Chapter 19: If You Play With Fire…

By: Phat Models

Staring out the window of Sniper's car, Tia tried to find some control over the wild pounding of her heart.

The feelings warring inside of her made her chest hurt. And worse yet, she knew that he was cause for all of them. Not her current boyfriend or even any of her past ones. Sniper was the one responsible for every bit of her emotional chaos. For the stomach twisting sensation that now had it's vice like grip pressed against the middle of her chest. Crazy as she knew it sounded, she couldn't stop feeling like there was a dam inside her, around her heart, and it wanted to burst.

Tonight with Sniper had been, to put it mildly, a complete sensory overload. Only one day into their FWB arrangement, and she was already in deep trouble. How was she supposed to think of him as nothing more than a Fuck-Buddy-She-Didn't-Actually-Fuck-But-Made out-With-Like-Crazy when she'd gotten such an intimate look at his life?

Eating dinner with his family was the worst thing she could've done.

Because it had been completely perfect.

She couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten with her own family. Had to be more than a couple years ago. A tense and artificially happy get together during the holidays, since holidays were one of the only reasons her parents would make an effort to spend QT at home with her and Bri.

It was obvious how close Sniper was to his family, and how close they were to him. And for the first time in….god, maybe ever…Tia felt what it was like to be part of a loving family. It was something she didn't even know she was missing.

Mila had been so her warm and hospitable that it was easy for Tia to get over how star struck she was. She'd invited Tia to come over again, and Tia really wanted to take her up on the offer.

As if having a Supermodel for a mom wasn't points enough, the way Sniper treated his mother was just…frustratingly endearing. He'd even thanked his mom for dinner, cleared the table for her, and cleaned up the kitchen.

Men who helped out in the kitchen. Wasn't that kind of guy supposed to be a myth? Ice wouldn't even go near dirty dishes. He bought Styrofoam cutlery and just disposed of it after use.

But the most damaging part of the evening—the one that was haunting her now—took place after dinner. They'd gone back to watching TV, and Roni had kept reaching for Tia, like she wanted Tia to hold her. Normally Tia disliked babies. They smelled bad and made her ears hurt. But Roni smelled like baby power, hardly ever made a peep, and was so adorable she looked more like a toy doll than a real baby. Sniper had asked Tia if she wanted to hold her, and even though she was nervous, (she'd only ever held a baby a few times before) she agreed. It seemed cruel to say no, when the baby was reaching for her all teary eyed. So Sniper had gently placed Roni in her arms, and the baby had instantly perked up. The pouty face and teary eyes had disappeared, replaced with squeals and nonsensical baby talk as she'd tugged on Tia's hair.

Sniper had come up behind her. Lightly resting his chin on the top of her head, his arms had come up to wrap around her and Roni.

What happened next should have been unthinkable.

But it wasn't.

She pictured it, and she couldn't get it out of her head. This moment…the image the three of them made together—so reminiscent of a real family…It was an exact replica of the dream future she'd had in her head since she was a little girl. Sniper fit the part of her dashing, successful husband perfectly. And Roni, their beautiful little girl.

Panic had gripped her immediately. Sniper wasn't supposed to fit into her future. That was Ice's role. But when she tried to replace Sniper in her mind with him, her mind just rejected it. It was impossible to picture her boyfriend—Mr. I-Hate-Kids with the criminal record she still didn't know the full details on—as Mr. Family-Man.

She'd quickly foisted Roni back into Sniper's arms and mumbled some rushed lame explanation about having to leave. She'd wanted to walk, run, take a bus, a taxi—anything. She just needed to get away from him. But the stubborn asshole had insisted on driving her and accepted no substitutes.

So here she was. Stuck in his car with him for—she peered out the window—wow, not much longer. She'd been so lost in her thoughts she hadn't even realized they were already driving down her own her street.

In no time at all his car was pulling up into her driveway.

She turned to him. "Thanks for the ride," she said hastily.

Her plan was to just bolt from the car and disappear inside her house. She wanted to put an end to this confusing night as quickly as possible. Without him around to distract her, maybe she'd be able to put her thoughts back into order and figure out exactly what had happened between them tonight.

But he had other plans.

"I'll walk you up."

Walk her up? Wait—to her front door? She'd already lost count of all the gentlemanly things he'd done today, and she wanted to smack him for adding another to the list.

"Thanks, but you don't have to. It's only a three second walk from here, and I have no problem walking myself up…You should just stay in the car." Please stay in the car. Stay in the car. Stay in the—

"I'll walk you up anyway."

Giving in, she slumped in her seat. For no reason at all, she thought of the time Ice had escorted her home on one of their first dates.

Ice strolled to her side and pulled open her door. "M'lady," he mocked, giving her a teasing bow.

"Ooooh, you're such a gentleman." Tia giggled. "I can't believe you opened my door for me, I'll just have to put out."

"Really?" The smile that stretched across his face was pure evil. Before she could exit the car, Ice slammed the door shut and opened it again. He repeated this procedure a few times, winking at her.

Her silly laugh filled the still night air and she was finally able to elegantly remove herself from the Mustang. "Perv."

By the time she snapped herself out of the memory, Sniper had already gotten out of the car and was standing by the door to her side. Her stomach flipped upside down as she watched him open the car door for her.

There was no mock bow or any sort of "M'lady" from him. Oh, no, not Sniper. He wasn't even holding the door by the handle anymore. Instead, he propped it open from the top, above the window. When Tia made no move to exit the car, he started drumming his fingers there and said, "You frozen in there, Tessa?"

M'lady was definitely preferable.

Snapping herself out of it, she carefully emerged from his car, thanking God she managed to do it without falling on her face. Now would so not be the time for her klutziness to make an appearance.

"Thanks," she muttered, watching as he pushed the car door closed behind her. She stood there awkwardly, waiting for him to start walking her to her front door.

"I had a good time tonight," he said.

"Me too." She fidgeted. Looked at house (a.k.a her escape route) in longing. Fidgeted some more. "!"

She only made it a few footsteps before he grabbed her and pushed her up against the car, trapping her in place with the towering, steel wall of his body. It was all it took for that spark of heat to light up inside her, and she knew she had to get away fast, before it turned into another raging inferno.

"Now I know you're smarter than that, Princess," he drawled, serious and playful all at the same time. "You had to guess I'd never let you go so easily."

Her voice was accusing. "You're supposed to be seeing me to my front door, not holding me hostage against your car."

"Relax, I'll turn you loose eventually... But as my hostage, I think you're going to have to meet some of my demands first."

"And what would those be?" she asked warily.

"I want a goodnight kiss."

He started nuzzling her neck and she had to fight to find her voice. "Um…uh…" She'd have to fight harder at finding her voice than that. "Nowhere in the FWB guidebook does it say that…uh, goodnight kisses are required." There, much better. "Besides," she added, becoming hot and flustered when she remembered their hook up. "We already kissed like…a hundred times today. So I think you've got it covered."

