To say that Harper was having the actual worst day of her life would be the understatement of the millennium. Easily. She'd been alive thirty two years, and could honestly say that even the day her father had died had been less stressful and overwhelming than this.

It was stupid, the side of her that was unafraid of throwing a temper tantrum said. Unfair. Garbage. She wanted to go home, curl up in bed in warm pajamas and blankets, and not leave ever again until the end of her natural life. What the hell was a coping mechanism again, anyway?

Except there was Ryan now, and that really threw a wrench into her self-indulgent, childish plans, because he was an adult who dealt with things 'rationally' and 'healthily', and she needed that like she needed a hole in the head. Except she couldn't exactly avoid him. Because she was the idiot who'd agreed to move in with him, giving him a whole side of the closet instead of a bottom drawer, because for some reason she genuinely believed she was emotionally stable enough for a serious, committed relationship. Because how hard could cohabitation be?

Really fucking hard, apparently.

The worst part of it all, Harper figured, was that she loved Ryan. She loved him and she wanted to climb into his lap and stay there forever, and let him run his fingers through her hair until she fell asleep. The thing, though, was that to do that, she would have to expose him to the angry demon that lived inside her soul and only came out to play when her life was falling apart.

Had she really been with him for nearly two years without dragging him into her downward spiral? Huh. Impressive.

"How was your day?"

It was sweet of him to want to know, but not really the right path to be heading down right now.

"Not great, and I really am not interested in pursuing this particular line of questioning, so if we could just steer clear that would be great." She said in one big breath, no leaving any spaces for Ryan to get a word in.

He was quiet. She kept looking out her window so that she wouldn't look at his face. She didn't need that, either.

"Okay." He said eventually, like it was easy, like she hadn't just snapped at him. It was so damn hard to faze him.

Ryan leaned forward in the driver's seat and pushed one of the buttons on the radio. Her favorite CD spun in the disc drive, and then the music filtered through the speakers.

Asshole. He let them drive in silence back to their apartment, not pressing, irritatingly calm and together. Harper envied him. She always envied him. In the parking garage, he let her use her own key-fob to get into the elevator, to get to their floor. She stood in the corner of the elevator, away from him, looking at him through the mirrored walls so that she wouldn't have to meet his eyes directly.

Harper was a grade A, professional avoidance coach, good enough that she could probably offer out her services and make a decent living. She had always prided herself on that point with a little bit of shame behind it. In the hallway, she walked ahead of Ryan, her heels clicking noisily against the floor, and she hated that too, hated all the things around her that were making noise.

She unlocked the door and stormed in, tossing her keys onto the kitchen island and leaving her computer bag at the front door, tossed haphazardly up against the wall. Ryan followed in behind her and shut the front door. She didn't know what he was doing, and she didn't care, and the only thing that Harper could think of doing when she made it to her bedroom was throwing herself onto her bed and screaming into her pillow. She sincerely hoped Ryan hadn't be listening at that particular moment.

Pajamas were so far away, but she got up anyway, shrugging off her dress and her shoes and slipping into a pair of pajama pants and one of Ryan's shirts, because it smelled like him, and she liked the way he smelled. Then she flopped back into bed, pulling the blankets up around her head, shoving her face in the pillow and letting herself, for the first time, take a deep breath.

Harper was so sick of people. She was so sick of being around people that didn't respect her, people that wasted her time or were incompetent or useless or whatever other myriad of shitty things people seemed to keep coming up with. It felt like she had lead in her chest, just underneath her ribcage, pressing against her organs and making her feel heavy. She didn't like that feeling much at all.

The television in the living room switched on, and she heard the sound of Ryan situating himself on the couch, getting comfortable. Maybe he was laying down, like he sometimes did, his feet hanging off the edge because he was too goddamn tall. Harper closed her eyes and tried her best to die. Or at least get some sleep. Maybe things would be better in the morning.

Things would probably not be better in the morning.

It bothered her how much she wanted to toss the covers off of her and go into the living room. She wanted the TV off and she wanted to sit next to Ryan and she wanted to explain why she was acting so childish. She'd never wanted to tell anyone before – sharing wasn't really part of her skillset – but she wanted to tell him. Because he listened.

