Title: What Happens In Martha's Vineyard…

Summary: A one-shot from the WHW series, Trory rooted, but the inception of how Jules and Jake came to be a couple coupling. Set between the last chapter and epilogue of Peer Pressure.

"Why don't they believe that man?" Jack Mariano asked his older brother, as he took a giant handful of popcorn from the bowl their sister was holding.

Jules frowned at her five-year-old brother's ability to grab half the kernels with his small hand—especially without taking his eyes off the screen. It was a secondary concern, though a welcome distraction as it was, to the fact that Jake Dugrey was nearly imbedded into the entire length of one side of her body—and had been for nearly an hour. Normally, of course, she would have noticed his presence, but clearly this wasn't normal as she was acutely hyperaware of every little motion either of them made since he'd nonchalantly asked her to make room for him before the movie began. When he coughed twenty minutes prior, she had nearly jumped out of her skin. Every time she snuck a glance at him, however, he seemed completely at ease, watching the movie and conversing with the rest of the house. Following his lead, she attempted to keep herself in check. The best way to achieve normalcy would have been to move to the floor for the duration of the film, but for whatever reason—or too many reasons that she was still mostly in denial in regards to—she stayed glued to Jake and attempted to play it cool.

"Because he's a crackpot," Ambrose answered, from the other end of the couch, oblivious to pretty much everything outside of the explosions on the giant flat screen or his brother's near-incessant question asking.

"And an alcoholic," Jake chimed in. Again, he was totally in the moment. Jules sighed.

"What's that mean?" Jack asked.

"It just means he's silly," Jules amended for her brother and his best friend, as she took her own handful of popcorn. Her dad wasn't the biggest on rules, but he was growing weary of explaining age-inappropriate topics to his youngest son after time spent in the company of his older children. Besides, intervening gave her something else to focus on, as Jake's hand brushed her arm in the midst of reaching into the bowl of popcorn—without so much as glancing at her or the bowl. The entire length of skin that he skimmed seemed to hum with excitement, but she refused to admit defeat—yet.

"But he knew the aliens were going to attack! He's not silly, he's smart!" Jack reasoned.

"But he'd been wrong a bunch before, so they ignored him," Jules told him, glancing at the television as Jake finally looked her way. Out of her periphery, as he was so close, she noticed him smile before turning his attention back to the screen as well.

"Are the aliens going to kill everyone?" Jack asked, wide-eyed.

"Maybe a movie where half the world gets blown up wasn't the best idea?" Jules offered to her older cohorts, but focusing on her older brother.

"But it's a tradition. The fifth of July is Will Smith night," Jake scoffed, moving forward far enough to grab two Oreos off the plate on the coffee table and handing her one as he settled back against the couch. "We don't monkey with tradition."

"A tradition instituted by your mother so she could force our dads to watch Hitch," Jules pointed out, unscrewing the sandwich cookie. She fought the urge to read too much into him offering her a cookie. It was an Oreo, not a metaphor. But she still thought twice before licking the filling off first. They had to talk about whatever this was, and soon; she just wanted to eat a stupid cookie without parsing it for hidden meaning, for God's sake.

"Traditions have to start somewhere," Rory spoke up, coming back in from the kitchen with a bowl of Red Vines to share with the group as their arsenal of snacks began to dwindle. "Oh, Harry Connick, Jr, how I've missed you."

"We are not watching Hope Floats again," Tristan groaned in warning, trailing his wife with a bag of pretzels and an opened beer in his other hand.

"Don't worry, Will Smith isn't in Hope Floats," Jess informed him. "Damn it. Why do I even know this?"

"You owe another dollar now, Dad," Jack said casually, to which Ambrose tousled the young boy's hair and smirked at his dad.

"I was always a Hugh Jackman girl myself," Gwen sighed dreamily, joining the rest of the group, sitting next to Jess and taking a sip of wine.

"Isn't he gay?" Jess asked.

"No, just Australian," Tristan assured him.

"Is there a movie with all three?" Jules pondered aloud, thankful for a trio of men that had the best chance of pushing Jake and all their interactions of late to the back burner of her mind at that moment. However, as Jake shifted and reached his arm around the back of the couch—and her by extension—she knew she was toast.

"I wish," Rory said, as if lost in thought. She snapped out of it as Tristan raised an eyebrow at her. "What? You're sexier than Hugh Jackman."

"I'm eating here," Jake complained, throwing popcorn with his free hand at his mother in way of protest, having leaned across Jules yet again to procure his ammunition. It was starting to feel illicit somehow—on purpose for sure—for him to be so close to her and in front of their families. Especially since they were just friends, albeit friends that had shared a dance at Ella's engagement party that left her confused, followed by an increase of emails and text messages since. They were all innocent enough, but the tone of all their interactions had shifted. And sure, she'd seen him more of late, but he did live with her brother after all. She had nearly had a grip on the idea that it was probably just her imagination, until they'd arrived at the house for the extended July 4th weekend. And now, on the couch, she was almost positive that the dance had changed something for him as well. If not, she could no longer deny that it had changed her own feelings.

