You wake up slowly, one eye cracked only the slightest bit against slatted lines of obscenely bright sunshine patterned across the ceiling. The entire room is filled with the distinctive smell of sweat and sex, shoving away the developing hangover-induced headache in favor of grim thoughts at exactly what trouble you'd gotten yourself into this time, and that's when you realize that you don't have the first clue where you are.

Forcing the other eye open, you wince at the bright light reflecting off an equally bright white ceiling, hangover not entirely pushed away. With a single, slowly-released deep breath, you lick chapped lips and prop yourself up on your elbows, looking around the room. A sinking, sickening feeling that has nothing to do with the copious amounts of alcohol you must have consumed the night before settles in your gut when you recognize the framed posters on the walls, the books on the desk, the backpack tossed carelessly on the floor by the door to the closet. You unwillingly let your eyes drift to your right, half-hoping you were alone in the bed, and the feeling in your gut spreads into your chest at the sight of a tousled blonde head half on the other pillow, resting more on folded arms, a tanned set of broad shoulders and upper back exposed.

"Shit," you mutter, pressing the heel of one hand to your forehead and wondering how you'd gotten yourself into this mess, struggling to remember the previous night's events.

It was still early. Maybe not for the rest of the world, as a clock on the table next to you flashed 11:46 PM, but you're in college and the nights never start until midnight anyways. Music is pounding around you, people dancing drunkenly in front of you, a severely intoxicated and severely stupid boy drooling at your gymnastics-toned body on the couch next to you, but you're simply staring moodily down into the plastic cup full of watery beer in your hand.

The boy next to you leans closer, clumsily putting his arm around your shoulders. You look at him sideways, one eyebrow raised, expressionless, and he finally gets the point. Years of practice when you were younger had let you perfect a downright terrifying stare to direct at your opponents; it was similarly handy in warding off intoxicated morons.

"Hey," someone says, quietly enough that you barely hear it over the music. The couch cushions sink as someone sits down next to you, and you look over in preparation to issue yet another death stare, only to see Mena sitting awkwardly, blonde hair let down from its usual severe ponytail, gripping tightly to a mostly-full beer bottle.

"Hey," you say, just as quietly. You see Mena all the time now, almost as much as you did when you were both training together at Vick's, because somehow you'd both ended up in Division I college gymnastics at the same school three years ago; even so, you both barely speak of anything of importance. Gymnastics is discussed, and ravings about the coaching staff; classes, occasionally. You interact in practice, having declared at the beginning of freshman year for all the team to hear that you were going to corrupt her eventually, and meet up a couple of times a week between classes and got some coffee, breaking coach-regimented diet with coffee cake and double chocolate chip muffins while speaking of mindless things. Sometimes you see Frank with her, arm wrapped around her shoulders in his consistently and annoyingly casual way. He'd buzzed off all his hair at some point. It looked good.

"How'd you end up here?" You ask eventually, shifting slightly to face her at least a little bit. Lack of serious interaction aside, you've somehow started considering her a friend, and despite your determination to continue as everyone's favorite sarcastic-but-loveable asshole, you don't want to be rude.

"My suitemate," she says, her eyes a little too wide. "She's been chasing some guy for about a week now, and decided that tonight was her night."

"And you're her wingman?"

"Something like that," Mena responds, taking a small sip of her beer. You can't help but smirk at the face she pulls at the taste of the beer.

"Not a big drinker, are you?" It's a statement, not a question.

"Not really." She looks down at the bottle in her hand distastefully.

"Probably doesn't help that you're drinking shit beer," you remark, setting your own cup next to the flashing clock. You reach out and take the bottle from her, shaking your head disdainfully at the label.

"I am?"

"Unless you like drinking the alcoholic equivalent to Wal-Mart brand Pepsi."

She giggles, in her prototypical Mena way, and you can't help but grin.

"You should try real alcohol sometime. Something that actually tastes good."

"Like what?"

