"Quit moving," Danica reprimanded, batting away Katya's nervous, agitated fingers while she bustled around Katya.
Katya did not respond; instead, she swallowed and forced herself not to straighten her top for the fifth time.
"Shelly, would you pass me the hairbrush?" Danica called over her shoulder.
"Hold on a minute," Shelly responded from her relaxed position on Katya's bed. Out of the corner of Katya's eye she could see Shelly biting her fingernail thoughtlessly as she flipped through a magazine. "I'm trying to figure out if I have cankles or not."
Danica's expression was both bewildered and exasperated. "You do not have cankles, Shelly. Why are you reading those magazines anyway? They're all trash."
"They're not!" Shelly defended hotly. "These magazines are honest compared to you girls."
Danica's brow furrowed, her mouth moving around a bobby pin stuck between her lips. "What are you talking about?"
"Why didn't you guys tell me I have thunder thighs?" Shelly wailed while rising up to her knees, and shaking the magazine in her hand emphatically.
Danica shook her head in amusement. "Shelly you're thighs are fine. They're beautiful. You're beautiful."
Shelly made a face at Danica, before flopping back onto Katya's bed. "You're just saying that 'cause you have to. My legs are huge."
"Your legs are muscular."
"I'm bottom heavy."
In an uncharacteristic manner, Shelly sat up to throw Danica a scathing look. "You don't have to sugar coat anything for me. I can take it. Just admit it, already. My butt is ginormous and if it gets any bigger it's going to have its own gravitational force."
Danica smiled softly as if pitying her for not noticing her own brilliance. "Shelly, you're gorgeous. Every part of you. Even you're legs. So what if they're not stick thin? You're the best base a cheerleader could ask for. And when we condition, you're always squat more than Kat and I combined. You're legs are awesome."
Shelly was very quiet for a moment before she said in a small voice, "Thanks, Danica."
Danica laughed in response, before walking back to Katya. "No problem, Shells. Now quit PMS-ing and get me the hairspray."
Katya could hear the sheets of her bed rustling as Shelly stood up and muttered in a sullen, nearly inaudible tone, "I wouldn't be PMS-ing if there was some goddamn chocolate in this house."
Katya laughed while Danica touched up Katya's hair.
"You look nice," Danica finally said in a soft tone, that had Katya's mouth forming into an almost-smile. Shelly made a sound of agreement as she reentered the room with a hairspray can in hand.
Katya met Danica's gaze and replied in a quiet and humble tone. "Thanks."
Danica's mouth tightened, before she fluffed Katya's hair one last time. Turning to look over at Shelly, Danica asked, "What do you think?"
Shelly looked up from her magazine and her mouth immediately broke out into a large grin.
"Oh my gosh, Kat you look amazing." In a pleasantly surprised tone, Shelly commented, "Dang you really know how to use a curling iron."
Danica smiled proudly, before aiming hairspray at Katya's head. "Thank you. I try."
"Theo will not know what hit him," Shelly giggled after getting up to inspect Katya closer.
Katya tried to smile, but it came out as more of a grimace which Danica noticed. Katya heard Danica sigh deeply before she set down her hair brush and hairspray can.
"Kat, are you okay?" Danica asked, her voice full of concern. "Ever since we got here, your energy has been way off."
"What she means," Shelly cut in, while throwing a look at Danica, "is that you don't seem like you want to go to Jazz's house for dinner."
Before Katya could respond, Danica said, in a low mutter, "I think it's the feng shui of this room. It's all wrong. I'm getting some really bad vibes."
Katya couldn't help but laugh at Danica's worried thoughts. "Danica, my bedroom is fine. I just― I don't know. I don't really mind dinner. It's just that Theo is going to be there."
"That's kind of the point," Danica replied, looking at Katya with a bemused look.
"I know it is," Katya sighed, before idly twisting her fingers together. "I-I just―"
"You're nervous, Kat. That's fine! It doesn't happen to me that often, but that's totally normal," Shelly reassured.
There was a pause while Katya and Danica both shot Shelly incredulous looks while she maintained an oblivious smile. After the pause extended into an awkward silence, Shelly's smile drooped and she said, "What?"
Danica snapped out of her daze and ignored Shelly's question. "Nevermind. You're right. It's okay to be nervous. But don't worry. If anything happens at least Jazz is going to be there."
"Yeah, that's true," Katya conceded, while slowly untangling her fingers and letting them hang at her sides.
"Hey," Danica said, while ducking down to catch Katya's eye. "Everything is going to be fine."
When Katya smiled, it was much more believable. "Thanks for the pep talk."
Danica waved away her gratitude. "Anytime, Kitty Kat. Now let's get this show on the road!"
Katya smiled before following Shelly and Danica downstairs.
The first time Rocky saw Danica's car, she said that it was like Danica's personality had thrown up all over the upholstery.
For one thing, Danica drove a bright yellow Volkswagen beetle that seemed to always blare her new age, hippie music. In the backseat, she kept a throw blanket with a large hamsa design on it and a spare deck of tarot cards. Prayer beads hung from the rearview mirror and the entire car smelled strongly of sandalwood and incense.
Although the drive to Jazlynn's house was not a very long one, Katya felt like she had been in the car for ages and it was starting to make her anxious. The compact design of the car didn't help either.
"So has anyone heard from Maisy?" Danica asked, effectively breaking the comfortable silence that had fallen over the car.
Katya saw Shelly shake her head from the backseat, and Katya bit her lip worriedly. Danica sighed when she noticed Katya's expression, and tightened her fingers over the steering wheel.
"I'm sure she's okay," Shelly said softly.
"She hasn't been answering my texts," Danica replied, while glancing at Shelly through the rearview mirror, Danica's teeth worrying her lip.
Katya paused before saying, "I think her parents might have taken away her cell phone."
"That has happened before," Shelly conceded.
Danica let out another sigh as she pulled onto Jazlynn's street, and Katya forced herself to smile reassuringly. "She'll be fine. We'll see her soon enough."
"Yeah," Danica nodded in agreement as she pulled into Jazlynn's driveway. "I guess."
"So, are you ready?" Shelly asked Katya curiously, while Danica shifted her car into park.
Katya nodded hesitantly while Danica turned the car off, her eyes drifting to large house. "Sure."
"You'll be fine," Danica repeated confidently. "Besides, it's just dinner."
Katya parroted Danica's firm nod and echoed, "It's just dinner."
