A/N- Excuse the lousy Spanish. If it's wrong, DON'T TELL ME. That will make me paranoid and nervous in the next chapter, and I don't want that. So whatever you do, don't tell me about any mess-ups!

This story will only be about five chapters long. I hope you enjoy reading it almost as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Chapter One


"Be at Brad Miller's house at midnight with rope and four posters of Justin Bieber and of the Jonas Brothers. No cops."

Usually, this isn't how I start off my mornings at school.

On a typical mañana, I simply trudge to chemistry class and try to keep the destruction and mayhem to a minimum, but somehow these things just seem to find me on their own. It's like I'm a magnet for all things illegal and awkward. I've broken into houses, stolen school files, set things on fire, and split my pants more times than I can count. I almost always end up being questioned by the police three times a year (if not more) and occasionally suspended for something that I had no part in at all. I even know some of the officers by name, that's how sad my life is.

Of course, having Pepper Jameson for a friend didn't exactly help.

I looked up from my chemistry textbook with a raised eyebrow, not even bothering to ask the question that was burning in my mind. After about a week of being amigos, I found out to never ask Pepper "Why?" about one of her schemes. She had a way of turning the conversation around until it was completely off-topic. You never knew what her train of thought was, and sometimes I wondered if that train had jumped its pistas and nose-dived into a pit of flames and lava. She could always be so random. I asked her why we were going to be hacking off her neighbor's rose bushes one night during our sophomore year and she said, "Tomorrow is Wednesday." I'm not even kidding about that.

"Address?" I asked, closing the book and setting it on the lab table we shared. At that point, I really should've run away screaming and thrown myself off the nearest bridge, but I didn't know what would become of this "harmless" plan, as she so called it. So I stayed in my seat.

Pepper's tongue ran over the black lip ring in the corner of her mouth before ripping out a piece of paper and scribbling down the address of Brad's place with a stubby pencil. She shoved the paper into my hands and I put it in the pocket of my jeans, nodding in response. I'd be there; I always was. She knew this.

"I lifted Kelsey Marcolla's car keys this morning. Feel like going for a joyride during free period?" Pepper asked, jingling the silver keys in front of my face. Her green eyes pierced into me, and she looked hopeful.

I had to admit: I was tempted. Kelsey had a 2011 Chevy Camaro that her dad had given her earlier in the year, and I got jealous every time she drove past me on the way to school. But I actually had to see a teacher during free period in order to retake a physics test (If I die, the cause will most likely be physics homework. That mierda is so hardcore, I can barely handle it.) so I shook my head. "Not today."

Pepper's hand lowered and she stuck the keys back in her pocket, frowning in disappointment. She tucked a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear before saying, "Well I can always steal them back for a day that you're free. What works for you?"

I thought for a moment. "We can skip on Wednesday during lunch."

Pepper shook her head and I watched her wavy hair slide across her thin yet muscular shoulders, bare due to the red tank top she was wearing. (Can you blame me? Those stories where the guy hates himself because he ogles his best friend occasionally are always total bullshit. I appreciate Pepper's looks, and I've caught her checking me out once or twice. It's a fair system, I think.) Her eyebrows furrowed and she explained, "I can't. Will is taking me out that day."

Now, I'm not going to lie: I'm pretty sure I hate Will Jensen more than anyone I've ever met before in my entire life. And before you jump to any conclusions, it's not because Pepper spends more time with him than she does with me. Actually, it's quite the opposite. (How many people can say they got arrested with their best friend and placed in a holding cell with them for 24 hours? I consider that night an important bonding moment for us. I even found out her real name that night.) But as I was saying before, Will is a popular jock who must've been hit a little harder than normal in football practice, if you know what I mean. He is dumber than Kanye West at the VMA's that one year, and before you get any ideas, Pepper made me watch them with her. The guy also treated Pepper like an object instead of an actual person, and that pissed me off. Every time he sat down at our lunch table, I made up an excuse to leave so I wouldn't be tempted to deck him while he nibbled on her ear in front of me.

Pepper knew I didn't like her novio, but that subject was slightly unsteady between us. She liked him a lot, and I abso-freakin'-lutely hated his guts. Hell, the kid didn't even have a four-pack! (I had the same gym class as him and we had to dress out. Trust me, I'm not gay or anything. That'd put a major damper on my sex life.) But all in all, I despised him. So whenever Will was brought up in a conversation, I tried to remain quiet for Pepper's sake. More quiet than usual, that is.

"We'll just do it on Friday, then," I said, ending the conversation about Kelsey's car. Pepper looked almost relieved that I hadn't said anything negative about Will, and she nodded in agreement.

We still had five minutes before the bell rang for first period, so I decided to switch topics and get a little information. "So what made you decide to hit Brad's house? He's not your usual objetivo."

Pepper shrugged and twisted the thick silver band around her thumb, looking relaxed and composed. "A friend asked me. Apparently Brad's a cheating good-for-nothing shitface who deserves a little humiliation. I wanted to help her out."

