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In the Mood for a Melody

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Alex knows Greta, of course. She's not, like, one of the girls that pretty much lives at the house, the ones who's names he knows within about two days of pledging. (Haley, Keltie, Marie.) She's not there when he wakes up, or when he goes to bed, or when he tumbles through the open back door at lunchtime with Johnson, the heavy motherfucker, clinging to his back. But, you know, she's there enough that he knows that she chews on the end of her pencil when she's studying, that she can shotgun a beer faster than Jon Walker, and that she and Haley can recite the entire opening cheer from 'Bring It On' in time with the movie.

So, really, it's more like she's an occasional fixture at the house. He says 'Hi' when he passes her on campus, can recognize her laugh from halfway down the hallway, and one night she came into the room he was sharing with Tom to ask him something (he never did figure out what), saw 'SLC Punk' on the TV, and in the process of not-leaving, helped him kill the last third of the fifth of vodka Ian thought he'd hidden in his closet. Because that was such a fucking awesome hiding place, you know?

Basically, she's a girl who hangs out at their house and yeah.

That's about it.

*

Then, well, there's Sing. They're doing it with Kappa Delta this year, 'Guys and Dolls', and this is what Ryland hadn't said in his recruitment effort (complete with posters taped to the mirrors in the bathroom, a picture of Pete's dog, Hemmy, in a photo-shopped top hat, the words 'FBR Wants You!' written in sharpie around his head):

Sing? Is Hell in Greek clothing.

Like, seriously. They start practice in *February* for a performance in *May*. They have to sing and dance and they're doing it *two nights a week*. Then *three*. And Keltie's already made them block out their calendars for the four Saturdays leading up to the performance, and basically Alex and Singer and Johnson spend a good hour in one of their rooms every Thursday night letting Ian ply them with his latest blends as they say things like, "This is not what I signed up for, bros."

Still, Alex supposes there are worse things in the world than getting to spend two (then three, then more) nights a week in the company of sorority girls. Last year, you know, that was pretty much his dream, right? Join a frat, get the sorority girls. And when he tells one of the guys back at his high school about the pain he's suffering, the kid says, "Dude. Fuck. That's not Hell, that's fucking *Heaven*."

*

So, it's possible that things aren't *always* as bad as Alex makes them out to be, though. Like, well.

Cue Siblings Weekend.

Cue the joint IFC-Panhellenic Mandate that it will be a Dry Weekend.

"Seriously, guys," Jon Walker says during Chapter. "I'm seriously serious. Really. I don't want to hear about any drunken shenanigans, okay?"

'Hearing' is not the same as 'having', though, and Alex has lived in the house long enough that he's pretty sure that what Jon means is that he will, more than likely, be heading over to Cassie's for the weekend nights, because what he doesn't know can't hurt him.

A few days later, Alex thinks that maybe he was wrong, though, because Siblings Weekend comes and Ian starts talking about his plans for the first night, about what recipes he wants to try out, about what alcohol he'll need to acquire, and Ryan Ross looks at them with a very straight face and says, "There will be no blending tonight, kid. Didn't you hear? It's a dry weekend."

The thing is: Ryan Ross has a freaky poker face. Like, he can go totally expressionless. And he does. Ian looks at him in horror, mouth opening and closing, but Brendon's not nearly as good at the whole straight face thing, and he ends up cracking up about twenty seconds later.

"Yeah, he totally had you guys there, don't even front."

'Front' is Brendon's new word. Alex is pretty sure that Cash is to blame. Cash can pretty much be blamed for everything when it comes to Brendon now, from Brendon's tendency to pop his collar to cover the mouth-shaped bruises that mark a path between his collarbone and his ear, to Brendon's tattoo (Alex has seen Cash play it, when he thinks no one is paying attention), to the fact that Brendon pretty much bounces everywhere he goes.

("Your big is fucking *Tigger*, dude," Johnson told Singer once, which just made Singer, in an attempt to prove that he'd joined the right house family, start hopping around the hallway.)