Shelly and Danica bid Katya goodbye as she opened the door and clambered out. She stood unusually still as she waved at the reversing car, before turning slowly to face the loominghouse.
Katya exhaled audibly before stalking up the porch steps, and ringing the doorbell.
"Hey! I was wondering when you were going to arrive," Jazz greeted enthusiastically before ushering Katya inside. "I love what you did with your hair. You look gorgeous."
"Thanks. Danica did my hair," Katya replied, while touching the soft curls self-consciously. Ironically, Katya always felt a streak of insecurity whenever Jazz complimented her appearance since Jazz was so effortlessly beautiful herself.
Jazz batted Katya's hand away, before guiding Katya toward the kitchen. Jazlynn's kitchen always looked bright and clean with the stark white cupboards, stainless steel appliances, and cream colored granite countertops.
Katya looked around absentmindedly, before sitting down at one of the barstools that lined the kitchen island. "Where are your parents?"
"My mom is still upstairs getting ready," Jazz replied while rummaging in the kitchen cupboard for two glasses. "And my dad is in the basement picking out some wine."
Katya smiled in gratitude when Jazz poured her a glass of soda. "So is it just Theo's family that's coming?"
"I think some of my dad's work friends are coming, but I'm not sure."
Katya nodded, while swirling the contents of her drink thoughtfully. Jazz, picking up on her friend's silence, cleared her throat and asked in a softer tone. "Are you okay?"
Katya's head jerked up to meet Jazlynn's concerned gaze, and she smiled tightly. "I'm fine."
Jazz frowned skeptically. "It's okay to be worried."
Katya's hand tightened around her glass, and she couldn't help the terse tone of her voice when she asked, "Why does everyone keep saying that?"
"It's cause you look like a nervous wreck," Jazz replied with a small chuckle. Upon seeing Katya's tense expression, Jazz sobered up and questioned her. "Kat, what's the matter?"
Katya bit her lip, her eyes focusing on the fizzy bubbles that spread through her drink. "Theo kissed me."
"What?" Jazz shrieked, causing Katya's head to snap up in surprise. "Where? When? How?"
Katya quirked an amused eyebrow at Jazlynn's last question, and she rushed to clarify, "How was it?"
Katya couldn't help but giggle at Jazlynn's animated reaction. "It was...it was nice. Really nice." Katya trailed off for a moment as she relived the memory. Her cheeks warmed and she forced herself not to smile like an idiot. "He's a damn good kisser, Jazz."
Jazz squealed so loud in response, that Katya reflexively stiffened.
"I can't believe it!" Jazz yelled shrilly, her voice reaching certain decibels that made Katya cringe. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"I-It just happened," Katya stammered out, shoving away the guilt that suddenly flooded through her system. "It was when we were volunteering at the library. The day before the football game."
"You should have told me," Jazz accused, while settling her hands on her hips. It was such an aggressively stubborn action, that Katya immediately felt defensive.
"There was a lot happening with the game and Maisy," Katya retorted lamely, while ducking her head to stare at the glass in her hand.
Jazz narrowed her eyes at Katya's excuse, but softened when Katya mentioned Maisy. "Yeah that was awful, huh? I hope she's doing alright. I haven't heard a word from her since. Have you?"
"No," Katya shook her head. "I haven't talked to Gwen either."
They were both lost in thought before Jazz spoke up once more. "Have you talked to Tasha recently?"
Katya's pinned her with a bemused look as the conversation took a turn in a different direction. "Not really, why?"
Jazz shrugged offhandedly, but Katya could tell something was bothering her. "No reason. She...she keeps dropping my calls. I think she's been ignoring me."
"What happened?" Katya asked curiously, her eyes searching Jazlynn's weary expression.
"I think she's mad because I keep telling her to talk to her mom about her eating...habits," Jazz admitted.
Katya's lips tightened in worry as she remembered the way Tasha wouldn't eat anything when they went to get ice cream after the football game. "But I thought she wanted to get better. I thought she was getting better."
Jazz nodded quickly, "She is getting better, and she's been talking to the school therapist―"
"Won't the therapist tell her mother?" Katya interrupted.
Jazz lifted one shoulder in a vague manner. "Normally they tell the student's parents and break the confidentiality agreement if they think the student is in danger―"
Katya gripped her glass a bit harder, "Tasha's mom needs to know about this."
"I totally agree with you," Jazz quickly replied. "But I don't think Tasha's been telling her therapist the full truth. So right now therapist has to follow the confidentiality agreement
because she doesn't think Tasha's case is...well, extreme enough."
Katya sighed before rubbing her temples. "I can't imagine how hard it is to tell your mother something like that."
Jazz sighed in agreement, and Katya quickly said, "I'll try talking to her."
"Thanks, Katya," Jazz smiled gratefully.
There was a brief moment of silence before Jazz spoke up again. "I still don't get why you're so nervous about this dinner. If you kissed Theo, isn't that a good thing?"
Katya shrugged, before idly twirling the glass with fingers. "I haven't really talked to him since then."
"Well do you want to be with him?" Jazz asked curiously, her voice wary.
Katya's teeth worried her lip, her eyes looking everywhere but at Jazz. "I don't know."
Katya heard Jazz sigh from above her, causing her to tilt her head and meet Jazlynn's steady gaze. "I think you should give him a chance. He can be a real sweetheart."
Katya's mouth dipped down into an unconscious frown. "How long have you known him?"
"Not too long," Jazz replied, while tilting her head in thought. "His dad started working with mine back when we were freshmen."
Something hot and acrid streaked through Katya's chest causing her to reply in an uncharacteristically bittermanner. "Four years is a long time."
Katya immediately regretted her words as soon as they left her mouth. She was hoping Jazz wouldn't make much of her comment, but that wasn't the case.
Instead, Jazz laughed loudly before shooting Katya a knowing look, that was almost patronizing. "Kitty Kat, don't start."
Katya had the gall to look sheepish, and she turned her attention back to her knitted fingers. However, her heart lurched into her throat when Jazz said in a softer voice, "You should see the way he looks at you."
Katya's head jerked up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"It's like he can't take his eyes off of you," Jazz replied with a small smile. "It's actually quite endearing."
Katya brushed off Jazlynn's comment with a dismissive wave of her hand, but before she could say anything else the doorbell rang.
Both girls turned their head toward the front door, and Katya's stomach flipped in anticipation. They could hear the sound of heels clicking down the stairs before Jazlynn's mother opened the door.
