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Cade & Marissa: Totally Not A Date


Marissa Jauntsen
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Totally Not A Date

Part 1

I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light. -Helen Keller

With everything going on with the funeral in the morning, Cade's family kept him on a short leash at the wake. Still, being surrounded by people, well it left Cade wanting to get away for a while, somewhat reluctantly, his parents agreed.

He wasn't sure about where exactly he was going to go, though Great Falls was the most likely place. Still, he wanted to get away, and despite everything, he didn't exactly want to be alone. His first thought was to call Marissa and see if she wanted to go with him, just to get away for a while.

He quickly realized she could go pretty much anywhere, just by asking Devin, but he wanted to spend some time with her. "I guess I've got it really bad, even after being rejected." Her rejection didn't change how he felt, but he would respect her feelings. This wasn't a date he told himself, almost enough to believe it. He pulled out his phone and dialed her number.

“Thanks again,” Garret said as Marissa offered him a soft, yet empty smile.  Her intentions were benevolent, but there was no feeling or warmth in them.  She was simply devoid of empathy it seemed, yet still introducing Garret to Sean at the reception was a simple enough task and now that the two had met he’d leave her alone about it.

She shrugged dismissively, drawing attention to her perfectly sculpted neck and shoulders, which everyone knew was the only reason she wore that dress to something she knew everyone was going to be at.  “Least I could do after you were there when I fainted.  No big.”

“Still, you didn’t-“ Garret was cut off by the low sound of Marissa’s cellphone chipping quietly at Cade’s incoming call.

She swiped and when she was confident the line was open, her tone shifted to one filled with practiced mirth and emotion. “Text me later, Garret, I need to take this.”  She stepped away, only moving a few strides before the fake smile and newly discovered emotional joy in the voice were no longer needed to let Cade know she some other guy was on her ‘text me’ list, which, despite her popularity, was a pretty short list.  The Fellowship, a few girls at school, like Courtney, Tawny… and everyone else was forced to leave a comment on her TikToks or Twaddle posts if they wanted to get her attention.  “What?”  She asked, already sounding bored with the conversation.

He knew her well enough to know she was just playing more games, yet still, he extended his invite.  "Hey. I'm going to go out for a while, just to get away from everything here.”

“And?”  He could see the light shrug she offered while she zipped one of her silver pendants she wore back and forth across the chain around her neck.

“I wanted to invite you to come along, if you'd like.”  Already cut off, this was a fabulous idea.

She sighed, more a relaxing release of tense energy than her usual unbridled, ‘nothing left of her victim but a husk’, attitude.  “I’m so not in the mood fo-“

“I'm not talking about going fishing, or out in nature.”  He interjected before she went nuclear.  “How does Great Falls strike you?"

Her maroon lips pressed gently against her pendant as she bit down on it softly while in thought.  Was it a bad idea to go out with him, knowing how he felt about her?  Oh, most certainly.  The guy was a walking red flag and she was a certifiable lunatic (which she accepted, but didn’t admit to because she didn’t like putting labels on things).  However… she looked amazing in red, pasta was her spirit animal and there was an Olive Garden in Great Falls.

“Fine,” she agreed suddenly and with confidence in her tone that Cade wasn’t quite expecting.  “Pick me up at my house so I can change out of these rags,” when she paused Cade thought that was it and it all went smoother than he thought it would.  “The poolside door will be unlocked.  Let yourself in… and bring a condom.”

She’d hung up before he could protest and her phone was already in her small, designer clutch purse.

--==[@]==--

The fist fifteen minutes of the trip was awkward silence.  Neither talked about the sex, aside from agreeing that it was amazing.  At first, she found it adorable that he was reluctant to be with her casually, considering the state of their relationship (or lack thereof) but in the end teenage hormones won out and Cade was left to wonder if Marissa would get some sick sort of thrill the next time the Jauntsens had a family dinner and she thought about what the two of them did on their dining room table.

As she reapplied her makeup in his visor mirror, he broke the silence with an aching feeling he'd probably regret it later.  "So, I've got an idea for where to eat but other than walking around the mall, is there anything you'd like to do?  Stores you'd like to go to, or something like that?"  He had a vague outline in his head for a couple of things he wanted to do, consideration dictated that he should get her input as well.  More than anything though, He just wanted to get away from home for a bit.

“I need to get some eyeliner,” she said to him without looking away from the mirror.  “And look at a few shades of lip color.  Seeing Cassie today reminded me that I might have to go with a few different shades before we find the one that pops.  Her and Autumn both have incredibly kissable lips, but Autumn’s complexion is easy to match, Cassie might be trickier and I going for Fellowdiva domination at Homecoming.  Everything has to be perfect.  If Jason and my brother are not trying to put a ring on it from the moment they lay eyes on them, I've not done my job.”

"Well, I promise no hunting and fishing stores, unless we just completely run out of options."   He already had pretty much everything he needed on that score, even if those were stores, he knew he could while away the hours in, they weren't something he thought she'd enjoy and there were plenty of other options for ways the two could spend the afternoon and evening.

“Oh, I think we’ll be okay,” she looked at him, smirking playfully before going back to doing her lashes.  After few more flicks of the brush she profiled once, then twice, before dropping back in the seat, flipping the mirror back up.  “All done.  And I bet you thought it’d take me hours, huh?”  It was obvious she was still bothered by all the drama.  Spontaneous FWB sex, deflection, and of course her famous ‘just act like there is no problem’ routine.  Cade knew her better than she gave him credit for.

He wanted to ask if she was okay, but knew she'd just shut him out again and he wasn't in the mood for that rollercoaster.    "You look great, always."   He said, meaning it.  He was still a bit confused internally, but at least he could compliment her earnestly and honestly.

She smiled at his words, but she was born perfect.  Of course she was beautiful, according to Coyote that’s what she was designed to be: super-hot.  While the why still escaped her, she knew Cade didn’t mean anything by his words and was only trying to be nice.  “That’s sweet, thank you.  But you know, while you were born to be like this awesome Spartan, I was sort of made to be like some super-fuck doll, so… telling me I look great is kind of a given.  I know I look great.  I’m designed to be.”

“Perhaps,” Cade nodding in agreement at her reasoning.  “Fine.  No one quite makes children cry the way you do, Marissa.  You have a real gift.”

She inhaled deeply, pressing her palm to her chest dramatically.  “You mean that?  Oh, Cade,” her voice mingled with poor acting, surprise, and a dab of sarcasm.  “No one’s ever noticed before!  You’re so good to me!”  She leaned over and clutched his arm like a lovesick country girl.

