I-seem-to-have-run-out-of-s-words-for-the-introduction-to-my-summary-how-lame-of-me-oh-well! Summary for chapter 17: Shoe and Luka cuddle and muddle and Shoe is confronted with the concept of sexuality in a relationship. Luka assures her there is no rush, but of course she will agonize. She and Stan decide to get their friends off to an amusement park sometime, also to meet Cash's newest love interest. But now, for something completely different…

Chapter 18; In Which I Fly and Get Wet

I've always loved aeroplanes, you know? At take off, when the plane leaves the gate and laboriously taxis away, it's like a penguin out of water, clambering on unhappy surfaces. But then, when the pilot knows it is time, it hums louder and louder and tenser and tenser like it is roaring to gather its energy and courage. The plane jolts to life, rushing forward, slamming you back, and it feels like the most natural thing that the ground starts to tilt and then fall away from where you're watching out of your oval window, because gravity doesn't apply to the plane, the plane has its own gravity. When it plunges up from the runway, you can feel that bird feeling that you only have when you're dreaming –especially if the plane makes a turn and your stomach is left behind and you suddenly have a view of the ground beneath you. Leaving Japan, I always notice the blue-tiled roofs of houses like electric blue crystal patches, little square deep ponds. They glow against the brown landscape as we hurtle up-up and away.

Planted in a seat with a lean-back function and a hole for ear phones, my body aches and worries, dislikes the relentless stewardessic tide of snacks and food and coffee and tea and onboard tax-free shopping catalogues. Even when my mind tells it, we'll be out soon, across the world, you'll see that it'll be fine; my body balks. Part of me never even believes we are in the air, so many thousand meters above ground, above the clouds even. Sometimes it's just a magic box: pay a lot of money and sit in here for ten hours, and we will magic you to the ends of the earth. Don't forget to click the heels of your ruby slippers. And that's why the landscapes and the cloudscapes that are visible from the little window are so ethereal. The magic box takes us through dream valleys and past castles in the air. Flying over Russia once, I saw beneath me an endless plain of dark, glistening hills, cold sunlight pouring them over. I was the sole discoverer of a frozen sea, a secret chain of glass mountains. I watched them until they broke, turned into gentle, ocean-green water.

Last time I flew, in the sleepy middle of the flight when I was staggering to the bathroom only to find that it was being used, I caught a sunset out the tiny window of the emergency door. The sunset was as secret as the mountains had been; up here the sun touched not on water and houses but on the continent of clouds, running before me like iridescent forests. The sun was too intense to look at, but the clouds were drenched in colors which I immediately associated with fruit. Closest to the light were grapefruit, banana, mandarin. Farther out: nectarine and peach, mango, blood orange. Raspberry, pomegranate and, vividly, tomato. The plane on the inside was dusky and quiet, screens glowing here and there, the hum of the engines which you become deaf to after ten minutes. We must have been a fruit fly, buzzing uncaring through that glorious fruit smoothie. I reluctantly returned from the bathroom, wishing I had a window seat to watch from. Landing, leaving the plane, dragging myself through the airport to collect my luggage and then surrendering myself to Luka to take me home; it was the end of a dream stasis, the end again of a magic pitching me through space and time.

I brought up the airplane thing to compare it (arbitrarily; I know) to my relationship with Luka. Now that we have clumsily professed our mutual feelings, I feel like we got free tickets. Now we're on board and the ground has plummeted away but it doesn't matter because the gravity is right here, with us. I can float and look down at the landscapes made incredible by the magic box. My body however has yet to be convinced by my mind that all is well and all is natural. It worries, and aches for more solid ground.

Luka's hand slips down, under my shirt and moving at a solid pace toward my belly and all that lays below. I gasp and shiver so suddenly that he draws away from our kiss and regards me from a wary distance. "I didn't hurt you, did I?" He asks, knowing well enough he didn't.

"No," I say. I can feel the onset of a blush. "It was an automatic reaction. I got too sensitive."


"I'm the one who's sorry," I mumble. He takes pity on me and wraps his long arms around me. I forlornly press my face in his neck and sniff in his boy smell. Someone, was it Mother Goose? Once said boys were made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails –and despite that I don't know what snips are, that's not what my boy is. I envision salt crystals and bone shards, cinnamon and basil, crumbling red leaves on earth hiding shiny beetles, the smell of sulfur and sweat. And washing detergent, and the rain that was falling outside this evening when he came over. He eases me away from his neck and smirks down at me. "You know what you just sounded like?" and he impersonates my gasp, adding a dramatic, fake squeak at the end. He bats his eyelashes for effect. Gone is the nostalgic poetry of my sleepy thoughts.

"I did not," I object softly, and realize I am not providing a decent audience for his little performance. He sighs and pulls me to him, nestles soft kisses on the slanting bit of skin between my temples and my eyes. My eyelashes brush his nose and he sniffs. "Shoeby dooby doo, where are you? We've got some making out to do now," he sing-whispers in my ear.

