Mikaylah B. Harrell

The Danny Plan

It was happening again, and he didn't even know she was watching. The girl lingered jealously behind the corner of the blue steel lockers. Even the stupidest of people could tell that she hated what she was seeing. Him…and that ever-perfect Latina he always drooled over. Disgusting… Absolutely disgusting…

Samantha Manson gripped the corner of the nearest locker. She was halfway expecting it to leave a dent or possibly a hole. The teen knew it wasn't going to happen, but at the rate her body was heating up, she didn't care. Maybe if the metal melted, he'd notice. Ha! As if that was going to happen. Of course he wouldn't notice; he was not only the protector of Amity Park, but he was also head over heels for Paulina. What did he even see in her? Girls like her were everywhere! Not to mention that she only liked popular guys and never even took notice of him.

Men…they were just so clueless.

Sam tried to listen in on their conversation, or at least the one Danny was trying to start, but failed. Perhaps if she'd had more time to focus, she would've accomplished the eavesdropping, but Tucker, her best friend, was walking down the hall. Tucker Foley was a complete techno-geek, as everyone phrased it, always carrying around a PDA and a cell phone and tons of other things nobody could understand. He even talked like a geek, constantly explaining what a device was meant for or how to rewire or reprogram something. It got annoying at times, but for whatever reason, they were still friends.

"So," he started when he saw Sam's face, "you're spying on Danny again?"

The girl's cheeks heated up and she quickly made up an excuse. "I wasn't!" Not much of an excuse so much as denial, but it was too late to do anything about it now.

Tucker perked an eyebrow and cast her the look that told everyone he saw through her lies. He knew she lied because she liked Danny, but he'd never understand why she tried so hard to hide it from him. To hide it from Danny was understandable; it wasn't like she wanted to ruin the strong friendship they had forged over the course of many years.

The teenager was stubborn, though, and although she knew quite well that Tucker had caught on, she wouldn't admit that she had been spying.

"You could just tell him," the techno-geek suggested.

Sam rolled her violet eyes and gave him the most sarcastic look she'd ever given anyone. And that was saying something—sarcasm was her specialty. "Oh, yeah, Tuck! Let me just walk up to my best friend and tell him I've been eavesdropping every time he flirts with her." She spat out the last word like it was poison.

Tucker sighed and rolled his own eyes, as if mocking her. He knew how downright difficult Sam could be; in fact, she was just about impossible. Impossible for everyone except Danny. Danny Fenton, her best friend. Danny Fenton, her secret love. They were one in the same, yet that clueless idiot, despite the powerful connection he shared with her, never picked up on the little hints she dropped for him. He always talked about how beautiful Paulina was right in front of her. Tucker knew he didn't mean to hurt Sam, but it didn't change the fact that he did.

"Don't worry, Sam. By the looks of things, his infatuation will wear off and he'll stop trying to get a date with her." The poor guy hadn't a clue whether he was lying or not. Danny had been after Paulina for two years now, and it was starting to look like Sam would be completely erased from the list of possibilities. If that happened, she would be crushed. As her friend, the geek didn't want that to happen. As Danny's friend, there wasn't much he could do to prevent it. Unfortunately for them both, this affair wasn't any of his business. It was solely between the two of them, and he had nothing to do with it.

A lone figure flew silently through the night sky. He had white hair, pale skin, and ghastly green eyes. His clothing consisted of a black jumpsuit with a white letter "D" on the chest, white gloves, and white shoes. It allowed an eerie atmosphere to envelop him, but he didn't mind. Amity Park relied on him. Its residents were quite familiar with him and no longer feared him. Besides, it wasn't like tonight was different from any other night—a little studying, a little scouting, and finally a little sleep.

The figure passed over Sam's house to find her writing in something. At first glance, it was just a notebook for studying, but upon a closer view, it was her diary. She rarely wrote in it, and she didn't think anyone knew she even had a diary. Sometimes, though, he would catch her writing whatever in it. It would be a blast to take a peek inside and find out what it was she was writing, but he respected her privacy and didn't dare go near it.

He turned around and proceeded to return to his own home.

The next day at school had somehow morphed from regular and routine to tense and unsettling, and then to snappy and moody.

Sam was nonstop with her girlish mood swings. First she had been fine, then she had seen Paulina and had gotten a bit angry, then she saw Danny near Paulina—again flirting—and had mentally cracked. She'd always disliked Paulina for the way she treated the majority of the school, but now that her beauty was getting Danny's attentions completely, she hated her.

Her evil glares were reserved for Danny, though. And boy did she have a reason. How many years had it been since she had first started to find him charming? Those lame and irritating things he still did had become adorable and attractive. And she hated that. Hated it. She hated that he didn't realize what he was doing to her, she hated that he still did those cute little spaz attacks, she hated most the fact that she was falling in love with her best friend. It wasn't supposed to happen, and it was clear that it was no puppy love.

Why'd it have to happen to her? Why was he the one to turn her nightmares into sweet dreams? Why was that every time she sent herself off into a daydream, she dreamt of him blowing off Paulina's presence and suddenly coming up to her, hugging her and charming her like a wizard trying to put a rabbit under his spell? Why was he the cause of her suffering?

Sam furrowed her eyebrows as she walked down the hall. Those thoughts were too much for one girl. Surely nobody could expect her to handle them by herself. Come to think of it…the only one who could help her right now was Danny. But what could she do, tell him that what's been on her mind lately had been him? DUH, of course not!

She hadn't even realized she'd reached her locker until she pinched her finger trying to open the lock. She hissed in pain and intentionally rammed the side of her fist into her locker. After huffing for a bit, she was able, by some random stroke of good fortune, to calm herself down enough to hold herself together. Once she did this, it was easy for her to figure out that all she needed to do was keep away from Danny until this stupid little fever of hers faded away. It would just take a little bit of time, and with him hovering around Paulina like half-starved vulture all the time, it hopefully wouldn't be too hard.

