A/N: the bad news first: i've been on vacation for the past week or so and school starts again on monday. i had a loooong break. the good news: i've written like two more chapters during my vacation so i just have to type them up. cool huh? enjoy yourself!

Chapter 2

Olivia was quiet until we got to her house, where she instantly went into paranoid mode. "Nate, park in the garage so that the neighbors don't see your car," she ordered sharply.

"Olivia-" Nate began in the soothing voice.

"Do you think either of my parents owns an old, lifted, loud Jeep?" she snapped back, hopping out of the car.

"Where are you going?" Nate rolled down his window.

"To open the garage door, dumb ass!" she shouted back as she ran over to the front door.

"Nice girl, Cody." Nate said dryly.

"Shut up, man." Cody mumbled back, staring moodily out the window.

Tessa, who had remained silent up until this point, suddenly spoke. "I thought you said you were going to quit," she repeated in a measured tone of voice for the third time in the past hour. And yes, it was still as annoying and patronizing as it had been the first two times.

"And I will." Nate answered her flatly.

"When?" she snapped back. "Tomorrow? Next week? Next month?" her tone turned threatening as she added, "I don't date smokers."

Nate went silent for a long moment. "Come on, Tess," he finally said softly. I looked up from staring out the window to see him put his arm around her bony shoulders. "I told you I'm going to quit. It's hard," he said quietly in her ear, brushing her hair back gently.

"Get a room." Cody grumbled.

"Yeah really." I muttered loud enough for them to hear.

Nate pulled back and glared at the two of us. "Thanks guys," he said pointedly.

"The door is opening, Nathaniel." Tessa's voice was frigid now. "And maybe you should just take me home," she sniffed after a beat.

"Come on, Tessa, don't be like this," he grumbled as he pulled the Jeep into the garage.

"You don't want me to be like this?" she repeated him, clearly ready for a fight now. "I think you and I need to talk!" the three words every guy hates to hear.

Nate sighed as he shut off the engine. "You guys go ahead," he mumbled as Olivia shut the door behind him. Cody and I both grabbed a bag in unspoken agreement and got out of the car, leaving them behind to bicker.

"What are they doing?" Olivia asked curiously as we approached the door into the house.

"Tessa wanted to talk." Cody raised his eyebrows back at her.

"Oh," she looked worriedly at the car.

"Don't stare, baby," he turned her around and pointed her inside the house.

I went to enter the house and heard Tessa explode in the car behind me. I turned reflexively and saw her thrusting her finger in my direction angrily as she yelled at Nate. She instantly death stared at me when she caught me looking so I turned and walked inside.

"You smell like smoke." Cody snipped flatly as we set the alcohol down on the kitchen counter.

"And you smell like cologne." I answered tonelessly, pulling out the rum. "Don't make me go outside and freshen up." I turned slightly to Olivia and ordered, "Put the cases in the fridge so they stay cold."

"Fine," she sighed after a brief pause, going over to her fridge.

Cody sided up to me and grabbed my arm. "Hey," he hissed through his teeth, this "hey" meaning "quit being a bitch to everyone except Nate."

"All right." I grumbled, turning away. Tonight just wasn't my night.

Cody and Olivia had been dating on and off for two years. Olivia went through periodical bitchy periods which was why they had broken up three times only to get back together. Like it or not, she made my cousin happy, which was the only reason why I tolerated her.

He grabbed her by her hips and pulled her close, asking her something lowly. I busied myself with getting a beer out of the fridge and rolled my eyes at the all too familiar sound of them kissing behind me. I opened my beer, ready to be drunk.

Tessa and Nate entered the room then, looking flushed. I wasn't surprised… Nate knew when to turn on the charm and could sweet talk anyone. He caught my eye and rolled his eyes for the briefest of seconds. I hid my smirk in my beer as he grabbed his own.

Now I always have been and probably always will be the biggest lightweight when it comes to drinking. I'm tipsy off of one beer, drunk by two. I stood silently, listening to Nate and Cody talk about sports, and steadily sipped my beer, but soon felt the familiar feeling of being tipsy. I sank down onto one of the bar stools at the counter.

Cody noticed and smirked. "I can't believe you, lightweight."

"It's a curse." I drawled back before taking another swing of my beer. Olivia and Cody both grabbed their own beers, arms around each other.

