Thank you to all the new people that started following my story with the last chapter update. It tickled me how they poured in. As much as I enjoy follows and favorites, I would also really appreciate some feedback on how my story is going. So, if you have an opinion, are confused, or even concerned about the story, please remember to review. I need the feedback in order to improve!
After the day he had been having, this was truly heart breaking. It was hard enough seeing her going hoarse by shouting and sobbing in the rain, but now that she was in the car out of the rain he could see the downpour of her tears more clearly. Her hot tears took a path over cheeks rosy from the cold she must have been suffering. He wanted desperately to hold and console her, but the best he could do at the moment was shuck his jacket to wrap it around her tiny shoulders. She was avoiding eye contact with him, most likely feeling insecure about sharing such a weak moment with him. This realization only made his heart ache for her even more.
It had been only a month and a half since the dance. He dreamt about that moment they had shared together, but she seemed to have been denying it ever happened. He had been good about not bringing it up and making her uncomfortable, but he did not cease to show up to see her every Friday. Instead of just standing around watching, he helped her wash her car and wipe down his bike. She would even invite him in for a snack before he left. It was safe to say at this point they were definitely friends even if she did not feel as close to him as she might have with Tsubaki. That raven-haired saint was the only person Soul imagined Maka might have felt comfortable crying in front of. Still, he felt close enough to her that he felt the need to stop by and tell her his own disappointing news, although now it felt incredibly minor in comparison to her problems. Now certainly was not the time to tell her, though it did not stop him from thinking back on it.
The morning had started off gloomy, but Soul did not realize just how bad it was about to get. The weather forecast spoke of heavy rain for the day. So, having nothing else to drive aside from his bike, Soul had to borrow Black Star's again. This was not his first time borrowing Star's car due to rain. Tsubaki also had a car, after all, and they could just share until the rain let up and Soul could use his bike again. As much as he loved having Black Star as a friend, he had to admit it felt strange leaving his precious bike behind in the hands of that idiot. It felt like leaving your child behind with a sloppily dressed baby sitter covered in tattoos.
The rain started almost immediately after he left with Star's car. It felt horribly ominous, as if something terrible was about to happen – though at the time he thought it meant his motorcycle. How foolish and untrusting did he feel now?
School had been over and summer was in effect for a couple of weeks now, so the only things left for Soul to take care of was some minor grocery shopping and simply killing time. He was tired of being cooped up either at his apartment or in Tsubaki and Black Star's. Admittedly, a rainy day was a lousy day to choose to go out for air. He was thankful for it now, because it meant he was well equipped with an umbrella and jacket.
He was at the grocery store when he got the call. He was disinclined at first to answer at all. Phone calls from his mother were never a good sign. She was well aware of how bitter Soul felt toward his family, so she had the good sense not to call him unless she had to usually. Recently the only reason she had ever called was to inquire about tuition for the semester, so Soul made the mistake of assuming it would be similar this time. Instead of a greeting, his first words to her were along the lines of, "I haven't signed up yet, mother, I don't know."
"All the better, you won't need to," came her own sour voice.
Naturally, Soul had to ask what in the world she meant by this, though somehow he knew he did not really want to know. It turned out that the grocery store was a very inappropriate place for him to answer this particular call. In no time at all he was shouting like a mad man at his phone. He was furious, and why wouldn't he be? Just like when he was a child, his parents were forcing a life on him that he in no way wanted. All he had ever wanted was to be free of them. Free of the oppression that came with high expectations. His mother scolded him for wasting his time in college. He was only fooling around, she said, and not getting any real education. This was evident in his terrible grades. He was not going to finish school any time soon, in her mind, and he was wasting his and his professor's time and his parent's money. She claimed that it was time for him to get a job that suited his abilities and learn the value of the dollar. Somehow, though, this translated as him moving back into his parents' house and taking a job working for their company. He wanted neither. Calling that place home was the last thing he wanted to do and working for their company felt like a death sentence. Granted, the job that his parents were assigning him did make an impressive amount of money, but it did not suit him at all like they might have thought. After all, they wanted him to perform for parties. That meant he was going to be forced to play the piano for weddings, bar mitzvahs, quinceaneras, etc. If he was going to do anything with the piano he would rather play the music he wanted to play, rather than the bullshit uneducated and unartistic people would want him to play. All they would want him to do is regurgitate other artist's work. Needless to say, Soul was pissed, but there was little he could do. His mother had already informed his school and was refusing to ever pay for tuition again. Even if he refused to go, Soul could not afford to keep attending school on his own. His hands were tied. The best he could hope for was to go ahead and work for his parents until he saved up enough money to come back.