You hesitate, evaluating her through level eyes, frustrations from the entire week that had plagued you through the whole party forgotten. She meets your gaze, but only barely, wavering a bit like she always does. You can't remember a time when she's stood up for herself.

You stand slowly, leaving the beer bottle abandoned with your own drink, and grab her wrist, pulling her gently after you. The two of you leave the party in silence, grateful at the chilly silence of the night as you lead her down the road a few blocks to where your own apartment sits, barely off campus, with a cabinet full of liquor and a fridge full of good beer.

You scrunch up your eyes, the memory going fuzzy. You know that you'd been in a terrible mood, going to the party only because you'd promised a friend to make an appearance. Earlier that day, at practice, you'd face a vicious tongue-lashing from your coach, the likes of which you'd never experienced. You weren't used to people in the gymnastics world not being in something akin to awe at your natural talent, your consistent ability to pick up trick after trick with minimal practice. The lecture had left you in a funk the entire day, broody and moody through all your classes, through walking to the party and staking out the couch.

You look over at Mena again. A wave of guilt hit you. Mena was Frank's. You'd introduced them. You'd encouraged Frank when he'd been uncharacteristically hesitant at asking her out. You'd talked him up to her nonchalantly during practices. He was Frank—your brother, your buddy, your best mate, the one who was always there silently to help with whatever she needed, when even Poot failed to help—and you'd gone and screwed his girlfriend.

"This is disgusting!" Mena exclaims, gagging. She pushes the bottle across the table, back towards where you sat, laughing.

"It grows on you," you say, taking a hearty swig of your own, relishing in the burn that spread down your throat. "Come on, try it again." You hold the bottle out to her, swirling the vodka around. "This time," you add, hopping out of your seat and grabbing a beer out of the fridge, popping the top off expertly. "Chase it."

She looks at you doubtfully, so very much the naïve Mena you've always known her as, despite the fact that her eyes were starting to cloud the slightest bit after her second shot.

"Go on," you say encouragingly, smiling the same smile that got you out of trouble time and again, even at nineteen years old.

She sighs, taking the two bottles, and takes a deep breath before swallowing another shot of vodka, spluttering once more, like the two times before.

"Chase it," you repeat, motioning towards the beer bottle, and she does, taking a long pull from it. "See? Not so bad, is it?"

"It's disgusting," she says again. "It's like rubbing alcohol."

"The vodka is," you shoot back, shaking your head and reclaiming the bottle, swallowing the equivalent of at least two shots. She offers you the beer, and you take it gratefully, chasing the rubbing alcohol down to your stomach, soothing the burn in your throat. "But the beer doesn't taste so bad anymore, does it?"

She blinks twice in her wide-eyed surprised way, your comment obviously unexpected. "You're right," she says, voice betraying her surprise, looking curiously at the beer in your hand. You give it back to her, going back to the fridge and pulling out the rest of the case.

Mena stirs slightly, wrapping her arms tightly around one the many pillows on the bed and rolling onto her side, back to you, pillow pulled tight against her front. You freeze, holding your breath, hoping against hope that she doesn't wake up.

You walk her back to her dorm building. You've both had plenty, splitting the case of beer, but she's considerably more drunk than you. You've been doing this for years. She hasn't. You feel responsible for her beyond-smashed state, and know, somewhere in your drunken haze, that you would feel like the biggest asshole on the planet if something happened to her on the walk home. So, you're walking her home, hands tucked into your pockets casually as she rambles on about your gymnastics coach.

You wind up in her dorm suite, leaning against the wall in her single bedroom and asking her how she'd been so lucky as to get a single room, when there were freshmen sleeping four to a two-person room.

"Coach," she said simply, stumbling slightly and plopping down on her bed. "She went and yelled at the housing people." She kicked her shoes off. "Said that she wanted the whole team to have their own rooms. She's confusing like that."

You laugh, torn between being surprised that your coach cared that much and being surprised that she had that much sway. She was probably sleeping with someone, since you know she has all the persuasive powers of a dead cat. Mena laughs with you, pushing herself to her feet again.

"Thanks," she says. "For walking me home."