The nuzzling stopped, but he didn't move away. A noise that sounded like a thinly disguised scoff followed. "Doesn't matter if we did or not. One hundred. One thousand. One hundred thousand. You're crazy if you think I'll ever get enough of you."

She felt dizzy at the thought of kissing him one hundred thousand times. And with the rate they were going, they'd probably achieve that number within a few weeks. Scratch that — she was not going to let things go that far. "You're the crazy one if you think you'll be getting anywhere near that amount of kisses out of me."

His eyebrows lifted and she could tell he wanted to say something along the lines of 'We'll see about that.' Instead, he went with, "No one's keeping score, babe. I'm happy with taking whatever I can get." And wasn't that the truth. "Starting with one more strawberry kiss from those lips of yours." Adding with a dismayed groan, "Before you take off, and I'm forced to go cold turkey for however many hours or…" he winced exaggeratedly before the next word, "days it'll be until I can get you alone with me again."

The word 'strawberry' gave her an unexpected mental jolt. Hearing that he'd already memorized what she tasted like was weirdly intimate.

Whoa. Now that was one border she wasn't going to cross. She pushed it to the back of her mind, telling herself it meant nothing. Anybody with half a brain would know what he did, considering strawberry was her absolute favourite and the flavour she was obsessed with buying all of her lip products in.

He pressed that big, powerful body into her and her mind wiped of thought. She forced herself to remember what he'd just said, and tried to string some kind of response together. "Well, you know how that saying goes. Absence makes the-" she decided to change the next word, because it had no business in their FWB affair. Heart. Yeah, nuh-uh. "…attraction grow fonder."

Sniper felt a mild surge of annoyance. He'd bet money the saying didn't go like that, and he knew exactly what word was missing. Hell, if she was going to boil them down to that, then…"I don't think my dick could grow any fonder of you, Princess," he said bluntly.

She made a small surprised sound, her breath catching. He wasn't usually so bold. And she didn't need to look down to know he'd been literal, either.

He used her distraction to close in and steal the kiss he was pinning for. But the minute she realized what he was doing, she pulled back. "Wow! Would you look at that!" she exclaimed, putting on a show of excitement.

He heaved a sigh of impatience. "What?"

"That shooting star," she gushed, staring at the black veneer of the sky. "It looks gorgeous. Like magic."

He looked up. "I don't see anything."

"Oh, no." She put on her 'disappointed voice.' "I guess it went by before you could see it. Hence the name: shooting star. It just, uh, shot on by too fast for you to catch it. Too bad. It really was beautiful."

His gaze dropped from the sky and returned to her. "Yeah? Well I'd rather be looking at you, anyway." Despite her pathetic attempt at a stall tactic, he was already tugging her back into his arms. Goodnight Kiss, Take 2: Action!

Pathetic Stall Tactic, Take 2: Action! "Oh, wow!" she cried out in shocked awe. "It just happened again. Twice in one night! I can't believe it."

He didn't bother looking up this time. "Don't tell me…another shooting star."

She flushed at his dry, unconvinced tone. Meekly, "What can I say? It's a miraculous night for the solar system."

His smile was slow, sexy, merciless. "Baby…I'm on to you."

She forced a breezy laugh, as if she found his words ludicrous. "Yeah, whatever. More like on me. You know, there is such a thing as a personal bubble—"

"You're doing it again. Trying to run away."

Caught off guard, she gasped out, "W-what?"

"It's what you do. Every single time. When something happens between us that just you can't handle. You take off running. You hide. You try your best to avoid me." He cocked his head perceptively. "So what is it that set you off this time, babe? What happened today that scared you?"

Her heart jackhammered in her chest. Her mouth gaped, pretty pink glossed lips hanging open in an 'O'. "I'm not…That's not…I' am not scared!"

He let out a short burst of ironic laughter. "If you say so, Princess."

She swatted him on the chest stubbornly. "I'm not!"

"Yeah?" His navy blue eyes sparked in challenge. "Then prove it."

She faltered. "Uhh…"

"That's what I thought."

His cocky taunting goaded her. The urge to prove him wrong grew, surpassing the flustered mass of emotions lying heavy in her stomach. Straightening up in determination, she took two small strides towards him, erasing the space between them. Grabbing fistfuls of the material of his shirt, she pulled him towards her. "Alright Mr. If it's a goodnight kiss you want; then it's a goodnight kiss you'll get."

She caught the goofy, pleased smile on his face before her lips reintroduced themselves to his. Ironic, wasn't it. After all her drama and hesitation to let him kiss her, she was the one who ended up initiating another lip tango. She threw herself into the kiss and just prayed she would hold up. If there were walls protecting her, the plaster was cracked. It wouldn't take much for him to snake his way inside. Not when he'd been chipping away at her all day. And maybe…maybe she was scared. But she still didn't want to give this up. She just had to stay strong. Draw the line between their FWB arrangement and something more in a permanent, florescent, bright and unmistakable yellow. And never, ever, cross it. But soon, that thought, and any ones like it, faded from her mind.

It wasn't long before he took charge of their fervent liplock. With complete ease, he lifted her up, swung her around, and pressed her against the side of his car. "This isn't exactly what I had in mind when I said to prove it," he chuckled, breaking the contact of their mouths. "But it'll do."

"Just shut up and keep kissing me," she ordered impatiently, breath coming out in quick gasps. The rest of his chuckles dissolved as he leaned down to do her bidding.

Trapped inside the cage of his body, their passion pushed her roughly against the car. The door handle dug into her spine, but she couldn't feel it. She just kept right on drinking from his lips. It was happening already. His touch…taking her over. And now she was no more than a panting, mindless, writhing body, desperate for him and nothing else. She pulled him into her closer, held onto him tighter, like she was trying to fuse them together so they could never, never stop.

Likewise, he didn't notice the way her fingernails bit into his biceps where she clung onto him, tight enough to leave marks. Or the desperate, almost painful clench of her thighs as she wrapped her legs around his hips. All he could feel was the one fucking girl in the whole world he wanted, in his arms, against his body, against his lips, inside his mouth. Inside his heart.

He wanted inside hers.

But all he could do was this. Touch her, kiss her, taste her, and hope that one day it'd be enough to get inside her skin. To have her so thoroughly that she could feel the press of his lips on hers, even hours after he'd stopped touching her. To tattoo the feel of him onto her, so that no matter where she was, or what she was doing, she still felt him with her. Always.

Every time he pulled away from her after a kiss like that, Tia felt like something imperative was being taken away. Like a junkie without their needle. A scuba diver without their oxygen mask. A Guido without their tanning bed. How was she supposed to…breathe without him now? She wanted to grab onto him and crush him back against her.

And then common sense started to trickle back.

