arms

note1: i know it's, like, a couple of months late, but i had no inspiration to write this out when i should've and then my computer got a virus. i, personally, blame this all on malware and procrastination.
note2: i seriously can't believe this is over though. wow, it's been, like, a year (maybe) since i posted the first chapter. i wanted to thank everyone who added this to their favorites, reviewed, and even alerted my work – a more in depth extension of my sincerest gratitude (english class = dictionary = my thesaurus abuse) is at the end. also, there is a bit of Claire/Allison friendship and Claire/Bender-dromance. (drama/romance)

inspiration: arms by christina perri

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Saturday

She wasn't used to being awake so early in the morning.

The clock was barely touching nine and she was already finished all the tasks that normally would have taken her an entire evening to complete – if she woke up before five, that is. Breakfast was cooked, served, eaten, and the dishes washed; a rarity, considering she never did her own dishes. Usually they piled high in the sink until her mother (or sometimes even her dad) would get tired to seeing the mess of spoiled food and family of flies that lived inside a bowl or cup, and just wash them. She was even dressed, too. That never happened on the weekends. At all. Pajamas stayed on when she woke up, throughout the day, and didn't come off until she took a shower, only to put another, cleaner pair on.

Maybe it was from the lack of sleep she had last night; tossing and turning, pushing the blankets off and then on, stripping down to a simple pair of shorts and then back to pants. For some reason her mind wouldn't turn off. She couldn't reach that heavenly nirvana and sleep until the early morning where she managed only an hour nap before something woke her up. Shockingly enough, she felt as though she drank fourteen cups of coffee with an extra dose of caffeine on the side. Waking up, Allison felt rejuvenated and ready to take on the day.

Her mother nearly had a heart attack when she saw her walking out of the washroom, up before herself, dressing and actually looking 'presentable' for a change. Taking Claire's advice on what to do with her hair – for some reason, the choppy John Lennon locks that fell into her eyes wasn't as rebellious and dark as she'd previously thought. It looks as though she was trying too hard to be labeled as 'mysterious,' even though she knew she was practically an open book.

("It's like, you say one thing, but totally mean something else entirely.")

Her heart stumbled in her chest, beating too fast in her rib-cage at the wayward thought. Swallowing thickly, Allison dropping her gaze to the table cloth, hoping to hide the red hue that undoubtedly taken residence on her pale face, hoping that her dad didn't notice the sudden change from where he was seated, reading the newspaper. Across from her father sat her mother, thankfully committed to the glossy pages of a magazine with a slender woman on the front cover, wearing a pile of cheetah spotted furs.

If her mother had seen her reaction – the blush on her cheeks, the sudden change in demeanor – she would have asked questions. What's wrong, she'd press, more out of necessity than real interest. How was she supposed to respond to that? I was thinking of some boy? No. Not 'some boy;' he'd never be just some boy, a passing face in the crowd who she was bound to soon forget.

The boy she was thinking of could never be considered some boy anymore. He was Andrew Clarke. The boy; the one who seen her for herself and accepted it more than anyone (including her own parents) ever had in the past.

What would her parents say to that? She didn't want to think of the ramifications that would ensue following her confession.

Her mother would probably have a heart attack; shocked to death from finding out her daughter was showing any interest in anything that didn't revolve around her perceived image of Allison: a loner, intentionally isolating herself from any socialization because she wanted to rebel against whatever it was her mother thought at that time, whether it was being feminine or the color pink. Her father wouldn't care either way; his gaze probably would not leave the sports page of the newspaper.

Deliberately, she moves herself from the table slowly, trying to remain invisible to her listless parents. With their attention firmly directed away from her, Allison feels as though she's able to breathe. There is restriction at first, while she's still in the same room as them, but when she crosses through the arch of the kitchen doorway and into the living room, it gets easier and easier.

The tightness in her chest doesn't stop until she's in her room, sitting cross-legged on her bed, clutching the same patch that belonged to the boy who was more to her than anything in her entire room. For one, fleeting second she deliberates calling him, just to hear his voice and reassure herself once more that yesterday – and the earlier days before – were more than some idealistic fantasy her mind conjured up.

It was silly and stupid. It was only ten in the morning; Andrew would've been sleeping now. She also wasn't that kind of girl. She would be seeing him eventually anyway. They were going to meet later and go out for a bite to eat. It wasn't anything huge; just some local diner that served really good root-beer floats and cheap burgers.

It wasn't anything special.

Only, it was.

This was going to be their first official date. The place they were going was a spot frequented by many of Claire's and Andrew's friends' (even some of Bender's, too). Everyone there was going to be able to see them on their date.

Was he ready for that kind of thing? Was she?

Allison didn't like being pushed in the spotlight, where everyone's eyes would be on her. It was a strange feeling, like ants crawling all over her body, and she didn't like it. The invasion of privacy, the paranoia of wondering what people were thinking (she tried not to care about it so much, but when it's right there, shoved in her face, wayward thoughts tend to seep through the cracks), the embarrassment of trying not to do or say anything stupid, all caused her to feel a great unease.