They laughed for a moment as he mocked her mocking him and she held him close, until they didn’t laugh anymore and were just driving and she was just holding him still, unable it seemed, to let go.  She thought about it, about how it might seem awkward for her to be so close to him, to hold him and send signals that would only confuse things.  She felt safe though and that only made her comfortably want to knead her claws in his flesh and get comfortable after a few rotations.  Yet, inside her, it didn’t feel right, he was kind, and he was warm.  He was decent and good.

And well…

She wasn’t and she knew she would only hurt him in the end.  So, why couldn’t she let go?

She grabbed his arm and they laughed.  It felt good, almost natural.   It was always a beautiful sound to him, not her bitchy fake laugh he heard at school if something merited such a response from her, this was a real one, and he couldn't help but sigh at the end.

"You're more than the hottest women I've ever seen, though.  Your words can change minds, lift up someone's spirits, and give them hope.  Or you can crush them and leave them in despair.   I've seen you do both.  That may not be some flashy superpower like the others have, but it’s still real power.   You can get things done in ways the rest of us can’t.  You focus a lot on the negatives, Marissa.   I understand being prepared for the worst, that's pragmatic, but you’re always such a fatalist."

She leaned up and away from him, letting go of his arm so she could inspect him at a better angle.  “Woooow,” she cooed, sounding impressed.  “A little casual sex and all of a sudden you’re calling the shots, huh?”  He side-eyed her, his face a sarcastic expression that told her he was trying to be serious.  As he went back to watching the road she followed up.  “Cade, people don’t want hope and the only minds people want changed are those that think like the minds of those in control so they're more in line with whomever is the Alpha-dog.”

“Look at this place.”  She gestured to indicate the world as a whole, but mostly caught the exit sign letting them know that food and gas was a mile up the road.  “People want money, power, to be that alpha-dog.  That’s why people with money and power rule and make the rules while also being exempt from them.  This planet is one big war, one big ball of the have’s lording over the have nots and that’s never going to change.  I don’t deal in hope Cade, I allow people to touch some semblance of importance in their lives by allowing them to vicariously share my majesty by being their ‘friend’, their Boss, CEO, Queen Bee, if you're feeling dramatic.  I can’t give ambition to those without any, nor should I have to.”

"Give yourself more credit.  You've been a bitch to people, sure.   We all know you can be selfish, and at times, in their way, everyone is.    You're more than that, though.  I mean yeah, I can hear the sarcasm and a bit of condescension, like when you talk about Autumn and Cassie, but you are still helping them.   You want them to look great.    I have no doubt all of you will turn heads, though you'll likely be the one who turns them all.”  She playfully craned her head, feigning bashfulness at the truth.   “I don't profess to know you, not nearly as well as I'd like to.   But I do know from the short amount of time and tiny windows into your life you have shared that you're not a completely horrible person.  You care for your friends.  We care about you too."

It wasn't like he was admonishing her, even though he’d called her a bitch.   Cade was, in his own awkward fashion, trying to help.   She'd wanted his honesty when this all began, and that was still what she was going to get from him.

It was the last part that drained the smile from her face, still, she didn’t seem angry or upset, only saddened.  “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Cade.  You’re sweet and a great guy, and if you tell anyone I said that I will never send you a single underwear pic again.”

“Lips are sealed,” he smirked.

“No one trusts me, Cade and that’s only half the problem.  I don’t trust any of you guys either.  It was my mother Cade, mine.  And you guys seem to think that I should have spilled the beans and risked her life on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, you would get your shit together well enough to not get her killed?  I’m sorry, I wasn’t willing to take that risk, and in the future, I won’t take it either if the Fellowship is still as proficient in dipshittery as it is now.  You’re not a reliable bunch.  Great at barbeques and doing telekinetic airplanes, but not the sort of people one wants handling anything important.”

It was her turn to sigh now as adjusted in her seat.  So far, she was simply talking, not a single scream or yell of rage in frustration which he took as a good, if not out of character sign for her.  “Even if all was forgiven there’s still the problem of me not trusting any of you, which, I’m sorry, I don’t.  The battle with Not-Cody opened my eyes and I was ready to accept that I was wrong.  I was sold, all-in and ready to be a part of this Fellowship thing… then Jason got shot in the face and apparently that’s all my fault.  Hm, gee, I don’t know… maybe if you don’t like getting shot in the face, don’t be the kind of violent psychopath that people might wanna shoot in the fucking face!  Fucking retard.” She huffed after her minor melt down but pressed on.  “I thought it would go differently, that you guys would accept me and forgive me and understand that all I wanted to do was protect my mom, so I went to the professionals at the Project… instead, you burned me at the stake, and I won’t ever let you do that to me again.”

There was a long, awkward silence in the jeep as the two digested what the other had said.  She sighed and traced her nails through her long hair as she rest her arm on the sill of the passenger window.  To anyone on the outside looking in, they appeared exactly like stressed out couple going through tough times.  “Hey,” she softly said in an almost apologetic tone.  “I was kind of thinking Olive Garden for food, what were you thinking?”

"Olive Garden, actually.  I haven't eaten there in a while."  He smiled as she raised a perfect eyebrow.   "I do actually eat food I didn't kill and clean myself you know.   I left the clubs and stones back at home."   There was a moment of silence as the eyebrow remained raised.   He drove on quietly.

“It’s not that,” she eyed him a little longer before turning her attention to absently watching the scenery pass them by.  “You just always seem to read my mind.  I need a Snickers; you happen to have one.  I want to go to Olive Garden; you were already planning on going there.  You’re allowed to disagree with me you know?  If you had somewhere else in mind, maybe it was a better idea than mine, my point is… we don’t always have to do everything I want to do and you don’t have to cater to my every whim.  I’m not saying not to,” she smirked and glanced at him.  “By all means, pamper and spoil me, but Cade… please don’t kiss my ass just to stay on my good side, that shit is so fake and,” she paused, almost at a loss for how continue on with what she was saying.  Finally, she just grunted and fumed and said it.  “Well, we’re closer than that, right?  I mean, we’re each other’s firsts, you’re a jock, I’m a cheerleader, we’re kind of sleeping together, we saved the world the other day…”

“We’re friends,” he said, glancing at her then back to the road.  “It’s okay, you can say it.”

“I’m trying to open up here,” she glared at him.  “Say the ‘F’ word again and I’ll open you up.”

“Okay,” he laughed.  “Okay, have it your way.  You know, I hope one day you'll change your mind, and realize you can trust the Fellowship.  Or at the very least, you can trust me."  His words were quiet, and it seemed like he was thinking, recalling that meeting.

“I did change my mind.  I did trust them.”  She swept out her arms slowly, palms up.  “And here we are.”

