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

Combined parts 5 & 6

I waited, not-so-patiently, as my computer slowly loaded the website I was trying to get into, and munched on cold turkey from yesterday. I was doing research on my psych project because the due date was only one week away. Where had the year gone? Haley had been over to help with it earlier in the week, and so now I had to do the last minute details and info, as well as figure out where I got all my information from to cite it.

Scanning the page, I found what I needed, and hit control P. As the printer sputtered to life, I stared at the screen, before my hand suddenly found the mouse, leading the pointer d across the screen to the white address bar on top. I clicked it, then typed in a search engine. The Google page opened, and I typed in two very familiar words. The blue bar at the bottom of the screen grew longer and longer as more entries were found. I was surprised, not thinking many would be.

Finally my pointer turned back from an hourglass to the arrow again. I scrolled down, yet again surprised by just how many entries there were dealing with the words Haley Corregan. However, knowing she had not died in August of 1894 with her husband John at her side, I clicked on one that mentioned Winston High School.

The site opened to our school’s website, which I didn’t even know existed. It chronicled the girls who had been on the soccer team two years ago, and had won the state championships. I scrolled through pictures, marveling at how young Haley looked at only 15. I read her bio.

Haley Star Corregan,…

"Star?" I chuckled as I read on.

… a Winston High Sophomore, has played soccer since second grade. At 5’8", 142 pounds, she is a powerhouse as a center forward for the Winston High Pumas.

"Go, Haley." I smiled, reading further.

Haley was born December 8 to Timothy and Marcia Corregan right here in Winston.

My brows narrowed. December 8? That was coming up in just over a week. Why didn’t she tell me her birthday was on the way? I stared at the screen, and a grin spread across my face as an idea popped into mind.

I looked at the clock on the toolbar.

"Shit." I stuffed the rest of the turkey into my mouth, and grabbed my jacket, car keys, and headed downstairs.

"You heading out, honey?" I looked at my mom who sat at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of coffee. I nodded as I chewed the last of the meat, then swallowed.

"Yeah. I’m actually running a little late. Spent a wee bit too much time online."

"Oops." My mom smiled.

"Thanks for letting me use the car."

"No problem, hon." She stood and walked over to me. "You guys have fun, and please be careful."

"Will do. I love you."

"I love you, too, Andrea." With a quick hug from my mother, I was out the door. On the way to Haley’s, I glanced at the map I’d brought with me. The Mall of America was just about an hour away. I hadn’t been there in years, so was looking forward to it. I certainly had never been there around the holidays, so I imagined it was amazing, decorations everywhere, Santa’s little winter play land brought south. Though not much south here in Minnesota.

I pulled up to the Corregan’s house and parked at the curb. The garage door was open, and Mrs. Corregan walked out with a tied garbage bag.

"Andi. Hello." She smiled at me, lifting the garbage can lid, and dumping the bag in. "Haley is inside, downstairs. Go on in."

"Thank you, ma’am."

"Ma’am. What am I? Sixty?" I laughed. How on earth could someone be so chipper all the time? Weren’t there rules or laws against that?

I headed into the house through the open garage, finding myself in the kitchen. I had to try and remember which way the basement was, then I heard music. Piano music. Following the sound, I saw the open door with steps leading down, and made my way into the basement. I looked around to see Haley sitting at the piano, her hands flying across the keys as she played "Liebestraum" by Listz. I was stunned, slumping back against the wall as I listened, my eyes closing as the music filled me. My heart lifted with each note as I sucked in my breath, the song building to an intense crescendo, her fingers pounding each note out so that it resonated in my head.

Finally the song began to soften, the last few notes played lovingly, until everything went quiet. My eyes opened, and I saw Haley raise her hands from the keyboard, laying them on her thighs for just a moment before she quickly turned to look at me.

"How long have you been standing there?" She turned on the bench, surprise on her face.

"Long enough to want to waltz." She smiled, then looked down, a bit shy. "I had no idea. You’re brilliant. Why haven’t you told me you could play like that?" I crossed my arms over my chest.

"I don’t tell anyone, really. Only Kelly knows, outside my family."

"How long have you played?" She shrugged, picking invisible lint off her sweater.

"Probably about as long as you’ve been the Karate Kid." She smiled, so did I.

"Funny girl. But why don’t you do anything with it? I mean, you could easily be in the symphony at school." She looked at me.

"Yeah, and become a band nerd? I don’t know. It’s jut not really cool to do, you know? I’ve always loved doing it. I begged my mom for lessons when I was 5 years old. Finally she got them for me, and the rest is history." I thought for a moment; what a shame that someone so talented would hide this.

"So, you ready?" Haley asked, obviously eager to change the subject.

"Yep." She stood, carefully pulling the cover over the keyboard, and grabbing her jacket that was laid across the couch.

"You’re late, woman." She said.

"Yeah, sorry." I turned to head up the stairs. "I was doing some research for my project."

"Ah, I see. So penis envy is more important than shopping on the day after Thanksgiving with your buddy, huh?"

"Certainly." I could hear her chuckle as she followed me upstairs. I could still hear Haley’s playing in my head. "You know, I always thought the ability to read music was so cool. Just a bunch of symbols and odd-looking little lines."

"Do you play any instruments, Andi?" I glanced at her over my shoulder as I hit the top of the stairs.

"Are you kidding? I can’t even keep the beat with a spoon against my thigh." She grabbed her purse from the coat hanger mounted on the wall.

"I could teach you."

"Really? Does that mean you could teach the blind to see?" She grinned, shaking her head.

"I doubt you’re as bad as you seem to think. If you don’t like it, you can always stop." We headed into the kitchen.

"You girls have fun." Haley’s mom said, standing at the sink washing dishes.

"See you later, mom."

We hurried out the garage door, both giddy and excited like school girls. Well, we are school girls, but we were still excited. Haley and I had spent nearly every day together in one way or another, since the beginning of November. If she wasn’t at my place, or I wasn’t at hers during the weekends, then she took me home after school, and often made some surprise stop along the way. Usually for food or to play pool.

Tracy and I did things together on occasion, but I’d never really had a friend like Haley, that I spent a great deal of time with, and that I had shared so much with. I remembered one day when she’d been up in my room, and had turned to look at my Beanie Baby collection.

"Okay, Andi, now explain this obsession to me?" She grabbed one, looking at Bam the Ram.

"I don’t know. My father got me my first baby for my birthday about five or six years ago. He may be a jerk, but I loved the Beanie. So, I started to collect them. Getting them for my birthday, and Christmas."

