Disclaimer: I do not own this story or Hannah Montana. This story is Cautiously Optimistic by Kim Pritekel.

Cautiously Optimistic

Miley Stewart looked up at the imposing, brick structure before her. This was only the second time she'd seen it, the first being the day she'd gone there to test and be interviewed. The leather seat under her shifted as her step-father's weight did.

"Don't look like you're about to march off to a death camp, Miley," Robby Stewart scolded. He was Miley's mother's fourth husband, and by far the wealthiest. "Your mother didn't come today because she knew you'd give such a look."

Miley said nothing, but turned away from the window. She scanned the back of the limo, feeling that it would be for the last time. She was of mixed heart about her mother's absence. She would not see her until Thanksgiving break, which was more than three months away. This wasn't the first boarding school the petite blonde had been sent to, but it was the furthest away from her home in Maine .

"Go on, now," Robby said, motioning for the driver to open Miley's door. "Everything will be fine. Your mother will call you tonight."

Miley accepted her step-father's brief hug then stepped out of the car. A man dressed in a black suit stepped up to the car, unloading all of Miley's luggage from the trunk.

Miley did her best to listen as the Head Mistress, Mrs. Dolly, explained the rules and times of Miley's classes. She was sixteen, but a senior as she had skipped two grades. She was instructed that a typed list of the aforementioned rules would be lying on her bed in her room, which they arrived at.

"Mikayla Cowan will be your roommate," Mrs. Dolly explained, pulling a keycard out of her suit jacket pocket and sliding it through the slide lock. A green light glowed to life along with a quiet click. The Head Mistress pushed the door open and stepped aside for Miley to enter. "Do you have any questions?"

Miley shook her head, looking around the modest-sized room. Mrs. Dolly excused herself, leaving one last instruction that dinner would be served in an hour, and Miley was expected to be there.

Left alone, Miley looked around the room. Two full-sized beds were placed on either side of the square-shaped room, a desk set against the wall on the outside of each bed. Two nightstands stood side by side between them. Two closets would hold the clothing of both girls, and an empty bookcase awaited Miley's extensive book collection. Her luggage had already been brought up and was left neatly stacked next to the bed. Just as Mrs. Dolly had said, a typed list was left on her bed, along with a keycard.

Miley blew out a breath and sat down on the white-comforted bed, finding the mattress to be firm. She glanced out the window that was on the wall of her bed. She could see the extensive grounds of the all-girls school, dotted with trees and greenery. She figured come fall, the grounds would be gorgeous as the leaves changed colors. The school was an old one, the buildings more than two hundred years old. It was one of the most expensive and exclusive boarding schools in New England . The only thing Miley did look forward to was that she would be getting a wonderful education.

It took Miley a bit to find the cafeteria, which was tucked into the science building. She thought that was odd, but walked in, met by the eerie silence of the hundreds of girls who were already seated. People who Miley figured were teachers, stood sentinel at the end of every tenth table, watchful eyes on all the girls who were getting settled at the large, round tables.

Miley looked for an empty table, and was grateful to find the one and only. As she walked towards it, she could feel dozens of pairs of eyes on her. Shy by nature, Miley did her best to not let it bother her. Most of these girls had gone to school together for years. It was never easy to be the new girl.

Sitting down, Miley realized that the mealtime was set up much like a restaurant. A menu sat in a holder at the center of the table, a list of a handful of different entrees offered to order. Fellow students wandered around the large room, taking orders from the tables, writing them on tablets.

"What do you want?"

Miley looked up to see a short redhead standing next to her, waiting. "Oh, um, I'm not sure." Miley quickly glanced over the menu offerings and ordered, the girl disappearing as quietly as she'd arrived. Miley folded her hands and placed them on the table, swallowing the lump of nausea in her throat.

Blue eyes watched her as Miley sat quietly by herself, before turning away to continue waiting on tables.

Miley wished fervently for a book, but the typed rules had strictly prohibited reading material during meals. Miley had been in enough boarding schools to know that was to encourage – or force – the girls to interact and be social. Miley thought it was a stupid rule, but had to abide by it. So, instead she sat alone, trying not to stare at any one girl or any one thing to bring attention to herself.

Miley made it back to her room in record time. She wanted to finish unpacking and commit her schedule to memory. Classes would begin the following morning, which she was grateful for. She'd rather get down to it rather than mess with the other girls and the drama of having two hundred and fifty teenaged girls living around her.

"Hi."

Miley looked up from where she was carefully tucking her folded shirts in a drawer. "Hello."

A tall girl with light brown hair and hazel eyes threw herself onto her bed, arms flying up above her head. "I'm Mikayla."

"Miley."

"Cool. New?"

"Yes. First year here."

"Ugh, that must so suck," Mikayla said, rolling her eyes up towards the perfectly white ceiling. "It's tough being new, I know. If you wanna know where the good times are, just ask and I can point you in the right direction."

"Oh, um, okay." Miley flashed her a shy, but polite smile. "Thanks." Miley turned back to her unpacking while Mikayla jumped up from the bed and pulled her text books from her backpack. Miley was glad, hoping that Mikayla Cowan was as into academics as Miley was. It made it difficult having a roommate who wasn't interested in learning. Miley knew that one well.

The first couple weeks went quickly and, most importantly smoothly for Miley. She liked most of her teachers and felt academically, the school was a good fit. She wasn't all that sure about Mikayla, though. It soon became apparent that they had different ides of education and study time. Half the time Mikayla wasn't even in the room, and more often than not, she would sneak out of the room just after Miley shut off her light, only to return before morning. Miley never asked questions, figuring the less she knew, the better. Besides, she enjoyed her roommate's absence. It was almost like rooming alone, which she longed for.

One night, Miley turned out the light, only to toss and turn for an hour, unable to get to sleep. Mikayla had snuck out right after light's out was called, as per usual. Miley was surprised to hear the keycard lock click and the door open. The hushed giggles of two girls caught her attention. The giggle soon quieted as the shocking sound of a moan replaced it.

Miley glanced across the dark room, barely able to make out two figures on Mikayla's bed. She was somewhat able to discern what was happening by the sounds of ruffled clothing and passionate sighs. Shocked and not sure what to do, she closed her eyes, trying to ignore it, even as Mikayla cried out softly. She felt truly scandalized as the noises continued softly, the bed squeaking from time to time.

Miley could feel her heart pounding in her throat, unsure what to do, and feeling almost sick to her stomach. She'd heard stories about girls getting together at her last school, but had never truly believed it. She's certainly never been in the same room with it!

Not sure what to do, Miley lay still, trying to focus on anything but what was happening ten feet away from her. A soft whisper caught her attention:

"Yes, Lilly. God, yes…"

The words could barely be understood, but Miley certainly did. She glanced over again at her roommate's bed, unsure who Mikayla was in bed with. She'd never heard the name and certainly couldn't see any of the other girl to recognize her. She turned her focus back to the dark ceiling above her and squeezed her eyes shut, hoping they'd finish soon so she could get some sleep.

The next morning, Miley had a hard time facing Mikayla. She kept to herself, as it was Saturday, and they had no classes. She sat at her desk, books open and fingers poised over the keys of her laptop, but she was having a hard time concentrating. She could hear Mikayla couch or sniffle from time to time as she sat on her unmade bed, reading. They'd just returned from breakfast and both had settled into their separate activities.

Miley thought back to breakfast and remembered once again the girl that Mikayla had been sitting next to. The girl was tall like Mikayla, with long black hair, which she'd had pulled up in a ponytail. The girl's intense, blue eyes had followed Mikayla's every move, a note of possession in all her careful movements. Miley had noticed. She couldn't help but wonder if that was the Lilly that Mikayla had so fervently asked for the night before.

At one point, the girl's sapphire gaze had met Miley's and held, almost a challenge directed at the blonde. Miley had quickly looked away, turning her attention back to her eggs. Now, sitting at her desk, Miley tried to focus on her homework, but realized that she'd read the paragraph in the text four times, and still had no idea what it had said.

Finally, able to stay quiet no longer, Miley – not daring to look at her roommate – spoke. "Mikayla?"

"Yeah?" came the absent reply.

"Who's Lilly?"

Mikayla looked up from her book, turning surprised eyes on her roommate, whom she could only see the profile of, as Miley continued to stare at her text book. "Why?"

Miley's mouth went dry for a moment, her face flushed with remembered embarrassment. She had to come up with a lie and quickly; something she wasn't very good at. "I saw you two at breakfast. You just looked like good friends, is all."

Mikayla studied her roommate for a moment, a smirk curling her lips. Right. "Yeah, she's a good friend."

Miley managed a quick smile. "Good. It's good to have good friends."

Mikayla set her book aside, her smirk widening. "Do you have any good friends, Miley?"

Miley met her roommate's challenging gaze, another blush creeping up her neck and suffusing her cheeks with color. She shook her head, turning back to her book.

"That's too bad." Mikayla pushed up from the bed, tossing her book aside. "You should get one." She grabbed two towels and some clothes to change into, tossing over her shoulder, "It can be nice."

Miley let out a long breath once alone, glancing over at Mikayla's bed. She could see the two figures in her mind's eye again as she saw the bed in the light of day. She had a quick vision of the two girls rolling around together, which she quickly shook her head free of.

"I need some air."

Miley closed her book and laptop then headed out of the room, looking forward to getting away from Mikayla's bed and the memory of her and Lilly. The summer heat still clung to the air and landscape as Miley made her way outside the dorm building. The red brick seemed to trap the August sun and come off in waves.

Not typically one to head outside for any special purpose, Miley's legs were pale, her arms and face only a slight shade darker from exposure in basic living. She was far more an indoor girl, preferring to stay in her room and read. The last school she'd been at hadn't had near as nice grounds as this new one had. There were areas that were set up as parks, benches, trees and flowers decorating the expanse of green lawn.

Finding a bench, Miley sat down, pulling her legs up and wrapping her arms around her knees as he looked out over the grounds. A thick stand of trees were off to her left, a fountain surrounded by flowers to her right. She could hear the birds singing in the trees, then a group of them flew off in noisy protest. Miley glanced over in that direction, surprised to see a redheaded girl storm out of the thicket, wiping a hand across her mouth. She was quickly followed by Lilly, a shit-eating grin on her face.

Miley quickly looked away, for some reason fearing being seen by the tall girl with the bright blue eyes. She wasn't able to shrink away, as she saw a shadow approach the bench, and looked up to see Lilly looking down at her. She stared at her face, blue eyes slowly making their way over every visible inch of Miley before finding their way back to frightened, green eyes.

"Who told you?" Lilly asked, her voice deceivingly soft.

"Who told me what?"

Lilly leaned in close, their faces not more than a foot apart. "Who told you you had permission to come out here to my area?"

Miley could only stare at her, eyes blinking a few times. "What?"

Lilly stood tall, opening her arms wide. "All of this is my area. Who told you you could come out here and sit your ass down on one of my benches?"

Miley felt a thrill of fear run up and down her spine as she looked into the fiery expression on Lilly's face. "I, I didn't know," she stuttered, angry at herself for being affected by the obvious intimidation.

"Well, maybe you should ask next time, shouldn't you?" Lilly offered reasonably. Inside, she was getting a thrill watching the gorgeous little blonde squirm. She could smell innocence in everything this new girl said and did. She thought Mikayla had said her name was Miley, or some month of the year, but wasn't sure, nor did she particularly care. It wasn't like she needed to know the name of her food. "Now," she continued, taking a step back and lowering her voice. "If you apologize, we'll forget this ever happened, and you can continue on your merry way."

Miley felt her fear at Lilly bubble into anger at her. She didn't quite have the guts to talk back to her, but there was absolutely no way she was apologizing. Instead, she pushed up from the bench and walked stubbornly – albeit quickly – away from the bench.

Lilly let her anger at the non-apology go as she watched the hot girl's shapely ass as she walked away from her. Long, blonde hair bounced with every springy step the girl took, hair that Lilly would love to run her fingers through.

"Damn," she whispered.

A month later, Mikayla ran into the room after dinner, slamming the door behind her and dissolving on her bed into a puddle of tears. Miley was startled, having been working on homework at her desk. She hurried over to her roommate, who had started to become somewhat of a friend.

"Hey," she said softly, putting a gentle hand on Mikayla's heaving shoulder. "What's wrong?"

Mikayla flipped from her stomach to her back, her face a red, teary mess. "I hate her!" she cried, looking at Miley with emotion-bright hazel eyes.

"You hate who?" All Mikayla had to do was look at her and Miley had a good idea. She sighed, sad for her friend. She'd personally seen Lilly Truscott skulking around the trees and corners with at least four different girls in the past week alone. "I guess maybe good friends aren't such a good thing after all, huh?"

Mikayla looked at her for a moment then burst into laughter. "Come here, I need comfort."

Miley was surprised to find herself lying flat on her back on Mikayla's bed, Mikayla's head nestled on her shoulder. She froze for a moment, unsure what to do. She had no siblings to care for, and her mother was usually gone on some whirlwind trip. Physical affection was not something she fully understood or knew how to dole out. Mikayla grabbed her arm and put around her shoulders.

"Relax," Mikayla whispered. "I'm not raping you. I just need a friend right now."

Miley did relax, allowing her concerns to leave her as she held Mikayla a bit tighter. After the discomfort passed, she found she actually liked the closeness. "What happened?"

Mikayla sighed. "What happened is, Lilly can't keep it in her pants."

Miley thought again to seeing Lilly with so many different girls. "Is everyone here gay, or something?"

Mikayla chuckled. "No. Lilly Truscott is just gorgeous and can be very persuasive. No one can refuse her." She sighed. "Me, included."

"I can."

Mikayla lifted her head and looked into Miley's face. "Yeah, but you're basically a nun."

"I am not!" Miley exclaimed, though she knew it was essentially true. She'd never done anything with anyone, and was beginning to realize just how rare of an animal she was.

Mikayla laid her head back down. "You've never even kissed anyone, have you, Miley?"

Miley thought for a moment, not sure if she should divulge such personal information. Yes, Mikayla was a friend, but they weren't the kiss-and-tell kinda friends.

"Come on, Miley. Just be honest." Mikayla looked at her again.

Miley sighed, rolling her eyes. "Fine. No, I've never kissed anyone."

"Wow. How old are you?"

"I'm sixteen, okay?" Miley tried to push Mikayla away, but the older girl stopped her.

"Hey, it's okay." Mikayla could tell that she'd really upset the blonde. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you." She gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. "Come on, let's go get some ice cream." Mikayla jumped off the bed, pulling Miley with her.

Miley went on to the next table, flipping to a new page in her pad. She could feel the gaze on her even before she saw her. Looking up, she was looking right into the intense blue eyes of Lilly Truscott, who sat at the table, directly across from where she was standing. Choosing to ignore her, Miley began taking the other girls' orders. She took as much time as she could, trying to delay the inevitable. Finally, she had moved around the table until she was standing next to Lilly, pad and pen waiting.

"What can I get for you?" she asked quietly.

Lilly gave her the once over, which nearly made Miley's skin crawl, then a slow grin spread across full lips. "I don't think that's on the menu," Lilly said just as quietly.

Miley ignored the remark and continued to wait, a blonde brow raised in question. She wrote down Lilly's order when it finally came then sauntered away from the table, her heart pounding double time in her chest.

Once safely in the kitchen, Miley fell back against a wall, her eyes sliding closed. "I can't believe I just did that," she whispered to herself.