"Alright, fair enough.  Look, you faced a hard choice, and had the strength to make it.  Still, you weren't actively working against any of us, or trying to get us killed.   You went to get help from others who do have experience with that sort of thing.   I do understand you not trusting the group.   We're all a bunch of weirdos.   Getting the whole group on the same page is like herding cats and takes twice as long."

"I'll say it again.   I don't think you made the wrong choice.   Both options were equally terrible.  You chose to protect yourself and your family.  I can understand that choice.   Until I must make that choice, I can't tell you which way I'd decide.  I don't think anyone really can."

He sighed, keeping his attention on the road. "I've thought about it, you know.  What if he'd come to me with that?   It wouldn't be hard to take out my family.   Before it was kinda just us in Danger, because the Dark wanted to feed on us.   Now, well whatever Enterich is, he's more than willing to use other humans against us, and to threaten our families.  This is going to be alot harder to deal with.  I do believe our best bet is to fight back together, but if we all try to do things as one group, well our response will be too slow to adapt to any changes.

Cade sighed.   "I don't honestly expect you and Jason to reconcile.  He's not all there, way worse than he was before he found out he had powers.  It's like he’s forgotten what it means to be human."   It wasn't really a dig at Jason or his dad, but Jason had always seemed a bit off.   Brilliant, but cold and aloof.   The fact they gamed together like they did was somewhat surprising to Cade, even as he reflected back on it.  "That Gaming table was truly a motley collection of misfits."

He chuckled. "I'd invite you, but it might blow your cover, plus if word ever got out that you touched dice with dice with more or less than six sides, it might cause the grapevine at school to combust."

“Yeah, no, I’m good,” she snorted her intent to never show up at one of their gaming sessions.  “If you virgins want to play your Losers and Lame-Asses, far be it from me to stop you.”

“Virgin,” he looked over to her.  “Seriously?  Marissa we just had sex on your dining room table not but forty-five minutes ago.”

“Fuck off, you know what mean,” she huffed.

“No, no, I really don’t.” He laughed.

“Well, then fuck off anyway,” she slapped him in the arm playfully before turning back to the window.  “Speaking of, though… you guys haven’t done that in a while.  How come you nerds stopped gaming?”

"I think part of why we haven't gamed is that so many people who sat at the table are gone, and that we've all had other things going on."

He let out a sigh.  "Sean and I have hung out, just the two of us, only once really since this all got started. Even that was more an offshoot of the testing of the gun I got from our Site B raid.  For the record, actual taser rounds suck."

“I can imagine,” she chuckled at the thought of Cade being shot with taser rounds.  “We certainly have been busy, yeah,” she agreed.  “So, not to tell you nerds your business, but, I think it’s not about who’s gone, it’s about who’s left, you know?  Charlie loved gaming with you guys, I remember him talking with Sean and the others in class.  I think you guys really need to make time, for Charlie.”

He kept his eyes on the road, even though he hadn't seen another car since they left town.   "So do you actually play online, or just write up campaigns?  Are there video games you enjoy playing?"   It was a real question about a secret they shared, and he smiled.

“None of the above.”  She expressed with a sigh.  “I’ve never played that stupid game, and I never will.  I read the books based in the various worlds like Ravenloft, and a lot of the Forgotten Realms novels.  I got curious of the worlds and googled them, and ended up down a Wikipedia rabbit whole a few times trying to understand the monsters and places they mention in the novels.  That’s why I know what a beholder is and why it has nineteen hit dice and a hundred and eighty hip points, but I’ve never played.”

They drove on for several seconds in silence as Cade processed that and while he was still considering her words she spoke up.  “No.”

“You don’t even know what I was going to say,” he protested.

“I will not ‘give it a try’.  I’m mad at you asshats, I’m not in the mood to sit at a table and be bored for hours with you.”

“Damn,” he said, smirking.  “You did know.  Spooky.”

He shrugged and drove on.  "I never really read the books beyond what I needed for character creation.   My characters tend to not know, so I take that a step further and don't know myself.  Makes it more fun and interesting not knowing exactly what to expect."

“Sounds dreadfully boring, that much is certain.”  He saw her eye roll reflected in the window as she was looking out over the scenery.

It was a game so he could afford the luxury of just not knowing and going in totally blind.   With what they were doing, none of them could afford to be ignorant.   "Still, so you don't play D&D.  Surely being Queen of the school isn't the only thing you do to have a good time.   So what do you do to enjoy life Marissa?"

The roll of the tires rumbled a rhythm beneath the vehicle for several moments as she continued to just look out the window, like she forgot she was in a conversation.  “I don’t enjoy life.”

He smiled, shaking his head at her never-ending supply of drama.  "There has to be something that makes you happy, that you truly find fun."

“Why?”  She turned to look at him, lips pursed slightly like he’d touched a nerve.  “Why does there have to be something?”  She asked.  “Moving here was the worst thing that ever happened in my life.  I used to, used to, love performing.  To be up on stage singing, dancing, doing whatever because that was the only time in my life that I knew my mother couldn’t touch me.  No matter how well or poorly I performed, for a few minutes my life was mine to control.  Then… then that was taken away from me, and then we moved here and, well it’s a shit hole.”

She adjusted in her seat to angle herself towards him.  “I don’t enjoy life, Cade.  I cope with it.  I don’t sing and dance anymore, I stay as high as I possibly can and now, I fuck the pain away, too.  I don’t do fun, I do you.  Happiness is for the girls in the books I read, that’s why I read them.”

In his own way, he was trying to get to know her for real, and accepted that he should have been doing this from the start.   Sure, he did cater to her, not because she expected him to, but because he wanted to do so.   She wasn't his girlfriend, but they were more than just friends.   Exposing his ignorance about her was perhaps not the best approach, but it was earnest and honest, he wanted to learn, because a real friend should know about their friend.  He wasn't asking for any sort of information he wasn't prepared to give in return if she asked.

"Goddamn Marissa, you do deserve to be happy."  there was a tinge of anger in his voice, hearing her say at least in his mind, that she didn't deserve to be happy, that she was using drugs and him to cope with life.  He'd hoped that he could at least make her happy in a small way, but clearly that just wasn't going to be in the cards.

“I know I do.” She said firmly, like he wasn’t telling her anything new.  “People deserve to have food and water and warm clothes and a roof over their head, Cade, but how many people in this world go without?  I deserved a little honesty from Jason before he decided to fuck my best friend.  I deserved a little credit and understanding when I was up front and honest with everyone and instead you decided to roast me in my own fucking home.  Sometimes what we deserve isn’t always what we get.  So… we cope.”

