Author's Note: I've been working on this for a few weeks, actually, though I just got around to finishing it now. Gotta love me some Cam romance.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, I do not own iCarly, but I promise if I did, it would more than likely lose its kids rating.


Freddie smells like soap and laundry detergent. It's a nice smell, you decide, even if he's sitting a bit too close to you on the couch. Freddie always does things a bit too much when it comes to you. You've gotten used to it. He's watching TV beside you and you're hunched over your calculus homework, punching at your calculator, and you're not really prepared for what he says next. It just blurts out of his mouth out of nowhere, like those tornado drills at school, making you jump.

"I love you, Carly."

You freeze at the words, like they're syllables of ice, constricting around your throat. No, no, he's not supposed to be saying that to you. No, not him. For a long time you simply stare at him and the courage, the bravery in his eyes kind of shocks you. He's never been this forward about it before, he's always indirectly lead you to realize these things, but you've always brushed them off. Your cheeks burn, your hands searching for the edge of the couch and pushing yourself up. Your knees tremble as you waddle to a stand and your calculator topples to the floor. "Freddie ..." His name drops out of your mouth like you're trying to surrender something, but the fight isn't over yet - the fight hasn't even started. You take a step away from the couch, hands uselessly moving around you like they're trying to conjure up words.

He hasn't moved, he's just staring at the floor, and you took the substance out of his eyes because they're empty and hard now. "I do," he says, the words hitting you like verbal baseball bats, and he glances up, meets your gaze. It's too much, you can't stand knowing you're putting him through this. "I do love you."

You shake your head, because even though you always sort of knew that Freddie was in love with you (it's not like he ever tried to hide it), it didn't stop you from pretending he didn't, from hoping that he would find someone else before it got to this point. He's looking at you, waiting, he's giving you all of him and you shake your head again, pointing to the door. "Go, Freddie." You just want him out of here, you want to be alone. You don't want Freddie, and you don't want Freddie to want you, because it makes everything so much more difficult. You look at him but he hasn't moved, and the darkness under his eyes is increasing, settling, bruising. You're hurting him.

"Why?" His voice cracks, broken, and his eyes turn to you with a pleading that should never be in a man's eyes. And you don't know what to say, what explanation you can give to him to make him feel better.

The silence stretches and becomes heavy, making a home on your back and you hunch, looking away from him again. "I can't, Freddie, I can't do this -"

"Why not?" Freddie stands then, plants himself in front of you. He's gotten so tall. You look up at him and his hands are hanging limply by his side like you sucked all of the energy out of him. "Why not?" He repeats when you don't answer, because you can't answer, you don't have an answer.

Your shoulders shrug an answer for you, because it doesn't matter, you don't know what to say.

"I mean it, Carly. What am I doing wrong?" He steps forward and you step back, always maintaining distance between you two like you always have and always would. "I'm nice, I'm patient, I treat you with respect - I've been your best friend for years. Just tell me, Carly. Tell me what I'm doing or what I did that ... that ...-"

You shake your head again, a hand raising to twist in your hair. "I don't know, Freddie. I just ...can't. You know how much I care about you-"

"No, I don't!" The sudden explosion makes you jump - you've never really heard Freddie yell before. He looks hurt rather than angry and his shoulders sag downward, his voice dropping again to a softer level. "I don't know how much you care for me because you never tell me. You ... Jesus. Carly, I love you more than anything, I've never wanted someone as much as I want you, I just don't understand why you don't ... reciprocate the feelings..."

You wish he would scream at you, you wish he would throw something or God forbid hit you, because you know you deserve it.

Silence falls again and you're still clutching your hair like you'll explode if you don't. "Freddie ..." You shake your head and turn away from him, running toward the stairs before he can stop you. "Just go home." You don't want to talk. You don't want to keep hurting him like you do, without even trying, and you just want him to find a better girl. It would be easy. You jump up the stairs, half expecting him to follow you but he doesn't, and you crouch at the top of the stairs and wait and listen to the sound of the door shutting. You wish he would have slammed it, but it just clicks softly closed, and the gentle sound hurts you more than if he had stormed out. And then you're left pushing your knees into your eyes and gripping your hair until your scalp starts to scream.

