Author's note: Third instalment of fluff. Happy New Years!

Like Best Friends but a Little More
Short story
Section 3

I blew hair out of my face, concentrating intensely straight ahead. It was silent excluding the sounds of nature, and I relished in that - but at the same time, it panicked me, because it only served to remind me of what I had to do in a few minutes.

Actually, what I had to do ten minutes ago. Oops.

"OK, Ma," I said sternly. "I'm going. OK? I'm -" I didn't even make an attempt to stand up. "Right. I'm lying. I can't do this!" I tried not to drape myself on her tombstone dramatically, but it was becoming increasingly hard. "This is ridiculous," I insisted. "What is this dinner going to benefit? Nothing!"

I exhaled sharply, grabbing a pen from my purse and a pad of sticky notes I usually kept in my pockets.

Go to dinner

Attempt to be civil - with Ileana that is

Above all, do NOT glare and seem childish

I read the list aloud to Ma and then looked down at my hand skeptically. I had a feeling that I was only going to accomplish one of the three. That was bad! I had to do it all.

"Maybe if I think about this through Dad's point of view," I mused aloud. I mulled the idea over before shooting it to hell. Through my attempt to be in Dad's point of view, he was moving on from Mom and, yeah, that was heart wrenchingly horrible. "This is hopeless," I told my mother. "Seriously. I know you'd slap me and all, but I just can't go."

"Yes, you can."

"No, you don't understand, I -" I jerked back, realizing I was actually responding to someone. Behind me, Josh had his hands shoved into his pants. He looked dressy. I had called him twenty minutes ago that I'd be in front of his house in five minutes.

That didn't happen. I managed to drag Josh to come with me, because God - and everyone - knows that if he weren't there, dinner would be a complete disaster.

Plus, I needed a ride.

"Get up." He rolled his eyes and offered me a hand. I stared at it impassively until he sighed and took initiative by grabbing my wrist gently, pulling me to my feet. I gave him a look. "What, it wasn't like you were about to stand up any time soon."

"I was - OK, I'm lying again." I sighed, slowly following Josh out the cemetery.

"Later, Mrs D," Josh said over his shoulder casually. It was his parting words, always, to Mom whenever he was leaving the house. It was sweet where it made my heart ache.

I smiled briefly over my shoulder. "Bye, Mom, love you forever."

"So are you ready to be a good girl?" he asked, his voice holding a teasing lilt. My eyes automatically sought his own only to glare. His face was passive but his eyes held a playful twinkle that I knew was only reserved for me. Wordlessly, I held up my sticky note pad for him to observe.

His lips pressed into a smirk.

"If it's on this, then -"

His words interrupted me. "You never follow your list whenever I'm around."

I stopped at his words and contemplated them with a sinking realization. Josh was right. He was completely right! I whirled to him, uncaring that we were almost to his car. He also stopped walking, an eyebrow raised almost challengingly. Our staring contest was intense.

"Why do you do this to me?" I groaned not for the first time. I opened and closed my mouth, trying to find words to describe my frustration; to describe how he always threw me off and put me on edge and completely out of my comfort zone.

He's always been like this, ever since we were children. I don't think he realized how often he made me crazy.

"Because someone has to," he shrugged, straightening. His eyes flickered over my face, assessing in that observant way where I felt he could see straight into my soul. Uncomfortably - and slowly growing agitated - I whirled back towards the direction of his car.

"Right," I intoned with a little glare. Josh didn't give any indication that he heard as he unlocked the car with a click of a button. I jumped into his car, trying to calm my nerves.

OK, it was only dinner with a woman whom I had to be stoic towards. Because if I didn't, then it would seem like I was okay with Dad loving someone else. I wasn't! Oh, God, I honestly wasn't fine with this arrangement; just thinking about it make me feel nauseous.

"I can't do this," I said after five minutes of silence. My forehead was against the window, trying to cool my heating face. I felt like I was panicking. "Josh, turn back around. I don't want to go."

"We're already thirty minutes late."

"Exactly!" I exclaimed. "So if we're late, why bother going at all, right?" I wrung my hands together before rubbing my nose almost furiously. He looked at me from the corner of his eyes and laughed suddenly, causing me to jerk my head back to face him.

"Sorry, I was under the impression that if we were late, we'd do everything in our power to make it there at all." His lips curved upwards. "Don't worry about it, Anne. Just be yourself."

"This isn't an interview, Josh!" I grumbled under my breath, crossing my arm tightly over my chest. "This is me being forced to attend dinner. I cannot believe I got scared into this. I know I won't like her. I refuse to like her." I began twitching in my seat. "Josh, turn the car around!"

"I'm the driver. I get to do whatever I want."

"Josh," I said, gripping my knee. I was lying to myself; I knew I would like her. It had to take a lot of negative attributes of a person for me to claim my dislike. Ileana was someone even Josh approved of so I knew I didn't have a chance.

