Author's note: Thank you everyone for your patience and condolences. As most of you know, I lost my grandmother at the beginning of February and I stopped writing for a while. By the time I did start writing again I felt really far behind and updated my other two stories first. They're much easier to write because the chapters are so much shorter than the ones in this story. Again, thank you for waiting patiently…most of you anyway;)

Also, I don't mean to sound cocky or arrogant, but I don't know how else to say this: I don't get writer's block. Mainly because I'm not making this story up as I go. I have an outline made for the rest of the chapters already. So, there's no need to worry about that being the reason I don't update in a timely fashion. Which also means, you don't have to worry about this story not being completed.

It's just that this chapter was very hard to write. Jade is a very different character, not to mention difficult. Sometimes it's hard trying to convey her thoughts and actions in not only a believable way, but also in a way that's consistent with her character. Honestly, there are times when I don't even want her to do the things she does, but just because I'm the author doesn't mean I can cop out. Sometimes I just have to let Jade do Jade, which can be difficult at times because I know what you guys want, and I know what I want, but I have to do what the story needs. You know? So, there are lots of parts in this chapter that I had to rework a billion times until I got it right.

Now, I get a lot of PMs wherein people tell me that I don't have to try to make my chapters so perfect, that I can just upload them in rough draft form and they'll be appreciated just the same; but, I don't think that's true. I don't think you guys would like this story if I uploaded before I think it's ready. Trust me, it's a hot mess before then. I mean, I still have a gazillion mistakes when I finally do upload it. Imagine how it would look if I didn't go over it a thousand times. You guys wouldn't like this story nearly as much as you do now. Trust me. I'm not really that good. This doesn't come naturally to me. I actually have to put a lot of work into this, a lot of thought and time as well. I'm only trying to do my best, and I'm sorry my best takes so long. I know the wait is irritating. I can only hope you're not too disappointed with the results.

{~~~~JADE~~~~}

I can't sleep.

I'm trying. I really am, but all I can think about is that bitch, Ryder, at my girlfriend's house.

Is he still there? And if he is, what are they doing?

It's almost 12am. If he's still there, you know what they're doing, Jade.

Yeah, Tori's back. I'd say I'm happy, and that it's a huge relief, but it'd be a big ol' lie. She's not exactly as friendly as she used to be. Not that I deserve her to be, but I kinda wish she would lay off a little. I'm doing the best I can here.

No you're not!

I sigh.

She's right. I'm totally not doing the best I can because I'm too selfish for that. That being, I finally figured out what's the matter with Vega yesterday; but I haven't addressed the issue. Not head on. I can't. I could lose her if I do.

You see, I was confused at first. How could my girlfriend love me but want a break? It made no sense.

But then I thought about it, and I realized the deal we made long ago is the problem. She thinks I'm only pretending to love her; whereas she's fallen in love with me despite the fact that we pinky promised I would only be her girlfriend to make her wazzbag of an ex jealous, and she in return would do the same for me. Except, she would have to date me longer than a night, and she wasn't allowed to break up with me. I was the one who got to do the dumping.

Then it really hit me. The deal. I get to dump her. She can't dump me. That's why she asked for a break. She would've dumped me if she could, but she can't. She pinky promised. And she really honors those things. The fact that she's going to name her first kid either Joseph or Josephina is testament to that.

Lucky me.

But also, evil me.

Because the first thing I should've done was gone to my girlfriend and told her that the deal's off. I should've told her that I'm not pretending to love her and I should've asked her if we could just please put all that bullchiz behind us and move on…but then, I did call her a slut. I did hurt her, and on purpose too.

Then I got to thinking. What if she can't forgive me? What if I tell her the deal's off and she dumps me because she can now?

I couldn't take that chance. So, I found her after school and pulled her into the janitors' closet.

I wanted to talk to her; just to kind of feel her out. See where her head was at.

What I learned is that yes, she definitely still loves me, but I really, really, fucked up. She's a complete emotional mess who wants nothing to do with me; but at the same time, she's too weak to keep me at bay. No wonder she was still friends with Danny after he cheated on her then dumped her! All it took was a little shouting at her and a dash of pleading with her and I was able to hold her. It was that easy; yet it was so hard to do. I wanted her to resist me. I wanted her to show more strength, more restraint. But she didn't. She crumbled. Right into my arms.

It felt so good to hold her again. But it hurt so bad. I mean, if I could get her to let me hold her again so soon after what I'd done, how easy is it going to be for somebody else to swoop in and take her from me for good? How easy is it gonna be for some other person, like Redhead, or Josephina, or even freakin' Alyssa Vaughn, to just come in and spout some bullchiz about never hurting her the way I hurt her? How quickly would she believe them? How quickly would I lose her forever?

I can't lose her.

I can't. She's mine.

So, I'm not going to. Lose her, I mean. I have to find a way to convince her that I love her… for real. Some way that doesn't involve telling her the deal's off.

It's my safety net of sorts. A back up plan if you will. As long as the deal's active, the only way we can break up for good is if I dump her. And that's never gonna happen. She doesn't know it yet, but Vega royally screwed up when she agreed that only I could dump her. Now, she's mine forever.

I sigh and glance at the time again. This, however, is the most frustrating part of my plan to keep Vega. This stupid break, where she can see whoever she wants and I can't do a thing about it!

You can tell her the deal's off.

"Fuck you, Tori." I snap irritably.

Then it doesn't really make sense to obsess over what Ryder's doing to your girlfriend.

"Shut up!" I hiss.

He's probably already fucked her anyway.

Yeah, Tori curses now too. I've totally fucked up my conscience, just like I fucked up my girlfriend.

Yeah, you did. And now, Ryder gets to fuck her before you do. He gets to RIDE her before you do. Get it? Ryder, ride her-

"Shut the fuck up!" I scream. "Shut up! Shut up! SHUT. UP!

Shit! That was hella loud.

I sit up and cover my mouth.

Too late for that, dum-dum.

I ignore Tori and hop out of bed, digging out an old t-shirt and some sweats from my drawers to put on while I wait for Joy to come in here. There's no doubt in my mind that I woke her and Riley. Maybe even Amber…. Naw, probably not Amber, but definitely Thing One and Joy. She'll be here soon. Joy, not Riley. That little brat has taken to avoiding me in a way that was sort of nice at first, but now it's starting to work my nerves a little.

I plop back down onto my bed; and just as I do, Joy comes bursting in my room, wide eyed and wild haired. Right on cue.

"Jade! What's going on?!" She freaks.

"This stupid monitor and its beeping is driving me completely insane!" I make up on the spot. Actually, the beeping on my ankle monitor is pretty annoying, but I haven't really been giving it a second thought. I've got other, more pressing, frustrations on my mind.

Self-induced frustrations, dum-dum.

Shut up, Tori.

I make to grab at the ankle monitor, pretending like I'm about to start trying to take it off, but Joy's sitting on my bed before I can get that far.

She grabs my face with both hands and kisses my forehead before yanking my face into her chest.

I used to hate it when she did that. When she tried to kiss and hold me, but it's not so bad now. Grayson did me a huge favor when he married this woman, and then he all but blessed me when he left her, and me, behind.

Speaking of Grayson, he's been calling more and more frequently. Like, he's up to twice a day now. Whereas before it was about twice a week, and before that, it was almost never.

I wonder what he wants. I wonder if Joy told him about my arrest.

More than likely she did. Which means I'm definitely not picking up the phone for him. I'm never in the mood to deal with him. I'm most certainly never ever gonna be in the mood to deal with him now that I've fucked up this bad.

At least Joy didn't freak on me when she found out I'd gotten arrested. I was so sure she would. But she simply asked to hear what happened. She wanted to know my side of the story, so I told her….and I may have garnished it a bit in my favor, but really. I didn't have to do too much embellishing because it all boils down to the fact that I kicked a pervert's ass. And had I known just what a huge pervert he was, I would've done far worse than simply elbow his face once, kick his face only twice, and kick him in the nads just once.

Just being honest.

Of course, I made it seem like I knew all that stuff about him and his sister before I did all the asskicking. But the brats didn't rat me out and I don't think they will. Well, I don't think Amber will anyway.

So, Joy didn't punish me. Well, she said it'd be too redundant to ground me seeings how I'm on house arrest, but I know that if Joy really wanted to ground me, she could. I'm only on house arrest for a week. She could simply add another week to that and give me the standard two week grounding.

But she didn't.

"Jade?"

I blink and pick my head up, focusing on the woman sitting in front of me. If she's been speaking to me this whole time, I haven't heard a word. I totally zoned out.

"Where'd you go, honey?"

I could totally be a bitch and tell her that I didn't go anywhere. That I'm sitting right here, in bed. But I can't do that to her anymore. It's not right. It feels…not right.

"Sweetheart?" Joy persists.

I don't want to tell her what I was thinking, but I have to tell her something since I can't bring myself to tell her to mind her own business anymore. And before I can think it through, "I want Vega to be here. I miss her," just slips out.

Joy nods her head. Maybe she's about to say something. Give me some advice even; but I don't seem to be finished. More words spill out. And quickly too, like diarrhea of the freaking mouth. "She said she's a slut now and she wants to splunk, and she tried to get me to….but, I wouldn't do it because I don't want her to think she is a s slut, so she told me that if I wouldn't splunk her then she'd find someone who would, and next thing I know, fucking Ryder Daniels is following her home, and I couldn't go after her because of this stupid monitor on my leg…" I take a much needed deep breath and look down at the monitor, getting mad at it for real. Ready to take it apart for real, but Joy grabs my hand, already knowing what I was gonna do. I snatch my hand away from her, ready to claw at the stupid beeping hinderer on my ankle, but she grabs my hands again, pulling me into that tight hug she's taken to giving me whenever I have a meltdown.

She doesn't tell me she loves me this time. I already know it and it's not what I want to hear. I want Vega here, telling me she loves me. I want Vega here, holding me, and the thought of her doing that with someone else. The thought of her with Ryder….

"She wouldn't do it, right?" I ask no one in particular, but then Joy squeezes me a little tighter, to comfort me.

It makes me feel worse.

"She wouldn't do it, right Joy?" I ask again, more direct.

Joy doesn't answer me. She just sighs.

She's so not making me feel better.

Well, what do you want her to do? Lie to you?

Shut up, Tori!

Joy pulls back and faces me. I can't make myself meet her gaze. I just stare, and glare, at the stupid ankle monitor.

Then she puts her index under my chin and lifts upward. I look her in the eyes. They're not the same brown as Vega's, but they still remind me of hers. God, I would give anything to have my girlfriend here with me.

Except tell her that the deal's off, liar.

I sigh. Yeah, except that.

Maybe I don't have the right to be upset. Maybe I just have to work with it. With her seeing other people and…stuff. I can do that. It's a small price to pay to keep her indefinitely.

Yeah, just keep telling yourself that.

Ugh! I attempt to get up. I'm not sure where I'm gonna go. I just know I need to get away.

You can't get away from me, dum-dum.

Joy yanks me back down on the bed. If she hadn't, I still would've sat back down. Tori's right. It's not like I can get away from her.

"Jade."

"What?" I snap. I totally don't mean it. That was meant for Tori. Either way, Joy doesn't get offended. But my face gets pulled back into her chest. I guess Joy's decided I wasn't ready to come up before.

"I know Tori's hurting and I know that she loves you." I hear Joy murmur above my head. "But I don't know what she would or wouldn't do, baby."

I'm silent for a bit, trying to process her words. Technically, she didn't lie to me. She doesn't think she can predict Vega's actions, but I feel like she can give me an idea of what my girlfriend's intentions are. I mean, Vega and Joy are a lot alike.

Maybe I asked the wrong question.

So now, I try to ask the right one. "What would you do?"

Joy doesn't answer me, so I tense up, expecting bad news. I pull back so I can look her in the eyes. "What would you do? If I hurt you the way I hurt Vega, what would you do?" I repeat.

She sighs. "I don't know, Jade."

I frown at her. How can she not know what she'd do? That's impossible. Maybe she doesn't know what she would do every second or minute afterward, but she must have a general idea. A simple, "I'd key your car," or, "I'd never want to see you again," or, "I'd splunk the next person I see," is all I'm asking for. But I get nothing. Just an "I don't know."

Looks like I'll have to figure that one out on my own. So, I think back on what she has done, in the past. When she and Grayson split up.

I know she didn't get all clingy with him, and I don't think she threatened to splunk the next guy she sees. In fact, she hasn't had a boyfriend since Grayson left.

Wait. Why hasn't she had a boyfriend since Grayson left? It's been years. Or has she had some but just kept them a secret?

"Jade? Where'd you go this time, baby?"

I blink a few times and focus back on Joy. She's got my face in both hands and she's staring at me like she thinks I'm about to faint any second now.

"Do you have a boyfriend?" I blurt out the thought sitting on the forefront of my mind right now.

She blinks and drops her hands from my face. She had no idea that was coming. Hell, I didn't even know that was coming. But since it's already out there, I feel like I need the answer. Like it's important.

"Um, no. I don't." she answers slowly. She's still so confused, wondering how I got there and where I'm going next. It's all over her face.

I push on. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure, Jade. Why are you ask-"

"Have you had a boyfriend since you and Grayson split up?" I interrupt.

She hesitates, eyes narrowing suspiciously.

So I hit her with an, "Have you, Mom?" before she can act on it.

Joy's face softens. The mom card does that to her, every time.

