That Girl in the Diner

That Girl in the Diner

A Story by cindrella pete
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its about the relationship between reserved stable diner girl and an unstable, kind of a man-whor street musician who are poles apart but just clicks right away after they meet..

"
okay.. so i guess people are'nt generous enough?i have been getting very few reviews and those are amazing then why dont more people read it??i am actually losing my confidence right now:( : ( and despite of all of these I update this story every week.. aint I an epic fool??
anyway... here's the links to my various profiles,you can read this story anywhere you want,but please do review,negative reviews?? i don't mind at all.. i jus want to know people do read what I write coz i have worked on this one for months..







1

Booze. That sounded like a really good idea right about now, he couldn't help but think, as he walked down the sidewalk heading back to his apartment. The streetlights were flickering on, slowly, as dusk settled over Los Angeles. The sunset was pretty, but it wasn't as if he noticed. All he knew was that he was in a bad mood, he was hungry, and his feet ached, his fingers ached, his back ached- hell, everything ached. He might only be twenty but he felt about sixty years older. He didn't think anyone would blame him for drowning his sorrows tonight. He'd only made enough for about a cheap bottle of vodka anyway. Today had not been a profitable day either. Five whole dollars. That was it. He couldn't say that anyone had been exactly generous. As the light had been fading, his guitar just seemed to get heavier and heavier with each person who passed and didn't throw in a dime. Not many had even just stopped to listen today. It had been less than encouraging.

So, he was going home. But luckily, there was a liquor store only about two blocks from where he lived so he really didn't even have to take a detour. He would by a bottle of wine or something- whatever he could afford- and he would go home and drink until he either finished the bottle or started to feel a little sick. Then, he would go to bed and sleep it off until noon. And then the whole process would repeat again. It was less than cheery and hopeful, that was for sure. His shoes were scuffing the pavement as he walked, turning the corner, he slunk slowly down the street... Until something caught his eye. Mick's diner. It was a big red brick building with a bright neon sign, standing just on the corner, within sight of the liquor store. It wasn't the classiest of places. He always went there when he'd made a few bucks and it was too early for a drink. His stomach rumbled as if on cue. Maybe he didn't need a beer after all. He took a chance and peered inside the window. Yeah, that was what he needed. The two things in the world that might have a chance at bringing a smile to his face right now: a big, fat, juicy cheeseburger after a long day at work and her. He could see her through the window, sweeping the floor of the almost totally deserted diner. Her black hair was falling out of her messy bun and into her face, and she had to keep stopping to push it back. He smiled just a little. He didn't even know her name, she was just 'diner girl', but every time he went to that diner (which was fairly frequently since he couldn't cook to save his life), he would always look for her. She was sweet, and most of the time, she slipped him a little something extra, even when- especially when- he couldn't afford it. It might be just a little extra cheese on his burger or some fries or just a glass of water. He always made sure to give her a little nod of thanks before he left, he didn't want to get her in trouble, but aside from taking his order, they had never spoken. She was really pretty too. He always daydreamed about what it would be like to talk to her and what it would be like to see her in a nice pair of jeans and a t-shirt instead of that grimy old uniform. She had a good figure, he could see that through the window even, and a cute, pretty face. What was not to like about her? Just seeing her inspired him just a little to write something. His song writing had been dwindling to pretty much nothing lately, but she always perked him up a bit. He had just never met someone so kind before. The booze was totally forgotten as he walked into the door of the diner, hoping that this would at least make his night a little bit bearable.

He walked in and sat in his usual spot, slinging the guitar case over the back of the chair and sitting down heavily in the seat. Every muscle in his body was drained of all strength. He really wanted to get home and sleep, but he did have to eat something first. He sat back in the chair, just relishing the moment of being able to relax for a whole ten seconds. He'd been working way too long out there in the heat and the cold winds and everything. He was just ready to drop. Maybe if he just closed his eyes for a second or two...

His eyes flashed open as he felt a hand press lightly on his shoulder. Had he actually been asleep? He jumped a little and looked up. Diner girl was standing over him, smiling kindly down at him. "Sorry if I surprised you." She said, her voice soft and apologetic. She removed her hand from his shoulder, a minute too late for him to forget that it had been there. He felt a strange tingling sensation at the spot where her hand had been, and almost wanted to ask for her to put her hand back on him again for some reason. She had never touched him before, he wanted to relish the fact for a moment longer.

"Oh, uh, yeah. Don't worry about it."

"Are you ready to order?" She took a pencil and a piece of paper out of her dusty apron and he nodded, feeling a little sheepish suddenly. He rubbed the back of his head with a calloused hand and nodded. It wasn't a hard decision. He only had five dollars, he couldn't get much.

"Yeah, can I get a hamburger, please? Just the burger." He said sort of sadly.

She tucked the pad back into her apron. It wasn't like there was very much need of that, any dimwit could remember a hamburger, and smiling slightly at him, she left him alone. She didn't want to impose, it was plain to anyone that he was worn out. She didn't want to bother her favourite customer.

He had been her favourite customer practically since the day that he had walked in. She didn't know his name, but she did know that he rarely had enough money to pay for anything, and he seemed really nice. It wasn't any kind of trouble slipping him anything extra, honestly. Nobody noticed her much around here, she could get away with quite a bit when she wanted to. She had always wanted to talk to him, but she could never work up the courage. She just hoped that he hadn't caught her staring yet. She always snuck glances from the other side of the room when she was sure that he wasn't looking. He had the nicest, deepest eyes, and the most infectious, boyish smile. But she only snuck a glance over once as she was giving the order to the cook. Today, there was no one else here. He looked battered. Even the marks on his beaten up guitar case seemed to be formed in a frowny face pattern. She looked around the room, her brow furrowed in thought. If there was one thing she was good at, it did happen to be coming up with plans. She was an organized kind of girl. A tall glass in the corner of the dirty dish pile caught her eye and she smiled a little to herself. She might be able to give him a little extra something tonight... Just this once.

She walked over to his table again a few minutes later, clearing her throat quietly to get his attention. He looked up, having been busy looking out the window, almost too tired to think. He was confused at first. This was too early for his burger, he had been to this place so many times, he knew that the cook wasn't even close to that quick. His eyes lit up a little though, when he saw what she was carrying.

It was a tall chocolate milkshake, with a topping of whipped cream and a cherry on top for effect. A blue bendy straw stuck out of it, and he looked around. Who would have ordered that? Then, she explained.

"I just found this laying around on the shelf; I'd hate for it to go to waste. I was wondering if you might be able to choke it down?"Lies, all lies, and they both knew it perfectly well. He smiled gratefully, for the first time that evening, as she set it down in front of him.

"Yeah. I don't think I could ever turn down a chocolate milkshake in need. Thank you." His eyes met hers, and his thank you was earnest. She was far too sweet. Sweet like the cherry on top his chocolate milkshake, which was suddenly disappearing quite quickly. It tasted divine. He didn't delve in long though. She was only turning away slowly and he wanted the chance to say something to her before he was too tired to summon up the courage or the energy. "I don't think I've ever said thank you to you, for all those other extras you give me. I wouldn't want you to get into trouble or anything because of it though..."

She shook her head, her messy bun loosening a bit at the movement, threatening to let her raven locks stray. "No, I've only gotten caught once. I don't think anyone really cares. And I don't expect a thank you anyway, that's half the fun of it." She had seen his slight nods and his smiles as he left most times, and his boyish grin was enough thanks for her. For some reason, she never thought that he was being rude. The less they spoke, the less suspicious it was, and besides, he was so much nicer than most of the other regular patrons. He didn't try to play games of grab a*s, and he didn't trip or spill things on her intentionally. He didn't slop all over the tables and even when he was tired like this, his eyes still seemed to be so deep... She was afraid to make eye contact because then she might just fall into those chocolate brown pools and get lost and he'd think she was totally nuts. It wasn't exactly the impression she wanted to give him that was for sure. She stood there for a moment, a silence descending on them, but neither cared. They just looked at each other, as if in their own little worlds. To anyone else it might have been awkward, but neither really wanted the other to leave.

It was only when she heard the cook calling her from the kitchen, saying that the burger was ready, that she had to excuse herself. Julian watched her walk away, and then stared down into his milkshake. He really didn't understand why she was always so nice to him. What had he done to deserve it? He didn't even know her name, they'd never really spoken aside from her taking his order. She did brighten up his mood just a little bit though. Maybe all the people on the street today hadn't given him so much as a second glance, but she restored his faith in humanity just a little.

She was back momentarily, with a juicy cheeseburger, and fries of course. He shook his head a little, smiling though. She just couldn't resist doing that to him for some reason could she? He was almost a little sad though. Now he had his food, she had no reason to come back. Oh well. He sighed softly and fished in his pocket for the five dollars in change he had made that day. She shook her head as he offered it though.

"No, it's on the house tonight. You look like you could use it."

But Julian was absolutely adamant on this point. "Take it. Please. I owe this diner so much already- and one day I'm going to pay it all back. Plus interest. I promise."

She silently took the money from him, sticking it into her apron pocket. Looking around the diner, there were no other customers left. It was only her and him and the cook in the kitchen, singing along to Italian opera radio rather badly. There were no more chores to do. Everything was wiped and cleaned and ready for tomorrow. She decided to summon a little courage and take a chance.

"It's... It's kinda dead here tonight. Do- would you mind some company?" She stammered a little. Bringing food and taking orders was easy, but sitting down and having a conversation with a guy? Not so much. She had never exactly been socially adept, and she wasn't big on rejection, but what was the harm? He looked like he had had a hard day. Maybe he would like some company?

He smiled, perking up at her question. "No, I wouldn't mind at all." He tried not to sound too excited. It wasn't like he'd been daydreaming about this for weeks, just wondering what it would be like to talk to her. He didn't know why he'd never asked her to keep him company before. He was usually quite good with women. He flirted with them on the streets all the time for a few extra bucks, and he'd never had trouble getting a date. He didn't know what was so different about her, but he was glad that she was interested in chatting with him. He could use that tonight.

She smiled back at him a little and slipped into the booth across from him as he took a big bite out of his burger. It looked as if he hadn't eaten in months, the way he'd almost finished half of it by the time that she could blink. She couldn't restrain a small giggle at the sight of it. He wasn't a big guy by any means. She had to wonder where all of that was going. He looked up as he heard the laugh, and smiled back at her a little, covering his mouth with the back of his hand, realizing that he had to look like a pig to her. He was just so hungry, and the food was so good...

"Sorry." He apologized.

She shook her head. "It's fine. You have immaculate table manners, really. You should see some of the people that come in here, with sauces dribbling down their chins, eating four or five burgers, three plates of fries and god knows how many milkshakes before dessert."

He swallowed and chuckled. "Not to be gross, but I could probably pack all of that away right now. I haven't eaten all day. Here, have some fries. I don't want to be the only one eating." Julian pushed his plate closer to the middle of the table, allowing her to steal a fry or two. He didn't mind sharing. She had given it to him after all, it was only fair. "I'm Julian, by the way."

She nibbled on the fry, only having taken one out of politeness. If he was starving she didn't want to steal all his food. She smiled at his name. Julian. She liked that. It wasn't Matt or Brad, or Josh, or anything dull like that. "Madeline. But everyone calls me Maddy, of course."

"Madeline." He repeated. She got butterflies as he said it, liking the way it rolled off his tongue. She averted her gaze, looking down at her hands for a minute so she wouldn't let herself get carried away.

"So, uh, you're a musician?" She nodded to the guitar case, trying to start up a conversation.

He sighed, not smiling for the first time that she had walked up to him. "I wouldn't call myself a musician, a struggling one, perhaps? I don't even know anymore."

"Not a good day, huh?"

"No, not at all to be honest. You're doing a pretty good job of turning that around though." He didn't want to dump all his problems on her and let her realize how much of a loser that he really was. Even though she had probably already guessed that he had no money, and that was bad enough. The way she smiled though, as he said that, made him smile again. Yeah, she was definitely turning his bad day around, sitting and chatting with him.

"Well, I think you're definitely a musician. I mean, I don't think there's one day I haven't seen you with your guitar. You obviously have a passion for it. That's all that matters- whether you make any money at it or not." She shrugged. She wouldn't usually give an opinion like that to a stranger, but he didn't feel like a stranger to her. It was so easy to talk to him- usually it would take an hour or two for her to really relax and be able to say what was on her mind. But not with him, for some reason. They had known of each other for longer than an hour or two though, so did that count? Either way they seemed to click, and it was refreshing after so long to have a real conversation with someone. Madeline wasn't the type to have many friends, she hadn't spoken to anyone her own age in so long. That just made it doubly wonderful.

"It's complicated... I've been doing this for years now, playing my music on the streets, and I'm not getting anywhere, it's kind of frustrating. But thank you for the faith in me anyway. You're very sweet."

She blushed a little at that, and it made him smile yet again. She was quite adorable in his eyes. She twisted a piece of hair around her finger several times before she managed to recover from being complemented by someone like him. It was small, she knew, and it was a bit of an overreaction to be so flattered, but she couldn't help it. Men like him were hard to come by.

"I'd like to hear you play some time..." She said rather sheepishly. Arranging to see him again would be good. It would be a shame to only see him every now and again at the diner, now that they'd spoken. He came in often, but she didn't always have time to chat like this. She really was curious about his music too. She imagined he had to be good if he played his guitar so often, and his voice was smooth and soft. She liked the way he spoke. She could only imagine his singing voice would be even better.

Much to her delight, he nodded. "Well, I'm usually at the park, around the corner if you ever want to. Private shows cost extra though." He winked at her. "But enough about me. Tell me about you. What do you do when you're not here?" He didn't want to come off like a total jerk, only talking about himself, and he did genuinely want to know. All he knew was her name so far and how nice she was and how pretty and soft those lips looked, and how shiny her hair was. He wanted to reach out and touch her to see if she was as appealing to his fingertips as she was to his eyes but he figured that would be way too creepy for a first meeting.

Maddy merely gave a modest shrug. "I don't do much, actually. I take night classes at the university to study for my psychology degree. And then in my spare time, I mostly just stay at home with my dog. It's really not that exciting."

Julian was fascinated with those few small sentences though. It told him a lot, and knowing about her meant a lot to him. She had been so sweet to him, it almost seemed callous to be clueless about her. "Psychology? So, you're studying to be a shrink or something? That's impressive."



She smiled brightly at the encouragement. "Yeah, I do want to be a psychologist. I'm in my second year. Most people don't think it's interesting, but I enjoy it a lot. And don't worry, I'm not about to start asking how everything makes you feel."

"No, that's really cool." A psychologist? So she was smart, too? That was always a refreshing quality in a pretty woman: brains. In his experience, it wasn't something one encountered often, a mixture of the two. "And you have a dog?"

She nodded. "Yeah. A Rottweiler, his name is Fluffy."

He chuckled. "That's an interesting name for a male Rottweiler."

"I got him from a shelter when I moved out of my parent's place almost a year ago, to keep me company. The name was part of the deal."

"I love dogs, but I could never have one. I can barely take care of myself right now, much less anything else..." He said quietly, but he quickly tried to brighten up the subject. He couldn't help adding stuff like that in though. He had just had such a bad day. Even if she was making him feel lots better, his problems still haunted him a bit. "Anyway, what do you do for fun?"

"Oh, I write sometimes. Poems, stories and stuff like that. Nothing terribly exciting. I play the piano a little, and I sing in the shower but that is about the extent of my musical abilities."

"I'd love to read something of yours. If you don't mind."

Madeline usually didn't show anyone else her work. Ever. Rarely anyone had read it, and even fewer said that it was actually good. She didn't think it was much good either, but right now, she just really didn't want to say no to him. "We can trade. I'll show you something of mine if you play me a song. How's that?"

Julian grinned. That would mean he would get to see her again and he couldn't argue with an arrangement like that. "It's a date then."

Neither of them had said anything about a date but Julian thought he would be bold. Maddy blushed at the suggestion and looked down into her lap. To Julian, her slight shyness just made her that more attractive. And what was better, she didn't say no. The last fry had been picked off the plate, and there was no singing coming from the kitchen, so assumedly the cook had already left. She slid out of the booth without making eye contact and grabbed a pair of keys out of her apron pocket.

"I'd better lock up now, I guess. We don't stay open very late on weeknights and my manager would kill me if he had to start paying me overtime for this." She chuckled a little and slipped in back of the restaurant to grab her things, still with her cheeks slightly rosy. She got asked out by guys at the diner- mostly slimy, drunken, unattractive ones, on occasion. Maybe once a month or so. She was a bit of a plain Jane and the uniform didn't help but she didn't mind it. Her reaction usually wasn't like this though. A date with a guy like him? Did he really mean date or was that just an expression? She couldn't imagine getting that lucky. She hadn't been on a date in months. Especially not with a nice guy, either. Of all the times she'd been daydreaming about that... It took a minute for her to compose herself and act half decently normal again.

She came back out, shrugging on her jacket over her greasy pink dress, the classic uniform that was about as frumpy as oversized sweats but not anywhere near as comfortable. He smiled at her and slid out of the booth. It was time to say goodbye, apparently. He wished that it wasn't. Suddenly, he had a brain wave.

"Do you live near here? I just didn't see a car outside."

"Yeah, I live about three blocks away. Why?"

Jack smiled. "I'm four blocks away. I always walk past this place coming back from the park, that's why I come in here so often."

"Oh, really? I'm surprised we haven't passed each other then." She opened the door and he shouldered his guitar case. They both slipped out into the dark night of Los Angeles. "I always walk to work. It saves on gas." She locked the door behind them and slipped the key into her pocket, standing there for a moment when they should be parting ways. She didn't really want to say goodbye quite yet.

Jack already had that covered though. "I could walk you home, if you wanted. Women really shouldn't walk around alone at night out here."

"Okay." Her heart skipped a beat at his offer and she turned in the direction of her apartment. "Provided, we're going the same way, of course. I live up here." It didn't bother her that a near complete stranger would know where she lived, she wasn't paranoid like that. She was just glad that she'd get a few more minutes with him. She didn't like walking alone anyway.

2-a walk in the park

2

The day was sunny. It was about ten in the morning, and the park was alive with small, giggling children chasing after stray Frisbees and run away balls. It was busy because of the weather, and the ceaseless traffic brushing past her for once made her smile. She never liked large crowds, she far preferred to be on her own, but today as Madeline walked through the park, she didn't mind everyone around her for once. She was out walking Fluffy as usual, and on nice days she usually never went to the park. She never went to this particular park at all really, but since the night before... Julian had told her that he usually played at this park and she had thought that she might just walk by and 'accidentally' run into him. There was no harm in that, right? The walk home with him had been nice, she just liked the company and Julian was definitely a good conversationalist. Not to mention the eyes... But she didn't even want to go there.

She had dolled up more than usual for a walk in the park due to her mission, and even her dog seemed to notice the change in attitude. Fluffy was a big dog, and usually protective of her. That was the main reason she'd gotten him anyway, aside from companionship. She wasn't the strongest girl ever and he did make her feel safe. He always growled if anyone shady got too close, and now, even more than usual. Perhaps Fluffy knew something was up and was jealous? She couldn't tell. Something was definitely in the air though. She was nervous to run into him, in case he would see through her facade and think she was creepy. She didn't even know what she was going to say if she saw him. She just knew she wanted to hear him play and run into him. After that, the plan was a little shaky.

It didn't take long to find him though. The park wasn't huge, and once she heard the faint strumming of a guitar in the distance, all she had to do was try not to grin so broadly and look like a creep as she followed the sound. Kids rushed past her and mothers with babies told them to stay close, but once she came into sight of him she couldn't notice anything else.

He was sitting on a bench, with his guitar case out in front of him, singing Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. His singing voice was flowing and deep and gentle, even better than she had hoped it would be. She approached him slowly, not wanting to interrupt. Nobody else really seemed to be listening to him, or throwing much money into the case as they walked by. If she didn't know him she would at least even stop to listen for awhile, he was quite good. But the only audience he seemed to have was the group of drunks on the bench opposite him, singing along badly with his guitar playing. Julian was immersed in his music, and it was plain on his face. Until, he happened to look up and see her. Once their eyes met he couldn't help the smile that spread across his face, and the last few lines of the song were really just for her.

"Singing don't worry, about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright - won't worry! Every little thing is gonna be alright,"He played the last few chords on his guitar, smiling at Maddy, this was by far the most interesting audience he'd had all day. And not to mention- the most beautiful. "It's about time our paths crossed."

She nodded, finally reaching the bench he was sitting at. "Most definitely. That was great. You're really good- not that it surprises me. You look a lot better than you did yesterday night, if I may say so. Oh, and this is Fluffy, of course. In case you hadn't already guessed." She did realize that she was rambling just a little bit but it was hard not to. She had been worried about what she would say but now it felt as if she was saying far too much. It was almost like he was too easy to talk to, she just had to spill everything all at once. Julian didn't really notice though- or mind. He was just happy to see her. He almost felt a little awkward right now, being unable to wipe the stupid grin off his face. He had been expecting to see her today, but not quite so soon. She always brought a smile to his face. He had been hoping she'd walk by but he had doubted it, so he had told himself that later he would walk around her place like a creepy stalker in order to just 'bump into her' as if by accident. She had a dog, after all, so she'd have to come out sometime, right? He just really wanted to see her, after she had boosted his mood so much yesterday. He was just so excited to finally be able to start getting to know her. It was strange for him, usually he didn't go after girls like this, but Maddy was different. Way different.

