They kiss in the back of Adonis's car. No, not kiss. Make out. Full on make out. And Luke can hardly believe it's happening.

They'd gone to a movie, something slashery, Halloween-themed, and Adonis had traced circles into Luke's palm until he groaned and they left early.

And then they curled their bodies around each other, groping over clothing and panting in the dark, parked on a road just beyond the farm.

"You like that guy?" Adonis breathes in Luke's ear, catching his earlobe with his teeth.

"Hmm?" Luke moans.

"That guy at Al's. With the dark hair. Come on, don't lie to me." He tugs and Luke's entire body shudders.

"Yeah, yeah, I like him. Don't want to talk about him."

"Mmm. Kay." Then their lips are together and it doesn't matter anymore.

~x~

Noah can tell, just by looking, that Luke hooked up with that guy. That disgustingly… glowing guy. He looked like the sun rose and set on him, and he'd acted like it too. Damn perfect white teeth.

Luke's browsing through the video library, and Noah can't keep his eyes off Luke's fingers. The way his nails are trimmed. The thickness of his thumb. The small freckle on the edge of his palm.

He wants to taste him.

Noah's pretending to look through the videos too, working up the nerve to speak. "So," he manages.

"So," Luke repeats.

"That guy."

"Yup. That guy."

Luke gives away nothing. In fact, he doesn't even turn to look at Noah.

"Luke…"

Luke doesn't react, and his body language says that he doesn't think he needs to. He's right of course, and Noah knows it, but he can't help it. Luke is a thread he has to pull on. Has to.

The door is shut. Most of the staff are in the 10 A.M. meeting. Maddie's at class.

He reaches out with one hand and lets his fingertips graze Luke's back.

Luke stills. But he doesn't pull away.

So Noah steps forward, pressing his full palm down, sliding his hand up to the back of Luke's shoulder. He lets out a shaky breath. "You're so warm," he breathes. Then his lips are on the back of Luke's neck and his arms slide around his waist. "God, Luke, so warm…" He tastes him, dipping his tongue into his ear, kissing his neck, inhaling against his hair.

Luke's reaction is almost instantaneous. He leans back, pressing his body into Noah's front, tipping back his head, exposing his neck to him. Luke's fingers curl over Noah's, pull him in tighter. But he doesn't speak.

Noah whispers his name between kisses, over, and over, till finally Luke turns in his arms and kisses his mouth.

Noah isn't sure how long it goes on. Three years, maybe. It's possible.

And then Luke pulls his mouth away, gasping. "It's not right. Maddie…"

Noah pulls him back, kissing him. "I know, I know, I know…"

"Do you want to be with me?"

Noah stills, his lips on Luke's cheek. "Hmm?"

"Be with me." Luke's voice grows firm. "Do. You want. To be with me."

Noah drags his nose lightly across Luke's cheek. "Luke…"

"Do. You. Want. To. Be. With. Me?" Luke pulls back and cocks his head.

Noah looks back. He swallows. "Luke…" he repeats.

"Got it." Luke sidesteps him and heads for the door. "That's my name."

Noah chases him to the door. "Luke, wait."

He rounds the corner and runs smack into Maddie. "Maddie! Shit. I mean, sorry. Shit." He flushes. He can feel Luke's kisses all over his skin, like a brand. He's not sure that Maddie can't see it just by looking at him.

"Hey… you okay?" She touches his arm.

He looks at her. Sweet, concerned Maddie, the girl who did nothing wrong, who sacrificed for him, who took care of him when he needed it.

"Yes," he says hoarsely. "Fine."

~x~

Greg,

Here's the thing. I'm in love with someone else. It's not like I didn't enjoy what we had…I just need you to know that I'm not all… there. Hardly fair to a nice guy like you.

And yes, I do realize that he's never going to come around, and the chances of him breaking up with his girlfriend for me are, well, slim to none. But I'm a hopeless romantic. Or a pathetic romantic. Or a ridiculous romantic, I don't know. Whatever I am, it's stupid and insane and all doomed in the end, but it's just how I am, and I can't change my stripes.