Later that afternoon, Miley found herself sitting in Mrs. Dolly's office, her leg tapping nervously. She was never called into the office of the Head Mistress, and was wracking her brain, trying to figure out what she could have done. After five agonizing minutes, the door opened and the well-dressed woman entered.

"I'm sorry to keep you waiting, Miley," she said, breezing in and sitting behind her desk, across from the blonde. "So much to do and so little time to do it." Her friendly smile made Miley feel a bit better, but only a bit. "I've called you in here because you're absolutely excelling here. Your entrance scores were exemplary, and I so hoped your performance would prove the same." Her smile broadened. "It has."

Miley's heart finally slowed, relief flowing through her. She relaxed a bit in her chair, her leg immediately stopping its staccato. "Thank you, ma'am. I'm glad to hear it."

"I'd like to ask you to start tutoring some of our girls. We've got a small group that are falling woefully behind, and this being their senior year, I'd hate to see four years of work go down the drain."

"I understand." Miley felt a bit of excitement flow through her.

"Will you do it?"

"Absolutely. I'd like to help if I can."

"Wonderful!" The Head Mistress clapped her hands together once then stood. "I have a meeting now, but I'll get with you on the details as soon as I have them, as well as a list of students in need."

Miley stood from her chair and was walked to the door of the large office by the older woman.

"Have a wonderful afternoon, Miley."

"You, too." Miley gave her a smile then left the office, feeling like a million bucks. She knew tutoring at a high-level private school would look fantastic on her college transcripts, too.

As she headed out into the cool afternoon, she was on cloud nine. She'd worked hard throughout her entire academic career, determined to be number one and to have a bright future. It had been instilled in her from a very early age to excel, but it went beyond that: Miley truly wanted to succeed for herself, not for her mother or any husband she may have at the time. She didn't want to have to depend on some man to bring her happiness or material items. She had a brain – a very good brain at that – and was determined to use-

Miley's thoughts were interrupted when she nearly ran headlong into someone. Looking up, she realized that someone was Lilly Truscott, and she didn't look happy. Miley cried out in surprise as she was grabbed by the arm and yanked into a stand of trees. She grunted as her back came into rough contact with one of the trees, Lilly caging her in with a hand on either side of her head.

"I think we need to get something clear," Lilly began. Miley could say nothing, her heart pounding loudly in her chest. "I don't like to be ignored and I don't like to be disobeyed."

Miley swallowed her fear and met Lilly's gaze. "I'm not one of your girlfriends, Lilly," she said, her voice far shakier than she'd have liked.

"Girlfriends?" Lilly smirked. "I don't have girlfriends, Miley. I have who I want, when I want. Do you understand?"

Miley's fear came swooping back as Lilly leaned in a bit, their faces scant inches apart. "Lilly," she gasped, unable to say anything else.

"Don't make these mistakes again," Lilly said softly, her words feathery breath on Miley's face. "I don't like to repeat myself."

Miley was shaken as suddenly she found herself alone, still pinned to the tree by her own fear. She felt the hot sting of tears come to her eyes, which she tried to swallow down, but one lone tear managed to escape. She swiped at it angrily, trying to decide what to do.

Later, Miley sat on her bed, Mikayla sitting next to her with an arm wrapped protectively around her shoulders. "You okay?" Mikayla asked softly. They'd been sitting there in silence for a long moment, Miley doing everything she could to not start crying. "Let it out, honey. Whatever it is, let it out."

Miley fought it, worrying she'd lose the battle, but at the last minute managed to get her emotions under control. She took several deep breaths, each one helping to calm her a bit more.

"What happened, Miley?" Mikayla asked, bringing up a hand and wiping away a few strands of blonde hair that had fallen into Miley's face. "You looked absolutely terrified when you came in."

Miley looked at Mikayla, deciding to tell her the truth. "Lilly essentially threatened me."

"What? With what?"

"She all but told me I'm one of her girls, and I had to do what she said. What is wrong with her, Mikayla?"

Mikayla sighed, hugging her friend tightly before letting go, but keeping her arm around her. "I don't know. I wish I did. She can be the sweetest person, but then she has this ugly side that can be a little scary."

"A little scary?" Miley exclaimed, jumping to her feet and pacing in front of her bed. "Mikayla, who does she think she is! I'm nothing to her, not even a friend. What gives her the right to grab me and pin me against a tree? Yes, a little scary!"

"She did that?" Mikayla was shocked. She'd known Lilly to get possessive, but nothing like that. Nothing so violent. "Do you want me to talk to her?"

"And say what?" Miley asked, sarcasm marking her words.

"I don't really know. I don't fully understand what she's doing, so I'm not sure."

"What, this isn't regular caveman behavior for her, Mikayla? She doesn't usually mark her territory this way? At least, what she perceives to be her territory, that is."

"Well, I mean she makes her wants pretty clear, but she's never done anything like that to me, so," Mikayla shrugged. "I don't know."

"Maybe I should go to Mrs. Dolly." Miley looked at Mikayla. "What do you think?"

Mikayla shook her head. "I wouldn't, Miley. Lilly's dad all but owns this school. I think it would be far worse for you if you did, to be honest."

"Is that how she gets away with so much?"

Mikayla nodded. "Pretty much, yeah. It used to be that if you wanted anything – cigarettes, alcohol, that kind of thing, Lilly was the person you went to. I don't know. Somewhere along the way, she stopped being the go-to-girl and became a tyrant."

Miley sat next to Mikayla again. "What did you see in her? Why on earth would you give her your body, let alone your time?"

Mikayla sighed, looking down at her hands, which were clasped in her lap. "I don't know, Miley. I guess it's because she's Lilly Truscott." She looked at Miley with pain-filled eyes. "She's beautiful and unattainable." She gave her a weak smile. "We had some good times together. We've actually been friends – though I use that term very loosely – for about two years."

"Why loosely?" Miley asked softly, surprised at just how much pain really was in Mikayla regarding Lilly. Did she love her? Miss her?

"Because Lilly doesn't have any friends. She won't allow it." She snorted ruefully. "I don't mean to offend your puSarahnical sensibilities here, Miley, but when she was fucking me, she was fucking six other girls and we all knew it."

Miley nodded, looking into her lap as her hands played with a ring her mother had given her last Christmas. "I know. I would see her sometimes."

"Yeah. The entire campus knows. I mean, honestly, to be involved with Lilly is to be a fool."

"I saw you two once," Miley said softly, meeting Mikayla's tortured gaze. "Well, 'saw' isn't entirely accurate, I suppose. You guys were –"

Mikayla grinned. "You can say it. We were fucking."

"Having sex," Miley said sternly, "on your bed. It was dark so I couldn't really see anything, but I sure heard it." Miley's wicked grin made Mikayla blush a bit.

"Sorry we traumatized you so much."

Miley sighed dramatically. "I got over it." She bumped shoulders with Mikayla. "This time in our lives will pass, Mikayla."

"Can't wait," Mikayla sighed, smiling at her friend. "Let's go get some ice cream."

"You're gonna make me fat, you know."

Mikayla raised a brow and looked Miley over from top to bottom thoroughly, making Miley blush slightly. "I doubt that."

Time passed and the semester flew. Thanksgiving break was two weeks away, and Miley was excited to see her mom. They'd only spoken a few times since the school year had begun. Miley's classes were challenging, but she was enjoying them, and she'd begun tutoring three girls. She'd done her best to ignore Lilly and stay out of her way since their confrontation a month earlier. From time to time she could feel Lilly's eyes on her, but Miley refused – part determination and part fear – to look her way.

As she walked towards her dorm, she cried out as someone grabbed her from behind. Just sure it was Lilly, about to drag her off into the trees and rape her, she swung, making contact with something hard. That something hard ended up being Mikayla's shoulder.

"Jesus!" Mikayla cried, holding her the stinging body part.

"Oh god!" Miley turned to her friend. "I'm so sorry. I thought you were Lilly, back to molest me."

"Well, you've got a mean right hook, so I think you'll be fine," Mikayla said, rubbing her shoulder as they began to walk. She put an arm around Miley's shoulders. "So, I was thinking that tonight maybe we could head off campus and see a movie or something."

As the two friends walked and talked, they didn't see Lilly come out of a building they passed, her eyed immediately finding them and locking on the physical familiarity of her "ex" and Miley. Her gaze was mainly focused on Miley, who she couldn't figure out, and it really pissed her off.

She'd stayed away from the little blonde for the past few weeks because her behavior when they'd last met had scared her. Never had she been so brutal and aggressive before, and it frightened her because she had no idea why it had happened. Well, no idea other than Miley was one of – if not the first – girl that she'd been interested in to ignore her or shoot her down. Even still, why should it bother her so much? She would just simply move on.

She leaned back against the building, hugging her books to her chest. Watching Mikayla with Miley made her blood burn. Mikayla had been a good fuck for sure, and she didn't want her to try and tug Miley into her world. She watched as Mikayla's arm slid down off Miley's shoulders, her hand "accidentally" brushing across Miley's tight little ass as it fell. Lilly knew the trick well, as she'd used it herself.

"Hey, we going or what?"

Lilly's ponderings were interrupted by her newest fling. She nodded, glancing one more time at Miley before pushing away from the wall and heading off towards the parking lot.

Miley felt the burn on the back of her neck as though a heating lamp had been placed there. She knew the source, and glanced over her shoulder, expecting to see Lilly standing right behind her. Instead, all she saw were girls walking in groups or individuals hurrying off to their next class. She turned forward again and shook off the feeling.

Miley stared at the glass that was handed to her, her gaze finding Mikayla's. "What do you want me to do with this?" she asked, taking the tumbler, amber liquid inside.

"Drink it, duh." Mikayla downed her glass, her entire body wincing at the potency.

"What is it?" Miley sniffed it, her head jerking back at the strong aroma that nearly burned her nose hairs.

"Just drink it." Mikayla poured herself a second glass, setting the bottle of Jack on her nightstand. She watched as Miley brought the glass to her mouth. "And don't sip it. Just down it." She met Miley's uncertain gaze and grinned. "Trust me."

Miley took a deep breath, then plugged her nose, as though taking cough syrup and swallowed the entire contents in one, choking swallow.

"You okay?" Mikayla laughed, slapping Miley on the back.

Miley nodded, trying to keep the liquid fire down. "Jesus!" she cried, grabbing a bottle of water and downing a third of it. Mikayla was laughing. "What did you give me?" Miley asked, looking into her empty glass. The feeling of slow warmth and numbness spreading throughout her was nearly instantaneous. "Whoa."

Mikayla poured more into Miley's glass. "It's fun, is what it is. You've got way too much virgin territory, little miss. We gotta curb some of that."

Miley tried to stand, but that didn't work so well. She fell back onto the bed, giggling. Mikayla watched with absolute amusement. She tried again, this time succeeding. She set her bottle of water down on her desk and brought the second glass full of the whiskey to her mouth, considering for just a moment before she downed it, again choking on the fiery liquid.

"Good girl," Mikayla grinned.

Miley's eye twitched, then it twitched again. She turned over onto her back from her side, wondering why her back was killing her. As was her head. As was her stomach. As was her bladder. She opened her eyes and wondered why she was lying on the floor, Mikayla still asleep next to her. She next wondered why she was lying in a pair of shorts and no shirt.

Gasping as realization hit, she sat up, covering her breasts with her arms as she looked for her shirt. She found it lying half on and half off her bed. Mikayla was in a t-shirt and panties.

"God, what happened?" she whispered, holding her pounding head in her hands. She finally made it to her feet, stumbling to the door. The hall was quiet as Miley carefully padded her way to the bathroom, which was also blessedly empty. Miley emptied her bladder, which took nearly three minutes to do, then stumbled her way to the counter with a line of sinks and a long mirror.

She felt a little better after splashing a bit of cold water on her face, but then the blood drained from it when she looked up into the mirror. The side of her neck was marked with a deep purple hickey.

"Oh my god!" Miley lifted up her shirt and found another one on her upper chest. Panicked, she put her shirt down and hurried back to the room. Mikayla was still asleep, but after Miley pulled the shades up, that didn't last long. The morning sun blasted in, right into Mikayla's eyes.

"God!" she groaned, turning to her other side to hide her face. "What time is it?"

"Time to get up."

The tone of Miley's voice surprised Mikayla into full wakefulness. She sat up, hair standing on end, as she looked at her friend. "You okay?"

"What is this, Mikayla?" Miley demanded, pointing to her neck. "I got another one under my shirt, too. I woke up without a shirt!" Her anger was pulsating through her like electricity, frightening in its intensity. "What did you do!"

"Whoa, wait a sec." Mikayla got clumsily to her feet. "You asked me to do that."

Miley shook her head, tears in her eyes. "No way, Mikayla. I wouldn't do that."

"You did! You said there was a list of stuff you wanted to do, and getting a hickey was one of them."

Miley brought her hand up, covering the bruise as she tried to wrack her brain. She remembered nothing of the previous night. Her last memory was taking the second drink in hand and downing it. Everything else was a dark blue.

"Miley, I'd never do anything you weren't comfortable with," Mikayla insisted, taking a step closer to her friend, only to have Miley step back. Mikayla stopped in her tracks.

"No? You mean like getting me drunk? God, what else did you do to me!"

Miley gathered a fresh set of clothing and slammed out of the room, headed to shower. Mikayla cursed violently as she threw herself on her bed. In truth, she had no idea how the hickey had happened, but knew that she wished to god she could remember doing it. It was likely that was her only chance.

Lilly peeked her head out from the door, making sure the hall was quiet so she could make her escape. Seeing no one, she scurried out into it, rounding the corner and literally being plowed over by Miley Stewart.

"Whoa!" she cried in surprise, barely keeping her and Miley on their feet. She looked at an equally shocked Miley, then she saw it. "Well, looks like someone had quite the night last night."

Immediately humiliated, Miley shoved Lilly away from her. "Not all of us want to be whores, Lilly!" she yelled, then ran the rest of the way to the bathroom.

Lilly was stunned, considering following, but then realization dawned. Now that she thought back, Miley had had tears in her eyes, the green intense with the upset. Her jaw muscles working with her building anger, she stormed down the hall in the opposite direction.

Mikayla nearly threw her computer out the window when the door was slammed open. She set the laptop down, hand to her heart. "Jesus Christ, Lilly!"

Lilly stormed inside, slamming the door shut behind her. She was in Mikayla's face. "What did you do to her?" she growled.

Mikayla looked into Lilly's eyes, her own widening at the storm she saw there. "What are you talking about?"

"What did you do to her?" Lilly said again, moving in even closer. "I just ran into Miley – literally – and saw your handiwork. What did you do?"

Mikayla looked away, embarrassed. "We had a little too much to drink." She fired her own gaze at Lilly. "What the fuck do you care anyway, Lilly? If it were up to you, it would have been you sucking on her neck and not me!"

Lilly grabbed hold of Mikayla's shirt, pulling the other girl in close. "Don't you dare touch her again."

"Why? Because she's yours?" Mikayla challenged.

"No," Lilly said, to both their surprises. "Because she doesn't want that and she's not ready for it."

A long stretch of silence filled the room, both staring at each other. Mikayla recovered first. "You've fallen for her."

Lilly snorted, turning away as she ran a hand through her hair.

"It's true. Oh my god, Lilly Truscott is finally thinking of someone else beside her own selfish, asshole self."

Lilly whirled on her, ready to let loose, but she stopped herself, snapping her mouth shut. She knew Mikayla was right. She turned away from her again.

"What are you going to do about this new development?" Mikayla stepped up behind Lilly. "She wants nothing to do with you, Lilly. You know that."

