For complete disclaimers see part 1.

If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at:



Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman


Part 3

I flopped down on the couch, exhausted after trials, not even enough energy to shower and change at the dojang. The stiff material of my dobok rubbed against my skin, rubbing it the wrong way as the cold air helped chafe my sweaty skin. I stood, pulling the ends of my ti tighter around my waist, forever thrilled with the golden reminders of my advancement in Tae Kwon Do, three vertical lines representing each degree of my black belt. I’d earned those after eleven years, and was damn proud of them.

I sighed heavily, so tired, and headed for the stairs.

Ding Dong

"Honey, can you get that, please? We’re really getting the trick-or-treaters this year," my mom called from the kitchen where she was washing dishes. With a low growl, I headed for the front door, the huge bowl of candy waiting on the small table just inside the door. I grabbed it and opened the door I’d just closed five minutes before. I pasted a smile on my face, always enjoying the kids and their wacky costumes. I wondered what the craze would be this year; Pokemon, I heard He-Man was coming back.

The door swung open, letting in a whoosh of frigid air and moisture, and I looked at the four smiling M&M’s that looked up at me.

"Trick or treat!" they yelled in unison. I chuckled, then seeing familiar blue eyes, raised a brow.

"Aren’t you a little old to be doing this, Haley?" A round of giggles brought the human candies to their feet from kneeling, hands extended with bags open for their treat. "So what’s the trick?" I looked at the other three, trying to figure out who they were. Meghan’s dark skin, though painted orange to match her M&M color gave her away. So, I imagined red was Kelly, and Heather took the green. My eyes found the blue candy, and I grinned, shaking my head.

Meghan looked at me, grinning. "So, what are you? The Karate Kid?" Another round of giggles. I rolled my eyes.

"So do we get any?" Haley asked, nodding toward the bowl in my hand. Deciding to play along, I grabbed a bite-sized Snickers, and looked at Heather, putting a very sweet, but extremely patronizing look on my face.

"Okay, now you can only have one, okay? Make sure your mommy looks through all your candy to make sure none of it is poisoned." The candy bar dropped into her bag with a small thunk. I was surprised to see just how fat all their plastic grocery bags were. They each thanked me in turn, then turned and headed down the sidewalk to the street. I watched them, a smile on my face that I couldn’t contain. At the end of the sidewalk, the blue M&M turned and waved, then disappeared beyond the light of the porch.

* * *

I smacked my lips with pleasure as my head hit the pillow, so soft and wonderful after a long day of sparring and trying to make students who were trying for the next belt, better than they ever thought possible. My trials were in January for my fourth degree, and I was nervous.

Without another thought, I escaped to the darkness of sleep.

For a while.

Ring… ring… ring…

"Wha, no, I don’t wann, shit!" My eyes popped open remembering suddenly that my mom was on the late shift, and praying that nothing had gone wrong. "Hello?" I nearly barked into the phone.

"Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!" I jerked away from the loud voice, staring at the receiver in my hand like it was a snake.

"Who is this?"

"Star child, of course." The words were slurred, but I could tell the speaker was trying her best to keep them straight.


"Anli, it’s me." My brows drew, but then it hit me.


"Uh huh." I couldn’t keep the grin off my face as I glanced at the clock; two-thirty four in the morning. "Anli, I need a fav, fa, favor." Sounding like her tongue had grown about four sizes too big, I chuckled.

"Okay. What’s that?"

"I didn’t mean to get so thrunk. My ma and pa, don’t wanna see them like that." I chuckled again. Wow, some seriously great blackmail material right here. "Please, pick us up an find me a bed?"

I glanced at the clock again, closing my eyes with a silent groan. I just want bed! With a sigh I agreed. Luckily mom and her best friend, Sandra, carpool when they both work the nightshift, so I had the car.

"Thanks, buckaroo." Haley managed around her apparently monstrous tongue.

I hung up the phone and flicked on my lava lamp on my nightstand, sending out a bright, orange glow to the room as I got dressed in a pair of flannel pants and a sweatshirt, pulling on shoes as I headed downstairs. I could see the snow coming down as I opened the garage door, a small drift piled against the large door. I always loved to plow through those, making nice, readable tracks in the snow.

The dome light popped on when I unlocked the door, and climbed in. Brrrr. Quickly I got the engine going, and turned the heat on high, though it probably wouldn’t warm up until I got to the house where the party was. The night was so still as I drove down the streets of my neighborhood, the houses dark and quite except for the occasional porch light or upstairs lamp. I ran a hand through my hair, which I imagined was sticking up in interesting ways as short hair tends to do, and thought about where I was going. Why me? Out of all the people at Winston that must have a car, Haley called me.

I began to leave the city lights behind me, the party at an old farmhouse that belonged to somebody’s grandparents, that was out in the middle of nowhere, no lights, very few street signs. Why in the world was I doing this? It was nearly three in the morning, I was cold, tired, and damn near lost. I glanced at the paper where I had hastily written out the address and directions a very drunk Haley had given me, and looked to see if I could connect the dots somewhere with the landmarks I had been given in lieu of actual streets.