Surprised I had gotten the answer out of her so easily, I grunted in response and asked, "So, what's the plan?" (Yeah, I know. I've got such a way with words, don't I? Honestamente, I just don't like talking to people besides Pepper. I almost always end up embarrassing myself in some way or another. And when I get nervous or embarrassed, I start speaking in rapid Spanish so no one can understand what I'm saying and call me out on it. That's a habit mi madre handed down to me over the years, unfortunately. Only Pepper knows how much I really talk, and I like keeping it that way. It makes her special to me.)

Pepper turned around on her stool until she was facing me. He knees brushed my jean-clad thigh as she leaned in, a devilish smirk on her face. That kind of worried me a bit, I must say. That smirk always meant bad things, and bad things meant jail time for me. She whispered, "Rumour has it that Brad's new girlfriend, the one he cheated with, is having a surprise party for him tomorrow morning."

"I'm assuming that'd our acting point."

Pepper held up a hand to silence me, and I shut up. She continued, "That's the stage, but not our acting point. Our job is to plant incriminating posters and stuff all over his walls while he sleeps. Then when his friends come upstairs to wake him up and surprise him, they'll see the posters. If it's Justin Bieber, the whole school will think he's gay in five minutes. You know how fast news travels around here."

I nodded when she finished, mulling it over. Yes, there were a few variables and loopholes in the plan, but I figured it would work out just fine as long as we weren't caught breaking into his house. But then something struck me. "What if he wakes up before they get to him?"

Pepper waved a hand dismissively and leaned away from me. She looked confident as she replied, "Brad sleeps until two in the afternoon on weekends. As long as nothing blows up near his ears, we should be fine."

I unconsciously tugged at the neckline of my t-shirt as I thought it through. If we were caught, we'd be arrested for sure. If we weren't…humiliation nation for Brad. (Did I really just say "humiliation nation"? Querido Dios, my soul is worth nothing.) I slowly began to nod, much to Pepper's delight. "I'm in."

She beamed and slugged me in the shoulder good-naturedly. (It actually hurt a little bit, not that I'll ever admit that to her. She's got strong arms.) Then she ruffled my dark hair and said gratefully, "Thanks, Alex."

"I'll always have your back," I replied, shrugging and looking at the small tattoo on the underside of my wrist passively. Badass points for me.

We sat in comfortable silence until the bell finally rang, signaling the beginning of our chemistry class. Pepper and I readjusted ourselves so we were sitting more comfortably on our stools and watched with disinterest as nearly half of the class suddenly filed in. Did punctuality mean nothing to these kids? If I didn't have a police record, I'd probably be a better student than they are. Of course, I wouldn't have a police record if it wasn't for Pepper, but whatever. Having her as my best friends was worth a few nights in a jail celda.

A tall, skinny girl with blonde hair walked by our lab table. Her shoulders were slumped a bit and her eyes had dark bags under them, plus her hair was limp and oily. She looked like she had a hangover, but her eyes were too clear for that to have been a possibility. Right as she walked by our table, she looked up and made eye contact with Pepper, her blue eyes empty and sad. Pepper nodded slightly at the girl, and she broke out into a huge grin, her face immediately lighting up. She moved past our table and sat down in her seat, almost giddy.

"What the hell was that?" I asked Pepper under my breath. Mr. Oakley started his lecture. (Boring as ever.)

She didn't look up from her notebook and her mouth hardly moved as she whispered back, "That's the girl who asked for the favour. I just told her we were up for it and putting our plan into action tonight. She doesn't have to worry about a thing."

Whoa. Wait a minute. How did they do that with only a head nod and a look? Girls are so weird.

Still slightly astounded that they had conveyed that whole message through a single nod, I continued to listen to Mr. Oakley. Occasionally I'd glace over at Pepper and watch her write down what he was saying. Her hair had formed a small curtain over her face but I could tell she was nibbling on her lip ring, which is what she always did when she wrote.

Pepper had gotten that lip ring her junior year in a fit of rebellion. Her parents were nagging her about what colleges they had picked out for her (She wanted to become a photographer, in case you wanted to know. They, on the other hand, wanted her to be a lawyer.) so she got in her car and sped off to clear her head for a while. The next day at school, she had a black lip ring that ultimately made her look slightly more badass than I did at the time. But once I turned eighteen, I got a few tattoos and evened out the playing field. Now we both looked badass. It was pretty awesome.

Sensing that I was watching her, Pepper looked up at me and smiled faintly. I smiled back, and then turned back to my notes.

Pepper only gave me her real smiles.


When the lunch bell rang later that day, all of the students scurried out of their classrooms and sprinted down the hallway toward the cafeteria. They wanted their hamburgers, apparently. But instead of following suit, I turned in the opposite direction and walked down the hallway towards my locker so I could put my books away. I walked down the wide corridor, avoiding people who looked almost crazy, their gaze locked in on the cafeteria's double doors at the end of the hallway. I kindly stepped out of their way so I wouldn't get atacado, and continued down the way until I found my rusty and beat up locker. I spun the dial quickly and slammed my hand into the top corner of the door before wrenching it open. Once the door swung open, I placed my books inside and checked my phone to see if I had any missed calls or messages. I didn't.

I'm apparently not very popular. Hmpf.