He set his guitar down on the bench beside him and slid over to her, getting off the bench and onto his knees to greet Fluffy, who was not pleased with the fact that he was coming closer to his mistress. Fluffy growled and snapped viciously but Madeline wasn't worried. She knew that she had her dog totally under control. She tugged on the leash harshly and snapped her fingers. Fluffy seemed reluctant but he sat at attention without another peep, though he still looked at Julian intensely. It was going to take awhile to win Fluffy over, that much was apparent. He petted the animal cautiously though, despite its aggression. "Why hello, Fluffy. Nice to meet you."

Julian stood then, and brushed off his jeans, leaving Madeline quite impressed. Anyone with that much manners and respect for her dog was a definite winner in her book, for sure. "And yes, I am feeling a lot better than I was yesterday. Business hasn't been much better, but it's okay. How about you? You look great... I mean, not that you didn't yesterday. I've just never seen you out of your clothes before." Okay. Stop. That came out wrong. "I mean out of the clothes you wear when you work... never seen you in 'normal' clothes, yeah," he slapped one of his hands over his face, hiding out behind the palm of his hand for a moment or two. Madeline giggled a little and blushed at the compliment. He was quite cute when he wanted to be.

"I get it, thanks. I don't think that uniform is flattering on anyone."

"If it was, you'd be the only person to pull it off." Julian smiled, eager to change the subject. He usually never messed up like that, he never got tongue tied. He wanted to forget about this incident as soon as possible. "It's nice that we ran into each other. I have never seen either of you at this park before."

"Well, we don't usually go here, I'll admit... We just... wanted a... umm... change of scenery, didn't we Fluffy?" Maddy's eyes couldn't meet Julian's for two reasons now- not just because she was afraid of falling into them and looking like an idiot. She fidgeted a little, and Julian grinned suddenly.

"You were looking for me?" He could tell she was lying a mile away, and his heart leapt a little at the thought that just maybe because he'd told her where he played last night, that she might have hunted him down to talk to him. This was almost too good to be true.

Even if Madeline would have said no, her blush still would have betrayed her. She was a blusher, that was for sure. She thought it was one of her worst traits, that she could never play it cool with a guy because she was always turning red as a beet every five minutes or so. She could feel her face warming up and she figured she might as well tell the truth. If he thought that she was creepy, then so be it. "Okay, you caught me. I was bored and you got me curious last night."

He chuckled. Everything she was saying right now just kept giving him more and more hope that she liked him. Because he was definitely feeling an attraction there, but he didn't dare do much about it yet. Not until he was certain anyway. Her admitting that had to be a green light, though, right? Besides, the opportunity to make her blush even more was something he'd jump at right now. "I'm glad you decided to accidentally on purpose drop by then. Truth is, if I didn't see you today I was planning on going all stalkerish on you and walking by your place to see if I could catch a glimpse. But now that we've run into each other, you want to walk around a bit? I don't think I'm going to be getting much more business here anyway."

Madeline smiled at that, feeling less of a fool with that confession, although she had to question his motives. Was he just that bored that he thought running into her would be interesting? Guys like him, with talent and deep brown eyes, the kind that did whatever they wanted and followed their dreams even if it meant bad days sometimes... They never gave her a second glance. In fact, she was pretty sure she'd never seen one this close up before. She didn't understand his interest in her but she was more than glad for it. "Yeah, sure. I guess now that I've heard you play, I owe you some of my writing now, huh?"

He had almost forgotten about their little wager. "Oh yeah, I guess you do now." He scooped up the change from his guitar case and packed it up quickly, swinging it over his shoulder lightly. He was used to it.

It didn't take long for them to fall into step, with Fluffy walking in between the two of them like some kind of chaperone. He still didn't seem to like Julian very much yet, but Madeline wasn't surprised. The dog had always had a protective streak. When she'd first brought him home from the shelter, she could barely pet him, he was so timid. He would bark at everyone on walks. Now that she had him a little more calm, he was eager to be petted, but he still guarded her with his life. Most of the time Fluffy was the only company she had, and even though she knew that he shouldn't be so aggressive, she was thankful for it. He didn't trust people too easily, especially men wielding large foreign objects. She wasn't surprised at Fluffy's reaction at all. But her dog would just have to get used to Julian, because she was hoping that this wouldn't be the last time that they were out walking in the park together. Of course, she knew she was aiming pretty high with her hopes, but she could always dream, couldn't she? Whether she'd ever actually have the guts to get a guy, that was another story entirely.

"So business hasn't been good today? It's such a nice day out, I thought I'd have to get Fluffy to make a bath for me through the crowd to get to you or something. The music was good enough to warrant that, anyway."

Julian laughed. Maybe someday he would be able to get a crowd like that, but definitely not anytime soon. Or maybe ever. He had felt so down about his music lately. She was helping to turn that around though. "Thanks. Business has not been good lately- maybe it's the recession or something? I don't really know. My most faithful audience has been those drunks that sung along back there and they're about as rich as I am. But there's things I'd rather do than beg people for money, like... spending time with you." He shot her a winning smile and she turned away, smiling shyly. Every time he smiled at her she seemed to do that. He didn't care what people said, shyness was definitely an attractive trait.

"I wouldn't call it begging exactly. You do give them something in return after all." She said, completely avoiding the way he was trying to flatter her.

"Oh, I don't know. Let's talk about something else- you for instance." The truth was, he could talk about music all day, he just didn't want to talk about his music. He already figured she thought that he was a total failure by now. He didn't want to say anything more to reinforce that belief.

"Okay, what about me, exactly?"

"Your family. Your boyfriend. Your dog. Anything. You have my full attention."

She shrugged. "Well... I'm the baby of the family. I have a brother and a sister, both in different continents. My parents are still in the city, still together. And you already know about Fluffy. Don't worry if he seems a bit hostile, he'll get used to you."

"So, no boyfriend?"

She blushed and shook her head. Of course not. Why would she have a boyfriend? "You really have got to stop making me blush so much."

"Alright. Change of subject. We could discuss how soft your hair is, and how well it frames that pretty face of yours. Or, how blue your eyes are. Or, we could talk about how nicely you fit in those jeans. Does that help?" He was in a mischievous mood. He figured a girl like her should know how beautiful she was. She didn't seem to realize that, and if that had to be his mission to remind her? He'd gladly do it. Madeline might not be the most gorgeous woman on the planet with knockers the size of watermelons and a perfect nose with a flawless complexion... but with her blue-black hair and pale face, that slender figure and those full, rosy lips, she had nothing to be ashamed of. There was no denying that this girl was attractive. She just had to believe it herself.

She flushed redder than a strawberry at all of that, which he found rather fetching. He was so used to the egotistical girls who wanted a guy who could write an ode to their four hundred dollar designer pumps. He was used to being the guy with the guitar, and he didn't really care normally. As long as it got him laid, right? He was finding though, that a girl with a little more modesty and a touch of sweetness (more than a touch really, he didn't even want to think about adding up an estimate of how much he owed the diner because of her gifts) was just as hot.

"If you don't stop complimenting me, you will never get another fry out of me ever again. You'll order a plate of fries and I'll give you a dollop of ketchup and a bowl of grease!" She threatened. Receiving compliments was not exactly her specialty. She wasn't used to it and she didn't know how to take all this flirting from him. Not that she didn't like it. She just wasn't used to this kind of thing. She was a loner, boys didn't do this to her, and she hardly knew how to respond. She felt like she was all arms and legs, she felt awkward and embarrassed, but at the same time her heart was pounding and she felt kind of light headed from all the praise. What was it that he was doing to her? After so many months of not talking to each other, of not even being able to ask anything more than 'what can I get for you today?', this was what she got. After so many weeks of daydreaming about what he might say, this was it. She was scared to say something stupid and... Well, she didn't know about and, she'd never gotten that far. She'd only gotten as far as the scared part with men.

Julian couldn't see that though. He only laughed and conceded. "I'm sorry, I'll stop. I just can't help it! I'm part Spanish you know. Language of love and all that stuff. It's in my blood."

"I thought that was Italian? Or French?"

"All three, I think. Depends on who you talk to. Personally, I've always thought that Swahili was particularly romantic."

"My vote is still for Norse. Those Vikings, you know- the warriors of love."

Julian laughed again, trying to picture it. "I couldn't agree more." It was just then that his stomach rumbled ravenously. He patted it, as if that would quiet it. "Sorry. I'm a little peckish."

She readjusted her grip on Fluffy's leash, fidgeting for a second. Dare she ask? It just seemed like such an opportunity. Before she could really think about passing it up though, her mouth opened and her voice said the words. "You could come back to my place, and have lunch with me... if you wanted. I mean, my apartment is only a couple blocks away. And, I do have to hold up my end of the deal, after all." Normally, she would never ask anything like that, she was way too fond of not getting rejected to ask that. But, Maddy did have a tendency to blurt things out sometimes.

"Yeah, sure." Apparently, this was one of those times where the blurting out stuff paid off. "You don't have to feed me every time you see me though. You do so much for me already. I've gotta say though, my mom would smother you in hugs if she knew how you kept me so well fed."

Madeline's smile grew, as they turned down the street, out of the park, walking towards her place. "What am I supposed to do, let you just waste away? And it's really no trouble, I have lots. I don't work all those shifts at the diner for nothing."

"How often do you work there? I've only missed seeing you a handful of times when I've gone to eat."

"I work there whenever I'm not studying, pretty much. I have tuition and school costs, on top of rent and Fluffy and the necessities, so I work as many shifts as I can to make sure I'm in the clear."

"That must be hard. Do you like it?"

"It's not as hard as your job! You have to stand out in the pouring rain and on really hot days and play. That must be tough. I'm not really crazy about working there, but, it's okay. I can't complain much. There's good days and bad days."

He chuckled. "Isn't that what people say when they have cancer?"

"It's definitely not that bad!" She couldn't remember the last time she'd smiled or giggled quite so much. It had been awhile.

The walk to her apartment wasn't very long. Julian was shocked at the fact that she was letting him in after she'd only met him yesterday, but he certainly wasn't complaining. He could drop by her place on occasion now that he knew where it was, if he couldn't find her at the diner. It was something he would definitely take advantage of.

When she let him in, he was surprised. Compared to his place, her little pad was a palace. It had a living room, and a kitchen with enough space for a table, and a bathroom and her bedroom was even separate! All he had was a two room place, one big room for everything and a teensy little bathroom that barely fit a shower a sink and a toilet inside. Hers was several rooms and while it wasn't all that huge, it wasn't a total disaster zone like his was either. It just looked lived in, and cozy. He felt at home already and he had barely stepped in the door. She let Fluffy off his leash, and hung it up on the rack in the entry way, but Fluffy didn't move an inch from her side. He followed her into the kitchen and sat on the floor in the corner, keeping a close eye on Julian as he entered the kitchen behind Madeline.

She began rummaging around in the fridge for ingredients. "I was thinking angel hair pasta with red peppers. Is that okay?"

He nodded. "I definitely think that I could choke that down. One of these days I'm going to have to cook you dinner for a change. And by cook, I mean order take out, because I'm a really lousy cook." He would never want to subject such a sweet woman to tasting his cooking, that would just be cruel. He truly was a horrible cook, it was a success for him to just boil water, never mind making a whole meal that tasted half decent. But he seriously was going to have to make all this up to her at some point, one way or another. He owed her, big time.

"It'll take fifteen minutes or so, but umm... I guess you can read some of my stuff, if you still want to. Just to pass the time." She was nervous about showing it to him, it wasn't often that her work saw the light of day like this. Curse that silly deal she'd made, but she would be true to her word. It was only fair.

Julian nodded eagerly. "Yeah, if you don't mind."

She slipped past him and returned momentarily with a little black leather skinned notebook, handing it to him, and quickly going back to the stove, awaiting huge bursts of laughter, or maybe for him to just plain ask her how weird she really was. Running out in sheer fear that her oddities might be contagious was another option. The possibilities were just endless. He sat down at the kitchen table, and flicked open the first page. It was a book of poems. She didn't figure she'd torture him with a long story or anything like that. And she hadn't even heard the whole song that he was playing, so really, it was only fair. She busied herself with cooking, but it didn't take very long to get his reaction.

"Maddy, these are... wow..."

"That bad, huh?" She laughed a little, stirring the pot of pasta.

"No! These are amazing." Julian found himself just a little bit awe struck. He had expected something mediocre, the angsty, cliché type that he was used to reading from girls back in high school. But this was definitely not the average run of the mill stuff. She really had talent. He shouldn't be so surprised, it wasn't as if he had been betting that she was only good at serving fries. Madeline couldn't help but smile at the praise and he drank in the smile, grinning back. "Please tell me you're trying to get these published, at the very least."

"Published? Oh, they're definitely not that good. It's just a hobby. You really like them?"

He stood up and walked over to her, handing her the book back. "Love them. I don't know how you can say those aren't good, I'm practically speechless."

"Then why are you handing them back so fast?" The blush was clear on her cheeks again. She wasn't entirely sure whether or not to buy the praise. He might just be being nice after all. Either way, it was flattering. Nobody had ever liked her work that much before.

"I don't want to steal it! I want to turn them into songs, they're perfect for that. You're really talented."

He handed the book to her, their fingertips brushing. An electric current surged through her veins at his touch, while Fluffy growled at the closeness. Julian stepped back, figuring it was best to be nice to that dog, considering it could rip him to shreds no matter how many times Madeline said that Fluffy was harmless.

"Better?" The dog seemed satisfied and Madeline was glad for the attention being turned on her Rottweiler rather than herself. She didn't know how to take the compliments and the closer that Julian got, the more she kept staring into his eyes, and looking at his lips and wondering what it might be like to brush her own against them... Yeah. Definitely not a good idea to start that train of thought. He might think she was pretty and he might like her writing, and he might have been intending to 'accidentally' run into her later, but that didn't mean he liked her that way... right?

"Well, anyway, I think the food is done." She announced, changing the subject and serving them each a plate. They sat down opposite each other at her kitchen table, with Maddy trying to avoid eye contact so she wouldn't accidentally get carried away with falling into his eyes again. Those looks were dangerous.

Julian took a bite and smiled. "This is really good. Impressive." And Julian really was impressed. She could cook too. It felt like his dream girl was sitting right in front of him. She mumbled a thank you, with a smile, and looked down at her plate. The fact that she wasn't looking at him wasn't escaping Julian. He reached out and tucked a stray strand of her raven hair behind her ear, so he could see her face better. Madeline looked up- his plan had worked; and deliberately touching her, even that little bit, seemed to have taken the breath from both of them for a moment. There was a connection here. Julian wasn't sure on her signals, but he was pretty sure by the way she kept blushing that she didn't dislike him. He figured it was time to be a man and make a move, finally, acting on the hints he'd been giving out all day. Things seemed to be going fast with them. Only yesterday they'd been talking, and now she was serving him lunch at home. Maybe he'd been daydreaming about her for too long or something. Either way, he knew she had to feel something too, otherwise she wouldn't be being so nice to him all the time.

"This is going to sound weird cause I know this is only the second time we actually speak but it feels like I have known you my whole life. Truth is; I can't stop thinking about you and I think we should go out sometime, like... on a date."

Madeline immediately choked on her mouthful of food. Woah. She knew she was pretty bad at reading signals, but she really hadn't seen that one coming. Couldn't stop thinking about her? She didn't even turn red at that one, she just didn't get it. What was there to think about when it came to her? He barely knew her. To be fair, though, she hadn't exactly stopped thinking about Julian very much either. She would come home in the evenings after a long day at work, she would find herself sitting on her couch wondering what it was like to be him. She envied him for his 'job'. It just seemed so free- no boss, no work hours. Not much of a pay cheque, either, but it seemed really romantic to Maddy. She often wondered what he might say to her if they ever spoke. It just seemed like he was everything she wasn't, it was attractive. To think that he felt the same way, after such a short time... She had never noticed the lingering stares when he looked at her before, she had never gotten any hints. It felt like she'd been thrust into a romance novel. Was this right? Well, it was just a date. She should stop freaking out. He wasn't confessing his undying passion for her or anything. It was just a date. With her reaction, though, he'd felt like he'd stepped over the line somehow and he was quickly thinking of a way to make it sound better.

"Only if you want to, of course. I was just thinking of going up to the national park for the afternoon tomorrow, to get away from the city a bit and clear my head. You're welcome to come with me if you want."

It took a moment or two for her to find her voice again. "Yeah, I have the day off tomorrow, I'd like that."

Julian grinned. "Good. And I don't mean to freak you out with the whole 'I feel like I've known you for ages' thing and all that. I-"

"It doesn't freak me out at all. I mean, technically we have known each other for a few months. I'm sure that counts somehow. You don't really even know the half of it." She smiled secretively. Oh, he really didn't know the half of it, about how she felt the same and more. Compared to her, he was the King of Normalcy. She liked that though. The fact that they were going on a date just made her feel all light and bubbly. She'd never been up to the park before, but even if it was a toxic waste dump that smelled of garbage and had weird mutated chipmunks running through the fields of dead trees, she knew she'd like it. She'd be with him, why wouldn't she like it? He'd been so sweet to her so far. She wasn't even sure if she'd be able to sleep. The mood was infectious, and both thought that tomorrow really couldn't come soon enough.


3-first date

They met at the trail head just before lunch time. The air was crisp and not too hot, and birds twittered up in the trees, almost as if they were feeding off of their excitement. Madeline's heart had been pounding in her chest ever since he had asked her on the date and she was pretty sure that it could be heard from a mile away. She hardly knew what to feel. She was anxious and excited, and she didn't want to screw things up. She had not stopped thinking about Julian since he had left the afternoon before. His face filled her mind, the song he'd been singing had been stuck in her head, she just couldn't get that smile off her face. She hadn't been treated that way in so long. Madeline wanted to get to know him so much better. Julian was just as eager. He'd practically had to tear himself away from her the day before, he was thrilled that she was going out with him. He couldn't remember the last time a first date had meant so much to him. Of course, he went on dates pretty regularily. Except, not recently because he couldn't bring himself to care. But Madeline was sweet to him, and he couldn't not ask her out. He grinned widely as he pulled up to the trail, seeing her sitting on a rock outside, waiting for him. This was going to be fun... provided he didn't totally make a mess of himself. Impressing girls he actually cared about impressing had not usually gone very well with him before. Hopefully today it would work out better than it had during the past twenty years.

"Hey. You found it okay!" He said brightly as he closed the door of his rustmobile.

"I almost got lost, it's a good thing I got here early. I've never been up here before."

"Really? My parents used to take us up here for camping trips all the time. How long have you lived in Los Angeles?"

"All my life. My parents aren't exactly all that appreciative of the great outdoors." She laughed. "We only ever went camping once, and that was more than enough for them."

"Well, we can make up for the lack of dense forest exploration now, I guess. Let's get going." She slid off the rock and shouldered the small backpack she had brought with her, full of snacks and a couple of sandwiches and juice to keep them going. She figured they might need it.

"So, you know where we're going?"

"Not really." He admitted. "I mean, I've been up here before, but never up this trail. It should be nice though. I always liked this area. It's full of little lakes and secret trails and stuff. I always used to sneak off when I was little and go exploring. Which my parents loved, of course. If they had a dollar for every time that I've freaked them out like that, they'd be billionaires by now."

"Tell me about your family. I mean, I've told you a little about mine. How many brothers and sisters do you have?"

"Five. Yeah, I know, it's pretty big. You should see our family get togethers. Eight Torreses plus all the little hyperactive nieces and nephews I have, it's... well, it's never dull, I'll say that much. I'm the youngest. There's two sisters and three brothers. We all get along with each other pretty well. Most of them live in Las Vegas, which is where I grew up. Only one of my sisters lives in LA with me."

"The one you were talking about that brings you food?"

"That would be her, Casey. Does your family live around here?"

"My parents do. My brother's in Africa, he's a doctor and he runs a bunch of clinics in little villages around the coast. I don't see him much. And then, there's my sister. She runs a vacation resort on a beach in Brazil. I'm the only one who stayed close to home. But we were never very close, so..." She trailed off, shrugging. "What did you do as a kid with that many siblings, anyway? Just play guitar? I'll bet you got picked on a lot with two older brothers."

"Did they ever! They still do, all the freaking time. Gotta love them though. And, believe me, I wanted to sit inside with my guitar all day, every day, my parents pretty much forced us outside. We were here at least once a month actually, they're big nature freaks, my parents. I really don't know how they survived, taking care of all of us."

By this time, they could see where the trail was heading. It was thick forest, but they were clearly going up. Madeline suddenly wondered if they were going up an actual mountain, the trail was so rocky and steep in some places. Julian knew for a fact that they probably were, having been in the area enough times to know that there were plenty of mountains in the region. That just meant that there would be a nicer view once they got to the top.

"Anyway, do you always tend to drag your dates up mountains on a first date?" She asked with a smile.

He laughed. That would be pretty creepy if it was true, when she put it that way, as if he was a serial killer and was taking her up here to make it easier for him to dump the body or something. He'd never brought a date to this place before, though. "No, you happen to be the first one." He wasn't about to add that his dates usually involved maybe a meal at someplace cheap and inevitably going back to his place for the night. It was pretty simple, but she didn't seem like that kind of girl. He would actually have to work to get to that point, and he was almost looking forward to it... Suddenly, a thought struck him. "You don't have a boyfriend, do you? Or, like, other guys you're dating that are going to beat me up for this?"

Now it was her turn to laugh. "Truth is, I haven't been on a date in six months- at least. There's definitely nobody who's going to come and beat you up. Are there any girls who are going to want to rip my hair out?"