If she went to the diner with Andrew, and all of his friends' were there, she'd have to sit through the entire meal with their haughty gazes and catty whispers. She wasn't new to it at all; they'd made fun of her before (in grade nine when she showed up an hour late, with choppy black hair that hung in her face, just missing the rush to sort out which person belonged to which clique; she'd gotten pushed back into the outcast social group before she even realized what was happening), but that was just petty words or flimsy insults that held no injury to her.

Look at her hair.

Look at her clothes.

She looks weird, stupid, mean, freaky…

This time, they'd be staring at her and Andrew, probably asking the same question that was plaguing her since the end of Saturday morning detention a week ago: what's he doing with someone like her? Could she really handle one of her biggest insecurities of their relationship being thrown in her face like that?

Sure, maybe for a couple of days, nobody would say anything to their face. Andrew's friends' might make a passing comment on who he was dating and why, but it wouldn't stray into anything deeper. They would all still be friends. Sitting together would still be a ritual they all practiced, as would hanging out on weekends and after school.

But then, Andrew would have Allison sit with them, throwing the relationship (once again) in their face. Someone might comment, but probably not. Not yet. Eventually, when they realized Allison was there to stay, one of his friends will ask him the big question: why are you dating her? He would be put on the spot then. How would he answer? Would he tell them that she was his girlfriend and some other sappy monologue speech about how they were together now and his friends' were going to either get used to it or leave.

One or two friends' might stop asking to hang out after school. Then two more would follow their lead. Two or three (depending on the extent of their true friendship with Andrew) weeks into their 'outing,' they would be sitting at a table alone, with all of his 'friends' sitting somewhere else. Andrew Clarke would become an outcast. He would be dropped from the top of the hypothetical food-chain to the bottom in an instant.

He would panic. Andrew's always been so popular; the likable jock who was such an extrovert around people, he wouldn't know how to act in a world of introverts. When all of his friends' stop talking to him, and that nerdy kid who used to run out of the way when they walked past, suddenly starts talking to him like their equals, Andrew would lose it.

He wouldn't be the popular one anymore.

He'd be another social misfit – the same kind he used to make fun of before.

Maybe if he left her earlier enough, he could climb his way back up before it's too late.

What would happen to her during this?

Allison wouldn't ever be welcomed. People would talk behind her back, whispering words of falsehoods into Andrew's ear ("she's only using you to become popular. She doesn't really like you.") hoping to see their relationship crumble. When it all turns south and starts to deteriorate, she'd be blamed for his fallacies about their relationship.

The girls' who hung around Andrew would get jealous. They'd get catty. And soon, Allison's name would be a tarnished testament of their will on pathetic high school ideologies of social scales and popularity.

She was used to it.

It wouldn't be anything new.

But, it would.

She'd never been the bane of their contempt before - the real reason behind their misdirected animosity. When they made fun of her, it was usually because they saw her, not sought her out intentionally. What would happen when they purposely went looking for her? Claire might stand beside her, but Allison is more likely to believe that if you put ice cream in hot temperatures, it won't melt than she would depend on Claire Standish for help.

(They were – sort of – friends, sure, but they only started speaking civilly to each other a few days ago. Why would Claire suddenly switch sides from people she's known her whole life to someone she'd barely ever came into contact with for more than a few minutes before her detention?)

When Andrew left – maybe he'd be allowed back into his clique – where would that leave her? Alone. She could count all of her friends on one hand, starting and beginning with Andrew. The second was Claire. The other one was a girl she'd met over the summer when her parents forced her to do something productive. They didn't talk anymore, excluding the occasional phone call to see if either was still alive.

That was her whole circle of friends.

Allison thought that she was okay by herself.

(And she was, for the most part.)

She didn't need anyone to shower her with fake compliments and superficial conversations. Being alone was a choice, not an obligation. She would've made friends if she wanted to but she didn't.

Bender was – kind of, maybe, probably not – a friend.

They had detention together and defaced one of the school's yearbooks.

It was fun.

For, you know, being in detention.

But Bender had his own group of people who did not (and probably never will) include Allison.

So.

After Andrew left and Claire came to her senses (or realized that her civic duty was going overboard into volunteer work), she'd be all by herself. Once again. Before it wouldn't have mattered to her; she would've picked herself up, dusted herself off, and walked away from the situation with her head held high, daring anyone to make a comment.

Or she would have slinked back into the background again – the proverbial wallflower.

Or maybe, she was overreacting.

It was only dinner.

How bad could it be?


Claire Standish was at her doorstep.

Standing there in all her gorgeous glory was the single most popular girl at school – at her house.

Asking for her.

Was she lost? Did she take the wrong bus and end up on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak? Her house was all the way down in east-end of town, where all the lawns were maintained by professionals and every house is the same shade of white, with grey rooftops and blue doors, and white picked-fences.

