A/N: I don't own The Shins. Sadly.

(…)

(…)

Chapter two: This is impossible!

Let me make something clear to you. And seriously, if you're only able to understand one thing about me, let it be this:

I am not a rational person.

I'm not. I never have been.

I jump to conclusions. Then I wrestle with the conclusion. Then, when the conclusion pins me to the mat and makes me beg for mercy, I have no choice but to act on that conclusion. Then I chicken out at the last minute. Then I swing back and forth between decisions for a while before finally jumping to a completely different conclusion that has nothing to do with the original problem, at which point the process starts all over again with an entirely different issue.

Some think I'm deeply neurotic. I can't blame them, but really, it's just how I am.

Just thought you should know that before we go on.

(…)

I sat down to write my first journal entry. This was beyond unfair. It was lunchtime. I'd forgotten to bring money to school so I was absolutely starving, as (with the exception of a few of Macy's fries) I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast the day before. That's twenty-eight hours without food. And seeing as I get grumpy if I miss an after-school snack (I eat…all the time), it's no surprise that, at this point, I probably could have taken on a temperamental rhino.

I'd decided the day before that the only way to escape my newfound misery was to thoroughly distract myself, so I'd spent my entire day dicking around and doing homework and generally keeping myself busy. But I knew what was coming today. I knew that I'd have to face Ben. The anxiety ate at me. I hadn't been able to sleep that night. I'd just laid there for hours, waiting for sleep to mercifully take me away from reality.

Today my body felt so wrecked it was considering beating the shit out of my brain in retribution.

And now I had to scribble down some semblance of a believable journal entry in case Mr. Juarez checked the journals when I went in there to give him my official answer. I couldn't rely on Macy's help since she was Juarez's golden child, and anything I told her would probably so straight from her brain into Mr. Juarez's ears. So she couldn't know that I was forging an illegitimate journal entry, which sucked because Macy was an evil genius, so I could really have used her help. I was a terrible liar.

I gripped my pen tight and started writing, not allowing myself time to think about what to say.

Well, Ben Whiteside is certainly difficult, but I think once we open up to each other, things will get easier, and, eventually, we'll be able to help one another. I got to know him a little bit after school and he seems interesting and not entirely inaccessible, which I take as an opportunity for future progress. I'm very determined to make this work, Mr. Juarez, so please consider the possibility of not firing me.

God that was pathetic.

I capped my pen and stood to high-tail it to Mr. Juarez's office. I guessed that I stood too quickly, because the world spun a little and I had to press my hand against the tree to steady myself. I shook it off and the black at the edges encroaching on my vision receded. I turned and sprinted to Mr. Juarez' office, five minutes late.

"Ah, Ms. Turner! So glad you could make it. I assume that the time you've kept us waiting has been well spent making absolutely sure that you're about to give us a definitively sound and certain answer."

I began to blush. Not a cute, fiery blush like Macy pulls, but a slow, toasty, cheeks-casually-turning-strangely-pink blush. Why? Because Ben was standing there, all casual, leaning against the wall, eyeing me as I fumbled in the open space. Couldn't we sit or something? I felt like I was treading water, flailing about in the middle of his office. I felt light-headed and uneasy.

"So what's your final answer, Page?"

My heartbeat sped up. "I'll do it." I told my shoes quietly.

My well-worn flats didn't reply (thank goodness) but Mr. Juarez did. "Fabulous. I assume that you two are quickly getting to know each other?"

Mr. Juarez looked strangely healthy today. He was nearly sweat-free and his veins were hardly bulging at all. His eyes shone with that eager gleam that I was beginning to identify as the one he gets when he's ruining my life.

"Of course we are," Ben supplied, voice all sweetness and sarcasm. And maybe sexiness too. Okay, definitely.

"Wonderful. Why don't you tell me what you've learned about Ms. Turner!" The inflection of Mr. Juarez's voice would have you believe that it was the greatest idea in the world. Don't be fooled.