"What about Will Smith and Harry Connick, Jr.?" Tristan failed to let it go as he questioned his wife.

"Then or now?" Rory inquired thoughtfully.

"What?" he asked, finding her question irrelevant.

"I'm just saying, Harry Connick, Jr. hasn't aged so well, but Will Smith has that dignified, refined older man thing going on, and," Rory began, but stopped short when she realized she wasn't surrounded with people who would appreciate the merits of her argument. Mostly it was just her husband glaring at her, and Gwen trying to hide her smile. "Man, this wine is really good."

Jules snorted at the adults' exchange, and Jake threw popcorn at her this time.

"Hey!" she protested.

"I was just sharing," he smiled innocently. If they'd been alone—well, she was not going to go there. Thankfully they were surrounded by lots of other people. Safety in numbers, that's what she had.

"Watch it, I know retaliation methods," she warned settling for a veiled threat as she picked a kernel from just inside the neckline of her shirt.

"You're not gonna hit me again are you?" he joked easily, making her blush slightly at the memory from their younger years.

"Why, are you gonna try to kiss her again?" Ambrose asked, teasing them both.

Jake raised an eyebrow at Jules, extending her blush as she held his gaze. Oh, she was in some serious trouble. Either he was completely clueless and able to rib her out of familiarity, or he was riling her up for a later confrontation. She wasn't sure which one was best, but her heart was beating so loud she was almost sure he could hear it, if not feel it through her ribcage.

"Why did you kiss Jules?" Jack asked seriously. "Do you love her?"

"I love having a little brother," Ambrose announced, holding back the bark of laughter that his joy inspired.

"I'm glad that I was able to entertain you," Jess shook his head. "Enjoy it now; he'll be your only one."

"You're sure you don't want any more kids?" Rory asked, looking to Gwen, sidestepping the kids' conversation, for which Jules was grateful. She didn't want to hear Jake give a glib response on that particular topic. But she did turn her head to watch him as the adults chatted. He gave another sigh, leaned forward, and procured her another cookie. It felt like a peace offering. She rolled her eyes, but took it and went to work separating it. Let him parse that cookie, she thought.

"She's free to have more children, if I die," Jess said. "But this union shall produce no further offspring."

"How very Victorian of you," Rory chuckled.

"I wasn't aware vasectomies were Victorian," Tristan mused.

"What's a vasectomy?" Jack asked Ambrose.

"Uh, Dad, your son has a question," Ambrose gave his father a blank stare.

"Sure, now he'd my son," Jess rolled his eyes. "It's just something I got to make sure you were my last kid, Jack."

Jack considered this, in the way that only a small child could. "But why?"

"Because you were so perfect, you made the family complete, so we had to stop," Gwen assured him.

"Good one," Jess murmured under his breath.

"You can thank me later," she murmured back.

"Whoa, cool, did you see how that just blew up?" Jack asked the group, his attention riveted back to the screen, as well as the rest of the room for a moment.

"Why do we watch this every year?" Rory asked, frowning at the screen as everything went up in flames.

"Will Smith in a flight suit, apparently," Tristan grumbled.

"I thought it was the explosions," Ambrose supplied.

"Something for everyone," Jules pointed out, trying to block Jake out and focus on Will Smith trying to save the world. In comparison, her ambiguous feelings toward her long-time friend should seem insignificant. Apparently Will Smith in a uniform, while enticing, wasn't enough to do the trick.

"Oh, hey, Am, do you have your phone on you?" Rory asked, reaching over to grab more pretzels. Years of fine tuning had assured that most snacks were in arm's reach of any seat or an easy pass from one's neighbor.

Ambrose snapped a bite of Red Vines off with his teeth. "Yeah. Why?"

Rory shrugged casually. "Oh, no reason. I just sort of dropped by to see an old colleague of mine last week, and after we caught up over coffee, I might have left your resume on his desk."

Ambrose perked up. "Where does this colleague work?"

Rory munched another pretzel. "CNN," she answered calmly.

"Shut up," Ambrose sat up and turned, his attention peaked to say the least.

"Okay," Rory agreed, though unable to conceal her smile.

"You know someone at CNN, who's looking to hire?" Ambrose pressed.

She nodded. "It's just an internship, in the news room. Basically you'd be his whipping boy."

"What are the chances he's actually going to read my resume?" Ambrose inquired.

"Well," Rory played it up, acting coy. "He sort of owes me. I did give him his first byline out of college," she began. "And I sort of introduced him to Anderson Cooper."

"Ah, Mom's gay boyfriend," Jake laughed, causing Jess to nearly choke on his held-back laughter and the beer he hadn't yet swallowed.

"He is not," Rory scoffed.

"No, but you wish he were," Tristan ribbed her.