Indeed, someone's older brother—possibly Butcher's?—makes a run to the *good* liquor store just at the edge of town, buys an assortment of booze such as hasn't been seen in the house in quite awhile, and, well. It's a party.

This is the other thing that Alex had heard about Sing: it leads to a whole lot of hanging out. And usually hookups, too.

Like, FBR and KD were already ahead of the curve with their connections to both Haley and Keltie, but in the last six weeks, Alex has grown pretty used to seeing even more KD's roaming the FBR hallways than before. Like tonight for instance: there's Allie, the one who's currently sitting on Siska's couch, giggling. Or Becca, who's getting a piggyback ride from Ryland down the hallway. Then there're the twins, Heather and Casey, who've been chatting up Nick and Tom and his friend Sean-Van-V for the last hour.

Then there's the crew Alex runs with and they've grabbed the upper lounge for their own, sprawled out on the couches and floor, watching Ian make a batch of raspberry margaritas. Haley brought the raspberries (and the strawberries, which they've already finished), Keltie the glasses, Greta the sugar; Johnson's mixing rum and cokes from his spot on the floor, and Brendon and Cash are trying to figure out if they have any jello in the kitchen, and how long would it take for jello shots to solidify, anyway?

So basically, it's a normal weekend at the FBR house. Maybe it feels more special, though? Because it's technically 'forbidden'? (Well, *more* forbidden, since of all of them, Keltie's the only one who's within a month of being legal.) The music seems better, though, the laughter louder, more joyful, and the world seems to be moving at a pleasantly slower, slightly spin-y pace, and somehow, *somehow*, they get on the topic of drums, drumming, and Spencer mentions the set that takes up a large corner of Patrick's room, and how he'd been working on this beat for the last few days ("fucking awesome!" Brendon says) and Haley says, "Greta plays the drums, too, did you know?"

Alex, as it happens, did not know this, but Keltie is the one to say, "Sister, you should show them!" Then, to Spencer, "Do you think your big would mind?"

Spencer shakes his head—once, twice—and then somehow, most of them end up trooping into Patrick's room, stepping over the piles of hoodies and trucker caps, the music composition books, the Geology 102 ('Rocks for Jocks') textbook. At Greta's urging, Spencer sits down at the drums first and pounds out the new beat that he's been working on. It only takes a minute or two, and then he stands up, hands the sticks over to Greta.

She stretches her arms, rolls her shoulders, and then she sits down at the kit. Alex watches as she eyes it for a long moment, then taps the tip of one of the sticks on the snare, brushes it down a cymbal, and then she starts playing. It's not as smooth as Spencer's run through—actually only bares a passing resemblance, because a) she'd never heard his beats before, and b) they've drunk a lot of alcohol tonight already. Still, she gets really into it, working the pedals, banging away, a fucking *huge* grin on her face.

Alex, maybe, possibly, doesn't look away. Not until she hands the sticks off to Johnson, anyway, and comes to collapse on the couch between Alex and Brendon. She's breathing heavily, a few of her curls sticking to the dusting of sweat across her forehead.

"That was—" Alex says, and okay, he's had a lot to drink, so he waves his hand around in front of him to illustrate how awesome that was. Off to Brendon's other side, Cash laughs.

"Thanks," she says, smiling more widely than before.

*

Later, Johnson will claim that that was the beginning of the end, that that was the night that Alex ended up totally fucked, forever and ever and afterwards.

"You and your fucking *crush*," Singer says, and Brendon actually corners him one day, looking concerned, saying, "You, um. You know she's dating a Theta Chi, right?" to which Alex says, "Yeah, yeah, of course."

Because he does know, and it's *not* a crush.

It's just.

She's just spending a lot of time over at the house, what with Sing and all, and most of that is with people that Alex spends his time with, too, and so what if a good portion of the time Alex ends up sitting next to her? He just likes to be able to hear the little under-the-breath comments she tends to make. Because she's really fucking funny. And she's not afraid to defend herself with words or fists.