"I think we just surpassed the grounds of a goodnight kiss and barrelled into a goodnight make out marathon." She tried to lighten the mood, biting her bottom lip sheepishly.

He didn't put her down. He kept her right there, in his arms. "It's not going to work," he stated.

She squirmed against his car, shifting her back. Ow. Since when was the door handle poking her? "What won't?" she asked distractedly.

"Running away," he answered, with complete and utter surety.

Door handle forgotten all over again, her eyes snapped back to his.

He cupped her face in his hand, holding her up with the one arm now. "No matter how many times you try it, or how far you go…I'll always find you. Just like I always have." His thumb stroked over her newly pink tinged cheek. "So why don't you save us both the time, and quit trying it."

She jerked away from the caress of his hand, lips pursed tightly in silence. Her thick eyelashes swept down, veiling her eyes.

He sighed heavily and prepared to put her down, releasing her from his arms. But she made a move that surprised him.

She hid her face in his chest…and clung onto him, hugging tight.

The pleasure was so intense there wasn't a word for it. Her brain was flatlinned. Completely erased of all activity that wasn't him.

Head thrown back, hips moving furiously, Tia put her cheerleading endurance to its best use yet. Panting, moaning, hands pressing against the muscular torso of the male body beneath her own. Pink painted fingernails clawed over his skin as she deliriously worked to maintain the rhythm that was searing her with mounting pleasure. Hips up….hips down. Up….down. UpdownUpdownUpdown.

Riding Sniper like he was rodeo and she was gunning for first place.

The mattress springs in her queen sized bed were squeaking like crazy. The headboard slamming against the wall again and again. The two of them were finally succumbing to their bodies primal desires, and making love had nothing to do with it. Taking place—here, now—was all systems go, violent with a capital V, full throttle fucking. And her bed was paying for it.

"How does it feel, baby?" Sniper growled out his question, lifting his hips up as he drove into her from below. His navy blue eyes were locked on her, never once looking anywhere, or at anything, else. "How does it feel having me inside you?"

She didn't know how he was managing to talk, she sure as hell couldn't. The mind numbing, nerve tingling, soul stealing pleasure he was giving her was doing an excellent job overriding her vocal cords. Breathy little moans, and panting blissful mewls—they were the only sounds that made it past her lips.

Her mind answered for her. Actually, her mind had been answering his inquiry all along. Fucking amazing, fucking amazing, fucking amazing was playing on loop inside her head. And not much else.

His upward thrusts became more forceful, his grip on her hips tightening. "Is it worth it?" His adoring gaze changed into something she didn't recognize. "Tell me it's worth it, Tia. I want to hear you say it."

She gasped out a moan, still too delirious for a reply containing any sort of words. Her brown eyes squeezed shut. The greatest orgasm she'd ever achieve in her life was bearing down on her. Less than minutes away.

Sniper's voice reached her ears again. Louder this time. More commanding. "Tell me this is worth everything we're about to destroy."

Tia's eyes shot open.

"Your relationship," he continued with relish. "Your boyfriend. My decade long friendship with Ice." He touched her face lightly, fingers stroking down her cheek. The gentle touch at odds with the nasty smile on his face. "…Our very futures."

Shock weaved its way into the ohgodsogood bubble his touch had trapped her in. Hurt brought her voice back. "Why are you saying all this?" She shook her head furiously, her voice rattled with nerves. "None of that is going to happen. Ice isn't going to find out about us. No one will ever find out about us."

The more panic she showed, the more he seemed to enjoy it. "No, baby…you're wrong. You're so fucking wrong. We destroyed it here today. All of it. Everything." He swivelled his hips, smirking, bringing his lips up to hers and hissing. "For this."

Abruptly, she felt invaded. There was no part of her left untouched by him. He was all around her, surrounding her, inside her, his voice in her ears, his presence in her head, in her heart.

And he was deliberately using her emotions to hurt her.

"Stop it," she protested shakily. "That can't happen—it won't happen. We're hiding this. We're always hiding it. Always being careful."

Her stomach filled with foretold dread the moment he took his eyes off of her to look over his shoulder. For the first time, his attention was focused on something other than her.

His words, almost sadistically happy, were paralyzing. "Not careful enough."

The dread in her stomach multiplied. Took over every single molecule of her body. She was afraid to move. She didn't even know if she could. But she forced herself, with painstaking slowness, to turn her head and see for herself what he was looking at.

Her fear and panic told her that she already knew the answer. But she still had to confirm it with her own eyes.

Her worst nightmare had just become a reality.

And reality was standing across her room, fists bunched at its sides, eyes gleaming with murder…wearing the face of her boyfriend.

Ice was here, in her room. Watching them.

She was caught with her pants down. No, with her pants off. Straddling his best friend full cowgirl. There was no scheming her way out of this, no turning back time. Karma had come to collect her, and it wanted its due.

Flash. In a flash of light, the view before her changed.

She didn't feel him, or see him move, but Sniper was no longer in the bed with her. Her bedroom changed from the scene of the crime to Ice and Sniper's bloodthirsty battle stadium quicker than the blink of the eye. Frozen, Tia watched in horrified disbelief. The merciless punches were thrown so fast she could barely keep up with what was going on. One minute Sniper had the upper hand, and then it was Ice. Sniper, Ice, Sniper, Ice... Furniture was overturned. One of the boys was knocked into her body length mirror and the glass shattered like a gunshot. Ice still with the upper hand…

Sniper was on the ground now. And Ice wasn't showing any signs of letting up.

Her voice came back to her, and she screamed. "What are you doing? Ice, stop it! Stop it!" Clutching the sheet to her body she shot off the bed. "Stop hitting him! He's not even fighting back anymore!" She tugged on Ice's free arm desperately, hysterically. "Please stop. Ice, please…"

Ice's fist was still clenched and ready to deal out more of his lethal brand of damage, but he paused. He stared at his fist for a long moment, before looking into her horror-struck face. His empty, blue eyes stared at her with such hate that she paled, turning as white as her sheet.

But he let his fist drop.

Immediately she ran over to Sniper. He was still on the floor, struggling to sit up. His lip was cracked, his nose swollen. Blood marred his face and knuckles. Holding the sheet to her with one hand, she reached out to touch him.

He managed to lift his body into a sitting position. She placed her trembling hand on his shoulder lightly, carefully. Every single bump and bruise, every cut he had…they were all her fault. He made a hissing sound of discomfort, and she yanked her hand back, afraid she'd pressed on a sore spot.

Tears clouded her vision until his image blurred and swam before her. "Please be okay," she whispered. "I'm sorry, baby. God, I'm sorry."

He met her watery, guilt ridden eyes directly…and started laughing. The blood running down his face made the sadistic, ear to ear grin on his face all the more unsettling.

Alarmed, she stared at him in confusion. She didn't know what to make of his highly unexpected reaction.