This whole thing had been hard on Sam, so much that she was at her breaking point. She'd snapped at Danny over Paulina many a time already, but now she felt like choking him because he made her love him. It was unfair to her that he had to be him. On top of that, she didn't have a single clue who she was mad at right at this moment. It could be that she was mad at herself for loving him, but taking it out on Danny under the cover of Paulina.

Tears of frustration peered out of her eyes and threatened to roll out. Sam quickly grabbed the finger she pinched and squeezed, trying to give her a real reason to cry. If there was one thing Danny wasn't going to do, it was going to be making her cry. She wasn't crying over him, absolutely not; she was merely crying over her hurt finger.

"Sam, you okay?" a curious voice asked.

She jumped, astonished that she'd never noticed Danny come up to her. Of all the inconvenient times…

"Yeah, I just hurt my finger," she hiccuped. Oh, yeah. Just great. She was now pouring tears and couldn't stop them. She blinked, they pushed more out. She wiped them away, they just replaced each other.

"Here, let me see," he said, taking her hand without her consent. For Tucker, this would spell death, but this was Danny. She let him do whatever he wanted with her hand; she was too emotionally unstable to think things through. It would've been different if Tucker had come along instead. Why couldn't Tucker have come?

"Looks fine to me," he stated after a thorough examination. "All I see is that itty-bitty little red mark."

He looked up at her, and suddenly she found herself no longer crying, but entranced. She leaned her back against the locker and slumped to the ground. This was new, to say the least. He'd snared her in her dreams and thoughts, but never with just a single glance. It could be assumed that there was just no escape from those intense, caring blue eyes of his. She simply couldn't understand why he didn't get snatched up immediately.

"What's the real reason you're crying?" he asked as he sat down beside her.

The raven-haired teen wiped away the tears that stained his friend's face. He knew her well, and therefore he knew that it wasn't like her to break down in the middle of the school. There had to be a reason. It was a good thing he could see through her "clever" deceptions, because whenever something went wrong, that was the first thing she did. After she knew she'd been caught, she would try to act like it wasn't a big deal. Then when she was called out on that, she would get angry and walk away like nothing happened. It was difficult for him to understand why she did that, but he pegged it as an act of independence.

"It's just something stupid, that's all." In Sam's mind, this wasn't exactly a lie. She found it moronic that she would be so smitten with Danny that she could hardly focus on her schoolwork. She should've been stronger than that.

Danny sighed. "Sam, you can tell me what's wrong you know. You're my friend, and I'm not judgmental."

"Tsh… You've judged Paulina's looks to be pretty decent…" she muttered under her breath.

Not this again… Danny ran his hands through his hair, wondering how he was going to cheer Sam up. She'd never brought Paulina up this soon before. He couldn't help but assume Paulina had said or done something to her. It was actually a natural assumption—the two were like day and night.

After about half a minute, which for him was a long time due to his impatient nature, he reached a decision. He didn't use this on her very much because he wanted to keep it special for occasions like this.

He stood up, catching Sam's attention, and offered her his hand. "C'mon."

Sluggishly, the girl took his hand and pulled herself up. Her arms dropped to her sides and she stared at nothing in particular. Honestly she didn't know what to think. At times, Danny could be the most caring, understanding person in the world, and at times he could be the most clueless, oblivious moron on the planet. She'd told him he was clueless before, but he still didn't get it. This had earned him the special nickname of "Clueless One", a nickname Sam had chosen for him herself.

Danny looked cautiously around, and with the assuring knowledge that no one was in his radar of vision, he let two silver rings appear around his waist. They split into two separate rings and traveled in their respective directions up and down his body.

Sam wasn't alarmed by this in the slightest. She'd witnessed his transformation so many times now that the thrill of watching it had long worn off. Ever since the accident with his family's Ghost Portal—a portal that allowed a regular human to enter what was called the Ghost Zone, in which hundreds of the ectoplasmic beings called ghosts resided—he had been able to shift between a human and a phantom. It was all thanks to a bit of ectoplasm that had fused with his DNA during the accident. To protect his identity, he'd created an alter ego.

Danny Fenton had transformed into Danny Phantom. Shockingly, no one had considered he might just be Amity Park's protector. It was strange… Fenton, Phantom; seriously, not that hard.

The halfbreed suddenly vanished. At least he seemed to—invisibility was just one of his many ghostly abilities. He let a portion of his body show, a portion that he could easily banish from the human eye.

His glowing emerald eyes peered at Sam for a short time to let her know he was still there, and Sam's hand was grabbed by an invisible force.

Sam was fine with it; she trusted Danny. He saved people's lives; why shouldn't she trust him?

Intangibility was his next course of action. Danny somehow had this weird power—he could turn both himself as well as another person untouchable. He could pass through walls, people, and any other solid object. No one, not even himself, had figured out how that worked.

Before Sam knew it, she was being scooped up bridal-style in Danny's arms and being lifted into the sky. At first it was frightening, but as a few minutes passed, she started to enjoy it. Stupid Danny… He'd always thought she'd enjoyed the flying portion of it. Although flying was fun, it wasn't what she usually focused on, especially not lately. No, she had her attention on something much more valuable.

She wrapped her arms around Danny's neck. No matter how many times she'd done this before, he'd always thought it was because she was afraid of falling. That was only part of it, though. She liked being close to him, so close that her hair freely tickled his face, and his eyes were just a few mere inches away. It made her feel safe, like nothing in the world could hurt her. For the moments that she was being kept in his arms, she truly felt invincible.

It was only in his arms that she could pretend, sometimes even go so far as to believe, that he actually reciprocated her feelings. She wanted to be independent—and she'd done unbelievable things to prove it—but she also wanted Danny to call her his. Somehow that had become so very important to her, and no matter how hard she tried, she found it impossible to let it go. It could've been her personality—she was more stubborn than anyone Danny had met. Once she had her mind set on something, she did it. Of course, she never allowed herself to become dead-set on unrealistic goals.

