Someone To Watch Over Me

And she's at it again. :) Well, as the summary says, this is the sequel to Cherish. I couldn't end Tobanny/Spepper's story there, now could I? Actually, yeah, I could've. They were happy. Well, they're still happy, but happiness doesn't last long in the world of Degrassi, does it? Every other week, you get some angsty explosions or romantic entanglements. Speaking of those two things...all over this particular story. Sure, there'll be fluff. I like fluff, to smile, to laugh, to go "awww" and such. Still, life is heavy, so why not show that side too?

This story features Toby/Manny, of course, then three other couples: CrAsh, Sellie, and Spemma. Yeah, that's Spinner/Emma. Believe it or not, I'm going to try them all in to create a hopefully coherent piece. Well, anyway, I don't think it's a case of who gets the biggest plot and so forth, although Tobanny essentially gets the most development.

Should you read Cherish before this? Um, I'd recommend it, but it's not necessary. I laid the foundation of Tobanny in there, and also reunited CrAsh and Sellie, with Ashley and Sean returning to finish their school years. You were also introduced to Lia Andrews, Manny's fellow actress, and Justin, a fellow computer whiz, and then Clara. Clara shows up briefly, though, which should make some of you happy. Lia plays a huge role in this.

Okay, this is an AU/UC story like Cherish. That means I take creative liberty. However, I also respect events that are canon. Here's the thing. This story takes place between the last days of May through August. That's the end of Ellie, Craig, Ashley's, etc. final year. If it happened around then, I go with it. So Jiberty gave up the baby for adoption and aren't together; Palex is having problems; Spinner/Jimmy have made amends. None of this stuff is really important for this story, but if I name drop a plot, it's because I'm keeping it canon. There are some things that I pretend don't happen, however. For instance, since Spinner's interested in Emma, no HF Spaige hook-up, and no Peter/Emma. Craig hasn't been signed to a label. One storyline I'm actually altering altogether for the sake of a plot: Emma's anorexia, and the family troubles they go through. Now, Snake has had an affair with Hatzilakos, troubling the home, but it's going to have different consequences. Emma's eating habits are normal. Snake left, and Spike won't talk to him. Additionally, Manny is in the process of packing up for the Santos home, which wasn't an issue until season six.

So when we last left everyone, it was all peachy, right? Tobanny confessed their love for one another, and Manny's relationship with her father got much better. I'm happy to say, that's still the case for the beginning here. :) They've been dating a few months. In Cherish, Toby received an internship and Manny got an agent, who recommends a drama camp to her. Okay, Ellie lost her virginity to Sean, and he also made some strides with Mrs. Nash. Ellie's father also made contact with them. Sean works at a garage, and has his own apartment. Ashley was offered a spot in a London music festival during the month of July, and she asked Craig to accompany her. They were planning on eventually getting their own place, and there was a battered women's shelter that gets referenced in this story. A couple other things: Sean/Ash bonded a bit last story and you'll be getting a little more of that here; the video store, which brought sweet little Tobanny together, no longer has Toby as the assistant manager. Clara's the only one working there now. Aww, what a loss. ;)

This installment features various locales, so I'm going to have to drag up all my memories of London, L.A., and another place I'm not going to say. It'll be a surprise, but I've been there on many occasions. I've been to Canada a couple times, but never to Toronto, so that stinks. Good thing Degrassi shows Toronto at its finest. :D It also features new secondary characters, though like Heather Sinclair last story, they're just here to cause drama, none more than Ms. Anne Marie Isaacs. Yep, Toby's mom. Oh, and Jay, of course. But we love him and all that. The Sellie and CrAsh plots don't start until the second chapter.

This author's note is the longest piece of rambling I've ever composed. Oh, well. I'll end it by saying all the songs and Degrassi are not my property. In fact, the songs are all featured in films, either as the theme to the movie or in crucial scenes of movies. Gotta go with Manny's career of choice. Oh, and I hope you enjoy it.

I. The Way You Look Tonight

Someday,
When I'm awfully low
And the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight.

Yes, you're lovely
With your smile so warm
And your cheek so soft.
There is nothing for me but to love you
Just the way you look tonight.

With each word your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart.
And that smile that wrinkles your nose,
Touches my foolish heart.

Lovely,
Never, never change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won't you please arrange it, 'cause I love you
Just the way you look tonight--
Just the way you look tonight.

This song was written by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and appears in the film Swing Time. What can I say? When I think of a goofy, charming guy, I think of Astaire...and Toby.

Let's Hear it for the Boy is the property of Deniece Williams.

A bunched pink scarf travels across the warm basement room, nearly missing the lavender comforter, but landing on the bed, next to several tubes of lipstick. There are seven different shades, all of which she's tried on, and has decided they're not flattering enough, or they're too loud or they make her lips look like carefully applied blood. She tried them on so much her mouth is numb from the pressure.

Although, tonight is special, she thinks. She searched awhile for the perfect dress, a mix between formal and casual, ultimately selecting a light blue, glittery silk number with spaghetti straps and an empire waist. Holding the dress against her body while staring into the mirror, she's sure she made the right choice.