"Oh, this is so cute." Haley put the ram down, and grabbed Suki the Karate Bear. She looked at me, a huge smile on her face.

"My mom got that for me when I got my first black belt." I smiled, remembering how proud my mom had been that she’d found it. "It’s my favorite."

"Andi?" Startled, I looked at my passenger.


"Where did you go? Are you going to let me in the car, or would you rather I ran alongside?"

"Sorry." I grinned. We both got into the car, and we were on our way. "Music." I finally said. "Actually, I’ve always wanted to learn how to play something." I glanced at her.

"Really?" I nodded. "Cool." Her smile was huge. "I’ll tell you what, I’ll teach you the piano if you’ll teach me Tae Kwon Do." My heart soared. She was really interested in that? The thought of sharing something with her that was so close to my heart filled me with joy.

"You got a deal."

"Woohoo! I’m so excited. I’ve always thought martial arts were so cool."

The drive was nice, we chatted about anything and everything, Haley excited for school to get out.

"Can you believe this is my last Christmas in high school?" my stomach fell, but how could I let her know I was bummed when her voice radiated so much excitement? I knew that like me, Haley just wanted to get on with her life, go to college, and begin her career. "So what will you do without me here?" She smiled at me; I glanced at her. I shrugged.


"Andi." I grinned as I felt her smack my leg.

"Well, I’ll miss you." I looked at her as I stopped for a traffic light. She was already looking at me.

"Will you?"

"Sure. Where else can I find a nut who dresses up as a plain M&M?" She smiled, very sweet, her head falling back against the head rest.

"I’ll miss you, too, Andi." I was surprised for some reason. I mean, logic tells you she will, but my self-confidence, well, or lack thereof, told me differently. "I mean, we can still write emails, and call on the phone, and stuff."

"Where are you going for school?"

"I’ve been accepted at UCLA." I looked at her briefly as the light turned green, and I drove on.

"Outstanding, Haley. Congratulations."

"Thanks. What about you? What do you want to do, anyway?"

"I’m not sure. I have looked at some schools on the east coast, MIT, Dartmouth. They have a wonderful doctorate program there for what I want to do."

"Which is?"

"Molecular biology."

"Wow. Well, I know you certainly have the grades for it."

"Well, a lot will depend on what kinds of scholarships I can get. There’s no way my mom can pay for that, and I can pay for some, but tuition at those places are unreal." I felt Haley’s hand on my arm.

"I know you’ll figure out a way, Andi. You’re just smart like that." I smiled at her.

"Thanks. Hey, what do you plan to do at UCLA, anyway?"

"Well, as of right now I’m looking into psychiatry."

"Wow. A good ol’ headshrinker, eh?" She glared at me, I smiled.

I pulled into the parking lot of the mall, which was, of course, already filled with cars. It was, after all, the biggest shopping day of the year. Row after row of cars of every make, color and state of health. Finding a spot near the very back of the north lot, I turned the car off and turned to Haley, who was nearly vibrating in her seat.

"Are we a little excited?" I grinned. She nodded vigorously. "Come on, you nut."

"Have you ever been here, before?" she asked, zipping her coat. It was a cold one today, already. I hated to think what it would be like once we left.

"Many moons ago. I must have been around ten or eleven."

"Oh, I love this place." Haley got the cutest look on her face, so excited and happy. We had made plans to do this last weekend, and I had been looking forward to it all week. I had never gone Christmas shopping with a friend before, nor had I really had any friends to buy for. I had spent much of last night trying to decide what I’d get her. Now I also had a birthday gift to find, though I had an idea for that.

"Wow." I looked around the massive building as we walked through the front doors, the ceiling seeming to go on forever with stores lining the walls, and venders in the center of the large hallways. People walked, many already carrying packages. Christmas trees were everywhere, wreaths hung, Christmas music piped in. Green, red and gold were everywhere you looked. Even the mall’s trash cans looked festive with snowflakes all over them.

I could already hear the music and laughter coming from Camp Snoopy, the theme park in the middle of the mall.

"Okay, so where do you want to start? Do you like Legos?" I looked at her to see if she was serious.


"Yeah, you know, the little plastic building blocks?" I narrowed my eyes.

"I’m not quite that out of the loop."

"Well, good. Because before the day is over we’re heading to the Lego Imagination Center." She began to walk, I hurried to catch up.

* * *

I licked my ice cream cone, the chocolate beginning to run down the waffle cone to my fingers. Haley laughed at me as I attempted to lick up the mess, but I just succeeded in making an even worse one.

"Here." She managed to gasp out between bouts of laughter. I grabbed the napkin she offered, wiped my mouth and hand. I still had about a third of my ice cream to go, yet I was afraid to see where it would be by the end if I was already able to make such a mess. "Just like a little kid, I can’t take you anywhere." Haley stuck her tongue out to lick her own cone.

"Yeah, bite me." I muttered around a mouthful.

"Where?" I glanced at her, and saw her smirk. "Come on. I want to go there." She pointed at the Odyssey Café. I looked at her, then at her nearly finished ice cream cone, and back to her face.

"Haley? How can you possible eat anything substantial when you’re about to finish a massive ice cream cone?" She shrugged, popping the last bit of the cone into her mouth. "Can you wait like even half an hour? If I stick anything else in my mouth right now, it will come back out, looking not as pretty as it did going in, for certain." She swallowed the cone, and nodded.

"I can wait."

"Cool. Hang on, I want to see what’s nearby." I walked over to the mall directory, and a grin spread across my face.

"What?" I slowly looked from the directory to Haley.

"I have a confession to make." Her brows drew. I pointed to a store on the map. "I am obsessed with this place." She looked to see where my fingers was, then at me.

"Eddie Bauer?"

"They have got the greatest hiking boots there." Haley looked down at my feet.

"You have a nice pair on right now."

"I know." I turned, and headed for the elevators to take us to where Eddie lived.

"Never in a million years would I have pegged you for someone who shopped in a place like that." She grinned as she stepped inside the car. The doors closed, and we headed up.

"I know. It’s not something that I’m particularly proud of, but I have a thing for great boots and tank tops. Where Eddie may fall short on those, he definitely makes up for them in boots, and nifty little gadgets. Old Navy, now that’s the place to be for tanks."

"Eddie? You two do lunch often?"