Ben shrugged congenially and gave me an affable grin. But it was laced with this horrifying, underlying mixture of half-threat, half-detestation. I found myself wondering what Ben's mother was like. Who could possibly have raised this kid? Did they put battery acid in his juice when he was a baby? Did they send him to boot-camp preschool?

"Well, Ms. Turner is annoyingly quiet, but managed to share with me that she likes girly romance movies, loves to spend time reading, wishes with all her might that she can someday be a professional pet-groomer, and is crazy about the color green."

I blinked, overwhelmed by the web of lies that had issued so easily from his mouth. Seriously, it was kind of impressive how he hadn't even gotten close to stumbling accidentally upon some nugget of truth. Except for the annoyingly quiet part.

I was about to pry open my mouth and spit out some rubbish about his favorite band and how he liked rainy days the best (because he seems like the kind of person who would, doesn't he?), when he had to go and insult me.

"Oh, and she has a bordering-on-creepy obsession with the big ash tree in the courtyard. She's very territorial, clearly a result of some pretty deep-seated and disturbing insecurity, and she's so afraid of other people that she would rather sit by that tree all alone, every day, and invest her thoughts and dreams in it, an inanimate object, than actually communicate with other people."

Mr. Juarez tried to look stern but I could see him chuckling a little in the back of his throat. His eyes danced at my misery. And believe me, there was a lot of misery to be danced at.

God, it wouldn't have hurt so much if he hadn't hit so close to home.

Ben sent me a searing glare. He was clearly enjoying the moment. He leered at me, berating me in silence. As if that verbal bitch-slapping hadn't been enough.

"And what did you find out about Ben, Page?"

Oh fuck. Not good. Really not good.

I could feel my throat closing up, but he was obviously expecting an answer and Ben certainly wasn't in any hurry to dash to my rescue. My eyes darted for a safe, consuming place to land and I attempted to shove my fists into my pockets before remembering that I'd unwisely chosen to wear a long skirt that day. I don't think I'd ever felt so much pressure. Sure, there were only two other people in the room, but they were near-strangers who expected me to speak in a calm and intelligible way. No, worse. They expected me to lie in a calm and intelligible way. Have I mentioned I'm a horrible liar?

I waited for inspiration to strike, but all I felt was a vague nausea.

"E-e-erm…Uhhh…" I stammered. My stomach growled.

Ben scoffed and turned to inspect the books on Mr. Juarez's shelf. "This is pathetic," he commented rudely.

I scowled. Something in me snapped. My hands clenched into tight, nervous fists at my sides and suddenly I was speaking. "W-well, Ben is…B-Ben is a self-involved asshole who likes to run, loves rainy weather, and, though he was reluctant to tell me this, listens to Mariah Carey when he lacks inspiration for his painting addiction. He's also a radically arrogant narcissist who engages in a sadomasochistic little dance with everyone he meets, without exception, with the end goal of affirming and re-affirming his delusional superiority complex and alienating all of humanity."

Oh holy shit.

A feeling of unreality swam up over my head. My knees felt wobbly and my breath left me and I felt massively dizzy. I started eyeing the carpet because I had the sickening feeling I'd be visiting it pretty damn soon. It was that rough, scratchy kind that you can't touch without imagining carpet burn. Not good.

There was silence for a moment and then Mr. Juarez burst out laughing. Really laughing. Full-out uproarious laughter. He guffawed his thick, cholesterol-infested heart out for a solid minute and a half. He even wiped a few tears from his eyes.

Ben didn't seem to share in his mirth. He was giving me the most evil evil-eye I'd ever had the misfortune to experience. I felt like I was physically shrinking. Not a good feeling.

Have you ever said something and then, immediately afterwards, had the sinking feeling that you were going to regret it for the rest of your life? Yeah, that's about where I was right then.

The one timeI managed to spit out an intelligible string of words, and it had to be that. I was so dead. My vision started to go fuzzy. Was that normal? Did fuzzy vision come standard in struggling to recover from total mortification?