What about Maka? He was not ready to leave her so soon after they had become friends. There was no doubt in his mind that he would miss her. Of course he would miss his other friends – mostly just Black Star and Tsubaki – but Maka meant something else entirely to him at this point. His other friends could be fun, but none of them could make him smile even after they have parted like she did. There was no way he could just leave without telling her and saying goodbye and the very least.
Of course, he was not going to do all of that today. That would be way too short notice. The only reason he stopped at her house tonight at all was due to the peculiar sight he saw on his way home. Maka was standing in her lawn, wearing only her work clothes without any jacket or umbrella, and shouting at the top of her lungs at the house. Confused Soul pulled into the drive way without any clue of what was going on. Even before he opened the car door and over the pounding rain he could hear her shouting. "You can't do this!" she kept repeating. She paid no attention to the car that had just pulled up and just kept screaming. As he pushed his door open, he could hear more clearly how her voice was going hoarse, so he assumed she must have been doing this for quite some time already. Were the neighbors just ignoring her? Soul put his questions aside and rushed to Maka's side when she collapsed to her knees. She only looked up at him after his umbrella blocked the rain from her head. Seeing her red eyes and face contorted with despair felt like something important in his chest was ripping in half.
"Maka? Maka, what's wrong?" he prodded as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders to help her to her feet. It mattered little to him at that moment if they were not yet at a 'hugging' stage of their friendship, because she clearly needed the assistance standing. He felt no resistance from her, so he did not second guess himself for a second.
"I'm homeless," she choked out pathetically. "They took it…No… Papa lost it." She was soaked completely, her wet hair dripping on his jacket.
"Your father? You mean he sold your house?" At this point the situation was still very unclear, but this was enough information to tell him that Maka was feeling a bit screwed. She shivered and he rubbed her shoulder carefully. Why today, of all days, would she choose to wear a sleeveless shirt to work? It was white too. God, was she naïve and damn was it adorable. It only made him feel more protective.
"M-might as well have," she chattered through another shiver. "Idiot… Stupid, stupid Papa."
By the third body shaking shiver, Soul lead her to his (Black Star's) car, instructing her to talk to him somewhere more dry and warm. Again, she gave little to no resistance until they reached the passenger side door. He had to urge her in by complaining about the rain getting in the car with the door open like it was. She glanced at him with the most defeated look in her eyes. It was like looking into a lush forest of pure sorrow.
Once he had managed to coax her into the car, Soul set the heater and reached for his groceries to offer her an apple. She accepted it, but did not eat it. Instead it sat in her lap as she continued to cry. He had not wanted to pressure her, but he was intensely curious what her father could have done with the house that would make her cry like this. So, against his better judgment he asked again for an explanation. Surprisingly though, she just started spilling information without ever sparing him a single glance. He let her speak without interrupting.
Apparently, he father, who technically owned and paid for her house even though he did not live with her, was a pretty lousy parent. After cheating on her mother not once but multiple times and driving her mother to run off and leave her family behind, Maka's father continued his foolish promiscuous activities. That enraged his daughter, so she had threatened to move out into an apartment of her own. Hurt by her need to get away from him, her father moved out instead and let his daughter keep and take care of the home she had been raised in. She did not want it at first, but she had learned to appreciate what a gift that was, because the only communication she had with her mother was the occasional post card always address to this house and never with a return address. She had no way of telling her mother if she moved. Though, lately the post cards haven't come, making her worry and become even more anxious. Out of sight and out of mind is what her father had become for a while. He came around every so often to make sure his daughter was okay, but Maka refused to let him butt into her life. Usually the stupid things he got himself into did not affect her, so there was nothing for her to worry about. This time it did. All that she knew for certain was that he had fallen into the hands of a loan-shark whom now held the deed to their house and sent his goons to 'repossess' it from them. Maka came home to them being in her home. Naturally, she threatened to call the police at first until they showed her that they had rightful ownership of the property. She begged them not to take it, then begged them to let her take her things. They refused, of course, because they were required to. One of them told her that their hands were tied tonight, but he would let her come back tomorrow to get some things, but it would have to be before his boss came by to check the place out. This part Maka tripped over, as if she was not sure how to explain it. It sounded strange that she needed to sneak around some bully to get her own things, but the law was never something Soul had studied. He had no idea what to do at that moment except take care of her the only way he could. As mentioned before, his problems felt outstandingly minor in comparison to her plight.