("She can be *brutal*," Brendon says, and Cash always nods along looking scared, rubbing his shoulder. Then one or the other of them will mention squishing, which leads to the two of them laughing like hyenas or something, or maybe Cash crawling into Brendon's lap, and actually, Alex isn't sure that he *wants* to know the whole story.)

It's not until the night that he's playing the piano in the living room, stretching his fingers out over the keys, the sound just a little sharp to his ears, and, well. He's playing, right, Chopin, Für Elise, a little bit of the Grateful Dead, and some nights when he plays, some of his brothers (Brendon, Singer, sometimes Patrick) will actually come down and join him, oftentimes bringing guitars but *always* voices. Tonight, though, it's just him, him and the scales, rhythms, chords.

Until suddenly it's not, because Greta's standing in the doorway of the living room, arms crossed over her chest, and she's just watching him, her gaze steady. He stumbles over a note (of course), which makes her giggle, but he catches himself and somehow manages to finish out the piece.

"Hi," she says when he pulls his hands back to his lap, and she's coming into the room now, leaning against the edge of the piano a few feet away. She traces her finger along the black lacquer, leaving a smudge of a fingerprint behind.

"Hi," he says. He rubs his hands on his pants. "I was just—" Again with the loss of words, except this time he can't blame it on the alcohol.

"I can see that," she says, and yeah, she's totally laughing at him, but it's okay, Alex thinks, because it's not a *mean* laugh. "You were sounding pretty good there," she continues, and Alex nods, because yeah, he was, until she'd startled him anyway.

"Do you play?" he asks after a moment, before the silence can become awkward, and she nods, totally confident, and Alex thinks, of course she does. After another moment, he stands up and motions for her to take a seat, to play.

Her smile as she sits down is pretty much blinding, and then she stretches her fingers, cracking her knuckles in the process, and starts playing. Alex was expecting something classical, to be honest. Complicated, because it's Greta, and he's starting to think that she's one of those Patrick or Brendon sorts of people, one of those who has yet to meet an instrument they haven't been able to master. She starts in on 'The Entertainer', though, all bouncy notes and smooth transitions, and yeah, so she hits a wrong note or two—"I haven't played this in forever!" she says—but all Alex can think as he watches her play is, *oh, fuck.*

*

So, he maybe has just a *little* bit of a crush. Just a little one. And while he maybe is inclined to a) drink a whole lot, or b) drag Singer or Johnson or Ian (or once, Cash) out to the movies for some mindless explosion-filled entertainment on the days he sees Greta and her boyfriend walking across campus hand in hand, well. He's totally dealing.

That doesn't stop him from sitting down next to her in the KD living room while they warm up during Sing practice, or seeking her out on the nights that she spends hanging out at their house, or inviting her into his and Nick's room when she shows up at his door wanting to talk piano (which happens more often than Johnson seems to believe), or, you know. Acting just like normal.

And, well, the night of Sing, when they're finally finished (and fucking *second*, hell yeah), when the moms seem to be plotting to take them all out for ice cream and Greta hooks her arm around Alex's elbow and asks him, smile wide, if he and his mom are coming along, well. They go.

Afterwards, he and his mom give Greta and her mom a ride back to the KD house. And if Alex pretty much doesn't stop smiling for a few more hours, well. It's not like anyone else notices, because everyone else is smiling, too.

*

Three nights before Alex's finals are over, Greta comes over to the house to do a round of goodbyes. She knocks on his door, quietly at first, but then more loudly when he doesn't immediately turn around.

He feels his grin go a little stupid when he sees her, but he's pretty sure that he manages to tone it down again quickly enough. She brushes a curl behind her ear, then again when it immediately falls forward again.

"I just wanted to say goodbye," she says, and Alex raises a hand in a sort of lame wave. Greta rolls her eyes, though, and steps over the pile of Nick's laundry, kicks at one of Alex's flip flops, sending it over towards the closet, and then she leans down to give him a hug. Alex hugs her back, grip loose and awkward, but he pats at her back and says, "Yeah. Um, have a good summer?"