Mr. Juarez was just starting to wipe a fresh wave tears from his bloodshot eyes when my head started really, really swimming. "What a refreshing little outburst!" he remarked helpfully, still giggling.

Ben suddenly slammed his fist against the wall. His expression was downright bloodthirsty.

And that was all my poor brain could take. Between the hunger, the sleep-deprivation, the humiliation, and the pure and utter shock, my body went on strike and I did something completely ridiculous. Something I thought people only did in movies. I actually collapsed.

How stupid is that?!

Despite its stupidity, it happened. My knees gave out and so did my spine and the next thing I knew I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling tiles, and my mind was racing to catch up.

I was wondering what the hell had inspired me to do something as horrifying as collapsing when I was in such an ugly situation already. I was wondering why Mr. Juarez's carpet had to be so painful. I was wondering when someone was going to fucking say something.

"Page?!" Mr. Juarez cried, jumping up from his seat.

I could practically hear what was going through his mind: "Oh shit, I actually did it! I finally killed a student! Oh fuck!"

Yeah, well, that happens when you're a heartless bastard.

Mr. Juarez and Ben knelt down over me. Juarez started asking me a bunch of questions I didn't actually hear. I was too busy wondering if Ben was going to strangle me. He had a funny look in his eyes and he seemed like the type who might strangle an unsuspecting girl. Especially after what I'd said about him.

And I wondered why I kept quiet around strangers? The alternative only led to trouble.

"Are you alright?!"

Mr. Juarez's words finally broke through my haze and I nodded slowly. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"Ben, take her down to the infirmary."

"Yes sir!" Ben answered.

Okay, he agreed to that way, way too easily. I was in deep shit.

"I'm fine!" I insisted, and tried to sit up. My head swam and I felt nauseous.

"Page!" Juarez yelled. "You're going to the infirmary. No arguments. Go ahead, Ben."

Ben snuck his arms under me and lifted me up, and then I was being swung out the door and down the hall. He hefted me a little to get a better grip but he didn't seem to be having any trouble carrying me. In fact, if I were to judge by the look on his face, he looked quite pleased with this turn of events. Oh hell. I was going to die.

"Lemme go! Put me down!" I ordered, squirming.

Ben dropped my legs unceremoniously to the floor and I had to stumble to keep from tripping. Or collapsing again. That wasn't a good option either. I leaned unsteadily against a wall, sagging a little, and looked up at him in trepidation.

Some students were milling around the halls and we got more than a few curious looks.

"Come on, freak." Ben wrapped one hand around my upper arm and dragged me down the hall.

"The nurse's station is the other way," I gasped, trying to fight down a real and pervasive fear bubbling up from my stomach.

"Shut up," he snapped, and his grip on my arm tightened. We turned a series of corners and suddenly we were in a secluded corner of the building. Alone. Oh fuck. I started shivering. The look in his eyes was completely cold. As if he was capable of anything. I squirmed out of his grasp and waited for the part when my life would flash before my eyes.

Suddenly I was pinned against the nearest wall. Ben had one arm on either side of me and he was leaning forward.

"Who the fuck," he hissed, "do you think you are?"

My eyes widened and I cringed away from him, but he just towered over me. Self-preservation kicked in. I attempted to squirm out from between his hands but he gripped the tops of my arms. This, I decided, was strategically bad. What would he do to me if I yelled for help?

Ben leaned down so he could whisper in my ear. "What exactly do you think you'll gain, humiliating me in front of the counselor?" His cheek brushed against mine as he spoke.

I'd never felt so tense in my entire life. Every muscle in my body was freaking out. I held perfectly still and didn't dare to breathe. His lips actually grazed my ear. His breath was warm against my skin.