"No." she answers me. "I haven't had a boyfriend since me and your dad divorced. Now why are you"-

"Why not? Haven't you been interested in anyone?" I cut her off.

Joy sighs dejectedly, finally realizing that I'm not going to let up, or hint to where I'm heading, so she might as well just enjoy the ride. "Once or twice." She answers.

"So why didn't you go for it?"

Please say it's because she's still hung up on Grayson, even though I totally don't get what she saw in him to begin with. But at least if she admits to not being able to move on because of him, then maybe it'll take Vega years to get over me too. I can definitely work with that.

Joy rolls her eyes and scoffs at me. "Honestly, Jade, would you really like it if I had a boyfriend?"

I blink at her. What would it matter to me if she has a boyfriend? In fact, maybe she should get one; or two even. She's kinda uptight sometimes.

"And what if it got serious? Hm?" She continues without my response.

I blink at her again. So what if it got serious?

At the look on my face, she crosses her arms over her chest. "You wouldn't mind a stepfather then?" She asks.

Now, at that I scrunch up my face. A stepfather? God, the thought of it makes me shudder. What if I don't like him? I'd have to see him, every day. He'd be in my house, every day. He'd be in my kitchen, every day. Or, what if we had to move to his place. Oh God, what if he had brats of his own? The thought of having to share a life with this faceless man and his brats….the thought of this faceless man trying to tell me what to do when he thinks I need guidance…the thought of this faceless man trying to hand out punishments when he thinks I've fucked up…I'd hate it. I'd hate him. And I'd hate Joy every day for marrying him.

"I didn't think so." Joy smiles. There's a bit of satisfaction in that smile, but there's more sadness. I think she wants a boyfriend, but she won't get one because she knows I'd most likely chase him away. She put me before her own happiness; even though I've been nothing short of a bitch to her all these years. That makes me feel…guilty; but irritated at the same time.

I groan loudly and plop back onto my bed. Laying flat on my back and squeezing my eyes shut.

"Jade, honey, what's the matter now?" Joy asks, placing a soft hand on my stomach and rubbing gently, motherly.

Ugh! I can't take this shit!

"You!" I yell at her, pushing her hand away and sitting back up. "I can't handle this! I can't compete, or whatever! You and Vega! You're so freaking nice and selfless and I…. ugh! How am I… how can I even…ugh! You guys make me feel like I'm the worst person in the world!" I scream.

Joy chuckles softly and I get even madder for some reason. Like, I'm seriously getting pissed over here. "What are you laughing at?!" I yell, openly glaring at her.

She just smiles at me before patting my knee. "You want me to be selfish, Jade?"

"Yes!" I scream back. "Do it at least once or twice a day! If you really loved me you would do that for me!"

She laughs again. "Alright. I'll start now." Then she gets up and heads for the door.

I glare at her retreating back. "Where are you going?"

She pauses with her hand on the door handle and looks at me. "I'm tired. I'm selfishly going to sleep when my daughter needs me." Then she's gone.

I groan and lay back down. She's such a freaking smart ass. But, I also have to keep from smiling a little. She definitely got me that time.

But I still can't sleep. It's 12:30 now. Only half an hour has gone by since Joy came in. And at 12:32, my door is opened again.

If I was 3 years old, I'd be scared it was the boogey monster or something. The shape at my door is tall, bulky at the top, and dark. But since I know the thing is human, I sit up and wait for it to get closer, totally expecting it to be Joy carrying a load of laundry or something.

It's not.

It's Joy, carrying one of the brats.

What the hell?

"I tried being selfish Jade," Joy whispers. "But I was thinking about you on my way to bed and couldn't help but to think you need this."

Huh?

Then she sets the brat down onto Vega's usual side of the bed…and she's leaving it behind. She thinks I literally need to sleep with someone?

"Put it back in her room." I glare at my mother's back.

"Goodnight, honey." She sings, totally ignoring me as she shuts the door behind herself.

"Mom!" I try again.

She still ignores me.

Ugh! What the fuck!

I take a peek at the brat. Just to see which one it is, and note that I'm sharing my bed with thing Two.

She hasn't been ignoring me like her sister, but she doesn't really try to extract any affection from me like she used to either.

I kinda miss that. But only because I don't take to change very well.

"Shut up, Tori." I whisper….before she even says anything.

I'm totally losing my freakin' mind. I need to sleep. The lack of it is making my head a bit wonky.

I lay down beside Amber, but as far away as possible though. The kid is a wild sleeper and I don't feel very much like wearing a black eye to school tomorrow.

She doesn't move. Not a lot. Every once in a while, she turns her face, or stretches a leg, but that's pretty much it. Until about one o'clock.

She starts making these faces. I have to scoot closer to see them because it's dark in here, but they're kinda…well, they're holding my attention. Sometimes her eyebrows dip and she frowns real quick. And sometimes her lips press together tightly. And sometimes the bottom one quivers, like it does when she's about to cry… and then she sniffs, and a little moisture forms in the corner of her eye and stays.

Whatever she's dreaming about, it must be depressing as hell.

I reach my hand out, glancing back at my door real quick to make sure it's closed. I don't want anyone to see me doing this.

"Shhh, Booger." I whisper, just before placing my hand on her back and rubbing the way I rub Vega's back.

She scoots a little closer to me. It's so quick and sudden that I figure she's awake now. But she's not.

I glance behind me, checking my door again. God, if Joy sees me doing this, I'll never hear the freakin' end of it. I reach out again, and rub my little sister's back soothingly until I accidently fall asleep.

When I wake up, it's not because of my alarm clock. The thing hasn't even gone off yet. I wake up because I just had the worst nightmare.

Ryder was at Vega's house, in her bedroom; but I was there too because I was invited…by Vega. She said she wanted to show me something and that I had to get tied down first to see it. For some stupid reason, I was okay with that…and then she started splunking Ryder right in front of me! And she tied me so tight. I couldn't move. I couldn't even breathe. All I could do was watch; and when I closed my eyes because I couldn't even do that anymore, I had to listen.

Then I wake up and see why I had a bondage dream, and not the good kind. It's the brat. She's all tangled up in me. And she's holding me so tight I can barely move.

"Get off!" I grunt loudly before shaking her awake.

Her eyes open slowly and then she gasps when she sees me.

I hate that.

She always does that if I'm the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes. Gasps, or screams, or tinkles in her pants. God, what does she think I'm going to do to her?

Like you haven't hurt her before, dum-dum.

Ugh. Shut up, Tori. It's too early in the morning for your bullshit.

Before I can snatch away from Amber, she's got herself detangled from me and is already running toward her room.

Whatever.

Stings doesn't it?

Shut up, Tori.

That your sister doesn't want to be around you…

I don't care.

Nobody really wants to be around you actually.

I sigh and give up. I can't win against Tori these days. She's a vicious bitch.

And you're selfish bitch.

See?

I gather my stuff and head for the shower. I have to pass by the brats' room, so I overhear Riley asking Amber why she was sleeping in my room.

Amber whimpers out an, "I don't know," but it's obvious Riley's not buying. She makes another remark, one that I can't hear, but I know if I did hear it, it'd make me mad.

I take a breath and I actually have to make an effort not to go in there and demand to know what the little pre-terd's problem is. It wouldn't do me any good anyway. Number one, she's not talking to me. And number two, I already know what her problem is. She's mad at me because me and Vega are on a break. Seriously, she has no reason to be so upset. Vega's my girlfriend. Not hers.

I shower quickly, wanting to get to school on time so I can meet Vega at her locker. I've been doing that for a while now…even before we took a break. I just like to see her as much as possible…but in a non-clingy way. I guess/hope.

I head down to the kitchen and grab a pop tart. The brats follow me down soon afterward. None of us exchange a word. Not one. Riley's not just giving me the silent treatment. She refuses to talk around me as well. And Amber, she's kinda following her sister's lead; but I think she wants to talk to me. At least to tell me goodbye before I leave for school. I'm pretty sure of it because I keep catching her giving me these looks….ones that kinda remind me of Vega. Like she's sad and I'm supposed to know how to make it better. Like I'm supposed to fix it.

But I fucking can't.

"Joy, I'm out!" I yell abruptly, almost hoping she can't hear me because I suddenly feel like crap; and just seeing her cheery, selfless face, will only make me feel worse.

But she hears me. She comes running down the stairs and I wait in the doorway rather than ditch her.

"Bye, honey," she smiles before giving me a huge hug and a kiss to my cheek. Then she looks behind herself. "Did you girls tell your sister bye?"

Riley glares at Joy and stomps her way upstairs.

"Riley!" Joy yells, but Riley ignores her. "Riley Jade!" Joy yells louder, but she's still ignored by the brat; and so, Joy sets her sights on Amber. And Amber...she looks like she doesn't know what to do. She also looks like she's gonna cry because she doesn't know what to do.

I nearly give her an out. I nearly tell Joy not to worry about it, but I decide not to. I want her to say something to me. Even if Joy is making her.

God, I never thought I'd see the day.

"Amber…"Joy says sternly.

Amber looks from me to Joy, then toward the stairs where Riley disappeared, and that bottom lip of hers starts quivering. Poor kid is gonna have a stroke due to all the anxiety she tries, and fails, to suppress.

And now she's wiping her hands against her thighs as Joy stares her down. I can't believe she's gotten that sweaty, that fast.

"It's fine, Mom." I say softly. Tori doesn't even have to tell me to let the kid off the hook. I figure that out all on my own.

Yay me.

Joy sighs and shakes her head. Then she kisses my forehead. Either she forgot she already kissed me goodbye, or she wanted to give me extra affection because of the brats shunning me.

Either way, I don't complain. Just leave the house and head for my car.

I'm halfway there when I hear my name.

I frown. It was hissed, like there's someone in the bushes waiting for me, but there aren't any bushes close enough for someone to hide in; so, I turn around.

It's Amber. She's peeking her head out the front door, and as soon as I set eyes on her, she gives me a small wave before disappearing back into the house.

I scowl at the door. That's it? She could've hugged me or something.

You want Amber to hug you?

No. But I would like it if she tried.

Wait. What?

Exactly.

Shut up, Tori.

God, my life can't get any worse.

But I'm so, so, wrong about that.

As soon as I walk into Hollywood Arts, I see Ryder at Vega's locker.

You have no idea how much I want to punch and kick every single item, and person, in this fucking school right now.

But I'm working on my self-control, so I go up to my locker and grab my first period shit. Then I close my eyes, count to ten, and try to imagine my girlfriend isn't wearing a very short jean skirt.

Thank Dan it's the only part of her outfit that's so revealing. She's wearing white chucks, not heels. And a long sleeve pink shirt. No turtle neck though. Everyone can see where I marked her neck just yesterday.

It's an interesting mix though. The short skirt with the casual shoes and top. It's like she's a conservative…

Slut.

No, she's not a slut! God!

That's what you were thinking.

Ugh! I slam my locker shut and start walking toward Vega and Ryder while keeping an eye on their every move. They're just talking right now, but what's really alarming me is the fact that they look happy. Both in different ways. Ryder looks happy in a way that pisses me off. The way he keeps flirting with her and glancing down at her skirt…

And then there's Vega. She looks happy in a way that just makes me nauseous. Mostly because I know it's not me making her happy.

I take a deep breath, reminding myself that we're on a stupid break, which I agreed to, so it's not like I can exactly yell at her for the new company she's keeping. But that doesn't mean I don't want to. And it sure as hell doesn't mean I'll succeed in my endeavor not to yell at her for talking to the stupid boy.

Then Vega turns slightly, catching my eye. She smiles and waves at me.

Really? She's not gonna try and hide the fact that she's canoodling with Ryder. She's just gonna act like she couldn't care less about what I see her doing?

Break, dum-dum. You're on a fucking break. She can see who she wants.

I grit my teeth, my attempt to keep from responding to my conscience.

Once I'm standing next to Vega, Ryder smiles at me.

I scowl back in return.

"Hey, Jade." He has the nerve to greet me casually.

"Bye, bitch." I glare. I can't help it. I don't have to like Vega's new boyfriend. I just have to get him alone in a dark alley….

That's how your ass ended up on house arrest in the first place, dum-dum. You can't just go around beating guys up.

I roll my eyes. It's for both Tori and Ryder, but only Ryder can walk away.

And he does. At least he's a smart bitch. Sometimes.

As soon as he's gone, Vega rolls her eyes too. Not at me, but at his retreating back.

I go from glaring to a confused frown. Why's she rolling her eyes at him? I thought they were…getting along.

"Can you believe he pretended he's nervous about kissing me yesterday?" Vega says with another roll of her eyes, and she turns to look me square in the eyes as she says this.

My jaw sets of its own accord. How the fuck can she look me in the eyes and say that shit?!

Because you're on a fucking break, dum-dum.

I keep my mouth shut and take off my flannel long sleeve, thanking God I decided to wear a shirt underneath today, and wrap it around Vega's waist almost absently before tying it tightly. At least now, when my girlfriend bends down her ass won't show.

"Am I seriously the first smart slut?" She finishes.

I sigh. Even though I want to yell at her for kissing Ryder, and ask her if that's all she did with him, I can't help but to start with the slut thing first.

"Vega, you're not a slut"-

The bell rings, cutting me off.

"Bye, Mami." Vega smiles at me. And it's been a little while since she's called me that so I just kinda stand there stupidly as she nips my bottom lip and heads for first period.