"And that suits me just fine," Lilly said stubbornly. She looked at Mikayla, her expression carefully controlled. "Just fine."

"Oh, I'm sure it does!" Mikayla laughed. "God, you're pathetic. Look at you! You just snuck out of some girl's room after fucking her all night, fully intending to break her heart in the light of day, when you come slamming in here like some sort of black night to save the poor, innocent Miley." She laughed ruefully. "How far the mighty have fallen."

Lilly headed for the door. "Bullshit. I don't fall for anyone, Mikayla. Least of all some young, snot nosed academic who is probably no better than a cold fish in bed, anyway."

The echo of the slamming door was all the kept Mikayla company.

Lilly knew, even as she wandered campus, that she was looking for Miley. After fifteen minutes, she found her, sitting under a tree hugging her knees to her body. Miley's eyes were red-rimmed, her face splotchy. Lilly carefully approached, not even sure why she was there.

"You gonna live?" she said, regretting the flippant words the moment they were out of her mouth.

Miley glanced at Lilly, then rested her forehead against her knees. "Please go away," she muttered, feeling guilty for what she'd said earlier, but truly not wanting to hear anything Lilly had to say. She didn't need any more teasing. To her irSarahtion, Lilly sat down beside her.

"Damn, grass is wet. We're both gonna look like we pissed our pants."

Miley was taken off guard by the odd remark, and glanced at her unwanted companion. "What?"

"Seriously," Lilly continued, lifting up to look at the backside of her jeans. "Yeah, real nice." She sat down again. "Ah well. I'm already wet so might as well get wetter." She grinned at Miley, which once again totally threw the blonde for a loop.

"Why are you here?" Miley finally asked. "If you have anymore comments, I request that you keep them to yourself. I really don't need them."

Lilly shook her head. "Nope. No more comments." They sat in silence for a long time before Lilly spoke again. "You know, I regret my first time."

Miley turned angry eyes on her. "Last night wasn't my first time."

"No? You mean you've-"

"No, I mean we didn't…"

"Fuck?"

"Have sex." She threw her hands up in exasperation. "My god, what is it with you guys and your vulgarities? Don't you have any self-respect?"

Lilly chuckled ruefully. "Lost that long ago, Miley."

Miley stared at her. "Why?"

Lilly met her gaze. "I told you I regret my first time." She looked up at the morning sky. "Lots of regrets."

Miley could sense the genuine meaning behind Lilly's words and was touched by them. "I'm sorry you have regrets, Lilly. I don't think anyone should have regrets."

"Then do you regret whatever happened last night?" Lilly asked softly. It intrigued and disgusted her in equal parts just how much tenderness Miley brought out in her. She wanted nothing more than to take the blonde in her arms and comfort her on this most confusing morning.

Miley smiled. "Guess you got me there. Perhaps I should live by my own advice, huh?"

Lilly nodded. "Yeah. We all have our first experiences, no matter what they are. It's not always picture perfect, Miley. Sometimes you gotta get over the smaller humps to move on to the big ones."

Miley could see the wisdom behind Lilly's words, and decided she was right. "Thank you," she said softly. "I really appreciate that. I'll take that to heart."

The bell announcing breakfast rang, echoing out over campus. Miley got to her feet, wiping a hand over the wet seat of her pants.

"Guess you're right. I'm all wet." With a small smile, she walked away, leaving Lilly to consider the events of the morning.

Thanksgiving was three days away, the week wrapping up in class. All of Miley's teachers were piling on the homework, which wasn't unusual for a holiday period. Not that she was thrilled, but it wasn't unexpected.

Since the night of their drinking debacle, Miley and Mikayla hadn't said much to the other. Mikayla was walking around on eggshells and Miley was trying to reconcile everything in her mind. The only reprieve was that Mikayla was leaving school early, as her family was leaving the country on vacation.

Miley sat at her desk, typing up a report that was due after break, that she didn't want to have to worry about while at her mom's house. She could feel Mikayla watching her. Miley's fingers falter on the keyboard before she finally turns and looks at her roommate.

"Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Miley," Mikayla said softly.

Miley smiled. "You, too." She was going to let Mikayla walk out, but at the last minute got up from her chair and walked over to her, pulling her into brief, but tight hug. "Enjoy Spain ."

"I will. Have fun at your mom's."

"'K."

They parted and Mikayla left, feeling so much better about the situation. She hated being at odds with anyone, let alone the girl she had to live with.

Miley returned to her studies once Mikayla was gone and the room was quiet again. She was just about to finish her report when her cell phone rang, Beethoven's Moonlit Sonata filling the room. She flipped the phone open and put it to her ear.

Lilly kicked at the fallen leaves on the lawn, hands tucked into the pockets of her jeans. It was a bitterly cold day, but she was tired of being inside. She felt miserable, as a cold had struck her two days before. She blew out breath made of vapor. Everyone was gone for the upcoming holiday. This would be Lilly's fourth at the school. At least it would be her final one. She was tired of the campus that had come to feel far more like a prison than a place of education.

She made her way back into the dorms, deciding to watch movies for the rest of the day and order a pizza. The halls were completely silent, other than the pitter patter of raindrops that had begun to fall. Lilly rounded the corner to head to her dorm when she ran smack into Miley, who had tears in her eyes.

"Whoa!" Lilly said, holding the small blonde steady. "You know, we really gotta stop meeting like this."

Miley looked up at Lilly and smiled, despite herself. "Sorry."

Lilly saw the tears glistening on Miley's cheeks and her brows furrowed in concern. "What's wrong?"

Miley looked up at Lilly, who looked like hell. Her eyes and nose were red and her face pale. "God, you look like shit."

"Gee, is that what you say to all the girls?" Lilly asked, taking a step back from the now physically stable Miley.

"Only the ones who look like shit."

A slow smile spread across Lilly's lips before she brought a Kleenex out of her pocket and wiped her continually-running nose. "Seriously, though. What's wrong? And why the hell are you still here?"

Miley looked away as fresh tears stung behind her eyes.

"Uh oh. Okay, come on."

Lilly gently guided Miley down the hall and to her own dorm, which was at the end of a short, somewhat private corridor. She opened the door and let Miley pass before her.

Miley walked inside and looked around. The room was the size of the one she shared with Mikayla, though this one only had one bed in it and lot of space. "Are you bunking alone?"

"Yep." Lilly unzipped and removed her jacket, tossing it onto the desk chair. "It helps when your daddy makes big donations to the school." Lilly walked over to a waist-high fridge with a heating plate and small microwave on top of it. "Want some hot tea?"

"Please." Miley walked around the room, surprised to see that Lilly had books stacked upon every available space, as well as hundreds more tucked into the three bookshelves that lined one wall. A poster of Einstein was pinned to her closet door, a half-naked woman on the opposite wall. "Can I have your room when I grow up?"

Lilly chuckled. "Sit down."

Miley found a clear spot at a small, two-person table tucked under the window. The room was clean, but somewhat messy, though mainly because of the sheer number of books Lilly had. Miley's gaze scanned the room, ending on the unmade bed. A slight blush crept over her cheeks as she thought about just how many girls knew that bed personally.

"Here ya go," Lilly said, setting a mug down in front of Miley, the tea bag hanging out the side. "Sugar or milk?"

"Honey, if you have it."

"That I do." Lilly joined Miley, setting a honey bear on the table between them, as well as two spoons. As she prepared her tea, Lilly eyed Miley. "So, you gonna tell me what happened?"

Miley blew out a long breath, blowing her bangs out of her face in the process. "Jackson wanted to show my mom and step-dad the new house."

"And, that's bad why?"

"Because I won't be going home for the holiday. Thanksgiving or Christmas."

Lilly was quiet for a long moment, sipping her tea as she battled her own internal thoughts. She set her mug down and sat back in the chair. "Who's Jackson?"

"He's my step-brother. He and his wife now live in Switzerland and just bought a new house. Robby, my step-father, is obsessively close to his son, so," she shrugged her shoulders, "I don't count."

"Why Christmas, too?"

"They're staying until New Years." Miley sipped her tea then sat back in her own chair. "I can't miss a month of classes, including finals, so…."

"You get left out in the cold, so to speak."

Miley nodded, fresh tears beginning to form.

"Hey, I'm sorry." Lilly reached across the table and gently squeezed one of Miley's hands. "If it's any constellation, I haven't seen my father in three years."

Miley stared at Lilly. "What?"

Lilly nodded then ended up in a massive coughing fit. She took a sip of her tea, clearing her throat before continuing. "Fucking cold. Anyway, my father is off, gallivanting around the world, making money."

"Oh, Lilly. God, I feel like such an idiot, upset because I won't see my mom for the holidays this year, and you never get to see your dad for the holidays-"

"At all, Miley. I don't see him at all."

Miley was silent for a long moment, allowing what Lilly had said to penetrate. "You mean, as in you're stuck here? You don't go home for summer break?" Lilly slowly shook her head. "Spring break?" Another slow head shake. "Nothing?"

"Nothing. He makes a sizeable donation – essentially babysitting money on a grand scale – and he knows I'm somewhere, then."

"God, does that bother you?"

Lilly shrugged, looking out the window. "It's starting to snow."

Miley recognized the subject change for what it was. "I hope we get lots. I love snow."

"Me, too." Lilly sighed, again bringing up the Kleenex to wipe her nose.

"How long have you been sick?"

"Couple days." Lilly's head fell back, her eyes slipping shut. "Hate being sick."

"Okay, you." Miley got up from her seat and walked over to Lilly. "Up."

Lilly opened her eyes and looked at Miley in question. "Huh?"

"Up. Come on, get up."

Lilly stood with a groan, then was directed to her bed, Miley's hands on her shoulders forcing her to sit. Miley knelt before her and removed Lilly's boots.

Lilly gave her a rakish grin. "I kinda like seeing you down there."

Miley glared up at her, tossing one boot over her shoulder. "Can you go ten minutes without making some sort of innuendo?"

"Sure. I once went eleven minutes."

Miley smiled, despite herself as she pushed Lilly to lie back. "You know, when you're not being a monster, you're actually kind of nice."

"Yeah, well don't let that get around," Lilly sighed, eyes slipping shut again. "I got a rep to protect." A small smile graced Lilly's lips just before she fell off into a deep sleep.

Miley stood next to the bed, watching for a long moment. She studied Lilly's features, noting once again just how beautiful she truly was. The news about Lilly's father made a bit more sense as to Lilly's behavior, as well as what she was able to get away with at the school.

With a heavy sigh for a very lost soul, Miley covered Lilly's sleeping form with a sheet and blanket then left the room.

It was dark when Lilly awoke. She was chilled, yet her shirt was soaking with sweat. Her head felt like it was about to fall off, delirium disorienting her. Slowly, oh so slowly, she pulled herself out of bed and stumbled her way to the bathroom down the hall. She nearly lost her balance twice as she relieved herself.

"Can I die?" she whispered, her head in her hands as she sat on the toilet, long finished with her business. She was entirely too weak to get up. Finally, she managed to pull her pants up and open the door of the stall. She headed to the stand of sinks, and the last thing she remembered was watching in the mirror as she fell to the floor.

Lilly heard distant voices, but couldn't discern anything they were saying. She tried to open her eyes, but it felt like her eyelids weighed a hundred pounds. Finally she got them open and realized the voices she was hearing belonged to Mrs. Dolly and Dr. Folsom, the school's physician. They were blurry images until Lilly blinked again. This time, she noticed Miley standing over by the window. They were all in Lilly's dorm room.

"Well, look who's finally joined us," Dr. Folsom said with his usual smile. "How are you feeling, Miss Truscott?"

"Like I'm dead. Or wanna be," she said quietly.

Dr. Folsom chuckled and patted her leg. "You'll survive. You've gotten yourself a nasty bout of influenza. You're weak and dehydrated. I've given you some intravenous fluids, but I need you to drink plenty of water and orange juice." The doctor began to pack up his bag. "I was going to take you to the hospital to keep an eye on you, but Miss Stewart has agreed to look in on you."

Lilly glanced over at Miley then back to the doctor. "So, I'll live?"

The doctor nodded. "Yes, you'll live."

Mrs. Dolly smiled at Lilly and patted her hand. "If you need anything, Lilly, Mr. Hendricks is on campus this week. He knows of your condition and will be waiting to help in any way he can."

Lilly nodded and watched as the doctor and head Mistress left the room. Miley walked over to her and sat on her bed.

"You know, you gave me quite a scare," Miley said, sitting on the side of Lilly's bed. "That wasn't fun finding you passed out on the bathroom floor."

"Sorry," Lilly whispered. "Next time I'll try and plan it better."

Miley smiled. "You do that." She poured Lilly a glass of orange juice from the jug she'd bought at a nearby store. "Drink."

Lilly allowed Miley to help her get situated against her pillows so she could drink easily. "Why are you staying? You're gonna end up sicker than hell."

Miley shrugged. "I've got nothing better to do this week."

"Gee. Thanks."

Miley grinned, taking the glass from Lilly, who had drank nearly all the juice. "How are you feeling? Really?"

Lilly pondered the question for a moment. "My head hurts, my body hurts, my throat hurts and I feel weak as a kitten."

:Okay. Well, guess that answers that." Miley pushed up from the bed. "Do you need anything?" She walked over to the small table by the window, where a plastic grocery sack sat. "I got you chicken noodle soup, crackers for an upset tummy, Gatorade to rehydrate you and," Miley pulled out a candy bar with a victorious cry. "Chocolate!"

Lilly weakly pumped her fist in the air. "Yay."

"So, what's your pleasure?"

Even as ill as she was, Lilly still managed a lascivious grin.

Miley rolled her eyes, dropping the candy back into the bag. "God, even on your deathbed you're a pig." She brought out a can of soup and used a can opener she'd also bought. She poured the soup into a large coffee mug then put it in the microwave.

"You don't have to stay with me, you know," Lilly said, pushing herself up a bit further on the pillows, where she'd begun to sink into their softness.

"I know," Miley said, and on hip as she waited for the microwave to finish.

Miley's back was turned to Lilly as dinner was prepared, which gave Lilly a chance to really study the other girl. She wished she could be studying her face, though. Miley had such kind features, her eyes such a vivid, beautiful green. But, even the view Lilly had wasn't a bad one. Miley's build was petit and short, though well-proportioned. Her hips were slim, yet she most definitely had the curves of a woman.

Miley removed the mug of soup from the microwave and turned partially towards Lilly, allowing her to study Miley's profile. Such a beautiful profile, which culminated in Lilly's gaze focusing on Miley's lips, which pursed as the blonde blew on the hot soup.

"Miley?" Lilly said quietly.

"Yeah?" Miley said, walking towards the bed. "Careful, this is hot," she said softly, handing the mug to Lilly.

Lilly took the mug, but had no interest in its contents. "Can I kiss you?"

Miley was taken aback by the bold request, and the widening of her eyes showed it. "What?" The surprise faded as a smile spread across the very lips Lilly wished for nothing more than to taste. "God, you're incorrigible!" She began to laugh but saw Lilly wasn't laughing. "You're serious."

"As a heart attack."

Miley looked down at her hands, which played with the zipper on her hooded sweatshirt. "I can't do that, Lilly," she near whispered, even though the request had sent tiny little butterflies flapping around her ribcage.

"Why? Why won't you allow yourself to go?" Lilly truly couldn't understand Miley's reluctance to experience life.

Miley looked at Lilly with hard eyes. "You mean to whore myself?"

"No, I didn't mean it that way and you know it, Miley."