"No, but... Six months?" He raised an eyebrow. She was joking, right? A girl like her not being on a date for half a whole year seemed just a little bit far fetched to him. But then again, he hadn't been on any dates in awhile either, so he couldn't really judge. Maybe she was just picky about the men that she went out with. It wasn't as if he wasn't happy that she was single, either- he was ecstatic that there was no competition. He kinda wanted her all to himself after all.

The upward path soon started taking a steep downturn and it wasn't five minutes before they found themselves staring across the surface of a glossy blue lake, surrounded by the forest. It looked like a good place to stop and Madeline let her bag slide to the rocky lake bed and breathed a silent sigh of relief. That thing had been getting heavy.

"I'm surprised you didn't bring your guitar on this trip. I think it's the first time I've ever seen you without one." She commented, picking up a smooth rock and attempting to skip it across the lake.

"I usually take it with me everywhere, but it's a little hard to hike with. Besides, there's other things I'd rather focus on right now than music." He winked at her and attempted to skip a rock himself. It didn't go very far before it plonked to the lake bed. "Places like this tend to give me lots of inspiration though. Once I get back, I'll probably be glued to my guitar for awhile. Hopefully."[/b] There had been no shortage in inspiration lately, only in people willing to hear it.

"I thought that you wrote songs, too. I'd love to hear one of your own sometime."

"I probably owe you now. I only gave you the tail end of a song, yesterday, and I think I read about five or six of your poems. I think I'm due for another performance. Maybe I should have brought my guitar after all."

"You could... well, if you wanted to, you could sing something at least. I like the sound of your voice." She complimented him timidly. He did have the perfect voice though, it was soft and smooth and just the right pitch. When he sang it was like a chorus of angels, or something equally cheesy.

He smiled at it though, looking over at her. He usually didn't sing without his guitar, he just felt so much safer with it in front of him for some reason. But how dare he resist those big blue eyes? And he did just say that he owed her. "Alright. But, I'm going to need a stage." He looked around briefly. There was a scattering of large rocks, going out to the middle of the lake. There was an especially big one just a few feet out. That would do. He wanted to impress her with this, and before he could reason with himself, he was hopping across the slippery pathway to get to his goal. The rocks were a lot more slick than he had originally anticipated, however. He thought he would be okay, he just had one rock left to go.... but of course, that was when the world started to waver and his legs slipped out from under him. He landed face first in the water with a huge splash.

"Julian!" Madeline cried from the bank, worried that he might have hurt himself. He might have hit his head or he might not know how to swim... but he came up sputtering and coughing in a matter of moments. She breathed a sigh of relief. As much as she liked him she hadn't really been intending on spending their first date in the emergency room.

The water was frigid and deeper than it looked. He was soaked to the skin, and it kind of hurt, hitting the water like he had, but once he looked at Madeline he started to laugh. He had to look like a total idiot, and once Madeline saw that he wasn't about to be hurt or offended, she couldn't help but join in as he sloshed his way out of the lake. He did look pretty funny like that.

"I think I should take this as a sign that I should never sing without my guitar. Or... a sign that I should not jump on wet and slippery rocks to impress beautiful women." He wasn't too embarrassed- sure, it wasn't exactly his most glorious moment or anything, but as long as no one else knew about it, he'd be able to survive. Besides, she had the most infectious laugh. He couldn't not like that.

"I'm sorry, are you okay?" She asked, trying to calm her giggles. "This is stating the obvious, but you're absolutely drenched!"

"Oh, I'm fine. Just a little cold, but I'll dry off eventually." He shook his head like a dog and water flew everywhere, as she held up her hands to avoid getting splashed. Unfortunately, her reaction gave him an idea and a mischevious smile crept onto his features.

She couldn't help but notice the expression. "Julian? What are you... no!"

He was inching closer and his arms were opened wide. "I think you need a hug." He lunged forward quickly, embracing her tightly, and effectively soaking her to the skin. The hug was very nice actually, despite the fact that he was sopping wet.

"Julian!" She shrieked in protest, though she wasn't entirely serious. Her hands were on his back, pulling him in slightly, rather than pushing him away. She didn't want to be wet, but this wasn't something she could really complain about. The hug lasted a bit longer than it should have, before they pulled away. Madeline blushed deeply once she saw the damage. It almost made Julian feel a bit guilty when he realized all of a sudden that thin white t-shirts and bright red bras didn't really mix well with water. Okay, so he wasn't exactly considering the view traumatizing, but he felt kind of bad when she crossed her arms over her chest to sort of hide it. She had a lovely body, but she wasn't exactly ready to show it all off yet. Still, there wasn't much she could do. She walked over to the big rock that she had set her bag on and opened it up, taking out two sandwiches and handing him one.

"Here, we might as well stay and dry off a bit." Madeline leaned back on the rock to sort of sunbathe, hoping for her shirt to dry faster.

"Thanks." He chuckled a little as he took the sandwich. She always had food ready for him- she had to be some kind of angel. "And if it's any consolation, red is definitely your colour."

She smiled a little at that. "You should consider yourself lucky. You're the first guy ever to see my bra on a first date."

He grinned cheekily. That was definitely not a bad thing. Of course, it probably meant that he wasn't getting into her pants tonight but that didn't matter. It wasn't about sex with her. It was about something totally different.

Julian had devoured his sandwich pretty quickly, and once his hands were free, he slid off his soaking wet shirt and started wringing out the water so it would dry faster. His shorts were soaking wet too, but he wasn't about to take them off. They would just have to dry on their own. Madeline couldn't help but stare just a bit, and Julian smiled at her as he noticed her gaze. "Unfortunately, I can't say you're the first woman to get me to take my shirt off on a first date, but you're definitely the first one I've gotten soaked for."

Maddy looked away bashfully. Julian was no body builder, for sure. He possessed no sexy six pack and he was more scrawny than he was buff. But he didn't have fat oozing out over his shorts, and he had no unsightly chest hair. She had the sudden urge to run her hands across his chest but she restrained herself. His skin was just begging to be touched, though. It looked soft, and it was glistening wet from his dive, the droplets of water sparkling a little in the sunlight... It was definitely more than his smooth voice and his apparent freedom and charm that had attracted her to him, that was for sure.

He leaned back to lay on the rock, joining her, kicking off his shoes to get them to dry more quickly. He hated squelchy sneakers. "You know," He said absently, "I'm surprised we've never done this before. I mean, I've always wanted to say something to you for ages, whenever I've been at the diner. I just, I don't know... I don't know why I never did."

She sat up to look at him. The thought seemed a little random, but with the way this day was going, they just got along together so well. They at the very least had some chemistry. She'd not rather be anywhere else than right there with him, soaking wet or not. "You... you wanted to talk to me before? I've been asking myself the same question, really. It seems strange that we've never talked or hung out together until now, when I think about it."

He smiled at the fact that she had been thinking about him too. This date? It was completely meant to be. "Well, at least we finally got around to it. Anyway, where do you want to pick up from here? Once we're dry, of course."

Madeline looked around. "Umm... That depends. Where did we come from?" Her brow furrowed in confusion. She hadn't been paying much attention to that, she hadn't been thinking about getting lost. Unfortunately, that hadn't exactly been foremost on Julian's mind either. Soaking wet and lost. Always a fabulous combo for a first date.

"Good question. Oh well. We can just wait here until they send out a search party to come look for us. I'm quite comfy here."

She sat up and tugged at his arm. "We can't just wait around that long. It'd be a couple days before anyone realized we were missing. There must be a trail head around here somewhere. The faster we walk, the faster we'll dry off anyway."

She was probably right, he reasoned, sitting up and grabbing her pack, just to be a gentleman. His mother had taught him how to treat a girl right. He had just never really thought to be that considerate before. He did have to kind of make up for the wet hug after all.

They picked the path that looked the best, which really wasn't saying a whole lot since they didn't know where they were going. But Julian wasn't too worried, and Madeline trusted his judgement- even though she'd only spoken to him a handful of times so far, he did know more about the area and the trails than she did. This trail didn't seem to be going very far up anymore, which was a good thing. The paths were covered by trees on both sides, and flowers and various animal droppings littered the sides. Madeline plucked a bright blue morning glory on her way by and stuck it in her hair just for kicks. Julian smiled at that, it brought out her blue eyes. But he really shouldn't get too dazzled, that was the reason that he hadn't been able to keep up with where they were and where they were going the first time. He had been looking at her more than he had been looking at the path. But who could really blame him? A cute face, rosy cheeks, bright eyes, blue-black hair that shone in the sunlight. And, okay, he had to admit, the little shorts she was wearing that showed off enough of her leg to be delicious but not quite enough to be s****y, that didn't help his concentration much either. But, being a man, he had tried his best.

"So," She began, trying to make conversation. "Do you ever do givs outside or the park? Do you have a band or anything?"

"You know, I'm pretty sure that's the thousandth question you've asked me about my music since we've officially met."

"Sorry..." She frowned. The last thing she wanted to do was pry.

"No, I don't mind!" He quickly corrected himself, not wanting her to feel bad. "That came out wrong. I don't mind at all, you're the first person in a long time that seems to genuinely care about that kind of stuff. The answers, to those questions would respectively be no, and sorta but not really. But it's just occurred to me that I've been talking way too much about my art form and I've barely asked you two questions about yours." This would possibly be why he didn't currently have a girlfriend, he could kind of forget about everybody else when the topic was music. He was interested in her stuff too, he didn't want her to think that this had to be a totally one sided conversation.

She smiled again, slightly relieved. "Well, I like talking about your music. It's interesting. I'd love to be able to do what you do."

"You'd want to be a broke street musician with bad hair and a sopping wet shorts?"

"I think you have great hair."

He chuckled a little. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. Can you play any instruments or anything? I can't believe I never asked." What was it about her that was suddenly making him so forgetful? So much for trying to be the suave charmer with the immaculate conversation skills. That approach was totally out the window now. He was being a bit harsh with himself because she was someone he really wanted to impress, but little did he know that Madeline hadn't noticed a thing wrong with him at all. Hell, for her, she was just glad someone was interested in talking to her at all for any length of time, she didn't have many friends and her family was distant. Any conversation was welcome, especially with him.

"I took piano lessons when I was a kid. And a little bit of singing lessons too. It's not where my talent lies though. I think everyone knows how to play some kind of instrument these days."

"I think it's an accomplishment. We should jam sometime. I can play more than the guitar- bass, piano, drums, violin... My parents really forked out for my lessons when I was a kid."

"Apparently it paid off."

He smiled at her. He didn't really think that it was paying off much right now. He loved his music but he hated having to practically beg for money every day, no matter what the weather. He would be no good at a regular nine to five, but sometimes he thought that he should just give in and take a job like that because the way he was going about this wasn't really working out so well. But talking with her, that was the first time in all too long that someone seemed to... just show support. His parents and family had always been supportive, but, lately he hadn't wanted to talk to them much. They had to keep giving him money for food and rent and he was starting to really feel like a failure. She was the first person in awhile that had not made him feel like that.

He stopped on the path and cut her off, standing in front of her. "Has anyone ever told you that you're really quite sweet?"

She blushed a little as he moved closer, it felt like the whole world was moving in slow motion. Her heart was pounding in her ears, and he was leaning in, and she could feel his breath on her now, and her eyes closed automatically and her muscles were rigid in anticipation... A clap of thunder suddenly broke the magic of the moment. She gasped and looked up. There was only one thing that a clap of thunder in what had been a blue sky five minutes ago could mean one thing in Los Angeles: flash flood. It started to rain in a matter of seconds. They had been so wrapped up in each other, they hadn't even noticed the weather changing. He suddenly started to laugh. Could anything else go wrong on this date? Slipping and getting soaked in the lake, and then getting lost, and now this. He could only laugh, and it was contagious. Truth be told, it was the best date either of them had been on in awhile.

But, if she thought that a little rain (or a torrential downpour) was going to stop him from finishing what he had started? She had a lot to learn. He wrapped his arms around her suddenly, pulling her tightly to him. He kissed her passionately, and she just melted in his grip, wrapping her arms around his neck timidly. The rain was pouring down on them and if Julian had thought he'd been soaked before, he'd been wrong. They were both soaked to the bone, but the rain didn't feel cold. Her body was burning up and it was like nothing else in the world existed in that moment.

Eventually, they had to pull away for air. He smiled at her, staring into his eyes. "I think we'd better find shelter." He said, as lightning cracked overhead. Rain was blurring their vision and standing right next to a huge tree probably wasn't a good idea either. She was flushed bright red, but she couldn't avert her gaze. That had been her first kiss- not that she was going to tell him, but she still couldn't stop her heart from racing. She could only nod as he mentioned shelter. He let go of her, and they latched hands, racing up the path in hopes of finding a lean-to, to take cover from the rain.

4-sick day

It had been three days. Three days since they had gone on their first date, three days since their first kiss, three days since she just could not get him out of her mind. Oh, and three days since her nose had started running, her temperature had gone up and she'd been laying on the couch, watching soap operas from the seventies and drinking more green tea than she had ever thought was humanly possible to consume in such a short amount of time. It wasn't really a surprise that she had suddenly gotten sick, considering their getting caught in that thunder storm. They had found shelter within a couple minutes, and had been able to sit and wait it out easily enough, and after that they'd found their way back to their cars quickly enough. But apparently, it didn't take too long for a cold to set in. By the time Julian had dropped her off at her place she had already been sniffling. And not because she was sad to see him go, though there was that too. She had called in sick to work the past few days, and had stayed at home feeling rather miserable. She had not seen or spoken to Julian since their date, and she wasn't about to until she was feeling better. She didn't want to give him the impression that she wasn't interested anymore- because that most certainly wasn't the case- but she did not want him to see her like this at all and she didn't want to seem clingy. She had not been on many second dates in her life and she wasn't exactly sure of the 'protocol' to get to one. She assumed that there would be one eventually, of course. After all, he had kissed her. She swore that she could still feel the tingling of his lips on hers, even days later. Standing there in the rain, in his arms, and looking into his eyes, breathless, the moment they pulled away... It was magical, like something straight out of a chick flick. These kinds of things didn't actually happen in real life, did they? If it wasn't for the cold she would have sworn it had all been a brilliant dream of sorts. She was almost half-glad that she had the sniffles to prove that it had all been real. Almost.

Fluffy was sitting loyally by her side, ever since she had come home. He had sniffed her to no end, apparently not liking the strange smells and knowing she had gone somewhere without him. He was curled up next to her on the couch. She knew she shouldn't let him and normally she didn't, but today she liked it and she didn't have the energy to turn him away. She was bored out of her mind, and strangely enough, missing Julian already. She knew that she had just barely met him, but she really couldn't get him out of her head- his eyes, that voice, that kiss. It was sweet memories and she wanted to see him again all too soon. But instead, she had to wait out this cold and watch more reruns. She wanted to be at her best to see him next, not like this.

Although, throughout the torturous hours of As the World Turns, (for which she could care less, but it was either that or the hot dog eating contest to watch, which did not help her nausea), her will was dwindling. It was almost three o'clock in the afternoon by the time she was staring at her phone longingly. How much could one little text hurt? She got lucky, though. He beat her to the punch.

Her phone began vibrating on the table beside her and she snatched it up with more agility than she thought she had, feeling so awful. She grinned when she saw that it was a text from Julian, and Fluffy gave her a wary look, as if he already knew who it was from and he wasn't pleased.

It read, Hey, I was just at the diner and they said you were ill. How are you doing?

She smiled at that. It was sweet of him to ask. She hadn't thought that he would ask for her at the diner, either. It was nice to be thought of. She quickly texted back, I'm okay, just a cold. How are you? She figured he was probably fine, but it was polite to ask anyway. It would be really bad if they both caught colds though. It would serve them right for lingering in the storm, like that, she thought with a small giggle.

Fine, thanks. Do you mind if I come by for a second, if you're at home? I've missed you and I just want to say hi. The text was sent back instantly. Her smile widened at that. He'd missed her? She suddenly felt like a lot less of a fool for missing him now. Her heart sped up a little bit. Maybe he could see her, just for a little bit? She would have to clean up, of course, and brush her hair out and put on something other than an old t-shirt and some pyjama shorts. She couldn't resist it though. She was bored out of her mind. Before she could really think it through, her fingers took on a life of their own.

I'd love for a little company. I've missed you too. :P She felt the need to stick a smiley face on the end of it, just so she wouldn't seem too creepy, but she wasn't really sure if it would really give that effect.

She got off the couch as quickly as she could manage, encumbered by masses of blankets and empty tissue boxes, as she was. She was a mess, she hadn't seen the light of day in two days. What was he going to think of her, looking like this? She managed to grab all the tissues she could with record speed, so it didn't look totally disgusting. She didn't care much about cleaning up her apartment, mostly just cleaning up herself, but she didn't want him disgusted by the refuse everywhere. He'd be there in about ten minutes, she gathered, if he was walking. She didn't have a lot of time.

The garbage disposal was just outside, so she unbolted her door to toss out what she could before going back inside and getting dressed, running a comb through her hair and all that. But, once the door swung open she was in for a little surprise.

"... Julian?"

Yes, Julian was standing right there, his fingers on the keys of his cell phone. He smiled sheepishly and stuck it in his back pocket. "Hi, Maddy."

She was too surprised to be embarrassed at how she looked right now. She slid past him to dump her bag down the chute, which was right across from her door. "Do you happen to have some kind of teleportation device that I don't know about?" She asked, wondering how he had gotten there so fast when she had only texted him back five seconds ago.

"I uh... I was kinda already here, but when I got here I thought since you were sick you might be asleep or something, so..." He shrugged. He hadn't counted on getting caught. Did this make him too eager? Combined with the accidental 'I missed you' thing. He really hadn't meant to put that in there, but, by the time he realized he'd typed it out, he'd already sent the thing. He had hoped she wouldn't think that was weird after only one date, but she would probably think he was certainly quite weird now. He wasn't some kind of stalker though, really! Well, maybe just a little. He had only gone to the diner today to see her, after all. He'd just gotten bunch of leftovers from being at his mother's, and his sister donated some groceries on the side, too, the day before, so he didn't really need to eat out. But he had wanted to see her, so he'd gone to the diner. He'd been so disappointed when she wasn't there, and he did think it was a little bit his fault that she'd gotten sick, considering the whole hugging her when she was wet and then getting her caught in the rain thing. At least she'd wanted him to come over though. If she'd said no and opened her door, it would have been even twice as bad as this. He felt just a little foolish, but he was smiling anyway, hoping she wouldn't mind.

She had to laugh, running a hand through her messy hair. "I was hoping to have at least a little time to get myself halfway presentable before you came, but, come on in now, I guess." She led the way into her apartment, coughing suddenly. "I'm sorry. I'm a bit gross right now. But come and sit down. Can I get you anything to drink?"

She flicked off the tv, and sat down. Fluffy had gotten off the couch to 'greet' Julian- which in his mind was to growl a little and stare suspiciously from a distance. It was better than last time though. Julian patted him fearlessly, in an effort to be friendly, and then sat down on the couch beside her, smiling and shaking his head at her offer of anything to drink.

"You're the sick one, I'm supposed to be asking you that. And you're not gross. I'm sorry that you're ill." He didn't think that she looked gross at all- maybe she felt it. He hated being sick, with all the various running fluids and fevers and icky medicines and all that stuff. But she pulled it off rather nicely, if anyone could look good while they were sick. Her face was pale and her hair was messy. Her clothes were rumpled and not at all new. Still, he thought she looked kind of sexy with her hair all messed up, and her pale skin just made her lips look rosier and her eyes brighter. No, she could never look bad in his book, not even if she honestly tried.

"Oh, I'm not that bad. It's just a cold. I'll be back to work by the end of the week. I'm just mostly bored out of my mind. I can't do much other than watch tv. Reading puts me right to sleep for some reason. I'm glad you came, it'll give me something to think about. Anyway, what have you been doing since I last saw you?" She asked brightly, feeling suddenly a whole lot better now that he was in the room.

"I went down to Las Vegas to see my family. We get together once a month for birthdays and stuff, it was insane. As usual. But it was fun." He explained, shrugging. Most of the time he was there he had been playing with all his siblings' kids (he was the designated babysitter since he was the youngest), and if he hadn't been doing that, his mother had been grilling him about this new mystery girl that he liked so much. He was glad for the silence on the drive home with his sister, with her kids asleep in the back and the radio off. Everyone in his family was just a little bit crazy, but it wasn't a bad thing. He was just glad to be back, and see Madeline again, even if she was sick. "I feel bad for leaving you alone this weekend especially since it's my fault you're sick. Dragging my date up to the mountains and getting us lost in the woods was not one of my best moves. I owe you, seriously, I'm at your service now. Do you need anything? Oh, and feel free to kick me out whenever you get tired and feel like you have to rest, ok?"

She shook her head. "Don't be ridiculous! It's not like either of us could have predicted that rain storm, and it was half my fault we got lost anyway. In the end, I think it worked out alright. And I don't need anything, really. I'm not exactly on my death bed." She said, sneezing.

He handed her a tissue. "You're right, it didn't work out too badly in the end."

"Anyway, tell me about something interesting. I have done nothing these past few days except for watch infomercials and soap operas. I do not care anymore who fathered which triplet, and if they say 'but we can't be together... I'm too in love with your step mother who is actually your aunt and your real mother, and the murderess of the mother who you thought was your real mother, but was actually your step brother...'. In short, I'm being driven nuts here."

Julian laughed. "Soaps aren't my favourite either. I dunno what you would think interesting. I haven't done a heck of a lot, really."

