A/N: This chapter is like...all dialogue. ugh. Rough drafts are the worst. I hope it's not TOO boring. Let me know if it makes sense.

Chapter 2

If You Can Hear Me

California. Mike had always thought that this is where his dreams would come true. They had, to a certain extent. But some of those dreams turned out to be nightmares. And some of those nightmares had a permanent effect.

Some restaurants he could no longer frequent. Some neighborhoods were best to be avoided. And some hotels he couldn't even look at as he drove past.

"Where is the condo you guys are renting?" Greta asked as she weaved the Jeep in and out of the congested traffic. Mike was trying to not look nervous, she seemed very confident in her abilities.

"Um, about that." Harrison focused on the armrest in the door next to him.

"Harry! I told Clarke you were only staying with us for one night!" Greta took her eyes off the road to scold him and Mike felt his heart stick in his throat as they narrowly missed colliding with a BMW.

"We can stay at a hotel." Mike reassured quickly.

"But I thought you hated to do that. You know, cause of your issues." She didn't look at him in the rear view mirror. No, she turned around to look at him directly. Mike broke into a sweat.

"Don't be rude, Greta." Harrison leisurely reached over and held onto the steering wheel.

"You know, that's the second time today I've been called rude." She looked thoughtful despite half her face being covered by sunglasses. She faced forward again and swatted Harrison's hand off the wheel.

Mike decided to not say anything else. He didn't want to take the chance that she'd turn around to answer him. Whatever he had to say could wait until they were parked and on solid ground again.

Originally, when they had made plans to stay with Harrison's sister, she was living in a small apartment in North Hollywood. After a few phone calls that Mike wasn't privy to, he found out that she had moved in with a roommate and they had to find their own place for the duration of their visit. Harrison was in charge of that. Mike should have double checked.

Nearly an hour later, Greta turned her Jeep into a drive with a large ornate gate blocking the road. Mike took in the opulence of the surrounding neighborhood and broke his earlier resolve to not speak to her while she was driving.

"Where do you work again?"

"This little ice cream place near the pier. I'll show you later." She expertly guided the Jeep through the slow opening gate and turned down a couple of streets before coming to the end of the block and pulling into a driveway.

Mike knew he was staring but he couldn't stop. The stone villa before them had at least three floors, large windows, a multiple car garage, patios, balconies, palm trees. It looked like a place that a movie star would live in, not Harrison's baby sister who served ice cream to tourists and surfed on her days off.

"Maybe I'm missing something, but how do you afford this?" He asked skeptically.

"Oh, it's Clarke's. She makes me pay rent but she technically owns it."

"Is Clarke a doctor?" Mike asked as he grabbed his duffel from next to him. He followed Harrison and Greta to the front door where she paused before opening it.

"No, but her dad was." Small hesitation. Deep breath. "Don't ask her about, okay?"

Both men nodded mutely and she gave a light smile as she pushed the door open.

"All the bedrooms are on the second and third floors." Greta pointed to the stairs leading up immediately to their right as they entered. "This floor has the kitchen, living room, and den." She nodded to the left, "The courtyard is out there. That's where most everyone hangs out cuz it can get kinda cramped when everyone is home."

"How many people are living here?" Harrison asked, eying the size of the place and probably thinking what Mike was thinking. Wow!

"Right now, six." Greta scrunched up her nose. "But tonight with you guys it will be eight."

"I can see why Clarke doesn't want us to stay." Mike said wryly.

"It's not-" Greta softly defended, "she's been really overwhelmed lately. And this is her place and people tend to take advantage of her. She would let you stay in a heartbeat. I'm the one making the rule. I'm rude, remember?"

She led them up to the second floor and to a room almost at the end of the hall. The bright sunlight streaming in through the open windows was refreshing. A queen size bed was centered in the room and a plush couch was against one wall.

"You guys can share the bed if you want or you can flip for the couch." Greta's eyes twinkled with her teasing. "This is my room so please don't do anything gross."

"Where will you be sleeping?" Harrison asked suspiciously.

