"Breathe Me" and "My Love" by Sia, "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan, "It Ends Tonight" by All-American Rejects, "Stay With Me" by Sam Smith, "The Freshman" by The Verve Pipe, "Dare You to Move" by Switchfoot, and "Pretty Hurts" by Beyoncé. (Also, "Guts Over Fear" by Eminem feat. Sia – I was listening to this during the dream.)

Chapter Nineteen: I Am Small & Needy
by: Secretive

I dare you to move,
I dare you to move,
I dare you to lift
Yourself up off the floor...
- Switchfoot

Rosaline's Point of View

I woke to the soft sound of Lulu crying in her sleep.

Her body rocked with the force of her sobs and I sat up in bed, tears immediately pricking my eyes as I stared down at her and her hidden pain. As always, I was amazed at how quiet she could be as she sobbed, how carefully she tried to hide away her pain – even in sleep. It had to be something she learned when she was still with that monster.

I reached over and rubbed her back, knowing from experience that she wouldn't wake from the action. When she was lost to her nightmares...nothing really got in, but touching her soothingly seemed to calm her. The girls and I have no idea if she knows how often she dreams of her past and we're all too scared to tell her how often we wake to the sound of her nightmares. I think we are all in awe of her and her resilience, and we're all a little afraid to do or say anything that would break whatever resolve she has that keeps her functioning. So we keep to ourselves how many times we wake to her tears during sleepovers, just as we keep silent about...about the screams. The screams that I know for certain will forever haunt me, because I know they are only echoes of screams that she once voiced. Screams and cries for help that went unanswered until she was brave enough to finally come to us with her problems.

As her movements slowed and she drifted into an easier sleep, I hugged my knees to my chest, pressing my face against them to muffle the sound of my own tears. Every time, every single time, I woke to her tears I had to sequester myself away from the girls to cry. My heart was broken over what happened to Lulu, but those tears? Always tears of rage.

I always needed a moment to think of the various ways I would make Ivan bleed if I ever saw him again. There's a restraining order on him, it was something that everyone insisted on even though Lulu had told us that a piece of paper wouldn't change a thing. Thankfully, for the last three years it has changed something: he hasn't come within a foot of her. In fact, he moved away to live with his older brother a couple of states over and we haven't seen anything of him since. Yet...sometimes I wonder what will happen when the five years are up. Will he try to torment her, hurt her, or break her again?

I have no idea and it's something that terrifies me.

And not because he's always been a big guy: over six feet tall with the physique of a MMA fighter. No, I'm not afraid of him, I'm afraid of me. I'm afraid of what I'll try to do if he ever, ever, tries to hurt Lulu again. I realize that he could do me serious harm – I'm not an idiot, I know I'm not infallible. But I'm so full of rage when it comes to him. Rage and...and shame for not protecting Lulu, for not having seen what he was doing to her. Between the two emotions, I'm afraid I'll snap.

I told her. I promised her in eighth grade when I found her crying in the middle of the locker room after Renee Meyer had her stupid friends had spent our gym period taunting her about being an emo little cutter, crying for attention. (What she was, was a recent adoptee suffering from depression.) I found her in that locker room, sobbing so hard I knew she was crying from her soul, and I had promised her that I would protect her. That those girls would never hurt her again. That no one would. I then proceeded to beat the crap out of them after school and bullying them within – but always so subtly that no teacher really got what was going on.

Yeah, I can be scary.

Don't mess with my loved ones any you'll never have to see that side of me.

I only stopped because Lulu asked me to. She told me that they didn't matter, that their words couldn't hurt her – not anymore. I promised to be her champion and then I failed her. She suffered, she suffered so much at the hands of someone that was supposed to love and cherish her. And the rage I feel over that makes it hard to breathe sometimes and to be honest? I'm kind of afraid I may just try to kill the guy.

It's the only outlet for that amount of anger that makes sense.

Which is a really scary thing to realize about yourself, trust me.

Yet...my tears weren't rage filled tonight. At least, not completely. As I cried so hard my breathing was shaky, I found myself thinking about the girl beside me. Thinking about how strong she was, not just because of what she had survived and not just because she had been able to come back from the edge of death. No, I was thinking about the strength it took for her to merely ask for help.

It's not easy.

Pride gets in the way – always. That pride that makes a person believe that they should be able to deal with it all on their own. That they would be weak for being able to overcome the cards they'd been dealt. That pride that makes someone think that they can handle everything, absolutely everything, alone. I have too much pride when it comes to that aspect of life. Just calling Lulu to come comfort me was hard. How hard was it for her to come to us to save her? Especially with Ivan telling her that she wasn't allowed to tell us anything, that we didn't really care about her anyway, that she didn't matter... He hurt her so much worse than the abuse he rained down on her with his fists. He tried to kill her spirit, he tried to break her. And every day she finds any kind of joy in the world is another day that he lost. The bruises faded – even the burns he left on her body faded, the broken bones healed, and miraculously the haunted look has left her eyes. But the fact that she smiles? That she laughs? That she still believes in love?

He lost.

He lost a battle he was never going to win. Lulu is strong, she is fierce, and she will not be broken.