It doesn't make sense. None of it does. You should love Freddie. You should be desperately, head-over-heels, crazy in love with him. He's everything girls dream about; he's the kind of guy girls want waiting for them at the altar. And he could make you so happy, he could give you a normal, loving life, full of incredibly happy things ... he's going places, and he would take you with him.

But you don't. You just don't, and you hate that you don't, because it's not fair that you don't.

You don't know how long you sit there with your knees in your eyes but this has been a long time coming, all this stuff with Freddie. It's been building since you met him, going downhill, gaining speed, getting bigger ... and now it's smashed and the remains are all over the place and you'll be lucky if he still wants to be your friend.

You hear the door open downstairs. You lift your head, blinking blearily, realizing with a frown that you've been crying. You wipe the tears away, attempting to stand only to fall again with a 'thump' on the stairs.

"Heyo, Carls, where are you? I'm hungry!"

Sam's voice travels up the stairs like she's speaking through a megaphone and you relax slightly, knowing that she's going to make you feel leagues better as soon as she finds you. You hear her scavenge through your kitchen. Your eyes close and you just listen to the sounds that is Sam; the refrigerator opening and closing, what sounds like plastic ripping, the buttons on your stove beeping as Sam presses them ... it's oddly comforting listening to Sam make food. And then she's swinging up the stairs, her feet slamming on each one until she freezes and sees you. You glance up, still curled against the wall, and her waterfall of blonde hair is swinging down her shoulders, blue eyes wide, a hand frozen on the banister.

"Cupcake?" She climbs the rest of the stairs and plants herself at your side. She smells like food. Her hand touches your back and you turn into her shoulder. You don't feel like crying, not with Sam so close like this, but you can still see Freddie's empty eyes asking you why and you not being able to give him any kind of answer.

Sam's fingers curl around your hair, pulling it back and tucking it behind your ear. She'd never be caught dead being motherly to anyone else, but you're her best friend, you're Carly, and Sam has always made exceptions when it comes to you. "What happened?" Sam's hand is rubbing at your back and you let your eyes close again to simply absorb that feeling, the gentleness of Sam that no one else sees but you.

"Freddie," you say, and that's all you manage to get out before Sam is on her feet again and she's starting to stomp down the stairs.

"Sam!" You reach up, snagging her wrist and yanking her back. Her blue eyes are furious as they meet yours, licking with aqua fire.

"What did he do? Try to kiss you or something? Hurt you? I swear to God, Carly, I will rip off his penis and make him eat it -"

"No, Sam, jeez! Sit!" You feel like you're scolding a dog as she plops beside you again. You keep her hand in your lap for good measure, hoping she won't burst off and run away again. "He didn't hurt me, or try to kiss me. It's Freddie, Sam. Give him a bit more credit, he would never do that to me."

Sam grumbles. She's never had much faith in anyone besides you. She's never really trusted Freddie, or anyone for that matter, and somehow that makes you feel ... special. "Then what did he do? Why can't I punch him?"

"Because I -" You frown, turning away from her for a moment and frowning down the stairs. "I hurt him," you say softly, not liking the way the words feel against your tongue; the confession is scraping the back of your throat and you feel like you're on trial or something. You hurt Freddie. You've been hurting Freddie for a long time and now you feel like crap about it. It just sucks, because you know you should love him the same way he loves you but you never have. And it's not that there's anything wrong with Freddie - God knows he's about as close to perfect as guys come - it's just ... you don't know. You have no idea.

Sam is staring at you, her blonde brows furrowed. "What?"

You don't look at her, just study her hand in your lap, tracing the lines that attach Sam's skin. "I hurt him. He told me he loved me and I told him to leave."

A huff of a sigh leaves Sam's throat and you see her shake her head. "That boy is never going to learn, is he?"

You frown, turning to look at her. "I'm serious, Sam. He loves me, and I don't, not like that, and I don't get why." You thread your hand in your hair and sigh. "He's so nice, and he's always been there for me, and he's ... he's really cute -" That brings a twitch of pain from Sam, "- and I just don't get it. Why don't I love him like that? What's wrong with me?"

She frowns right back at you, looking away, her lower lip tucking itself between her teeth. "Nothing's wrong with you. He'll just have to get over it. You're always going to be friends. That's it. Friends. And one day you'll -" She swallows, turning to look at you with too false a happy smile and clapping her hand on your knee. "You'll find the guy that makes you all ... sappy, or whatever, and then you'll get it. You know, why it didn't work out with Freddie." Her smile twitches, falters, and then it dies away and she stands. "I'll go check on the pizza."

