Disclaimer: I do not own JONAS or Princeton University.
A/N: I was supposed to be betaing stories for MissNata13 and Poet on the Run, but it had been so long since I had written anything I decided to finish this up. So hopefully they'll forgive me. Special thanks to kolirox for encouraging me while I wrote this. And don't forget to get your nominations in for the Horace Mantis JONAS awards by February 15.
Macy was officially weirded out.
She had come over to the firehouse for their usual Friday-night movie marathon, except nothing was usual about it. From the moment she had walked in the front door, it had felt like she was in some weird parallel universe. Kevin kept randomly running up and hugging her, which she wasn't complaining about except that he'd made her spill her soda twice already. Stella kept sniffling dramatically and bringing up random memories from their friendship like they hadn't seen each other in years, even though she had only left Macy's house a few hours ago. And Joe had randomly gotten out his camera and kept making them all pose for photos, but he wouldn't explain why this normal get-together was so Kodak-worthy.
Then there was Nick.
Nick who smiled sadly at her and said hello when she first arrived, but who hadn't said a word to her or anyone else since. She knew he could be silent and moody sometimes, but this was way beyond his regular quietness. She wasn't sure if he was brooding or sulking, but either way it was distracting.
The four of them were starting to give her a headache, and she was seriously considering going home even though they hadn't even watched a movie yet. She was already stressed trying to make up her mind about college; she didn't need to deal with the madness that seemed to be taking over the Lucas household.
Glancing around the family room, she noticed that if she was stealthy, she could probably sneak out the front door un-noticed. Stella and Joe had gone upstairs to upload the pictures onto Joe's laptop, and Kevin was putting Frankie to bed. Sighing in relief, she stood up and quietly made her way towards the door.
"Where are you going?"
Nick's voice was so unexpected that she actually dropped her purse in surprise. Turning slowly, she glowered at him. "Wow," she muttered sarcastically. "He speaks."
He raised an eyebrow at her.
"What?" She asked defensively. "You've been sitting over there brooding all night. It was like having a black hole in the middle of the couch."
"I wasn't brooding," Nick insisted. "I was just thinking really hard. And what's with people comparing me to natural disasters? First Kevin calls me a volcano, and now I'm a black hole."
Shrugging, Macy said, "You're an enigma. We're just trying to put you into a context we can understand." Glancing nervously upstairs, she turned back towards Nick and asked, "What was up with everyone tonight?"
"What do you mean?" Nick asked innocently. Macy rolled her eyes at the curly-haired musician before he added, "Hey, congratulations on the college thing, by the way."
She was caught off-guard by the change of subject. "Thanks."
Now that Nick was actually speaking, she figured she should probably stay, so she moved back across the family room and sat next to him on the couch. Of course, he picked that moment to go silent again. But just as she was considering trying to make an escape, he blurted out, "I didn't know you wanted to get away from New Jersey that badly."
"The schools. It's pretty obvious you wanted to get away. I mean you didn't apply to a single school within 300 miles of here. And most of them are across the country. Thousands of miles away."
Macy blinked in surprise. He actually sounded upset or offended, like she was trying to get away from him personally. Which she actually sort of was, but there was no way he could know that.
"Not all of them," she said weakly.
"Really? Cause all twelve Stella mentioned seemed pretty far away to me."
Looking down at her hands, she wondered if she should tell him the truth – that she had applied to a school Stella didn't know about. She wasn't even sure why she had done it, why she had decided to keep it a secret. But he sounded so annoyed with her that it made her want to tell him.
So quietly that she wasn't even sure he would hear, she whispered, "I actually applied to thirteen."
"What?" Nick sounded genuinely surprised. "Did Stella forget one?"
Macy shook her head. "I didn't tell anyone about the other one. Cause I wasn't sure I would get in. And even if I did, I wasn't sure I wanted to be that close to home."
"Did you get in?" Nick asked, trying unsuccessfully to sound casual.
She nodded again.
