They lived across the street from each other for years. She was the first of the neighborhood kids to befriend him, and the rest slowly followed. They still played in the street and each other's yards all through middle school, but then high school came. About the time their junior year came around, they found never had time for much more than a hello while getting in and out of the car; he attended the public schools while her parents sent her to private schools. He knew they thought she was a problem child, and scraped every penny into that private education to keep her in line. The first couple years of college were the same between them, until one night he came home from work and her car was parked out in front of her house, as it always way. Her headlights had been left on; his first thought was to call her, until he noticed a strange glow coming from inside the vehicle. Slowly, he made his way to the driver's side door, and realized that she had laid the seat back, and was tapping away at her mobile phone. He drummed his fingers against the glass, causing her to jump. She smiled when recognition hit her, and turned down the music before lowering the window.

"You doing all right?" he asked.

"Of course," she replied. "Just unwinding. Passenger door is unlocked if you'd like to join me."

He shrugged, not seeing a reason not to join her. He slung his book bag to the back seat and climbed in, reclining the seat back to her level. She turned the music back up a little, a rock number he recognized quickly as one of her favorites, and stared up at the view she had through the moon roof. Even out of the corner of her eye she couldn't see him take in her dark hair pulled into a simple ponytail, and the casualness of her plain tee and jeans. She looked at him, dark eyes shining in the streetlight glow that infiltrated the car.

"See," she told him. "It's a good place to unwind."

He agreed immediately, and looked up at the stars through the top of the car. A few minutes later, she sat up, bringing the back of the seat with her. He followed suit, and they bid each other a quiet good night. It was just a few minutes, but it started a pastime for them that they often used to catch up over the next couple of years. By the time they graduated college, she knew all about the high school sweetheart who had turned into a cheating whore and broken his heart. He knew about the many guys she had gone out with once or twice, but had never been interested in enough to keep a relationship going. She knew about how his parents annoyed him sometimes with the way they still acted like lovesick teenagers, and he knew that her parents had actually fought for years before her mother moved out of the house. Sometimes they didn't even talk; they just laid there and listened to the crickets chirp in the summer, or ice cracking on tree limbs in the winter. Some "sittings" lasted an hour or two, some just fifteen minutes. They never took their friendship outside of the car, but relied on those nights to get them through.

She had come to his graduation party alone last winter, before he started his job with the same high school he had attended, teaching freshman phys ed. He knew by this time that whatever childhood crush he'd had on her was gone, and, if he was honest, didn't know how he felt about her now. It was more than friendship, but he wouldn't at all have labeled it love. It hovered right between attraction and caring, and that was enough for him. When his family made their visit to her graduation party, they first time they would have the chance to socialize outside of their little rendezvous. He easily considered her his best friend in a way he did no one else, so the local university's football star quarterback was the last person he expected to see her with when he sauntered into her backyard. Her father was grilling and her mother was, as he expected, nowhere to be seen. Both of her brothers were with different groups of family spattered across the yard. His parents beelined for her to say hello, and he trailed behind them. When her eyes met his, they lit up even brighter than they had been when she had just been talking to what's his face.

"You made it," she beamed. He accepted the tight hug she offered, noticing the blatant flirting one of her friends was doing with her date at that moment, and hoped to God she didn't notice. He was glad for his decision to leave her gift at home, so she wouldn't have to take that walk down memory lane with her friends standing there. Football Star reappeared, and put a possessive arm around her shoulder. She made the proper introductions and he was surprised at the sting when the word 'boyfriend' left her mouth. What happened to being less than caring, although slightly more than attracted? He mentally shrugged it off and spent the rest of the party with his parents and her father. He watched her from a distance, glad that she at least looked happy. He caught her staring at him a few times through the evening, and did his best not to read into it more than what was there.

His parents ambled back across the street with the last throngs of leaving guests, but he opted to stay. He sat with her father, each man with a beer in hand, and watched while she bid goodbye to the last of her friends, and then walked Football Star to his truck. The pang of jealousy again rose up in his chest when she went on tiptoe to kiss the other young man good night, and he tried not to let it show. His disturbance didn't escape her father though.

