"What's pizzity poppin' Titans? Bad case of the Mondays? Don't worry, Dr. Feelgood is here to turn things around—here are your morning announcements! The countdown to prom is T-minus 2weeks which means there's only 3 more weeks 'til us underclassmen say adios, aloha and arrivederci to the seniors! And then your prince of swag can take over the school! Haha! Next! Mr. Schuester wants to let all non-graduates know that next year's musical's gonna be…drumroll… Grease! It is the word! Also, the Glee club's heading off for their Nationals competition in a few weeks too. Yo, New Directions can I get a shout-out from New York when you win?...Wait…it's not filmed for T.V.?...Psh, scratch that! Just playin'—good luck y'all! Special loving to the lovely prom queen-to-be, Ms. Mercedes Jones! And I guess Quinn gets a shout out too And speaking of prom queen, looks like the competition is heating up between Lady Jones and Firecracker Fabray…careful out there guys and dolls, don't let this thing turn the school into World War III now! Chord, Amber says she'll go with you to prom IF and only IF you watch Big Fish with her tonight. Seriously, I'm gonna need you two lovebirds to pay me a little more for these messages. Don't ya'll text, tweet, anything? And last, Coach Sylvester's putting everyone on notice now via email, and I quote 'If any of you paramecium come to school sick at any point next year, thereby compromising my workspace with your germs and putting my daughter at risk of illness, I vow there will be blood'….yikes! Keep the colds and flus at home, folks. Have a good one!"

Mercedes shook her head while smiling as she listened to Artie give the morning announcements on her way to her locker. Her dinner with the Evans the other week had been interesting to say the least, but it ended with the most satisfying hug and a kiss on her cheek and the top of her head from Sam. Puck teased her for the way she'd been strutting on Cloud 9 all day Monday, and throughout the entire week, she'd had lunch with Sam—sometimes with him, Santana, Finn, Mike, Tina and Brittany as well. She caught Sam shooting daggers out of his eyes at Finn on Friday when Finn draped an arm around her shoulders and asked her about helping him, Brittany and Santana with prom decorations next week.

"It'll be fun and we could always use some more help. Plus it'll give me more time than just lunch to tell you all the stories I know about your little boy toy over there and you'll get to spend time with your favorite campaign manager," Finn wiggled his eyebrows and tucked Mercedes' hair behind her ear. He winked at Sam and smile cockily.

When she followed the direction of his finger to Sam's outwardly fuming face, Mercedes looked up at Finn, "Uh…Look I'll help without being bribed with stories, okay?And…you're my ONLY campaign manager, Finn," She laughed nervously, moving slightly so that Sam could see she wasn't really feeling Finn's advances.

Finn casually shrugged, "Don't front. You know you can't deny that I'm your favorite person around here, and aaaalright but I'm tellin' you—you'll be missing out on some good ones. Like the Slip 'n Slide—"

"I swear if you don't shut your damn mouth, Finn!" growled Sam.

Mercedes' brows rose and her eyes bugged slightly, "Sam, calm down." She reached across the table, ignoring the dead weight of Finn's arm, and extended her hand to cover Sam's. "He's just teasing I'm sure, and I already told him…" her gaze went pointedly back to Finn, "I don't need the stories—just tell me what time I should meet up with you guys."

Finn slipped his arm from around her and smiled, "Right after school, in the gym. Britt managed to get some funky dinosaur thing that looks like it came from a roller coaster."

"I wanted to get the tracks too but Principal Figgins said no…" lamented Brittany with a frown. Everyone else stared at her, except for Santana who rubbed her back soothingly.

"Well…I bet we'll figure something to do with it," Mercedes said with a soft smile, pushing her glasses up her nose.

Brittany's gaze turned hopeful and lunch continued on with a more cheerful atmosphere.