"Macy, did you get into Princeton?" He asked.
Something in his voice made her look up at him, and her breath caught at the intense look in his eyes. She had no idea what he was thinking, but when she managed to stutter out an affirmative answer she thought he seemed relieved.
But then why was he frowning?
"Why don't you want to be close to home?" He asked accusingly.
He was asking the same question she had been struggling with herself. Part of her desperately wanted to be close to home – to her parents and her friends and to the boy sitting next to her who would never see her as more than a friend. But another part of her wanted to escape – to get as far away from everything as possible. That part of her wanted to go someplace new where she wouldn't be the sidekick best friend or the crazy fangirl; someplace she could reinvent herself.
"I don't know," she said, sounding frustrated. "I just think that if I go to Princeton, I'll be stuck in the middle, and I won't fit in anywhere. I know I'll want to come home and see you and my parents and Stella on the weekends, which will make it hard to make friends at school. But then when I'm home, I'll just be the tag-along, fifth-wheel like always. But even worse because I won't be part of your everyday life anymore. Which is why it would be better for me to go really far away."
"What do you mean tag-along?"
"You know," Macy said, gesturing dramatically. "You guys got stuck with me because I'm Stella's best friend. Not that you guys aren't really nice about it, but it's not like you actually wanted to be friends with me."
"Is that what you think?" Nick asked incredulously.
"It's the truth," Macy insisted, feeling her eyes prickle with unshed tears as she thought about her relationship with the Lucas brothers. "I spent the first six months we knew each other bruising you with sports equipment and fainting. You guys should be up for sainthood for putting up with me."
She was startled when Nick gently put his hand on her knee. "That's not true, Macy."
"You don't have to be nice, Nick," she said with a watery smile.
"I'm not being nice!" He said fervently. "Why do you think everyone was acting so crazy tonight?"
Shaking her head, she said, "I have no idea. Cause you're all insane?"
"Because we all realized that you're leaving and that we're going to miss you!"
Tears began to slide down her cheeks as she processed what he had just blurted out. She had known that Stella would miss her, but she figured her best friend would be so busy traveling around with the band that it wouldn't really impact her. And it had never (not even in her wildest dreams) occurred to her that any of the brothers would even notice that she had gone.
"Macy, how do you not know how important you are to us?" He asked, running one hand through his curls in frustration. "Do you honestly think Kevin goes to feed the ducks with you every Saturday because you're friends with Stella? Or that I show you my songs before anyone else because I'm trying to be nice? We care about you Macy, and none of us want you to go. Especially me."
Normally she would try and convince herself that he was just being kind or that she was reading too much into what he was saying, but he was so obviously sincere that she couldn't help but believe him. And just knowing that Nick Lucas would miss her filled her stomach with butterflies. As she smiled at him, she became aware that he was sitting very close to her.
Unable to express everything she was feeling, she finally said, "Princeton is a really good school."
He laughed and his entire body seemed to relax at her words. "It's an excellent school," he agreed, and she almost gasped as he reached over and took one of her hands in his. "In fact, I've always wanted to visit, but I never knew anyone who could show me around."
She was pretty sure that he was flirting with her, which was possibly the strangest thing that had happened that night. "I could probably arrange something," she stammered out. She was having trouble thinking straight as he ran his thumb across her knuckles.
"I'd like that," he said with a smile. Then he leaned a little closer so he was talking quietly into her ear; so close she could feel his warm breath on her skin. "And I think I know a way we could solve your fifth-wheel problem."
"You do?" She squeaked.
"What if I asked you out? Then you'd be coming home to visit your boyfriend. And Kevin could be the fifth-wheel."
Her heart was pounding loudly in her chest as she said, "That would solve that problem."
"Is that a yes?"
"Are you actually asking me out?"
He smiled at her and said, "I'm really asking you out."
"Then that's definitely a yes."
And then he was kissing her and cradling her face in his hands. When he pulled away, all she could think to say was, "Go Tigers."