And then she's gone, and you're left frowning after her, your hands empty, your heart thudding with a hollow sound under your ribs.

][

"You make the most gorgeous faces when you're eating."

Sam opens her mouth at your words so you can happily examine the chewed pizza residing on her tongue. You cringe, squeezing your eyes shut and turning away from her.

"Ew."

"Mhm," Sam says back at you, popping the last of her pizza into her mouth before she falls back on your bed, her hand rubbing her stomach. You honestly have no idea how Sam eats the way she does and doesn't weigh four hundred pounds.

You chew your pizza slowly as you watch her, her eyes closed, chest raising and falling. Sam's been your best friend since your memory started to matter. The best memories you have are starring Sam.

And Freddie, sometimes.

You frown, push your pizza away and lay beside Sam. Her hand wiggles across the bedspread, searching for yours, and you clasp it tightly, fingers filling the spaces between hers. You feel calm suddenly, complete, a sigh escaping your lips because Sam's here. She's always broken apart the clouds that made the storms. She's always silenced the thunder.

"It's okay, Carls," she says, her voice so uncharacteristically soft that you glance up in surprise as she speaks. "Freddie'll get over it. It's going to be fine. Like I said, the perfect guy will come along eventually, your own little Prince Charming ..." You don't think she knows you're watching her face, but a frown twitches at her lips, settling in her skin. "It'll be great."

You study her frowning face for a long time in silence, not sure what it means. Why would she not want you to find the perfect guy? Maybe it's just Sam being Sam... she's a bit possessive when it comes to you, almost clingy in the way she tries to discourage you to hang out with other guys... but you've never thought of it as a bad thing before, she's Sam. She's always been like that with you.

In fact, Sam's always almost been your... boyfriend, in a way. It sounds silly, but you're always together, she's always flowering you with affection she wouldn't dare drop on anyone else, she's always fluttering around you with concern, holding you while you sleep, making sure each tear is brushed away with her fingers. She's almost romantic in the way she cares for you, the way she's so soft around you when she's nothing but sharp edges with everyone else. You've been friends for so long, though, that you hardly think about it. There's the Sam she is with everyone else and then there's the Sam she is when she's with you. You like that Sam. You really, really like that Sam.

"You should just be a boy," you mumble, your eyes fluttering closed as you release a sigh that had been coiling much too tightly in your chest. "Then I would already have the perfect guy."

You expect her to laugh, to sock your shoulder or something, but she doesn't say anything. You don't feel her move at all, like she's become frozen beside you. Your eyes open slowly, flicking slowly to her at your side and her face is torn, lips unsure what to do and the lines around her eyes are tight, eyelids pushed too hard. You sit up slowly. "Sam?"

Her hand unwinds from yours, yanking back across the bedspread and then she's up on her feet and bolting for the door. You scramble after her, trying to find your feet. What did you say? What did you do? "Sam, what's wrong -"

She's sailing down the hallway, blonde hair whipping around the corner. You nearly trip down the stairs, still yelling for her, but she doesn't even glance back when she reaches the front door. You don't know why, but you just know she can't leave like this, and you don't really know what you did but Sam never acts like this, she's never this unpredictable, and she certainly never ignores you when you sound so panicked. You have to break into a jog out in the hallway in order to catch her elbow, which she cleanly rips from your grasp.

"Stop it, Carly."

Her voice is sharp, slicing the air between you and grinding against your eardrums and Sam has never talked to you that way. The intensity of her words halts you, shocks you into motionlessness. She punches the elevator button with her finger, glaring at the doors, her foot all but stomping at the ground in her impatience. A muscle flickers in her jaw. She's mad. She's mad at you.

"Sam, what did I do? What's wrong?" You sound so pathetic, so stupid, because this is Sam, you should know what's wrong without having to ask. But you don't understand, you don't know what you did and this isn't the way your Sam acts. She doesn't get mad at you.

She turns toward you with a quick snap of her neck. Her blue eyes are so angry you take a step back in surprise. She looks away again, the doors parting with a loud 'ding' of the elevator's arrival and then she's stepping into it. You don't know what to do so you just stand there, watch the doors start to close, until her hand snaps out, blocking them. They open again and Sam leans out, eyes narrowing on you like you're a villain.