So it's up to you whether you want to keep up our little charade. Like I said… it's not like I didn't enjoy it.

Luke

~x~

Luke,

Damn, you are cute. The only charade I see happening here is you still hanging on to the hope that Mr. Closeted Brunette from the diner is going to unhook his claws from his girlfriend and come out by hooking on to you. You and me, though, we could be real. So come on. Give me another try, at least. Wouldn't you rather have some fun than… well, total hopeless misery?

Greg

~x~

Maddie's read enough Gothic stories by now to know the feeling well—the prickly, hairs raised on the back of your neck, intuitive feeling that something's about to happen. Or that something already is happening.

And she keeps feeling it. Like she's one of the innocent maids, living in a brooding castle on the edge of the moors, and every time a window slams shut in the wind, she spins and gasps. She begins imagining Noah as the dark master of the house—not unkind, but unknowable, always in shadow. He begins staying longer at the station to work on his latest film project, and she keeps tucking herself away in the corners of the library, her nose buried in books.

So maybe she occasionally looks up, on the off chance that Casey will be standing there with a stolen cup of hot chocolate, offering to walk her home.

He never is, of course.

Maddie knows things aren't really as bad as she imagines them, but as the temperature drops and the last of the autumn leaves sink to the ground, she indulges her Gothic fantasy. And she indulges that feeling, that back-of-the-neck sensation.

Never does it strike her more than when she and Noah ride home from the station that night.

"Did you two have a fight?" she asks quietly, looking over at Noah.

He keeps his hands tightly on the steering wheel.

"No… yes. Not really. It wasn't a big deal."

"Seems like a big deal. You guys have had some tension since summer, haven't you?"

"Not enough to really talk about."

Maddie swallows and looks out the window. She shivers. It's appropriate, since it's Halloween, and after today, snow is fair game. "God, it's getting freezing out there. I wonder if it's going to snow soon."

Noah doesn't answer, but he doesn't seem angry. It's almost as if he's not paying attention. She reaches over and touches his thigh. He jumps a good three inches, the car swerving slightly to the right. He corrects it quickly. "Jesus, sorry."

"Okay, what is going on? You have to tell me."

"Maddie, it's fine, okay? Let's just go home… spend some time together."

The words hang in the air, and she knows they're both thinking the same thing. That "spending time together" usually means one thing, and that one thing is the only thing they have to remind themselves that they're anything more than friends anymore.

"I don't want to 'spend time together' tonight," she admits.

He looks over. "Well… fine."

"I don't even know who you are anymore. The way you hang around the apartment… worried all the time, and you won't tell me why… and don't tell me whatever went on between you and Luke tonight is nothing, because it's not. If you think I'm blind to it, you're crazy."

"There's nothing going on between me and Luke. I love you."

Her retort catches in her throat. "What… what do you mean?"

Noah slows to a stop at a red light. "Just what I said. I'm not into him, so you can get it out of your head."

There's a long silence between them. Noah keeps his eyes trained on the stoplight. Maddie stares at him, frozen.

"What?" he finally says, tired.

Maddie's voice is tight. "I never said… I never said you were into Luke. Wouldn't really have believed it..."

"Good."

"Until now." She lets out a laugh of disbelief. "My god, so that's what it is. You know, now that I think about it… it just… it makes sense, it makes so much sense, and I can't believe I was deluded enough to ever think—" She laughs, bitterly. "I can't believe I gave up Wesleyan. I can't believe I gave up…"

For a minute, he tries to defend himself. He protests, assures her he loves her, insists he's the guy she always thought he was, condemns the idea that he's anything but.

And then they pull into the dark parking lot of their apartment building and they sit silently with the heat running, and he takes her hand.

She doesn't move for a moment. There are tears on her cheeks, but she squeezes his palm. "You know I would've been okay with it. If you'd just told me a long time ago."

Noah stares straight forward and she almost thinks he has tears in his eyes too, but he keeps his straight-backed military pose and just shakes his head, once.