This all seemed to be going somewhere she didn't want to go.   Yet Cade realized that normally Marissa would have lost her mind on him by now, put her foot down and shut him down completely yet, she wasn’t.  For the first time since he’d been seeing her the more, he stood his ground the more she stood hers.  He wasn’t apologizing or trying to fix her, he was simply expressing his thoughts, after all, what was she going to do?  Break up with him?  Still, he erred on the side of caution and backed off a bit.  She was obviously hurting and there was no point in rubbing salt on those rather fresh wounds.

"I'd have liked to see you perform, if only to see you enjoying it."   He offered with a passive shrug, knowing that saying didn’t make it so.  Marissa certainly could have been the darling of the theater group at school, but she had her reasons for not getting involved.  Still, he felt something needed to be said.  Cade had always been a straightforward guy.  He wasn’t much for guile, and he wasn’t big on ulterior motives, he just wanted to see her happy, and if that was what made her happy, he'd have sat through any number of school plays.  He remembered that smile when she caught the fish, the few little moments where she seemed "content" and wished for more of those.

“What about you enjoying it?”  She asked, turning her head to look at him with a serpents’ glare.  “Would you sit through something you felt was truly awful just to make me happy?  Suffering in silence for the sake of elevating another isn’t anyway to live.”

“That isn’t what I mean, and you know it,” he corrected her.  He turned his head briefly to meet her eyes before returning them to the road.  “So I want to see you happy, so what?  Hate the notion all you like, but it doesn’t change my mind.  Remember when you caught that fish?”

“Oh god,” she laughed at the memory.  Fumbling with the rod, screaming and panicking because she didn’t know what to do, and finally refusing to touch it because it was slimy.  All in all it was absolute chaos.  “Don’t remind me.”

“For a moment after all that screaming and nearly tipping the boat,” he grinned as he recalled that day on the lake.  “I say a hint of pure of joy in your eyes.  For a sliver of a moment, you honestly had fun, probably because you’d battled nature and defeated it.”  She puckered her lips into a dirty look, flirtatiously rebuking his comment behind her narrowed eyes.  “But I have to say, that was the prettiest I’d ever seen your eyes.  Add all the shadow and makeup you want, but nothing makes you lovelier than when you add a dash of joy.  Just sayin’.”

It was at that moment that Marissa hated him with every fiber of her being.  Not because he’d called her out on her looks or contested her arguments about coping and happiness, but because he was right.  His compliment and honesty was like a forty mega-ton backhand to her feels.  He noticed her open her mouth to argue and he decided it best to just stay silent and drive on when she remained quiet and just turned to the window again to watch the scenery.  “Yeah, well, what do you know?  You think badgers are cute, too, so…”

Cade just smiled.  He knew she needed the last word, and this time was more than content to let her have it.  Still though, he wasn't happy with her calling his home a shithole, but he wasn't going to convince a city girl like her that Shelly had its own charms that made the people stay.  "And another thing,” he added carefully, making sure not to dive in too deep with his volatile partner.  “It might be a shithole to you, but to many of us, it's been home all our lives.  I know you hate it here, that it will never measure up to what you want.   I appreciate that you did give me a chance to show you at least some of what I love about this place.   Still, I think you're too hard on this place."

She was silent for a while after, brooding in her window seat.  “If I had a thousand dollars for every time,” she paused as she repositioned herself again.  Cade braced for a meltdown, half expecting her to go on a tirade about nature and how it all needed to be burned to ash to make room for Starbucks and designers clothing outlets.  “I sat on the roof outside my window and watched the sun set, I might be rich by now.  It’s never not beautiful, like pure poetry without any words… just the inspired awe it brings out of me and the feelings it captures.  I won’t deny that it’s gorgeous country here, it’s just… empty.  I feel like Devin… like I’m moving a million miles per hour and Shelly is just chugging along at a break-neck thirty five miles per and the granny driving her doesn’t even feel like that’s a safe speed and wants to slow it down even more.  You know?  I need more.  I want more.”

To an extent he understood her, yet he knew everything was boring to her.  She was someone who hated the outdoors, but never bothered looking for other options.  Instead, she just chose to look down on everyone and everything, so she could feel justified in never having tried any of it.

"Why didn't you perform with the school Theater group?"  He asked quietly.

“Because I don’t get on stage anymore,” her voice hesitated slightly, something that was rare for her and her abnormally well composed personality.  “Someone I thought was a good person, wasn’t.  I told you this story while fishing.  The only thing I’d ever been good at, or thought I was good at, and he destroyed me at an audition, then later at school before the embers had cooled, he lit me up again and destroyed me in front of the entire school.  Devin got beat up for weeks trying to protect me from their abuse, I was devastated, and I thought it would stop, you know?  A couple of weeks, people would have their fun… but it persisted until we finally moved here.  Almost a year.”

“Performance is a very vulnerable act, Cade.”  She didn’t look at him. Instead, she tapped down the visor and pretended to check her makeup while doing nothing but staring at herself, perhaps in some silent judgement.  He couldn’t tell if she was talking to him, or herself after a few moments.  “Being up there, doing your act leaves you open to everyone’s criticism, judgements and if you make a mistake, or botch it or even just sing a song someone doesn’t think is good for your voice, they ruin you just for the sake seeing you fail and burn out.  There’s no mercy… frankly, people today are just horrible.  All one can do is simply be more horrible than they are to keep them at bay.”

He wasn't going to argue that he knew she had experience, but his own was that he just didn't care what other people thought.   As an athlete, he gave it his all, and left it on the field.  He did his best and sometimes, his best wasn’t enough for a win, what was important was that he showed up with his team and performed their best.  There were times where he wondered what he could have done differently to get the win, but often the other team was just better.  He knew it wasn't the same, but in a way, he could sympathize.  Although Marissa talked a good talk, he also knew that underneath her hardened exterior the simple, wordless truth was that she was scared.  Whomever it was that embarrassed her years ago to the point that she quit performing had left a deep enough scar that all she was doing today was preventing herself from ever having to feel that sort of embarrassment ever again.

The Jeep was filled with an awkward silence as neither really knew where to go from there.  Cade knew If he pressed, he’d just her angry and Marissa seemed to be a bit emotional when it came to talking about how she and her brother used to be bullied back home in Malibu.  After a few moment of the sound of the tires rolling across the road she leaned in, towards the dash and switched on the console to pair her phone.  Within seconds the sounds of the tires and the awkward silence were washed away by the sound of her Spotify playlist.

The last forty-five minutes went by to the sounds of Ariana and Doja Cat, which really were not Cade’s jam, but a Spotify playlist wasn’t the hill he wanted to die on in the grand scheme of picking his battles.  As they finally pulled into the main strip of Great Falls where the center of shopping was located, he chuckled.  "So do you want to hit the mall first, or go eat, then walk off some of the calories?"

