frustrated with herself and her inability to explain such a simple concept as a date to her daughter. "Do you remember how I told you about your Daddy and I getting divorced, how he isn't going to live her anymore, how we're not going to be married any longer?"

"Yes," the little girl responded, her eyes already filling with tears. "But I want Daddy to live here; I don't want him to leave."

"I don't either, sweetie," Marissa confessed. "But sometimes parents fall out of love with each other, and, when they start to fight a lot, they realize that it would be better for their kids if they got divorced and were just friends."

Arguing with her Mom, Grace pointed out, "but you love, Daddy, Mommy."

Annoyed, Marissa stood up and started to pace the room. "That's enough, Gracie," she yelled, making the tears that had been pooling in her daughter's eyes fall. Too lost in her own pain, she never realized what her harsh words were making the little girl feel. "I don't know how many times we have to go over this. It doesn't matter what you do or say, you can't change the fact that you Dad and I are getting divorced. We tried to make it work; we tried for so many years, but we're just too different. He's moved on with his life. He moved out of the house, he started dating again, – I know, because I saw him last week at a restaurant with this petite little brunette who was the exact opposite of me – and it's time that I follow his lead and start to put my own life back together. I can't sit around here for the next twelve years crying my eyes out over a man who doesn't want me, who only stayed with me because we had a daughter together, and Travis…no Tyson…wait, Troy, it's Troy, Troy likes me…for me…and if he wants to take me out to dinner so that I can forget that for a few hours that I'm a twenty six year old college dropout who's going through a divorce and has a devastated daughter at home, I'm going to take him up on his offer. As for now, it's a first date, but it could turn into more. I could learn to actually really like Troy, he could become my boyfriend, hell, he could even someday become your stepfather, and you, young lady," she turned back to her sobbing daughter, "are going to have to learn to accept the fact that your Daddy and I are never going to get back together. Now, go to your room, stay out of trouble, and let me finish getting ready for my date."

That had been ten minutes ago, and, since then, Grace had sat cowering inside of her fort, clutching her prized possessions, and listening to her Mom's mumbles and curses from across the hall. She could tell that her Mom was upset; she had even heard her crying while she continued to get ready, but that didn't mean she was going to forgive her. In Grace's opinion, her Mommy was being stubborn, mean, and acting like a big butthead. Sighing heavily, she wiped her eyes, hesitantly poking her head out from underneath the blanket that made up her fort before crawling out of the safety the dim confines provided for her and settled on top of her princess bed. Arranging her varied treasure around her, she looked around her room, still holding tightly to her favorite book.

The room had been redecorated by her Uncle Seth and Aunt Summer for her fourth birthday. She had complained that she was a big girl, and big girls did not sleep in rooms with butterflies painted on their walls; she wanted Winnie the Pooh. So, armed with his paintbrush and his girlfriend, her Uncle Seth had transformed her walls into her own version of the 100 Acre Woods, complete with every character from the story, their homes, and even a huffelump and a woozle. There had been small quirks that confused her, but her Aunt Summer had quickly explained them. Piglet was larger than all the other characters, because her Aunt claimed every girl needed an infusion of pink in her bedroom to add a touch of femininity to it. Grace wasn't quite sure what femininity meant, but, if her Aunt Summer liked it, then so did she. Then the older woman had explained that she had instructed her boyfriend to make Rabbit's garden a flower garden instead of vegetables, because they were more aesthetically pleasing. Again, Grace was confused, but, with that explanation, she decided remaining quiet was better than asking questions. Overall though, she loved her bedroom, because it was modeled after her favorite book: Winnie-the-Pooh.

Flipping the book open, she randomly turned to a page and began to read, slowly of course, because her Mommy was only just teaching her how. She found that the lovable, honey obsessed bear often had good advice for her when she was having a bad day or needed help, and she was hoping he wouldn't let her down when she needed him the most. After all, this time it really wasn't her who needed help but her Mommy and Daddy, because, if they weren't going to do anything to make themselves happy again, she guessed she would have to do it for them.