He didn't respond, and I didn't further my disturbance until we reached the parking lot of the restaurant. I caught sight of Dad's car a few spaces away from us, and I realized in despair, that they were actually waiting. I briefly wondered how furious Dad was… until I realized that I could have avoided this encounter.

Of course, at the risk of facing him later on… probably angrier than what I had to face in a few moments.

To apologize or not to dad

"I say you should," Josh said casually as he passed by. I inhaled and exhaled a few times - long enough for Josh to stand in front of the entrance and cast me a 'well, are you coming or not?' stare - until I decided it was time to face the music.

"I think you're over exaggerating this situation," Josh whispered to me as we passed the hostess telling her we already had a table. Josh's eyes scanned the restaurant filled with people while I walked stiffly next to him. Why was he so calm? Oh right, he wasn't the one who had to worry about anything.

"I'm exaggerating the right amount of exaggeration there is," I hissed back, not bothering to contemplate my wise words. Snort.

His laughter was clearly muffled as he spoke, "I found them. Hey, sorry we're late." He said the words as we neared the table.

Dad stood up, as well as the woman next to him.

"Hi, Josh, thanks for coming." Rephrase: Thanks for dragging my daughter here. "Darl," Dad's voice reached my ears.

I consciously pulled myself out of my reverie - wow, their utensils were clean - and focused my attention to the couple in front of me. I tried not to gag at my thoughts and kept my frozen smile. Ileana seemed a little nervous as she smiled at me; Dad's grin was a little strained as well.

Did I cause this?

Then I almost kicked myself. Of course I did. I was the little rebel daughter who couldn't control her mouth. I rubbed my nose.

"Um, hi," I said lamely, averting my gaze. "Good evening," I addressed Ileana politely. "Um, I wanted to… apologize for my behaviour the first time we met." My voice wavered, slowly feeling any type of emotion I had in my system slip away from me. "It wasn't my place to say what I did."

Dad relaxed slightly and gave me a thankful smile. I didn't bother looking at him. Ileana's lips pulled into an uncertain grin, because I surely didn't look apologetic. I was bowing my head though, because I couldn't look at her without feeling the flash of guilt.

"Anne," a small voice made me look up. "You didn't say hi to me," Will accused from his seat, a tiny glare on his face. I had a feeling he felt left out.

I felt myself smile automatically and reached forward to ruffle his hair. "Hey, Will."

He visibly brightened. "Hi, Josh!"

I nearly toppled over and Josh sniggered next to me as he high fived my younger brother. Glaring accusingly at them both, I took my seat next to Josh and across from Ileana. Will sat to my right, taking the "head" of the small table.

This was going to be a long night.

The silence between us was almost unnoticeable. The 24-hour diner was the last place I imagined myself to be at night, but at the same time, it was almost perfect. Gazing at my hands, I felt my face contort into an expression of uncertainty.

Before I could even stop myself, I raised my eyes to Josh who was already gazing at me with that unfathomable expression that comforted me. Which was why he was here. Never mind the fact that he practically kidnapped me.

"So." Cue his piercing stare.

I looked at him rather dully, wiping any form of emotion on my face. I was getting a little too emotional around Josh, and I wasn't - no, I knew that it wasn't a good idea. He already read me like a book to begin with; I didn't want him to know everything that went on in my mind.

"I think that went rather well," he remarked conversationally, leaning back to inspect our surroundings.

There was a few people in the diner, considering the fact that it was only nine o'clock. The sun already set, but I wasn't ready to go home yet. Wincing at his words, I clutched the napkins on the table tightly.

"Too well," I muttered, trying not to remember how polite I'd been. And maybe how I started to wear down and just grew tired of being so cold - I even showed them my to-do list! Oh my God. I showed them my to-do list.

I let my head fall on the table, probably unclean with millions of bacteria making their way to my face and infiltrating my skin -

"Gah!" I shot up into a straightened position and stared morosely at the salt and pepper shakers in the middle of the table. "Josh," I whispered, almost terrified. I met his curious gaze fearfully. "She's… she's nice. Ileana is nice!"

Josh, used to my hysterics, only smirked and allowed me to continue my tirade. "Is she, now?"

"Don't mock me, Josh," I practically snapped before slinking back into my seat and stared off dully into the distance. Well, at that table on the other side of the room. It didn't sound as interesting if I said that, though… even though I just did. "I can't hate her! This is horrible!" She's too nice to hate. Great. What was I going to do now?

"You're being dramatic."

"Shut up, you think I'm always dramatic - well! I'm not, OK?" I rubbed my nose, all the while shooting Josh squinty looks - which were supposed to be glares, by the way - until I really had to sneeze. I sort of froze for a while until the tingling sensation reached the tip of my nose and my body lurched forward. Gah.

This was so unattractive.

"Achoo!" came my pathetic little squeak.