...And I don't think I would have ever realized how strong she was if she hadn't come to us for help. I'm not sure she'd still be alive if she hadn't come to us for help... And how insane is that? That someone so strong – so beautiful and compassionate in her strength, could have been lost to us forever? Just because she let something as small as pride and fear get in the way of asking for help? How utterly crazy is that? The world would be colder to have lost her and to think of how easily that could have happened...

We'd have lost the beauty of Ludema Louisa Ostow just because she couldn't ask for help when she needed it.

That is something that scares me to my core.

I hugged my knees closer to me as my sobs grew fiercer, because...because while thinking about Lulu, I couldn't help but think of him. Javier asked me for help. He asked me to collect him. He asked me to not belittle him. And what have I done?

Absolutely. Nothing.

Yeah, I'm beating up his bullies at school, but I don't think that that's the kind of help he was asking for. And that look on his face in the lunchroom...? Or the look on his face in those family photos? Hell, even the look on his face in his school photos? What if the world loses a guy like Javi because when he was strong enough to ask for help, none was forthcoming? What if the world loses a guy like Javier because he asked me to help him? Me? A girl too weak to face my own fears? Too scared to admit how I feel out loud? Too selfish protecting myself to reach out for another?

I'm not saying he's suicidal, I know it's melodramatic to cast him in the same role that Lulu held, but my mind can't help but travel down that path. The look in his eyes? Too similar to the haunted look Lulu's eyes once held.

Maybe he should have never come to me for help... Lulu is the strongest girl I know and I fear that I am the weakest. I'm all bluster, no substance.

Standing up to idiots for my friends? Easy. I'm not afraid of idiots, it doesn't take bravery to face something I was never afraid of to begin with. But I'm afraid of being abandoned again. I'm afraid of being vulnerable. I'm afraid of showing my weak underbelly to anyone who's loyalty is not absolute.

He asked me to save him and I'm so broken I'm afraid that if I stop holding myself together, I'll fall apart. That easily. That if I let my wall down for even a moment, I'll crumble.

And what if I fail him?

I failed Lulu.


I raised my head a bit and choked on yet another sob. "I'm s-sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

"Rowe, what's wrong?" She asked, turning on my beside lamp. The moment her light green eyes took me in, she wrapped me and my knees in a tight hug. "What happened?"

"I'm s-so scared." I croaked, dropping my knees and clinging to her. "I...I think I need to see Javier." I managed to eek out, my voice high and full of tears.

"Okay, I'll drive you there." She whispered soothingly, rubbing my back much like I had just been rubbing hers.

"But it's too late."

"Really, it's not." She said softly, "Let me just get my coat."

I nodded my head and tried to stem the flow of my tears as she climbed out of bed and shrugged into her coat. When I gave that up as being a futile gesture, I followed her out of bed and into a coat of my own.

"Do you want to talk about it?" She asked softly as we stepped out of my room and down the hall.

I touched my chest, right above my heart which was aching. "What if I lose him?" I asked softly, tears flooding my eyes again. "How can I be so scared of losing him when I don't even have him?"

"You have him." She replied, opening my front door and leading me out. I locked it behind her, even though she had a key, and we both headed towards her hybrid.

"Not really."

"Yes, really." She said firmly as we both got into her car. Once our seat-belts were on and she had started to car, she turned to look at me. "Rowe...you don't even have to claim him, he's yours. He's waiting for you to come to him, to be able to come to him."

I rubbed my eyes and then dropped my face into my hands. "I don't know that I'm ready, I just...I need to see him."

"Okay." She said softly and that was all she said for the entirety of the journey. And I loved her all the more for not pushing. She was possibly the only one of my friends that wouldn't.

Lulu understands fear.

Once we parked in front of his house she turned back to me. "Do you want me to come with?"

I slowly shook my head, "No...I need to do this alone."

She nodded her head, "Do you want me to wait for you?"

Slowly I shook my head once more. "No, I don't know how long I'll be."

"Okay." She repeated, her voice even softer than before. "Zero eight sixteen."

I frowned, "What?"

"There is an alarm system, that's the code."

"How do you know that?"

She smiled, "Just do." She reached over and hugged me again, "I love you, sweetie. The key is hidden under the doormat."

I shot her a suspicious look but climbed out of the car and walked up to the front door. I leaned down to pull over the doormat and found a pocket sewn to the mat. Frowning, I slipped a finger in and slid out the key. Then immediately turned around and shot Lulu another look. Seriously, what the hell? She only waved at me and when I unlocked the doors and punched in the code she gave me, the alarm immediately silenced. After another look at Lulu, she flashed her lights and drove away.

"How...?" I whispered to myself and then quickly replaced the key and stepped into the house. Locking the door behind me, I used the flashlight on my phone to make my way through the house and up the stairs. I paused when I came across his school photo for his junior year, my heart thudding painfully in my chest. Tears welled again – God, I've become the biggest crybaby – and I couldn't help but wonder how oblivious and cold his parents would have to be to actually hang such a picture. Then I remember the words she had said to him when she thought I couldn't understand her. Cold and oblivious, maybe; cruel? Emphatic yes.

I wiped at my eyes and made my way up the stairs and to his bedroom. My heart began to race when I realized that I didn't know which room was his parents or if they were light sleepers or not. Friend of their son or not, I had just committed a B&E. Shaking a bit, I raised my fist and knocked on his door and then again when I didn't get a response, glancing over my shoulder at the other doors that lined the hall.