"Katya, listen," Jazz started quickly, her voice dropping down to a low whisper. "You're my best friend and I love you, but you're an idiot if you're going to throw everything away with Theo because you're a little scared. He really likes you and it's obvious that you're happy with him, so I say just go for it."
Just as Katya opened her mouth to reply, someone else stepped into the kitchen and spoke up. "Hey."
Katya's spine straightened at the sound of Theo's voice, and her head was still spinning from Jazlynn's advice. Turning to face him with a small smile, Katya greeted him pleasantly. "Hey."
Theo grinned and her heart skipped a beat before doubling in rhythm. Katya was so used to seeing him in casual clothes, that she couldn't help but trail her eyes over his formal attire. A crisp dark gray button down was tucked into jeans and everything about him was angled and clean cut and he looked so incredibly handsome.
When he approached her, his eyes seemed darker than usual as they roamed over her figure. "You look nice."
Katya's smile widened as she smoothed a hand over her lilac colored dress. She was just about to thank him when Jazz beat her to the punch.
"Aw thanks Theo, you're too kind," Jazz joked good-naturedly before handing him a soda.
Theo managed to look embarrassed as he ran his hand through his closely cropped hair. "Sorry Jazz. You look nice too."
She waved his apology away, laughing slightly. "It's okay, Rodgers. I was just teasing you."
"Honey, be nice to our guests," Jazlynn's mom scolded playfully as she strode through the kitchen. Similar to Jazz, Mrs. Reid was a tall, thin, and stunning woman. Her black hair was cropped just below her shoulders which seemed to emphasize her high cheekbones and compliment her dark complexion.
Jazz scoffed in response to her mother, before helping her with the dishes that had been set out on the counter. "I am on my best behavior, mother."
Mrs. Reid smiled in amusement at her only daughter before turning to greet Katya and Theo. "It's nice seeing you two again. I'm so glad you're staying for dinner."
"You're cooking is the best, Mrs. Reid. I wouldn't miss this dinner for anything," Theo complimented in a charming manner, before moving around the island to take the tray of food from her hands.
Mrs. Reid laughed at his response. "Don't let your mother hear you say that, Theo."
Theo merely grinned in response, before carrying the tray into the dining room. For a moment, all three girls watched him exit the kitchen.
"What a gentleman," Mrs. Reid sighed in a wistful manner that had Jazz snorting. Mrs. Reid shot her a sharp look, causing Jazz to quickly cough in an attempt to cover up her snort.
While Mrs. Reid busied herself with the other dishes of food, Jazz whispered to Katya under her breath, "He's the son she never had."
"I heard that Jazlynn," Mrs. Reid reprimanded, much to Jazlynn's chagrin. "You know, my hearing isn't as bad as you think it is."
Jazz shot her a cheeky grin. "I like to keep you on your toes. Isn't hearing one of the first things that gets worse as you grow older?"
Mrs. Reid rolled her eyes, but didn't bother smothering her exasperated smile. "Don't be smart with me, young lady. Now hurry up and take these bowls to the dining room."
Jazz and Katya quickly sprang to action and helped her out with the pitchers of water and pots full of food. Jazz grumbled the entire time as she disappeared to the dining room, carrying a particularly heavy dish.
Katya was about to follow her out when Mrs. Reid suddenly asked, "How have you been Katya?"
"Good. Everything is good," Katya replied, shifting her weight between her feet. She was suddenly nervous in the presence Mrs. Reid who could be quite intimidating when she wanted to be.
"That's nice," Mrs. Reid smiled widely, before continuing. "You and Theo make a cute pair. How long have you been together?"
For a moment Katya thought she was going to drop the dish that she was holding. "Wha-What? We-we're not...we're not―"
"Oh! My mistake," Mrs. Reid interrupted, looking embarrassed. "It just seemed like―"
"No, no we're just friends," Katya finally ground out, her cheeks flushed pink.
At her words, Mrs. Reid's eyebrow quirked up in a knowing manner, her mouth curling into a dubious smile. "Oh okay. If you say so."
Katya opened her mouth to respond, but, at that moment, Jazz popped her head into the kitchen, her mouth turned down in a light frown. "Mom, quit interrogating my friends."
Mrs. Reid winked covertly at Katya before huffing to Jazz in a haughty manner. "I was doing no such thing."
Jazz rolled her eyes good-naturedly and beckoned for both of them to hurry up. Both Katya and Mrs. Reid followed her out into the dining room.
Once they got to the dining room, Katya immediately noticed that the only seat open was the one directly across from Theo who sat near the end of the table.
With a tight smile, Katya quickly set down her bowl of food, and took a seat next to Jazz, who sat in between her mother and Katya. Although the table was big enough to fit eight people, Katya still felt cramped.
"Alright everyone, help yourselves!" Mrs. Reid declared as she set the last dish on the table and took her seat near her husband, who sat at the head of the table.
Katya automatically went for the dish in front of her, and her fingers brushed against Theo's.
"Oh, sorry," Katya apologized, wrenching her hand away from his.
"No it's okay. Go ahead."
"No, seriously it's fine."
Out of the corner of her eyes, Katya could see Jazz roll her eyes and mutter a quiet, "Oh for god's sake."
When Katya pulled her attention back to Theo, he was looking at her with a certain intensity that made her want to squirm in her seat.
Finally he beckoned to her and said, "Give me your plate."
He raised his eyebrows, his tone leaving no room for disagreement. Her mouth was turned down in a frown, but she silently handed him her plate without much fuss.
"Tell me when," he directed, as he spooned some pasta onto her plate.
After she was happy with the amount on her plate, she told him to stop and he handed her plate back with a small smile that had her blushing.
Fortunately the rest of dinner went on without many interactions between her and Theo and Katya was able to slowly relax in her seat, her nerves disappearing with every bite of Mrs. Reid's delicious food.
Since Jazz, Theo, and she were located on one end of the table, they discussed the upcoming football game, while Mrs. Reid and Mrs. Rogers gossiped about their mutual friends and Mr. Reid and Mr. Rodgers discussed work.
"So are you guys excited about the next football game? It's an away game right?" Jazz asked curiously while looking at both Katya and Theo.
"I heard that the team we're playing is really good this year," Theo replied, before spearing a piece of chicken.
"Have we played them before?" Katya asked, before lifting her glass of water to her lips.