"I hate beer." Tessa wrinkled her small nose in disgust. Everything about Tessa was small… she was barely 5'1" but what she lacked in age (16) and beauty (close to none), she made up for with makeup. Heavy mascara and eyeliner rimmed her eyes and cleavage was prominent. She had curled her long dark hair but I could smell the harsh hairspray mingling with her sweet perfume from where I stood a few feet away.

Nate put his arm loosely around her shoulders and caught my eye over the top of her head easily since he's over six feet tall. We shared a quiet sincere smile for a second and then he turned away, taking his khaki worn hat off, and ran his hand through his dark hair.

"Let's play quarters!" Olivia begged Cody.

"Fine…" Cody sighed reluctantly in an "I'm doing this to appease my girlfriend" tone of voice.

"I'll let you win a few times, baby," she told him as she took a small cup out of one of the cabinets.

"Now I'll have to kick your ass." Cody's true competitive side instantly came out for that statement.

Nate sat down next to me at the counter and Tessa leaned against his legs, darting her eyes back and forth between us. "Did you see Jared today?" he asked me expressionlessly after a swing of beer.

I felt my face darken. "Briefly." I growled back before looking away as I took a long drink.

"Maybe he didn't mean to do it, Ash." Nate suggested blandly. I was the only one who caught Tessa's face tighten for a second when he called me Ash since Nate was looking at me rather then her.

"No, I think he really did mean to cheat on me." I sighed heavily, picking up my beer. "Whatever." I took another long drink.

"Jared cheated on you?" Tessa asked me, surprised. I stopped mid-drink, staring her down, ready to chew her out for even thinking for one second I was speaking to her-

"Didn't you see Ashley slap the shit out of him yesterday after school?" Nate asked her, not catching me glaring at Tessa. "She confronted him right after school got out and slapped the hell out of him when he didn't even try to admit it. I had to hold Cody back, he was ready to kick the crap out of him," he looked at her and then looked at me.

"Wow, I'm sorry." Tessa told me completely sincerely.

Caught off guard, I stared at her before saying, "Thanks," awkwardly.

Tessa pulled away from Nate and turned her attention the other way. "Olivia, do you have any hard liquor?" she asked as she walked over to Olivia and Cody, who was getting his ass thoroughly beaten. About time someone did it, the boy needed to be taken down a few notches…

"She's not that bad, Ash." Nate said to me lowly.

I was feeling tipsy and amicable now so I just agreed with a noncommittal shrug and drank some more of my beer.

Tessa returned shortly with a mixed drink in her hand, sitting down on Nate's lap, which only vaguely irked me. "I was cheated on last year," she announced.

Unable to make a sympathetic face but unwilling to make a snarky remark (it was common ground for us, I couldn't make fun of something that had just happened to me), I only muttered, "Oh?" almost indifferently in reply.

She nodded yes. "He was my first boyfriend… he slept with some girl behind my back," she didn't look too broken up about it but the past was the past… I guess.

Why, because you didn't put out enough? There was my snark. "Jared made out with some underclassman." I forced my jaw not to clench when I said Jared's name.

"He didn't deserve you." Nate suddenly and unexpectedly, at that, interjected.

Caught off guard again, I could only nod in agreement. Nate always acted like I was one of the guys, treating me to his belches and sports opinions. It was highly unusual for him to be so nice to me.

"Ash, come play with me!" Cody slurred slightly, appearing euphoric. I nodded once and stood as Tessa said something about the bathroom before walking out of the room.

The room slowly rose after I stood, making me slightly dizzy. I was a little more tipsy then I had been anticipating and my knees buckled unexpectedly with the realization.

"Ash?" Nate said, sounding concerned, catching me after quickly rising to his own feet. His hands were warm on my arms and I blinked up at him, trying to focus on his blue eyes, which were watching me. "Are you okay?" he asked me, looking a little worried.

"I've only liked you for months but kept my mouth shut because I'm considered one of the guys," was how I replied… in my head. I don't know if it's been obvious but it's the truth… Nate is hardly the most observant guy, he is Cody's best friend after all. But don't tell me that's why I don't like Tessa, be realistic: she really is that annoying.

"I need a smoke." I mumbled finally, looking away. I had the shakes… or maybe that was adrenaline.