It makes me laugh. "You've got the lyrics wrong," I say, nuzzling his nose.

"I like these better," he says, and I pounce a kiss on his mouth.

We watch a film and cuddle on the sofa, eating cookies. When it is bed time, I go and change into my pajamas. He wisely stays on the couch. I haven't undressed in front of him yet and I cannot expect myself to do it at this moment. I wonder often, now, when I will suddenly dare, when I will no longer become nervous when our kisses deepen –but my brain cannot and my body will not answer.

He joins me in his pajamas and offers me my toothbrush. We brush teeth, set our alarms for the next morning, walk around turning lights and the computer off. When all is ready for the night time, I stand by my bed and give Luka a petulant look. He knows by now what that means, and stiffly he crawls into bed before me. "It's cold!" He gives me a wounded look.

"Move around some and it'll get warmer," I instruct him.

"I'd rather not, to be honest."

"You have to." I say, trying to order him with a steel voice and a straight face. His eyes flit to mine at the sound of my voice and then he laughs as he sees my grin. He lunges up and grabs me and pulls me into bed with him. It is freezing, and I protest and wrestle against him. After a minute of him clutching my wrists in one hand and tickling me with the other, and me losing all self-respect and poise, shrieking like a creature possessed, we drop our limbs and lie breathless and finally warm on the bed. Luka catches his breath and moves an arm toward me.

"No more tickly," I mumble.

He curls the arm around me and brings his face close to mine. "And no more grammar, either."

"Well, the bed's warm."

"Not before you made me defrost it for you."

"I would've got hypothermia and died if I got into bed first."

He snickers. "University student, S. Smith, age 20, found dead; frozen to bed in her own home. Authorities researched this tragedy and arrested L. Tamsin, age 20, the victim's boyfriend. Allegedly Tamsin refused to pre-warm the bed for his weak-bodied lover, thereby sealing her fate. He will be tried in court for negligence and a total lack of sympathy. Earlier today investigators removed the body, which had turned blue, from the bed with pick axes and chisels. The victim's right hand, which was frozen solid to her mattress, accidentally broke off when one of the-"

"Enough already!" I protest and slap his bare arm, horrified but amused.

He pulls me closer. "I promise I won't let you freeze to death."

I snuggle further into his arms. Blissfully I reply, "Then I promise to get into bed right after you next time."

He disagrees with my choice of promise and shows this by biting my shoulder. Calm and warm, I ignore him and fall asleep.

In the middle of the night I awaken without reason. Outside my window it is still dark; in my room completely empty of light. I hear Luka's breathing and realize he is awake. I roll over to face him and find him sitting up, leaning his back against the headboard. I cannot make out any more of his face than a flash of his features, a transparent, nocturnal silhouette. I try to see his eyes but just barely make out his dark eyelashes and a single glint on the white of his eye.

"Did I wake you?" he murmurs apologetically. The darkness follows the shift of his body.

No one is sleeping, except for the cat at the foot of the bed, but my reply is very soft as well. "No. Is something the matter?"

I hear more than see him smile, and he moves a warm arm to my shoulders and pulls me to him. "Nothing, I just couldn't sleep."

"Are you upset with me?" I ask flatly, with a nervous sense of dawning realization.

I can't see the expression on his face, but his voice says he is surprised. "No –why, all of the sudden?"

I shrug.

"Come here," he says, and tugs on me. I climb over to him and settle, sitting between his legs, my back to his front. His big boy head rests on my small girl shoulder. "First of all, I'm not upset about anything. I promise you'll know right away when I am."

"Great, thanks." I mumble, sweet-snarkily.

"Second of all," he starts and then stops again. I can feel our chests going up and down, our breaths coming in and going out at different moments. There are heartbeats and the soft rush of blood you only become aware of if you are very quiet and think to listen for it, hidden like the plane's engines. Now I cannot tell whose heartbeat is whose; tell if I can hear his heart and his blood. My own blood feels like it is singing, searing into my veins.

"Second of all?" I prompt him.

"Hey Shoe, I love you," he says softly by my ear.

I don't know what my reaction exactly is but from Luka's subsequent hiss I gather that I struck my nails into his pajama-panted leg. I unhook my hands from him carefully. The rush of blood is louder in my head.

"You what?" I ask. Not so graceful perhaps, but communicative.

"I love you," Luka sounds stubborn this time, like I might try to talk him out of it.

But my mouth is too dry for talking. I turn in his arms, grab his shoulders for balance, and kiss him in what feels like a new, soft, mature sort of kiss. Maybe I'm the one who just feels a little new, not to mention a little harassed, but Luka's response doesn't feel any worse for it. We settle back into the bed and kiss some more.

Presently he murmurs to me, "Are you mad at me about before?"

I open my eyes and look at him, wondering when before was.

"Oh –no. Of course not."


"I'm just… slow."