"All the time." She shook her head. I looked at her as she watched the crowds below us through the glass walls of the elevator. My gaze traveled down her profile, the straight nose, full lips, nice, defined jaw and long neck. Haley was beautiful, there was just no other word for it. As I watched, one of her hands came up and absently pushed her hair out of the collar of her jacket, and back to lie in dark, shiny waves around her shoulders. I don’t think I had ever seen her with her hair down before, except for first thing in the morning when one of us would stay at the other’s house. Her hair was gorgeous, thick and dark, healthy. The contrast with her blue eyes was stunning.

Realizing I was staring, I turned away, though reluctantly.

"Eddie, I’m home." I grinned as we walked into the store. Of course, as soon as we walked through the door we were bombarded by sales people. Just like swarming flies. I hated that.

I made my way to the back wall where all the boots were displayed in all their glory. Haley stood beside me.

"So, shoes are your fetish, huh?" I nodded. "I have one, too." I glanced at her. "It’s sunglasses. Would you be sickened to know I have seven pairs?"

"Seven?" I headed toward a particularly beautiful boot that I had to see up close and get personal with.

"Yep. Seven." Suddenly a quiet, but shrill ringing began to sound from Haley’s purse. "Hang on." She took the small cell out, and turned it on. "Hello?" I watched her for a moment, then walked away a few steps to give her some privacy. "Hey, Kelly. What’s up? I’m at Mall of America with Andi. Yes, Andi Littman." I could hear irritation in Haley’s voice. "Yes I did. Kelly, I did, too. I told you last Tuesday. We’re Christmas shopping. Of course we’ll go, too. Yeah, bye." With a sigh, she closed the phone up, and stuck it back in her purse. She walked over to me, not looking happy. I had an idea of what had happened, and decided to just keep up our other conversation so she wouldn’t be upset.

"My, lord. Well, I guess you have one pair for every day of the week, then." She grinned and walked away to look at a pair of shoes.

I asked a store clerk to find my size in the boot I had in my hand, knowing full well that chances were slim to none that I’d actually buy them. I had my car to think about. Every penny I saved would get me more money and a better car in the long run.

"Oh, those are nice." I heard in my ear. I felt Haley behind me, looking at the boot I held in my hands, over my shoulder.

"Thanks. I had the guy get my size from the back."

"Really?" She moved around to face me, taking the hiking boot in her hands to examine it better. She looked at me. "You going to buy them?" I shook my head.

"Nah. Just torture myself, you know."

"Oh, come on, Andi. You’re making the guy do the work, and how many bills do you really have?"

"Well none, but,"

"Then, what’s the problem?" She dangled the boot in front of my face by the shoestrings. "You know you want them."

"Stop. You’re trying to make me be irresponsible."

"Yeah, basically."

"Here you are, miss." I turned, and found the box with the boots in them in my hands. "Can I do anything else for you?" He looked at us both. I shook my head.

"No, thanks." With a smile and a nod, he left us alone.

"Don’t you hear that, Andi? That high-pitched plea? They’re calling your name. They’re saying, Andi, buy us, buy us. We’ll treat your feet right."

"Ah, jeez." I pushed her away and sat down on the chair, quickly untying my shoes to try these on. Haley watched intently. I slid my foot in.

"How does that feel?"


"Of course it does." She knelt down in front of me and began to lace the boot up. "Andi, you rarely spend any money on yourself. I mean, it’s not good to do it often, but once in a while. Hell, get yourself something for Christmas in the way of these boots."

"Dude, what is your deal with these boots?" I laughed, moving my foot around, turning at the ankle to see how comfortable they were. She untied my other boot, slipping it off my foot, putting the new boot on it.

"Well, I want you to be happy. If these make you happy, then so be it."

Fifteen minutes later we walked toward the elevator, me looking down at the new boots as I carried the old ones in the box of the new ones in a bag.

"How does that feel?" I gave Haley a grin in reply. She smiled, patted me on the back. "Go, you."


We were seated at the Rainforest Café, and I looked at her.

"You know you’re a terrible influence on me, right?" She nodded.



"I’ve always liked hiking boots on people. I think they’re sexy."

"Sexy, huh?" The waitress gave us menus, and took our drink order.

"Yeah, sexy. They’re rugged, speak of danger and adventure." I laughed, slapping my hand on the table.

"Where on earth do you come up with this stuff, Haley?" she shrugged.

"Who knows. But it’s true."

* * *

I helped Haley lug in all her packages from the back seat of the car. She was so proud that she’d gotten all of her Christmas shopping done today. Then I headed home. I planned to turn my project in on Monday, so decided to get it all together, and ready.

But first, I wanted to get all of my own gifts in order, and begin wrapping them. We had put up our Christmas tree yesterday after dinner, and there was already one, very small, gift under it. Being sneaky, I saw that it had my name on it.

I hurried up to my room with my bags in tow, and plopped them all down on the floor. My old boots were put aside, then I went through what I had bought my mom and brother, Tracy, then the last two bags were for Haley. I smiled as I looked at the soft, green bear named Kicks. A little soccer ball was embroidered to his chest. I didn’t know if she’d like the Beanie Baby or not, but I figured she’d at least get a kick out of it. I grinned at the soft Koosh, large and blue and red, our school colors. Luckily she was easily distracted, so I could buy them for her without her noticing.

The other gift, which would be for Christmas, I was especially excited for.

I ran downstairs to the basement and the closet where we kept all gift wrap and bows, and hurried back upstairs to my room.

Twenty minutes later, I was back downstairs, piling my offerings under the tree.

"I’m going to be online!" I yelled so Chris and mom, wherever they were, could hear, and not pick up the phone. Taking the stairs two at a time, I hurried to my room, and switched on the computer. I had all my notes, sketches and information all around my desk for easy access. I began to type up my report.

You have received an instant message from CometBaby. Do you wish to respond?

My brows drew, then it hit me. I grinned, and clicked on yes.

CometBaby says:

Hey, boot-scootin’ girl. How goes it?

Mtn85 says:

Not bad. How about you?

CometBaby says:

Good. I have some homework to do, so I logged on. Plus I’m bored.

Mtn85 says:

Bored???? You just got home from a full day of shopping!

CometBaby says:

I know, I know. Call me ungrateful.

Mtn85 says:


CometBaby says:

: p

I chuckled as my fingers rested on the keyboard, trying to decide what to say next. Haley beat me to it.

CometBaby says:

So, did you have fun today?

Mtn85 says:

I did. You?

CometBaby says:

Very much so. You’re fun to shop with.

I grinned like an idiot.

Mtn85 says:

Awww, garsh. Thanks. So are you.

CometBaby says:

J So are you bummed you didn’t get to sit on Santa’s lap today?

