Keri needed a shower.

She felt like she was covered in slime; the filth from the night before still lingering on her skin. Her hair felt too oily, and she was constantly picking imaginary dirt out from under her fingernails. "I'm home," she called, throwing the door open.

Keri was about to make a mad dash for the stairs and hurl herself into a nice, searing hot bath to scrub herself red and make sure that the essence of Alex was completely washed down the drain, but something from the kitchen caught her attention. The scent of her mother's cooking swirled around her, making her head dizzy and her mouth water. The smell hooked onto her nostrils and dragged her to the kitchen by the hairs of her nose, making her completely forget about the shower she so desperately needed.

"Hey," greeted her mother, Kim, as she pulled off her oven mitts. "How was school?"

"It was okay," Keri replied, shrugging. If you don't count the whispers at every corner. Keri suddenly became distracted with the off-looking dish that her mother had placed on the stovetop. Her stomach roared, and Keri realized that she was very hungry; if a DeGiovanni didn't cook it, it wasn't satisfying. "What's for dinner?"

Kim shrugged, laughing. "I don't know. I put some ingredients together, and voila." Keri and Kim shared a laugh; Keri's mother had the ability to make any combination of food mouth-wateringly wonderful. "You didn't come home last night," she said, not bothering to disguise a subject-change, or her excitement. Keri had made her way to the sink, flicking her hair behind her ears to wash dishes. It had been tradition to help clean up after one another when they were cooking; Kim would wash Keri's bowls when the girl would bake. "Was the party fun?"

Keri paused for a moment, not really knowing how to answer that question. She knew for a fact that her mother loved Alex like a son of her own; the Vidal's and the DeGiovanni's had been running a restaurant together for years.

In fact, she was the one who had encouraged Keri to attend Alex's part in the first place: "You're too lonely at home," she had said, referring to how her brother had gone out with a few of his friends from track. "Alex is a sweet kid. Go have some fun for once." She knew that Kim actually wanted Keri and Alex to somehow end up together.

Keri wondered if she told her mom what had really happened at the party, if she would be either ecstatic – that she and Alex had finally 'done the deed' – of furious, and possibly pummel the boy's pretty face into the ground. Although the latter made her want to jump into a victory dance, she decided that some things are better left unsaid.

"Yeah, I guess," she said, shrugging casually, realizing that she hadn't spoken for a while.

"Those aren't your clothes," Kim noticed, raising an eyebrow suggestively.

"I threw up all over mine," she lied quickly, making big hand motions over her body as though illustrating the surface area of her vomit. Kim seemed to believe her, pulling out a drink from the fridge.

"You're a bad liar," said a voice, Kim and Keri looking to see Kevin, Keri's twin brother, stroll into the kitchen. He'd recently added scattered burgundy highlights amid his thicket of dark hair that was currently styled in a 'fo-hawk', and was still dressed in his cross-country practice clothes. His dishes clinked loudly as he dumped them into the sink, splashing water on Keri's shirt. She rolled her eyes as he ruffled her hair as a thanks. He darted into the kitchen, rolling over the top of the couch as though he thought he was a professional secret agent and flicked on the television.

Kim didn't bother to ask what her son had been talking about as she watched Keri finish the dishes. She wiped her hands dry and bounded after her brother, clumsily leaping over the couch – crushing Kevin's thigh in the process – to join him in watching television. The two of them instantly began shooting comments about the pointless show playing, Kim smiling.

Her children had always been her life. She felt as though it were just yesterday that she had held their tiny bodies in her arms, one twin for her right, the other in her left. She would have never guessed that her son would become a track star, and her daughter the MVP tennis player, both of them kids who had engrossed themselves in their studies. She trusted then enough, allowing them to go to parties, as long as they weren't arrested, or got addicted to any kind of drugs. They had done well not to abuse her trust.

She only wished that her husband had been here to see how they had grown. Kellan had always carried himself with confidence, and was one of the most caring, sensitive men that she had ever met. He brought light to everything he touched, which was why his death had hit everyone so hard.