His breath is warm in my neck. "As long as you tell me if you are upset."

"I will," I say, not really thinking about it.

"What time do you have class till, tomorrow? I was thinking we could go somewhere after."

"Class is till one. We can go anywhere after that. Don't you have to work in the afternoon?"

"Not tomorrow."

"Okay. Where are we going?"

"You'll see."

"The beach!? The beach!?" I exclaim. "But it's almost November! Beaches are cold in almost November! Why –what –who –why," I attempt.

Luka gives me a look, fixes the handbrake and then gives me a look some more.

We've just driven up to one of the parking lots behind the dunes. The boulevard stretches from my right side down to the pier. On the left I can see the old, dirty-red lighthouse. There are gulls flying in and out of visibility; they are as grey as the sky and the water. Some cold-looking people are walking on the boardwalk and their hair and clothing are being whipped about by the wind.

I make my best Bambi eyes at Luka. He is unconquerable like a fortress.

I make the eyes bigger and soggier. He looks a little revolted.

"Shoe," he sighs. "You're wearing your winter coat like I told you, right? It's not that cold out."

"Remember they'll arrest you for a total lack of sympathy," I remind him of my impending death.

He grimaces at me and reaches into the back of his car, excavating a formless fleece sweater. "Would you like to wear this under your coat? It might keep you a little warmer."

I take the sweater from him and sniff it. It smells like his cologne and like stuffy car seat. "I'll wear it," I say and he smirks. I find some dark grey Pimp fuzz on the sweater and show it to him.

"Your cat's hair is still all over this car. I've vacuumed it twice, you know." He informs me crankily. I kiss him so he can't see me rolling my eyes.

Outside the car, the wind is whipping my hair into my eyes and mouth and pulling sound from my ears. The air all around me smells like the sea. The feeling is quite exhilarating but I am happy for Luka's sweater nonetheless. Glad I listened when he told me to wear sensible shoes (I am a sensible Shoe) I clutch Luka's hand and we descend a sandy wooden staircase to the beach. We walk. We walk down the beach in the direction of the pier and every footstep in the wet, uneven sand is a struggle and a victory. Except once when I trip and land on my bottom and Luka has to drag me up and brush the sand off me.

We walk bravely up to the water and stand to where the tide creeps up and smoothes out the sand, a mother eternally making a bed. The rhythm is hypnotizing and neither of us have the need to talk here. The constant crawling and distant thundering, pounding, of waves on waves calms me and it is only my limbs' complaint of cold that keeps me from being still and reverent. I follow the connect-the-dots pattern of the little bone-colored seashells which are scattered on the wet shore. They shift into new figures each time a wave comes to shore. I lick my lips and they are chilly and taste of salt. A sudden brazen idea bursts into existence in my brain and worms its way out of my mouth.

"When's the last time you got to swim in the sea?" I ask Luka, unable to keep out the naughty note to my voice.

His cheeks and nose are red and his hair has gone big and fuzzy in the cold wet air. He looks very young and adorable. When he sees me lean over and undo my shoelaces he gets the same look on his face he always used to when we were little and I had a harebrained idea. It always took me a while to get him enthusiastic, just like that time we were nine and I thought it would be a good idea to build an igloo out of the fresh fallen snow and then sleep in it. Our parents had a four-way heart attack when they found us under the snow and Luka kept going "I told you so" for about a month after. Until he stole our teacher's diary from her desk and copied a passage on the black board at school ("George and I went on our sixth date last night and I honestly couldn't stand how fast he ate his dinner and kept stealing fries off my plate. I know it isn't ladylike but if he touches my French fries again I am biting his 'lance' off! No more dirty roll-playing saint George and the dragon for him!"). Officially Luka was grounded for a hundred years but luckily for him his mom got tired of having him around the house.

My left shoe and sock are off and I'm hopping around getting the other ones off. When the damp sand makes contact with both my bare feet, I shiver a little. The cold seeps into my skin like the coffee stain into my favorite white skirt that time at Monkies where Luka accidentally dropped his bag on my arm. I edge towards the water but it's edging towards me even faster, and before my brain and body have reached consensus as to whether touching the water is a good thing ("oh it's fine," says brain; "oh dear god no," says body) the sea has thrust itself around my ankles. The FREEZING sea.

I start laughing at the feeling (maybe a little hysterically) and motion to Luka to join me. The cold seems to have frozen his conservative little brain out of commission, but then he lets out a heart-rending (fake) sigh and slips his own sneakers off. Barefoot, he joins me in the water and tells me wincingly that I am so buying him coffee afterwards. I ask whether we'll be allowed into any café with dirty feet and wet socks. After a moment of pure shock played out on his face, he narrows his eyes at me and tells me we had damn well better damn it.

I kick freezing cold seawater at him.

He goes "Gahh!" and makes a face like something huge and slimy just bit him.