Mtn85 says:

Lol. Not really. Can’t say Santa’s my type. Old, fat and gray, nah.

CometBaby says:

Lol! I’m sorry to hear that. So what are you wearing?

I chuckled, looking down at myself. I’d been home nearly an hour, and had changed into flannel pants and a tank.

Mtn85 says:

A parka.

CometBaby says:

Really? That’s interesting. Cold in your room, is it?

Mtn85 says:


CometBaby says:

So what’s under the parka?

Mtn85 says:

A scarf.

CometBaby says:

(chuckle) I see. I’ll bet you’re wearing a tank and jeans. Am I close?

I glanced at the window, almost expecting to see Haley peeking in at me.

Mtn85 says:

Not too bad! But no, not quite.

CometBaby says:

Hmm… how about a parka, a scarf, a tank, and a potato masher. Am I getting warmer?

Mtn85 says:

Umm, ow? Where would I be hiding that masher if you were right?

I looked down at myself, imagining the very few, and very uncomfortable places a large metal object like that could fit. I crossed my legs as my fingers raced on the keys as I tried to write back before she could.

Mtn85 says:

What about you? Where’s the infamous Koosh?

CometBaby says:

: p Wouldn’t you like to know. And as for the masher… I don’t know where you’d put it, you’re the one that sleeps with one at night. I’m not into that kind of metal.

Mtn85 says:

No, you’re into the soft, limp spine, kind.

CometBaby says:

I don’t think so much it’s the soft, limp spines as the rubber.

I laughed out loud. At this rate, I’d never get anything done.

Mtn85 says:

Well, with a solo performance, you shouldn’t need the rubber.

CometBaby says:

How would you know? Besides, it never hurts to be safe. And, many things are made of rubber; not just those.

I found myself blushing, thinking of all the wondrous rubber objects out there. Then I thought to one night when I’d caught Chris watching Cinemax late at night. He had been watching a soft porn movie, and I had ended up watching with him.

Mtn85 says:

Well, there are different sizes, even ribbed or ones with little nubs on them. Nubs rubs for more pleasure, after all.

CometBaby says:

Okay, Trojan man.

Mtn85 says:

That’s Ms. Trojan man to you, and who’s talking about condoms?

CometBaby says:

Certainly not I. I was discussing the Trojan army. What’s on your mind?

I grinned.

Mtn85 says:

A good friend of Helen, are you?

CometBaby says:

I’m friends with people who think they’re Helen. Does that count?"

Mtn85 says:

Lol I can think of a few.

CometBaby says:

How is the psych project coming along? Have you found out what makes men envious of women?

Mtn85 says:

It’s going well, just about done. Who wouldn’t be envious of women? (grin)

CometBaby says:

That’s true. We get to have the pain of childbirth, have our periods, have mood swings, PMS. Who wouldn’t want to be a woman?

Mtn85 says:

True, true. But at least we’re good-looking.

CometBaby says:

And able to think without going below the belt.

I grinned. "Very true, Haley."

Mtn85 says:

If you could be a man for a day, would you?

CometBaby says:

Just for a day?

Mtn85 says:


CometBaby says:

Hell yeah! I’ve always wanted to see what goes on in those locker rooms, and if it’s just like everybody says.

I drew my brow.

Mtn85 says:

What does everybody say?

CometBaby says:

That all they discuss is girls, and they compare dick sizes, and stuff. I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to have one of those.

Mtn85 says:

Me, too. This knowledge goes no further than this computer screen, you got me?

CometBaby says:

Threats, threats. And why is that?

Mtn85 says:

Because it’s embarrassing, and I’ll have to hunt you down and your little Koosh, too.

CometBaby says:

No, no! Not my Koosh! You can have anything; my dignity, my self-respect, but not my Koosh!

Mtn85 says:


CometBaby says:

Yeah, and?

Mtn85 says:

Do I have your word or not?

CometBaby says:

Thinking… okay.

Mtn85 says:

I wanted to know what it was like to have a peepee like Chris. So, I grabbed a whole wad of toilet paper, and stuffed it into my underwear, and went to school that way. It’s quite odd.

CometBaby says:


Mtn85 says:

Yeah, yeah. So I’m weird, so sue me.

CometBaby says:

Ah, such bribe material.

Mtn85 says:

May your Koosh rest in pieces.

I covered my eyes, not believing I had told her that. Nobody knew that story but me.

CometBaby says:

Oh, so was that what the bulge was last week?

Mtn85 says:

No, I was just happy to see you. And why were you looking there anyway?

Oh god, I am being corrupted.

CometBaby says:

Well you hide the other bulges with large clothes, what was I supposed to be looking at?

I gulped.

Mtn85 says:

Bite me.

CometBaby says:

And again, I ask where? Is there some biting fetish you have along with hiking boots?

Mtn85 says:

You’re a nut, Haley. But, I need to get this stuff done. See you at school?

CometBaby says:

Yeah, that works. I’ve been a very bad girl, not doing my homework.

Mtn85 says:

Spank you, child.

CometBaby says:

Oh, hurt me, daddy. Hurt me.

Mtn85 says:

LMAO! Goodbye, freak.

CometBaby says:

Lol Bye.

I logged off, still staring at the computer screen, shaking my head.

* * *

I grabbed a knife from the drawer, and began to cut into the fresh pan of brownies mom had made last night at my request. It was Tuesday, and I figured I’d give Haley a birthday brownie.

Sliding it into a baggie, I grabbed my backpack, and hurried out the door when I heard the familiar honking.

"Hey, you." Haley said with a smile as I climbed into her car.

"Hi." I looked at her, held up a finger, and turned away from her. I dug the brownie out, took it from the bag, then dug the single candle out of my coat pocket, along with a lighter.

"What are you doing, Andi?

"Hang on, oh impatient one." I lit the tiny wick, then turned around, the brownie in my palm with the one birthday candle. Haley looked at it, her eyes opening wide in surprise. "Happy birthday."

"Oh, Andi." She breathed. She looked at me. "How did you know?" I shrugged, not daring to tell her I was looking her up on the internet. What kind of a dork would that make me look like? Not to mention a stalker.

"A little birdy told me."

"Thank you." She took the brownie, and pulled me into a hug. I closed my eyes, enjoying her reaction, as well as the hug. Yup, I done good. She pulled away from me, and blew out the candle.

"Did you make a wish?" I asked, grabbing my backpack off the floor of the car.

"Sure did." She took the candle out, and began to munch on the brownie. "God, I love these things."