Especially Keri.

Of course, she never showed it; Keri always had too much pride to ever show that she was in pain, but sometimes, more than anything, Kim just wished her daughter would cry. She wished Keri would show what she was thinking, how she was feeling, so maybe they could help her, grieve with her. Kellan's death hadn't been easy on anyone, but both Kim and Kevin had mourned; Keri didn't seem to have let anything out yet.

If anything had changed, it was the number of distractions that Keri had let into her life. Immediately after Kellan's death, she had joined the tennis team, and was always out practicing, or out on bonding activities. She'd worked at the restaurant everyday, and even picked up a second job at the Starbucks next door. Over the course of four years, Keri had been in so many volunteer groups that Kim had lost track.

It wasn't a bad thing, of course; Kim was proud of how much Keri was giving back to the community, but the only problem she had with it was that her daughter never had the time to do anything for herself. It was always another tennis game, or some extracurricular activities that made her stay home and do things for other people, when she could be out doing things for herself once in a while.

Kim glanced at her children on the couch, both of them discussing the party in hushed voices. Usually, Kim would have taken the time to eavesdrop, but at this moment, her eyes were glazed, her mind bathing in the memory of Kellan DeGiovanni, as it did every once in a while, and how he could have easily been here tonight. He could be watching his children grow up with her, instead of her having to watch alone.

He would have smiled, the corners of his eyes creasing. Kellan's smiles always reached his eyes. "Kids," he'd have muttered, rolling his deep brown eyes playfully. Kim would have ran a hand through her dark hair, tucking strands behind her ears, only to have them fall loose in a few seconds, and shared a laugh with him.

Kim suddenly felt her husband in the room, like he was standing with her now, wrapping his arms around her. More than anything, she missed his hugs. Kellan was so much taller than her, but when they embraced, they fit each other perfectly. She had never known the meaning of completion until she had hugged Kellan, and he fit her like a jigsaw puzzle. She hadn't felt that sense of completion for years.

The sound of Keri's laughter broke Kim's train of thought. She blinked the memories from her eyes, returning to reality as Keri proceeded into shoving her brother off the couch, the both of them bursting out into laughter. The fake smiles and heavily guarded facades that her children had put up after Kellan's death had almost completely disintegrated; she could hear it in their laughs. It was no longer a forced, strained sound as though they were just trying to please each other.

This was real.

A small smile crept up the corners of Kim's lips. For the first time in four years, she realized that she was home.

Today was the day.

The last Sunday of every month had been designated to the DeGiovanni family. Kim and Kellan had always cleared their work schedules, making sure someone could cover for them at the restaurant; Kevin had made sure there were no parties or track meets, and Keri had ensured that no tennis matches would interfere with her family time. It was a day that the whole family looked forward to every month, a day to get away from the world and just be with people they loved.

Keri always woke up before the birds. Her internal alarm clock refused to let her sleep, excitement boiling in her chest. She lay wide-awake from about six in the morning until nine, when the rest of her family woke up. The sky was a dull grey as Keri made her way downstairs.

She pulled her favourite jacket off the railing – a white hoodie with a picture of a cartoon puppy on the pockets that she had gotten custom made from Japan – and made her way into the kitchen.

Kim's tired eyes peered at her from over her newspaper. "Morning," she yawned, sipping from her coffee. The liquid seared her throat on the way down, but she was too happy to feel it. Even Kim liked the Sundays they spent together.

Kevin crunched on his cereal noisily, nodding at Keri as she sat down beside him, and Kellan smiled from his place at the sink. He was always tiding up, even when there was nothing to clean, and that trait had been passed down to Keri.

Keri loved her family. She had a mother who was still young enough to listen to and appreciate the kind of music that she loved, and a father who would stay up late with her and let her tell him about her dramas at school – on the rare occasion that she had them. Kevin was a brother that Keri could say she was proud to have. At school, some people knew her as "Kevin's sister", as Kevin was a well-known track star, even as a freshman, but she didn't mind. She was glad to be related to someone like him; he was a brother that watched out for her.