I was just about to slam my locker door shut and go down to lunch to see Pepper, but the photo taped onto the inside of the door made me stop. I looked at it, the edges of my mouth curving upwards into a reminiscent smile. The picture was taken two years ago, and it showed me giving Pepper a piggyback ride in the middle of her swimming pool. We were both in our swimsuits and Pepper's hair was tied up into a messy knot high on her head, barely even wet, unlike me. Her tanned arms were wrapped tightly around my shoulders and my hands were hooked under her thighs, and we were both in the midst of laughing. Just looking at the picture again made me chuckle.

Los buenos tiempos.

I ran a hand through my dark, shaggy hair and shut my locker with a slam, still smiling faintly. I knew for a fact that Pepper had a copy of that same picture taped up inside her locker as well. It made me feel warm inside as I thought about it.

…I may have the tough Mexicano guy exterior, but Pepper tends to be my soft spot. I can't help it, okay? Just because the woman can kick my ass if she puts her mind to it doesn't mean I don't love her to death. I look out for her. She does the same for me, although I don't need it as much.

I walked down the hallway and approached the cafeteria doors, pushing one of them open and entering the bustling room. Almost all of the round tables that filled the place were full, except for one all the way across the room that sat in a shadowy corner. I instantly made my way over there, knowing that Pepper wound be sitting in her normal spot, waiting for me with a spare sandwich for lunch.

As soon as I was within throwing distance, Pepper chucked a wrapped sandwich at me without looking up from her open notebook. (HOW DID SHE KNOW WHERE I WAS? I'm scared to know the answer.) I caught it easily and ripped it open as I plopped down next to her, looking at what she was lazily doodling in her notepad. It was an esbozo of the cafeteria, with all the tables present, but no kids to sit at them. I don't know how she did that so fast since lunch had started barely ten minutes ago, but I didn't question her. It was a good drawing, though. I'm forever cursed with the ability to draw lame little stick figures.

"So," I said, munching on my sandwich. I was never a heavy eater at school, so that was more than enough for me. "What should I wear tonight?"

Pepper looked up from her drawing and put her notebook away, and she stuck her pencil behind her ear. Then she shot me a look and said flatly, "Neon green clothes and a sign that says, 'HEY I'M BREAKING INTO THIS HOUSE! COME ARREST ME!'" She shot me a pointed look. "Black, Alex. Always black."

"Is there anything else you need me to bring?"

Pepper thought for a moment, tapping her index finger against her chin. She opened her mouth to say something, stopped, but continued anyway. "If you could get a fresh fish from the market, that'd be great. And don't forget a screwdriver or two. Oh, and maybe some tampons while you're there. I'm out."

"Okay. What kind?"

Pepper's expression was a mix of amusement and disbelief, which reminded me of the time she had watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with me a few months ago. (Her- "THIS MOVIE IS SO STUPID." Me- "No it's not. Now shut the hell up and hand me the popcorn." Not that she'll ever admit it, but she really liked the movie in the end.) She slowly shook her head and narrowed her eyes, a smile playing at her lips. "Sometimes it's scary how much you differ from every other male out there. You're like a woman in disguise."

I frowned and set my sandwich down, giving her a hurt look. "You really know how to injure a guy, Pep."

I tried to maintain a straight face as I stared her down, and so did she. But after a few seconds, she cracked a small smile and flicked my nose with her index finger. Shocked and slightly amused, my hand shot out and flicked her nose to get even. Her expression was playful and issuing a silent challenge, her arms coming up into a defensive position.

"Alejandro Camacho, did you just flick my nose?" She asked, her voice laced with mirth.

I narrowed my dark eyes at her in a mock game face, and slowly reached forward until my hand was hovering in front of her face. She kept her gaze locked on mine as I pulled back my index finger…and flicked her once again.

"Si," I said smugly, pulling my hand back to my side and relaxing my position. "And don't try to retaliate. You know I can kick your butt now. I'm bigger than you."

"Only by-"

"Six inches?" I filled in, making her scowl at me. Her arms fell to her sides and she turned back to her half-eaten lunch, avoiding my gaze and crossing her arms over her chest. I knew she was just playing with me, so I didn't apologize and instead devoured the rest of my sandwich with a smirk on my face.

"Room for one more at this table?" A low voice called out to us.

NO THERE IS NOT. NEVER WILL BE, EITHER.

…Sometimes I wish I wasn't so quiet and reserved. Then I could've actually said that to him and Pepper wouldn't have gotten mad at me. But unfortunately, I got the "stoic-and-badass-with-everyone-else-except-Pepper" gene. So I hardly ever say anything unless I'm speaking to her. It kind of puts a damper on class speeches.

Way to suck, biology. Way to suck.

Pepper's head snapped up and she broke into a small smile, motioning over to the seat on the other side of her. Will Jensen lumbered around the table, his blonde hair ridiculously stylish and in perfect placement, and sat down next to Pepper. She immediately leaned over to drop a chaste kiss on his lips, but he backed away and shook his head. Pepper looked confused.

"Cold sore," he explained, glancing over at me quickly before turning to look at Pepper.

She looked even more confused than before. "I thought you had a cold sore last week. It's not better?"