"I know you do. Here." I handed her the two wrapped gifts. She looked at them, then up at me, more shock on her face.

"Oh, Andi. You shouldn’t have."

"Of course not, but I did." She took them from me, smiling at the blue and green wrapping paper with little fish swimming, happy birthday written in their bubbles. She tore into the paper, and laughed when she saw the Koosh.

"This is so great! This thing is huge."

"I know. I wanted to get you a bigger one than your current bedmate." She grinned, running the soft spines across her cheek.

"I always loved the way these felt." Setting it aside, she turned to the other gift, and opened it with as much vigor and excitement as the first. "Oh, Andi. He’s adorable. What’s his name?" She looked at me, the Beanie Bear held to her chest.


"Kicks. I know where he’s going." She hugged the bear to her again, then looked at me. "I can’t thank you enough for all this."

"Not a problem. Why didn’t you tell me?"

"Well," Haley set Kicks and the Koosh aside, and started up the car. We were already late for school. "Birthdays have never been real big in my family, and my friends have just learned over the years to not really do much. Generally we just end up going out, or something. Kelly and Heather are taking me out Friday night." She pulled onto the street, and drove, a bit fast, toward Winston High. "So I don’t want you to think that I was intentionally keeping this from you, or anything, Andi. I guess I just really didn’t think about it."

"Okay. Fair enough. How old are you?"


"Wow. You’re old."

"Bite me."


"See? You’re learning."

* * *

"Crap." I had lost my second game in a row of Literati. I knew I could beat this chick, I had before. WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY AGAIN? "Damn straight, I do." I hit yes, and off we went. It was Friday night, and I was totally energized from the week, cheesed about getting an A on my psych project, and another week down before school was out. It was nearly midnight, and I had been at this for three hours already.

Tap, tap.

I looked up from the screen, listening. Nothing.

I looked at the letters I had been given, and tucked my lower lip in the chew on it as I thought.

Tap, tap, tap.

"What the hell is that?" I looked in the direction of where I’d heard the noise, and it was my window. I stood, walked over to it.


I pushed the window open, BAM!

"Ah!" I brought my hands to my forehead, a fierce stinging there. Shaking my head, I looked out to see Haley standing in the front yard, her hands covering her mouth.

"I’m sorry," she yelled up, as quietly as she could.

"Do you try to get me hurt on purpose?" She shook her head, I rubbed mine.

"Come out," she hissed, trying to not wake the entire neighborhood, beckoning me with her hand.


"Come on." She pointed to her car parked at the curb. Feeling like a derelict, as I had never snuck out before, I quickly closed the window, and scurried around for some clothes, throwing off the sweats and tank I was in, and pulling on a pair of jeans and sweatshirt, tugging on my new boots without even lacing them. I heard the distant rumble of Haley’s car starting up, and made my way downstairs, grabbing my wallet and house keys along the way.

I felt like a guilty rat as I quietly closed the front door behind me, feeling like I should have woken my mom to tell her what I was doing. I know she would have let me go. But, such is life.

"Hey, sorry about the head." She looked at it, bringing her hand up to touch. "Oh, Andi, there’s a little bit of blood." She grimaced. "I’m sorry."

"It’s okay. What are you dong here? I feel like my boyfriend is coming to my window in the middle of the night." She grinned.

"Well, maybe I’m here to take you on a date." She laughed.

"What are you doing here?"

"Why? Do you mind my being here?"

"Nope. Just wondering."

"Well, I just dropped Kelly and Heather off, and wanted to spend some time with you." A sudden feeling of warmth spread through me as a smile spread across my face. Aw, gee.

"Okay, well let’s go."

"I have absolutely no idea what’s open still."

"Well, where did you guys go?"

"To someone’s house for a party."

"Oh." I looked around to see the dark streets and businesses. Up ahead came tons of lights from a huge parking lot. We both looked at each other.

"Wal-Mart?" she asked. I nodded.


Haley pulled into the nearly empty parking lot of the super center, and parked under one of the lights. We got out of the car into the cold night, and hurried inside the massive store.

We walked in, and of course this late there wasn’t a door greeter.

"Hungry?" Haley asked, looking at a table full of containers of cookies, the gooey frosted kind that I love.

"A little." I looked at the cookies, reaching out to touch the smooth plastic of the container.

"You like these?" They were the holiday ones, frosted red and green with little candy sprinkles. I looked at her and nodded. She grabbed one, and continued on. I followed, wondering where she was going. "I think this is the most empty I have ever seen this place."

"No kidding." I turned down the main aisle, headed for electronics. Haley followed, looking around as we walked, passing the jewelry department, then the photo development place, turned left and there it was. I loved electronics, and always said that if I have a good enough job when I got older, I would have every type of technology I could get my greedy little hands on. "Oh, look at that." I looked at the huge flat screen TV that was on display.

"Yeah, and look at that price tag. Ouch."

"Some day, you will be mine. Oh, look at that DVD player! It can play up to three DVDs at a time, plus has a burner." I hurried down the aisle, passing the bored Wal-Mart employee, and began to play with all the buttons and gizmos the piece of equipment had. I glanced over at Haley to see her watching me, a bemused look on her face. "Sorry. I tend to get a bit carried away."

"So I see. Come on, let’s go look at all the holiday stuff. I love those massive snowmen and Santa Clauses they have for your front yard."

I turned away from the DVD players, and followed Haley with every intention of leaving, but then I was stopped yet again.

"Oh, look at all those Play Station games." I walked up to the locked, glass case, my hands on the doors as I looked at them all, just waiting for me to buy them. I saw the control out of the corner of my eye where you could test games, and began to reach for it when my hand was taken by Haley. I looked at her.

"Uh huh. I will lose you for the night, then I’ll have to explain to your mother why you are still at Wal-Mart. Let’s go." She tugged on my hand, and with one last, wistful glance at the game cabinet, I followed. Haley held on to my hand as we went, I guess afraid that I’d break free and run back to my homeland of the battery and electric-powered machines.

The part of the store where the garden stuff is kept during the summer time, was lit up and decorated like a winter wonderland. Aisle upon aisle of Christmas ornaments, decorations, yard ornaments, and Christmas cards. I wasn’t real huge on Christmas, but this place could turn the biggest Scrooge into a believer.

"Do you like Christmas, Andi?" Haley asked as she picked up one of those battery-powered Santas that played "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer", and danced along. She pushed the red button to make it go, and we both giggled, watching as the jolly old man’s belly jiggled in time to the music.

