Rolling With the Punches

A Liley Story

Notes: So this is the start of a story that I've been working on for a while now. I'm hoping that it turns out the way I see it in my head. I'm thinking I'd like this story to span at least ten chapters, but we'll see.

Warnings: This story will contain mature themes, such as alcohol, drug use, and sexual content. There will be a homosexual relationship between two consenting adults. If this is not what you like to read, please hit the back button before you waste your time.

Summary: Sometimes the fairy tale ending isn't quite what it seems. You can only plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Chapter One:

Commencement

The mirror never lied to her, and she would never forgive it for that.

"Why tonight?" She moaned, pawing at her eyes. Hoping that her vision would magically change, she blinked twice and stared at the image of herself. "I'm going to kill him."

Pushing her hand against the frame of the mirror, she turned her face away from the view. It wasn't a complete disaster, but it was going to cause her family unending mirth. She was starting to regret housing her brother and father for the week.

"Miley, are you ready yet?" Her father pounded gently on the bathroom door.

She glanced once more at her hair and grimaced, "As I'll ever be."

Upon her exit from the bathroom, her father took one look at her once brown locks and burst into loud guffaws. She batted his shoulder, wishing he wouldn't take such delight in her pain. Even from her position in the hall, she could hear Jackson's laughter from where he stood by the front door.

"Miley…" Robby Ray could barely breathe, let alone easily force words from his mouth. He paused, took a deep breath, and then tried to finish his statement, "Miles, why is your hair bright pink?"

She folded her arms across her body defensively. "I don't know. Why don't you ask Jerkson?"

Robby dissolved into laughter once more so Miley returned to the master bedroom and grabbed her favorite pair of white stiletto heels. Her condo was nowhere near as large as her childhood home, and she could afford something much larger, but the cozy atmosphere of the four bedroom, one and a half bathroom, complete with ocean view verandah home was exactly what she wanted. Four years had passed since her graduation from high school and in those years she had done more things with her life than she had in the eighteen years previous.

Despite pressure from Robby Ray and her friends, she'd chosen to skip on college and pursue her own wanton desires. A year of globetrotting and gallivanting, however, left her feeling largely unfulfilled, so she returned to California and tried to make a name for herself in the music business – not as a singer, but as a talent scout and songwriter. Her most recent recording company had jumped at the chance to have her as a part of the team and she had set straight to work. Even though she still had Hannah's money building in the bank, she was earning plenty of cash to add to it. And every once in a while, she dusted off Hannah's wig and had a concert for charity.

"You guys ready?" She hollered down the hall as she eased to her feet and grabbed her purse. Before leaving her room, she changed her mind on the accessory and exchanged the white plastic purse for a pink pleather hand bag – she was determined to make this hair disaster work for her. Smoothing down her slim off-white dress, she hurried down the hall and to the door.

"Oh we're ready," Jackson retorted as she brushed past him and out into the warm L.A. sun, "We're waiting on you, lollipop."

She resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to push him into the grass and rub stains into his clean slacks.

Robby chuckled again, "I get it! She's wearin' white and her head is all pink! Like the stick of a lollipop and the sucker!"

"Ha-ha," She tapped her foot impatiently, "Very funny guys. Let's go."

Jackson and Robby enjoyed their joke all the way to the car. Because they walked behind her, they couldn't see the easy going smile cross her face. It was comforting to know that no matter how much her life changed, some things stayed the same. But then again, other things would never return to the way she wanted them.

Once all three Stewarts were piled into her sporty red Porsche, she revved the engine and swung out of the parking lot. A quick glance at the digital clock on the dash made her foot press harder onto the accelerator. Jackson, who was in the backseat, threw a hand forward and grabbed her seat.

"Whoa, there!" His body wobbled as she changed lanes.

"We're going to be late." She responded, eyes nailed to the road. Realizing that Jackson was going to make a snide comment, she cut him off. "I know, I know, I was the last one ready." She could see his satisfied smirk in the rearview mirror. "But I wouldn't have been if someone hadn't switched my shampoo with hair dye." The smirk died.