In a flash he was on his feet. "What did you think was going to happen?" He yanked her towards him and kissed her mouth roughly. His blood left a coppery taste in her mouth. "No matter how this ends, everyone is going to lie bleeding. Everyone."

She wiped a hand over her mouth. Tried to push him away.

But her hands fell uselessly through the air.

He was gone. Just like that. Disappeared—the both of them.

She was all that remained. Left standing in the middle of her broken room, traces of Sniper's blood staining her white sheet red, glass littering the floor around her feet.

Entirely alone in the fragmented pieces of her life.

Tia's eye shot open.

Her vision was met with pitch black. Her heart beat wildly in her chest, as if she'd been running for miles. She pushed some of her hair off of her forehead and–ew, was she sweating?

She blinked repeatedly, eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness. She was able to make out the shadowy outline of her bedroom now. Comprehension struck.

It was all just a dream.

She hugged her pillow in her happy relief, and could have kissed it too. "Thank God," she mumbled gratefully.

She and Sniper had never come up to her room. They'd made out against his car for god knows how long after he'd driven her home, but it had never progressed beyond that. Ice had never shown up. Hadn't caught them. Hadn't started a bloody fistfight. Just a horrible, nightmarish dream.

She could have cried she was so relieved.

But then that ugly voice in her head (the one that was probably responsible for the dream in the first place) opened its big trap. Don't go breaking out the celebratory Ben & Jerry's quite yet, foolish girl. Sure, it was just a dream…

This time.

"Yo, Tia!"

"Sup' T. Anderson."

"Hey, Tee! How's it going?"

Tia shot curt nods and tight lipped smiles to her fellow high-schoolers as she navigated through West Side's hallways early the next morning. She didn't mean to be so standoffish. Any other morning and she would have been in Social Butterfly mode, lapping up her usual ritual of attention. But the dream she'd had last night was still shaking her. She couldn't get that awful nightmare to stop re-playing insider her head. The horror flick so groundbreaking it makes Zombie Baby look like a comedy, she thought sardonically, starring my very own worst fears and playing exclusively at a brain near me.

Even though she'd been awake since five a.m. (she'd been unable to get back to sleep) residual feelings left over from her dream were still plaguing her. She felt anxious and lonely. Hollow.

And for some inexplicable reason, she was left with a burning desire to see Sniper. She kept seeing him bruised and beaten down, disappearing into thin air again and again. And as silly as she knew it was, she still needed to prove to herself that he was all in one so-gorgeous-it-was-annoying (and most of all corporeal) piece.

She finally found him at the end of the senior hallway, killing time before first class with Roy, Jay, her squadmates Victoria Canes, and Beth Bardario, and Jay's latest catch of the day. He was leaning against a beaten up looking locker, arms crossed casually against his chest, chuckling at something one of them was saying.

It was the first time she remembered being happy Ice was allergic to showing up for school on time. She never saw hide nor hair of him until at least half an hour into first period.

As Tia drew nearer to the genetically blessed group her ears picked up on their conversation. The girl Jay had his arm slung around, B-list popular Holly, was talking animatedly. "You should have seen the way he rushed to my aid," she gushed, so smitten the word could have been stamped to her forehead. "He was so brave, so courageous. His quick thinking is why I'm still standing here today." She turned in Jay's arms, slinging hers around his neck. "Isn't that right, baby?" She finished off by planting a huge kiss on his lips, before pulling away and sighing, "My hero…"

Roy chose that moment to break out into song, getting his kicks by mocking his friend. "I can be your hero baby," he crooned off-key. "I can kiss away the pain…I will stand by you forever, you can take my breath aw—"

"You might think you're being clever right now," Jay cut in, "but the real question is: why the hell do you know Enrique Iglesias's lyrics?"

His comeback went unappreciated, however, since everyone was too busy cracking up. With the exception of Holly, who was shooting daggers at Roy for daring to taunt 'Mr. Hero.'

"Hey guys," Tia greeted, announcing her presence once some of the laughter died down. Their heads all turned towards her at the sound of her voice, and return greetings were shot at her in rapid-fire.

"Check it out, it's Ice's little Wifey," Roy said in jest, sending her a lopsided grin.

"Hey Tee," harmonized Beth and Victoria.

"Sup," Jay nodded.

"Teeeeee-aaaaah!" Holly squealed with over-the-top excitement, as if they were a couple of BFF's who were being reunited after a long period of time. She threw herself onto Tia in a hug.

Bewildered, Tia returned the embrace loosely. "Uh, heeeeey," she drew out awkwardly. Her eyes met Sniper's over the girl's shoulder. He looked amused as he watched her flounder under the weight of Holly's affection. It didn't escape her that he was the only one who hadn't acknowledged her arrival. "Hey," she said to him softly.

He gave her the slightest of smiles in return. It might have been disguised by his nonchalance, but Tia could still make out the private, just-for-her soft spot in his grin. "Hey."

She only had a second to enjoy their secret moment before Holly was intruding on it. "Did I ever tell you how glad I am to have met you?" she added, finally turning Tia loose.

Confusion was written all over Tia's face. "Uhhh…" What was up with Holly? She didn't remember the girl ever being so weird…or affectionate. Yeesh.

"She's telling everyone that today," Beth explained, taking note of her Cheer Captain's lost expression.

"Haven't heard yet, huh? The craziest thing happened to her yesterday, and now her brush with death has given her a new appreciation for life, and everything and everyone in it." Vic looked like she was holding back laughter.

Tia's eyes widened. "Brush with death?"

Roy pretended to pout. "Yo, Tia, how come Holly's the only one to get a special greeting from your fine ass…Don't I get a hug too?"

Before Tia had the chance to reply, Sniper was already answering with a very mean, very firm sounding, "No."

'Ice's little wifey' experienced a moment of panic. What the hell was he doing acting possessive in front of their (and most importantly Ice's) friends? She could have strangled him. And she would have.

…At least, in a world where he didn't have like ten inches and one-hundred pounds on her, that is.

Jay was scrutinizing Sniper weirdly, but Roy looked bummed out more than anything. "Geez man," he defended, "no need to bite my head off. It's not like Ice was gonna find out."

Sounding besotted, Vic piped up. "Sniper's just being a good friend. He's not the type to prey on his best friend's girlfriend just because Ice isn't around to see it." She put a hand to her mouth, pulling out the old say-something-rude-and-cover-it-with-a-cough-trick. "Unlike…*cough*you."

Tia trained her eyes on the ceiling. Awwwwwkward.

She wasn't even going to chance looking over at Sniper to see how he was reacting to Vic's little statement

"Thanks for answering for me, Vic," she heard him voice dryly.

Everyone seemed to be regarding Sniper's reaction as him just looking out for his best friend's "property." And maybe that's all it had been. Okay, so Tia was really going out on a limb there by believing that, but thank God, his kingdom of heaven, and all his chubby little cherub angels that everyone else did too. Besides, since when was Sniper the possessive type? That behaviour was all Ice.