"Did you sleep with your transsexual half sister who happens to be dating your best friend and is totally being poisoned by your father this weekend?"

"I can honestly say that the thought of doing that never even crossed my mind. You really haven't had anyone to talk to all weekend have you?"

She blushed a little. She knew she seemed a little hyperactive all of a sudden, even though she was totally wiped out from being sick. She was just excited to see him and excited to get a distraction from being so bored. Even though she wished that she could have at least had time to brush her teeth again before he came. But still, even if the timing wasn't great, she was still glad to see him. She would have to try and calm down just a little bit though. She didn't want to scare him away or anything. "I'm sorry. I don't take to being cooped up very well."

He smiled, her blushing looked cute. Heck, it almost made her look not deathly pale for a few seconds! He was glad that she wasn't one of those people who got all grumpy and depressed when they got sick. Her attitude was no turn off at all. "So I see. Come here." He opened his arm for her to come closer and she shook her head.

"You don't want to do that. You'll get sick!" She protested. As if it wasn't already painfully obvious that she was really in no fit state to be around much of anyone, as tempting as it was.

"I don't really care." He pulled her close to him. He didn't want her to feel self-conscious about talking too much- because, honestly, with a voice like hers, she could talk for hours and he wouldn't mind. Besides, the distance between him and her was just too great right now. He had waited three days for this. He just assumed that after their kiss, this wouldn't be a problem.

She couldn't deny it made her a little uncomfortable, though. Not physically, of course, because cuddling up next to him, with his arm wrapped around her, leaning against his side... that was quite comfy. It was just that, well, kissing in the rain was one thing. It just seemed so odd now, being so close to him, especially when she was sick. What kind of guy was he to want to cuddle up to a girl like her who was snuffling and sniffling and rambling on so much because she was just that bored? And ever since he had come in, he'd been concerned about whether she needed anything and whether or not she was alright. It was just strange to be treated that way, and so suddenly. After all, they'd only spoken three times before. Was this going too fast? She couldn't help what she felt, but she kept telling herself that she couldn't stop thinking about him simply because he was the first guy in a long time to take an interest. But for him? It was obvious enough that she didn't know how to handle compliments, but she hadn't really thought about how she was going to handle a full fledged relationship. It had been awhile since anyone had cared about her like this, and she didn't really know how to take it, especially considering they hadn't even been on a second date yet. Still, she stayed in his arms, because for all her reservations and the knot twisting in her stomach, it felt nice to be so close. She didn't resist.

"My weekend wasn't all that exciting, but visiting my family is always a little crazy. I couldn't imagine having a family reunion where nobody started a food fight or had a screaming contest. There's about twenty of us or so, every time we get together. There's so many kids, and a bunch on the way. And there was so much food, you could hardly imagine the table was big enough to fit all of it."

"I'd like to meet your family sometime, they sound fun." She regretted saying that the moment that it came out of her mouth. Oops. She blamed him for going too fast, and she'd just said that she wanted to meet his folks! Oh, what a hypocrite she was. She tried to wriggle out of his grasp out of sheer embarrassment, but he just put another arm around her. "Umm... I mean, you know, eventually..." She murmured, trying to save herself.

"You say you want to meet them now, but every person I've taken there, aside from my absolute best friends, have been scared away in the first fifteen minutes. They're a little overbearing. More than just a little, actually. But they're nice to be around once you get to know them." He explained. Of course, it hadn't been lost on him that saying that was a little fast, but hey, he didn't really mind. He was just glad she was taking an interest. He loved his family- he was a huge mama's boy, to be entirely honest. He was just glad that she wasn't bored of him talking about them yet.

Julian looked down at her. She looked so embarrassed. Was he making this awkward? He didn't mind that she kept blushing or that she sometimes just let things burst out instead of thinking about what she was saying. She was really sweet and he wanted to make her feel a little bit better. He had come to cheer her up, after all. He chanced a glance at Fluffy. He was still keeping an eye on the two of them from across the room- he didn't look happy, but Julian was close to Maddy and he hadn't attacked him yet. That had to mean that the loyal dog was getting used to him, at least a little. Madeline noticed Julian and Fluffy exchanging glances.

"I've been talking to him about you, trying to tell him that you're rather a sweet guy and aren't going to randomly attack me out of nowhere. I think he's just a little jealous of the attention now." She said quietly, with a small smile. It was kind of flattering to be fought over- even if it was only with a dog and a random guy from the diner. Even if he wasn't quite so random now.

"Oh, so you've been talking about me, have you?" He thought it was rather sweet that she talked to her dog like that. Whenever he had had dogs, he talked to them too when nobody was around to think that he was crazy. That was just one more thing they had in common.

"Maybe a little..."

"Good. Cause I can't really say that I kept my mouth totally shut about you either. You're just kind of a hard topic to avoid right now."

She blushed. He had been talking about her? To actual people? She was kind of flattered, even though she didn't exactly know if what he had said had been all good things. She looked up at him, about to ask what he'd been saying, but he leaned in for a kiss instead of letting her talk. The longer he sat there, trying not to kiss her again, the harder that it was getting.

But Madeline pulled away from him, pressing against his shoulders to stop him. "Now that would be one sure fire way to get sick. Maybe you should go. I've probably already started to infect you already."

"What if I told you I'm Superman and I can't get sick... would you let me stay?" He asked, laughing slightly. "And even though I'm not Superman, I think I'm willing to take the risk." Screw the fact that he might get sick! Screw the fact that his voice was his only source of income right now- he didn't need money. Money wasn't important, even if he was currently broke. He'd been thinking about their kiss in the rain all weekend - he wanted to do it again and so, he would, germs or not. "I've been longing for this moment all weekend..."

He kissed her, softly at first. Madeline closed her eyes and she kissed back automatically- why did kissing him always do this to her? It was like it was magic, the way that she just had no choice but to melt into him and kiss back. But she didn't know what this meant. She didn't know how to handle being in a relationship, she didn't know how to handle someone actually kissing her while she was sick and not caring. Had he really been longing for this all weekend? As if she hadn't been thinking about kissing him again, ever since that first one. But for some reason, the whole thing scared her. There was something in the pit of her stomach that said that this was crazy, she didn't understand it.

She pulled away after a long moment, just as Julian was trying to deepen the kiss. His eyes flickered open as she pulled away. He suddenly felt very cold, since she wasn't with him. He liked having her in his arms but apparently she had different feelings about all this. She shook her head. "I think... I think even Superman has to get sick sometimes. I don't want to take the chance."

Even he knew that it had to be more than that, but she was curled up on the opposite side of the couch and Fluffy wasn't looking too happy... What was he going to do, argue with her about it? The disappointment showed in his face, but he got up from the couch anyway, not understanding. But then again, Madeline didn't really understand how she felt a whole lot better than he did either, right now.

"Okay. Get some rest, then. Call me when you're feeling better. Maybe we can do something. If you want." He offered, telling himself that she was probably just tired, since she was sick. He had only just gotten there, it felt like, but, he had only said that he would drop by for a second anyway.

She nodded, curling up in one corner of the couch. "I'd like that." He pulled the blankets she'd had strewn across the back of the couch, that she'd been using to keep warm and keep her fever down, over her and kissed her forehead tenderly.

"Okay, then. Well... bye." He left, without a smile, closing the door softly behind him, wondering what had happened. Madeline wanted to slap herself. Why couldn't she have let him stay? She was so bored without him there and she had been so happy to see him, she just... She wasn't used to this. She didn't know how to take it, it seemed like he cared about her and thought of her as much as she thought of him, which was kind of scary. She curled up tightly, into a ball under the covers, as Fluffy came over and licked her cheek comfortingly. She'd get the hang of it eventually, she wouldn't feel so smothered. Right now she just had to get better and make sure that the next time they saw each other, she could make up for it. She didn't want him to think that he had done anything wrong. No, Julian wasn't perfect perhaps, but he was close enough. She didn't want to scare him off or otherwise ruin things before they had even gotten the chance to start.
Long days at work were not uncommon, but they were certainly never welcome. One would think, that since Julian didn't have a boss, and that since he could set his own hours and lunch breaks and vacations, that that wouldn't be a problem for him. Unfortunately, it was kind of a problem when you couldn't pay the electricity bill. He had been going out as early as possible to get the joggers and early dog walkers, and had stayed out longer than the usual crowd was there. He didn't always stay at the park, sometimes it was just on street corners nearby. He never travelled far. He would if he was with someone, but it was hardly worth the while all on his own. He had been hoping that Madeline would come and bump into him one day, just to brighten things up a bit. Every slender, raven haired girl he saw, his heart skipped a beat hoping that it was her... But it never was. He hadn't had a call or a text from her in five days, ever since he'd left her apartment when she was sick, and that just made his whole situation worse. Perhaps she just wasn't feeling better yet, but he had an inkling that he had simply screwed things up with her somehow- that was how it always worked with him. So, as he treaded back to his apartment, he knew what would await him: a few drinks, a hot shower, and a restless sleep until morning. He wasn't even going to check his phone anymore, he was tired of waiting and being disappointed. He just needed to rest.

Opening the door to his apartment (his dark apartment, since he didn't have any electricity), he set his guitar down by the door and locked it behind him, turning around... And then stopping short. "What are you doing here?"

Madeline was standing in the middle of the room, in a little red dress, apparently waiting for him to arrive. He could see the steaming plates of food on his kitchen counter- all his mother's leftovers. There had been tons, and he vaguely remembered telling her that she should come over and help him eat them, but... There was a table in the middle of the room, with candles that were providing the only light in the room. It looked almost romantic. It took him a few moments to notice that for once, his whole apartment was clean, too. No clothes on the floor, there were no bottles scattered across the room. He was suddenly embarrassed. If she thought that he was an alcoholic now, she wouldn't exactly be too wrong. He'd been getting drunk pretty much every night for the past month or so... until he'd met her. Then he could cut down a bit because things didn't seem like they needed so much forgetting. But still.

Maddy winced at the harshness of his tone. "Your landlord gave me the key... I just... I wanted to apologize." She approached him cautiously.

"Apologize for what?" He was still confused, shedding his jacket, looking at her in bewilderment.

"For last time. I was rude, I- I shouldn't have just kicked you out like that." She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, softly, timidly.

He was surprised, and shook his head, still staying close to her. His lips almost brushed against hers as he talked, they were that far apart. "Don't apologize. If I'm doing something wrong or if I'm going too fast, just-"

She interrupted him with another kiss, getting bolder. She figured that she owed him that, after pushing him away so needlessly last time. "No, it's just me. I was just tired. You haven't done anything wrong." It was half a lie but she didn't care. As long as it never was an issue again, it would make things better.

He smiled then. "So, uh, what's all this then?"

"My apology dinner. You did invite me over, after all. Just not... now. Technically it's not breaking and entering because your landlord let me in. If anyone asks, I'm your sister."

He chuckled ruefully. "That guy hates me, he'd let anyone in if they asked."

"If you're tired or something... I can come back. You look kind of beaten down."

"You look kind of beautiful." He said honestly, and he laughed as she blushed. He felt kind of bad, since he hadn't showered or anything and she really did look stunning. She'd dressed up for this, obviously. She was smiling now. She'd been worrying that he wouldn't appreciate it, at first. But she hadn't wanted to just text him and try to explain. She wanted to see him in person, and this was perfect.

She grabbed their plates, and handed him his. "I'd serve you, but I had no idea when you'd be home, and I don't know what any of this stuff is. I had to go next door to cook everything. That man is quite creepy, but kind of nice when you get to know him a bit."

"Yeah. Such is the life of a street musician, unfortunately." He ran a hand through his hair. No point in lying about his lack of electricity, she'd know anyway. He had to wonder what she was doing there, cooking a surprise meal for a totally broke, kind of dirty, halfway to becoming an alcoholic guy who had obviously done something wrong the last time he had seen her... And there she was, dressed as if she was going to a cocktail party, waiting for him in the dark. This was definitely the little ray of sunshine that he had been looking for. "Anyway, it's mostly Spanish courses, my mom learned how to make them when she went over to Spain and met my dad. Apparently, they thought it was important that all us kids 'embraced the whole Spanish culture'... or something like that. I hope you enjoy spicy food."

"Yeah, I do. Though if it's Spanish I doubt I'll be able to pronounce any of it. I learned French in school because my parents thought it was more 'classy' for reasons I'm not going to repeat."

"Well, I'm going to have to teach you some Spanish, then." He walked up to his counter and started piling food onto his plate, and she followed suite. He pointed out the names of all the dishes, none of which she could pronounce, but it smelled good enough. They sat down comfortably, and he smiled at her as he dug in. He'd been starving. This was the perfect thing to come home to.

"It's been another hard week?"

"Yeah. But, no harder than any other week. This goes a long way to making it better though." He winked at her. "Thanks for cleaning up my apartment too, by the way. That must not have been very fun. I really owe you."

"Oh, it wasn't that bad. Once I got rid of all the beer bottles and opened the windows a little, it looked a whole lot better. Though I hope you don't mind that I did it, I'm sure you'll never be able to find a thing now that I've organized it."

He bit his lip. "I didn't want you to see all that." So she had noticed all of the bottles. He stared down at his plate. There was silence for a moment, but when he looked up, Madeline was smiling at him. For some reason, she didn't seem to care about the masses of beer and wine and whatever the hell else he'd been drinking recently. Maybe she didn't know it was recently? Either way, he was glad that she didn't judge him for it. He was eager to change the subject. "I'm sorry, I'm such an idiot. I haven't even asked anything about you yet! Are you feeling better? You look a lot better than you did last time. Less pale, I mean, anyway. Not that you looked bad."

"Not that I looked bad? Oh, I'm sure I did. But yeah, I am feeling a whole lot better. I just got back to work a few days ago."

"Good. What has happened since then anyway? It's been five days, I'm wanting all the gory, juicy details here."

She laughed. "Juicy details? I don't have many juicy details. I don't do anything. I eat, I sleep, I work, I write a little, I watch a little tv... that's it."

"Oh, come on! You do a little more than that. You go to school, don't you, too? I don't know how you do it, really. Going to school, working full time, with your own apartment and everything. I can barely manage half of that. Your parents must be really proud."

Madeline raised an eyebrow. "My parents? Proud? That would be a first. I did tell you what my siblings do for a living, didn't I? They're halfway across the world, running major clinics in war zones and fraternizing with Saudi princes and movie stars on vacation. I'm just sitting here becoming a shrink. I'm the failure of the family!"

She hadn't meant to dampen the mood, but Julian frowned anyway. "They should be proud of you anyway. My parents would love it if I went back to school and did all that."

"They're just annoyed because they didn't want me to become a psychologist. My brother was the doctor, my sister was the one who was supposed to marry rich and I was supposed to be the classy, artsy one. I was supposed to be a painter like my mother, or a ballerina or a classical pianist. I was supposed to be renowned and graceful, and their little baby princess. It never happened. I kind of envy you, really."

"Envy me?"

"You might not be able to keep your electricity on, but you still get to do what you love every day. That's better than working your life out at a dingy diner, your nose buried in books, doing stuff you hate, and keeping the lights on. Besides, there's something rather romantic about the starving artist working by flickering candle light."

He smiled a little. She did have a bit of a point there. "I guess so. I'm still wondering if it'll ever be worth it though."

"It will be."

"You don't know that. But, thanks for the support anyway." He actually wasn't feeling down about this, like he normally would have. She had actually cheered him up quite a bit, but he was still finding it hard to be optimistic about his 'career' right now, given the circumstances.

"Of course I know that. But you know, I haven't ever heard one of your original songs. And I think you do owe me after all of those poems you read."

"And getting you lost, and drenched, and giving you a cold, and after you made me dinner and cleaned up my apartment-"

"And after making me blush so much. Can't forget that."

He chuckled and got up from his chair, his plate empty of course. It never took him very long to polish off a meal. His fingers were still sore from a whole day of playing already, but, he was more than glad to play a few of his own songs for her. "I've been playing mostly covers lately, because nobody stops to listen to stuff they don't know, but I've been writing lots of new material so, you can be my guinea pig."

He went over and sat on his bed, which was only a few feet from his kitchen table because he only had a one room apartment, and she turned around in her chair to listen as the first few chords were played. "Pass me by every time, the streets never forgive I know, walk away never stay, that's the way it always goes..."

Once the final chords were played, he looked up at her, "What did you think?"

She applauded enthusiastically. "That was amazing. You really wrote all that?"

"It's not actually finished or anything."

"I loved it. The lyrics are so good, it's not just generic stuff, there's actually something to think about there. And the music goes along so perfectly. It's catchy."

She walked over and sat next to him, he was beaming at the compliments. It meant a lot more from her than from anyone else. "Thanks. This next one, ladies and gentlemen, I wrote about a pretty blue eyed girl I met recently." He began strumming again. He might as well play it for her, she had served as a bit of inspiration lately. "Jewels as cold as ice from the sky, but I'm still warm deep inside, my heart beats out of my chest, the world opens up so wide. Falling through a new feeling, oh it's not love but those blue eyes, can't you just stay a moment, darling? I don't want to kiss you goodbye..."

Once the music faded away, he didn't even get the chance to ask her what she thought because her arms were around his neck and her lips were on his. She practically pounced on him, but he didn't mind. He was surprised, but he kissed her back. She pulled away after a moment, her cheeks lightly flushed.

"I'm sorry." She let go of him a little reluctantly and he set down his guitar beside the bed. She had just not been able to stop herself, it was too much: his voice, and the lyrics and that look on his face while he was playing. She just couldn't resist. Nobody had ever been that sweet to her before. He was kind of irresistible.

He could only chuckle. At least he knew for sure now that she wasn't allergic to his kisses. "That good, huh?"

"Yeah... I don't usually attack people like that but you... You make it kind of hard."

"It's okay, you can jump on me any time you want."

She smiled, glad that he wasn't too uptight, that all her mistakes never seemed to bother him. "...Can I ask anything I want, too?"

"Within reason, sure. Shoot."

"Before, on the date, when I asked about you having a band and people you jam with. You just said kinda. What does that mean?"

Julian shrugged. "Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, there was a little boy. He loved his music and could play it all day long. The little boy met another little boy and they liked to bang on pots and pans and make up silly songs to dance to. In kindergarten, the boys met a little girl, and they have been together ever since. Until, one day, that first little boy was offered a record deal by a huge company. However, they only wanted him and not his friends, and they wanted to change his music around totally and hardly let him have a say. The boy said no and his friends haven't had a civil conversation with him since."

"Oh, that's horrible! You were offered a record deal and you turned it down?"

"They were going to turn me into the next pop rock princess, and it was awful. They are mad at me though, still. I don't know why. They say that it would have been a start, but they would have completely bastardized me. They think I gave up the dream, but I didn't."

"That's really brave of you. Anyone else would have taken it no matter what. How long ago was that?"

"A few months." He sighed. "We used to play together in the park, me and Kyle. Mary would tag along occasionally. It was fun. Not so much anymore."

"Were you and Mary ever...?"

"No! People always ask that, but if you ever saw us together it would be obvious. I've never had an attraction to her, ever. She's not my type. Her and Kyle dated for awhile but it didn't really work out. We're all just good friends. Or, we were. But I don't want to talk about it, it's ancient history. I just have to plug along on my own. It could be way worse."

The candles flickered dangerously low, on the table but the looming darkness was hardly on either of their minds. "I'm sure they'll come around soon enough."

"Well, you would be the expert I guess, being the psychologist."

"One quarter psychologist anyway." She smiled. "I can't imagine how good you would be with other people playing too. But you know what, I think I can consider this as payment for all the free French fries. You shouldn't play songs like that or I'll never let you stop playing. With material like that, I'm sure you'll get record labels pounding down your door in no time. You shouldn't worry so much."

"I don't worry! I procrastinate and I lackadasicalize, and I get tired of all the bullshit. But that's about it."

She giggled. "Lackadazicalize?"

"From the latin root, lackadaisical, to lack. it's my dad's smart word for being totally lazy." He finally managed to return the smile. "He was a teacher, so he would know."

"My father gave me latin root words too- though he'd be outraged at the use of a non-word. He's a judge."

He chuckled. "Either way. I'm not worrying about it. I'm admiring you, instead. It's much more productive. I did mention that red was your colour right?"

She swatted at him playfully, since the last time he'd said that he'd been talking about her bra. "Yeah, I think you did."

"That's all that matters. Thanks for tonight."

"Don't say that yet- the night's not nearly over."

The candles on the table flickered out, their wick running out just as the two leaned in again, for one more chaste kiss that was too tempting to resist.

6-surprise
It was hump day. Wednesday, boring old Wednesday, during which not many people ate out, and there seemed to be no end to the work week. The days kept melding one into the other for Madeline, and she was growing tired of it. All that had been on her mind was the last time that she had seen Julian. She had left only reluctantly for home that night, and she hadn't been able to stop thinking about him and the feeling she got whenever she was around him. Was it strange that she was all of a sudden missing him all the time? She didn't know how Julian felt about this, but it was kind of a mixed blessing. Missing him wasn't fun, but thinking about him kept her mind busy, not on all the medical terms she had to memorize for school, and not on the masses of dirty plates she had to carry or the obnoxious people she had to serve. He at least gave her a bit of a break from the current monotony of her life, and it was more than appreciated.

Though, she hadn't seen him since then, and that was a Monday. Business was dying down and it was nearing the end of her shift. She was thinking about calling him, just to see what he was up to, just to hear that amazing voice again for a little while. She was trying to figure out something to say, something that wouldn't make her sound too lame. She wasn't sure they were at that point where they could just talk, without going out or having anything to talk about, but she really just wanted to talk to him if only for a few minutes.

