Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Birthdays. You either love them, or you hate them; it's either a day where you're one step closer to being taken seriously, or one step closer to getting a head full of grey hair. Of course, as we get older the magic of birthdays fade away, as the ideal expectations we had as a child suddenly turn into the realistic expectations that if something can go wrong, it will.

And, why make a big deal out of it, if you know it will just fall short in the long run?

Well, for Sims, this is not such a dire turn, for each birthday is not just one step closer to death, but a wholly dramatic event where one life stage is abandoned for the next. And, for someone as infinitely blessed as Amelia Kane, this event is something her mother worries over obsessively, trying to make it "perfect".

From the preparation of her daughter's favorite meal when she wakes up...

... to making sure her husband gets in his last few bear hugs on a munchkin daughter...

... to avidly making sure that her dramatic, never-ending stories are listened to with incredible interest...

... to, of course, making sure that Amelia's older brothers' quarrels are kept locked away behind closed doors.

There may be awkward meetings for some on these happiest-of-days...

... but in the end even the most serious people will find something to laugh about...

... and best friends will make sure to show the ones they love that they care...

...no matter what their age...

... and no matter who might be watching.

Because really, in the end, the worst ills can be forgiven, if only for a moment, in order to celebrate...

... and to hope that the past can be paved away for a brighter future.

"Why are you trying to keep it such a big secret? Are you building somethin' that'd get you in trouble?" Alesha's voice was soft, but she couldn't help exposing the honest curiousity in her questions.

As the majority of the birthday celebrants splashed about in the pool laughing, Bradley had found his way to a chair to lounge -- and mope, of course -- and little Alesha had found it in her kind heart to wander over and try to keep him company. She'd only gotten a "pity invite" from Meredith, anyways, so it didn't feel natural to hang around with everyone else.

"Look, Alesha, I know you're just trying to be nice, and I really appreciate that, but it's sort of personal, okay?"

Bradley tried to sound as smooth as he could, but there just wasn't much energy left in him, at this point. "Why don't you run along and hang out with the other kids, huh? I've got stuff I need to think about..."

"Alright." Alesha voice took a dive from inquisitive to dreadful in just one word. Brad could feel his heart cracking a little from guilt, but he said nothing as he saw her start scooting forward off her chair, poising herself to get up and walk away.

"If you need me," she finished with an even more pitiful tone. "I'll just be over there, doin' my homework and stuff."

Bradley wasn't the only Kane that was feeling a little guilty at the sight of Alesha, though -- in fact, compared to Bradley's guilt, Amelia's was horrendously worse. Although at the back of her mind she partly believed  Mere just invited Alesha just to inspire said guilt, she knew she couldn't blame her. Amelia knew she deserved to feel guilty.

Realizing this was probably a good opportunity to try to make things right -- birthdays are all about moving forward and stuff, right? -- she pulled away from a splash war with Travis, and started climbing up the ladder out of the pool.

"Alesha, can we talk for a second?"

"Sure!" Alesha said in a relatively cheerful voice, tucking her writing away and standing up to chat with the birthday girl.

Amelia's heart sank even further. 'Man, just looking at her makes me feel horrible,' she thought to herself. When she finally got the courage to speak, she stuttered, "Look, Alesha, I like you a lot... And I also like Naomi. And personally, I really don't care if you guys don't like each other, or why -- you're both my friends. You don't have to like me if you don't want to, but that's not going to stop me from being your friend, okay? You're like, important to me Alesha, and--"

"Amelia, I get it," Alesha interrupted in a rather calm voice. "It's okay. You don't have to make a big deal out of it. I forgive you."

"Y... You do?" Amelia stuttered once again. "Really? After how horrible I was?"

"Really," Alesha said with a wink. "If my mom's taught me anything, it's that holding grudges is bad for Drudges. Besides, I shouldn'ta tried to make you pick between me'n Naomi. That makes me just as bad as her."

"Aww, Alesha," Amelia said, suddenly grabbing her oldest friend with an unexpected, incredibly tight squeeze. "You're the nicest girl I've ever met. I promise, I'll never let anything come between us, ever again."

Alesha squeezed back with just as much enthusiasm -- she hadn't expected this day to come, and it felt even better than she'd dreamed. "Me neither."