Let's freeze for a moment, shall we?

The first thing that's wrong with this picture is that Will's hand had slowly migrado up Pepper's thigh, and was now far enough north to make Santa seem like an loser without a damn compass. His thumb was slowly stroking the tight denim material that covered her leg, and she hadn't moved it at all. What was up with that? Couldn't Pepper see that her boyfriend was totally creeping in on her personal space? She hated it when people invaded her space, and I had been kicked enough times to know this very well. I wanted to reach over there and wipe that smirk off of Will's face with one of my fists (maybe even both) and get him away from her, but there was nothing I could do. So I remained impassive.

The second thing that is wrong here is that Pepper wanted to kiss Will. Like, no one was paying her to do that. How weird is that? I wouldn't want to touch him with a ten-foot pole, and yet here she was trying to find an excuse to kiss him on the lips! Based on what I had seen go down against her locker before, Pepper was a fantastic kisser. (Maravilloso mental image, yet so wrong at the same time.) If she had such awesome skills with her tongue, why would she waste that on Will Jensen, of all people? That made me mad.

The third and final thing wrong with this picture is that Will is blonde. Everyone knows that blondes are untrustworthy and conniving little minions. I mean, look at Paris Hilton. That girl has more in her purse than that damn Chihuahua, I'll bet you. And I bet it's not good stuff. But aside from ditsy celebrities, Pepper and I are hardcore brunettes. I'm freakin' Mexicano, for crying out loud. We're like our own little dark circle, and then Will comes along and messes that up with his blonde hair and blue eyes.

(Okay, that last one was totally made up just to make me feel better, but it makes a little sense in my mind.)

But in conclusion: WILL SHOULD GET THE HELL AWAY FROM OUR TABLE AND DIE.

Will shrugged and kept stroking her thigh under the table as he said, "My sister gave me another one. She just won't stop drinking my soda, you know? I want to kill her."

Get this: Pepper actually laughed.

By this time, I was gripping the edge of the lunch table with crippling force and my knuckles were turning white. Before thinking it all the way through, I stood up and muttered something in Spanish about a textbook I forgot in my car and left the building. I didn't want to watch them flirt any longer.

I didn't know why I couldn't stand to see them together. I mean, yeah: Will is a jackass who should go to hell, but he's not completely bad. Sickeningly polite sometimes, but whatever. And Pepper really likes the guy for some reason. She even has a few pictures of him up in her room. Last year when he got the first touchdown of the season, she ran out there and kissed him on the field right in front of everyone. (I looked away and almost fell off the bleachers.) She even gave him meaningful looks when she passed him in the hallway.

I wonder what would happen if she looked at me the same way she looked at him.

…Shit, was I jealous?

I shook my head to get rid of those thoughts as I walked out the front doors and into the senior parking lot. What the hell was wrong with me? Pepper was my best friend. I was supposed to be happy for her when she had a relationship with a guy. I was supposed to be the one to watch out for her and make sure she doesn't get hurt by her novio. I was supposed to be the one who held her when she cried about the breakup.

But if I was the one who was given the job for all of this, why wasn't I doing it?

I ran a hand over my face in frustration and pulled out my keys as I approached my car. Screw school, I'd just skip the rest of the day and go get the supplies she needed for the job tonight. I'm not even going to express how awkward it was for me to be in the checkout line with a bunch of posters of Justin Bieber/The Jonas Brothers, a raw fish, and some tampons. Let's just say I got some weird looks. Once I had the stuff though, I headed home.

As soon as the front door slammed shut and I dumped the grocery bags in the foyer of my house, I tossed my keys onto the coffee table in the living room and called out, "Madre, que estoy en casa!"

"Ya?" She called back from the kitchen. "Alejo, what did I tell you about skipping escuela?"

I decided not to answer. If she knew that I had skipped school because of Pepper and Will, she'd know something was up and want to "talk about it." My man points would practically be set on fire and destruido. So I pulled the wrapped fish out of one of the bags and proceeded to walk into the kitchen at the back of the house without answering. Mi mamá was there, rolling out some bright blue fondant on the counter and not looking at me. Her dark eyebrows were furrowed as she stretched and flattened the paste, but she knew I was there. (My mom makes cakes for a living. Sick, I know.) I walked over to the fridge, but dropped a swift kiss on her flour-stained cheek as I passed. She smiled and continued to roll out the fondant with her rolling pin, but then said, "So, why are you home so early?"

Shit.

I shrugged, not letting my slight panic show on my face and placed the fish inside the fridge. I then grabbed the orange juice bottle and took a drink while mamá wasn't looking. (She'd beat me with her rolling pin if she caught me. And believe me, that shit hurts.) I wiped my mouth, placed it back in the fridge, shut the door, and leaned against the counter before replying with a vague, "Some stuff happened at school and I didn't want to be there."

Setting down her rolling pin, she wiped her hands on her apron and turned to face me with a disapproving look. "Quit bullshitting and tell me what made you decide to corte de la escuela."

Sometimes it sucks to know that my mom might be more badass than I am.

I shrugged again, not wanting to tell her the truth. (What was the truth, actually? I didn't take the time to figure it out.) "I needed some stuff at the store."

