Wow—I can't believe people are actually reading this. I'm so happy and so grateful for all the lovely reviews.

I wouldn't have been so sloppy with my writing if I knew it was being read. I'll try to clear some stuff up.

Grace starts off the story as a senior in high school. Around the time that Maxim hooks up with Jessica (winter, mid-December) is usually when most people hear from their early decision colleges. Columbia is Grace's. Then, some time after that, she goes to visit the school for orientation, which is where she meets Jake. Then, I fast forward through the rest of the year, only offering a little exposition about how she had a slight fling with Jake during the rest of her senior year. Then, the story picks up again in the summer with Janie's concert.

You're right, happyeverafter, the Miss Bingley comment was a throwaway, and totally unnecessary, and I knew it when I put it in but decided to try to get away with it. I'm glad you caught it. As for the fan-fiction thing, though, I don't really think that a modern adaptation of an older story constitutes as fan-fiction. Otherwise, you can call Bridget Jones Diary and Bride and Prejudice and almost every single teen movie of the nineties fan-fiction.

Anyhow…

Chapter 14

As I dry my head with a towel in my room, Janie watches me suspiciously. I turn to her in inquiry and she doesn't respond. Her eyes fixate on mine.

"Okay, what?" I finally ask.

"Nothing-well" she begins.

"Well what?"

"What happened?"

"I already told you. I was walking along the edge of the pool and slipped. These damn shoes are so hard to walk in and-"

"And how did he end up in the pool?"

"He was walking with me and talking. And I grabbed on to him for balance but we both fell."

"Right. Now tell me what really happened."

"Janie, I'm telling you the truth."

"He broke up with Jessica, you know," she says, as if she knows how to get me.

I drop the towel. Pretend it was an accident. "So?"

"So," she pauses, "why are you smiling?"

My hand flies toward my mouth. "I'm not," I mumble.

"Yeah, right."

I remove my mother's old pearls, and pick up a hairbrush.

"So, how come they broke up?"

"I don't know," she shrugs, "I heard it from Liliya. She was gossiping about it on the phone. Something about some other girl."

"Hm."

"I hope he goes for someone better this time."

"Yeah, if someone better would take him. I hope no one does. I hope he's stuck with girls like Jessica for the rest of his life. That's what he deserves."

"I don't know," Janie sighs, "he can be nice. I like him. I mean, sure, they say he'd had a bad phase."

"Must've been a really long phase."

"Well it wasn't really his fault."

"Oh of course, he was just born that way."

"No-see-you didn't know him at his worst. The girls were saying that for a while he stopped doing anything-school, dance, anything. He just went out and did drugs and had-" her voice softens as she spells, "S-E-X."

"Big surprise," I say bitterly.

"But I guess it's understandable."

"How is that understandable, pray tell?" I ask cynically.

"Well, I don't know how I'd act if my parents were going through a divorce."

"Oh…" I say. I think about it for a second. How would I act?

"His mom married his dance teacher. They say his dad is big on drinking and-"

"Stop, Janie," I suddenly find myself saying, "Please don't tell me any more."

I don't know why it applies to me. So his parents get divorced, he becomes a rebel. It's such a cliché and…

Why am I such a heartless bitch? I hate myself for reasoning this way. But at the same time, feeling bad for Maxim makes me have to forgive the way he treated me. And the thing is, no matter how much pain you're going through (he must have been going through pain) there is no reason to hurt others around you.

Yes, I resolve. He had no right to treat me the way he did. He had no right to do the things he did to me. In that I am still right.

It is late at night but I am wide-awake, looking at a wall and thinking about what it was that had just happened. I am filled with anger. The nerve! And indignation and-I turn on my back and fix my eyes on the ceiling. When will daylight come? It will be so much easier tomorrow, when I'm reasonable, when I had had time to sleep off the way I feel right now. I blame it on the night, and the moon, and the fact that I'm really tired despite insomnia. I blame it on everything else except what it is telling me it is, what my heart is telling me it is. I cover my head with the pillow.

Just think of him. Smug. Rude. Vain. As if his good looks are some great accomplishment of his and not the result of nature's lottery. His good looks, ha. I laugh at things like that. Blue eyes. I'm not shallow. I don't fall head over heels because some guy happens to be cute. And, more to the point, who does he think he is criticizing the way I look and then acting like his interest in me is like some favor he is doing? Did he really think that I'd fall into his arms just because he said he loved me?

Love is such a stupid word anyway. People our age can't be in love. They just can't. I mean, sure I thought I was in love with Tom, but now that I think about it, it was all delusion. If anything, it was puppy love, and really the only reason I felt that way about him was because I wanted to. I mean, when a girl is fifteen years old, she wants to be in love. And I wanted the drama, and the first pain, though I didn't admit it to myself then. It was all like a romance novel to me. I was all about romance novels. Dangerous Liaisons and the Great Gatsby and Jane Eyre and Gone with the Wind. Love seemed so beautiful there, and I wanted love like that, so I transferred it to Tom, and I saw in him someone that he really wasn't. I idealized him, I idolized him, but in the end, I really fell in love with an idea. The idea of Tom, who was romantically selfish and roguish and beautiful. The idea of Tom who fit the idea.