"Haley, you are so dead if I die out here." I muttered as I slowed the car down when a building popped up out of the darkness. Okay, that must be the barn with the white sign over the door. Well, at least I’m on the right track. She said to look for a massive bonfire, and I’d have the place.

The snow continued to fall at an alarming rate, looking like we’d have quite the white blanket by morning. With only my headlights illuminating my way, it was incredible, like flying through space in hyper drive as the white flakes flew at the car, bouncing off the windshield, only to be replaced by another as they disappeared into the night.

I drove on, the heat finally beginning to kick in, so I turned on the radio. Grimacing, I quickly changed the channel from my mom’s station, cow dung, USA. I just wasn’t a fan of country music. No one can have that horrible of a life all the time. I mean, your wife left you, your dog died, but crapped on the rug before he did. I don’t buy it.

Switching through, I landed on the beginning of some song that I didn’t recognize, so I left it. As long as it wasn’t Britney Spears or rap, I was cool with it. Well, and there was no twang. The woman began to sing of undying love and desire, the power of it all and how it took over her body. Rolling my eyes, a smirk made its way across my face as I changed the station yet again.

Up ahead I saw something glowing, and a smile replaced the smirk. Looks like a bonfire if I’ve ever seen one. And it looked so warm. There were few cars there, yet tracks everywhere. Everyone seemed to have the same idea of getting home. As I got further into the yard, I saw four figures huddled together, and I couldn’t help but chuckle, knowing they were the drunk quartet that I was here for.

I pulled up beside them, and pulled to a stop, rolling the passenger window down, and leaning over the seat.

"You ladies need a lift?" They looked up, and puffs of white breath blew out as they smiled in their excitement. I wondered if the cold had sobered them up at all.

"Hey." Haley yanked open the front door, and the other three stuffed their costumed selves into the back seat, trying to fit with their huge M&M costumes making them all about twice their usual size. It was quite a sight. "Thanks, buddy," Haley slurred, half her face still painted blue, the other side, who knew what had happened to the make-up. I didn’t really want to think about it.

"No problem. Everyone in?" I looked behind my shoulder to the back seat to see the other three chocolate candies huddled again, well, as best they could. I turned back around before busting out in a full laugh, and got us heading home.

I turned the radio up a little to absorb the silence, and the heat up to warm up my cargo. If only I had one of those nifty little pine tree things hung on my rearview mirror; the stench of alcohol was palpable. Everyone behaved for the most part until Kelly decided she really liked the song on the radio, and decided that the need to sing along, loudly and badly, was just too overwhelming for her. That in itself would not have been so bad, but when the other three chimed in, I wanted to pull over to the side of the road and leave them for snowmen.

Glancing over at Haley, I saw her mouth open wide, eyes squeezed shut as she added her own wail. She looked at me, her mouth slamming shut, and the cutest, most innocent grin replacing the notes.


"Hello." I smiled back.

"How are ya?" Chuckling, I nodded.

"Doing okay. How about yourself? Did you have fun at the party?" I glanced at her again, not daring to take my eyes off the icy streets for minute. I had been driving for exactly five months, and didn’t feel real comfortable in this sort of weather.

"I did. Shush!" she yelled, startling me, but her buddies all stopped their warbling, looking at her with stricken eyes. For just a moment I almost felt bad, but for just a moment. My ears had stopped ringing. "Some guy thought I was a peanut M&M, and wanted to know how many licks it took to get to the peanutty center." She began to giggle. "I tol’ him that I wasn’t a Tootsie Pop." This, apparently, was quite funny for her as she erupted into a fit of laughter.

I bit my lip to not laugh and encourage her silliness; she was doing quite fine on her own. She seemed a little more sober then when she’d called at two-thirty, but still pretty gone.

"Okay, Meghan, home, sweet home." I looked back at the three Stooges to see all three sound asleep. "Shit." I turned to Haley. "Stay." The night was freezing as I hurried to the back door, pulling it open, and having to catch Meghan before she fell out onto the street. I strained under her weight. She definitely didn’t look like she weighed this much. "Meghan?" With a groan I pushed her back into the car, lightly slapping her cheeks to wake her. Dark eyes opened, her orange make-up mostly rubbed off to reveal her smooth, dark skin. She looked at me, the whites of her eyes nearly glowing in the darkness of the car. She smiled, big and sloppy.


"Hey, there. Come on, you’re home."

"Oh, yay!" She clapped her hands together, pushing herself up on shaky legs, using me and the car for balance as she nearly fell on her butt on a patch of ice. I helped her to the front door, grabbing her purse from her to dig her house keys out.

"Here you go, Meghan."

"Oh, thanks, lady." She smiled again, taking the keys from me, trying to find the right one. Finally, miraculously, she did, and got the door open, nearly falling inside the house. At that point I didn’t care. She was at home and safe. Let her get her own ass to bed. I hurried back to the car to drop off the rest of the girls.