"…You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you," the wise, rather plump and in need of a cardio-bar bear instructed his young reader. "You have to go to them sometimes."

Those were important words, Grace just knew they were, but, unfortunately, she knew that she didn't have time to ride her bike to her Dad's house…nor did she have the directions. She had only been there once so far since he moved away, and, instead of watching where they were going, she had spent the whole ride telling her Daddy everything he had missed about her Mommy since he had left. Putting her book aside, she reclined back on her bed to think. If she couldn't get to her Daddy so he could help her fix her Mommy, she would just have to make him come to her.

Tiptoeing, she moved towards her bedroom door and looked out the lock hole. Luckily for Grace, she, unlike her Uncle Seth, knew how to be stealth. Once she realized her Mom was still in her room, she quietly snuck out of her room and crept down the stairs to the kitchen. Her Daddy's cell phone number was the one on speed dial, and her Mommy had taught her how to call him. While she waited for him to pick up, she impatiently twirled her hair around her tiny index finger, a nervous habit she had picked up from her Mom.

"Hi, this is Ryan Atwood. I can't come to the phone right now, but if you could leave your name, number, and a brief message, I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks."

As soon as the beep sounded, Grace started to talk into the phone. Although her voice was soft so as not to alert her Mom, it held a hint of desperation and fear. "No, Daddy, no," she pleaded. "You have to answer the phone. Daddy, I need you." Unable to help herself, because she thought her plan was going to fail, she started to cry. "Daddy, something's wrong with Mommy. She's crying, and she…"

"Gracie, what is it, honey," her Daddy's strong voice filled the line. He sounded out of breath, as if he had just run to the phone. "What's wrong with your Mommy?"

"I don't know, Daddy," the little girl confessed, blushing slightly with the slight lie. "She's in her room, and she won't come out. When I tried to talk to her, she sent me to my room and yelled at me. You have to come home, Daddy. You have to help Mommy."

"I'll be right there, Gracie," he promised her. "Just be a good girl, watch out for your Mommy, and call me back if anything happens or you get scared, okay?"

"Okay, Daddy," Grace agreed. "Please hurry."

"I will, sweetie; I will."

As she hung up the phone, still moving around the house as silently as possible, the mischievous six year old smiled to herself. Step one of her plan was finished; now, she had to set up the rest. If her Mommy wanted to go on a date, she'd help her, but she'd make sure that only the friend her Mommy went on a date with was her Daddy.

Crouching on the stairs, she waited until she heard her Mom go into the bathroom and close the door before she continued setting up her parents' surprise. First, she went into the family and drug the coffee table to the entertainment center to use it as a stool. With the added height, she was capable of reaching the home movies her Mom kept on the shelf, grabbing her three favorites: the film of her parents' wedding, the music video her Uncle Seth had made of her with her parents during her first year using a song he claimed his good friend Mr. Ben Folds wrote for her as a favor to him, and the one from her Mommy and Daddy's five year wedding anniversary party. Her Grandma Julie had surprised them with a big, fancy celebration, but she and her Uncle Seth had found her parents hiding out in a dark corner and kissing when they were supposed to be talking to their guests. She wasn't supposed to know where that movie was, but her Mom had been watching it the week before and had forgotten to put it away. It was just another lucky part of her plan.

With the films in her hand, she left the coffee table where it was and went into the kitchen to make her parents' dinner. No one in her family really knew how to cook, and, even if they did, she was only six, so her cooking skills were quite limited. However, she knew her parents liked grilled cheese sandwiches, why she wasn't sure, but she decided to make them. Although she couldn't use the oven, Grace figured they would taste the same if she toasted the bread in the toaster and put some cheese on them….at least they would look the same. Next, she made them both a milkshake; that was one thing she knew how to really cook.

Armed with everything she would need for her parents' surprise date, she slipped back up the stairs and hid the movies and the food in her Mom's room, making sure to sneak out before she went back inside to finish getting ready. Now, all she had to do was get her Daddy up there with her Mommy, lock the door, and then make them stay in the room together until they realized they still loved each other and wanted to be a family again.