"Eh, not traditionally. You?"

"Oh, I love Christmas. My family usually goes all out every year. You know, we have the grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the entire clan. It used to be great when I was a kid, then I had an entire playground of kids at my disposal." She grinned. "But, as you get a little older, everyone changes so much, and you just lose that. So, we’ll just have to see how it goes this year." I looked at her, imagining a little Haley running around, playing with all her cousins, fighting over toys and places at the "grown-up" table.


"Huh?" Haley was looking at me, brows drawn.

"Where did you go?"

"Little Haley’s house." She looked at me for a moment, then a slow, adorable smile began to spread from ear to ear.

"Aww, you’re so adorable." Funny, that’ s what I was just thinking about you. She walked toward me, her arms open wide. I looked at them, then at her as she got closer. Did she want a hug? "Come here, you." I guess so. I found myself swallowed up in a massive embrace, my face pinned to her neck, the warmth of her body almost overwhelming. I felt strange, suddenly, like I was guilty of a crime that I didn’t commit. I wanted to get away from her physically. Needed to get away. I almost felt like she would be able to read my thoughts.

Finally, thankfully, she pulled away, and headed down a nearby aisle. I stood where I was, struck by the feeling running through me. I felt alive, energized, and, I wasn’t sure, but I think turned on. I had noticed beautiful women my entire life, the way they talk, the way they move, wanting to be like them, admiring them. And, I had noticed Haley long before she’d ever noticed me. She had had my admiration for almost three years now.

I shook my thoughts back into the cobwebbed corners where they belonged, and hurried to follow Haley.

* * *


"Andrea, honey, wake up." My eyes fluttered open to see my mom standing over my bed, a huge smile on her face.

"What? What’s wrong?"

"Everything’s fine. I just wanted to give you this now." I looked to see what she had in her hand, and it was the small wrapped gift that had been under the tree since Thanksgiving.

"But mom, Christmas is still a week away."

"I know. But this is a special gift." Liking the sound of that, I pushed myself up, grinning the entire time.

"What time is it?" I asked as I took the gift from my mom.

"It’s nearly six."

I carefully took the beautiful green bow off, setting it aside, as I dug in. My eyes bulged when I saw the check for seven thousand dollars wrapped around a gold keyring with my name engraved in it. I looked up at her, my eyes stinging as tears immediately came to them.

"I promised you I’d match you dollar for dollar, honey. You have done so well with saving your money for this car, that I think it’s time we go look now."

"Really? Today?" She nodded. Grasping the check in my fingers, I launched myself at her, holding her tight. "Thank you so much, mom. I love you."

"I love you, too, honey. But, well, you’re choking me."

"Oh, I’m sorry." I pulled away, quickly swiping at a pesky tear that had managed to slip from my eye.

"Get dressed. Your bank opens at seven. I thought I’d take you to breakfast, then we’d deposit this, and go car hunting." She leaned in and kissed my on the forehead, her face the picture of pride. I smiled back at her, loving her more and more each day. She was my best friend.

Once she had left, I contemplated calling Haley to tell her the great news, but decided I’d surprise her with the car, instead. Oh, I couldn’t wait.

My mom had been saving for some time for this, I knew. It had been a plan we’d made many years ago. As soon as I got a job, I would start saving. And I had. Luckily I had found a job that paid more than the average kid my age made. So now I had fourteen thousand dollars to buy my first car.

* * *

"So, what is the deal with Clive? Is he going to leave Diane or not?" I scraped the rest of my eggs together with the little bit of toast I had, and shoved the whole thing into my mouth.

"Well, he has moved out of the house."

"Really? When did that happen?" My mom took a sip from her coffee, grimacing.

"Wow, that’s strong." She poured in a little bit more cream, then stirred. "Last Monday."

"Right before the holidays. That’s got to be rough for all involved."

"Well, the boys miss their dad, from what Clive says. But, he plans to fight for them once he files."

"Which will be when?" My mom flagged the waiter down for some more coffee, and I asked for another orange juice. She sighed.

"I’m not sure. I’ve told him that I love him, and would love to spend more time with him, but I just don’t feel right about this entire situation." She poured a packet of diet sugar into her cup of fresh brew, the waiter had finally just brought her own carafe. About time, after filling her mug three times.

"You mean with Diane?" I took a large sip from my juice, wiped my mouth of its orange juice mustache.

"Well, Diane treats Clive like shit, there’s just no other way to put it. But, I feel bad for Johnny and Alan."

"How old are they now?"

"Oh, gosh, let me think. Johnny is just a bit younger than you, I think, and Alan just turned nine."

"Wow." I shook my head sadly. "It’s not easy."

"Nope. Well," my mom slapped her hands on her knees. "You ready?" I grinned, nodding.

We scooted out of the booth, and my mom paid the bill. As we got back into the car, I looked around it, realizing this would probably be the last time I’d be carted around as a passenger in it. How exciting! I could drive myself to school, and to work, though I’d have to supplement the workout I usually got with the walks or riding my bike with something else. That was fine by me.

We pulled into the car lot of new and used cars, and my excitement level skyrocketed. I wondered if we’d still be here if my mom knew I had snuck out with Haley.

"Can I help you ladies?" We turned to see a car salesman heading straight for us. I didn’t want him around. I wanted just me and my mom to enjoy this. We’d have to deal with them in time.

"No thank you. We’ll let you know when we do." Go mom. I smiled at her. She grinned and winked at me. "Okay, sweet pea, what are you looking for?" I shrugged, suddenly feeling overwhelmed.

"I’m not sure."

"Well, living here, and especially if you go to school on the east coast, you want something that will be good in the snow. "Something that’s reliable."

"Okay. I can do that." We began to walk through row upon row of cars, trucks, SUVs, vans, even a motorcycle or two. For shits and giggles, I even test drove a candy apple red Miata.

But then, like a bolt of lightning, it hit me. I saw in the far row what I wanted.

"That’s it."

"What?" My mom followed my gaze, then looked at me. "You want a station wagon?"

"No, the Jeep Cherokee next to it."

"Oh, that is nice. Come on, let’s look at it." We hurried over to the car, it was a beautiful, deep forest green, and when I pressed my face to the window, I saw it even had leather interior. "What’s the sticker price?" my mom asked, looking at the tires and undercarriage. I went around to the driver’s side, and my shoulders slumped as my heart fell.

"Sixteen thousand."

My mom stood, looked at me as she chewed on her bottom lip. Then she saw the car salesman walking around, trying not to look as if he were following us.