Maka hiccupped to an end in her story just as Soul was removing his jacket to wrap it around her. Despite the heater being on, she was still shivering. He had to quickly assess the situation to come to a conclusion about what he could do for her.
"Do you have your car keys?" he questioned as he rubbed her shoulder gently. She still did not look at him, but she nodded lightly. "Do you think you can drive?" She paused for a moment, but eventually nodded with confidence. "Alright. Hop in your car and follow me. It's not far." This time Maka looked up at him, clearly confused about what he was suggesting. Soul took this as some sort of disapproval, so cue the convincing argument. "Look, you can't stay here and I'm sure you don't want to go to your dad's for the night, so just stay at my place tonight. I'll even help you get your stuff tomorrow."
She was quick to protest. Literally, her words came out at the speed of lightning. "Oh, I can call Tsubaki o-or Liz even. I'm okay, Soul. You don't have to do that for me. I'll –"
"Do you really want to deal with Black Star after what you've been through? And, I doubt Liz and Patti will be any more comforting. Besides, do you really want to explain a second time why you need a place to stay? I'm here. I understand. I'll take care of you and give you space to breathe and think. You won't get that anywhere else." While he believed every word of his speech, some part of him also simply did not want anyone else to be comforting her. He wanted to be the one to hold her hand and wipe away her tears, figuratively speaking.
He had not expected her to accept right away given it might feel awkward staying with a guy she hardly knew, but it still made him anxious waiting for her answer. She was quiet for a while before she finally nodded in agreement. "Okay," she mumbled and reached for the door handle.
"Wait," Soul hastily demanded as he hurried out of the car with his umbrella in hand all so that he could go around and escort her from his car to hers. When she did not get up right away, he offered his hand and helped her out of the car. She weakly leaned into him to avoid the rain. "Are you sure you can drive?"
She shrugged, "You said it isn't far right?" After Soul nodded she added, "Then, yes."
It had been the truth that his place was not that far away. All this time people had been giving him grief about stopping by her place as if it had been out of his way was truly bull. His apartment complex was practically at the end of the street, just in a direction she probably never drove. They parked with little difficultly, as there tended to be plenty of parking spaces available there. Foolishly, Soul saw Maka climbing out of her car before he could make it to her side to offer his umbrella to her. His hands were too full of groceries to properly hold it up for her.
Being inside his apartment only intensified the awkwardness between them. Soul was aware he promised to give her space to think, but the quiet ate away at him. After they made it in, he chauffeured her to the living room before going around preparing things. First, he grabbed a towel then gathered blankets and a pillow. He tossed the blankets and pillow on the couch before placing the towel over the shivering girl's head. She had to pull it back away from her face to watch him disappear into the hall a second time. This time he came back with a change of clothes and a phone charger, both of which he tossed on the pile of blankets he left on the couch. Maka turned toward them with a bewildered look. She had been assuming that he had put those there for her, but the charger confused her.
"You can take a shower first. This is all I need from my room, so I won't need to go in there for the rest of the night," he explained as he headed for the small kitchen area.
Maka was rubbing her head a little with the towel to hide her awkward confusion. "You mean—"
"You can take my bed, obviously. How uncool would I be if I forced you to sleep on the couch?" Soul chuckled in spite of himself. "Give me your wet clothes after your shower and I'll wash and dry them for tomorrow. You're welcome to any clothes in my room for the night. Don't worry, they're clean I promise. Now, stop staring at me and go warm up. You're beginning to look like a blueberry ice cycle. Might want to start with cool water."
The woman that once stood tall now shuffled away with her head down. It bore a hole in the pit of Soul's stomach. Ultimately – somehow – it managed to remind him of hunger. That's right. She had just gotten back from working late when she was barred out of her own home. She probably did not get the chance to eat anything yet. Soul thought over what he could prepare for two people while he waited for the sound of the shower to start. He did not want to disturb her to make sure she was okay, so listening was the best he could do.