"Hey gorgeous."

She whirled around. "Julian!" So much for calling him. He walked up to her and kissed her, lightly. "What are you doing here?"

"What I'm always doing here, looking for you. I had a brain wave on my way home and I thought I'd stop in."

"Sit down, let me get you something to eat. What's the brain wave?"

"No, no food this time. You're almost done your shift, right?"

"Yeah."

"Do you happen to like black and white movies?"

"Most people with any sort of taste do, yes. Why?" She wasn't at all sure what he was talking about. He just smiled at her, his hair messy and his guitar slung over his back.

"Just come with me. We'll go back to your place and get your car. I'll drive."

"What happened to your car?"

"I sold it for parts, yesterday. I can hardly afford to run it and rent was more important, so... I hope you don't mind. Here, let me help you with that."

He went to help her untie her apron string and she shrugged. "Why would I mind? I'm just wondering what you're up to with that grin on your face."

He just laughed. "I'm taking you to a horrible torture chamber, Miss Stevenson. Now, come on. I don't want to be late."

She quickly grabbed her bag from in back and followed him out the door, walking back towards her apartment. She really didn't understand what was going on, but she liked surprises all the same. She was glad to see that he was in a good mood, and the fact that he must have a little money from the selling of his car was good for him too. No electricity was one thing but she wouldn't want him to run out of much else.

He smiled at her as he walked. "So, how was your day?"

"Boring, but I had stuff on my mind to at least keep me from going nuts. You look as if you've had a pretty good day."

"Oh, I dunno. It was just one of those days where you wake up on the right side of the bed, I think. Having a little cash for once, that helps. Business hasn't been much better or anything though."

"Are you still song writing by candle light?" Madeline smiled. It didn't bother her at all that he was poor, for some reasons. Her parents had always taught her that wealth did matter, but with him no rules rightly applied. He had his riches enough in his talent, more talent enough for both of them she thought. She couldn't get enough of his songs. They'd been stuck in her head ever since. It might bother her if he was just lazy and never worked, or if he was on drugs or something. But she knew full well he was broke, and she was glad he didn't try to play it off as if he wasn't. As long as he was able to live somewhat comfortably, she didn't care what kind of money he made.

"Nope, sorry. My bills are all paid up, and I have light once more. Just don't tell my mother that I ever lost it in the first place- she worries." He winked at her.

"I would too, if I was your mother! Anyway, what made you decide to sell up your car all of a sudden?"

"It barely runs anymore, it was just too much of a hassle. I've been having a lot of bright ideas this week- I'm on a roll. Hopefully this is one of them."

"Aren't you even going to give me a teensy weensy little hint?" She asked, fluttering her eyes in an attempt to get him to relent.

"You'll just have to wait and see. You don't have to change or anything either, you can go just as you are."

"You don't mind the smell of grease and French fries? I hate the way I smell- and look, too- after I get home after work."

"Smelling like a burger doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. And you certainly don't look bad with your hair all messy like that. Though I will admit the uniform doesn't do you a lot of justice." He complimented her, and she blushed as usual. He had never really consistently done that with a girl before, continually telling her how beautiful she was and all of that. But with Madeline, he was doing it for selfish reasons. He just loved seeing her blush and see that shy smile- it was kind of hot. So he thought that making her do that as much as he could get away with, that wouldn't at all be a bad thing.

"Well, if you say so..."

"How's Fluffy been, anyway? I haven't seen you walking him recently."

"I've been trying to talk to him about you recently. I want him to try and get used to you. Though he sighs less when I mention you, so I think we're making progress. I've not been walking him as much as I should now though. Midterms are coming up in a couple weeks, and I'm working more on catching up on schoolwork that I missed than anything."

"Midterms? Well, I could help you study, if you wanted."

"Oh, so you know about the cognitive appraisal theory of emotion, and parasympathetic division?"

"Parasympawhata?"

She laughed. "That's what I thought. It's really quite dry and boring once you get the terms down. I'm sure I'll be at it for awhile. You're always welcome to keep me company though. You can pop in anytime, I don't mind."

He beamed at the offer. "Yeah, I think I will. And besides, you can always practice being a psychologist on me. I'm sure I've got plenty of issues."

"You're nothing compared to some of the people I've talked to, trust me. Some of it is so sad."

"Why did you want to become a psychologist anyway?"

"It's what I'm good at. I like the challenge and the theory, I like just listening to people. It reminds me that my life isn't quite so horrible when people talk about seeing demons in the night and being chased by things they know aren't real but they see them as if they were flesh and blood. It's something that I don't have to be the best at, and probably never will be, and I like it. My parents always wanted me to be prestigious, but I don't care. It seems like more work than it's really worth. Psychology is just... helping people, one by one. I like it."

"You have more patience than I do."

"Patience is a learned thing. Apparently, you get used to everybody whining to you all day after awhile. It's going to be another five years of school, but I'll make good money to make up for it and I'll really enjoy it, I'm sure of it. Even if my parents don't really think so."

"Is it just because they wanted you to be all artsy and stuff that they don't like it? That's kind of petty."

"My parents are a little snobbish, on top of that. They don't want me 'fraternizing' with crazy people. I don't think that's fair. I mean, they're not going to be my best friends. And even if they were, what difference does that make to them? I'm technically going to be a doctor, that should be enough for them."

"So, they aren't helping you with school fees or anything?"

"No. I'm too rich to get funding, and they could pay if they wanted, but... I'm doing well enough despite all of that. I don't hold it against them. They're just trying to do what's best for me in the end."

Julian just shrugged, not really agreeing entirely with her opinion- but then again, he didn't know her parents. They were practically in her parking lot by that point anyway. He decided to drop it before he got too frustrated with the fact that she didn't seem to mind her parents not caring that she had to work her a*s off. "Do you have your keys with you?"

"Yes... I should let Fluffy out though, first, if we're going to be out all night." She handed him the keys and he shook his head.

"No, we should only be out a couple of hours, I think. Nothing too unreasonable. Come on, I'll drive."

She got into the passenger seat of her car and buckled up. She wasn't sure of his driving skills, but, it wasn't as if he could really mess up her car any more than it was. It wasn't much better than his had been, light blue from 1999, it wasn't exactly a state of the art Mercedes Benz. It ran well though, which was the only important bit.

"Are you going to tell me where we're going now?"

"Nope. You're just going to have to wait and see."

He turned down some less frequently travelled roads, the traffic slowly dwindling to almost nothing. They were in the country, parts of the city outskirts that she'd never been to before, or if she had she hadn't been paying much attention. "Are you taking me into the deep woods where nobody can hear me scream to kill me?"

He laughed. "Yes, Madeline. That's exactly what I'm going to do to you. Then, I'm going to gouge out your eyes and put them on my mantelpiece for song writing inspiration. And if I get hungry enough, I might possibly eat them."

"You're disgusting!"

"This is what happens to you when you spend too much time in front of an instrument and not enough time out learning acceptable ways to not be a psychopath."

"Technically, sociopath."

"Either way. But taking you where nobody can hear you scream is part of the experience, seriously. We're almost there now anyway."

He drove the car down a dirt road, off the beaten path. It really seemed like the middle of nowhere, but after a few feet, Madeline could make out a few shapes through the trees. He grinned at her as it finally all came into sight and he pulled into the parking lot. She smiled at him. "A drive in movie? What's playing?"

"Alfred Hitchcock. The Birds. A classic."

"I don't think I've ever been to one of these before! How do you know about this?"

"One of my friends used to work here, we'd get in free all the time. I would take you out for dinner or something, but, since you've been at a diner all day, I didn't think you'd want to spend your time around more food. And, I don't think I could get in any place decent anyway, looking like this. But, with the little money left over from paying my bills, I was trying to think of somewhere special I could take you. I don't know why this popped into my head."

He had wanted to take her somewhere special? She thought it was really sweet that he wanted to spend his little spare money on doing something with her. That was what she liked about him, just the small gestures that made her feel like a priority. She didn't expect to come first for him or anything- it had only been a little more than two weeks now that they had been dating. But it was nice to know that he thought of her. It was more than most people had ever done.

"Well, this was a brilliant idea."

Julian unclipped his seatbelt and got out, Madeline following suite not really sure what he was doing. He slid onto the hood of her car and looked at her.

"You don't mind do you?"

She shook her head and joined him. Most couples stayed inside their cars, but there were a few there already who were setting up to appreciate the coming cool night air. The light was just starting to dim, and the sun was setting behind the screen, giving off a nice rosy glow. The smell of fresh popcorn was wafting through the air and Madeline counted silently in her head- 3.... 2... 1... "I think I'll grab us some snacks. I'll be right back."

Julian was short on a lot of things, but he was certainly not deprived of a more than healthy appetite. She giggled as he walked away. How he stayed so lanky, she'd never know. He was back in a flash with a big bag of popcorn and two small cokes. He set them in between the two of them and hopped back onto the hood.

"I think we're just in time. The movie should start once it gets fully dark. You've never been to one of these before, though? What did you used to do as a teenager?"

"Technically, I'm still a teenager. I'm only nineteen. And I really didn't do much all through high school. I wasn't exactly Miss Popularity."

"No guys took you on dates or anything?"

"My sister scored me a date for prom, which turned out disastrously to say the least. That was the only date I ever went on in high school. It's pretty pathetic, really. What were you like in high school?"

"I had quite a few friends, a couple girlfriends I really could have cared less about. I was more in love with my guitar than anything, and that's the only reason why most people even liked me. Cause, you know, it's a really hard instrument that takes a lot of skill and finesse. Not just any idiot can play a guitar and write crappy love songs."

"It looks hard enough to me."

"I've been doing it for awhile, so maybe I'm biased, but it's really not half as complicated as it looks. I mean, when you're first leaning you get blisters and stuff, but the chords aren't hard. Once you get the hang of it, it's almost hard to make it sound bad. People are always so easily impressed with the simplest compositions. But I can't complain. I was the cool guy with the guitar, it was better than nothing. You didn't have a lot of friends, did you?"

"I still don't. I'm just shy, nobody gives a damn. You get used to it eventually." She shrugged, suddenly eager to change the subject. "At any rate, are you a big Hitchcock fan? I've only seen four or five of his movies."

"I've seen them all, at least twice. My brothers loved those old horror movies. They'd make my sisters watch them and then sneak up on them and scare them all week. I'm not that much of a movie buff or anything, actually."

"Neither am I. My father used to like to watch all the old murder mysteries, when I was little. We would all curl up on the couch beside him and fight over who got to sit on the pillow."

"We always fought over who would sit on the couch period. This is comfier than I thought it would be though." He leaned back, resting on the windshield and he grabbed a handful of popcorn, munching slowly.

She put the bag into his lap and slid over closer to him, laying back with him and kicking her shoes off in front of the car. He smiled, the closeness was good. The movie was about to begin.

Los Angeles grew dark in a matter of minutes and it wasn't long before the first few images of the film flickered onto the large screen. There was a slight cool breeze that night, chilling the air but it was better than sitting there in stagnant heat. Julian and Madeline ate the popcorn quietly, and it wasn't ten minutes into the movie before Julian decided to pull the casual yawn trick and put his arm around her. Her work uniform wasn't very warm and she rested her head against his shoulder, glad for his body heat. He usually wasn't much of a cuddler, but with his huge, tight-knit family, he had never gotten much personal space. Julian wasn't about to start making out with her like any old creep, this just felt natural to him. For Madeline of course, she could sense every muscle in his body, every rise and fall of his chest with each breath, every time even the slightest movement was made. She was kind of tense, she wasn't used to being touched. But that didn't mean that she wasn't enjoying it...

The movie was filled with whispered commentaries, and Julian going back to get a refill, but no other interruptions. It was so much nicer than a movie theatre, with the fresh air and nobody kicking their seat. The credits rolled all too soon. Madeline barely stirred from her spot, and Julian sighed.

"Guess this means we have to go?" She asked softly.

"I thought you'd want to get home, with Fluffy and everything..."

She shook her head, her black hair falling over her face accidentally. He brushed it away so he could see her properly, smiling a little. "The stars are very bright out here. In the city you can hardly see them for the smog. You're probably right, though." She made no attempt to get up, despite agreeing with him. She was just totally relaxed now, and comfortable. She didn't want to go home alone.

They lingered for a moment, Julian not wanting to move much either. He didn't want to stop this moment. Cars breezed past them on their way out, back to the city, and soon enough they were the only ones left in the parking lot. Madeline knew that Fluffy would be wondering where she was by now but she didn't much care. The more that she was with Julian, the more she realized that she was tired of being alone, that she kind of needed him already in a way. He brightened her day the way nobody else ever could, she hoped he didn't realize that. She didn't want to move too fast with this, whirlwind romances were overrated. Though it might be a little late to stop that now.

"Thank you for the surprise." She whispered. The only other sound there now was crickets chirping in the tall grass.

"Anytime. But I guess I'd better get you back home sooner or later. Fluffy is not going to be happy about this."

It took them a good ten minutes to convince themselves that they really did have to go. Madeline found her shoes and Julian disposed of their popcorn bag. It was nearing midnight now, it wasn't safe to be out in Los Angeles past a certain hour, unless you were out clubbing or something- and even then, it wasn't recommended. They piled into her car, Julian driving again, and they drove off into the night.

The radio was playing softly, and Julian began idly singing along. It was more an automatic reflex than anything. "Come take my hand and let's ride, 'til the morning meets the night... I'll be patiently waiting."

Though he had barely registered his own voice, he really hadn't expected Madeline to join in. But to his surprise, she did, with a voice clear as crystal. "I know what it feels like to have to say you're sorry..."

He grinned at her. She was kind of dangerous to drive with, he was finding. She just kept on surprising him and it was so hard to keep his eyes off her. He knew he had to, that was the reason that they had gotten lost on their first date after all. She looked almost edible in the moonlight though, her hair blue-black against the night sky, her ocean eyes twinkling like stars... He just couldn't get enough of it. The old saying, take a picture it lasts longer, it would have suited him very well to take a picture of her so he wouldn't look so creepy, staring at her like he did sometimes. He so often wished that she didn't have to work, just like him, that they could spend more time together. Now that she was singing, even more so. He shamelessly daydreamed about what it might be like to sing with her in the park, in front of people. She was so shy but she deserved the recognition she didn't seem to want in his book. The other girls he had slept with and dated, none of them had been like her. It was a whole new territory to explore and he was revelling in every minute that he got to spend with her.

"Julian." She said his name once, breaking him out of his thoughts.

"What?" He looked over at her, she was smiling softly.

"You missed my turn."

"Oh." He chuckled a little at his own stupidity. "Sorry." He turned the car around. The trip back to her place seemed to go so much more quickly than it had going from her place, but that was the way that it usually worked wasn't it? Time flew always when you wanted it most to stop, and paused when you wanted life to pass you by. He parked her car and they both got out. He handed her the keys back to her car, a little reluctantly.

"I guess this is goodnight, then. Thanks so much for the surprise. It was really sweet of you. I had a great time."

"So did I. I'll call you tomorrow, maybe we can work out something like that again."

She smiled, and they stepped forward, their minds going in the same direction. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her deeply, holding her tightly and savouring the feeling of her melting into him. It was perfect. But then, she shivered, a cold breeze cutting through her thin garments. The kiss was broken, but he still held her tight, not letting her go until he absolutely had to. "Tell Fluffy I said hi."

"I will." She whispered, kissing him again, all too briefly before starting to walk to her apartment building. "Goodnight."

She turned around briefly and gave a small wave. "Goodnight."

He stood and watched her walk away, chewing his lip thoughtfully. He didn't want it to be goodnight at all.

7-skating

Madeline was set on revenge. It had been two whole weeks since Julian had surprised her with his drive in date. She was ready to surprise him. They'd gone on a few short dates since then, walks around the park with Fluffy, or he had come to her apartment to 'help' her study- which usually resulted in her learning one term for the two hours that he was there, and then they spent the rest of the time making out on the couch. He wasn't all that helpful in that regard, but she had made it a point to spend some more time with him. Sometimes, she go to the park on her lunch break and track him down and give him a free burger and fries. With him being her boyfriend now (though they hadn't made that official yet, but it was fairly well assumed), she felt that it was more appropriate to give him stuff now. Everybody at the diner now knew that she had a boyfriend, and they all joked that she was madly in love with him which wasn't very far from the truth. They had figured out that it was the mysterious musician who came in every so often that she always served, they had seen them making eyes each other for awhile. Every time he was brought up, she would calmly inform them that he was not tall, dark and broke, but that his name was Julian and that he really was quite sweet. Of course, then they would only start saying things that would make her blush, most of them that she would never repeat (her co-workers had dirtier minds than she had ever thought, and that was saying something). She didn't mind too much though. She liked this, it was new to her. She had crushed on guys before but she'd never had one that was all her own. She wanted to do this right and not screw it up. So, her best plan of doing that?

Getting him into skates and pushing him out onto slippery ice to break his neck. The neck breaking thing wasn't exactly part of the plan, but as far as Julian was concerned, that was what was going to happen. They were at an ice rink. She had picked him up from his 'work' after she was done her shift, and had driven him there without giving any hints. Of course, it wasn't as nice as a drive in but she was sure that once she got him out there, he would be having as much fun as she was.

The rink was empty, except for them. Skating wasn't a huge past time in sunny California apparently. Julian was a little apprehensive to say the least, but Madeline had rented them both a pair of skates and was lacing hers up easily. "You don't look too thrilled. When was the last time that you went ice skating?"

"My family took a few vacations up at a winter lodge once, they had a skating pond up there, but I haven't been up there since I was thirteen. How did you even think of this place?"

She smiled. "I used to love skating. It was one of the only hobbies that my parents actually approved of. I don't know why I just thought of it now. It's just been so hot lately, especially in the diner with the kitchens. I guess I was just craving something cool. you don't mind do you?"

"No!" Liar. Well, it wasn't as if he was going to throw a tantrum bout it. He was only going to fall and kill himself, no big deal. He just didn't want to act like a baby in front of Madeline, and he didn't want to disappoint her either. Julian had always liked skating as a kid but he'd never been very good at it. If he was going to choose something to impress Maddy by, it would not be this. Maybe that bothered him more than the whole impending fatal injury thing. He just really wanted to impress her, he wanted her to really like him. It was fairly obvious that they both were a little crazy for each other but Julian didn't see much of it. He had never been very good at taking hints.

Julian fumbled hopelessly with his laces, and Madeline chuckled, going over to help him the moment that she got her skates undone. Oh yes, that was very manly, not even being able to tie your own shoes up! Though in his defence, skates were quite tricky things until you got the hang of them. She wedged his skate between her delicious thighs and began lacing him up tightly. "I used to come and do this all the time during the winter, especially around Christmas. My sister and I would always try to outdo each other with our tricks. She took figure skating lessons, so she'd always beat me like she did at pretty much everything else, but I always tried anyway."

He chuckled a little. "I didn't know you had a competitive streak."

"When it comes to her, I do. We're always butting heads. I'm sure you know what that feels like." She had finished tying his skates in a flash and she headed towards the ice, gliding on slowly, almost apprehensively, grasping the side. "Come on out, it's not so bad!"

He stood up confidently- too confidently. He barely caught himself against the side of the rink as he began to topple on the slim blades. He wasn't even on ice yet! This was going to be interesting to say the least... at least from her point of view anyway. He teetered his way onto the rink slowly, his feet almost coming out from under him as he stepped onto the slippery surface. He clung to the railing. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"It just takes awhile to get your ice leee- woah!" She fell flat on her back the moment she let go of the side.

"Maddy!"

She started to laugh, hauling herself up shakily. It hadn't hurt a bit, but by the look on his face you would have thought she'd been run over by a bus. He slid over to help her get up, though he wasn't very helpful being that he was even more unsteady than her. "I'm fine. It's really soft, actually, once your butt gets numb enough." He smiled. Okay, so she'd fallen down and she hadn't killed herself. This might not be so bad. She let go of the rails again and this time, didn't fall. She attempted to skate away. "See? I told you."

Julian wasn't quite brave enough to let go of the railing yet but he watched her, chuckling from the sidelines as she swayed precariously. The more she went around the rink though, the better she got. After a few laps, once she was steadied, she grabbed his arm. Her fingertips were cold and he forgot about holding on for a minute to clasp his fingers over hers, to warm them up. Oops. He wobbled and clung to her for dear life, both of them laughing at their sheer lack of grace. "You make it look way easier, Mads."

"I know. I'm the embodiment of elegance and poise. Just hold your arm out for balance. It's just like roller skating. Push and lean on that foot and then do the opposite. There we go!" She smiled. Yeah, this definitely hadn't been a bad idea after all. He couldn't help but grin back at her. Just seeing her smile like that was totally worth any injuries that might be inflicted. Over the past few weeks all he had been able to think about was that smile. It was unbearable at times. Nights got so lonely when he finally had to say goodnight to her, lest he fall asleep on her couch and impose. He would trudge back in the dark to his apartment, grab a shower, and then sit on his bed staring out the window for hours before he felt tired enough to actually go to sleep. He would just sit there and think about her, where he might take her next, how he might impress her or make her laugh. He`d never admit that to her though. Oh no, she`d end up thinking that he was creepy or something. Which he kind of was. He had never obsessed over a girl this much before, it was even kind of creeping him out. But he couldn't help it. Every time that he was close to her, it was just yet another confirmation that he was in really deep now, and he didn't even want to go back.