"If you were anyone else I'd push you face-first into this icy hell, you do realize this?" Luka warns me, wiping the cold water off his leg and shivering.

I grin and jut out my chin. "You wouldn't! Because you looooove me." Oooh. I feel like I've said something very rash and foolish. But oh well.

His face grows still. "Yeah, so?"

"So you don't want to force me into reappraising my sentiments for you… by doing something rash like throwing me into the sea."

"Your sentiments for me," he repeats. His hair is being snapped and slapped about his face, he keeps brushing it away but the wind is endless. Mine is back in a pony tail but all the short bits that didn't stay are being pushed into my ears, my eyes, my mouth, and my nostrils, along with a bunch of sand. "Yeah," I say, "you know. Those sentiments."

I don't say anything else and neither does he. We stare at each other until my face starts to sting from simultaneous blushing and cold sea wind. I look away and don't know what to say, but I have a dumb smile pasted on my face. Then Luka gets tired of the quiet, I guess, so he kicks sea water back at me and it's so cold I scream like a little girl (which makes sense biologically).

We get fed up with the cold after that and trudge toward the bleak, empty boardwalk. Every step in the sand is a confrontation with my leg muscles; the poor things barely know what's hit them. Every three meters my nose goes runny and I wipe it with my sleeve –actually, with Luka's sleeve. I'll have to take the sweater home with me and wash it before he notices it's got his girlfriend's bogies all over it.

He is walking beside me, his dark head turned down, eyes focused on the uneven beach. We are walking barefoot –our feet caked in sand –because we figured it would be gross to immediately put our salty wet feet back into socks and shoes. Now it's turning out that plodding barefoot in nearly November sand is also gross. Was I very foolish, back there? Did I say something unforgivable?

Luka's generic white sport socks are stuffed into his shoes, which are swinging by their heels from the fingers of his right hand. Like a flash storm hitting me, I am overthrown by a sense of silly powerlessness –won't I always be obsessed with my own childishness and shortcomings? I fall behind; is there really such a distance between the beach and the tiled sidewalk? Is it the worsening weather that has made it such a journey, from here to yonder? Cold and fussy, I drop my shoes. It is just my luck that my own socks –green, with smiling hamburgers on them –fall out and one gets blown off by the wind.

I decide not to care about socks, socks can be bought anywhere! And instead, tackle Luka from behind.

This doesn't go as smoothly as in the movies. I weigh at least fifteen kilos less than he does so instead of falling gracefully, Luka just stumbles and swerves with me clutching his hips and my face pressed into his coat and belt. My little god of irony makes him step into a sandy pothole to his left and fall anyway. He lands on my poor, dear left hand, and my head lands in the coldest, stickiest sand in the bloody world.

"Ouah!" Luka exclaims. "What are you doing?!" My face is screwed up in pain and I'm yanking at my left arm. When he notices he's on it he jumps away, going, "oh shit!"

"What's this about then?" he asks, looking very shocked. I cradle my left hand and give him a scornful look before I can help myself. "You were meant to fall gracefully so I could land lightly on top of you… and then smooch you like in the movies."

He looks at us, half-lying in the sand, barefoot and quite gritty all-round. "Well, is your hand okay?" he waves me over, seeming nonplussed. I am only a squirm and a wriggle away from him; then I present him with my hand. "It doesn't hurt anymore." I say. He ignores me, holding my hand in both of his, bending the digits of my numbed fingers one by one, balling my cold hand into a fist and then stretching it out again. The skin feels dry enough to crack. But it feels good, his touch and the

attention. He brings my hand to his mouth and presses a kiss on my palm. "My hands are dirty," I protest.

"At least they're not broken. Now what was this about smooching me?" he sounds very businesslike.

Nothing, I want to say, all shy again, but since I did knock him over (barely) I ought to follow up on my actions, even if they are only brainless spasms of bravery. I scuttle onto him like a crab and then he's lying on the sand and I'm lying on him –and now he's got sand in his eyes.

"Jeez! Your hair's full of it," he accuses me, rubbing his eyes. "Don't rub!" I try to stop him, finding my purse and magicking out some contact fluid. I make him hold still and drip it into his eye but he grows impatient, takes the fluid, sits up and does it himself. So we're sitting in the sand again, this time Luka has decidedly red eyes and a pouting, sleepy expression and there has yet to be smooched. I appear to be on top of my game. The little god on my shoulder can't breathe for giggling.

"It was too early," Luka says after a while, at the exact moment I say, "I'm freezing!"

He looks huffy and I say, "Sorry?" even though I think I heard him right the first time. He doesn't repeat himself, so I talk. "What was too early? Had you wanted to come here later?"

He tries to look at me straight, which is tough when your eyes are very small and tearing up. I fight the urge to pat him and say there's a dear, have a good cry why don't you. He would probably bite me.

