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Something Was Always There

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December, 2013.

His heart is beating frantically, a pounding rhythm he can hear in his ears. Gert, as in Gertrude Yorkes, is staring into his father’s telescope, and Chase can’t get the fear out of his head. His dad isn’t even in town, gone for another week, but the idea of him coming up here, of finding Gert here, makes his entire body tense with fear. Not that Gert even seems to notice (admittedly a good thing), she just keeps rambling on about ‘three sisters this’ and ‘orion’s belt’, things Chase’s mind will probably hold onto, but never think about.

What he’s actually thinking is that even if his dad came home, and even if he found them, it might be worth it. Gert can complain all she wants about the project, but if he closes his eyes he can see the way her face lit up when she saw the telescope. The contained smile, like she was trying not to show it, and the way her hand had instantly reached for it. Cute, he had thought, and then had to shake his head, because Gert was not cute. She was just, Gert. Except, he can’t stop thinking of it, and wondering how he could get her to really smile, without holding back, one of the full blown ones she sometimes gives Molly.

“Hey!” She says, with a light slap to his arm. “Are you even listening to me?”

She bites her bottom lip, frustrated, and Chase almost laughs, because she looks so put-out, and he really wasn’t listening, lost in his own head again.

“Sorry,” he says with a smile, “say it again?”

She rolls her eyes, but does, going on about the ways Neptune and Saturn move, and how the constellations have Greek origins. He is listening, could probably respond if she asked, but she’s lost again, ranting about the idiocy of Zeus and something about sacrifices to another goddess. She won’t ask him a question until she runs out of steam, which can be a while (he would know). He’s staring at her, eyes over her long hair, her glasses, her cheeks, until he finds himself staring at her lips as she talks.

Oh, he thinks, oh this is what it feels like. And he’s thinking of the way his mom was joking about spending time with Gert, about how he looked at her, and he hadn’t gotten it then, but he does now. Because this must be what it felt like, when his mom first loved his dad. Well, maybe, he’s not really sure what love is supposed to be like, can’t really see it when his parents look at each other, but Gert is his favourite person. He always wants to spend time with her, and now he thinks he wants to kiss her, so it has to be something like that, right?

He’ll ask his mom in the morning, after she makes him and Gert pancakes, and Gert leaves in another pair of his sweatpants because she always forgets to bring hers. His mom will explain and it’ll be fine.

Except, his dad comes home early, just after Gert leaves, and it becomes another tiptoe around the house. By the time he leaves again in a month, Chase has forgone asking his mom, and remembered it doesn’t matter, because he would never subject Gert to his dad in any way, and he doesn’t know what his dad would do if he found out how he felt.

April, 2014

She hates him. She actually hates him. He’s sitting with Eiffel of all people, suddenly pulled into the group of jocks, for the third time this week, completely ignoring his friends. It makes her boil with anger, until Alex sits down, then Amy and Nico, and they pointedly start a conversation about the merits of paying attention in class. Yet another thing Chase seems to not be doing these days, along with no longer inviting her for Sunday brunch while his dad is gone, and choosing different partners in lab classes.

It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine. She repeats over and over in her head, friendships fall apart all the time. It’s happened to her plenty of times, she knows it's fine. She just also doesn’t understand why, what she did, if she said something, or didn’t say something when she was supposed to. She can’t figure out why. Why he doesn’t seem to smile at her anymore or want to hang out or look at stars or anything. He only speaks to her if it’s the whole group, can’t seem to look at her. It’s only been two weeks but she’s going crazy over it, wondering what she could have done.

It takes her another week before she snaps, pulling him aside in the hallway, into the little alcove holding the fire extinguisher. He anxiety has been through the roof, her medication barely helping anymore, and her heart is pounding all the time now. She’s a little surprised she held out so long honestly.

“Are you mad at me?” She demands, and he looks shocked. “Did I do something to make you mad? Did I say something?” Her voice is less angry and more breathy and sad, and she kind of wants to hit herself for it, but settles for digging her nails into her thighs, just enough to make herself shut up.

“No, you didn’t do anything?” Chase says, but it’s almost questionsing, like a tiny bit of a deflection, and her heart skips a beat and then starts pounding again because that definitely means she did something.