I end up being late to class. Like, I literally stood there, in the hallway, as students hustled and bustled to their classrooms, with my fingers pressed against my mouth. All because Vega called me Mami and bit me.

What the fuck? Get it together, Jade. Stop acting like a loser.

Oh, so you're only acting?

Shut up, Tori.

It takes a lonely and desperate kind of loser to try to keep her girlfriend through the mere technicality that is "the pinky promise."

Shut. Up. Tori.

I don't see Vega again until Sikowitz's class. Not physically anyway. But mentally, I saw her a whole bunch of times, because I couldn't stop thinking about her during my other three classes. And I'm slightly ashamed to say I didn't have many pure thoughts concerning her. Okay, I didn't have any pure thoughts concerning her. Not one.

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be thinking up ways to make sure she knows she's not a slut, and to get her trust back, and to get her to end this break; but I'm only human. I can't help that my mind keeps drifting back to that little skirt. About me possibly running my hands underneath….

"Jade!" Somebody yells.

"What?!" I yell back automatically.

There's a long slurp – Sikowitz – and then, "Drool over your girlfriend on your own time."

I wipe my fingers across my bottom lip, and yeah, I was drooling a little, but I can't seem to dredge up any shame or embarrassment. Probably because I'm not the only one drooling over my girlfriend's legs. They're really something. Even with my shirt still tied around her waist, those legs are still very much visible.

But I can't just let Sikowitz get away with that though.

"Maybe if you could get yourself a girlfriend you'd stop worrying about what I do with mine!" I snap back.

A lot of people laugh, Sikowitz moves on, and I'm free to daydream about getting into my girlfriend's pants again.

And I do.

I watch my girlfriend's legs and think about touching her. I probably even drool again.

Vega catches me. I totally expect her to scowl at me indignantly and try to cover her legs up. Old Vega would, but this Vega turns around in her seat a little to give me a slow, and very seductive, wink.

Naturally, I wet myself. Who wouldn't?

And although I'm thoroughly enjoying the fact that my girlfriend isn't begging me for space anymore, I'm kinda freaked out a little. Because I know this isn't good. I know Vega wouldn't be acting like this if I hadn't called her a slut.

I hold my breath and think of things I hate; just to keep me from daydreaming about…certain activities. There's a big list of them, silly little things I can't stand. Maybe the thought of them will keep me from thinking about splunking my girlfriend. And hopefully, they'll keep me from doing something stupid.

It works a little. I don't drool anymore, but some racy thoughts still seep through.

When the lunch bell rings, Vega takes my pinky in hers, like we used to when we first started "dating." I get the feeling that she's trying to remind herself of the deal. Maybe she's trying to remind me too, let me know that she remembers.

I take my pinky out of hers and hold her hand instead, like real couples do.

She gives me a small smile that I don't get a chance to return because she's now ordering some chicken fingers off the grub truck. Then she turns back to me. "What do you want to eat, Jade? My treat."

I shake my head. I'm not very hungry today. Actually, I haven't been really hungry lately, but I do make sure to eat. It's like an automatic thing. Morning time, eat breakfast. Afternoon time, eat lunch. Evening time, eat dinner. Just like that.

But I feel like skipping today, and I don't think it'd be a big deal.

Not until Vega puts both her hands on her hips, while we're still holding hands mind you, and scowls at me.

"You called my dad when I wasn't eating yesterday. Don't make me call Joy." She threatens.

I roll my eyes at her and order the nachos. Then I dig in my pocket for the cash, but Vega meant it when she said she was paying my way.

She smiles at me as we wait a few seconds for our food. It's a very genuine, Vega looking smile. Not the slutty, provocative one she's been practicing all day; and I just feel like I'm missing something.

"Are we still on break?" I blurt out.

"Yep." She sings.

I scowl at her. She doesn't have to sound so damn happy about it.

She takes my free pinky when we get our food, and again, I snatch my pinky away and grab her hand before leading her to our normal table. She doesn't smile at me this time.

I was kinda hoping she would.

André's next to sit down at our table, followed closely by Cat, Robbie and Rex. Beck is gonna be next…if he chooses to sit with us. I can tell he doesn't exactly know if he should after asking me out yesterday and getting shut down. The indecision is not only all over his face, but it's in his body as well. He's tense, one foot moving in front of the other slowly, but it doesn't look like Left Foot agrees with the way Right Foot wants to go. In the end, he comes sits with us, in between Robbie and André.

Out of my peripheral view, I see a hand grab some of the food on my plate and I nearly stab it with my fork. But I don't. And not because it'd be a cruel thing to do, but because I don't have a fork.

It's just as well. The hand that snatched up some of my food belongs to Vega. I can't, wouldn't stab her…especially not on break.

And you're surprised she doesn't want to end the break?

Shut up, Tori.

Vega grabs another chip. I don't think she even realizes she's doing it. That she's crunching on hard nachos and not chewing on chicken fingers. She's so focused on whatever André is saying that she doesn't look down at my plate. Not once.

I move my plate a bit to the right and when she reaches for another chip, she finds the table. She looks at me then, and I almost smirk at her, but the notion gets abandoned the second Vega smiles. It's not a "haha, Jade, you're so funny for taking that plate away while I wasn't looking" kind of smile. It's more like an "oh, you took the plate away? Now I'm gonna have to eat you instead" kind of smile.

Oh, God. I wet a little…again.

She reaches with her left hand this time, and because of that, she has to turn her whole body toward me. Her boobs press against my shoulder; not brush, press, and her lips are so close to mine. So close.

I nearly forget the chips until she plucks one off of my plate and pops it into her mouth. Then she winks at me just before biting my lips. Both of them. Separately and slowly. That means twice she had her salty lips on mine. And they tasted good. Real good.

I groan. I want to tell her to stop feeling on me and stuff, because her getting me all excited knowing I can't do anything while we're on a break is not cute. It's low. Real low. But I have a feeling that if I do make her stop, she'll just do it to someone else….because she thinks she's a slut. Because I called her that.

This, whatever this is, it's not her fault. It's mine. I have to find a way to fix it. Maybe I can get her to come to my place. We can talk there.

And just as I'm about to suggest it to her, André opens his big mouth. "So, you two are back together now?" It's definitely a question, but he says it more like a statement, and I can't blame him. What else is he supposed to think?

"Nope." Vega says cheerfully. It puts a serious frown on everyone's face…except Beck. He's only wearing a slight, confused frown.

"Are you sure?" Cat asks.

I roll my eyes. Can't blame her for that either, but still. I wish they would drop it. It's already irritating enough without all their confusion and judgment.

I'm about to tell everyone to mind their own business when Melissa comes over. I haven't been really paying that much attention to her, but now that I am, the girl looks like crap. Well, not like crap, crap. She's still Melissa. Her crap look is still pretty good looking. Which is freakin annoying.

Then the girl plops down in Vega's lap. Sideways. Her shoes are touching me, her arm is around Vega's neck. If I hated her before, I…whatever's a stronger word for hate, her now. I clench my fists, so ready to punch the shit out of her and break her feet, but Vega's voice stops me.

"Oh my God, Lissa. Are you okay?" She freaks. Totally panicked.

I feel like I'm missing something.

Redhead puts her mouth to Vega's ear. And I watch Vega stare at a point in front of her so she can concentrate on her friend's words.

"Seriously?" Vega gasps.

Redhead nods her head.

"You wanna go in the bathroom?"

Redhead thinks it over for a second then shakes her head. I look away from the two before I totally lose my shit, and I see the others. André's shaking his head a little sadly. If I had to guess, I'd say it's because he kinda starting developing feelings for Redhead as a result of Sinjin's queer game. And now, seeing her in Vega's lap…all cuddled up, he's wishing it was him instead.

But then I'm totally proven wrong, when he says, "Oh man, what's wrong with Melissa?"

I frown. He sounds just as panicked as Vega did when she asked.

Then I look at Cat. She's got her mouth covered, but uncovers it just long enough to ask, "Is she okay?" before pressing her palm to her mouth once more.

I look at Beck. Even he seems concerned. And that's not the worst part. Rex. Rex isn't making a single dirty joke. Not one.

I'm definitely missing something.

"What the hell?" I growl at them.

"Melissa and Tori only sit in each other's' laps when they're really, really, upset. It's their thing." Robbie shrugs. Like he's seen it before. In fact, they're all acting like they've seen it before….

Why does everybody know this but me? Why does everyone always know stuff before me?

"So what's wrong?" I scowl at Vega.

She doesn't see me. She just keeps holding her friend.

"She's not gonna talk about it." André says assuredly. "She never does."

I scowl at him. Then what was the point of them asking?

They asked out of common courtesy, dum-dum.

I scowl and grind my teeth. But I also feel justified in my decision. About not telling Vega the deal's off. I could really lose her if I do. I could lose her to Redhead.

I can't lose her.

My plan will work. I know it will. My other plan worked on Beck almost exactly the way I predicted it would. Granted, I've changed my mind about wanting him back, but the fact reminds that it worked.

So, this plan will work on Vega.

Everybody starts getting up in unison. And at first I think it's some kind of freakin conspiracy but then I realize lunch is over.

Paranoid much?

Shut up, Tori.

I hate fifth period. I've always hated chemistry and sciency stuff, but I really hate this class now. The only one of my lunch buddies I share this class with is Redhead. And guess who my partner for the chemistry project is.

Yeah, it's Redhead.

I don't want to work with her. I want to kill her.

For what?

I was getting to that part.

I can't stand Redhead. She's always flirting with my girlfriend, in front of me. I swear, she's worse than Alyssa Vaughn. At least, Vega doesn't seem to be into Alyssa, but Redhead, she's Vega's best friend. Vega likes Redhead, too much.

That's not Melissa's fault, dum-dum.

I don't care whose fault it is. I just think my girlfriend spends too much time with Redhead! I don't like all the emotions they invest in one another. In a way, they're more intimate than me and Vega, and that makes me feel so-

Jealous?

Pissed, Tori. I'm fucking pissed. Not jealous!

You sound jealous to me, dum-dum.

There's a sudden tap on my shoulder, and since I'm still in the middle of arguing with Tori I'm not in the best of moods to be touched by other people.

I turn around and snap at the boy behind me. "What!" I hiss dangerously. I don't know his name, but his face is familiar to me. Only for one reason. I used him to pass a dirty note to Vega once in Sikowitz class. She nearly choked to death because she swallowed it.

Now, the guy is handing me something. It's not just a note, it's a package made out of notebook paper. The paper is folded in half and stapled at the ends. The top, or the opening, is taped shut.

The boy's hands are shaking nervously as he hands me the note/package.

I give him a curious glare rather than a deathly one, before snatching it away from him. There is a note written on the outside, and it's in Vega's handwriting. The note says, "I want to show you something."

I freeze.

In my dream, no, in my nightmare last night, Vega told me she wanted to show me something just before she tied me down and splunked Ryder in front of me, and though I know it was just a dream, I can't seem to shake the feeling of dread I have.

I raise my hand.

Bronson, the stupid teacher who paired me up with Melissa for the chemistry project, gawks at me. Probable because I never raised my hand in her classroom before.

I am me after all.

"I'm going to the bathroom," I announce, rather than ask permission.

She nods her head, like I would actually wait for permission.

As soon as I step outside the classroom, I open up the package…and nearly drop to the ground.

There are underwear in the package…and they don't smell like laundry detergent. They smell like….they smell like they're the ones Vega was wearing today…which means she's not wearing them right now…and she's only got that little skirt on.

What the fuck! How could she…why!

Okay, Jade. Think. She's not in class anymore. She can't be. She wants to show me something. That's what the note said. So, she must be somewhere private. Maybe she's in the janitor's closet.

But we're banned.

Like that'll stop the new slutty Vega, dum-dum.

She's not a fucking slut!

She thinks she is. All because of you. Who knows what, or who, she's doing?

Bathroom, she has to be in a bathroom.

I try to remember the class Vega has for fifth period, but my brain's a little foggy. Mostly because I share a space with Tori and that bitch is giving me a headache.

But when I finally do think of it, I head for the bathroom closest to that classroom. Coincidently, it's also the bathroom closest to my fifth period class so I don't have very far to go.

She's in there. Sitting on the bathroom counter with one leg crossed over the other. Waiting for me. And it's a small relief that she's all alone. I mean, I'm still messed up from that nightmare last night. I almost thought she'd want me to walk in on her splunking somebody. But this is Vega. Real Vega, not Dream Vega. She's a good girl. She's just a little messed up right now. That's all.

I'll fix it. I'll find a way.

Well that's generous of you, it's not like you're the one who fucked her up in the first place, dum-dum.

I take a deep breath, choosing to ignore Tori in favor of Vega.

"You got my note." Vega smiles at me.

It's the provocative smile and I try to take my eyes away from it so I can keep a clear head, but my eyes land on something else. Something better. Something worse. Her legs. Her thighs. With her legs crossed like that, her skirt's ridden up higher on her thighs. Too high. Just an inch higher and I'll technically be looking at the side of her ass.

I walk up to her, appearing confident when really, I just don't know what to expect. I mean, I have a small idea. She's gonna try to get me to splunk her again. But we can't. Not now. Not while we're on break.

Problem is, I don't know if I'll be able to resist this time.

"Vega," I start off, leaving a good amount of space between us as I stand in front of her.

She hops down off the counter and I take a step back.

