"She's not worth it, you know," Cassie told him casually, not really looking at him as she sat down on the steps next to him. Nick thought about ignoring her, but then thought better of it-after all, he knew from past experience that she really wasn't going anywhere (a fact which rarely irritated him, because she was completely unlike some people who never seemed to stick around, really, and he wasn't naming any names, but pretty much everyone else who'd ever been important to him had he ever wanted to delve that deeply into the matter).

Sometimes he thought he must be one hell of a piece of work to only have one person stick with him. And sometimes he wondered if he could ever break out of the cycle he was in, or if he was just so screwed up-if they were just so screwed up-that they'd just keep going around and around and around the same way forever.

"I really hate it when you get all maudlin," Cassie continued conversationally when he failed to reply. "That's supposed to be my schtick, you know, with the teenage angst and all. You're supposed to be way over yourself by now." Nick couldn't help but chuckle as he looked over at her, nudging her shoulder with his own.

"You shouldn't have interrupted me. I was about to write some really awful poetry, you know." They smiled at each other for a moment until his faded, and he sighed and looked down at the ground again. Cassie waited expectantly for him to continue, and he chuffed out a self-deprecating laugh. Why was it that, when it came to relationships, he always got mopey like a kid and Cassie pulled him up by his bootstraps like she was the adult? "How do you know it's not just me that's not worth it?" he asked softly, fully sharing his biggest insecurity. He glanced over at her, noticing the thoughtful expression on her face. She picked up his hand, holding it between hers, and answered.

"Think I'd waste my time with someone who wasn't?" Her eyes met his, and this time his smile didn't fade quite so fast.

It was the same old story, really, just a different day. Maybe he was a sucker, maybe he was just stupid-either way, whenever Kira beckoned, he came running, and Cassie usually got relegated to the shadows. But then the old story became a new story, and it all happened without him even realizing it.

Kira was his first everything-first kiss, first base, first love, first sex-but she was also his first everything, and he didn't know how to let her go, even after he realized he wanted to. Because, in the grand scheme of it all, Kira had lied to him, had used him, had maybe loved him, had come back, to be sure, but had left as many times as she returned.

The last time she left, he sat outside on the stairs of the small brownstone building he and Cassie were renting a cracker-box apartment in and came to the conclusion that he was tired of the dysfunctionality, the simultaneous apprehension and misery of wondering if/when she'd be back, tired of the knowing, deep down, that he was really just wasting his time with her. And wondering if, really, that's all he was good for-someone to waste time with. And as he confessed this fear to Cassie and she held his hand, he realized this: They led screwed-up lives. That didn't mean they had to be screwed up themselves.

Kira returned (again) on a Tuesday by her usual methods-a note left in his mailbox to come meet her at some seedy motel near wherever he and Cassie were staying, where undoubtedly: 1) She would cry and apologize for her past misdeeds, promising to change; 2) He would forgive her; 3) They would have sex (because he always felt so cold and empty inside afterward that it couldn't be making love anymore, could it?); 4) He would lay awake while she slept, feeling guilty for leaving Cassie alone (again); 5) They would return to whatever place Nick and Cassie were staying at; and 6) Cassie would become unbearably quiet for the two or three weeks it took for Kira to leave them (just him, really) again.

But that was the same old story.

Cassie had been the one to grab the mail (they had to clear out the junk, after all), chattering excitedly to Nick about some concert or other that she wanted to go to, when all of a sudden she stopped. He turned around to find her staring at the pink envelope now on top of the pile, his name written on it in the large, distinctive handwriting that both of them had come to recognize long ago. For a moment, neither of them moved, but then Cassie wordlessly handed the envelope to him, not making eye contact, and muttered something about being tired, leaving the room.

He sat down heavily at the table, slowly opening the envelope and pulling out the white square of paper within. Royal Inn. 5:30. Room 3B. On autopilot (because when he got a note from Kira, he went to her, had always gone to her, would always go to her), he checked his watch and saw it was 4:30 already, so he headed to the bathroom to comb his hair, splash some water on his face, check out his reflection in the mirror and silently ask himself what the hell he was doing (again). But Cassie opened her bedroom door as he passed, surprising him and her, and he stared at her for a long moment, taking in her dejected posture, how she still wouldn't make eye contact with him, and a little piece of his mind started niggling at him-she doesn't want you to go. Has she ever really seemed okay when you've left, though? He (mostly, momentarily) ignored it enough to walk toward the door, halting when he heard her say quietly, "When are you going to stop hurting yourself?"

His only answer was to walk out the door, down the stairs, away from Cassie, those last words echoing in his head.

He arrived at the Royal Inn, at 5:22, standing hesitantly in front of Room 3B, his fist hovering over the door. The motel was (as usual) grungy, the few people walking through the parking lot were (as usual) unsavory, and he was (unusuallly enough) filled with trepidation. Why did this feel so wrong (moreso than usual)? He couldn't get Cassie's words out of his head. He was hurting himself doing this. But he felt compelled to be here at the same time. He was torn and conflicted and unhappy, really. He remembered his realization from the last time: He led a screwed-up life. He didn't have to be screwed up himself. And he was the only one who could break this cycle. He could, couldn't he? He was worth having a better life, wasn't he?

Yeah. Cassie wouldn't waste her time with someone who wasn't. He smiled up at the sky, turned around, and left.

That was how the new story began.

Author's Note: Yes, Part 2 is in the works. Might take a couple weeks though. :(