The car was quiet, me behind the wheel, and a sleeping Haley in the passenger seat. I had managed to get Kelly and Heather home with little effort as the booze was beginning to wear off, and sleep began to take over. I glanced over at my passenger as I headed to her house. She looked so peaceful as she slept, her head turned so she was facing me, head bobbing slightly with the bumps the car took from the road. Her foam costume was billowed up around her chest and shoulders, giving her an ample comfy spot to rest her chin. It was amusing.

"Haley, hey, wake up." The engine turned off as I parked in front of her house, I gently slapped her. Blue eyes opened to look at me for a moment before sitting up and looking around. I saw a hand absently go to her mouth to wipe away some drool that had gathered in the left corner.

"Oh, Andi, I can’t go here." My brows drew as I glanced up at the house.


"I, um, I don’t want my folks to see me like this." She grinned, lopsided, but she seemed to be mostly with it. "Can you take me to a motel or something?"

"Oh. Well," I sighed, forgetting she’d told me that on the phone. Well, the truth of the matter was I hadn’t taken her real seriously. She was wasted, after all. Turing the car on, I pulled away. "I know a place."

The house was still dark as my mom hadn’t returned home yet, and Chris was long asleep.

"Be quiet." I whispered as I helped Haley up the stairs, trying to avoid any serious cotastrophies with the furniture. I pushed her into my bedroom and closed the door before I turned the light on. How I wished I had a basement bedroom. I didn’t want Chris waking up or my mom finding Haley here. I wasn’t sure what she’d say to this.

Haley stumbled into the room, looked at me for a moment, then slid down to sit in a blue heap on the floor. I smiled, staring down at her.

"Do you think maybe you should let your parents know where you are?" I crossed my arms over my chest, nodding toward the phone laying on the side table. She glanced at it, then up at me, her eyes red-rimmed and bleary, then nodded. I grabbed the phone and handed it to her. She dialed, cleared her throat, and waited.

"Hey, I’m sorry to wake you, dad, but I just wanted to let you know that I decided to stay over at a friends house tonight." I watched, absolutely amazed at how she was able to hide the fact that she was totally drunk, and about to fall asleep in the middle of my floor. Her eyes drooped further and further down with every second that ticked by. "Okay. I love you, too. Sure. Goodnight." She clicked the phone off, and plopped back onto the floor, her M&M costume rising up to nearly cover her face.

"Okay, you. Let’s get you into bed." I pulled her up by her arms, hauling her to her feet as I reached for the covers on my bed, pushing them back so I could push her in. She plopped down on the bed, bouncing slightly on the mattress as I knelt down to unlace and remove her shoes, and help her get the foam costume off to reveal a blue body suit underneath. Figuring she’d be fine in that, I brought her legs to the bed, and looked at her to see she’d fallen back against the pillow, sound asleep.

Out of breath from the effort, I brought the blankets up and tucked them around her shoulders and under her chin. I stood, stared down at her. She was breathing deeply and evenly, gone to the world for this night.

With a sigh, I hurried to the linen closet in the hall, grabbed two sleeping bags, and made myself a bed on the floor next to the bed. I wrapped my arms around the pillow, glanced at the clock to see it was nearly five in the morning, and closed my eyes.

* * *

I saw him coming, fast and mean as I tried to dodge, roll out of the way as his foot got closer and closer to my face…

"Wake up." My eyes shot open, and I turned to see Haley leaning over me. I turned to my back from my side, and cringed as a pain shot up my back. What the? Then I remembered I’d spent the night on the floor. I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment as I tried to get my bearings. I sat up, pulling the sleeping bag closer around me, and turned to look at Haley who sat on the edge of the bed, her legs curled up under her. She was a sight, that was for sure. Her hair was a mess, mussed and sticking up in places, which was amazing as it was fairly long. Tiny smudges of blue could still be seen near her left ear.

"Hey." I croaked, still half asleep. "What time is it?"

"Ten. Your mom was just here."

"Oh." I stood, stretching my back, then it hit me. "Shit!"

"What?" Haley looked alarmed.

"I have to go to practice, shit." I ran to the bathroom to brush my teeth and comb my runaway hair. With the trials yesterday, we didn’t have our normal Saturday practice, so it was today.

"Practice what?" I heard from the bathroom doorway. Haley stood there still in her bodysuit, socks half off and flopped out to the side of her feet. I chuckled, then looked at her.

"Tae Kwon Do."

"You do Tae Kwon Do?" I nodded as I rushed into the bedroom to grab my dobok, then hurried back into the bathroom to change.

"I’ll be right out." I closed the door on a very surprised and confused Haley.

"Can you drop me off on the way?" she called from the bedroom.

"Sure," I called back, tying my ti just right, all the stripes in the right place, the ends of the belt even. I opened the door to find Haley standing near the bed, the blankets in her hands. She looked at me, her face pale and eyes wide.

"I’m so sorry." I looked to see where she was looking; my pillow had blue smudges all over it, including on the edge of the sheet. "I’ll buy you another set, Andi, I promise." I grinned, finding the entire situation incredibly amusing, and shook my head.

"No, that’s okay. You don’t have to, Haley. It’s no big deal."

"Are you sure? God, I feel terrible. I’ve ruined your sheets."