"She looks at you the same way," the older man informed him. He knew he mentioned something about them just being friends, or maybe something about their relationship being chaste conversations in her car as a reply, but he couldn't quite be clear about which he had actually used to answer. His mind was too heavily settled on wondering if there was truth in the other man's words. The truck finally roared away and she motioned to him that she would be in the car. He excused himself from her father's presence and not long after, took a quick trip into his house, and then took his place in the passenger seat.

"I got the job with the magazine," she informed him.

"Congratulations," he smiled at her. Her face spread in a smile when he said it, as if his approval was the last nail in the coffin on her celebration. He chastised himself again for seeing things that weren't there, and handed over the package he'd been holding. "This is for you. For your graduation."

She slowly undid the ribbon decorating the parcel and then slid her fingers under the tape that secured the wrapping paper, noting it was her favorite color. When all of the packaging was removed and discarded to the backseat, she flipped on the overhead light so she could see better. In a dark wooden frame was a picture of them his mother had taken when he first moved in to that house across the street. She fingered the glass that protected the print, and smiled nostalgically.

"We were so young. Things were so much more simple."

"We were. They were." His short reply was followed by her turning the light off and settling back again, hugging the frame to her chest. This was the time to tell her. "I'm moving."

"Moving? Moving where?" she asked, alarmed.

"Just out," he shrugged. "It's been a semester since I graduated and I'm still with my parents."

"I see," she replied quietly. An extra layer of moisture covered her eyes, and she swiped the excess away before it could fall down her cheeks.

"You have him now," he reminded. "You don't need me to sit in a car with you at night."

She simply told him she supposed he was right, and hugged the picture a little closer to her. His heart went out to her, but what could he do? Live at home forever for a girl that would never be his? No, it just didn't work that way. She looked over at him, holding his gaze, and did something neither of them had done in any of their evenings in the car: she crossed the console and brushed her lips against his. She was shocked that she had been able to pull it off without a second thought, but before she could congratulate herself, he connected his mouth back to hers, holding her as close and gentle as his could with their current situation. The make out session didn't get heated at all, and they shared nothing more than a smile upon making the walk up their respective driveways.

Two months later, she was contemplating that very kiss. His mother had gushed on and on about her son's new apartment when the women ran into each other the previous week, and he had been heavy on her mind since. Not that the kiss or the one she had shared it with didn't already frequent her thoughts. Since she was in pigtails and he had moved in across the street, she was attracted to him. Her schoolgirl crush had turned into a college love affair in her own heart, and she lived for those nights in the car with him. He couldn't have known it, she was sure, but he knew more about her than anyone else. How she stayed calm and collected in his presence she could only assume was for the comfort and contentment he brought her when he was around. They way he looked at her at her graduation party just as the summer was starting, and the way he held her in the car as they kissed, even at twenty-two, had fooled her into thinking she would finally have her heart's desire.

The picture he had given her sat on her dresser at home, and she never bothered to take it down when it was clear he wasn't going to act upon what she had actually started. From their many conversations, he was well aware that she liked to be asked out on dates, rather than do the asking herself. She couldn't think of any reason why he would presume he was different from the others, if not held to that standard a little more. He was moving on with his life, and it was clear she needed to move on with hers. His blue eyes didn't escape her thoughts very often, especially nights right before she slept, and that made it difficult. The Football Star was still the one she had committed herself to, but her heart paid little attention to the decision her mind had made.

As the months passed on, summer ended. Fall brought the onset of the holidays, most of that time she spent with her family or the Football Star's. The two of them spent New Year's alone at her father's house, although she watched the house across the street discreetly to see if he would appear. He didn't.

The blistering winter melted into a pleasant spring, and brought with it a load of activities for the Football Star's fraternity, along with the same man's graduate studies. She found that her own boyfriend had less and less time for her, never even bothering to assure her it was only the time of year. When she pointed this out, he only shrugged and continued on with whatever else he was doing. She kept busy with work, but most of her friends were traveling or moving out of state. She was left in a lonely state of her own, wishing for contact with one specific soul. Her family saw it, but she played it off to adjusting to life in the 'real world.' Whenever anyone asked if she had plans for moving out soon, she would shake her head and answer, "Of course not. No daddy's girl ever does." She stayed for her father, it was true, but she also stayed for any chance she might have to run into the boy across the street.