"I'm sorry, Maddie," he finally manages, and his voice cracks and it's all she really needs to hear, if she's honest.

They sit together in silence for a long time, and then she walks down the street to the little grocery store on the corner and asks if they have any spare boxes. On her way back to the apartment, it begins to snow.

And that's when she knows that it's over.

~x~
Maddie's Journal

I'm not sure I can really blame Noah for not telling the truth, or not being able to accept it, or whatever.

Hell, didn't I do the same thing to him?

Fall in love with someone else, realize it wasn't going to work, and move in with Noah instead? I mean really, when you get down to it, aren't Noah and I exactly alike?

It's not like I told him that Casey and I kissed in the library.

It's not like I wasn't thinking about Casey sometimes when we… you know.

It's not like we weren't both pretending we were something we're not.

I did like cooking for him, though. Even when we began living like something out of one of my novels. A dark, stormy night… two people too frightened to say what's really going on out loud, so we keep it inside and live like strangers…

But I did—do— love him, in a certain kind of way.

My things are already in boxes. It's easy to pack when you know you need to go.

~x~

It's late when Luke realizes he forgot his cell phone at the station. It's Friday night and he won't be back till Monday, so he pulls on his jacket and drives over. It's Halloween, and there are a few stragglers from the trick-or-treating rounds still out, despite the fact that snow is beginning to fall. It's the kind of night he used to spend with his basketball buddies driving around town causing a ruckus.

Now he can't even remember the last time he even talked to any of those guys.

"That's life," he mumbles as he passes the high school parking lot. It's deserted, anyway.

For a moment, he wonders what things would've been like if Noah had showed up before they all graduated. If he and Maddie and Noah all went to school together, if Noah would've fallen for Maddie then, or if he and Noah ever would've been friends anyway.

There's a light on in the video library and Luke tries to tiptoe by on the chance that it's one of those two, the very two he wants to avoid. Maddie sees him anyway and comes to the doorway. "Luke," she calls softly, and he's forced to turn and pretend to be surprised that she's there.

"Maddie… hey."

"What are you doing here so late? I thought you were all caught up on your project." She looks tired. Even in the dim light he can see circles under her eyes.

Just like that, he knows Noah told her what happened.

"I was. I am, I mean. Just left my phone at my desk." He half-waves and turns, guilt pouring over him.

"Luke…"

"Maddie, please." He doesn't look at her. "Can we forget it ever happened? Me being such an idiot?"

She frowns. "We can still be friends, can't we?"

Surprised, Luke blinks at her. "We—we are friends. If you'll still have me."

Maddie looks at him for a long moment. He's not sure what to do, how to act. Then she speaks. "Was I stupid to stay?"

"What?"

"Was I stupid. To stay for Noah."

He cocks his head. It almost looks like there are tears shining in her eyes.

"No… no, Maddie, no." Luke moves toward her, unsure what to do really, but she folds into his arms so easily that he hardly has to think. With her face pressed into his shoulder, it's hard to tell whether she's crying. "Did… are you two… is it over?"

"Yes. I don't know. I don't know what I want. And with Casey…"

Luke almost laughs. They're in the same boat, really. Not knowing what they want. Not sure how to get it. "I know," he says, patting her back because he can't think what else to say or do.

After a minute, she pulls away and wipes at her cheek. "I'm gonna go. It's late. I told Henry I was staying with him and Vienna tonight. I just needed some time alone first…" She grabs her jacket off the back of a chair and waves limply. "Thanks, Luke."

"Maddie."

She turns.

"You weren't wrong to try." His throat feels tight. "Even if it's all doomed in the end."

She lets out a breath and nods, once. "Night, Luke."

Later, at home, Faith comes in to his room and lies down on his bed and asks where he went and whether Noah was there and if he had any gossip about Casey being back for good and he tells her all the answers to everything but not what she really wants to hear.

She wants to know if he's going to go out with Adonis again. She wants to know if he's going to kiss Noah again. She wants to know everything that's happening in his life, because apparently nothing is happening in her own.