"Haley," I turned to her, my face falling at the look of devastation on her face. "Really, it’s okay. Alright?" I stared up into her eyes, waiting for some sign that she heard and understood. Finally she nodded, avoiding my eyes. I smiled reassuringly at her. "Come on. Let’s get you home. Want to borrow some sweats, or something?" she looked down at herself and her wrinkled body suit, then grinned, shaking her head.

"That’s okay. I’ll just make a full-out sprint for my bedroom." I grinned, nodded.

"Let’s go."

* * *

God, had Tracy gotten better in the last twenty-four hours? She sure seemed to be a hell of a lot faster in her punches. I was having a heck of a time trying to keep up. I felt so dead, definitely not getting enough sleep last night. All I wanted was a bed, I wanted to go home, flop down on my bed, and-


I saw lights behind my eyes as my head hit the mat with a solid thump. Extraordinary pain raced through my head, centering in my right eye. I brought my hands to my face, expecting to feel something wet and sticky, but there wasn’t. Instead someone pushed my hand away, and fingers trailed along my nose and my temple.

"Can you breathe, Andi?" my Sabum Nim asked. I thought for a moment, then nodded. "Open your eyes." I did, then quickly slammed them shut again as the pain radiated out once more.

"Ah, crap that hurts!" I yelled, hearing a quiet round of chuckles around me.

"I’m so sorry, Andi. Oh, god. I’m really sorry."

I reached out blindly, trying to find Tracy, and my hand was filled with hers. I squeezed it to let her know it was okay, and so was I.

"Can you sit?" I was helped to a sitting position, the pain coming with me. I heard the instructor tell someone to get some ice, and then that person quickly running out of the room. Sabum Nim kept a small refrigerator in the back room for this specific purpose. Within a few seconds someone handed me an icepack, and I had it on my eye. The other one opened to see the entire class standing or kneeling around me, and my teacher looking at me with concern and disdain. "Why did yon lose your concentration, Andi?" he asked.

"I’m sorry. I didn’t get enough sleep last night." I said, feeling lame.

"That is no excuse. I want you to go home and rest. You’re no good if you can’t focus."

"Yes, Sabum Nim." He helped me to my feet, and patted my on the back.

"We’ll see you next time." I bowed to him, and turned to head to the lockers. My head was pounding, and I hoped I’d be able to drive. I could barely keep my eye open. I knew there would be one hell of a shiner there tomorrow.

* * *


I pulled into the driveway, the ice cubes already melting in the baggie they were in. I grabbed it from the passenger seat, and headed into the house. I walked to the kitchen, straight to the fridge. My mom was sitting at the table reading the paper.

"Hey, honey. Why are you home so early?" She looked up at me, and was immediately on her feet. "Oh, Andrea! What happened?" she looked into my face, bringing her hand up to gently touched the red, puffy skin around my eye, her eyes narrowed in concern. "Oh, sweetie. You’re going to have quite the bruise there."

"Yeah. I’m so excited, too." I muttered.

"What happened?"

"Just wasn’t concentrating." I sighed. "I’m going to bed."

"Okay, honey. Oh, there’s a message for you on the answering machine."

"Kay. Thanks." She gave me a kiss on my forehead, and putted my butt as I walked to the living room where the answering machine was. I pushed the play button, and sat on the arm of the couch to listen.

"Hey, Andi. Um, well, I just wanted to say thank you for last night, and that I’m really embarrassed about it. Um, I don’t really do that often, and so, well, I just wanted to let you know that I’m really appreciative. Okay? Um, see you at school. Bye." I stared down at the machine, a smile on my face. Anytime, Haley.

* * *


I turned the page in my book, my teeth crunching the potato chip I had just tossed into my mouth. I could hear the loud conversations all around me, most talking about what they had done for Halloween weekend, no doubt many of them had been at the party Haley was at. Haley. A grin spread across my face as I thought of her drunk Saturday night. The poor girl had been so gone, and so wiped out. She was always so cool and collected, so to see her so out of control was certainly new.

I glanced up when someone kicked my shoe. Haley smiled down at me, her expression shy and sheepish, it slid right off her when she looked into my face.

"Oh, god, Andi! What happened to you?" She knelt down getting a closer look. "Oh, jeez. Does it hurt?" I shrugged, then nodded.

"Well, as you know I had practice yesterday morning, but, um, well, I blocked kick with my face."

"Oh, Andi. Are you a beginner, or something?" I grinned.

"Hardly. I just couldn’t concentrate due to lack of sleep."

"Oh, no!" She covered her mouth with her hands, her eyes huge. "Oh, Andi. I am so sorry. Oh, wow. Man, what can I do? Anything?" I shook my head.

"No. It’ll go away all on it’s own, don’t worry about it." She swallowed, her eyes still on my eye. "Haley, don’t worry. It happens, you know? This isn’t my first black eye, nor will it be my last."

"Yeah, but you got it because of me."


"Oh, jeez."

"I’m only kidding," I laughed, touching her briefly on the arm. "Really, I’m only joking. It’s no big deal. Hey, you got me out of practice and to bed, so that’s good, right?" She grinned weakly, nodding her head.

"Okay. Well, I just came over to say hi and thanks again."