"For what?"

I was too busy looking at the four-tiered cake behind her to process my answer and how it sounded outside of my head. "I'm going out with Pepper tonight."

Open mouth, insert foot.

Her dark eyes immediately lit up with joy and she beamed before rushing over and hugging me around the waist with surprising force. I was completely shocked, wondering what I had said that would cause her to react in such a way, but she answered that question before I even asked it. Slightly muffled because her face was still pressed into my chest, she exclaimed, "Oh, I thought it would never happen! I always knew you two would end up together before high school was out! ¿Dónde usted la está tomando? ¿Cómo usted le preguntó hacia fuera?"

I gently tried to peel my mom's arms off from around me, barely keeping the horror off of my face. Me? Going out with Pepper? Here's what would happen if I tried that, and I'm not exaggerating in the slightest:

Me: Hey Pep, do you want to go out with me?

Pepper: Good one, Alex! I almost believed you! That was funny!

Everyone else: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Not that I would ever ask out Pepper in the first place, but that's what would happen. She's my best friend, for Christ's sake. Asking her out would throw the universe out of alignment and everything would suddenly explode and we'd all die. Sure, Pepper was the most beautiful girl I knew and she was closer to me than anyone else, but having us get together would ruin everything we had built up over the years. I don't even know how I'd act around her! I have tried at great lengths to explain this to mi mamá, but she never listens.

"Mamá, I didn't mean it like that. We're just going out as friends tonight. Friends, okay? Pepper and I will never ever be something more than friends. Ever. Ma, are you listening to me at all?"

She loosened her hold on my waist and took a step back, frowning up at me. Her eyes were unreadable as she stared at me, and I fidgeted nervously under her gaze. She slowly shook her head and turned back to her fondant, picking it up and dropping it on top of the cake. As she pressed it into the corners and smoothed it out, she asked in a disappointed voice, "Why haven't you guys gotten together yet?"

I gave her back an "are-you-fucking-crazy?" look and replied, "Because we're friends and she has a novio. She doesn't like me that way anyway. She can't."

"Do you like her in that way?"

"No."

"Are you sure?"

I ran a hand through my already-messy hair and rolled my eyes. This was ridiculous. "I'm going up to my room to do my homework. I'll see you at dinner. And get those loco ideas of love out of your head while you're at it."

Still turned away from me, she nodded and remained silent. I walked out of the kitchen, more confused than ever. Suddenly mi mamá wanted me and Pepper to get together? What was up with that? The way she reacted to my stupid response…did she know something I didn't? Maybe she had some kind of plan?

Oh jeez. Now I'm becoming paranoid.


At eleven fifty-two, I was decked out in black jeans, a black t-shirt, and had a black beanie on my head just to complete the image. If I wasn't about to break into someone's house, I'd say that I looked marvelously stylish and sexy.

But I was about to break into someone's house.

So I decided that I looked snazzy.

I was driving across town to the house of Brad Miller and the supplies were sitting in the backseat of my car in a black duffel bag. There were six posters, a wrapped fish that smelled questionable, a coil of climbing rope, assorted screwdrivers, duct tape, and a digital camera. On every job we did together (I just realized how wrong that sounded) we brought a camera so we could document our success and remember it for the rest of our lives. So far, we had about seventy videos and over five hundred pictures of everything we had done in the past five years. Sometimes when I got bored around the house, I'd plug the camera into my laptop and watch a video or shuffle through a bunch of our pictures.

But tonight might be one of the jobs where we needed to get in and get out as quickly as possible. The camera was simply a luxury.

I let up on the gas a little bit as I steered through suburbia, keeping my eyes peeled for Brad's house. I had texted Pepper before getting in my car and she said that she was already there and waiting for me, so all I had to do was find the house and park a little bit away. Then I would grab the stuff and sneak around the back until I found Pepper. And frankly, I couldn't wait to see her.

"All of these casas look the same," I muttered, slightly irritated.

But then my headlights flashed against a metal number on a house to my right. (I won't describe it other than the fact that it was two stories. It was a damn house; use your imagination.) I double checked the slip of paper that Pepper had given me earlier that morning. It was Brad's house. I slowed even more and parked two houses down, then grabbed the supplies and bolted. I made my way around the back of the house, not stopping to admire the neatly trimmed rosebushes and the illuminated pool. (Okay, I'll admit that they looked pretty nice.) I barely made any sound as I dashed across the lawn to the right side of the place, eyes searching for the familiar shadow that was Pepper.

"Psst!" she called out from my right. "Alex!"

She was crouched behind a tall and skinny tree that was poised perfectly adjacent to a window on the second floor. I assumed it was Brad's and slipped behind the tree with her. The black duffel bag that held our supplies caught a few branches and made them rustle, but otherwise I made no sound.

I crouched down next to Pepper and took in her appearance (or as much as I could with so little light).

Day-um.

She was wearing tight black pants that almost looked like a second skin on her and a long-sleeved black t-shirt. Her dark hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail and she had removed her lip ring for the night. She also had sleek gloves on so she wouldn't leave any fingerprints in Brad's room. Her green eyes were sharp and determined, and her pale pink lips were set in a smirk. All in all, she looked like a thief who knew what she was doing. (Which is exactly what she was.)