Roy appeared offended. "Prey? Alls I wanted was a friendly hug. It was a completely platonic request."

"Platonic?" Jay cracked. "Nothing that goes on between you and anything with a live vajayjay can be called platonic, bro."

"Vajayjay?" Holly echoed. "What kind of word is that?" Jay blatantly dropped his gaze to bellow her waist. She blushed autumn red. "Oh."

Glad that almost-incident was over with, Tia refocused on Holly. "Right. So what is it you were saying about a brush with death…?"

Holly immediately perked up. Melodrama wafted from her like a hokey late night horror movie. "It happened when I was hanging out at the park, carefree and unawares of any impending danger. And then, at approximately…um, sometime in the late afternoon, the Grim Reaper almost came to claim my soul."

The rest of the group groaned as if they were being forced to sit through Max Underwood's lengthy, infamously boring fourth grade speech on which of Luke Skywalker's droids were cooler: C-3P0 or R2D2.

"Are you really going to make us hear the entire story all over again?" Beth whined in complaint to Holly.

"Tia hasn't heard it yet."

"Yeah," Sniper deadpanned. "Lucky for her."

"Hey now," Jay surprisingly defended his 24 hour girlfriend and any story of hers she had to tell that painted him as some big shot hero. "It's very educational. You should tell the whole school, baby. The whole school."

"Speaking of school…" Tia remembered, "I need one of you guys"—she looked pointedly at Sniper, who rose an interested eyebrow— "to help me get my locker open. The stupid, evil thing jammed on me again, and I need to get some assignments out of there before class starts up. You know I'd ask Ice, but he's not here…"

Roy stuck his hands in his pockets and grinned. "Sure thing T. Anderson. I'd be happy to come to your rescue. Jay's not the only one who can be a hero around here."

"Oh sure," Jay mocked with a wide smirk. "Look who's signing up to be Enrique Iglesias now." Beth and Vic giggled at the taunt.

"I'll help you." Sniper's voice rang out authoritatively, an implied 'and that's final' hanging off his words.

If one could gesture a scoff, that's exactly what Roy did. "What–like my offer isn't good enough?"

Vic intruded with, "I don't think Ice would appreciate you helping her out just so that you could grope her."

Roy made a face. "Are you kidding me? Come on now. I'm not that bad."

But Sniper was already smoothly intercepting the girl in need and Tia had no complaints. She tried and thankfully managed to hide her smile as his towering form appeared by her side. She was able to keep herself from looking too happy as she turned Roy down. "Thanks for stepping up Roy. I promise you can battle my malfunctioning locker the next time around."

Then with a small nod from Sniper the two of them slipped away from the group, making their way down the teenage infested halls.

Before their retreating forms completely disappeared from sight Holly asked, "Wait—are my eyes playing tricks on me or are they holding hands?"

Four sets of eyes shot to the pair, immediately seeking an answer to Holly's stunned question.

"Nah," Beth spoke up after a long pause, shaking her head vehemently. "It looks like she's just tugging on his arm to get him to pick up his pace. You know how impatient our darling Captain can be."

"See Roy," Beth remarked haughtily. "Now that's what a platonic touch looks like."

For the first time—in possibly ever—Tia wished she was less popular.

Sneaking around behind your boyfriend's back was about one-hundred times more risky when almost every eye in the school was on you. Something as innocent as walking down the hallway with Sniper, as she was doing now, would surely be mentioned throughout the day, and dissected like one of those intrusive 'Friends…or More?' paparazzi shots of two big shot celebrities caught hanging together for the sake of gossip.

Luckily she already had her bases covered. If Ice heard she and Sniper were spotted together this morning, one of his friends would just tell him it was due to Westside's cheapass lockers striking again.

Tia let out a relieved breath as she pushed open the doors to the 9th graders floor. The Minor Niners had some kind of out of school fieldtrip today and their section of the school was almost empty. It felt good to get away from her hordes of classmates and their prying eyes.

"Babe," Tia heard Sniper say from behind her as she hurriedly led the way to their destination. "This ain't the way to your locker."

She played coy. "Oh, and how do you know where my locker is?"

"What do you mean how do I know? You were at your locker the first time you desperately threw yourself at me. Gotta say…it was one of the worst displays of a girl trying to get my attention I've ever seen." His smirk only grew at the mix of shock, outrage, and embarrassment on her face. "And to think you bothered trying again with a repeat performance a few weeks later."

"You're remembering it wrong!" Tia huffed. She could perfectly recall the day she'd first met him―if colliding with his brick wall of a torso could be called a meeting.

Tia whirled around and gasped when she smacked right into a very hot blue eyed guy.

"Watch it!" The guy snapped, dusting off his black leather jacket.

Tia cringed. "Sorry." She wasn't used to having guys flip out at her. Matter of fact, she knew a few of them would be grateful to bump into her.

The guy walked away muttering, "Klutz."

She could still feel her embarrassment like it was new. A part of her had known then and there that he was…different. That he'd be trouble.

If she'd only known just how much.

Pulling herself out of past memories, she continued, "That was not me throwing myself at you. That was you crashing into me like some kind of bad attitude bulldozer!" Of all the guys she could have bumped into that day, it had to be him…

"Now who's the one remembering wrong," he taunted, clearly enjoying this little trip down memory lane. "You're the one who crashed into me, Princess."

"Well you should have been looking where you were going!"

"Oh yeah," he said coolly. "I'm real sorry that I didn't make a point to check for midgets while I was walking down the hallway."

"Midgets?" Tia screeched. "Everyone's a midget to you, you overgrown Frankenteen! I'm the normal one here, okay?" Stating tetchily, "I'm average height for a girl."

A scoff. "By who's standards?"

"Well…mine. And official human height testing business places...or whatever." She cut herself off. What was she doing? When she'd longed to see him this morning, it hadn't been to argue.

And would you look at that…they were walking by the exact classroom she'd been looking for. She grabbed his arm and tried to steer him in that direction. And tugged. And tugged.

And tugged some more.

"Want to tell me why we're standing in the middle of the hallway?"

He would be completely unaware of her attempts to move his large frame. She huffed to herself. "We're not. I'm trying to pull you into a classroom for once. So cooperate, would you?"

Grinning widely, he did just that, and she was finally able to manoeuvre him to where she wanted him. She locked the classroom door behind them, just in case.

"And your locker?" he asked, his eyes lighting up with a hot spark that all but said the nasty things he was planning to do to her now that he had her alone.

She felt vaguely like she'd just opened a lion's cage, pranced on inside it, and then foolishly entrapped herself with the untamed animal.

"Pfftt. There's nothing wrong with my locker." Looking at him impishly, she said, "I thought you knew that."

"I'd hoped…but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think you'd pull another running act."

"No matter how many times you try it, or how far you go…I'll always find you." His words from last night came back to her and she blushed.