It is hard to say if anything was felt at all. There was a sort of numbness that was both inside and out. All that was left was an aching in her chest, but even she as unsure whether that was real or in her mind. It could be called shock or even denial. It certainly was difficult to accept that everything she had was being taken away from her. After her mother, now her father had to destroy everything else. That house was the last reminder she had of her mother. The last traces of her mother's existence in Maka's life resided in that house and they were being torn away from her. It was too difficult to think about. She absolutely did not want to think about it. It took a while for the water to make any difference. Not only had her skin gone numb, but her mind was having trouble focusing on it. She was having trouble focusing on anything anymore. The only image that came to her and stayed for any reasonable amount of time was him. She really was not sure what to think about it. He was being so nice and taking care of her without any reward in sight. After being the Soul that completely ignored her in High School and that hung out with crazy kids like Black Star, she did not expect anything like this out of him. He seemed to care, but she had no idea why.
It came back like slow fire. All at once she felt chilled to the bone, and then her skin was on fire. She nearly fell out of the shower from the shock. She had been too careless to pay attention to what she was doing. Consequently, she had turned the water too high. At first she had not noticed because it started off cold, but after a minute of standing there the temperature very quickly heightened. She managed to turn it down only after falling on her rear, which felt like falling into flowing lava. It was not much later before she heard a knock at the door.
"You okay in there, Maka?" he called with obvious anxiety in his voice.
"I-I'm fine! I just slipped." Maka rubbed her head and groaned in annoyance. She felt so stupid. She was just being a silly child throwing a fit over something out of her control. Here Soul was putting up with so much for her all because she did not keep better track of her father. Hell, she could have made him put the house in her name and nothing like this would have ever happened. She's only surprised that she had not been sold off with the house. That would just be the icing on the cake, right? Leave it to Papa to accidentally sell her off to drug lords or something.
No… He would never do something that bad. He may have been irresponsible and downright idiotic, but he still loved her. Maka had faith that there was at least that line that Papa would never cross.
Plus, at the very least she could be grateful for he who was there to pick her up when she fell from her pedestal. She was, too. Eternally so. Had he not been there, Maka might have stayed like that until she was ill. At least this way she could regain her strength before gathering the broken pieces of her life.
Gradually she raised the heat until she was sure it was something someone of a reasonable body temperature might use. Only then did she look around the tub for something to wash herself with. Not much searching was necessary, though. Leave it to a man to go minimal in bathing. There was a single bottle of body wash, one bottle of shampoo, and nothing else. At least there was no mystery as to what she would choose. When all was said and done, Maka felt relieved as if the shower had done more than warm and wash her body. It was also quite effective in cleansing her mind temporarily.
Stepping out of the shower, Maka realized something that brought her to slap her forehead in frustration. She had neglected to find clothes to wear before bathing. There was nothing left to do now but awkwardly sneak out of the bathroom wearing only a towel and hope she can make it to his bedroom without notice.
Maka wrapped herself tightly with a towel and gathered her damp clothes. Into the fray she thought as she carefully turned the doorknob. The moment she cracked the door open moist air rushed out and the smell of food rushed in. Then, much to her dismay, the door squeaked. Nothing to do now but hurry. Hastily, Maka opened the door the rest of the way and aimed for the only other door available.
"Hey, are you hungry? I made some – oh." Maka's feet froze in place as she whipped around to find Soul fighting to avert his eyes. "Sorry… I, uh… I made food. Come out after dressing if you're hungry."
Soul had begun to turn around when Maka held out her hand full of damp clothing. What more was there to do in an awkward moment but go along like nothing was wrong? "Gentle cycle…please."
He turned back focused on the clothes at first before looking up to meet her gaze. She had been offering a weak and sort of awkward smile, but it seemed to work on relieving some of the discomfort of the moment for both of them.
"Yeah, sure," he agreed as he took the clothes and walked back toward the living room. Holding the towel at her chest as if for dear life Maka ducked into the bedroom.
It was nothing like she might have expected a man's bedroom to look like. Everything was so tidy. She had to admit, if she was going to stay in anyone else's room, this was rather acceptable. If she had called Tsubaki, she would have been sleeping on a couch. Were it Liz and Patti, she would most likely have been forced into some sort of girl's sleep over scene. Who knew, though. Maybe that would have been the perfect distraction from reality. Here in the dark her mind was left free to wander. Free to remember. The only thing that kept her on solid ground and not sinking through the floor was the warmth she felt here. It was as if the sound of the air conditioner was a lullaby and the spicy scent was a comforting embrace. Most of all, it felt like she was not alone. That was the sweetest gift she could have received tonight.