"S'all good," you say, shoving your hands back in your pockets. You're both at least a bit unsteady on your feet.

"You can stay here," she says suddenly, and immediately flushes bright red, like always. "I mean... you can crash here, if you want. Since you walked me home and all."

"Sure." Your casual and unhesitant acceptance surprised both of you. "Thanks."

Ten minutes later, you're lying on your back on her double bed, semi-aware of her next to you. You're half asleep when you hear her whisper your name, drawing you to look over.


"Why were you mad earlier?"

You hesitate, the question unexpected. "Nothing major," you say, with forced nonchalance.

"You're lying," she says, surprisingly candid with a third of a case of beer and some vodka in her system.

"Who isn't?" you shoot back, pleased with your philosophical response.

She doesn't answer for the longest time, and you think she's fallen asleep, until you feel her shift onto her side, propped up on one elbow, staring at you.

"You can tell me, y'know," she says. Her words are slurring together now, though you can't really tell if it's from the alcohol or her being sleepy or some combination of the two. You shift onto your right side, mirroring her position, one eyebrow raised skeptically. "You don't have to," she adds, hiccupping unexpectedly, drawing a giggle from both of you. "But you can. You're my friend." She hiccups again, clapping one hand over her mouth and flushing red. She flops back onto her back, hands pressed over her face. You can't help but laugh.

You both laugh for what feels like forever, her hiccups inexplicably hilarious. You end up lying on your side, staring at the blue sheets underneath you through half-lidded eyes. Mena has flopped down onto her stomach, rolled right up next to you, watching you watch the wrinkle in the sheet that flutters the slightest bit every time you exhale. You're starting to drift off towards sleep, eyes closing a little more every few seconds, your entire body relaxing. It doesn't even register when you feel the warmth seeping into your side, where you and Mena are somehow relaxing into one another.

You look over at her eventually. Her eyes are unfocused and half-closed, mouth slightly open. The pillow shifts as you turn your head to look at her, and she opens her eyes slightly, looking at you sleepily. She smiles, the same innocent and sweet smile you've seen her give Frank so many times.

Quite suddenly, your alcohol-addled brain not moving fast enough to keep up with your rebellious body, you shift closer and kiss her.

You pull away, stopping the kiss as suddenly as it had started, leaving Mena laying there next to you, still, eyes closed. Her eyes flutter opened slowly, meeting your own.

"I…" you stammered. "I mean, I… sorry!" You're talking louder than you probably need to. "I'm sorry, I mean. I shouldn't have… you… I mean, you're w—"

She cuts your babbling off by abruptly kissing you, leaving you shocked into silence at the feeling of her lips pressing against yours with more pressure and insistence than you ever would've expected from awkward, quiet Mena. Then again, you never would've guessed Mena to be one to take control of any situation, much less a very comprising, very drunken, very horizontal one.

You can't stop yourself from returning the kiss, letting your eyes slide shut as one hand wanders to her hip of its own accord, two fingers hooking lightly into one belt loop of her jeans, tugging her close. You can't stop yourself, despite your surprise at her actions, when you feel an uncertain hand sliding under the hem of one of your trademark t-shirts, fingers with the slightest tremble tracing your ribs slowly. The last remaining sober part of your mind disappears when she shifts onto her back and pulls you on top of her, both hands under your shirt and traversing up and down the skin of your back; you move to taste the skin of her neck and lose all ability to reason.

Mena shifts in her sleep again, and you jerk back to the present with a sharp inhalation and a hand clapping over your mouth. She rolls onto her back, the pillow still half-grasped in one arm, the other arm tugging the sheet up unconsciously. You feel your cheeks flush hotly when you can't keep your eyes from wandering across her bare shoulders, to the subtle curve of her collarbone, the hollow of her throat, the glaringly obvious (to you, at least) bruise on her neck that you very, very vividly remember creating. Your lips tingle slightly under your hand at the memory; you know it's probably physically impossible for the salty taste of her skin to still be on your lips, but you're convinced it's there anyways.