"Hey, Mami." She freakin purrs, and I go blank a little. I don't even realize she's closed the gap between us until her lips are pressed to mine. I was too busy enjoying the fact that she's calling me mami again. I was too busy remembering just how much I like that, and how sexy it is when she says it; how sexy it makes me feel when it's directed toward me.

I close my eyes and I kiss her back.

She kisses me the way I like to be kissed. Lots of bites, lots of nips, fast, urgent. And it's not long before I feel the need to match her, because I can't let Vega out-urgent me. I can't let her out-rough me. I can't let her out-passion me. I can't let her outdo me.

I grab her waist and squeeze. She nods her head, like I'm doing the right thing, before pushing her tongue into my mouth. And I let her. I want it. I want her so freaking bad.

I walk her, quickly bumping her against the sink and holding her there. She puts her hands behind herself. Maybe for balance, but all I know is she's no longer touching me with every part of her body, so I lift, my intention is to get her to hold onto me for balance, and at the same time she heaves herself up onto the sink.

Talk about synchronization.

Her legs part; and I step inside. No hesitation.

Her hands go to my hair pulling my face into hers. Crashing my lips into hers.

I taste coffee. I didn't notice it before, but I do now.

God, I miss that stupid lip gloss.

My hands are on her thighs now. I want them under her skirt, but I know I have to wait for that. I know my girlfriend likes to take it slow.

Then Vega's grabbing my hand, and guiding it toward the inside of her thigh, toward her duey. And quickly too. I'm almost there, but I pull back abruptly, taking several steps backwards. Distancing myself from my girlfriend.

This isn't like Vega.

Sure it is. She's a slut, remember? Your words, dum-dum.

"Ugh!" I groan out loud and run a frustrated hand through my hair so hard I nearly take out my lavender extensions.

"You really don't want me?" Vega pouts. Chest heaving, hair disheveled, lips wet and swollen, legs still open.

I wet again.

"Stop it!" I snap at her, breathing heavily. I feel like I just ran from an axe murderer. I feel like he's closing in on me, about to find me any second and all I want to do is scream but I can't because then he'll find me and kill me.

"Just stop it!" I yell again, not as loud, but just as forcefully.

She's blinking at me, like she's about to cry. I get even more frustrated. I'm not handing this so well. I don't know how I'll be able to get through to her. What if I fuck her up so bad-no! I'm not going to fuck up. I'm going to get my girlfriend back.

I march up to her and grab her face in both hands, my eyes boring into hers unwaveringly.

"Stop testing me." I say. "Stop trying to make me splunk you because you think you're a slut now."

She winces, but I continue.

"You're not a slut. You're a girl who loves me. And you're hurt and sad, because I hurt you and I made you sad, and I'm sorry, baby. I don't know how many times I can say that before you believe me, but I am sorry." My grip tightens on her face, like I'm trying to make her physically feel just how bad I feel about what I did to her.

Vega looks down, away from me. I lower my hands, grabbing her arms tightly.

"Hay!" she yells, pulling away from me.

"I'm sorry, Vega!" I panic. I didn't mean to hurt her. Again.

"It's not your fault, Jade." She shakes her head at me before I can apologize even more. Then she pulls up one of her sleeves and examines her very bruised arm. The long sleeve shirt totally makes sense now. But the sight of the bruise seems to make me lose all of my senses.

I'm going to kill someone. House arrest be fucking damned.

"Who-" is all I get out before Vega laughs at me.

"Calm down, Jade. I went to the Gorilla Club last night."

And now I know exactly who to kill. Ryder. How could that bitch think it was a good idea to take my girlfriend to that dangerous place?

Because he's Ryder, dum-dum. The Gorilla club is one of the best places to roofie a girl's drink.

I freeze, my heartbeat picking up and thundering so painfully in my chest that I kinda wanna rip it out. It'd hurt less that way. I'm sure of it.

Calm down. I have to calm down. I'm getting ahead of myself. Ryder wouldn't do that to my girlfriend. He knows better. He wouldn't fucking dare.

Yes he fucking would dare. He probably splunked her unconscious body in a bathroom way dirtier than this one.

Abruptly, I grab Vega's arms. She cries out but I don't let go. I shake her.

"How could you be so fucking stupid?!" I scream at her.

"Ow! Jade!" She squirms, trying to pull her arms away. I'm hurting her, physically hurting her, but I don't care. I squeeze harder. I shake harder.

"What the fuck were you thinking?!"

"Jade! Stop it!" she's yelling, her face twisted in pain. "Let me go!"

I ignore it. I ignore her. And I squeeze harder. I scream louder.

"Don't go anywhere with him again! Ever! Or I swear I'll-"

"I went with Cat!" Vega cries.

I let go of her arms immediately.

"I went with Cat." She sobs, right hand holding onto her bruised left arm. "I didn't go with another guy, Jade. I swear it. I went with Cat. I swear I did. I swear." She continues, shaking her head so hard that I wince. She'll snap her neck if she keeps that up.

Half a step forward and ten steps back with you, huh dum-dum?

I don't need Tori to tell me I fucked up. I can tell that on my own. And I'm so expecting Vega to hop off the counter and run away from me now that I've let her go.

She doesn't.

She looks me in the eyes. She's still crying so I can barely understand what she says next.

"It wasn't a date, Jade. I swear." She sniffs.

A date. She thinks I went into a jealous rage. Or worse, she thinks I'm pretending to go into a jealous rage. Or even worse than that, she thinks I'm genuinely pissed because I think she's messing up my plans to get back with Beck.

Fucked up. This is so fucked up. How do I fix this?

Tell her deal's off, dum-dum.

No! I can fix this without doing that. I can! There has to be a way.

I reach my hand out, knowing Vega's going to shrink away from me, but I just can't help wanting to comfort her.

She stays put. She looks me in the eyes, and I see absolutely no fear there. She's not afraid of me, even though I just hurt her.

It gives me a little strength. I can do this.

And then an idea comes to me. We're on a break. We can see who we want, but I haven't really been giving Vega the space to do that. I've been hogging her to myself, but what if I do give Vega space to date other people? What if I'm "okay" with it? And while she's been given the green light to see other people, she'll expect me to start seeing Beck. But I won't. Because I don't want him. That's how I'll prove that I don't want him.

There are soooo many flaws in that plan, dum-dum.

It's not the whole plan; it's just the first step.

And from there?

I ignore Tori and grab a hold of Vega's left sleeve before lifting it higher.

The bruise is much bigger than I realized. Painful looking too, and now I'm sure it hurts even worse. Because of me. Because I grabbed it and squeezed. I lean forward, kissing the discolored skin gently.

It's hot. Uncomfortable against my lips. But I kiss it again, higher this time, near Vega's shoulder.

I'm close to her ear and I whisper, "You can date whoever we want, Vega. We're on a break."

She blinks at me disbelievingly. After all, it was only yesterday that I told her I'm not gonna give her space because I'm afraid she'll fall in love with someone else.

"I thought you went to the Gorilla Club with Ryder. I saw him following you home yesterday." I explain. "I was scared he hurt you."

I kiss her bruise again. "But I'm the only one who keeps hurting you, aren't I?" I sigh heavily, showing her just how disappointed I am in myself.

She smiles at me. Smiles at me. God, I'm so confused. She should be angry. She should push me away from her and run.

"You were scared he hurt me?" She asks in a small voice. "That made you mad?"

"Why wouldn't it make me mad?" I scoff.

She shrugs her shoulders.

I really wish I could read her mind. But I can't.

Slowly I reach my hands out, not wanting to scare her with any sudden movements. She doesn't move and I cup her face in both hands. "Vega, I know we're on a break and we can see anyone"-

"We?" she frowns.

It takes a lot of effort not to smile. I dip my eyebrows instead, like I'm confused.

"Are you…is there someone you….do you…." She stammers.

"Do I what, Vega?" I pretend to be confused by her babbling. But I know I've planted the seed. Vega thinks there's someone I want to see. And I have no doubt it's Beck.

"Nothing." She shakes her head sadly, eyes downcast.

"Hey," I grab her chin gently; pulling her attention back to me. "I just need you to promise me that you won't see Ryder. See anyone you want and I won't be mad, okay? I promise."-

Liar

Shut up

"Just stay away from him. Please." I finish.

She chews on her bottom lip for a second. It's totally distracting. Then she meets my eyes. "I can't."

That's not the answer I was expecting.

"Why not?" I demand.

"Because he's Richard and I'm Emmeline."

Richard and Emmeline. The Blue Lagoon. The end of the year play. Ryder's her opposite in the school play. And then I remember Vega saying something about Ryder pretending to be nervous about kissing her. That's what she was talking about when she said that. The play. They were rehearsing lines.

I let out a sigh. Relieved that she's not spending time with him because it's the slutty thing to do. But, I'm also irritated that she has to kiss him.

I let my hands drop from her face and rest them on her thighs.

"Just never rehearse alone with him, okay?" I compromise.

She starts rubbing on her bruise again, but I don't think she realizes she's doing it. And she's chewing on her lip again too.

I wonder if it still tastes like coffee.

"Maybe I can just quit the play." She says before my thoughts can drift toward the wayward.

"You can't." I answer automatically, Vega's best interest spilling out of my mouth before my selfish ones can. Because I would love it if she quit. I don't want her kissing anyone but me. Especially not Ryder Daniels.

"Why not?" she whines.

I sigh. "Because you're an actress. There will come another time when you have to kiss someone you hate. It's part of the job. This will be good practice." I coach.

She frowns at me. "How much practice have you had?"

I can tell her I've had plenty, because it's true. Once I had to kiss Sinjin. That's how his obsession with me started. Another time I had to kiss Gale knight. Then there was the time I had to kiss Paul Wilkens and Terry Habon in the same fucking play. Then there was Billy Day. Oh, and Orson Blake. Seriously, what kind of a name is Orson anyway? And he looked like a fucking Orson too.

Get to the point, dum-dum.

Right, the point is, I can't tell Vega I've ever kissed someone I hated, because then she'll include herself in the mix. And I can't have that.

So, I say, "None yet."

I can see it's the right answer as soon as I say it. Vega smiles. But briefly. I think she believed for a second. Now she probably thinks that was just a line. But it was a good line. One that allowed a little hope to flit through her heart.

I saw it.

"Jade." Vega's lip is captured by her teeth again.

"What?" I nearly whisper.

"You can date whoever you like, but I only want you." She whispers, just as she crashes her lips to mine. And I almost fear she hadn't heard a single word I said before, when I was screaming at her to stop testing me. That she's not a slut, and I'm not going to splunk in the girls' bathroom like she is one.

But then, she's not kissing me like before. Like how I like to be kissed. She's kissing me the way she likes it. No bites. No nips. Just gentle, slow, sensual, touches with her lips. Wet kisses that raise goose bumps on every inch of skin; lazy kisses that send rapid fire into the veins; and lingering kisses that make you throb with urgent need.

She really wants this, for her.

I pull back, not wanting to deny her, but I can't keep going. It'll only lead to my hand underneath her skirt. Where there's no underwear to stop me from touching her bare flesh.

God, why does that have to be a bad thing?

I rest my hands on her hips, squeezing gently. I'm trying my best to cool down. Take deep breaths. Collect my thoughts.

"Please, Jade." Vega grabs my face, kissing me gently. "I want to show you something."

I want her to show me something too, but I pull back. It's not time yet.

"Baby," I rasp harshly. "You're just horny."

"Jade!" she hisses, embarrassed by my blunt words. And I see a little of my old Vega. I see a little hope. Maybe I can get her back. May I really can do it.

I grab her hands in mine. One hand I bring up to my lips and kiss the knuckles. The other I lower onto her thigh, and push it gently toward her center. I hear a little gasp and raise my eyes to meet hers. She's staring at me, breathing slowly through parted lips, cheeks pink from blushing so hard, but she's still making eye contact.

"When you need it, just take care of it yourself." I whisper gruffly.

Her fingers twitch a little, the ones that are under her skirt, and for a second I think she's really gonna do it. Right now. She's really gonna diddle her duey right in front of me.

But then she sighs and presses her forehead against mine, eyes closed.

"I want you to do it." She whines.

I bite me lip as a shudder goes through me, twice.

I wanna do it to her too.

"Please." She pleads. "Please, Jade."

I nod my head. "I will, baby."

"When?"

"When break's over."

"Why?" Her eyes open slowly. "Why then?"

"Because, I wanna do it right. I want us to be together when we're actually together." I answer. And though that's not technically true, because what I actually want is to be with her no matter the circumstance, or our relationship status, I know that this is the right answer. It's important to her that we do it this way. Any other way, and she'll really think I think she's a slut.

Suddenly, the bathroom door is opened. I jump away from Vega before she can do it to me. God, that's so backwards. I never let go of Vega first, not even when we get caught by Joy.

I turn and glare at the door. I could've sworn I locked it. And I really get pissed that I forgot to lock it when I see that it's Redhead standing there.

"Oh good. You guys are back together." She monotones.

Vega shakes her head.

Melissa stares from me to Vega for exactly two seconds before she sighs, rolls her eyes, yanks Vega off the bathroom sink, and drags her into the closest stall.

It's when I hear the lock sliding in place that I blink and start moving again.

Did this bitch seriously just lock herself in the bathroom with my underwear-less girlfriend?

I rush up to the door and I swear I just heard Vega sigh. Is she getting her horny situation taken care of by Redhead right now, while I'm still fucking here?!