"Uh, food first, duh."  She quipped and then poked him in his side with one of her sharp nails.  “And I don’t need to walk off the calories.  Super metabolism, remember?”

"As you wish."  he said with a grin.

As they enjoyed their pasta, their conversation turned to fewer private matters while in the company of the others around them enjoying their meals.  They spoke about school, her now being a cheerleader, his plans for the Homecoming game and the state of their grades and which classes or teachers they were getting along with.  Cade insisted on taking care of the bill.  "This was my idea, so I'll get dinner."  He told her to fend off protest before it began.  He knew it gave off the signal of the trip being an attempt to wrangle her into a date, and she had a chuckle at his expense as he tried to explain that.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Part 2

 

With her expensive tastes, Holiday Village Mall wasn’t what Marissa considered ‘shopping’, which was why she’d reduced herself to mostly online shopping these days for the things she needed/wanted.  At this point, she was an expert at eyeballing not only her own size but others as well and could have easily ordered Homecoming dresses for all the Fellowdivas with nothing more than a casual glance, a credit card, and a hope that they’d at least show up showered and wearing her gift to them.  Still, it was all these people had so she’d learn to accept that they couldn’t miss something they’d never experienced, like looking presentable in public.

“I decided on purple,” she answered Cade’s question calmly about color dress she’d decided on for Homecoming while filing through a series of men’s shirts on a rack.  She took one off and gave it a quick once over, made a face as if the pattern had inspired her to vomit, and put it back.  “It wasn’t my first choice, or even my third, but I got vetoed and had to settle on something more ‘age appropriate’,” she air quoted.

“Your mom?”  Cade smiled as he looked at her and riffled through shirts as well.  Somehow they’d gotten on the subject of the school’s dress code, a touchy subject for the fashionista in conservative Montana.

“School board,” she smiled back.  “I still can’t get over how uptight you people are here.  Did you know at thirteen my mom could send me off to school in heels back in Malibu and not a single faculty member would bat an eyelash because at least three to four other girls in my class were wearing the same.  Here?  They are on my ass every other day like I’m wearing club stilettos and all my business is hanging out for everyone to see.  I think I’ve worn like, two low cut shirts to school so far this year, and my heels are completely reasonable, except the other week when I got sent home on lunch to change my boots.”

“We’ve been back at school for less than a month, Marissa.” Cade pointed out.  “And those were five-inch heels.  You should have known they were going to blow a gasket.”

“Those boots matched the outfit perfectly, so an exception should have been made, but that’s not the point,” she huffed, sliding a dress shirt off the rack and handing it to him.  “Here, try this.”  As she went back to sifting through apparel she pressed on with her original point if there was one.  “It’s like you savages want to keep your women caked in mud and clueless about how great they can look so they don’t realize how much better than you they could do.”

"Well I wouldn't mind a bit of mudwrestling with you, but you don't like getting dirty like that."   he teased back as he took the shirt.   "And you already know how amazing you look, and that you can have pretty much anyone you want."

She’d had almost flushed at his boldness were her impeccable composure not there to steal away his thunder.  There was something about today that seemed different about Cade and she couldn’t, for the life of her, quite put her finger on it.  More open?  Bolder?  To her it felt like he was more interested in being her boyfriend now they’d been ousted by her brother than when he was supposed to be all in acting like her significant other.

Still, she liked this other side of him and at his reply she curled her lips into a grin and leaned up to him.  Her tongue met his lips before hers did, gently painting their target before she got there to lay waste to his willpower.  The more she kept saying there were no labels, the more confused it made him because she sure kissed him like she was all in.  “That’s a kind of dirty I think my mind could wrap around,” she cooed a moment after their kiss ended.

He regained his breath as he followed behind her.  "This is the middle of Montana, one of the most conservative states in the US.  Of course, the adults here are uptight as hell.   Most of the teenagers are too.  I mean hell the football team engages in cow tipping or getting completely hammered at parties as a weekly past time.  Parties the adults know happen, and probably know where they happen, they just let them do it anyway."

When she turned to look at him he just grinned.  "Of course I knew about them.  Even though football wasn't my thing before this week, and I hardly ever went, it's a small town.  It's kind of hard not to know about that sort of thing. A lot of the players on the football team play other sports, some run track, others baseball.   I'm more amazed that everything else going on has taken so long to come to light if we're being honest."

He chuckled.  "This place isn't really ready for you, or your brother.  I mean holy crap I looked up what his bike cost, just on a whim.  Probably more than anything another student has in the lot, aside from your Mercedes.  You're used to the bleeding edge of fashion and, well, seemingly everything else, and we're more on the back end of trends, and that's okay in my book."

She giggled at his appraisal while they approached the dressing rooms.  “Oh trust me, I know.  I wish, I just wish, Autumn would let me give her a makeover and do the upkeep, you know?  Ugh, she could be so damn hot, total diva even, but she likes her muck.  Cassie too!  Blondes, by default, have an easier time at everything in life but she’d rather grunge up and skateboard.”  She turned to Cade and gave him a hardened glare and scoffed.  “Can you believe it?  Skateboarding?  Ugh.   Savages.  I literally associate with savages!”

He laughed and gently patted her on the shoulder.  “And we appreciate all you endure.”

“No you don’t,” she grinned at him, humored by him going along with a bit of humor.  She pushed him toward the dressing room, rolling her eyes and smiling at him.  “Now get in there.  Come out looking like an eight plus, or don’t come out.”

“Another kiss might help me keep focused on looking my best for you,” he grinned and leaned back out only to meet her palm pressing his face back into the dressing room.

“Get in there,” she laughed, closing the door and walking away to go look at racks while he changed.

In a way he was glad she was helping him; it would ensure he looked the part next to her at the dance.   His grandfather had given him some advice, but his sense of style was older, and in the end his advice had been to dress comfortably.  He'd given Cade some money to help, even though he hadn't asked.  "Most would say the night is all about her, but I say it's about the both of you.  Make sure you both have a good time.  This will help, I'm sure."  He remembered his grandfather saying, and Cade took it to heart.

He shed the clothing he had on and changed into what Marissa had selected for him.  They fit him perfectly, and he chuckled at the thought of it being no surprise she could simply eyeball his size.  “Well,” he mused as he checked himself in the mirror.  “She's had her hands over every inch of me enough...”.  It looked good, and was easy enough to move in.  He knew she had an eye for this, but he was impressed by how well she'd done.  He raked his fingers through his hair and smiled.