So then why did she still like Danny?

Despite how high up they were, she looked down. All the pedestrians looked like ants, and as Danny climbed even higher, clouds soon shrouded the view. Being up at this altitude was new to her. Perhaps he'd finally picked up on her distress and utter frustration with him. Then again, that wasn't going to happen. It was probably more a matter of the clouds, and not Danny at all. They were probably hanging lower than usual, preparing for a thick fog either tomorrow morning or this afternoon.

She sighed heavily, knowing well that it would be impossible for the halfa, as the ghosts in the Ghost Zone called him, to hear her. Even though he was at cruising speed, the wind didn't blow in his favor. Sam's hair was probably rubbing his face raw right about now.

And sure enough, when she looked to see the damage done, pretty much all that could be seen was her jet-black hair slapping that boy silly. She was about to suggest they go in the opposite direction, but held her tongue. He deserved this.

After what had to be an hour, Danny lowered them both to ground. He set the girl down and brushed loose strands of hair from his face. Sam was smiling, which generally meant Paulina was off the hook. He didn't seem to realize she was only smiling at a scene she'd remembered from one of her various daydreams. It was probably for the best.

Back in class, Sam got lucky enough to not have to sit near the she-devil. In fact, Paulina was all the way on the other side of the room, as far away from Sam as possible. The captain of the football team, Dash, had the same class and was flirting with her. For Sam, that was a nice change of pace. For Danny, it was torture; even Sam could see that. And it bugged her.

She knew the reason behind Danny's anger was because Paulina was actually responding to Dash, whereas she'd blown him off. In the eyes of Sam, Danny was ten times better than Dash. Dash was strong and athletic and good-looking, but Danny was caring and protective and cute. That beat a jock anytime.

It was actually kind of funny, because Danny hated jocks, mainly because he wasn't one. The guys with the jerseys got more attention, more dates, and more recognition. All he could hope to get would be a paper wad thrown at his head and a note that said "Nerd" taped to his locker. Not much of a social life in that.

At that thought, a brilliant idea popped into Sam's head. Instead of waiting for Danny, knowing how oblivious he was, why not lure him in? She could use his protective nature to her advantage. If, that is, she could get a guy she somewhat-liked to start dating her. It wouldn't be all that hard to pull off—she had the beauty to do it. The only reason so few boys flirted with her was because she masked her good looks behind Gothic clothing. Actually, it wasn't really masking so much as the truth. She'd chosen to go Goth a long time ago, just one of her strange statements about individuality. She wasn't a stereotypical Goth, she really just dressed like one.

The next day, Sam approached Danny and Tucker without thick black eyeliner and mascara, without her lavender lipstick, without her black shirt with a skull on it, without her black combat boots, and without her black-and-purple plaid skirt. It was the biggest change since she'd first announced she was going to be a "Gothic vegan".

The boys were busy talking until they saw their friend. They had grown so accustomed to seeing a Goth, but now…now…

"Sam, what are you wearing?!" Tucker screeched, as if a car had just run over his foot. Metaphorically, it had.

Sam wore absolutely no black, save for a much lighter layer of mascara and eyeliner. Instead, she was decked out in white knee-length capri's, a cream-peach elbow-sleeve shirt that came right up above her belly button, a pair of six-inch high-heels, a silver necklace with a light blue dolphin charm, a pair of silver earrings, and a white dolphin-shaped hair clip. Oh, and she had dyed her black hair brown. She was now a brunette.

Danny could do nothing but gawk. It was like she'd transformed! Even if this was another one of her statements about being unique or about nonconformity, she had taken it from one extreme to another. This easily blew the whole Goth thing out of the water.

"Uh, guys? You okay?" she asked, smiling sweetly.

Even her voice sounded different…

"Oh man. It's finally happened. She's finally lost it!" Tucker yelled. He turned to grip Danny's shoulders, and Sam couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not—he wasn't exactly one for surprises. "Danny! I think we might be dead!"

Rolling her eyes, but still maintaining a princess-like attitude, she walked gracefully past the two terribly confused boys. As she made her way calmly to school, not joining in the usual high-school hustle and bustle, she easily managed to gain shocked and surprised looks from the girls, and many hungry looks from the boys—not including Danny and Tucker, of course.

Almost as soon as she got through the doors—which two of the boys had generously held open for her—Mikey, the one nerd that got picked on most in the entire school, came up to her, smoothed his hair out, and offered to take her to a steakhouse. Despite the outward change, she still wouldn't eat meat. No fish, no eggs, no milk…and definitely not steak.

She declined as sweetly as possible, with the thought of butchered cows in her head, and continued deeper into the Halls of Many Things.

The first thought to replace the dead cows was of Danny. She had, at long last, caught his full attention. Though it was only shock, and probably horror, he had stopped thinking about Paulina, if only for a few moments. That was quite a satisfying feeling. However, she knew it wouldn't last long. Danny wasn't the type to be fooled by looks, except for when it came to Paulina. She still didn't know what it was about Paulina that had captured the halfa.

The ex-Goth arrived at her locker and smirked. This was going to be a fun day.

After a whole two weeks of having as much male attention as she wanted, Danny finally started to show signs that he was getting frustrated. Although Sam still hadn't found someone she would actually want to go out with, she could tell that Danny was darn near ready to chase the "potential", as Sam had started calling it, away. She'd taken full notice of how he lingered around her more often than he had when his attention was on Paulina. Another lovely change.

It worked out for the best, because Sam constantly received flirtatious compliments about her outfit or her personality, which no one had found interesting until The Change. Once, the halfa boldly asked why Sam was doing this, but she'd simply replied, "What are you talking about?"

What was even worse for him was that she was starting to like all the attention. It made her feel special—and it also pulled most of the guys away from Paulina, which Sam knew made her furious. Ah, there were so many upsides to this. But—and Sam could easily admit this even to Paulina's face—the whole "making Paulina mad" thing was by far the most pleasing.

