AN: Hi. How's it going?


Well, I expected this. It's fine if you've flounced by now. I understand. If you've ACTUALLY clicked on that link in the email you received, and you're reading this right now, then wow. Thank you.

My last author's note said my life was a tornado, I believe? Yes, well, that's been very true for a while. Some things have been, uh, bad. Other things good. One such thing being the fact that I am now a liar in my profile when I say that I'm on the East Coast of the US... let's change that to the UK, shall we? South of England, anybody? Any readers from this area?

Anyway, I wasn't going to post this chapter for quite a long time, but I'm caving right now.

I don't know when the next chapter will post. I really need your encouragement, though I know it's a lot to ask for right now. This plot is in my head all the time, and the characters and the situations, and it's pretty mentally draining and I question myself a lot... that's why it takes so long and that's why I ask for your support now.

2. If you haven't read my profile, it's fine. Just know that you don't need to question me about the name and getting into college, etc, thing. It's a part of the plot. I've got it covered. I can't answer you.

3. FANDOM FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT. Not sure if that's the official name of it right now... if you only KNEW how exhausted I am at the moment... But I've signed myself up for it, and I have a o/s in the works for it... so if you even like me as an author just a little bit, want to see what else I have up my sleeve, want to help out a really good cause, or want to demand that my submission for the thing is a POAG chapter... then yeah... do what you need to do. Donate, I think. Harass me through PMs/emails/whatever.

4. This chapter was beta'd a looooooong time ago. Early February. I think, I think, this version I'm uploading now is the edited one. If it's not, I AM SO SORRY MARCHHARE5. I DO NOT MEAN TO PUT TO WASTE YOUR MAGICAL BETA POWERS.

-Bella's all like, "Dude, I just can't keep doing this ghetto high school thing anymore, I don't have a chance here, I'm going to be smart and win a scholarship and go pretend to be a boy so I can have the same opportunities as other people at St. Bart's School for Boys."
-Edward's all like, "Man, I want to help this new kid out, I've been in his place before, and he seems like he could be a cool friend, but jesus, he can be weird."
-Bella has mini freak-outs where she gets kicked out of porn shops and feels up fruit in the supermarket. She also experiences toilet fail when it refuses to flush her tampon, resulting in mass hysteria for Jasper.
-Edward helps out Ben with a suit for their homecoming dance.
-Aaron Matthews is a jackass at school. Rogers is the principal. Mrs. Cherry is the art teacher. Snelgrove the English teacher. Aro is the Housemaster in the senior dorm.
-James is the jackass that harassed Bella at the ghetto high school-Chelmsford High. Mr. Voltrain was her English teacher there.
-Charlie and Bella's house burns down due to a candle malfunction at the hands of their copulating neighbors.
-And Edward feels the sock penis accidentally at the dance (where Benella is a hit with the ladies), resulting in his and Bree's terrible deflowering, and both Bella and Edward's mounting confusion and therefore restlessness with their situations.
-Bella has moved into the dorms, into Yorkie's old room, apparently... and Edward can't handle his shit, really.


Chapter 17: Slow Assimilation

Bella's POV

I was shading furiously with the edge of my pencil when a shadow fell over the right-hand corner of my drawing. Mrs. Cherry's salt and pepper hair came into view out of the corner of my eye as she hummed, analyzing what I had accomplished so far.

"This is good," she commented before straightening. I noticed the kid sitting beside me, a person whose name I had never bothered to learn, glance over at what I was doing before he turned back to his own attempts at art.

"Thanks," I mumbled.

The little middle-aged art teacher smiled sympathetically, sort of like she was sad just by looking at me. I didn't know what her problem was, but I could guess.

"You can come stay after school and keep working, if you'd like," she offered kindly.

Blankly, I looked up at her over my shoulder.

"If you feel like you might not have time enough to complete this in class," she began explaining, "you're free to come after school."

"Oh. . . I don't know."

I wanted to scratch my head at why she was treating me so delicately. Before I could further fumble over my words, Ms. Cherry continued.

"Anyway, your shadowing technique is very nice. Your whole portrait is coming along very nicely, in fact. The only suggestion I have is for you to include more gradation here." She pointed to the chin I was just trying to fix. When I looked back into her eyes to mumble an appreciative "Sure," her eyes crinkled and her head nodded, as if it were business as usual, but the flash of pity behind her eyes did not escape me.