After awhile he gets frustrated and kicks her out.

Then he takes out his notebook and writes and writes until his wrist hurts.

~x~

even if I drive and drive
past parking lots
dark windows you're hiding behind
and the coffee shop you once told me
had the best lattes in town
(only lattes in town, more like)
I know I'm not going to find you there.
but I keep driving (and driving)
writing (and writing)
spilling coffee on your shoes
borrowing pencils from your desk
I wonder if you'd come over
if I lied and said my sister asked for you
she likes you,
you know
maybe because you're the most gorgeous
man she's ever seen
(same here)
maybe because she saw me once
after we kissed
and I was happy
happycrazyawfulsleepy
have I mentioned?
sometimes I feel sleepy
when I think about you
maybe because I think about you
before I close my eyes
maybe because you exhaust me
maybe both.

~x~

Maddie,

I heard about you and Noah. No, there's no gossip about it. Henry told me, because I hadn't seen you in awhile. Knowing you, you're probably holed up watching old movies and studying too much or something.

I guess I don't know why I'm writing. I'm not sure how you're feeling about things, especially about me. But hey, I just wanted to say… sorry things didn't work out.

I mean not really, because I didn't really think you belonged with that guy, but you know. I'm trying to put a nice sentiment into this letter, okay?

I'm not bad at the letters thing, am I? You'd think having been in jail I would've gotten the hang of it. But nope. It's like how every paragraph here starts with "I." That's one thing I totally remember from high school English. You're never supposed to do that. It's all repetitive and makes you sound all self-centered… where was I?

Oh right. Feel better. Thinking about you.

Casey

~x~

Dear Dad,

It's me again. Your son who's too afraid to actually write to you. But I've got a good reason this time. It's because I have to tell you something, and you're not going to like it.

But I think, deep down inside, that it's a good thing.

I'm in love with Luke, Dad.

No, it's not a sexual infatuation or perversion. No, it's not a joke. No, I'm not crazy.

No, I'm not with Maddie anymore.

It's Sunday night, the snow is still falling, and all of Maddie's stuff is officially gone. Except for a little drawing she did for me of the three of us—that's her, Luke, and me—at the TV station. Boy, is she terrible at drawing. But she left it on the fridge for me, and I'm keeping it there.

Because yeah, I love her. We're just not supposed to be together.

The only trouble is that I did some pretty bad, unfair things to Luke. And I think that ship has sailed.

Can't really blame him.

Noah

~x~

Luke agrees to drive Faith to her piano lesson, because the thing is, the little brat is starting to grow on him. She's incessantly nosy and a little too emotionally invested in his love life, but she's also the only one he can talk to about this stuff anymore.

So, as they turn off of Sycamore and onto Elm, he announces that he has a boyfriend.

"A boyfriend?"

"A boyfriend."

"Who isn't Noah." She sounds doubtful.

"Who isn't Noah."

"So you're actually into this Greg guy?"

"Yup."

"Nah."

"What?" He turns to look at her.

Faith adjusts her earmuffs. "I don't believe it, is all. I mean sure, the guy is like, smokin' hot. Yeah. But you can't be into one guy and totally in love with another."

Luke scoffs. "Grow up, kiddo. Of course you can."

"I don't think so. Look, Luke, I thought you should go out with this new guy, too. But after I read all those poems you've been writing about Noah—"

"Faith! God damn it. Those were private."

"Then don't leave them lying out in plain sight on your desk. The point is, you've gotta give up on one of them. Either the new guy goes, or Noah does."

"If you ever go into my room again when I'm not there, I swear to god I'll make your life a hell, Faith."

"All right, all right, I'm sorry!"

Still scowling, Luke lets out a shaky breath. "It doesn't matter, anyway. Noah's never going to accept who he is, and he's never going to make it official with me. If he even still wants me. So why shouldn't I date Greg?" The question is half-hearted at best, but even so, Luke sets his jaw in a firm line.

"Because. You're only half-committed."

"Christ, Faith. Have you been watching Dr. Phil?"