“Okay, but if I did you would tell me right?” She starts, and then again can’t seem to shut her mouth, escpecially when he leans a little closer to her.  “Because you won’t talk to any of us and if I did something I want to know so I can say sorry so things can go back to normal and you can keep sitting with us at lunch and I can help your mom make pancakes and I can fix your history paper and we can go back to lab partners. So if I need to apologize for something please tell me because I-“

“Gert!” Chase interrupts, and she looks up from the wall she was staring at, to see him smiling at her a little. Not a real smile, but a nervous one, and she realises she sounded a little panicky there and probably freaked him out. Not that he hasn’t seen her have a panic attack before, but not since she started her medication, and she might’ve been on her way to one.

“Sorry.” She whispers, but he just shakes his head.

“It’s okay. It’s not you Gert, it’s my dad.” He says, and his voice is so quiet. She tries to catch his eye again, but he’s staring over her shoulder at the wall. “He’s not going on trips anymore. Turns out last month’s was the last one. He’s only working in development now, from home.” It makes Gert’s breath catch, because she doesn’t really understand their relationship, but she understands that she can’t come over when his dad is home, and that his dad doesn’t want any of their group around. “It’s why I joined the lacrosse team again this year, it keeps me at practice.” He says it quietly, and she grabs his hand quickly, just for a second, before pulling it back behind her.

“I’m sorry.” She says, and he smiles sadly down at her, finally looking her in the eyes again. It makes her heart jump painfully again, and she has to clasp her hands a little tighter to keep from reaching for him again. “I’m still your friend, not matter what.” She whispers, and his smile grows just a little bit.

“Thanks,” he whispers, looking like he’s going to say something else, but the bell rings, and she jumps.

“We’re late!” She yells, and grabs his hand to drag him out to class. She barely remembers to let go before they enter their history class, and they end up in the last two sits, him right behind her. When they leave, he waits to walk with her, and she has to fight the gigantic smile trying to break its way onto her face.

It takes another week, where he’s back at their lunch table Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for her to realise why her heart jumps that little bit when he smiles at her, and pounds when he stands close enough for their hands to rush. She loves him, and it is so much less and so much more of a surprise than it should be.

July 4th, 2014

Fourth of July seems to be the one American holiday Gert actually loves to celebrate, going all out each year. Except this year his parents are throwing the party, and the pool in his backyard is full of the Pride kids, all in swimsuits. Except for Nico, who is wearing jeans and t-shirt and likely sweating. At least the shirt has a flag on it, even if it is black.

They don't usually have a party, his dad is usually out of town all summer, and they all meet up in the park to watch the county firework show, or drive up Hollywood hills to see all the fireworks going off.

So he is not at all prepared for Gert in a swimsuit. It’s a bright red one piece, tying around her neck and scooping low, with little blue stars on her hips. He had to go back inside when she took her dress off, and is currently staring through the tinted window right at her, where she’s having a splash war with Alex and Karolina. He’s willing his half-boner to go away, while simultaneously being unable to stop looking at her.

She just looks so good, and if it was just the two of them he probably wouldn't be able to stop himself from kissing her. As it is, his dad is around the corner grilling hot dogs and burgers with he other parents, and all their friends are there. Plus, he doesn’t think Gert would take kindly to being kissed by him. She’s started calling him an idiot more and more, and he’s starting to think she might like one of the girls who was in their bio class. Well, the girl likes Gert, and Gert is oblivious to the flirting, which make him both mad and fond.

The side door opens, and he jumps as Gert’s mom comes in. She raises a bowl of something and smiles at him, before moving back to the kitchen. When she comes back she still has that smile, and Chase’s stomach sinks just a little bit.

“What’re you doing inside Chase? You should be outside, I think Gert even bought a new swimsuit for today.” She says, and then winks. Chase must be actually scarlet, his face is one fire, and Mrs. Yorkes lets out a laugh before leaving back out the side door.

Right then, boner gone. He walks to the back door and steps back out. Getting closer to the pool, he pulls his shirt off in one smooth move, and then jumps straight in. When he comes back up, Gert is coughing, clearly having swallowed some water. He laughs at her along with Karolina, until she splashes them, starting the entire splash war over again.