And that was when I realized my teachers, all of my teachers, most likely knew what had happened this past weekend, and I was going to be given the "nice" treatment. I only hoped that everyone else would be too dense to notice.

It was also one of those days where I had developed a nervous tick. My eyes constantly saw something over my shoulder. I was seeing flickers in the corner of my vision, but turning my head, or casting an immediate glance towards the perceived movement, revealed nothing. And each time, each and every time I found myself looking, just so I wouldn't seem so completely jumpy, at the clock. Whose hands were not ticking by fast enough.

Of course, this meant that as soon as I berated myself for being weird and stopped looking at anything but the drawing I was attempting to finish, class ended.

And a backpack smacked me in the back of the head as someone rushed out. I only caught the blur of said backpack as it whipped out the door, but that wasn't what was suddenly important.

It was Edward, who was watching (me?) moodily from the hallway that was suddenly important. I tried to tell him with my eyes to wait for a moment. I tried to hurry to gather my stuff together, throwing pens haphazardly into the pit of my bag and shoving art supplies back into the containers they came from, but he didn't wait. I stumbled out into the hallway, but the amount of people I nearly ran into as they hurried back to their rooms at the end of the day made it impossible to really take my time. He disappeared.

o o o o o o o

Later on that evening, I found myself zoning out with my cell phone pressed to my ear. I didn't know why, but talking on the phone with my dad was already wearisome. I already knew what was going to happen, what was going to be said. The only surprising thing that would make talking to my dad more… interesting? would be if he wasn't concerned about me.

"And you're showering in the afternoons?" he asked, again.

"Yes," I replied quietly. "Trust me, I am."

"That's good. Good to hear, Bella."

"Yeah, Dad. I'm managing all right."

He sighed heavily. The sound took over my right ear, and I felt myself sighing with him.

"Well, it's only been a couple of days."

"I know," I said, bristling at his implication that it might go wrong still. "I keep to myself though. And most people avoid me."

Or they tried not to make it obvious they were attempting to avoid me.

We finished our conversation, my father and I, as if we were two people who suddenly didn't know one another too well. Our words were halting as we tried to neatly come to a close. But we had already said everything that could be said to one another several times over; awkward was the only mode we suddenly had. I just didn't want to think about showers in the afternoon, insurance on the duplex, which of our possessions were damaged, salvageable, or blackened beyond repair. It would have been better if my dad was physically by my side, even if we were both just staring off at the wall together with nothing to say. But he wasn't.

He couldn't be.

o o o o o o o

Mornings were already probably the hardest, when I would wake up alone, too cold to get out of bed, and wondering how I had really ended up where I was, and if I ever had a real choice in the matter.

It was also the only time I would really allow myself to look at my reflection in the mirror attached to the back of my door. I was entirely safe from others discovering my self-inspections, and I took advantage of it, nearly making myself late for Morning Prayer.

I tugged at the ends of my hair as I scrutinized my reflected image. How long before I would have to cut it again? What was an acceptably shaggy length before it started to look suspiciously girly? Would my dad be able to cut it again?

All of the possible answers to those questions faded away, my mind knowing those problems would be solved when the time came. I stared down at the bony legs poking out at the bottom of my basketball shorts that I wore to bed. The line I accidentally shaved into my leg was growing back in nicely; it was almost even with the hair on the other legs. You could barely even tell I had fucked up.

As lame as it was, my pathetic leg hair was really the only thing that was going right for me lately.

By the time I made it down to Morning Prayer, the place was pretty packed, with only a few stragglers like myself squeezing through the doors before eight o'clock. Therefore it wasn't a shock that I was stuck sitting towards the front, much closer to the altar than I had been since my very first day.

And my attention was wandering. Although my eyes weren't; they were focused on the small shelf thing on the back of the pew in front of me that held Bibles.

Truthfully, I hadn't opened a Bible since I was in elementary school. It wasn't even an actual Bible either, just a kid's version that some elderly relative had given me in the hopes that it would direct me on the path towards God better than my parents were doing at the time. Or were ever able to do, seeing as I had never opened an actual Bible.