Twenty minutes later – and several narrow misses with yellow lights – they arrived at their destination: a banquet hall decorated with black and white balloons and banners. Miley found a parking spot and leapt from the vehicle. She didn't bother to wait for her family, instead power-walking to the building and hurrying inside. The tables were decorated with unbecoming knickknacks that Miley found extremely unattractive. Dismissing her thoughts, Miley searched the crowds for an open section. Upon spotting one, she practically ran to it and threw her body down, making sure to save two other seats for her companions. Her toes twitched as she waited impatiently for them to arrive. It felt like it took ages for that to happen, though, and she just wanted them to sit down so she could relax.

"Geez, Mile." Jackson panted when he and their father arrived. "You sure can book it."

"Or maybe you're just slow," she teased, more at ease now that she was no longer saving seats. "I'm so excited."

"You could be there, too." Robby Ray whispered, just low enough that she couldn't hear him. She knew the gist of his statement, though, and glowered at him.

"I'm productive." She demurred.

They'd had the argument so many times before that she could predict exactly how things would go. It was getting rather old, and she wished he'd just accept the choices she'd made in her life. Before they could really get into the discussion, the lights dimmed and the slow march of the music began. The gowned figures paraded past them, silent ghosts illuminated from above. They headed to the front of the room, where they took their seats.

"Did you see her?" Miley questioned, her eyes searching through all the faces in the graduating class. "I don't see her."

"Chill, Miley," Jackson pushed her shoulders, "You'll see her when she gets the diploma."

"I know." She didn't sound pleased, but she allowed herself to lean back into her chair and listen to the opening remarks and the chosen student speaker. By the time they got around to giving out the diplomas, Miley's jaw had gone slack and her eyes glazed. A sharp jab in the side from Jackson woke her from her stupor. On down the list they went, handing out diplomas to Emily Agust, and Christopher Anderson.

"Lillian Truscott."

Miley's attention piqued once more and she clapped as hard as her hands would allow. She watched with excessive pride as Lilly practically floated across the room, shook hands with all the people in charge, and accepted her diploma. The spotlights on the front of the room caught in her golden hair, which had been styled around her shoulders in gentle ripples. For a split second, Miley would have mistaken her not for the goofy best friend she grew up with, but for a movie star or model. Lilly's demeanor shattered, though, when she pumped her fists in the air.

The rest of the ceremony passed in a blur and when it was over, the room all at once filled with chatter and motion. Miley pushed her way through the crowds, looking for that glimmer of yellow hair that would be Lilly. She nearly tackled three people in her search before she found the one that had to be Lilly – the one that was standing comfortably next to a couple of giant guys and palling around with them, her gown hiked up around her waist.

"Lilly!" She yelled. Lilly spun around and eeped at the sight of Miley. They embraced tightly and Miley snuggled her mouth next to Lilly's ear, "I'm so proud of you! You did it!"

The hug lasted a few seconds longer before Lilly drew back and barked out a laugh, "Nice 'do."

Miley's hand flew to her hair and a self conscious blush colored her face. "Jackson… need I say more?"

"Of course." Lilly smiled, gazing at Miley. They were silent a moment, just content to grin in a silly fashion at one another. "Oh! Wanna come celebrate tonight?"

"I've got my dad and Jackson with me and the only keys to both the car and my condo." Miley felt a little like she had two children instead of two functioning adults.

Lilly's facial expression didn't falter, "So drop them off at home with a sitter and come party with me." She trailed her fingers along Miley's arm, raising each of Miley's tiny arm hairs.

"How can I resist that offer? I'll text you when they're occupied and you can tell me where to go."

"Score!" Lilly hollered. She leaned in quickly, pressing a kiss to Miley's cheek. "Catch you soon."

Miley waved and made her way back to the parking lot. Her family was waiting by the car and she was half expecting Jackson to get on her case about making him wait. They chattered harmlessly as Miley drove them all home. She drove more cautiously, though, so that her father and brother wouldn't guess that she was in a big hurry to ditch them. As she eased into her parking space, she turned in her seat to face Jackson in the backseat.

"Can I trust you two not to run amok in my condo?" She wished she was joking.