Theo nodded before wiping his mouth with his napkin. "Yeah we have. We lost pretty bad last year."
"Oh," Jazz said, wincing at her memory, "I think I know which team you're talking about."
Katya frowned at Jazlynn's expression, and, as head cheerleader, she felt obligated to say, "It's okay. We'll crush them this year."
When Jazz did not reply, Katya's gaze swung to Theo ―who was already staring at her― and she pinned him with a challenging look. "Right?"
His mouth broke out into a beautiful, wide smile and he nodded with a certain conviction that inspired confidence. "Yeah, of course we will."
The way his eyes trained on her when he spoke, made her stomach flip and fold in on itself. She couldn't help but turn away from him and direct her gaze to the plate in front of her; Katya did not think that she would ever get used to being the center of his attention. It was too much, too much.
For a brief moment, a silence hung over the three of them while they ate their food and listened to what the adults were saying. Katya paid more attention to Mr. Rogers who would have looked strikingly similar to Theo if it was not for the stern expression on his face.
However, towards the end of dinner, he appeared more comfortable since he had a couple of glasses of wine by that point. At some point, Jazz got dragged into the conversation between her mother and Mrs. Rogers, which left Theo and Katya to speak to one another.
Something nudged Katya's foot, and she looked up from her plate and raised her eyebrows at Theo. "What?"
His normally easy-going smile was turned down at the corners. "What's the matter with you?"
"Me?" Katya repeated in surprise. "Nothing. What are you talking about?"
If anything, Theo frowned further. "You've been acting weird."
"No I haven't," Katya countered quickly. Her hasty response only hindered her point.
For a minute Theo was quiet as he played with his food, his eyes tilted away from Katya's stare. When he looked up, his mouth was turned up into an amused smile.
"So you're not mad at me?"
Part of her wanted to ask him why she would be mad in the first place, but she was scared that would lead to a conversation about their actions in the library. Instead, Katya hid her smile behind her napkin as she wiped her mouth.
When she finished, she replied, "No I'm not mad." There was a brief second of silence before Katya asked, "Are you mad at me?"
"No," Theo's smile widened into a large smirk that had Katya's heart skipping a beat. "But I will be mad if you don't tell me what my guardian angel gift is."
Katya laughed for the first time that night, erasing whatever tension was left between them. "It's supposed to be a surprise, Theo."
"I don't know if you forgot, but the identity of my guardian angel is also supposed to be as surprise, Katya," Theo retorted good-naturedly. When Katya didn't respond, Theo leaned forward and continued to press her. "C'mon, just give me a hint."
Katya stifled a giggle, before shaking her head. "I'm not telling you. There's nothing that you can do to convince me otherwise.
"Really?" Theo countered, his eyebrow arching up in a challenging manner. His expression was wicked when he asked provokingly, "There's absolutely nothing I can do?"
Katya's mouth opened, but she closed it abruptly when he continued to pin her with his intense stare. Heat crawled up her neck, and she struggled to say something. Beside her, Jazz cleared her throat as she stood up to put away the plates, and Katya immediately stood up with her.
Most of the adults were already exiting the kitchen and retreating to the living room with desert in their hands. Just as Katya and Theo were putting their empty plates in the sink, Jazz was disappearing from the kitchen to return to the living room, leaving Katya and Theo alone.
Averting her gaze from Theo, Katya grabbed one of the smaller plates on the counter and helped herself to a slice of cheesecake that was on the kitchen island. She sensed, rather than saw, Theo come up next to her.
Her eyes darted up to meet his, before she handed him the plate of cheesecake she had just cut.
"Katya―" Theo sighed, before breaking off. Something about his tone had Katya's heart lurching into her throat. Whatever easy-going atmosphere they had created back in the dining room had disappeared.
She forced her hand to stay steady as she cut off another slice of cheesecake for herself. "Yeah?"
When she was finished, she looked up and noticed that he was much closer than before. Something about his proximity reminded her about their incident in the library, and she felt her cheeks flush at the memory.
"Are we-are we good?" Theo asked, his voice soft and hesitant. She wanted to smooth away the furrow in his brow; instead, she turned to set the knife down on the counter.
"Yeah," Katya replied, her expression bemused as she took a step away from him.
Theo laughed lowly, and the sound of it made Katya's heart thud against her ribcage. Hard. When Theo spoke up, his voice was frustrated. "Then why do you look like I'm going to attack you?"
Katya forced herself not to take another step backward. "I-I―" Something about his frustrated tone, spurred her own irritation. "You have no concept of personal space!"
She didn't mean to sound angry. She really didn't. But whatever intentions she had seemed irrelevant when Theo scoffed in response. "You have got to be kidding me. I'm pretty sure the concept of personal space flew out the window when we made out in the library."
Katya crossed her arms, inexplicably aggravated with his tone and the fact that he brought up their kiss. Everything he said held a condescending edge that grated on her nerves. "What are you trying to say."
Theo's mouth was slanted in a harsh line, and he rubbed his forehead irritably. "God you're so―"
His voice broke off and he finally said, "So what? That's it? We kissed and that's all?"
At his acknowledgment of their kiss, something inside Katya warred within her to either fight or flight. Katya's hands curled into fists, and, despite her indignant anger, there was a certain level of desperation that she couldn't hid when she replied. "What do you want me to say?"
Everything was slowly unraveling out of control. It was almost as if Katya could physically feel Theo's building temper, and it only seemed to incite her own impatient rage.
"I want you to say something. Anything. For god's sake you've been avoiding me ever since it happened." When Katya made a move to contradict him, Theo cut her off with a harsh glare. "Don't act like you haven't, Katya. That's bullshit and we both know it."
Katya wanted to shout and scream, and there was something burning inside her chest just aching to get out. But at Theo's words, she closed off her expression, and her lips tightened into a stoic, quiet line.
His voice was low and quick and filled with the same sort of arrogance that Katya initially hated. "Look, as much as you pretend you don't care, I know you do. Whatever happened between us meant something―"
"Shut up, Theo," Katya interrupted, her voice a short, harsh sound that even surprised her. She was so tired of people telling her what to do. Telling her how she felt.
"What are you so afraid of?" Theo countered, his voice void of anger, leaving only concern behind. It was his tone that made her back away, and close off even more. Suddenly, fatigue flooded through her system and all she wanted to do was curl into bed. She hated fighting with him.