Out in the store Marissa walked the various racks, thumbing through a few random articles from shirts to pants.  She wasn’t one for internal dialogue or talking to herself, unless really stressed, but for some reason her mind was tugging on the strings of her worry and concern for Cade.  She shouldn’t have just kissed him, she knew that, but it felt good and almost natural that she was already doing it before she had a chance to stop herself.  Cade wasn’t a permanent solution to any of her problems, in fact, he only added to them.

She liked him, sure, but that didn’t help her situation with him any.  Cade didn’t want like, he wanted, no, needed, someone to love and for that someone to love him.  He was an old-fashioned guy with a big… heart, and deep-down Marissa knew she was only going to end up hurting him.  Maybe not intentionally, but she would, because the day was going to come when she found new a toy and she wasn’t sure he would understand why she didn’t want him anymore.

Internally she chastised herself for leading him on while she sifted through a selection of what could only be the worst Hawaiian patterned shirts she’d ever seen on the clearance summer rack.  Looking up only long enough to see if the attendant working the counter was still staring at her.  He’d been ogling her since they walked in, possibly wondering how Cade ended up on her arm, and since her abilities began to manifest, she discovered a lot more people doing it, just staring at her like they were just mesmerized by how attractive she was.  If she said she didn’t like it, she’d have been lying.  She savored the attention.

Cade finished and emerged from the changing room wearing the clothing she'd picked out and smiled at her.  She looked up at the guy behind the counter and shot him a sensuous wink accented with a devilish smirk while she broke off from her clothing rack inspection to approach her… friend with benefits(?).  "I think you did a great job, but your opinion matters too, since you're gonna be dancing with me.  So, what do you think?"  There was a confidence in his voice that was more pronounced, it didn't sound like resignation, or that he was trying to impress.  It was genuine, and very, very him.

“My opinion?”  Her tone was set back into that pitch of the person in control of everyone and everything.  “That’s cute.”  She whirled her finger about him as she appraised her work.  “This?  Is not a request, Cadums.  I can’t have you showing up in Wranglers or a hat measured in gallons and embarrassing myself or the Fellowdivas.”  She took a good look at him, taking it all in and smiled, pleased with herself.  With a sigh she fidgeted with the buttons on his shirt and straightened the collar before finally patting him on his broad chest and looked up at him, smiling her approval.

Cade chuckled at the hat comment.  "I don't even have that sort of hat.  I'm not a cowboy, or someone who'd ever pretend to be."  He answered her even as he changed back to his regular clothing.

“Uh huh,” she agreed in a playfully doubtful tone.  “So you say.  Why do you have to be so god-damned yummy?”  She asked rhetorically, knowing he had no idea the thoughts she was wrestling with in her head.  “Okay, looks great.  Get in there and change so we can get that and move on to makeup for Autumn.”  She spun him around and playfully pushed him back in the dressing room.  “Ugh, you guys are so lucky I’m here for you.”

 

---===[*]===---

Bags in hand they walked the lanes of the mall, passing the scents of baking pretzels, Cinnabon, and cookies, all which Marissa made a solemn vow to revisit after the makeup mission was completed.  She’d already battled herself once not to hold his hand and again not to wrap around his arm as they walked along.  She felt comfortable with him, but this wasn’t real, and despite how good it felt to feel like what she had with him was meaningful, it was a lie.  Just a ruse they’d concocted to get under Autumn and Jase’s skin… for all the good that did.

“Hey,” she started, pursing her lips to force the conversation she felt needed to be had.  “So, um, I’m on the Squad now, as you know, and the other girls are totally into you.  Well, you and a few other guys on the team, but my point is… have you considered asking any of them out?  After Homecoming, I mean, obvs.  I’d totally talk you up, and guys usually get over break ups faster anyways, so you know… let me know who you like, or I can make a few recommendations and get you back in the saddle of the Shelly dating scene.”

As they walked, she brought up cheerleading, and then pointedly reminded him about how after Homecoming, this would end.  He sighed.  "Not really no.   I've not really thought about it.  I grew up with most of the girls in town my age, I mean it's not like Shelly's a big town or anything.   I'd gone to a couple dances, but I'd never kissed a girl before Cora.  My life was all about the outdoors, sports, and hanging out with my friends.  None of the girls ever really "clicked" with me.  I figured by now, all of them were actually with someone already."  it was odd, he didn't have as much confidence in this aspect in his life.   Certainly, with Marissa at least, and the track and baseball teams, he knew where he stood, and had confidence, but not so much with the rest of the student body.

He shrugged.  "I'll just play it by ear.   I don't want to seem like I'm just dating someone to rebound after you.  Anyone I'd date would just try to live up to your impossible ideal and fail completely to see why I actually do like you."   In part his comment was a bit of a tease, and the latter a truth he was honest about.

His ’date’ chuckled, adding a slight roll to her eyes as her faux bae, once again, showed ‘sit around and wait for the world to deliver me X’ mentality.  “If you want to play it by ear, okay.  I’m not going to pressure you.”

She stopped and tugged his arm, signaling for him to stop for a moment and talk with her.  “Okay, that not entirely true.  Can I ask you something?”

“Shoot.” He said with a dismissive shrug.

“You are an athlete.  You should understand how confidence works more than anyone.  Did you spring into this world with all the knowledge of baseball, hunting, football, and kung fu automatically downloaded into your mind?  No.  You had to learn.  You had to take chances and fail, and by proxy have your confidence shattered a few times, and try again over and over until you got it right, which in turn built your confidence back up and taught you that ambition coupled with application will result in success.”

She sighed and shook her head, expressing her words with gestures as she looked up at the giant teen.  “So how can you not apply that to something as simple as dating?  What’s the worse she’s going to tell you?  ‘No’?  Hell, I even have you covered on that front to reduce the ‘no factor’ down to nil.”

She took his hand in hers and looked up at him with those perfect dark eyes of hers that always hid more than they showed.  “Cadums, Coyote practically said it himself: I’m designed to be genetically perfect.  You’re not going to find another girl that lives up the standard I’ve set.  My voice is hypnotic, my kisses are sweeter, my touch electric… and, well, we both know what this kitty can do to you,” she smirked at him, and he tried not to share a bashful grin with her, but he looked away, slightly embarrassed.  He knew she wasn’t wrong, even if she had a very grim way of looking at the topic.  While they spoke, he couldn’t help but notice the way every guy around them couldn’t help but steal a glance in her direction, and even a few in his as if to ask how he ended up with her.  Everywhere they went people couldn’t help but notice her.