Allison's house was on the south-end of town. Not exactly the west, per se, but in the mundane middle of their town. Not rich, but not too poor either; a perfect balance for the semi-middle class who made a modest income. Allison's dad cut their grass (or sometimes he'd pay the boy down the street a few dollars to do it) and it wasn't painted, but bricked.

Nobody's house on the block looked like theirs.

Seeing Claire with her impeccably clean (and probably expensive) wardrobe, whilst a rundown old pickup truck was parked in a trailer-like house across the street, made her shrink with embarrassment. She never had a problem with where she lived before. It was a good house. It wasn't like the roof was torn off and the plumbing was faulty, causing leaks to spring up everywhere; she didn't have any mice, cockroaches, or other small mammals running amok in her home. Sure, maybe the grass would've been a little greener, but it was March and still cold. And maybe her room couldn't have been bigger… Or that stain on the washroom wall that refused to come out… or all the clutter in her basement…

For some reason, she was a little uncomfortable with Claire seeing her house.

"What do you want?"

At the sound of Allison's voice, Claire blinked and took a cautious step-back. To Allison, it looked as though she just woke up from a dream, surprised to actually find herself in a place she had no recollection being at. She took a moment to compose herself, idly looking around. The cool look she was going for slipped away as she realized this wasn't east-side. She opened her mouth (and Allison's hunches rose, ready to take the defensive; she was waiting for something to come out, anything that would be a mockery of the house she lived in) and said:

"Hi."

She flinched slightly at the open tone of her voice, the familiar and friendly term blindsided her for a second. Hi. Claire Standish comes to her house and says hi? Did she accidentally fall into a multi-verse where they were friends and did this often? Like it was usual occurrence and not something that was so out of character for both, she was waiting to see a galloping unicorn to suddenly burst through her living room and announce itself as her long-lost uncle.

There must have been a serious glitch in reality.*

"Hi," she reiterated slowly, suspicion seeping into her every pore. "What do you want?"

This time, Claire flinched. "I…um, wanted to see you…I guess…"

Suddenly, she felt kind of bad.

Normally, this didn't happen to her. She never felt bad for something she didn't do. Claire came to her house, why did she have to shower the girl with hospitality and make her feel warm and welcome? She didn't. So why did the self-conscious look on Claire's face bit at her conscience?

"Okay," she said, trying to be a little nicer. Claire didn't do anything wrong. She was actually civil to her the past few days. "What's up?"

She tried the generic term instead of usual biting sarcasm.

The other girl seemed to appreciate it much more as her shoulder rolled down, and relaxed making her posture not as stiff. "Um, it's kind of…Of… It's Bender. Can I come in?"


"I couldn't exactly tell anyone I knew…"

That was the first thing Claire opened up with after making herself comfortable on Allison's bed, looking around the room in polite interest. Her bed was actually made for once, cutesy of her early wakening (or lack of sleep and an overactive imagination), but the rest of the room was in a slight disarray.

Clothes were strewn on the floor carelessly, some spilling out of her closet and draped over her dresser drawers. It was her room, so, whatever; if Claire had a problem with it…

Allison's defensive thoughts stopped short when she saw a small smile grace the other girl's lips as she stared openly at an art piece Allison drew over the span of three math periods. It was nice; she liked it and bought a frame for it. The drawing was mostly scribbles, but if you looked closer, they all attached to each other and made little doodles and words.

"…Nobody else – aside from Andrew, you, and Brian – know about him. It would've been too… weird to talk to my friend's about him."

"Why? Embarrassed," Allison shot back, narrowing her eyes.

Claire looked affronted. "No; could you imagine, though? My friends' and him – in the same conversation, no less…Their heads might have imploded."

Snorting, she turned the desk chair around in a full circle, trying to hide the grin from Claire. "So, what, you came to me instead?"

"Yes." She admitted sheepishly. "You're the only one who, I don't know… gets it, maybe?"

"I am? Since when?"

"Gee, Allison, if you don't want me here, just say so…"

"No, it's cool; I'm just…surprised."

She winced at the urgency in her voice, trying to quickly placate the other girl into staying for a while longer. Was she that desperate for human companionship?

"Okay," Claire smiled at her. "Ready to hear about drama?"

Allison rolled her eyes and leaned back in the chair, smirking. "Bring it on."


"He asked you out?!" The loud shrieks made her grimace, wishing she could take it back.

How they got from the topic of Bender's mixed signals and emotional whiplash to her and Andrew's date was still a mystery. Claire was going on about the confusion Bender plagued her with, and for some reason, Allison blurted out the tit-bit of information she was wholly ready to keep to herself.

Swallowing down the sudden apprehension she felt, Allison nodded. "I guess. It's only burgers, so whatever…"

"Not whatever, Allison," she insisted, her eyes growing wider. "When is he taking you? It's already two in the afternoon."

