Author's Note: This is the third and final part of this story - it's not the last I'll write for Jake and Marley, but it's the end of this story. Thank you all for your lovely feedback on this story, and enjoy!

Jake (Saturday, 6:06 pm): "come back 2 lima. it sux w/out u."

Marley (Saturday, 6:09 pm): "can't. :( in dayton with my aunt."
Jake (Saturday, 6:11 pm): "when will u b back?!"
Marley (Saturday, 6:14 pm): "laaaaaaate sunday. cya monday?"
Jake (Saturday, 6:15 pm): "lame. ok. c u."

Jake (Saturday, 8:25 pm): "u r so hot"
Marley (Saturday, 8:29 pm): "is this your way of trying to long distance hit on me?"
Jake (Saturday, 8:31 pm): "yeah is it working?"
Marley (Saturday, 8:33 pm): "maaaaaaybe ;)"

Jake (Saturday, 11:47 pm): "gnite marley"
Marley (Sunday, 12:03 am): "you too :)"

Jake (Sunday, 1:38 pm): "marley come home"
Jake (Sunday, 1:39 pm): "plz"
Marley (Sunday, 1:41 pm): "i will be home tonight. cya in class tmrw."
Jake (Sunday, 1:42 pm): "ok :("

Marley flips the top of her phone down and laughs just a little, casting a sidelong glance to ensure that neither her mother, nor her aunt, heard her. For one, she's not used to getting text messages from anyone, let alone a guy; for another, he's so earnest in wanting her. She's not used to being the hunted, nor the hunter; she's the one who watches from the sidelines and goes without. There had been a time where things had been different - but she wants to forget, especially now that she's happy.

She's genuinely happy for one of the first times in her life.

She has the kids of New Directions on her side, and she's hitched herself to a rising star. She's not too sure how much higher their star can rise, however, considering what comes after Nationals? Internationals? Universe? She mentally imagines a show choir filled with the little green aliens from Toy Story singing in perfect harmony, and her laugh from before only gets louder and more boisterous.

"What's so funny, Marley?" her aunt asks, setting down her knitting to place her hands on her thighs, leaning forward to more easily see her niece.

"Just - just something a friend told me," she says, and she hopes that the blush she feels burning on her face does not make her lie too evidently told. It technically is, in a very roundabout way, but she does not want to admit to the truth of the matter. Admitting it makes it tacitly real to her and everyone around her, and it's too new and too fresh to crystallize it in such a manner.

Her mother's ears perk up. "Jake?"

"Who's this Jake?"

"He's a boy that goes to school with Marley," her mother starts to say, and Marley buries her head between her hands - her mother's words explaining her perspective on the Jake and Marley friendship become a faint buzz in her ears. Her mother doesn't know about the kiss in her bedroom. Her mother thinks that they're just friends.

Her mother doesn't know anything about how she feels about Jake, but thinks she knows everything.

Jake. Jake is what makes her happiest. She could lose the New Directions tomorrow, be the absolute bottom of the McKinley High social ladder, and as long as she still had Jake and hadn't lost him too - she would still be happy, still have a genuine grin painted on her face and feel it coursing through her veins.

Monday morning could not come soon enough.

Things she never thought she would say.

"How's my girl today?"

She smiles as she hears him call her his, and flips her hair over one shoulder as she turns to greet him, turning his name into an exclamation of pure, distilled happiness and surprise. "Jake!" She composes herself, and continues, saying, "Good. Better now that you're here." She leans forward and kisses him as a greeting, and then pulls back with a mischievous grin. It's been far too long since she's seen him - his flirty text messages and plaintive wishes for her to come home had not been enough. It had probably been big enough for him to ask her "please," let alone to want someone around him like that.

"That's what I like to hear," he says, pulling her close to him, wrapping an arm around her waist and she can't help but laugh. As he kisses her again, the pent-up emotions from a weekend separated from each other flow between them in waves and currents; his lips mash hungrily against hers, and she lets out a tiny, almost imperceptible moan. She wonders if he heard; the fierce way he holds her against him proves the point once and for all: he heard. And he likes what he heard.

The bell rings from somewhere above them - clang, clang - and she frowns. She doesn't want this moment to end. She wants it to go on forever, the two of them an island of fierce tranquility against the crush of tides that is the rest of McKinley.

"You should go to class," he says, pulling back away from her and extracting himself from their embrace. "You always said this class was your favorite." It's English. She loves English, but she loves Jake too; she wavers for a moment, before he waves his hands in her direction. "Go. Tell all those lazy slackers in your class - like me - about why anyone would ever want to kill mockingbirds."

"It's a sin to," she says. "Mockingbirds are nice and don't do anything to anyone but sing pretty songs, so why would you ever want to?"

