Hi all. For those of you wandering what in the heck happened to One More Clue, don't fret. I hit a big bump that I stupidly overlooked in the plot which made me have to go back, remap the treasure hunt entirely, and that process is being tied up now. Plus college is always a time killer. Eighteen credits, 10 hrs/ week at work, photographing for the campus paper, chorus, and writing a bunch of assignments has owned me since August. Not sure when I'll be updating nest; hopefully in the next few weeks. Anyways, about this story, it's just a one-shot in which Riley is picked on throughout school. Having been a victim of bullying, I sympathize. I hope you all like it. Plase accept it as an apology for not being an active NT writer for a while. Enjoy and drop a review, please!

X X X

I Have Always Been Mead To Riley Poole

In first grade, I called him names.

"Hey, Four-Eyes."

He sighed. "Why do you call me that?"

"Because you wear glasses, you dork."

He got defensive. "Well…you wear pigtails."

"But people like my pigtails. Everyone likes me, and nobody likes you. Get used to it, geek face."

I stuck my tongue out at him. I laughed with my friends as he walked away with his head down and no comeback. Typical.

In second grade, I threw stuff at him.

"Ow!"

He turned around in his desk, watching me wad up another spitball for him.

"Stop it, Christina."

I hit him in the eye in response. My friend, Kara, hid her giggles in her history book. I smirked as he dug the spitball out of his eye.

"That's gross! Stop!" he hissed.

"Riley! Turn around!"

Reluctantly, but always the obedient goody-two-shoes, Riley turned around with a mean look. I just balled up another spitwad and hit the back of his head. He cringed; Kara and I couldn't stop laughing.

In third grade, I stepped on his glasses.

Riley fell of the monkey bars, his glasses tumbling away from him. Seeing this from the swings, I walked over with a little devil's grin. I raised my foot above his glasses.

"Hey, Riiiiiley, need some help?"

"Yeah," he said, patting the ground blindly. "I can't find my-"

CRUNCH.

Riley froze. I sniggered, picking up the bent and broken frames. "Whoops. Looks like you need a new pair."I tossed them at him carelessly.

"See you around, Four-Eyes."

In fourth grade, I put paste on his chair.

The bell rang, and I stood up to go home. Across the room, Riley looked panicky, unable to get out of his chair.

"Hey! Hey, help!" he shouted as he kids went by, laughing. Miss Harkin ran up the aisle to him.

"Oh, oh, dear. Just calm down, we'll get you out!"

"I'm stuck!" he cried.

I walked up to them with a sweet smile. Riley suddenly caught on.

"Is there anything I can do to help, Miss Harkin?"

She smiled, and Riley glared at me through his fearful tears. "No, honey, it's okay. You head on home. Riley, I'm going to call your mother, and I'll be right back!"

I smiled at him as soon as we left the room.

In fifth grade, I gave him a black eye.

"Jessica! You're out!"

A small girl with black hair ran off to the sidelines. Kara, Marie, Francesca, Mickey, Grant, and I smiled at the only remaining defendant for the Water Buffalo side of the dodge ball court. Riley gulped.

I stepped up as far as I could and throw, missing him by inches because he's curled up in ball. He got up uneasily as I turned back around and winked a Grant. Grant is sooo my next boyfriend.

Suddenly, Marie was hit. We looked back at Riley in shock; he had the makings of a smile on his face. Well, I am gonna wipe it right off.

The last five of us on my team walked right up to the line as Riley ran back and forth.

"Just hold still, twerp," Mickey said. "One, two, three!"

We hurled our balls with great effort, and I watched mine fly right into his face. I immediately laughed. He held his face for a minute, only to reveal a real shiner when he looked up. Others gasped. I couldn't believe I had such great unintentional aim!

In sixth grade, I stole his homework.

Riley and I stood before Mr. Bettus's desk after class, glancing at one another knowingly. Riley held his notebook protectively, though my eyes had already seen its contents when I had taken it from him when he went up to get his lunch today. Mr. Bettus pulled out our homework assignments, laying them in front of us.

"Now, one of you copied," he said with a well-rehearsed stern but gentle tone. "I want to know who. If you come forward, I won't give you a zero, just an automatic half off."

My face should be filled with shame when Riley looks over at me, but it doesn't. Mr. Bettus gives me that level look with the raised eyebrows teachers somehow always manage to pull off, beckoning the truth I will not allowed to come forth.

"Christina? Did you copy Riley's homework?"