Over the weekend, Sam, Mike, Finn and a few of their friends from the football team met up for a little 3-on-3 basketball game at Finn's house. Sam had been looking forward to whooping Finn's ass in the game, especially after the stupid stunts he'd pulled in front of Mercedes. Unfortunately, Finn's heckling hadn't lightened up with Mercedes' absence and his jokes had Sam seeing red. Sam overexerted himself throughout the game, costing him, Mike and their friend a win. Frustrated from the loss and Finn's heckling, Sam marched angrily to his gym bag for water and his face towel. Unfortunately Finn wasn't far behind, wearing a very proud grin.

"Damn dude, I hadn't seen you play that hard since…"

Despite telling himself that he wasn't going to answer, he turned and asked, "Since what?"

Finn casually shrugged, "Since Quinn told you she wasn't gonna put out for you." The taller male's smug smirk grew, "Maybe all that time with Mercedes is putting you back on that dry spell? Things can get kinda…I don't know…hard around someone so fine. I mean she's been lookin' cute and all these days but…putting out for you?"

That had done it, Sam snapped and charged right at Finn with his fists ready. "Dude, I swear to God!" he roared, raising his fist and striking Finn hard in the chest. Finn gasped hard, clutching his chest as he stumbled back but when he soon recovered and made to return the punch in Sam's face, Mike and one of their friends stepped in quickly and pulled the two apart.

"What the hell's with you guys?!" barked Mike, looking from one vehement friend to the other.

Sam gruffly shrugged him off and snatched up his duffle. He threw one hand to Finn and said, "Ask him!"

Finn jerked his arms free from their old teammate and said, "You're the dipshit who came at me, remember?"

"What's your problem, asshole!? You've been on my nuts for weeks!"

"It's been more than weeks, Evans," countered Finn with a venomous tone. "For years I've watched you strut through the halls like you fucking own the place and it's bullshit! People are starting to see it as you keep hanging out with that stupid geek feminazi."

Sam stared at Finn, stunned and struggling to hide it.

"Yeah you don't know what people are saying, do you?" taunted Finn. He hissed a sigh, snatched up his water bottle and said, "You're going down, asshole. Now get the hell off my property."

With that, Finn turned and headed back towards his house with three of their teammates flanking him. Mike stood, still looking from Finn to Sam and back again. Sam huffed a short, livid sigh through his nose and turned to leave, shaking his head all the while. He didn't care that Mike seemed stuck in his place and he didn't care what people were saying about him at school. But he did care about protecting Mercedes—especially from Finn. There was a glint in his eyes—something menacing and he didn't know what plans lie behind them but he had to talk to Mercedes. Somehow, he had to find a way to tell her the truth about the bet and pray that she'd forgive him for ever agreeing to it.

After a quick shower at home and throwing on some fresh clothes, Sam drove over to the Jones residence. By now, he'd cooled off from his fight with Finn enough to keep a level head in front of Mercedes. He went up the path and after ringing the doorbell and running a set of long fingers through his hair, the front door swung open with Wade on the other side.

The young teen's eyes widened while a bright smile graced his lips, "Sam Ev—I mean, hello!"

Sam smiled crookedly, "Hey Wade. Is your sister here?"

Still bearing a fanatical smile, Wade nodded and opened the door wider to invite him in, "She's downstairs in her space."

"Her…space?" asked Sam with an arched brow.

"You'll see," Wade replied with a chipper, knowing smile and led Sam to a door that he hadn't noticed when he'd last come to the Jones home. There was nothing extraordinary about it, but when Wade opened it and gestured for him to proceed, Sam gave him a slightly skeptical look.

"She's down there," he explained with a nod. "Just watch your step on the staircase. Oh! Sam? Guess what? I entered the competition! I entered the sketches you helped me choose with Artie. Wish me luck!"

Sam smiled, genuinely proud of Wade and put two thumbs up. "Good Luck man."

Wade giggled and arched his eyebrows. "Just don't scare her. She gets wrapped up in her work" He whispered.