"What can I say? I decided to save you the time of chasing me down after all." She'd tried to make her voice teasing, but there was something more in the delivery.

Their bodies were slightly skirting around each other, as if they were flirting without even realizing it. They were close, but not touching. There was space between them, but not much. Bit by bit he erased that distance, looking like the lion was ready to pounce.

Surprising them both, she launched herself on him first, hugging him fiercely and resting her head on her chest.

It took him a second to recover from the shock, but he returned the embrace. Chuckling, "If this is how you plan to greet me every morning, you have my full cooperation."

She could hear his heart beating steadily in his chest and it was an oddly comforting sound. As she continued to cling to him, her new favourite mantra played inside her head. Just a dream, just a dream, just a dream…

She'd put so much thought into whether or not she'd cheat…and almost none into what would happen if she got caught.

She wanted to ask him if he ever thought about what the consequences would be if this all came crashing down around them.

But when she looked into his face and saw how relaxed-happy he looked, she couldn't bring herself to let out the words. Even so, it didn't take long for his expression to turn into concern, and she knew he must have picked up on something.

"Tia, what is it? What's wrong?"

She found herself wanting to tell him everything, but chickened out ―as usual. No way would she tell him all about her dream. Especially not the R-rated parts. But maybe…maybe she'd tell him some of it.

"I had a-well, a dream. About you."

His eyes flared and his eyebrows shot up in surprise. "And dreaming abut me…" he said tightly. "That's bad?"

He sounded upset by the idea of her being upset by it. "No! Yes. Maybe." She pressed her head back to his chest and listened to his heartbeat some more, no longer looking at him. "It wasn't a good dream," she settled on.

She heard him sigh. "And what exactly happened that makes you say that?"

She didn't reply.

More gently, "Tia, hey, look at me. What happened?"

When she didn't answer or look at him, he lifted her up and sat her on the teacher's empty desk.

"Hey!" she complained half-heartedly.

He cupped her chin and forced her to meet his eyes. "You going to tell me what happened, or what?"

"Or what," she defied petulantly.

"Tia," he warned.

Even though he was right there with her, she couldn't help feeling like she'd lost him already. Not that he was ever hers in the first place—and had that thought been just a tad bitter? "Fine, you want to know what happened? You disappeared, okay? You just disappeared."

That threw him. "I…disappeared?"

Was he an echo now? "Yes, into thin air. Just poof! Gone."

He didn't say anything after that, he just stared at her. Curiously. Like he was looking for something.

The silence and the intensity of his gaze bothered her. She already felt stupid for opening her big, fat mouth. Each second that went by only made that feeling worse. What had been the point of telling him this? So that she could show off what a anxiety-ridden, emotionally vulnerable mess this whole this was turning her into?

I have to get out of here, the thought hit her urgently. "Whatever. It was just a stupid dream." She hopped off the desk. "Bell's gonna ring soon. I should get to class. So…let's just forget I said anything."

She made a beeline for the door, but he grabbed her arm and yanked her back to him.

"I thought you were done with running away," he accused almost coldly.

"I wasn't running away, I was running to class. Got to keep up my stellar attendance record."

He snorted. "Oh yeah, you and me, we're just a couple of all around good students."

She had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from smiling at that. But somehow he knew he'd amused her anyway. Perceptive jackass.

He pulled her closer and she reluctantly let him hold her. A few moments later some of the reluctance disappeared. A few moments after that her gotta-get-out-of-here-gotta-get-out-of-here knee jerk reaction to flee started to dull down.

His voice rang out, breaking the tentatively calm silence. "I've never disappeared into thin air in my life, and I'm not going to start now. You got that, Princess? I'm not going anywhere." He kissed the top of her ear and said softly, "The entire U.S Army couldn't drag me away from you."

None of that helped her feel better. Nope. She felt worse than ever, and damn if she didn't deserve the universe to open up and swallow her down into a black hole. Cheating trollop that she was.

Would he be saying all this if she destroyed his friendship with Ice? Would he care to stay with her so badly if she took his best friend from him?

Would she even want him to? She'd deserve his hate.

She realized she owed him some kind of answer. She couldn't very well leave him hanging after he told her something like that. But she couldn't think of any words to give him that weren't half-hysterical apologies. And it wasn't like she could make him the same promise.

Hurt grew on his face the longer she remained unresponsive.

She nearly sagged in relief when the bell rang. It was the perfect way out of the conversation (or more accurately put, mess they were in).

"Look's like we really better get to class…" She started to leave, but turned back and kissed him quickly before she did so. She half expected him to stop her, but amazingly he let her slip out the door and down the hall, a slight frown on his face as he watched her go.

And suddenly, she could no longer ignore what her dream had been trying to tell her.

As long as she kept her FWB arrangement going with Sniper, she risked getting caught. She couldn't hide it forever, no matter how careful they were. Eventually Ice would find out.

Sniper had been the first to fade away in her dream because…he'd been the expendable one. She had to lose him to keep Ice. To keep their relationship.

She'd fooled herself into thinking she could have them both. If only for a short time.

She'd give herself one or two more days with Sniper.

And then she'd let him go.

No wonder I feel like I've already lost him.

But why did the very thought of it make her feel so sick?

Chandelle Heart took her sweet time as she stretched, and Tia could tell she was enjoying being the center of attention all the more for each second she kept her squadmates waiting. She was warming herself up to show off the new cheer she had written and choreographed. The blonde promised it would be sensational, but Tia wasn't going to hope for much.

School was finished for the day, and she was surprised to find that she was dreading the plans she'd made with Ice once cheer practice finished. Any time she spent with her boyfriend lately was constantly tainted and ruined by her guilt. Part of her wanted to just avoid him until after she put a stop to her slutty FWB ways.

Since she'd be doing that any day now it wasn't completely in the realm of impossibility. And then she'd be able to enjoy her hunky BF with a guilt free conscience once again.

Chandelle gave a few hops on the balls of her feet and finally launched into her 'much-awaited' cheer.

"Hey, (clap) hey you, (clap)

Your team is going down

We'll pound you to the ground

Hey, (clap) hey you, (clap)

Your team is getting beat,

We'll turn you into meat

Hey, (clap) hey you, (clap)

We'll pound you nice and hard-"

Chandelle went down into a squat and jumped up the same way. As she did, she made a pulling motion with her right hand, raising it from her crotch in a very obvious gesture that was known for being the universal hand sign of one having a wank.

"-Barbequed and charred

So stand up West Side

Let me hear you shout!

We'll chew those Eagles up

And spit them out!"

Victoria Canes, the closest thing Chandelle had to a friend on the squad, was the only one to burst out into enthusiastic applause.

The rest of the girls looked to Alexia and Tia, trying to gauge their Captain's opinions before forming their own. The blonde and brunette besties both looked like they were trying not to laugh.