Soul held his head in aggravating silence. What else was there for him to do now aside from dwell on what just happened. She must have been feeling so violated. After all, she had to notice the fact that his eyes had been yanked toward her body like some damn magnetic force. He could not help but feel like he had taken advantage of her. She was vulnerable. Wet, pink in the face from a hot shower (or so he assumed), and vulnerable. He had seen her wear short skirts before, but something about those gorgeous legs water falling down from a towel was too much to handle. How could he infringe upon her trust by thinking this way? She deserved so much more than that.
He nearly shot out of his chair the moment she turned the corner. Then, the sight of her nearly floored him all over again. All of which he hid cleverly behind a nonchalant exterior – at least, as much as he could manage. The thing that disturbed him was that she came back wearing only one of his long-sleeved button up shirts. Bashfully, she held the front as far down as she could manage. She struggled to look at him and her cheeks seemed to be burning up. Her damp hair framing her face was what really tipped off the image.
"A-are you okay?" He felt like he was going to choke on his words.
Maka shifted uncomfortably. "Do you…have any shorts or pajama pants I can wear? I couldn't find any."
"Oh…" Soul moved around the table and coolly walked toward the hall. "Yeah, I… I don't usually have people over, so I tend to just walk around in my boxers." Passing her was even more awkward than he could have imagined. She scooted around in a circle while still holding the hem of the shirt to prevent him from seeing behind her. Considering the length of the shirt, he could imagine how little it was managing to cover. "If you're comfortable with it, you can just wear that. My boxers, I mean…" God, this was harder than he could comprehend. It was too difficult to keep a his cool with the sight of her in his peripheral. He had to do his best to ignore it as he went straight for his dresser and opened up the drawer that contained his boxers. They were folded neatly, so she might not have recognized them for what they were by just looking through drawer to drawer.
"I guess that'll work," came the voice of clarity to snap Soul out of his wandering thoughts.
Nodding, Soul handed her the first pair he could get his hands on. That was when he noticed the towel on the floor behind her and sarcastic playful Soul came back out to play. "If you're so worried I'd see something, why didn't you just use the towel to cover up?" Finished, of course, with his signature smirk.
Maka's brow furrowed a little, as if she was thinking about the strange thing he had just uttered. Then, her eyes widened, she glanced over her shoulder and the realization of how silly she had been washed over her. Chuckling only earned him a firm punch in the arm, which did not deter him from laughing harder.
"What's so funny, you jerk?" she barked at him before aiming another punch for the top of his head. That time Soul dodged by ducking to the side.
"Get dressed, beautiful. Food's getting cold." He passed around her swiftly and closed the door behind him. Little did he know he left a stunned Maka in his wake.
The rest of the night went smoothly without too much uneasiness or outrageous temptation, much to Soul's relief. While she had been in the shower he had prepared a batch of rice and soup. Unfortunately, the soup did need reheating by the time she finally came out to eat, but the bright side was that she seemed to enjoy it. She appeared to get full half way through her bowl, but she sat there for a while pushing the food around with her spoon. Soul merely promised he would help her sort things out tomorrow and suggested she get some rest. She agreed quietly then got up to head back to the bedroom. It felt unreal seeing her walk off to his room in his clothes, but that was a thought he had to shake off.
His heart felt like it came to a full stop when she paused at the entrance of the hall, turned to him with a sweet smile and murmured her thanks. He wished he could take a picture of that moment and keep it in his pocket for the rest of eternity.
It turned out that the reason one of the men had agreed to let Maka return the next day was because there was a period of time that he would be the only one guarding it. His partner was away taking care of other matters, and later that day his boss was going to show up to inspect his new asset. So, there was roughly a six hour window that she would be able to come in and take a few things. Having Black Star's car helped. This way they had more space to stuff boxes of Maka's stuff. The first thing she started doing was gathering personal documents and clothes into a suitcase, instructing Soul to find his way to the bathroom to retrieve pretty much any products he could get his hands on. He focused on what he deemed important first. That being things like her toothbrush, toothpaste, hair brush, and soaps. Then, he ceased discriminating and just packed everything he saw into the bag she had given him.