With the second knock I heard a groan from inside the room. "Please, not again." I heard him mutter in the following silence and then the sounds of rustling sheets, footsteps, what sounded like a tower of books falling, a thud, some cursing, more footsteps, and then finally the handle of the doorknob creaking as he opened it...

...onto his face.

"Ow." He moaned, falling back into his room.

I had a stifle a bit of a laugh as I stepped closer to him. "Are you okay?" I asked, as I made my way into his room to see the damage. My voice was rough from my recent crying jag and the room was all but pitch black, but I could still feel his surprise.

"St. James?" He queried and I felt his warmth envelop me as he reached beside me to switch on the light. I squinted against the harshness of the light that spilled into his room, gazing up at him through my eyelashes...which was harder than usual, since they were wet and sticking together. I had a feeling that the blob was staring down at me warily, though. "Have you been crying? What's wrong?"

Why on earth wouldn't his first question be how I got into his house?

I wiped roughly at my eyes and opened them wider, trying to take in the boy before me. He looked tired – no, exhausted – with his hair standing up a bit at the back of his head. He had the imprint of his sheet on his face and dark shadows underneath his eyes. And as my silence lengthened, I saw him begin to put up his recently constructed wall against me. Yet, before he stunted the emotions in his eyes, I could see how haunted he looked. Sure, surprise was mixed in there too, with a healthy dose of wariness, but it was that ever present haunted look that made my heart clinch. He always looked haunted, as though no matter what is happening in front of him, he's only half present. And that the other half of him is in a place of darkness and pain. Perhaps that's why his real smiles are so amazing; it's the only time the haunted look is actually gone from his face.

What haunts him?

What can I do to rid him of those ghosts?

"St. James?" He repeated, looking a bit confused when I took the few steps closer to him to be within range. Then I wrapped my arms around his stomach, hugging him tight. He tensed beneath me as I buried my face against his tone chest, which was surprisingly comfortable, even with all the hard muscle beneath my cheek. "St. James?" He asked once more and I smiled as I felt his voice rumble through him. "Did someone die?"

I shook my head against him, breathing him in. "I just needed to see you." I said softly, "And for some reason Lulu knows how to break into your house."

"Uh...yeah." He murmured and then wrapped his arms around me, hugging me back. "Why did you need to see me?"

I squeezed him tighter to me, having no idea how to put my sudden panic into words. Well...into more than three words, which would probably be enough of an explanation, if I had the balls to say them. But maybe a different three words would be enough, enough to at least broach the subject of how much I care for him. "I was scared."

"Of what?"

Okay, two words – you got this, St. James.

"Losing you." I rasped and then shut my eyes tight.

Once more he stilled beneath me and I could feel his heart actually skip a beat. "What?" He tried to pull away from me, perhaps to look at me, but I held him tighter. "St. James, what's happening?"

Maybe I should have asked Lulu to stay... Because I found myself in want of a quick getaway.

"I...don't know." I said hesitantly against his chest. He tried once more to pull away, but I wouldn't let him. Because, coward.

He finally stopped moving and seemed to sink into me, his chin resting on the crown of my head. "Where did you think I was going?" He asked, his voice practically a caress.

"Away. Forever." I mumbled and then took a deep breath. "Javier, I lied today in the lunchroom." He tensed beneath me and I didn't have to look to know those walls were being fortified. Against me. God, is this how he feels when he looks at me? "It's not because I'm tired of you not standing up for yourself—"

"I can't stand up for myself." He interrupted, his voice hoarse and pained. "I lied to them for years, I deserve their anger. Their abuse...they thought me a friend when I could barely stand to be around them."

I finally let him go and took a step back, staring up into his dark eyes so full of anguish that my heart broke. "One: you're wrong – you don't deserve pain, anger, or abuse. Least of all from them."

"Jarrod considered me his closest friend and I threw that in his face."

"And was he a friend to you?" Javier wouldn't meet my eyes, which was enough of an answer. "Exactly. What's more, you never deserve pain – that's not something you earn. That's not something you should have to experience in order to feel as though others' have been vindicated. You don't suffer for others." I finished the last sentence forcefully. "Okay?"

He finally met my gaze and what I found in his eyes? Had I actually thought the look before heartbreaking? Oh my God, what has this boy experienced? "Two?" He asked, his voice broken.

I frowned and then gathered my previous train of thought. "Two; why would you spend time with them if you couldn't stand them?"

"Porque me odio." He replied and my breath caught.

Because I hate myself.

"Javier?" I asked, my voice thready.

He ran a hand through his hair, "Because I've been bullied before, I thought it would be better to befriend the bullies this time around." He said, obviously having no idea that I spoke his language. Good God. His tone when he made his declaration...?

Perhaps I was right to put him into the role of Lulu in my head.

My tears came back in full force and began their well-worn trek down my cheeks. When he saw that I was once more crying, his eyes widened and he took a step closer to me. I held out a hand to stop him. "I wanted to t-tell you that...t-that I collected you." I choked, my voice high and...squeaky. "I l-lied before, I—I just wanted you to know you've been collected."

You hate yourself.