For a moment they were silent as Theo stared at her expectantly, and Katya stared back at him emotionlessly. When she finally spoke, her voice was flat. "Just eat your fucking cheesecake, Theo."
She attempted to sidestep him, but he simply blocked her path and pinned her with a hard look, anger surging through him. Quick and fierce. Like it never left. "Quit running away, Katya. For once, just give me a straight answer."
"Fine!" Katya retorted angrily, her cheeks heating up and her temper spiking to an unbearable degree. "You want a straight answer? I don't want anything to do with you! Just leave me alone!"
Theo faltered, as if she had physically pushed him away. The anger left his expression so quickly, that it surprised Katya. Doubt crawled through her chest, as she watched as disbelief coated his expression.
"Are you serious?" Theo finally ground out, his voice steely and chilling. His shoulders were tensed, and his posture was rigid in expectation.
No, no, no, no. Katya's spine straightened, and she tilted her head to meet his eyes properly. Even as regret yanked at her vocal chords, she mustered enough vexation to say, "Did I stutter?"
Theo let out a bark of a laugh that was awful and self-deprecating and unwound something inside her.
"I thought you―" he broke off with a shake of his head. Like he couldn't believe his own stupidity. His voice was monotonous when he finally spoke. "Nevermind. I'm sorry. I won't bother you, anymore."
Katya's mouth parted open before she promptly shut it. She watched as Theo grabbed his plate of cheesecake with both hands and walked stiffly back to the living room. Without another word, and without any ceremony he was gone. He was done with her.
Katya bit her lip as she picked up her own plate, trying to stop the sudden rising emotion that swelled in her stomach, her chest, her throat. Everything was so much, too much. Her hands shook, and she tightened her grip as if it was the only thing that kept her from untangling. Blinking rapidly, Katya breathed in deeply and forced a smile on her face before joining everyone else.
Katya hated traveling to other schools for football games.
What's the matter? What's the matter? What's the matter? She felt like a part of her was fraying apart, and she was trying so hard to hold everything together inside of her. To put on her game face and act the part of head cheerleader when all she wanted to do was curl up in bed. There was no ounce of pep left in her spirits, and it was a wonder that she managed to appear somewhat normal to her other teammates.
The day was particularly awful for traveling to an away game. Partly because the bus was excruciatingly hot and no matter how close she got to the open windows, it wasn't enough to cool her down. Mostly because she could see the back of Theo's head a few rows ahead of her, and she could not take her eyes off of him. Something inside of her was obsessing over him. Aching. Pulling apart her pieces until she was all jumbled up inside.
She huffed, and angled her body away from his direction. Katya was never one to feel claustrophobic, but suddenly, it felt like the bus didn't have enough space, didn't have enough air. She moved to crack the window down further, but it was stuck and she didn't have enough energy to do anything about it.
"Hey, are you okay?" Rocky asked from the seat behind her, shooting her an strange look once she sat back down irritably.
She felt like screaming. Felt like ripping apart the upholstery of the bus. Felt like tearing her surroundings down until there was nothing left but rubble and dust and exhaust.
It was nothing less than agony being so close and so far away from Theo and feeling the space between them stretch into an insurmountable chasm that she could never hope to bridge. And maybe she was being melodramatic, but she felt like her emotional attitude was justified considering her circumstances. (Plus, she didn't give enough shits to do anything about her theatrical mood. Although the day had just begun, she had very little tolerance for much of anything.)
"I'm fine," Katya replied shortly, even though she was anything but fine. Even though she was restless and reckless and incapable of calming the turbulence that swelled through her ribcage.
Rocky's expression was full of doubt when she responded. "Okay, if you say so."
Perhaps, the worst part of her anxious misery was the fact that she had essentially brought this upon herself. Theo was right. She cared about what happened between them. And she could only blame herself for that.
Beside Katya, Maisy shot her a small smile, and reached over to squeeze her hand. It took her a moment, but Katya soon shot her a grateful grin and squeezed her hand back.
"I like your hair," Katya commented, after a moment of comfortable silence.
Maisy patted her hair in self-conscious fashion, her cheeks flushing under Katya's careful scrutiny. "Thank you. Gwen did it."
"Really?" Katya asked, her voice both impressed and surprised by Maisy's revelation. Although Maisy's hair was pulled into a high ponytail like the rest of the girls, Gwen had braided Maisy's bangs so that it followed along the side of her head before joining with the rest of the ponytail.
"Yeah, she's good at braids," Maisy trailed off, while her gaze fell to her lap.
"I can tell. She did a good job," Katya replied honestly, while eyeing Maisy's hair one last time. Her voice lowered in concern when she asked, "So how is everything between you guys?"
Maisy's deep brown eyes snapped up to meet Katya's, and she smiled in reassurance. "Gwen and I are great. It's just that my parents are..."
"Are they still mad?" Katya interrupted worriedly, shifting to face Maisy better.
Maisy shook her head. "We talked about it and I think they're okay now. Even though they're strict, they still love me. No matter who I date, they still love me at the end of the day."
"That's good," Katya nodded supportively, genuinely happy for her friend.
Maisy shot her a quick smile. "Yeah, I think it took them a while to process everything. But once they did, things were a lot better between us."
"That's really awesome, Maisy. I'm so happy for you," Katya smiled widely, before reaching over to give Maisy a swift side hug.
"Thanks, Kat. I'm just glad that I don't have to keep lying to them," Maisy explained, regret crossing over her features.
"Hey don't beat yourself up about what happened in the past. The good thing is that you're being honest with them now," Katya reassured.
Maisy nodded in agreement before she turned to Katya expectantly. "Nevermind about me. What about you? How have you been?"
Katya couldn't help it when her gaze flickered over to Theo. "Um, I've been good. Yeah. Really good."
Maisy's eyebrows contracted in bemusement, but before she could question Katya further, Rocky's head popped up over their seat.
"Kat, you need to get me out of here. Now," Rocky asserted aggressively. There was a certain edge to her voice that had Katya turning around in concern.
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Danica keeps going on about the game and how we're doomed to loose," Rocky bemoaned. "I swear to god, if she says one more word about her tarot cards or horoscope predictions I will smack a bitc―"
"Rocky!" Katya interrupted, before lowering her voice down to a more suitable level. "Just ignore Danica. You know how she gets before football games. She can be a little...high strung."
