Disclaimer: This is a companion piece to Gossip, Set and Match. And although I guess it may work pretty OK as a standalone, some things may make more sense if you've also read Gossip, Set and Match. This part takes place during (and a bit before) chapter 1 of GSM.

Piece I: Lost

Reese Colton needed someone to pinch him. The muted smoky brown eyes that pulled his gaze from across the large room of dancing partygoers couldn't possibly be finally beckoning him to come to the rescue.

But he wasn't dreaming this up. He couldn't be. The sudden tug on his left arm as Kelly Hernandez played the part of pestering fly buzzing in his ear with pleas for him to dance with her became proof of that. He wouldn't be dreaming that part up.

Yet he still couldn't figure out why in the midst of speaking to Nicci Shultz, Mackie Carwyn was suddenly looking like she had been dropped stranded on a faraway planet. The forlorn look Reese had been selfishly watching for hadn't made its appearance since the first day of senior year, the first day of school since Madison Blake had moved away.

Reese knew what it felt like to lose a best friend. It was like losing your right arm. Suddenly, you were thrown off balance, left to fumble around without the one person you once knew without a doubt would be by your side. It was because he understood this feeling so well that he had immediately recognized the same lost expression reflected in Mackie as she stood at the edge of the cafeteria, her eyes darting around the room like a nervous hummingbird no longer sure where she belonged.

Seeing the way Mackie clutched her lunch tray tensely to her chest as if she couldn't bear to have anything else leave her side, Reese wanted to call out to her, to tell her that she could eat lunch with him, that he would help her find a new place to belong. He might have, too, if Drew wasn't so intent on having him help recount, play by play, the prank wars that ravaged the annual Ryder family camping trip. By the time he managed to turn back to Mackie, the moment was lost as he saw her hesitantly slipping into a seat between Nicci and a few of the other Journalism Club members.

He didn't know why, but he felt like he missed his big chance. The chance for what, he wasn't quite sure. But from then on, he found his eyes always gravitating to Mackie when she was nearby.

His sister Katie had once told him that he had a 'Knight-in-Shining-Armor' complex. He had denied it at the time, but perhaps there was truth in her assessment. It was as if he was waiting for that lost look to return to Mackie so that he could come to the rescue. He caught himself imagining that moment on occasion. He pictured the brilliant smiles she would grant him in exchange for his company and reveled in the idea of bonding over the feeling of abandonment by a best friend. And yet, for months, that moment never came.

Reese felt almost envious of Mackie for bouncing back so easily. It took him weeks to lose that empty feeling when Anna moved away. But the look he so clearly saw flash across Mackie's face that first day hadn't returned. Reese would have caught it if it had; he searched endlessly for that glint of loneliness in Mackie every time he saw her.

He even went as far as trying to elicit it out of her once when he stopped by the Whirl to grab milkshakes for his sister Emily and himself. After placing his order and watching Mackie pile all the ingredients in a blender, he tried to engage her in conversation.

"You seem to always be working here lately," Reese commented casually. "It must keep you busy."

"I enjoy spending time at the Whirl, so now I get the extra perk of getting paid to be here as well," Mackie replied brightly.

"Did you and Maddie use to spend lots of time here?" Reese asked, waiting almost expectantly for that lost look to appear.

Mackie only looked at him with a hint of confusion. "Maddie?" she asked as if unsure why Reese was even bringing her up. "Yeah, we did. You'd think we were crazy if I told you why we used to sit here for hours upon hours."

"Try me." Reese leaned in, intrigued. Most things about Mackie had begun to intrigue him.

Mackie looked around, her lips pursed. "I can't. It's one secret that I can't expose."

"So it's just between you and Maddie?" He tried yet again to bring up her missing best friend. It was irrational the way he was so adamant to get Mackie to exhibit feelings of pain for losing her best friend, but he desperately wanted them to be kindred spirits.