Oh, and speak of the devil…literally. The prissy pussycat was practically charging straight at her, while Danny was nowhere near her—he was in a separate class right now while both the girls had a free period.

The witch pointed a stern finger at her. "I know what you're up to."

"Aw…did I make the little princess angry? I'm so sorry…" she said, basking in her already-obtained victory.

"What happened? You don't just change like this for no reason!" she growled.

Sam slapped her skinny finger away from her face and grinned. "This is the new me, honey. Get used to it."

For the first time ever, Paulina was left dumbfounded. Nobody had ever challenged her status before, not even the prettiest girls in all of Casper High. She was the top model, the perfect specimen, the queen bee! And now Sam had the power to crush her like some disgusting insect. The former Goth could overthrow her in a heartbeat. If she didn't do something soon, things would get ugly. Getting on her good side would be wise, but if she did that, her title would be ruined.

While Paulina was silenced, Sam turned and moved to a different desk in the free period classroom, the one room that never had a teacher in it. Students were free to do whatever they willed for the next thirty minutes. Now that she'd thoroughly stomped her worst enemy, she could focus on getting a boyfriend. It would make Danny too jealous, and he wouldn't be able to handle it. Then he would break up the relationship and profess his love for her. At least that was what she hoped he would do. It was impossible to tell, really, because Danny could be somewhat unpredictable. Sometimes you just couldn't read what he was going to do next. Usually it was something reckless, though, and that was what she was counting on.

She relaxed in her chair. She sat with her back straight and her arms by her sides, though. She still needed to look and act super-girly in order to attract a decent date. Many guys had come up to her in hopes of dating her, but none of them was what she was looking for. She needed the perfect boy to fool Danny into thinking she was in love. And the perfect boy, in order to do that, had to be someone she actually liked. Perhaps a past crush, or someone who was really nice to her. It had to be someone who she could laugh around and enjoy being around.

Two days later, a boy came up to Sam with a rose and presented it to her. She didn't take it yet, but looked to see who it was that had made such a classy move on her. He was a teenager with brown hair, and was wearing a tuxedo. Had he not looked familiar, she would've thought him weird and instantly turned him down. But as soon as she recognized him as a childhood friend, she jumped up to hug him, squealing with joy.

"Jesse!" she exclaimed.

Jesse had been her best friend even before she met Danny and Tucker in second grade. Unfortunately, he moved away a long, long time ago, leaving Sam alone. Well, halfway alone—they still stayed in touch with each other through the internet. The only reason she'd been able to make friends with him was because her parents were good friends with his parents. The reason behind the tuxedo was also revealed instantaneously—he was filthy rich, just like she was. Normally they tried to hide it from the other students, but if he hadn't been wearing the formal garb, she never would've guessed it was him.

"So you dropped the whole Goth thing, huh?" he said, more of a statement than a question.

She looked down, as if she'd forgotten what she was wearing. She couldn't help but blush at how girly she looked. "Oh. Uh, yeah."

He smiled. "Well warn me next time."

"I can't believe you're here! What are you doing here?!" she asked excitedly, unable to contain her overflowing joy at seeing a long-time friend. "It's been so long!"

He chuckled lightheartedly and explained, "Well, my parents decided to move to the city next to this one, and since my house is on the edge of that city, and this school is on the edge of this one, I can go to school here."

"Oh my gosh! You're staying!"

He nodded. "Are you going to take my rose?"

Bringing her a rose was always his signature move; he always brought her one when he visited. When they were really little, the rose was red, but once they learned that a red rose meant love, he switched to a white rose, which meant purity. This rose was white with a tinge of pink in the center.

She took it and, as she had been taught to do since she was very young, sniffed it. "It's beautiful. Thank you."

"Hey, you're forgetting something," he said. He spread his arms and braced himself for the powerful, bone-crushing, oxygen-depriving hug that always came next. This hug was practically mandatory. And unfortunately for him, Sam had gotten stronger as she grew older. Those muscles of hers had always been tiny, but she had the strength of ten men when she got excited.

She held her hand up. "I didn't forget. Okay, you ready?"

Jesse took a deep breath, spread his legs even wider, put on a serious face, and nodded. Seconds later the death hug came, and he was knocked to the ground, unable to breathe. It was like watching a fierce game of football—all they needed was a referee to blow the whistle. And heck, if Sam were to play football, she could effortlessly plow through everyone in her path.

Sam got off him, releasing him from the bear hug. It was never, and had never been, a cuddly kind of hug. More like a fatal embrace capable of suffocating its victims. Indeed, it was a severe form of torture, but it was also how they showed they were still friends.

Sam offered him her hand, but he got up himself and brushed himself off, never once touching her hand.

"I'm a man now; I don't need anyone's help," he said.

The ex-Goth burst out laughing. "You just got tackled to the ground by a girl who was trying to break your bones."

She made an excellent point.

"So, care to show me around?" Sam knew him well enough to know that it wasn't just a mere change of subject; he wanted to spend some time with her. She did, too. She hadn't seen him in so long—it had been seven years since she last saw him. It was amazing that they had managed to stay friends all this time.

After a few weeks, Sam found that Jesse was constantly flirting with her, and frankly, she didn't mind at all. He was such a nice guy, and she knew all there was to know about him. For instance, his favorite color was lime green, his favorite food was lasagna, and his favorite dog was a collie. He also ate meat, which wasn't exactly her thing. But, hey, everyone had their differences.

Eventually, he asked her out, and she said yes. There were no words to describe how ecstatic he was. He had to be the one guy besides Danny that she didn't mind going on a date with. Her parents had no problem with it; they knew they could trust Jesse, and furthermore Jesse wasn't Danny. They hated Danny for some reason.

Her mother helped her into a nice dress for her first date. It wasn't all poofy and eccentric, like most of her dresses were. It was a black formal dress that came down to her knees, much to her father's dismay. However, he didn't dare question his wife on the matter. This was her only child's first date, and she was going to make it a perfect night for Sam no matter what. If her father protested, he'd be in a heap of trouble later.