I bring my fist up, ready to bang on the door until I get let in. And if that doesn't work, I'll break the fucking door down; but before I can do anything like that, I hear a sound. A very familiar sound.

Texting.

They're texting each other so I don't hear their conversation, which means they're talking to each other. Not splunking. And though I'm still pissed about them being in there together, I think I'm so relieved by the fact that they're texting that I let it go. I head back to class and ignore everything Bronson is teaching.

Especially when Redhead comes back to class. She comes in about three minutes behind me. Whatever they had to talk about, it was quick.

And then class is over and Redhead approaches me. "I'll be over at about six."

I scowl back at her. But then I remember. Chemistry project due Friday, It's already Wednesday and I'm on house arrest. Where else would we work on it?

And before I can agree to her plans, she walks off.

I try not to let it bother me, but it does. It bugs me during the rest of my school day. And it bugs me on my way home. But the very second I pull up to my house, it's forgotten. The sight of an old golden brown Lincoln puts Redhead out of my mind.

Joy's parents are here.

I hate those people. And I have to take a deep breath before getting out of my car.

I mentally prepare myself to deal with them, going over my reaction to their faces once I see them in the kitchen or in the living room. Because I can't act shocked to see them. I saw their car already.

I'm deciding on either impassive or pissed.

But then the front doors to the Lincoln open and Bill and Irene step out. I blink, my face showing surprise even though I was supposed to be masking all of my emotions.

Why aren't they in the house already?

Then I look around and realize Joy's not here. And they don't have a key.

I stand still, frozen. I'm alone with them.

They both start walking toward me, Irene in front of Bill. Maybe she thinks I will be less intimidated this way.

I'm not afraid of them. I'm not. I just hate them.

When they both stand right in front of me, Irene still slightly in front of her husband, I have to fight to keep my face passive. I won't let anger show. Anger is weakness when directed toward them. It lets them know they have power to make me feel something.

I'm not giving it to them.

"What do you want?" I ask. I try to sound bored, but I know there's a little tension in my voice.

"Jade," Irene tries to smile at me. She's not entirely successful. Could be because she doesn't have a lot of practice at it. But I do notice her voice isn't as stern as usual. It's light, like she's forcing herself to be civil. Which I have no doubt she is. "I…we…" she turns back and looks to her husband. He gives her an imperceptible nod of his head. She turns back to me. A smile on her face. Not a kind smile, mind you. A determined smile. "Grandpa Bill and I want to apologize to you." She finishes.

I feel my eyes harden. Bill is not my Grandpa. And Irene has never referred to him that way when talking to me. Never. She's up to something.

And I want no part of it. I turn away from them, heading for my house, but Irene grabs my arm. I shrug her off forcefully. "Don't touch me!"

She puts her hands up in surrender, but at the same time she moves to stand in front of me, blocking my path.

Bold old broad.

If I shoved her over, it would be her own fault. I don't really like being cornered. She'd know that if she'd bothered to get to know me. She's only had twelve fucking years.

"Jade, sweetheart." Irene softens. "Grandpa Bill and I just want to talk to you."

I flinch. As much as I hate Irene, there's still a little Joy in her. In the way she called me sweetheart. And though it didn't sound anywhere near as affectionate as when Joy says it, it's enough to make me stand still.

"Talk." I shrug, crossing my arms over my chest.

She smiles, a genuine smile, but it's not aimed at me. She shoots it toward her husband. She's so happy, and relieved, to have gotten this far with me.

Bill doesn't smile back.

When Irene turns back toward me, her hands are laced together with her knuckles pressed up against her chin.

She reminds me of Amber. That pleading look she's giving me. And even though she doesn't like me, I can see that this, whatever she's about to ask, is something she truly wants from me.

"I need you to forgive me… forgive us, for the way we've treated you." Irene says.

I wait for more, but none comes. That's what she came for. That's all she came for. Forgiveness.

But I'm not stupid. She isn't sorry for the way I've been treated. Not really. She wants my forgiveness because it'll ensure Joy's forgiveness. Which means, she'll be able to see the brats again. Her real granddaughters. Her real flesh and blood. Joy hasn't let Irene and Bill have any contact with the twins since the birthday party. She even had to take the brats' phones away because they kept trying to call.

But knowing all of this, knowing exactly why my forgiveness is so important to them, I find myself wanting to give it. Not for them, but for Vega. She hasn't forgiven me yet. Sure, she still loves me, and she wants to splunk me and stuff. But she hasn't forgiven me yet. If she had, we wouldn't be on break anymore. So, how can I ask Vega to forgive me for what I did to her, if I can't forgive other people for things they've done to me?

The answer is I can't.

So I say yes. I tell Irene that I forgive her. And I tell Bill I forgive him too.

But I don't. And a heavy weight settles into the pit of my stomach because of it. I don't really forgive them. It's not enough to say the words.

Does that mean Vega will never really forgive me?

What would it take for her to forgive me? Really forgive me? No, a better question is what would it take for me to forgive them? Really forgive them with my heart and not just my mouth?

I don't know. I don't know what it would take. I don't know what they could possibly do to make me forgive them. And the thought makes my head hurt. My lungs too. They hurt. And my heart. My heart hurts too. I feel tears start to burn the back of my eyelids, pressuring me for escape. But I don't want to give in.

Seems it doesn't matter what I want though. The tears fall.

I press the heel of my palms into my eyes, trying to push them back, but of course it doesn't work. They're insistent.

I sniff, because the tears coming out of my eyes aren't enough. They want to escape through my nose as well.

I wipe at my face some more. Tired of crying. Tired of showing weakness. Tired in general.

And then there're firm hands on my shoulders. I don't care who they belong to. They could belong to Bill and I wouldn't twist away. I'd stand here and let him hug me, or hit me, whichever.

"Jade?"

Joy. It's Joy. I sob a little with relief…which alarms her.

"What'd you do!?" She yells.

I'm about to answer, but Bill speaks up first.

"We just came to apologize to Jade." He says.

Oh. She was talking to them. Not me.

Then she is talking to me. She brushes the tears from my face until I'm not blinded by them anymore. She looks so worried about me. "What's the matter, baby?"

Baby. I call my girlfriend that all the time.

"Vega." I choke immediately. My baby. She'll never forgive me.

"Oh, honey," Joy croons, pulling me into a hug. I don't squeeze her back as hard as she's squeezing me, but I still hold on. And I bury my face into her throat, not wanting anyone to see me like this anymore. I just wanna go in the house.

God, I've never cried so much in my fucking life. It's giving me a headache. Literally. How does Amber do it all the time?

Joy turns me slightly, lifting her head up so she can address her parents. "You two should leave. Now is not a good time."

They both hesitate, but it's Irene who speaks up. "Well, Jade's forgiven us, so why don't you let us take our granddaughters out for ice cream while you soothe her?" I see Irene glance at Joy's car hopefully, almost greedily. The twins are still in there. Joy must've told them not to get out yet.

"Jade forgave you?" Joy asks disbelievingly as she wipes my face some more. It's embarrassing, totally and absolutely mortifying the way she's fussing over me. But….I….uh…

You like it, dum-dum. Just admit that you fucking like it.

Bill says a firm, "Yes." before I can mentally start arguing with Tori.

Then Irene nods her head, placing one hand over her heart and the other she raises up to her shoulder, palm facing us. I think that's like her version of a scout's honor or something. "Ask her yourself," she says.

Joy shakes her head. "I don't need to." She murmurs absently, eyes still on me as continues to fuss over me. She's on my hair now. Smoothing it down and stuff.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Irene smile.

Bill too.

Then Joy turns and looks at both of her parents. "I don't forgive you." She says firmly.

Irene gasps.

So does Bill. Just not as loud.

"I don't trust you with my kids." Joy says as she wraps a supporting arm around my waist.

I lean into her a little more. I don't even mean to. It just happens. I'm just so fucking tired. And my head hurts so fucking bad.

"We would never, have never touched a hair on the girls' heads," Irene pleads.

"What about Jade?" Joy asks incredulously, squeezing me to her a little. "You've never touched a hair on her head?"

Irene blanches. "I…I…I meant that…"

"I know what you meant." Joy cuts her off.

There's a long pause. Joy stares at her parents with hard, challenging eyes. They stare back. Irene's gaze is pleading. Bill's is calculating. He looks more or less like he's staring at a difficult, but doable, crossword puzzle.

No one looks at me.

After a while, I look down at the ground. This shit is too tense for me right now. My head is pounding something fierce.

Then Joy finally speaks again and I look up. Her voice is quiet, but definitely not timid. "The sooner you realize the twins aren't my only children, the closer I'll be to forgiving you." She says.

Irene looks to her husband. The look she gives him is clear. Do something.

Bill puts his hand on Irene's shoulder and finally steps up so that he's standing beside her and not slightly behind. "We'll take all of the girls to get ice cream." He says firmly. "All three of our granddaughters." I'm so surprised he didn't stumble over that last word. I was so sure he wouldn't be able to refer to me as his granddaughter without stuttering.

I know Irene wouldn't have been able to do it.

"It's not a good time." Joy repeats.

Bill takes another step forward.

I hold my ground and so does Joy.

"Do you want me and your mom out of your life indefinitely, Joy? Is that what you want?"

"Bill!" Irene gasps in horror. She's got five other children. Five. Four are older than Joy, and I'm pretty sure the one after her was an accident. Either way, she's got five more other than Joy. But Joy is Irene's only daughter. I think the old broad would just die if she could never see her again.

"Indefinitely? No." Joy answers frankly.

"Then we have to start somewhere." Bill presses on. "We have to start trying to get back to where we were. The sooner the better; or time will fly by and before we know it, it will have been years since we've seen each other."

I think Bill's making a good case for himself. I mean, it makes sense to me. But that doesn't mean I want to spend time with him though.

"Let me make it up to her." He points at me. "We were wrong not to treat Jade as a part of our family. If she's your daughter she's our granddaughter." His eyes never waver from Joy's. It's like he's trying to hypnotize her. And I suddenly wonder just how hard this is for Joy. I know she loves her parents, and I know she's their favorite. Of course they don't say it, but it's obvious.

"It's too soon." Joy shakes her head and squeezes me closer to her. "We're not ready to be family yet."

His eyes harden, quickly covering up the hurt of rejection from his only daughter. "You mean, you're not ready." He accuses. "Jade has already forgiven us. If she can, why can't you?"

Joy's eyes harden too. She looks just like her dad right now. "Fine." She glares at him, just before dropping her arm away from me and marching toward her car. I nearly fall from the sudden lack of support, but I right myself just in time and follow Joy. Bill and Irene follow too. Both wearing hints of satisfaction on their faces.

Joy pulls open the back door, where Riley is, and addresses both girls. "Get out of the car. Grandpa and Grandma want to take you to get ice cream." She says before crossing her arms over her chest.

For some reason, I start to feel a little….

Scared?

Antsy, Tori. Jeez! I'm not afraid of a couple old people! I just feel antsy.

So, I take a small step toward Joy, and before I can take another she pulls me to her side. She has a hand behind my back, alternating between rubbing soothing circles just below my shoulder blades and petting my hair.

I feel better now.

Riley gets out first. Irene edges forward, reaching her hand out to Riley just as Amber gets out behind her sister.

Irene, Bill, and I get the shock of our lives when Riley smacks her hand away. "No!" she screams. "I don't want any ice cream!" Then she pushes past all of us and heads toward the house.

Irene draws her hand back slowly. There are tears in her eyes.

I almost feel bad for her. Like, I seriously almost tell her not to take it personal. Riley's been in a ganky mood all week. I'm surprised she hasn't gotten suspended yet, honestly. She's been picking fights with kids and mouthing off to her teacher. She even "accidently" threw a basketball at her P.E. coach. Joy has to go to a parent/teacher conference tomorrow because of her.

Irene takes a deep, audible breath, catching my attention, and then she turns toward Amber. Actually, everyone turns to Amber now. The quiet one, the sensible one, the loving, compliant one. She'll jump at the chance to get ice cream with her grandparents for sure….or she wants to anyway. But by the way she keeps looking from Joy to her grandparents it's obvious she doesn't think she's allowed to go. Not really. Even though Joy gave her permission, I think Amber can tell Joy's still mad at her parents and the kid doesn't want to be caught in the middle.

"Amber?" Irene's bottom lip quivers. It matches Amber's right now. "Amber, don't you want to come with grandma and Grandpa to get some ice cream." She holds her hand out for Amber to take, hesitantly this time. Riley did just smack it.

Amber doesn't smack Irene's hand away. She's not the type. She just stares at her grandmother. Then she looks over at Joy, a pleading look on her face.

Irene sees it too, and she capitalizes on it.

"Amber." Irene crouches down a little, putting herself at Amber's height. "Amber, honey. Please. Tell Mommy you want to come with Grandma and Grandpa. It's okay, sweetheart."

Amber looks from Joy, to Irene, to Bill. Then she's looking back at her mother again. "Mommy, please," she lets out a sob.

Irene looks to Joy, pleadingly. "Joy?"

"Mommy, please." Amber wails. She starts rubbing her palms against her thighs. Just like this morning.

Seeing her like this again just makes my headache worse. I'm so close to telling Joy to just let the kid go with her grandparents. She can't help it if she loves these people. They've been nothing but nice to her all her life. Hell, if they treated me halfway as good as they treat the twins, I'd want to go get ice cream with them too.

But I keep my mouth shut when I look at Joy's face. She's crying. Not bawling, but there's a tear running down her face.

