A/N: Apparently, I can't get these two out of my head—the dynamic is just so interesting. This one's from Cricket's perspective and I struggled a bit trying to write it. I hope she doesn't come across as too insecure here—I just can't see her trusting Blake completely right away since he was best friends with Amanda. Also, I talk about hunting. I know nothing about hunting, so hopefully that's not blatantly obvious.
As much as she hated to admit it, Blake had been right: regaining her position at the top of the social ladder was easier with him at her side. Even without him, Cricket knew she could have done it. After Amanda Vaughn left town to become California's problem, there was a power vacuum that Cricket was ready to fill. Her daddy's generation still held the social clout in Dallas, but in five or six years there would be a changing of the guard and she was going to be poised to step up.
The other Hillside foxes—the ones like Sharon soon-to-be-Peacham who blindly followed Amanda's whims—lacked the ambition to truly lead, and those who had the ambition—like Heather Cruz—traded in gossip and lies without any power of their own. The only possible threat came in the 4'11" form of Carlene 'Kitten' Lourd, whose blond hair and new nose clearly stated that no one was going to toss her aside as a javelina any more, but that didn't worry Cricket. After all, one friendly hug from Blake during coffee hour their first Sunday back for Thanksgiving break solidified her return to the center of their high school group and Cricket planned to never let go of that spot.
"I told you so."
Cricket turned around to see Blake climbing the stairs of her Granddaddy Bo's hunting. "Told me what?"
"That we make excellent partners."
"That wasn't what I was thinking."
She hated his ability to get inside her head with only one look. "The hunt," she said simply. It was still lie, but it was the reason they were up at the cabin in the first place so it made a good one. "I could have done better."
"You out-shot all the women."
"But not the men," she said distractedly as her mind drifted back to her daddy's comment that she had 'shot well, for a daughter.'
"You beat over half of them too."
"Not good enough." Cricket could tell by his look that he was trying read into her comment, so she added quickly, "But you know me—always a perfectionist."
"The level of detail you put into your supply and demand curves during our study sessions was terrifying."
She was pleased he accepted her change of subject without protest. "But those study sessions got you an A, remember?"
"Please, it was my color coordination on those charts that made the difference."
"Believe what you want." Glancing in the direction of downstairs, she asked, "Who all's still down there?"
"Your daddy and mine, plus a couple others," he said. "It was winding down though."
"Have your parents been enjoying themselves or did we scare them off?" she asked. The last twenty-four hours had not been that dramatic—just a New Year's Eve party followed by a morning hunt with another celebratory meal right after—but after nearly twenty years, the event had developed its own set of rules and traditions that could be overwhelming.
"They have been. Thanks for inviting them."
"That was Daddy Bo, not me."
"Oh, come on, Cricket, everybody knows that you've been putting together your daddy's guest lists since middle school."
He was right. The New Year's Eve party was always her favorite to plan because the invitations were limited by the size of her granddaddy's hunting cabin. Daddy Bo always had a few people from Caruth he wanted to invite but the rest were entirely up to her. The Reilly family had never made the cut—not for lack of wealth—simply because they spent more time out at their ranch than they did in Dallas.
"Least I could do for my study buddy," she said with a teasing lilt to her voice.
"Well, thank you."
The sincerity in his voice surprised her. Plenty of people had thanked her for invitations over the years and although that gratitude was never wholly insincere, most of it came laced with a sense of entitlement—that they were thanking for something they believed the deserved. The fact that Blake's thanks weren't followed by a wink or smirk was almost unnerving. "You're welcome," she said; hating the way her surprise somehow leaked itself into those two little words. "So, you goin' to turn in soon?"
He raised his eyebrows. "Wasn't sure it was safe—don't want to disturb my roommate."
"They're in my room," she said with barely contained laugh. "Sharon decided it would be less conspicuous for me to be roaming around the cabin than for you."
"And you let them? That doesn't sound like you."
"I told her I'd shoot Zack if they did anything on my bed."
"Now, that's the Cricket we all know and love," he said with a laugh. "I'll wait up with you, but—come on—let's get some snacks first."
He headed back towards the stairs, but she didn't move. "Snacks? We just ate dinner."
"That was hours ago and you don't have to eat them, but come on, girl."
She smiled at his insistence and followed him downstairs. They were halfway to the kitchen when she heard her daddy's voice.
Cricket stopped in place and turned around. "You need something, Daddy Bo?" she asked.
"No, I didn't expect you to still be awake. Sharon turned in a while ago."
"My fault, sir," Blake said. "I wanted a snack and asked Cricket to help me rustle up something. I hope we weren't keeping anyone up."
"No one's complaining," he said. "It's nice to have a lot of young people here this year."