"Someone's got a hot daaaaaaaate." Jackson drawled, teasing.

"Game's on in twenty minutes, darlin', and we'll be watchin'. Go ahead, have a good time." Robby accepted the house keys from her hesitant fingers. "I promise. Just the game and then straight to bed."

Jackson groaned, "Dad. I'm twenty four. I think I can stay up past a lousy basketball game."

Robby winked at Miley and tugged Jackson along to the condo. She could hear them bickering all the way up until her front door swung shut. Pulling out her cell phone, she quickly sent Lilly a text. The car rumbled beneath her and she waited patiently for the device to vibrate with a return message. As soon as she got Lilly's coordinates, she had swung back onto the road. She knew the locations of all Lilly's favorite eateries like the back of her hand.

She swerved into the parking lot of Libby's Eats, dodging the occasional pedestrian. Lilly was waiting for her outside, and Miley parked quickly. Running over, she flung her arms around Lilly's shoulder for their second tight embrace of the day.

"Party's inside," Lilly jabbed a thumb through the door, "But Libby doesn't want this getting too loud."

Miley chuckled. Libby would put up with a lot before she threw her favorite customer out. Over Lilly's four years in college, she had spent more time in the small diner than she had in the school cafeteria. She looped her arm around Lilly's and walked the two of them inside where a blast of hearty cheers bombarded them. It came as no surprise to Miley that Lilly had gone out celebrating with the graduating members of the football team, along with a couple of the rowdier girls she had met. Miley loved Lilly's friends most of the time, but did find them awfully tiring.

The guys slid over, allowing space for the two small females to sit down in the cramped booth at the back of the restaurant. A pitcher of golden liquid sat in the middle of the table, half empty. A completely empty pitcher sat beside it, lying on its side as the last few drops splattered onto the checkerboard table cloth. The group grew rowdier as the night drew on, and Miley enjoyed every moment of it. She'd gone to a few college parties with Lilly in the past and couldn't help but get drawn into the craziness. While she'd been to all sorts of parties as Hannah Montana, nothing matched the intensity and enthusiasm of a party with Lilly and her gang of hooligans.

"So Lilly," Hector, one of the football players, had had a little too much to drink. He slurred his words together. "Whatcha going t'do?"

Lilly smiled, "I've already got a job lined up!"

Miley grabbed her hand, the alcohol making her actions a little sloppy. She overreached by a little bit, but managed to find the target. "Oh my God, Lilly, that's so great!"

Lilly snuggled closer to her, soaking in the praise, "I know. I'm set for life, right?"

Although she was dying to ask Lilly more about the job, Miley had to settle for dodging to the side as one of the other females at the table spilled the pitcher and the beer dripped down onto all the people sitting around. Lilly's face darkened as the amber liquid stained into her white outfit.

"Pam!" Lilly moaned, "Why?"

Pam flushed, her motions exaggerated. "Accident?"

Lilly accepted this excuse and headed for the lady's restroom to clean up. Miley followed her, pulling a Tide To-Go stick out of her purse as she stumbled after her blonde friend. Shoving the edge of the blouse under a sink, they worked together to try and get rid of the stain.

"I think it's ruined," Miley murmured, flicking her fingers at the sink to get rid of the residual water. Lilly's shoulders slumped.

"I guess it was hoping for too much to ask for a night when I didn't have something of mine wrecked."

Drying her hands more completely on a paper towel, Miley shrugged. She tossed the paper into the waste basket and wrapped her arms around Lilly's waist. They stood for a moment in front of the mirror; Miley buried her nose behind Lilly's ear and Lilly stared at the image reflected. A faint smile drifted across her face.

"It's amazing how we turned out, isn't it?"

Miley didn't budge from her spot. "Whaddya mean?"

"Me with a degree from a prestigious college. You not singing anymore. Us still best friends." Lilly answered faintly. "I'm glad we're still friends."

"Forever." Miley murmured. Lilly had always been there for her, just like she'd been there for Lilly. The best of friends through thick and thin. It was during periods of change, like this one, that she could fully appreciate her best pal. There was, however, something that had never been resolved between them.

"We should get back out there."