Well, I suppose Birthday wishes sometimes really do come true.

... Some of them, at least.

"Brraaaaadd, are you seriously going to be looking out that thing all night?! You promised me you'd teach me that fancy pants chess trick today... You promised!" Amelia groaned as she fidgeted about in the lounge chair on the deck later that night, watching her brother pore endlessly through the lens on his telescope.

"I told you Mia, I gotta take a rain check. Tonight's the first night in a week that there hasn't been clouds, which means I can finally make some calculations about star movements on an inverse time trajectory... Which means I'll finally be able to complete my experiment, after I check and double check the figures at the science observatory."

He paused for a moment in his browsing, in order to look back at her down-trodden face. "I'll teach you next week, okay? I swear."

"Yeah, whatever," Amelia said with an eyeroll as she got up from her seat. "The space-time contin...nininum is always gonna be more important to you than me."

Before Bradley could even respond, the door to the deck was slammed behind her, and she was out of sight...

But, he wasn't, to her. As she peered through her bedroom window, she realized that there was a different wish she should have made earlier that day, blowing out those candles...

... her heart saddened, wishing that she'd asked instead for her brother back.

 "So, guess who's going in for try-outs this morning?"

Travis couldn't help but smile wider at his mother's excited reaction. "Did you get the call?! Really?!" Meredith's eyes grew large and her face froze in anticipation.

"Yep," he said with an easy, self-assured grin and wave of his hands. "I told you it wouldn't be long, mom. Just a few more hours, and you'll be looking at the newest member of the Twinbrook Llamaheads."

Well, thank goodness his mother was one of the few people who could handle his cockiness -- because, once he showed up at the stadium, he got a serious wake-up call. Sure, he had athletic skills, but...

... once he exited, he didn't exactly have the 'dream job' he'd expected.

"Sports coach... for toddlers. Freaking fantastic." Travis Kane, master of sarcasm.

Well, if he was going to become the MVP of the Twinbrook Llamaheads someday, he was going to have to prove himself -- it couldn't take that long, could it? you think? -- and in the meantime, keeping himself in shape, and showing his dedication, was going to go a long way in showing those silly recruiters that he was made for their team.

It was because of his dedication over the next several days that his little sister knew exactly where to find him, when she'd gotten a rather mysterious and surprising phone call at the house.

"Don't you do anything but work out? Seriously," Amelia said as he pulled himself away from the treadmill to talk to her. "You haven't smelt this bad since Brad switched out your body wash with skunk extract..."

Travis smirked. "Yeah, whatev'," was his totally uber super cool response -- eyeroll and all. "What're you doing all the way over here, anyways?"

"Believe me, I didn't want to come, but there was no way that Mom was gonna be able to convince Bradley to actually play messenger boy," Amelia whined. "I swear, ever since my birthday, Mom's been sending me around doing all sorts of totally menial chores, including this one, which could've been prevented if you'd actually brought your cellphone into the gym with you..."

"I got a call?!" Travis's heart skipped a beat. He suddenly found himself so excited that Amelia's whiny rant left him totally unphased. "Was it the recruiter? Have they finally decided to move me up onto the team?"

"Wait, wait, what?" Amelia was taken aback for a second. "No... Sorry, I didn't realize you were expecting them to call. No, it was some chick named 'Lolly'."

"Oh..." Travis sighed heavily. "What'd she want?"

"I'm not sure. She just said that she needed you to call her back, said it was some sort of emergency, otherwise Mom wouldn'tve sent me all the way here to tell you."

"Well," he finally said exhasperatedly after a couple moments. "Thanks for letting me know... I guess. If you wouldn't mind hanging out here for a bit to make sure she doesn't show up looking for me, that'd be great. I guess I'll go try and figure out what's going on."

When Travis dialed Lolly's number, he was surprised to find that she didn't answer -- that was odd. Considering how her "emergencies" used to consist of hours of tear-jerking rants that she used to consume his soul, the fact that she wasn't jumping at the opportunity to hear his voice was particularly surprising.

However, her answering message was pretty straight-forward; she didn't want to be disturbed, but if someone really wanted to find her... She'd be at the dump browsing through old, used books.