"You're really that oblivious? You really don't know?" And she's this sharp edge, the Sam everyone else is afraid of when she's with them. Your heart pounds painfully and you can't conjure up any words; you don't know this Sam. And then she ducks back into the elevator and it carries her away with a soft hum. You're left staring there, numb and confused as the air around you becomes condensed and heavy. Breathing becomes a struggle as you stumble against the opposite wall, the back of your head meeting the wall with a thud.

You feel dizzy. What ... what just happened? Your hand reaches up to touch your cheek. Oblivious? Oblivious to what? What did that mean? Your mind begins to scramble itself, shifting through the day's events with as much speed as you can, but you can't catch up. You don't know what you missed, or what you've apparently been missing for some time. What, exactly, are you so oblivious to?

"Carly?"

The voice jolts you, spinning so fast you fall into the wall. Freddie's leaning around the corner, his brow twisted in concern. "You okay?"

No, you're not. You're not okay because Sam's mad at you and you don't even know why. You rub at your neck, glancing at the elevator again like it could somehow speak and give you the answer. "Yeah ..." You pause a moment before a sigh rattles its way out of her lungs. "No."

"What happened?" Freddie moves toward you, wringing a hand through his chestnut hair until he's at your side, following your gaze to the elevator doors.

"Sam, she ... stormed out on me ... I don't know ..." You frown, turning slowly to look at him. He's watching you with such concern it tears you up. This boy would give all of himself to you if you let him.

"Well, she's Sam," he says smoothly, rocking back on his heels toward his apartment. "She gets like that."

"No," you say quickly, shaking your head. "No, she doesn't. With you, yeah, with everyone else, sure, but she doesn't get that way with me. She never gets that way with me." You turn over your shoulder to watch the elevator again before ripping out your phone, clicking away until you're calling Sam. She doesn't pick up, but you linger in the hallway anyway, waiting for the elevator to bring her back up, waiting for her to answer, but she doesn't, and Freddie crosses his arm and leans against his door and watches you.

Finally, you let yourself droop against the door to your apartment, tuck your phone into your pocket and sigh. You chew at your lip, not sure what to say, but you can't sit in the silence much longer. You glance up, studying Freddie for a moment before you open up your arms.

"Hug me, please."

He smiles, but it's sad, just like it always is, and he moves forward. You settle against his chest, frowning into his shirt. It's not the same comfort you find with Sam, but at least it's something. You know you can trust Freddie. He'd never hurt you, he'd always do whatever was in your best interest. It just ... hurts, that you can't give him what he has wanted for so long. You sigh, holding his neck. You still don't get it, why you don't like Freddie the way he likes you. But he's your best friend, too, right? "I'm sorry, Freddie."

You feel him shrug. "It's okay."

"No, it's not." It's not. Not really. And you hate that he's so easy to forgive you, to push his feelings aside, but it's Freddie. He's always been like that; he's always put you before himself. He puts everyone before himself, even Sam. Your heart constricts at her name, your eyes squeezing shut as her angry voice cuts through you again like a knife.

Freddie sighs into your neck, shrugging again before he shifts his lips in your hair and whispers, "Sam loved you first."

You freeze, hands curling tightly around Freddie's arms before you yank him back. "What? What did you say?"

Freddie's eyes hover around yours for a long moment, only to settle on the floor beneath you. "Sam. She loved you first."

You don't know what he's saying. What does he mean? You take a step back, meeting the door behind you and you just stare at him, shaking your head slowly. "You don't mean like - that, do you? She's my best friend, I know she loves me -"

"No," Freddie stops you, a hand raising slightly. "I mean like that." He stares at you, watches your jaw drop and dangle below your face. His brows twist together above his nose and he takes a step forward. "You mean you don't know?"

"Don't know ... what?" You're breathless, like you just ran up a flight of stairs. Have you really been this oblivious that Freddie knows something you don't? That Freddie and Sam both know something you're not aware of?

Freddie shakes his head, a look of disbelief crossing his face. "That Sam's in love with you?" He seems genuinely confused, like this is common knowledge.

You don't say anything. You just stand there, frozen, like all of your bones locked up.

Sam's in love with you ...

"Carly?"