Lilly twisted in her grip so they were standing face to face. Eyes locked, they gazed at each other, and Lilly's demure grin faltered. Miley leaned in, her breath coming in shallow and rapid. She fancied that she could feel her veins pounding in her wrists. Her lips were nearly on top of Lilly's.

"Miley, stop." Lilly's hand pressed against her stomach. "I can't."

Miley froze, but didn't move away. She blinked a few times and let the figurative bucket of water ooze around her shoulders, dampening her actions.

"Why can't you?" She whispered. "You can't tell me you don't want this."

"It's not that I don't want." Lilly's voice was hollow, husky. "I can't."

Miley slid her hands along Lilly's back, feeling out Lilly's crevices. Lilly withdrew, creating a physical gap between the two.

"Miley, I mean it." Lilly insisted.

Finally getting the point, Miley grew embarrassed, wrapping her arms around her body like a protective shell. Her cheeks grew rosy and she took a step away, tilting her face towards the ceiling.

"I get it. Whatever."

Lilly reached out, holding onto Miley's forearm. "Miley Rae Stewart, listen to me. My job… it's in South Africa. It's an introductory position, but it's with a great company. I might be there three months, or I might be there three years. I just don't know. I can't start a relationship right when I'm about to start my life."

Miley drew her eyes away from the ceiling and fixed them on Lilly's face. "South… Africa?"

The moment between them shattered as Pam stumbled into the room and fell into a stall. The sounds of her vomiting sent Miley hurrying from the room. Lilly watched her leave with a frown tugging at her lips. Miley made her excuses to Lilly's friends and ran to her car. Though tears were tugging at her eyes, she didn't allow them to drip down her cheeks. When she got home, her father and brother were still crashed on the couch, piles of popcorn around them and opened beers sitting on her coffee table without coasters. Stifling her urge to reprimand them, Miley merely greeted them and headed to her room to change for bed.

She pulled on a pair of plain cottons pants and a baggy t-shirt. As she crawled under her covers, there came a knock on her door. Grunting, she peered out from her blanket cave and watched as her father pushed the door open. She half expected to see him holding a cup of his good old Loco Hot Cocoa. Because she had flicked the light switch previously, the room was dark and he did nothing to lighten it. The mattress depressed as he sat on the lip.

"Hey."

She pulled the blankets back over her face. "Mph."

A moment later she felt his hand rubbing her back and she sunk her face into the pillows.

"What happened with Lilly?"

She shifted so her mouth was no longer trapped amongst her bedspread. "She's leaving."

"Her job." Robby guessed.

"To South Africa." Miley groaned. "And I have to pretend to be jazzed for her or she'll get upset."

"I'm sorry, darlin'. But she'll be back, right?"

Miley shrugged, "She doesn't know when. All I know is that she doesn't want me around when she's about to start her life."

He chuckled as she air-quoted the last three words of her statement, but bit his tongue when she eyed him with no humor in her gaze.

"I don't know what to tell you." He admitted. "You could wait for her. You live your life as best you can and hope that when she comes back, you're both ready to be on the same page. Or you could try and forget her. There are other fish in the sea."

Miley nodded, rubbing the corners of her eyes. "I know… But knowing doesn't make it easier. Daddy, she's been my best friend for so long, I thought nothing would ever step between that."

"It doesn't have to."

"How is South Africa not stepping between the friendship?" Her tone turned exasperated, which she regretted. "I'm sorry. You're just trying to help."

"There is such a thing as a telephone," he reminded her gently, "and letters and internet ."

She leaned over and wrapped her arms around him. "Thanks, Daddy."

He returned the embrace with a quick squeeze, "My pleasure."

They pulled apart and she gave him a sad smile. "I'll be fine tomorrow. Promise."

"Okay, sweet pea. I'm going to go finish the game with Jackson." He walked to the door and she curled back up. He hesitated a moment before returning to her side and tucking her in. "Night."

"Night."

The door clicked shut behind him and she dug her nose into her pillow, inhaling the soothing lavender scent of her fabric softener. Alone at last, she let her tears seep out and soak her pillow. Soon enough she had fallen asleep and her tears dried.