"I'll bunk with Tatewin. Don't look at at me like that, she's a girl." Greta leaned a shoulder against the door jam as they set their things down. "And before you ask, the dudes all share the loft upstairs. This room at the end of the hall is Clarke's." She motioned to the closed door to her right. "It's strictly off limits."

"House rule?" Mike raised his eyebrows.

"Yeah." Greta rolled her eyes. "More than once I have had to kick Bo's ass when he forgets after they've been partying. Mostly, they're harmless. Super juvenile, but harmless."

She turned and led them back downstairs.

"Where are the other house guests?" Harrison asked and Mike could hear the small undertone of protectiveness that came out.

"The guys are probably out surfing. That's what they do. Tatewin works at a law firm in town, she's a paralegal. And Clarke works at Brookings International, but you probably knew that."

They made in down the stairs and she led them into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.

"Why would we know that?" Mike asked, twisting off the lid to the bottle of water she handed him.

"She runs west coast operations for Shane Brookings." Greta frowned, confused by their confusion.

"Lenny's business partner, Shane Brookings?" Harrison attempted to clarify.

"Yeah. Huh, thought you guys knew." She shrugged it off. "Well, you know now. When do you go to the studio?"

"Sounds like we need to make housing arrangements as soon as possible." Mike gave a disapproving look to Harrison who shrugged, looking exactly as his sister had a few seconds prior.

"Ugh, I would love to have you guys stay here. But Clarke is already stretched pretty thin the way it is. If I could convince Steve to get out and take his homeboys with him, it would be way different around here."

"Do you want me to rough them up for you?" Harrison asked, half-joking.

Greta snickered. "Maybe. I'll think about it. They're Shane's friends so I think Clarke feels like it's part of her job to sort of take care of them. But Shane's back now, so I think she's hoping he'll take care of it." She took out some vegetables and a cutting board.

Mike took a seat on a stool opposite Greta and craned his neck to look outside at the elegant palms that edged the courtyard. The place was truly magnificent, inside and out. He had no idea Greta's living was so posh.

"I just finished getting the place back in order before I came to pick you up. Those boys are messy. I certainly hope you have better manners." She washed a few bell peppers and started to slice them expertly.

"Why are you still serving ice cream?" Harrison asked, his brow furrowed. "I thought you were gonna finish school."

Greta rolled her eyes dramatically. "I'm gonna do that..." she smirked at Mike, "Eventually...probably...maybe."

"Greta!" Harrison growled.

"Oh stop." She snickered. "C'mon, artists can't be rushed. I'd rather be dipping ice cream than trapped in a classroom."

"I told you that you should have stayed in Boston for school. I knew California would be a distraction."

"Right. My brother, the rock star. Who barely finished high school, never even considered college and still somehow made his dreams come true. You're the worst advocate for further learning."

"I worked hard!" Harrison defended adamantly.

"Please, I've seen the behind-the-scenes on the DVDs." Greta's smile stayed wide.

"That's not..." Harrison trailed of and looked to Mike for assistance.

"How is the art coming along, Greta?" Mike asked curiously, not getting sucked into a sibling squabble.

"Good, thank you for asking." She flung her hair over a shoulder indignantly, turning away from Harrison who made a show of looking offended.

Mike laughed out loud at them both. They were always like this but he had only been able to see Greta when they were all home for the holidays. Where Greta's older siblings leaned a little more to the cautious side of things, she was very much a free spirit. Or 'hippie' as her dad would put it. It never seemed to bother her that she marched to the beat of her own personal drummer. A fact Mike appreciated since he did the same, although more literally.

"I heard rumors that you have a degree in physical therapy."

She popped a slice of pepper in her mouth and nodded while she chewed. "Kind of. I'm a certified physical therapy assistant. It's only a two year degree." She spun around and grabbed more food items out of the fridge. "That's actually how I met Clarke. She came into the clinic I was working at and I helped with her injury."

"Wait, you were working at a clinic?" Harrison leaned over the counter and stole a slice of pepper for himself.

"Yeah, but it didn't work out." She waved off their frowns. "It wasn't a big deal. I got bored, went back to the ice cream parlor."