You shove past Freddie, down the hallway, to the elevator. Your phone is already to your ear when you step inside, feel the floor jump down. The call almost immediately goes to voicemail. "Sam," you say, your voice almost a whisper as you fall into the corner of the elevator. Your legs feel like springs. "Sam, please pick up. I need to talk to you ..." Something shatters your chest, makes you release this strangled sob you didn't know you were holding. "I didn't know," you say, tears stinging your eyes. You blink them back as you shut the phone off, press it into your pocket again.

You didn't know, but now everything that hasn't made sense in so long is really starting to. It's rushing back like waves, drowning you, and you nearly sink to the bottom of the elevator in the weight of all these things you've been missing. Sam, acting like a boyfriend. Sam, being romantic. Sam, always with you, picking you up, putting back the pieces when you fell apart, holding you when you needed arms to rest in, being everything to you that Freddie never was. How could you have possibly been so ignorant? You press your hands to your forehead and shudder. It's your legs that drag you out of the elevator when it 'dings', and you wrap your arms around yourself as you move through the empty lobby.

Sam's in love with you ...

Freddie's voice is echoing in your head, over and over. Sam. She's in love with you. You would think you would have picked up on that, and maybe you did but never consciously noticed. Sam's your best friend, your ... God, you've always thought of her as a sister, but not ... never that. Never more than that. You've never even considered the possibility of being ... of being with a girl for that matter, let alone Sam. You just, it never even occurred to you. You've always seen things the way everyone else has portrayed them to you; boys and girls. Girls and boys. You and Freddie.

Oblivious. You're oblivious.

You march down a Seattle street. You don't have a coat. You're freezing, and you don't even know where you're going, but being with Freddie ... that was a bad idea. You couldn't be with him right now; you couldn't be with anyone right now. This whole, you don't know, realization thing ... it's hitting you like a ton of bricks, and you're going to fall over and sink to the bottom if you don't get some time to think.

It's dark, the sun already swallowed by the buildings in the west. It smells like rain. You wrap your arms around yourself, hold your elbows, and let your feet pull you to the nearest park. It's empty, and the people walking past you are popping their umbrellas in case it might start pouring. You pull yourself over the grass, toward the crooked jungle gym. You used to play here when you were a kid, with Sam, even, and you remember her daring you to walk across the top of the monkeybars with no hands, and when you fell and cut your knee, she kissed it.

You walk under the bars, glancing up. You can see it. You, standing up there with uncertain balance, the sun roasting your back. At the time, it felt like you were miles from the ground. Sam was watching you from the bottom, a smaller but not any less intimidating version of herself with thick blonde braids smiling up at you as you made your way across. You remember the thrill, the fear that came with falling. You remember Sam checking you for broken bones.

You remember Sam's lips on your knee.

You touch the bars and fast-forward in time. Sam always hovering over you, protecting you, watching you. She pushed boys away, kept you to herself, and the thing is ... the really startling thing is is that you liked it when Sam did those things, you liked just being Sam's. It always made you feel special when she kept you close and no one else, when she reached out for you and showed you her weaknesses.

You rest your head against the cold jungle gym and feel your breath hitch.

Sam's in love with you...

You don't love Freddie and now ... it's starting to make sense why.

][

You walk around town for a long time. You call Sam once more but she doesn't answer, and eventually you wind up walking back home. Lewbert doesn't even yell at you when you walk in, frowning as you make your way to the elevator. Once inside, you throw your head into the corner and blink at your feet. You feel ... well, stupid, because Sam was right. You were oblivious. Maybe blissfully so, but oblivious nonetheless. It just seems too painfully obvious now; the way Sam touches you, talks to you, looks at you. It's the same way Freddie does, only more intense, more ...tortured, almost, because you were always touching her back and holding her and doing all of these unintentionally intimate things. You wonder how long she's been like this with you, and why didn't she tell you?

Though, really, how would you have reacted?

You don't know. Probably the same way you are now, and she didn't even tell you directly. The elevator 'dings' and you get off, sulking toward your apartment door. You glance at Freddie's for a moment, frown at the way the door seems to mock you. You slip inside your apartment to a distressed Spencer on the couch, his hands in his hair.

He jumps when he sees you, taking two large steps to close the distance before his hands are on your shoulders and he's thrusting you into his chest. You release a sound of surprise as his arms strangle the air out of you.

"Where were you? I called you a hundred times!"