I didn't know if that was some kind of a feat—being eighteen years old and never cracking open the spine of the Good Book. Looking at them, they were all the same; so stereotypical to everything you see in films where the runaway in the motel room pulls the Bible out of the nightstand. My mind began blocking out everything Father Joseph was saying and my fingers itched towards the binding; one moment could erase almost two decades on missing out on actually reading words in the Bible.

Nervously, I tried to surreptitiously check my surroundings, just to be sure that everyone was focused on what they should be focused on, and that no one would notice little old Ben Cheney in the front not paying attention.

But then again, I wanted to not pay attention with the Bible. Only some sort of sweet irony from the Fates would get me in trouble for that.

If the person sitting beside me was annoyed with the way I hastily jerked a Bible out, he didn't outwardly express it. Even when I had to shove the book back in its slot when I realized I had pulled out a book of homilies instead. On my second attempt I was more successful; I had an honest-to-God Bible in my hands.

It was almost directionless really, the way I began to slowly turn its pages, starting in the middle of the book. I tried to lean back and sit up straight, as if that posture would somehow show that I was paying attention… But in reality I was absorbed by the text on my lap. I wasn't even sure what I was looking for in its pages, but I knew I needed to find something… something that justified all of this—the school, which was founded on this faith, which in turn provided this scholarship—and that it was good.

Or bad, truthfully. I got this excited sort of feeling at the thought that by reading the Bible I would discover that I didn't actually like it, that it was actually as radical and bad as it was sometimes made out to be, and that it was a good thing that I sticking it to The Man by merely existing in this school that I had no biological place being in.

Yet nothing was standing out. All the jargon seemed bland and too boggling to read—that is, until one random flipping to a completely new part brought me to this page and these words:


"For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me."


And for some reason, those words really struck me. I had a physical reaction where there was some fuzzy emotion in my chest, and I believed I actually warmed at the words of comfort—something I lacked in the extreme.

I skimmed the rest of the page, marveling at how simple it could all be. For the first time I could understand mutual appreciation and faith and the comfort that they derive… just from those few sentences. I looked for more. I went to the beginning of the chapter the passage came from and searched for more—but I couldn't find any. It became difficult again, boring, the language not easy to read. Yet I kept skimming, determined.

And that was when I saw it.


"Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet."


Again, I skimmed, the meaning of that particular passage sinking in… the realization of why the Bible and religion was always so unappealing before coming back.

One last set of words jumped out.


"Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."


I closed the Bible and put it back in its place, a hollow feeling spreading behind my ribs.


Edward's POV

"When they were inventing the clock, how did they know what time it was?" Emmett asked, frowning at his computer screen before he looked over at me, truly curious.

"It was arbitrary. They probably needed time to control people back then, and assigning a number held them accountable for something," Jasper answered from his place on the bed, looking over his useless maps and patrol routes.

I sighed. "Jasper, time is not a conspiracy theory. Emmett, they had sundials before they had clocks. People always knew what time it was, they just gave it a number."

Emmett kept frowning, but I ignored him, and tried to focus on conjugating verbs in Spanish for homework. The room, Emmett's room, stayed quiet for a little while. Only the shuffling of paper and the clicks coming from Emmett's computer could be heard.

"And vegetarians don't have anything against animal crackers, right?"

Jasper and I looked at Emmett, both of us confused this time.

"Why the hell are you asking us this?" Jasper said.

"I don't know. There's a lot of weird shit on the Internet."

I could see the hours panning out ahead of me now, where I wouldn't be able to get anything done and I couldn't pretend that I was fine with my friend's nonsense when nothing was fine yet.

I sat up, gathering all my work so that I could head to the lounge.

"Vegetarians," I began, looking Emmett square in the eye, "do not have anything against animal crackers. Nor will they ever." I walked to the door to leave the room, but then one last thought struck me.

"Unless the animal crackers were baked in actual animal fat, or something," I added, and then I escaped.

I didn't end up going to the lounge like I originally planned, however. I made it down there, even turned the doorknob to go in, yet when I saw Ben's form through the small rectangular piece of glass as he hunched over to get something out of a vending machine, I came to the rapid conclusion that my room would be the safest bet at that point.