"Hey Em," says Manny Santos, smoothing out the bottom of the dress. "What do you think?"

Emma stops writing in her journal, decorated with a ballet dancer cover, and rolls her eyes.

"You mean, for the hundredth time?" sighs Emma. "It's gorgeous, Manny."

"I know," gushes Manny. "Light blue...Toby's favorite color. Well, blue is. Do you feel like it's too light?"

"Manny!" protests Emma. "Look, the party's in ninety minutes. Just go with it!"

"Okay, did someone forget to recycle?" says Manny. "Because you're as moody as a pre-jail Paris Hilton."

Emma doesn't answer for a while, resuming her writing. As happy as she was in her current relationship, she felt really bad for her friend. Snake left the Nelson home two months ago, a few days after the premiere of her movie with Kevin Smith. Manny watched Emma say nothing then too, and she herself had no words for what Snake had done. He kissed Daphne Hatzilakos, actually kissed her the night of the premiere, according to Emma. Emma sat in her room most of the time, stopped going places, including dance class, something she took up around Valentine's Day. Spinner's gift, though they still weren't official to Manny's knowledge, was paying for the first month of it. Emma stuffed her dance shoes into a corner around Easter, and no one spoke of it again. Thankfully, she is going out with everyone tonight.

For her, the night of the premiere passed like a dream, her totally falling into the euphoria of it all. She strolled down the red carpet, holding Toby's hand, her father, mother and J.J. trailing them. Cameras flashed, and she finally got to do that chin over the shoulder move she saw in magazines. Then, they entered the theater, movie playing, and the darkness of the place, the excitement swirling in her heart overwhelmed her. Her character's dialogue was met by laughter, and she ducked into a bathroom with gold sinks during the after party, letting tears fall. Only they were tears of joy, her smile illuminated in gold as she bent over the sink. How many people actually get what they want so soon? She knew she shouldn't give up right at that moment.

"I'm...I'm sorry, Manny," says Emma, softly. "Just...got a lot on my mind."

Manny goes over, ruffles Emma's hair.

"There'll be no Sylvia Plath tonight," commands Manny, pulling Emma up. "We're going to celebrate like it's 2099. Be all Entourage-y."

"We'll be dead in 2099," says Emma, smiling, shaking her head.

"Not if we're famous," argues Manny. "Know why?"

"Manny...don't," warns Emma.

"Fame...we're going to live forever..."

Emma laughs, heads over to her closet, Manny pulling off her top.

"Hopefully, drama camp teaches you to sing at appropriate moments, you know, when the audience is willing to hear it."

Manny sticks out her tongue, lets her skirt fall to the floor. It seemed like she'd been waiting for this camp to start forever, and now there was only a week left.

There were other things she had to wait for. Toby proved to be worth the wait, however. More than worth the wait. The Kytel internship took up a great deal of his schedule. At least he was getting paid. The hours became so consuming that he eventually had to give one thing up. School was out of the question, and happy to her ears, he said he'd always make her a top priority. This feeling remained, so he left the video store, and a down-hearted Christian who swore on his love for all things Coppola that Toby could always have the job back whenever he wanted. Manny's not so sure Toby wants to, since the internship left him with a nice chunk of change and Kytel was making an offer for next year too. She was worried that he might be spreading himself a little too thin, with Kytel, school, and Student Council, and was truly surprised when he told her he was running for school president. Liberty, fatigued from dealing with the adoption of her son, announced she would be leaving to focus solely on her studies. That left the gate open for Toby and any other student. Manny told him to deal with the speeches, his main concern, while she took care of the rest. With J.T., she hung banners, fliers that she designed herself with the cutest picture of Toby ever, anything that would help Toby beat out Sully, who admitted as much to his friends that he was just doing it to get something on his transcript. Toby actually wanted to improve the school, maybe because he witnessed how intense things were after the shooting. Manny knows how much he struggled with that. Sometimes passion trumps popularity, because Toby won in a pretty close vote. Sully tossed him dirty looks now and then, but Manny thinks he was secretly relieved he didn't have to actually do all that work.

"Political party tonight!" cries Manny, slipping into the dress.

"I can't believe you planned this whole thing," compliments Emma, removing an orange dress from a hanger, then throwing it down, making a disgusted face.

"It was nothing," shrugs off Manny.

"Please," says Emma. "Booking the hall in the hotel. Coaxing Spin to donate the services of the Dot. Ordering a cake. That's huge."

"If you weren't dating Spin, I never would've got the Dot deal," assures Manny.

Emma looks down, hesitantly going on. "Yeah...but um, still pretty big."

"Well, Toby's pretty big in my life," says Manny, blushing. "Four months. I swear...when he finally said those three special words I thought...I thought I'd faint."

She glances at Emma, who has retrieved a pretty, navy blue summer dress and sliding it down her slim frame.