You're not used to Spencer getting so worked up, but sometimes you forget that he's responsible for you. You frown as you pull away from him, pulling out your phone. Six missed calls, all from Spencer. How did you not feel it ringing? You guess you were much more lost in your thoughts than you let on. "Sorry," you mumble, moving past him to fall heavily to the couch. You're freezing, your arms numb from the cold. You rub them as Spencer crouches beside you.

"Freddie said you were upset, walked out ..." He pokes at your arm. "You didn't even have a coat."

"I know," you say, just because you don't know what else to. This is your brother, it's not like you can openly talk about this kind of stuff with him. You've never talked love or relationships or even sex with Spencer; you trust him, and he's pretty much your best friend, but there are just some things you don't discuss with siblings. Still, you want to tell him, you want to tell someone, and the two best friends you have are both ... they're both in love with you in a way you don't really understand.

"He told me you and Sam got into a fight."

Even the words sound weird. You and Sam. Got into a fight. It wasn't so much a fight as an explosion on her end, a pent up burst of anger at you, for not knowing, not noticing, for not being aware of something that now seems like it was being screamed with flashing lights. You rub at your neck and ache somewhere in your chest. You want Sam here. You want to look her in the eyes and tell her that you honestly didn't know, that if you had known ... things would be different.

"Yeah, she, uh. She got mad at me." The sentence doesn't fit, doesn't belong. It should be something that you would never say.

"About what?" Spencer touches your shoulder and when you turn to look at him, his brown eyes are soft and wide.

You melt into him. You just want some kind of comfort. His arms wrap around you and pull you close, into his chest, your legs in his lap. And you know that he's only going to make you feel better for a short amount of time. Even now, in his arms, there's still that dull thud of your heart reminding you of the pain you've unconsciously put Sam through, put Freddie through ... you've taken your two best friends, the ones that mean the most to you, and broken them both into little pieces. And you didn't even know you were doing it, is the worst part. Spencer's hand rubs your back, his chin on your forehead. He's whispering to you, trying to reassure you, but he doesn't know. He doesn't know the crap you've put Sam and Freddie through. Especially Sam. At least on Freddie's end, you were aware of it. You knew he loved you, as much as you tried to pretend he didn't or wouldn't in the future. But Sam ... you didn't even consider it, didn't think twice when Sam held your hand in your bed or wiped your tears away or kissed your hair.

"She loves me," you say, the words hard on your tongue. "She loves me."

Spencer's hand freezes on your back. He leans away, looking down at you. "...Yeah? So?"

You shake your head. It doesn't feel right telling Spencer this, but who else do you have? Who else can you go to that you haven't already torn to shreds? "I mean, like ... like that." You don't know how to word it, your hands raising and falling uselessly in front of you. "Like, like the way Freddie loves me."

Spencer frowns down at you, his eyebrows jumping and twisting. "Well, duh. I knew that."

You stare at him blankly for a time, lips parting. "What?" What does he mean, he knew that? Who else knows this? How can everyone else pick up on these things except you? It seems like everyone around you is aware of all these things about you, about Sam. How far into obliviousness have you really gone? You push away from him, sliding across the couch. "What?"

"I knew that Sam's, like, in love with you. You didn't know that?"

Spencer sounds just like Freddie, the way he says it. Like it's as obvious as the color of the sky. Like you should have noticed this long before they did. Was it really that clear? Your eyes close, your head falling to your knees. Sam's arm around your waist whenever you stood next to her, Sam curling your hair behind your ears, your chest bump-bumping when she slept next to you. You thought you had never considered Sam that way ... but maybe you always have considered Sam that way, and it felt so natural, so right, you didn't think to clarify; to label. It just always was with Sam, it just is, and everyone else picked up on this vibe except you.

"No," you say. "No, I didn't."

"Oh. Oh." Spencer reaches out, his hands on your cheeks as he pulls you up, out of the darkness of your knees. "You okay there, kiddo? You gonna make it?" He smiles at you, a tense thing, a soft thing. "How do you feel about Sam? I always thought you guys were just, like ... secretly, I don't know, dating or something."

You stare in disbelief at him as he says it so smoothly, like he doesn't even care. How had he not brought this up before? Why hadn't he asked you about this before? But then, you realize with a sigh that this is Spencer. He's an abnormal person, and you guess it just wouldn't strike him as odd as most people would find it. But Freddie never asked you about it either. He never questioned you, Sam never questioned you, Spencer never questioned you ... no one even hinted that they thought all of this was going on.