Trudging up the stairs wasn't appealing though. I figured that out as soon as I stood at the bottom of them and looked up at them as they twisted in a square up to the fourth floor. They were suddenly daunting. So another snap decision was made to walk around the hallways of the school. It was early enough that the library would still be open and they wouldn't be locking up certain corridors for the students to stay away from so the janitors could clean.

The clicking sound a door makes as it shuts happened at the same time that I was reentering the hall that passed by the lounge. Ben kept his hand on the door as it closed, seemingly to make sure it didn't slam, but with the way his eyes were on me, I couldn't hink of it as a stall tactic.

"Hey," he said.

He looked apprehensive, possibly eager to talk. I didn't procrastinate. I began walking straight past him to the main doors.

"Hey, how's it going?" I said quickly. As soon as I finished speaking, I felt a buzzing in my pocket.

"Good, you?" he replied, his tone confused.

I ignored him and pulled my phone out of my pocket—and then stopped dead.

Bree Calling

The only bit of fake manners left in me allowed me to smile tightly over at Ben one last time before I thrust the phone back in my pocket and my body out the door. The only detail I noticed was the way he clutched at a bag of salt and vinegar chips as if he wanted it to explode.

When I was outside, and the buzzing stopped, I took the phone out and silenced it. That was the most confusing—that she would call me first. In an act of self-preservation, I forced it to the back of mind.

That bag of salt and vinegar chips, though—that made me irrationally happy. Because I hated salt and vinegar chips, and it was, finally, some proof that there was something more concrete to disliking Ben.

Even though counting a type of chip he liked as a strike against him was stupid.

Even though it wasn't intentional how he crashed us down to the ground at the dance, or how my hand landed when trying to lift myself.

But I still wanted to hate him.

If none of that had happened, then none of that crap with Bree would have happened, and so at the moment it was safe to say that my emasculation at the hands of that stupid girl was entirely blamable on Ben.

It was when I found a deserted stairwell inside the school to sit in that I realized I was reaching that point where I either hated myself to my very core if I thought about it, or I didn't think about it at all. If I could just avoid the both of them… pretend they didn't exist for a little while as I figured things out… But if Ben's constant reappearing was any sign, it was going to be impossible to keep up a duck-and-cover act.

What would happen when we finally talked? Would Ben know what was going on with me? He acted like it, almost… or didn't he? I couldn't tell. If he did, was he going to admit something about himself to me? Some truth about his sexual orientation? I had this image in my head of some scene from some movie; there were two older guys, and one was definitely gay and he had to help the other one realize that he was also gay. And that "straight" guy fought all the persuasion. I could see Ben trying the same thing on me. Instead of expelling all that energy to fight against whatever he was going to say, I only wanted to tip-toe around him.

I would never admit it to anyone else, but after my ass got numb from sitting on the hard step, I went to the library. I was all smiles and my normal, likable self as I said hi to the librarians as I signed in on the after-school sheet. But I was strategic in my choice of computer. It was in a corner, with tall bookshelves mostly blocking it from other people seeing the screen.

I didn't even know where to begin. I only knew that when I couldn't handle sitting still anymore, thinking about not trying to think, that I had to test myself.

Google was obviously the first place I went to. I stared at the empty search bar, my head feeling just as empty. Eventually, though, I typed in the first word that came to mind.


I wasn't really sure what I thought was going to come up under a Google Images search for "men," but what did pop up was still sort of unexpected. A diagram of a dude in his underwear? A blonde chick? Some guy gripping at the towel around his waist? Some of it was just uncomfortable, really. The ones of guys wrapped around each other. Some of them making out. Close ups of popular actors…

Truthfully, I stared really hard at the pictures of guys in more… intimate positions. Anything caressing or tender I paid special attention to. I would click on the picture, see it in its largest possible form in order to try and get the full effect.

And when I was done, when I felt like I had been staring at half naked men long enough, thinking about the attractiveness of men long enough, I cleared the browser history and stepped away from the computer. I signed out of the library. I walked slowly back to my room.