"You too," she says. Then she leaves. A moment later, though, she peers back around the doorjamb to say, "See you next year!"

*

Alex randomly meets up with Jenny at the mall during the second week of summer vacation, while he's waiting for his mom to be done with her errands. Well, actually, the first thing he sees are the backs of her fingers as they're pressed over his eyes, skin dry and air-conditioned cool, and it's been most of a year, so he's totally not surprised when he doesn't immediately recognize her giggle, her voice when she says, "Guess who?"

She pulls her hands away when he twists around to see her, and she looks different than the last time he saw her. Her hair is shorter, blond curls cropped closer than he remembers, pinned back with clips, and she's wearing a glittery 'Class of '09! Seniors Rule!' t-shirt.

"Alex Marshall," she says. "What the hell is going on?"

She's with her friend Kara, the two of them already carrying shopping bags, and somehow they end up in the food court drinking Jamba Juice, catching Alex up on all of the high school gossip he might not have already heard. Alex starts in on tales of fraternity life, which make the girls giggle and squeal and say things like, "Oh my god, college cannot get here fast enough, you know?"

Alex understands. He's not ready for *school* to start up again, not yet, but as nice as it is to go to bed in his own room without having to fall asleep listening to twenty other guys snore and toss and turn, he actually does already miss his house.

His mom calls him about twenty minutes after they were supposed to meet, asking where he is, is he ready to go, and Alex says, "Yeah, I'll be right there." Before he can put his phone away, though, Jenny grabs it and puts her number in his contact list.

"Call me," she says. "We're totally doing something this weekend, okay?"

"Yeah, sure," he says, and he means it in that way where yeah, he's pretty sure that he'll see her again sometime this summer, probably at some party or other, but Saturday night comes and Singer's off doing something with his girlfriend, Johnson is off at his grandmother's for the weekend, and Alex is really sort of bored. So he calls.

It takes another week for him to kiss her. The week after that he pays for the movie they go see while she buys a large popcorn and Pepsi for them to share.

"So apparently you've got a type?" Johnson asks one afternoon when they're hanging out, and when Alex makes a questioning noise, he rolls his eyes. "Blond? Curls?" Alex just tosses a flip-flop at him and says, "Shut up."

Because it was just a *little* crush. That's what he kept telling everyone; it's not his fault that no one believed him.

*

Okay, so Alex had pretty much been thinking that the whole thing with Jenny was a summer thing, right? Fun, because he *likes* Jenny, she makes him laugh and doesn't hesitate to slap him upside the head when he tries to provoke her or tickles her or does, you know, something along those lines.

So no one's really more surprised than he is when, during the first week of August, two weeks before he's supposed to leave, he says, "I, um. I know I'm going to be going back to school halfway across the country and all, but I really—I mean, I'd like it if we could keep—"

She interrupts his babbling by kissing him. "Yeah, what's half a country? And, I mean, Thanksgiving will here before we know it, right?"

"Right," he says, even though if he remembers last year correctly, the time between the start of school and Thanksgiving felt like half a lifetime. But given how each month had seemed to get progressively quicker the longer he was at Springfield, he's pretty sure that Thanksgiving really will be here before he knows it this year.

"Exactly," she says, then kisses him again.

*

Once he gets back to school, Alex develops a routine pretty quickly, actually. He's taking 17 credit hours—including two 300-level classes, and, you know, someone maybe could have *warned* him that that was a stupid idea—and between House stuff and talking to Jenny at least three times a week and being roped onto the intramural volleyball team and doing some freelance work for the *Springfield Patriot*, he's pretty fucking busy.

Which is why he doesn't really notice that he hasn't seen Haley (since Spencer is studying in *London* for the term, lucky bastard) and thus Greta for awhile until, well, they're suddenly back, eating lunch with Brendon and hanging out in his room at night, playing video games and trying to kick Cash's ass at Guitar Hero.

