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“We’ll make this work,” Jeff promised, his breath hot against Vanessa’s neck as he gently traced a thumb up and down her torso. Vanessa sighed at his touch, but couldn’t help but frowning, acknowledging the impossible task ahead of them. He was going into his freshman year at UCLA; she still had a year left at Riverbend. They’d literally be on different sides of the country after next weekend.

“I don’t know,” Vanessa said finally, barely believing the words coming out of her own mouth. She’d crushed on him for years, practically since she first met him, and now that she finally had him she was doubting their relationship.

“We will,” Jeff murmured, leaning in toward her ear.

Vanessa wanted Jeff’s words to be true. She wanted to believe him, but she’d seen so many long-distance relationships go bad. Her roommate’s boyfriend cheated on her with a sorority girl. Haley dated a guy two years older who ended up going to NYU, and he stopped calling after two weeks. The odds really weren’t in their favor.

“We’re not like everyone else,” Jeff reminded her, staring at her with those intense, sky blue eyes. As he pushed her against the cheaply-constructed walls of the triplets’ old fort, she finally believed him.

---

Jeff had an arm around her waist as they walked in the kitchen together, laughing and chatting animately, the screen door flapping shut behind them. They didn’t notice the triplets, lounging around the table in their swimming trunks and eating Renwick’s take-out, until Adam cleared his throat.

Vanessa jumped and Jeff’s smile disappeared as they both glanced at the triplets, taken off-guard. “Uh… hey, guys,” Jeff said hesitantly. “What’s up?”

Vanessa awkwardly twisted herself out of Jeff’s arms and crossed to the other side of the kitchen, yanking open the refrigerator door and pulling out two bottles of water. She tossed one to Jeff, who caught it easily. She could tell Jeff was trying to pull off the “new boyfriend who is nervous in front of his girlfriend’s older brothers” look, but a smile was tugging at the corners of his mouth. Being serious wasn’t always one of Jeff’s strong suits.

“We were wondering where you were, Jeff,” Byron finally spoke up, eyeing Vanessa. Byron was many things, but oblivious was definitely not one of them.

Vanessa blushed and cleared her throat. As her brothers focused their attention on her, Jeff grinned and mouthed something at her. She couldn’t make out what it was, but judging by the expression on his face, it was hilarious. She was smiling as she announced, “We were hanging out in your old fort. Is that a problem?”

“You… what?” Jordan demanded, nearly spitting out his drink. Vanessa hadn’t been the first, or even the second, Pike to decide to make use out of the abandoned fort. She had been nervous about breaking the news to her brothers, but it really was hard to be worried when Jeff was right there, making weird faces and flashing those perfect white teeth...

Jordan’s reaction was exactly why her and Jeff hadn’t told the triplets sooner. They were usually pretty good at minding their own business (of course, it didn’t hurt that Vanessa lived in Massachusetts for nine months each year), but Jeff was one of their friends. Vanessa braced herself for the worst.

Her brothers were silent as they exchanged looks for several moments in some sort of weird, secret triplet language.

“So, are you guys cool with this?” Jeff finally asked.

Adam and Jordan looked at each other and smirked. Then Adam laughed, throwing back his head. “About damn time.”

As Jordan and Adam snickered, Byron groaned. “Fuck,” he cursed, slumping even further in his seat and folding his arms across his chest. “I can’t believe I just lost forty dollars.”

Vanessa wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

---

 

Jordan drummed his fingers on the table and rolled his eyes at Adam. “I know you like the fort, but we have got to tear it down, man. I think everyone’s been in there except for Mallory. It’s violated.”

“Actually,” Claire chirped, suddenly skipping into the kitchen and propping herself up on the counter next to the sink. No one was surprised that she had been eavesdropping. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that---about Mallory, that is. You know how her and Ben--”

“Ew,” Byron cut off Claire, fixing her with a disgusted look as he snatched a breadstick off Adam’s plate. “I did not need to hear that.”

“We’ll tear it down tomorrow,” Adam told Jordan.

“God,” Byron muttered, ripping the breadstick in half. “Is anything sacred in this house?”