Okay, that totally didn't qualify as an emergency, but then again, that may not be Lolly's fault -- trust Amelia to blow any news completely out of proportion.

Although he couldn't help but feel it was sort of a bad idea, Travis found himself walking through the creaky door on the old junkyard building a shower and short drive later. It wasn't hard to spot Lolly; she was just where he'd imagined, sitting on the old beat-up couch they used to sneak to to make out in the dead of night, with a pile of books next to her, and one resting in her hands, spread open.

There were other voices coming from outside, but they were muffled -- as far as he could tell, they were alone.

Lolly had pounced on his arrival in seconds, and within minutes they were in a heated conversation about her latest trouble. Travis wasn't really paying attention, but he got the jist of it -- after the baby had been born, her boyfriend had pretty much given up on the relationship, and refused to help at all with her son. Her parents were fighting with her grandparents again, moving in and out and in and out of the mansion... And she was lonely.

How utterly surprising. Not.

And yet, Travis still felt compelled to stand there, listening. "I just don't know what to do, Travis," she grumbled, seemingly entirely composed despite the unhappy nature of her rant. "I feel like everything in my life is falling apart, right now. My family, my relationship, even my job is rickety because they think my voting decisions are based on my parent's wishes..." Lolly shook her head with disgust. "I just feel like I can't trust anyone, and that no one trusts me."

"Well... I... trust you?" Travis said slowly, warily. He wasn't really sure that was what she wanted to hear -- but it was his best guess. "And I mean, you can trust me. I'm your friend... right?"

Lolly shrugged. "That's why I called, I guess. You're the only person I was ever really able to rely on my entire life. And now that we're finally on the same page again and everything..."

"And you can call me anytime that you want." Travis did his best to sound reassuring, but Lolly still didn't look convinced. "Look, I love Jade... But I still care about you, and I always will, as long as you're my friend. If you ever need anything, just remember, I'll do my best to be there for you."

Something about his conversation with Lolly gave Travis the willies. He wasn't lying, but he couldn't help but get the feeling that Lolly wasn't telling him everything. As much as he liked her, he realized how much clearer his head felt as soon as he walked out of that junkyard.

But... maybe that was just the smell.

Still, the second he climbed into his car, he realized there was only one place he wanted to go.

As the doorbell rang and he saw through the window the legs of his favorite woman descending down the stairs, the first easy smile he'd felt all day finally started to settle on his lips.

Too bad that across town, there was a girl doing a whole lot of not-smiling.

"X over 10... With the parentheses... But does the square come first... Hmmm..." Amelia, still sitting in the lobby at Twinbrook's Wellness Center, was trying to focus on her least favorite subject -- math, ugh -- while ignoring the grunts of people lifting weights downstairs: unsuccessfully, I might add.

"Whatcha workin' on?"

Amelia barely even registered the voice in her head for a moment, as she was trying very hard to discover what 'x' was after being tortured by various dashes and slashes -- but, after her eyes finally caught sight of the bright red hair across the table from her, she grumbled, rested her head on her hand, and responded.

"Nothing important," Amelia said tiredly, staring at all the smudges on the paper from her eraser. "Just pretending I'm interrogating these numbers so this math doesn't seem totally pointless." She tapped the pencil against the paper a few more times, before sighing.

"Sounsh fun to me," the little boy responded through a mouthful of bread and jam, chomping loudly while trying to peer over the potted plant at her answers. "I'm good at math."

"Yeah, and so's your big sister," Amelia said in monotone, thinking of Naomi, who was easily one of the smartest girls in her class. "But unfortunately, I'm stuck here waiting for Travis to call, so I can't get her help." With a scoff and an eyeroll, she finished her sentence with a very melodramatic, "Figures."

"I can try to help ya if you want...?" Lamont said with a soft smile, looking up from the remains of his mini-meal...

... but, as Amelia erased her latest mistake, she simply sent him 'the look'; no way was she going to dignify that with an answer.

No way was Amelia Kane that desperate. ... Yet.

As Travis felt himself relaxing for the first time that day, all memory of his little sister and the task he'd given her faded out of thought and mind -- yes, all that was left his him, the soft bed, and the warm body laying next to his.