"Yeah, you looked a little out of it," says Emma, giggling. "Like you were about to puke. Toby wouldn't have kissed you if that happened."

"You know what...," begins Manny, grabbing the scarf, tossing it at Emma's waist.

"Ah!" cries Emma, throwing a bundled up pair of socks at Manny's legs.

The two girls continue hitting each other with various bits of clothing, squealing when they actually make contact. Manny's glad Emma's lightening up. She can't imagine what Emma's state of mind will be when she actually leaves the house in August. Oh well, better not to dwell on that yet, she surmises, holding up her composition book to block a flying white slip.

"Girls!" calls a voice from upstairs. "Girls!"

They stop, go over to the steps, see Spike looking down at them. Her hair is disheveled, body wrapped in a scruffy T-shirt and pajama bottoms. In short, she didn't look too well, not her usual self at all. Manny notices Emma's face fall.

"Sorry, Mom," says Emma.

"Try to keep it down, alright?" replies Spike, shutting the door.

Emma swallows a lump in her throat, quietly sits at the make-up mirror.

"We were kinda loud," says Manny, softly. "Um...want me to do your hair?"

"No, I'll leave it like this," waves off Emma, eyes downcast.

Manny nods, reaching for her light jacket.

"Are...are you still moving?" speaks up Emma. "I know things are crazy here but..."

Crazy? More like hectic, with Emma preparing their meals, trying to keep the house clean, watching over her mom and Jack. Manny made a point to be out of the house, mainly with Toby. There were trips to the drive-ins, where it felt like his car was the only car in the lot. Sometimes they'd just hang out, like they did on the ski trip, and it was just as satisfying. Even more, things were peaceful with him. She didn't have to walk on eggshells. That was the case every time she walked into a room where Spike was. Snake left many a crack in his former home, totally different from when she first stayed there. Spike got agitated six days out of the week, Emma kept busy, and Jack could barely talk. She really thought living with her parents was stressful, a year ago, and it simply didn't seem as bad anymore, compared to Emma's, especially since she and her father reconciled.

"Yes," whispers Manny, starting to button her jacket. "Em, I..."

"You promised your dad," says Emma, more to herself.

"I want to be there for you," insists Manny. "You know you can call me..."

"A phone call," says Emma, coldly. "Nice. I bet Toby doesn't get phone calls when he needs your support. Yeah, he gets banners and parties. I know why you run off to him, Manny. I'm not stupid."

Emma shoulders her purse, Manny seeing tears forming in her eyes, starts up the steps.

"You're not riding with me and J.T.?" calls Manny after her.

"I'm getting a ride with Spin," replies Emma, running up the rest of the steps.

Ugh, forget the political party. Emma threw a better party, a pity party, and I'm the only one invited, thinks Manny.

Manny rubs her forehead, falls back onto her bed, which would really only be her bed for one more week. Then, camp would come, and she'd be stress-free. And Toby-free, she laments, inwardly. She takes a photograph of them from her nightstand, sweetly refurbished by Snake before he went away, viewing her and Toby.

It was the picture of them on the ski trip, heads next to each other, covered in snow, smiling. She looked at this picture after their first kiss, now looks at it every time she wakes up. Their relationship caught a lot of flack at school as some predicted, mainly Heather, but there comes a point where the words become weightless. She's not clear when that happened, though it happened. Toby took the brunt of the teasing, which she hates, but she can't not be with him.

Sometimes the sun slid under the slit of the basement window, catch the glass of the picture, almost as if it were meant to highlight this picture, highlight them. Then, the light would fade, so she'd turn her lamp on until she fell asleep.

II.

"This is really, really horrible," groans J.T., lifting to the bottle to his nose. "What possessed you to get it?"

"Look, it smelled better in the store," defends Toby.

"Ugh, it's the scent of a dead cat, or my hamper," says J.T., shuddering.

Toby removes the perfume bottle from J.T.'s grasp, smells it again, winces. He knew that lady behind the counter was a little too happy about making that sale. Man, he must always have that "I'm gullible" expression on his face.

"Manny's gonna hate it," says Toby, glancing at the bottle. "Moonlight Everglades. The lady said it was in."

J.T. wrests the bottle from Toby, tosses it into a trashcan. "Yeah, in the garbage."

"Next time, I'm just getting that J. Lo stuff she likes," sighs Toby. "I still need something for her."

J.T. shrugs, scratches his neck. "Why not...uh, see what Kate has?"

"J.T.!" says Toby. "I couldn't..."

"Ask her," insists J.T. "Manny's coming over any minute."

Toby twists his lips. Manny hinted that it was a big surprise, and he wasn't going to show up empty-handed like a chump, especially since the way he feels about her has grown. He missed her that first night at computer camp, and it got worse and worse. After Clara kissed him, he immediately knew which girl his heart sped up for, and she wasn't there with him. Clara admitted she basically saw it coming, got really red-faced, and spent lab time with Toby, and personal time with Justin and Derek. As things turned out, she ended up liking Justin somewhat, some type of weird love/hate relationship. For a moment, it brought back shades of J.T. and Liberty to him, but Toby wouldn't say as much. They'd been dating only a month, but Clara was happy, or pretended to be. He's not certain.