By the time the sun sets, he’s almost used to the bathing suit. Until Gert picks up her dress and it’s clearly soaked, and she doesn’t have any clothes to watch the fireworks in. He rolls his eyes at her, and nods his head to the stairs. She smiles at him before turning towards his room. It doesn’t take her more than five minutes, but she comes down with a sHirt (the navy v-neck, her favourite) over the swimsuit. It’s a punch to the gut, because she always looks so cute in his clothes, but her hair is curly from the water, her glasses a little askew, and she looks so beautiful it makes his breath catch.

She’s oblivious of course, thanks him for the shirt, and then moves towards Molly and Nico. He’s red again, he can feel it, and when Amy sidles up to him he’s barely surprised.

“So, how long has that been going on?” She asks, and he tries to keep his face blank.

“What?” He asks with a, thankfully, steady voice.

“Oh you know, you staring at Gert, Gert staring at you, her wearing your clothes, you looking like you got punched.” She says it so casually, blasé in a way only Amy and Nico can achieve, that he almost laughs.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Is what he really says, even as his cheeks get redder. She laughs at him and shakes her head, but doesn’t say anything else. Instead Alex starts to walk towards them , and Chase gives her a meaningful look. It’s her turn to blush, but she doesn’t deny anything, so Chase just walks away, goes and sits by Karolina, because he can’t be next to Gert just yet.

Later, when they reach the hills, he somehow ends up next to her in the back of the truck, and tries to pretend not to notice how their fingers keep brushing against each other. Pretends like they’re not leaning against each other while the fireworks go off. 

August-October, 2014

Gert’s first kiss is both perfect and terrible. Perfect, because it’s this girl from a class last year, and Gert likes knowing she likes girls, likes the label of bisexual. Terrible, because even though the kiss is objectively good, all soft and pleasant, tingles on her lips, its not Chase. Who will never kiss her, because she’s pretty sure he and Eiffel have a ‘thing’ now, if any of the rumours are to be believed, and she hasn’t even seen him in two weeks, because of lacrosse camp. Where Eiffel is, for dance camp. So, she’s kissing the girl from bio, Laura, who has dark blue hair and a lip piercing, and is apparently some kind of math genius. She’s a little angry and a little funny, and Gert likes her. She just also loves Chase, has for years longer than she thought, probably since the eighth grade when he told the teacher he was the one who punched James for making fun of Alex, so she wouldn’t get detention again.

But Laura is nice to her, and her kisses are sweet, and sometimes she’ll grab Gert’s boob and that feels great.

So she stays with Laura. They’re not really dating, mostly just going to old movie festivals and reading books together. It’s nice, but Laura doesn’t like most of her friends, and that’s hard, because the only one she’ll talk to is Nico, and even then the two just trade barbs and jokes, like some goth insider thing. But besides that Laura is good, and helps her learn about her sexuality and feminism, and about the ways people will call her ‘fake’ for being bi. She also seems to instinctively know that Gert loves Chase, doesn’t bring him up, but also doesn’t use it against her. Which is probably better than Gert deserves.

It’s not until October when she finds out why Laura doesn’t care about Chase. There’s another girl, from an academy across LA, that she met at summer camp. Apparently they’ve been dating off and on for two years, so they love each other, and Gert was her rebound. And Gert is a little mad, but mostly hurt, and she breaks it off with Laura. Not even because of the other girl, but because Laura never said anything, and because Gert feels used in a way she hasn’t before.

She dyes her hair green in retaliation, because Laura hates the colour green. It’s dark, almost the colour of Washington’s forests, and shines. When she walks into school the day after, there’s whistles, but instead of feeling empowered, she just feels fake. Like she’s still doing this for Laura, and not for herself. But she forces her chin up and keeps going, all the way to lunch time, where Chase and Molly are already sitting. Molly has seen it already, doesn’t even react, but she and Chase only have afternoon classes together, so it’s a surprise to him.

His mouth is hanging open a little, staring at her, and it almost makes her feel better, shocking Chase. The last time she tried to do that was with the red bathing suit, but he’d only gone inside for 15 minutes, before coming out and practically blinding her with his abs. She swallowed a lot of water that day.

Now, he looks a little stunned, and his eyes don’t leave her hair. Even when the rest of the grout comes to sit, he doesn’t move, still eyeing her hair. It’s not until Eiffel comes over, a sneer on her face, that he looks away. Gert is already tensed for whatever she’s going to say, and notes Chase’s shoulders tighten as well.