"It's pretty obvious that you're an idiot. I don't hold you to a high standard. But I told you yesterday in pretty simple fucking terms that if you didn't cooperate, there would be consequences." His grip on my shoulders shifted and he pressed me back into the wall. "My entire future rides on convincing that fat bastard that he's wrong about me, that I'm really just misunderstood, and that interacting with a girl with the personality of a sea sponge will bring out the good in me. Since I can't get out of this ridiculous fucking assignment, you have to play along and convince Jaurez that I've changed so that I can get out of this fucking town and away from people like you. But today you did the opposite of that. So for now, all I can do is make you pay. You're going to regret what you've done." His hands tightened. "And you're never going to pull a stunt like that ever again. Understand?" he mumbled.

I couldn't possibly respond. In fact, I was probably so traumatized I'd never say anything again. To anyone. Ever.

"Until this experiment ends, you're going to be the most miserable girl in the whole school." He leaned even closer, practically pressing his lips to my neck. "I promise," he breathed.

Well, that wasn't such a surprise. He was just confirming what I already knew.

"Urm-" I stuttered, but that was the best I could do. My hands clenched into fists and my toes curled within my shoes. My head swam again.

Ben took a deep breath, lingering near my neck like a natural predator. My eyes widened and I held perfectly still. The heavy silver ring on one of his thumbs grazed my shoulder before he slipped away, all at once, and was suddenly gone.

I slid down the wall. My nails bit into my palms and I couldn't hear anything over the crash of my own heartbeat. God, I'd never been scared like that before. I let my eyes slide close and willed my heart to slow to a healthier pace. Preferably something that didn't resemble a jackhammer.

And as I tried to get control of my shaking body, and feeling returned to my limbs, I could only wonder one single thing.

Before Ben had left, had he…was it possible that he had actually…smelled my hair?

After a few minutes I declared myself sick and walked home.

(…)

I sat down in front of my mirror to examine myself.

What did Ben see when he looked at me? Aside from his latest target, that is.

Reddish-blondish-sandish hair down just past my shoulders. Gray-brown eyes. Long eyelashes.

I bet all he saw was a pulsing jugular, ripe for the attack.

But seriously, the guy was five-eleven. I was five-two. On a good day. Realistically, the only view he'd probably ever had of me was the top of my head.

The floor rumbled beneath me, signifying that the garage door directly below my bedroom was opening. That could only mean one thing: Tristam was home.

Let me explain. Tristam is the number one best big brother in the entire damn world. And if I knew my brother, he'd know just what to do about a tree-stealing, life-ruining, physically-threatening son of a bitch like Ben.

As such, I flung myself out of my chair and sprinted downstairs to tackle Tristam on his way in.

"Ughf," was the sound he made as the air escaped his lungs and he toppled onto the couch. "Brat!" he accused after sputtering for a moment, and stood up. He charged me and, in one easy motion, slung me over his shoulder.

"Eep!" I cried, and took big handfuls of the back of his shirt for balance. "Put me down!" I ordered. Seems like I was saying that more than usual lately.

"Nope," Tristam denied, and stomped into the kitchen, an extra bounce in his step just to torture me.

I couldn't help but grin.

Let me explain. It's really quite simple: my big brother is the best.

Tristam Turner: six-feet and three inches (big brothers should be tall!), hilarious, twenty-five years old (which makes him eight years older than me), quirky, and extremely likeable. He had a ton of friends and his tall frame, dark blond hair, and blue-green eyes ensured that he was constantly going out on dates and outings that sounded more fun than anything I ever would have thought to do.

We were super close. He was way protective of me, but it's not like he'd had anyone to protect me from in years. He was living at home right now and had a new job at a pizza place, which meant (and this might be the very best part of all) that he frequently brought home free pizza.

And, honestly, what's better than free pizza?

"What's up, squirt?" he asked, and pinched my calf as he went about assembling a one-handed sandwich for himself, as the other hand was occupied in making sure that I didn't slip off his shoulder and have an uncomfortable encounter with the linoleum.

I gave a sigh and went limp, my head hanging down so my chin hit his back. "I'm having school problems."

