A/N: Hey, guys! Been a while, huh? Please don't hurt me. Anyway, I'll save my excuses and give you the facts. I consolidated the twenty -two chapters into six longer chapters, added some extra bits here and there and added a chunk at the end. New readers, enjoy! Old readers, I love you! Don't hurt me! More later. M :A/N
"Mnnnghh." It's too bright. Why is it too bright? It should be dark. Daaaark.
"Eve! Get up!"
"No! Go away! And close the stupid blinds!" I mumble, pulling the sheet over my head because if I pull up my comforter, I'll suffocate, the stupid Turkish brocade thingy.
"Eve. I'm making pancakes."
"Yes, Eve. Pancakes. Blueberry pancakes." I hesitantly peek over the edge of the sheet. Tima's standing next to my daybed, tapping one bunny-slippered foot. My bunny slipper.
"How long?" I grumble. Hey, no coffee, no cheer. There is a reason I work in a coffee shop.
Tima appears to contemplate this. Lucky Tima. She is capable of contemplating at this indecent hour of the morning. "Half an hour."
"Great. Come back in half an hour."
"Eve. You told me to wake you up at seven fifteen." I did? Can I plead momentary insanity? Oh, that's right. In some idiotic instant I decided I was going to do a work out this morning. Bliss. Pure bliss.
"Fine, I'm getting up." I kick free from some of the more stupid sheets and reach for a pair of charcoal sweats. No, I do not sleep in the nude. I sleep in my underwear. And a blue tank. But still, it's not anything that Tori and Fatima actually want to see. "I'm going downstairs."
"Whatever," Tima says. "Just don't kill yourself."
Okay, here's the deal. In the good old Kirgy County School District, Phys Ed is only required in freshman and sophomore year. But the thing is, through some truly horrible genetics, I have the slowest freaking metabolism in the world. My caffeine high sticks around for like five hours. Not normal. Definitely not normal. So I've got to work twice as hard to stay in those stupid Sevens otherwise, well, they won't fit and I'll cry. Actually they didn't fit when I bought them. They were a size four and I was a size six and let me tell you that summer was the longest of my life. So anyway, I work for my body and I work hard. Kick boxing. Kick boxing is my main workout. And, yeah, I do some running, a tiny bit of weight training and a hell of a lot of crunches but kick boxing is the heart and soul of my workout.
When I first got my punching bag when I was thirteen, it was already old. I saved up and bought it at the local pawnshop for seventy-five bucks, a deal as far as I was concerned. When I first hung it in the garage of our old house I decided on a name for it. I know, I named my punching bag. But it was fun to growl out his name while I was beating the crap out of him and ask him if he'd had enough. Yes, my bag is a he. Whether that's some subconscious sign of a vendetta I have against men, I don't know, but from that point on, my bag is always referred to as "he" or Winston, better known as Winnie.
Anyway, I go through my normal warm-up. A quick run, thirty crunches on the cold concrete floor, a couple minutes of weight lifting to warm up my arms and then I hit play on the stereo before wrapping my hands and feet in athletics' tape. Yeah, the one time I tried kickboxing without tape or gloves, I ended up breaking one toe and busting open my knuckles. I've been pretty careful ever since but the toe's never been the same. Kurt Cobain's lyrics belt out as I bounce back and forth, shifting my weight for an uppercut and then transitioning for a roundhouse kick. I can feel the sweat everywhere from my warm up. It's trickling down my temples, turning my bangs from blonde-streaked brown to black. I swipe at my upper lip, wiping away the moisture there. I can feel it beading on my back, seeping down between my breasts and under my arms. Yeah, there really isn't an antiperspirant strong enough for me when I really get going. Yet another reason to keep that garage door closed. My thighs are burning inside my sweats and my cheeks are on fire. It feels good. It feels really good. I give Winnie a quick jab with my left fist and a hard right hook. The air's pretty cold down here but I'm still burning when I go after Winston. The tape protects my hands and feet but it isn't nearly as good as a good pair of gloves would be. Still, I'm not going to have gloves out in the real world so I might as well get used to it. Another jab. Another kick. I'm gasping for air, my chest heaving. The Lycra's hot now, the sweats are too warm.