They started skating from one end of the rink to the other, slowly. Though the lack of speed didn't help their balance any. "Do you think you're ready to let go yet?" Madeline asked as Julian was still clinging to her arm. He let go waveringly, still staying close for more reasons than one. "I don't know how long it took me to learn how to skate when my family used to go up to the winter cottage. I think the only reason I was any good at it was because I practiced night and day so I wouldn't get picked on. I'm shocked none of us ever fell through, we were so many and we were out there all the time, tackling each other. Ah!" He suddenly fell over backwards. "Ow."

Madeline couldn't help but laugh. He had laughed at her enough, she felt as if she was entitled. She stopped in front of him and held out her hands. "Here, come on, get up."

"I think I broke something. I'm gravely injured."

"Aww, do I have to kiss it better?"

"Would you?" His eyes brightened. "I hurt alllll over."

"Get up here so I can slap you for that."

He sat up and grasped her hands, chuckling a little. "Oh, come on. You know you saw that one coming." He struggled to get up (it's surprisingly difficult to right oneself on frictionless ground), and managed to dig his skates in and... fall forward onto Madeline again. Of course. Julian had her pinned between the ice and himself, crushing her just a little under his weight. She didn't mind though. Being this close, her heart raced and she looked into his eyes.

"Are you okay?" He asked tentatively.

She just nodded in response and kissed him, giggling halfway through the kiss. Normally a guy would be annoyed with that but Julian couldn't help but find her laugh infectious. It was as if they were stuck in a bad chick flick or something. It was so cliché... But so perfect at the same time. He sat up on his knees and managed to haul himself upright before lending her an icy hand. It was too cold to stay on the ground, as much as he would love to.

"Well, I think there's only one thing to do now."

"What's that?" Madeline was busy brushing the ice shavings off her jeans. Julian smiled mischeviously.

"Last one to that side of the rink and back buys lunch!" He darted off as fast as his wobbly skates would take him, though he was slowly getting the hang of it.

"Hey! Unfair warning! You're supposed to give the girl a ten second head start!" She called after him, soon taking off behind him. If anyone would have walked onto the rink to witness that moment, they probably would have burst out laughing to see two figures gliding clumsily, almost falling with every three or four feet, wobbling as fast as they could to one side of the rink and back. Julian was in the lead but Madeline was only a foot or two behind him. They fell several times each, scrambling to get into the lead. At the end, they merely collapsed together in a heap, breathing heavily and laughing in between gasps of breath.

"I won!" Julian said triumphantly.

"Oh, you know perfectly well that you haven't! I beat you by two feet!"

"Well, the odds weren't very fair, with you and your mile long legs!" They hauled themselves up, Madeline leaning against the rink edge while Julian still stood proudly. She had to shake her head at his comment.

"Flattery will get you everywhere, Julian." Once she'd caught her breath, they proceeded to skate around the rink, closer to the sides so they wouldn't fall. They kept up a fairly leisurely pace, and this time, they actually managed to keep their balance for the most part. Madeline laced her arm through Julian's, less for support than just to be close. It was nice, just skating like that, with the whole place to themselves.

"So, can I ask you something?"

"Shoot." Madeline replied, shrugging.

"Why didn't you want to take figure skating lessons, or do any of the artsy stuff that your parents made you do? I mean, it sounds like fun in general, even if it's not really your choice."

"I'm just not good at it. I've not got many talents, but I prefer to stick to the ones that I do have rather than let people force it out of me. My parents always said that I had to be the best at everything, and I wasn't. I guess I would have liked it more if it really was just for fun. It's kind of sucked the joy out of half the stuff that I learned. Maybe that was why I never took figure skating with my sister. Or maybe it's the fact that I can't dance worth anything."

"Dance lessons too?"

"Ballet. I have no flexibility, it was literally quite painful. They finally pulled me out when they realized the Russian teacher hated my guts and would rather hold me for ransom with the mafia than teach me second position. Piano lessons were okay, they just never let me play anything I ever liked. Singing lessons too. I hated it. Oh, and then there were the painting lessons, which became a total and complete disaster quite quickly. My mother was an artist, very classical and strict. She tried to help me but it resulted in more paint on me and the floor than it did on the canvas."

"Your mother's an artist? I never would have expected that."

Madeline nodded. "I know. She's a landscape asrtist, renaissance style. She paints lovely little English country sides for old, rich, traditional art collectors and designers. She's good, but there's no passion in it."

"So, what do you think you're good at then, if all of those things have failed?"

She laughed a little, ruefully. "Nothing, I guess. Nothing interesting at any rate. I'm just not an artsy kind of person."

"Liar." That had been a loaded question and that was exactly the way he'd intended it, though he'd been hoping for a better answer. One thing that bothered him about Madeline was that he wished she wouldn't sell herself short so often. Though, by the sounds of her parents, she'd never really had anyone to tell her she was good at anything. That explained it, but he was used to girls with so much more confidence. It really was a shame. "You're not bad at skating once you get used to it, for starters. Your writing is amazing, and you're super responsible and generous. You're a really great waitress, and you're good with Fluffy even though he's big and not easy to handle. You have a beautiful singing voice and-"

"If you think all that then why did you ask?" She was blushing faintly, despite the cold of the rink.

"I wanted to see if you'd give yourself some credit. Your parent's standards aren't the only ones after all. What's your dream?"

"Well, I don't know. To be a psychologist."

He shook his head. "No, I mean your real dream. The impossible one. Everyone has one of those."

"I guess I'd like to be a real writer, but there's no stock in my becoming that."

"There's no stock in being a musician either unless you hit it really big. That doesn't mean that I don't try."

"You've got loads of talent, though! That's the difference. You might think I'm good but it takes a lot to get anything to a publisher."

"Stephanie Meyer got published. If she can, it must not be that hard!"

Madeline laughed. "Okay, well, you might have a point there. But still."

"At what point will you ever be good enough?" Her smile fell, and she didn't have an answer. He stopped skating and faced her. "You're already more than good enough for me." He kissed her softly and she wrapped her arms around him. After all this talk about her parents, she most definitely needed a hug right now. He had no problem in grasping her tight. Her lips tasted of cherry lip balm and Madeline ran her fingers through his hair, sending tingles down his spine. It was awhile before they could bring themselves to break away.

Her hands were on his chest and she idly smoothed out his shirt, still wanting to be close. "It's not hard to guess your dream. I thought you wanted to give up on it recently though."

"Sometimes I still feel like it. But certain people have made it seem not quite so hopeless as of late." he smiled down at her.

"It's not hopeless."

"How come you're so confident in me when you can't even be confident in yourself?"

"It's not that I'm not confident. I just have given up trying to be the best at everything, because it's just not possible. I'm sick of always competing. I'd rather just be in the background now."

He chuckled. "I just can't fathom that. I've always wanted to be center of attention, even when I was little. I always had to compete for attention with my siblings- or at least, I felt like I did. I remember at my sisters' dance recital, I was about seven. I was sitting there, bored out of my mind and my father was filming... It was about ten minutes into the whole thing before I got tired of it and jumped up on stage and started doing crazy antics and dancing up along there with them. Everyone loved it, they thought I was part of the show. My sisters gave me dirty looks and played pranks on me for about a month before they got over it though."

She smiled again. For some reason, it was all too easy to picture him like that. It wasn't that he was a total attention w***e, like some people. It just seemed like he was really suited to being the life of the party. That definitely wasn't her. "Your parents must have been busy raising you."

"I don't know how they did it half the time, I give them a lot of credit. I was a little monster when I was little. But hey, I just thought of something... Do you still want to meet them at some point?"

"I think I'd like to, yeah."

"They're coming in to town in a few weeks. My mom would be really excited if we could all have dinner together. If you wanted. She's been inquiring more about my mystery woman than she has about me since I went for that weekend a month ago."

She laughed. "Yeah, I'd love to meet her, and your father. That'd be nice."

She started skating again. There was a warm fuzzy feeling growing in the pit of her stomach now. She felt like she was being included in something and the fact that he had a little bit of faith in her, that went a hell of a long way. She didn't know what she had ever done without him, he just made her feel so much brighter and not just because he complimented her all the time. If he never ever paid her a single compliment ever again she could easily be happy with that. It was his sense of humour and all of his stories, his determination, his freedom and the way that he never seemed to be unduly worried about anything. She didn't know why he'd chosen a girl like her but she felt really lucky. If she could spend every hour of the day with him she would- she loved him.

Oh. Wait. Did she just think that? No, no. That couldn't be what she had just thought. She didn't love him. How long had it been, two months? Less? No, she couldn't be in love with him, that would screw it all up. She wanted this to go slow and guys didn't like commitment like that. She wasn't in love with him, she just wasn't and that was that.

Julian soon caught up to her on the ice. She had a strange expression on her face and his brows furrowed. "Maddy? Are you okay?"

"Hmm? Yeah, I'm fine. Do you want to go grab lunch now? My ankles are getting sore and I think I need to warm up a bit."

He smiled. "Sounds like a plan. I can't feel my a*s anymore from falling, so I think that that's probably a good indicator of when our time is up. We'll have to do this again sometime though. I want a rematch on that race."

She laughed, skating towards the gate. "Oh yeah, you owe me don't you? Next time hopefully we won't get so bruised!"

They were all smiles as they finally made their way off the rink, ditching their skates and heading towards the nearest cafe to warm up again. Madeline felt successful. Her revenge was now complete.
8-all will heal on the ferris wheel

It had been two weeks since their date at the skating rink. They'd been seeing a lot of each other lately ever since. He had been popping up at the diner and at her apartment almost every day- and on those days that the didn't she had stopped by the park and listened to him play for awhile. Even Fluffy was getting used to the whole arrangement. On a couple days, Julian had even taken Fluffy out for walks to give Madeline a little bit of extra studying time. Fluffy had been apprehensive at first, but after a few days, he came around. He now wagged his tail emphatically whenever Julian came around.

Today they both had the day off. It was sunny, as it usually was in Los Angeles, and the county fair just happened to be in town. Neither of them had much money but they both agreed that they needed to get out a little. Her mid terms were in a few days and while she had the vast majority of her material memorized, she was still nervous for it. He wanted to cheer her up, and quite frankly, he kind of needed a little pick me up as well. He had had another fight with his band mates recently, and the situation wasn't ameliorating in any way, shape or form. A little fun with Madeline would go a long way to making his week that much brighter. He always felt better when he was around her.

They'd been on a few rides already and had stopped for a while to eat some cotton candy and now they were just walking around again, taking it all in. His hand was intertwined with hers, and Madeline was relishing it. It was a classic date and Madeline had never done anything like this before. Sure they'd been out in public before but not like this, where everyone could see they were together. It was funny that it hadn't even been confirmed that they were a real official couple yet, after all the dates they'd gone on and how fond they were of each other. Madeline had hopes of changing that tonight, but so far she had been tongue tied. Julian had noticed she was a little quiet, but he hardly thought much of it. Madeline wasn't a very chatty person in the first place, and he was talking quite a bit as usual anyway. Maddy was just frustrated at herself for lacking in nerve.

They were walking down one of the rows of games and food stalls. A gaggle of girls was carrying around a giant teddy bear that was almost bigger than all of them put together. Apparently they'd won some game. Julian laughed.

"Hey, you should win me one of those. I need something to cuddle up to at night." Of course, he'd far prefer someone to cuddle up to rather than a teddy bear, but that was another story.

She looked up at him. "Isn't that backwards? Aren't you supposed to win me something?"

"I think you'd have a better chance at winning, you definitely have a better aim than I do."

"How do you know that."

"There's a little incident that my brothers love to refer to from time to time. It involves a basket ball, me, and a trip to the emergency room for four people."

She chuckled a little. "I'm not sure that I could do much better. I'm definitely not athletic either."

"Well, then, that works out well for both of us doesn't it? I'll never ask you for a round of basket ball and you'll never ask me to race you on an ice rink."

"Hey, that was your idea!"

"Oh, so it was. Anyway, what ride do you want to go on next?"

Madeline looked around. They'd only been on two rides so far, both of them tame. She didn't want to ride any total screamers though- they had just eaten after all. "Umm... How about the ferris wheel?"

The wheel towered over top of most of the other rides, with bright lights and people of all ages riding it. She just wanted to see the view, and who knew? Maybe it would get a little romantic up there. Julian nodded and they went to get in line.

The line was short and they were soon in their seats locked in, and slowly swinging higher and higher. Madeline grasped the safety bar and looked down eagerly, enjoying the view, while Julian focused more on the clouds- and on her. Was it creepy that he was staring? She was just so beautiful though, her hair was shining in the sun and her eyes were sparkling and... His reverie was cut short suddenly as the ferris wheel jolted to a stop. They were at the highmost point and Julian gasped. Oh, this could not be good.

His heart stopped for a moment, "Holy s**t." He mumbled, not daring to move for a second but then he looked over at Madeline, grabbing her hand, "Did it stop? Why did it stop? Why is it not moving?"

She looked over at him. "Oh, this kind of thing happens all the time. These rides are so old, they need a good dosage of grease. They'll have it fixed soon enough, I've never been stuck here for long... Are you okay, Julian?"

Julian briefly looked over the edge of their swinging metal basket, instantly regretting it. He sat rigid in his seat, not daring to move. Madeline put her arm around him, and while that felt good, he wished she wouldn't move so much. The whole wheel seemed to be moving and the fact that she'd said the rides were so old, that didn't help much. "You're allowed to laugh at me." He mumbled. He had to look fairly silly to her, a grown man scared of getting stuck on a ferris wheel. Why did he always have to get embarrassed like this on dates? Really?

"I didn't know you were scared of heights."

"It's not the heights that I'm afraid of so much. I don't mind them, it's just the whole sixty foot rickety ferris wheel toppling and allowing me to fall to my doom thing. I'm not really good with falling. This is going to sound really stupid but... I keep having this reoccurring nightmare that I'm falling into this bottomless pit, I hate it."

"It might be old, but it's several tonnes of hard metal. It's not going anywhere. And it's perfectly fine to be scared of falling. I've had dreams like that. It's the feeling in the pit of my stomach that always gets me... That doesn't help you does it? I'm bad at this."

"At least you're not laughing. What are you afraid of?"

"Spiders. Not a fan of those. Oh, and getting mugged. I hate going into the worse parts of town, it gives me the creeps. Anyway. Why don't you tell me a story? What about when you were a kid? Did you go to the carnival a lot? I'm sure there were lots of those in Las Vegas."

He smiled a little, looking over at her and trying to distract himself. "There was no shortage of them. We used to come to places like this once a bunch of my older siblings moved out. It was one of my favorite things to do, really. I'd get up at 5 AM, run in and jump on my parents' bed until they woke up. And when we finally got there I'd eat so much candy that my stomach would start aching and we'd have to go home early." He laughed slightly at the memories of him always ruining the family trips. Typical.

She smiled back at him. His body felt a little less tense against her own now, and he began telling her of some of his escapades- hitting people in the head during throwing games, riding the same ride over and over for hours at a time, scarfing his little eight year old face... She listened attentively, staring into his eyes. How did she get this lucky? He was handsome and he was really sweet, he was honest and open and even though he was broke and a little down and he couldn't get a job and he was scared of heights and unathletic and all that... I think I love you, she thought. Despite all that. But Julian's jaw suddenly dropped a little and he stopped telling his story, just staring at her for a moment.

"What?" She asked. Then suddenly she blushed. Oh, she hadn't just thought that she loved him. She'd accidentally said it out loud! No, no no! All the expletives in the English and French languages were coming to mind. Merde! S**t! Tabarnak! This couldn't be happening. She had just ruined everything.

Her arm left him like it was on fire and she hid her face in her hands. Oh no. Men did not like to hear the 'l' word. This would completely and utterly ruin everything! He wouldn't want to talk to her after this. He would think that she was some kind of crazy psycho stalker now and he would never call her again or talk to her or take her on dates to the drive in or go skating. She would be alone again, just her and Fluffy and that stupid diner and her dry text books. He would go off and serenade some hot blonde and he'd never enter the diner again, to avoid her at all costs. She'd never meet his parents or get to kiss him again or get to know him even more. This would all end here because she just had to blurt something out and scare him away. She slid off to the other side of the swinging metal basket, her face burning red. This topped all that she had done before. This was just disaster.

His face before she had slipped up, that had been sheer horror. She just didn't even know what he would say or what was going through his head right now. He might yell at her, he might insult her, or worse, he might just let her down gently which would be totally pathetic but the most likely option of all, considering that he was such a nice guy. She hated this. Why did it have to be so difficult for her to do this? One moment she was afraid of kissing him and the next she was spitting out that she loved him. Her signals were so mixed she didn't even know where she was coming from. She bit her lip. But she couldn't cry, no matter what, she could hold back her tears. Even if they had to be stuck up there in this awkward state for hours, she would hold it back. She didn't want him to see her like that, especially since this would probably be the very last time that they saw each other unless just by coincidence or something. She had never had a boyfriend and she had never known anyone like this before. He was just so... so un-perfect. She wanted to know everything about him and now she would never get the chance. He would just fade into memory. Oh, why did she always have to screw things up?!

"I am so sorry. I didn't mean that to come out. I hardly meant to even think it..." She mumbled embarrassedly from behind her hands. The ferris wheel toppling over didn't sound like such a bad thing all of a sudden.

Julian gently too her wrists and pulled her hands away from her face. "Madeline..." He was trying to find words, any words! It was confusing. But then she looked up with him with her soft, sad blue eyes. She looked so distraught, and it hurt. He didn't want to see her upset. It wasn't the dream date he had envisioned. He didn't know what to say. "Do... Do you really mean that?"

She nodded. There was no point in hiding it now, really. "I didn't mean to. It just kind of happened... I don't want it to ruin all this..."

He shook his head. "Madeline, you're... It's not that I... It's..." Yeah, he was handling this really well. No girl had ever told him that before though. What was a guy supposed to do? All of a sudden he pulled her close, kissing her softly. Madeline's body tensed. She didn't know what was going on, but whatever it was, this might be the very last kiss she ever had with him. She kissed him back with surprising ferocity, her arms around his neck, her hands running through his hair and pressing him closer. If this was going to be the last time she was with him, she might as well make it count, savour every split second. It took awhile to work up the willpower to break the kiss.

Julian stayed close, with his arms around her and his lips so close they were almost touching still. Madeline didn't know what to think of that. Was that just out of sympathy... or something more? She hardly dared to hope. If she was going to be rejected, he might as well get it over with and fast. She didn't want to do this, but it was like ripping off a band aid. It was painful, but it would have to happen sooner or later in her mind.

"I don't know how to say this..." He began, fumbling a little with his words like a nervous schoolboy. He'd never felt like this before on so many levels.

She closed her eyes. "It's fine. Just... get it over with. I understand. Who wants a girl who falls in love with you after only a month and a half..."

"No, Maddy. I'm- I'm trying to say that I think I might love you too."

Her eyes flashed open. "Don't just try to spare my feelings Julian. It will only hurt worse in the end."

"I'm not. Really. I think I've loved you since the first time you flashed me that pretty smile and set down a burger with an extra few fries in front of me."

She smiled a little, almost reluctant to believe that this was actually happening. Was it really? Was she the girl that he wanted? She didn't understand. "But it's not been any time at all... I didn't think you would want to fall in love. Men hate that, don't they?"

"I don't think it matters whether you want to fall in love or how much time it takes. You were just what I was missing." He smiled back at her, pressing a soft kiss to her reddening cheek. Her blushes were always so cute to him.

"Does that mean that I can be your official girlfriend now? And that I can kiss-tackle you whenever you're playing guitar and I don't have to wait the requisite three days between dates so that you don't feel smothered?"

He laughed. "Well, only if I can be your official boyfriend, and demand that you kiss me in public whenever the need arises. Like right now." He kissed her briefly. "Or now." Again. "Or now." This time Madeline caught him in a powerful embrace (who knew someone so tiny could have so much strength?), and he chuckled into the kiss. He liked seeing her suddenly so happy again. He could hardly belive what he had just admitted to her, it all suddenly felt so surreal.

She broke the kiss in favour of air (though breathing wasn't really a priority right now). She was beaming. "Why didn't you say anything before?"

"Why didn't you say anything before?"

"I thought... I thought you'd think I was moving too fast and I'd scare you off. I mean, this is moving kind of fast isn't it?"

"You don't want to be in love with me?"

"I just thought it would take longer. Do you think that we're just lucky or maybe just entirely insane? I don't want this to be over in two weeks because we fall out of love as quickly as we fell into it." She bit her lip.

"I think we're a little of both, and I really don't envision this ending much of any time soon."

"You still haven't answered my question."

"I don't think I really fully realized it. Until now." He pulled her into yet another kiss. Oh, he really couldn't see be without her now. She just made his days so much brighter. It was a huge difference to him, from his life before. She made him have a little more faith in his music even with all that had been going on with his friends and the fact he was still a loser playing on the streets, unable to even get a decent gig. He had even found that he didn't need his booze anymore to fall asleep. She was a miracle worker and she didn't even know it.

"Uh-hum!" A female voice coughed inauspiciously.

Madeline broke the kiss, embarrassed. They were on the ground now. How had they not even noticed that the ferris wheel was moving again? Oops.

"The tunnel of love is that way." the woman pointed as she unlocked the safety bar. Julian got up and held out a hand to help Madeline too, smiling at her.

"I think that would be rather appropriate right now, don't you think?"

She nodded and walked with him, hand in hand, to the tunnel of love, smiling like an idiot- but she didn't care. She was in love, she was allowed to be a little bit crazy now! You couldn't get better than that.