I groaned a nanosecond later, peering cautiously at Josh who I was sure would have burst out laughing at this moment. Instead, he was looking at me almost tentatively, a slight frown marring his otherwise usual stoic face.

I sniffled, "Whut?" came my deadpanned voice. I felt my - excuse the absolute revoltingness of my description - snot dripping. I was mortified, but the need to wipe my nose was greater. I reached for the napkins absentmindedly, hoping to God that Josh wasn't staring right at me.

No such luck.

"Can you… um," my voice was slightly muffled, "look away?" This was slightly awkward. How the hell does one blow their nose when someone they're in love with was staring so intensely at them?

The answer: very easily!

Shrugging, I wiped my nose. I warned Josh. Did he heed my warning? No. Now he had the image of me blowing my snot into a rough napkin implanted in his brain when he had the chance to -

OK. Futile attempt of trying to make myself feel better. It was as mortifying as I was describing it. But it was late - NINE WAS LATE, OK? - and I was tired, frustrated, sleepy, and permanently in love with Josh that the combination was starting to take a toll on my nerves.

Besides. Will decided to be a pain in the ass and decide that he wanted me to read him bed time stories from now on. Like he actually listened to me!

"I love you."

"I love you, too," I said absentmindedly, grabbing another napkin to crunch the used one in - what?

I gawped at Josh, who seemed to also be in shock at the words that managed to escape his mouth. We stared at each other in complete and utter silence.

Josh opened and closed his mouth until he cleared his throat and leaned back to straighten himself. My eyes darted around our surroundings suspiciously.

"Believe me now?" Josh said, his voice too casual. If it weren't for the way he was tapping the table, I wouldn't think he was nervous at all. He was, though, and I had to grin at that when I zeroed the habit. Josh was rarely nervous, so I always basked in the moments when he was.

"Of course," I nodded seriously. "We've been friends for a very long time, and I'm like your sister. Of course you and I love each other unconditionally."

Josh winced at my words, and fascinated, I watched him tense. He wasn't even looking at me now. "I… uh, that's not what I meant." He cleared his throat and finally looked at me. I couldn't help but get trapped in his gaze. "I don't see you as my sister. I've never seen you as my sister."

Silence. I couldn't stop myself from gaping at him, because really, Josh was nervous!

"Anne," he practically snapped, "are you even listening to me?"

I jerked back and smiled brilliantly. "Oh, yeah! I was, you were…" the words died and I furrowed my eyebrow. He was very pointedly avoiding my eyes. "What were you trying to say? I'm not your sister?"

His jaw tightened. "Never mind," he snapped and abruptly stood from his seat. With dotted eyes, I watched him take a bill and slap it on the table before walking out of the diner towards his car.

Ha ha… What an amusing boy.

"Oh, wait - OH SHIT, JOSH! You're my ride home!"


I lifted my head from the brick wall behind me at the small, soft voice. Scrambling into an upright position, I poked my head back into my room to see the shadow of Will standing hesitantly a meter from the door. I beckoned him slightly.

"Will? What're you doing up?" I left the roof to stand in front of my baby brother. He looked up at me with alert eyes and I smoothed his hair out of his face.

"I couldn't sleep," he said. "What were you doing?"

"Me neither." My voice was too cheery for this late at night. "I was just thinking," I answered his question after a pause. I turned on my desk lamp for a little light to see Will's sleepy, but stubborn gaze on me. Motioning him to the bed, I first closed the window before making my way to where he was climbing on.

"What were you thinking about, Anne?" he questioned, just like the kid he was, with a tilt of his head and his innocently curious gaze on me.

It was slightly scary how… behaved Will was at the moment. He tortured me for so long I sometimes forgot he was just a four year old boy.

"Er," I twitched. "Nothing! Boring, teenage stuff." I waved him off with a slightly hysterical laugh.

He looked suspicious. "You were thinking of Josh," he announced determinedly, and then giggled when I almost fell over. Well, when he said it like that! "Does he know you like him?"

"You weren't exactly subtle," I told my brother in a grumble, and even if he didn't understand, he responded appropriately with a mischievous giggle. I observed my brother for a while, taking in his features. He had mom's beauty in his face, and Dad's intelligent eyes. I felt my heart ache at what he's missing and smiled a little at him.

I turned to my nightstand and pulled the picture frame there and placed it on my lap. He followed my motions with his eyes.

"Look, it's Ma," I said, my hand brushing over her smiling face. Will observed the frame silently. "I know you don't remember much of her, but she was great. She loved us so much, Will," I grinned at him, placing the frame back into its original position. I wanted to let him know of her. He can't not know about this wonderful woman who believed. "Every time she fed you, I would come and try to take your food."

His small mouth opened. "You stole from me?" he exclaimed so exaggeratedly that I had to laugh silently to myself for a moment.