“Wow, nice hair curvy Barbie, are you joining a freak show now?” Eiffel says, and it’s not even a good insult. In fact, Gert kind of wants to laugh because it’s so bad. She sees Chase go to say something, but cuts him off. She can defend herself, thank you very much.

“Hello Eiffel, Goodby Eiffel, nobody wants you here.” She says, and turns her back to her. Amy laughs once, more of a bark, and Nico snickers, leaning into Karolina a bit. She hears Eiffel huff, but ignores her in favour of her sandwich. Out of the corner of her eye she can see Chase smiling at her slightly, and doesn’t even try to fight the Small curl of satisfaction settling in her stomach.

January 2015,

The meeting is an easy one, they found a young boy, who joined the church happily, wanted to gO ultra. He submits like a happy lamb, and the meeting is one of the quickest yet. Willing, calm sacrifices are always easier.

When they make their way back up the stairs, the kids are playing a game in the yard, some kind of tag. Amy and Nico have ganged up on Alex, the three of the laughing, while Karolina and Molly are hiding together behind a tree. Gert and Chase are hidden from their eyes, but when the others see their parents, they stop their game and run towards the doors. Chase and Gert come out from behind another tree, Chase just a step behind Gert, while Gert rants on about something again. His fond and indulgent smile is there, and all the parents (except for Victor, who is of course, in the garage) share exasperated looks. Watching the two of them is both hilarious and exhausting, and they actually have a small betting pool on the two of them.

May, 2015

Their playoff game is in a week, and his dad is actually going. In his youth, Chase would have been ecstatic, the idea of his dad supporting him. Now he knows what it is, a reminder of why he has to play, a reminder that if he doesn’t do well, it means more time in the house, more disappointment

It also means, he doesn’t invite Gert or any of their friends. Not that he should have expected that to stop them. Still, there’s a bit of fear when he sees them in the stands, only a few benches up from his dad. They’re all wearing some form of yellow, scarves or bows, or even a yellow jacket in Gert’s case.

Actually, that’s his jacket he realises with a start. She stole it from him last year, one of his Atlas Academy ones. He smiles at the thought of her keeping all the clothes she steals, and tries not to wonder how often she wears them. He’s on the bench for the first quarter, waiting for coach to put him in. It’s surprisingly easy to focus on the game, even with Gert and his father there, and he actually forgets about the crowd once he’s on the field. Forgets about everything except for the game and how if he doesn’t play well it’ll end in something he doesn’t want to discover.

By the time halftime rolls around they’re up by five and he’s fifth a smile with every heaving breath. Off the field, in the lockers, coach beams at him and the others pat his shoulder. He’s out the next quarter, but in for the last. They win by seven, and he can’t stop he smile from blooming. He finally looks back at the stands, where Gert is cheering loudly, Amy and Molly with her, and below them, his dad is clapping politely. Hopefully a good sign.

He’s walking back towards the locker, helmet in his hand, when Eiffel is suddenly grabbing his arm and yelling in his ear. He winces and tries to pull away, but she won’t let go. Surprisingly strong for someone so small, she manages to get herself up enough to plant a kiss on her cheek. He yanks out of her arms, but she’s already running back towards her team, and he immediately whips his head back to the stands. His dad is gone, thank god, but Gert is sitting now, arms crossed. He can’t tell if she saw, but she’s definitely not cheering anymore. He sighs and turns back to the locker room door, lets himself be pulled into the cheering of the team.

Amy, Gert, and Molly are gone when he gets out. He doesn’t ask, too scared of what his vice will sound like, and the other three don’t tell him where they went. They hug him a cheering obnoxiously, before his dad eventually beeps the horn, and he extracts himself. At the car, his dad says nothing, and he gets in the back seat. His mom congratulates him, and then it’s silent the rest of the ride. His dad goes to his lab and doesn’t come out for three days. He never attends another game, but he never stops chase from playing either.

July-September 2015

Nico doesn’t even cry. Maybe she did at home, but she doesn’t at the funeral, she doesn’t when the casket is lowered to the ground, or when she throws her handful of dirt on the casket. No, she’s dry eyed and her face is empty, like there’s no emotion at all. Nico somehow has Alex’s car, even though he never showed, never came. She takes off without saying a word to anyone else.