About ten minutes after Sam had put on her makeup and curled her hair, there was a knock on the door that signaled Jesse was here to pick her up. The good thing about him was that he had a drivers' license. She could already expect to see him in a tux. He dressed formally at almost every event.

Her parents didn't have a problem with Jesse driving her anywhere. So long as they knew where he was taking her, they were fine with it. If it had been Danny, the situation would've been totally different. She wouldn't be surprised if they didn't permit her to date him. In their eyes, Jesse was the boy Sam should marry.

She never imagined, when she'd come up with the plan of a semi-boyfriend, that she would be excited to date him. But maybe it was because it was Jesse, and not just some random guy at school.

She approached his silver car and, just like the gentleman he had turned out to be, he opened the door for her, giving her a rose. As she followed the tradition of sniffing the flower, she couldn't help but notice that this time the rose wasn't white or white with pink in the center, but solid red.

She held it up, as if in question, but he just smiled and started driving to a vegan restaurant. It was sweet that he remembered she didn't eat meat. They had been separated for such a long period of time that it would've been so easy to forget.

They didn't talk much in the car. Sam figured this must be Jesse's first date as well. The few things they did talk about were things friends would normally talk about, like how each other's day went, or how much homework they had. The ride to the restaurant was rather awkward.

But once they actually got to the restaurant, the tension loosened its grip on them, and they started to ask questions about each other. It was starting to seem more like a real date now. Jesse had even gone so far as to initiate a conversation about Sam's previous dates, in which she told him this was her first.

Even after being the best of best friends with Jesse for all these years, she never realized how interesting he was. When they were young, they went on pretend dates with imaginary people, and always set up double dates. It was nothing more than childish play, though, and neither of them had ever dreamt that they would end up dating each other.

But now Sam was torn between Danny and Jesse. Danny was so clueless and he had never once taken interest in her beyond friendship. Jesse had been her friend even longer and he had, for a few weeks now, shown much interest in her. He would intentionally catch her in the hallways just so he could talk to her, whereas Danny would talk to her about Paulina, which by the way was absolute torture. Jesse and Danny were very different, and even though the answer seemed obvious, Sam couldn't help but think of both of them.

After the date, it only got worse. She used to only dream about Danny, but now it was Danny and Jesse. There was a certain tugging on her heart for both of them, and she didn't know which one to choose. Many times she thought about doing nothing about it and letting life take her where it willed. But part of her told her that it didn't work that way, and that she was the one in charge of shaping her own future.

She had made a huge mistake, she realized, when she had hatched her plan to get Danny. Another best friend, and she was falling for him, too! How could life be so cruel! It might've turned out the same way even if she hadn't come up with the Danny Plan. Jesse still would have come along, she probably would've still fallen for him.

She knew she could ask Jesse for help. He'd helped her through many things, from study tips to life's major problems. She had even told him about Danny. Unfortunately, she had been too shy to tell him that she liked Danny alot but that Danny only thought of her as a friend. And she hadn't told him about the Danny Plan, obviously. Plus, they had just gone out on a date. What would he think of her if she suddenly told him all that? How would he respond? It was true that Jesse was very understanding and very sweet, but if she were in that situation, one of the boys caught in the middle of a love triangle, she would get both angry and sad. She didn't want Jesse, of all people, to feel like that.

But she had to make a choice.

Sam hadn't yet returned to her Gothic appearance. She'd kind of grown used to seeing herself as a pretty girly-girl. Not to mention that her beauty topped even Paulina's. Things had changed in the past few weeks. Danny had started to use his ghostly powers, invisibility and flight being the main two, to spy on Sam's dates with Jesse. Jesse had become all the more enthusiastic about her. Tucker had started dating Valerie, the girl he'd been after since the beginning of the school year. Sam was supportive of Tucker and his new girlfriend, but had called Danny out for spying on her several times. She was getting so mad at Danny, yet he still possessed the same charms that made her fall for him in the first place. Plus, it just showed how jealous of Jesse he had become.

And then there were her dreams. It was probably because of her inability to decide between Jesse and Danny, but her dreams often depicted the future, and it wasn't pretty. Once the boys had found out about the Danny Plan, they had started to fight over her, which was the last thing she wanted. She always woke up from those dreams, sweating like crazy and in severe emotional turmoil. It was hard to get back to sleep after such nightmares.

There were times when Sam wished Jesse hadn't come, and everything had stayed the same. But she soon regretted ever thinking that way. If Jesse hadn't come, Danny wouldn't be as jealous as he was. And even worse, there was only one reason he would get so protective as to spy on her. He loved her. And even worse, she was sure it was only a matter of time before Danny came clean about it. When that happened, what was she supposed to say? "I love you, too." or "Sorry, you're too late."? It just wasn't that easy.

"And such is the life of Sam Manson…" she muttered to herself as she lay in bed, waiting for sleep to claim her.

What a mess she had gotten herself into. Two of her best friends, and she had to go and fall in love with both of them. Oh, what a life. This whole ordeal was so stressful, her grades were slipping. She had tried to keep herself distracted by studying like nuts, but most of the time she would sit there, staring at a problem while she eased into yet another tumultuous daydream.

She should've seen this coming, though, when Jesse arrived unexpectedly at Casper High. Had she known this would be the outcome, she probably could've avoided it. But, no…not with her luck. It was like she sat there and invited this terrible situation into her life. It was a horrible thought, but it was the truth. She should've told Jesse about Danny when she had the chance. He might've been able to help her.

It was all just so frustrating…

The next day was Saturday. Even though she had homework, she chose to give herself the day off so she could try, for the thousandth time, to sort everything out. She knew it wasn't possible but she had to try. She had to try for the sake of her grades, for the sake of her mental stability, and for the sake of simply focusing on something without getting lost in her own thoughts for once.

If she could handle this, she could handle anything. At least now she knew what staring death in the face felt like.