"Still can't meet new people?" he asked sympathetically, craning his head to look at me.

"Still can't," I confirmed.

Tristam gave a sigh. "I don't know where you came from. Mom and dad are such extroverts, I'm…well, loved by everyone, frankly, but you're so shy. I don't get it."

I gave a groan and released my grip on his shirt to rub the heels of my hands against my eyes.

"Oh, and you're short," Tristam reminded me. "What's that about?"

I smacked the back of his head. "Tristam, many small buildings are short compared to you. And I've got bigger problems than shyness and shortness put together."

"Oh yeah? Tell me." He stooped to pluck a head of lettuce from the vegetable drawer and I had to cling to him in order not to go toppling into the refrigerator.

"I'll consider telling you if you put me down! All the blood's rushing to my head."

"Whine, whine, whine," Tristam grumbled, but set me on my feet nonetheless. "So spill, sis. What's the problem?"

I took a deep breath and settled myself cross-legged on the kitchen island where he was making his sandwich. "Well, in a desperate attempt to cure me of that shyness we were discussing, my guidance counselor has given me an assignment to hang out with this kid Ben Whiteside, the local delinquent, at all possible times of the day in order to balance out our personalities and cure each of us of our respective inabilities to function properly in society. Or something. But Ben refuses to actually cooperate, so I have to bullshit these stupid journal entries, and you know how bad I am at lying. And on top of that, Ben recently promised to make me the most miserable girl in the school. As if I need his help in that department. Mr. Juarez is bad enough."

Tristam let out a sympathetic whistle. "Sounds bad."

"Is bad."

"Well, maybe you should go to Mr. Juarez and explain that this experiment won't work, that you and Ben just aren't compatible, and ask for a different assignment."

"Oh yeah right! Mr. Juarez was perfectly clear that that this is my very, very last chance."

"Then why not put an honest effort into it? Who knows, Page; this might actually help you."

"I don't want to be helped! I'm quite excited about the prospect of living under my rock for the rest of my life. And even if I did want to 'cure' myself, I wouldn't want to do it by hanging out with Ben Whiteside. He's the biggest asshole I've ever met! And he's scary."

Tristam laughed and ruffled my hair. I reeled backwards and scrambled to put my hair back in order. Why did people do that?!

"Scary?" Tristam chuckled. "Page, you're seventeen. Aren't you a little old to think that boys are scary?"

"Not all boys; this boy. And he is scary! He's a criminal! I've only known him for about thirty hours, but he's already threatened me like five times."

"He's probably just intimidated by you."

I almost fell over backwards at that one. "I-Intimidated?! By me?!" I eyed Tristam suspiciously. "Have you been smoking pot at work again? You know that's going to get you fired someday."

"I'm serious, Page. You're a beautiful girl. And you're smart and talented. And, though I personally find it hard to believe, you're the quiet type, which can be extremely daunting to a teenage guy."

"I can guarantee that you're biased, seeing as you're my brother, and no one but you actually sees me that way."

"And I can guarantee that you're wrong about that. The guy may have an attitude problem, but he isn't blind. Honestly, I can't blame the poor kid."

"Ack!" I cried, and threw a piece of lettuce at his face. "Traitor! He threatens me with bodily harm and suddenly you're empathetic?!" I pounded my fists against the formica beneath me.

"I'm just trying to offer some perspective."

"I'm not looking for perspective; I'm looking for a way out of this stupid project."

"Well, I tried to give you that too, but you wouldn't take it, so…looks like you're on your own for this one, kiddo."

I slid off the island and grumbled a short, "Thanks for nothing," before slipping into the stairwell. I heard Tristam chuckling as I scaled the stairs slowly.

I boiled in my anger and turmoil.

All that stuff I said about Tristam being the best big brother ever? Complete bullshit.

Useless jerk.

(…)

Ben Whiteside is a violent asshole and I think it's irresponsible and dangerous to force me to spend time with him. Honestly, I understand that I'm lacking as a Peer Mediator, but that's no reason to torture me. In my opinion, this death sentence is a little disproportionate to my crimes.