A similar tactic was used all around the house. The only things she truly neglected were the furniture, having well given up on considering they did not have the time. She gathered things from her room, kitchen, living room, bathroom, and they had plenty of time to spare when she sent him to get things from her spare room. Some spare room it was, though. It was actually the master bedroom to the house. It still had a bed, but appeared unused for quite some time. The rest of the room was filled with boxes. This was going to be the easiest room of them all. All he had to do was haul out boxes and find ways to fit them into either her car or Star's.
It was all the fault of their extra time that he had ever bothered actually looking at things he was picking up. Some of the boxes had labels, others were left open. It was the ones that were open that made curious Soul peak in. Many of the boxes were books, which was both shocking and not at all a surprise at the same time. She already had two full bookshelves in her living room. That was where she was at this point in time – gathering her favorite books amidst a forest of literature.
What caught his eye and really made Soul stop before closing a box to carry it out was the sight of year books. Thumbing through the pile, he found a whole slew of yearbooks. All were the school they graduated from. With all their free time, it wouldn't hurt to look through a few, Soul figured. It was not like he was snooping through truly private things. He only wanted to look through to find his own memories. First thing he searched for was the year he was in 3rd grade. There was a girl he knew back then that he vaguely remembered. He could remember her innocent face, but not her name.
Soul leaned against the nearby bedpost as he flipped through the book to find his class. It was sorted by teachers, and frankly he did not remember a damned thing about his teacher back then. All he remembered was his friend. He remember how much he hated leaving her when his parents forced him into a private school. Most painfully, he remembered the way she cried.
Strangely, the image of Maka crying last night popped in his head. There was no doubt in his mind that the more recent events were far more concerning than the girl he left behind in elementary school. Still, he was curious. At the very least he could find out her name and remember her that way.
A few minutes of scanning later and he found the iconic messy white hair. Soul had to hold back his laugh at the devilish grin he had been sporting for the photo. He was a freak, that was for sure. It was no wonder the teacher hated him. He and his friend were polar opposites in that class, which might have been what led them to one another. She was a teacher's pet, after all. Maybe that was why their teacher hated him with such a passion. Maybe she thought he was going to ruin her perfect student. He certainly didn't stick around long enough for that. Ha.
Soul scanned around that same class of students for the face. She would have pigtails, a lot like the one's Maka wore when she washed her car, but most noticeably she had a smile that could melt the iciest of hearts. He went through the whole class once before he had to backtrack and realize he had skipped the first few students that came before 'Evans'. Consequently, she was the very last picture he checked. There was no question about it, though. That was definitely her. She had the pigtails, the hauntingly sweet smile, glittering emerald eyes, and the name he…
His reminiscent smile faded as he stared in a sort of horror at the name beneath her picture.
M-Maka? No way. Sure, they had some similar qualities, but they could not possibly be the same girl. They had the same eyes, shared a liking of pigtails, the hair color was similar though it was lighter back then, the same name. Maka could just be a popular name. He had never learned today's Maka's last name, so it was not like he could rule it out completely just yet. Still… they could be different people with the same first name.
The name was searing his brain. Swallowing the knot in his throat, Soul tossed the book back in the box and dug for a more recent one. This time he chose one from their junior year. Maka would not look too much different today that he could not spot her.
Again, it was easy to find himself once he got to the junior section, then he backpedaled to the A's in search of an Albarn, Maka. His sigh of relief nearly took his legs out from under him. She wasn't there. There was no Maka Albarn at his school their junior year, and he knew that current Maka was at the same school as him then. Soul slid to the floor and rubbed his forehead. What a pain it would have been if she was the same girl. To think that he had come back to the school only to not recognize her was ridiculous. Of course he would have recognized her if she was the same girl. Of course…
Tsubaki… She told him a few months ago that smarty pants Maka graduated early in High School. That means she was technically a senior their third year of High School. There was still a chance that he was the worst friend in existence. God Damnit, it was still possible…
Hurriedly, Soul picked the book back up and flipped to the senior section. There was only a few pages left to turn when his stomach starting aching something furious. Hesitantly he flipped the last few pages before eyeing the ill-fated first page of the senior section. Sure enough the very first picture was the same face that he recognized today. She had the same brilliant smile as the child, though it was somehow a little less jubilant. The knot in his throat returned as his eyes slowly dragged down to the name beneath the picture.