You eyes are full of so much pain and sorrow.

You're haunted.

I'm so scared I'm going to lose you and it's not even because you'll walk away.

Surely he wasn't...?

Bree would have told me, right?

He took a step closer, until my palm was pressed against his chest. "You've collected me?"

Numbly, I nodded my head. His steady heartbeat beneath my hand calming me, offering me an anchor as my emotions whirled around me. I felt like I was panicking: I couldn't breathe, my eyes were on fire, and my heart was beating so hard it hurt. My mind was a mess; both trying to assure myself that there was nothing to worry about, while screaming: THIS BOY HATES HIMSELF! REMEMBER THAT CALL FOR HELP IN HIS EYES? ST. JAMES, HE ALWAYS WEARS AN OVERSIZED WATCH! I felt like throwing up, my throat burned with the feeling. My hands were shaking... It was system overload.

Thump... Thump... Thump...

And yet his heartbeat was keeping me steady. I stared at my hand, feeling like I both seeing it as well as unseeing...

"St. James?"

What happened our junior year?

Did he even wear a watch before then?

He's right handed...

"St. James?"

I tried to focus my gaze on him, willing myself to not look at his left wrist. Which sported that watch, even in sleep. "Yeah?"

"Are you okay?"


He canted his head to the side, seeming to analyze me with his eyes. "You're scared?"

I'm terrified.

I nodded my head.

"Of me?"

I never even factored in the fact that I could lose you to something other than me.

I shook my head.

"Then where have you gone?"

I dropped my hand, closed the distance between us, and went up on my tiptoes. "I need you to kiss me now." His brows knit together at that, but his hands did drop to my waist. I rested my hands on his shoulders, just needing to touch him. To feel that he was real, that he was present, to feel him breathe. He lowered his head towards mine, but before his lips met mine, he pulled away and dropped his hands. His eyes shuttered against me again and he turned his back to me, before walking over to his bedroom door. I felt his rejection like a slap, I was actually swaying a bit on my feet.

God, no – did I finally drive him away?

"Am I just some kind of sexual release for you?" He asked, his back still to me.


He griped the doorknob, his shoulders tensing. "Am I?" He repeated, his voice rough.

"Why would you even ask that?"

Especially to me? The judgmental virgin?

"Because the two times you have come to me, that's all you've wanted from me."

"That's...no, Javi—"

He turned and looked at me, his eyes void of emotion. "I'm not going to sleep with you."

And the hits just keep coming.

Immediately I wanted to lash out. "Everyone else but me?" I bit out and then grimaced – sure, let's kick around the boy that's already broken and bleeding on the floor.

His eyes narrowed a bit at that. "Four, Rosaline. Four. Do you want their names?" At my silence (because I was trying to figure out a way to apologize), he continued. "How about reverse order? Jade Ostow, Jenna Fillmore, Lynn Moore, and Melanie Stinger."

I knew he was trying to hurt me or prove a point with his history, but all I could say was... "You slept with Melanie Stinger? She was a senior when you moved to town." At his shrug, I shivered. "You were fifteen, that's statutory rape."

"I didn't view it as such." He said, "Jenna Fillmore though...?" He muttered to himself.

I remember Bree telling me what felt like ages ago, that he was more forthcoming when he was tired. I had woken him from sleep and he did look exhausted... But a part of me knew that this honesty was fueled partly from anger. Which just made me wonder how much he would tell me.

And I was curious about his first time...

...For reasons I didn't want to explore.

"Did you enjoy your first time?"

He seemed surprised at my question, but then shrugged. "Yes." He grew silent and then slowly shook his head. "No, not really. I felt...empty."

"How was your second time?" I asked, wondering if Melanie had made him the apparent god in bed that he'd been rumored to be.

"Lynn? It was...the same."

"No, I meant your second time, not your second partner."

"My second time was with my second partner."

"Oh." I said softly, suddenly beginning to wonder how experienced he actually was. "Um...third time?"

He shuddered again, "Jenna, and I was drunk. Really drunk." He rubbed his forehead, "I...I don't remember it." When I didn't ask any more questions, his eyes flicked back to mine. "It was the same." He said softly, "Even with her. Sorry."

I didn't know how to feel. Should I be happy that sex with Jade left him feeling empty? Should I be relieved that she didn't please him either? She had been one of my best friends for years, shouldn't I want her happiness? Be disgusted that he not only slept with her, but that he hadn't enjoyed it?


"You slept with Jade more than once." I said as though it were just a statement, but it was really a question. One I didn't want to ask, didn't want answered...yet had to know.


"So she was your only repeat partner." I muttered and dropped my gaze, "And yet it never got any better?"

"Emotionally? No."

"You're a guy, should you even care about emotions?"

Seriously St. James? You want to kick the Haunted Boy?

"Maybe not." He answered simply, "I do." He let the silence gather between us and then wet his lips. "You don't want to ask?"

How many times?

"Have you...twenty times?" I ventured, hating myself for even wanting to know. It's not really any of my business – his past shouldn't matter. Yet...he's the one that brought it up. Perhaps it mattered to him, perhaps he wanted me to know...?

Perhaps I'm just nosy and am looking for a way to validate myself?




I frowned, "Ten?"