Didn't anyone else have this problem? The other students sure didn't seem to. They seemed fine and dandy. Meanwhile she felt like her heart was tearing in half, one half trying to follow Danny and the other half trying to follow Jesse. In no way was it fair. It was utter injustice.

To make matters worse, she hadn't told her parents about this. In fact, she didn't plan on it. To tell them would be like talking to two skunks—it stunk. Furthermore, if she told them, they would pretty much order her to choose Jesse, and she just couldn't do that.

But there was a point to be told. She had to choose, and it had to be before Danny decided to tell her he loved her. It would be so much easier if everything ran nice and smooth. So much easier! It wasn't too much to ask, she hoped. If only Danny had asked her out sooner, then none of this would have happened! She could still be friends with Jesse and she could still love just Danny.

Sam tried to weigh the good and bad for both of them, but the only real "bad" for Danny was the fact that he refused to admit how he felt. And that was a major setback to any relationship. If he didn't do something soon, he was definitely going to lose her, because she couldn't sit around and wait on him forever when there was someone right beside her who genuinely loved her and had already told her that. There weren't that many downsides to Jesse, either. Other than the fact that he could've changed over the years, everything about him was good so far. And it really didn't seem like he had changed much, except now he was probably getting ready to kiss her.

Oh man! What if he tried to kiss her?! Oh, no no no… That would be horrible. It wasn't like she wasn't ready for that… Actually, she wasn't ready for that. There was just too much going on right now. Her first kiss would have to wait until all this was settled. A kiss… Man, that would be the worst possible time!

But then if Jesse did try to kiss her, what was she going to do? It wasn't like she could tell him right then and there about Danny and the Danny Plan. Ooooh… She would be forced to kiss him! There wasn't any alternative! Or what if it was Danny? What if he suddenly decided to be all romantic with her and popped out of hiding to plant a surprise kiss on her? DANG IT! This was impossible to figure out…

It seemed like either way, she would end up disappointing one of them. She hadn't intended it to go this far. She never meant for it to come to this. She'd told herself hundreds of times that she needed to decide, and quickly, but there was no way she could come to a decision.

This sucked… Danny was originally her target, but then Jesse came in and ruined it all. Well, unless she chose Jesse. Then he would've made it all better. But Danny was so sensitive… But Jesse was such a sweetheart…

Ugh… How did she ever manage to tuck herself into this position? Somehow she had wedged herself, and willingly, between a rock and a hard place. Unintentional, but willing. Nice going.

The one thing that brought her out of her thoughts was her cell phone announcing a text message. The natural reaction would be to grab it immediately, but Sam hesitated. What if that was Danny? Jesse was already dating her, so he probably wasn't going to call or text at this early hour, but Danny was extremely persistent when he wanted to be. Maybe it was Tucker, or even Valerie asking for advice. It was nearing Tucker's birthday, so it wouldn't be surprising if she wanted suggestions on a gift.

Reluctantly, and fearing the worst, she picked up her phone. There was a text message notification on the little screen. Her thumb slipped and the text opened before she could read who it was from.

"Good morning, Sam," she read, as if assuring herself that it was real. "Hope you have had breakfast. Meet me outside your house at nine. I have a surprise for you. Love, Jesse."

She wanted to smile at how sweet Jesse was to send a text that worried whether she'd had breakfast or not—she hadn't—but she was concerned about the "surprise" awaiting her. Maybe she was just being paranoid, but what if Danny was spying again when Jesse gave her the surprise? What if it was something that would hurt him?

No, she decided, it didn't matter. Danny didn't get the text message, she did. He wouldn't be spying because he didn't know about this. Besides, it was time to move on. No matter how protective, cute, or jealous he was, if he wasn't man enough to talk to her about how he felt, then he wasn't man enough to be with her. Plus, it wouldn't be fair to poor Jesse, whom she loved, and who loved her back.

She proceeded to get ready, her mind set.

At nine o'clock exactly, Sam made her way downstairs and opened the front door. Sure enough, there was Jesse, wearing a jacket to keep himself warm in the chilly morning air. It probably didn't help that there was thick fog still very close to the ground.

She stepped outside and closed the door behind her, careful not to disturb her parents. Jesse smiled and held out his hand, beckoning her to take it. She smiled back, a fake smile, and took his hand, letting him lead her to wherever he planned on taking her.

Jesse led the girl through the foggy city. She had no idea where he was going, but he must've had Amity Park memorized or something because the fog was so thick she couldn't see fifteen feet in front of her. What's worse, she couldn't see past Jesse since he was the one leading the way.

After about ten minutes, he stopped and asked Sam if she was cold. She shook her head in response. One weird thing about her was that she was practically immune to the cold. Unless it was forty degrees out, she could take it.

"Alright, are you ready to see your surprise?" he asked, still smiling the same, kind smile he always did.

"Sure. Where is it?" she asked.

"Close your eyes." It sounded like more of a suggestion, but Sam knew he didn't want her peeking. It was kind of obvious when someone told you to close your eyes.

She shut her eyes and waited. Well. At least now she knew it wasn't a—

Just in the last second, she felt something press against her lips.


Her eyes shot open, wide from the shock of something completely unexpected. Was this okay? Could he just up and kiss her like that? Wasn't there like a rule or something?

She didn't know what to think now. Nothing was clear to her, her mind was too foggy. He was kissing her, and in a way, she didn't mind. But another part of her, the part that preferred Danny over Jesse, was screaming at her to make it stop. The side that preferred Jesse over Danny was on cloud nine right now. That settled it, her heart really had torn in two, and one half was falling while the other was ascending to the high heavens.

It still didn't explain much, though. What was she supposed to feel about this? Was she supposed to be happy? Sad? Angry? Perhaps something in between all three of them? Well, that couldn't be right. Why would she be angry? It wasn't Jesse's fault, he was just giving her something he thought she would like. Not to say that she didn't or did, but what about Danny?

