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The Last Time It Rained

Chapter Text

The rain felt cool on Tina's back. The ocean crashing behind her relaxed her mind, allowing herself to open up to the boy beneath her. Her eyes were closed, pleasure washing through her as the tide washed the sand.

A heavy exhale escaped her lips as she looked up towards the sky, watching how the rain fell towards her. The dark clouds folded and rolled, but she could see the deep blue sky above the clouds. She lifted her hands towards the sky, feeling the wind breathe through her arms. Tina looked down at the boy beneath her, whose eyes were closed, his mouth folded as he bit his lip. She brushed his cheek and those pretty eyes opened, and Jimmy Jr.'s hazel orbs peered up at her. He reached up and cupped her cheek, his touch making her shiver. He gently pulled her down to him, attaching Tina's sensitive lips to his own. He rolled on top of her, kissing her skin gently. The waves crashed.

Chapter Text

Tina Belcher was getting impatient. She generally thought of herself as patient, but tonight was really pushing her limits. She was finishing her second glass of iced tea and was ready to call it a night, to accept that Jimmy Jr. wasn't coming. This was supposed to be their make-up date too, the one that Jimmy promised her after cancelling their last date to go to a concert last weekend. Tina was playing with her fingers, disappointed yet again. Her heart ached for Jimmy, her eyes glued to the door. She bit the inside of her lip, tears rimming her eyes from behind her thick glasses. Was she being stupid? Was it time to get up and just go home?

She sipped what remained of her iced tea and sighed, clinking the ice around in her cup with her straw. Just one more minute, he'll be here, she thought. He probably got held up. Maybe his dad is drunk again or something.

"I'm sorry, but I have to ask you to give up your table." The creamy voice of Tina's waitress pulled her out of her own head. She looked up at the waitress, who was smiling apologetically. "We're closing. Sorry, hon."

Tina looked down at the ice melting in her glass, her chest aching, the flush of embarrassment washing through her face. 

"I understand, sorry about this," she muttered, even though she didn't understand why she herself felt guilty for simply taking up space at the restaurant. She had been waiting for over an hour--but that was no one's fault but Jimmy's. She tried to tell herself this as she pulled out her battered leather wallet to pay for her drinks and tip her waitress. She fumbled with the cash before placing it underneath her empty glass, avoiding the pitiful eyes of the waitress. Tina grabbed her purse and stood up, brushing the wrinkles out of her dress. She had spent an hour getting ready, ironing this dress and buffing her heels. Her mom had carefully brushed her cheeks with blush, dotting her nose with the makeup. All for a waitress to tell her to give up her table.

Tears stung her eyes as she hurried out of the restaurant, looking at her shoes. Embarrassment continued to keep her cheeks hot as she avoided the eyes of everyone else in the restaurant, convinced that they all knew she had been stood up. Was everyone judging her? Asking themselves, who is this girl who can't even get a boy to show up on a date?

She pushed open the exit door and squeezed her eyes shut, tears forcing themselves through her carefully mascaraed eyelashes. What had she done wrong? She knew Jimmy was forgetful, which paired well with her tendency to be forgiving. Was it possible he was upset with her? But even then, what had she done to fail to get his attention yet again?

She tried not to focus on this as she fished her bike lock key out of her purse. When she pulled the rusty lock open, she mounted her bike and wiped the tears from her eyes for safer riding. She sighed heavily as she kicked off into the street, wanting so badly to take off her pinchy shoes and climb into bed and cry.

She sailed down the street, the wind drying her eyes and shifting her hair. The sky was dark and cloudy, the air heavy and humid. She couldn't help but think of the last time it rained, the way Jimmy took her hand in the dark and kissed her under the stars. That night was a long one; they rode all the way to the beach and made love in the sand, under the rainclouds. Afterwards, they swam in the ocean, and Tina felt alive. 

She pushed her glasses up with her shoulder and kept riding, turning onto her street. She couldn't help but think of that night on the beach; the way he held her, the way he moaned her name, the way the rain cooled her skin. She told him she loved him that night, almost two weeks ago. She had never said that to any boy before, though she knew she loved Jimmy long before she said so. He smiled at her after she whispered it into his shoulder and kissed her deeply. She assumed in that moment this meant he loved her too, but he didn't actually say it back. 

She was so focused on this that she almost didn't notice that light on in the building across the street, above the dark Italian restaurant. She turned to see as she was braking her bike, and immediately knew that was Jimmy's room. He's been in there this whole time, while I've been waiting for him? She thought, feeling anger spike in her chest. How could he do this to me, again? Especially after I told him how I felt?

She bit her lip, frustrated tears filling her eyes. She locked her bike outside of her dad's restaurant and quickly crossed the street, listening to her heels click against the road. She knocked hard and fast on the door to Jimmy's house, looking forward to telling him off. This had happened before, of course; but whenever she got to him in such a rage as this one, he always talked or kissed his way out of it. But not this time, Tina thought. This is the last time he takes me for granted.

The door opened, revealing Jimmy's dad. His eyes were heavy-lidded, like he had been woken up by Tina's knock, and his mouth so similar to Jimmy's was formed into a frown. She immediately felt guilty for waking him.

"Tina, how are you?" He grunted, gesturing for Tina to come inside. 

"I'm well, thank you, Mr. Poplopovich." Tina managed a smile and she came inside, her heels clicking on the hardwood floor. She couldn't help but notice how much nicer Jimmy's house was compared to her own, as she did every time she came over.