He blushed, the first physical sign that he was actually uncomfortable with the information he was conveying. "No." He said in a breath and I actually had to sit down on his bed, I was so surprised.

"Bree has had more partners than you and had sex more often than you."

"I really didn't need to know that." He replied, sounding a bit sick.

"She's not a whore – if anyone ever tried to call her a whore..." I trailed off in a growl and then shook my head. "Yet I've been calling you one all along." I stared into Sonic's tank, trying to gather my thoughts. "How do you have the reputation you have?"

He glanced nervously out into the hall and then shut his bedroom door. Then seemed to tense when he realized what he had done. Taking a deep breath and slowly exhaling, he turned back to me. "Melanie was being mocked for sleeping with me, but she didn't let it get to her. Instead she made me out to be some kind of natural, convinced a whole bunch of her friends that it wasn't embarrassing to be with a fifteen year old. If that fifteen year old was me."

"Lynn was her best friend..." I said, thinking it over. "And Jenna was a friend too."

He nodded, "Yeah."

"But you're known for sleeping with everyone."

"I—have...kissed a lot of girls." He stated haltingly.

I thought back to how brilliantly he kissed and had to nod my head – he had certainly mastered that skill through practice. "You have."

"Do you judge me for that too?"

I finally met his gaze once more. "I'm sorry for what I said before. I wasn't asking you to...I don't...you're not just..." I couldn't find the words I wanted and my heart broke at the realization that that was what he really thought of me. That I would use him like that.

And why wouldn't he think that I'd be out to hurt him?

Honestly, what have I done to convince him that I would ever choose to be kind to him when I could be mean? How the hell did I ever attract his attention enough to make him think he could love me? I am mean, spiteful, and a complete bitch to him. When I could choose to be anything else, I always – always – choose to be harsh.

What did I think I could change by coming here?

Good God, if he is...if he is suicidal, I could be the one to send him right over the edge.

And with that thought, I was crying again.

"St. James?"

How can I have that much power over a person?

Who says you do?

But if I do? I loved Joe, I would have done anything for Joe – love doesn't make you strong against the person you love. It makes you weak, so very weak... United as a team with your love? Perhaps the strongest you will ever be; against your love? Jello.

And if Javier is Jello to me and I'm a raving bitch to him, how the hell is he still standing?

God, he is so strong.

"I should go." I whispered and got to my feet. Then I saw the look of resignation in Javier's eyes and stilled myself. I need to be strong for him. "No." I shook my head, squared my shoulders, and put on my big girl panties. "I asked you to kiss me because I wanted to hold you."

"What?" He said, mouthing the word more than saying it.

"I'm not using you Javier, I don't know what I'm doing...but I promise you that I'm not using you." I wiped at my eyes and tried to smile, but my chin was wobbling so much it had to ruin the whole effect. "You scare me, this scares me, and I don't know what I'm supposed to do—" I broke off then, because he had crossed the room and pulled me into his arms. He didn't kiss me, he didn't have to – just his hug comforted me. His body surrounded me; his arms so tight around me that I felt like he was holding me together. I pressed my cheek against his chest and listened to his steady heartbeat. "Thank you." I murmured against him.

"You confuse me."

"Me too." I agreed, squeezing him closer to me. I had to hear his heart, feel him breathe, feel his warmth... I didn't know how to describe these needs to him without sounding lovesick or paranoid. Even in his arms, even having told him that I needed to be held by him, even having freaking admitting it to myself – I couldn't tell him.

Three words.

The scariest words of my life.

Okay, can't say those three? How about five? You can do this.

"Can I stay here tonight?" His whole body stilled and I pulled my head back a bit to try to save the situation. "Not like that, I promise—"

He laughed at that, "Ouch."

I blushed, "You are the one that said you're not going to sleep with me."

He nodded, "I did."


"What's wrong with me?" I asked and I could hear the pain in my voice. Then I rubbed my forehead, "Besides my treating you abysmally and being the judgmental little virgin—"

"—What you said about sex really spoke to me." He cut in, "The most vulnerable a person can be? Trust and love in physical form? I haven't had that and I'm not going to have anything less again."

Seriously, why not just physically smack me at this point?

"And being with me would be—"

"I already told you how being with you would be." He cut in again, "Everything, St. James." He was silent for a moment, letting that sink in, before he continued. "You're not offering me that, though."

I won't tell him I love him.

"And you don't want to sleep with me either, not like that."

I'm...not ready, I know that. I'm not ready to be that vulnerable, I'm not ready to be that bare (in either definition of the word) with another person. But...but in many ways I trust Javier and I think I could trust him with my body. Which meant that in some ways, what he said was no longer the truth. Not that I was about to get into that discussion with him any time soon.

He frowned down at me, "I don't understand the look in your eyes."

Shake it off, girl.

Because this guy is observant.

"Can I stay?" I asked, my voice sounding a lot stronger than I thought it would.

"Why?" He queried, and in his voice I heard pain, confusion, and quite possibly resentment.

It was the last one that had me swallowing hard and my heart racing. "I'm...s-scared of losing you."

"I'm not going anywhere."