"Well, hi, and you’re welcome." She smiled at me.

"See you later?" I nodded. With one last look, she stood and walked away.

The week flew by for me, the semester coming to an end, and Christmas break not far away. We had to get through November and Thanksgiving, and then were home free for a few weeks. I couldn’t wait.

I walked the halls of Winston High, ignoring the stares as people took in my shiner, looking at me in a way where I could read their minds. Yes, yes, I have a black eye, what do you know. Can we please try and state the obvious yet again? I shrugged my backpack a bit higher on my shoulder as I headed for the front door to the school, another week down, and another weekend before me.

The walk home was cold, so luckily I’d somehow managed to think ahead through my sleepy haze this morning. I was bundled up in a thick sweater and winter coat. Traditionally Halloween brought on the bad weather, but since the cold had come early this year, Halloween just brought on the really bad weather. Flurries just about everyday, some days all-out snow. Today was actually clear and bright, only cold. I marveled at the Halloween decoration that some people had yet to take down, pumpkins rotting on front porches, and plastic ghouls and goblins leering from windows and front yards.

I ran across the crispy grass of my yard, brown with gold tips, frosted white in the mornings. I was starving, and wanted to chow down before I had to go to work. We had started a really exciting project on Wednesday, so I was really pumped to get there and see how it had gone so far. Dr. Wills, my supervisor, was brilliant, and his insight into the human body was just amazing. He was trying to work on some new combinations of proteins and cells that dealt with cancer, burning to be the first doctor to find the cure. Weren’t they all? But out of everyone I had ever met, I figured Wills could do it. He really inspired me, and made me want to be better scientifically than I had ever been before, as well as made me think I could go further and do more, despite being a woman in a typically man’s field.

"Hey, hag."

"Good afternoon to you, too, Chris." I muttered as I passed him in the kitchen, him sitting on his butt shoving crackers slathered with peanut butter, sprinkled with pickles. I looked at it, grimacing. "God, that’s gross. Can’t you eat like a normal human being, you freak?" I opened the fridge to see what I could quickly get my hands on.

"You should try it. Here." I turned to see him extending his hand to me, a work of art ready for me to eat. I looked at him, his brown eyes serious, then my gaze dropped to the snack.

"If I die, you’re dead." He glared as I took the cracker, bringing it up to my nose. The smell was awful. But, like the champ that I was, I popped it into my mouth. I chewed thoughtfully as all the different tastes mixed and intermingled in my mouth; just a regular party in there. "Interesting," I said, sucking some peanut butter out of my molars with my tongue. I grabbed two more snacks that he had just made, and hurried out of the room as I knew he’d chase me.

"Give those back, you freak!" He chased me up the stairs, his long legs allowing him to close the distance between us until he caught me, just about to slam my bedroom door shut. With a mighty grunt, he shoved it open, and me against the wall. Squealing like a child, I tried to hide the crackers in my hand behind my back, knowing I was getting peanut butter all over me and my clothes, and the wall, I imagined. "Give it back," he grinned, reaching around to grab my wrist, bringing it up and pinning it against the wall.

"No!" I croaked, laughing so hard my strength was waning, and he was a strong little bugger himself. At fifteen he was already taller than I was. He grabbed my claw-like grasp, roughly opening my fingers until he had the mess snack in his hand.

"Ha!" he called triumphantly. I looked at his treasure, grimacing.

"That looks so nasty. You go, boy." He looked at it, then at me, then back at the cracker with an evil grin. "Chris, I don’t know what’s going on through those marbles in there, but don’t you dare." He looked at me, his hand coming closer to me. "Christopher!"


I heard the garage door open as I washed my face, careful to avoid my eye. Good, I’d get to work on time now that mom had the car back. I had already scrubbed my wall, a nice brownish/greenish stain there. I just hoped mom never looked too closely at the paint there. Maybe I’d touch it up over the weekend.

Clean and changed, I hurried downstairs, my jacket in my arms.

"Hey, honey." My mom said, laying on the couch.

"Hey. You okay?" I sat on the coffee table in front of the couch, my hand on her arm. Her eyes were closed.

"Yeah. I just have another one of those damn headaches."

"Hold that thought." I stood and hurried up the stairs to grab a washcloth and ran it under cold water, then grabbed an Imitrex pill, hurried back to her. "Here. Sit up a bit." I handed her the coffee cup that she had been drinking from and the pill. She dutifully took it, then laid down again so I could put the cold cloth over her eyes. "I have to go to work, mom. I’ll be back later."

"Okay, honey. Have a good night. I love you." Her voice was groggy as she started to go to sleep. I kissed her forehead, the wet washcloth a bit of a shock to my lips, then stood, pulling the curtains closed as I left the room.

* * *

Dr. Wills looked at me, his blue eyes crinkling as he smiled at me. "Excellent work, Andi." He gazed back into the microscope. "I don’t know how I missed that mutation." I was beside myself with happiness. I had so much respect for this man, working in the science field for nearly twenty years, and I had noticed something he hadn’t. Wow. What a thrill.