Jade, of course. They laid in silence, fingers intertwined, his cheek occasionally graced with a bat of her eyelash as she looked up to try and peer into his gaze -- it was so good, so comfortable. Especially after the day he'd had.

Travis pulled her a little tighter, and without even thinking, started to bring his lips to her neck...

... but the reponse he got was not what he expected.

"Stop i t!" Jade gasped, tugging her arms away. "Get away from me!" Her face twisted into disgust and horror, matching the level of shock and surprise in Travis'. 'What?!' he thought to himself. 'What is going on?!'

"But I--" Travis muttered, completely mind-blown. "What did I do?!"

"Just, just don't," Jade said with her eyes closed, shaking her head. "I can't do this, alright? I just can't. I know what you want, and I can't give it to you. I'm sorry. I just... I just can't."

Travis was utterly confused. "I'm sorry, I... I didn't mean to upset you," he responded softly, hanging his head. He wasn't even sure how to respond to her reaction. He'd never, in all his time of knowing Jade, seen her react like that -- I mean, she seemed a bit weird at the Rendezvous, but this... "I was just trying to--"

"Well, I don't need it," Jade responded harshly, her face still sour. "I'm not some fragile little girl that needs affection to feel gratified... And I certainly don't want to... well, you know."

"I mean, maybe eventually, but I'm just not ready, alright?" Jade continued, her voice still vapid of love. "Everyone's all like, soooo pushy to do that these days, and our relationship is perfectly fine without it. We love each other, and that's that. Right? ... Right."

"Yeah," Travis muttered sheepishly in response. "Right." Great. For the second time today, he was at a complete loss on what he was supposed to say. Why did these women have to be so confusing?!

"I'm gonna get up, I don't really feel like relaxing anymore," Jade quickly said, although this time, Travis wasn't all that surprised. "I'm gonna go grab something to eat, I'm suddenly not feeling that good."

For a moment, Travis considered just staying there, to try to puzzle through exactly what she'd just said... But, realizing that may not be smart, he muttered a muted, "I guess I'll come with," in response.

As he stood up, Jade crawled over the end of the bed and stood next to him, trying to put on the best face she could.

"Look, I'm sorry," she said, her voice weak. "I don't know what came over me, I'm just... I'm just having a hard time right now. You understand, right?"

"Yeah, of course I do," Travis responded emptily, putting on his cheesiest smile and trying to seem genuine. "You're feeling... er... guilty, over your sister, since you got to live and keep being in love and.. stuff... and er, she didn't," he said dryly.

To his surprise, Jade leaned forward and kissed him, with such speed that he didn't have any time to react. Darnit. His first kiss of the day and that was it? Sigh.

"I knew you understood me," Jade said as she pulled away, completely oblivious to Travis' puzzled expression. "I mean, even with this room remodeled, it reminds me of Emerald... Her photos... The bouquet from her funeral... Everything here reminds me of her, and I just can't do anything like that when I think of what cost her her life, and..."

Finally, Travis did understand. He knew he was thick, and that women hardly ever made sense, but for once, looking around the room, he felt a pang of guilt realizing what he'd expected from her.

"It's okay, Jade," he said, pulling her close to him, cupping his hands against her hair. "I get it. I'll be here whenever you need me, however you do. I can wait until you're ready."

As his eyes scanned the room, he gulped down a solid lump in his throat and cringed: wait until she was ready?

Yeeeeaah... He really hoped he could.


Some Things Never Change

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If there's one thing in life you can always expect, it's that things always change. As much as we try to fight it, the years settle in and our friendships wax and wane, our careers will succeed and retire, our memories blossom and fade away, and of course, those pesky pounds keep sneaking up and taking residence in our belly. There are people who somehow manage to control their lives to an extrordinary degree, but that becomes more tedious than not -- it's better just to live, naturally.

But, even as time hardens or melts the things around us, there are some things that we'd want to change, that simply never do. Maybe it's that one friend's incredibly nasal and irritating laughter, your mother's incessant need to nag you about your clothes, the way your spouse always burns your coffee in the morning...

... and, sometimes, the feelings you still harbor for someone you know, that should have faded away a long, long time ago.

Alas, try as we might -- some things simply never change.

"So your parents are being extra careful this time, right?"