I put on the perfect pout, faking tears for effect. "No! Riley asked me at lunch for my notes, and I was just trying to be nice and help him out and said 'You'll get in trouble,' but he didn't care! He just took them and-"

"That's not true!" Riley said over my little confessional. "She stole my homework when I went up in line!"

Mr. Bettus turned that teacher look on Riley, and he stared at him in disbelief. "I didn't do it, sir!"

"Young man, you need to learn to tell a convincing lie," Mr. Bettus said. I smiled. Mr. Bettus was strict, and he never did like Riley. He thought he was too quiet. Riley frowned as Mr. Bettus said, "You will receive a zero, Mr. Poole. Next time think of something better! Maybe not blaming it on such a nice girl!"

Riley stared at me dangerously. I put on a modest smile.

In seventh grade, I tripped him in the lunch room.

"Don't look now," Kara said, "but here comes the Herd of the Nerds."

"And they look extra nerdy today!" Francesca giggled as the four boys passed our table. Brian McStihl, Wesley Crawshank, Howard Lemly, and Paul Orville pretended not to look embarrassed.

"Oh! Here comes their fearless leader," I said. "Hey! Brace face!" Riley passed wordlessly as the others had. "Hey, I'm talking to you, Four-Eyes!"

He still walked on, so I stuck my foot out and sent him and his tray flying forward. He groaned, everyone laughed, and I yelled, "Don't ignore next time, you jerk! And watch where you're going!"

In eighth grade, I pushed him in his locker.

Grant slammed Riley up against the lockers hard, and the contaminated geek yelled out in pain.

"No, don't! Please! What'd I do?!"

Grant let go of him as I stepped up and opened a piece of paper. "Why was this in my locker?" I asked expectantly as he stared dumbly at the paper. He gave me a look.

"What is it?"

Grant grabbed him again, but I made him put Riley down again.

"The note of you asking me to dump Grant so you could take me to the Valentine's Day dance," I replied shortly. His face scrunched up, and he grabbed the note from me.

"What?! This isn't even my handwriting! I don't put curls on the ends of my letters or even know how to draw a heart without a stencil."

I went quiet as Grant looked between us. Then, I opened Riley's locker and pushed his puny little body in, Grant helping to make sure it was crammed tight. He slammed the door, walking away with me as I read the note again.

"What an idiot," he said, taking the note from me and tossing it in the nearest trash can.

In ninth grade, I sabotaged his science project.

I went up to Riley's lab table cautiously, seeing as there were no more seats today.

"Hey," he says civilly, moving his books off the table. I sit down with a nod to acknowledge him begrudgingly as the teacher tells us to get started. I look down at the dead frog and feel ill.

Half an hour later, when it's time to go, Riley's dissection has gone great while mine sits in choppy ruins. He leaves with a simple 'bye,' and I sit there. My parents said I couldn't go to New York for New Year's Eve with Kara if I didn't pass Biology, so I swapped him frogs.

Next class, Riley argued about the D he had received, both of us knowing I held his A.

In tenth grade, I gave him false hope.

The head cheerleader of the varsity squad, Millie Ruth, was voted Snow Queen of the Christmas Party. After the ridiculous Snow Court pictures, I threw my bouquet of white roses at Grant, told him I wasn't dating him anymore, and stormed off.

My blind anger made me collide with none other than Riley Poole.

"Whoa! Watch it, Chrissy… Hey? You alright?"

"Get off, jackass," I muttered, ripping off my corsage and throwing it away. "Guys suck. I hate you all. Why do you have to be such… egotistical jerks that only care about sports and dating the other cheerleaders?!"

Riley stared at me uncertainly. "I… don't," he said. That was when I realized that he really didn't. He laughed and said, "I don't like sports, you're the only person that calls me a jerk, and I don't like any of the other cheerleaders." He swallowed hard, like he wasn't supposed to say that.

To my surprise, I smiled. "Don't like the 'other' cheerleaders? Thought you hated me more than anyone?"

"I don't hate you," he said matter-of-factly. "I hate when you're mean to me and putting me down and ruining my GPA, but I don't hate you."

I had the crazy urge to tell him exactly why I'd been trying to break up with Grant for over a year now, but I held down this word vomit because above me, I caught sight of mistletoe. And that made me want to really vomit.

"What? Hey- Oh. Oh boy."

He looked back at me fearfully. I mirrored him perfectly.

"So… Is this where we walk away? Or is tradition 'tradition?'"

For some reason, walking away felt like a tradition itself.