Jesse parted, leaving Sam bewildered. It felt wrong, but at the same time, right. It would be so much easier if one of the boys didn't like her, but now they both did! So did that make it wrong and right? If she couldn't hurt either of them, how was it possible to choose between them?

These weren't typical, everyday questions. They couldn't be answered immediately. It would take time, thought, emotion. Sam understood that now.

Except…there were so many questions. She hadn't even found an answer to one of them yet!

"Sam?" Jesse's calm, collected voice brought her gently out of her thoughts. For now, she was here with him. It was just him and her. She should've deeply enjoyed that kiss. However, that turned out to be impossible. Everything was impossible.

"Hm?" she mumbled back. She had good reason not to trust her voice right now.

"You seem kind of out of it. Is everything okay?" he asked.

Crap. That had to be the worst, yet most expected, question to ask at the time. What was wrong was that she wasn't sure who to be with! What if she picked the wrong guy, and ended up getting hurt? She couldn't simply pick herself up and move on to the other one. Why on earth did he have to ask the wrong thing at the wrong time?

"No, I'm fine," she replied, rather bluntly.

He shrugged, almost as if not wanting to believe anything was wrong. No, that wasn't it. He chose to believe her words. He trusted her. And that made it all the worse. She didn't deserve it, his trust. She felt like she'd somehow lied to him, betrayed him. It was the same towards Danny, too.

"Well then," he said, once more bringing her from her musings, "I guess I should get you back home. I mean—"

"Wait!" she shouted abruptly. His attention was caught immediately, and although he realized she hadn't meant to raise her voice, he couldn't help but wonder if he had done something bad. He couldn't help but wonder if she now hated him because of the kiss. Maybe it had been too soon? "I'm sorry, Jesse. I didn't mean to yell. It's just that…well…"

Sam could hardly continue as she looked deeply into his worried eyes. She knew what he was thinking. He was certain she was going to dump him right on the spot. Right after he'd so boldly kissed her. It was actually a good thing she had stopped herself. There was no doubt in her mind that if she was allowed to keep going, she would've unveiled the Danny Plan and completely shattered any hope of so much as friendship between them.

She averted her eyes. "It was a nice surprise, that's all. Thanks, Jesse." She smiled, trying to back her words.

After one long, tense minute, Jesse must've decided that he had never been in trouble and that Sam had merely been caught off guard. It was the wrong conclusion of course, but it was probably better that he didn't know yet. She vowed to tell him eventually, when he was ready.

She kept her smile all the way back home.

The weekend passed and it was time for school. And what a lovely start to Monday…

Danny had all but disappeared from Sam's visual. She hardly saw him, and when she did he was sulking in the halls, usually near his locker. His feet dragged, his head hung, his eyes were baggy. He kept his hands in his jean pockets even though it wasn't cold in the building or outside.

Her first thought was that he had gotten, or was getting, a cold. But as the days slowly moved on, he didn't seem to get better or worse. It was soon clear that he wasn't sick. So then what was wrong?

The only thing that allowed Sam to be able to face Danny now was the friendship they shared. As guilty as she felt about the whole mess she caused, she remembered that she had duties she needed to fulfill as his friend.

Sometime during the time frame of lunch, that one time of day where, other than in Mr. Lancer's classroom, it was literally impossible for him to escape to the shadows, the still ex-Goth caught him and placed a hand on his shoulder. Now he was at her mercy.

Danny refused to look directly at her and wordlessly turned his eyes to something else, likely a tree or rock.

"Okay, Danny, what's up? You've been acting strange these past few days," she started.

By natural instinct, and probably the polite habit he had developed of looking someone in the eyes when they spoke to him, he glanced toward her face, but halted and immediately turned away, pulling her hand off his shoulder.

He'd never done this before. Baffled, she spoke again. "Danny, what's with you?"

He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it. Suddenly he looked like he was thinking about what to say. It was a first for him.

But finally, a reaction.

"I'm not acting any way that I'm not expected to act," he said.

This was less of a response and more of some kind of cryptic language. Was this some kind of riddle? Was he angry at her for something? If he was angry about anything, he would've brought it up as soon as he saw her.

Tucker sat at the lunch table eating a sandwich. He knew precisely what was going on with his friend, but it was something Danny had to work out with Sam. Again, he needed to stay out of it. It wasn't his place to get involved with these kinds of things.

"Okay, what are you talking about?" she questioned.

He huffed but took a deep breath. "Really, Sam? Aren't you the one always calling me clueless?"

"Okay, so I'm missing something. Mind telling me?"

He turned his back to her, but not before Sam saw his face turn red.

"Do you know," he growled, "what it's like to lose something really precious to you?"

That was a tough question. The only things Sam held dear to her were family and friends. And of course, the planet. She wasn't a hippie, but she was a big environmentalist. None of those things had been lost.

"I guess not. Why? Did you lose something?" Because if this was what his attitude was all about, she would be on his case in no time flat.

"Yeah, you could say that. Do you know what it is?" He gave her no time to answer before saying, "Think, Sam, think."

Obviously he was trying to tell her something. Obviously she was the one being clueless this time. Losing something dear… There was no way he could be talking about her, right? This was Danny. Danny. Danny was a typical guy, he didn't like to mention his problems or ask for help…or directions for that matter. Point was, he was trying to tell her something specific, but something told her it wasn't "I love you".

The other half of her heart was starting to shudder as it realized that Danny was upset not with her, but about her. It felt like that half was blushing.

"Uh, I'm really hoping we're on the same page right now," she said.

"It's you, Sam," he admitted. He apparently didn't care that Tucker was sitting right in front of him, nor that the entire school could suddenly turn to look at his confession.

She softly gasped in delight, despite the fact that she knew he was going to say something like that. As for the Danny half of her heart, it was flying just like the Jesse half had.

But, wait, why was he saying this now? It was so convenient… He'd started acting like this right after…this weekend! Right after her kiss with Jesse!

"You were spying on me! Again!" she lashed, finally having put the pieces together.