"That's all it is? Well then, you're a Marleybird," he says. "You're absurdly nice to everyone, and you're a fucking awesome singer, and if anyone ever hurt you, I'd hurt them for you. My Marleybird."

Her heart soars at the nickname he has bestowed on her. No one - no one besides her mother, really - ever had a nickname for her. She'd always been just Marley, or her mother called her Marley-bear, and there had been the inevitable teasing nicknames in middle school, like the ones she got playing on the movie Marley and Me - to them, she was a dog, just like the Marley in the movie. But no one - again, besides her mother - had a nickname for her borne of love or affection. Marleybird. Marleybird. She echoes it over and over again in her head, allowing it to cover all other thoughts from her perception.

She's Jake's Marleybird.

She'd sing it out loud, sing it out proud.

She kisses him goodbye, and literally skips along her way to English class - skipping over the cracks in the tiles, skipping by falling-down posters and the confused faces of other people. She laughs inwardly at their twisted grimaces of confusion; let them be confused.

She's a girl in love.

"Hey, Marley?" Jake asks, coming up somewhere behind her. She'd almost forgotten: he's in her English class too. He would be following her, anyway; even though he tended to skip it more often than not early on, he's been surprisingly there more and more since - since the first time they kissed. Almost like he wanted to be there just to be around her.

"Yeah?" She feels like she has one of those goofy, smitten smiles on her face at him merely saying her name.

"You look really good in that shirt." She looks down at it dubiously. It's one of her mother's Wal-Mart specials, with a Limited tag sewn in - they'd run out of J. Crew tags that day, so she had to make do. It's nothing special, as least to her; it's just a simple sky blue blouse. The other girls at school wear more spectacular shirts every day. "That blue makes your eyes look -" He pauses, allowing his eyes to roam her up and down, taking her in. "Amazing."

It's everything special, now, in her eyes. Her apparently amazing eyes.

She vows to find a thousand, million shirts in this and any other similar shades of blue.

She rests her head on his shoulder and clasps his hand in hers. It's a quiet afternoon, and they're sitting on a plaid blanket, on the grass, in the park. They can hear children laughing and whooping in the distance, but they have a small, tidy oasis to themselves away from it all. "Why do you have your mother put fake tags in your clothes for you?" he asks, idly massaging her thumb.

"Because J. Crew is so much more desirable to people than Wal-Mart is."

He tilts his face down and looks down at her. "I find you 'desirable' whether you're wearing J. Crew or Wal-Mart, or a fucking potato sack race. That doesn't matter to me."

"Not everyone sees it like you do." She draws her fingers from her loose hand through the grass, and she sighs. Jake is sweet to her; she still sees that so many of the others see her as simply the lunch lady's daughter. The girl who fakes wearing designer labels to fit in. The girl who is eternally on the outside looking in, even within New Directions; she's the new girl, and doesn't know them all yet. She doesn't know all of their dramas or their highs and lows; she doesn't know anything beyond what she's been told and what little she has witnessed with her own eyes. She will forever live on the periphery, until she enters the inner circle - maybe one day.

Ever since her secret had been revealed, she'd felt eternally uncomfortable with the charade. She wants to rip the tags out, rip out the charade. Start with a blank slate, have the possibility of plausibly denying instead of claiming a lie to be the truth. It's the difference between "I don't remember or know where it came from" and "It's J. Crew."

"Fuck what they all think. They're not important, then. If a - a label is the most important thing to them - fuck them. You know I hate labels. Clothes or people."

She nods. "What are you saying?"

"Come here." He reaches into his pocket and pulls something out; he caresses his fingers along the back of her neck, tickling the ends of her hair as he brushes it over her shoulder. "Do you trust me?"


He guides his fingers down her back, tickling delicate patterns along her spine. And then, with his other hand, she hears whatever it is that he is holding make a few little noises. Scritch. Scritch. Scratch. "What are you doing?" she asks. One last scratch, and then he hands her a small, tiny piece of fabric. She can see it clearly. It's the label from her shirt. "Jake -" she says.

"Yeah?" He tucks whatever it was that cut her label off - probably a pocket knife or something akin to one - back into his pocket and smiles.

She feels tears welling up in her eyes, and she cannot find the words to properly express what it is that she wants to say right now, so she settles for the first thing to come to mind, "Thank you." She tilts her head up to graze against his, and she plants small kisses along his jaw with a smile. He takes her into his arms and tackles her against the blanket, kissing her, caressing her, making her feel both loved and wanted all at the same time.

She feels free now, with Jake by her side. He has helped to free her - both from the charade, and from what she previously perceived as people's expectations of her. She is his Marleybird, complete with the metaphorical wings that will allow her to soar above the treetops and through the sky. And he's her roost, to protect her from the elements and allow her to sing her song as loud and chirpily as she desires.

She is free.