"Do you wanna go to the gas station and get hot chocolate?" I asked. He shrugged indifferently and said, "Soft pretzels and 100 Grands, too."

I nodded and took his hand, pulling him toward me. "Deal."

And so, the deal was sealed.

With a kiss.

In eleventh grade, I didn't call him back.

I hit the play button for the umpteenth time from the floor of my bedroom, playing the week-old message again.

"Hey, Chrissy, it's me," Riley's voice on the answering machine said. "Just wondering how you've been lately. You haven't called in a while. I was going on a college visit this weekend if you wanted to come, or if not, maybe we can go to the movies or something when I get back. Miss you. Call me back. Bye."

I was coming off another huge cry; upset with the choices I made, one of them deciding to keep Riley in the dark totally because he'd tell me we'd work it out, or we'd be fine, or just think it through. Well, I didn't. I panicked. And I haven't called him since two and half weeks ago. But now, now that it's taken care of and over, I picked up the phone, making the decision now that he has to know. He has to know what a coward I was, and how guilty I feel.

"Is… Is Riley there?"

In twelfth grade, I broke his heart.

I was drunk. Indescribably drunk.

Riley didn't want to come to Grant's graduation party, but he did, mostly to keep a protective eye on me around my most serious ex-boyfriend at the party every senior in the high school was attending.

Well, it worked.

Until I got indescribably drunk.

In a dark bedroom.

With Grant.

"Mmm, I missed you."

"I missed you more."

"I can't believe I let you date that loser geek-"

"Uh, I know – mmm…"

"Y- Ow! Hey!"

I squinted painfully at the bright light suddenly raining down on me and scrambled for a sheet. When my eyes finally were capable of piecing together blurry images, I made out Riley in the doorway. He looked like he had just been impaled, but I had to drive the dagger in him harder, deeper.

"Hey, babe! Where's my Schmirnoff?"

At that, he shut the light back off and closed the door.

Now, at our ten year high school reunion, I'm not sure I have it in me anymore.

I'm standing under the far end basketball hoop of the dimly lit gymnasium clutching my plastic cup of punch like a life line.

There he is, in all his new, redefined glory bestowed on him in the past year, chatting it up with Howard Lemly (proud manager of a Lowe's store now). I falter, wondering how fast it will take me to duck out before he notices I'm here, but then I see him and Howard look over at me and know I'm done for.

I perch myself in question as Riley hits Howard's arm and walks away.

Walks toward me.

Ohhhhhh god.

I quickly run my fingers through my fine blonde hair in panic. I feel like my dress is too typical of what I'd wear in high school – too low cut, too pink, too short – even though it's perfectly fine and hangs at my knees.

With a confident air about him I have never experienced, Riley stops before me with a courteous nod.

"Welly well well," he says, reminding me just how much he hasn't changed when I was scared and certain he had. "Christina Sellers. It is still 'Sellers,' right?" He leans forward looking for a ring on my finger, and I laugh.

"Oh, it was. Then it wasn't. And now it is. Again," I say awkwardly. His expectant and confused face pulls the story out of me. Mercilessly. "Grant and I were married for four years but… we just divorced two months ago."

Riley stands beside me with a hiss to sympathize with me, biting his lip. "The Giant anywhere to be seen?" he murmurs under his breath, scanning the gym. I shake my head immediately.

"He's still living out in Seattle. We had moved out there but… I came back. It's not important right now," I shy away.

"Oh, no, isn't that what these things are about?" he asks as I continue to stare at how out-of-place that suit looks on him after years of baggy jeans and t-shirts, though the Converses and velvet jacket add the quirky touch I associate with him. He continues, "We're supposed to catch up, have a laugh or something."

I smile falsely. "Yes, just… a hoot."

I could see by his face he'd expect something as low as me to get married and then divorce Grant. I silently thanked him for not saying anything and pressed on with conversation that was giving me claustrophobia.

"So, I hear you've been quite busy recently," I say with a pluck of pride in my chest for him. "Came into good money."

"Yeah," he smiles, adjusting his glasses I can't remember how many times I had broken or hid from him. "Treasure hunting, as it were, is a great means of becoming rich fast. I'm even going to monopolize on that and publish a book."

My eyes fluttered a few times. "You're writing a book?"

"Yeah, about the whole Templar myth," he says. "How Ben showed me it was more than just a myth, and you know, myths in general have always kind of interested me, so I'm going to make it a… a gathering of myths between two book covers. Should be finished in about three months and on the shelves."

I am genuinely impressed. "Wow. You have kept busy."