And a hot thief at that.

FUCK YOU, LIFE, FOR MAKING MY BEST FRIEND SEXY. FUCK YOU.

I tore my eyes away from her attire to look at her face, which was turned downwards and towards the duffel bag between us. She unzipped it within a second and rifled through its contents, taking an extra second or two to look at the posters. Then Pepper zipped the bag back up and looked to me.

"Okay," she breathed. "This is going to be a get-in-and-get-out plan. I'm going to climb up the tree behind me and crawl through his window, and once I'm there I'm going to have you throw the bag up to me since I won't be able to get up there with it. Then I'll tack up the posters and put the fish in his vent, and then somehow get back down here. Sound good?"

I narrowed my eyes. "I'm the lookout?"

"Is there a problem with that?"

I nodded and crossed my arms over my chest, keeping intense eye contact with her. "Si, there is a problem with that: it's total bullshit. I'm not just going to stand here and wait while you go up there by yourself. ¿Qué si él despierta? ¿Entonces qué usted hará? No quisiera que usted consiguiera lastimado-"

Pepper rolled her eyes. "Alex, cut the Spanish. You know just as well as I do that there's no other way. If you go up there with me, you'll make too much noise and we'll wake him up. If you don't like the plan, then you can just go home."

She had me there. Pepper knew that I would never leave the job halfway through because I always wanted to make sure she got home safely. Mrs. Jameson knew about her daughter's little escapades with me (she had a police record to prove it), and she had once cornered me and made me promise to keep her daughter safe no matter what. Not that I needed to promise, but I did anyway. But Pepper was also right when she said that there was no other way to do this. I thought it through almost three times over, and no other option showed itself. She had to go up alone.

"If you get hurt-"

"I'll launch myself out the window or something," she interrupted, waving a hand dismissively. "Just be ready to catch me and run if that happens because the shit probably will have hit the fan. Now, are we ready to go?"

"Pep, I swear I will kill you if you do something stupid while you're up there," I warned, silently praying that she wasn't in a playful mood.

Hopping to her feet, she responded with a whispered, "I take that as a yes. Now give me a boost onto the first branch of this tree. I'm too short."

I stood up with her and brushed off my knees, moving around her so I was closer to the trunk of the tree. It didn't look very strong, but Pepper was pretty slim and lightweight. It could probably hold her. As long as she had the screwdriver out and ready, she could easily climb into Brad's bedroom and pin up the posters and get out. It wouldn't be that hard. Sighing, I knelt back down (Dammit, I had just brushed off my knees, too.) and laced my fingers together, waiting for Pepper to step into my hands. When her sneaker met my hand, I pushed up and shoved her roughly into the branches of the tree. She grabbed onto the first one and her foot left my hands as she used her momentum to swing herself up on top of the branch. She then shifted around until she could get her foot up and stand shakily.

Pleasedon'tfallpleasedon'tfallpleasedon'tfall…

"Screwdriver," She demanded, holding out a hand. I unzipped the duffel bag, got one out, and placed it in her open hand. Then she slid the screwdriver into the waistband of her pants and began to climb up the tree. She almost fell when she neared the top, which scared the crap out of me, but she regained her balance and kept going, getting closer to Brad's window with every passing second. I never took my eyes off of her, just in case she should fall.

Once she reached the window and unscrewed the screen, she pushed the inside glass up and motioned for me to toss her the bag. With as much silence as possible, I did so. She caught the strap and let it fall slightly to absorb the shock and the sound, and then she scurried inside the window.

"No haga por favor cualquier cosa estúpido…" I whispered. If she did do something stupid up there after all, she wouldn't do it half-assed. I silently prayed that she'd be out in five minutes and safe. Hopefully without a longer police record.

Ten minutes later, I stood below the window and waited for Pepper to come out with my back tense. How long did it take to put up some posters? Not this long, that's for sure. I was about to throw something up there to get her attention, when a single leg slid out of the window. Another followed. Soon, Pepper's whole body was outside of Brad's window, the duffel bag slung over her shoulder. She slid his window shut and set the screen back in place with one hand, her feet braced against the pale yellow siding of the house. Her hand was gripping the side of the window frame, keeping her up there.

I bet she'd be really good at parkour.

"Pep, drop the bag," I whispered loudly. It appeared to be giving her some trouble, based on the way her teeth were clenched and her face glistened with a thin sheen of sweat.

"I can't."

I frowned at her strained answer. "Why not?"

"Because there aren't any handholds on this side."

I looked up at her with slight alarm, and then cursed when I realized she was right. The left side of the frame was too thin to get a hold of, so Pepper was being held up with her other hand that was gripping the other side as if her life depended on it. The duffel bag was on that same arm, so she couldn't drop it without losing her grip and falling. (Come to think of it, I had no idea how she was managing to hold the other side of that thing, seeing as it was just as thin as the other side.) The only way for her to get down was to jump onto the tree and hope she landed correctly, or to drop straight down onto the ground.