You tear your eyes away from Mena's form, biting your lip and shifting slowly, sliding carefully out of the bed. Holding your breath the whole time, you search for your clothes, feeling disgusted at how many times you'd done this exact same thing in the past, and dress quickly. You run a hand through your hair, hoping it doesn't look too obviously like just-been-banged hair, and make a mad dash for it, pausing only momentarily to look back at her sleeping form before you slide out into the hallway and shut the door softly.

By the time you make it back to your apartment and shut the door behind you, your hands are shaking. You stand awkwardly in the middle of your bedroom, fingers twitching constantly. Even the deep breaths you use before a competition to steady your nerves aren't helping. With a muttered curse, you dig your cell phone out of your pocket and flip it open, hitting the speed dial. It rings four times.

"'Lo?" Poot's voice is gruff and sleepy, and you only then think to look at the clock. It's 9:43 on a Saturday morning.

"Hello?" He says again, slightly more awake. Knowing him, he's about to hang up and go back to sleep.

"Poot, hey," you say, determined to keep your voice level. You're still not able to keep your voice from cracking slightly.

"Cracker?" he says sleepily. "Dude, it's like super early…"

"Yeah, yeah," you say impatiently, chewing on your thumbnail. "Look, I… I mean, what happened was…" You can imagine him sitting up in bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and a hand through his hair, trying to decipher your stammering.

"What happened?"

"I…" You can't bring yourself to say it. "I mean, it's like…"

"Come on, Hales," he says impatiently. "What's up?"

"I don't know!" You're halfway to shouting now, the hand not holding the phone grabbing at your hair. "It's early and I'm tired and I'm hung over and I definitely slept with Mena last night and I don't know what the hell happened!"

The other end of the line is silent. Poot was never the quickest to catch onto things.

"…Mena?" he squeaks. "Like, Frank's Mena, Mena?"

"Yeah," you say dejectedly. "Frank's Mena."

"You… and her… together? I mean, you guys like… did the nasty and all that junk?"

"Yes," you whisper.

"Oh, shit," he says, sounding bewildered. "How the—what hap—I mean, what?"

"That's pretty much what I'm thinking," you say, slumping against the closed bathroom door, running a slightly trembling hand through your hair nervously. "I mean, I remember…well, most of it. I wasn't that drunk." You feel your cheeks flush as you close your eyes and recount your memories. "I just… I don't know how it happened, man. I kissed her first, but I know I apologized, and then she just grabbed me and kissed me again and one thing lead to another and—"

"Whoa, whoa, slow down," he says. "First, calm the hell down. Take a deep breath or meditate or whatever. Just don't hyperventilate on me, okay?"

You sigh, rubbing a hand over your eyes. "Okay," you say, forcing yourself to sound calm.

"Sweet," he says. "Okay. Now, uh, have you talked to Mena about this?"

"No," you say. "She was still out when I left."

"Heartbreaker," he says, and you can almost hear the smirk that was playing across his lips. "Love 'em and leave 'em."

"Not funny, Poot!" you shout, your precarious hold on calm slipping. "You're really not helping here, dammit!"

"Okay, okay, sorry," he says hurriedly. "Okay. Well, I mean, I think you should go back and talk to her about it, okay? Do the girly-bonding thing or whatever. Paint your toenails and eat ice cream. Whatever. But you need to talk to her, Hales."

You slam your head back into the door behind you, wishing it would knock you unconscious. You hate it when Poot gets insightful and gives advice, especially when it' good advice and you know he's right. You don't want to have to face Mena again, not for a very long time and preferably always somewhere public so she won't let herself break down or flip out, and you really don't want to have to face Frank, because you know that's what Poot's going to say next.

"And you need to tell Frank," he says, his voice soft. You roll your eyes, hating that he's right.

"I know," you mutter, clenching your eyes shut. You inhale deeply, letting the breath out slowly, and force yourself to open your eyes. "You're right," you add. "Thanks, man."