Karolina is next, eyes following Nico all day, suddenly lost. She finds her mom, and accepts the hug. Her tears are less silent, little sobs every once in a while, but still beautiful in the way only truly beautiful girls can cry. The two leave together, in the shiny white car, probably to church. Mr. and Mrs. Minoru are next, surprisingly, and follow the Deans. Their sobs were loud at the beginning, but they both seem to be in shocked stillness now, eyes moving everywhere without seeing. They’re driven by Chase’s dad, yet again a surprise, towards the church.

Gert is sitting on one of those stone benches, about twenty feet away from everyone else. Her tears are silent, but constantly streaming, and she should feel sick and dehydrated, but she just feels empty. She hadn’t cried before now, not really processing until her handful of dirt hit the coffin, and she’d suddenly felt them on her cheeks. Her parents sent her worried looks, but Molly needed them more, and she waved them away. Molly is too young, not as able to handle this, not as still as she was for her parents, not that any of them are, but her sobs have been consistent, not stopping for the past few days.

She nearly jumps when Chase sits next to her. He’s facing away from the grave, and she remembers he too walked away as soon as his handful of dirt hit the coffin. Almost subconsciously she leans against him, head on his shoulder, facing opposite directions. He stopped crying yesterday, sometime in the afternoon while she compulsively baked cookies for the two of them. She wasn’t used to a quiet Chase, and wasn’t used to the house with his dad around, but she’d needed him.

Showing up had been a surprise to her. She had gotten out of bed, got in her parent’s car, and suddenly she was there. She could have ran red lights for all she knew, but she made it there. Janet had answered the door, and pointed her to his room without a word. It was early, probably only eight in the morning, but he wasn’t much of a sleeper, she knew that. Entering his room, he didn’t even look surprised to see her, just shifted and rolled over so there was room for her on the bed, half curled towards the middle. Like when they were kids and she couldn’t sleep in the guest room because it was too quiet and lonely and big.

She curled into a ball next to him, but didn’t reach for him, unsure if it would be welcome or not. Instead, she stared at her shaking hands and tried to force herself to cry, tried to force herself to feel something other than numbness. But she couldn't, so they sat there next to each other. It could have been five minutes or an hour, but eventually Chase’s hand reach for hers, and they gripped each other. He was crying, tears leaking down his face, and she freed one hand to wipe some of them away. He let out a heavy sigh, and suddenly his arms were around her and she was pressed to his chest, their legs entangled. She gripped his shirt and let him cry into her hair and the pillow, until his breathing evened out again. He was still crying, she could feel it, but the sobbing was done with. She rolled them until she was more on her back and held his head against her neck, stroking his hair.

Eventually, hours later, he got up to go to the bathroom, and then dragged her downstairs. Grabbing the ingredients was automatic, but he wouldn’t let go of her hand, and it became a juggling act, pulling him around with her while she grabbed sugars and flour. He let go of her hand when she needed to measure and mix, but grabbed onto her belt loop, lightly, with his thumb brushing her hip and head on her shoulder. At some point while she mixed, his tears had stopped. She turned when it was time for the chocolate chips, and began mixing them, his favourite part. She leaned against him, not breaking contact, and when the cookies went in the oven, she sat on the counter and let him step between her legs, holding him against her neck until they finished. 

His head falls on top of hers, and they both sit there in silence. Her tears are still silent, but they wont stop, and she’s going to start hiccuping soon, she knows it, so she lifts her head and faces the fresh dirt again. Chase stands, but only to turn so he’s straddling the bench, facing her. She turns towards him slightly, and starts crying harder. His eyes are almost hollow, little emotion in them, and it hurts, both because it’s him and because she knows she looks the same way. His hand reaches out and brushes a few of the tears away, a mirror of what she did yesterday, and it makes her smile just a little. He doesn’t return it, but she knows it’s because he just can’t. She leans forward again, and lets her head lean against his chest. His arms come around her, and they sit there, until her parents wave her over, and they get up to go. Chase ends up driving her, back to her house. He doesn’t even hesitate before following her to her room, where they lie down, this time her head on his chest as the sobs finally come out of her.