I nudged him cheekily. "Ever wonder why I like baby food so much?"

He giggled. "What did Ma say?" he asked curiously, and I smiled brightly when he did.

"First she got mad because I always did it. And you always threw some back at my face," I added thoughtfully. He smiled brightly at me. "But she ended up laughing. Soon enough, she bought enough for the both of us." My voice ended softly, memories flashing through my mind. Silence soon descended on our forms, and when I jerked out of my reverie, I wondered if he was sleeping yet.

"Where is she now?" Will's voice pierced the night. I stiffened at his question, looking into his sweet face when he raised his eyes to meet mine. So untainted by reality, that I couldn't help but keep it that way for a little longer.

So I only smiled and placed my hand on his little chest, where his heart was supposed to be.

"Right here." I smiled at his bewildered face. "Love is a powerful thing, Will," I told him sagely with a short nod of my head. "Never underestimate it."

Will cleared his throat. "So when will you be telling Josh that you love him?"

I cleared my throat uncomfortably. The hallways were packed, like they usually were in the morning. I would glide to my locker, unnoticed, and then glide into my first class, also unnoticed. Once upon a time, they used to stare if Josh were walking next to me, but they got used to it and went on with their lives normally.

So why were they staring now? At least, I squinted around my form, I think they were staring.

I caught the eye of a group of girls, who pointed turned their head away a few seconds later and began to whisper to each other in low voices. I faltered slightly. What the…?

"Is it just me," I began slowly, my hands tightening around my books, "or are people staring at me?"

Josh's pace was lazy but confident next to my nervous shuffles. Well, give me a break, people were gawking, and I was pretty sure it was because I had something on my face but I was too paranoid to reach out and search for it. I tried to inconspicuously rub my cheeks as I rubbed my nose.

He barely glanced at me. "You're being paranoid."

"You're just an emotionless robot," I grumbled under my breath, ignoring the world around me for a while. I made it to my locker and dialled my combination absentmindedly. Josh leaned against the locker next to mine, his eyes looking down on me… which caused me to look up sharply. "I have something on my face, don't I?" I demanded, agitatedly running a hand over my cheeks, forehead, eyes. "So I wasn't being paranoid!"

His lips twitched into an amused smile. "No, you're being paranoid."

I frowned, glancing at the mirror in my locker to see my face was, indeed, clear. I contorted my features into an indescribable expression and laughed to myself.

"Right," I said, smothering a yawn. I shut my locker after I grabbed my items. "See you in third."

Josh's response was turning away without a word. I smiled to myself, watching his back disappear into a crowd of people before I spun my heel and headed to homeroom.

By the time lunch rolled around, I knew wasn't imagining the stares. For one thing, I was blatantly staring at a girl who I caught staring at me. My eyes were starting to burn but I didn't dare blink. I mean, she was looking at me first so either she backs down or she tells me what this is about.

"People think you're a home wrecker," were the words that slipped from her mouth.

I almost fell over my chair. She was in a few of my classes, and she wasn't the type to lie. Besides, why would you lie about this? I kept to myself with only a few selection of trusted friends - I did nothing to deserve this!

I scratched the side of my head with my pencil. "Er, why?"

She smiled, as if amused by this whole situation. My eyes glared fiercely into hers. She should know I wasn't some kind of home wrecker. And what was this, some battle of wills? I had better things to do than know the origins of a rumour.

Then again, it was about me….

"Taylor hates you," she said, clearly wanting to laugh. "She's ready to tear your head off."

I gaped at her. "What the hell did I do to her?"

"You, my friend, got her boyfriend to fall in love with you." She winked and my face screwed up, practically in slow motion, to an expression of horror. Her grin was brilliant, observing me. This was wonderful. I was parading with Josh around this morning, as if telling everyone what Taylor said was true!

"It's not true."

"Oh really?" She cocked her head to one side. "I beg to differ."

The temperature in this room increased, I know it did. I felt my face start to turn and I ducked my head, not bothering to respond to her obviously rhetorical words. What did she mean, Josh and Taylor broke up? Why didn't he tell me? I slowly found myself growing irritated at the thought of Josh.

At lunch, I marched up to his table where he was listening to one of his friends enthusiastically explain something. I meant to wait for their conversation to finish - I wasn't that mean - but Josh's head turned to me just as I stopped a few feet behind his form.

A faint smirk graced his lips. "Well, look who's running to who now."

I pulled back, my eyebrows shooting to my hairline. "I'm not running to you," I informed him, almost in disbelief. My eyes quickly shot to his friend, who was also staring at me in avid interest. This was new for them, and it was new for me too. I never approached his group of friends, not even for Josh. Josh always came to look for me.

Suddenly, it felt stupid to be here, preparing to scold Josh for not telling me that he and Taylor broke up. What did it matter? I found out, and so what?

My nose twitch. Whoa. I felt moronic.