Sam nodded once back and though he was still leery, he went in and held a hand on the rail to guide himself quietly down the steps while listening to a smooth piano melody sounding from below. It reminded him of something he would hear on an old R&B track; his lips started to form Mercedes' name but he halted his speech and his steps when he saw her sitting at a brown baby grand piano, humming over the melody. He briefly glanced at the penciled music sheet sitting in front of her, but his eyes quickly gravitated to the back of her head again. He took a few more steps until he was on level ground with her—his eyes gazing adoringly at the aura she was exuding. She seemed so at peace and simultaneously vulnerable while seated there that he stepped forward without really watching where he was going and bumped into music stand.

Mercedes immediately stopped playing, gasped and whipped around. "Sam?" she questioned—her eyes fixing curiously at him. "What are you doing down here?"

Sam apparently, was not good at following directions. He cursed himself under his breath and waved nervously.

With the trance broken now, Sam bashfully stuck his hands inside his pockets and lowered his gaze to the floor, only to look back up at her. "You play piano?"

She barely smiled and turned to face the sheet music again. "My mom taught me when I was younger."

While he slowly approached, he listened to her go on and explain. "This was her piano. She loved music so much. She used to tell me that music's one of those few things in our lives that's universal. It's powerful, it can be good or bad, depending who's making it, and you can never have enough of it." He gaze went from the sheet music to the piano keys and as she gently stroked her fingers across the white keys she told him, "She always used to say, 'With the right amount of passion, people have made a difference in the world with music.' That's what I want to do." Her gaze then moved to look directly at Sam, "I want to make music that moves people. Inspires them to want to go for their dreams."

Sam took a seat on the small bench beside her, never taking his eyes off her, "So why don't you? What's stopping you?"

She let out a soft sigh, "If I do that, it'd mean leaving my dad and my brother here to fend for themselves. I know it sounds a little dramatic but I really am worried about them, if I were to go away for college. I know how hard it's been on them since my mom died. I don't want to make it worse by going to California or New York. It's hard enough as it is, just the three of us. At least with me around…I know my dad will take his meds and Wade will go to school."

The question that danced in the background of Sam's mind ever since his last visit returned. This time he braved a chance to lowly ask, "How…how did she die?"

"Cancer," she replied in a quiet but curt voice. "She got sick and couldn't get better…"

Though it made Sam's heart ache for him to hear all of this he asked, "Do you think she'd want you to stay here and put your dreams on hold?"

Mercedes sucked in a deep breath and as she sighed it back out she told him, "No, but I also think she wouldn't want my dad or Wade to have a harder time than they already are without her here. Besides…leaving Ohio isn't my dream."

He could hear some falseness to her last sentence but she soon added, "Making music is my dream and I can do that here. I've been doing that here. Plus this is affordable. There's nothing affordable about LA or NYC for me. You on the other hand…"

"Whoa," he quickly raised his hands as if in surrender, "Since when were we talking about me?"

She smirked but it certainly came nowhere near her eyes. "Since right now. How come you haven't picked a school yet?"

Sam pursed his lips together, averting his gaze to the floor, "You did meet my dad, right?"

"Uh, yeah. We met. What about him?"

"He wants me to go to an Ivy League school like him and my mom." He quickly deepened his voice, to make himself sound scarily close to the senior Mr. Evans. "'Y'know I had a lot of great memories at Dartmouth, Sam. You could too if you got accepted'….'Princeton's a fine school. Your mother went there and look at how successful she is! I'm sure she'd be glad to put you in touch with the dean—maybe get some letters of recommendation from old colleagues of hers.'"

Mercedes' eyes widened and she involuntarily flinched away from him—not because of what he was saying but how he was mimicking his dad. "Okay I know he's your dad and all but…how the hell..?"

Sam chuckled dryly, "I've got a knack for impressions. I've got a pretty good one of Principal Figgins if you're ever interested in hearing it."

Mercedes chuckled and shook her head, "Impressions? That's pretty… later. So you don't wanna go to an Ivy League school because it's what your father wants?"