"Ummm…." Tia fished for something to say. "That was, uh…"

"Totally hot, right?" Chandelle finished self-importantly. Her expression turned sour. "Can you believe that bitch Ms. Hydra banned us from performing it?"

We'll pound you nice and hard.

Yes. Yes Tia could.

Ms. Hedra (or Hydra, as her students called her) had to approve of the squad's cheers before they were allowed to perform them on the field, making sure everything stayed 'school appropriate.' The girls cheerleading outfits were already so skimpy it wouldn't be hard for things to turn damn near pornographic. But there was Ms. Hydra, saving the day, as always.


"She's just jealous of how hot we'd look performing it, obvs," Vic huffed.

"You're obvs right," Chandelle echoed in bitter agreement.

Since Chandelle's cheer 'obvs' wasn't going to become part of their line-up anytime soon, Tia had everyone do a twenty-minute warm up and then a short run through of their old cheers. They already had them down, but it wasn't like there was such a thing as being too perfect.

Speaking of too perfect…

This is why I'm hot

This is why I'm hot

This is why, this is why, this is why

This is why I'm hot

Considering how drunk she'd been at the time, Tia was surprised she could even remember it, but that was definitely what MJ had programmed into her phone when they'd exchanged numbers.

So MJ was texting her? She still wasn't sure she could trust the girl. Oh, she liked her well enough. But it bothered her that Little-Miss-Too-Perfect was so well acquainted with Sniper.

She waited until practice was over, and the gymnasium was empty of cheerleaders with super sonic hearing for gossip, before checking the message.

Message from: Top Bitch Goddess in Charge

Definitely MJ, then.

Everybody else was programmed into her phone by name, but MJ was decidedly more creative. Or just crazier.

Tia thumbed the open button.

Hey sexy-sexy

Guess what I'm doing right now?

Touching myself. Naked.

Imagining it's you.

Tia's eyebrows almost shot off her forehead. MJ may have been hot female perfection, but she didn't want the girl naked. Or touching herself. Or imagining it was her.

This had to be some kind of joke.

She was trying to formulate some kind of reply to that—how did one reply to that?—when "This Is Why I'm Hot" started blaring out of her phone for the second time. MJ again, but this time she was calling her.

"Hey…?" Tia answered awkwardly.

MJ's sultry I'm-Queen-Of-The-Universe-And-Don't-I-Know-It voice came back at her. "Hey Coyote Ugly, did I just send you a really sexy text message?"

Coyote Ugly? Did MJ just call her—wait, wasn't Coyote Ugly the movie about female bartenders who danced on tables and drove their male customers wild? Never mind, she could so get down with that nickname. "Uhh…define 'sexy'. Did I just receive a sext" —sex text—"from you? Quite possibly."

"Oops." MJ laughed, but the girl didn't sound the slightest bit embarrassed. "That was for Travis," she explained unflappably. "That hunk of stud's name is directly under yours in my phonebook, and me and the 'send' button seem to have had a small disagreement." Airily, as if she and the send button's 'disagreement' was Tia's fault, she continued, "You should have let me program your name as Sniper's Favourite Table Dancer like I wanted to, then this totally wouldn't have happened."

"And I told you, if you were going to name me something like that, it had to be Ice's Favourite Table Dancer." Even if Ice hadn't ever seen her table dance. And probably never will, her mind piped up before she could dismiss the thought.

"Party pooper," MJ accused, and Tia could picture the pout that surely accompanied it. "Anyway, I'm glad I called. I miss my new partner in crime—you're like my shiny new toy of female companionship. You free to tear up the town with me today?"

If MJ thought of her as her shiny new female companion, Tia thought of her as her shiny new female informant. MJ had grown up alongside her men, she had memories and knowledge of Ice and Sniper that Tia would kill for. If Tia could get her to share some of them…

Besides that, she knew hanging with MJ would always promise a good time. And even though she had plans with Ice (and considering practice was over, she already should have called him to come pick her up) she really loved the idea of a boy free chill day. Not to mention, she still had that urge to avoid, avoid, avoid him. She really wished she could hang with Alexia, but Lexia was busy going to Max's. And while she could hang with Jesse or Vic, sometimes they acted too much like besotted followers instead of genuine friends.

She'd never have to worry about that with MJ, who was a force of nature in and of herself.

"Yeah," she answered decidedly. "I'm free."

Avoidance: 1.

Ice: 0.

Meanwhile Jay, Ice, Roy, and their usual harem of cute females sat in perfect circle formation in the middle of Highland Hills.

Jay stood up, flipped open his lighter, and began to recite a most sacred prayer.

"Sex, drugs, rock and roll

Speed, weed, birth control

Life's a bitch and then yah die

So fuck the world and let's get high!"

Everyone hooted and hollered as Jay took the first complimentary hit of the 'good time pipe' and made a show of mock bowing. Exhaling the smoke with a tranquil expression on his face, he handed the pipe over to one of his fellow disciplines.

So what if they all went to public school and were more or less atheists. Out here they might as well have belonged to The Church Of The Pot Leaf.

Praise his holy green light.

The time on Ice's watch read 4: 30 pm. That was thirty minutes past the time Tia was supposed to be done cheerleading practice. Why hadn't she called him yet? She'd only had a few minutes to spend with him during lunch hour, and she'd acted spaced out and distant the hole time. He was really looking forward to spending some down time with his girl.

He was so busy looking at his watch; he almost missed it when the pipe came his way. Almost—because he'd never miss out on such prime authentic grass. He wondered how Sniper did it. Even now his friend was busy throwing a football around with some wannabe jockheads, instead of partaking in the circle. Snip claimed he didn't smoke up because he didn't ever want to be put in the situation of driving or taking care of his younger siblings stoned, but Ice thought that was a pretty lame excuse.

Ice always drove stoned, and he handled that shit like a NASCAR pro. As for babysitting brats, he'd hire a nanny for that shit. Problem solved.

His phone pinged with a text message, and he almost beamed the girl next to him in the head with the pipe in his haste to foist it off on her so that he could read it.

Be from Tia, he thought. Be from Tia.

And it was.

But the grin died on his face the second he started reading it.

Sorry Ice, change of plans. We'll hang out some other time.

- T

She was cancelling on him? He continued to stare at the text in shock. Not only was she cancelling, but she was doing it via text message? She hadn't even had the decency to call him to do it.

A text. A fucking text.

"Hey," the girl next to him—the one he'd practically thrown the pipe at—took note of his sudden scowl. "Are you okay?"

Her question caught the attention of Jay. "Damn Iceman, you look like you want to kill somebody. Dr. Jay prescribes some more medical marijuana and stat."

"I'm in full support of that brilliant medical advice, Dr. Jay." Roy had stretched out on the park grass and was currently laying his head on some blonde's lap. The girl was finger combing his hair, looking down at him worshipfully. "Better work on turning that frown upside down, El Capitan. You know we got a 'no negative Nancies in the circle' rule."