For several minutes, she jumped up and down in front of the living room window, waiting and willing her Daddy to pull into the driveway, and, as soon as she saw his car, she raced outside to see him, grabbing his hand before he even had a chance to shut the car's door, and pulled him inside with her.

"You have to be really quiet, Daddy," she instructed him, "because Mommy's really upset, and you can't scare her."

"I don't want to scare your Mom, sweetie," Ryan reassured her. "Where is she at?"

"She's still upstairs in your bedroom." At least it would be again when her Daddy quit being a silly dork and came back home to live with them. "Make sure you tell her she looks pretty, give her lots of hugs, and tell her you'll hold her until she stops crying like you do for me."

Without meeting his daughter's eye, Ryan said, "we'll see, Gracie."

Before she knew it, they were upstairs and standing in the hallway outside of the closed bedroom. With hope, she watched as her Dad quietly opened the door, winked at her before entering, and then closed the door behind him as silently as he had opened it. After locking the door, Grace decided she wanted to be there when her parents kissed and made up. Even if she couldn't see them, she could hear them.

"Are you okay," she heard her Father's voice through the heavy wood of the bedroom door. "What's wrong, Marissa?"

"I'm fine," her Mother automatically answered. Grace could just imagine her furious attempts to wipe the tear stains from her face. Too bad Daddy wouldn't be fooled; he knew her too well. "What are you doing here, Ryan? Let me guess," the tone of her Mom's voice was harsh, "Grace did this. She called you?"

"She was worried about you, and, from the looks of things, she had a right to be worried."

"I'm just upset, because I yelled at her," Marissa confessed, a fresh wave of tears entering her eyes. Grace could tell by the sound of her voice. "She did nothing wrong, but I yelled at her anyway, and I shouldn't have. I never want to hurt her."

"I heard that was a part of the problem, the yelling," Ryan clarified. "But she knows that you love her, Marissa. You're her whole world."

"No, I'm not," her Mom sighed. "You're half of her world, too, and she feels as if she's losing you, and, when she talks to me about the divorce, I get upset and take it out on her. It shouldn't be like this."

"Things will get easier," Grace heard her Dad try to comfort her Mom, but she could tell by the sound of their voices that they were standing on opposite sides of the room. "She's still young. Someday, she'll understand that this divorce is what's best for all of us."

Laughing, Marissa agreed with him. "I tried to tell her that, but you know Gracie. She's her Father's daughter, stubborn until the end."

"Oh, I think you played a part in there somewhere, too," Ryan taunted. "I've known you to be just as willful as I am." They were silent for a moment, and it had Grace hoping they had finally gotten to the kissing part. How long did it take for parents to make up anyway? Snapping her out of her thoughts, she heard her Father comment softly, "you look nice."

"Thanks," Marissa returned. Hesitantly, she admitted, "I'm…uh…I have a date tonight."

Bitterly, Ryan snapped, "oh course you do!" Before anything else could be said, Grace heard his angry footsteps moving across the room, and then she watched with her own eyes as he tried to open the door only to find it was locked. "What's going on?"

"Sometimes it sticks," her Mom tried to explain. "Just pull harder."

"I am pulling hard, Marissa," Ryan barked. "The door's not stuck; it's locked."

"What?" That was her Mother's voice, and, following the loud, slightly shrill exclamation, Grace could hear her cross the room as well. "Grace Sanford Atwood, open this door right now! You're in so much trouble, young lady."

"No," she yelled back, stomping her foot in the process. "You and Daddy were being stupid morons, and I want my family back. If you want to go on a date, go on one with Daddy!"

"Sweetie," Ryan tried to reason with his daughter, "your Mom and I have talked to you about this. We're getting a divorce, and there's nothing you can do or say to change our minds."

"But I don't want you to," she cried out, "and Mommy doesn't you to either!" When neither adult said anything, she continued. "She doesn't know that I know, but I heard her talking to Aunt Summer last week, and she told her that she never wanted to this to happen. Plus," she added on a roll, "every night when we go to bed, I can hear her crying in her room, and she keeps a picture of you underneath her pillow, so she can tell you she loves you before falling asleep."

