"Our children come first. When they're little high school romance fizzles out, we can get together again." Mr. Hammond looked down, but knew she was determined.

Only Nicole and Chase's romance didn't fizzle out. Not six months later, not a year later, not ten years later. The feelings between Chase's father and Nicole's mother, however, did fizzle out. But I am getting well ahead of the story.

Next Week

It wasn't that Dee and Nicole weren't still friends with the 'In-crowd'. It wasn't even like Chase was excluded from them. But the popular kids still rejected Ray after his video stunt and, even to an extent, despite his being Dee's boyfriend, they rejected Dave. So while Dee and Nicole and Chase still spoke to their old crowd, they were just that. Their old crowd.

They had already been informed that their parents were no longer together, so they weren't exactly shy about their relationship, and his dad and her mom had seen the way they looked at each other, touched, kissed, and they knew. So Nicole and Chase also weren't exactly discreet when they snuck in through each other's window. At least they had the decency to pretend not to be overt. This was not to say it was any less awkward when, if they were woken up by an outside party, her clearly naked body was pulled in tightly against what was just as obviously his bare body. Most mornings, however, he'd plant kisses on her shoulder until she woke, tell her he loved her, throw on his jeans (leaving her with his shirt) and climb back through his window. They pretended to be discreet. Her mother pretended not to hear him climbing in. His father pretended not to notice Chase sneaking back in the next morning.

She climbed out of the shower and quickly blow-dried her hair. She put it into a small bun on her head, threw on a pair of jeans and, just to piss off Alicia, quickly tossing one of Chase's button up shirts over a tank top. She'd wear a hoodie out of the house, observing the unspoken but agreed upon pretend discretion.

"It's your turn to drive." Nicole informed Chase.

"I drove yesterday."

"Well, I'm out of gas." Knowing he couldn't win, Chase just rolled his eyes and got into the driver's side of his car.

She slipped her jacket off and threw it in the back before buckling her seatbelt. He looked at her, "Really? My brand new shirt?"

"You left it at my house. Fair game. Besides, I thought it looked okay."

"It looks fantastic, actually. You look very sexy in my shirt."

"Not to mention it'll piss Alicia off." He backed out of the driveway.

"And Dulcy," He added. She smiled mischievously, "You know, I'm starting to think you had ulterior motives here."

"Me? Never."

"Whatever. But you still look sexy."

"You might be biased." She raised an eyebrow.

"No, my artist, I AM biased." He turned into the parking lot (why didn't he and Nicole just walk to school?) and put the car into park. He put an arm around her and they met up with Ray. They didn't sit in the quad, after all, Ray was still in shock around Dee. He knew that Dee was nice, after all Dave really liked her. And Ray had faith in him, but it was surprising anyway.

He did hate—just a little—that the only reason he was able to hang out with Nicole so much was that she dated his best friend. He had no doubt that he and Nicole would've spoken otherwise, but not to the extent that they did. He had to admit that he did still have interest in Nicole, and he hated that, too. Really, he was torturing himself. Liking her while she loved his best friend was not healthy, he was sure.

But he wasn't just jealous of Chase. He was friends with them all, but they had each other. He wanted someone to love him the way that Nicole loved Chase, the way that Dee loved Dave, yearned for it, even. It wasn't that he felt he'd never find it. It was that his friends already had. And that sucked. He knew it was only a matter of time before Dee and Nicole set him up.

LINE BREAK

Chase sensed that something wasn't quite right. Dee and Nicole were keeping a secret, and he just had to figure out what it was.

They sat on the couch opposite each other. Their legs stretched out and their feet near each other's hips was one of their favorite ways to sit. Close, but comfortable, and easier to move. "Anything interesting after home room?" Chase asked.

"Alicia asked me whose shirt I was wearing, loudly, in front of the whole class." Nicole hadn't seemed upset, so he wondered how that had ended. "And how did that go?"

"I said: 'You know that hot guy I spend a lot of time with? It's his shirt.' I actually saw a lot of girls nod as soon as I said 'hot guy'."

"Can you blame them?" He fished for a compliment.

"For drooling over my boyfriend? Yes." He had evidently not considered that angle.

She seemed perfectly fine now but once in a while she and Dee would look at each other meaningfully. Chase needed to know why.