A boom of thunder shook the house, making Keri flinch. She had never been a fan of thunder. Kim frowned. "It looks like it's going to rain," she said. Keri loved it when her mother spoke; Kim had learned English a few years before Keri and Kevin had been born. She was of Japanese and Italian decent, and been taught both language. An accent of something in between those two fluencies was present in her English. It was a unique flare that made Kim appear more exotic and foreign.

"Are we still going to the fair?" Kevin asked, swallowing the rest of his Cheerios. Keri made a face at her brother; of course her parents weren't going to cancel a DeGiovanni Sunday.

"We can, if you still want to," Kellan said, smiling. He already knew the answer.

Kim smiled warmly. "All right, but we have to bring umbrellas and ponchos; I know it's going to rain like hell out there."

Keri had been a step ahead of her and ran to the broom closet to check. "I don't think we have any."

Kellan stood up and grabbed his keys from the counter, smiling. "I'll run to the store to pick some up, then we can go."

"We can all go together," Kim suggested, laying her paper in a ruffled mess by her coffee. Keri discreetly made her way to the table, folding her paper back into neat squares. She hated seeing papers in a disarray.

Kellan shook his head. "No, there's no need for everyone to rush to get dressed now. I'm done with the dishes, so it'll be faster if I just go, and you take your time. Don't worry about it, it'll be quick." He was already at the front door, slipping on his shoes. "Fifteen minutes, tops."

It hadn't been fifteen minutes.

And Keri had yet to cry. Four years later and all the heartache she still felt from her father's untimely death still weighed heavily on her shoulders, haunting her around every corner of her own house. But Keri hadn't cried, she'd never shed a tear over her loss. She needed to be strong, not only for herself, but for her brother, and for Kim, too. She needed to be okay for them, so that they wouldn't need to worry about her. It was a burden that she knew she needed to carry for the sake of her family.

Keri had the chills.

The steam from the searing shower she had taken still lingered around her, but it failed to keep her warm. The sheets rustled with her steady breathing and she lifted a hand to rub her eyes as the ceiling fan blew dust into them. Her arm fell back onto her chest, where it collided with something metal.

For a moment she was surprised, as though she had forgotten that if had been there in the first place. She ran her fingers down the creases she had memorized, having lain in bed for countless hours, fingering the cold steel of this picture frame.

She lifted it, sitting up in bed slightly. The white glow of the moon illuminated the face in the photograph, but Keri didn't need the light to see; her father's features were embedded into her memory, into her fingertips as they traced over the face behind the glass.

The frame suddenly felt heavy in her fingers as she lifted it up. Keri was careful with it, carrying as though any second, it would crumble to sand. She heard a dull thud, confirming that she'd placed it back onto her nightstand. Kellan DeGiovanni would always be watching over her.

Keri rolled over, trying to allow the dust to settle in her eyes, so she could fall asleep. It was not use. But it wasn't anything that was unfamiliar to her; Keri never slept well.

The days dragged on slower than Keri had ever experienced.

It was especially unbearably prolonged with Alex in two of her classes. It might not have seemed like a lot, being required to see him everyday for a maximum total of two hours, but she had never been in any of his classes before, and this change was something she was sure she would not get used to.

When he'd walked into his art class first period of the day, he stopped for a second in the doorway, noticing her at her teacher's aid desk. He had missed first block the day before, probably having slept all the way until it was lunch hour. He raised a dark eyebrow suggestively, as though not having expected her to maintain the ability of locomotion one day after he had slept with her. She shot him a look as he made his way to her desk, which just so happened to be right in front of her. Nick took his spot next to Alex and leaned over his desk, looking as though he were about to fall over any second. His eyes switched from Alex to Keri with a look in between something of suspicion and confusion.

"Ugh," Keri groaned, turning back to her own sketchbook, ignoring Alex. He, in turn, was ignoring the teacher, Mrs. Heller, as she began to explain the assignment.

"Mr. Vidal," she called, her voice sharper than knives. Jumping about a foot from his seat, Alex turned to Mrs. Heller and just smiled.