We had finished with our testing earlier tonight, so I had asked him to show me what he was working on himself, his own private research. It had been so exciting to see the slides he had made from different patients who had cancer of various types. The mutation and breakdown of their systems were unbelievable. I was so inspired, yet again.

"Well," he glanced at the wall clock. "It’s getting late. What do you say we call it a night?" He turned off the microscope and smiled at me. I nodded. He pushed the lab coat off his shoulders as he headed for his office. I watched, standing where I had been, his confident, happy swagger of what he and I had discovered tonight. Wow. I wanted to be just like him.

Shaking myself out of my reverie, I started to close up shop for the night, putting things away and turning machines and equipment off.

"Have any plans for the holiday break, Andi?" he called from his office.

"Not really. Does sleeping count?" I called back as I put my jacket on. I heard his chuckle, then he appeared, closing the office door behind him. He wore his overcoat and briefcase.

"Well, would you be interested in helping me out here in the lab?" I looked at him in shock, my mouth hanging open.

"Really?" He nodded.

"I think you’d be great help to me in my work."

"Yeah, I’d love to." He smiled at me, those eyes twinkling under heavy, dark brows that had just the slightest bit of gray in them.

"Wonderful. Well, we’ll see you Monday."

Dr. Wills and I went out different ways as he was parked in the underground parking garage. I nearly skipped to my car, so excited at the prospect of working with him on his research. Pictures of what we could accomplish together flew before my eyes, huge dreams. Larger than I.

I drove home with a new sense of worth and power, and my love and passion for science was larger than ever before. I felt a definite sense of accomplishment today, like I’d changed someone’s life, somehow. I knew that all this thinking was young and puerile, but damn it felt good.

The snow had begun to fall again as I pulled into the garage, glad to be off the streets as they got more icy. There were some nutty drivers in Minnesota.

"How’s mom?" I asked my brother, who worked on his homework while watching TV. I never understood how he was able to concentrate on both at the same time.

"Bed. Her headache didn’t go away." He turned the page in the text book he was pouring over, not even looking up at me.

I headed upstairs, only to stop when I heard the doorbell.

"Door." Chris called to me. I glared at him, but it was lost to the top of his head. I walked over, flipping the porch light on as I unlocked the front door. Haley smiled at me.

"Hey." She said when the door was open.

"Hi." I said, surprised to see her.

"Busy?" I shook my head. "Good. Come on."

"Um, where?"

"I’m taking you to dinner. Come on." Without another word, she turned around and headed to her car, which was parked in the driveway. She must have been practically following me here.

"Tell mom I’ll be back later." I said as I hurried to grab the coat I had tossed on the couch. He just grunted acknowledgement, and kept studying. I headed outside, pulling the door closed behind me.

Haley pulled out to the street, waiting for a car to pass before heading out.

"So how was work?" she asked, glancing briefly at me.

"It was good." For some reason I didn’t want to tell her about it, somehow feeling she’d think I was even more of a science geek than she already did.

"Good. I was waiting for the stop light on Merrideth when I saw you pass, heading home. I figured my timing was perfect." She grinned.

"Wow. I must have been booking it; I never even saw you." She smiled at me.

"How’s the eye, by the way? It looks a lot better. Now it just looks like you have a pee stain under your eye." I glanced at her to see she was grinning as she watched the streets before her.

"Thanks. Now I feel all the more confident about going out in public." Her smile spread, and she smacked my leg. "Ouch. Trying to give me a bruise there, too?"

"Hey, now. It wasn’t my foot that took careful aim." I grinned, looking out the window. She pulled into the parking lot of Franko’s, a nice, but not expensive,, Italian restaurant.

"You like Italian, right?" I nodded vigorously, she smiled.

"So, why are you doing this, again?" I asked as we waited to be seated. She looked at me, leaned against the wall near the front door.

"Why not? And it’s just kind of a continuance of my thank you."

"For what?" We followed the hostess to a table for four, and were given menus.

"For last weekend," she answered, finally getting settled. "That was really nice of you."

"It wasn’t that big of a deal, Haley. I was glad you called. I’d much rather get out in the middle of the night than have you guys run into a misplaced telephone pole." She smiled, sipping from her water.

"You sound like my mother."

"No, I sound like my mother." She leaned across the table, lowering her voice.

"Has she made any brownies lately?" I shook my head.

"Sorry, lady. She’s been way too busy at the hospital."

"What does your mom do?"


"Oh. Cool."

"Not as interesting as an astronomer, but a good job all the same."

"This is true." The waitress came to take our orders, and of course neither of us had looked at the menu. Quickly picking something out of the air, we ordered, and Haley looked at me. "So, how long have you done this Karate thing?"

"Tae Kwon Do, since I was six."

"Wow. Some time. Are you like a black belt, now?" I grinned, not really one to brag, I nodded. "Is it hard to get one?"

"Well, I don’t know if hard is the word, but it certainly does take time and patience and discipline."

"How did you get started in it?" We both took the glasses of soda the waitress brought to the table, me sipping from mine before I answered.