"Fine," says Toby, sliding on a black blazer over his dress shirt.

He does a quick check in the mirror, straightens his glasses and some hair, leaves J.T. alone in his room. In the hallway, a rushing blur goes past him, nearly knocking him into a lamp.

"Hey!" complains Toby.

He views Ashley, in a long, wool robe, shiny grey heels on her feet. Okay, he knows Ashley likes to experiment with her appearance, but this? Wait a second. Was she going to this thing too?

"Get dressed in the dark?" questions Toby, grinning.

"I don't make fun of your clothes," snaps Ashley, closing her bedroom door.

Toby shrugs, peeps inside his father and Kate's room. Hmmm, no Kate, only his father with his back turned. Oh well, J.T.'s good idea, which he rarely had anyway, wouldn't do. He starts to walk away, stops when he hears his father's voice get more forceful.

"Anne Marie, do not start this," says Jeff Isaacs.

Man, his mom. He's so sick of their arguments. They promised they'd get better with that years ago, and no, still hasn't changed.

"What do you want me to tell him?" asks Jeff, his voice rising. "That your schedule wouldn't permit it? That's great...that's...oh yeah, making it up by flying him out for his birthday will really do the trick! Did you think I'd maybe want to spend that day with him?"

His birthday is coming up in July. He really didn't feel like dwelling on it, though, since Manny would be gone. Why couldn't his mom send the card and money like she always did?

"You'll try to make the after party?" sighs Jeff. "Confirmation only comes once, Anne Marie...yes, of course, Kate will be there...if you're going to be like that, don't come. Really, do not come!"

Jeff slams the phone down, mutters a few things under his breath. Toby silently backs up, at least makes the attempt to, as his shoes produce a creak from the hallway floor. To his annoyance, he hears his father moving, and Toby goes to straighten his collar in the nearby bathroom.

"Toby...you weren't...weren't supposed to hear that," stammers Jeff, clad in a really nice black suit and blue tie.

"Whatever," replies Toby, washing his hands. "Used to it."

"Son, if you need to talk...," begins Jeff.

"Manny's on her way," interrupts Toby, not meeting his father's gaze.

Jeff pats Toby on the shoulder, leaves him alone. Drying his hands, he recalls how really ugly the divorce got. His mother was very open about how much she despised Kate, and his father would take pot shots at his mom over how little she saw Toby. Toby accepted that she couldn't get away from work. Hollywood, where she relocated a couple years ago, is stressful and animated. She was definitely keeping up with the financial part of the custody agreement, sending these huge checks to him and his father, so much money Toby didn't know what to do with it. Her company continued to take on these high-profile clients, so much so that she was currently searching for a partner. The other parts of the custody agreement, you know, actually seeing him, he got fed up with hoping that part would kick in after she moved. He saw her every other weekend for awhile, and she came for his bar mitzvah, and then following that, not a lot else. He decided to put up some walls to make it hurt less, though he politely took her calls or sent her e-mails. Now, apparently, she's not coming to his Confirmation. He only agreed to take those classes in the hope that she'd show. Like he said, whatever. She wouldn't ruin yet another event for him.

"Any luck?" asks J.T., bringing Toby back to the present.

"No," admits Toby.

J.T. laughs mischievously.

"What?" prompts Toby.

"Guess who worked his magic on Ashley Kerwin," says J.T., winking.

He holds out a gold, linked bracelet, dropping it into Toby's hands. Toby raises his eyebrows.

"Uh...what is this?" he says.

"Charm bracelet, only Ashley took all her charms off," answers J.T. "Just tell Manny some gooey stuff about you wanting her to fill it up with whatever she wants. Make her all sentimental."

"That...that might actually work," says Toby, beaming.

"Um, yeah, speaking of work, I promised Ashley we'd clean the garage while she's in London...to make room for her car," says J.T., tentatively. "See ya downstairs, Tobes."

"Our garage!" exclaims Toby. "The impossibly dirty garage!"

Too bad J.T.'s already heading downstairs. Toby shakes his head. He'd have to kill J.T. later. Just then, he hears the doorbell ring a couple times. He hurriedly situates the bracelet in the inside pocket of his blazer.

"Toby, your Manuellita's here!" yells J.T., tauntingly.

Toby smiles at his reflection, tries hard not to hurry down the stairs too much. Reaching the final stair, he stalls, feels his pulse quicken. Staring at Manny has that effect. She appears so warm and angelic in a light blue dress that so perfectly suits her. Manny smiles in his direction, lowers her eyes.

"Amazing," says Toby.

"Yeah, I try," jokes J.T. "Ready to scat?"

Toby goes past J.T., his hands circling Manny's waist.

"I know...I know blue's your fave," stammers Manny, staring into his eyes.

"You remind me of Persephone," says Toby.

"Perse-what?" replies Manny.