"No, I don't know, Lilly. All I know is who you are, and what you expect of your girls. Remember? Or have you forgotten the day you slammed me up against a tree with your stupid demands?"

Instant shame filled Lilly, which she didn't like, therefore causing her to fire back. "Well, I'm sorry if I can't be as puSarahn as you are. Guess I missed that day in class."

"I am not puSarahn," Miley said, her voice a deadly whisper.

"No?" Lilly sat up, her body agonizing over using energy which it didn't have. "Miley, you are so fucking tight, when you walk you squeak!"

The slap came before either of them could see it coming. A moment of stunned silence filled the room. Lilly brought a hand up to her stinging face, Miley pushing away from the bed. Without a word, she grabbed her keycard and slammed out of the room.

Lilly fell back against the pillows, setting the soup on her nightstand. "Shit. God, that was stupid."

Miley slammed the door to her room, the tears flowing as soon as she was alone. She collapsed on her bed and buried her face in her hands. She felt strange, and realized something inside hurt. It wasn't her stomach, but was higher. Her heart. Miley's heart hurt.

As that realization dawned on her, Miley sat up, wiping at her face. She took several deep breaths, trying to calm herself and analyze what was happening inside her. She took her mind back to a few minutes before and Lilly's request. She could hear the words echo in her mind, and truly let herself hear them: Can I kiss you? They were harmless, and Miley felt in her gut that they were harmless. Well, harmless in that Lilly wasn't asking to sleep with her. She simply wanted to experience her.

Miley wiped her entire face with the sleeve of her sweatshirt, sniffling. She brought her hand up, fingertips lightly touching her own lips. For a moment, she was able to imagine the gentle touch was that of Lilly's lips. A small shudder worked its way down Miley's spine, sending pleasant tingles to places she'd never felt them before.

Closing her eyes, Miley was able to see Lilly's face before her own, those intense, sensuous blue eyes looking at her. Can I kiss you? Miley nodded her head, her heart skipping a beat as Lilly leaned in close. She imagined Lilly reaching for her, a gentle touch against her face, Miley's fingers reaching up and absently caressing the area she figured Lilly would touch.

"Please," she whispered.

Lilly was about to make contact when Miley was startled out of her daydream by a knock on the door. She nearly fell off the bed in her haste to clear her mind and get to the door. She groaned when she opened the door to see Lilly standing on the other side.

Embarrassed at what had just been in her head, Miley looked away from the other girl, chewing on her bottom lip in nervous reaction. "Hey," she said quietly.

"Hey." Lilly shuffled for a moment. She took Miley's reaction to seeing her as a continuation of what just happened. For a moment she wondered if maybe it had been a bad idea to show up on her doorstep. "Um, I wanted to apo-"

"No," Miley said, shaking her head. "I'm the only who needs to apologize. I completely overreacted, and I'm sorry."

"It was really inappropriate," Lilly insisted.

"I was mean."

"I shouldn't have asked."

Miley realized they were both desperately trying to convince the other that they, themselves were wrong. A small smile cracked her lips. "Perhaps you shouldn't have asked, but I definitely shouldn't have reacted the way I did."

Lilly shook her head, a grin caressing her lips. "No, you sure shouldn't have."

Miley rolled her eyes, but allowed Lilly's joking words to sooth and calm her. "I think I understand you now, Lilly Truscott."

"Oh? Do share, Miley Stewart." Lilly crossed her arms over her chest, leaning her shoulder against the doorjam.

"Yeah, see you're an experiencer. You simply wanted the experience of kissing me, and meant nothing more by it than that."

Lilly raised a dark brow in approval. "You think so, huh?"

Miley put her hands on her hips, daring a challenge to her summation. "Yeah, I do."

"Well, you're right."

"Thank you. And, in so wishing to experience me," Miley took a deep breath, "I give you permission. To kiss me."

Lilly stated at the beautiful woman before her, unable to keep her adoration in check. Even so, she knew it wasn't the right circumstance. Yes, Miley was right in that she was an experiencer, but she wanted so much more from Miley than merely the experience of kissing her. "No."

Miley jerked back as though she'd been slapped. "What?"

"No," Lilly said again, shaking her head. "It's like I told Mikayla the morning after your night with a vampire."

"Oh, and what did you tell her?" Miley asked, a hand on her hip and her chin jutted in challenge.

"That you're not ready," Lilly said simply. I'll have you know, I defended your honor."

"What a dubious honor, Lilly."

"Yes, but an honor all the same." Lilly leaned in close, all fun gone. "You're not ready, Miley. I won't do that to you."

Miley met her gaze, and for a moment felt a bit of warmth spread through her. What was it? Gratitude? Friendship? Something else? "Well," she said at length, watching as the toe of her shoe tapped the wall. "Thank you. I think." She glanced up at Lilly again. "I don't fully understand all this, nor do I pretend to."

"You will. When the time is right, you will." Lilly pushed off the doorjam, blowing Miley a kiss as she backed away from her door. "For now, I'm going bck to bed because I feel like trampled dog shit."

"Ever the lady," Miley drawled, closing the door.

The campus had become a winter wonderland over night, and Miley couldn't help going out to walk in the virgin snow. It was cold, but absolutely beautiful. The sky was overcast, hinting at more storms to come. Hand stuffed into the pockets of her coat, she made trails across one of the park areas, marveling at the snow that frosted trees, statues and benches. She could never understand how her grandparents had moved to Florida . How could anyone live where there was nothing so remarkable and beautiful?

Her mind was clear her soul free. It was a good feeling, and something inside her felt liberated, as though something were happening inside her that was freeing her from all the boundaries and self-imposed, isolating terms she'd set for herself long ago. Watching her mother step from one bad situation to the next, always leaning on someone else to get her through it, had taught Miley a very valuable lesson. So she thought. Had the lesson actually been more of a stifling influence rather than a safe, cautious one?

She kicked at the snow, watching as white powder flew into the air, only to sprinkle down upon the layers all around her. She glanced over to her left, seeing a shadow on the flawless surface of white. It was the shadow from a tree, its branches forming an interesting shape. It looked very much like an angle, replete with wings and halo. Miley looked up at the tree, itself and amused when the shape eluded her. It only seemed to work in shadow.

"You trying to tell me something, God?" she asked softly, looking up into the gray sky. "Maybe so."

She walked back towards the buildings, her thoughts wandering to Lilly. She hadn't seen or spoken to her all morning, and in fact had to fight herself from going to check on her first thing when she woke up. She needed some space and perspective. Mikayla was right about one thing: Lilly was definitely a difficult one to resist. Miley felt so drawn to the girl, and wasn't sure why the difficulty in staying her own course of morals and guidelines. Was it that indelible charm she possessed? Was it the fact that for the first time somebody actually wanted Miley?

Being a wall flower her entire life hadn't helped any of Miley's thoughts of her own rules and regulations. In fact, it had made it much easier for her to keep the world at bay. In truth, Miley was beginning to realize there was no world to keep at bay. Perhaps her own set boundaries helped her justify and console that there was no one there. No one cared, no one wanted to be close to her, no one wanted her. Even her own mother would rather be somewhere else.

Miley blew out a long, white puff of air, the carefully structured life she'd made for herself falling at her feet, leaving her feeling very alone and vulnerable. It was not a welcome feel9ing. None of this, of course did anything in sorting through her pull towards Lilly. Lilly made her think of and consider things she'd never given two seconds of consideration for. Why?

Miley cleared off snow from a stone bench and sat down. She sighed heavily, her heart heavy. Her plan had always been to forge her path alone, yet now she entertained the thought of two. Again, she saw Lilly's face before her mind's eye.

"What is it about you?" she asked the image. "Why you?"

Knowing this would take far more pondering than Miley could stand the cold, she decided it was time to head in. She'd file all of this away from another time.

Lilly had just gotten through an intense session of coughing and groaning when there was a knock at her door. She pushed up from the bed and padded her way over to it, croaking, "Who is it?" She immediately unlocked and opened the door when she heard Miley's voice on the other side.

"Oh my god," Miley said, eyeing Lilly. "You look even worse than you did yesterday."

"Thank you oh so much," Lilly muttered, shuffling back to the bed, where she plopped down, a string of coughs following.

"God, you poor baby!" Miley hurried over to the bed, helping Lilly adjust her pillows and get comfortable. "What can I get you? Have you eaten anything?" She looked at Lilly's side table, noting the half-eaten mug of soup from the night before and an empty water bottle.

Lilly shook her head. "Nope."

"Okay, that's gotta change." Miley set about preparing some food for Lilly. "So, why all the books?" she asked.

Lilly coughed then groaned, closing her eyes for a moment as she waited for the cough-induced headache to go away. "I love to read," she finally managed.

"So, you actually have read these?" Miley asked, bringing Lilly's lunch to her.

Lilly smirked. "I don't exactly bring people here to impress them with my room, Miley," she said, immediately regretting the words as soon as they'd left her mouth.

Miley lost her own smile, quietly helping Lilly to get situated before quietly saying, "No, I suppose not."

Lilly tried to save the situation from another disaster. "Do you like to read?" She took the mug of soup from Miley. "Thank you."

Miley sat on the side of Lilly's bed. "Yes. I'm a pretty avid reader, actually."

"What do you like to read?"

"Oh jeez, anything from Stephen King to Carl Sagan to Danielle Steel," Miley said, picking at a bit of lint on her pants.

Lilly raised a brow. "Danielle Steel? I hadn't taken you for the Harlequin type."

"Yeah, well there's a lot you don't know about me."

"Evidently. I myself prefer the classics. Mythology, Jane Austin, Hawthorne ."

"So I see," Miley drawled, holding up an anthology of lesbian erotica.

Lilly grinned. "Yeah, that, too."

"Mmhmm." Miley thumbed through the well-read book. "How can you read this stuff?" She stopped on a page, randomly choosing a place to start reading. "'With measured thrusts, she pushed the phallus through the sodden love tunnel of the woman, heaving beneath her. She-'"

Lilly snatched the book out of Miley's hands, tossing it to the bed. "Hey now, don't make fun of Harem Mistress. It's a great piece of writing."

"So I see," Miley laughed. "Lilly, you can have any woman on campus, why on earth would you need to read such smut?"

"Because sometimes you feel like playing alone," Lilly said simply around a bite of soup.

Miley blushed deeply, turning away from her grinning companion. "I see."

"Oh my god , you are so funny! I bet you ten bucks you've never even masturbated!"

Miley glared at her. "I'm not making some stupid bet with you."

"I'm right, aren't I? You, Miley Stewart, aged 16 and a senior in high school, have never masturbated."

"That is none of your business!"

Lilly set the mug aside, fully interested in the conversation. "Come on. Be open with me. I promise. If you answer this, you can ask me anything you want."

Miley looked into the giddy gleam in Lilly's eyes and finally sighed. "God, you're such a juvenile. No, okay? I've never masturbated. Does that make you feel better? You feel big and bad now?"

"Immensely," Lilly grinned.

"I'm sure you do. I'm very happy for you."

Lilly sat back against her pillows, arms crossed over her chest, even as she broke out in a coughing fit. Once she recovered, she waved Miley on. "Go for it. What's your question?"

"Why do you sleep with so many girls?" Miley asked, hand on her hip. "And a real answer. Not a 'because I'm god's gift to lesbians everywhere, and no one can resist me' answer."

"You know, that's the second time today you've mentioned that no one can resist me. Does that include you?"

Miley rolled her eyes in lieu of an answer.

"Okay, okay. I sleep with so many girls because I like the attention." She saw the disapproval creep into Miley's eyes. "Wait, I don't think I fully explained what I mean by that. It's not as egotistical as that."

Miley waited, noting that Lilly's entire demeanor had changed. She looked down at her fingers, which played incessantly with the edge of the sheet. She seemed shy and a bit embarrassed.

"What I mean is," Lilly continued, "is I don't have a lot going on in my life, as far as relationships are concerned. My mom died when I was 2, my father is off doing whatever, and my older brother, Michael is at West Point , and we can't stand each other." She blew out a long, cleansing breath. She couldn't dare meet Miley's eyes as she admitted something she'd admitted to no one. "I like the company, even if it's for a little while, but then can make them go before…" her voice trailed off, realizing what she about to say, and how pathetic Miley would think she sounded.

Miley could feel Lilly's inner turmoil, and it touched her deeply. She reached out and took Lilly's hand in hers. "Before what, Lilly?" she asked softly.

Lilly sighed, which turned into a coughing fit. "Before they leave me," she said simply, still not able to meet Miley's gaze.

"Is that why you don't have any girlfriends?"

Lilly sighed. To her surprise, she actually felt a bit of liberation by divulging her secret feelings, even though she felt vulnerable as hell. "Pretty much."

"No friends?"

Lilly shook her head. "Not really. Mikayla might be kinda sorta considered a friend, but only in the loosest tense of the word." She spared a glance at Miley before turning to look at her Einstein poster. "I know, I know, I'm screwed, right? The reputation I've carved out for myself somewhat precludes any other image of me, therefore, no way of change, no girlfriends, no friends. I got it."

"Wait a minute. Hold the phone there, lady. I never said nor thought that, so quit the pity party." Miley leaned on one of her hands, tilting her head slightly. "I truly believe that anyone can change anything at any time."

"Oh really?" Lilly asked, skeptical.

"Oh really. I changed my thoughts about you." Miley smiled sweetly.

Lilly looked at her for a moment, finally breaking out into a soft chuckle. "Then I guess anything is possible." She chewed on her lip for a moment in thought. "So, what are you thinking now?"

"That you're not a sickening pig."

"Good to know," Lilly said, sarcasm dripping off her words.

"Show me your book collection."

Two hours later, the girls lay on the floor of Miley's room, hundreds of CD jewel cases spread out around them. Miley hit the stop button on her state-of-the-art Bose stereo system. "Wait, this one is the best." She snagged an empty jewel case, opening the CD drawer and pulling out the current one, placing it in its protective case and then setting another in the tray.

Lilly sat with her back against Miley's bed, waiting to hear what her friend had come up with. Soon the room was filled with the soft tinkling of a piano, soft, then the song built, strings joining. She was surprised at the choice of the classical piece, considering everything else they'd shared with each other had been either retro music or contemporary.

"What's this?" she asked, closing her eyes as the beautiful music filled her.

" Rhapsody On A Theme of Paganini ," Miley explained, letting the music flow through her.

"I didn't know you were into classical music."

"Oh my god, yes! Are you kidding ? I love classical music." They were silent as the song continued, each absorbed in their own thoughts. "When I was a child," Miley said softly after awhile, "I used to sit in my room and listen to my grandmother's old records for hours and hours: Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Verdi's Four Seasons . Spring was always my favorite, by the way."

"Would you kill me if I told you I've never heard it?" Lilly asked, followed by a cough.

Miley chuckled, removing the current CD and replacing it into its jewel case. "No, I'll just make you listen to it."

"I still don't know why you don't like Eminem," Lilly pouted.

As everyone arrived back on campus after break, it was a natural progression for Miley and Lilly to drift apart once again. Miley went to her classes, focusing hard on her studies and helping those she was tutoring. Lilly appeared to being the same, as Miley rarely ever saw her on the grounds. True, it had gotten very cold as winter had officially begun, but somehow Miley didn't think that was it. Even during meals, often she'd see Lilly enter the dining room, disappear into the kitchen, then leave, carrying a paper bag.

One of those times was the morning Miley sat at a table with Mikayla and a few of her roommate's friends. Miley watched Lilly until she had disappeared around the corner, out of the room.