"Well, when my folks were still together, my father thought it was important for me and Chris to have some sort of self defense. We initially started out in Karate, but then the dojo burned down, and the instructor left town, so we got involved with another guy, my Sabum Nim, who taught Tae. Been there ever since."

"Does your brother still do it?" I shook my head.

"No. He got more into the athletic thing, school sports and such."

"Oh." She looked at me for a minute. "I saw you have a computer in your room, do you get online much?"

"Off and on. Usually it’s to play Literati or for homework. Why?"

"Well, just wondered. Me and Kelly get on all the time and chat while we write papers. So, if you feel the need, drop a line. We talk on instant messaging all the time."

"What’s your screen name?"

"You’ll laugh." She gave me the cutest little shy smile as she leaned back in her chair, nearly tipping it back. This, of course, intrigued me all the more.

"Come on, Haley. Spit it out. What is it?"

"Well, I chose it because it was simple, and I’d certainly always remember it."

"Great. What is it?" I wasn’t about to let her babble her way out of it.


"Cometbaby?" She nodded, giving me a side look.

"Yeah, it’s silly."

"Not at all. I think it’s rather cute."


"Sure. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?"

"Well yeah, but,"

"But what? I like it."


"Mtn 83." She looked at me for a minute, her brows drawn.

"Huh? No, wait. Let me try and figure this one out." She studied me for a moment. "You’re 17, right?" I nodded. "Okay, that would explain the 83. Am I right?" Again I nodded. "Okay. So, mtn." I watched her, swearing I could hear the wheels turning in there as she tried to figure it out. Come on, Haley. Think about it. "Mtn. What is that? Let’s see. It’s definitely not your initials. Right?" I shook my head, amused. "Okay, so what does that stand for? Mountain? Why mountain?" She straightened, a slow smile spreading. "Mountain, Andes, Andi." She looked proud, crossing her arms over her chest. "Am I right?"

"Bravo. And it only took you," I glanced down at my watch.

"Yeah, bite me." She balled up the paper that her straw had been encased in, and threw it at me.

"So whose Halloween party was it?" I smiled as I spied our waitress headed toward our table, a tray laden with absolutely yummy looking food. I was famished.

"Oh, a guy named Stone Walthers. He’s a quirky college freshman whose folks own a lot of property, and rarely, if ever, use the old farm house, so he holds parties there for just about every holiday."

"Oh. Was it fun?" A plate of stuffed raviolis was placed in front of me, the smell wafting up to tickle my senses and make my mouth water. Haley’s rigatoni looked just as good.

"Yeah, I guess. It would have been more so had I not gotten so drunk." She grabbed the small parmesan cheese shaker that sat on the table, and coated her food liberally. "I don’t drink that often. To be honest, I’ve never really understood the urge to get loaded every weekend. That’s one thing about my friends that I really don’t like, you know?" She glanced up at me, then turned back to her food. I just nodded as I began to eat, and listened. "That’s one thing I like about you, Andi. You don’t seem to feel the need for that kind of thing."

"I don’t." She smiled, taking a huge forkful of food into her mouth, closing her eyes as she savored the flavor. After chewing, she looked at me again.

"You know what’s sad?" I shook my head. "You and I are the ones that are unusual. I think the only reason my friends don’t get on me that bad is because I give them all rides home when they’re too drunk to stand. Before I got my car, oh man did they used to give me shit over it."

"Then why hang out with them?" For some reason I felt a need to understand why Haley, so different and fun and kind, would hang out with them, complete opposites of all those things. She looked at me, fork halfway to her mouth.

"They’re my friends."

Okay, good enough. Though I would never understand why.

"So I hear Ryan called you. Or tried to, at least." I looked at her, my mouth full of ravioli, which was good. It would give me time to think as I slowly chewed. I had a feeling what was coming next. Why hadn’t I called him back? "So, why haven’t you called him back?" I wiped my mouth with my napkin, took a sip of Dr. Pepper, and cleared my throat.

"Well, I don’t really have an answer for you. I did intend to, but then I didn’t for whatever reason, then I forgot." How did I tell her that I thought Ryan was a dork, albeit a cute dork?

"Oh. If you didn’t like him, Andi, all you had to do was say so."

"Yeah, well, you know. He was really a nice guy. I guess I’m just not interested in finding a boyfriend right now." She looked at me for a moment as she took a drink of her Coke, eyeing me over the glass.


That’s it? Just okay? Well, I guess I’m glad she wasn’t going to stand up for the guy. It was crappy and I knew it. I just didn’t care enough to do anything about it.

"So do you have any great plans for tonight?" I shook my head, my hand flying up to my mouth to stop a ravioli avalanche as I had shoved too much in my mouth. Haley grinned at me, handing me a napkin as I had pretty much destroyed mine. Grateful, I took it, wiping my chin and mouth.

"Nope." I finally managed.

"Good. Want to come over and watch a movie?"

"At your house?" She nodded. "Oh," I felt really stupid. Oh? I knew I was nervous about the idea, feeling like I’d just been invited to step onto sacred territory, hallowed ground. "Sure." I smiled, trying to hide my stupidity behind it.

"Great." She smiled. "Have you seen The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, yet?" I shook my head. "No? Oh my god, Andi. Where have you been?"