"She's this innocent, beautiful goddess that gets taken away, and the abduction results in her being able to change the seasons," informs Toby.

J.T. rolls his eyes. "Leave it to Toby to come up with some nerdy, romantic analogy. I'm in the car, lovebirds."

They both ignore J.T. as he shuts the front door.

"Change the seasons, huh?" says Manny, grinning. "Not that powerful."

"To me, you are...and you're going away," points out Toby.

"Not for a week, and then I'm right back here before school," promises Manny.

Toby wishes he believed that. From the way Manny described this camp, young talent got snapped up pretty fast. She might really enjoy acting, or get offered some roles. Her turn in the Kevin Smith movie earned her a host of admirers. He's betting the same thing occurs in California.

"Right," says Toby, his heart still heavy.

"We'll talk everyday I'm gone," assures Manny. "Can I kiss the president now?"

"Only if you tell me what's going on," whispers Toby in her ear.

"Mmmm mmm," replies Manny, managing to get herself out of his grasp. "You are not getting another secret out of me."

"I knew my dad was planning that post-Confirmation thing," says Toby. "So like him."

"No, I shouldn't have spilled," sighs Manny. "With that sweet smile you have, couldn't resist. This time, lips zipped."

"I'd rather you do something else with those lips," kids Toby.

"Where did this smooth guy come from?" laughs Manny.

"Renewed confidence," says Toby, leaning in. "Necessary for political office terms."

"I'm going to like this term then," whispers Manny.

Her lips barely touch his, before he hears his father's voice creep in. Ugh, why?

"Who's driving you kids there?" questions Jeff, walking down the steps. "Oh, hey, Manny."

"Hi, Mr. Isaacs," replies Manny.

"Call me, Jeff, sweetie," reminds Jeff. "Remember, I'm a cool dad."

Toby feels like banging his head against the banister. He doesn't know what's more embarrassing, his father calling them kids or saying he's the cool dad?

"So cool in fact that I can give you guys a lift?" offers Jeff.

"Uh," says Toby, grabbing his dad's arm, leading him to the foyer.

Manny peers after them, but Toby's clear that she's out of earshot.

"My car's not a lemon, Tobes," says Jeff, jovially. "You can ride in style. This is your special night."

"No, this is a special night for me and Manny," says Toby. "I wanna go wherever it is with my girlfriend, unsupervised."

Girlfriend. Wow, that took awhile for him to get used to, though he loves saying the words when he can. He smiles at his father.

"You guys aren't planning to do anything tonight!" whispers Jeff.

"No, not that!" whispers Toby. "I do want time with her before she leaves, though."

"Well, really, I was hoping we could talk about...earlier," confesses Jeff.

"Not tonight," says Toby, checking his watch.

"We'll have to talk sooner or later," says Jeff, eyeing his son up and down.

"Fine," mutters Toby.

Toby walks to Manny, takes her hand, opens the door for her.

"I mean what I said, Toby!" says Jeff after them.

"What was that all about?" asks Manny, the late, sweet spring air hitting their faces.

"Not important," replies Toby.

III.

Emma gently rests the ladle into the punch bowl, shaved ice shaking. Hmmm, blue punch. She has to hand it to her best friend. When Manny goes all out, she goes all out. The whole, spacious room is decked out in blue and gold, Degrassi's school colors: gold napkins and silverware; blue balloons and tablecloths; a two-tier vanilla cake with the silver-toned metal letters, T and I, as cake toppers. Manny is a good planner, having worked on the Sweetheart Dance and two semi-formals, but this was impressive.

The party's already going, in anticipation of Toby's arrival. J.T. took Toby and Manny out to eat, his treat, while they set up. Behind a turntable, Deejay Derek, as he called himself, plays fairly decent tunes, Danny grooving to the beat. Liberty is explaining the history of the Council gavel to anyone she can find, which in this case is Nate and Darcy. Emma's heard that speech before. For a Saturday night right before finals, it's a great turn-out. Toby would be thrilled.

She's more thrilled by one of the servers, throwing Spinner a smile as he lowers the top of a hot tray, some steam filtering out. Spinner, dressed in a tuxedo shirt and black pants, grins, starts straightening the tablecloth at the other end of the table. The thrill starts to fade as she remembers her last conversation with Manny. She didn't mean to attack her, or anyone for that matter. All of this is really hard, though, and it is tough not to have someone in the same house to talk to. Who would be there to comfort her when she notices all of Snake's mail is piling up, or that Spike wakes up around two just to get out of their bed and sleep on the family room couch? She remains silent, about everything, tries to keep the flow going as usual.

Before Snake left, things were going so well too. The beauty pageant brought her some pride, and more people were bringing that up than what she did in the ravine. Manny introduced her to a whole new wardrobe. She thought it'd be good to live up to the name Best Personal Style, but thankfully, they weren't too showy or colorful. Spinner didn't seem to care. He confessed that he liked how brave she was, not only for putting herself out there in the pageant after a tough year, but for trying new activities. He took her rollerblading to start with, then convinced her to play soccer, which she enjoyed more than she thought she would, and lacrosse. What she didn't know, he taught her. Snake used to teach her, until she requested study hall instead of Media Immersion with him. Luckily, it was March when she bailed, and maybe guilty for the whole disruption in her life, Hatzilakos agreed to Emma's request.