(…)

I showed my latest journal entry to Tristam for his evaluation. "Do you think it might make Mr. Juarez reconsider?" I pleaded.

Tristam cocked an eyebrow. "What I think is that you have a flair for the overdramatic, kid."

"It's not overdramatic if it's true!"

"It's true that Mr. Juarez gave you a death sentence?"

"Have you been listening to me at all?!"

Tristam sighed and handed the notebook back to me. "Page, you're fixating on this, and it's making things worse. The more you think about it, the more wound up you get. Take a break. Relax. I'm sure that once you get a little distance, you'll see that this isn't such a big deal, okay?"

I grumbled and ducked out of the way before he could do that annoying hair-ruffling thing again. "You suck at this whole helping-me thing," I informed him.

"No, you suck at this whole taking-my-advice thing," he countered.

I stuck out my tongue (childish, yes, but effective all the same) and bounced upstairs to prove Tristam wrong. I'd take his stupid advice. I'd spend a couple hours relaxing, thinking about anything at all except for Ben, the assignment, and the sadistic Mr. Juarez. Then I'd go back and prove Tristam wrong; nothing would change.

I slunk into my bathroom and began to fill my tub with hot water. Grinning in anticipation, I pulled out my formula for instant, unconditional happiness: the ultimate moisturizing, cleansing, skin-softening, detoxifying, muscle-easing, rejuvenating herbal bath solution.

It was godliness in a bottle.

I lugged my speakers into the bathroom, turned on The Shins, and sank happily into that wondrous bath.

For a while I just sat there, expecting the nice feelings to whisk me away to a place where I was free from troubles and expectations and unhelpful brothers and the knowledge that somewhere out there in the city was a gorgeous, sexy guy who was most likely planning my untimely demise.

I had the right mellow music, the right water temperature, the right amount of bubbles, and certainly the right bath solution. So how come all I could think about was Ben?

Fear, probably. When an animal in the wild is being stalked by a predator, I'm sure that they can't just stop thinking about that horrible creature who's out to get them. It's self-defense; it's stupid to take your eye off the ball, because then it will hit you and cause you brain damage and you'll never play ball again. Similarly, I needed to focus on Ben so that he couldn't possibly sneak up on me the next day in school and pounce like the evil animal he was.

But, to be honest, I wasn't lying there, my skin all warm and tingly and "Kissing the Lipless" strumming happily in my ears, planning my vigilance for the following day. My mind was irreversibly snagged on the lingering memory of the feel of Ben's breath on my ear.

I shuddered at the memory. I'd been half convinced that he was going to end it right then and rip open my throat with his teeth. I would have died unsurprised.

Hesitantly, I reached over and plucked my shampoo from the little shelf. Eyeing the bottle with mistrust, I popped the top and, guiltily, snuck a sniff. He couldn't really have been smelling my hair, could he? I squeezed the bottle a few times and inhaled the scent that wafted through the air. It was light and flowery, but also subtle. I sneezed.

Oh great. He'd probably run off and sneezed all the way down the hall.

I squeezed my eyes shut in embarrassment.

Wait, why…?

Never mind! I capped the shampoo and tossed it to the other side of the bath. Stupid shampoo. I would have returned its betrayal by switching brands, but I was so very fond of the way it made my hair all silky and shiny. Damn.

With a sigh, I sank under the water and attempted to scrub away all my troubles. This was stupid. I resurfaced with a gasp and scrubbed the bubbles out of my eyes. I was overcomplicating things. All I had to do was avoid Ben. It wasn't a big deal. I would avoid him like I avoided all strangers at school (and out of school too, for that matter). It would be easy. And if I didn't bug him, he wouldn't be as tempted to rage-murder me.

I'd begun to pat the bubbles out of my hair when my cell phone rang. I slung myself over the side of the tub and disconnected the device from the speakers.