The time it took for me to make it back to the dorm was enough for me to reflect and come to the conclusion that I didn't feel anything… different? Suspicious? But still, I had reacted to Ben… that way. I still didn't feel like I knew anything about myself.

o o o o o o o

It was eight o'clock at night and the dining center on the first floor was pretty calm. The evening rush was over, with most people eating right at six p.m. when they opened. Service was officially going to stop at eight-thirty, and if anyone was left afterward, they would all be asked to find someplace else to hang out at when the dining center finally shut completely down at nine.

Jasper, Emmett, and I were among the ten or so left sitting around, slowly finishing dinner. Other later eaters were in line, waiting to pay before they sat down. Our group, and the whole area, was quiet tonight. The only real conversation going on was about Magic: the Gathering between two people in our year that I'd never spoken to before. The amused glances passed between myself and Emmett and Jasper as we silently poked fun at them actually deluded me for a moment into feeling normal. Or that nothing had happened that should make me feel abnormal.

As much fun as wandering around and isolating myself was earlier, I quickly figured out that spiraling downwards in my head was already driving me insane in a way that scared me. And my friends would only take so much shit from me before they stopped talking to me until I came clean. Besides, their presence helped reduced most of the ugly thoughts I was having.

Someone's stomach rumbled, the sound so loud I had to turn my head and see if I could figure out who it came from.

"Dude!" Emmett exclaimed, doing all the detective work for me. "Jasper, what the hell was that?"

"I don't fucking know," Jasper replied incredulously. "I just ate."

Emmett laughed and started impersonating a woman. "Well, Jasper, you're all skin and bones. You could stand to put some more muscle on you."

Jasper rolled his eyes. "Fuck you."

He shoved his chair away from the table and dug into his pockets to pull out his student ID, walking quickly over to the food counter before it got any later. I listened to Emmett mashing chicken between his gums and decided that I was better off buying something for later than listen to him chew like a cow.

I came up behind Jasper silently, not really intending to talk to him while we were in line. But he noticed my presence and acknowledged it.


"Hey," I repeated.

"You getting something?"

"Yeah, for later," I replied, and then looked at the bags of chips.

I felt that Jasper's eyes were still on me, though, so I looked at him questioningly. He was watching me hesitantly, a frown on his face. His eyes darted around different parts of my face before they settled right on mine, his resolve clear.

"So what's crawled up your ass and died?"

"What?" I balked. "Nothing."

"Don't give me that. Just tell me what happened."

"No," I said in disbelief at the sudden interrogation. "There's nothing to tell."

"So then Emmett's right, then?"

"What's he right about?"

"You're on your period."

I scoffed. "Very funny."

Jasper raised his eyebrows loftily. "Hell, I agreed with him."

"Uh huh," I muttered, attempting to dismiss the entire conversation.

"For all I know, with the way you've been acting, you are on your period. I'm just waiting for you to confess and tell me that you're the one who left the tampon out in the open."

I groaned, disregarding the way I felt my muscles tense at the word confess. "Will you just drop it? Drop everything. The tampon thing, too. You're not going to get to bottom of it."

He turned to face me completely then, his back to the counter that we were, for some reason, only approaching slowly. "I'm not?" he questioned. "Why do you sound so confident about that?"

I responded to the weighty challenge in his voice with my own heavy dose of skepticism. "Jasper, what leads do you have in this investigation you've created? What evidence, what proof do you have?" His mouth popped open to retort, but I spoke again quickly. "You have nothing. You don't know how long it was there for before you saw it. You don't know who was in the bathroom before you, and all your evidence was flushed!"

"That wasn't my fault!" he argued. "And not only was Ben Cheney the one who flushed it, he was in there before me."

"So get him to help you."

"Pshaw… No way."

I shrugged at his attitude. "Oh well, then."

Jasper's gaze was stunned, then turned pleading. "Do you know how frustrating it is knowing you won't help me?"

He waited for me to say something, but when I wouldn't acknowledge his anguish, he carried on undeterred.

"Seriously, the tampon thing is something we all should be curious about, at the very least… Edward, it's a TAMPON. A tampon! A used, bloody tampon. In our all-male bathrooms. It just blows my mind that you were there to witness it and you don't care as much. It's…it's…" he started sputtering, evidently unable to find the words. "It's incredible, as in not credible—but it actually happened. I seriously think something is up. We're being infiltrated. There's something happening that we're not supposed to know about. And we should do something about it. It just… it isn't right."