"Six," she answered with a shrug.

Claire slapped her hands across her knees, startling Allison, who jumped in shock. "Dinner. Andrew Clarke is taking you to dinner! Where are you going?"

She wanted to keep that piece of information to herself, and tell Claire to get out of her house and leave her alone. They weren't friends; she had no obligation to start skipping together with the girl who'd ignored her (aside from the times she ridiculed her behind her back) for the majority of her high school years.

But a part of her wanted to tell Claire; to lay out all of her insecurities and doubts about Andrew and herself flat on the table for her to see. She wanted Claire's friendship and help on a matter where she had no one else to go to.

Biting her lip, she debated for a minute.

"Rick's."

There.

Claire knew.

Instead of the reaction she thought she'd get (Claire standing up and laughing at her mockingly, confessing to it all being some elaborate prank they'd pulled on her, and Andrew was in on it), Claire's face fell slight.

"Rick's diner," she confirmed.

Allison nodded in reply.

"Wow…That's…Everyone's going to be there tonight."

"What do you mean?"

"He didn't tell you? The team is celebrating their win there."

She swallowed thickly. Everyone was going there. The whole team, including their girl friends (who were all cheerleaders or hung out with cheerleaders), and other friends, would be there to see them. What was Andrew thinking? Was he even thinking or was this some spur of the moment thing that he didn't plan all the way through?

"Hey, don't worry too much about it, okay? I'll be there, so if it gets out of control…"

"What are you really going to do Claire?" She snapped, waves of humiliation crashing into her. He set this up. Andrew was bringing her there so everyone could make fun of her for falling for his lame trick. "You're just going to sit there, acting like you don't know me, saying what everyone else is."

I like you. What a joke.

Let's do something tonight, just me and you. Yeah, right…

It'll be fun. For you and your stupid friends only.

"I'm sorry…" she heard Claire whisper gently. "I wouldn't do that…"

"Only, you would."

"…Sorry."

"But you're not! I bet you and Andrew planned this from the start!"

"We didn't!"

"Get out and leave me alone! You've had you fun okay? Just go away…"

"No."

Her head shot up as Claire stood, walking over to her chair. Pale, well manicured hands slammed down on the arms of the chair. She glanced into fuming green eyes and shrank back instinctively.

"Listen to me, Allison Reynolds," she hissed, narrowing her eyes, firmly cutting off any retort Allison was going to make. "Andrew and I did not set you up. Did you ever think that maybe he planned to bring you there-"

"-So all of his friends could have a laugh?"

"No, because he wanted to show his friends that he chose you instead of them, but you're too damn scared to open your eyes and see for yourself what's right in front of you!"

Her words hung in the air, raw and biting, chipping away at Allison's defenses.

That was ridiculous.

She wasn't scared.

Not one bit.

Andrew was the one who didn't want to be seen with her. She was the one who told him off. He avoided her. She sought him out. Where in that equation did it add up to her being scared? It didn't. If anything, it was Andrew who's scared.

She was just being realistic about everything.

What if he was going to set her up? Should she play along to their pathetic joke and be (once again) at the receiving end of their ridicule? She wasn't going to purposely put herself in that kind of situation for someone to get a hearty laugh out of it.

Claire didn't know what she was saying.

She didn't know what it was like to walk down a hall and have people whisper about you. Or ignore you. Or deface your locker. Or call you an array of poorly conceived names. Claire had friends (fake as they were) whereas Allison didn't. What gave her the right to tell Allison what she was feeling? So they spoke to each other a few times, how did that suddenly make her higher and mightier than her?

Stupid.

She was so stupid.

"How am I scared?" She stood up, pushing Claire back in her sudden haste to be taller, to be equal with the other girl. Glaring firmly, she crossed her arms over her chest (not because it hurt or anything; she had apple juice and it gave her acid reflex and seethed, watching as Claire brought herself up to her full height (an inch taller than Allison) and glared back.

"You're scared." She repeated simply, enunciating the words. "You think that we're all conspiring against you when, in reality, Andrew is just being nice. He's trying to show you that he cares, that he wants to be with you – even if it means losing some friends in the process. Why? Because he likes you. You, Allison, nobody else but you, but you're just too stubborn and hardheaded to see it!"

Her mouth tasted like ashes.

Any retort she may have had died down instantly, refusing to be said. Her throat felt heavy and thick, like something foreign was clogging it. Swallowing reflexively, she tried to think of something to say – anything to defend herself, to disagree with the unfounded assumptions Claire was throwing her way – but nothing came to mind.

Standing there, fingernails digging into her forearms, biting harshly through the fabric to her clothed skin, Allison was speechless.

No, that would imply she had nothing to say.

She had something – many things – to say, but her mouth and mind weren't cooperating at that moment. Her mouth bolted shut, refusing to let anything out, keeping everything tightly wrapped up, while her mind stirred in a flurry of backlash she wanted to dish out.