This was Tucker's cue to get involved. When Sam got mad, Danny would need help.

"Look, Sam, Danny only did that because he likes you," he told her. "Just look at him! He's pathetic now!"

"Gee, Tuck, thanks," the halfbreed groaned.

"No offense, dude, but it's true. Anyway, Sam, I know all about what happened. I don't know if you realize it, but for a guy, watching the girl you love kiss some other guy is worse than rock bottom. And besides, what happened to you?"

"Excuse me?!" she fumbled, obviously offended.

The techno-geek cleared his throat and told it to her straight. "You liked Danny."

Danny's head shot up when he heard this. Perfect. Now her secret, her long-time secret, was out. Now he knew. But now that he knew, what would he do with her? There were a number of things, actually. He could embarrass her, he could reject her just for spite, he could toy with her feelings. He wasn't spiteful, but this was big. She had, even though she hadn't known he was there, kissed another boy right before his eyes. What would happen now?

Danny sniffled, but Sam was too shocked to notice. She had every right to be shocked. Tucker, of all people, and the one who seemed so insignificant before, had leapt into what would undoubtedly turn into an unnecessary squabble and told both of them how the other felt. Although to be fair, Sam had already known about Danny.

It couldn't be any more surprising that instead of growing angry at her for dating Jesse, Danny rushed to pull her into an embrace.

He felt different from Jesse. At the same time, oddly enough, it felt the same. She felt his breath falter and soon after, something wet dropping onto the base of her neck. He was crying.

"Then why did you make me go through all that?" he asked shakily, as if he could break down at any moment.

Sam eagerly returned the hug she'd been waiting for for the longest of times. "You only wanted Paulina."

"I was trying to make you jealous," he muttered. It felt like he was smiling slightly, but he was definitely smiling.

Did this somehow comfort him? Had he figured out her plan just as she had figured out he'd been spying on her? But she never gave him any clues… The only thing she did was try to make him envious of Jesse, which worked better than a charm. She was probably just being paranoid. Maybe it was the simple fact that she was there with him that comforted him. And it was nice hearing that Paulina was never his interest, but her. He had merely tried to use Paulina as bait, which had backfired severely, to get her attention.

He'd had her attention for a long time, though, and Paulina was never needed. But at least now she knew why he would sit and compliment that she-snake in front of her all the time. It did make her jealous and had she done something sooner, she could've avoided this whole situation.

And speaking of her current situation…

Sam sighed so quietly that not even Danny, who was right next to her, could hear. The time had come. Now she would have to make a decision. Any decision sounded good right now, but she wanted the assurance that she had made the right choice. Unfortunately, she had to accept that there weren't always happily ever afters. One of the boys would be cut deeply, because they both loved her equally. But which one?

Her first kiss had been Jesse. Her first crush had been Danny.

Danny was so unique, especially since he was half ghost, half human—not that he could reverse the effects from the accident. Wouldn't it be weird dating a ghost? It wasn't like Danny could help it. She was actually the one who had persuaded him to go into the supposedly nonworking portal to begin with. His powers were her fault. But he used his powers to save lives. That made it okay, right? It wouldn't be some strange interspecies relationship? Besides, it was her fault that his DNA had been tainted with ectoplasm. Technically, she had made him into what he was. A hero.

Then there was Jesse. Jesse was sweet, understanding, and sensitive. He was her first friend. He was also fully human, and had no ghostly traits whatsoever. But he also hadn't been on as many adventures.

Danny took her into the Ghost Portal, let her help him fight ghosts that invaded Amity Park. He flew her around whenever she was late for something, usually a protest against animal testing or hunting. He made sure he had tofu hot dogs stocked up when she came over to help him study. He was literally one of a kind.

Jesse had kindly taken her on fascinating dates. He was always so interested in what she said and unlike Danny had been doing for the past three years, never tried to make her jealous by using someone else.

But she had used Jesse to gain an upper hand with Danny. Yeah, she had gradually fallen for her bait, but Danny was, and had always been, her main target. There was nothing and no one that could replace him.

A sudden thought struck Sam at that instant. Maybe she wasn't actually in love with Jesse. Maybe her "infatuation" was actually a combination of two definite things: her yearning to see him for ages; and her excitement upon seeing Jesse for the first time in forever. The two powerful emotions together could've been so overwhelming that she might have confused them with love.

But for the first time, something deep inside told her that Danny was the correct choice. Perhaps now that she'd figured out she might not actually love Jesse, her conscience decided that she'd done a good job at what felt like learning Chinese, and opted to help her make her final decision. Danny was genuine. He was caring. He was everybody's hero. He was Danny.

Four days later, Sam had worked up the courage to properly and somewhat calmly explain to Jesse about Danny, and what her original intentions were. She told Jesse that at first she thought she loved him, but it was nothing more than her overflowing excitement and joy. She told him everything, and throughout the entire conversation, he was understanding. He didn't push Sam to tell him anything, he didn't ask many questions, and he had to be the best listener ever. The most important thing the Goth—she had discarded the much-hated girly-girl clothes and renewed herself as both an individual and nonconformist—told him was that she was sorry.

She then told Danny about everything, and for awhile he was furious and stubborn, but he got over it in a few hours—being as he couldn't hold a grudge against Sam—and went back to his usual ways of berating Dash, Kwan, and the rest of the football team.

The difference?

Now she could hug Jesse without wondering if they were something more than friends. Now Danny would hold her hand. She could take Jesse's offering of a rose every day without having to worry about it turning red. She didn't have to listen to Danny carry on about Paulina anymore. Now she could listen to compliments from both the boys and be able to know which comments were used in a romantic way and which were used in a friendly way. She could go to a school dance with Danny and know that he was her date. She could go to a school dance with Jesse and know that he was her friend.

Danny would tolerate Jesse, knowing that Sam no longer liked two guys. He could sleep peacefully with the knowledge that the Goth, just as he would have her be, was his girlfriend. And he didn't have to worry about her being stolen from him.

Goths were loyal.