"Is she gone?" Mikayla asked, a twinkle in her eyes. She met her roommate's confused gaze.

"Huh?" Miley asked, not realizing she'd been caught watching Lilly.

"Lilly. Is she gone?" Mikayla nodded in the general direction where Lilly had been last seen.

Miley looked down at her breakfast, embarrassed. "I don't care if she comes or goes," she muttered.

"No?" Mikayla challenged, smearing fruit preserves on a piece of toast. "I think you're wrong, my friend. Every day for the past two weeks you've made sure you knew what her comings and goings are."

"Shut up, Mikayla," Miley said, pushing away from the table and throwing her half-eaten breakfast away.

Miley walked through the calf-deep snow, amused when she saw an anatomically-correct snowman – which she knew would be destroyed as soon as the faculty knew of its existence - with her hands tucked deep into the pockets of her jacket. She kicked at the snow as her mind went to Lilly. She'd come outside to think about the girl who had been her constant companion during Thanksgiving break. Now, they'd not said more than two words to each other in the two weeks since. Christmas break was on the way, and Miley hoped that they could at least spend that time together, but as distant as they'd both become – Lilly going so far as to not even be available for a hello during meals – she was beginning to fear that wouldn't be possible.

She let out a heavy sigh, deciding if she wanted to see if perhaps she could go visit her aunt during the holiday. Her Aunt Sara wasn't her favorite person. Sara was a born again fundamentalist Christian, and Miley despised her judgmental, preaching ways. But, it might be better than spending the entire Christmas break alone.

Miley's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone's voice coming from somewhere in the stand of trees off to her left. She realized it was Lilly's voice. For a moment her stomach fell, thinking that Lilly was at it again: off in the woods with her next 'girl'. But, after a moment she realized that Lilly was on the phone, as the conversation was very one-sided, and getting heated.

"Why would you think I wouldn't care, Michael? What is wrong with you?"

Miley stopped, trying to decide what to do. Lilly sounded very upset, and though she wanted to go be there for her friend – regardless if Lilly wanted her there or not – but didn't want to intrude. Lilly's next words made up Miley's mind for her.

"He's dead , you ass! Do you think I wouldn't care if our father was dead?"

As Miley made her way into the trees, she heard a growl of frustration and then something crash. She found Lilly sitting on a bench, her face buried in her hands with the remnants of her phone lying at the foot of a large tree.

"Lilly?" Miley said softly, standing a few feet away from Lilly's bench.

Lilly looked up, her eyes red and swollen. When she saw it was Miley, Lilly looked away. "Hey."

Miley sat next to Lilly, not sure what to do, though knowing full well what she wanted to do: take Lilly in her arms and hold her. "Want to talk about it?"

Lilly took a deep breath, shaking her head. "No, I'm fine." She gave Miley and extremely unconvincing smile.

"You're lying. Talk to me."

"No, Miley, I'm fine, really-"

"I know about your 'non friend' thing," Miley interrupted, "but I'm here and I'm your friend, whether you like it or not. So, talk to me."

That was all it took. Lilly's face slowly crumbled. Without further ado, Miley gathered Lilly to her and held her, rocking her slowly as Lilly cried, clinging desperately to Miley. Miley stroked Lilly's hair, whispering words of comfort.

"It's okay, Lilly. I'm here with you. It's okay." She closed her eyes and rested her cheek against the side of Lilly's head. "Let it all out, honey…"

Lilly did, her shoulders heaving with the weight of her anguish. After long minutes, her tears finally began to slow and then stop, her emotions slowly returning to her control. She didn't move away from Miley right away, instead allowing herself a moment more to revel in the warmth and kindness of her. Finally, she did pull away, knowing there was no real reason for her to stay where she was, no reason that was proper, anyway.

She wiped her face and nose with the sleeve of her jacket, her eyes heavy and feeling like they were filled with sand. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, feeling foolish.

"Don't you dare apologize to me," Miley said softly, brushing a few strands of hair off Lilly's face. "Don't apologize to anyone for being human, Lilly."

Lilly smiled. "Thank you."

Miley brought a hand up, cupping Lilly's cheek, forcing her to look at her. "Are you okay enough to tell me what happened?"

Lilly nodded, letting out a heavy breath. "My father is dead. His body was found a year ago on a back road in Argentina , but he couldn't be identified. Finally he was this past week."

Miley pulled Lilly into another hug. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry," she whispered, feeling her own tears sting the backs of her eyes. She couldn't imagine if she'd gotten that kind of news about her mother.

They pulled apart, Lilly bringing up a hand to brush away a tear from Miley's eye. "Why are you crying?"

"Because it's so sad. I can't imagine what you must be feeling right now. I'm so sorry, Lilly."

"Don't cry, Miley. It's okay. I'll be okay."

Miley nodded, feeling silly as she sniffled back her emotion, though unable to look away from Lilly.

"Thanks for being here," Lilly continued, caressing Miley's jaw line with her thumb. "It means a lot to me."

Miley could feel her heart pounding in her chest, a thrill racing up and down her spine. She could barely breathe as she looked into Lilly's eyes. She worried she might actually pass out.

"I'm going to be gone for about a week, but I'll be back," Lilly said, moving away from Miley, her hand dropping to her lap.

Miley was shaken from her reverie by the abrupt change in Lilly's demeanor and the loss of contact. "Huh?"she asked stupidly.

"I have to meet my brother, Michael. I'm flying to New York tonight." She blew out a breath and stood. "In fact, I need to go pack." With that, she walked away.

Miley watched her go, stunned at the sudden turnabout. She felt hurt and confused and angrily swiped away the moisture on her cheek from the single tear that had managed to escape. "God, she is so complicated!"

Lilly slowly, but steadily banged her head against her closet door. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" she growled at herself. "She was right there!"

She pushed away from the closet and ran her hands through her hair, looking out the window at the winter wonderland below.

"Why do I keep running away from he?" she asked herself, of course getting no response. "Why?"

With a heavy sigh, she tugged her suitcase out from beneath her bed and began to toss in clothing, each item being shoved into the case harder and harder as her anger at herself built. She was interrupted by a pounding at her door. She threw down the shirt she'd been holding and marched over to her door, yanking it open. She didn't have time to even react when a fiery Miley grabbed her by the face and pulled her down.

The kiss was immediately heated and filled with a passion that Miley couldn't even understand logically, but just went with her instincts.

It only took a moment for Lilly to shake loose from her shock and get into the situation. She grabbed Miley by the hips and pulled the blonde inside her room, kicking the door shut as the kiss continued. She pressed Miley's back against the closed door and pressed their bodies together.

Miley moaned softly and slid her hands up into Lilly's hair, pulling them even closer together. Lilly slowed the kiss down, turning it into a soft, sensual experience, rather than the heated desperation it had started as. She caressed Miley's hip with one hand, bringing the other up to feel the soft smoothness of Miley's face.

Needing to take a breath, the two parted, though stayed close. Miley's eyes were closed, her chest heaving as she tried to get her body to calm.

"That was beautiful," she said after a moment, looking into Lilly's adoring eyes.

Lilly nodded. "Why did you do that?"

Miley smirked. "Because I knew you wouldn't."

Lilly placed a soft kiss on Miley's lips. "Will you wait for me until I get back next week? I'd like to kinda try things out."

Miley's heart expanded in elation. She nodded vigorously. "Do I have to remain in this same spot?"

Lilly grinned. "Yes. You can't move an inch. Even though I can't get through the door, that's okay. I'll throw my suitcase out the window and jump, then climb back in with a rope next week."

"That sounds like a super plan."

"Thank you. I thought it was rather brilliant." They grinned dopily at each other. "Seriously, though." She pulled back just enough to let Miley know she meant what she said. "I want to spend more time with you." She shook her head. "I can't keep staying away from you. Doesn't work so well."

Miley grabbed Lilly in a tight hug, feeling her heart come alive for the first time. " Will wait for you, Lilly. No matter how long it takes."

Eleven Years Later

The wonderful music from John Barry's Somewhere In Time from the movie soundtrack filtered throughout the house. Miley leaned in close to the bathroom mirror, face contorted into the funky expressions of someone putting on mascara. She stood straight, looking at both eyes to make sure the makeup was even then put the lid back on the beauty product, setting it into the basket that held all her makeup. She grabbed the eye shadow and continued her morning regimen.

Fully dressed and ready to go, Miley shut off her iPod, which was set in a speaker docking station, and headed out. Downtown Denver traffic was a bear as she made her way towards Denver University , otherwise known as DU, where she'd been a professor of English Literature for the past seven years.

It was a gorgeous spring day in the Mile High City as Miley pulled into the parking garage, locking her car and heading into the building. She'd finally gotten smart five years ago and had bought a yearly garage pass, as parking was a real bitch, with DU being right in the middle of LoDo, or, downtown Denver.

The semester was nearly finished, and she was glad, as she was looking forward to her summer break. She had plans to travel, although she had no real clear plans where. She'd been to Europe countless times, and though her mother and Robert – her mother's newest husband – had invited her to join them in Spain, she wasn't so sure that's where she wanted to be.

She made her way to her classroom, setting her messenger bag down on the desk and pulling out the day's notes. The door to the classroom opened, and Miley glanced over to see who had come in, mentally rolling her eyes.

"Good morning, Jake."

"'Mornin'." Jake Ryan was a fellow faculty member, and one-time boyfriend. "How goes it?"

"Fine. What's up?" She kept readying for the day, hoping he'd get the picture that she wasn't in the mood to visit.

"Well, as you might have heard, I finally made tenure."

"I did. Congratulations." Miley offered him a quick smile then turned back to the white board, a strong-smelling marker in her hand as she wrote down key terms for her class.

"Thank you. The thing is, some friends are having a little congratulatory get together, and I need a date."

"I'm sure you can find one on eHarmony, Jake," Miley said casually, glancing down at her notes for the next line of text she needed to write.

"Cute." Jake moved in a bit closer, leaning his shoulder against the white board. "Will you come with me, Miley? I really don't want to go alone."

Miley turned to her ex. "Jake, we haven't dated in over a year. Why don't you ask the woman you were cheating on me with?"

Jake ran a hand through short, well-kept dark hair. "I deserved that, I suppose." A moment of uneasy silence spanned between them. "The truth is, I want you to go. I enjoyed the time we spent together, and," he shrugged, flashing the charming little smile that had grabbed Miley's attention two years before. "I think we'd have fun."

Miley sighed, setting her notes down on the desk and bringing a hand to her hip. "Which friends are we talking about, here?"

"Sarah and Jesse, maybe Nate."

Miley thinks for a moment. "Well, I guess I can tolerate Sarah's laughing at every single friggin' thing that anyone says, or doesn't say."

"She's not that bad, Miley."

Miley raises a brow in challenge.

"Okay, so she's annoying. But, she likes you. Come on! Say yes."

Miley eyed him for a moment, making him sweat. "Where is this to take place?"

Jake grinned, knowing he had Miley where he wanted her. "A new coffee place on Baxter." He flashed his grin again. "I hear they've got a selection of rare books there, too."

Miley sighed, knowing full well that if nothing else, she wanted to see the new coffee shop and see what kind of books they had. "Fine," she muttered. "I'll go with you, Jake, but this is the only time, got it? And , this does not mean we are dating again. Okay?"

"Yes!" Jake clapped his hands together in victory. "Okay."

Miley locked her car and headed towards the small coffee shop/book store on the corner. She drove herself, refusing Jake's offer to pick her up. The front of the shop was brick with a two large windows, the coffee shop on the other side of the left, the bookstore portion in the right, a door at the center. She could see Sarah sitting at a table next to her husband, Jesse, Sarah's head thrown back as her loud laughter rang out.

Miley snorted to herself as she imaged someone had sneezed, setting Sarah off on one of her ridiculous laughing tangents.

"You look beautiful," Jake said, coming up beside Miley and kissing her on the cheek.

Miley took a step away from him. "Thank you. I'm here, so let's do this."

Jake laughed. "Jeez, Miley! This isn't the death sentence, you know."

"We'll see," Miley muttered, leading the way into the shop.

Miley had tried to succeed in a mixture of looking nice, yet looking casual and aloof. She wanted no one to get the wrong idea about her appearance with Jake. She wore a summer dress with a thin cardigan over it. Her short, blonde hair was cut in a somewhat shaggy, sporty style that was easy to care for. She was a low-maintenance girl.

"Miley! So nice to see you," Jesse said, rising from his seat and kissing her quickly on the cheek.

"Hi, Jesse. Nice to see you, as well." She gave him a genuine smile, always liking the large man, who'd been friends with Jake since their high school days. She smiled at Sarah. "Hi, Sarah."

"Hi!" Sarah said, followed by a quick burst of laughter.

Miley chewed on her tongue to derail her need to roll her eyes or kill the redhead. The foursome were all finally seated at the square table Ben and Sarah had secured, and the three began to immediately chat, Miley quiet and trying her best not to disappear into her own world.

An aproned girl arrived at the table to take Jake and Miley's orders. Miley was about to open her mouth when Jake plowed right over her.

"We'll both have a caramel macchiato, fat-free milk and sugar-free syrups."

The waitress nodded and hurried away. Miley glared at Jake.

"Tell me you're not starting this crap already," she said, her voice low to keep it between them.

"What?" Jake asked, baffled. "I was trying to be nice. I know you like those."

"And, did you know that's what I wanted?"

"Well, no," Jake said, still baffled.

Miley pushed away from the table, grabbing her purse. "Sarah, Jesse, it was nice seeing you both again." She turned to Jake. "I knew this was a mistake. I'm sorry, Jake."

Jake, Sarah and Jesse were left confused, Jake embarrassed as Miley hurried out of the coffee shop.

Miley felt like an idiot as she made her way out into the warm spring night. She had dated Jake for a year, and it had been problem after problem from the first night, many of which Miley knew came from her own personal set of issues. Even still, Jake could be a sweet guy, but other times he could be a controlling ass. As much as it had hurt Miley's ego when Jake cheated, she was more grateful that he did, as it finally gave her a reason to end things.

She walked back towards her car, glancing longingly at the bookstore section window, wishing the two stores weren't connected. She loved looking for good books, and had an entire third bedroom that was filled with nothing but. She noticed a few people sitting in soft chairs reading, and was about to turn away when something caught her eye. She walked over to the window, taking a closer look.

Standing near a corner shelving unit, a book in her hands, was a tall woman dressed in casual jeans and a white button-up shirt. She was turned partially away from Miley, whose gaze was on the shiny blonde hair that flowed down the woman's back. The woman closed the book and slid it back onto the shelf, her profile in view. Miley gasped, hoping the woman would turn towards her so she could get a better view.

As though the woman had heard Miley's thoughts, she turned, now facing Miley, though she was looking down at the new book she'd picked from the shelf. She sat down in an overstuffed chair, crossing one leg over the other. She brought up a hand and brushed some hair behind her ear.

Miley couldn't look away. She couldn't fully see her face, but she knew in her heart that it was Lilly Truscott. For a moment, she couldn't breathe.

"What the hell are you doing, Miley?"

Miley whipped around at the sound of Jake's voice behind her. "What are you doing out there?" she demanded, angry at being startled, and angry that he wouldn't just let her be.

"Why did you run out like that? What the hell am I supposed to tell Sarah and Ben?"

"I don't give a damn what you tell your friends, Jake. It was a mistake for me to agree to come at all. It's been over for a long time, and there will never be another 'us'," Miley growled.

"Why are you being so difficult?" he asked, arms crossing over his chest. "Why can't we at least be friends?"