But real love could never be like that. If anything, love was inconvenient. It was inexplicable, unstoppable, incomprehensible. It was true and it was real and it was destructive. It was the kind of feeling you didn't choose to feel but couldn't escape, the kind you couldn't get over, no matter how hard you tried. It was the kind that allowed you to see clearly and completely every flaw or fault in the other person and love them in-spite of those things, in spite of your very self. Love that you didn't play like an actor on a stage, but love that you lived, and had, and prayed to never, ever, ever lose. It had to be can't live with or without you, come hell-or high water, absolute love!

And how dare he use that word with me? How dare he? I mean-he couldn't love me that way. Nobody could love anybody that way. Love like that didn't exist. Love like that doesn't exist. It couldn't exist. If anything really exists, it's hate.

Like when I saw him at John's party and I tripped in front of him and he said something stupid like "she falls at my feet," and I remember wanting to jump on him and to make him shut up somehow, anyhow, even if it meant kissing him until he couldn't breathe, until I couldn't breathe, just so we wouldn't have to fight any more. That was hate.

And am I supposed to let up? To stop hating because he went through a tough time? No, I won't be with someone 'cause I pity them. Nor do I forgive everything 'cause he had problems. I had problems too. I dealt with them instead of taking out my frustrations on others.

How did I deal with my problems? Oh, yeah, I chose to ignore them. Or to act against better judgment. Sure, some might argue that no matter how evil Jessica was, I probably shouldn't have slept with her boyfriend. But the point remained that she was still evil and she didn't deserve him. But what happened? Everything just turned against me. Tom didn't stay with me for sleeping with him. All it did was make me feel like shit yet another time. So, in dealing with my problems, I only hurt myself. The way Maxim did, I guess, with all the drugs and the S-E-X. But at least I didn't hurt people around me. Except Jessica, I guess. But she's not a person, at least to me. I mean, she went out with-damn it, what was Tom to me, anyway? He wasn't anything, was he? I had no claim on him. She was the one who always had a claim on him. She was the offended party. Fine, if I was going out with-well, let's take Maxim for example-if I was going out with Maxim, I wouldn't want him to cheat on me with Jessica. But, I argue with my moral side, if he "loved" me enough, he wouldn't cheat on me. Sure, the man is still to take half the blame, but I took part in the situation, didn't I? I gave the opportunity. And it was foolish of me, and selfish, and ultimately self-destructive.

But one question stands. I didn't love Jessica. He claims to have loved me.

That's our one difference, that's the one thing that doesn't make us even. He hurt someone he supposedly loved. I hurt someone I hated. And, I mean, I was never very kind to Maxim either but at least I didn't love him. Only if I loved him would I be hurting someone I loved-and-after all, I never did. Right?

Shut up, I say to my brain, shut up. I'm trapped in circular reasoning. I can't let on the idea that I possibly felt-something. I can't do it because it's too late now. There are things I can't forgive him, and if I tell myself I want to, if I give myself the permission to feel, I think my world will collapse.

Maybe I'm a coward. But I refuse to put myself in the position to be hurt. He can't hurt me if I feel nothing for him. He can't hurt me if I'm indifferent. He can try, but he'll never succeed. And I won't let my heart be broken, not again. I won't handle it anymore. It broke twice already, Tom and John, broke twice on two people who didn't really seem to matter. I could move on from Tom and John. But I can't see myself moving on from Maxim.

Or maybe I'm already in it, maybe I can't stop myself, maybe I can't control it. No, no, no, I repeat in my head, I have to, I have to control it. I have to try, I have to keep myself from loving him. I mean, there are so many reasons not to. His cruelty and his selfishness and what he did to Janie. And the way he chose to say it- "I love you despite-"

Oh no! I suddenly think to myself. Do I love him despite a laundry list? Is that it? Am I exactly like him, trying to overcome the way that I feel because there are so many reasons why I should hate him? None of it makes sense; but isn't that what true love is? Something that doesn't make any fucking sense?

No, no, hold on to your convictions, to your pride, your prejudice. Hold on to the surface trappings, hold on to save yourself from falling, hold on! Fight against it, fight at all costs. Be cynical and cold and indifferent, be unhappy, but don't ever, ever, ever be in love. You're not in love until you admit it, you're not trapped until you admit it, you haven't been defeated until you admit your damn defeat.

Say fuck it all. Run away, the way you always wanted. Go somewhere where no one knows you, where you can live life happily and freely, being yourself, the yourself you want to be, the yourself that is not what you are now. The Cynical and the Cold and the Indifferent.

But maybe-maybe that somewhere isn't a place at all. Maybe it's a someone, a person with whom I can be myself, with whom I can be happy and free. Maybe that somewhere is love. Is him.

But isn't it already too late? And now there's only a missed opportunity, and the thousand unimportant excuses for why I couldn't, and only one, only one damn glaring, tormenting, heart-wrenching reason for-

-why I should have.