Rocky rolled her eyes in such a belligerent manner, that it was a wonder her eyes didn't stick in that position. "Oh trust me Kitty Kat, you haven't seen 'high strung' until you take a good look at Shelly over there."
Out of sheer curiosity, Katya raised herself from her seat to peer around Rocky at Danica and Shelly who sat across them. Danica's head was buried in a thick book that was titled How to Spiritually Cleanse, Revive, and Unite the Chakras. Meanwhile, Shelly was tipping back a small vial of liquid, before shaking her head in disgust.
"What the hell is Shelly drinking?" Katya asked, her expression bewildered.
Rocky sneered before glancing back at Shelly and Danica.
"It's some herbal tonic that Danica gave her. 'For her nerves' she said." Rocky scoffed in a tone that said she thought Danica was full of bullshit. "I bet you twenty bucks that it's just vodka."
"Rocky!" Maisy and Katya protested in unison, while Rocky laughed delightedly.
"If they're bothering you so much, why don't you switch with Jazz?" Katya finally said diplomatically, while nodding to the window seat beside Rocky.
"She's dead asleep right now," Rocky frowned. Suddenly her mouth widened into a wicked grin, and, she whispered conspiratorially, "Hey, Maisy do you have a sharpie I could borrow?"
"Rocky," Katya warned, while shooting her a glare.
Rocky pouted. "What? I wasn't going to do anything that bad."
Katya rolled her eyes, before looking around at the other cheerleaders. "Where's Tasha? You can go sit with her."
Rocky just pointed a thumb to the seat behind her where Tasha sat alone. Much like Danica, Tasha was also reading a book, but it was clearly a book for school.
Katya raised her eyebrows at Rocky, a clear indication for her to go sit with Tasha.
"She's such a bookworm," Rocky complained lamely. Katya continued to pin her with a fierce stare, and Rocky eventually conceded and moved to sit beside Tasha, grumbling the entire time.
Maisy watched the entire exchange with an amused expression, and giggled when Rocky threw herself into the seat beside Tasha, causing the small girl to jump wildly.
Fortunately, Rocky didn't have to sit with Tasha for very long since they arrived at the football stadium nearly ten minutes later.
Katya absolutely loathed traveling to other schools for football games.
It was always so depressing to walk into a new football field and see one end of the bleachers packed to the brim with fans, while their end of the bleachers only had half the number of fans.
As cheerleaders, how were they supposed to pump up the crowd if there was no crowd to begin with?
The next twenty minutes flew by quickly as the football players held a quick warm up and everyone prepared for the upcoming game. The cheerleading coach, Erica Danes, gave them last minute pointers, and straightened their bows before telling them to get into position.
Katya took a deep breath, and watched as Danica, who stood beside her in their formation, rolled her neck in preparation for their first routine.
On the other side of the field, the pep band played "The Star Spangled Banner" and Katya, along with the rest of her teammates, stood stock still as they faced the large flag that stood on one end of the field.
When the song ended, the commentator's voice roared to life, and Katya counted under her breath― just loud enough for the rest of the team to hear― before they launched into their first cheer of the game. In the background, the screams of the fans faded into a buzz at the back of Katya's mind. She sensed, rather than saw, the kickoff because of the increased clamor of the crowd.
Time passed quickly as Katya cheered along with the rest of her team, and everything seemed like a blur. Despite the steadily dropping temperature, Katya was working up a good sweat by the end of the second quarter.
Wiping her forehead on the sleeve of her uniform, Katya and the other girls broke formation during half time and retreated to their duffel bags to grab water.
"God we're dying out there," Jazz commented worriedly, as she fixed her stare on the scoreboard. Everyone else followed her gaze before frowning in an equally bothered manner. Although they were only halfway through the game, the other team was winning with a score of fourteen to zero.
Even Maisy, who was normally the optimistic one in their group, seemed nervous and unsure as her eyes darted between the scoreboard and their huddle of football players. "I'm sure it'll be okay."
"Oh please, Maisy. We're not going to be able to pull off a win at the rate we're going," Rocky countered, stepping beside Maisy and following her gaze.
Katya's eyes flicked to the huddle just as the team broke apart. She watched with a quiet sort of apprehension as Theo stalked off toward the sidelines, before throwing his helmet to the side in an uncharacteristically aggressive manner.
Rocky let out a low whistle at Theo's frustration before staring at Katya expectantly.
Jazz picked up on Rocky's curiosity, and said in a matter-of-fact tone, "Theo's really off his game tonight."
"Yeah, I noticed that too. He keeps fumbling the ball," Tasha piped up, after coming to stand next to Jazz.
"I've never seen him that angry before," Jazz trailed off quietly, her gaze flicking to Katya's face for a brief second.
Guilt immediately burned its way through her chest, causing Katya to frown and turn away from the football players.
"Come on, girls. Quit staring at them. We have to sit and watch the other cheerleading team perform for half time," Katya commanded while motioning them toward the field.
Everyone copied Katya as she sat down cross-legged on the turf field, and turned to face the middle of the field where the opposing cheerleader team got into formation.
Danica groaned from beside Katya, "I hate that we have to sit here and watch them."
Katya shot her a scowl, but didn't reprimand her for talking.
"I know, right?" Rocky commented, while leaning back on her hands. "I'd rather eat scissors."
"Tell me about it," Jazz snorted in agreement, completely oblivious to the glare Katya was shooting her way. In a sarcastic tone, Jazz continued, "Plus I love that we have such a great view of their butts."
"I don't know, Jazz. I'm sure Maisy doesn't mind," Tasha quipped cheekily while nudging Maisy's shoulder in a playful fashion.
Maisy couldn't help the grin that curled on her face, but she still shoved Tasha away. "I'm in a happily committed relationship, thank you very much."
"Still," Rocky goaded, adding on to Tasha's earlier statement while nodding to cheerleaders in front of them. "I'm sure Gwen doesn't dance like that for you."
Everyone paused to watch as the opposing cheerleader team performed a few provocative moves that had some of them cringing and some of them whistling in appreciation.
Maisy's eyes had widened to comical proportions as she stared fixatedly at the cheerleaders, her cheeks a deep red. When she spoke, her voice came out in a stammer of words. "N-no. Gwen doesn't dance like that. And she doesn't need to. She's perfect."
"Aw!" Danica, Shelly, and Jazz chorused happily.
"That's so sweet," Tasha gushed. Rocky merely rolled her eyes, but even she had a small grin on her face.