"Hellooo?" I answered, and slumped against the back of the tub. My head lolled in contentment.

"Oh God, I know that voice. You're in the tub, aren't you?"

It was Dee. We had become friends as soon as we met in eighth grade because Dee (whose birth certificate read "Dolly Schwartz") sympathized with me because we both had terrible names. The kind of bond made over mutual understanding of lifelong humiliation is one which cannot be broken. Out of said understanding, I called her "Dee" and she never said my first and last name together.

It could be argued that Macy and Dee were my best friends. And I loved them, really. But it would be more accurate to say that they were my only friends.

And I was happy with that. Really. Making new friends wasn't worth the headache.

Sure, it meant that once I went off to college, I'd be terminally alone, but that was a future I was prepared to accept. Why fight the inevitable?

"I certainly am," I responded happily to Dee's assertion. I wiggled further into the warm water, letting the bubbles settle amiably around my chin.

"So, Ben Whiteside!"

"What?!" I cried, and shot upright. The bathwater sloshed dangerously close to the rim and I struggled to keep my cell phone from slipping out of my hand.

"Got to hand it to you, Page! I mean, jeez, when you come out of your shell, you come out of your shell!"

"What the hell are you talking about?!" I shrieked, and finally shoved the stupid phone firmly against my ear. "I am definitively inside my shell."

Dee laughed and took her time in replying. What was going on? And why was she enjoying it so much? "That's not what I've heard."

"You've…heard? What exactly have you heard?"

"I heard that you've tamed the infamous Ben Whiteside."

"Tamed?" I repeated in disbelief. "Uh, only if by 'tamed' you mean, 'given a conduit for all of his wrath and violence.' Then yeah, sure. Call me Beastmaster."

Dee laughed. "Don't be so modest. If I was dating Ben Whiteside, I would flaunt it to everyone I knew."

My hands clenched into fists, my blood heated, and my right eye began to twitch. For the first time in my life, I understood what they meant by "seeing red."

"What?" I screamed. "Dating?! Dee, what exactly did you hear?"

"What?" Dee asked, bemused. "It's not true? If it's not you better work fast, because that exact rumor is floating all around school."

"Around school? Dee, you don't even go to my school!" I buried my face in my free hand and briefly considered drowning myself. The only downside I could think of was that it would be a waste of a perfectly lovely bubble bath.

Dee just giggled at me (a phenomenon which was getting really goddamn old) and replied, "Well, it's all around my school too."

"What the hell is it doing around your school? How do people at your school even know me?"

"Everyoneknows Ben Whiteside. So, by association, now everyone knows you too!"

"But I'm not dating him! I've been assigned by my school counselor to perform a social experiment with him! It's a fucking assignment!"

"A social experiment? Yeah, like anyone will believe that."

I banged my head against the rim of the tub. "It's the truth," I cried miserably. "It is also true that I hate my stupid life."

"Right, sure. Whatever you say. As if Ben would participate in a 'social experiment.' Because he's good-natured, and a natural giver." She laughed. "I have to go, but if you're serious, you should consider doing some hardcore damage control. That guy can give a girl a reputation, you know."

"I hate you. I hate you so, so much."

She just laughed good-naturedly. "Have a good bath!"

I dropped the phone onto the floor and slid hopelessly under the water. My life was ruined.

(…)

(…)

A/N: There's chapter 2! I hope you liked it!

Review responses:

Ro-mackenzie: I'm very glad!

Crazy talk: I'm so flattered! Seriously, my ego just went up a size or two. Thank you so much!

BlackStrokes: When I read your review (the part about backing up against the wall) I literally went, "I KNOW, RIGHT?" to the empty room. The up-against-a-wall thing is my favorite…ever. I'm so glad you like the characters; as I'm writing it, I'm not sure how strong their personalities come across, so it's good to know that you liked them! Thank you!

Ollie May: I'm glad my sense of humor isn't just…well, lame! Thank you so much!