"When I said I loved you last night," he's poking his eyes with his salty fingers so I grab them. Boys are like puppies except puppies actually learn not to touch their eyes with dirty hands if they've just got sand in them already. "It was too early for me to say that. We've only been… we only had the Talk like two weeks ago." he shrugs. "I wanted to say it, is all. But I didn't want to freak you out."

"I'm not freaked out," I say, wondering if I'm being honest. He's rubbing his eyes with the back of his other hand, so I grab that one too. I tell him to stop rubbing and he moans that it's itchy and I say sorry for spilling sand on him. "But I swear I'm not freaked out," I repeat, nervous now I think I may be lying, "I don't believe in too early, anyway. Everything happens in its own time, and we're supposed to tell each other everything we want to, right?"

"My eyes hurt." He says balefully.

"Thanks for sharing, Luka."

"And I just sat on your hand."

"I was directly at fault for that," I acknowledge.

"And, I love you."

"No! Crap! No no no!"

"What?! I thought it didn't freak you out –"

"That's my fucking sock!" I wail at the seagull eating my fucking sock, and ignore whatever Luka is on about. I struggle to my feet and after the dirty great git who's stolen my blown-away sock; the gull squawks and hops off and I retrieve it. The hamburger on it looks filthy but happy. I return to where Luka is squinting around and jam the sock into my shoe (Put a sock in it, Shoe! Ha ha).

"The seagull had your sock?" Luka asks.

"Yeah, sorry to interrupt what you were saying."

"It was nothing important," he says, with a Shakespearean sigh.

"As per usual," I say snidely. We stand up and pat the equivalent of a small island off our clothes and out of my hair.

"This was a great idea," Luka deadpans, coughing up sand.

"Yeah, we should do this every week," I agree, picking sand from my teeth.

We make it up to the boardwalk alive and into the first café we find. There is a fireplace in the back and we plunge ourselves nary into it. I can hear Luka muttering a prayer of thanks in French, and I am telling my own little god to not douse the fire if he can help it. He tells me he can't promise anything. We hang our dirty wet socks by the fire and place our frozen feet by it. The chairs are partly cushion and partly wood and mostly uncomfortable, but at least there is no wind or water here. There is still sand –all over us.

"Care to elaborate on your comment from before about your 'sentiments'?" Luka asks, with a casual Joe-cool sort of face. I can tell he wants to get this talked about and over with.

I open my mouth to say ten different things at once because apparently, my brain has a bunch of simultaneously occurring, different thought signals. "Of course I love you too," is the first thing I blurt. Luka looks briefly gratified. I carry on. "However I did think it was awfully early to be speaking like that when I first heard you say it. And then I got confused because I'd been thinking it for ages, ever since I liked you, but to think it and to say it are two different things I guess. Also don't you think there are more kinds of love? I mean obviously but when we were little and best friends I loved you lots, but that was brotherly love wasn't it. And you can love a guy friend without being romantically interested. And parents and siblings. I mean, I love your brothers too but somehow I could say that without creating bizarre romantic tension whereas we've just been weird today, ever since you told me that last night. You know what I mean? If you're saying you love me the way we've been used to, as friends, then of course it's not too early. But if you're saying you love me romantically even though we've only been romantically involved for two weeks, one of which I was officially jetlagged, then yes it's a bit too early. And now I am confused because I do love you back but I never considered until now if the love is for you as a best friend or if it's possible that it already developed as romantic love in this brief time. I haven't figured it out yet but yes I love you too. Even when you are annoying sometimes."

Luka's face has imploded into two narrow slits for eyes and a third slit for a mouth.

"Were you even listening?" I say after a long moment.

"So… wait," he shifts in his chair. "Did you just break up with me?"

"You weren't listening," I conclude.

"You were talking so quickly you broke the sound barrier. I couldn't hear a word you said, my ears kept popping," he replies darkly.

I narrow my eyes back at him. The waiter brings us our coffee and I ask for the wine menu. We'll be stuck here till our shoes are dry so might as well.

"Rosé?" I ask Luka, studying the wines.

"The whole bottle please," he mumbles, eyes closed.

I also order a baguette with aioli. It is almost four and I have been without food for what feels like weeks, so I peruse the menu for more food. "Hey, they have bouillabaisse here."

Luka leans toward me, so close our noses are almost touching.

"Booya-beyz," I say, fooling with my accent. He opens his mouth to say something. "Bouilla-baise-moi," I implore soulfully.

"Shoe," he tries, but I kiss him before he can say anything else.

He lets me for a minute until he remembers he was trying to say something, and then he detaches himself. "Shoe," he says sternly, "don't suddenly kiss me when I'm trying to say something important."

"You liked it, you hypocrite," I shrug.

"So if I recap your... soliloquy…" he starts, "you don't really mind that I said it though you thought it was on the early side, and you haven't figured out your feelings yet but you more or less love me back. Correct?"

"I thought you weren't listening 'cause I broke your eardrums," I avoid him airily. I receive the waiter enthusiastically and down my first rosé in about two swigs.