"Hey, mister, we need you now."

* * *

I sat at the stoplight, my mom in the Outback in front of me. I looked around my new car, which was a year old, but I didn’t care. She was mine, now. I was so excited, I could barely contain it. Mom had managed to talk that salesman down to fourteen, so the price was perfect. Life was sweet. I looked over at the passenger seat, wishing Haley was there right now. I had missed her all day, though I had loved the time alone with my mom. That was so rare these days with both of our schedules.

The car had been bought with the understanding that should a mechanic find anything wrong with it, I could return it. I would have Chris look at it as soon as we got home. He was a wiz with cars and engines, and it was his passion. It was odd sitting so high up off the street, though the Outback wasn’t a low car, it wasn’t an SUV.

The light turned green, and I drove on. I felt so free, like, I’m not sure what I felt like. I guess for lack of a better term, I felt like an adult.

Mom parked her car along the curb in front of the house, and I parked in the driveway so Chris could get a good look at everything. I was bummed as I turned off the engine, not wanting the drive to be over, yet. I wanted to stay behind the wheel, and just drive, wherever I wanted to go. Well, after I picked up Haley, that is.

"Where’s Chris?" I asked, after finally getting out of the car.

"I don’t know. I haven’t gone into the house yet." My mom laughed at me and my excitement, which completely robbed me of any patience. She put her arm around my shoulders, and we headed into the house. It was after ten, so I figured he’s have his lazy butt out of bed, then I heard the water from the shower.

"Damnit, hurry up, Chris." I muttered.

"He’ll be out soon, honey. Don’t worry. I’m going to go call the insurance company."

The deal was, she helped me with the money, and I paid for half the car, but also gas and insurance. I was grateful just to have a car.

Finally the water cut off, and my brother hurried down the stairs, pulling his shirt over his head.

"What did you get?" He looked out the front window, and saw my jeep in the driveway. "Oh, nice." Out the front door he went, me on his heels. While Chris did his thing, I waited impatiently, asking tons of questions

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Chris slid out from under the jeep, wiping his hands on the rag he had brought under with him.

"It looks great, Andi. You should be good to go."

"Great! Thanks, freak." I punched playfully on the shoulder, and hurried around to the driver’s side. "Tell mom I went to Haley’s."

I started her up, and backed out of the driveway.

Haley’s house was quiet, her car parked on the side of the garage as per usual. I pulled the parking break, and headed out to the front door. I stood, my hands clasped in front of me as I waited for someone to answer the doorbell. I heard the locks undone on the other side, and the door opened.

"Oh, hello, Mrs. Corregan."

"Hi, Andi. How are you?"

"I’m doing well, thank you. Is Haley here?" I was about to bubble over with excitement, using every bit of self-control I had to not jump around on the front porch.

"Oh, no, hon. She went shopping today with Kelly."

"Oh." I felt my heart sink, and I wanted to cry. So how would she be the first one for me to give a ride to? Why wasn’t she here to see my surprise? This was such a momentous occasion in my life, and she wasn’t even home to see it.

"Kelly came and picked her up around nine. She should be back home this afternoon, though. Can I give her a message for you?"

"Well, I got my car today." I felt really stupid, suddenly. Was this as big of a deal as I thought it was? Why would Haley care? She already had a car.

"Oh, Andi, that’s wonderful." Haley’s mom smiled brightly. "Is that it?" she pointed to my baby at the curb. I nodded. "What a beautiful car. Congratulations." Before I knew it, I was pulled into a hug. "You must be so proud."

"Yes, I am." I just wanted out of there. "Okay, well, I guess just tell her I came by."

"I will do that. Congratulations again, hon."

"Thanks." I gave her as good a smile as I could muster, and turned away to head back to the Jeep.

I sat at my desk, staring out the window. I could see my car from there, and wanted so badly to be out in it, shopping again, with Haley. Why wasn’t she home today? I had never just shown up at her house unannounced, and the one time that I managed to garner enough courage to do just that, she’s gone. Why would she go shopping with Kelly when she had finished all her Christmas shopping with me? What can Kelly add to the shopping experience that I couldn’t give her?

Fuck it. I knew I shouldn’t put much stock into this thing with Haley. I wasn’t even sure if it could be labeled as a friendship. She had her fun, and now it was back to her little loyal bunch of groupies.

I turned on my computer, and began to play Literati.

I heard a knock on my bedroom door, and glanced at the clock on the computer screen, shocked to see it was nearly three in the afternoon.

"Come in."

The door squeaked open, and I felt arms slide around my neck, and a cold cheek against mine. What the?

"Congratulations, Andi," said a low voice. I wanted to smile, but my stubborn side wouldn’t allow that.

"Thanks." My voice held no emotion, just dry.

"What’s wrong?" The arms pulled away, and I turned to see Haley staring at me.

"Did you have fun?" I asked, my words far more biting than I’d intended. I crossed my arms over my chest. Haley took a small step back.

"What? Fun? What are you talking about?"

"I heard you went shopping with Kelly. Guess my time is up, huh?" Haley’s head cocked to the side, her mouth opening a bit. I could tell she was surprised by this.

"I don’t understand. I told Kelly we’d go Christmas shopping. We go every year. What’s the problem?"


"Don’t give me that, Andi. What did I do?" She put her hands on her hips, trying to read anything from my face, but I gave her nothing.

"I guess our friendship isn’t enough." I looked down, feeling dejected, but doing my best to hide it.

"Andi, Kelly and I have been friends since birth, basically. She and I will always be friends. I don’t get what’s wrong." She stared at me, I looked back up at her, my face stern and stone. She brought her hand up to her face and began to chew on her thumbnail, looking at me the entire time, then began to pace around the room, not looking at anything, just moving. I didn’t understand it, and I hated the silence. I watched her every move, trying to see what she’d do. I felt anxious, fidgety. Then Haley stopped, turned to me.

"You know what, Andi?" I didn’t answer. My pride was still flying entirely too high at that point. "You set me up to fail. Because of some asshole who decided to pick on you two years ago, I have to pay. Yeah, Jimmy is an ass, and yes, what he did was wrong. But I didn’t do it. I never made you any false promises, I never made fun of you, and I never used you. The only thing I did was like you for who you are. That’s a hell of a lot more than you can claim for yourself." I stared at her, now my mouth hanging open. She ran her hands through her hair, walking around my room as I imagined she got her emotions under control.