Josh leaned forward interestedly. "What's up, Anne?"

His friend's voice abruptly pierced my thoughts. "Oh, that's - ?" I saw Josh send him a sharp look and he quickly quieted. "So you're the girl that sent Josh into a nervous fit!" So much for quiet.

Taken aback, I could only stare at him with wide eyes.

He whistled lowly. "Damn, you should've seen Josh pacing… and he never loses his cool!"

"Thank you," Josh growled, eyes flashing as he turned to glare daggers at his friend. The dark haired boy just grinned and winked at me. I felt a hesitant smile come to my lips, taking note of Josh's stiffened posture.

"Why would Josh lose his cool?" I asked curiously after a few moments of silence. Josh looked up at me sharply but I ignored him and focused on his friend.

The boy's eyes brightened, "Oh, because he's - "

Josh slapped his hand over his mouth. They seemed to be having a silent conversation with their eyes: Josh was glaring angrily, muttering too lowly for me to hear; the friend seemed to find it amusing because his face just brightened.

When he turned back to me, I was staring at him with a twisted face, trying to make him out. Maybe I was a little suspicious too.

"What's he been saying about me?" I demanded, stalking towards Josh and ripping his hand away from the boy's mouth. Startled, Josh didn't register what I was doing until I shoved his chair away and made myself comfortable in front of the dark haired male. "Whatever he said, it's a lie," I decided, and nodded sagely at him.

I felt myself being pulled onto my feet, and blinking, I found myself to be pulled farther and farther away from the table.

He was dragging me! "Hey!" I twisted, trying to let him release me, but his grip was steel. We were out of the cafeteria when he decided to let my shirt loose. Actually, Josh sort of bullied me against the wall, staring down at me with narrowed eyes. I squinted at him, feeling my eyebrow twitch. "Josh, fix your face," I threatened.

"Make me."

I reached forward with the intent to pinch his cheeks, but he only stepped away, laughing.

I blew out a sigh, "I don't like you."

"Of course you don't." His voice was lazy. "Now what did you want to say to me? You never come looking for me."

My stare was blank, but my mind was frantically trying to think of an excuse. I couldn't go with my original plan, obviously, because if it sounded idiotic to me, then how would it sound to Josh? When did I ever care what Josh thought about me, anyway?

THAT'S RIGHT. I didn't! I straightened with this new found courage and ability of uncaring, and looked at him straight in the eye.

"Why didn't you tell me you and Taylor broke up?"

He blinked, mouth twisting before he settled with: "I didn't think you would care."

I took in his dry remark and nodded tersely at his answer. It made sense. Why would I care? Well, I didn't. So Josh was correct. Right, so this meant this conversation was over…

"OK, that's all I - "

"Anne Delaney Dallaire." Josh's low, amused voice made me automatically stop talking and my toes to start curling. Honestly, I would be completely appalled at my behaviour if I didn't feel like I was a trapped animal. "Did you seriously just pull me out of the cafeteria to ask that?"

Shocked, I pulled back to look at him. "You pulled me."

His grin was self-satisfied. "You came into the cafeteria to ask me a question you already knew the answer to." I felt my face burn. He was right. I didn't care, so why had I asked anyway? "There's a little more to this than you let on."

I pushed him away, glaring. "No, there is nothing else." I rolled my eyes. "Now, if you'll excuse me…"

"I don't get it." His voice stopped me a few steps away from him. I had my back turned, ready to thank God that I was escaping stealthily, but what was I doing? I was prolonging my torture. I definitely had a brilliant mind.

My voice was wary. "You don't get what?" I said loud enough for him to hear without turning to face him.

"Why you won't admit that you're completely in love with me."

I whirled around, mouth hanging open, face twisted into pure disbelief. He had his arms crossed around his chest, gazing at me almost challengingly. He looked like he almost wanted me to dare tell him that I didn't feel -

"And why would I admit that when you clearly have problems expressing your feelings for me?"

I watched as my words hurdled towards him: the way his eyes widened slightly and his back stiffen. Almost as if he didn't except me to retort.

Well. Clearly he was wrong.

A pink tinge slowly began to cover his cheeks, and I knew my face was red. But we were glaring so intensely at each other that I wasn't sure what to make of the mood between us.

"Because you liked me first," was his mature growl.

I scoffed, crossing my arms over my chest. "You don't know that, Josh. For all you know I could have developed feelings for you after you developed yours for me. Which was when?" I demanded, studiously keeping my eyes on his. "That night you had me?"

His jaw tightened, and to my surprise, his cheeks turned a darker shade of pink. "Someone might hear you."

I almost laughed. "Someone's paranoid. Besides," I said, gesturing to nothing in particular. "I'm pretty sure if you loved -"

"I don't - "

"- someone, then you wouldn't be with another girl."