"I have no desire to be friends with you. We weren't even friends when we were dating, let along now that we're not. And, besides," Miley put a hand to her hip, "where is this coming from? We haven't spoken in months, and now suddenly you show up in my classroom, wanting me to go out with you?"

"I-" Jake cut himself off, running a hand through his hair. He turned towards the street, watching a few cars drive by before turning back to Miley. "Look, I really messed up, okay? I never should have done what I did."

"You mean screw someone else while you're claiming to be with me?" Miley asked nonchalantly.

"Yes," Jake admitted after a moment. "I want a second chance."

"Is there a problem here?"

Both Miley and Jake turned to see the most beautiful woman either had ever seen standing in the open doorway of the bookstore. Miley's eyes widened as she took in Lilly Truscott, now aged 29 and possessing a sophistication that she hadn't realized was possible. She was in a word: stunning.

Jake grinned at Lilly, instantly turning on the charm. "No, just talking to an old friend."

Miley looked at him, slack jawed. "God, you're such an asshole!" She turned to Lilly, anger from years ago flaring. "Everything is fine, thank you." She turned and marched back to her car, slamming the door behind her and screeching out of the parking space.

Lilly watched her go, then turned her attention to the guy Miley had been fighting with. She gave him a sweet smile then headed back inside the bookstore.

Miley copied the next set of notes to the whiteboard, her mind forcibly blank, other than her upcoming class. She had become a master at not thinking about what she didn't want to think about: such as seeing Lilly Truscott the night before. She remained focused on her work.

The door to her classroom opened, and Miley steeled herself, expecting it to be Jake. To her relief, it was Dr. Robert Oken, chair of the English department.

"Good morning, Professor Stewart," the older man chirped, a fat file folder under an arm.

"Good morning, Dr. Oken. How can I help you?" Miley set her dry-erase marker in the whiteboard tray and turned her full attention on her immediate supervisor.

"Well," Dr. Oken began, setting the file folder down on Miley's desk. "As you know, Traci Horn is expecting."

Miley nodded. "Yes. She's due in July."

"Mmm," Dr. Oken said, bringing a hand up to stroke his white goatee. "The due date is true enough, but I got a call from her husband last night. Complications have arisen, and Traci is now sentence to bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy."

Miley stared at her boss; she knew where this was leading. "And, you want me to take up her Intro to Lit summer course," she drawled.

Oliver Oken's blue eyes lit up. "What a wonderful idea! I can think of no one better qualified than you, Miley. You're brilliant intellect has impressed me time and time again-"

"And, I don't hold tickets for a Mediterranean cruise."

"Ah, you heard from Michelle, huh?" Oken said, feeling a bit naughty in his scheming. "It's only the six-week session, Miley. I'm sure Linda and her new little one will appreciate it greatly."

Miley rolled her eyes, finally breaking into laughter. "Bon, you're terrible. Do you have her curriculum?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," Oken said, tapping the file folder.

"Class list?"

"I have that, too." He removed a sheet of paper from the inside of the file folder.

Miley sighed, nodding. "I'll do it. Lucky for you, I hadn't decided what I was going to do with my summer yet."

"Then I do, indeed feel lucky." Oliver Oken gave her a winning smile, then turned on his heel and walked away. He stopped at the door, turning to his favorite teacher. "And, Miley, I meant all that I said."

Miley returned his smile. "Thanks, Oliver. You're still terrible." Miley was left with Oliver's laughter as he made his way down the hall. She blew out a long breath, looking down at the file folder. "Damn." She looked at the student roll list, her gaze zooming in on one name. "Son of a bitch."

Three weeks later, students trailed quietly into the class, ready for their first day of Intro to Lit, a freshman level class in the summer session. Miley sat perched on her desk, looking at all the unfamiliar faces pick a seat, a muttered excuse me, or mind if I sit here? heard from time to time.

The second from the last person to enter was the one Miley had been worried about, and the one that she secretly had hoped would drop the class: Lilly Truscott. The shocked expression on Lilly's face upon seeing Miley would have been thoroughly amusing if Miley hadn't been so stressed by the situation. Instead, the professor nodded acknowledgement at her new student, and Lilly gave her a weak smile in return before finding a seat in the front row.

"Welcome, everyone," Miley said once everyone got settled. "I know it says Traci Horn on your syllabus, but due to some complications during her pregnancy, I've stepped in to replace her for this course. My name is Miley Stewart, and I'm pretty laid back. You can call me Professor Stewart, Miss Stewart or Miley. Up to you."

She pushed off her desk and grabbed her roll sheet, calling off names to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be. That finished, she paced the front of the room, all twenty-three pairs of eyes on her.

"This is a pretty simple, straight up course. We'll be covering some of the great classics: Verne, Austin, Shelley and Stoker, just to name a few. Some of these you've likely read in high school English classes." Miley perched on the end of her desk again, looking around the room, making eye contact with every student, skipping right over Lilly. "What I want from you guys is to really search the text for ways to relate these works to your own lives. Many English Lit classes try and essentially do a psychological autopsy of the authors. The truth of the matter is, they're dead and gone, and we'll never truly know why they wrote what they wrote, so it's pretty much a moot point, wouldn't you agree?" A few chuckles sounded.

Two and a half hours later, the class had come to an end, and everyone was packing their bags, readying to leave.

"Okay, everyone, you did great today, and I fully expect those papers by Wednesday!" Miley said above the den of voices and packing. She looked at Lilly. "Can you hold up for a minute?"

"Sure." Lilly sat back down, waiting for the classroom to clear. Once they were alone, she crossed her arms over her chest. "First day and I'm already in trouble. Just like old times, huh?"

Not amused, Miley sat in the desk next to Lilly's. "Why are you here?"

"To finish my education," Lilly said simply.

Miley studied her for a long moment. "Don't mess with me, Lilly. I'm not a naïve, impressionable girl of 16 anymore."

Lilly shook her head. "No, I don't think you are. I'm not messing with you, Miley. Or, Professor Stewart. Congratulations, by the way."

"Thank you," Miley said absently.

"I'm serious. I'm here to finish my education. After my father died, I had to clean up his mess, so I finished my senior year via satellite classes."

"And college?" Miley wasn't about to ask why she'd never heard a word from Lilly again, once she'd left.

Lilly shook her head. "Didn't happen. I ended up inheriting, what I thought was a lot of money, but in fact was a lot of problems." She looked down, embarrassed. "I've now been clean for three years." Bravely, she met Miley's gaze. "I'm trying to make amends for a lot of stupid choices."

Miley was quiet for a long moment, digesting all that she'd just been told. "How did you end up in Denver , of all places? I'm surprised you're not living in some beautiful city in France or something."

"Been there, done that. Guess this is just where I landed."

Miley got to her feet. "Well, I hope you find what you're looking for, Lilly." She walked to her desk and packed up her own bag, as Lilly got to her feet. Miley faced the taller woman.

Lilly couldn't help but be a little intimidated by the beautiful, confident woman who stood before her now. She knew the playing field was very different than the one they'd been on a decade before.

"Your paper is due tomorrow like everyone else."

Lilly gave her the trademark grin she was known for so many years ago. "I don't expect any special treatment, teacher."

"That's Professor, and I'm glad to hear it." Miley began to walk towards the door, but stopped, turning to Lilly. "How on earth are you going to get anything out of this? You've likely read every single book in this course, Lilly."

Lilly shrugged with another grin. "It's been a long time since I was in school. I wanted a sure thing."

Miley rolled her eyes, holding the classroom door open for Lilly. "See you Wednesday."

Wednesday night, Miley sat curled up in her ridiculously comfortable armchair in her living room, grading the papers that had been turned in during that day's Intro to Lit class. So far she was unimpressed with the writing prowess of her students, but knew without a doubt that after she had them under her spell for six weeks, they'd improve immensely.

She set the paper she'd just graded aside, on top of the growing stack of finished work, when she spotted Lilly's name. Red pen caught between her teeth, she pulled the paper out, curious. The paper was entitled: Monster or Misunderstood? Intrigued, Miley read on.

This paper is titled 'Monster or Misunderstood?' simply because I don't know if you, Professor Stewart, truly understand who I am and why I've done many of the things I've done.

Miley was baffled. She read ahead a few paragraphs of the four and a half page paper to see if there was anything remotely dealing with a book at all. Seeing there wasn't, she returned to her place at the beginning.

I figure at this juncture in our non-existent relationship – other than that of teacher and student, I suppose – that I have nothing to lose in my utter and total naked honesty. I'm an ass.

Miley was amused. "You got that right, Lilly," she muttered, reading on.

You know my story from when we went to school together. I was honest with you during that amazing week of Thanksgiving break. But, what I failed to mention to you is this: I was terrified of you. Yep, me, Lilly Adelaide Truscott – ironic my initials are R.A.T., isn't it? – was terrified of little ol' Miley Stewart. The reason for that is you made me feel. No one had ever done that before – or since, really – and I didn't know what to do with it. I couldn't be around you, yet I couldn't stay away. What was a scared 17 year old to do?

Run.

Miley put the paper down, removing her reading glasses and taking a deep breath. She absently reached for her glass of pineapple juice and sipped, not even tasting the sweet, tangy liquid, her mind so focused on what she'd just read.

After Lilly had left to take care of her father's business, Miley had waited patiently for Lilly to return, or even any word from her: a phone call, letter, anything. Nothing had come. Not one word. Not even a goodbye. Embittered, Miley had sworn off love, deciding that it was as much crap as she'd always thought it was, and certainly as much – if not more – of a distraction from her goal of getting a life built for herself.

"Love is bullshit, Lilly," she said angrily, marking on the top of the page and tossing it to the stack of finished papers, moving onto the next. "Such bullshit."

Lilly stared down at her returned paper, eyes riveted to the large, red 'F' printed at the top. She glanced up at Miley, who sat quietly at her desk, shifting through some papers. The class was supposed to be taking a quiz on the chapters from the previous night's read, but she was having a hard time getting past Miley's obvious thoughts on her attempt at a heartfelt apology. Perhaps it shouldn't have been handled in the way it was, but Lilly was pretty sure Miley wasn't about to accept a lunch invite to talk about business over a decade old.

She chewed on the end of her pen as her visual study continued. Miley wore dark-framed glasses, her green eyes bright behind the lenses, though right now they weren't visible as Miley read something on the page she'd found. Her hair was tucked behind an ear on one side.

Lilly could easily see the girl she'd known in the woman sitting before her, but by god, where had Miley's spirit gone? She'd always been serious and very concerned with her academics, but this Miley… Something was off within her. This woman was obviously serious, but was more than that. It was almost as though no light burned within her anymore, the fire that had once made her stand out amongst a sea of commoners, extinguished, leaving cold coals in its wake.

As though feeling Lilly's heavy gaze on her, Miley looked up, meeting Lilly's eyes. Lilly quickly looked back down to her work, shoving her marked paper off her desk and returning her focus to her quiz.

Miley sat perched on her desk as she watched her students file out past her, many wishing her a good weekend. She wasn't surprised to find Lilly still seated as the last student left the room. She met her gaze, neither speaking for a moment.

Lilly stood, walking over to Miley, never losing eye contact with her. She smacked her paper down next to where Miley sat. "Guess you didn't like my paper, huh?" she asked quietly.

"You didn't follow instructions, Lilly," Miley said just as quietly.

"No?" Lilly asked, a brow raised in challenge. "Your instructions were to give you our take on the story. Our thoughts and feelings." She tapped the paper. "I think I did that."

Miley allowed a small smile to shine through a rather gloomy face, but only for a second. "What you wrote had nothing to do with Walt Whitman."

"Why not? He was gay, too," Lilly reasoned.

Miley couldn't help but laugh, though it was short lived. She hopped down from the desk, Lilly's close proximity making her far too uncomfortable. "This really wasn't appropriate," she said, moving to put the desk between them. She picked up Lilly's paper. "What you wrote is history, and this is an English class."

Lilly leaned back against her own front-row desk, arms crossed over her chest. "I wanted you to know. To understand."

"Understand what?"

"Why."

Miley sighed, looking down at the paper for a moment as she gathered her thoughts. "Lilly," she said softly, "this was all a very long time ago. I won't lie to you and tell you that it didn't hurt, because it did." She met Lilly's gaze. "But I'm no longer that 16 year old girl, curious and afraid all at once of the big, bad Lilly Truscott." She shrugged. "I've grown past that, and I should hope you have, too."

Lilly couldn't breathe for a moment, feeling like she'd just taken a huge blow to her chest. She swallowed a few times before nodding and pushing away from the desk, gathering her backpack as she did.

She passed Miley's desk on her way out the door, laying a few stapled sheets on the smooth top. "I'm sorry I wasted your time, then."

Miley watched her go, a strange feeling making her gut clench. Once alone, she looked down to see a report on the required reading. She sighed, burying her face in her hands.

For the next two weeks, Lilly showed up every day to class, excelled in her work, but said not one word to Miley that didn't have to do with class discussions. Miley honored Lilly's obvious wishes against any sort of personal relationship or even as simple acquaintances. She knew she'd hurt Lilly with her reaction to Lilly's heartfelt paper, but wasn't entirely sure what to do. Would a simple apology suffice?

It had been two weeks, three weeks into the six week course. After Lilly left her class, it wasn't likely they'd see each other much. DU was a big school, and Miley couldn't see Lilly going into any sort of English degree.

Miley sat behind her desk grading papers, her students sitting quietly at their desks, reading and "grading" their neighbor's newest paper. She glanced up, her gaze falling on Lilly, who sat with her temple resting against a closed fist, her complete attention on her task. Miley studied her for a long moment. She was truly amazed at just how stunning Lilly really was. Every line, every feature: beautiful.

With a soft sigh of discontent, she glanced out towards the window, chin resting in her palm as she watched the outside world glide by. She suddenly had a vision of Lilly outside in the sunshine, a smile on her face and a beckoning twinkle in her eye. Miley smiled, feeling so drawn to that smile, like a guiding light during a very dark night-

Miley's daydream was interrupted by the very sudden, and very loud call of her name. Startled, her head snapped toward the sound of her name, only to see one of her students standing at her desk, where a small cake had been sat, lit candles at its center. Happy Birthday Professor Stewart was written in green icing.

"A little birdy told me today is your birthday," the student explained with a big smile on her face. "You've been so awesome, we wanted to celebrate."

Miley blushed at being caught in the middle of her daydream, as well as the kindness that her students were showing her. She glanced at Lilly, only to find the brunette looking right back at her, a knowing smirk on her lips. Miley turned her attention back to her excited students.

"This is so sweet, guys. Thank you."

Lilly sat in a corner by herself, eating a piece of cake. She watched her classmates as they talked amongst each other or to Miley. They were trying desperately to get it out of their teacher how old she was turning. Lilly smirked, knowing Miley would never budge. No, she was far too private for that. Far too private.

"So, how did you know today was her birthday?"

Lilly was jolted from her bitter thoughts by the girl – Joannie – who'd given Miley the cake. She was a cute young woman of about 20, with short brown hair and hazel eyes. Lilly put her plate aside. "I used to know Miley years ago."

"No way!" Joannie was intrigued. She glanced over at the hot professor. "What's she like? I mean, as a person in her real life? She's so quiet as a teacher."

"Not much different as a person," Lilly said simply. "From what I used to know of her, she's smart, can be very quick witted, but quiet."

"Quiet's cool," Joannie remarked, still eyeing Miley. "Damn, she's hot."

Lilly couldn't suppress a quick stab of jealousy, but managed to keep it to herself.