"Grace, what did Mommy say about spying on her? Those were private moments and none of your business."

"I had to, Mommy," the little girl cried out, "because you're sad, and, since Daddy's not here to make it all better, it was my responsbly."

"Responsibility, baby," Ryan corrected her softly, "and it's not your job to make sure your Mom and I are happy." When her Father's voice got softer, she pressed her ear into the door. "Listen, Gracie," he sighed, "you need to know that your Mom and I will always love each other, because we have you, but that doesn't mean we want to be together, that we want to be married any longer. Sometimes you just have to admit that something is broken and can't be fixed, and, your Mom and I, we're shattered."

"Oh, you love me alright," Marissa snorted. Grace could tell her Mommy was angry, and that was a bad, bad sign. "You loved me enough to just assume that I was having an affair. You loved me enough to walk away without giving me a chance to explain myself. You loved me enough to serve me my divorce papers on the very same day we first met."

"That wasn't intentional," Ryan shouted back, "and if you want a chance to explain yourself, tell me now! Let's here this complicated lie you've cooked up in your own mind to rationalize why you were away from the house late almost every night, why you were always tired the next morning, and why no one at your job knew where you were or what you were doing when you told me you were working!"

"I was trying to go back to school," Grace heard her Mom scream at her Dad. Lowering her voice, her Mother continued. "I am going back to school, and I kept it a secret, because I wanted to surprise you. Don't think I don't know what everyone says about me around here. To them, I'm still the screw up, drunk, spoiled teenager who partied too much and trashed her life whenever things got rough; I'm still the slut who got herself knocked up in college to hold onto a guy that had always been too good for her. I knew that I was hurting your reputation at work, and I wanted to do something to make you proud of me, to make this whole damn, stuck-up, judgmental town proud of me, but, before I could even finish a semester, you walked away and said you were sick of all my games. Apparently, you were the only one who knew the rules though, because I'm still confused about what exactly I did wrong."

"You lied to me," Ryan tossed back at her.

"I haven't lied to you in years," Marissa countered, "not since we got back together after high school. I told you that I was doing stuff for work, and I was, because they were paying for me to go back to school, but my coworkers didn't know about it, because my boss didn't want the whole office to know. It was none of their business, but, instead of coming to me with your questions, you turned something innocent and special into something that was sordid and disgusting in your own mind and came to your own conclusions. Obviously, you don't trust me, Ryan."

Grace could hear the shock in her Father's words and the sound of the bed collapsing when he sat down upon it. "Why didn't you tell me about any of this?"

"Because I thought we were passed these petty misunderstandings," Marissa explained. "We'd been together for eight years without a break, married for six, and we had a child together. I didn't want to have to explain myself to you; I wanted you to believe in me without details or justification."

"So you just let me walk away?"

Sniffling, her Mommy pressed. "I didn't want to hold you to me; I wanted you to stay on your own, and, when it became apparent that you didn't want to, I couldn't fight you anymore. I knew in the back of my mind that you had always settled for me when I got pregnant with Gracie, so that's why you jumped at the first reason to leave so quickly."

"Marissa, I didn't want to go; I thought you wanted me to leave, I thought you were trying to drive me away by having an affair."

Her Mother's next response was so soft, Grace had to hold her breath to hear what she said. "What do you want from me, Ryan?"

"I want us to quit fighting," her Daddy answered. "I want us to start acting like adults and the parents that Gracie deserves. I want to come back home."

"Well, it is your house," Marissa's sad voice filled the bedroom. "You paid for it, so, if you want it back, I guess Grace and I could find an apartment to rent, someplace affordable while I finish school."

"Fuck the house," she heard her Father yell.

"Daddy," she exclaimed, shocked by his language.

"Sorry, princess," Ryan apologized for himself through the door before she could hear him turn back to her Mommy. "This place is just some bricks, a few wood beams, and way too much furniture picked out by Julie Cooper. I never said I wanted the house back; I said I wanted to come home, and, Marissa, you and our daughter, you're my home."