"We're not," you tell him, rubbing your hands together. "We're just friends. I didn't ... I've never thought of Sam like that, I never even knew she -"

"Are you blind?" Spencer gives this hard laugh. "Sam is, you guys are, just ... I don't even know where you start and Sam ends, honestly. You're just, like -" He puts his hands together and entwines his fingers. "Like this."

You glance down at your hands, think about Sam in your bed earlier when she snaked her hand across the covers and searched for yours. You remember meeting hers and locking your fingers together and feeling so at ease, so deep, all of these things you always wished you felt with someone, with Freddie, and you didn't even notice until now that all of these things you've been looking for have been right in front of you this whole time. She's been at your side daring you to walk across the monkeybars, she's been kissing your scraped knees, calling you Cupcake, wiping your tears, keeping you together - she's been right there.

You pull out your phone again and run your thumb across the keys until you hit Sam's name. You stare at the smiley next to it, the heart to the side. You glance up at Spencer who's still smiling at you, a hand on his chin.

"I love her," you say slowly, the words falling carefully off your tongue. Your heart swells, a hand absently resting atop it. "I love her," you say again, more sure now, more solidness to your tone. You sit up slightly, swing your legs over the side of the couch and bring your phone to your lips. Your eyes close when Spencer's hand meets your back. He gives you a soft pat.

"I know you do," Spencer says. "We all do."

][

You don't sleep. You toss and turn, glare at the clock, call Sam, glare some more, but you don't sleep. Your mind is pulsing, racing, vibrating, throwing your brain around your skull. Sam. Sam. You love her. Like, really, really love her, but it doesn't feel like new information to you. You've always loved her. That thought makes your heart beat all crazy and your head spins. You've loved her for a long time and you never really thought about it. Sam's just always been there, a constant in your life, a variable that never changed. When you were falling apart, there was always Sam. When you were confused about Freddie, there was always Sam. When life just flat out started to suck, Sam's arms were open.

And then there's Freddie on the other end, who you've always known has been crazy about you. And you do love him, really ... just not the way he wants, not the way you've tried to force yourself into feeling. It's just not how these things work, it just doesn't happen that way and it sucks. It sucks that someone is going to get hurt here; Freddie or Sam. But it's not so much a choice as a realization that no matter what you do, or how much time you spend, or techniques you use to make yourself feel differently, you will never love Freddie like that. You never have and you never will.

You cry a little, wet spots sprinkled over your pillow. Sam, Freddie. The two most important people in the world to you. They are everything. Every happy memory, every laugh, everything good in your life, you owe to them. They've both loved you since day one. One boy, one girl, ready to take you as theirs as soon as you gave the word. You wonder briefly what it is that makes them both love you, what makes them feel like holding out for you and putting up with you - you're not that special. You're average. You're just Carly Shay. You're a tiny fish in this sea and they've both been drawn to you. You don't understand, but you suppose there isn't much to get.

But if there's one thing you're sure of by the time the sun starts to lighten, it's that you can't change the way your heart's wired. You can't change anything about the way you feel, or the way Freddie feels, or the way Sam feels - but you can follow the curves and trails that your heart has laid out in front of you. You can do that.

The sun is barely cracking when you give up, crawling out of bed and pulling on a shirt and sweatpants and stomping down the stairs. Spencer's dead to the world. You don't bother with him, instead making your way out of the apartment and throwing your hand to the door across the hall.

Mrs. Benson emerges from the other side. Her hair is already done into perfect curls, a jogging suit decking her form. She frowns at you, chin wrinkling. "Why are you here so early?"

"I need to talk to Freddie. It's about, it's for school," you say. "A project we're working on. He needs to come over. Now."

Mrs. Benson crinkles her brow. "My son needs his sleep, I'm sure this project can wait -"

"Mom." Freddie moves over her shoulder, pushing her out of the way. His hair is stuck up in sleep, eyes heavy as he forces his way out into the hallway. "It's all right, Mom. I'm awake. Just, go."