Before anyone could say another word, the other cheer team finished their routine which led to the start of the third quarter.
"Girls, hurry up and get back into formation!" Erica commanded from behind them.
The cheerleaders sprung into action, and grabbed their pom poms before moving into a new cheer routine. There was certain desperate energy that traveled through the crowd as everyone hoped for a touchdown. Less than half of Katya's focus was on the routine as her body reverted to muscle memory, and she tuned into the commentator's voice.
Much like the first half of the game, the third quarter flew by in a daze of passes, tackles, and interceptions. However, at the beginning of the fourth quarter one of the Alderidge High players suffered an injury.
With her heart in her throat, Katya turned around and scanned the field for a player with the number thirty on his back. Fortunately, Theo was out of harm's way, as he stood to the side of the injured player. Katya's stomach flipped at sight of the injured person's leg, which was twisted at a painful angle.
"I think it's Adam," Maisy whispered worriedly to the rest of the team as they watched Coach Patterson and a paramedic rush out onto the field to help Adam. Katya glanced at Theo who rubbed his forehead in a concerned manner. The field was thick with tension as everyone trained their eyes on the small huddle surrounding Adam. Eventually, they helped him hobble off the field, and the game continued in a pitiful direction for Alderidge High.
Even with Adam gone, the team managed to score a single touchdown but the other team was still leading with a large number of points. Katya noticed the football coaches looking more and more frazzled as time went by. The crowd on their side of the stands looked equally frustrated and quite a few of them left around the end of the third quarter.
By the end of the football game, the Alderidge High football team lost with a score of twenty-one to six.
The cheerleaders, along with the rest of the football team, trudged heavily back to the bus once the game was finished. It was unusually quiet as everyone found their seats, and the whole bus seemed to reek with tension. Katya couldn't help but glance at Theo out of the corner of her eye every few seconds.
When he found his seat, he slumped against the window and seemed to shut himself off from the world. Everything from the rigid line of his back, to the hard angle of his body screamed exhaustion. Several of his teammates threw him vaguely concerned looks before ignoring him, and settling in for the half hour bus ride.
Katya bit her lip, trying not to worry about how he was doing. She remembered their previous conversation in the library, and she hoped that this one loss of a game would not affect his scholarship prospects.
Her fingers clenched together in her lap, as she continued to peer at him. A large part of her wanted to go to him and comfort him and ask him if he was okay. Instead, she copied his movements and rested her head against the window, preparing for the quiet bus ride ahead of her.
Katya felt Maisy shift next to her as the bus rumbled to life, and started to pull onto the street. In the seat in front of her she could hear a couple of football players discussing the game, and Katya tried to ignore them to the best of her ability. However, when she caught the words "cheerleaders" and "guardian angels", she sat up in her seat to hear them better.
"Fuck, that was an awful game," one of the players swore. Even though Katya couldn't see him, based on the low pitch of his voice, he sounded like Jordan Rotz who played as a cornerback.
"Tell me about it," Jordan's friend Chase Kennedy groaned. "They got really good this year."
"Nah," Jordan argued. "We were just really bad, today."
Chase Kennedy let out a low, mocking chuckle that grated on Katya's nerves. "So much for our guardian angels, huh?"
Heat spiked through Katya's chest, while Jordan snorted, "Yeah these cheerleaders have to step up their game. My guardian angel only got me candy this time."
"What the hell?" Danica growled while glaring at both the players. Katya glanced around and noticed that most of the other cheerleaders had been paying attention to their conversation and were as annoyed as Danica was, if not more so.
"What?" Jordan asked obliviously, while turning to face Danica and Shelly's seat.
"Quit badmouthing your guardian angel. We're doing all of you a favor. Just cause you're upset about losing doesn't mean―"
"What do you mean 'favor'? We're going to pay you back at the banquet―!" Chase countered irritably.
"You're going to buy your guardian angel a single gift while we had to buy you gifts for an entire season! How is that equal?" Danica replied angrily.
"Danica," Katya said firmly, causing Danica to quiet down immediately. She sent one last scathing look to the football players before settling back down in her seat.
Just as Chase and Jordan opened their mouth to reply, and inevitably start an argument, Theo turned to face the two players.
"Guys, knock it off," Theo commanded, his tone leaving no room for disagreement. Chase and Jordan grumbled but complied nonetheless, and Katya couldn't help but shoot a grateful look at Theo.
Theo's eyes clashed with hers, and for a moment they just stared at one another before he grimaced, and turned back around in his seat. Katya's mouth tightened in disappointment, and she slowly reverted back to her original position against the window.
But, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't get comfortable.
When they finally reached school, everyone was tired and half-asleep as they stumbled out of the bus and tried searching for their parked cars. Katya shouldered her duffel bag, and dug through one of the pockets, trying to find her keys as she bid the rest of her team goodnight.
Every inch of her ached with fatigue and all she wanted to do was get home as fast as possible so that she could go to bed.
The night was cold and pitch black as she lumbered through the nearly empty parking lot. Katya shivered in her thin uniform as a breeze swept past, and she sped up her pace as she walked to her car.
Just as she moved to unlock her vehicle, a sound caught her attention and she turned around in confusion only to see Theo a few feet away from her.
Even in the dim amber glow of the street lights, his tall, burly figure was unmistakable. She watched as he threw his duffel bag on the ground, yanked open his car door, and struggled to turn it on. The engine was making a horrible screeching sound, and she watched as he kicked open the door once more before moving around to the front of his car and lifting the hood up.
At this point, Katya realized that she had been walking steadily closer to him in a unconscious manner, and she was now a few feet away from him.
"Is everything okay?" Katya asked nervously, her fingers fiddling with her keys.
Theo barely glanced in her direction as he slammed the hood back down. "No."
She took his response as a good sign, and she stepped closer to him. "What happened?"
His eyes flickered in her direction before pulling out his cell phone from his back pocket. "I accidentally left my lights on, so the battery died."
His words were only emphasized when he aimed a kick at a tire. Katya flinched at the action, but took one more step toward him, as if afraid he would bolt any minute.
"Do you need―?" Her words broke off, when he let out a string of curses, and aggressively stuffed his phone back in his pocket.
"Fuck. My phone is dead too," Theo growled out, before ducking his head down and rubbing his forehead. They were both silent for a moment, and Katya struggled not to smooth a hand over his tense shoulders.
Instead, she shifted her weight from foot to foot, before she offered, "I can drive you home. If you want."