“My point is: you can’t sit around pining for me or anyone else.  We will all end up with that one person in our lives who was ‘the standard’ or ‘the one that got away’.  Whether it’s the best sex we ever had, or someone we clicked with on every level, or the infamous ‘soulmate’ who we might spend a summer with and never seen them again.  No one you meet will ever live up to that experience, and that’s okay.  It’s high school, you and those abs I adore so much, should be out there enjoying and practicing for Miss Right, not waiting for her to fall into your lap.”  She couldn’t believe she was using the ‘level up’ strategy again so soon after Jase, but in Cade’s case she meant it.  Him sitting around waiting on her to fall in love in him was just going to ruin him in the long run and while she would never admit it, she cared about him too much to not see him enjoy some semblance of happiness.  “If anything, talk to Autumn, she’s grown rather proficient at fucking my cast offs.  Just don’t waste your last couple years in high school.  I have like three guys on my to-do list after Homecoming,” she looked off as if recalling a thought and sighed in dismay.  “Well, two and a tentative third.  My brother is being difficult about kidnapping Chris Hemsworth.”

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  • 1 month later...

Cade sighed.   "It isn't that, Marissa.   You have done a lot for my confidence, believe it or not.  I just don't expect to start looking again right away.  Like you said, you are an impossible standard.  Taking some time seems the right thing to do, to me at least.  I don't want to find myself judging anyone else by the standard you’ve set."

It wasn't that this made him uncomfortable, he knew he should be sad, or angry, but she had outlined how this was going to be, just a relationship of convenience.   It wasn't really her fault that he started to care for her.  He'd never expected to see her as he did, let alone find himself in a sexual relationship with her.

In part, he was disappointed with himself that he wasn't "Good enough."   He knew that this would never be a permanent thing, but still, he would have liked it to continue awhile longer.  Forcing the issue seemed a bad idea, but he didn't just want to accept that it was going to end like nothing more than a business arrangement.  In Marissa’s grand paranoia that everyone in the world was only out for themselves she couldn’t see that she had a guy in front of her who was willing to die for her, literally, and he almost did, in a Hellscape a few days ago.

"We may not be ‘dating’ after homecoming, but until then we are.   I know you're trying to plan ahead, and get me to plan ahead, but right now that's not what I want.   What I want is to enjoy the time until then with you.   I mean I know afterwards, we'll still have to work together to save the world from whatever else shows up to destroy it and kill us, so it's not like we won't see each other again or anything."

Cade chuckled softly, and she could see a bit of sadness in his eyes, but it vanished quickly enough.   "Chris Hemmsworth huh? Haruka likes him too.  Still, I don't think you'd need to kidnap him if you put your mind to it.   Now getting Devin to bring you to where he is and setting up a ‘chance encounter’ so you can work your magic, that'd probably take a bit of doing."

He would do anything to hide how hurt he was going to be, even it meant going along with her joke about hooking up with Chris Hemsworth, which she knew would break his heart.  She hated wrestling with these new-found situations like ‘friendship’ and ‘caring’.  She found she liked the Fellowship and Cade himself was an amazing guy, but she didn’t know the first thing about thinking beyond herself.  She figured it was one of those baby steps situations and in time she’d work it all out.  After the blow out during her big truth reveal she realized that wasn’t going to happen, no one trusted her and made their feelings on the matter pretty clear and all that was left in her heart was spite and contempt disguised politeness so she could kill them with kindness.

Cade wasn’t an exception, but he was certainly more in her good graces than most, and that’s when it hit her; the terrible idea that she knew she would come to regret later.  As far as self-destructive ideas, it was possibly the tamest she’d had in quite some time, but still even she knew it was a horrible idea even as she said it.

“Forget Hemsworth,” she smiled at him, chuckling and shaking her head at knowing Cade would probably run off and kidnap him if it would make her happy and increase her chances of dating him one day.  “Look, you’re right.  I’m planning like this is over when the agreement was Homecoming so,” she raised a finger to insert a break.  “Under the condition that you realize this will be over after Homecoming, and at no point in time use the ‘L’ word,” she narrowed her eyes at him and his every growing crush on her.  “I’m totally in.  I am now yours, one hundred and ten-percent, one-fifty when we’re alone and the parents aren’t around,” she grinned mischievously and offered him a sultry wink.

“We both know the Fellowdorks are aware that this was all one big ruse, so what?  Since we’re both having fun with it, who cares what they think?  You’re right and we should enjoy the time we have left, right?”  Even if that time is just going to make you fall for me even harder… Marissa, what are you doing?  It wasn’t often she engaged in mental dialogue with herself, she brimmed over with self-assurance and confidence that mentally second-guessing herself didn’t come naturally to her.  She’d just add that to her ever-expanding list of currently new experiences she wasn’t quite appreciative of.

“So, Cadums,” she leaned upwards, not having to rise far thanks to her heels, and kissed him.  He could feel the change in how she kissed him, like she'd flipped some switch and was now back in full-on girlfriend-mode.  “Be my everything, and I will be yours.  Fair?”

He couldn’t help but smile at that.   He knew that this wasn't something that would last, but all the same, he was glad she agreed.   He resolved quietly to make sure that neither of them regret the decision overly much.  The kiss was electric, and it was hard to think of anything else as her lips were pressed to his.  When she pulled away, he wondered how she could just "flip a switch" and be any person she felt she needed to be at that time, but figured it wasn't something he was meant to understand, only to enjoy.

"Absolutely Fair."   He agreed and pulled her in for another kiss.   Normally not one for such a public display, today wasn't a normal day.  He had a "real" girlfriend, and for all their faults, and the time limit, they were both committed to giving this their all.   Nothing could ruin this.

The second he thought that he winced internally. Dredged up like some primordial monster from the depths, his memory of the conversation he'd overheard between his father and her mother at the reception played through his mind, and he knew he had to tell Marissa.   The real question was when?  Before getting her to commit to even a short-term relationship probably would have been best, but that ship had sailed.

Later, when they were alone, that would be the best time, not here in public, and of course she would tell Devin.  Right now though it was just about them, and enjoying each other's company.

"So where would you like to go next?"

“Well,” she interlaced her fingers into his, the first time she’d bothered to hold his hand all evening.  He assumed it had something to do with them being ‘official’ again, at least for the time being.  She panned her field of vision about, obviously on the hunt for whatever she had planned next.  “We need to get a few things for Autumn’s look, and there were a couple of things I wanted to try for Cassie, if she’s open minded about it.  So, you get the honor of following me around Sephora, looking bored as I regale you with makeup facts you care nothing about.”  She smiled and winked at him.  She tugged at his hand luring him to follow her.  “C’mon.”

“Oh, joy,” he grinned as he feigned an eyeroll.