Faith leans toward him, putting a hand on his shoulder as if she's his forty-year old therapist instead of teenaged kid sister. "I think you should pick Noah. You don't have a single poem about Greg in that notebook. I checked."

Luke sighs. "Noah's gotta pick me back, Faith."

"I know. Give him another chance. And if he's not feeling it, set him free. You know what I mean."

"I cannot believe my life has come to this. Taking advice from you." He stops the car in front of her piano teacher's house, and looks at her. "Not that I don't… appreciate it."

Faith grins as she hops out of the car. "See ya later, Romeo."

~x~

The WOAK Telethon is in full swing when Maddie sees him. He's sitting in the middle of the small sea of telephones brought in for the occasion, casually leaning back in his chair, chatting to someone on the other line as if he doesn't have a care in the world.

She can't help feeling annoyed. Not to mention confused. She's been planning this telethon fundraiser as part of her internship for months, and she was certain she knew, down to the last detail, everyone and everything involved.

But that's Casey. Always there when she wants him gone, always gone when she wants him there.

"Excuse me," she says, standing in front of him and planting her hands on her hips. "I don't recall inviting you to take pledges at this telethon."

Casey's eyes widen at the sight of her, and he tips forward so the chair rests back on solid ground. "Ah, can you hang on a moment, sir?" he says into the receiver before covering it. "Mads. There you are. So, you running this shindig?"

"Don't use words like shindig around me," Maddie snaps. "I don't have time for this, Casey."

He chuckles. "Um, getting a little upset over some pretty pointless things here, Maddie. Feeling all right? Pressure getting to you?"

"Can it. Get out."

He sighs and looks at her for a moment. Then he puts the receiver back to his mouth. "Sir, thank you very much for donating to WOAK. Your time and money are appreciated. Yep. All right, you take care. Bye." He hangs up and stands.

She waits, then gestures at the door, blushing a little in embarrassment for her outburst.

Casey toys with the zipper on his sweatshirt. "Maddie… come on. I heard about the telethon, I just figured I could help you out a little… maybe you'd even find it in yourself to talk to me. Hmm?" He gives her a tentative half-smile.

The truth is, she wants to hug him. Wants to throw herself into his arms and cry. Her lip actually trembles. She bites it quickly.

Casey's voice softens and he steps toward her. "Look, you need somebody to talk to? Or you want me to stay and get people coffee or something? I'll do whatever you need. Just don't make me go home." He smiles teasingly. "My mom's making me help her put pictures in photo albums. Every single picture has a long, involved story behind it. It's like modern-day torture. I mean, cut me a break here, Maddie. Pity me."

She wrinkles her nose and bites her tongue in an attempt not to smile. "Well… I guess you can… get me a hot chocolate." She pauses. "It's actually free here. No theft required."

"One free hot chocolate, coming up." He moves without turning, backing away with a smile still on his face. He waits until she finally returns a small smile before he turns and runs off toward the refreshment table.

"You okay with him around?"

Maddie jumps at Noah's voice. "Oh… hey. Yeah… yeah, I'm okay with it. I mean, it's a little weird? But maybe seeing him isn't so bad."

He nods. "So. How are ya, Maddie? It's good to see you."

"Good. I'm good. Still staying with Henry. Thinking about Wesleyan for the spring semester."

They smile at each other for a moment.

"It wasn't a mistake, though," she says.

Noah scratches the nape of his neck and gives her a look. "Really? Because I feel like a real jerk."

"No. No, it wasn't. And you're not. You know, I wanted to stay. Things… they're not settled with Casey. And I love being near Henry… maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to stay in town for a little while. You know?"

He nods. Then he gives her a sly grin. "Not settled with Casey, eh?"

Maddie flushes and looks away. "It's just a vibe I get. I don't know. I mean, he's obnoxious and overbearing, but…"

"But you can't quite shake him. I get it."

She follows Noah's gaze, straight across the room to where Luke is chatting animatedly with one of the telethon volunteers. He's laughing, and his hair is messy, and he's gesturing to some papers in his hands like he's explaining something, and the look on Noah's face is… well, he's never looked at her like that.