Mackie just laughed, though. "Well, I certainly hope so. I fear we may have been too careless with our secret."

"Then what's the harm of telling me?"

"Well," Mackie began, with an enticing upturn of her strawberry pink lips. She turned back to shut off the blender and pour out the milkshakes into two cups. "I'd have to check with Maddie first. It's not just my secret to tell, you see."

"Oh, I see," Reese said as he took the two milkshakes he ordered from Mackie, a hint of disappointment clouding his gaze. "Well, thanks," he added, lifting up the cups he now held in his hands. "I'll see you around?"

"Of course," Mackie replied friendly as ever.

As Reese walked out of the Whirl that day, he felt silly for not realizing sooner why Mackie didn't need rescuing. Mackie hadn't really lost a best friend. Not the way he felt he did when Anna moved away. He was sure Mackie and Maddie still spoke on the phone daily. In fact, he wouldn't be surprised if he ended up being a topic of discussion between the two best friends that night.

Yet despite coming to the realization that he was waiting for the impossible, Reese couldn't stop keeping an eye on her. He felt like a bug irrationally drawn to a bright light. He knew his interest in Mackie was probably borderline obsessive and that he should just turn away, but his desire to know more about her seemed too strong.

As he continued to focus his attention on her, it was hard not to puzzle over the odd migrating habits of Mackenzie Carwyn. It was impossible predict her next move. After spending a week eating with some of the journalism club members, she seemed to have disappeared completely from the cafeteria. When he finally saw her at lunch again, she seemed to almost pick a table at random, sit down and effortlessly meld in with the others at the table in conversation. Every so often, Mackie seemed to stick to a group of people for a few days, but just as it seemed like she had found her niche, she was off somewhere else.

Reese couldn't understand it. When Anna move away, Reese practically clung to Drew. It was probably the reason they were now inseparable best friends. Mackie, on the other hand, didn't attach herself anywhere as if she didn't care to put down new roots. Despite that, it looked like Mackie had a purpose. She seemed to belong nowhere, yet everywhere at the same time. And that only captivated Reese more. He wanted to know her secret. How could she flit around so easily as if she was everyone's best friend as she left a trail of happy laughter wherever she went?

She wasn't happy or laughing now, though. Reese hated how abandoned she looked as Nicci left her with a wave of her fingers, as he began to feel like such a jerk for wishing for this moment. Her gloom left a direct blow to his stomach as he was quickly crossing the room with the sole mission of returning a smile to her face.

For someone who had mulled over this moment for so long, Reese was ashamed to say he had moves as smooth as sandpaper. Lumbering over still with Kelly stubbornly in tow, he had thrust the can of soda he had retrieved for Mackie in front of her face with an abrupt, "Here you are, Mackie."

His efforts, however, seemed to do the trick because a sweet smile took over her face as she took the can from him and thanked him, her eyes clear of any tribulation. Had he been imagining things? He was scrambling to say something more to her when Kelly had cut in with a terse, "Will you dance with me now?"

As if just realizing the other girls presence, Mackie flashed Kelly another of her friendly smiles. She tapped the can she had taken from him. "I've got my drink, so go dance," she urged.

Taking that as her cue, Kelly began tugging more forcefully on Reese's arm as he had no choice but to allow her to pull him away from Mackie. All he was able to convey was a silent 'sorry,' before Kelly had thrown her arms around his neck, leaving him to silently mourn the utter wreck that was meant to have been his moment.

As he noticed that Mackie walked over to happily chat with a few guys at the snack table, showing no signs of her earlier distress, Reese couldn't help but wonder if he was the one who actually wanted rescuing.

AN: Here is the surprise I had alluded to in my last chapter! When I had started writing GSM, I went back and forth between doing the story in first person POV and third person POV. Ultimately, I decided it was Mackie's story to tell, but there are times that I couldn't shove out Reese's voice. So here is the start of a few snippets I hope to show from his perspective...and possibly answer some lingering questions along the way!