"Yes?"

She pushed her glasses up her thin nose. "Did you hear a word I just said?"

"Nope. I was daydreaming about Keri D. I think she's amazing. In more ways than one." Alex tossed a wink her way. Whispers erupted, rippling amongst the class. Keri looked up from her sketchbook in horror, not noticing the nasty looks she was receiving from the girls from the back of the room.

Mrs. Heller rolled her eyes, already having prior knowledge to Alex's 'tactics.' When she wasn't a teacher, she was one of the school's most loved adults; she often counseled girls about their high school dramas. Alex was the most brought up name she'd heard in four years. She sighed tiredly, not in the mood for finding out what he was talking about just yet. It was only the second day of school, but she had a feeling that in a few days, she'd be hearing about him. She turned her attention back to the class.

"Why are you following me?" Keri spat over her shoulder. Alex smiled, not answering as he caught up with her, slinging his arm around her heavily. She violently wriggled free, catching up with Bella at the lunch doors. She had just had a horrible time in English; the registration board had messed up the schedules, and now Alex was in three of her classes. Keri hated her senior year already.

When Keri looked over her shoulder again, Alex had disappeared. She tried to pick him out from the clusters of students now filing into the lunch hall - keeping an eye on his whereabouts was vital in her avoidance of him so he couldn't spring up on her - but he was nowhere to be seen.

"Gosh, girl, you look like you're going to start a mass murder or something," Bella frowned, picking at her salad. Although she was a model, Bella hated salad. She hated eating healthy foods, as having to have eaten only that her entire life; she had been a figure skater, a gymnast, and now a model, all occupancies where a thin body was needed to go really do much in the industry.

Keri was silent, her eyes slits as she aggressively shoveled mashed potatoes in her mouth. Her school made excellent garlic potatoes; she got them every day.

Bella rolled her eyes, trying to hide her disgust as she chewed on a strip of lettuce. "Alex again, huh?"

Keri just nodded. Girls from her art class were still talking about her, seated at the table near her. Groaning exasperatedly, she took her right hand and flipped them the bird, waving it around like a knife. Looking quite frightened at her sudden hostile behavior, the girls - and whoever so happened to see this incident - turned away and talked in quieter voices.

Bella made a face. "You know, I really think you ought to just let this whole Alex thing go. It was a mistake, blah, blah, blah, it won't happen again, the end. Move on with your life. Stop being such a cranky bitch all the time. We're seniors now, and your attitude is making me sick." Bella spat the lettuce out on her tray, making Keri break out into a giggle.

"I have been cranky, haven't I?" she mused, slumping back in her chair. She pretended to scold her middle finger, tapping it slightly as though giving it a spanking. "We're seniors, we're totally above all of this bull that high school throws at us." Bella nodded approvingly, not impressed that Keri was having a sudden epiphany - these happened quite a bit, as Keri was the queen of overreacting. She started to fan herself with her hands. "I'm going to let it go of this whole issue with Vidal, and this is going to be a wonderful, wonderful year full of rainbows, and butterflies, and no boys named-"

"Hello, beautiful," said a voice, destroying Keri's moment. "I couldn't help but feel you thinking about me, so I decided to make my presence known."

Keri glared at him through slits while Bella's eyes widened as though they weren't big enough to swallow Alex's figure. "Have you come to further ruin my day?" she groaned as he sat next to her. She moved her chair away from him as far as she could, but he hopped his closer to her as though he were five.

"No, actually, but the though of impacting someone's day that much makes want to do a little dance," he laughed, rubbing his shoulder against hers. She squirmed away like he was covered in acid. He laughed. "I actually came to tell you that I didn't find your clothes yet."

Keri made a face as though she were talking to an incompetent fourth grader. "I don't need a day-to-day update, dumbass. Just give me my clothes when you find them." She scooped a spoonful of potatoes into her mouth. "And stop talking to me. The way the rumors fly around here, people are going to start to think that you and I have a thing," she spat the last word with disgust.