Bradley laughed at July's unusual question, but, he couldn't blame her; the last time there'd been a party at the Kane house surrounding the eldest son, some rather interesting things had happened... Including her boyfriend getting rather frisky with said eldest son's girlfriend. No one expected much drama this time around, but, one couldn't blame July for being a little cautious.

"Yeah," Brad said with a snicker, thumbing his hand in the direction of the kitchen. "My mom even threatened to install cameras in the house if Travis didn't promise to behave. I don't think a lotta kids from school are coming this time around, since it's more of a family thing, but..."

"...but, well," Bradley scoffed. "It's not like Travis isn't still psyched about it."

In reality, Travis probably had every reason to be. Finally, it was time for him to leave school behind and move into the 'Real World', his father called it; he would be leaving his teen days behind, and finally catch up in age to all the rest of his classmates.

In fact, of all the kids his age, only Thomas was still left a teen... One of only two reasons that Thomas was invited at all. He was also fortunate enough to still have July as a girlfriend, the lucky sucker.

And yet there was more mysteries in the invitation list than even Travis had expected. When Lolly Racket walked through the door, Travis thought he was about to burst out laughing. Lolly? Really? They'd been on fairly decent terms since he'd broken up with her so long ago, but he had no idea she'd actually come to his little birthday party.

"And I mean," Travis sniggered off to the side to July. "Lookit her... She's like the size of a blimp! I didn't realize she'd gotten married and gotten herself knocked up."

"Married? Noo, didn't you hear?" she snickered back, "Her parents are all infuriated that she refuses to marry the father, so they threatened to kick her out of the mansion!"

"Aww, I see little Bwadley-poo is still acting like a high-n-mighty smarty pants, huh?" Lolly could be heard mocking on the other side of the room. "Didn't your mommy tell you it was rude to be boring?"

"Hey, just because you aren't, you know, interesting enough to understand particle physics doesn't mean that I'm not allowed to talk about them!" Try as Bradley might, there was no way he was getting himself outta that one.

Lolly, for all her graces, simply stuck her finger in her ear one moment, then yawned the next. "Waah waaahhh wah waaah wah wah?" (It appears the sim-gods did not feel it gracious enough to give her a decent fifth trait.)

"I don't get what her problem is... I mean, you find the engineering of the modular space capsule to be interesting, right?"

"Of course I do, it's thrilling," July reassured him. "She just probably doesn't have the stomach for it. Most people don't."

"Well, I don't know how much more of this Travis-schmoozing I can handle for the night," Bradley dismissively groaned. "I think I'm gonna take off after the cake."

In the living room, Travis finally got to see what the 'blimp' in Lolly's figure was all about. "So, do you know if it's a boy or a girl yet?" he asked, his hand curiously resting against her belly to check for any signs of life.

Lolly smiled. "No, not yet. I wanted to be surprised, with my first. The whole thing was kind of unexpected, so I just thought I'd carry on with the trend. It's kinda nice to just follow your heart instead of your mind, you know? Feels so... liberating."

"Yeah," he responded, rather dumbly. "Yeah, totally."

Well, when Meredith finally got around to lighting the candles, everyone gathered 'round to see Travis' final transition away from childhood... Even Bradley couldn't help but get excited, realizing that his days of sharing a room with that no-good-sonnova-grrrr were finally drawing to a close.

Cousins, sisters, sister's friends -- even little Alesha, who managed to get a pity invite -- as well as the last of Travis' graduating class, all started to cheer, hoping this birthday was the best...

... but among the crowd, his eyes only kept settling on one girl.

Still, it was best to get that wish done quick before the wax melted in the cake...

... and make sure to blow hard, so he might actually get a useful trait this time.

And, yes...

... everything gets better with age.

With the delicious cake finally finished off -- what do you expect, it was store-bought goodness! -- Travis decided to escape the myriad of kids and relatives and noise, just to get a small piece of quiet, trying to contemplate what would now lie ahead of him in life. So many paths to choose, so many actions to take...

... so many girls he just couldn't shake from his head, or from his side.

"Lolly!" Travis exclaimed when he noticed he'd been followed. "Why aren't you inside? There's food, your old friends, and... you know... warmth... since it's, er, too cold out here. You know, for the baby."