"Eve? The pancakes are ready!"
I freeze, grabbing Winnie to keep him from whacking me in the face. He's done that more than once, let me tell you, his perverse version of revenge. "Tima?"
"God, Eve, ever hear of Lady's Speedstick?" she demands from the last step of the garage stairs.
I rub my arm across my face, feeling the sweat there. "What, do you want me to slather it on my face?"
"If it'd help. You reek."
My lip curls as I grab the hand towel I brought down with me. "Bite me."
"Why don't you at least open the door or something?" Her hand is already reaching for the garage door opener.
"No, Tima! Don't!" Too late. I whip around as the door creaks up, expecting flashbulbs to start blinding me. Forgive me if I'm a bit... apprehensive about the press lately. They haven't been the kindest lately. Cough. Marcy Cowens. Cough. All I get blinded by is sunlight reflecting off of the rear windshield of my neighbor Robert's SUV.
"God, are you paranoid or what?" she says derisively.
I stare around in a little bit of amazement, poking my head out into the street and looking up and down the complex. Well, that's weird. There's no one there. I mean, the usual cars are there but no news vans, no Corey Flemming, no nothing. I can't help but feel a little stupid.
"See, Evie," Tima coos. "There aren't any monsters in the parking lot."
"Shut up," I growl and take another swing at Winston.
"Okay. And Eve?" I glance up at her. "Chill out, would you?"
I grin at her and then give Winston a vicious uppercut. Tima's feet make soft slapping sounds as she climbs back up the stairs and I proceed to kick the stuffing out of Winston. Let me tell you, if you're ever looking for a serious cardio workout, kick boxing is it. I can hear my heartbeat in my ears and Winston is sure feeling the burn. I give him another brutal roundhouse and then I hear it over Kurt Cobain's lyrics.
A quiet clicking. Okay, Eve, you are not allowed to bash the photographer's face in. That could be construed as assault. Perfectly justified assault, but assault nonetheless. My hands curl into fists despite what I'm telling myself. I just can't help it. Kurt's screaming, my blood is pounding, and I'm ticked. Not a good combination for that whole self-control spiel. I haul my shoulders back and put on my angry face. Maybe they will runaway in terror. I glance over my shoulder and there he is in all his unprofessional glory.
"Morning, Eve, lovely day. Can you give me a quick smile?"
Hideous. Pink. Hibiscus. That does not belong on a shirt. "Flemming."
He just stares at me for a minute and I can't help but wonder if he doesn't speak English. Then this completely slimy smile breaks out across his face. "Oh, come on, Eve. Just a quickie?"
"No." I head for the stairs, ripping the tape off of my hands with my teeth.
"Eve!" he calls. "I can make life very difficult for you!"
"You already do," I mutter and slam the garage door opener. I'm seriously starting to lose my patience for that guy. I mean, there's only so much I can take. Tima's in the kitchen when I get back up stairs with a stack of pancakes spread with cream cheese and drizzled over with corn syrup. I know what you're thinking, "You have got to be kidding me." I thought the same thing. Until I actually tried it and truth be told, its not half bad.
"Is Tori awake yet?" I ask, shooting a glance at the inert mass lodged in my overstuffed armchair.
Tima makes an exasperated noise. "Please. The girl is a vegetable until at least noon."
"Joy," I mutter around a wad of pancake.
"By the way," Tima says, so nonchalantly that I start to eye her more than a little suspiciously. "You might want to check your cell. It's been beeping in a rather hot kind of way."
Correction: now I'm eyeing her worriedly. "Uh, Tima, are you feeling alright? No psychedelic experiences or anything, right? You didn't take any drinks from strangers?"
She rolls her eyes. "Would you just go check it?"
This had so better be worth it; I still have a good three-quarters of pancake left. Turns out I do have a message on my cell phone from a completely alien number. I mean, it's not the first time that's happened, I do get calls, but the look on Tima's face makes me nervous as I dial voicemail.