He shrugged, "Not just that. I mean…it's like what you said at dinner last week—Dartmouth and Princeton are just titles that sound nice on paper but I could still get a really good education if I went to a community college, or a vocational school if that's what I wanted. It doesn't matter to me but it matters to him. He'd act like I spat on his diploma if I went to LCC* or even UCLA, which I hear is actually a great school."

"It is. I applied there too."

He couldn't stop the smile that appeared on his lips, "You did?"

"Mhm and I got in but it doesn't matter. I also got into Ohio State."

His lips fell back into a slight grimace, "Oh…"

Mercedes tucked some hair behind her ear with her glasses frame and then asked, "So when do you think you'll start doing what you want to do and not get baited by what others want you to do?"

"I…" Again, a tight feeling constricted his chest. It seemed as if she was giving him just the opening he'd need to own up to the bet. But the way her big brown eyes were staring at him, and the way she kept tucking her lips in her mouth to lick them also had him slowly drawing closer to her. He was completely enamored by her wit, intelligence, talent and beauty, yet the terror of hurting her with the truth was acting like a thin string, tugging annoyingly at the middle of his back, telling him to retreat from his growing closeness.

"Sam?" she quietly murmured, stopping him for the moment. He looked up in her eyes again and saw the curiosity and concern in them. "You don't have to tell me the answer right now if you don't want to but… I did want to ask you about prom…"

He froze, mid-lean; suddenly the thin string started to thicken into a cable, and then another cable joined. The courage he once had to tell her the truth morphed into the size of a grape at the mention of prom. It was only a week away now which meant if he wasn't going to tell her now, he wasn't going to have much time after. But the panic that struck him in that moment had him rising from the bench. "Umm…"

She stared at him, looking instantly hurt but trying to hide it, "Are you okay?"

"I um…I have to go—I just remembered this thing I'm supposed to do with Artie and my mom…."

Her brows rose, "Now?"

He bit the inside of his cheek, frantically racking his brain for something to say. "Can I call you later?"

"Um…sure, I guess," she replied, justifiably confused by his abrupt need to leave.

Sam shuffled to the stairs and high-tailed it up to the house's first story. He gave Wade a quick, "See ya," and didn't stop until he was inside his truck.

For the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday, Sam kept turning over in his mind, how he was going to apologize to Mercedes for his rude departure, and also confess about the bet. He hadn't called her like he said—plainly out of fear that he'd look like a coward, unable to tell her the truth to her face which had been incredibly true.

When Monday rolled around, he went to find her in the morning but she hadn't met up with him, Mike and Tina at their usual spot. At lunch he didn't see her around the cafeteria and by the time the school day ended, he'd grown antsy and fussed aloud, "Was she not here today or something?"

Mike leaned away from him on their way to the parking lot, "Who?"

"Mercedes!" Sam spat back, wringing his hands.

His best friend's brows furrowed, "Calm down dude. That's why you've been acting like you drank 10 Red Bulls today? She's been in the gym in between classes with Brittany and the others, decorating for prom. It's this Saturday, remember?"

Of course he hadn't forgotten that prom was Saturday but he did forget that Finn had invited her to help them decorate. He peeled away from Mike's side and said, "Catch you later," before half jogging back towards the school. His grip on his backpack was tight as he tried not to look like he was on deadline to find and talk to Mercedes. When he whooshed right through the gymnasium doors, music was playing to keep all of the decorating committee busy. Santana and Brittany were up on ladders, pinning dinosaur cut-outs and palm trees to the walls. Quinn was lingering near a drooling Jacob Ben Israel, tricking him into doing all the grunt work while she checked her face in a hand mirror. Some of their other classmates were painting paper machete dinosaur eggs, but his eyes fixed on Finn and Mercedes who were hovering over a roller coaster cart with a dinosaur head and tail attached to either end. Relief washed over him until he saw Finn poke her nose, causing the both of them to smile and giggle. Before he could check his temper, Sam strode right up to them.

"What the hell is this?" he asked possessively.