"You did break my eardrums, but luckily I record and transcribe all of our conversations for my superiors at the CIA."

I respond to that by drinking the wine in his glass, too.

"Hey!" he says.

"Hay is for horses," I say, thinking of my dad, and then pour Luka more wine and hand him the glass.

He downs it with admirable speed but when he holds out his glass for more I refuse him. "You're my designated driver," I remind the poor boy. He glares for a while and then orders bouillabaisse, and is mollified. That's one of the magical properties of fish, you know.

I go shopping with Cash and Stan because obviously, as there are dinner outfits, day-at-the-beach outfits, meet-the-in-laws outfits and party-on-the-town outfits, so there must also be amusement park outfits.

"It's gotta be rollercoaster-and-or-random-scary-ride-proof, so no short skirts," Cash is saying as she scrutinizes a dress. She spots the price tag and immediately hangs it back where she found it.

"Well fudge," Stan sounds disappointed. "I wanted to wear that mini-dress I got the other day. It goes really well with my cowboy boots."

I glance over at her. "Anything in the world goes well with your cowboy boots, you know that." It's true. Her boots are almost on the infinite-coolness scale of my chair (which is currently at Luka's house, but that boy'd better know it's still my chair).

"She just likes to show them off," Cash says blandly, rifling through a row of clothing. The hangers clink together and several are nearly upset from the rack.

"Temper temper," Stan replies airily and I immediately feel a sting in the air; what's going on? I turn away from the tempting display of overpriced sweaters and meet Cash's eyes for a moment. She gives me a look which says she and Stan had a disagreement at some point today. I figure it wasn't too long ago or they would have made up by now; or else, one of them would have canceled coming to our shopping trip. Now they get to either discuss it in front of me or let it pass –either way works for me. We bravely plod on, three weary but hopeful knights on their way to battle after battle and at last, the haven of Jerusalem. By which I mean Monkies in Bed and its spoils. How bizarre that people go and fight other people in the name of something as personal as religion? While really, if you saved the money you could all eat cake, instead.

Wait –I think that was what Marie Antoinette and Louis the sixteenth were decapitated for.

At the shoe shop (it's a shop that sells me in every size!) … (alright sorry, last lame shoe joke, I promise) …at the shoe shop, I joke to the sales lady that new shoes really ought to come together with blister bandages, since you always, always, always get blisters with new shoes.

"Really?" says she, pursing her lips carelessly, "I never have blisters with new shoes. They fit like a charm, no exception. Never understood what the fuss was about –I guess some people just have better skin?"

I feel a little snubbed by what she says and notice by Stan's wrinkled nose that she also disapproves of the lady's answer.

Cash turns to me without even glancing at the woman and says loudly, "Did you know that only one in ten women is able to orgasm without clitoral stimulation?" I pop my eyes at her. She shrugs a shoulder. "I guess some people just have better skin?"

Stan and I squeal and bolt out of the shop; Cash struts out behind us. I can't look back at the lady's face.

"Cash," I reprimand, giggling nervously.

Cash has an irritated, slightly embarrassed look on her face. "Sorry," she says, "but that kind of person really gets to me."

Stan is biting her nail pensively. "Only one in ten?"

"Apparently. Why?"

She sighs. "Aren't girls supposed to have orgasms?"

I pat her on the shoulder and nod in the general direction of Monkies. "It's nature's way of telling men to be more creative. Let's go caffeinate."

"Wait, I want a new bra first," Cash says, tugging us both the opposite way.

"Why, did you burst out of your other one again?" I snigger.

"It was three years old," she informs me. "About time it burst."

At the lingerie shop I browse cute negligees, absently imagining myself in them. I nix them all, criticizing how my belly will show through this one; that pink one will make me look like a marzipan piggy, and that one will remove my waist and make my legs look chubbier than they really are. Dreadful things. Stan and Cash are both in a dressing room, trying on bras.

"Can I see?" I say to Cash first. When she says sure I peek in. Her bra is black and gold and expensive-looking. "You busty goddess, you," I complain. Great stuff to be going from negligees that make me look chubby, to a best friend who makes me look like the proverbial manaita – the "chopping board," the two-peas-on-a-stick. I peek in on Stan, instead. She and I did always have similar cup sizes.

"Holy guacamole!" I exclaim. Stan looks at me like I suddenly turned into a Muppet by Jim Henson. "Your chest," I say, unable to turn it into a sentence.

"What about her chest?" Cash asks from next door.

"It's doubled," I say faintly.

Cash's curtain rushes open and she pops her head in beside mine, hurriedly pulling on her shirt. " Oh, I thought you meant she had four breasts."

"Nice bra," Stan says, glimpsing Cash's quickly hidden bra.

"Nice boobs," Cash says, her eyes fixated like mine.

"How'd you do that?" I ask, daunted.