"Sure thing, Hales," he says, his voice till quiet. "Now that we got that settled, can I like…go back to bed? I mean, you know I love you and all, but I'm beat and it's wicked early…"

"Yeah," you say with a smile. "Go back to bed."

"Sweet," he says, and you can hear him dropping down onto his bed through the phone. "Later, cracker."

"Bye," you whisper.

You end up spending the whole day hiding in your apartment, grinding out more push-ups, sit ups, and chin ups than you normally do in a week of practice, or pacing, or staring despondently at the ceiling above your bed. Anything to avoid actually going out and talking to Mena. Your phone sits on the bedside table, turned off. You're too afraid of Mena or Frank calling to turn it on.

By the time the clock on your wall clicks to three in the afternoon, you feel like you'll explode if you stay in the apartment much longer. You haul yourself up off the bed determinedly and stumble into the bathroom, nose wrinkling at the fact that you smell like sweat and your hair still has the freshly-banged look. Avoiding looking at your reflection any more, you strip down and climb into the shower, relishing momentarily in the hot water as it hits the sore muscles in your back and shoulders. Too many push-ups had left you sore.

You climb out of the shower, standing in a towel in the steamy bathroom. Wiping the mirror clean, you stare at your reflection, relieved that the sex hair hadn't somehow survived a thirty minute shower and six washings.

You walk back into your room, damp fingers fumbling with the stereo until the Clash starts blaring loudly from the speakers. You dress slowly, focusing all your attention on the act of drying yourself, selecting the clothes you want, and putting them on. Then you clean your room, jamming to the music as it shifts to the Sex Pistols; it's the first time you've cleaned your room in months.

When your clothes are neatly put away, carpet vacuumed, music collection organized, and school books stacked neatly on your small desk, you find yourself standing in the middle of your room, hands hanging limply at your sides, at a loss for another distraction. You need to get out of the apartment, and now.

You automatically shove your still-turned-off phone into one pocket, iPod into the other, and wallet into your back pocket, and reach for your favorite sweatshirt—the semi-shrunken black one from some X-Games-esque tournament that Frank had failed miserably in, prompting him to give you the sweatshirt—before you pause. Your hand hovers by the sweatshirt, hesitant, as if touching something given to you by Frank would make you spontaneously combust, like a vampire in sunlight.

Shaking your head, you grab the sweatshirt and shrug it on, determinedly not caring, and pick up your keys. Setting your shoulders, you walk out of the apartment.

You walk with no destination in mind, music turned up too loud, with your hands shoved in your pockets and shoulders slumped. One playlist ends, and then another. Halfway through the third one, you come to a halt outside one of the campus' many coffee shops. This one is closest to the gym where the team trains, the one where you and Mena go to break your coach's diet and down coffee and coffee cake.

After standing outside the shop quietly for two full songs, you walk inside slowly, blinking repeatedly until your eyes adjust to the dimly lit room. Pulling the headphones out of your ears, you shuffle over to the counter. "Hey, coffee wench!" you say automatically, your voice coming out much stronger and more casual than you expected as you wave at the pink-haired girl behind the counter.

"Heya," the girl says, grinning at you. "Where's your partner in crime?"

You realize abruptly that you've never actually come in here before without Mena—you like coffee, but not that much, and tend to prefer a nice bottle of Dr. Pepper for your caffeine.

"Who knows?" You say with a forced shrug. "Haven't seen her all day." Thankfully, you know that you've always been a good liar.

"Isn't that sad?" she says teasingly. "Well, what can I get you?"

"I… don't know," you mutter lamely. You stare at the menu boards helplessly, trying desperately to remember what that whip-covered icy drink that Mena introduced you to was called.

"You know what?" she says with a soft smile. "I got you covered."

You blink, tearing your eyes away from the boards, and watch as she turns her back to you, mixing a drink. Ninety seconds later, she presents you with two whip-covered icy drinks in a tray and a bag with what's probably coffee cake.

"You're a good liar, kid," she says, smirking. "But I'm better. Whatever happened with you kids, go sort it out." She shoves the drinks and bag into your hands. "Get out of here."