"No, I'm fine, don't worry," Lolly said with a chilling smile. "We're both plenty warm... But thanks for showing the concern. I really appreciate knowing you still care."

Travis was taken aback a little, but not nearly as much as he expected -- or, as he should have. "I... Well, yeah. I do. It's hard not to care, ya know... You're a nice girl, Lolly."

Travis tried smiling, trying to show some pure sincerity, but there was something in her eyes that he couldn't help resisting. Deep down, the alarm bells were flashing, and the little voice inside his head was screaming, "Nooo, nooo, she's crazy, don't do it! Doonnn't do iiittt!"

But, the little voice crying, "Yeah, but lookit those lips!" was just a wee bit louder.

"Stupid parties... Stupid brothers... So full of rubbish... No one deserves that much attention, especially Travis." Bradley sighed, sinking deeper into the chair with each depressed exhale. "He's too lucky for his own darn good."

Bradley wiggled his toes in his shoes, trying to amuse himself, but even he, the master of defeating boredom, couldn't think of the tiniest fact or statistic to cheer him up.

In fact, he wasn't even sure that Emerald could have gotten him out of this sulky mood right now, were she still alive. She really had been wonderful, and had loved everything he did or said, and never found him boring... But that didn't change the fact that everyone else did.

The simple fact was: people liked muscley, funny, brave guys like Travis... Not dorks with glasses and obsessions with logic and science. "You're just... fail, Brad. Just fail." And, apparently, self-depricating.

"Great... Another room taken by whiny teenagers. Sorry for intruding, I'll go." Bradley's eyes snapped wide open: when had she snuck in? He looked over at the door and the stairs, but he didn't recall either showing any sign of movement.

Why, what a sneaky little twerp.

"Wait, Naomi, wait," he said, jumping up from his seat, blocking her from the exit. "I'm sorry, I'm just..."

"You're crying 'cause your big brother is an attention hog when you're a real gem and a half... I get it," Naomi said with a roll of her eyes. "Trust me, I do. Everybody wants to make everyone else like them. S'all anyone cares about these days. It's stupid. So stupid I thought you were too smart enough to be one of 'em."

"I... That's--" Brad stuttered. "But I am smart. I can't help feeling like this... it's just the way I am..."

"Well, I'm just telling you what I think. That yer bein' stupid, 'cause plenny uh people like you. Yer sister never shuts up about you. I mean, I prolly know more about you than my own brother. And she's not the only one. Just because more people get along with Travis doesn't make him better than you. Just means he's less diff'rent, and that's not supposed to be bad, right?"

"Yeah... I guess."

"Well, I'm gonna go try to find somewhere else to get away from this noise. Stop bein stupid."

"Heh, yeah. Alright, Naomi. See ya."

"See ya, loser."

As the sun disappeared and the party fell to a close, the house slowly emptied of the guests, leaving only a few left waiting to say their goodbyes to the newly aged, eldest Kane child. The house hit a peak of silence, with the other kids streaming off to bed, his dad heading off to work, and only one last invitee waiting for a departing goodbye.

Naturally, it was Lolly. "It's been so great to see you, Travis. I wish I'd kept in better touch, but with my job on City Council, and trying to clean up my father's act, I haven't had time for much of a personal life... And it's going to be even less, soon. I didn't mean to forget about you, but..."

"Don't worry about it, Lolly. It's no big deal." Travis' gut cringed -- in reality, he hadn't thought about her at all -- but he couldn't help but feeling a little guilty. Aaagh?! Why did she have so much control over him?!

"Well I should go," she said as she pulled away from their hug. "But I'd really like to see you again, sometime.. If you're able. I've just missed you so much, and... Well..." Her lips pulled into a wider smile, and her eyelashes kept fluttering at his gaze in an awfully hypnotizing way.

"I... Yeah, I guess I'd like that." Travis felt a little relieved to get it off his chest. I mean, it wasn't like he'd dumped her because he didn't like her at all, right? It was because she was just getting a little attached, since she was young, and hormonal, and--

--and holy cow! In the one moment he got swept away in his thoughts, Lolly had tugged him to her, and pulled him into a kiss that sent him blasting farther into the past than he ever thought he'd travel.

He didn't even realize, until his lips began to automatically pull themselves away, that he'd embraced her equally in the exchange.