"Anderson is a great guy. But he's got more interns than he knows what to do with, and currently he doesn't owe me any favors," she frowned, clearly disappointed at the turn of events.

"Wow. That's amazing. I don't even know how to thank you," Ambrose shook his head, in complete disbelief.

"Yes, I feel like I should offer you money, for saving me from having to let my unemployed college graduate of a son move back in with us," Jess joked.

"No money necessary. I do accept tokens of appreciation however; you know my affection for first editions. But the only thanks I need from you is to take his call and get the job," Rory informed Ambrose directly.

"I'll do my best. But thank you. Doing anything at CNN is my dream job," Ambrose continued.

"Hey, what are godmothers for? Now, don't get too excited. It's total grunt work. But it gets you in the door, and you can start impressing the right people, which you will, you'll make your own way to where you want to go."

Ambrose stood up moved across the room to hug Rory. Rory, surprised, patted his back. "Oh. Okay," she said.

Ambrose smiled. "Seriously, thank you," he said again and made for the back of the room. Jules leaned back over the couch to watch him walk away, leaving her down in numbers. She needed to retain companions. It seemed key to extending her continuance.

"The movie's not over, where are you going?"

"To charge my cell and start prepping, just in case this guy is smart enough not to tick off Rory," Ambrose informed his sister.

Gwen patted Jess' leg and stood as well, moving to scoop up Jack, causing a ripple of fear in Jules' chest. Now she was losing numbers and being left alone. On a couch. With Jake. Who was still nearly sitting underneath her, or on top of her—it was hard to tell at that point.

"Come on, little man, it's bedtime," Gwen informed her son.

"Aww, Mom, the movie isn't over!" he said, giving his best pouty face. It would have been effective, on a weaker soul.

"Daddy can tell you how it ends. It can be your bedtime story."

Jack sighed. "Can I finish movies when I'm six?"

"We'll see," Jess said, kissing his daughter's head as he followed his wife and son out of the room and toward the staircase. "Night, guys."

Rory yawned and stretched, laying her head on her husband's shoulder. He tightened his grip around her back and waist and kissed her forehead. "Tired?"

"It's been a long day. Now that I've heard from Ella, I think it's catching up to me."

"She landed?" Jake asked knowingly, turning toward his mom and dad, seemingly comfortable with the fact that they were seconds away from being left alone.

Rory nodded. "She and Rosa got in and the boys met them. They're gearing up for the royal wedding."

"Is it really considered a royal wedding? I mean, it's Lichtenstein," Jules considered, hoping to engage the conversation and keep a couple of chaperones.

"Jasper is marrying the princess, so he'll be a prince," Rory explained. "It's one of the few true monarchies left."

"When they get back, we'll be in the final stretch before Ella's wedding," Tristan said, watching his wife's reaction.

"I know," she said quietly, looking at the screen. "I think I will go up to bed. I'm beat."

Tristan nodded and stood, pulling her up after him. "Come on, I'll go with you. You look like you could use a nice back rub."

"Like we don't know what back rub is code for," Jake said, not looking at his parents. Jules refused to look his way.

"Don't worry, we promise not to give you a little brother or sister," Tristan said, patting his son's shoulder as they walked past the couch. "Turn out the lights when you two go up, okay?"

"We will," Jules promised, defeated. The two sat on the couch, neither bothering to spread out now that they had a wealth of vacated seats. For a few minutes they just watched the movie in silence, though the energy in the air was such that they were surely both aware that the stalemate could only go on so long. Jules reached forward to get her drink off the coffee table in front of them, but failed to reach it without moving her person from her cushion. She stretched as far as she could, crossing in front of Jake, her fingertips a few inches from her glass. Jake gave a soft chuckle at her and easily reached past her to hand her the glass.

"Thanks."

"Not a problem," he said, watching her take a drink.

She swallowed her mouthful, a little more forcefully than she intended under the scrutiny. "What?"

He shook his head. "Nothing. You're a little sunburned, on your cheeks."

"Am I?" she touched one cheek with her fingers, guessing that the near constant blushing and increase of her blood pressure from sitting next to him all evening probably were exacerbating the effects of the sun. "I guess it was worth it, playing on the beach all day."

Jake nodded. "It's always fun, beating our parents at beach volleyball."

"It was fair this year, too, since Ella was gone. If they'd let your Mom play, they would have outnumbered us finally this year," she mused, relieved for the easy topic.

"Mom is a danger to herself and others when it comes to group sports," he laughed. "But I guess pretty soon we'll have Grey on our side, then whoever else we start to bring up with us."

Jules nodded and paused for a moment. "You can ask."

Jake continued to watch her. "I was just surprised you came alone. I thought maybe you were still seeing that guy."

"I broke up with him about a couple of months ago. He insisted on being at Ambrose's graduation, and everywhere else I had to be. He was clingy, and not really in a good way. When he cried because I told him I needed a weekend to myself to go to Ella's engagement party, I knew it was over." There, she'd mentioned it. Now the ball was in his court. Between his bizarre reaction and the dance with Jake, she didn't see any other option, really, but to end things.