Mike tried to anticipate how many guests would be joining them for dinner based on the amount of food she was preparing. It could be a lot.

"It should just be us and Clarke for dinner. Tatewin is going out with her boyfriend tonight and I don't cook for those other freeloaders." She said as if reading his mind.

"Honey, I'm home!" A strong, female voice echoed in the foyer.

"I'm in the kitchen!" Greta's eyes lit up and she looked at Mike with that same whimsical expression she had been wearing at the airport. "You ready to meet Clarke?"

Mike couldn't help but smile at her. She was still had such a child's spirit in her. Like Harrison. Endearing and adorable. He spun on the stool and stood at the same time as Clarke entered the kitchen.

"Clarke, you know Harrison my brother. This is his friend Michael." Greta introduced without even pausing her dinner preparations.

"Hey, Harry." Clarke leaned in and kissed Harrison's cheek quickly before sticking her hand out for Mike to shake. "Nice to meet you, Michael." Their contact was brief and Mike didn't even have a chance to respond before she excused herself to shower.

"Sorry, I told you, she's been really overwhelmed. She'll probably feel better after her shower." Greta explained apologetically.

Clarke heard Greta's excuse for her abrupt departure on her way upstairs and it caused guilt to settle in her stomach. She resolved to not turn Greta into a liar and decided to be a much friendlier person after she freshened up.

She locked her bedroom door behind her. Even though Bo wasn't there, he had an uncanny ability to detect when she was getting ready to take off her shirt and he'd 'accidentally' walk in on her. She undressed swiftly and locked the door to her bathroom as well. A long hot shower sounded amazing and she had started to daydream about it around lunch time.

Shane had let her go home early. While she had enjoyed being the 'top dog' the past couple of months, it tended to be lonely at the top and she was thankful he was back. It's not that she was a social butterfly, but the added responsibility had made her more inclined to despise people in general.

When Greta had asked if her brother and Mike could stay with them, Clarke had balked at the idea. She didn't trust people with a drug problem in general and she didn't trust Mike Osborn in particular. She knew how the industry worked; studios and PR people could cover up and spin a problem into looking like there wasn't one at all. Sure, the public had been told he was reformed and clean. But was he? Really?

And there was that tiny fact that Greta was her best friend and had vouched for Mike's sobriety. So Clarke resolved to not be the skeptical, prejudiced, self-righteous bitch she had a tendency to be without even thinking about it. Right. After that initial introduction, she was sure doing a bang up job.

She tried not to take too long getting cleaned up. When she excited the bathroom, she could smell whatever it was Greta was cooking downstairs. Best. Housemate. Ever. The girl cooked, cleaned and was crazy fun. She loved that girl and had no idea where she would be now if they would have never met.

Choosing a brown Brookings Int. tank top and white capris, she dressed quickly. A fast coat of mascara, some clear lip gloss and she was finished. Glancing one more time in the mirror, she tried to put on her happy face and was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't completely forced. A hot shower could, indeed, work wonders.

She jogged lightly down the stairs and rejoined the small group in the kitchen, trying to make sure she smiled and gave eye contact to each person individually this time. Hoping to make up for her stand-offish first impression.

"Gah, I wish I could wear white pants. It's not fair how perfect your butt is." Greta complimented over her shoulder as she took glasses out of the cupboard.

"Stop it." Clarke reproved and moved the glasses to the table. "No one has a perfect butt."

"I, actually, do have a perfect butt." Harrison argued as he took his seat at the table. Mike sat next to him, leaving Clarke to sit directly across from him.

Clarke surveyed the table settings, "Do you need to me to get anything else, Garbo?"

"Nope, sit down. I have hot food headed your way."

"Garbo?" Mike asked with a slight smile.

Clarke enjoyed being asked that question. It was the perfect description for their friendship and no one understood it. It didn't matter how many times or ways she explained it, people generally thought they were weird. Plus, it would give her a place to start a conversation she was comfortable with. "She calls me Clark Gable, I call her Greta Garbo. They were in a movie together-"

"Susan Lenox." Mike interrupted, taking Clarke off guard. "It was the role that finally pushed Clark Gable into leading man material."