True to her word Cade did spend the better part of an hour bored out of his mind as she regaled him facts about how the makeup she was selecting for Cassie and Autumn and all the reasons it would or would not work with their complexions and… a lot of other things he didn’t really hear.  She knew he was bored, and still she tried to engage him as best she could before they finally left to go hit that pretzel stand she’d been eyeing since they arrived.

They shut the mall down, by the time the two of them were walking back to Cade’s Jeep the parking lot was practically empty aside from the closing staff doing their evening check lists before going home for the evening.  As the headlights lit up the black asphalt that would lead them back to Shelly, Marissa scrolled lazily on her phone through all her various social media accounts and referencing her purchases with what she knew of Cassie and Autumn, never settling for any less than perfection.

They didn’t talk much on the way home, just a few short conversations as the weariness of post-shopping laziness gripped them both and they needed time to recover.  She talked a bit about her plans for Homecoming with the ‘Fellowdivas’, as she called them, to make the first dance of the year one they’d never forget.

The white headlights panned across the front of the Jauntsen house in the distance as they pulled into the driveway.  Only Devin’s bedroom light was on they noticed as he twisted the key, cutting the engine.  “Looks like Devin’s home.”  Cade pointed out.

Marissa leaned forward to get a better look at the house.  “Doesn’t mean much these days,” she said skeptically.  “He’s in and out at all hours lately.”  A muted violet flash pulsed in his room, mingling with the light there before another pulsed in the darkness of the kitchen.  A white light, like a fridge opening and closing lit of the kitchen behind the curtains before another violet flash pulsed in reverse, ending in his bedroom.  “Nope.  You’re right, he’s home.”

She looked at the lit screen of her phone, accented her beautiful features in the darkness of the Jeep.  “Mom and Dad are going to be another hour, or so.  Apparently, they’re helping Mr. Cole clean up, so… ass-kissing is what they really mean.”  She turned in her seat, facing Cade.  She smiled and took his hand in hers.  “I appreciate you taking me out tonight, I mean it.  Whatever this was, I needed it, so… thank you.”

He'd had fun, spending the rest of their trip just enjoying being with her, listening to her plans for everyone else, and couldn't help but smile.  She was enjoying herself, despite what she'd said.   As she held his hand, he simply wrapped it around hers gently.

"You are welcome, Marissa.  It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it too."  He just smiled at her, rubbing the back of her hand gently.  "They'll all thank you too, once they see the results of tonight's excursion."

His grin widened just a bit as his eyes met hers in the dim light of her phone.  "While I look forward to seeing everyone all decked out like never before, my gaze will be focused on you."  He lightly kissed her knuckle softly.  Corny, sure, but completely true.   This would end, there was no denying that, but he would do all he could to see to it that they both enjoyed their time together.   That was what mattered.

She narrowed her eyes at him as if questioning his motives just a moment before she leaned up to him and kissing him gently.  “You’re so full of it,” she smirked as she slowly pulled away.  “But you’re cute, so…”.  With a wink she slid out of his Jeep and smiled one last time as she walked up to and into her home.

Her keys jingled as she entered the dark foyer of her home.  Her boot heels echoed on the hard wood floors as she made her way to the stairs that would lead her up to her room for a welcome rest after an afternoon of shopping.  A purple flash from the kitchen threshold to her right caught her attention and when she turned her head to investigate and saw her brother standing there, glaring at her in silent judgement.

She sighed as she faced him, rolling her eyes in preemptive frustration.  “What?”  She huffed.

“What’re you doing?”  He asked simply.  Devin gestured to the front of the house at Cade backing out of their driveway.  “Everyone knows, Emjay, so what the hell is that?”

“We just went out shopping, okay?  And what do you care?” she gestured to him, dismissing his judgements outright.  “I don’t need your permission to go out with a guy.”

“No, you don’t.” He shrugged.  “I’m not trying to tell you what to do.  I’m looking at how your actions can affect Cade.  We both know he’s head over for you, have you given any thought to how your games are going to affect him in the long run?”

Marissa, visibly annoyed, walked to the fridge and withdrew a bottle of water, cracked the cap and took a drink.  “I’m not playing games, Deej.  Look, I appreciate you trying to be all in my business, but I’m not about to take advice from my brother who chases every skirt that crosses his path.  Cade and I talked, and I promised him Homecoming.  We had a deal; I’m honoring my end.”

“You’ve gotta be shitting me.” Devin laughed.  “you told a guy you’d sleep with him until Homecoming if he pretended to be your boyfriend?  Do you have any, fucking, idea, how messed up you sound?”

“What?  No,” she shook her head, chuckling with a mixture of frustration with her brother and amused by him assuming he knew what was going on with her relationships.  “I never agreed to sleep with him as part of the arrangement.  I chose to sleep with.  I came onto him.  I initiated it.”

“No surprise there.” Her brother quipped with a chuckle.

“Don’t be a dick.”  She snapped at him for making fun of Cade.  “He’s not a bad guy.  For the sake of appearances at school, we’re not going to ‘end it’ until Homecoming.  That way we can keep it clean, and I promised him I’d help hook him up with someone else, when he’s ready.”  Her brother folded his arms and looked at her, slowly raising an eyebrow.  She huffed and shrugged, letting her hands drop to her sides.  “Yes, okay?  Yes.  I’ll probably still sleep with him.  So what?  He’s my first, and he’s damn good at it.”

“Because you have such a base for comparison, no doubt.”  He mused at her expense.  “Em, I don’t care who you’re sleeping with, I’m worried about how it’s going to affect Cade.  He’s falling for you, or already has and you’re sole schtick sis is to tease people’s emotions.  Have you given any thought to how dragging this on with him might affect him in the long run?”

The water bottle raised to her lips lowered more slowly as his words struck her with ideas she hadn’t considered.  “I don’t mess with people heads, Devin.”  She said, considering for a moment that she really didn’t understand how her powers worked.  “I don’t force people to do anything.”

“Do you not?” he said softly.  “Marissa, we’re all sixteen and none of us have ever been in love or know what it’s like.  All we have is what we’ve read or seen on TV… if your power causes him to fall too far, and then you take that away… how is that going to go over with him?  Have you even thought about that?”

She stiffened her jaw and glared back at him, offended that he would even have the nerve to preach morality to her after all that he was complicit to in their three years of bullying and manipulating the back water student body of Shelly High.  “No.”  Her reply came coldly and without consideration for Cade or his feelings.  “I’ve warned him, and he doesn’t care.  Frankly, I’m not his babysitter, Devin, so if he can’t let go and falls absolutely in love me, then that’s his problem.  In the meantime, I might as well be getting laid, right?  Now, while I appreciate your concern, kindly fuck off so I can go get some sleep.”

She exited the kitchen, taking her water with her as she marched up the stairs to her room.

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