"Mom." She says. It's a one syllable word, but Joy's voice still cracks while saying it.

"What, baby?" Irene asks. She sounds so motherly, so willing to give her child whatever she wants, whatever she needs to keep her from hurting.

"Let go of her." Joy says, nodding her head and indicating to where Irene's got a hold of Amber's hand.

I look at Amber. She's crying now, repeating the phrase "please, Mommy" over and over again like a broken record.

Irene holds on tighter to Amber. She's now embracing her with both arms, pinning the kid's arms down to her sides.

"You can't keep them from us." she sobs. "It's not right, Joy."

"Mom, Let go." Joy squeezes me tightly. It kinda hurts.

"You know it's not right!" Irene screams back. "She's my…they're my grandchildren, Joy!"

"Joy," Bill steps up, voice all paternally firm. "Let them come with us." Then he's reaching for Amber.

The kid freaks. Like, freaks. She screams, "Mommy, please! Please, don't make me go with them! Please don't make me go! Please, please, please!" But she doesn't move. She doesn't push them away from her like Riley would. She just stands there, screaming her little head off until her face is blood red.

Bill and Irene let go of her, and quick too.

"Oh, God." Irene starts crying in earnest. Then she gets up and hurries to her car. Bill stays behind, blinking, shocked.

I'm shocked too. I thought she wanted to go with them.

Joy gives Amber a little nod toward the house and she runs to join her sister. She's not graceful about it at all. She falls twice.

"Dad," Joy says, stepping in front of her father and getting his eyes to focus on her rather than space. "You didn't just hurt my daughter." She points at the front door, towards the brats. "You hurt their sister."

My mouth falls open. They're still mad about that too? But they love their grandparents. And I'm just…just…

A bitch?

Whatever.

Joy wraps an arm around my shoulder. "It's too soon." She repeats for the last time before walking me toward the house. She doesn't look back. Not even once, but I do. I see Bill, big, strong, manly Bill, wipe a tear from his face. The man really loves his family. And I can't help but to wonder how it would be if he loved me the way he loves his granddaughters.

"Damn it." Joy murmurs.

It startles me.

I see Joy run up to Amber, unlock the door quickly and usher her inside.

The kid's still crying. She's almost hysterical with it, but worse than that, she's wazzed her pants.

I shut and lock the door behind me.

Inside, it's the same as it has been since me and Vega went on break. Even though Riley's still mad at Bill for hitting me, she still hasn't forgiven me for losing my girlfriend. She's still giving me the silent treatment. So, rather than get glared at and ignored, I go upstairs. And I plan on staying there all day.

But I can't.

"Jade! You have a visitor!" Gets yelled up at me a few hours later.

I don't get excited, hoping it's Vega. I'd know if it was her. The brats would be hella loud right now.

It's Melissa. Redhead and I have that chemistry project to work on. We have to record the differences between sugar and artificial sweetener when subjected to different types of liquids and chemicals. So much fucking fun to be had.

I get up and go downstairs. Redhead's waiting for me at the front door, but she's not the only one.

Her kid brother, I don't remember his name, comes running up to me. He grabs my hand and grins up at me. "Hey."

I look up at Redhead. She doesn't seem to notice, she's pulling out her notebook and asking Amber where the kitchen is.

I snatch my hand from the brat and turn to follow Vega's girlfriend to the kitchen…where the knives are. But I get the feeling someone's staring at me, so I look up to my left. Joy's smiling at me, at the little brat who's scooped up my hand again. She thinks it's cute, or funny.

I scowl at her and snatch my hand from his.

She covers her mouth and looks away, like I can't see her laughing at me anymore.

The brat grabs my hand again. And I'm reminded of the last time he did this. Riley made him stop, but now Riley's avoiding me like the plague, so is Amber, and suddenly the attention from this little pre-terd isn't as irritating as it was before.

Still, I snatch my hand from his and meet Redhead in the kitchen.

I don't like her, because she's too close to my girlfriend, but right now, I can't even dredge up any feelings of dislike toward her. I feel…sorry for her. She's like a zombie, just going through the motions, not caring about whether or not I help her.

"Let's go." I grab her wrist and pull her upstairs. She doesn't fight me.

I have to push her brother out of my room twice before I'm able to shut the door. Then I turn around and face her. "Why'd you bring him?" I glare.

"Because I couldn't leave him home alone," she answers before plunking down on my floor and twisting the carpet in her hands.

Yeah, there's something really wrong with her.

I bite me lip. I don't want to help her. It's not my first instinct to help her, but I know that this is Vega's best friend. If I'm nice to her, Vega will appreciate that. Plus, Redhead knows Vega in a different way than I do, and if I help her, maybe she'll enlighten me.

Soooo selfish. What does she even see in you?

Shut up, Tori.

My decision made, I sit down in front of Redhead and cross my legs. "What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing. I'm fine." Melissa monotones.

Okay, let's try this again.

"What's wrong with you?" I repeat.

"Nothing."

And again, I guess.

"What's wrong with you?"

She looks up at me. "Nothing." She says firmly.

I lift my eyebrows slightly. "I can go all night."

"I can tune you out." She challenges.

"No one can tune me out."

"You're awfully sure of yourself."

"There's only one thing I'm not sure of."

"And what's that?"

"What's wrong with you."

Redhead smiles, but drops it quickly. She hadn't meant for that to happen.

"My father married Joy when I was nearly six. Joy had the brats when I was nine, then she had another baby when I was 12, but she died, and my father divorced Joy a couple months after and went back to my mother. They're both in New York now. Top that." I raise an eye brow challengingly.

She blinks at me, at a loss for words. "I can't." she says.

"Exactly. Whatever you have to say should be real easy now. So, I'm gonna ask you again. What's wrong with you?"

She bites her lip. "My mom's pregnant."

I frown at her. That's the reason she's so upset?

"They, my parents, are supposed to be getting a divorce. That's why we moved to LA, but I guess when Dad comes to visit sometimes they…"

I scrunch my face up. Nobody likes to hear about old people splunking.

"She doesn't want to raise a baby by herself." Redhead continues. "She wants to give Dad another shot. She wants to move back in with him. She wants all of us to move back in with him."

"Wait, you're moving?" I frown.

She nods her head. "I haven't told anyone yet."

I frown some more. "When you sat in Vega's lap at lunch, that wasn't to tell her"-

"I only told her that they're getting back together, and that all they do is scream at each other all day." She interrupts with a shrug. "I didn't have the heart to tell her the other stuff. She's got enough to deal with. She's not taking your break too well, you know. She's acting a little…off."

I scowl at Redhead, but I know she's right. When Josephina moved away, that devastated Vega. Her words. If she found out Redhead was moving, on top of the fact that she's already an emotional wreck….

I should be glad Redhead's leaving. I really should, but for Vega's sake, I'm not. The thought of Redhead moving away right now makes me feel sick. Vega needs her.

Maybe you're not as selfish of a bitch as I thought. You're still dumb though, dum-dum.

I don't tell Tori to shut up this time. That's the nicest thing she's said to me all day.

{~~~O~~~}

I can't sleep…Again.

At least I'm not alone this time. Joy's still up. I can hear her walking around.

What the heck is she doing up this late at night? It's so weird. Like Vega, she's an early riser, which makes her an early…go to sleeper. But here she is, 10:30pm, roaming the hallways, and I don't know what else. Sounds like she's moving furniture if you ask me.

About an hour more of listening to this bullchiz and I give up on sleep, deciding to go pester the woman.

I blink in shock when I come out of my room. It's not even the lethal smell of fresh paint that does it. It's Joy, going in and out of Mercy's room.

We're never allowed to go in there.

When she comes out of Mercy's room again, she sees me staring at her and she smiles. I don't know why I was expecting to see a face full of tears. Then she ducks back into the room.

I follow, and hesitantly step inside.

She's painting. The walls were yellow, (God I hate that color) but about three fourths of the walls are white now.

"So, why can't you sleep tonight, sweetheart?" Joy asks.

I frown a little. Irene, Joy's mother, called me that today. She asked me to forgive her and Bill. And I said I did, but I didn't really. I still feel the same way about them as I always have.

"Jade?" Joy waves a hand in my face.

I bite my lip, and then I answer. "I didn't forgive your mom and dad today. Not really. I just said it."

"Why?" Joy says before going back to painting. I can't tell if she's turned her back on me because I'm no longer spacing out on her, or if she's a little disappointed in me.

Since when do you care?

I don't! It's just that I wonder if Joy wants me to forgive her parents for real. I wonder if she's missing them. They'd be a happy family right now if it weren't for me.

Joy stops paining and stares at me.

That's right she asked me a question. "Why didn't I forgive them?" I frown, trying to think of an appropriate answer. In short, a profanity free answer.

"No. Why'd you say it if you didn't mean it, Jade?"

Oh.

"Um….I…"

"Did they promise you something in return?"

I blink at her. She thinks her parents tried to bribe me?

My silence seems to confirm her thoughts because she says, "I figured as much." Before dipping her paint brush and attacking the wall a bit more vigorously than before.

And as much as I'd like her to think more bad thoughts about her parents, I'd rather talk to her about why I really "forgave" them. I need to talk to her. She'll give me the best advice that she can, and she'll also be as honest as she can. I know she will.

So, I shake my head. "No, they didn't promise me anything, I just…"

Joy pauses with the painting again. Something in my voice must've demanded her attention. And her concern. She's looking at me like she wants to hold me.

"I just want Vega to forgive me." I continue with a sigh. "I thought if I could forgive your parents, then that means she can forgive me too. But I couldn't do it. I just said the words."

Joy scoffs at me. Scoffs at me, like I'm being silly. And before I can angry at her, she starts speaking.

"You think because you didn't forgive my parents Tori won't forgive you?"

I shrug, wanting to get mad, but the way she says it. She sounds like she's telling me that's not the case.

And I want it not to be the case. So, I wait for more.

Joy shakes her head. "Honey, it's not the same thing,"

"How's it not the same?" I fire back.

"Well for one, my parents weren't really sorry. They just wanted to spend time with the twins." She pauses there and looks me straight in the eyes. "Is that what you're doing? Are you just apologizing because you want something in return, or are you genuinely sorry?"

"I'm genuinely sorry." I'm quick to answer.

"That's what I thought. Second thing," she pauses there, like what she has to say is difficult.

"Go on," I verbally prod her.

She takes a deep breath. "Second thing is, you really do love Tori…but, they…they never loved you."

She seems so sad about that. I'm not. I've known that for a long time, but I guess Joy didn't realize it. I guess that hurts her.

She shakes her head, like she's trying to keep herself together. I'm about to tell her it's not her fault, but a brat pops into the room.

It's Riley. She looks into the room, says, "Mom what's"-

Then she spots me, clamps her mouth shut, glares at me, and stomps out of the room.

I clench and unclench my fist, ready to punch something. That brat is really working my fucking nerves.

Joy shoves a paintbrush in my hand. "Take it out on the wall, baby."

So I do. I start helping Joy paint Mercy's old bedroom. I wonder what's she's gonna use it for now? A guest bedroom? Or maybe she'll separate the brats.

And just like that, I remember another separation that's about to take place. Vega and Redhead. One of the other reasons I couldn't sleep tonight.

Maybe I'm making too big of a deal of this. Maybe Vega will be just fine. I mean. She has Josie. She has André, and Cat, and Robbie, and me.

Yeah, but she doesn't want you right now. She barely talks to Robbie. Cat can't help because she's Cat. André's a typical clueless guy. And Josie is not the same kind of friend Redhead is. She's not the silly, fun, slumber partying, boy gossiping, teenage girl bestie. She's more like you, and God knows Vega's had enough of you.

Fuck you, Tori.

You know I'm telling the truth, dum-dum.

That's it!

"Jade, where'd you go?" Joy's voice stops me from pulling my hair out.

I blink a few times, coming back to the now. That's when I realize I've been painting the same spot for about two minutes now…with a dry paintbrush.

I shrug my shoulders and dip my paintbrush real quick.

"Come on, honey. Talk to me."

I sigh. But don't answer.

"Please." Joy continues, guilt tripping me with those brown eyes that remind me of Vega's.

Fine.

"Melissa's moving away." I answer.

Joy just looks at me, waiting for me to continue. She knows I don't like Redhead, so she can't imagine that's all that's to it.

But it is.

"Vega needs her." I explain further.

And I feel like I need to elaborate even more, but Joy doesn't seem to need me to. She can be smart when she wants to be.

"You're worried it would break her." She hammers the nail right on the head.

"It won't, will it?"

Joy doesn't answer me.

She doesn't know. But I do. It will.

Redhead can't move away.

Maybe the Vega's will let her move into their guest bedroom.

I shake my head at myself. I don't even know why I thought of that. Of course they wouldn't. They barely know the girl. Plus, Redhead's mom would never consent. Would she? I know mine wouldn't. I mean, yeah, she did ship me off to New York when I was twelve, but I recently found out that was her shrink's idea, not hers.

I still ask though. I gotta try.

"Joy?"

"Hm?"

"Hypothetically speaking…."

"Uh oh." Joy feigns a grimace. Or maybe it's a real grimace.

"Mom." I glare. Letting her know this is a serious moment.

"Okay, okay." She makes a motion with her hand and says, "Continue."

I glare some more, just to make sure she's really paying attention before I utter another word. "If we were moving away and I wanted to stay with a friend instead of going with you, would you let me?"