The line wasn't long and they were soon seated, quite close together in some cheesy swan boat, about to go into a dimly lit tunnel with hearts and cupids everywhere. It was a little grimy, and Julian really didn't even want to think about what might have happened in some of these boats for the five minute ride, all alone in the dark... Yeah. Not pleasant. But it would be nice to be in private for a few minutes rather than just making out on some bench all day in front of everyone. Julian didn't think Maddy would appreciate an action like that much.

It was so weird for him, the fact that they were in love but they had barely gotten started. It was strange for him especially considering they hadn't even had sex yet. It seemed backwards- it was usually kiss, make out, sex and then love. Not the other way around. But as much as he would love to do it with her, it wasn't on the forefront of his mind. It scared him. He was a guy. His priorities were usually family, music, food and sex. In that order- sometimes switching the sex and food part. Now he was all scrambled. What was this girl doing to him?

Once the ride started, Madeline moved onto his lap, figuring he wouldn't mind the closeness too much now and he smiled, wrapping his arms around her. "You know, I always kind of thought you were a bit out of my league." He confessed, figuring that he might as well get all his feelings out. He was usually better at doing that on paper than in words, but he wanted to be open with her. Before, it would have been okay to not tell a girl every little thing he loved about her but with Maddy? He thought that deep down she needed it. She just seemed not to have any confidence, and if telling her about all of this kind of stuff helped that, then he would do whatever it took.

"Out of my league? I'm out of your league! I get the hot, considerate musician who shares my love of fries and black and white movies while you get... the girl who works at the diner and walks her dog on occasion."

"I know. It seems way more than a fair trade to me, doesn't it?" He kissed her again, chuckling. She really didn't know her full potential it seemed. He'd just have to show that to her. "Can we just stay here like this all night?" He pulled her just a little closer and she rested her head comfortably on his chest.

She giggled a little, glad for a change of subject. "Maybe, if you shut off that music. What is the soundtrack for this place- worst love songs of the seventies or something?"

"Yeah, I think so. If we go home, maybe I could serenade you with some even worse love songs if you wanted?"

"Even worse? Oh, I dare you to top this."

He grinned. "What is the prize if I do?"

"More of this." She laughed, kissing him. This felt like one of the best days of her entire life. She was elated- she was loved! Nothing could bring her down from this high... or could it?

9-i dont love you
Being in love- it's complicated. Love is not just merely one emotion, it's a jumble of just about all emotions, really. There's that intense caring for someone else, the feeling of missing someone all the time when they're not around. There is the feeling of happiness too, knowing that your feelings are reciprocated. There's also a little anxiety, some fear. You want your love to be happy all the time, and if they're not... or, worse, if anything ever happened to them... Living without them is a scary possibility. Then, there are the butterflies in your stomach, your racing heart, the weak knees- all the physical signs. There's that constant longing to feel them close, have their lips on yours. Love is rarely clear cut, it's quite messy. Madeline felt all of this to the core. Someone finally thought she was enough, someone loved her and told her she was beautiful and made her laugh- how could she not be in love? Julian, however, was having some second thoughts.

It was a regular Thursday afternoon. His older sister, Casey, had dropped by to help stock up his fridge with a few leftovers. She did that on occasion, just because she knew that her little brother had next to nothing. And besides, Julian's nephews loved him. He was 'the fun uncle' which would seem like a really good title... except for when there was like twenty of the little maggots crawling all over you, begging for stories and songs and games. But just two were fine. He liked seeing them and his sister. It wasn't very long until the topic of Madeline came up. Things didn't stay secret for very long in his family, apparently.

"So, mom tells me that you've been seeing more nad more of this mystery woman of yours. The last weekend you were up there you would only tell us her name! Madison, isn't it?"

"Madeline. I have been seeing a lot of her." He replied as Aiden started trying to clamber up his leg and Caleb was kept busy by banging his keyboard. It was the usual scenario. Both boys had way too much energy for their mother's sake.

"Oh, really? Do you think it's serious?"

"Serious? How do you mean serious?"

"Ooh, that's not a good answer." Casey said with a small laugh as she put lettuce in his crisper.

"Why not?"

"If it was serious, you'd have said yes. You avoiding the answer means that she thinks it's serious and you don't. Believe me, Julian, I've done this a bazillion times. I know what I'm talking about."

"I didn't think you got around that much in high school!" He said with a laugh. Casey swatted at him. Julian was her little brother, he just couldn't resist being annoying in some way, shape or form. It would be like breaking the little brother's code or something.

"So, come on, give me all the gory details. What's she like?"

He smiled a little. "She's really sweet. She always brings me food and stuff- even before I actually met her, she used to slip me extra fries and stuff. She's a waitress at the diner down the street. She's absolutely gorgeous too. A little shy, she blushes a lot..."

"And she's in love with you but you're not crazy about her?"

"I am crazy about her! I- I don't know. It's complicated. I told her that I loved her, but I'm not sure anymore..."

"Why not?"

"We've not even been going out for two months! It seems ridiculous. I've never been sure, I guess. I just got caught up in the moment... I don't want to hurt her. I'm just not sure. I haven't seen her since I told her."

"Did you just tell her that because you didn't want to disappoint her or something? Come on, what's the whole story?"

"We were stuck on top of a ferris wheel and she blurted it out and she was totally mortified. I do really like her though. I'm just not sure it's love yet. I mean, who falls into love that quickly, seriously? Especially me!"

"Romeo and Juliet killed themselves for each other after three days."

"They were thirteen. And stupid. I don't think I'm going to stab myself over Madeline yet."

"Well, if you don't know how you feel... you should tell her."

"But what if it is love? I don't want to hurt her feelings. She has been so sweet to me. I just... I'm just not sure about any of this yet. How do you know exactly what this is? I mean... It's bad even talking about this with you! It's awkward."

Casey ruffled Julian's hair. "When you love her, you'll know it. It just happens. Or maybe you'll realize that you've loved her all along. You just have to promise me you'll talk to her about it, otherwise this is only going to get worse. Way worse. Stuff like this tends to come back and bite you when you're least expecting it."

"Oh yeah, Casey, that should be real easy. I'll just walk up to her and say what exactly? Oh, hey Madeline. Remember when I told you I loved you before? I changed my mind I don't anymore. But I still want to make out with you. Yeah. That's really smooth."

"What's making out?" Aiden piped up. He was still trying to climb up Julian but it wasn't working too well.

Casey pried Aiden's arms from around her little brother's leg. "It's something big boys do with girls. It gives you cooties. Caleb, stop licking the keyboard, you'll get germs all over it! Anyway, Julian. You need to have a serious talk with her. I don't know how you'd put it to her, but if she's important to you, you've got to sort it all out. Trust me. When do I get to meet this girl anyway?"

"Well, she's agreed to have dinner with mom and dad when they come down next, I'm not sure if I want to subject her to a full on Torres family reunion yet though."

"If she's shy, she'll never survive!" Casey said with a laugh.

"That's what I'm afraid of."

"But you really like her, huh? I've never seen you so smitten with anyone before. It's cute." She pinched his cheek. He smiled and pushed her hand away.

"Okay, okay. Give it a rest. Thanks for the food."

"And the advice?"

"If I have the balls to take it."

"So you admit it's the right thing to do?"

"I don't know, Casey. I have to figure this all out for myself."

"Good luck with that then. Come on, boys, it's time to go! Caleb, what have I told you about eating Julian's guitar picks!"

Meanwhile...

The place smelled of sterile chemicals and dog hair. It was like a barn, with barking dogs and hissing cats and snakes twisting and untwisting their coils in nervousness. Madeline sat calmly in the waiting room with Fluffy at attention, snarling at anything that got too close. She could tell that he didn't like this place, and she really didn't blame him. Nobody liked going to the doctor's and vets seemed worse. Vets didn't really tell you what they were going to do, they just did it without much question. That had to be worse. However, Fluffy was getting slightly more used to the experience, unfortunately. Fluffy was an older dog, and Madeline knew that he would be going sooner rather than later in life now. He had been a shelter dog and he'd already been six years old when she got him. That was almost three years ago now. For a big dog like Fluffy, he was really old, and she didn't expect him to last more than two more years. She knew that. He had a few medical problems, but she kept him in check. She took the best care of him possible. She didn't like to think what life would be like without him. He was so close to her now. She stroked his head gently. Fluffy was the only one that had consistently cared for her for so long. He was always there for her. Now, Julian was there for her too- of course, not as much as Fluffy had been, but that would soon change.

She was so happy to be in love. She finally felt it. She knew her parents loved her but it didn't feel like this. This was warm and fuzzy and exciting and heart wrenching. Oh yes, she was fully head over heels now, no going back. She thought about him all the time, she couldn't ever imagine being without him again either. Right now, her life was better than it had ever been, and as far as she could tell, it was only going to get better.

"Madeline Stevenson?" A voice asked. Maddy was shaken from her thoughts. Looking up, she smiled at the attendant, walking into the exam room with Fluffy.

Fluffy walked in, sniffing everything suspiciously. He growled a little at the vet, but otherwise was okay. Madeline sat in a chair to wait while he was examined. She didn't understand all of the medical jargon or what they were doing to him. Fluffy didn't look pleased, but as long as Maddy was in the room, he was okay. They had that sort of connection- Fluffy would definitely follow her to the ends of the earth if she asked him.

It wasn't even ten seconds since she sat down that she got a text. Her phone buzzed and she smiled eagerly as she saw it was from Julian. Though it didn't say what she had hoped it might.

'We need to talk.'

She quickly typed back, 'Talk about what? Did something happen?'

'No.'

'What's wrong?'

'Nothing.'

She sighed, confused. 'Julian. Come on. I'm not that oblivious. What's up?'

'I just really need to see you. It's about what I said before.'

'About what?! Can't I even get a hint?'

'I'm just not sure if I really meant that I loved you.' Oh yeah, Julian really hadn't meant to say that. Especially not in a text, no less, when he knew that she had said she was taking Fluffy to the vet's today. Great delivery, great timing. Just totally f*****g great in general, really. His fingers just had a mind of their own.

She just stared at the screen for a moment. Her heart pounded so loud in her chest that she was sure that everyone in the room could hear it. She looked up. They were busy checking Fluffy's ribs- nobody was paying attention to her, which was a definite good thing. She was in shock for a moment. She'd been so happy about all of that five seconds ago and now he'd taken that away...

'Maddy, I'm sorry. Please come talk to me.'

'So... when I asked you if you really were sure you lied?'

'I felt it at the time. I dunno. Come visit me asap. I can explain.'

She put her phone away. She didn't want to read anymore. Come and see him? Go and see him, so he could not feel guilt for breaking up with her over the phone perhaps? How could he even be saying this? She wasn't sure whether to be mad or sad or feel cheated or be understanding... All she knew was that she felt this sudden heavy pain in her chest that weighed her down, and that her face was getting warm and her vision was getting all blurry all of a sudden. He didn't love her. He had said that he did, but apparently he didn't. She didn't understand it. Julian wasn't the type to lie about stuff like that! It had meant so much to her...

"Miss Stevenson?"

Madeline looked up, quickly rubbing her eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm really tired. What is it?"

"Well, Fluffy seems to be fine now. He's been eating all his medication, apparently, and it's doing wonders for his bones. He's really improving. However, he is showing signs of some wear and tear around the heart. Before you got him, he must have had worms or something else that damaged the tissue. Just don't let him get overexcited and he should be okay."

She forced a smile and grabbed Fluffy's leash, patting his head. Well, at least that was mostly good news. She hadn't heard of the damaged heart tissue before but if it had been before she had gotten him, then at least it didn't seem to be compromising him too much. She didn't want Fluffy to be sick, but as long as he wasn't in pain. The news was not all good, and she had just had more bad news five seconds ago. This was the worst ten minute span of her life. She thanked the vets, paid quickly, hardly able to keep her composure, and then walked out to her car.

She drove until she found a quiet spot to pull over. Fluffy was riding shotgun, and she reached over to hug him tightly, crying into his fur. Fluffy whimpered a little. He had always been able to tell her mood. This was just too much. Why couldn't Julian love her? Was she just 'unlovable'? He had gotten her hopes up so much, she had felt so happy... She really did love him and now she felt like a fool. Her phone was buzzing again. It hadn't stopped since she'd not responded to his last text. She picked it up and scanned through the messages.

'Mads, are you okay?'

'Talk to me. Please. I'm sorry.'

'I never meant to tell it to you through a text! Really. I'm so sorry. Call me, please.'

And so it went. She didn't know what to do. She was ashamed and hurt. She wanted to know why he had suddenly changed his mind- or just lied to her in the first place. But she didn't want him to see her right now. She had to at least compose herself. She turned her phone off, and gave Fluffy one more sincere cuddle before starting her car again and driving back home, to figure out what the hell had just happened.

10 - a little talk
Julian really couldn't wait. He knew that he should probably let her cool off a little before he tried contacting her again, but he felt horrible. Worse than horrible. He had screwed up big time and he wouldn't blame her if she broke up with him for it. this was major. He was usually not very observant about these kinds of things- his old girlfriends had practically had to hit him over the head and sob their eyes out before he would even start to sort of get the hint. So, when even he realized without much prodding that he had cut her deeply, it had to be pretty bad. He had tried to call her at least six times, but she hadn't picked up even once. He'd texted her about a thousand times more. Nothing. Four hours later, since he had let it slip that he didn't love her as much as he had let on, he really couldn't take the silence anymore. He grabbed his jacket and started down the sidewalk to her place. Perhaps he should wait, but he really had to explain. He didn't want her to be in emotional agony all night, all alone without him. He just didn't have the patience to wait that out. At least they lived close enough together that he could get there in five or six minutes...

By the time that he rang the doorbell, he had gotten himself fairly worked up about all of this (even more so than he had been before). He had just been trying to picture her face, whether she would dump him or if she would even open the door for him. It was hard to picture. He just didn't know how she would react, and he was a little scared for it. But he had to see her, he just had to try and make her understand, but at this point, he didn't even know how badly it had hit her and it was already looking almost impossible to fix. Curse Casey and her stupid advice! It wasn't really his sister's fault hut he needed someone else to blame right now and she was the only one available.

He rang the doorbell a second time, but nobody answered. He knew she was there though. Her car was parked outside, and he knew she wasn't out for a walk with Fluffy because he could hear the dog scratching and growling at the door. She was there. She just didn't seem to be in the mood for many visitors. No surprise there.

"Madeline! Maddy, it's me, please open up. I know you're in there. I just want to explain. I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry..." No response, except that Fluffy was no barking. Was that a soft voice from inside trying to shush him? He could only hope. "Madeline, just let me know that you're okay... Please. I'm worried about you."

He could hear a latch clicking in the door and it swung open softly, at long last.

Madeline was a total mess, though she was trying not to show it. Her hair was mussed up and her eyes were red, like she'd been crying. She couldn't seem to make eye contact with him and instead seemed to focus on the floor. He wasn't surprised, but it still hurt a little bit to know that this was all his own fault. She still wasn't sure what she was feeling right now though, other than the obvios. She wasn't sure whether she was entitled to feel angry at him yet or not, so she just had to content herself with feeling totally and utterly let down and heartbroken. It wasn't a good feeling.

"Maddy, I-"

"Come in, first. I don't want to do this in the middle of the hallway." Her voice was soft and it cracked a little. He slipped past her as she stepped aside.

At least Fluffy was happy to see him. The dog licked and wagged his tail, obviously not understanding Julian's grave misdeed. Julian scratched Fluffy between the ears and slowly followed her to her living room, where she sank down onto the couch, pulling her legs up to her chest, still not looking at him. Julian remained standing, waiting to make his case. There was nothing more awkward than this.

"You didn't return any of my calls. I just had to make sure that you were okay."

"I'm fine." She replied, unconvincingly. "I would have texted you back eventually."

"Patience isn't one of my virtues, though I don't really blame you for not wanting to talk to me. I don't really want to talk to me either. I never meant for you to find out that way, I don't know how it slipped out like that. I'm really sorry. You know that, don't you?"

"What do you think you have to explain? You said that in at least three quarters of your texts. You came here to explain your side, not anything else."

"I did want to make sure you were okay. But mostly that, yeah."

"It's not complicated. I get it, Julian. I love you, you were too nice to say that my feelings weren't returned and now someone has to get hurt. What's there to understand?"

"I didn't lie before, on the ferris wheel. At the time I really did mean it. I'm not even one hundred percent sure that I still don't mean it. I'm just not sure. I got caught up in the moment before, but the truth is, I don't know what the hell I'm doing with this. I don't know what being in love feels like. I was talking to my sister today, and she kept pressing me to try to get up the courage to tell you that, and it was on my mind and it just slipped out. But I never lied to you, Madeline. I'm just an idiot, that's all. I'm really sorry."

She turned her head away, biting her lip, trying not to cry. She was too afraid of breaking down in front of him- she didn't want him to see that. "If you were in love with me, it would be unmistakable. But I can't hold it against you what you feel or don't feel."

"And what do you feel?"

"What does it look like?" She replied, getting up from the couch and walking to the kitchen, just to distract herself. I must not cry, I must not cry, I must not cry... She repeated to herself, mentally, taking deep breaths and trying to get a grip. He followed her to the kitchen as she began fumbling with things on the counter.

"Maddy, I just need more time to figure out where you and I are at. I know this isn't fair to you and I'm sorry. I never meant for this to happen. I just don't know if I love you or not. I don't know what this is, how I feel. I didn't mean to hurt you."

"So, you just changed your mind? You thought you were in love but now you realize you've never been in love so how the hell would you know, and you just want time to figure out what you want?"

"It really sounded that bad when I said it?"

"What do you expect me to do, Julian?" Madeline was getting a little angry with him now. She was frustrated with the whole ordeal and feeling humiliated and heartbroken. It would have been a miracle if she didn't snap at him at some point, really.

"I... I don't know. I was hoping you could understand, or at least try to."

"I do understand, that's the problem."

"I can't help that it sounds callous. Maybe it is. But that's not how I feel- or want to make you feel. I can't help it. I just don't know. I've never fallen this hard for anyone before. Have I ever told you about my ex girlfriends? They just liked me because I could play the guitar and sing a few songs and make them look cool. Whenever I put off a date or seemed to uninterested they would all cheat on me or spread rumours or do something bizarre or dramatic to get my attention. I just cared about my music and that was it, but you... I would rather put down my guitar and go out with you than stay in all alone with a beer and my instruments. I've never felt that before, and it scares me."

"I just... You... I was so happy for a few days, that you loved me. And even if you do figure out that it is love after all, it's certainly not the way that I love you. I don't know how or when it happened. It just did. And I know that it's not supposed to be this quick but I couldn't help it. But I've never fallen in love before and there's no denying it. I tried. Believe me, I tried to convince myself that I felt something else, that you were just an infatuation and all would soon return to normal, but... It just got worse. The worst part is that you had me believing that it was the same on your part and I just... I'm disappointed."

He sighed. Disappointed was worse than angry or heartbroken, though she was probably both those things too. "I don't know what else to say Madeline. I'm sorry. It's not like I could never love you, or that I don't care. I do, more than I really realize I think. I could never lose you, I'd be at a loss. You've made my life so much better since you've been in it... I just-"

"Need time? Don't patronize me with compliments, Julian, please. If anything, give me my dignity. Or whatever I have left. If you can't love me, say so. Just put me out of my misery."

"Maddy! You cared about me before we even introduced ourselves. I've wanted to know more about you ever since you did that kind of stuff for me, and the more I learn, the closer I want to get with you. I'm not lying when I say that you have made my life so much better. I look forward to seeing you all the time, I miss you even. But I don't want to be hasty and say that it's love before I'm sure. It would just hurt more later. This isn't easy, you know. I told Casey I probably didn't even ever have the balls to tell you any of this. I didn't mean to get up the courage like I did."[/b]

"I am glad you told me, even if it hurts. I wouldn't want to keep making myself look silly any longer."

"But you don't look silly."

"I feel embarrassed, at the very least. And anyway, what does Casey know about all this? She seems to be what's brought this on."

"I'd been thinking about it for a few days. She was just the first person I talked to about it. Hopefully she won't tell my parents... News travels fast in my family. I don't know. Things just kind of spilled out. She said that I should tell you exactly how I felt, just to avoid any later mishaps. She's going to kill me though when she finds out that I did it by text though. If you're thinking that Casey gave me the idea that I don't know what I'm doing, I wouldn't blame you, but she wants me to fall for someone as much as everyone else in my family does. I'm the only one that's not married, without kids now, in the family. I'm the odd one out. I should have been asking you to marry me now, by their reckoning."

"Oh. When did you figure it out?"

"I dunno. When I got home from the trip, I guess. I just had a bad feeling inside. I really don't know. I really didn't want to let you down like this. I'm an idiot, I know it. You can even slap me if you want to, if it makes you feel better."

"No thanks." Madeline began idly trying to fix some tea for herself, but the going was slow because she kept forgetting things. Like, filling the teapot with water before putting the teabag in, or actually turning on the stove so the kettle would heat up, and then putting it on the right burner... She obviously had other things on her mind.

Julian sighed. "I don't know what you want me to say, Mads... I can't help the way I feel, I really can't. I just don't know at this point."

"Well, I don't know what you expect me to feel. I get it, you don't know what you're feeling and while I wish it was different, it's not. Am I supposed to just be okay with that? It still hurts, no matter how nicely you put it."

He walked up to her and put his arms around her waist, kissing her cheek softly. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you. But I still do care about you. You're still one of the most beautiful women I've ever met... And the sweetest."