"Well, that was unexpected," Travis said with a measly grin. "I... don't know what to say."

"Don't say anything. I just wanted you to know how much I missed you, that's all," Lolly said, slowly blinking her eyes. "I just wanted to remember what it was like. I mean, we never really got closure, and... I just... well..."

"I should go," she finally finished, though still gazing deeply into his eyes. "But I'll see you again soon? As friends?"

"Yeah," Travis responded slowly, the butterflies in his stomach sturring up quite a storm. "As friends."

Travis felt a little nervous, but not much; he knew what had happened with Lolly was a fluke, and unlikely to happen again. He had a girl equally, if not more, beautiful than her waiting for him to be in his arms -- and, she was much smarter, and much more self assured.

If he knew anything, it was that he did not need The Crazy back into his life. Crazy women were bad for his head.

Still, it'd been a little concerning that Jade hadn't shown up for his birthday. He knew it was possible she wouldn't make it, but he hadn't heard from her in days... and that worried him. She'd aged up to adult a few weeks before, so he knew she was busy getting into her new job and settling in with the changes of maturity, but ever since they'd started dating again, she'd been becoming more and more distant... And as much as he loved her, he was starting to worry.

"Hey, July," he said, spotting his cousin on the other side of the Rendezvous. "I asked Jade to meet me here for 7:30... Have you seen her?"

"Jade?" July smiled widely, nodding in response. "Yeah, she's been here about 15 minutes, she just ran to use the restroom while she was waiting for you. I was just talking to her about how she missed out on the awesome cake at your party last night. I bet she'll be back any second now."

And, July was right; Travis didn't have to wait long at all. As soon as July stepped away to get a drink, Jade appared from around the corner, everything about her just as he'd remembered it: long, perfectly straight hair, burnished skin, beautiful large... eyes...

"Sorry about that, I didn't mean to keep you waiting," Jade said as she walked up to him, a little bit nervously. "I just wasn't feeling right, needed to clear my head."

"Don't worry about it Jade, it's no big deal. I pratically just walked in the door, anyways." Travis frowned, though, when she didn't seem to be any less frustrated. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," she stuttered, "I'm just feeling a little light-headed is all. I've had so much going through my head the last few weeks, I feel like it's on overload. I really wanted to come out and relax, you know? But I just don't feel relaxed, yet, and... Anyways, that's all."

"Man, you're freakin' me out, Jade," Travis responded with a shake of his head. "You sound as neurotic as my mother... Which is okay, I just know you aren't. All you need's a good drink in you and some destressing, alright?"

Jade chuckled, still shaking her head with a smile. "You always look on the bright side of everything, huh? Well, I'll try. For you. And those pretty, green eyes of yours. It's nice seeing them on my level, again."

"Yeah, it is."

"Mmm, you're so cute," she said with a giggle, leaning in to rub his nose against hers, and give a gentle, quick kiss against his lips. "I'd almost forgotten how much you always cheer me up."

With a small smile, Travis pulled away, and grasped her hands into his own. "Well, why don't we get out of here, then? We've got plenty of time tonight to do some 'cheering up', hmm? Wanna go back to your place, and relax?"

"N-n-no, no, I--" Jade pulled away, suddenly nervous again. "Not back to my place, I don't really want to be-- I'm not ready for... Just not right now, okay?"

"I... Sorry, I didn't realize that would upset you," Travis muttered, frowning. "I just wanted to help make you feel better, and I thought--"

"--No, it's okay," Jade interrupted. "I'm the one who should be sorry. I've just been having a rough time lately, and feeling overwhelmed and confused."

Seeing him still sulking, she pulled him close into a hug. "Why don't we just go back to your parent's house, okay? I'll even stay the night, if you want, I just... I don't want to go home, right now. You understand, right?"

"Not really," he said truthfully, with a shrug. "But I'll do anything you want, hon."

As they settled onto the front porch, waiting for the moon to rise, Travis slowly began to consider everything that had happened the last few days: his last days of school, his final step into maturity, his delicious cake, a certain delicious lolly...

... but, even if the memory of those events never changed, he felt something even deeper he believed to be true: no matter what, his feelings for Jade would never change.

... Ever.

.... Right?


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