"You have. One. New voice message," says that completely horrible, halting voice. "First. Voice message."
And then a completely different voice comes on, one that I don't find particularly horrible at all.
"Hey. It's me. You're probably wondering how the hell I got your number but... Anyway, it's Jess, Jesse and— God. I can not believe you've got me doing this. You know I've never actually done this before? Christ, now I'm talking to your voicemail. Great. Sorry, Eve, I'm trying to ask if you want to go for a burger today but obviously I'm too retarded to just say it... Well, if you decide to go, I'll see you at Mike's at two; if not, my number's 555-2398. See you then, I hope. Bye."
My hand jumps out to grip the dining room chair. I probably would have hit the floor if I didn't. Did he...? No. Couldn't be. I mean, that's just not possible. How could that be possible? I can practically feel the goofy smile spreading across my face. Yeah, I know he's supposed to be slime but... he's just so nice. So it wouldn't necessarily hurt to go get a burger at Mike's, right? Right.
"So," Tima says from the kitchen. "Are you going to get your senior picture taken or go meet up with lover boy?"
Well, that shocks me out of my funk. "What?"
Fatima gives me her best "look." "Senior picture? Today? At ten?"
"Shit!" And thus begins my joyous day. Life sucks. "I've got to call him!"
"No! Jess!" I scramble at the keys to get Jesse's number in.
And suddenly the lump wedged in my chair rears and a tangled black mane gets swept away to reveal the most terrifying bloodshot, violet eyes I've ever seen. "Would you two shut up?"
"It lives," I hear Tima mumble and grin as my phone starts to ring.
"Yeah?" Great greeting, Jess, real smooth.
"Hey, I got your message."
"Eve," I can practically hear the smile in his voice. Warm fuzzies. Wait. What? God, why did I just say that? I don't actually like him! Do I? Ah, crap
"Hey, Jess. Listen, I've got my senior pictures today—"
"Oh. No problem. I'll—"
"But I really wanted to go!" What am I saying?
"Eve. I can meet you there. At the studio. I've already had my picture taken, I know where it is and we can go to Mike's afterwards."
I'm frozen. I can't move. He is easily the sweetest guy ever.
"How's that sound?" How's that sound? Is he kidding?
"That sounds great! I'll see you there." Okay, its official. I am crushing on Jesse Bonds. God, I hate myself.
But you know what I really hate in life? Like, really hate? More than myself, anyway? Yeah, that would be lines. I hate lines. From geometry— die, geometry, die, rot in the deepest, darkest circle of hell, the one that even Dante was afraid to write about, die— what was I saying? Oh, yeah. From geometry to Disneyland. I. Hate. Lines. And guess what I'm standing in now? Yep. A line. For what may you ask? For my senior picture, of course. Yeah, like I really want to stand in line for going on two hours now while Kristen Hill preens in front of the mirror. Actually our line consists of about six people. Dear, sweet, Kristen, me, Jason Hernandez, Rick Herrera, Monica Haller, and Nicolas Hayes. Alphabetical order. You'd think that these supposedly creative geniuses could think of a better way to organize things. Like by the last five digits of our phone numbers or something.
I shoot Kristen a death glare. She is the reason I'm pondering such things. She can go rot with geometry.
God, this dress itches. It's the standardized graduation dress, the black one with the wide V. Kristen, Monica, and I all have one on. The guys are in penguin suits. Suckers. If anyone, anyone, ever comes near me with a cummerbund I have every intention of rendering them infertile for life.
"Jesus Christ, Kris, would you freaking step on it already?" Jason demands irritably. "You said you had dance practice."
Kristen scowls. It's one of those cute, pouty scowls with just the right amount of furrows in her brow and her lips all puckered out. It's the kind of thing you just know she practices in front of the mirror. "I do but this picture's going in the yearbook. Besides, it's only a recital."
Good to know she's got her priorities in order. I tap my foot a little pointedly. I was supposed to go before her. We were all supposed to go before her. But then she pulled the dance excuse on the photographer and, oh, look, now she's first. And has been first for the past two hours.