God, she loved him. She loved him so much. She loved how easy it was to be around him, she loved that he genuinely wanted to be with her, she loved it all. The way he sometimes would pull her into his chest when he was sleeping and bury his nose in her hair. His stupid, stupid smile. Harper peeked her head out from under the covers. Maybe she could go out and see him, just for a minute. Just to say good night.

Harper rolled out of bed and fixed her shirt, opening the bedroom door tentatively and stepping into the living room. Ryan was upright on the couch, arm draped over the side, watching whatever stupid reality television program that he would not admit he watched but absolutely did. He had ditched his suit jacket and pants – probably in the bathroom, because of course he hadn't wanted to bother her. Of course. He was wearing sweats now, and a Star Wars shirt, the nerd.

This was the worst part. The part when her nose tingled and the corners of her eyes started to burn. She did not want to cry in front of this poor man. She'd probably feel worse, then. Instead, she bit her lip hard enough to make her think of something else, and stepped further into the room. Ryan rolled his head to the left and looked up at her.

"Hey," he said. No pressing. No questions. Jesus Christ.

"Hi," Harper said quietly. She walked to the couch tentatively and sat down next to him. Their legs touched, and she could feel the heat of his skin through all their layers.

"You okay?" Ryan asked, looking at her closely, searching for clues on her face. She was pretty sure he wouldn't find any.

Harper nodded, but she didn't say anything else. Ryan patted his lap.


She felt stupid, leaning onto her side and putting her head in his lap. Like a little kid. But he didn't say anything, just shifted his hips so she would be more comfortable, and rested the hand that wasn't draped over the arm of the couch on her side. The touch was gentle and soft and his hands were warm enough that she shivered, not cold but not warm enough. She picked at the inseam of his sweats, more a force of habit than anything else.

"You wanna talk about it?"

She didn't. Not really.

"You don't have to," he assured her, and she felt his thumb stroke back and forth where his hand was resting, "Just if you want to."

She was going to cry and she was going to look like an idiot, and he was going to think she was crazy, if he didn't already. Harper turned her head a little, pressing her nose into his thigh.

"Everybody is terrible," she said, voice muffled by the fabric of his sweatpants, "I hate them all."

"That so?"

His hand had drifted from her side to her hair and was pulling down, raking through it, the pads of his fingers pressing lightly against her scalp. She craned her neck into the touch. She rolled onto her back and looked up at him. She could feel tears stinging her eyes.

"I'm just tired of them all," Harper said. Ryan pulled his hand from her hair and dragged his fingertips down the line of her jaw, "And the university is up my ass about going back to work as a professor and I do not want to, I don't even want to be involved at all with them. I like where I am. I get to be closer to you."

There it went. She felt the first tear fight past her lid and drip backwards down her face, trailing past her ear. Christ. She reached up and wiped it away, fooling herself that maybe he didn't see it happen.

Ryan's hand came down to her stomach, just under her ribcage, and that was it for her willpower. Harper let herself cry in his lap, positive she was looking like an idiot, but past the point of caring. If he hadn't left yet, he probably wasn't going to.

When she'd calmed down enough that she was only sniffling, Ryan brushed the hair away from her forehead and looked down at her.

"Tell them that," he said, then, looking earnest, "No one owns you. You gave them enough of your time."

Harper wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and sniffed. Super attractive. Right on. He was right anyway, like he often was, and she couldn't argue with the 'deal with your shit' approach.

"Besides, you're way too pretty to be a homely old professor."

Harper let out a watery laugh and pulled herself back up into a sitting position. She leaned against Ryan's shoulder. He dropped his head and rested it on top of hers.

"I love you," Ryan muttered into her hair, "You don't have to run away when you're sad."

She knew that. She did. Harper pulled her head up and kissed him, and it was a little gross because her face was still wet and she was still feeling a little weepy, but he didn't seem to care. He slipped his hand up to her jaw and kissed her back, rubbing his thumb over the curve of her cheekbone.

God, she loved him. Harper slung her arms around him and buried her face in his neck. Ryan slid his hands up her back and held her close to him, leaning them both back against the couch. He was warm against her. He kissed her forehead.

She'd been worried about dragging her into her downward spiral. Now she was thinking that maybe after all, he could swim.