"Yeah," she replies. "I know you get it."

~x~

Noah's forgotten to pay attention, and when he turns back to Maddie, she's gone. He looks around and sees her standing by one of the TV cameras, sipping from a Styrofoam cup and smiling at Casey.

Luke's making his way around the station with a clipboard, talking and laughing with everyone in the room. He's probably known them all since he was a baby; after all, he's been in Oakdale his whole life, and all his family is here…

A young woman in a blue dress brushes something off Luke's shoulder and they both laugh, leaning their heads together. Luke whispers something to her and they both look at a man a few tables down, then burst into quiet laughter again.

Inside jokes.

Noah never had very many of them. You have to have a history to have them. A history with people, with a place, with friends. A shot of jealousy zips through his chest and he runs a hand through his dark hair, wondering why he bothered coming tonight. There are enough volunteers to keep the telethon buzzing, and he's so awkward he may as well be hiding at home.

But that'd be so passive.

Noah always thought he'd be like one of the soldiers his father was so proud to be one of. Grow up strong and brave. Do good things. Never back down. Stand tall… he can almost hear the Colonel's voice listing off these qualities in his ear.

Never back down, Noah.

Someone announces that the cameras are about to shoot live footage of the telethon volunteers taking calls, and that everyone assigned to a phone should take a seat. There's an empty chair next to Luke's, and just before someone calls action, Noah slips into it.

Instantly, everyone on the phone begins talking louder, hoping to be heard on TV. Their hands move excitedly, pencils fly across the page, proclamations of gratitude are suddenly twice as enthusiastic.

Luke's attitude, however, changes the moment Noah slides in next to him. He turns his body slightly to the left, away from Noah's gaze, and he leans far over the table in front of them to look more closely at his donation forms. Noah picks up the phone in front of him, pretends to be on a call, and waits for Luke to finish his conversation.

When he does, Noah touches his knee lightly under the table. "Luke," he murmurs.

If he's surprised, Luke doesn't show it. He scribbles something on his papers and coughs.

"Luke."

"I'm busy, Noah. This is a telethon." Luke throws a fake smile at the camera.

"Yeah, I know. I can see the phones… and the cameras… and Casey trying to get in the shot." Noah tries to smile at Luke, but he can't catch his gaze.

Luke's phone rings. He snatches it up. "WOAK-TV telethon, Luke here, would you like to donate today?"

Noah lets out a breath, his courage sinking. He watches Luke for a few minutes, still just pretending to be on his phone, until Luke hangs up again.

"Hey," Noah says. "I was thinking… maybe I could come out to the farm sometime… just hang out. I haven't seen your family in awhile?" He scratches his head nervously. Luke just looks at him. "And I just. You know, I like them. Faith, and Natalie…"

"I don't think so." Luke returns to writing.

"Oh… okay." Noah clears his throat. "Kind of rude to invite myself, anyway. I just thought, all I've got is this little apartment, and I can't cook or anything, and everyone's going to be so busy with the holidays that we probably won't get a chance to hang out much pretty soon…"

Luke looks up at him. "I have a boyfriend, Noah."

It shouldn't hit Noah quite so hard, but it does. It's like a sack of cement hitting him in the chest. It's not like he didn't know what was going on between Luke and that gorgeous blonde guy.

He just didn't know it was… that serious.

"Oh," he says finally, but Luke's already on another call, scribbling on his paper.

Noah slowly hangs up his phone and stands. Luke doesn't react as he walks away.

What a complete idiot he's been.

~x~

WOAK-TV TELETHON DONATION FORM

NAME _
ADDRESS_
STATE AND ZIP_
PHONE_
CARD TYPE_
EXP. DATE _
NO._
AMOUNT_
ADDITIONAL NOTES:

don't look at him, Luke.
don't look
don't look
damn it, you looked
fool.
fool in love.
There—take a call.
and? is he gone?
no.
still there.
don't look, Luke.
keep writing
just keep writing
till he's gone.
there.
he's going
(that's what you wanted.
remember?)