"Uh…" you say stupidly, staring at her with wide eyes. "What?"

She rolls her eyes exaggeratedly, flicking short pink hair out of her face. "Look," she says slowly. "Working in a coffee shop is like being a bartender. You get good at reading people, and I've been watching you two come in here for the last two years. It's not obvious, but it's there, okay? I don't know if it's just that you're friends who happen to click, or something more, but whatever it is that's got you looking like your dog died while you sulk around here alone for the only time in two years, you need to sort it out with her."

"Uhm," you say, shaking your head slightly. "Okay?"

"Welcome," she says pleasantly, winking. "Now get out of my coffee shop."

"Yeah…" You shake your head once more, hands tightening on the drinks and bag, before you turn slowly and shuffle back out of the coffee shop. The barista's voice echoes in your head as you inadvertently walk towards Mena's dorm. It's not until you're standing in front of her door that you feel the urge to run. And just as you're tensing up to turn around and bolt back to the safety of your apartment, the door opens to reveal Mena standing there tiredly with hair still wet from a shower, in carelessly thrown on jeans and a sweatshirt, circles under her eyes and shoulders slumped. The both of you step back unwittingly, and you almost drop the coffee tray.

"Hi," she says awkwardly after a few moments, after you'd opened and closed your mouth twice, unable to think of anything to say. She hasn't moved an inch, one hand still on the doorknob, the other clutching her keys so tightly her hand is shaking.

"Hey," you say. Your voice cracks, and you lick your lips, swallow, and try again. "Uh, yeah. I… well, I guess we should… you know, talk or something. And I brought coffee!" You say the last bit far too brightly, the sunniness of your tone so very unlike you, enough to draw the tiniest vestiges of a smile to the corner of Mena's mouth.

She steps away from the door, motioning slightly for you to come in. Grateful, you step inside, unconsciously thinning yourself to avoid physical contact from her because you can't be sure if you can trust yourself not to do something stupid like you did last night. You offer her the bag with coffee cake in it, setting the drink tray down on the cluttered coffee table, atop a stack of organic chemistry textbooks, and shove your now-empty hands into your pockets.

Mena sits down on the couch, settling the unopened bag on her knees and sliding her hands under her thighs. Her posture looks almost… broken, you think, and it unexpectedly makes your chest hurt and you almost move to sit next to her and break every single bit of your reputation as a sarcastic asshole to fix whatever it was you'd broken. But an image of Frank flashes in your mind and stops you before you even get your hands out of your pockets, so you stay put, eyes focused on some point on the wall behind Mena's head and hope that she'll break the silence.

She doesn't, though. You dare to look at her once more and it makes your chest hurt even more, because now that you're looking at her—really looking at her—you can see the way her jaw is clenched tightly, teeth clamped down securely on her lower lip, eyes wide and unblinking in an effort to hold back tears, her shoulders trembling the tiniest bit at the effort of holding it together. You actually flinch at the sight of her and search desperately for the right thing to say, anything to make her feel better—

"Have you talked to Frank?" Is all that comes out, though. Immediately, you wish you could take it back, because that seems to be the final blow to Mena's weak resolve to keep her cool, and she looks up and a few tears leak out of her eyes, sliding down her cheeks. She shakes her head mutely, guilt radiating out of her eyes, to the point where you can almost feel it suffocating you, pressing in on your lungs.

You take a deep breath, exhaling very slowly, and pull one hand out of your pocket to push your hair out of your eyes. You notice out of the corner of your eye that it's shaking, and wonder if Mena can tell.

"Are you going to?" You ask, trying your hardest to keep your voice level. You wish suddenly that you could be heartless and not care, because standing there right now and knowing that Mena is coming apart emotionally because of something you started hurts and you have no idea how to fix it.

"I don't know," she says quietly, her voice strained. "I… just, I don't know." She looks back down at her knees, moving the bag to the coffee table and wringing her hands together in her lap. "I should."