"Yeah..." Clarke frowned at the center of the table, the wind knocked out of her sails. She wasn't sure how she felt about Mike already having all the details. Disappointed? Impressed?

"Sorry, I shouldn't have interrupted you. I get excited when other people know about classic movies."

"Clarke looooves old movies." Greta finally took her seat and began to pass the salad bowl. "She's always making me stay up late with her and watch all these black and white flicks."

Clarke focused on loading up her plate but she felt eyes on her. She looked up to see Mike studying her.

"Is your name really, Clarke? Or is that a nickname?"

"It's my name." She shot a look to Greta before the girl could respond for her. Clarke was her name. Her middle name.

"Actually," Greta swallowed her bite of food and held up a finger. "Clarke was named after a famous movie star."

If Greta would have been sitting closer, Clarke would have kicked her under the table. Instead, she surrendered to her fate. She was going to be expected to share personal information with the drummer. It was part of polite conversation. It had been so long, she had forgotten the basic principles of small talk.

"No kidding? Don't tell me you were really named after Clark Gable?" Mike's eyes twinkled and Clarke was caught in between liking his smile and hating the fact she liked his smile.

"No, my parents used my mother's maiden name for my middle name. And I started using it as a first name when I began competing in local surfing events." She tried to make it sound like it was boring.

"You gonna tell us what your name is or should I start guessing?" She couldn't tell if he was flirting, but for some reason it flustered her and she felt heat spread into her cheeks.

"You should guess, Michael." Greta goaded him on cheekily.

Mike set his fork down and studied Clarke's face like he was trying to understand a riddle. "What did your parents do for a living?"

Clarke's mouth had started to smile without her permission. She tried to squash it and bit the inside of her cheek to regain control. "My father was a plastic surgeon and my mom was a swimmer."

Mike went slack jawed at her words and his eyes lost focus. At first, Clarke thought maybe he hadn't been listening but then his eyes fixed on her seriously.

"Ava."

Clarke felt her stomach fall to her feet. "How...?"

She turned to Greta who's eyes were wide in surprise.

Mike was looking at her like she'd just stepped off a space ship. She cleared her throat. "Wow, that's impressive. You'll have to teach me that trick someday." She clenched her jaw and knew that her tone had signaled an end to that conversation.

"You like working for Shane?" Harrison easily changed the subject.

"Yeah, he's cool." Clarke chomped into her food, hoping to discourage any more questions toward her specifically without seeming impolite.

"He may be my next project." Greta said slowly, looking at Clarke sideways.

"What? No." Clarke frowned hard. "He's my boss. He can't- no. You can't. You just can't."

"C'mon, Clarke." Greta's eyes pleaded sweetly, "He's so sad and his body is soooo nice." She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. "Mmmm."

"You have a problem." Clarke stabbed her fork into a pepper and tried to look upset but the truth was, Greta was too hilarious to really be mad at.

"What project? What are you talking about?" Harrison sat up straight and narrowed his eyes at his sister.

Greta let out a small chuckle and ignored him. "Did you ask him to get rid of Steve and Company?"

"I mentioned it." Clarke shrugged, her eyes darting up to Mike again who was eating silently.

"What project?" Harrison asked again, this time addressing Clarke.

"Greta finds wounded boys like some people find wounded animals. She takes it upon herself to patch them back up and re-release them into the wild. She gets some good portraits and sometimes a decent sculpture out of the deal. But they usually fall in love a little bit."

"Oh don't make it sound so scandalous. You're an ongoing project, you know." Greta chided lightly.

Mike's chuckle caused Clarke to look back at him. He was hiding his smile with a napkin but it was evident in his eyes.

"I am not a project." She denied, though she had suspected as much over the past couple of months. Greta couldn't not try to help people. She just wanted everyone to be as happy as she was.

The rest of the dinner progressed pleasantly. Greta made more than enough food but Mike and Harrison polished it off easily. Mike brought up a few of his favorite films and Clarke was finding it difficult to maintain her hardline decision of disliking him before she met him.