"He did seem… devoted," Jake cleared his throat, doing his best at diplomacy.

"More like obsessive," Jules shuddered. "He was just always around. At first it was nice, but then it was just too much. He wanted to be with me when I went shopping, hanging out with my friends, studying," she frowned.

"Yeah, he wasn't so keen on our hanging out together either," Jake admitted.

"How do you know that?" Jules asked, now outright ignoring the movie and focusing on Jake.

"I introduced myself, when you went to the bathroom before the ceremony, and he got all shifty and weird and told me that he appreciated the fact that I'd been such a good friend to you, but now he was there to take care of you. It was creepy to say the least, like he was informing me my services were no longer needed," Jake explained.

"He what?" Jules asked, clearly freaked out. "Wow. As if I needed to be any happier I dumped the guy. Sorry. I didn't realize he was, well, having those kinds of conversations."

Jake shrugged. "It's okay. I mean, most guys you date aren't exactly lining up to be my best friend, but that was definitely the weirdest manifestation."

Jules glanced at him, curious. "My boyfriends haven't liked you? That's not true."

He shrugged again. "It is true. it's just our history. They don't know what to make of me. I'm not your relative, but I'm not your boyfriend, but we're close, and most guys haven't seemed to appreciate having me around you after a certain point."

She made a face, though she really wanted to ask him if there was any reason for her boyfriends to have been jealous. "That's crazy."

He shrugged yet again. "I'm just saying. It's the nature of our friendship. The girls I date don't seem so thrilled about you, either, if it makes you feel better."

"Ah, the multitudes of women that pass through your life," she joked.

"There aren't that many," he protested.

"Not that last longer than a night or two," she raised an eyebrow, her words a little harsher than she intended. After all, it was his business, not hers. Even after that dance.

"I've actually had a bit of a dry spell lately. I decided to raise my standards, so," he paused before looking back at Jules, his blue eyes intent on her.

She eyed him with hesitation, wondering just exactly when this self-imposed dry spell had begun; how closely it had coincided with their dance and her breaking up with her boyfriend. "That's probably not a bad idea."

He smiled. "I've been known to be smart sometimes."

Jules leaned back against the couch, noticing that the credits were rolling. Neither reached for the remote. Jake stood up after a minute and moved to the DVD player. They were so close to actually discussing what happened. What might have happened. Maybe it was best if they didn't pursue the matter so head on, or at least just not tonight. Maybe she should just relax. It was getting late, and she was getting tired—and with a house full of people this probably wasn't the place to get into it.

"You going up?" Jules asked, still rooted to the couch, her knees drawn up to her chest.

He shook his head and held up Hitch. "One Will Smith movie doesn't make a marathon. I told you, I don't monkey with tradition," he said, putting the chick flick into the player. "The question is, are you going to stay and watch or are you going to make me sit in the dark watching a chick flick alone?"

Jules smiled. "I guess I can stay and watch more Will Smith," she acquiesced, as though it was a chore. "After all, what do we have if not traditions?"

Jake smiled and settled right back in his seat next to Jules. They watched and mocked until about halfway through the movie, at which point Jake realized Jules had fallen asleep on his shoulder. He stilled, turning his focus on her, watching as she peacefully rested against him. He found himself in no hurry for the movie to end, even as she remained asleep. By the time the credits rolled, he used the remote to turn off all the electronics, leaving the room dark. After softly saying her name to no avail, he slipped an arm under her back and the other under her knees, easily lifting her up off the couch and pulling her into his arms. She made a soft noise, but rested her cheek back into his chest, barely stirring. He carried her up to her room, covering her with the blankets before slipping out to finish cleaning up the remains of the movie marathon before retiring to bed himself.

XXXX

The next morning was filled with food and goodbyes, as people began to pack and depart for the city. Ambrose was first, having gotten a call to have coffee with Rory's old colleague later that afternoon. Everyone wished him luck, Rory assuring him that they'd be lucky to have him, and he was gone. Jess and Gwen were strapping Jack into the back of the car shortly after, needing to get back to attend an orientation for Jack's school later that afternoon. Just after lunch, Rory and Tristan bid their goodbyes, needing to get back for work the next day. Jake and Jules remained, having promised to close up the house, and Jake assuring his mother he'd return the keys when he came to have dinner with them that weekend. Jake stood, waving his parents off as they pulled out of the driveway and disappeared.

"So, it's just us," Jake acknowledged, as he returned to the porch.

Jules nodded, leaning her arms against the railing. "It seems so. Apparently we're the only ones with free time."

"I try to savor it when I can get it. Second summer session starts next week," he cringed.

"Then I guess we should make the most of our last days," she suggested. "How about we hit the beach?"

Jake looked down at his board shorts and tank top. "At least I'm dressed for it. I'll go pack some snacks and you get changed."