She bit her lip. "So... Where do we go from here, then?" She had nothing more to say. She just felt drained. She really couldn't bring herself to be too angry with him, he'd done nothing wrong really, other than be a little blunt when he first told her. She couldn't be angry with him for changing his mind about how he felt, and he'd said sorry about a bazillion times now. What more could she ask of the both of them? She just wanted this to be over so she could go to bed, cuddled up next to Fluffy and hope that tomorrow she'd realize that this had all been a horrible dream. Or at least, tomorrow things might look a little brighter.

"I don't know. I want to make things right though. I really do care about you, a lot, Maddy. I don't want my stupid mistake to be the end of us. Promise me it won't be?" He asked, grabbing her arm and spinning her around to face him. she still couldn't look at him. She was afraid that she'd burst out in tears the moment she did. It made Julian feel even worse, if that was even possible.

"I don't want it to be either. I promise." It felt at least a little better to hear him say that he cared and that he didn't want her to leave him. But he still didn't love her like she did him. Could that ever be rectified? After all, the more time she spent with him, the harder she fell.

He cupped her chin in his hand and gently tilted her head up to look at him. Her eyes were dry, but sad and red and a little bloodshot at the corners. His eyes were deep and as knee weakening as ever. He kissed her lightly. "Okay then. We at least have a starting point. I will make this up to you. And I have no doubt that it won't take long to fall in love with you. It's just gone so fast, I don't know what I'm feeling. I'm not a second year psychology student, I'm as dumb as toast most of the time. I need a lot of time to figure stuff out."

She actually giggled a little. "Isn't the expression 'dumb as a post', not dumb as toast?"

He laughed, more so at the fact that he felt relieved that she was smiling again, than at anything else. "I'm dumber than both of them, let's just leave it at that. So, you don't totally hate me for this, then?"

She shook her head. "I couldn't if I tried..."

"I don't expect you to forgive me right away. I know that I'm going to have to seriously make it up to you. But I will, one way or another."

Madeline wasn't so sure if 'making it up to her' would fix anything. She still felt hurt, she couldn't stop that. Though she was less hurt now. Being clueless was a better excuse than just plain lying to her, at least. She felt embarrassed too. This was a one sided relationship, and she had totally opened her soul to him when he didn't feel the same way. She felt foolish. But she wasn't losing him and that was the main thing. No matter what he said, she didn't want to break up. He was a nice guy, and he made her happier than she had felt in a long time. She'd put up with a lot of cluelessness from him before she went that far. She loved him too much.

"Are we still on?" Asked Julian. "For, you know, when my parents come to town? I'd still really like to introduce you to them and we're going to a nice restaurant. Though, if you don't want to I totally and completely understand. It's this weekend..."

She bit her lip. "I don't know Julian." Did he have to ask her about that now? She felt embarrassed enough as it was, never mind thinking about what she would say to his parents. 'Oh yes, your son doesn't have a clue how he feels about me, but I'm madly in love with him. We're doing great. We'll be together until I have a fit of jealous rage and murder him with something sharp, pointy and possibly rusty.' Yeah. That would go over really well.

"They're really excited to meet you. And they're going to take me tuxedo shopping. I really can't just trust my mother's judgement when it comes to clothes. I know it's soon after all of this. But, it could be fun, once you get to know them..." He wanted her to come, just to meet them and maybe then she would feel more included. And, he didn't often get to take her out to a fancy restaurant since he couldn't afford it, and even if it was with his parents, at least he would be able to do something for her. His parents were going to be impressed with her, he knew it. She was classier than the other girlfriends, to say the least. They'd be happy that she had a job and that she was going to school, like they wanted him to do. He just wanted to make this better.

She shrugged. "Well, yeah, I guess." She didn't really want to, but she wasn't in the mood to say no right now. She just was too tired to let him try to convince her and he seemed really eager for her to go.

He could tell that things were starting to get awkward. He tucked a stray strand of raven hair behind her ear. "I'll call you in a couple days." He kissed her softly. "Or call me whenever you feel like it. Have a good night."

She nodded. "Okay. Good night."

The door closed behind him and she heard his footsteps go down the corridor. He only got as far as the stairs though, to go down to the lobby, before his phone rang.

"Hello?"

"I love you."

He smiled. At least she still had the courage to say it. He admired that, he knew that things were weird now, but it was still nice to hear it. "I'll miss you. I'll call you on Wednesday. Bye."

11-a no brainer

Madeline was nervous, to say the least. Her heart was pounding, her palms were sweaty... She had spent the last three hours trying to get ready for this date, but yet she still didn't feel prepared. She wore a nice purple dress and heels for the occasion, her hair done up nicely- but she still was worried she wasn't enough. Tonight was the night that she got to meet Julian's parents. After all the drama and after how much she really hadn't wanted to go in the first place, she was there anyway, fidgeting like she had a rattlesnake down her shirt. Oh, this wasn't going to be pretty. Madeline was one hundred percent sure that she was going to wet herself with fear any moment now. There was not a single thing that could be more nerve wracking than this.

She hadn't talked to him about the love thing again since he'd left. The pain was dulled, and Julian said that he needed time to figure stuff out. They'd gone out since their argument and he was still as caring as ever. It hurt a little to remind herself that he wasn't in love, but on another level, he still made her laugh and things really didn't have to change between them. This, meeting his parents, was definitely a big step for the both of them so at least they were moving in the right direction... That was at least some consolation.

They stood outside of the restaurant, on the street, waiting for his parents to come and meet them. It was a nice place, one that his mother had chosen. They stood there hand in hand, watching the foot traffic go by under the streetlights.

Julian squeezed her hand lightly. "You look worried. Don't be. You'll be fine, they'll adore you."

"So you've said, about a million times. I can't help it! I just really want to make a good first impression. I mean, how many of your past girlfriends have they ever liked?"

"...None. But what does that show? Obviously they weren't any good for me, I'm not still with them now. My parents are already excited to meet you though."

"You did say you haven't told them much, though. What if they don't like me? Really? And don't just say they will, because there is always a possibility."

"If they don't, then they'll be even crazier than I thought they were. Oh, look. Speak of the devil..."

"Julian! My baby boy! Come here." His mother raced up to him and embraced her son tightly, kissing him on the cheek and leaving a nice, big red lipstick mark.

"Moooom..." Julian chuckled, happy to see her despite the embarrassing greeting.

"Hello, Miss Stevenson." Mr. Torres was right behind his wife, but quite less exuberant. He extended a hand to Maddy, smiling at her kindly.

"Hi, nice to meet you. You must be Julian's dad." She shook his hand, smiling back, scared to death of what he might be thinking.

At the sound of Maddy's voice, Mrs. Torres released her grip on her son, as if just realizing that Madeline was there. "Oh! Madeline!" The woman quickly embraced her son's new girlfriend warmly squeezing her tightly, "It's so nice to finally meet the girl that's been making my little Julian so happy!"

Mr. Torres and Julian were both laughing and shaking their heads. "Let the poor girl breathe, Norine."

Julian slowly pried his mother off of a slightly mortified Madeline. "Come on, let's go inside."

They had made a reservation, and it wasn't a busy night, so they got in pretty quickly. Madeline sat down next to Julian, and across from his parents, secretly clasping his hand underneath the table. He smiled at her reassuringly. He was not nervous for tonight at all. He knew that his parents would love her, she was everything they wanted in a woman for him, and everything he really wanted in a woman. What complaints could they have? Madeline was far less confident in her abilities, however.

Mrs. Torres beamed at them both. "Oh, I am so happy to finally meet you, he's told us so much and yet so little about you."

"Only good things, I hope. I've heard a lot about you too."

Mrs. Torres rolled her eyes. "He's probably pulled that whole 'my family is insane' story, we are not as bad as he makes us sound. I don't know why he insists on introducing us like that."

"I haven't told her anything that's not true," Julian defended. They all laughed, though Madeline wasn't quite sure what at yet. She was still too nervous right now to really have a sense of humour.

"So, Madeline, tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do?" Julian's father asked cordially, evidently trying to give Madeline a chance to speak without Mrs. Torres interrupting.

"Oh, I uh... I'm a waitress at a diner, and I take night classes."

Mr. Torres raised his eyebrows, interested. "Oh really? In what?"

"I'm working on my psychology degree, I'm in my second year."

The two Torres parents looked at each other. They were impressed, Julian could see that clearly. He wasn't surprised. He turned to Madeline. "My father's a high school teacher." He explained. His father had always been disappointed that Julian never went to university, but he supported his son all the same. Still, the fact that Maddy went to school, that really didn't hurt much.

"So you're going to be a psychologist?" Mrs. Torres asked eagerly.

"Yeah, in a few years."

"It must be hard, working a full time job and going to university. Don't you agree, Julian?"

Julian didn't miss the look in his father's eye. "Yeah, Dad. I know she's great."

"So, why do you want to be a psychologist?"

Thankfully, the waitress came at that point in time and saved Maddy from answering the question. She always hated that question. It was always the first one that came up when she mentioned what she was doing in school, and she hated it. It delved into her past too much. It wasn't like she had anything to hide. She just didn't want to come off as needy or like she hung around with the wrong crowd or something. This was such a precarious position, she didn't want to spoil it.

Once everyone had ordered their drinks, Mrs. Torres piped up again. "I remember when I was a waitress. That's how we met, isn't it dear? I wanted to travel Europe, so I moved to Spain and got a job at a resort restaurant. He was the son of the chef... It was just natural from there, wasn't it dear?"

"Of course." Mr. Torres wasn't a man of many words, unlike his wife, evidently. But the look on his face as he smiled over at his wife said it all. They were still in love after so many years. It was cute. Julian almost wanted to gag when they got like that, but that was just because it was his own parents. Who liked it when their parents got all romantic? "Is that how you two met?"

Julian nodded. "Yeah. I'm a regular at her diner."

"That would explain why you're so skinny, eating diner food all day." Mrs. Torres said reprovingly. "No offense to your diner, Madeline. We really should have eaten there; I would have loved to see where you work."

Madeline dared a small chuckle. "None taken, it's a grease pit."

"She's fixing that though. She's a good cook."

"Oh, that boy will eat you out of house and home, if he hasn't already!" Mrs. Torres laughed, glad to hear that her son was eating well, at least some of the time.

"Julian tells me that you used to be a chef. Maybe I could get some of his favourite recipes from you sometime?" A little flattery could never hurt, right?

Mrs. Torres beamed, liking the attention. "That's perfect, isn't it, Tony? Julian's a disaster when it comes to cooking but maybe you've noticed that already. I would love to give you some tips, sweetheart, because lord knows, that boy eats a lot!"

Madeline thought it was quite strange that Mrs. Torres had just called her 'sweetheart'. Her parents weren't near that endearing, but maybe his mother was just one of those people who always called everyone by a pet name, strangers or not. She seemed like she might be that kind of a lady. She looked over at Julian, biting her lip as the server came to give them their drinks and food. He smiled reassuringly at her, and leaned over to kiss her lightly. Madeline blushed- he was kissing her in front of his own parents for no apparent reason!

But his mother cooed a slight 'aww' at the gesture, and as Julian pulled away he whispered in her ear, "You're doing great."

She still had a death grip on his hand underneath the table, it was plain that she was still scared as hell. Julian didn't really see why. He wasn't the type to get nervous about this kind of stuff, and even if he had been, his parents weren't scary. Okay, maybe they were a little overbearing, but couldn't she see that she was doing well now? He didn't know what she was going to think when she met his entire family at long last. That was going to be something to remember. She had not met any of his siblings yet. She'd probably leave in about twenty seconds. Which, was normal of his girlfriends actually. They almost always broke up with him directly after meeting his whole family. The Torreses had a tendency to scare people off. Hopefully Madeline would be a little bit braver than the rest.

The evening progressed well, though rather tensely. Madeline just picked at her food, she could never eat when she was nervous. Everyone noticed, of course, but nobody said anything. Julian kept the conversation going when it lapsed- though that was rarely, thanks to his mother. His parents were genuinely interested in Madeline, almost more interested in her right then than they were in their own son. Her replies were short and modest. Julian filled in all the blanks.

Once they were finished and were ready to get the bill, Madeline excused herself to powder his nose and left Julian and his parents alone for a moment. She really didn't have to go to the bathroom to fix her make up or anything else, but she figured that he would like some time with his parents, to see what they thought of her. In a way she was right, though Julian was a bit worried about her and he almost wanted to go with her. Though, being in the ladies room might be a little bit awkward.

Still, once she had left, his mother said, "She's quite shy, isn't she? Very nice girl, though."

"Successful, hardworking apparently. Definitely an improvement from your past girlfriends, I must say." Said Mr. Torres with a smile.

"Yeah, I know. She's sweet."

"How long have you been dating now, two months? Have you met her parents yet?"

"Yeah, and no, I haven't met her folks. She loves them and they're fairly close but I don't really think I want to meet them, from what I've heard. Her father's a judge, and they don't really support her schooling much."

"Aww, the poor girl." Mrs. Torres crooned.

"So, how serious is this relationship then?" Mr. Torres asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Do you love her? I see the way you two look at each other."

"Uh... Umm..." Julian hesitated for a moment. His mother frowned, disappointed. She was always a sucker for sweet love stories, especially when it came to Julian.

"So, it's not serious then?" His father asked calmly.

"I never said that. It's only been two months."

Mrs. Torres sighed. "But she's such a nice girl. She even cooks!"

"I know. I'm lucky. I don't know if I love her or not. I'm surprised Casey didn't mention it. It's just complicated. I don't know if it's love because I'm never been in love..." Julian hadn't wanted to try to explain this to his parents. They obviously felt that she was good for him and his mother seemed disappointed that it wasn't love at first sight. Well, maybe it had been. He'd wanted her ever since he first saw her but the point was, he just didn't want to be wrong about this. But he had figured it might end up like this. She really was his dream girl, and what they would consider a dream daughter in law too. She had a job and she was going to school, she was beautiful and generous and smart and a good cook and a talented writer... She had flaws but if she didn't, she wouldn't be real. He really didn't deserve her though. He knew that she could do a lot better than some lame street musician.

"Ohhh, sweetie." She reached over to pinch his cheek. "You'll know. When it comes, you'll know."

"Does she love you? Remember what we taught you, about being a gentleman-"

He was cut off as Madeline came back to the table. Julian smiled at her and stood up. "I think we're ready to go."

Mrs. Torres sprang up. "Oh, are you going to come tuxedo shopping with us? I'd hate to see you leave us already."

Julian raised an eyebrow at her, pleading with her silently for her to come. Clothes shopping with his parents was absolute hell for him, it would be so much better if she was there. But then again, he would understand if she just wanted to take his family in small doses. He did most of the time too. She caught his glance and nodded.

"Of course. I'd be happy to."

Once they got into her car, she slumped against the steering wheel, releasing a long sigh of relief. Julian slid into the passenger seat beside her. "Are you okay?"

"Yes..." Came the muffled, unconvincing reply as she spoke against the center of the wheel.

"I can tell they really like you. I know they're a bit overbearing but..."

"A bit overbearing?!" Madeline sat up and looked at him. "Your parents hug you, they actually care about what both of us are doing, it's... It's just strange."

"Wait. Your parents don't even hug you?"

She shook her head. "I get a solid handshake, but that's it. My parents were never very affectionate. I just... are you sure your parents like me? What did they say when I left? "

"Only good things. Just relax, you're doing great. They think you're really sweet." He rubbed her back gently.

"I just... I've got to prove this to them. It means a lot to me. And I mean, my parents don't even think what I'm doing is good enough, why should yours believe in me?"

"I dunno, maybe because they don't have ridiculous, unattainable standards for their daughters and don't ask them to do something for the rest of their life when their heart isn't in it?"

"I love my parents."

"I know. Just relax, you'll do fine."

She bit her lip and turned the key in the ignition, her hands gripping the wheel as if it was a lifeline. Julian just didn't understand how important this was for her. This was finally her chance to prove herself, to let everyone know that she wasn't a total failure after all. She had to do this for her, and not to mention the fact that she was hoping to be with Julian for a very long time in the future. She really didn't want to alienate his parents now, that just wouldn't be a good idea. After all, if he was warning her that his whole entire family was like this, if she couldn't get past the parents then how was she supposed to get past his five or so other siblings? This seemed like an impossible task. She just didn't know what to do to make them love her. She just couldn't tell if she was doing anything right, she didn't know his parents. And she certainly couldn't take Julian's word for it. He was just trying to make her feel better. It was way too short of a drive to the suit shop where his parents pulled in. She pulled in after them and looked at Julian, her expression tired and tense.

"Listen, the second my mom brings up her wallet and starts showing you pictures of me when I was a kid, that's when you know she's approved you. But I know you're doing fine. Just relax, laugh a little. It's just my parents, they're not that bad!"

"Julian, it's not that I don't like your parents or anything. Your Mom is really sweet and your Dad is nice too. I like them. It's just... I really, really want to make a good impression on them. It's obvious that they love you a lot and I don't want them to think that I'm this awful, evil person that's going to come and turn their little boy into her own personal slave or something! And... they're just not like my parents. I can't just automatically separate their values when my parents are the only ones I've ever known." She was doing her best not to snap at him, she was just really tense and she didn't know how to fix this.

"Look, if you don't want to come, I'll tell them you're not feeling well or something..."

"No! Julian, I do want to do this. I don't care that your family is entirely crazy, I don't care that I have no sweet clue how to react to that. I like your parents and I want them to really like me. Yes, of course I'm freaking out about making a good impression- you've met my parents, you know how high their standards are! I don't know what else to expect. But I do want to do this and if I wanted to go I could make excuses for it myself. I'm shy but I'm not a basket case." She hated that. When people always spoke for her and thought she was incapable just because she was a bit awkward and quiet. She realized that she had overreacted at him though. She sighed and looked down into her lap. "I'm sorry. I- I didn't mean to say it like that. Let's just do this."

She practically ran out of the car, just trying to avoid hearing him snap back. She didn't want to fight and she definitely didn't want things to suddenly start getting awkward between them. Not now. She just had to walk in there and get this over with so she could go home. That's all she wanted right now, was to just go home.

Julian went in directly after her. His parents were off in a corner, discussing his sizes with the shop assistant. He took the opportunity of their brief inattention to catch Madeline. He grabbed her arm and half dragged her in behind a coat rack where they couldn't really be seen. Madeline fully expected to be chewed out for just randomly snapping at him when he had been nothing but nice and patient about this whole thing. But instead... he kissed her.

She stared up at him with surprise. "Wha... Aren't you mad at me?"

"It's okay. I know you didn't mean to get angry, and I know you're under a lot of pressure right now. In case you haven't noticed, it takes quite a bit to make me mad."

She bit her lip. "I'm really sorry. I don't mean to take this out on you."

"Just take a deep breath, and chill out. I promise I won't let them hug you to death." He smiled a little at her and she tried her best to smile back. "I love you."

Her fake smile fell and she shook her head backing away from him. "Julian, come on, that's just cruel. Don't say things you don't mean to-"

He kissed her again, mostly just to shut her up. "I do mean it now. I'm one hundred percent positive." He mumbled against her lips.

"But... That's what you said the last time. What made you suddenly pick this moment?"

"I... Seeing you so upset like this, it hurts too much to deny it. I just want you to be happy and I'm so proud that my parents really like you. I wish you could see it." He kissed her again, not able to stay away all of a sudden. She was afraid to believe him though. This is what had happened last time. She'd gotten her hopes up only to be dashed again. But what he said... Who was she fooling? Even if she had not wanted to fall for it, her heart already had anyway. She was a lost cause when it came to him, she couldn't deny it.

"If you take it away from me again, Julian, I swear I cannot be held accountable for my actions."

"I wasn't sure before, but... I don't think I could be more wrong than to not love you." He didn't know what had made him say that out of the blue but he was sure this time. When she had said her parents wouldn't hug her, when she fidgeted and tried to do her best for his parents- for him. When his parents went on about how successful she was and when he thought about where he might be without her feeding him on occasion and making him smile... Loving her was really a no brainer when he thought about it.

"So, are you going to help me try on some supremely uncomfortable suits now or what?" He asked, smiling. "Come on, I think we'd better get warmed up. Start out slow. Here, try this one." He reached for a top hat off the rack they were hiding behind and put it on her head. It slid down past her eyes, only revealing the tip of her nose and her grin. She was happy again, that was all that mattered.

"Hey, we have all the time in the world to mess with the merchandise later, you two! Get on over here so we can try some stuff on you." His mother called them both and Madeline blushed, putting the hat back on the rack. His mother was smiling though, despite her chiding words, as if she knew what had just happened even though she couldn't possibly. Julian grabbed her hand as they walked on over, this time with a more confident gait on Maddy's part. Maybe this wouldn't be quite so torturous after all?




to be contd...

© 2011 cindrella pete


Author's Note

cindrella pete
i'll be adding 2-3 chapters every week dont think i will stop updating in the middle of the story coz i have finished it;)

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Reviews

This is a great story. Everything sounded like you know what you were doing. I hope you keep writing more stories to share.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 10 Years Ago


Wow, beautiful story. The dialogues were very good. They seemed natural and not fake. You wrote down both their point of views which doesn't work well with most the stories but in this story it worked great. And I think you called Julian 'Jack' in a few places, which could be avoided. But if you're gonna add more chapters, then add this as a book, split it into many chapters cause its too long. That aside, its a great start, keep going :)

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 10 Years Ago


I like where you are going with this. Cant wait till you add the next chapters.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 10 Years Ago



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cindrella pete
cindrella pete

beverly hills, CA



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am just an amateur and want to know the views about my works thats all.. more..