Cricket kept her face blank as she met her daddy's gaze—those last two seemingly innocuous words were directed at her. This time last year, Amanda's rumor had died down so she was no longer a complete social pariah, but she couldn't shake the stigma of being branded a javelina the September before. At her daddy's insistence, the Stoppers were still invited, but Amanda threw her own party in Dallas so only parents showed up at the cabin—no teenagers. That was the first year the Lourds had made the guest list because Cricket knew Carlene would show up and save her from having to spend two days of awkward small talk with Gigi Stopper and the other mothers whose daughters had blatantly snubbed her.
"I'm going to head up," he continued. "You kids don't stay up too late."
"We won't," Blake assured him.
"Goodnight, Daddy Bo."
"Goodnight, darling," he told her. "I want to have a word with Blake—he'll meet you in the kitchen in a minute."
"Of course," she said brightly. It wasn't until she turned around that a scowl formed on her face. She hated being dismissed and she hated not knowing what her daddy was telling Blake. Most eighteen-year-olds would assume it was the standard lecture teenage boys received, but Cricket knew that wasn't what was going on in the other room.
It wasn't that he didn't care. Even as she was slamming down a bowl on the counter and angrily filling it with chips, Cricket knew that Daddy Bo cared about her, but he had made it clear that her reputation was hers to guard. Amanda's rumor may have started in the high school but it eventually reached the church in the form of concerned—i.e., gossiping—whispers. They got home from church one afternoon and Daddy Bo asked her point-blank if it was true. He had been calm, rational and business-like. He believed her almost immediately when she said it wasn't—that it couldn't be true—but instead of offering her sympathy or even advice on how to deal with the rumors, he just told her she must have done something that allowed people to think they were true. And that if she was old enough to get herself into the situation, she could get herself out of it.
They never spoke of it again, but Cricket couldn't forget the disappointment in his eyes over the predicament that only a daughter could get herself into. She heard Blake's footsteps approaching and pushed away the memory while forcing a smile on her face. "I hope you like chips," she said as he walked in.
"Chips are good."
He stood on the opposite side of the island from her and she kept the bowl out of his reach and near hers as if she was holding them hostage. "What'd Daddy Bo have to say to you?"
"Nothing really—he just said he was glad you and I were friends."
"Right. He's glad you were willing to be my friend." One look at his face told Cricket she was right. She picked up the bowl and walked around the island so she stood near him. "You're a terrible liar, Blake Reilly," she added before thrusting the bowl into his hands and walking out of the kitchen.
She was barely five feet down the hall before she felt his hand on her arm. "Hold up there, Crick," he said. "You don't just get storm off like that."
"It's my granddaddy's cabin—I can do whatever I want." She shook her arm to try and free from his grasp. "Will you let go?"
"Only if you agree to sit down and talk."
He let go of her arm and they walked to the now empty sitting room next to stairs. Once they were seated on the couch, he said, "If you want to be mad at your daddy, go ahead, but don't take it out on me."
"I'm not mad at my daddy." She crossed her arms. "I'm not even mad at you."
"Now who's lying?"
"I'm mad at myself for being foolish enough to think that you and I could actually be friends. We're allies at best."
"You know what I told your daddy?" he asked. "I said I was lucky you were willing to be my friend."
"Like you really meant that," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Not fifteen minutes ago you were singing the praises of the partnership that you created."
"I only proposed that arrangement because you wouldn't give me the time of day, remember?"
"Oh, so this is my fault?"
"You're the one who thinks all friendships come with strings attached."
"Not the real ones," he said with such easy certainty that it was almost unnerving.
"And that's what we are?"
"You tell me." She bit the inside of her cheek instead of answering. "Come on, Cricket, just be honest. You can trust me."
"I honestly don't know," she admitted before breaking eye contact and looking down at her hands. "I'm not like you, Blake."
"What do you mean?"
"You're so…" Her eyes flicked up and met his briefly as she searched for the right word. "Likeable," she finished. "I'm just...demanding."
"You know what you want and don't stop until you get it."
She looked up from her hands and narrowed her eyes on him. "Thank you for providing the definition of demanding."
"You're determined and you don't let anything stand in your way. I respect that—I respect you."
Cricket studied for a minute, trying to find something in his body language that he teasing her or was otherwise being insincere but found nothing. "I'm sorry," she said finally. "I shouldn't have snapped at you. I…"
Before she could say more, Zack came down the stairs. "Oh, hey guys," he said with a cheeky grin.
"Hey man," Blake said while Cricket just smirked.
"Sharon was asking if you're ever gonna get some sleep."
"I'll bet," Cricket said with a laugh. She stood up and headed for the stairs. "Night boys."
Zack headed down the hall to the first floor bedroom but Blake followed her to the stairs. "What else were you going to say?" he asked.
"Nothing really," she said with the shrug. "I'll see you in the morning, friend."
A/N: Thoughts? Comments? Let me know?