Mercedes' features crossed between confusion and upset when she met his stern gaze. Finn on the other hand, looked like he was having the time of his life.

"We're working on stuff for the prom. What's your problem?" she asked coldly.

He flinched but quickly recovered, "I just…I've been looking all over to talk to you about prom and stuff."

"If you're trying to ask her out as your date," interrupted Finn. "You're too late, bro."

"I wasn't coming to ask her out, bro," he mocked but quickly caught up with the meaning behind Finn's words. He cut Mercedes a stunned look, "Wait you're going to prom with him?!"

Instantly, he could tell he hadn't chosen his words carefully but not enough of him cared, despite the narrowing of Mercedes eyes, "Yeah? I am. He asked me. Is there a problem, Sam?"

"Well—…" sputtered Sam. He ignored the smug look on Finn's face and lowered his voice to Mercedes, "I thought we were gonna go together."

She opened her mouth to answer but again, Finn chimed in. "Dude seriously this bet's getting old. Mercedes is a great girl and you shouldn't string her along just 'cause you can't turn down bets. Frankly, I'm just tired of hearing about the whole thing and I'm not gonna let you string her along like she's some puppet, bro."

Sam's entire frame went rigid. Not once but twice did Finn emphasize their bet; the weasel also managed to leave himself out of said bet but before he could take to strangling his former best friend, he caught Mercedes' gaze growing murderous by the second. It was impossible for Sam not to look at her now and for the first time since getting to know her, he felt himself shrinking—like a small child looking up at his pissed off parent.

"A bet?" she asked through gritted teeth.

Sam opened his mouth but no words came out. Ever helpful, Finn jumped in with a dry chuckle, "Yeah it was so dumb, 'Cedes. He bet that he could get any girl at the school to become prom queen and decided you were the one he'd make that happen for. So he got a bunch of peeps together, gave you a makeover, made fake googly eyes at you and pretended to be nice. Pffft…Talk about asshole right?"

As much as he wanted to clock Finn, or at least out him for his part in the bet, he knew none of it would make a difference because he was right—he agreed to the bet, he agreed to Mercedes being the one he could turn to prom queen. He was the one who didn't mean to fall for her, but did. He was the one who was watching her raise the high walls around her heart now while simultaneously firing daggers out of her eyes, all aimed right at him.

"It's true, isn't it?" she asked. "I'm a bet?"

Too ashamed to answer, Sam tucked his lips in his mouth while he stared down at her.

"AM I A FUCKING BET, SAM EVANS?!" she yelled, causing the whole room to fall silent, save the quiet, ironic playing of Beyoncé and Shakira's "Beautiful Liar" from the small iHome in the corner of the room.

The pressure from the silence bore down on him, forcing the answer to barely breathe out of his mouth. "Yes." He kept his eyes on hers, watching her rage be extinguished by unmistakable hurt. It was the second time he'd seen her look this hurt before—the first being at Santana's party when Quinn told her off. And with impeccable timing, Quinn appeared over his shoulder but he hadn't noticed her until she spoke up.

"It's like I told you before. You don't belong in this world. You should've listened the first time. Once a commoner, always a commoner…"

Sam wanted nothing more than to thrust an elbow directly back but he restrained himself—even after Quinn whined, "Aww…are you gonna cry again?" to Mercedes.

He watched Mercedes pull her defenses together again and slowly back away from him, Quinn and Finn until she was clear to turn and leave without a backward glance. Finn glared at Sam and shook his head. He wanted everyone to see that he was going to be the hero this time.

"Nice job. See you at prom…bro." Finn started jogging out of the gym and cried out to Mercedes. "Sweetheart! Wait!"

Sam stood frozen as Quinn placed her head on his shoulder. "Poor unfortunate soul." She fake pouted and looked up at Sam. "So, pick me up at 7?"

Sam looked down at Quinn and moved his shoulder. "Fat chance."

He strode angrily out of the gym, taking down some decorations with him.