And, like, it was just a little crush, which Alex is totally over, totally beyond, so he doesn't think anything of it when, one night when he actually has a few hours free before he's supposed to call Jenny, he wanders into Brendon's room to see what all the shrieking is about. What he finds is Haley tickling Cash and threatening dire retribution for some insult, Brendon and Greta off to the side of the room, laughing themselves sick.

Greta is the first one to notice him, or at least acknowledge him, because her face lights up as she says, "Marshall! Have a seat!" She scoots over on the couch and grins up at him, pushing her curls behind her ear. Marshall can't really resist an invitation like that, so he sits, settling into the couch, and then they start talking. And the thing is, they haven't talked in four months, but in a way it's like no time has passed at all, because the next thing Alex knows, Brendon's kicking at Alex's thigh saying, "Hey, get out of my room. Some of us would like to go to bed at some point this morning, all right?"

Greta giggles and stands, extending a hand to Alex to help him up, and then he follows her and Haley out of the room. He thinks about asking them if they want to come down the hall to his room—he's staying with Singer this term—but they're already heading for the stairs.

"Have a good night, Marsh," Greta says, and Alex, lamely, waves his hand. "Good night," he says.

Behind him, Johnson snorts. When Alex looks over his shoulder at him, though, to see what the deal is (seriously) Johnson just shakes his head and says, "Fucked. Forever and ever and ever after."

And Alex would tell Johnson to fuck off, except that he takes a look at his watch and sees that he was supposed to call Jenny about two hours ago, and on that front at least, yeah, he definitely is.

*

Then, well. Things change.

It starts out like a normal Wednesday night, actually, but about 8:45, Alex hears the front door open and then close again, then the sound of feet coming up the back stairs, bottles clinking together in plastic bags, and then Haley saying, "Crawford! Where are you?"

Alex looks out of his room in time to see Haley and Greta walking down the hallway, and normally they'd be laughing, normally there would be teasing and, well, smiles at the very least, but Haley is looking annoyed and Greta actually looks like she's been crying—face pale, eyes rimmed red, and Alex feels his chest tighten just a bit, because that's. That's just.

Neither of the girls looks into his room, though, and Alex knows that they're heading for Brendon's, because that's what they do. For a moment, Alex thinks about going after them, seeing if there's anything he can do, but, well. *But* he's Greta's friend, and friends don't let friends walk around the FBR house crying, so he makes his way down the hallway, knocks on Brendon's door.

Haley looks up first and she grins wanly at him. Greta doesn't look up at all.

"What's going on?" he asks and to which Haley replies, "Boys. Boys are *stupid*, is what's going on."

"Very stupid," Greta hisses, and Alex's chest tightens a little more.

"Fuck," Alex says, then, "Sorry. I'm sorry."

Greta finally looks up at him, tries to smile, just a little bit. "It's not your fault," she says.

Alex shrugs, then rolls his shoulders. "I—He wasn't good enough for you anyway."

"Damn right he wasn't," Brendon says. Then he grins at Alex. "If she agrees to let me go over there and beat him up, do you want in?"

"Absolutely," Alex says, making a fist and punching at his other hand.

Greta laughs wetly, then swallows, and says, "Thanks, guys. Thanks."

*

So. Okay. Alex supposes that in the grand scale of things last year, he didn't actually spend that much time talking to Greta one-on-one. Yeah, she'd watched a few movies in his room; yeah, they'd had that night at the piano, and the three or four times she'd stopped by his room to chat after that. The rest of the time he'd spent with her had been during Sing, or with the rest of their group, and yeah, they'd spent a lot of time talking then, but it was always with other people.

Which is why it actually registers as out of the ordinary when Greta comes by his room three nights in a row. Tuesday, the excuse is that she's had enough of Haley and Cash's Guitar Hero shenanigans. Wednesday she says, "They're just so sickeningly sweet, you know? It's disgusting!" and Alex doesn't even have to wonder who she's talking about; Brendon and Cash and sickening sweetness are long acknowledged facts in the FBR house. Thursday she doesn't give an excuse. She just brings her backpack into his room, sits down on his couch and says, "Do you mind?"