"I guess not roaming around in Mordor."

"I’ll get you to the twenty-first century yet."

"Ha ha."

The Corregan house was very nice, a two story with five bedrooms and a bunch of bathrooms. Haley headed downstairs to the basement, and I followed. A pool table was in a nook toward the back of the room, a Wurlitzer 1050 juke box against the wall. A bar, much like the one in my own house, lined one wall, an upright piano the opposite.

"Nice piano. Do you play?"

"A little." Haley headed for the big screen TV and the surrounding entertainment cabinets. She opened a door to reveal what must have been hundreds of DVDs. Kneeling down to read through them, finally she reached in and grabbed one. "I hope you have some time, because this is one long movie."

"Works for me."

"Have a seat."

I looked around to see a nice, black leather couch with matching arm chair. I sat on the couch, waited for the show to begin.

"Do you want anything? Drink? Food? Sweats?" I put my hand on my stomach, shaking my head.

"God, no. I can’t eat another bite."

"Okay. Sweats? I’m going to get comfortable, so you’re more than welcome to, too."

"Um, that’s okay." I smiled, feeling slightly weird about wearing her clothes for some reason. Almost as if by simply wearing them, I’d ruin them for her.

"You’re sure?" she asked, hand on the door that would take her upstairs. I nodded. "Okay. Be right back. Oh, and the bathroom is right down that hallway if you need it." She smiled, then was gone. I looked around as the DVD got started, movie previews starting up with a loud rush. I looked around, seeing where Haley’s dad had hooked up all kinds of speakers for surround sound, and stereo, and just about anything else some electronic-savvy guy could muster.

As I sat there, legs together, hands in my lap, I felt like some sort of an intruder. I rarely went over to Tracy’s house, and she never went to mine, so this was new to me. Never in all my school years had I had a close friend, a good friend to go to each other’s house on the weekends, get to know their family. I had seen on shows and movies where friends actually called their friend’s parents mom and dad. That had always seemed like such an odd thing for me, like it was only in the movies. But as I sat here in the Corregan’s basement, I felt like that may be possible, like maybe it wasn’t just fiction.

The basement door opened, and suddenly I couldn’t see. I reached up and removed the clothing from my head, seeing Haley staring at me with a wide grin.

"Just in cast you changed your mind." I looked at the pair of green sweats that were in my hand, knowing that they would be much more comfortable than the jeans I wore, and much warmer, too.

"Fine, fine. I will, for the first time in my life, submit to a bit of peer pressure." I stood, sweats in hand.

"Shall I take a picture?" She grinned, I glared, headed toward the bathroom.

My god! These things are huge! I didn’t think Haley was that much taller than me, but I guess I was wrong. I pulled the pants up to my hips, the legs dragging on the ground. So, I leaned down, scrunched them up over my feet, and stood, pulling the waistband up as far as it would go. With a bit of stretching, it went up over my breasts. Grinning, I headed out to Haley.

"Hey, those actually don’t fit too bad." She looked me over, seeing where the legs were scrunched up just a bit. I stared at her, amused. She finally looked up to catch my eyes, and that’s when I lifted my sweat shirt to reveal the pants pulled up. Haley’s eyes got huge, then she burst into laughter, followed by my own chuckles. "Okay, okay, so they’re a little big."

I pulled the pants down to their normal place, the extra material bagging around my legs. She was larger than I was all the way around.

"Come sit. The movie is about to start."

I sat, transfixed, for over three hours as the elves, dwarfs, hobbits and humans of Middle Earth fought together to protect, and eventually destroy, the ring. I don’t think I said one word to Haley during the entire film. Finally the credits rolled, and I felt eyes on me. I turned to see her looking expectantly at me.


"That was way cool." She grinned, clapping her hands together.

"I’m so glad you liked it. I had a feeling you would, Andi."

"Oh, I did." A yawn escaped me, my hand going to my mouth to cover it.

"Tired?" I looked at her with heavy eyes, nodded. It was after midnight, nearly one in the morning, and after a long day at school, then work, I was beat. "I’m pretty gone, too. Why don’t you just stay here?" I looked at her for a second, surprised. Me, stay here? Oh, my. "Come on, we’ve got the room, and I’m way too tired to drive. I’ll kill us both." She grinned, and so did I.


"Cool. Come on."

Haley lead me back upstairs, and up again until we ended up in her bedroom. It was actually decorated quite simply. A few posters of various sports stars, especially soccer, such as the large print of Mia Hamm, hanging on the closet door. There were two twin beds on walls lined up at a ninety degree angle so the heads of both beds were nearly touching diagonally. I looked at her, a brow raised.

"I used to have sleep overs all the time as a kid, so my parents got me the double beds so the poor girl would have somewhere to sleep. I just never got rid of them." She shrugged sheepishly.


I pulled off my sweatshirt, grateful I had a tank underneath it. I would keep the sweats on, most likely. Being alone so often, I had grown to be very modest. Haley whipped off her shirt, a tee under, and pushed her flannel pants down her legs.

"Well, goodnight, Andi." She yawned, turning out the light.



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