Joy lowers her paintbrush, dipping it into more paint.

She's really slow to answer. I've noticed she doesn't like it when I talk about leaving. She's always been that way, but I never really let myself pay attention to just how much it upsets her.

"Hypothetically speaking…I wouldn't want to." She finally says.

"But would you?" I press.

She shrugs, but not lightly. It's a forced shrug. I want to tell her to calm her ass down. It's just a hypothetical question, but at the same time I…uh…it….

It feels good to be wanted so much, dum-dum. Is that so fucking hard to admit?

Fuck you, Tori. I was getting there!

Yeah, yeah.

"If you really wanted it," Joy chews on her lip for a second before finishing. "I'd let you, I guess." She shrugs again, turning back to painting the walls once more.

I begin painting beside her and she smiles at me.

I smile back at her

Then she sighs. "I guess if Melissa can convince her mother to let her stay, she can have this room."

I blink at her. Jealously eating away at me immediately. Suddenly remembering just how fast Joy took to Vega. Making sure she ate breakfast in the morning and letting her take the brats places after only knowing her for a short period of time. And I remember her saying she likes Redhead; that's she's a sweet girl.

Maybe it's not just me. Maybe Joy just opens her heart and home to any girl in need.

I thought I was special. But I guess I'm not.

And your problem is?

She's mine! My mother! Not Vega's! Not Redhead's! Mine! Why's she so willing to give them her motherly affection?

I glare at Joy.

She doesn't seem to notice. She's gotten all nervous and twitchy all of a sudden.

It makes me all nervous and twitchy.

"I want to show you something," Joy says out of nowhere.

Immediately, there's a heavy weight settled into the pit of my stomach. It seems I've been conditioned to feel anxious when I hear that one little sentence. And it only took one freaking dream. It only took Vega telling me she wanted to show me something, and me ending up in her room, tied down, while she splunks Ryder.

Get it together, Jade. I have to coach myself because Tori only seems interested in belittling and tearing me down lately.

Then Joy's coming back into the room. I honestly didn't even realize she left until she came back.

Joy hands me some folded papers and I unfold them quickly and skim over the first page.

They're adoption papers.

Joy wants another kid. That's why she's clearing out Mercy's stuff.

I try to be happy about it. I try to smile at Joy, but it's really hard. Even for an actress like me.

But I have to do it. I have to. I owe her. She's sacrificed so much for me. She got a job so she could pay for my school. Hell, she wouldn't even get a boyfriend because of me! The least I owe her is a kid. Plus, I'd rather have another sibling than a stepfather.

It's just that...even though I would prefer another sibling. It doesn't mean I want it. And I really, really, don't.

"It's okay, if you don't want me to." Joy says. Her lips smile, but her eyes want to cry so bad.

I can't deny her.

"It's fine, Joy." I smile back, putting my acting skills to work.

Joy shakes her head sadly. "You don't have to lie about how you feel, sweetheart."

Ugh! Guilt trip of the freakin century! "I said, it's fine." I smile some more.

I have to give her this. It might not be so bad. The new little runt could be somewhat…what's the word I'm looking for?

Cute.

No one asked you, Tori.

"It's not fine." Joy insists. "It's kinda silly, I guess. I mean, you're seventeen already. Who gets adopted at seventeen?" she attempts a chuckle, but it's dry and flat.

Wait, me?

"You want to adopt me?"

Joy frowns at me, like I'm the crazy one for not knowing what she was talking about.

"I thought you wanted another kid! A brand new baby!" I tell her. Then I look down at the papers and finally realize that their old. It's not just that they've been folded and refolded so many times they look like they've been through the wash. They're kinda turning that old-paper yellow.

She's had these for years.

"I can't really afford another kid, Jade." Joy rolls her eyes at me, like I should've known it was me she wanted to adopt.

"If you can't afford another kid, why'd you offer this room to Melissa?" I fire back.

"Melissa can get a part time Job, Jade. A baby can not." More rolling of her eyes.

Joy's never suggested I get a part time job to help support myself. She just provides for me. She's not willing to do that for Redhead. Because I'm her daughter, not Redhead.

I smile.

Suddenly I feel stupid for getting jealous about Joy offering Redhead this room so quickly. She wasn't doing it for redhead. She wasn't even doing it for Vega. She was doing it for me, because I want it for Vega.

Doesn't take a genius to figure that out, dum-dum.

I ignore Tori and continue with my own thoughts.

I wonder exactly how long Joy's thought of me that way. How long has she thought of me as her daughter-daughter and not just her stepdaughter. So, I ask her. "How long have you been sitting on these forms?"

"Oh, about eleven years." She answers with a shrug.

Eleven years! I was six eleven years ago! She's had those papers since I was six!

Joy picks up her paintbrush. She must know I'm about to explode on her. I snatch it away from her, getting a fist full of white paint. It drips onto my feet, but I don't care. I have so many questions. Like, why didn't she say anything before? Why didn't she go through with it before? Why is she telling me now? There are so many more questions like that, but the first one to come out shocks me.

"Why did you want me?"

"What?"

I nod my head. I don't know why. "Why did you want me?" I ask more forcefully. "What's wrong with you?"

"What's wrong with me?" She blinks at me, confused.

I don't stop.

"Yeah, what's wrong with you? I was horrible to you, even when I was little. How could you want something like that?"

"We had a lot of good times when you were younger, Jade." She answers. "Just me and you."

I shake my head. I don't remember them. I just remember not liking Joy. Actually, I remember not liking anyone.

"Come." She says suddenly, grabbing me by the hand and pulling me into her room. I turn on the light while she rummages around in her closet for a bit before pulling out two shoe boxes.

They're filled with pictures.

She hands me the boxes and I pick up a stack. The first picture was taken at the beach. It's obviously a selfie of her and Amber, or maybe it's Riley. No, I think it's Amber. The brat is smiling way too big. But, I don't know, I just feel like the kid isn't Amber.

It's you, dum-dum.

I bring the picture up closer to my face. Tori's right. The kid in the picture is me. It's me, with Joy, and I'm smiling so big. I'm so…happy.

I don't remember this.

I go to the next picture. It's me and Joy again. Another selfie. We're sharing some cotton candy. I'm smiling. I'm happy.

I go to the next picture. Me and Joy again, at the park.

I'm happy. I'm smiling.

Another picture. I'm not with Joy this time, but I'm not by myself. I'm in a school auditorium, I think. Receiving an award.

The next picture isn't a picture. It's the actual award for excellent academic achievement…from when I was in the second grade.

There're more pictures. I flip through them slowly. I really don't remember this. I really don't remember smiling this much. I really don't remember being this happy.

Joy starts telling me about the events in the pictures. Some stories I start to remember vaguely, like the time she brought home Mr. Whiskers. I totally forgot she's the one who gave me that cat.

When I'm done with the two shoe boxes, she goes to the closet and pulls out more.

I gasp. Just how many good memories of me does she have? It's overwhelming. That's the feeling I get as I go through shoe box after shoe box and hear story after story.

"Why didn't you try to adopt me sooner?" I interrupt her as she's telling me about how I lost my first tooth, almost accusingly too. I don't mean for it to come out that way. It's just…there are so many freakin' pictures of us. And we look so freakin happy. It could've stayed that way.

Joy looks at me for a few seconds before sighing. Then she sits down on her bed.

What?

She motions for me to do the same.

I sit, but only after it's clear she's not going to answer me until I do as she told me to.

I think she wants me to sit next to her, but I don't. I sit across from her, so I can watch her face.

She sighs again.

"I never wanted children." She starts off.

Suddenly I'm feeling unwanted, and it stings. Bad. But I force my face to remain passive.

"I was the youngest of my siblings for a long time and I was the only girl, so I was spoiled rotten. I never had to share anything, and I never had very many responsibilities. And that's what children are. Responsibilities. Mouths you have to feed, little feet you have to put shoes on, little people you have to sacrifice for because you want what's best for them. And I didn't want to do that."

It's so weird to hear Joy talk about being selfish. But surprisingly, it's good weird. It makes me feel better, puts less pressure on me to be as selfless as she is now.

"But then I met your dad and he introduced me to you kind of early on. I don't think he thought anything of it. You were kinda just…there. Accept it or leave, you know?"

She shrugs. "I really liked your dad, so I accepted."

I nod my head, wondering what this has to do with why she didn't adopt me, but also sensing she's trying to get there. She just wants to start from the freakin' beginning.

"Next thing I know, I was picking you up from school every day because he was always busy." She continues. "You hadn't warmed up to me yet. You didn't even talk to me. So I always put on the radio and you'd always sing." She chuckles a little. "I was impressed. You knew a lot of the lyrics to almost every song. And if you didn't know the words, you'd hum the melody. Always in tune and with excellent timing."

I smile. I already know I'm amazing. It's just nice to know that my amazingness was noticeable when I was young.

"And then it started happening."

I frown at her. What started happening?

"If I stopped by the store on the way home with you, people would smile at us and tell me I had a beautiful daughter. I expected you to scream, "She's not my mom!" But you never did and I left it alone."-

"Plus, I'm hot, so why wouldn't you want me as your kid?" I cut in.

Joy rolls her eyes. "You were five, you weren't hot. You were a"-

"If you say I was adorable…"

"Well, what do you want me to say?" she scrunches up her face in exasperation.

"I was hot."

She shakes her head. "You were cute."

I glare at her. I'd rather be adorable and I think she knows it.

"Where was I?"

"I don't know. I don't even know the point of this story." I snap, but not angrily. Impatiently.

"Oh, right. You wanted to know why I never adopted you."

"Yeah, so get to it."

She goes quiet. For a long time. Thinking. But she's not supposed to be thinking, she's supposed to be telling.

"So?" I prompt.

She blinks and glances at me shyly.

Weird.

"You called me Mommy once." She finally says.

"I did not!"

She smiles. "Not directly. I was picking you up from school once and one of the little girls tapped you on the shoulder and said, "Your Mommy's here." I was so sure, you'd turn around, happy and surprised because you thought she meant Ellen, but you didn't. You didn't look shocked to see me. And you didn't say anything to that little girl either. I left that alone too.

"And then Ellen came to pick you up for her weekend. And the first thing you said to her was, "Are you gonna pick me up from school like Mommy does?"

"I did not!" I gasp.

"You did." Joy smiles. "It was the best feeling in the world. Being called Mommy. Even seeing the look on Ellen's face when you said it. That felt good too; until she snatched you away so hard that she nearly dislocated your shoulder."

I rub my arm. Almost like I can feel it now.

"She screamed at you." Joy continues. "Told you I wasn't your Mother. She was. And that pissed me off because I was there. Not her. I was the one picking you up from school. I was the one putting you to bed. It was me. I deserved to be called Mommy and she didn't."-

"Whoa. Talk about possessive." I cut in. She's gotten riled up, face all red and everything.

Joy calms down immediately, and she blushes with the embarrassment of a tween caught playing peeping Tom with his neighbor's wife.

"Yeah," she sighs. "My shrink practically said the same thing. She even said it was unhealthy to a certain extent. I didn't believe her until you were about twelve, so when she suggested I let you go to New York with them, I did it. It was really hard. I missed you so much." Joy looks like she's about to cry. Even though that happened years ago. Even though I'm back now.

I frown, truly confused. I still don't understand why she didn't try to adopt me sooner. If anything, her story should've been told to explain why she did adopt me. Not why she hasn't.

"I didn't try to adopt you because I was scared." She whispers.

"Scared of what?"

"Ellen." Joy answers simply.

I keep quiet, wanting her to explain more. And she does.

"In order for me to adopt you, Ellen has to terminate her parental rights. But she was so angry the day you called me Mommy. I was scared she'd take you away from me out of spite if I tried. And she could. She had the means to support you and she's…you know."

Yeah. I know. She's my biological mother. If there was a custody battle, Joy would've lost.

Joy sighs deeply and yawns.

"Jade, Go wake up the girls for school please."

"Huh?"

"The girls." Joy says again, and then her alarm goes off. It's morning. "About yay high," she says, placing a hand at about the twins' heights.

Like I don't know how tall the freakin brats are. She's such a smartass sometimes.

"Excuse me?" Joy glares at me, going into mom mode within the space of a heartbeat.

Jeez, did I say that out loud.

Her glare gets fiercer, like she puts her hands on her hips and everything. Was it really just a few minutes ago that we were laughing and joking around?

"I said, "They're not talking to me." I lie.

"You can make an effort." She chides me. Like it's my fault the brats aren't talking to me.

It is your fault they aren't talking to you, dum-dum.

Fine. I grumble some other stuff too, but she doesn't hear it.

Without thinking about it, I go to wake Riley up first. There's less of a chance of getting punched in the face because she's not a wild sleeper like Amber, but Riley's the one maddest at me. She'd probably flip her shit if I touched her.

Like I care.

Sure you don't.

I don't! But, I go to Amber and risk the chance of getting smacked in the face anyway.

God, this is getting ridiculous.

I reach a hand out and shake Amber's shoulder. Then I step back real quick.

She rolls over quickly, almost violently, and nearly falls out of the bed. I hurry to her and stop the fall. Amber opens her eyes, sees me and gasps. I cover her mouth quickly to muffle the oncoming scream, suddenly pissed off.

"Stop that!" I hiss at her. "You don't have to scream every time you see me! I'm not gonna hurt you!"

I let her go and prop her back up on her bed. Not too gently either.

You're not gonna hurt her, huh?