Jules nodded. Going to the beach was a good way to pass the time, allowing them to avoid more intimate topics. Last night had been confusing, especially after falling asleep downstairs and waking up in her bed. "Deal."

Once they'd spread out their blanket and bags on the sand, a good distance from the rising tide, Jules cracked open a soda, handing him one as well. "So, uh, thanks for last night. Carrying me up, I mean."

He took a sip. "Sure, no problem."

"I was a little confused, when I woke up this morning. The last thing I remembered was watching the movie," she led.

"I just figured you'd be more comfortable in bed. I mean, sleeping," he explained, suddenly not in control of his words. "Besides, you're light. Easy to carry," he smiled.

She nodded, distracted as she found herself checking out his arms. He'd peeled off his tank top once they hit the beach, revealing a nicely tanned and toned upper body. She took another drink and pried her eyes away from him.

"Are you okay?" Jake asked, squinting into the sun to look at her more carefully.

"Yeah. I think I'll just jump in the water. It's getting kinda hot out here, isn't it?"

"Oh, that reminds me," he said, reaching into the bag he'd brought down, through his shirt and towels to pull out some sunblock. "Since you got sunburned yesterday," he pointed out.

"Oh, right. Thanks," she said, taking some white lotion in her hands, smearing it over the bridge of her nose and cheeks until it soaked into her skin.

"Should I?" he gestured to her back, to which she turned away from him, to let him rub the SPF 45 onto her back. She closed her eyes in an attempt to steel herself, feeling his hands as they ran over her skin, easing the sun protection over her back until it was no longer visible. It took a couple of minutes, tortuous minutes, with his hand slipping under the tie of her bikini top and around the sides of her waist just above her bikini bottoms. By the time he was done, she was definitely in need of dunk in the ocean. Or a cold shower.

"That should do it," he said, clearing his throat. She turned to face him, to thank him, and noticed that he seemed struck, for the first time all weekend. She wondered how he'd kept up all the easy conversation and genial quips. Apparently rubbing his hands over her bare skin was enough to shake him. It had certainly affected her.

"Are you coming?" she asked, internally chastising herself for word choice. "In the water, I mean?"

An easy smile spread across his lips, as the tension was partially broken. "Uh, yeah. I'll be right there."

"Okay," she gave a nod, then reluctantly turned away from him yet again, fighting the urge to glance back to see if he was watching her walk down the beach and toward the rolling tide. She walked in waist deep and looked out to the horizon before sinking down to her shoulders and then dunking her head under water. When she emerged, Jake was standing a foot from her, to his waist in the ocean. She gave a startled shriek, and he jumped.

"What was that?"

"Sorry, it's just, I wasn't expecting you to be there. So quickly, I mean," she went on rambling.

"Seriously, what's wrong with you?" Jake asked.

"Nothing, I'm fine. Hey, wanna race?" she asked, pointing out the pier they always used to swim out to.

"Sure. What are the stakes?" he raised an eyebrow, causing a flip-flop of her heart in her chest.

"I don't know, dinner?" she suggested, trying to keep it innocent, though still worthy of a race.

"Loser pays?" he offered.

"Loser cooks," she upped the ante.

He sized up his competition and held out his hand. "Deal."

She gave his hand a brief shake. "Hope you're a good cook. One, two, three, GO!" she said, and they both took off for the pier, swimming as fast as they could. It was a good use of energy, as both had plenty to burn in the midst of whatever was happening between them.

XXXX

A short while later, still drying off with towels draped around them and carrying their belongings as they approached the back porch, Jake continued to contest the outcome of their race.

"I still say that it's cheating," he gruffed.

"You just don't like that a girl can beat you?" she asked jokingly.

"I'm just saying, I weigh more than you, so I have more gravity, and therefore I have more drag."

"Well, if you really wanted to win, maybe you should have shaved all the hair off your body to help you glide through the water," she smirked at him. "You must really not want to cook. Wait, can you even cook?"

He blew out an indignant breath. "I can cook. Some things. Mostly out of a can, or a box. Or a tube," he offered.

Jules made a face. "Right. Change of plan. I'm cooking."

"But you won."

"The pleasure of you giving me food poisoning? I don't think so," she teased.

"Let's just go see what's in the kitchen, shall we?" he shook his head.

"Okay," Jules opened the back door into the kitchen and motioned for him to go in. "Have a look; plan your menu."

He looked at her for a beat. "You don't scare me."

She simply smiled.

"You still don't scare me," he said, sounding a little less sure of himself as he walked past her and began opening the cabinets and refrigerator. He skimmed the contents of the pantry a second time and shut the door with a frown. "We can just order a pizza."

"What? Why?" she pressed, already trying to peek around him at the pantry.

"There's no food," he pointed to the pantry.

"No food? I know there were a lot of us here this weekend, but surely we didn't go through all that food," she said, opening the pantry and looking for herself. She saw the fact that while they were running low compared to what their parents had bought when they first arrived a few days prior. She made a mental inventory, and then turned to open the fridge.