He sounded so confident, so sure of himself... He seemed so steady...and in that moment he took another piece of my heart and firmly put it in his pocket. Which immediately terrified me, because I knew I wasn't getting it back. Ever. Because that's yet another thing love does to you: it takes pieces of you away, parts of you that you'll never get back, at least parts that you'll never get back in the same condition. Joe has parts of me that I wish he'd return: my open heart, which was behind my need to collect everyone that needed a friend; my willingness to believe, which made me a hopeless romantic even when I knew what heartbreak looked like; and any flirtatious bone in my body. Yeah, that's gone now.

I'd actually really, really like the ability to flirt back.

Telling a guy to their face they're an ass? Not the most fun thing ever. Manageable, but sometimes I have to worry about physical retaliation. Telling a guy to their face they're an ass with a flirtatious tone? Priceless. That look in their eyes when they're trying to figure out if they were just insulted or not...? Golden.

I closed my eyes for a moment, in an effort to gather my thoughts, and then nodded my head. "Sorry, I'll leave." I said, opening my eyes and focusing them on his bedroom door. He obviously didn't want me here, he didn't want me in his bed, he didn't want me to stay. It was wrong to keep asking him and kind of pathetic, and Rosaline St. James is not pathetic.

Small, needy, and clingy at times? Sure, but not pathetic.

As I moved past him, his fingers lightly touched my wrist and I came to an immediate stop. When I glanced over my shoulder at him, I saw his look of absolute amazement. He even stared at his hand in surprise, as though he couldn't believe he had that much power of me. I didn't want to tell him that of course he had that power: he had parts of my heart and the only reason he didn't have the whole of my heart was because I was holding on so tight.

"Stay." He said softly, still looking at his hand. He finally raised his gaze to mine. "I don't understand why you want to stay, but please...stay."

I turned back to stare at his door for a moment and began to chew on my bottom lip. I didn't want him to ask me to stay due to guilt and I also didn't want him to try to beg me to do something I asked him for in the first place. I didn't want to manipulate him and I was afraid that I had. Slowly I turned back to him.

"Javier, if my being here would make you uncomfortable, then I don't need to stay. I wasn't thinking of you when I asked to stay and I'm sorry. I keep putting my needs before your own and that's wrong."

There's an actual chance I could have knocked him over with a feather, he looked so shocked.

"St. James, let me be completely honest with you," He began after a moment to get over his surprise, "and perhaps a bit blunt. You are always welcome in my bed, I just don't understand why you want to be in it."

I blushed at that – how could I not – and ducked my head. "Um...okay." I went back to chewing on my bottom lip, "I've, uh, never done this."

"Not even with Joe?"

I shivered at that and raised my head. "Trust Joe enough to sleep beside him? Not likely."

At that he smiled, and by God, it reached his eyes.

He leaned past me towards his door, "I'm going to lock the door, just in case my parents actually look in." He said, "Does that bother you? You can always leave if you want—"

"—It doesn't bother me." I interjected, feeling much more secure with a lock between me and his witch of a mother. Now I just had to figure out how to broach the bed. It felt kind of insurmountable, if I could get in it I could then broach exactly how to sleep next to someone that isn't one of the girls, but first I had to figure out a way on the bed.

I took a hesitant step towards the bed, faltered, and then took another step. At the rate I was going, I would never make it there before we needed to be up for school.

"Are you afraid of me or the bed?" Javier asked, causing me to jerk a bit in surprise.

"I'm not afraid of you."

"Then it's my bed?"

I shook my head and shot him a glare without any bite. "No, it's more the fact that I've never done anything like this before and I'm kind of freaking out about how to crawl into bed with a guy. Even when sex is not on the table, it's a big step." He was silent then and during that silence, I toed off my shoes and draped my coat on the back of his desk chair. I smiled a greeting at Sonic, adjusted those metaphorical big girl panties, and made my way over to his bed. It was a rather unassuming full sized bed, with a navy comforter and four standard pillows – nothing to scare a young virgin. No silk or satin sheets, no black or deep red adored the bed, and I couldn't help but smile at the R2-D2 sheets. A part of me was still trying to change my thought process about the guy: to stop thinking of him as some sleazeball and remember that he was anything but that.

He was a honest, upstanding, and lonely young man. His eyes were full of pain, yet he stood tall. He never stood up for himself, because he thought he deserved pain. He had had four partners in his life and was no where near experienced as everyone made him out to be. He...

I glanced over my shoulder at him once more as I slowly sat down on the edge of his bed.

He was scared too.

"Do you have a side?" I asked and it was his turn to jump a bit in surprise. For a moment I saw actual terror on his face and then a longing so fierce that my stomach dropped. "J-Javi?"

He wet his lips and then shook his head, "No, do you?"

I smiled at that, "Like I'm going to invade your bed and then demand a side?" I swung my legs up into the bed and pulled the covers over me. I generally slept on the right side and I had sat down on the right side, but if he made any mention of wanting said side I would totally move. His gaze seemed to drift off for a moment and then he quickly turned and switched the light off. I raised an eyebrow at that, "Um...Javi?"

"Yeah?" He responded and then I heard a thud and him biting back a curse.

"Just thought you'd like the light to see by, there are all kind of obstacles on your floor."

I heard another thud and him hissing in pain. "I forgot the hardcover door-stoppers." He muttered and then I felt him land on the bed, his hand landing on my upper thigh. "Sorry." He said quickly, pulling himself back, "I think I just tripped over a Karen Miller novel."