"I have spent so much time with you in the past couple of months," she continued before I could even get a word in, even if I had wanted to. "Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I like you, Andi. But I do have other friends, and I cannot, and will not just drop them to the wayside because you don’t like them, or want to monopolize all my time. I want to spend time with you. Hell, I’m here right now, aren’t I?" I said nothing. "Aren’t I?" I nodded. She took a deep breath before continuing.

"You know something?" Haley turned to me again, standing by my shelf of Beanie Babies. "You’re doing the same thing to me that my friends have done to you. You’re just as prejudiced of the quote, unquote, popular people as they have been of you." She walked toward me, kneeling down next to the chair I sat in. "Don’t do that, Andi. You’re far better than that. I like you for who you are, and I sure as hell thought I got the same from you." She stared at me, but I said nothing. I had an overabundance of stubbornness, usually to my own detriment. This time was no different. "We have a good thing going here. Please don’t ruin that, or throw it away." I wouldn’t even look at her. Inside me was a tempest of emotions and knotted thoughts. "Do you have nothing to say?"

Speak, Andi! Speak! The voice inside my head was so loud, so clear, yet my pride kept me from saying anything. I didn’t want to lose Haley, and I wasn’t sure how to keep her.

"Nothing at all, huh?" She stood, and I shrunk even more. "Guess not." I heard her footfalls as she walked across the bedroom, opened the door, then shut it behind her.


I stayed where I was, my mind screaming at me for being such an ass, possibly ruining a great friendship. God, when had I turned into everything I had ever hated about those people at school? Haley hadn’t deserved what I had done or said. She was one of the only people, except for Tracy, who had accepted me for me, all of me. Cynicism, stupidity, all of it. Why had I pushed her away like that? Where did I get off treating the one person I cared more about than any other, outside my family?

I felt paralyzed with regret. I had done some stupid things in my life, but I think this just about topped the list.

The day began to fade into night as I sat on, berating myself, and finally just going numb. I heard a knock at my door. No matter how much I wished it would be Haley knocking, so we could replay the entire scene, I knew it wasn’t.

"Come in." I said quietly.

"Honey?" my mother. "Do you want some dinner?"

"No." I continued to stare out the window.

"Okay. If you do, just holler."


I closed my eyes.

Ring, ring, ring

My eyes shot open, and I looked back toward my bed where the phone sat, and I waited with nearly bated breath. I wanted to hear my name being called out as I was called to the phone. It never happened. Glancing at the clock on my computer, I was stunned to see it was nearly nine-thirty at night.

Feeling like I could move for the first time in many hours, and knowing I needed to so I could get some blood circulating to my butt, I stood and stretched. I looked out the window and saw my baby. Without another thought, I grabbed my keys, my thumb caressing the smooth, cold metal of the key chain, and headed out. I had to fix this.

Haley’s house was lit up when I pulled up to the curb, my heart beating a thousand beats per minute. What if she threw me off her porch? She’d have every right. Gathering my courage for the second time that day, I opened my door, and headed to the Corregan’s front porch.

I rang the doorbell, and waited, my breath coming quickly in little white bursts as the temperature dropped even further now that the sun was down for the night. I heard the locks open on the other side of the door, and it opened. Haley looked at me, surprise on her face.

"I’m sorry," I muttered, barely audible to my own ears. She leaned in toward me a bit.

"Whaaaaaat?" My head lifted defiantly, and a smirk spread to my face.

"I am sorry." She stared at me, then smiled. My heart lifted, and I wanted to dance.

"So, you going to give me a ride, or not?" She indicated my car with her eyes, then looked at me expectantly. I nodded vigorously.

"Come on!" I grabbed her hand, and tugged, but she pulled back.

"Wait, let me grab a coat, you nut." She grabbed one, and didn’t even get a chance to put it on before I pulled her outside and toward my car.

Once inside, she took her time going through all the gadgets and gizmos the car came with.

"Really like that sunglasses holder up there, don’t you?" I asked, as she pushed it open and closed again and again. She grinned.

"Actually," she paused, looking down, "I like the height of your console."

"My what? Why?"

"It’s perfect, really, if you’re on a date, and you want to," She reached over and put her hand on my thigh, making my throat catch, "you know, do a little touching." An evil grin lit her face as she patted my thigh before taking her hand away.

I missed it.

* * *

I breathed deeply, as I tied my ti, making sure it looked good. This was a huge day for me, and I was so glad that I had asked Haley to come. She sat in the audience with my mom and Chris, ready to watch me try and defend my title for the third year in a row. The first time I had won, it had been difficult, as it was my first championship, and I had been so nervous. Then last year had been a joke, my opponent obviously having no place here. But, this year I wasn’t so sure. I had heard that Jared Bell, a 20-year-old third-degree from Indianapolis, was very good, and very tough.

I’d just have to be tougher.

"Round one!"

The announcement was made, and the crowd cheered as Jared and I took our places in the center ring. He was large, but not ridiculously so. But then, compared to me, most men looked large. The command was given, and we began.

As the fight went on, I realized that this would not be easy at all. I knew my lip had already been sliced open, and I could taste the coppery taste of blood starting to fill my mouth. I spit a bit of it out, and continued to fight. I flipped him, trying to pin him, but he managed to get out from under me, the crowd cheering wildly. I so badly wanted to look up and see my family and Haley, to gain support from them, but I didn’t dare.

My eyes squeezed shut as I was slammed to the mat, the air knocked out of me, but somehow, I managed to find that hidden vat of strength that I had heard about, but never had to tap into. I was determined that this son of a bitch was not going to take my title away from me.

The fight was nearly over, and we were nearly tied with our points. If only I could get just one or two good moves in, trip him up. Concentrate, Andi, concentrate.

He went to give me a roundhouse, missed, and I saw my opportunity. I brought my fist up, pounded him under the jaw to daze him, then flipped him. I could tell he was tired, and just as bloody as I was, as he squeezed his eyes shut when he landed. I took the chance, and pinned him with every bit of strength and endurance I had, until the count was made, and I felt myself being pulled up by the arm, my hand raised high above my head.

"Andrea Littman, reigning champion for the third year in a row!" The crowd was on its feet, the sound deafening in the gymnasium used for the matches. I searched the faces of the crowd until I saw Chris, his hand pumping in the air, his mouth open as he hollered his excitement. Next to him was my mother, doing much the same thing, and then finally Haley. She had her hands cupped around her mouth, yelling and cheering. She looked at me, her hands fell away from her mouth, and she smiled, giving me a thumbs up. I smiled back, wiping my hand across my forehead telling her I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it. She smiled wider, and I could see she was yelling my name.


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