Monica gives a little sigh from the table corner she's sitting on and I glance over at her. Her baby blues flick over to me as she tucks some of her thin copper hair behind one ear, simultaneously adjusting her round tortoiseshell glasses. Now, I'm all for tortoiseshell. I think it's the new black rims and that the wire rims are so cliché by now but Monica? Yeah, tortoiseshell isn't really for her. And she'd look cuter if she pulled her hair up. And patched jeans aren't really something she can carry off. Okay, let's face it. Mon? She's a geek. Not a band geek, not a freak geek, which are all, you know, completely cool things to be, cooler than being cool, actually. But Monica Haller? She's a just-plain-geek geek. Nothing cool about that. So I smile at her kind of encouragingly because the rest of the H's aren't doing anything to put her more at ease. Nicolas Hayes could probably comfort her some; he's a drama queen and therefore also considered an outcast of high school society but he's one of those elitist drama queens, the ones with the black turtleneck sweaters, tight jeans, black rims that actually look cool and the long messy hair. You know the kind.
Monica smiles a little back at me, hugging her two books a little tighter to her chest. I turn to watch Kristen add an extra coat of shine. Okay, it's time to play hardball.
"You know," I say, earning a dirty look from Kristen. Apparently my voice has interrupted her shine cycle. Pity. "Marcy Cowens, the editor from Lola Magazine, well, she told me that if you put too much lip gloss on before a picture, it looks like your lips are melting."
Kristen's gloss wand freezes over her lips.
"But that's just the editor for you. They always think they know everything. But Luke Garcia told me the same thing when I was preparing for my photo shoot."
Suddenly all there is at the counter is a half closed tube of lip gloss. I stroll up and add a little more mascara from my bag, comb my fingers through my hair, smack my little bit of lip gloss, smile and head through the curtain. My steps slow just before I hit the blue velvet and I flash a grin at Mon and the guys.
"And that's how it's done." Is it just me or do I hear cheers? Okay, so I don't hear cheers. And, no, I didn't say that. But I thought it and it's the thought that counts, right?
"Thank God!" the photographer cries as I come in. "Finally. Now come sit right here..."
You know, somehow, those photographers always manage to wrangle me into the most uncomfortable poses. It turns out alright, though. I've finally got it narrowed down between two of them: one with a pale yellow amaryllis behind my ear and the other just looks good.
"Hey." I look up from the samples to see Jesse walking towards me with his helmet under his arm. And I can finally admit to the little somersault my stomach does which is a good thing because I've been trying to convince myself it's indigestion and keep taking like three thousand Tums.
"Hey," I say with a smile and gesture to the photos. "What do you think?"
He comes up beside me and snugs his arm around my shoulders. "Yours turned out way better than mine."
I snort. "Like you even care about them."
He pulls back to glare a little reproachfully. "I care about my pictures. Christ, Eve, its my senior picture. The one my sister will insist on showing to everyone? I do want to look decent, you know."
You always look decent. Thank God, that one doesn't escape that traitor commonly referred to as my mouth. "You sound like Kristen Hill."
Jesse winces. "Never. Say that one again."
"Well, you do! Now, which one?"
My brows pull together. "You don't think it... drowns me out?"
"Nothing could drown you out. Not when you want to be heard."
I turn and scowl at him. "And what precisely are you implying?"
"That you have a very unique and outspoken personality," he says so poker-faced that I grin.
"That's what I thought you were implying," I answer, looking the photos over one last time.
"And that you have a vocal capacity that could make it into the Genus," he adds.
"Jesse!" I shove him away. And here I thought he was this really sweet guy. Yeah. Right. "You, you... butthead!"
"See?" he laughs. "I'm right! Pick the flower. It's you."
"You're still a butthead," I mutter as he pulls me out the door toward his heaven-sent Ducati.
"Yeah, I know," he says, passing off a helmet. "So do you want to go out to lunch or what?"
"Thai?" I ask hopefully.
He frowns. "I thought we decided on Mike's."