He finished by expelling the last of the breath it took for him to go on the tirade, and I gaped at him in silence, my head at a loss for words, when big, boisterous laughter broke out at the food counter and distracted both Jasper and me from our argument.

"What was that you jus' said?" the server asked the kid in front of him.

"Uh…" the guy cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, it was obvious he was trying to lower the pitch of his voice without lowering the volume too much. "I, uh, asked what you ate for dinner."

"Yeah, bu' what was the second part?"

"What you did for dinner when you were busy serving other people theirs?" the guy restated as a question, clearly nervous. He began scratching at his back while his pitch raised again.

The server laughed. "Tha's a good one. I ain't been asked that one before." He finished arranging all of the person's food on his tray, quickly wiped down the counter with a rag he had, and flung it over his shoulder nonchalantly while he continued his conversation, forgetting about the line.

Hell, I had nearly forgotten about the line and the chips I wanted to get.

"Wha's your name, kid?" The server crossed his arms over his chest imperially.


I ignored the fact that this person was stupidly nervous enough to stutter over his own name and tried to focus on the fact that I actually knew him.

And that I was trying to keep my distance from him, but he was everywhere.

"Well, Ben," the server paused for thought, "I try ta eat somethin' decent before work, bu' other than that I sneak a bite in here and there when I can, if I can't wait till after work. Your curiosity satisfied now?" he finished with a smirk.

"Uh, yup." Ben began nodding, grabbing at his tray after swiping his ID through the reader to pay. "It is, thanks." He turned around so fast with his tray he nearly ran into Jasper.

"Whoa, watch it, Cheney," Jasper warned.

Ben ignored him, only giving me a shaky smile before darting off to sit alone in a corner of the dining center. Jasper shook his head at him and then turned around to finally order what he wanted, but I followed him with my eyes as he sat down and hunched over his tray, seeming to eat as fast as he possibly could. Again, I noticed that he kept scratching at his back.

And then I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. This time, I ignored it until the vibrating stopped, and then I looked at it.

1 Missed Call

Alice Cell

I put the phone back in my pocket, pretending that I hadn't felt the vibrating or seen the name of person whose call I missed, and grabbed a bag of chips.

"What's that?" Emmett asked me when I sat back down with my chips.

"What's what?" I wondered.

"Salt and vinegar? I thought you hated those, especially after you puked them up at the end of last year."

That was when I noticed that I had, indeed, bought a bag of chips in a flavor I despised above all other flavors on this earth, and let my chin drop onto my chest in defeat.

"I'll eat 'em if you don't want 'em," Emmett offered.

I shoved the bag across the table, and when I lifted my head again to thank him, my gaze went directly to Ben… and the piece of ace wrap that was exposed as he continued to scratch at himself. It was only visible for a second, but it was definitely there, and I saw it. This time though, instead of letting that feeling of desire to solve a puzzle pull me over to him and start asking questions, I stayed where I was sitting. There was a much stronger feeling telling me that curiosity was going to kill this cat.

o o o o o o o

The rest of dinner passed normally. I only thought minimally if I should resort to analyzing my reaction to the attractiveness of other guys in our grade after I made the mistake with the potato chips. Emmett didn't try to inform me that I was on my period also, apparently having left Jasper to do his dirty work for him. I thought I had deserved some peace and quiet, some real reprieve from people, as I lay in bed, getting ready to fall asleep early.

So when my phone buzzed again, I groaned internally, debating with myself whether or not to look at it. Not looking at it would spare me, because then I wouldn't truly know who called this time, and therefore I wouldn't have any guilt over not answering. Looking would mean that I would know, I would feel guilty, I would feel that tug to answer. And if I just finally answered, then I could get it over with, for now.

The internal war raged for only a matter of seconds before one battle was decided. I tugged the phone out, looked at the screen, and sighed. It could have been anyone out of my fifty contacts, statistically. But recent events and recent call history narrowed down my most likely caller between two people. The name flashing on the screen, I mused, was the lesser evil of the two girls.

I had only to stare at the screen for a second more before another internal battle was won and the whole war was over, taking one settling breath as I flipped open the phone and answered as casually as possible.