"Play?" chirps a sweet voice to her side.

Emma glances over her shoulder, turns, sees a small girl, around eight. She timidly holds up an origami game, one of the games she used to play herself way back when. Funny how you believe choosing a number and a color could decide your future. Well, she'll indulge the nice little girl.

"Sure," agrees Emma. "I pick five...then one."

Beaming, the girl moves her thumb and fingers five times. She moves her hands again, tells Emma to choose a color.

"Green," says Emma.

The girl nods, opens the green section of the game.

"This says who should be your boyfriend," informs the girl.

"Really?" says Emma, shrugging. "Who?"

"Spinner!" exclaims the girl, then running away, giggling as she departs.

Emma narrows her eyes, smiles at Spinner.

"They all say Spinner, don't they?" questions Emma, walking over to him.

"No, I knew you'd pick green," defends Spinner. "Or some other color you find in the woods. It was Kelsey's idea."

"Uh-huh," laughs Emma. "Pimping yourself isn't the best way to use paper, for the record."

Spinner throws up his hands in surrender. "I sorta guided Kelsey to you."

"Using your boss' daughter," chastises Emma. "That's a new one."

"No, what's new is me actually seeing you," says Spinner. "You've been M.I.T. for two weeks."

"M.I.A.," corrects Emma. "Missing in action. Due to circumstances totally out of my control."

"I can help with stuff. Until Cali, that is."

Much to Manny's excitement, Spinner was actually going to visit Kendra in Santa Clara for a couple weeks, so she'd know someone else out there besides Lia. Emma liked Manny having a friend to hang out with, but she'd be losing a friend, and a semi-boyfriend, or whatever Spin is.

"Spin, that's sweet. So not necessary."

Spinner releases a deep breath. "And the boyfriend possibility?"

Emma avoids his eyes. She enjoyed hanging out with him, definitely no complaints when it comes to the kissing. A commitment, however? It's not like Spinner wouldn't be a good boyfriend, either. She can feel her cheeks reddening, opens her mouth to speak, until a roar of voices sound, and she realizes she's missed Toby's entrance.

"Talk later?" suggests Emma.

Spinner nods, lips tightening. She's not ready to answer him yet. Ugh, horrible start to the festivities.

Ambling through the crowd, full of people shaking Toby's hand and congratulating him, Emma pats Toby on the back. Toby beams at her. Suddenly, she's not so concerned with Manny spending every second with him. He is pretty happy.

"Shocked?" she yells over the noise.

"I'm floored," replies Toby, kissing Manny's cheek.

"I had J.T. drive around the parking lot for a few," confesses Manny, linking arms with Toby.

Jeff, Kate, and Ashley approach Toby, exchanging solid hugs with him. Derek wordlessly hands Manny a microphone, Manny blinking down at it in surprise.

"What's this for?" says Manny.

"Speech," guesses Emma. "Toby might want to thank everyone for coming."

"Oh...yeah," says Manny.

"And Manny, earlier I...I was pretty rude," says Emma.

"Please," waves off Manny. "What kind of best would I be if I didn't understand?"

Emma and Manny hug, Emma sure this is as fulfilling as the ones Toby is receiving. Manny releases her, taps the microphone, producing a shrill squeak. Half the partygoers cover their ears.

"President Isaacs," sing-songs Manny into the mike.

Toby chuckles, gently takes the microphone from Manny. Emma can see he's getting pretty flustered as all eyes in the room stare at him.

"I still need to get better at public speaking, but...um," begins Toby. "I'm truly...truly flattered that you...you guys showed up to support me. It means a lot."

They all clap politely, J.T. whooping.

"Hopefully, I'll live up to Liberty's good reputation," continues Toby, then looking at Manny. "And to my biggest supporter...Manny, I can't imagine you not standing next to me. You're like...worth more than all the ballots in the world."

Manny blushes furiously, buries her head in Toby's chest.

"Awww," gush Liberty and Darcy simultaneously.

"Dude!" cries Danny, wincing. "Man, get the mike. I can't take this garbage anymore."

Derek retrieves the microphone, Toby and Manny sharing a light, soft kiss as applause fills the room. There were pluses to having a boyfriend. She couldn't deny that. Momentarily glancing at Spinner, meeting his eyes, she swallows a lump in her throat. Her skin begins to heat up. Heading for the door, head down, she bumps into something big, bigger than her, and that honestly wasn't a bunch of people.

"Oh...I'm sorry, Em," says a nervous voice.

Unfortunately, it is him, the voice she hasn't heard in their household for awhile.

"Excuse me," says Emma, trying to get past him.

Snake manages to stand in front of her.

"Why are you here?" demands Emma, tears burning the back of her eyes.