Friday, Johnson corners him and says, "What the hell are you doing, Marsh?" and Alex just shakes his head, because he's not doing anything.

Saturday, Greta shows up at his door again, smiling weakly and saying, "So, I know I'm being totally needy and you should just tell me to leave if you have somewhere else to be? But. I'm really not in the mood for another night of Happy Couple Theater—which isn't to say that I don't think you're totally happy with your girlfriend. Just. She's not here, so it's not quite the same as, well, them." She waves down the hallway in the direction of Brendon's room. Alex would point out that Haley is currently flying solo, too, except that he's not exactly complaining that Greta's spending time in his room.

And, well, it's pretty much everything he'd wanted last year. She laughs at his jokes, she tells Johnson to shut up when he makes snide comments, she no longer feels the need to ask before co-opting his DVD player for whatever she'd like to watch that night. Just: sometimes, still, she looks sad, looks a little broken. Maybe isn't as quick with a retort as she once would have been.

It makes Alex want to push, to get her to fight back, to show she's still the girl who shotgunned a beer more quickly than Jon Walker, who attempted to match Spencer beat for beat at the drums.

*

Then: one afternoon in late October she comes into his room, hands behind her back, tipping back and forth on her heels as she says, "So. Um. Feel free to say no, feel totally free to say no, but our barn dance is coming up in a few weeks? And I was wondering—if you don't think Jenny would mind?—if you might want to go with me? Because I'd really sort of like to take a friend."

Alex stares at her for a long moment, and oh, god, he wants to say yes. He wants so very badly to say yes. What he says, though, is: "I. My girlfriend, she—" Jenny would tell him to go, if he asked, but she'd also go silent on the other end of the line. She'd say things like, "Of *course* Greta wants you to go with her," just like she's taken to saying, 'You're hanging out with Greta? Again?' when she calls and Greta's studying in Alex's room.

Greta turns bright red, then ducks her head and says, "Yeah, of course, stupid idea, sorry." She's turning on her heel so fast that Alex barely has time to say, "Hey, no, I can talk—" but she's already out in the hallway saying, "Never mind, forget I asked, don't worry about it."

*

The next Alex hears—and he doesn't even hear it from her, since the only times he sees her during the next two weeks are when he stops by Brendon's room-—she's taking Cash. Brendon and Cash and Haley and Greta, the four of them barn-dancing it up, doing whatever dances one does at a barn dance, and if Alex has a particular reason for challenging Johnson to a 'Halo' battle to the death the night that they all go, well.

Johnson only rolls his eyes at Alex a few times.

*

Jenny doesn't meet him at the airport when he flies home for Thanksgiving, but she shows up on his porch after dinner. She's wearing a UNLV hoodie, her hands buried in the sleeves. She smiles at him, but doesn't take his hand when he reaches out to take hers.

"Let's take a walk," she says. It's cool out—not as cold as Illinois this time of year temperature-wise, but desert cold, different. They head up two blocks, then three to the right, and Jenny's telling him about her classes, asking about his flight, his fraternity brothers. She bumps her elbow against his, then stops. Alex stops too. There's a streetlight a few steps farther down the sidewalk, but they're in shadow still.

Jenny looks up at him, her eyes wide. She bites at her bottom lip, then swallows. "I need you to be the one to say it," she says, and Alex wishes he didn't know what she was not-saying, but he does. He does.

"I'm sorry," he says, because he is.

"Halfway across the country is a long ways away," Jenny says, sounding a little desperate, like she needs that to be the reason, and Alex nods, because it is, it could be. He reaches out to touch her shoulder and this time she comes to him, burying her face against his neck.

"I'm sorry," he says again. Jenny nods.

*

He thinks about it on the flight back to Chicago: showing up at the KD house. "Greta!" one of her sisters would say into the intercom. "You have a caller!" How she'd come down the stairs and she'd smile and somehow she'd just be able to *tell* that Jenny was no longer in the picture.