When she wakes up at noon the next day, he’s gone, without a note or text. They don‘t see each other again until lunch on the first day of school, where they all sit in silence, as people offer condolences and pitying looks. Eventually it’s too much, and both Nico and Gert find themselves in the bathroom, holding hands sitting on the floor.

It’s one of the last times they all sit together at lunch, if you can call it that, and Nico is the first to leave, finding a spot at a table where nobody speaks to her. Then it’s Molly, surprisingly enough, who sits with a group of girls in her classes. Chase leaves next, back to his table of jocks, with Eiffel and Brandon. She can’t even feel hurt over that, still too focused on the other pain. She and Alex stay at the table, but they’re at opposite ends and don’t speak, not that Alex speaks to any of them anymore. Eventually she too leaves, and in a twist, finds herself at Laura’s table with her friends of colourful hair and feminist rants. Eventually she can pretend enough that it’s like a home, that she’s just as happy here. She knows she’s lying to herself, but she ignores it.

January, 2016

The meeting is at the Wilders, so Alex is there, as is Molly. They leave to get donuts and coffee. Gert is out of town, camping, Karolina is supposedly studying, and the others refused to come. It’s both a relief and a sadness, as this time the sacrifice is less than willing, and the screams are somewhat concerning.

March, 2016

Gert doesn’t look good, a little pale and shaky. He wants to ask if she’s okay, but the last time they talked was the day after Amy’s funereal, and he’s not sure what to say. They aren’t friends anymore, even if his heart still races when he sees her, and her rants still make him smile. He’ll probably always want to smile when he sees her, even if smiling is a little harder than it used to be.

She doesn’t stumble, but Chase sees the way her knee almost goes out, and then suddenly there’s orange juice everywhere, and he’s up and moving before he knows what he’s doing. Except, Laura gets there first, Gert’s weird ex-girlfriend/sort of friend, and he stops in his tracks. Nobody seems to notice his movements, except for Laura, who gives him a half glare as she pulls Gert out of the classroom. He wants to follow, and it takes effort to force himself not to. Although, notably less effort than it would have last year.

She doesn’t come back to school for two days, and he has a text pulled up on the third day, when he only sees Molly in the morning. He’s about to send it, when he looks up and Gert walks in. Her hair is this pretty pink colour, and she’s tugging on it, while a strand is in her mouth. He nearly groans out loud, and his phone drops on top of his binder. Gert looks up at him, and glares, which means his face is doing something weird, and he quickly looks away. And then looks back. Because her hair looks like cotton candy now and he kinda wants to bite her and.. oh fuck. He needs to go to the bathroom.

He makes it out the door before the bell, and into the restroom without anyone seeing him. Locking himself in a stall he tries to breathe evenly and get the image of Gert eating cotton candy out of his head. Which of course makes it stick in there. He bangs his head against the wall before sticking his hands down his pants. He feels like the worlds biggest jerk and hates himself for it.

June, 2016

She probably shouldn’t be here. She has a great excuse, with Molly having practice on the field next door, some sort of summer prep for dance team. Gross. But she’s not even looking at Molly’s filed. Nope, she’s looking at the lacrosse field next to them, and fucking Chase Stein running laps shirtless. He probably can’t see her, but she still dons sunglasses and leans her head back like she’s asleep. This whole year had been a mess, almost worse than the year before, which is saying something. Nico sits by herself, adorned in black every day, and Karolina has fallen deeper into the church vortex, everyday with a post about smiling more, and Alex is a loner who apparently just upgraded the school’s security systems (which is so bad, on so many levels). And Gert? Well, Gert is well on her way to having no friends, as Laura moved to San Francisco, and Madi and Jason are dating now. Which, third-wheeling? No thanks. So she has Molly, who is honestly doing so much better than the rest of the group. Old group.

Chase stops suddenly, and looks over at her car. She fights the urge to duck, and lets it look like she’s still sleeping. She even closes her eyes, because just in case he has x-ray vision or something, she needs to look asleep.

Less than a minute later, there’s a knock on her window, making her jump with a squeal. Outside, Chase is laughing, one hand braced on the hood. She glares, but rolls down the widow all the same.

“What.” She says flatly, and his laughter stops abruptly, with a smirk still playing on his lips.

“Like the view?” He says, like the cocky asshole he is. He puts both hands on the car and leans down, making his biceps pop, and she forces her body not to blush.