Stan, who endured our ogling with a smirk, now snorts and reaches into her bra. I stare as she withdraws a transparent, goopy-looking bra cup-shaped cushion. I reach out and touch it. It's warm and squishy. Her one boob is elevated to new heights, the other one is back to being its own, small self.

"Are you thinking about getting them?" Cash asks, her eyes on Stan's face now.

Stan shrugs and removes the other. "Yeah, I might."

The question is out before I actually think it –"why?"

Cash nods. "Yeah, why?"

"You mean, aside from the reason 'because I have no chest'?" Stan asks.

"Aside from that."

Stan replaces the gloppy cushion –Cash and I witness the transformation –and pulls on her shirt. Her boobs protrude proudly and make her look like someone else…

"It's sexier, no?" She asks, flaunting them at the mirror.

Cash returns to her own booth without another word. I send a questioning look to my blond friend, who suddenly won't meet my eyes.

I want to ask if this is an argument about Wolf, because that is the first thing that comes to mind; but whatever answer I get is sure to be worth more drama than I care for.

"Don't you think," I start evenly, averting my eyes as she fishes out both gel pads at the same time, "that Wolf already finds you sexy? Which is partially why he is dating you?"

Stan doesn't react or look at me. I edge out of the dressing room and forlornly back to my negligees. Fuck skinny big-breasted porn stars giving the rest of us inferiority issues. Fuck them! I grab the chubby thigh negligee –it is dusty pink with bronze accents and cream lace. It's pretty. Damn it. I try it on and it looks good. Even if my thighs look shorter because of the cut, even if it nullifies any slim waist I have, even if I am a British bloody Bonsai, I growl and take it off again and go and buy it. So there.

Later on we are at Monkies, inspecting our purchases. Stan bought the boob fillers anyway, and I don't want to make a thing out of it, so I don't mention it anymore. She is still quiet and distant, however.

Cash sees my negligee and raises her eyebrows. "Finally getting there, are we?"

"Getting where?" I ask innocently.

"You got that to turn Luka on, right?"

I look down at the shiny rag with startled new eyes. When exactly was I planning on wearing this? And would Luka think I got it for him? Did I get it for him? I remember his gentle words and his insecurities at the beach a few days ago, and cannot imagine him treating me differently because of this. "Besides," I argue out loud, "He told me that he…" I decide in that moment not to tell my friends about Luka's love declaration. It should remain protected between him and me until it has grown from a hatchling to a big proud beastie.

"Told you he was ready to rock your world already?" Cash nudges me and waggles her eyebrows.

I glance at Stan for support and find her in another world. I squeeze her hand and she gives me a ghost of a smile.

Cash ignores our little exchange and clinks her teaspoon around in her mug. "Hey, so," she attracts my attention, "did Luka ever tell you how he blew off Natalie?"

My brain stands still for a moment. "No," I tell her, "but I didn't ask yet, either."

"You really should," Stan offers quietly.

"I suppose," I say offhandedly. Perhaps I ought to, but there's no hurry, right?

"You don't want to know," Cash decides, "because it means you'll know your boyfriend was harsh to someone for your sake. You don't want to feel guilty for hurting Natalie's feelings."

I huff and puff and attempt to blow her bloody house down but no matter what I try to say, none of it is true or right. Maybe I'd rather stay in the dark about how I negatively affected Gnat's life, so what?

"Fine, I'll ask him," I grump.

"Maybe you'll trust him enough to sleep with him when you hear about that," Cash offers thoughtfully. "You'll get to wear this for him as a present!" she holds up the negligee. It is slowly turning into a sparkly cute demon that will haunt me and my sexuality forever, so I grab it out of her hands.

"Stan, do you want this…?" I turn to her, brandishing the vile clothing half-jokingly.

Her big brown eyes are red and shiny and she takes a funny little shuddery breath. Her hands are fisted around her plastic shopping bags. She's about to cry.

Cash and I immediately snap to attention. "Sweetie, what is it?" I ask quietly.

Cash is watching her face intently, like she's seeing the expected answer to a question she asked. " Stannie...?"

"It's Wolf," Stan speaks slowly and carefully and manages not to sob, "I'm not sure... I don't know but I think he… I think… maybe he's been seeing someone else."

For one heartbeat I wonder what this drama, this intrigue surrounding Wolf, entangling my two best friends, is all about and if we will reach the end of it unscathed, and then my attention turns fully to sweet, sad Constance.

A/N: Hi guys. Sorry for the long delay. Long chapter to make up for it. I spent my time (school)working, reading, sleeping, shopping in Japan (yeah again. Finnair had crazy low prices for July so my man and I saw friends in Nagasaki) and ah, eating (yeah again) and listening to minimal reggae (it exists). My thanks go to you guys for reading, as always. I hope I haven't strayed too far this time, and that some readers will still be here. Let me know what you think, as always!