"Toby's father invited me," explains Snake. "He is one of my best students. Thought it'd be nice to come."

"Sure, nice," mutters Emma. "What is this? The one nice thing you've done this year?"

"Emma, come on..."

"You haven't made any effort."

"Your mother refuses to talk to me."

Snake stares at her pathetically, that friendly expression that usually makes her trust him. She hates him for it now.

"So I have a really good feeling about those two," he says, nodding towards Toby and Manny.

Changing the subject? Great tactic, though so not getting him off the hook.

"Yeah, as long as he keeps his mouth off another girl, there shouldn't be any problem," snaps Emma, rushing past Snake.

She doesn't even care how much that hurt to say. He should've known better than to try and talk to her, especially since Spike hasn't talked to him. She put herself in the middle before. Not anymore.

IV.

"Maestro, if you please," requests Manny, handing Derek a vinyl record.

Derek pretends to blow some dust off the cover. Manny crosses her arms.

"This ain't Soul Train, baby," says Derek, popping his collar. "I play contempo, cool, stuff that won't get me beat up."

"So? This music totally fits the occasion, and I want to dance with my man, so get to scratchin'," says Manny. "Only...um, don't scratch. That's Spike's."

"Ugh, this soft spot for hot actresses," whines Derek, clutching his heart playfully.

Manny smiles, spots Toby chatting with Nate and J.T. She grabs Toby's hand, interrupting the chatter, leads him to the center of the floor. Toby laughs.

"What's going on?" he says.

"We're dancing," replies Manny, nodding to Derek.

Derek puts the record on, nods his head to the chirpy beat. Manny claps to the rhythm, indicating for everyone to join in. They all comply, Darcy dancing along.

My baby, he don't talk sweet
He ain't got much to say
But he loves me, loves me, loves me
I know that he loves me anyway
And maybe he don't dress fine
But I don't really mind
Cause every time he pulls me near
I just wanna cheer

Manny twirls Toby around, holds up his left hand in triumph. The crowd cheers, Jeff the loudest. Toby turns red, rights his glasses when they slide down.He's probably as red as she was during that speech. That speech. Wow, she got goosebumps just recalling it. As she draws him closer, she's fully aware the words were heartfelt.


Let's hear it for the boy
Let's give the boy a hand
Let's hear it for my baby
You know you gotta understand

Unfortunately, there wouldn't be many moments like this soon. Sure, his Confirmation is coming up, a couple dates, and lunch with her dad, but there'd definitely be a break.For Kytel, it was hard to wait for a little over a week, and they weren't even dating then. She and Lia went over the drama camp package before Lia flew to Los Angeles. The camp would last a whole month and a half, and the activities were jam-packed during the day and some evenings. Well, I'm not ruining this evening, thinks Manny, as Toby dips her to some enthusiastic cries.

Manny shimmies, Toby doing the same. She loves that he's looser now, and she hopes it's because of her. After all, he had modeled for her, she remembers, grinning. Getting him out and away from the computer was hard at first, but with each passing week, she had to bug him about that less and less. Currently, he's actually encouraging more outings, including the lunch with her dad, which she said he could skip. Maybe he's depressed about the distance too. He kind of indicated that.

"We should get dirty, bump and grind, totally shock your dad," says Manny, softly. "Get all scandalous."

Toby's mouth drops. "What?"

"I taught you how to pop, lock, and drop it," teases Manny. "This is easier."

"Nobody was around!" points out Toby. "I mean, except you."

"Presidents are known for scandals," insists Manny, stroking his cheek. "Especially ones that involve girls."

"You're more the first lady kind," replies Toby, lifting her chin, kissing her.

Manny's shoulders relax, her brain growing cloudy. The glow of the chandeliers above seem to collect in one light, warm her face. The heat enthralls her, or is this some inner heat? Sweat beads form on the back of her neck. It all feels new, more sweet, more intense. Why is she reacting this way? She's kissed him a lot before, heavy make-out sessions and everything. She glances around, thankful no one's watching them anymore, finds Toby's mouth again. Her fingers clutch the end of his blazer on his left side, move against the inside of his jacket. Toby's lips stop, looks down.

"Not that hot in here, is it?" asks Toby, raising her hand, kissing it gently.

Yes it is, she thinks timidly. She offers him a nervous grin, smooths out her dress.

"A bit...bit stuffy," stammers Manny. "Thought...thought you were hot. Yeah, but keep the blazer. That's one I picked out for you?"

"Yep," replies Toby. "Can you meet me in the lobby afterwards?"

"Um, sure," says Manny.

V.

"Who knew blue punch could make you pee so much?" groans Emma, from behind the stall.

Manny slides the clips out of her hair, begins to fluff out her hair intensely. Several strands were sticking out or up or any unflattering way possible. Man, she looked more Medusa than Persephone. At least her dress was in good condition. Derek managed to get some congratulatory cake icing on Ashley's dress, mainly because she rejected him, reminding him that yes, she has a boyfriend.