“Not really, a little skinny for my tastes.” She says evenly, and his smirk fades a bit. Good. “A little too dumb jock for me.” She continues, and the smirk falls completely.

“Right, I forgot how high the standards of Princess Gert are.” He says, voice rough, and she rolls her eyes behind her sunglasses.

“What do you want, Stein?” She asks, and his face goes a little blank, like he doesn’t have an answer. She huffs out an annoyed breath and pushes her sunglasses up her head. She pretends not to notice as his eyes stay on her hair for a second too long. It’s still pink, mostly because she remember his reaction to it, his wide eyes and the way he dropped his phone. “If you’re just here to gloat, go find Eiffel, I’m sure she’ll love it.”

“Eiffel is the worst.” He groans out, seemingly automatic, and then whips his head around, like she might be standing there.

“Well, you’re the idiot who’s dating her. Not my problem.” She says, and then rolls the window up, ignoring his look of surprise. He walks away after a moment, still looking at her a little strangely, and she tries to bring some sort of satisfaction from that, but it isn’t there.

August, 2016

He doesn’t know why he’s here. It’s not even the anniversary. He’s a a month later than the real anniversary they all had here, where everybody came but nobody spoke, except for Widler of course. But he’s sitting next to Amy’s grave, eyes a little wet, trying not to cry. His dad is gone this week, for the first time in months, and it felt like the time to take advantage of his absence. He meant to go to a party, one of the lacrosse ones, but he found himself driving here instead. And ignoring Gert, who’s sitting on the bench, the same one they sat on together at the funeral.

He hadn’t noticed her when he first showed up, though she was definitely there first. Her head buried in her arms, and small shakes going through her body. He wants to get up and comfort her, but she hates him, hates who he is now. Probably best if he doesn’t. Doesn’t change the fact that every sound she makes hurts, and he almost flinches when her head lifts and she catches him watching her. But she doesn’t close off, doesn’t make her face into that angry one she does when she looks at him now. She just looks sad, a little broken.

He gets up and walks to the bench, straddling it like last time, and pulls her into his chest. She goes easily, and the sobbing gets a little louder. He kisses the top of her head, somewhat subconsciously, and squeezes her a little tighter. He hasn’t actually touched her in a little over a year, and it feels better than he thought it would. One of her hands is fisted in his shirt, and the other on his neck, so he thinks he might not be alone in thinking that.

Gert’s sobs quiet after a while, and then stop completely. He kisses her forehead once, and then releases his arms, letting her pull back. She reaches down into her bag, and pulls out one of those liter coke bottles, that she’s refilled with water. He almost laughs at it, but then she starts chugging from it, and then offers it to him. He takes a small sip, then passes it back. When she finally puts it down it's about half empty, an impressive amount to drink in such a short time. She burps, and he smiles at it, while she blushes, and then suddenly they’re both laughing.

She leans against his chest again, sideways in laughter and his arm drifts over her shoulder. She turns her head until she’s laughing against his neck, sending shivers up and down his spine. After a full minute of laughter they both pull pack, and he’s staring into her eyes. He wants to kiss her. Badly. His hand lifts to cup her cheek, and her eyes suddenly go wide, and after a moment she pulls back and looks away. His hand lowers, and he clears his throat. She grabs her bag and walks away, leaving him staring after her like a lost puppy.

It’s not until he gets home that he even realises they never said a word to each other, and he has no idea why either of them were there.

December, 2016

She hates him again, but less because of his jock friend group, and more because she finds herself looking for him, always staring at him. His arms, his chest, his eyes, anything about him. She hasn’t felt like this about him since the first time he started sitting with the lacrosse players, and she hates it. Especially because he doesn’t even seem to see her anymore. She used to feel his eyes on her, and would catch him looking, but now when she turns, he’s busy with something else, talking with someone else, never looking at her. It hurts more than she thought, and she keeps flashing back to the night in the graveyard. Months ago, but still fresh in her mind.

She pulled away, because she was scared, didn’t think he wouldn’t mean it. Didn’t want to see his face after, when he realised she was a mess, sobbing at a grave because she couldn’t cry at home. Always changing her medication, getting panic attacks again. He wouldn’t want that, and she wouldn’t put herself out there only to get rejected. Even if she still loves him, wants him.