In her head she was screaming, crying, and ripping Claire's notions to shreds. A triad of emotions was buzzing around, fighting for the spotlight, all wanting to take center stage. The most prominent ones were anger, hurt, begrudged acceptance at her words, and finally, a deep feeling of humiliation.

Why was Claire – of all people – the one to point out all of her insecurities so openly when she couldn't even admit them to herself? Who wouldn't have doubts about his motives when, before last Saturday, he'd never even glanced her way for something other than a fleeting look or an accidental peek? At first, she thought she knew what she wanted: Andrew Clarke. Now, when she practically had that, she wasn't sure anymore.

She loved him.

Oh.

Love? No. She meant like. She liked him.

Claire was messing with her head.

As her inner turmoil continued to spin with the new revelation of both Claire's and her own assumptions, she failed to notice the other girl standing before her until two thin arms wrapped themselves around her midsection and a warm body collided with her own. The act caught her by surprise. She wasn't a touchy kind of person (and to be honest, she didn't think Claire was one either) and the suddenness of being hugged made everything pause and coil up tightly.

"What are you doing?" She rasped out, stiffening in her hold.

"You looked like you needed it," Claire muttered self-consciously, taking a step back from Allison. Her fingers curled around Allison's forearms, gently, and she stared openly at her. "And I…I'm sorry. I wish I could say 'I didn't mean that,' but I did. You needed to hear it…"

Flushing at the intimacy of words, the friendship and honest interlacing with her words, she pulled away self-consciously, trying to put some distance between them. "You don't get it, Claire…"

"So make me get it, Allison."

"It's not that easy."

"It is if you try."

Snorting, she sat back down on the chair, as Claire mimicked her, taking her spot on the bed back. She stared expectantly, waiting for her to finish 'explaining' why Claire wouldn't get it. Allison wished she never opened the damn door when the bell rang (but she was half hoping that it would be Andrew, and impulsively forgot to look through the peep-hole).

It would've saved her all the trouble if she had.

"If you think this is going to turn into some sob-fest of melodrama about how I still feel that someone – namely Andrew – is going to pop up out of nowhere and start laughing at me for falling for his stupid trick, then you should probably leave now."

"…That's not what I was expecting at all." She tucked a curly piece of russet hair behind her ears, showing off a pair of (rather uncharacteristic) simple looking earrings. "That's not you at all."

"And you know me so well."

"Lighten up – I was only kidding," she snorted, folding her legs neatly across one another. "Weren't you the one who went after Andrew in the first place? Why the sudden bout of insecurities now?"

Her chest tightened at the mention of his name. "I wasn't going to be played like that. If he didn't want me, he shouldn't have kissed me."

"So now you're the one playing him? How does that work out exactly? He's facing social ridicule for even-" She stopped mid-sentence, eyes darting to gauge Allison's reaction at what she carelessly let slip.

Allison continued on coolly. "Talking to me? Yeah, I know."

"I don't think you do. It's different with us, okay? We're…We…If your friends suddenly stop talking to you nobody knows about it, it's all kept tight inside your inner circle. If we lose friends, everyone - including the… um, nerds – know. It's all over the school without any regard to secrecy or dignity."

"Oh, well then, excuse me for not knowing how your uptight little society works."

"It's not like that," she snapped, narrowing her eyes at Allison. "What would you do if the people who've been friends with for most of your life suddenly stop talking to you for no reason?"

She tried to shrug nonchalantly, forcing an unaffected façade on her face. "I wouldn't know about that. I don't have any."

"Any what?"

"Any friends."

An awkward silence felt on them. Claire's mouth dropped open and close repeated for a few moments, staring aghast at Allison, who in turn, watched her with a heated flush covering her face. She shouldn't be embarrassed about something that was truth. So what if she didn't have a huge circle of friends. Who needed them anyway?

"I'm your friend…" The way she said it sounded more like a hesitant question.

Shaking her head, Allison swallowed down a sarcastic retort. She was trying to be a little nicer, but why did Claire have to make it so difficult? "No you're not."

"I want to be."

"Whatever. I get it, okay? Andrew could lose all his friends if he decided to go to dinner with me tonight. All the more reason for us not to go."

"No, all the more reason for you to runaway from this – which, by the way, is kind of ironic considering that you wanted him when you didn't have him, but now that you do, all you're filled with it doubts."

"Irony has nothing to do with it."

"It has something to do with it. Or a little thing called hypocrisy."

"Oh, so now I'm a hypocrite? What else am I, Claire? A loser, a freak, a nerd…"

"I didn't say that; don't put words in my mouth. What I meant was that you're acting like one."

"Some difference."

She let the gravity of Claire's words fall on her. Was she being hypocritical in her assumptions of Andrew? Maybe they were a little unfounded in some ways – he probably wasn't trying to make fun of her – and a little misguided. He hasn't done anything wrong. It was Allison who initiated the contact in the beginning – ripping his patch off his varsity jersey – but he'd been the one to kiss her, only to ignore her afterward.