Here's a literature list again, some must-read books for the lot of you (I even bothered to write correct titles and authors this time OMG!) For those who can deal with mature themes;

Shanghai Baby –Wei Hui

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the WestGregory Maguire

The Time-traveler's Wife Audrey Niffeneger (this book is so intense it had my full attention while and even after I was reading it)

Snakes and Earrings – Kanehara Hitomi (pretty hefty; only if you can deal with violent sexuality)

The Good Earth – Pearl Buck

Out – Kirino Natsuo

Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl (this one with a side-note: as someone who studies literature, history, international relations, sociology, bla, bla, I want to say that I disagree with any choice to focus on a literary canon that is ninety-plus percent white and Western and male. If any of you have taken classes on Said's Orientalism, you will know what I am talking about. In this vein of thought, don't read Jane Austen or any Brontë without reading Gayatri Spivak, bla bla)

And, I'd like to commend Faerie-Gumdrops for writing the Obsession with Jack. If you want to read a story on this site which is totally creative, read that. Also, go stalk ChokingHazard about her brilliant fic with the really long name –maybe she'll update it more often.

Thank you's: I really appreciate you guys, reviewers. Of course it's flattering to see that someone adds me to their alerts or even their favorite story, but when you leave me a review I feel extra special –like you liked my writing enough to write back to me :) also –thanks to all the reviewers who agreed that sex is something worth taking pause about. I'm not advocating abstinence or anything since that would make me a big hypocrite, but yeah –if there isn't mutual love and trust and Disney sentiments, someone will end up getting hurt. Not that this does not provide for extremely interesting novels for me to read, mind you.

Thanks to C2 Sexy as SIN for adding me!

SecretFeelings –Sisterhood Productions –goodbyemylover –make this mistake –J. - Heather F. C–I Murder on Impulse –the Silverdark Knight –Writergurl123 –Harike –randieskins –Pione –Jayjack –kardula –moneymakestheworldgoround –Pamela Darcy –iman1234 –instantvoodo –P –simplicity is complex – Shake Hips Not Fists –autumnsprite –PeterMoore –chic rebel –norma –shadowgirl618 –Olivine –Dances-With-Pen –noriepie –Izzey –Pyrgus –Reenmister –Riley Hunter –White Rose Blossom –katieee –dancingqueen927 –Hopelessly Clueless –anneliese –scenezz –hi –Twinkle Star Bell –Nocturnal silhouette(cameo!)

Sincerelydisregard: hope you're feeling better. The bastard didn't deserve you anyway!

It's only castles burning: thanks for the enormous compliment, and sorry for the long wait :(

TheAngelEnigma: thanks for the kind things you said. I'm glad you got over your pet peeve and approve of my story's sex problematics! :D

Tune-Out: you're definitely right, it's no fun to go without sex once you're used to it. But boys have more self-control than they let us think… I think.

Le Meg: thanks! I feel that friends are a pretty important part of my life, though often times tiring and even agonizing. So I try to achieve that in this story, too. Especially since Shoe is living without siblings or a family, her friends are her life, I'd say.

S. Elizabeth Arouet: thanks! I couldn't pinpoint a country, but I worried that it would disturb the balance of the story… I'm glad you think it's not a problem!

Obsessivecompulsivehobbit: Ohisashiburi! I did actually get a SKoW nomination once, I think as a cliché title (because, as you all can tell, this story is way more clichéd than all those my-brother's-popular-best-friend-is-secretly-in-love-with-me stories :P :P) but I was not very popular, which isn't surprising. Anyway, I'll check out the story you mentioned! As for the words that run together, I've noticed that too but it's something that FP does, it doesn't change if I reload the chapter or anything :( sorry!

Cleao girl: hey, thanks for letting me know about my copycat. I wish I could have read a Harry Potter take on L&S :P I guess it's a compliment if someone borrows off your work, but I do know I'd be pissed off if someone actually took this and claimed it was theirs and I'd lose the rights or something… you guys are my witnesses, here!

Pia: save up money and travel! It is good for your heart and soul and maybe not so good for the wallet. Seriously, I feel so happy being able to see many countries.

Aku-md: good luck with your situation! I am afraid that best friend one-sided love tends not to resolve itself in real life… anyway, don't let my foolish characters inspire you too much :P

SecretHeart01: I'm glad you didn't mind your cameo! Haha, you never know. As for location, I purposely left it as vague as possible, so that readers who want it to be in North America can imagine it so without trouble! I just don't know enough about stuff there to situate a fic there, and it would be hard to situate this literally in the Netherlands or Japan.

Shisou: thanks! I'm so glad you like Kevin! He's a secret darling. I've actually got mixed roots and living places (the other day someone said I was a 'third culture kid', whatever that means…), but it'd take up half a page in explaining, so let me know if you're really interested (I dunno if it's that interesting, lol) but basically, English is my first language, Dutch my second, and Japanese my third.

Sapheneia: He did! Or did he? muwahaha!

A.K.A. Writer's Block: just wanted to say thanks again, your reviews are so nice.