~x~

"Telethon, Luke here, want to donate?" All right, so his enthusiastic telethon persona has faded a bit, but at least he's still trying.

"Uh, sure. Five bucks. That's all I can spare, I've got my eye on a new top at the mall."

"Faith! Damn it, how'd you manage to get my phone?"

"It only took about fourteen tries. How's it going? No, don't answer. I saw it for myself. You just broke Noah's heart."

"What?"

"Dude, I saw it for myself. The whole county saw it. Well, if they were paying attention. You were right there on the left side of the screen. I mean, I couldn't hear what you guys were saying, but Noah was obviously talking to you, in that way, and you clearly blew him off! What gives?! Did you break up with Adonis for nothing, then?"

"Arrrghhh… Faith… I don't have time for—"

"I can't believe you did that. I can't believe you did that! Luke Snyder, hopeless romantic, totally blowing off the only guy he ever really loved. Pathetic. I had higher hopes for you than that."

"All right, just hold on a second. I never—"

"Wow, this really teaches me a lesson. Listen up, kids! Hang on till ya can't hang on no more, then, when the guy you like finally wises up, drop him! Only way to protect your heart, right? And break someone else's in the process, but hey, we're only human, right?"

"I get your point. Now leave me alone."

"Chase him down. Find him. Don't screw it up, Luke. You're gonna scar him for life."

"Hanging up now."

"Do it. Or I'm telling Mom."

"God, you're mature."

"Love you, too."

~x~

Casey,

Thanks for your help tonight.

I mean, I didn't ask for it or need it or particularly desire it.

But it was nice. Having you there.

That's all.

Maddie

~x~

Maddie,

You're welcome.

I knew you'd fall for my charms in the end.

Casey

~x~

He finds Noah standing out in the alleyway behind the station, shivering in the cold. It's late, but the winter stars cast a hazy light.

"Hey," Luke begins, hesitantly.

Noah leans against the brick and looks at him coolly. "Hey." His eyes return to the sky.

"I'm sorry about before."

Noah shrugs.

"Really." He scuffs his sneaker in the packed snow. "God, it's cold. When did it suddenly turn into winter?"

Noah smiles. "Still feels like summer sometimes. Being here… the station, I mean. There was something about that… that summer. Just the three of us all the time? Guess I shouldn't have assumed things would stay like that."

Luke crosses his arms over his chest, trying not to shiver. "Guess not."

"So… you have a boyfriend now."

"Nah… not really. Just a bluff."

Noah shoots him a confused look.

Luke sighs. He moves to the wall and slumps against it next to Noah. "Look… I can't keep doing this. We're either something, or we're not. I don't want any more in between. I want…" He shakes his head, sighs. "Something different."

"Something different."

"Yeah. God, Noah, don't you? Aren't you sick of this weird purgatory we're stuck in? Never moving, never…? Just never. Never more than what we are. Two stupid kids…"

"I wrote my dad a letter," Noah says, looking away.

"I—what?"

"My dad. I wrote him a letter. And you're in it." He looks at Luke, and his face says it all. "And I'm going to send it."

They look at each other for a moment, and the wind whistles, and there's no coffee or sunset but Luke thinks there's something romantic in it anyway.

"And I'm in it," Luke says quietly.

Noah leans forward, pressing his forehead to Luke's, and closes his eyes. "And you're in it."

Then he kisses him and it's not like before. It's frightened. Exhausted. Tentative. It's something different, this time. It's real.

So Luke parts his lips and pulls him in, his fingers tracing the nape of Noah's neck, and Noah lets go, moaning into Luke's mouth, tasting him, loving him. Luke can't breathe and doesn't want to breathe. Everything's freezing, except for this. He wants to live in this kiss.

They're both smiling, he realizes.

It always begins like this. Love, that is, or at least that's what he believes. A movement. An admission of love, or something like it. A letter, or a poem. A hope. And sometimes, if you're really lucky, a kiss.