"It's not going to be that easy. You really hurt me."

"I know I did, baby," Grace heard her Dad acknowledge, "but I was wrong. I was selfish and pigheaded, and I should have never doubted you, but I don't want to throw this…throw us away because of a mistake. Gracie deserves more than that; we deserve more than that. I love you, Marissa, and I want a second chance."

Now that was what she had been waiting to hear. "So, you're not going to get divorced now, right Daddy," she asked her Father through the key hole. "You're going to make up and kiss; you're going to come back home?"

"I don't know, Gracie," Ryan responded. "It's up to your Mom."

"Don't put that on me," Marissa snapped at him. "If I say no, she's going to hate me and blame our separation on me when it's not my fault, and, if I say yes, that you can come back home, she's going to think that everything is back to normal when we really will have a long, uphill road to climb in order to get back to where we were this time a year ago."

"I'll do anything," Grace heard her Dad promise. "We can start over again, go on dates, get to know each other all over again. I'll stay in a different bedroom, and, if you want, we can try counseling, finally figure out this communication problem that seems to have plagued us for our entire relationship."

"You're serious, aren't you," she heard her Mother ask. Oy!, as her Grandpa Sandy said, adults were so slow, Grace realized as she continued to listen to her Mom talk. "You really want to try again?"

"I do," Ryan admitted without a hint of doubt in his voice. "I've wanted to since the day I walked out, but I didn't think that's what you wanted, so I stayed away and never said anything."

"Okay," Grace started jumping up and down when she heard her Mom agree. "We'll try again," Marissa spoke slowly, "but we're going to take this one step at a time, counseling is a must, and, for now, you're going to go back to your place and we'll talk."

"Can I call you later tonight?"

"No, Daddy," Grace spoke up, yelling through the door. "You're not going anywhere. You and Mommy are going to talk now on your date."

"What date," both of her parents asked at the same time.

"The date I gave you," she told them smugly. "I made you dinner; it's in your closet, and there are movies, too; they're in your nightstand."

"You can't keep us in here, Gracie," Marissa told her daughter. "You have to let us out."

"Nah uh," she argued. "You and Daddy were bad, Mommy, and now I'm grounding you. You both have to stay in your room all night; I'll let you out tomorrow morning, so Daddy can make me pancakes."

"Sweetie," Ryan tried to reason with her, "you can't stay out there by yourself. What if something happens?"

"I have the phone," Grace pointed out, "so I'll be fine. Don't try to change my mind, Daddy, because I'm not going to change my mind. Shannon told me how this works."

"How what works," she heard her Mother query apprehensively.

"The last time Shannon's parents had a fight, she told me that they spent the whole night talking and kissing and making up in their room while she and her little brother played. Then they had a baby, and I really want a little brother or sister, so I thought you guys could do the same thing, and I'll take the baby for my birthday present in a couple of months. Now, if it's a boy, we'll have to name it Christopher, and, if it's a girl, her name can be Robin." Interrupting her, the doorbell rang. "Whoops, I've gotta go get rid of Mommy's date."

"Grace Sanford Atwood, you are not allowed to answer the door to a stranger," Marissa's voice warned her from the bedroom.

"Duh, Mommy," she dismissed her Mother's concerns. "I wrote him a note, and I'm going to slip it through the door."

She could hear the curious aspect in her Dad's voice when he asked, "what does the note say, honey?"

"I just told him that you and Mommy decided to make up, that you're kissing and going to give me a baby brother or sister, and that you're going on a date with Mommy not him. Oh, and I also thanked him for forcing me out of the forest." With that, Grace skipped down the hallway, hopped down the stairs, and whistled all the way to the door, sliding her carefully created note through the mail slot. "Thanks, Winnie," she whispered to herself as she made her way into the kitchen and towards the freezer. The last time her parents went out on a date, her Grandma Kirsten had taken her for ice cream. She might not be able to have her favorite flavor, honey, in a waffle cone that night, but there was no reason why she couldn't celebrate her parents making up with a bowl of it at home…or a carton, Yeah, definitely a carton….