He looked up, his beautiful brown eyes weary as he examined her. His whole body seemed to sag with relief when he finally nodded curtly and said, "Yeah. Yeah, okay."
Katya couldn't help the wide grin that split her face and she turned around quickly before he noticed.
"Alright," she replied, before leading him over to her car.
She was surprised when she found her duffel bag lying near the trunk of her car; she didn't have any memory of dropping it before going over to Theo. She was just about to reach for it and put it in the trunk, when Theo came up beside her and scooped it up himself.
Even though he was already carrying his own duffel bag, he carried her bag effortlessly, and she watched as he deposited both bags in the trunk without much thought.
"Thanks," Katya said, finding her voice just as he slammed the trunk shut.
"No problem," Theo said automatically, before moving toward the passenger side. Katya quickly followed his lead, and climbed into the driver's seat, before starting the car.
Katya quickly turned the heat on to full blast, and flicked on the radio in an effort to reduce the sudden tension that hung over them. The only sound beside the radio was Theo pointing out directions every couple of minutes.
Finally, unable to take the silence any longer, Katya asked, "So how is Adam doing?"
Theo grunted before replying shortly, "He'll live."
Katya frowned at the tone of his voice, before pressing, "Is he okay, though? He looked like he was in a lot of pain―"
"He just sprained his ankle," Theo interrupted, his voice brusque.
Katya tightened her grip on the steering wheel, before echoing in disbelief, "Just a sprained ankle."
Theo turned to her, his voice low and dangerous. "Why do you care? It's Adam."
Katya bit her lip, trying not to reply in a scathing manner. Trying not to start an argument. There was a brief moment of silence before she sighed, "I hate it when we fight."
Although Katya kept her eyes on the road, she could feel Theo staring at her profile. He cleared his throat before replying. "I do too."
His voice was quiet and solemn, and Katya couldn't help but glance at him. Her heart lurched when she saw that he was still staring at her, and she quickly turned back to the road. Instead of easing the tense atmosphere like she hoped, her words seemed to fill the car with a different sort of strain.
"I'm sorry that you lost the game," Katya finally said, attempting to steer the conversation in a safer direction.
Theo laughed quietly. It was a warm sound that enveloped her. "It's okay."
There was a brief moment of quiet while Katya pulled up the curb near Theo's house. For a second she thought that their conversation had ended, and she was feeling frustrated when Theo spoke up once more.
"Do you girls ever get annoyed that you have to keep cheering for us even when we loose horribly?" Theo asked offhandedly, while Katya shifted to face him properly.
His eyes were trained on her in such a way that made her breath catch and she had to force herself to hold his gaze.
"Well, no," Katya replied slowly, as if measuring her words carefully. "Most of the time we're as invested in the game as the players are."
Theo licked his lips, and Katya's eyes focused on the movement when he said, "Yeah?"
Her mouth quirked up in a smile. "Yeah. I-We care just as much as you do. About the game."
"About the game?" he repeated quietly. His eyes were dark in the dim light as they searched her face and she was just a few inches apart from. Katya felt like all of her nerves were prickling in acute anticipation.
"Yeah," she replied, tilting her head closer to his, their lips a mere breath away. "What else would I be talking about?
He did not reply. Instead, his hand came up to graze lightly against her cheek, and she leaned into his touch. He was so careful, so careful and light and delicate. He smoothed a lock of hair behind her ear, and he seemed distracted by the movement.
His hand traveled down to trace the curve of her jaw before stopping at her chin. She shivered in his gentle hold, and echoed softly, "I hate arguing with you."
His eyes searched hers before tightening his grip ever-so-slightly. "I know."
And then he was pressing his lips against hers and she was shaking against him and unraveling with him and everything was perfect and whole and lovely. All she wanted to do was fade into him.
His arms fit around her figure, and the hand that was at her chin, fell to her neck before disappearing into her hair. She let out a small sound when he pulled her into him, and she could feel his lips turn up at the corners.
Every line he traced of hers was so shy and thoughtful and unhurried. It was so endearing that she arched into his touch. But he took his time as he explored and held and unfolded her. The sound of the radio faded into white noise as they kissed and everything was hushed tender and quiet. Almost reverent.
Her fingers gripped onto his shoulders and he tasted so sweet, like something soft and sugar-spun. She felt like she was going to float into the atmosphere when they finally separated to breathe.
His forehead rested against hers as they caught their breath, and she shivered when he smoothed a hand down her spine.
There was a faint space between their teeth and he was breathing out and she was breathing in and for a moment it seemed like if all the oxygen in the world were to run out they could still survive with this one held breath, intertwining in and out of their systems, ribboning and twisting and mingling between their parted lips.
Blinking slowly, Katya moved slightly away from Theo to look at his eyes. When he didn't say anything, she gave him a small smile and whispered, "Goodnight, Theo."
His mouth parted as if he was about to say something, but, instead, he just nodded at her briefly and got out of her car.
She watched as he ambled up the steps to his house, his shoulders hunched against the cold of the night. Just before he disappeared inside his house, he turned to face her once more, a large smile lighting up his face.
A/N: Happy Friday my lovely readers! I apologize for the slow update. This chapter was massive (I think it's the longest chapter I've written? It's about 10,000 words!), and really hard to get through in the beginning.
Anyway I hoped you liked it and I can't wait to hear what you pickle monsters thought! Review Challenge: What TV show(s) have you been watching? What are your plans for the weekend? What did you think of Magic Mike XXL?
Please review! Thanks again for your incredible support. It honestly means the world to me,
P.S Just wanted to say a quick word since this has been on my mind recently. If you're a writer don't beat yourself up over numbers whether that be number of reviews, or word count, etc. I think it's really easy to feel like you're not writing enough, or well enough but the important thing is that you keep writing! Don't sweat the small stuff. Anyway, that's all I wanted to say. Take care :)
Response to Guest Reviews:
The Turohpile- Thank you so much for your incredibly sweet review! I did see Inside Out and I really liked it! I definitely think that it's worth seeing in theater. Thanks again for taking the time to review. I really appreciate it!
Fawn- Thanks so much for your review! And don't worry about not reviewing the other chapters, I'm just happy that you reviewed in general! Anyway I'm definitely in the same boat as you cause I cried at the climax of the movie too! Pixar did a a really great job with the movie. Thanks again for your review and I hope you ended up having an amazing Fourth of July!