It was a year to the day that she had kissed him when things went south with the Football Star. She was sick of him never asking how she was, never treating her the way he had when they were first together. As the months had wore on, his affections turned into little more than common courtesies, and she felt much like a trophy girlfriend. She told him as much, and the fraternity ring he was wearing popped against her cheekbone as he brought the back of his hand down hard across her face. Both of her hands went up to her cheek, and her jaw dropped in simple awe. When the face staring back at her remained hard and unfeeling, she grabbed her purse and keys, and left immediately. The event had given her enough adrenaline to go to the only place she wanted to go. On the way there, she called her father and told him what had happened. He begged her to come home, but she refused. She also refused to tell him where she was going, afraid he would talk her out of it. After a year, she was going to face him, and she wasn't going to let anyone stop her. Her father knew his daughter very well though, and as soon as they hung up, he called ahead to announce her intentions.

She pulled in front of the building that had to be his, based off of number, and turned of the engine. Her air conditioner still hummed, a constant reminder of her need for a new car, and the radio played the same album she was listening to the first night they sat in her car and watched the sky. He had been watching for her from his balcony, so it didn't take long after her arrival for him to take his rightful place in her passenger seat. She was still sobbing, so he just took her hand and laced his fingers with hers while she cried. When her weeping turned into silent tears and the occasional sniffle, he spoke.

"He hit you."

She nodded.

"Don't worry. We'll go up to my apartment when you're ready and we'll call the police. They'll take care of him. Does it hurt?"

"Not anymore," she answered honestly. The entire left side of her face felt tingly and numb, chasing away all of the pain that had been present. His hand holding hers wasn't hindering at all either.

"Are you going to be okay?"

"I will be now." She held tightly on to his hand, not wanting to move from that moment. She was trying to piece together how she had let the relationship get that far; how she let it get abusive. She wasn't the kind of girl who ended up in an abusive relationship, and was only glad for the willpower to walk away before it got worse. That was the past now, and it wasn't the part of the past she wanted to discuss just then.

"Ready to go in?" He asked, squeezing her hand. He'd done little more than glance at her since he got in, for fear that any marks he saw would start a rage in him he hadn't had to deal with before, and he'd want to take matters into his own hands. He wanted to wait until they were in the apartment, and the door was safely locked behind them. The year that had gone by without seeing her was the most torturous he could remember his heart having to go through. Seeing that he was her safe haven brought on a permanent sense of responsibility, and it was more than taking the role of protector over the girl who had been his childhood friend. He was in love with her, this he knew now. He noticed her hesitation to leave the car, and asked about it.

"After our kiss last year, what happened to us? Did we really let that take away our friendship?"

He sighed, and turned her to face him. He had to see it, had to see what damage that coward had done. With just the parking lot lights filtering in to enhance their vision, there wasn't much to see except for the faint trace of a bruise and a smear of blood under a cut right on the bone. Just as he expected, his entire body was filled with the urge to hunt down that monster and do unthinkable harm to him, but he knew he couldn't leave her now. Instead he brought his free hand around to trace her jaw line and bring her line of vision to match his.

"It didn't take away our friendship. You're here now. When things hit the bottom, you knew who to come to and make it better."

"I suppose it's not so much our friendship I was thinking of," she confessed humbly. He leaned over the console to brush his lips against hers. "I didn't know then exactly what I felt for you. It was changing from this childhood crush I'd always had to something more. When your dad called and told me what happened though, I only wanted to protect you, and that's when I knew. That's when I realized I love you."

"I've waited for years to hear you say that," she smiled at him, before connecting their mouths again. After a few more kisses, she locked up her car and allowed him to lead her up to his apartment.

The picture he gave her of when they were children now sits on the mantle place in the home they own together. It sits to the left of the picture they took in her front seat the day she traded the car in for a family SUV, shortly after their wedding, and to the right of the picture of their son holding his new baby sister. On nights when they can get the kids to bed early enough, they recline the front seats of the SUV, she sits in the driver seat and he sits in the passenger seat. They open the moon roof and let the fresh air in to surround them. He intertwines his fingers with hers. Sometimes they don't even talk, just listen to the crickets chirping in the summer, and the ice cracking on tree limbs in the winter.

A/N: This was the product of being blocked on my other stories the other night. Hope you enjoy. : )