"What are you doing? I just told you, there's nothing here."

"Will you just shut up for a second?" she asked, looking and then finding the last ingredient she needed. "Okay, this is totally doable."

"What are you, an Iron Chef? There's nothing there," he repeated, still clearly unable to see the parts necessary to compile a full meal.

"Are you going to help me or just stand there looking confused?" Jules asked, cocking her head to the side and enjoying having the upper hand for once this weekend.

"I'm not confused. What are you making, popcorn and beer?"

"Hey, what happened to trust?" she blinked.

He stopped instantly and pursued his lips. "Fine. What can I do to help?"

"Are you better at stirring, chopping, or just looking pretty?"

"Well, I am the best piece of eye-candy available to you at this given time," he smirked.

She rolled her eyes and pushed him back a little, attempting to deflate his ego a little bit. "I'm not giving you a knife if you can't handle it," she walked past him and pulled out the loaf of bread.

"Who taught you to cook?" he inquired, leaning back against the counter, taking the eye candy role.

"My dad. Not to mention Uncle Luke," she answered as if he should know better.

"Right. Why is it that the women in our lives can't so much as boil water without assistance?" he mused. "Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?"

"Your mom can cook, if there's a really detailed recipe available," she smiled. "And, hey, I'm a woman, and I can cook just fine."

He considered the woman that was standing in front of him, gathering ingredients for his dinner. "You are definitely a woman. And if you can really cook, then you'll be my favorite woman."

She blushed, again. "Just hand me that tomato, will you?"

XXXX

"So? Are you feeling poisoned?" she asked as he finished the last crumbs of food from his plate.

"No, stuffed," he managed after he swallowed. "That was the best food I've ever eaten."

"You must have been starving. It was just a BLT," she shrugged.

"You made potato chips. I thought that had to be done in a factory," he leaned back in his chair. "Did you make those for the clingy obsessive guy? Because that might be why he was so crazy about you," he informed her.

She laughed and shook her head. "No. I didn't cook for him."

"So, I'm special?" he inferred.

"Well, I wasn't going to let us starve," she said, standing up to clear the table, sensing the need to busy herself or fall victim to the desire to figure out what was really going on between them.

"Hey, what are you doing? You cooked, let me clean," he took her plate from her hands. "Sit. It's your turn to be my eye candy."

She sat back and smiled, pleasantly surprised. "A man who does dishes? Careful, I might swoon."

He started hot water in the sink. "Brace yourself; I also do my own laundry."

"That's it. I'm quitting school and becoming your groupie," she said with mock sincerity, watching as he gathered all the dishes into the sink and turned on the water.

"How is school going?" he asked, rinsing off a dish.

She sat back and took another drink of water. "Good. I'm taking a bunch of electives next semester, but I'm excited to live with Lia this year. I'm tired of roommate roulette," she cringed.

"You haven't had any scary roommates, have you?"

"Not really, but you just never know, as a freshman, what you could be stuck with. It's nice to have all that past me and be in my own apartment."

"It does have its perks, though, I live with two other guys, and while I chose to live with them, it's still not an ideal living situation."

"Why?" Jules asked, still watching him as he worked.

"Three guys and I'm the only one that cleans. It's like I adopted two puppies who shed dirty clothes."

Jules laughed. "I'm so glad to have foisted my brother off on you."

"Sounds like if he gets this job, I'll barely see him anyway," Jake said, putting away the last of the dishes. "He can sully the CNN offices."

"Everyone's growing up," she smiled, standing up. "Speaking of which, how about beers in the hot tub?" She made the offer so naturally, without thinking. The moment she turned for the back door, she realized the implications of her suggestion. The two of them, in the hot tub, drinking—more than likely all the things they had been keeping right at the surface would come to a head. Though after the way they'd been attempting to postpone the inevitable, perhaps it was just time.

Jake smiled and followed her, pulling cold beer from the fridge as he passed. "If you're not careful, I'll end up asking you to live with me," he joked.

Jules pushed the top off the hot tub and checked the water, busying herself to drown out her thoughts. She pushed the button to turn on the jets and eased into the water, accepting a now open beer bottle from Jake. He climbed into the rolling water and sat down opposite her, and they clinked bottle necks.

"What should we drink to?" he asked.

"Having this whole spread to ourselves?" she offered.

"Good enough for me," he took a sip. "You know, I always thought Mom and Dad would leave this place to Ella since she's the oldest, but now that she's marrying Grey, something tells me that they won't need this shack," he joked about the estate.

"You are next in line. And the only one to carry on the family name," Jules pointed out, wondering if he brought up his sister's marriage as a segue into discussing what had happened at her engagement party.

"Seems like an awful lot of trouble, just for a beach house."

"Well, it is Martha's Vineyard," she said in a fake-haughty tone. "Don't you want kids?"

He shrugged. "I guess. Someday, it probably won't seem so bad, with the right person. But right now, I'm pretty happy flying solo."