"Oh, but Keri, I thought we already did have a thing," he said, pretending to be hurt. "You were in my pants all yesterday, in my bed the night before; one would only have to assume. And besides, do you want to know what I think?"

"No."

Alex ignored her. "I think you like me."

"Ha," she scoffed, almost gagging on her potatoes. "I think the alcohol we drank has caused you some brain damage, Vidal."

Alex laughed, winking at her. "Ah, but you didn't deny it," he said, grinning. "It's okay, you know, I won't tell anyone. Play your cards right and you and I might have another midnight rendezvous, if you know what I mean."

Keri frowned, her brows furrowing in disgust. "Can you please go flirt with some stupid freshmen or something? They'd kill for you to talk to them. Me, on the other hand, well, I'm about ready to kill myself. Never in a million years will an 'us' happen. Ever."

Alex laughed again, but stood up, patting her on the head. Keri swatted his hand away hastily. "You're too cute, Keri." With that, he turned on his heels and headed back to his table, taking his rightful place by Nick.

"I am trippin'," Nick said as soon as Alex sat down. He tossed Alex the Subway sandwich that he had ditched school to pick up last block. Alex started on it right away; he loved sandwiches.

"About what?" Alex asked, his mouth still full. Lettuce and tomatoes fell into his lap and he brushed them to the floor with his free hand.

Nick took a long sip from his soda. "You talked to Keri today. Again. Alexander Vidal doesn't talk to girls. Alexander Vidal doesn't give a flying fuck about how girls feel."

"I told her that I didn't find her clothes."

Nick didn't believe him, and it showed on his face. "Keri doesn't need a daily update. She's not stupid."

Alex shrugged. "I didn't say she was."

Nick raised a dark eyebrow. "So what are you saying?"

"Nothing," Alex answered, looking up from his sandwich, playfully daring Nick to challenge his answer. Nick just laughed, and Alex turned back to his sandwich, smiling triumphantly. "That's what I thought."

Nick chuckled, rolling his eyes. Even though they were best friends, Nick had learned that there were a few things about Alex that he would never understand; his way with girls one of them. He didn't approve of Alex's methods, and made sure to keep girls that were his friends away from him, but he and Alex were friends, and Nick wasn't the one whose heart was being broken. It was high school; Nick figured Alex could do whatever he wanted while he could. It was a privilege of being young.

So why was Nick beginning to feel like this thing with Keri DeGiovanni wasn't right?

He had never forgotten that they had been friends before. All through elementary school, they had been inseparable. However, once they hit junior high school, they'd stopped being friends, for some reason that Nick still didn't even know. Just because they weren't friends anymore didn't mean that he had stopped caring for her as one.

There were times when he found himself in front of her house; a modest little blue Victorian on a road where all the houses looked the same. Except he knew that it was Keri's house because none of the DeGiovanni's were gardeners, and their flower patch reflected it. The white door mocked him, suddenly seeming to have grown arms and almost dragging him by the hair to knock. But Nick had always left before the memories managed to take hold of him and he gained enough confidence to knock on her door and beg her to be friends again.

He turned to look at her table, Keri poking animatedly at her mashed potatoes. Her dark hair was swept across her face just above her eyes, her skin a shade too light to be called olive, but still glowed with health.

What Nick missed most about her, however, were her eyes. They were some shade of hazel, green flecks swimming in the irises. In the sun - he still remembered from the times that they used to play on the jungle gym when they were kids - they almost looked gold. It was the thing that he most thought compelling about her; her eyes. Any unsuspecting soul would drown in them forever, had she ever given them the chance to look. She was that enticing.

It puzzled Nick as to why Keri didn't realize how attractive she really was. She turned heads around every corner, and it wasn't just because of the rumors.

Keri suddenly looked up from her potatoes, catching Nick staring at her. He was just about to pretend that he was looking at something behind her head, a look of confusion flickering across her face. But at that moment, the corners of her lips turned into a small smile, acknowledging him for the first time in four years.

There was something sad about that smile and with a pang in his chest Nick realized that it was guilt.

And he felt it, too.