When they were finished eating, Mike got up to clear the table and Harrison volunteered to wash the dishes. Greta and Clarke took seats on the stools at the island to watch them.

"Did that guy ever call you back, Michael?" Greta asked.

Mike was tall, Clarke noted. Not as tall as Shane but tall enough to make the kitchen feel smaller. And he was fit and healthy, his jeans hugged his waist snugly and his short sleeve tee was fitted enough to show the definition of his shoulders and chest. She swallowed hard and looked away quickly when he caught her looking at him.

He took his phone out of his pocket, checked the screen and made a face. "Not yet. He might not call until tomorrow."

Greta looked concerned and Clarke questioned, "What guy?"

"Oh, my brother did not get a place to stay for the duration of their visit. So Michael has been trying to find something all afternoon."

"Why can't you get a hotel?" Clarke asked though she suspected she knew why. And the comfortable feeling she had been having with Mike was suddenly gone again as she remembered why she didn't like him in the first place. He was a dope fiend. He was a user. He used to hole up in Hollywood hotels with easily misled starlets and push the limits of what the human body could handle. Sure, he seemed like the All-American boy right now, but he had a problem. One that she couldn't overlook.

A commotion at the front door signaled the arrival of Steve, Bo and Brady. Clarke closed her eyes and put her head face-down on the counter top.

"When did my house become the home for wayward boys?" She asked no one.

"Don't worry about it." Mike stepped over to her and put his face next to hers on the counter. She turned her head sideways so she was looking at him. His blue eyes were clear and bright. This close, she could smell the hint of aftershave. It was weirdly comforting. "We promised one night. We can get a hotel."

"What about all your...?" She didn't know how to finish that sentence. She also didn't know why she hadn't straightened back up and was continuing to talk Mike sideways on the counter. She sort of felt like they were having a private conversation even though Harrison and Greta were right there.

"I can deal." His mouth ticked up on one side in a smile. "You have a lovely home. I'm particularly fond of the tile on this island."

Clarke couldn't hold back the smile that escaped at his joke. She righted herself just as Steve and Bo breezed into the kitchen.

"Did you make any food for us, Garbo?" Steve asked as he opened the refrigerator.

"I have a theory that if I stop feeding you, you'll go away." Greta deadpanned.

Bo circled around and pushed his body in between Greta and Clarke, bringing a hand to settle on the small of Clarke's back. He tugged at the ends of her wavy hair.

"How's the girl with the porn star hair?" He asked and Clarke could smell the beer on his breath.

"Go away, Bo." She warned. Mike on her other side gave her a concerned look and she shook her head at him subtly.

Bo leaned closer, his hot breath causing her nose to scrunch. "I saw a bikini today that you would look great in. When you gonna get rid of that boring one piece?"

Clarke rolled her eyes and slipped off the side of the stool in Mike's direction. "And that's my cue to leave." She went to step around Mike and he caught her eye as she did.

She paused in front of him, "It was really nice meeting you. I wish the circumstances could be different." Like, maybe if you weren't an addict and I wasn't so hung up on that small fact. "Too bad my home has been converted into a bad interpretation of the Real World House."

He chuckled lightly at her joke but looked like he had so much more to say. He ducked his head slightly, his eyes checking Bo's presence. "Goodnight, Ava. Maybe I'll see you again soon."

The use of her first name caused her heart to stall briefly. She hadn't expected that kind of a reaction. She gave a half-smile before hugging Harrison and jogging quickly up the stairs.

Mike laid awake on the couch in the room he was sharing with Harrison. He could hear Steve, Bo and Brady drinking in the courtyard below him. They were loud but like Greta had said earlier, harmless.

Knowing Ava or Clarke or whatever her name was was sleeping in the room right next door is what was really causing him to stay alert. She didn't trust him, he could see it in her eyes. And he knew it was all his fault.

Would he have made some of the choices he had back then if he would have known the long term repercussions? If he knew that one more hit would mean not being able to have a longer conversation with a kick-ass girl like Ava? He had no way of knowing. All he could do was keep moving forward.