"I'm so over Mike's Giant Burgers. For two weeks it was the only thing my mom would eat and since I tend to set the stove on fire when I try to cook, well, I was kind of stuck eating them every night too," I explain more than a little hopefully. I mean, maybe the guy would take pity.
Jesse's perfect, broad, wonderful shoulders slump and he sighs. "Eve. I am dying for a giant slab of beef dripping in grease and copious amounts of ketchup."
"Did you just use the words 'copious' and 'ketchup' in the same sentence? Because there's something intrinsically wrong with that. It's like using a double negative with 'ain't' while eating caviar. It's just wrong."
"Eve! Please! I am begging you. Mike's. Giant. Burgers."
"Or what?" I demand, cocking my hips to one side and propping my hand on my waist.
He freezes for a second, staring at me incredulously. Then he leaves his helmet balanced on the seat of the Ducati and comes slowly toward me. Oh, crap. I can't help but drop back one tiny step. Remember, Eve, you're wearing a helmet. How much damage could he possible inflict while you're wearing a helmet? He reaches up and cups the side of the helmet in his hands, resting his forehead against the visor.
"Eve, I'm crazy about you," he says in a low voice that's making me feel kind of... giddy. Especially the fact that he said he was crazy about me. I mean, how many times does a guy like Jesse Bonds, the Jesse Bonds, tell a girl that? Yeah, my heart's practically in my throat. "But you are driving me insane. Now, if you don't get on this bike in the next ten seconds and let me take you to Mike's Giant Burgers I am going to ha—"
"Eve?" I glance up to find none other than Luke Garcia watching me. Of all the crappy timing.
I sigh. "What are you doing here?"
He shifts restlessly. "I was wondering if we could talk..."
"Some other time? I'm kind of busy right now," I say looking pointedly at Jesse.
I stare at him pleadingly but the idiot is completely oblivious so I turn to Jesse. But he isn't looking at me. He's looking at Luke. And there's pure loathing in his eyes.
"She said she's busy," he grinds out between obviously clenched teeth.
Luke glances at him and a small frown line forms between his eyebrows. "Who are you?"
Jesse's icy blue eyes flash. "Her boyfriend."
What? When did this happen? How the hell did this happen? I mean, I'm flattered, obviously, but generally I like to be consulted on decisions like these. Actually, that's kind of annoying. No, I take it back, that's the kind of stuff that ticks me off. Luke seems to be thinking along the same lines. The "how did this happen," not the flattered part, I mean.
"Was Eve aware of this?" he asks, studying me carefully.
Jesse hesitates. Good. That'll teach him to say crap like that.
"I didn't think so," Luke says cooling, turning his gaze to Bonds. "Eve? Do you want to talk?"
"Yeah," I say, glaring at Jesse. "Yeah, I do. And thank you for asking me if I wanted to talk, unlike some people in this world who just decide that because they're so badass and hot that I simply must want to talk. I find that people who assume I want to talk are extremely stupid and tactless. I mean, obviously if I wanted to talk, I would have mentioned something about talking but some people like to make assumptions about my desire to talk and don't bother asking if I wanted to talk. And obviously there are preludes to talking like... like..."
Okay I'm at a loss here. Somebody help!
"Like introductions?" Luke supplies with something close to a smile making his strong, gorgeous lips quiver.
"Exactly!" I say triumphantly. "Like introductions. People have to be introduced before they can even consider talking. I mean, a relat— conversation is doomed to failure if some person just walks up and starts talking. So thank you, Luke, for asking if I would like to talk."
"No problem. My car's right over there, if you'd like a ride."
I smile graciously just like Mommy taught me to. "Thank you. I'd love a ride."
"Eve, we had plans!" Jesse snaps behind me.
I shoot a glare over my shoulder. "Tant pis."
"What the hell does that mean?" he demands.
"Too bad," Luke provides.
"Who the hell asked you?" Ooooh. Someone's getting testy.
"Come on, Luke," I say heartily. "Do you like Thai food?"
"Yeah, it's one of my favorites."
I dart another glare at Bonds. "Perfect."
I climb into the front seat of Luke's car saying loudly, "For once I don't have to wear that stupid helmet."