He clenched his teeth and exhaled sharply. "I'm not getting into this with you, Anne," was his stubborn reply as he glared at the ground. I had to smile when he took his eyes off me. He was, well, adorable. "You don't know how scary this whole thing is, OK?" My amused face froze. "I've known you my whole life, and falling in love with you could destroy us. And I don't want that." His eyes blazed with the truth of his words, and I looked at him wordlessly.

I crossed my arms over my chest, letting the silence reign. What could I possibly say when Josh was right? Josh was never wrong.

"Because," I said. His gaze was rough, almost tortured, but he couldn't cross that small distance to crush me to his chest. "I can take care of you."

He laughed abruptly, almost in disbelief. I shrugged, feeling my heart rate return to normal because suddenly everything felt familiar and right. It was Josh. He was my rock, and if he'll let me, I could be his.

"You already do that," he said in a sigh, running a hand through his hair. He smirked, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. "Anne… be my girlfriend."

I gawked at him: at the abrupt change in attitude and at, obviously, his demand.

I almost sputtered. "Uh - what about - you know, dating?" I tried feebly, backing away when he began to close the distance between us with a mischievous grin on his face. I placed my hands in front of me, keeping him at bay, but I couldn't tell if I was the one in charge with his arm wrapping around me like that.

"Let's skip the formalities," he said in a murmur, lowering his head. "Besides, we already started at the end. Let's be different and work our way backwards." His smirk was sinful and delicious.

I laughed nervously before glaring up at him. "They're calling me a home wrecker, you know," I said, feeling my face burn when two girls passed by, giving me pointed looks. Was that a hungry look sent to Josh? What the heck - he was the cheating bastard! I was innocent.

He shrugged. "OK. You'll be the home wrecking slut, and I'll be the cheating asshole. What's your next excuse?"

Was he seriously asking me? Because I had a list. "Well," I said, ticking the ideas off with my fingers. "You're pretty annoying - you pay for my groceries for crap's sake - !" OK. The first and second time was sweet. The third time to now - well, he just made me feel like I wasn't capable. And it was embarrassing.

He shook his head, "Sorry, Anne. That's not an excuse." He lowered his head and covered my mouth with his, effectively shutting me up.

"I cannot believe you're making me do this," I hissed to the tall male next to me while I tried (and failed) to escape his grasp. His grip was nearly impenetrable around my wrist, and I accused him of manhandling, where he in turn, accused me of abuse. I relented because I did kick him (accidentally, but he ignored that fact too).

Josh regarded me with slight impatience, but amusement was all I saw. I fumed. "We've been through this," he said.

"I know." I picked at the sleeve of my sweater. "I also never agreed to it." Er, mostly.

"Anne." As always, I had to look at his face when he used that voice. I frowned at my boyfriend. "Don't you think it's time to let him know?"


"He's your dad, Anne."

I settled with an accusing stare. "You just feel bad because he's my dad. Otherwise you wouldn't be pestering me about this at all!"

He grinned, unabashed. "OK, so maybe I'm a little scared of him."

I gaped. "But why! I'll protect you!" I said almost desperately. Josh laughed, pulling me into his arms to give me a hug. I grumbled incoherently against his shoulder, unable to help my stiffness. "I will," I said sullenly when his laughter subsided.

"Of course," he said, releasing me. He opened the door to my house without so much of a notice, and dragged me inside, sputtering.

"Anne, is that you?" Dad's voice echoed through the house. I squeaked, already diving towards the door, but Josh's arm stopped me.

"Oh, hi Josh," Dad exclaimed, genuine pleasantness in his voice. "We're going to have dinner in twenty. Join us," he said.

"I'd love to," Josh said, and with a pointed look at me, he turned back to Dad. "We also have something to say."

Dad frowned, and I desperately tried to stay calm. "What is it?" I noticed the sharp look he sent me, and I had to feel offended.

"It's nothing bad," I assured him. "I mean, it really depends on what you consider bad though," I said thoughtfully. My mind flashed to Ileana… now that I considered bad, at least the first time Dad told me about it. Oh, I was still angry at him, don't get me wrong, but a little more… subdued. OK, maybe sullen worked the best. Either way, it was his life and his happiness - it would be what Mum wanted. His happiness.

"Anne?" Josh's voice pulled me out of my reverie. "We're waiting."

"Oh!" I fidgeted nervously, suddenly afraid to meet my father's gaze. The atmosphere shifted, and I had a feeling that Dad was expecting the worst. "I - I," I looked up at Dad and blurted, "I'm pregnant."

We waited for the explo -


Ah, there it was. We both winced, and I felt Josh's hand tighten around mine. Dad's eyes were wide, his mouth ajar. For a moment he looked a little crazy - of course, I didn't blame him. I mean… I bit my bottom lip, waiting for more.

"Anne Delaney Dallaire," Dad practically shrilled. I saw Ileana burst from the kitchen, her eyes wide as she took in the scene.