He nods silently to the various lights moving on the streaked gym floor. Searching desperately for a means of distraction, I take one of the white balloons tied to the bleacher beside me and hold it like the innocent girl I never was. Riley clears his throat.

"Did you get to go to college after graduating or…?"

"Yes, I went," I say slightly aggressive, refuting his theory of marrying Grant straight out of high school. "I, uh… got four years in, then I got married and haven't been able to finish."

"Dance?"

My train of thought runs off track. "What?" I ask him. He nods over to the dance floor.

"Dance. It's a ritual in which two persons sway to music and continue talking."

I sighed. I now know how much I've missed that puppy face pout he used to give me. A smile melts onto my face, and I set my punch on the bleachers and let the balloon float up into the dark cavernous ceiling.

"Sure."

Joining our classmates as the next song begins, Riley's embrace is familiar and welcoming as it had always been. I inhale the scent of a sensually murky cologne faintly on him, reminiscent of the one he wore to our junior prom. I go back to that night briefly, feeling like a queen in my rose gown, escorted around by the very man I dance with now.

Why I had been so cruel?

"…go back. If that's what you want, I mean."

I snap back into the moment, having missed everything he just said. I look up blankly.

"Go where?"

"Back to school," he says as if it was the easiest thing in the world to do. "Go get your doctorate. You can do that now."

I love that he's being so considerate of me despite the awful, awful things I had done to him. Part of me is openly shouting at me to go enroll myself in some kind of college program tomorrow morning just because I feel I owe it to him to do something nice for him, such as seeing me happy.

But I don't. I smile apologetically, and he catches on with a question on his face.

"What?"

"I can't go back right now, Riley," I say regrettably. It's difficult to try and explain it vaguely. "I have… a lot of other things to consider and sort out right now. But I have always kept it in mind, and I just might go back in a few years. It depends."

He gives me that look where he's trying to figure me out, decipher my riddle. I'm afraid he might have, and if he has, he hasn't said anything. Our dance slows to a stop, and I'm surprised at how short our dance was. His mind still working something out, Riley smacks his lips and asks, "What are you doing for the rest of the night?"

"I, uh… I'm not staying here much longer, I have to get back home," I tell him. "I was only stopping in for a little while, but there's a stack of paperwork waiting on my desk that needs filling out tonight. I have to go in early tomorrow, too, and put Dr. Yasmit's new patient portfolios into the system."

"Sounds fun," he says, appearing slightly disappointed. "Do you want to cut out of here early maybe and grab a sno cone?"

I laugh, hanging my head in defeat at the mention of sno cones. I check my watch.

"I really can't."

"Why? You're going to let paperwork steal away all the glory that is a sno cone? I haven't seen you in ten years. I want to buy you a sno cone."

"Riley, really. I can't. I have to go home. I've been here long enough."

"Are you still guilty about the end of senior year and now you just want to ditch me? Is that it?"

"No- I mean, yes, I still feel guilty, but I'm not trying to get rid of you."

"Okay. So the sno cone invitation may have been a little forward, but it's just sno cones, Chrissy."

"I understand that! I really do, but I have to go home. I have to. I really loved seeing you again. Really."

"Then why do you have to leave now?"

"What?"

"Why are you leaving now?"

I fall silent, looking to the floor.

x x x

And I remain silent as Riley sucks in a soft breath, sitting on the edge of the Lightning McQueen-shaped bed. He wets his lips, swallowing hard at the small rise and fall of the blankets, a tuft of white blonde hair sticking up on the dark pillow. I wring my hands, glancing between Riley and my son.

"How old is he?" Riley whispers, staring at the boy.

"Three," I manage through my tight throat. "Grant never wanted kids."

Riley looks up, the Batman nightlight reflecting in his glasses. "Is that why you… left? Separated?"

"Yes. It was an easy decision," I explain, sitting with him on the bed. "I didn't want him to grow up with a father that didn't want him."

I smoothed back my son's hair, feeling his forehead for any traces of a fever leftover from a few days ago. He's fine, though.

"When are free next? Tuesday?"

"Hayden's getting his first haircut."

Riley shrugs. "All the more reason to celebrate afterwards with a sno cone. What do you say?"

I laugh again, casting a fond look at the three-year-old sound asleep. A sadness fills me, and part of me wishes this was Riley's child. Though that doesn't seem to make a difference; Riley sounds like he's readying to stick around for a while whether I need him or not, just like in school.

And God knows I need him.

I smile up at Riley, his offer striking me deeply.

"Sure."