I stepped closer to the house until she was directly above me and instructed in a low tone, "Let go of the window. I'll catch you."

"Are you insane?" She hissed, glaring down at me for a split-second. "I'm too high up."

"Do you see any other way to get you down? Now shut up and do it before Brad wakes up."

Pepper held onto the window for a few more seconds, trying to argue her way out of it in her mind. She wanted to find another way to do this. Unfortunately, there was no other way. She cleared her throat quietly and called down in a whisper, "I don't want to hurt you."

"That's the least of our worries right now, Pepper. I promise I won't drop you, but you need to get down from there rápido."

She looked like she wanted to argue some more, but then she shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut. (Pepper had never been a fan of negative g's since they scared her and made her feel nauseous. She admitted that when we went to Six Flags our freshman year right before we rode the Superman. It's safe to say she did not enjoy that ride in the slightest.) Anyway, I bent my knees slightly as her hands loosened their hold on the window frame and she fell towards my outstretched arms without a sound. I caught her around the middle before she hit the ground. Unfortunately, her built-up speed knocked me off my feet and sent me sprawling on my back with Pepper still in my arms.

"Okay," I grunted, attempting to regain the air in my lungs. "That could've gone better."

She didn't respond, but instead held onto my waist with a death grip that could envy my mother's. She didn't move or speak. She didn't even get off of me, which I didn't actually mind all that much. (What can I say? I'm a hombre with needs.) We sat like that for a few more seconds before her arms slowly retracted, she rolled off of me, and stood up. The duffel bag was still slung over her shoulder. Her face was pale and her green eyes were blank with unspoken shock, but she still didn't say anything. She didn't have to. I knew how scared she had been when she fell. Heights she could handle; falling was a whole different story.

"Let's get out of here," she muttered, avoiding my eyes.

"Do you want to crash at my place?" I asked, getting to my feet. (Pepper usually slept over at my house after jobs since mi mamá trusted us, and after a while it became a sort-of tradition. But lately, she hadn't been staying over for some reason. I never asked why.) But Pepper nodded, so I took her elbow and led her off of Brad's property and out to my car. Her face regained some of its colour as we walked down the sidewalk and got in, but neither of us spoke until I started driving home.

"Thanks," she said after a few minutes, quietly watching the passing houses out of the passenger's side window. She didn't look at me.

"You're welcome."

"Those rumours had better be spreading by tomorrow morning. That kid's vent was damn hard to get open."

"They will be."

We lapsed into silence as I drove through town. Pepper was leaning her forehead against her window and her arms were crossed over her chest as she watched the passing houses. Houses turned into restaurants, restaurants turned into businesses, and soon the businesses turned back into houses. We were in my neighborhood.

Right as we turned onto the street where I live, Pepper suddenly unbuckled her seatbelt and turned to look at me with a confused expression on her face. I was about to tell her to put her damn seatbelt back on since we still had a little bit further to go, but before I could say anything, she leaned over and pressed her lips softly to my cheek.

HEART ATTACK MUCH?

I swear, my brain seemed to short-circuit as soon as she kissed me. I always knew Pepper's lips were soft and full, but I never even guessed that they would feel like that. No wonder Will likes to make out with her in the hallway sometimes. Hell, if my girlfriend ever had lips like those, I wouldn't be able to keep my lips –or hands— off of her. Unconsciously, I let my eyes drift shut and leaned into her touch.

When she finally pulled away, she whispered with a small smile, "Sometimes I feel like I don't deserve someone like you as a best friend."

I couldn't speak. I really couldn't. So instead of doing that, I forced myself to nod in response. Then I tried to focus on driving instead of what it would feel like if those lips were on mine instead of on my cheek.

Mi dios, soy loco…

"Be quiet," I whispered as we tiptoed through the front door of my house. Pepper slid off her sneakers at the front door after I did and we set the duffel bag next to them so we knew where both things were in the morning. The house was dark and mi mamá was asleep by then, no doubt. I didn't feel like waking her up to ask if Pepper could sleep over since she'd done so beforehand many times, so we just snuck upstairs and stealthily slipped into my bedroom without a word.

It was messy as usual, so Pepper and I kicked aside the papers and dirty clothes in order to clear the floor and to create some sort of order. My desk was cluttered with school work and open textbooks from earlier that day, and the queen bed in the corner was unmade. I wasn't embarrassed by the lack of neatness since I knew Pepper's room was in the exact same state as mine. We just didn't like cleaning, I guess.

I reached my arm into the bathroom and flipped the light on before suggesting, "If you want, you can take a shower before bed."

Pepper looked at the alarm clock on my nightstand. It read 1:04 AM. She looked back to me and shook her head no, saying, "I'll just wait until tomorrow morning so my hair doesn't dry strangely. You can if you want, though."

I nodded and stepped into my bathroom, leaning into the shower so I could turn the knob to hot. Then I closed the curtain and went back into my room while I waited for it to get to the right temperature. When I walked back in though, I saw Pepper laying out a blanket and a pillow on the floor and adjusting them so they were nice and flat. She had let her hair down from its ponytail and her gloves had been discarded onto my desk, and her sleeves were shoved up to her elbows to expose her tanned forearms. She must've felt my gaze on her back because she looked up, met my eyes, and smiled.