"Is she gay?" Joannie asked, completely oblivious to the fact that the woman sitting next to her wanted to skin her alive.

Lilly could feel her jaw muscles bulging. "Not that I'm aware of," she managed, unclenching her teeth.

"Hmm," Joannie pondered. "Do you think-"

Unaware that she'd likely just saved one of her student's life, Miley stood from her desk. "Alright, guys. Let's get back to work. We still have a lot to cover today. Again, thank you for the cake. It was a nice reprieve."

Joannie scurried back to her desk, leaving Lilly to take a deep breath of relief.

Miley thanked her students again as they filed out of the classroom, Lilly at the end of the line, lagging a bit behind. Miley fantasized that it was on purpose. "So, are you the 'little birdy'?" she asked, knowing full well it was an excuse to get Lilly to talk to her.

Lilly stopped and looked at her, head slightly cocked to the side. "Will I get an 'F' if I say yes?"

"Stop it," Miley softly chastised. "You got an 'A' on your actual report."

Lilly gave her a partial smile then headed towards the door, stopping when her name was called. She glanced over her shoulder at Miley. "Yes?"

"I messed up," Miley said, crossing her arms protectively over her chest.

"Whatever are you talking about?" Lilly asked, mirroring Miley's position.

"Please don't play coy with me, Lilly. I'm really trying to say I'm sorry."

"So say it."

"I'm sorry, okay? I think I really hurt you with what I said."

Lilly let her heavy backpack slide down to her arm and land on the floor. Hands on hips, she took a step towards Miley. "Good guess. I poured my heart out to you in that paper, and you tossed my words back in my face with a wave of your hand. I'm sorry if that wasn't cool with me."

"I know. I'm sorry-"

"And another thing," Lilly interrupted, standing a foot away from Miley. "why couldn't you even give me the courtesy of commenting on what I said? I was brutally honest with you, Miley."

Miley wanted nothing more than to sink into the floor as she faced Lilly's hurt and anger. She swallowed hard before speaking. "I have to admit something."

"What's that?" Lilly asked, standing tall, using her height to purposely intimidate Miley.

"Um," Miley looked down at her feet before taking a deep breath. "I didn't read the whole thing. I didn't get past the part where you admitted that you'd ran from me-"

"Well that explains it all!" Lilly exclaimed, followed by a bitter laugh. She grabbed her backpack and slammed out of the room, followed by Miley.

"Wait!" Miley grabbed her by the arm, ignoring the people who tried to get around them in the hall. "Please talk to me, Lilly."

"How could you do that?" Lilly asked, deeply hurt. "I didn't write that for my health. I was trying to be honest with you," she slammed her fist against her thigh for emphasis. "For the first time in my goddamn life, I was really trying to do the right thing."

"And I was wrong to blow it off, but damn it, Lilly, I was so hurt by you! Do you not get that? Do you not understand that I was in love with you back then?"

Lilly was frozen to the spot, unable to breathe or take her eyes from Miley's face. "And now?" she asked quietly.

"Now?" Miley looked around, realizing a small crowd of students standing near a vending machine was watching them. "I don't know," she muttered, storming back into her classroom, leaving a stunned Lilly standing in the hall.

Miley grabbed her messenger bag and keys then turned off the lights as she hurried from the room and down the hall, Lilly following after.

"Wait a minute, damnit!" Lilly grabbed her by the arm, swinging her around to face her. "Explain."

Miley shook her head. "Please let me go," Miley said, tears welling in her eyes. She was so confused by the sudden rise of very confusing emotions.

"No. Not until you've heard me out. You wouldn't read what I had to say, fine. Now you can listen to it."

Miley moved past her, swiping angrily at her tears as she headed towards the parking lot.

Lilly wasn't shaken that easy and walked alongside her, though she did lower her voice somewhat. "You asked me how I ended up in Denver rather than some little town in France . Well, that's pretty simple to answer."

"You already did, Lilly. You said, 'been there, done that'."

"Yeah, well that was bullshit." They slammed through the glass doors into the bright sunlight of the afternoon. Miley pulled her keys from her pocket, but her upset made her drop them. Lilly picked them up, not releasing the ring when Miley grabbed them. Joined by Miley's keys, she looked into crying green eyes. "I'm here because of you, Miley," she said softly, bringing a hand up and gently wiping a few tears away. "With your ridiculous academic prowess, it wasn't hard to find you."

"So, you're a stalker now?" Miley asked, a lame attempt at humor to lighten a very tense moment.

Lilly smiled. "Guess so."

Miley wiped her face with her forearm and sniffled. "Why did you find me, Lilly? Why couldn't you let it go? It was so long ago-"

"Not for me." Lilly walked with Miley until they arrived at her car. Miley unlocked it and tossed her bag inside, standing just inside the open driver's side door. "I fell in love with you the moment I met you when I was 17 years old." She let out a heavy sigh and a rueful chuckle. "I never outgrew it."

Miley met her gaze, her heart falling and exploding out of her chest all in one shot. "What?"

"You scared the hell out of me when we were in school together, Miley. You scared me because I knew even then, you were the love of my life. I couldn't face it, couldn't face you, so I ran away. I became a mess: got into drugs pretty heavily, partied every day, every night. At one time, I had a ten thousand dollar a week cocaine habit."

"Oh, Lilly," Miley whispered, overwhelmed with her compassion for a very confused girl. A confusion that she could relate to right now.

"I got fixed. That's when I started my search to find you." She extended her hands to the heavens. "Here I am."

Miley's head dropped, a hand running through her hair. "What am I supposed to do with this?" she whispered. Finally she met Lilly's gaze. "Thank you. For being honest with me, for telling me, when I was too much of a bitch to read your entire paper. I'm assuming this is what it had to say."

"Pretty much, in a nutshell. I'm sure it was far more eloquent than this was, though."

Miley smiled softly. "No, this was beautiful. But," she said with a heavy sigh. "I need to think. I'm a little overwhelmed right now, and don't know what to think. Or feel."

"You don't have to think or feel anything, Miley. I mean, I won't lie; I hoped that maybe… Well, that maybe. But, if it's not meant to be, it won't, doesn't matter what I say or feel."

"No, it's not that," Miley admitted, reaching a hand up and with the softest, near ghostly touch, caressed the side of Lilly's face. Her hand quickly dropped down to her side. "I need to go."

Lilly nodded, her skin still tingling from the gentle touch. She stepped back from Miley's car, letting her shut the door. She watched her drive away, fighting back her own tears.

The sun was nearly taking a bow for the day before Miley stopped driving. Her tears had dried up long ago, but her confusion was stronger than ever. She found herself in Garden of the Gods, near Colorado Springs , and pulled off to the side of the road. She climbed her way up the red/orange rocks and got settled on top. Looking down over the area, she was amazed at just how beautiful it truly was.

Once she was comfortable, she allowed her mind to flow back to the subject she hadn't been able to get away from for hours. Lilly. She could still see her face, could still hear her words. She was astonished at just how much courage and strength Lilly had shown in what she'd done. It was courage and strength Miley had lacked her entire life. She'd come to realize that over the past few weeks.

Miley thought back over her past relationships, as few as there were. Two, in fact. Just two. Miley had chosen carefully whom she dated. Most people chose someone who they knew they'd be compatible with, or who would make them laugh or happy, or even have a great orgasm. Not Miley Stewart. Quite the opposite, really. She chose people – men - she knew would make her question why she was there. Men who she could easily walk away from, and in fact, always planned her escape route fairly early on. It was almost like designing a house, and adding into the plans the exact way a fire would start, and adding all the elements that would make it spread as quickly as possible.

The tears were back, freely falling over Miley's cheeks. She didn't bother to wipe them away, as she knew they'd immediately be replaced by more. Instead, she allowed herself to fully feel for probably the first time in twenty years. There was so much inside her that she was making Lilly pay for: her father leaving when she was very young, then her mother leaving so often after, if not physically, then emotionally. Her mother was the type of woman who always put a man before her one and only child. Still did.

Miley cried for all those lost years, the child in her spilling onto the rock beneath Miley. She felt as though her soul were being purged, a deep hurt that was finally allowed to bleed. She desperately wanted to be able to call someone, find a shoulder to cry on. She cried harder when she realized there wasn't one person in her life that she could call on for that. Well, there was one, but that one was very scary to Miley.

Lilly loved her. Lilly wanted her in her life. She'd come to Denver to find her. Now what?

Miley blew out a long breath, her tears finally beginning to slow and finally stop. She felt exhausted, mentally and emotionally. "One hell of a birthday," she chuckled. "God, life can suck."

The weekend had been a long one, and truthfully, Miley was glad it was over. She'd done nothing but think, and she hated to think about anything that wasn't dealing directly with the logical. She sat in her office at the school, just beginning her day. She shuffled through a pile of papers that she'd graded the night before, and that would be doled out to her Tuesday evening class. Her Monday morning class – Lilly's class – would be starting in just over an hour.

She turned to her laptop, beginning to plug in grades when there was a knock on her office door. "Come on," she called, her focus still on her computer.

The door opened and closed, but there was only silence. Miley glanced over the top of her computer and saw Lilly standing near the door, hands folded in front of her. Removing her reading glasses, Miley closed her laptop and pushed it aside.

"Hi."

"Hey," Lilly said, her nervousness more than apparent. "I've come to ask a favor."

"What's that?" Miley sat back in her chair, trying to hide the fact that her heart was about to pound out of her chest. She'd come to a decision over the weekend on what to do with Lilly: not to make a decision.

Lilly sighed, stepping up to Miley's desk, but not sitting down. "Considering the circumstances, I don't think it's a good idea for me to be in your class." She raised a hand to stop whatever Miley was about to say. "I want to finish it. I mean, we've only got a couple weeks to go. I intend to finish my degree. But, I figure there's a better way to do this."

Miley sat quiet for a moment, thinking about what Lilly had said. She had to admit that it did make some sense, and she, herself had wondered how she was going to get through the next couple weeks, having to see Lilly every day.

"I just think it's for the best," Lilly said, heading for the door.

Panic struck Miley, and an unquenchable desire to stop Lilly from leaving. "Wait!" She jumped out of her chair, making it over to a startled Lilly in record time. She pushed the door, which Lilly had just started to pull open, closed. "Don't run. Again. I think I've done enough of that lately for both of us." She stepped away from Lilly, trying to get her thoughts in order. Frustration built within her. She turned on Lilly again, pounding lightly on Lilly's shoulders. "Damn it! Who are you? Why can't I ever just walk away from you?"

Lilly's surprise quickly eased, leaving her emotions bared. "Because you feel it, too." She looked into Miley's eyes, getting no response. "Don't you?"

Back to Lilly, Miley nodded. "Yes. Whatever it is."

"It's love, Miley," Lilly said softly. "Since day one."

Miley took a deep breath and turned to face her future, again nodding. "Yeah. I think so."

Lilly smiled. "You look so lost."

"I feel lost. I don't know what to do with this feeling, Lilly." She smiled, fully allowing the feeling that only Lilly has ever been able to bring out in her, to come to the surface. "It's so big, and it always is whenever you're in my life." She rolled her eyes. "God, I'm pathetic. I sound like some stupid romance novel or movie or something."

Lilly chuckled. "So, what do we do now?"

Miley laughed, loud and completely inappropriate, but she was so relieved to have everything out in the open. "I have no clue."

The decision was interrupted by a knock on Miley's office door. Miley and Lilly looked at each other and smiled.

"Saved by the bell," Lilly mused.

"Yeah."

Lilly gathered her backpack. "See you in class."

Miley paced in front of the class, feeling one particular set of eyes on her. "Now, do you guys honestly think that Elizabeth Bennet would be best off with Mr. Darcy?"

"Heck no!" one of her female students exclaimed. "That dude is so boring!"

The class laughed, including Miley. She replied to the student, all the while feeling Lilly's gaze burning a hole through her. She glanced at her, a shockwave rushing through her upon eye contact. Suddenly, and for the first time in her teaching career, the last place she wanted to be was in the classroom.

Miley stopped pacing and leaned back against her desk. "Do you guys wanna be here?" Miley was amused as the class looked at her: some were confused, others looked hopeful, as though they understood what she was getting at. "Me either." She grinned. "Let's head out early today. But," she held up a finger in warning, "I fully expect you on your toes Wednesday."

Lilly packed her stuff up for the day, trying to hide her shit-eating grin. She took her time, waiting for everyone else to clear out. To her utter disappointment, Joannie was left, standing at Miley's desk.

"Can I talk to you about the book?" the love-struck student asked.

Miley was surprised, and wasn't entirely sure what to say. She didn't dare look at Lilly, as she didn't really want Joannie to see the disappointment in her eyes. "Ah, sure."

"Great!"

Lilly kept her distance, not caring what the two were talking about, but she wasn't about to dare lose Miley now. They all three – along with the flow of coming and going students – ended up in the parking lot, Joannie walking Miley clear to her car. Lilly went to her own car, which was parked a few spots down from it. She tossed her bag into the back and took her time getting inside.

"Listen, Joannie, I really need to get going," Miley said with a smile, trying to hardest to get rid of the annoying girl. In her peripheral, she'd been able to see Lilly walk to her own car. "I'll see you Wednesday, and we can continue this, okay?"

Disappointed, but knowing there was nothing more she could say to keep the hot teacher there, Joannie nodded. "Okay. Thanks for letting us out early, and have a great afternoon!"

Miley smiled and waved, turning to her car as she rolled her eyes. "Jesus," she muttered, annoyed.

"She's got a crush on you," Lilly whispered in Miley's ear, startling the professor. Lilly grinned.

"She does not," Miley pouted, tossing her bag into the backseat.

"Uh huh. So, what's up with the early day, Professor?" Lilly asked, glancing at the clock on her cell phone. "I dare say, it's only a little after ten."

"I know. I'm bad. I just…" Miley sighed with a carefree shrug. "Just didn't feel like being in the classroom today."

"And, where do you feel like being?" Lilly asked.

"Want to go on a picnic?" Miley asked cheerily.

Lilly smiled, amused. "Sure. A picnic it is. Show me Colorado , woman."

A plastic bag sat on the backseat of Miley's car, loaded with bought sandwiches and bottles of water. Miley got them out of the city and finally into the gorgeous countryside leading into Boulder . Miley tried to ignore the swirling stomach acid in the pit of her gut, instead focusing on the road.

Lilly, on the other hand, was looking out the window, thoroughly enjoying the sights of her newly-adopted town. Even so, she could feel Miley's energy next to her. There had always been something about being inside a car with a woman that she had feelings for. She glanced over at Miley, who met her gaze for just the briefest of moments. They shared a small smile, then Miley turned her attention back to the road. Inside the small, intimate space of a car always sent a thrill through Lilly.

They found a small valley nestled at the foothills of the Rockies . A large, green pastor gave way to a stream and a small forested area. Miley parked and they both got out.

"Will this do?" Miley asked, hands on her hips as she looked around.

Lilly turned in a small circle, awed at what she was seeing. "Very much so. God, this is gorgeous."

Pleased, Miley began to unload her car, finding a shaded area under a tree closer to the woods. She spread out the red and white checkered table cloth they'd bough, then began setting out their lunch on top of it.

"Why did you choose DU?" Lilly asked, helping set up.

"For starters, they had a great doctorate program, and they let me teach while I got it, with just a masters. Also," Miley said, licking a bit of potato salad off her finger, which had smeared on there from the lid she'd removed from the plastic container, "I always wanted to see Colorado . I considered CU in Boulder for awhile, but decided on DU, instead."