"Probably," you say slowly. You finally work up the nerve to move, slowly lowering yourself onto the other end of the couch. Normally you would sprawl out across the sofa, long legs stretched out, but instead you keep your feet planted on the floor and go out of your way to avoid touching Mena at all, regardless of the closeness between the two of you. "Maybe… maybe I should tell him," you offer, even though the thought of doing so makes you feel like you're going to vomit. "Since I... you know… started everything."

"You stopped it, too," she says, her voice soft. She looks up and meets your eyes briefly. "I was drunk—we both were—but I still remember it all," she continues, a delicate flush spreading adorably across her cheeks. "You—you kissed me first, but you stopped. I was the one who kept it going." The shame in her voice feels like a kick in the chest.

You purse your lips, trying to sort out your thoughts so you can say the right thing, and then suddenly, without even realizing you're speaking, you open your mouth again and ask, "Are you mad because you're with Frank, or because this was with me?" And there's hurt in your voice, hurt that you hadn't even realized you felt.

Abruptly, as soon as the words are out, you slam your mouth shut and your eyes widen. You don't know why you asked that—you may not be the best at heart-to-heart talks, but even you know that such a question isn't one that Mena needed to hear right now.

"I'm sorry," you add hurriedly. "I shouldn't have said that. You don't have to answer that."

She offers you a small smile, surprisingly enough. It's nowhere close to her normal shy but bright grin, but instead is sad and muted, as if she was smiling through a dirty window.

"I…" she paused, biting down on her lip momentarily before continuing. "I think it's the first one." She blushes ever so slightly again, glancing at you briefly. You know that you probably look relatively shocked at her answer, and she continues. "I think that if…. If I wasn't with Frank, I…wouldn't regret it." She's looking at you now again, visibly nervous, and for some reason that you really cannot describe, her words are making you feel better than you have in what feels like forever. The feeling of an iron hand crushing your lungs fades away and is replaced by a surprisingly good feeling that starts in your stomach and moves up into your chest, and you can't stop the smile you feel spreading on your lips.

"Really?" If you'd been concerned for your reputation now, it would've been shot to pieces with that one word, uttered with such childish cheer that you didn't know you even were capable of, but you wouldn't care. Because for some reason, the fact that Mena wouldn't regret being with you means…. Something that you can't place, but that you know makes you just feel good.

That good feeling lasts all of six seconds, during which Mena blushes and you can't wipe that inexplicable and ridiculous smile off of your face, before you both are startled back to the present by her ringing phone. Her blush disappears immediately, replaced by a sick tinge, her eyes squeezing shut again as she fumbles for the 'ignore' button and throws the phone down on the couch, leaping to her feet and starting to pace opposite you.

"Frank," you say quietly, shoulders slumping. "I should go," you add after a moment's hesitation. You stand slowly, the countless chin-ups and push-ups from earlier tightening your shoulders and making you want to do nothing more than collapse back into Mena's couch and sleep, but you will yourself to your feet. Mena remains silent as you do, still pacing anxiously, thumbnail tucked securely between her teeth.

You pause by the doorway, looking back and feeling your stomach clench yet again. "I'm sorry," you say again. You wish desperately for any kind of eloquence, the right words to fix whatever exactly it is you've done, even a moment of sarcasm or brevity to lighten the mood, but nothing comes. "Call me if you want to talk," you say dejectedly. "And let me know what I need to do about… if you want me to talk to Frank first."

That said, you give in to the tightness in your shoulders and neck and let your head slump forward as you make your way out the door, shutting it resolutely behind you. Hands shoved in your pockets, you shuffle out of the building and back to your apartment.

You collapse on your bed when you make it home, not bothering to empty your pockets or remove your shoes. Head buried in the pillows, you will yourself to ignore the pit in your chest every time you think of Frank, the phantom smell of Mena's hair that seems to be filling up your bedroom, the pile of reading and assignments you have due for your Monday classes. Yet no matter how hard you try, you can't prevent yourself from masochistic thoughts about the hell that Monday's early morning practice is bound to be.