"What? What happened?" she said anxiously.

I smiled cheekily at her. "I'm pregnant."

"What?" she said, aghast.

"Honestly, I would have expected a little more -"

"Josh," Dad said menacingly. I felt Josh's grip tighten even more and he involuntarily took a step back.

"Anne," my boyfriend hissed, and I was a little amazed at the fear I heard in his voice. Well, there was a first time for everything, yes?

"How dare you get my daughter pregnant -"

"You're only eighteen!" Ileana said weakly.

I couldn't take it anymore and burst into laughter. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I clutched onto Josh for support. I felt his strong arms holding me as my legs gave out. It was when my sides started to seriously cramp that I had to calm myself down.

Smiling brilliantly, I looked up at Josh who matched my grin.

Ileana and Dad were a different matter.

"We were just kidding," I said after a strange pause between the four of us, in case, you know, they didn't get the… joke.

Ileana sagged against the wall. Dad made a strangled sound at the back of his throat, running a hand over his weary face. I saw him gritting his teeth and his chest rising and falling rapidly.

"Well!" I said cheerily, putting my hands together. "We just wanted to say that we were going out and we wanted your approval -"

"It was all Anne's idea," Josh said hastily. I shot him a glare; what a coward, throwing me to the sharks and trying to back away! I mean, I didn't want to tell Dad until I was comfortable enough to, but no, Josh wanted to let him know right away. We compromised. I agreed to let him know we were dating today if I got to choose the way we would tell him. "I tried talk her out of it, but you know Anne -"

I quickly jabbed him after looking at the curious red on Dad's face. I had a feeling my dad was angry enough as it was.

"You better be joking," Dad finally said, glaring at us both.

I smiled meekly. "Does that mean you're okay with us… dating? Remember, Dad! Me being pregnant - that's worse! So there are worse things than me dating Josh -"

"Love the confidence you have in me," Josh said with a roll of his eyes.

My father levelled us with a stare that made both of us straighten. My heart was pounding in my chest.

Finally, he smiled. "Of course I approve of Josh." He smiled gently this time, rubbing the back of his neck. I cautiously allowed myself to relax. His dark eyes were appraising us, I noticed belatedly. I was abruptly hyper aware of the way I was standing too close to Josh, the way his hand was clasping mine; the way Josh was instinctively and thoughtlessly positioned to accommodate my body.

Oh… yay. I swallowed, trying to inch away from my neighbour (er, boyfriend) but he shot me a look which seemed to know exactly what I was doing.

"You two were eight when I realized Josh cared a lot more for you then he let on." Dad grinned knowingly and I heard Josh choke a little. My eyes widened before narrowing.

"But he… he always…" I scratched the back of my head, confused. Dad must be… high. I squinted at him, taking in the gentle look on his face… and grew slightly scared. Was he mad? Josh didn't - care - just - I mean, it was quite obvious our definition of care vastly differed, if Josh 'cared' at all. "What?"

Dad nodded sagely. "He took care of you like you were the most fragile little thing -" I looked up at Josh, and he was pointedly avoiding my eyes. Then I saw his cheeks turning pink and I sniggered a little under my breath. "Don't laugh, Anne, it was true." He cleared his throat. "It still is."

There was a strange silence between us, again, but this time I felt like I was in a fog. Dad grabbed Ileana's hand and excused themselves after a bright congratulations from her. Josh was silent, as I curiously observed his hand still casually holding mine.

Experimentally, I squeezed my hand in his and couldn't help myself by smiling up at him happily… even if our definitions differed.

"What're you grinning about?" he said amusedly.

"Oh, nothing," I said, reaching forward and looping my arms around his neck. He smiled, pulling me to his chest. It was a nice feeling, to be in his arms. I felt him tighten his grip ever so slightly. A sort of sly and mischievous smile turned my lips upwards. "So you liked me since we were eight, did you?"

He stiffened, but chuckled into my neck. "No," he denied. "I was just afraid I would get in trouble if I let anything bad happen to you."

"Yes, yes," I agreed. "Sure."

"It's true," he protested. "You were just so… trusting and carefree." He said the words so distastefully I had to laugh… before I huffed slightly. What was wrong with that? "I had to make sure no one took advantage of you. Your instincts don't run that deep."

"Hey," I protested, slapping his chest. "If my instincts don't run that deep, how come it's always telling me that I could trust you, no matter what anyone else says?"

He paused at that and finally settled with, "And do you trust that instinct?" he said, raising an eyebrow. I nodded enthusiastically, breaking away from him. "Where are you going?"

I looked at him with a bland expression. "Don't you want to tell Will?"

I stopped walking when I took in the way he gained sudden interest in the floor. "I might have… already let it slip…"

"What?! When? What did he say?"

Josh's grin was cheeky. "He asked me why I found you interesting in the first place -"

My jaw dropped. "That little -"

"And if I made you cry, he would beat me up."