"Are you glad?" Lilly asked, tugging a napkin from the small package they'd picked up, placing one in front of Miley and herself.

Miley shrugged. "Doesn't really matter to me. Either school would have gotten me where I am now, so…." They dug into their sandwiches. "What do you want to do when you grow up?" she asked, wiping her mouth with the napkin.

Lilly chewed thoughtfully, finally taking a sip from bottled water to wash it down. "Not sure."

"Really? All this time and you still have no clue?"

"Hey, now. I actually have been working these past years, ya know. I invested in businesses all over the country and Canada ." Lilly shrugged, taking another sip. "I just don't enjoy business, so I let hired help take care of things. I get reports once a month."

"Really? An entrepreneur, huh?"

"You bet'cha." Lilly was silent for a minute, trying to garner the courage to ask her next question. "Miley?"

"Hmm?"

"Have you ever dated a woman?" Lilly forced herself to meet Miley's gaze as she asked the question.

Miley shook her head. "No," she said softly.

Lilly nodded. "Didn't think so."

Lunch finished, Miley felt her heart beginning to pound, and she wasn't sure why. She couldn't look at Lilly as she cleaned up trash. They were both quiet for a long moment until finally Lilly broke the silence.

"Want to go for a walk?"

Miley glanced at her, tossing the wadded wrappers in her hands into the opened garbage bag Lilly held. "Sure."

Everything except the bottled water and table cloth, stowed into Miley's car, they headed into the woods. Miley looked up into the trees, marveling at the way the sun looked as it came in through the green leaves of the trees, sending spotlights onto the forest floor.

"This is one thing I miss about the east coast," Lilly said, taking in the splendor of nature.

"The trees?"

"The trees," Lilly agreed. "God, they're everywhere over there, but here, you kinda gotta go find them."

"I know. It was different for me when I first moved here. I've gotten used to it, I guess. But, I can definitely see what you mean."

"I'll tell you one thing that caught me when I first moved here: the squirrels."

Miley looked at her, confused.

"They're orange! Like, power plant, toxic orange!"

Miley burst into laughter, scaring a few birds from a nearby tree. "Yes, they are. Not gray like back home."

"Nope. Friggin' toxic orange." Lilly glanced over at Miley, admiring the beautiful profile. She couldn't take the distance anymore, and reached the scant inches between their hands and took Miley's in her own.

Miley looked up at Lilly, surprised, but then entwined her fingers with Lilly's. It brought that same wave of warmth that it had when Lilly had touched her so many years ago. She turned her face away to hide the smile that she couldn't stop.

Miley cleared her throat, trying to push down the winged beast in her chest. "You know, Lilly, I think you were exaggerating; I don't know that you actually followed me here. Now, knowing that you have businesses, I bet you have one here somewhere, and came to check on it, maybe fix it. While you were here, you found out I was here, and decided to bug me."

Lilly stopped them with a tug on Miley's hand. "Oh, I see how it is. You think that, do you?"

Miley grinned, nodding. "I do."

"And, why do you think that?"

"Because I'm too much of a pain in the ass for you to bother trying to find."

Lilly grinned, nodding. "Oh, yes you are."

Miley gasped. "God, you're terrible!" She attacked Lilly with seeking fingers, trying to find any and all of Lilly's tender spots.

"Shit! I hate to be tickled!" Lilly finally caught hold of Miley's hands, but not for long. Soon the nimble blonde was off and running. "Oh, you are so not getting away from me," she growled, then was off like a shot.

Miley felt like a kid again for the first time in far too many years. Her adult life had been dedicated purely to education: her own and that of others. She let out a shrill scream once she realized Lilly was giving chase. She ran, ducking around trees, hurdling fallen trees, her heart pounding, lungs burning.

Lilly's hair flew back from her face as she chased, nearly running headlong into a large pine tree, missing it by scant inches. She finally caught up to the quick blonde, snagging her by the shirttail, nearly sending Miley to the ground with a squeal. She barely kept them both upright.

Miley found herself pinned to Lilly, her arms at her sides. She squirmed valiantly, but was no match for Lilly's larger size and strength. "You suck!" she exclaimed with a laugh.

Lilly grinned, using far more strength than she was letting on to keep Miley still. "You are such a wiggle worm!"

Just for that remark, Miley began to squirm more, leaving them both panting from exertion. Finally she gave up, resting her head against Lilly's shoulder. "Damn, wish I had the energy I used to have when I was a kid," she panted, her heart pounding.

Lilly chuckled. "Amen."

Lilly loosened her grip, but only enough to test to see if Miley was faking her out, and would actually take off.

"Not goin' anywhere," Miley murmured, allowing herself to truly get comfortable against Lilly.

Lilly wrapped her arms around Miley, resting her cheek against the top of her head. She relished the feel of Miley's warmth, something she hadn't felt in more than eleven years. Miley felt like she could literally melt into Lilly. She wrapped her arms around her waist, hands clasped at Lilly's lower back. She had the strongest urge to know what Lilly's back felt like.

Lilly realized that Miley's hands were tracing light patterns on her lower back, heading up her spine. An involuntary shiver passed through her, making Miley chuckle softly. "You're doing that on purpose," Lilly whispered, her body beginning to come alive.

Miley couldn't speak, her heart pounding her ears, warmth surging through her body. Instead, she pulled back from Lilly just enough to look up into her eyes. She was feeling things she'd never felt before: that is, hadn't felt since the days in Lilly's room back at school.

Lilly looked down into Miley's face, trying to read her. She was so afraid of either scaring Miley or pushing her away. She knew they were on new and tenuous ground, and had no desire to push her limits too far. She decided to let Miley lead this dance; she'd follow wherever it went.

Miley reached up, lightly touching Lilly's face with her fingertips. "Soft," she whispered, marveling at the feel. She was used to the rough, stubbled chin and cheeks of the men she'd dated. "So soft."

Lilly said nothing, instead traced her own patterns over Miley's shoulders and upper back. Miley shuddered, making them both smile. "Paybacks."

Miley traced Lilly's features, blue eyes closing as curious fingers traced along arched eyebrows and down a straight nose. Finally Miley's gaze fell on full lips. She wanted to touch them, too, but wasn't sure if she should.

As though reading her mind, Lilly spoke. "Go ahead."

Miley waited only a moment before she lightly touched the full bottom lip, tracing the bow-like shape. "You're very beautiful, Lilly," she whispered. "I've always thought so."

Lilly's eyes opened. "Thank you. I've always felt the same about you." She kissed Miley's fingertips. "You take my breath away."

Miley's heart soared, sending a thrill throughout her body. She ran a hand up over Lilly's arm, then her shoulder and finally up to cup the back of her neck. She gently pulled until Lilly lowered her lips to Miley's. They both sighed into the kiss, soft at first, then moving into that of exploration as Miley's lips opened, inviting Lilly inside.

Miley couldn't help but compare this kiss to that of so long ago. When they were young, the kiss had been wild and uncontained. Though Lilly had been experienced sexually, she was still young and immature. Hers wasn't the soft, controlled kiss of the woman who kissed Miley now.

Lilly felt such a gentleness pass through her, a need to touch Miley in a way she'd never touched another woman. She knew Miley wasn't made of glass, and certainly wouldn't break, but she couldn't suppress the desire to truly make love to her, soft and slow; show Miley all that there was in her heart, and all that there could be.

Miley broke the kiss, looking up into Lilly's face. Without a word, she took Lilly by the hand and led her back towards where the table cloth was still laid out on the ground. Once there, she turned to Lilly, not entirely sure where to take it from there. She felt helpless and a bit shy, but figured that if anyone knew what to do, Lilly did.

Lilly could sense what Miley needed from her, and took the role freely and very willingly. She stepped over to Miley and kissed her again, this time not as exploratory, but with more passion and purpose. This kiss was meant to ignite Miley's body. Once she had left her breathless, Lilly reached down and ran her hands from Miley's hips up her sides and finally covered her breasts.

Miley gasped, not fully expecting such blatant contact, but allowed herself to enjoy the feeling. She lightly pushed into Lilly's hands, letting her know she was fine with it, her own hands coming to rest on Lilly's hips.

Lilly kissed a fiery trail along Miley's jaw, finding her neck. Miley's eyes closed as her head fell back, offering all she had to Lilly, who happily accepted it. She brought a hand up, burying her fingers in dark hair as Lilly licked and kissed her neck, nipping at the soft skin. Her hands ran back down Miley's sides, finding the hem of her shirt and slipping underneath, the warm skin brushed by her fingers.

Miley was losing herself in Lilly's touch. "You're going to take me to a place I've never been, aren't you?" she whispered, part fear, part awe.

Lilly nipped at Miley's pulse point. "Yes."

Lilly brought her hands up Miley's bare sides, feeling the satiny material of her bra strap, Miley's shirt rising with the movement. "I just hope nobody shows up here," Lilly murmured against Miley's mouth.

Miley smiled. "Let's hope not."

Miley lifted her arms, allowing her shirt to be taken over her head and tossed down to the table cloth at their feet. The sun felt wonderful against her bare shoulders and mid-section. She sighed as she felt Lilly touching her skin; it felt wonderful.

Lilly tugged off her own shirt, pulling Miley against her. They both moaned at the feel of partially bare torsos against each other. Miley took her in a savage kiss, her body fully ignited and crazing more. Lilly pulled away, chuckling.

"Whoa there, woman. Slow down," she panted, her own body on fire. She ran her fingernails down Miley's spine, making Miley whimper softly. "I know," she assured, "I know. It's coming, I promise." Lilly unclasped Miley's bra, letting the garment fall to the small pile that was growing. She took in the sight of the small, yet very full breasts, and her mouth watered. "Absolutely gorgeous."

Miley allowed herself to be pulled to the ground, where she was urged to lay on her back. She did, looking up at Lilly, who knelt next to her. She looked into Lilly's face, trying to read what the other woman was thinking and feeling. It didn't take much to figure out, as Lilly's face was extremely expressive.

Lilly drank in the sight before her, her fingers and mouth itching to touch. Instead, she undid Miley's shoes, removing them and her socks, then her own. Finally, she removed both their pants and underwear, leaving them completely naked. She looked into Miley's eyes, making sure everything was okay. She could tell Miley was nervous. She ran a hand down Miley's thigh. "It's okay," she said with a reassuring smile.

In response, Miley reached up and pulled Lilly on top of her. They both moaned at the full body contact, one of Lilly's legs slipping in between Miley's. They shared a deep, passionate kiss, Miley's hands wandering across the expanse of Lilly's naked back.

Lilly could feel how wet Miley was, and it made her moan in appreciation. She pulled away from the kiss, looking down into Miley's face. "Do you trust me?" she asked.

Miley nodded. "Absolutely."

"Good." Lilly left her with a scorching kiss before she began to kiss a trail down Miley's neck, licking along her collar bones until finally she found her breasts.

Miley groaned deep in her throat as once again her fingers found Lilly's hair, gently pushing the dark head further into her breast.

Lilly suckled Miley's left nipple, tugging lightly before batting it with her tongue. She could feel Miley squirming beneath her and hear the soft sounds of pleasure from above her. She ran the palm of her hand over the rigid tip of the other nipple before taking the breast into her hand and messaging it. She adjusted her body so she lay between Miley's spread legs, hot wetness pressed to her stomach.

Miley felt she was losing control of her body, pleasure now boss. She'd never felt anything like it, never so fully given herself over to another human being, trusting that they would take care of her. As her pleasure grew, so did her need. She arched her hips, trying to press herself as hard against Lilly's body as she could.

Lilly could tell Miley was going to be hurting soon, so she moved her progress further down the gorgeous body, licking and kissing along the way. Finally, she was between Miley's thighs, face to face with her greatest need. She kissed the inside of Miley's thighs, purposely allowing her hair to brush against Miley's center.

"God," Miley groaned, trying to guide Lilly's head to where she needed her most, but Lilly refused. "You're killing me," she gasped.

Lilly chuckled against Miley, the vibration making the blonde gasp again. She ran her tongue through the saturated folds, pressing down as she got to the hard clit, which she took into her mouth, running her tongue over it.

Miley nearly jumped off the ground, white hot pleasure shooting up through her. She felt a comforting hand press down on her lower belly, which she grabbed and held tightly. As Lilly's tongue continued to torment her, Miley's eyes slipped closed, her head to the side. Her breathing was getting faster, her hips undulating with each pass of Lilly's tongue.

Lilly brought two fingers up, slipping them inside and beginning a slow stroke.. she could feel Miley's body rise to meet her fingers and tongue, Miley's whimpers and moans coming closer together, more needy. Deciding to give her what she needed, Lilly sucked Miley's clit into her mouth, pummeling it with her tongue as she speeded up her thrusts.

Miley couldn't hold on anymore, her grip on Lilly's hand becoming painfully fight as she finally climaxed, a soft cry escaping her lips, as she tried her best not to scream out into the day.

Lilly waited until Miley's body finished shuddering, then kissed her way back up until she took Miley in a long, loving kiss. She gathered the trembling body against her own, holding Miley tight, raining kisses on her face and lips.

Finally, Miley's eyes opened. "Holy crap," she blew out, making Lilly smile. "That was… That was… I don't quite have words for what that was."

"Beautiful? Hot as hell? Way overdo?"

Miley grinned, playfully swatting at Lilly. "Long overdue? We've only been in each other's lives for four weeks. We only admitted feelings today!"

Lilly grinned. "Yeah, but I've wanted to do that to you for eleven years, so, long overdue."

Miley blushed slightly at that, pulling Lilly down for another long kiss. "Well, I loved it a lot," she whispered against Lilly's lips.

The kiss continued, deepening as Miley pushed Lilly over to her back, following to end up on top of her. She weaseled one of her thighs between Lilly's remembering that she'd liked how that had felt. She pressed down, making Lilly moan and thrust up against her.

"I'm telling you," Lilly whimpered, "it won't take much. I'm pretty much ready to go right now."

Miley grinned, kissing down Lilly's neck, resting her weight on her forearms as she began a soft thrust with her hips and thigh, one of her hands finding one of Lilly's breasts. She tested Lilly's sensitivity, gently plucking at the hard nipple, eyeing Lilly's face.

Lilly's eyes slipped closed, her hands sliding down to cup Miley's ass and widening her own legs to allow more room for Miley's thigh between them. She moaned at the increase in pressure against her. "God, yes," she moaned.

Miley did her best to keep her rhythm steady as she explored Lilly's neck, her fingers continuing with her breast. She sensed that Lilly was getting close, the pressure on Miley's butt getting harder and more urgent, as well as Lilly's own hips moving harder against her.

Miley's mouth found Lilly's again, wanting to swallow Lilly's cries of pleasure as she climaxed, her hands gripping Miley's butt painfully hard. Miley pushed against Lilly, trying to grind out as much pleasure out of her as she could, her own excitement building at the pressure against her own sex. To her surprise, and Lilly's delight, she came a second time, clutching Lilly to her as her body shuddered.

It took a long moment, but finally they both came back to earth, sated for the moment. Miley looked into Lilly's face, her own goofy smile matching what she saw there. "Hi."

"Hello, beautiful. How are you?"

"Tired. Hungry. Really wanting a bed underneath me."

"Don't you kind of have one?" Lilly asked with a raised brow, indicating the fact that Miley was lying on top of her.

Miley wiggled experimentally, finally resting her head on Lilly's shoulder. "Guess so."

Lilly smiled, wrapping Miley in a tight hug. "I love you."

"I love you, too," Miley murmured before drifting off to sleep.

THE END