Shut up.

And it's not like you've ever hurt her in before.

Shut. Up.

Remember that time Joy sent her to wake you up-

Shut the fuck up, Tori! I turn away from Amber; but not before snapping, "Wake Riley up!" and stomping my way to my room.

I take off my clothes and get in bed, ready to waste the day away. Joy ruins those plans no more than two minutes later.

She comes in my room and shakes my shoulder. "Get up, Jade. Get ready for school."

I turn over and scowl at her. "Seriously?"

"Seriously." She answers firmly. Motherly.

"But I didn't go to sleep last night." I point out, as if she didn't know it already. It's not like I stayed up with her all night.

"Me neither." Joy says lightly. "But guess who's still going to work today because she has responsibilities."

Ugh. Guilt trip.

"Fine." I snap, throwing my comforter off of me. Joy smiles at me. Then leaves.

She loves getting her way with me. And it's been happening more and more frequently.

I get ready quickly, all jerky movements because I'm cranky and aggravated. I don't even care that the brats are ignoring me. I don't want to deal with them right now anyway. I don't want to deal with anyone right now.

But deal I must. Hollywood Arts is full of people. Lots of stupid people too. Oh, and my girlfriend, who's skirt is just as short as it was yesterday, but I don't have an over-shirt to sacrifice today.

My mood gets even darker. So much darker that when I get Melissa alone just before third period, I tell her she's moving in with me, rather than suggest it. She looks at me like I'm crazy, and since I'm feeling a whole lotta crazy, I tell her that she better find a way to convince her mom to let her stay here because if she leaves Vega behind I'm hunting her down. And there will be blood on my hands.

I have more to say, but I get pulled away. By Beck.

He drags me off a little ways before I can fully grasp on to what's happening. Not only am I cranky, but I'm slow as hell today. I don't think it's because I didn't sleep last night. I think it's because I barely slept the night before and I didn't sleep last night.

I'm exhausted. And I didn't even have any coffee.

At the thought of coffee, I think of Vega. She would've gotten me coffee if we weren't on break. And not just the kind that comes in a Styrofoam cup. She would've dug that lip gloss out of her bag, put some on her lips, and let me suck it away.

That sounds really good to me. Like, really, really, good. I even lick my lips. I swear I can almost taste it. God, I want it so bad.

And then, there are lips on mine. But they don't taste like coffee. They taste like Beck.

Because they are Beck's.

Fuck.

I pull away and punch him in the arm. I doubt it hurts. I don't have the energy to make it hurt.

"Jade! Save that for your random elective today, stage fighting."

I look up. It's Sikowitz.

We don't have his class today or tomorrow. Once a month we get a random elective. This month, it's stage fighting.

I nearly snap at Sikowitz, because I've been snapping at everybody all day, but I stop. Because I see Redhead. And I wonder if she's been there the whole time. I wonder if she saw Beck kiss me.

Double fuck.

If she tells Vega….

Triple fuck!

She shakes her head at me, and now I have no doubt that she saw us.

I'm going to kill Beck. But I think Sikowitz knows it. He steps in between us.

Beck looks around him, slightly alarmed at the look on my face.

How can he be alarmed? How can he not know that I'd want to kill him for that?

"I thought you wanted"- He starts off, but I cut him off real quick.

"How could you possibly think that? I told you just yesterday at lunch"-

"I thought you were challenging me, seeing if I was brave enough to ask you out in front of everyone."

I roll my eyes. "Yes, Beck you're such brave boy. You're so fucking brave, do you want a treat?"

"Jade…." Sikowitz chastises me. I did just say fuck. Well, fucking.

I snatch away from Sikowitz and glare at Beck. "Don't do that again."

"Jade"

"Not only did I not want it, but it was disappointing. You're not nearly as good as Vega." I answer a little too honestly. I mean, I was fantasizing about Vega giving me coffee flavored kisses only to be interrupted by one of Beck's minty ones.

Mint and coffee together is gross. Separated they're fine, but there's no doubt that I like coffee more.

Beck walks away first. Then Sikowitz. Then it's my turn to go to class.

No one talks to me. If they do, I bite their head of. I can't even bring myself to stop. I actually snap at Vega. Twice. Each time, I felt a bit nauseous afterword, but I can't help it. I'm agitated. And fidgety, and it's not just the lack of sleep or coffee. It's Redhead too. I swear, if Melissa tells Vega about me and Beck's kiss….

By the time the stage fighting elective comes around, people are Red Sea parting to let me pass, some even running little freshmen over to give me space.

That's fine with me.

Russ, the stage fighting stunt coordinator goes over a few techniques with us before pairing us up. We have to choreograph a scene using three out of the five techniques he just taught us and present it to the class tomorrow.

Everyone sends me frightened glances, even Vega. I have no doubt whatsoever that they're all hoping they won't be partnered with me.

Not only am I on house arrest, giving me even more of the bad girl rep, but losing half a letter grade is the only consequence for me accidently hitting my partner for real. That's not much of a deterrent if you ask me. If someone manages to piss me off bad enough, which is soooo easy to do right now, I'll take that loss of a half letter grade. I'll "accidently" slap the crap out of my partner. And they all know it.

Russ starts reading the list of paired partners.

"Sinjin and André. Melissa and Cat. Tori and Robbie. Jade and Beck"-

"What!" I roar, interrupting Russ.

He looks up at me, trying to remain calm, but I can see that he's acting a little. Nobody likes pissing me off, and everyone knows today is definitely not the day to do it.

"You're with Beck." He repeats firmly.

"No!" I scream. He's got to be fucking kidding me. There's no way. No! I'd rather fucking fail.

Russ lifts his chin up, a challenging smirk flitting across his features for the briefest of seconds. "Alright. If you can find anyone who's willing to trade, you can switch partners."

I don't have to look around to know that there's only one person willing to be my partner.

"André!" I snap. "Switch me."

"Uhhhhh…..I…no?"

I turn around and glare at him.

"Please?" he tries again.

"Give me Sinjin!" I yell.

That's right. I'd rather work with Sinjin than Beck. He kissed me and Redhead saw. There's no way in hell I'm letting him in my house so we can practice a stunt. That'll give Vega all kinds of ideas if Redhead told her about what happened earlier.

André sighs in relief.

"I'll see you at five o'clock." Sinjin smiles at me .

It gives me the creeps.

Those creeps stay with me long after school's over.

I'm on my way home, driving like a maniac. I want to get home as soon as possible. I need a nap. Desperately. I don't care how immature that sounds. If I don't get some shut eye soon, I'll murder someone.

Slow the fuck down or you'll get in an accident.

I slow down a little

No need to hurt other people.

I snarl a little. Of course Tori is more worried about strangers' safety than mine.

What do I need to worry about you for? You worry about yourself enough without any help from me you selfish-

"Don't even finish that one Tori or I swear." I answer out loud.

I'm totally losing it.

I need sleep. Now.

Thank God my house comes into view.

I hop out of my car and kinda run to the door. It's more of a deadweight trot though.

I hurry up the stairs, nearly smiling. I can almost taste sleep and it's better than coffee right now.

I start striping my clothes off before I've fully entered my room, and I don't shut my door. I keep going forward until finally, finally, I'm under my covers, head snuggled into my pillow.

I close my eyes.

The bell rings.

Fuck.

I put a pillow over my head and ignore it.

The bell rings again, and again, and again.

Then the knocking starts, and the bell continues to ring.

"UGhhh!" I scream, pounding fist after fist into my pillow, wishing it was someone's face. Then I decide to make it someone's face. The person at the fucking door's face.

I throw on something, I'm not sure what. My top is backwards. I can feel the tag scratching at my throat, and I think the bottoms are inside out. But I seriously don't give a fuck.

I snatch my door open, not bothering to ask who it is first.

A baby is thrown in my face. Not literally, but I still have to catch it, or it'll fall. He will fall, I realize when I see it's Victor Alexander. Josie's baby.

Josie's talking super fast, or maybe I'm super slow, all I know is that I don't catch every word that spills out of her mouth. Just a few phrases.

"Be a good boy, Alex…..Mommy needs a break….Godmama hasn't seen you in forever….."

Stuff like that. And then I see she's got a hell of a lot of his stuff, diaper bag, car seat, another bag, some toys…and she's sitting it all down in the living room. And she's walking toward the front door…empty handed.

She's leaving him here.

"Me and Vega are on a break." I blurt out, just as she gets to the door.

"Yeah, I heard about that." Josie says, shaking her head. "If you ask me, both of you are stupid." Then she pinches Victor Alexander's cheeks. "Be good for Godmama."

And then she's gone.

I look down at Victor.

He smiles back at me and claps my face into his tiny hands. He does that every time he sees me.

I try to smile back, but my face can't, and I'm suddenly reminded of how freakin tired I am.

I lug the baby and all his chiz upstairs into my room. I'll just strap him into his car seat while I have a small nap. He'll be fine.

I don't strip this time. I'm too tired. I just lay down across the bed. But I can't sleep. Not with him awake. What if he chokes or something?

I sit up and hold Victor, rocking him gently, trying to put him to sleep. But he's not in the mood. He's all laughs and giggles, ready to play.

Ugh!

I go downstairs and make him a bottle, hoping that being full will put him to sleep.

That doesn't work either.

So, I play with him, hoping to tire him out.

Still doesn't work. I suspect he had a nap on the way over, the lucky little runt.

Two bottles and a diaper change later, Joy comes home while I'm still trying to get the kid to sleep. She coos at him, delighted to see him again. Amber hovers nearby. She likes babies. Riley does to, but it's Thursday. For months, she's been spending her Thursdays with the Vegas, but not this one. She's here instead. She glares at me and goes upstairs.

I ignore her. "Mom, can you watch him while I take a quick nap?" I ask Joy. "Please." I add on not even a full second later.

Joy kisses my forehead. "Sorry, baby. Gotta start on dinner."

I moan and drop my head back.

I'm soooo fucking tired.

"I…"

I open my eyes. There's a little voice talking around me? Then the couch dips beside me and I turn to see that it's Thing Two who's talking. Figures it'd be her.

Amber checks the stairs, making sure Riley's not around I guess. "I…I can watch him, Jade." She whispers.

It's a sweet offer. I'm almost tempted to take it, but Alex is my responsibility. I can't leave him in the care of an eight year old.

The bell rings again. I check the time and note it's nearly five. It must be Sinjin.

I open the door and there he is, in all his creepy glory. If I didn't have a baby in my arms I'd grab Sinjin by the throat , just to make sure I've got his full attention, while I give him all the house rules, but I do have a baby in my arms. So, I can't.

Sinjin smiles at the sight of him. A creepy smile.

"Oh, so that's the kind of fight scene you want to do?" He waggles his eyebrows and I just blink at him. I know sleep deprivation has made me slow, but there's no way he could possibly mean what I think he means.

And then he says, "But we should probably bring a fake doll to class, sweetness," before caressing my face with the back of his hand.

Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap.

There are like freaking firecrackers going off in my head.

Almost mechanically, I make it back to Amber. She's still sitting on the couch.

"Hold this," I say before putting Alex in her lap.

Then I'm charging at Sinjin.

"Mom!" I scream. My hands are around his neck and I'm squeezing, I'm squeezing so hard. Sinjin's long limbs are flailing around almost comically. "Mom!" I scream again.

She's by my side, screaming, "Jade! What the hell?!"

"Help me!" I scream back.

"What? No! Let go of him!"

"I can't. I'm trying. Help me!"

"For goodness sakes, Jade!" She pulls on my hands. "Let him go!"

"I can't stop. I'm trying. I'm trying!"

She successfully pries my hands from around Sinjin's throat after only two failed tries.

Sinjin gasps, breathing deeply for about ten seconds. Then he looks up at me and smiles. "Passion marks. These will really sell the scene tomorrow."

The freak.

I try to go after him again, but Joy holds me back. "I suggest you come back at a different time, young man." She pants.

He gives Joy a little respectful bow. "Too much of me at one time. I can see how it can drive the ladies crazy." Then he turns to me and winks slowly. Like he just learned how to do it yesterday.

I double my efforts to get at him.

Joy doubles her efforts to hold me back.

"Uh-huh," Joy grunts. Her smile is awkward and forced. "Please shut the door behind you, kid."

The second Sinjin disappears I calm down.

"Jade!" Joy admonishes and I can't take the disappointment right now. I really can't deal.

"It's not my fault!" I cry, rubbing at my eyes in frustration .

Joy takes my arm and marches me up the stairs.

"He's a freak and he touched me!"

She pulls me into my room.

"And I can't believe I have to be his partner for the stage fighting assignment!"

She pushes me onto my bed.

"I had Beck first but I had to switch. "

She pulls down my pants.

"I had to."

My feet are yanked out of my pants, one by one.

"He kissed me!"

My pants go flying toward my hamper.

"Can you believe that?"

She pushes me onto my back.

"And Redhead saw it!"

With a small grunt, she turns me over onto my stomach.

"What if she tells Vega?"

She pulls the blankets up around my shoulder.

"I'm gonna kill him." I slur.

She kisses the back of my head.

"I'm gonna absolutely murder him." I mumble.

I hear my door shut softly.

My eyes droop, my whole body droops, and I relax. My breathing evens out and I start to feel good. Real good.

I smile.

You do realize you got put to bed like a tantrum throwing toddler, right?

"Fuck you, Tori." I whisper, and I fall asleep with a serious scowl on my face.