Blonde girl stopped her petting. "Hey!" she cried.

Roy cringed and barely hid his laugh. "Oh, sorry, Nancy—baby, that wasn't directed towards you."

Her petting recommenced.

"Call me a Nancy again, Sanchez," Ice snapped, "and I'll turn you into a toothless Betty."

Jay kept his lips closed protectively over his teeth as he exclaimed, "Dude! No violence in the circle!"

Ice got to his feet. With his current mood, his friends were just annoying him. "Fuck the circle." He stalked off, making sure to be out of their hearing range before he rang up Tia to see what was so important that she had to cancel on him.

He wasn't altogether surprised when she didn't pick up.

"Temper, temper…" a female voice cooed. One of the girls from the circle had followed him, and was eyeing him like he was her last meal. She raised her eyebrows invitingly. "You know, I can think of a few ways we can work off some of that pesky anger of yours."

Had he been single, he definitely would have taken her up on her offer. The chick was at least a 9.5 and had a huge rack. Alas…"I have a girlfriend."

But the tempest wasn't so ready to give up. "And I have a way with secrets," she purred mischievously. "Besides, I don't exactly see your girlfriend around here."

She should have been here. "I'm not interested, alright? Take the fucking hint before you make a fool of yourself."

She didn't take the hint. Instead, she laughed like she had his number. "I saw the sneaky looks you were sending my way, Grumpy. You want to stay loyal—alright—but you aren't immune. If you ever feel like straying…" she winked before sauntering off, working her hips for his benefit.

The response it stirred inside him reminded him that he wasn't seeing any action from his own girlfriend. When was the last time they got hot and heavy? During the beach party that took place weeks ago? He was determined to take things slow with her, to make sure she knew he wasn't just in it for the sex, but she had to know that by now. And fuck, was he ever getting horny.

He was proud of himself for turning down 'Great-Rack-Chick'. Not getting any + not cheating almost never went hand in hand. He'd never felt guilt when he'd cheated in the past, but this was one relationship he wasn't going to sabotage.

Besides, Tia would never cheat on him. The girl was crazy about him. Fooling around on her would no doubt crush her.

He was so lost in the musings of his stoned mind he barely noticed Snip getting into the car of one of his old jockhead friends from Ridgemont. Trent or Travis something? Whatever. If he remembered correctly, the fucker had been on the football team with him.

If he didn't already know better, he'd think the weed was making him hallucinate. He'd had no idea Snip stayed in touch with TrentTravis. He watched them drive off and then jogged back to the circle.

"Where the hell did Snip just take off to?"

Roy shrugged. "He didn't say. He just said he'd catch us later."

The whole thing bugged the hell out of Ice, even though he couldn't pinpoint why.

Tia gaped at MJ. "You better be kidding right now. Tell me you aren't serious." She stressed the last two words for all they were worth.

"Oh, I'm definitely serious, Coyote Ugly," MJ beamed. "Why would I lie to you?"

Tia's plan to have a boy free chill day had already backfired. Not even five minutes after she'd arrived to the redhead's hangout of choice, MJ was already informing her that their girl date had turned into a double date. With boys. Very specific boys.

Therein lied one big issue in hanging out with other alpha's: her friends from school always asked her for her permission before making any decisions. MJ just sprang hers on Tia.

"Don't worry," MJ had told her. "You're in no danger of becoming a third wheel. Travis is good friends with your man, so he's going to pick him up on his way over here. Oh, and by your man—I mean Sniper." MJ clapped. "See? Hasn't it all worked out just perfectly?"

Tia wanted to hang MJ with a noose made of her own shiny red hair.

"Perfectly would be my actual boyfriend showing up for a double date, not his best friend," Tia tried to keep the panic out of her voice.

MJ seemed to consider it, but then shrugged. "Nah, Travis hates Ice. Sniper works out much better."

Why did everybody dislike Ice? Affronted, Tia demanded, "Why the hell does he hate my boyfriend?"

"You'll have to take it up with him."

"Well, why do you hate my boyfriend?"

"That—you don't wanna know."

Tia crossed her arms over her chest. "Oh, I think I do."

"Oh…you really don't."

Impatient, Tia bit out, "I insist."

"You won't like hearing it. And anyway, I already know how this plays out. I tell you and you'll think I'm jealous, or lying, or whatever it is you girlfriends cook up when something threatens the image of your perfect little boyfriends."

"I already know Ice isn't perfect." He was on parole after all, and his temper wasn't always the most…restrained. To put it nicely.

MJ arched a brow, still unconvinced. "You really want to know?"

Tia resisted shouting "Duh!" "Yes."

"Here goes…" Long, giant, painful pause. "I may or may not have lost my virginity to Ice when I was fourteen."

Tia fought back a wave of jealousy, not quite sure what to do with that big reveal. "Go on…"

"I told you I didn't want Ice, and I don't…But there was a time when I did. I had a crush on him for most of my childhood. Naturally he never bothered to notice me until I got some curves in. To make a long story shorter and less painful for me to recount…I got tits, he noticed, we shagged, I thought it was some magical act of love, he didn't, he left, I cried…and then Masters picked up the pieces."

Absorbing everything she'd just heard had Tia standing statue still in shock. She knew Ice had been a player, so in a way it wasn't a total surprise to her. But knowing that didn't rid her of the sick feeling in her stomach. Her mind latched onto the last thing MJ had said, "Wait, Sniper picked up the pieces?"

MJ nodded. "Yup. I don't think I could have made it through that without him. He held me whenever I had a crying fit, and he even made sure Ice wasn't too much of a bastard to me at school after it all went down."

Tia's brain had no idea what to do with that new information. And to think she'd wanted to use MJ as an informant? She so regretted that.

A fond smile crossed MJ's face. "See, Masters likes to pretend like he's not a nice guy, but he never did fool me."

Seeming to sense Tia's dilemma, MJ tacked on, "Ice seems…almost different with you, though. Maybe you've tamed the shrew."

Tia's head shot up. Tamed the shrew?

MJ's phone buzzed and she instantly brightened. "Finally! Trav and Masters are here."

To Be Continued...

AN: I almost can't believe I'm

I don't know if you guys read my profile, but I updated it a while ago mentioning I was having comp issues. Well those comp issues turned into a complete comp meltdown and I have not had a computer for months. So while I still would have taken a longass time to update (as is my MO, sadly) I would not have taken this long. I also have writers block that's mutated into full on writers-fail. I pretty much hate this entire chapter and want to douse it in lighter fluid, roast it to high heaven, and then make smores in the remains—mmm, smores. But I want to update more.

I finally got my new computer last week, so if this chapter hasn't completely turned you off the story, the next chapter should be a much easier process for me. :P

If you don't yet hate me for my uber-long waits for updates, please R&R. Or if you'd just like to review to help me roast this chapter and eat smores with me, please do so too. :P