After their confrontation, he did confess to liking her too. That was something akin to - what Claire would call – social suicide on a multitude of levels. He was popular and she wasn't. What if they never escaped that stigma throughout their relationship? What if it haunted them every step of the way, whispering cruel truths in their ears at every turn, making sure they constantly doubted and questioned their choices.

How was she supposed to cope? More importantly, how was he?

Even though every fiber of her anti-conformity agent rebelled against the labels they put on others, she would never ask him to leave his friends for her. That would be imperative to their progress, to what Allison wanted to prove. What was there to prove though? That Andrew would do what she said to stay in a relationship with her? She wanted to be a creative thinker, but a part of her, the realist, told her that she was just like everyone else, too.

If Andrew wanted to find a copy of her, he would. Easily.

Maybe not a carbon copy, but there were other girls out there who thought the way she did, acted the way she did, and believed what she believed. Nobody was truly unique. Even if they dyed their hair bright orange, there would be someone out there who had the same color hair or wanted to have the same style. Uniqueness was overrated in her opinion anyway. Instead of being original, why not be realistic? Or, simply put, not fake?

Andrew would have no problem finding a moody brunette who wasn't popular without much trial.

He technically didn't need her. He had his friends, a swarm of girls who would gladly date him, and yet, he chose her.

Allison Reynolds.

The realization was making her head spin.

"He likes me," she said slowly, processing it, mulling it around, feeling the weight of the confession on her tongue.

"Well duh," Claire supplied airily.

Allison swallowed. "And I'm scared."

"Pretty much sums everything up."

"I'm afraid that Andrew will wake up one morning and realize that the moody outcast isn't worth losing his popularity for and I'll be all alone once again."


Claire was more helpful than Allison originally thought she'd be.

After having a pseudo-sob-fest (or what Claire called, her inability to be vulnerable for once in her angst-filled teen life), they went down stairs to find something to eat, only realizing then that it was well into four-thirty in the afternoon. Her date was about to begin.

The russet haired girl didn't offer her any consolation to placate her doubts, not that she could, but she did give her own incentive to their situation. It helped her out a little, not marginally like she kind of hoped, but the words she gave made her nod and cracked her defenses slightly.

(Only large enough for someone like Claire Standish to slip through unannounced, redecorating her walls with a small smile and a 'do-something-about-it' glance.)

She helped Allison pick out a wardrobe to wear and fixed up her hair and makeup like she had last time, following the same style with a nostalgic smile on her face.

"There," she said, pulling away. "You look good as new."

"I feel like a doll."

"Get used to it."

Allison stood up, walking over toward the mirror hanging on the wall in the hallway, taking the first glance at herself since Claire begin doing her hair and makeup. She was wearing a simple pair of black jeans and a knitted navy sweater (the only thing in her closet that wasn't grey, black or brown) with light blue and burgundy argyle shapes on the chest. A red band pushed her choppy bangs from her face, with a nude look to her makeup.

She wasn't used to wearing barely any eyeliner on her eyes.

Or lipstick which, Claire was quick to assure her, looked nice.

Trying not to bite her lip (the last thing she needed were red stains on her teeth); she nodded at the other girl in the mirror shyly.

"What do you think?"

"It's…nice."

Claire nodded with a smile. "What time did you say Andrew was coming?"

"Uh, five-thirty or sometime around there."

Glancing at the clock on her dresser, she snorted. "Well, you have, like, ten minutes. I should probably go – wouldn't do much to give him a heart attack before the date."

Her palms clammed up. "Claire?"

The girl picked up her bag and paused. "Yeah?"

Allison turned around, looking at the mahogany wood beneath her feet. "Thanks."

"No problem. Call me later, after your date, okay? I want to know how it went."

"Aren't you going to be there celebrating tonight?"

Claire smiled secretly. "Ah, I have, uh, plans." She walked over to the front door, pulling it open and then looked over her shoulder with a cheeky grin. "Besides, I've found that it's not really my scene anymore."


"Uh, hey."

Answering her door three minutes later, she expected it to be Claire. Instead she found Andrew standing awkwardly on her doorstep, hands shoved inside his varsity jacket to keep warm. He looked…nice.

Really nice.

His hair was neatly brushed in the same style he kept, looking only slightly tousled from the wind, and he was dressed in a comfortable looking pair of jeans with his jacket and worn sneakers. She glanced down at herself, wondering if maybe she was overdressed or looked too causal.

Somehow, Andrew managed to look like a model, even with his tan cheeks flushed red.

"I thought you were going over at five-thirty?"

"Oh, uh, I'm a little late-"

"Late?"

"It's almost six. Sorry, my mum had to run an errand before she dropped me off. I figured we could walk since it's closer to your house and stuff, but if you want to take the bus, then…"

"Want to come in?"