Mrs. Benson glares at both of you as she makes her way toward the elevator. You don't say a word until you hear it 'ding' her away, and then you're left staring at Freddie who yawns and rests against his door. You stare at him, now aware that you don't really know what you called him out here for, you just ... wanted to see him. You reach out, pressing your cheek to his chest. It's an instinct for him to hold you, a hand on your back, the other on your head. He's so tall, so broad. He's a man, he's turned into one overnight and you don't know how you missed it, how it went past you. But, apparently, you're a really oblivious person. You miss a lot of things.

"I love you," you say into his shirt. "I do. I really, really do. I love you so much, Freddie."

Freddie's hand runs along your spine. "But."

Your face twists. But. But you love Sam. Not more, just differently. "Sam." It's all you say. It's all you need to say. That's all that needs to be confirmed here. Freddie understands that just fine, holds you close for a while and sighs into your hair. And you know this hurts him, that this will hurt him ... but you can't help but think that you're finally making the right choice, the right decision, you're taking steps in the right direction.

Freddie pulls back, a certain determination you haven't seen in his eyes in a long time. "Okay," he says, voice stronger than you expected. He releases your shoulders and steps back, leaning against his door. "Sam does kind of have dibs," he says, a smile on his lips. "She definitely loved you first."

You smile back at him. "There's more to it than that."

He studies you, head tilting. "What made you ... realize that you ... ?"

You shrug, eyes traveling away from him. "I don't really know. I just, I never thought about her that way, but as soon as it was pointed out ..."

"It made sense."

"Yeah." You chuckle a bit and touch your forehead. "Yeah."

It made sense. Things were finally snapping into place.

][

Sam still isn't picking up, and by noon you're about fed up with this. After a shower and a quick sandwich, you're out the door, your phone to your ear. As soon as you're clicked over to voicemail, you all but yell, "God damnit, I love you, will you answer the phone?" You shut it angrily and storm down the street. The sun is out. You pass the playground on your way over, watch the children run around it with high pitched screams. That used to be you. That used to be Sam. You wonder how many of them will meet their soulmates on the jungle gym.

You swing into Sam's apartment building and march up the stairs. You feel ... different. Almost new. Like you've always been missing this piece, but now, now it's in your hands and all you have to do is tell Sam, really tell her. You've got this unfamiliar determination in you, this rock of strength that's pushing you forward. You pause outside of Sam's door, study the number, the doorknob.

You don't wait long, because really, you've made Sam wait long enough.

You knock on the door but don't bother waiting, simply push the door open and step inside. The apartment smells of cigarette smoke and booze and suddenly you remember why Sam is always at your place. You step inside, swinging your head back and forth. "Sam?"

You hear a rustle down the hallway and then she's there, still in her pajamas. She looks terribly confused, almost lost as she looks at you. You wonder how strong you look because, man, you feel like Hercules. And seeing her standing there with your new eyes, with this new you, you're really seeing her. You're seeing everything she's ever been and ever will be to you.

"You know, cellphones," you say, stepping inside and closing the door behind you. "They're this wonderful invention to keep people in contact. They're actually quite handy. Generally, when someone calls you eight hundred times, you answer."

Sam's eyes fall to the floor. She fidgets slightly and her shoulders shift in her shirt. "I'm sorry." She looks back up again and starts waving her hands. "About yesterday, just - forget it. I was acting stupid and got mad for no reason and lets just pretend -"

"Pretend what?" You step forward, a rush rolling through you. Here's the girl you love, more than willing to pretend none of it ever happened. But it's too far gone now, the truth is out. You're not oblivious anymore. "Pretend you don't love me? Pretend that I ..." You drift, swallow hard, and step forward again. You're right in front of her, her blue eyes peering up at you with uncertainty, almost ... fear. "Pretend that I don't love you?" The words come out in a gush and something sparks across Sam's eyes.

"What?"

You smile at her, looking away as a blush crawls over your cheeks. "I ... I love you. And I'm sorry it took me a thousand years to figure it out, and you should be really mad at me, but I just, I love you, you know, and maybe we could -"

Sam's lips crush against yours, silencing you, pushing you into the wall. And for such a tiny little person, Sam's got all this strength, kissing you like she's hungry for you, and she's waited for this much longer than you have, but you kiss her back with just as much ferocity, tangling your fingers in her hair.

It was so obvious. Right there, in your face, for years. Years. But you're here now, you're kissing Sam, and finally, everything's making sense.