His simple touch had caused my stomach to clench in both fear and...arousal. I took a moment to settle my heart before responding, my voice a little high. "No problem." I cleared my throat, trying to get my tone to drop an octave or two. "You're really into fantasy novels?"

"Fantasy and SciFi, but I have been known to read other genres." He replied.

"Like all the romance novels Bree told you about?"

Silence for a beat. "Yeah."

"How'd you like Meg Cabot?"

"Her stories all seemed to bleed into one after awhile; all the narrators sounded alike."

I narrowed my eyes at that, "Well..." I couldn't actually refute it, but that didn't mean I didn't love her stories. I loved the humor, the awkwardness of the heroines, an the dreaminess of the heroes. "That doesn't mean her stories aren't enjoyable. How did you like Jane Austen?"

He muttered 'Darcy' darkly and then sighed, "Eye opening."

I laid down and stared up at his ceiling, my heartbeat spiking a bit when I felt him lay down beside me. Even though he kept nearly six inches between us, I was still hyper-aware of him. Heat seemed to seep from him, warming me nearly as well as my electric blanket. And because I apparently wanted to torture myself, I couldn't help but remember how muscular his chest was. The way that his muscles had seemed to flex under my fingertips... The trail of hair that led from his bellybutton down... I felt my stomach clinch again, which led to me glaring at the ceiling. I am in control of my mind, I am in control of my mind, I will not imagine Javier half-naked as he shares a bed with me.

"H-how..." He trailed off, coughed, and then continued in a very hesitant tone. "How far did you go with Joe?"

I smiled at his question, even though the feminist in me couldn't help but roll her eyes – was he trying to hold me to a different standard than him? Yet, I knew that Javi wasn't like that; he was curious. And since he had appeased my curiosity when it really hadn't been any of my business, I decided to answer his question. "French kissing. He told me I was a frigid bitch, the coldest of ice queens, because I refused to go any further with him." I thought back to all the time he tried to either guide my head or hand down to his waist, how I had tensed against him and pulled myself away. How he always looked at me in disappointment every single time. Was it really any wonder that he cheated on me?

Does Javi think I'm an Ice Queen?

"Do...do you think I've got ice in my veins?"

"No." He answered and I felt him shift beside me, turning on his side to face me. "Do you think you do?"

Surprised at the question, I thought it over for a moment and then turned my gaze back to his ceiling. "Yes."


"Because I'm eighteen and I'm still a virgin. A virgin to everything. I never wanted to go any further with him, not once."

"You didn't trust him."

"Well...no, but I'm supposed to be a hormonal teen."

"I think..." He paused for a moment, seeming to gather his thoughts, then continued. "I think that trust might be more important to you than anything else. And if you couldn't trust him, you couldn't desire him. Not that I'm claiming to know or understand you, I've just been observing you from afar and hearing about you from Bree for years and—"

"I think you're right." I interrupted, showing the poor boy mercy before he rambled himself half to death. His words had actually started to come faster and faster, which was a speed in which I've never heard him speak. Thinking it over, Javier isn't really much of a talker...and yet he's always willing to talk to me. Seemingly to any length that I want.

And yet another part of my heart was put firmly in his keeping.

God, it was enough to make me cry – would I get to keep any of my heart for myself this time?

This time?

Deep breath. Exhale.

Just breathe.

I closed my eyes and, to my complete surprise, felt my body relax. I barely managed to stifle a yawn and found it hard to open my eyes again. My body felt so heavy and Javier was so warm... Moreover, his scent was all around me, blanketing me and making me feel safe. I found myself breathing deep just to take in his smell: the sharp zest of soap, what I'm almost certain was Gain laundry detergent, for some reason apples, and the faint scent of mint. He wasn't wearing his usual cologne, but I think I loved his scent more because of the lack: it was just him. Not the carefully constructed self he was when around others, just the person he was when he was alone.

"St. James?"

"Yes?" I replied sleepily.

"I've never just slept beside someone either. I just...you're not the only one doing something new."

I smiled and moved my body just a little closer to his. "How's it for you so far?"

"I can't actually believe you're here. If I hadn't slammed a door into my face, I'd be convinced that I'm still dreaming."

"You dream about me?"


I managed to open my eyes at that – which was surprising difficult. "'Yes? Are we talking about steamy dreams? Am I going to wake up to..." A morning erection? A wet dream? "An uncomfortable position?"

"Well, the last dream I had where you had a staring role, we were fighting against Darth Vader with our light sabers... So, if you wake to me making the light saber sound in my sleep, I guess it could get a little uncomfortable."

I couldn't help but laugh at that. "How geeky are you?"

"Extremely." He said simply, causing me to laugh a bit more.

"Am I a talented Jedi?"

"Of course, you're Rosaline St. James – you are nothing less than kick-ass."

I smiled, my eyes drifting shut again. "Not always." I said softly, feeling myself drift into sleep. "Sometimes I'm too scared to say what I feel, sometimes I'm so much less than kick-ass."

"I don't believe it."

I yawned and moved closer to the warmth he was emitting. "Javi...?"