"Hence the higher standards?" Jules asked, putting her beer on the side of the hot tub.

"Exactly," he agreed, taking a drink.

She nodded, eyeing him carefully. "It does have its perks. There's really only one drawback to having high standards," she led.

He raised an eyebrow and sucked in a breath. "Yeah?"

She met his eyes, and quickly looked away. "Yeah. You know."

"Oh. I know," he smiled as he took another drink of beer. "So, it's been a while for you?"

Jules grabbed her beer again, suddenly needing a little more courage. She'd thought they would discuss that dance, but this conversation was just as nerve-wracking. "A little while. You?"

He nodded. "A little longer than I'm used to."

"But, being single, you don't have to deal with all the other crap that goes along with dating," Jules pointed out, backpedaling a bit.

He shrugged. "It's too bad, though, that you can't have one without the other."

She met his eyes, and her stomach began to tighten into knots, from the very nature of the conversation they were circling. "No relationship is perfect, I guess."

"True. But that's not really what I was thinking of."

Jules finished her beer a little too quickly, wondering if she'd need a second before they were done talking. "And what are you thinking?"

Jake put his empty bottle next to hers after moving so that he was sitting on the bench seat next to her, instead of across from her. "I was just thinking," he began, and she wondered just exactly what it was he was thinking. His body language was pretty clear, just as it had been when they danced. His hands had been so strong on her back, holding her body so close to his. And now he was close again, and the look in his eyes signaled he might move even closer.

"About sex?" she offered.

He nodded. "Physical contact in general. But yeah, sex."

She tilted her head, but didn't back away—which gave him just enough encouragement to continue, she hoped.

"It's the major drawback to being single. I mean, especially if you're in a situation where you're trying to clear your head. That's what we're both doing, right?"

The expression on his face wasn't something she'd ever seen before—impressive as they'd known one another their entire lives. It was a mix of hope and lust, with an underlying of trepidation. She understood all three emotions. The idea of the two of them together as more than friends was a very big deal, and that thought was more than a little paralyzing. Didn't most people entering into ill-advised sexual situations do so without words, under the influence of alcohol, in suggestive locations like a beach or a hot tub? They had it all going, except for the fact that they were both creatures of structure. He was raised with it and relied on it, and she was raised largely without it and craved it. But the way his blue eyes were fixed on her, waiting for her words—they were both going to have to clear up a few things between them first. They had too much history to do this any other way.

"Do you really think that having sex would clear your head?" she asked, and damn it if he didn't scoot closer to her, scattering all her chances for the illusive state of mind they were discussing.

"Not really," he admitted, barely holding her gaze and visibly struggling to not glance down to where her body sank into the water. "But it alleviates a few other aches. Don't you miss it?"

"What you're suggesting," she paused, in disbelief that they were actually saying these thoughts out loud. "It sounds ideal, but nothing ever really comes without a price does it? I mean, can you really just have sex with someone you don't care for?"

"I didn't say I didn't care for," he began, realizing she caught him up in his own trappings. "Jules," he sighed.

"That's my name," she teased him, her voice soft.

"Haven't you ever even wondered, what it would be like?" his eyes conveying the levity the conversation deserved.

Her breath caught, her mind clouded—devoid of thought and consequences, which was a dangerous combination. "To be," she began.

"With me," he finished, now having moved in, gliding effortlessly through the water, against her. His limbs brushed hers, and she could feel warmth from him that was greater than the heat of the water mixed with the summer night air.

"Of course," she closed her eyes, embarrassed at her confession.

"You have?" he asked, seemingly surprised despite the fact that it was the answer she knew he wanted to hear, despite it also being the truth.

"Haven't you?" she opened her eyes, nudging his shoulder a little with hers, not with enough force to move him. "If this is a joke," she warned.

"Maybe we should have more beer. Are you drunk?" he inquired.

She shook her head. "I'm not drunk. Are you?"

He shook his head. "Terrified, but not drunk."

"Terrified? Of me?"

"In the best way possible," he assured her. "You're making me nervous. I'm not usually this nervous about this topic. Not since before I'd actually had sex, anyhow. It's always happened with a lot less discussion."

She bit her lip. "Do you want to?"

His expression slackened; a clear indication of disbelief. "I'm the one that brought it up. Do you want to?"

She shook out her arms and shoulders, and let out a deep breath, trying to rid her muscles of tension that had clearly built. "I think we just need to relax, slow down. Maybe we should start simpler."

"Like what?" he asked softly, clearly game.

"Like this," she offered, leaning up and brushing her lips against his—just as she'd found herself wanting to do during that dance. As he wrapped his arms around her to hold her against him, she fought the urge to think about the fact that he was actually kissing Jake Dugrey and just sought out relief that she didn't have to hold back any longer.

He pulled away, just out of range but close enough for a repeat given the go-ahead. Her hands rested lightly on his chest, and it took her a good few full seconds to open her eyes.