"I'll come with you," he said quietly, still holding my elbow as I grabbed my purse. We slipped out of the room unnoticed because Olivia and Cody were arguing with each other about quarters.

Nate shut the door out into the backyard softly behind him. I laughed softly as I dropped a little harder then I had expected down onto the patio steps.

"What's so funny?" he asked though I could hear a smile in his voice.

"Tipsy." I mumbled as he joined me in sitting on the steps.

"Lightweight," he accused me before bringing his beer to his lips for a drink.

"Damn, I forgot my beer." I mumbled, gathering myself to rise again.

"We'll share this one," he put a hand on my shoulder to stop me from rising and let it stay there. Oh. I stayed down and then our eyes met.

I turned to my pack, breaking eye contact before things… whatever, I opened it and pulled out a cigarette then offered him the pack.

He shook his head with a sigh, looking away. "I'll hear about it," he said dejectedly.

I raised my hand and cracked an imaginary whip, complete with sound effects. He held out a hand without another word and I handed the pack over with a smirk, victorious. I lit up as he placed one between his own lips and we traded the pack for my lighter, fingertips softly brushing.

I blew smoke up into the clear night sky and shivered… it was a cold night.

Nate blew out his own cloud of smoke and we sat in silence, but not an awkward silence. The silence was comfortable and familiar… it wasn't the first time we had sat in silence like this.

"So why did you do it?" Nate uncharacteristically broke the silence. I waited patiently for him to expand. "Date that asshole, I mean." I looked over at him when his words came out unusually gruff but he was looking down at the ground between his legs.

I shrugged. "He asked me out. We were just having some fun."

"Sounds like he had too much fun." Nate replied in that same gruff voice.

"Well, not with me." I answered flatly, tapping the ash off the end of my cigarette.

"But at your expense," he pointed out in return.

I stared at him and then allowed a small smile to cross my face as I leaned forward and rested my forehead against my hand. "Where did you learn the word "expense?" I teased dryly in an effort to lighten the mood slightly.

He blushed. "Heard it on TV," he mumbled in reply.

"Uh huh…" I laughed, knocking shoulders with him, smiling now.

He sighed and was quiet for a long moment, his face returning to solemn. "What the hell am I doing, Ash?" he asked me softly, knocking the ash off his own cigarette.

Surprised, I bought myself some time by taking a long drag and then exhaling it slowly out. "What do you mean?" I asked quietly.

"With Tessa," he answered me flatly, not meeting my eyes but rather staring off into the distance straight ahead. "With Tessa, damn it…" he sucked on his cigarette hard and blew it out quickly in anger.

"You're dating her." I answered him truthfully but I felt stupid anyway.

"Yeah, I know," that answer was clearly unsatisfactory for him too since he sounded annoyed. "But… I mean… the bitching, the whining, the condescending attitude…"

I didn't even bother teasing him about condescending. "Nate…" I said softly, full of (liquid) courage, reached out, and touched his shoulder gently.

"Nate?" I heard an echo, only it was inside, and it was Tessa's high pitched voice, dragging out the a in his name.

I instantly released Nate's shoulder like I had been burned, finishing off my cigarette, and then put it out under the bottom of my shoe as I muttered, "We should get back inside."

Nate surprised me by quickly grabbing my hand. I locked eyes with him once again. "Thanks for listening, Ash," he said softly then let go, rising to his feet, offering me a hand up.

But I shook my head, knowing better. "You go ahead; I'll be just a second." I replied.

He shrugged, putting out his cigarette, and then stepped out of my line of vision. I let out a silent breath I didn't even know I had been holding as I listened to him cross the porch and then open the door back into the house, calling, "Tessa?" casually. Then he shut the door behind him.

I heard Tessa's high pitched voice and Nate's low rumble mingling together. I sighed one last time as I hauled myself to my feet unsteadily and then headed inside.

A/N: oh i hope you like, haha. i enjoy writing this story. to my two reviewers, much love for reading even though i've only just started out!

Bob Evans: i've already replied to your review but thanks for reviewing!

jmu: yeah i based tessa on a real life person that i know so i feel your pain. yep, our girl doesn't really drool over the boys, and no, ana and izzy didn't either, but i feel you haha. i hope you enjoyed the update!

i'm off to write more... much love

until next time,

a smile that explodes