"Please don't take all of my heart; I need some parts for me too. I'm losing too many pieces as is." I yawned again, trying to remember what I was saying. I knew I had just said something, but I was too tired to think about what it was. All the crying, the emotional upheaval, and the interrupted sleep was hitting me hard. Yet, even though I was beginning to feel a bit disconnected from my body, I knew I had just said something important. Something...I didn't want to have said...

Why on earth does he smell like apples?

...God, I love apples.

"Me too."

I roused a bit at that, "What?"

"I love apples too."

Why on earth is he declaring that?

"You declared it first."


Very nice smelling weirdo.

"Has anyone ever told you that you talk in your sleep?"

I smiled to hear his voice rumble beneath my cheek, then frowned, wondering how my head had made it to his chest. I could vaguely remember seeking warmth, but surely I'd remember having moved that close to him. Right? Had he said something? Should I say something? "Good night, Javi."

"Good night, St. James."

I patted his chest to let him know that I had heard him, then let myself drift even further into sleep. When I next opened my eyes, Javier was wearing a tan cloak for some reason and had a...a blue light saber in his hand? He struck a pose and then folded his palm towards himself twice, a clear 'Come at me, bro' motion and then twirled his saber in the air a bit. I glanced down to see that I had a light saber of my own.

"I love you, St. James."

I raised my saber and raced towards Javi.

"Love you too."

I jumped into the air and raised my weapon above my head, preparing to use the force of gravity to help me against him. Something felt wrong though, so wrong... Was it the fact that we were fighting each other? Why were we fighting each other? I'd rather have Javier by my side than anything else – he's the kind of partner that would help you take over an empire, just because you asked him nicely.

Just as I was about to make a kill blow, he raised his face to make eye contact with me and smiled, waving his hand before his face. I was thrown against a wall with the force of his will. I think he broke something inside me. I clutched at my heart and stared at him in terror.

Something's wrong.

What's wrong?

What happened?

He smirked at me and then slowly turned away, walking away from me and down a dark corridor. Still clutching at my heart as it sputtered in much the same way as a dying car engine, I watched him go.

A/N: It's been awhile.

During my absence from FP I've lived through a lot of really ugly things and some nice but stressful events as well. I graduated from college (and promised myself I was DONE, no more schooling for me!), decided to go for more schooling (sigh), moved out of my mom's house, got my own apartment, and started a new job (one that doesn't use my degree, but at least it's not the job I'd been working since high school). I also lived through my parents' ugly divorce (I can still remember the first time they ever told me they were going to get a divorce: I was eight and I had to excuse myself to the bathroom because I didn't want them to see how happy the news made me. Finally, the nightmare was over. Yeah...it took eleven years for them to actually divorce...), I finally ended a seven year friendship that was killing me (for the sensitive and creative souls out there: you can't save everyone. Sometimes people don't have any other friends for a reason. And when your friend starts to tear apart your dreams and aspirations in an effort to make sure you never leave them, it's more than okay to stop being friends with them. Don't stick around another half decade because that person doesn't have anyone else – remember: you can't save everyone), and had to put my beloved dog to sleep due to age and sickness (I had to do this in March, I still can't even write about it without morphing into a crying mess that can't breathe, and I'm not a crier).

For awhile there, things were awful. And what usual got me through everything – writing – pretty much deserted me. I won't lie; it felt like the ultimate betrayal. During that time I was trying to find some other creative outlet and have since discovered many things about myself: I can't sing. Assigning me knitting homework will kill all interest in the activity for me (honestly, Grandma). Creating soap while being a klutz is kind of dangerous. Being a person that likes things to be perfectly symmetrical makes free-form art a little...difficult. Making jewelry is all kinds of fun, but I don't actually wear jewelry, so... But hey! I love cooking!

That being said, quite a few people gained a lot of weight when I decided that I would become the Casserole Queen.

Anyway, things are better now and I've been working on stories for a few months now. I'm back to that place where I want to write freaking EVERYTHING and there just isn't enough time to start all the stories I want to write. I much prefer this to the drought I was experiencing before. However, even with all these ideas swirling in my head, I knew that I wanted (needed) to finish writing my stories on this site. I needed (and really wanted) to bring happiness to my characters' lives because I have put them through so much.

My writing may have gotten darker due to the period I've just lived through – Lord knows my taste in music has become darker – but I'm still a girl that loves to laugh, so hopefully it hasn't gotten too dark. I've been worried about my style changing too much, but I'm deciding to just go with it. That being said, I might be rewriting/reworking Quandaries of a Quirky Romantic and Nobody Said It Was Easy, but I'm really hoping I manage to talk myself out of that.

Also, my writing may get a bit more mature in the future... Which has a lot to do with me discovering romance novels (I know! Insane that I didn't read them before, huh?) and being enthralled. I still love writing in the YA niche, but it almost feels wrong to cut out other aspects of romance. That's not to say I'll suddenly start writing erotica or even love scenes, I"m just noticing the lack of that intimacy in my stories.

I need to stop this author's note, my Lord I'm rambling...

I've missed you. All of you. I didn't realize how much sharing my stories meant to me until I lost my ability to write. I've always been a bad updater, but...it was something all together different there for those three years of drought. I knew you all were important to me, but...I had no idea.

Right, okay: rambling over!

Thanks for reading!