"Yeah?" responds Manny, absent-mindedly.

Emma flushes the toilet, exits the stall, goes to the sink. She stares curiously at Manny.

"Memo to Manuella," says Emma, grinning. "Usually, people don't fuss with themselves when they're headed home."

Tapping a manicured nail against the marble of a vanity, Manny beams.

"What if I'm not heading home?" she asks.

"Uh...lost here," confesses Emma.

"Toby wants to meet in the lobby," whispers Manny.

"And?"

"We're...we're in a hotel," finishes Manny, winking at Emma.

Manny sees Emma's jaw drop, turns away from her.

"Manny..." she says.

"Toby...Toby's waiting," interrupts Manny.

"Yeah, I'll say!" exclaims Emma, eyes widening. "He's been waiting for...what, almost seventeen years?"

"Just...just cover for me, if you need to," whispers Manny, urgently.

"I'm as shocked as Toby was earlier," murmurs Emma, shrugging. "Mom's probably out cold anyway. I...I hope it's safe...and nice."

Manny nods, smiling. She leaves the bathroom, sits on a couch in the lobby, leg rising and falling. Wringing her hands in anticipation, she takes note of the people checking in and out. They carry expensive luggage, ask for extra towels, pay bellhops, retrieve room keys...room keys. Manny's sure the heat in her body is at an apex now.

They had their first kiss in a hotel, so surprising, so scary, so alarmingly perfect. They'd spent those three nights together, so that part would be a breeze. The other expectations...as new as the kiss.

Toby walks to her, his whole face glowing. Manny grabs her knees to keep her fingers from shaking again. Her heart's already out of wack. He sits next to her.

"Close your eyes," he instructs.

Manny grins widely.

"Open your palm," he says.

She does so, exposing her wrist, her pulse increasing. Something cool, light touches her palm. A key. Manny takes a deep breath.

"I wasn't expecting...," she says, opening her eyes.

A bracelet?

"Oh...oh, so sweet, Toby," says Manny, awkwardly. "You know...I love...I love jewelry."

"Let me put this on," says Toby, clearly pleased at her reaction.

He undoes the bracelet, slides it on, clicks it with a short snap.

"I want to buy you your first charm," offers Toby. "Then, you can fill the bracelet with whatever you want. Symbols of our relationship, I hope."

"Definitely," promises Manny, hugging him.

Over his shoulder, she looks at the bracelet. What a stupid assumption. And she told Emma and everything? Stupid.

"Excuse me," says a bellhop in a black and gold suit, wresting a white glove off.

Manny lets Toby go, and they stare at him.

"Uh, you guys aren't checking in, are you?" asks the bellhop. "I have to run an errand for my daughter, so if you have luggage?"

"No," replies Toby, politely. "We don't need a room."

We don't need a room, she repeats in her head. We don't need a room. Gosh, just pound the sentiment in forever. Why didn't he want one?

"Good, thanks," says the bellhop, wiping his brow.

Toby stands, helps Manny to her feet. "Ready?"

Yes, but you aren't, she thinks. Frowning at the floor, her sight goes to the bracelet. Ah, sometimes little things can be just as meaningful. Her mouth grows into a smile.

"I'm ready," she answers.

VI.

J.T.'s shaggy head is surrounded by comic books strewn across the floor. Crimson Kid, X-Men, Fantastic Four. He throws one to the side, fetches another. The only light in Toby's room is a small lamp near his computer as Toby types away.

"Can't believe Liberty avoided me all night," groans J.T. "I even tried to crack a joke during that gavel chronology of hers. She sorta smiled a bit."

Toby's sure Liberty would like to talk to him. The last few months were so surreal. Her giving birth, handing the baby off to his adopted parents, J.T. getting involved in drug dealing. It was almost like it was straight out of one of the soap opera scripts Manny sifted through. Presently, Liberty is keeping her distance, though he did see her perk up every time he mentioned J.T. in passing.

"She'll come around," comforts Toby.

"Eh, lemme listen to Chris Rock, mellow out," says J.T., grabbing his CD player.

"Remember to clean up those comic books off the floor," reminds Toby. "My dad's already rattled."

"Either he found a grey hair or your mom called," guesses J.T.

"Mom," supplies Toby.

"Bleh," condemns J.T. "Who chooses L.A. over T.O.?"

Hopefully not Manny, thinks Toby, bringing up a page with antique charms. Wow, there are loads of them. He'd be up all night, but there is no school tomorrow. J.T. presses play, goes off to his own little world.

"Politically incorrect jokes," laughs J.T. to himself. "Where have you been all my life?"

Toby smirks at J.T., hears his computer announce "You've got Mail." A little mail icon pops up, him clicking without delay. Sometimes Manny would wish him good-night that way, but he thought the goodnight kiss was awesome in itself. She wouldn't get out of his car for a full five minutes, which was pretty sweet. Her lips were so soft. Now Toby's lips don't feel that way, as he reads, his mouth growing tense.

"Kendra," he breathes, eyes frozen when he reaches her name.