His rambling was cute.

"We should probably leave now if we want to get a good seat."

Allison glanced away from his face, "we could do something else instead."

He was quiet for a moment – and for some reason, she felt her chest squeeze at the silence – before his hand landed on her shoulder. Looking up, she met his intense gaze and blushed under his scrutiny.

"I want to go, Allison."

She nodded. "Alright."

"Oh, um, you look nice…Uh, no, I mean…You always look nice, but tonight you look, um, really nice. Like, beautiful…"

The awkward, rambling compliments made her blush deepen. "Thanks…You look good, too."

It took her a while to get her bag and keys from her bedroom, leaving Andrew in the living room to sit. Her parents left whilst Claire was over, giving her free reign over the house. It wasn't anything unusual to her. They normally went out during the weekend. She was a little glad this time, wondering what sort of reaction Claire and Andrew would have gotten for coming to their house and asking for her.

She stopped in the hallway, glancing in the mirror once more, assessing what she looked like critically. For once, she kind of liked what she saw. Her hair was a little mussed, but otherwise, she looked relatively nice.

Beautiful, even.

Remembering Andrew waiting for her, she steeled herself and her fraying nerves for the unavoidable. Andrew wasn't aware that she knew about the celebration tonight; he thought that she was anticipating a relatively drama-free night. She didn't want to tell him, because then she would have to admit that Claire was over.

Having him know about their tentative friendship wasn't all that worrying to her, she just wanted to keep that piece of intimacy, of friendship, between Claire and she until it had time to develop. It was still new and fresh, and only gradually beginning to rise, and she was a little intimidated to let anyone else know about it.

"Are you ready?" Andrew questioned lightly when she walking into the room.

Nodding, she followed him out the house, locking the door behind her.

They stood there on the porch for a moment, looking out at the neighborhood. The sun was only just beginning to set as spring was starting to arrive, and for once, her middle-class street looking less embarrassing. Andrew didn't contrast as much as Claire had; he seemed to fit right into the backdrop of old pick-up trucks and brownish grass.

"So, uh, let's go?" He nervously asked, shyly ducking his head.

"Alright."

Walking down the street with Andrew wasn't as bad as she thought it would be. He was good company, if a little shy and awkward once his guard of popularity was ripped down. He was just like a normal teenager instead of the athletic idol everyone worshiped him as. It made her feel lighter when she saw it instead of tight and heavy, constantly looking for the blatant differences between them.

It felt right being by his side. In that moment, it was hard to tell who the popular jock was and who was the outcast was. They were equals. Maybe all her qualms were just unfounded thoughts based on her own suspicions and insecurities.

She glanced at Andrew, silently wondering why he chose her. Out of all the girls he could have, he picked her. It made no sense. What was so special about her? She was moody, intolerable, and sarcastic. She hated large groups of people and didn't have many people who'd willingly vouch for her.

In a nutshell, she was the opposite of what someone like him – someone who liked being the center of attention, who liked having many friends, and who was confident in himself – would want. They both had their own flaws and fallacies about each other. She was moody and he did what people wanted him to.

She was the perpetual angst-ridden teenager and he was the follower who couldn't think for himself.

The only difference was that he was trying to change.

Allison wasn't comfortable renovating herself for someone else, but her overall personality and likability could use some polishing. Maybe not everything about herself needed to be different, to change, but some parts of her could use it. She wouldn't be losing herself in the process for someone else, just making things easier to deal with.

Allison could do some growing up.

If Andrew was going to change for her – all because of some comment she made about him doing what people wanted – she could surely repay the favor. Why did she have to be so crass and unapproachable all the time? No one was saying she had to frolic in daisies and smile at everyone. How bad could it be?

Okay.

She would try, like she did for Claire, for Andrew to make things work.

Who cares what people thought? Since when was she the one who's worried about it? When Claire was talking about irony and hypocrisy, she couldn't have been more right. She once called them out for being crowd-pleasers and was too worried about what people would say, when in reality, that was her.

Non-conformist? Hardly.

She was going to live up to her rebellious, devil-may-care persona toward what people think, staring with tonight. When they got to the diner, she was going to waltz right in there with Andrew, glaring at anyone head-on who wanted to say something about it. She was with him and he was with her. If they had a problem with it they could face the other way.

"Hey, um, are you sure you want to do this?"

Her step faltered, sending her knocking into Andrew's side, and he steadied her with a gentle, cautious hand. "What do you mean?"

"You asked me if I wanted to stay in for tonight, but well, this is your date too, so you should get a say in where we go."

"I want to go with you Andrew. I wouldn't have agreed if I didn't."

So much for trying to be nicer.

Andrew just chuckled. "Right, sorry."

"You should be," she snorted, the word irony whispering over and over in a voice that sounded suspiciously like Claire's.

Suddenly, his face sobered as he stared ahead. She followed his gaze and stopped short. The diner was a block away.