In reality, he goes back to the FBR house, lets Singer make the sympathetic noises of someone who's quite happy in their relationship, lets Johnson look very unsurprised at this turn of events.

In reality, it's Greta who shows up at his door and says, "I heard about you and—" She doesn't say her name, or maybe Alex nods quickly enough that he cuts her off before she can.

"It was a long time coming," Alex says, because it was. When he looks back on it, it really, really was.

Greta sits down on his couch then, curls herself into the cushions, just like she'd never been gone, and Alex wants it to be a sign, but. But.

"So what are we watching?" she asks and Alex tosses the remote her direction. "Your choice," he says.

*

There's only three weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of finals, but somehow Greta ends up in Alex's room at least two nights each of those weeks, drags him to the library with her and Haley another three times, and out for midnight snacks once. She sits next to Alex at the library, at the diner, and draws stick figures in the columns of his notebook when his brain starts to wander.

Alex catches Haley rolling her eyes once, but then she smiles widely at him, probably trying to look innocent.

The last night before they all head their separate directions for the holidays, Greta shows up at his door again. This time it's not a quick goodbye, though. This time she curls up on his couch and lets Haley, Brendon, and Cash come to them. When Haley finally starts making noises about leaving, Greta steals one of Singer's post-it notes and writes her number on it, presses it to Alex's desk.

"You should call me," she says.

"I will," Alex says.

*

He does.

He calls her five times, she calls him three, and during the last phone call, two days before he returns to Illinois, he says, "Can I, um. Come see you when I get back?"

"Of course," she says and she sounds like she's smiling. Like it's a given. Like there was never any chance she'd say no. "You should definitely come see me when you get back into town. Unless it's, like, two in the morning. Then you should maybe wait until after breakfast."

"Deal," he says.

But he gets back at a perfectly reasonable hour: seven o'clock. He waits until eight because, well, he has to put his bags down, and there are all sorts of stories to hear (already, even though they were only away from the house for 3.5 weeks) and people to talk to. At 8:02, though, he leaves FBR and walks across the street to KD. He stands on their front porch and rings the doorbell and when Allie answers, she grins at him, says, "Greta?"

He nods. He hears her page Greta, the quiet, "I'll be right down!" coming from upstairs. Then there are feet on the stairs and a door opening and when she sees him, Greta smiles.

*

Most people, now, would probably consider that to be the end. Not Alex, though, because this is what he learns during those first few weeks, months: dating Greta is a whole lot different (so much better) than having a crush on Greta.

For one, he gets to kiss her, and she really likes to kiss. The guys in his house have pretty much learned to knock before coming into his room nowadays, which is, well, awesome. The girls in her house just tell them to get a room.

For another, she has no qualms about beating Alex every single time when they see who can shotgun beers more quickly. And whenever she challenges one of his brothers to the same contest, Alex always knows who to put his money on. When she wins, as she does, she's always happy to give his faith a reward.

When she's had a bad day and the nursery schoolers in the Education Center have spent the entire afternoon being little terrors, Alex will come home from class to find her curled up on his couch, the electronic keyboard that his parents got him for Christmas set up in front of her. She'll be playing something, but she'll break it off when he comes in and pat the spot on the couch next to her, encouraging him to sit. They'll play Chopsticks, or Heart & Soul. Some duet. Sometimes their fingers will trip over each other, sometimes they'll tangle together. Sometimes they'll end up holding hands between their bodies, their other hands playing a melody on the keyboard.

He learns, quickly, that she's not afraid to tackle him, tickle him, punch his shoulder when she thinks he's being out of line, but some nights, when they're over at the KD house hanging out with her sisters, she'll curl up next to him on the couch and slide under his arm. She'll rest her head against his shoulder and when he glances down at her, she'll be looking back up at him, a soft look in her eyes. "Hi," she says.

"Hi," Alex says, and, well.

Yeah.

That's about it. That's really the end.