"Well, I think it's safe to say that we waited entirely too long to do that," she said, smiling as she looked into his blue eyes. He shook his head, laughing with her, and closed the distance between them again, taking his first lead.

"I've wanted to do that so many times I can't even tell you," he admitted.

She nodded. "Me too. But especially since Ella's party," she said, finally broaching that subject.

"I distinctly remember," he assured her.

"So, it wasn't just all in my head?" she asked, searching his expression to find desire still very apparent in his features.

"No, but," he reached out and touched her cheek. "I thought you were still with that guy. And even though I didn't like him, I wasn't sure how serious you were about him, and the last time I took a chance," he led.

"You were afraid I was going to hit you?" she asked, only half joking.

"You do have a mean left hook. And besides, even though you seemed responsive, I didn't want to mess anything up for you. I've pushed back those feelings before, so I figured what was one more?"

"I should have told you about Court back then," she admitted. "I just wasn't sure how to tell you about him. I'm never sure how much information to share about guys I date with you."

He raised an eyebrow. "See, this is the reason our significant others don't like the other one. Court hated me."

Jules shook her head. "He didn't hate you. You were on the same basketball team, you had a lot in common."

"Court was a nice guy, but we had more of a rivalry going on after I got back to New York. Of course, it might have had something to do with the fact that I talked Ambrose into going with me to have a talk with him, after you told me that you were thinking about sleeping with him."

Jules' mouth dropped open. "Why would you do that?"

"Because the idea of you having sex with him," he shook his head. "Sorry. I know you think it wasn't my place, but it's always kind of felt like it was; this is getting weird. That's all in the past, and the point is, things between us will never be simple. Especially now that we're kissing," he said, the desire right back in place.

"So, we're just… kissing?" she blinked up at him.

"I have no idea what we are. I never have," he answered honestly.

She kissed him again, his confession warranting another kiss, just to feel out their newfound step. It failed to give her more answers, save for the fact that it was going to occur again. And again. "Me either."

"Maybe we shouldn't try to define anything. Maybe we should just go with it."

"See what happens?" she asked, wholly unsure as to their abilities to be so lackadaisical about the whole notion.

He nodded. "Just let things happen. If one of us freaks out, we stop. Preferably without fists."

"I'm never gonna live that down, am I?" she sighed.

"Probably not," he smirked.

"Then it's a good thing I have a new way to shut you up," she smiled and moved in closer again, wrapping her arms up around his shoulders and kissing him. She knew it was something she was going to get used to quick. In fact, it felt so good she had no idea how she'd ever want to stop. The places her mind raced to as his hands skimmed over the skin on her back, running down to her hips as she unconsciously raised up to slide one leg across his lap to straddle him in the water—it all pointed in one direction. This was going to move too fast if they weren't careful.

"Wait," she breathed, her voice not urgent at all, and therefore not effective as he was lost in kissing her neck. "Come on, hold up," she groaned as she pushed back just far enough to keep her body away from his lips. In the dark and thanks to the intimate encounter they were in the midst of, his pupils were fully dilated, leaving little blue left to rim them. Worry creased his forehead, however, concerned that her freak-out had come quite so soon, to be sure.

"You want to stop?"

"No. I don't. Which is why I did."

He seemed to mull over her words, but came up empty. "Huh?"

"Jake, come on. This is going to speed past the fun, easy part of being together into something a lot more serious, much too fast. I mean, we just had our first kiss, and I'm grinding into you, moments away from losing my top not to mention the rest of my dignity," she confessed.

He swallowed and shifted. "Really?"

She slapped his chest. "Focus. And yes," she bit her lip. "Does this mean we're doing this? Not that I don't want to do this, but I still want the early part with you. The easy, fun, can't get enough of you part. But I think to do that, we'd need some sort of bubble."

He kissed her. "God, you're cute."

She frowned. "I'm serious. Once our families find out, we're going to be this couple, in a long-term relationship. I think that's going to suck all the fun and newness out of it."

He shrugged. "So we don't tell them."

She blinked. "What?"

"I don't tell my parents about every girl I date, not until I've been out with them for a while. So, if we want to treat this like any other relationship—sorry, any new relationship," he smiled, "we keep it to ourselves. Keep it fun. See if it works. Just because this part works," he gave her hips a little squeeze. "Some friends aren't cut out for more. And if we find that we are, then we can tell them. Once you're bored of me and that new boyfriend shine has worn off."

Jules considered his words. He sounded, as Jake tended to, perfectly reasonable. Logical. Well thought out. Moreover, it was exactly what she wanted to hear. "So, this is just between us?"

He nodded. "And we're free to do whatever we want together—no one will know."

It had the potential of being the worst idea they ever had, collectively. But it also seemed like the best idea ever, thanks to raging hormones and the fact that her top was going to come off in less than sixty seconds. Thus with a kiss, she sealed that deal, leading them into the territory of friends with a whole lot of added benefits.