Andrew turned to her, grabbing her hand in his own. They were kind of sweaty and warm. "If-if anything happens tonight, like, if anyone…Um, I just want you to know that I really do like you, Allison – like, a lot."

Refraining from saying something crude about his eloquence, she stared back at him, allowing only a slight eye-roll. "Duh, I don't generally go out with people who don't."

"I mean it, Allison. You're really…you know, cool and stuff, and I want to date you. I want to get to know you more…And I-"

Being bold was something she were accused of before, and thought herself as, too. Meekness was never a trait someone would paint her as, and she's determined to live up to that reputation. Leaning over, she used his steady hand to balance her as she reached up and kissed him, effectively shutting him up.

The scared, angry part of her wanted to say it was because she's of hearing him talk and needed a break, but she knew that this was something she'd wanted a repeat of since it happened last Saturday.

Like before, his lips were soft, only slightly chapped from the cold, and warm against hers.

He gasped at the sudden, unexpected kiss, the bold action shocking him. After a second, he returned the kiss wholly, slanting his mouth over hers. His bottom lip trembled and she was quick to nip at it lightly.

What seemed like longer, but was actually only a few seconds, they pulled away from each other, their eyes glazed over. They both wore matching blushes on their faces, and knew instantly it wasn't from the cold. She felt considerably warmer now, a tingle spreading flush over her body. Her heart was hammering inside her chest wildly, the beating loud and, for a second, she thought he could hear it too.

"U-um," he sputtered, voice sounding low and husky. "W-want to go now?"

Swallowing, she nodded, "I'd like that."

Their fingers entwined somehow during their kiss, hands clasped tightly together. To her, it wasn't like the big screw you protest she thought it would be. There really wasn't much of a label to it, actually.

It was just their hands and them standing together in a comfortable silence.

She found the idea – the simplicity of it, the easiness where it's presented to her – truly riveting. There was no pressure to be something else, to be something more; it was a thoughtless act of holding hands. Neither of them were conscious of when it happened – the kiss wasn't that long – but the warm she felt against her palms made her flush with contentment.

Whatever was going to happen when they walked through those doors to the diner, she would take in stride. Andrew was still by her side, even after all the things she'd said to him and the way she acted, and hadn't left yet. He didn't seem to want to give her up just yet, and truthfully, she didn't either.

It still frightened her when she thought of the backlash them being together would cause.

But she was Allison Reynolds.

Since when did she care?

"Hey," she knocked her shoulder against his when he reached his hand out, grasping the door handle of the diner. "I guess I kind of like you too."

(She could pretend all she wanted, but she the little grin he tried to hide from her made her heart beat a little too fast and her face heat up a little more. And, she kind of liked it. Whatever happened, happened, and at least she could say that it did instead of drowning in what-ifs for the rest of her life.)

I tried my best to never let you in to see the truth
And I've never opened up
I've never truly loved 'Till you put your arms around me
And I believe that it's easier for you to let me go

I hope that you see right through my walls
I hope that you catch me, 'cause I'm already falling
I'll never let a love get so close
You put your arms around me and I'm home

- arms, christina perri

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note3: wow, i can't believe it's actually over! i'm a little bitter-sweet about it, and already miss playing with Allison's and Andrew's emotions. =P
note4: i hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as i've enjoyed writing it.
* - i couldn't resist sneaking in a reference to the matrix.

special thanks: i wanted to say 'thanks' to everyone who's stuck by me when i was – procrastinating – writing this – it really means a lot to me. to everyone who's ever added this story to their favorites (AmandaaaMariie, BigBenMitchell, Civil-Raven, Davari, DetrimentalHabitsPt4, HelloMyNameIs-Jessica, I Wish I Had A British Accent, Lady Shave, MissAlexanderLugwig12, The Lifeless Girl, Twigirl19, YumiBelle, autumncs98, caligirl538, goldsworthy-mcarthur, iloverandyortonwwefan23, key2mylovliheart) thank you all so much! If i got your name wrong or if i missed anyone, please tell me! to everyone who followed my story (Can'tLiveInAFairyTaleRomance, DancingQueen57, DorothyGleekGale, HawkNelsonFangirl, NessieCarlieCullen-Black, PryoPocky, Scarlet. , ShyOracle, StormDancer, Unread-Letters, WolfieBurnsTheNight, authoress-fanatic, c00kies'N'cream234, dreaminginthecorner, havefaithhavechocolate, kana-kai, kioshi, li'miss sunshine, megelizabethvh88, phyco352, saknicole, sleeplessinrio, trysympathy, wolfie1025, xomagooxo) thank you. and to everyone who reviewed (Mace, TheEndZero, AliAndy, xXrokrgrlXx, DLiz, and the aforementioned above) thank you so much! you all motivated me into finished this for you, and i really want to say thanks for sticking through with me all this time! you're all amazing.

thank you once again and i hope you enjoy this - kind of ambiguously ended - last chapter. =D