My mouth worked until I settled with a blank stare. "Are you… joking?"

His grin was wide. "Nope."

I frowned at him, assessing his expression before concluding that Josh was telling… the truth. It was a little weird (and scary) how Will… seemed to care. He always had some mischievous intent behind his actions. My brain started to go overdrive, trying to figure it out.

"He said something else," Josh said, a little too casually. I stopped glaring at my hands to look at him quizzically, and maybe a little suspiciously. "He said you always hated my ex girlfriends, that you would get mad at me for 'being so stupid'."

"W-what?" I exclaimed, horror-struck, and a shrill laugh emitted from my throat. "Pft, I was never mad at you - did I ever seem mad? Exactly. Because I wasn't. Gosh." I cleared my throat; my eyes darted towards the direction of the kitchen. "What was that, Dad? I'm comin - !"

Both Josh's arms wrapped around my middle and I was stopped, mid-lunge. Damn.

He was laughing; I felt his whole body shaking. "I knew you had a crush on me for ages." I felt slightly affronted at his smug tone.

"I did not," I denied hotly. "And for the record, I was only mad because you have horrible taste in girls! Horrible!"

"You included?" he sniggered, releasing his hold.

"Er…" I felt my throat close and I nervously averted my eyes. I didn't know what to say, so I stayed silent. My gaze was studiously on his neck when he made me look up at him.

"What're you thinking?"

"That…" I hesitated slightly, "um, I'm high maintenance." Suddenly, the words were coming out in a rush. "Not materialistically - more with - oh you know! There's also a high chance I'm developing OCD tendencies - who am I kidding, I know I am -" The insecurities started piling; why I didn't want to tell my dad - mostly because I was scared I wasn't… that I wouldn't keep Josh's interest long enough for my dad to even care we were going out. "I'm not very… normal," I finished awkwardly, trying make a bet with God to bring Will down this moment so I could flee.

There was a slight pause. I wasn't even looking at his face. "You care about what people think about you?"

"No," I said sullenly. Then in a very quiet voice, "Okay, only you." My eyes flew to meet his and I rushed out, "But not in a desperate way, you know because I -" I stopped, realizing I didn't even know what I was saying. In the end, my jaw tightened stubbornly. I felt annoyed, but mostly embarrassed.

Oh yes, my face was also burning red. Lovely.

His silence was killing me. If he didn't say something soon, I was going to sic Will on him.

But I quickly ruled that idea out since Will would probably betray me and Josh, in his rightful revenge, would sic Will on me… not a pleasant thought.

"Hey Anne," Josh said in a suggestive tone. I looked up instinctively; I froze when I felt his lips press against my forehead. My heartbeat picked up a pace or two, and I reckon Josh knew what I was feeling because I felt his lips curve into a smile I could picture perfectly in my head.

"What?" I heard myself say in a strange voice.

Josh searched my eyes for a moment, and the way he looked at me… it was like he knew what I was thinking; and suddenly, all my thoughts and worries disappeared. In fact, I felt rather stupid for thinking of them in the first place.

"I have to tell you something," he said rather… cheekily. "Do you remember Aaron? Larry, William… Dan?"

I frowned, "Yes…" I saw the pattern with the names. With a sigh, I said, "They were scared of me for some weird reason." It was me. I was the weird one.

Josh looked like he was muffling his laughter. "No, they thought you were cute. Wanted to ask you out."

My head shot up at the news and all I could do was gape. "What? But - every time I even looked at them, they ran away!" Then I stopped, taking in Josh's smirk yet guilty expression… and realized.

"You were too good for them," Josh said after the silence lasted too long. I wasn't listening. Slowly, he began to back away, hands held in front of him. He was sniggering, but he also looked worried… good. "Backing… away…" He burst into laughter just as I lunged.

"Get back here!"

He stopped down the hallway to lean against the wall. "Let's talk about this!" he said cheekily.

"Just let me implant my shoe into your eye first, then we can talk."

He laughed harder.

"You two better not be doing your foreplay business under my roof!" Dad shouted from the kitchen. "In fact, Anne - I forbid you from having sex until you're of age!"

I stiffened. "DAD!" I wailed.

Josh managed to ask, "What is of age, sir?"


"Thirty-five," was Dad's answer.

Josh looked at me. I was too horrified to even yell at him for laughing. All I seemed to see was the way Josh was grinning slightly, face flushed from laughing so hard; the way his hair was naturally ruffled… Shrugging, Josh said, "I can wait," he called back to Dad, eyes completely on me. His eyes met mine and his grin grew into his genuine boyish and mischievous smile he was known for as a little boy.

My heart melted at the sight; somewhere, I just knew my mom was grinning broadly at the turn of events… in fact, it was what she always hoped for.

Josh's hand reached for mine. "She's always worth the wait."