"Hi," she said.

"Hola."

"…Have I ever told you that I love it when you speak Spanish?"

I backpedalled, wondering where in the world that had come from, and shot her a confused look. "¿En serio?"

Chuckling, Pepper rolled her eyes and said, "I like it even more when I know what the hell you're saying to me. What did that one mean?"

Once she said that, I decided to mess with her a bit. With a smirk, I replied swiftly, "Te voy a decir un día."

And before she could lunge in order to get the translation out of me, I stepped back into the bathroom and slammed the door shut, locking it right before the doorknob jiggled fiercely as she tried to open it. Pepper beat on the door and I could hear her smile as she hissed, "What did you say? I want to know!"

I happily ignored her, making her huff in frustration outside the door. After a few more seconds of listening to her grumble about my "damn antics", I chuckled and backed up a few steps. Then I started to strip off my clothes so I could wash the dirt and grime from tonight's job off of myself in the now-heated shower. Once my clothes were all in a messy pile on the floor, I stepped into the shower and allowed my tense muscles to relax under the hot spray of water.

Ten minutes later, I wrapped the white towel around my waist and shook the extra water out of my hair, running my fingers through it to get the tangles out of it. Then I unlocked the bathroom door and opened it so I could go to my dresser and get out some clean clothes. I hadn't thought about pulling them out before getting in the shower because of me and Pepper's conversation beforehand when I had locked the door on her. So naturally, I had to go out there in nothing but a towel.

The air conditioning hit my bare chest as soon as I stepped into my bedroom. I walked over to my dresser and opened the top drawer and fished out some pajama pants and boxers for the night. I didn't bother with a shirt since the house was always kept at a decent temperature, not to mention I had a habit of sleeping shirtless during warmer weather.

"Is that one new?" Pepper asked from behind me.

I turned around with a raised eyebrow, asking what she meant without actually saying it. She was sitting on my bed flipping through one of my books, but her gaze was trained on a spot near my collarbone. (While she was looking at me, though, I was looking at her. She had apparently found the clothes she had left here a few months ago and had changed into them for the night. Unfortunately, they didn't leave much to the imagination. She was wearing a pale green camisole and black running shorts, and I could clearly see the black straps of her sports bra leading over her shoulders to form the razorback that clung to her back muscles. Her lip ring was back in its normal place. You know something's really wrong with your when the sight of your best friend in skimpy pajamas turns you on. Maldita, I need to get laid soon.)

Pepper pointed to the small tattoo that was placed a centimeter above my right collarbone and asked again, "Is that a new tattoo? I haven't seen it before."

I nodded and tightened the towel around my waist so it wouldn't suddenly fall down in front of her. That would redefine the word awkward if that happened. I leaned against my dressed and crossed my arms over my chest before saying, "I got this one on Thursday."

Pepper set my book back on my nightstand and stood up. She then crossed the room until she was standing right in front of me and squinted at the intricate design on my skin. Even though we weren't touching, I could feel her breath on me.

I am in so much trouble, I thought. Pepper has always been hermosa, but she's never turned me on like this before. What's wrong with me?

Pepper's hand slowly lifted up to touch my tattoo with her index finger, and I winced. Since I had only gotten it the day before, the area was still tender.

"I like it," she murmured, sending my brain into overdrive. My chest was constricting painfully under her scrutinizing gaze and I felt lightheaded. This is wrong. So, so wrong.

"Sí, me demasiado," I said rapidly, forgetting that I should've been speaking English. I corrected myself with a quick, "I mean, yeah. Me too."

"I've been thinking about getting a tattoo," she murmured again, green eyes still trained on my collarbone. "What do you suggest?"

I swallowed thickly. "Uh…I'll let you know in the, uh, morning. Why don't you take the bed tonight? I'll sleep on the floor."

Pepper looked up at me finally. She was frowning, as if she had noticed the strange tone of my voice. I looked at her passively so she wouldn't pick up on my inner turmoil, but she narrowed her eyes, obviously concerned. "Are you okay?"

"Si," I blurted out.

She watched me for a few more moments before taking a step back. She looked at her feet and shuffled around before muttering, "Okay, I'll take the bed. But when you're sore tomorrow morning, I don't want to hear any of your sexy Spanish whining."

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD SHE CALLED ME SEXY. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN THE WORLD.

After a few more seconds of freaking out inside, I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding and nodded. I was relieved that she had backed away before I finally acted on my sudden urge to pin her against the wall and kiss her until she couldn't breathe. But not only would that mess up our friendship (Understatement much?), she'd probably never speak to me again and go to Will's house for the rest of the night. And that would never happen on my watch.

I watched in strangled silence as she climbed into my bed and pulled the covers over herself, but not before she flashed me a ridiculous amount of the smooth skin on her thighs. I almost fell over. Running a hand over my face, I walked back into the bathroom to change, clothes in hand. But once the door was closed behind me, I dropped the clothes and sat on the edge of my sink, slumped over and staring at the tiled floor with a stunned look on my face.

"I need to stop having sleepovers…" I muttered.


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