"Jimmy's right upstairs," he muttered roughly, walking to the couch and collapsing on it, rubbing his face.

"Thank you," Tina repeated, smiling fakely. She didn't mind Jimmy's dad's company, but from all of what she heard about him from Jimmy, she was happy to head upstairs. She eyed the stairs leading to the second floor, to the lit bedroom. She climbed them carefully, not wanting Jimmy to know she was coming. She weirdly wanted to see exactly what he was doing while she was waiting for him.

Tina turned at the familiar hallway, and didn't wait a moment before pushing open Jimmy's door. Jimmy Jr. was indeed in there, sitting on a purple beanbag, his fingers moving swiftly in harmony with the video game, his eyes glued to the screen. He wasn't alone, either; Zeke was there too, next to him, playing the game as well. His room was a mess as usual, with clothes everywhere. Bags of chips and bottles of soda lay strewn across the carpet in front of the boys. Their eyes turned to her as she took in the sight, anger still pulsing through her. 

"Babe!" Jimmy exclaimed, not bothering to pause the game for her or even look away from the Xbox. "What are you doing here?"

"Hey, Tina," Zeke said with a small smile, eyeing her expensive dress. Tina half-heartedly waved at him, and he looked away, his dark hair shading his face.

"Jimmy Jr.," Tina called, trying to get his attention; like always.

"Yeah, babe?"

"Jimmy, we had a date tonight. Is this what you've been doing while I've been waiting for you?" Tina spat, her cheeks hot. Jimmy furrowed his brows. 

"What? No we--oh, fuck." His jaw dropped a bit as he realized she was right. He paused the game, and stood up, his grey sweats hanging loose off of his hips. "Tina, I'm sorry."

He made his way over to her, but she angrily backed away. He doesn't even really look apologetic. I bet he just wants to get back to his game.

"I waited for over an hour. It was supposed to be our make-up date from when you bailed on me last week. What the fuck, Jimmy?" She hissed, tears stinging her eyes again. "You always do this to me!"

"Baby, I'm so sorry. I promise I'll make it up to you," he apologized, brushing some hair out of her eyes. Tina then became painfully aware that Zeke was still there in Jimmy's room.

"Yeah, I've heard that before," she muttered, in attempt to keep their conversation private.

He leaned into her and kissed her neck, his light stubble poking her smooth skin. She let him wrap his warm arms around her apologetically, and Tina noticed Zeke looking awkwardly at his phone.

"Forgive me," Jimmy whispered into her neck. For a moment she considered holding onto her anger for a little longer... but Jimmy's grip on her was tight.

She relaxed, letting her tense body release under his touch. He continued kissing her, dotting her skin with his lips, and she closed her eyes to take in the feeling. Goosebumps prickled her skin under his lips, and she was reminded of the night at the beach in the rain. He kissed her cheek, then finally softly on her lips.

"You look beautiful tonight," he muttered against her mouth. She didn't reply, but opened her eyes to look at him. There was a hurt in her chest that even his pretty words couldn't heal.

"Come out with us," Jimmy continued, smiling in such a charming way. "We're going to Jocelyn's party. She's got a kegger. It'll be fun!" His eyes were bright as he said this, and it pained her how quickly he changed the subject.

"I don't know," Tina said softly, uneasily. "I feel pretty tired, and I have to ask my parents and change."

"Come on, baby. It'll be great," he pleaded with those puppy eyes Tina hated so much. "Zeke, back me up here."

"Um," Zeke started awkwardly, looking up from his phone, "Tammy brought vodka there, so it should be cool."

Jimmy turned back to Tina excitedly. "Vodka!" He exclaimed, dancing a little and swaying Tina's hands. "Please? For me?"

For him? Haven't I done enough for him?

"Fine," Tina gave in, pushing down the hurt in her chest. "I have to go home first though. Will you wait for me?"

"Of course we will," Jimmy chirped, pecking her lips. Out of the corner of her eye, Zeke looked at her sadly.

"Okay. I'll meet you outside in a bit," she replied flatly, unsure of whether or not this is a good idea. She waved awkwardly at Zeke before closing the door and making her way back downstairs. She looked at her watch as she said goodbye to Jimmy's dad (who had fallen back asleep), noting it was 10:00pm. It was starting to drizzle outside, which felt cool on Tina's face.

This is okay, she said to herself. He'll make it up to me.

Chapter Text

Tina went home trying not to sulk. She passed her family watching TV in the living room and dodged her mother's questions on how the date went, her heart still heavy. She hurried to her room and changed out of her dress and heels into a pair of high-waisted jeans and a tucked in sweatshirt. Her mom, Linda, frowned at Tina's rush; she figured Jimmy had fucked up again. Linda didn't like Jimmy and never did, but liked how happy he made Tina (when that occasionally happened). Tina knew how her parents felt about Jimmy; her dad wasn't fond of him either, but mostly due to the fact that Jimmy's dad's restaurant competed with his own. Frankly, though, Tina didn't care what her parents thought. They didn't know him like she did; at least she thought so, anyway.

After quickly getting permission from her parents to go to Jocelyn's house, Tina pulled on her sneakers and made her way excitedly downstairs to meet Jimmy. He was waiting outside with Zeke, his phone screen illuminating his face.

"Hey, guys," Tina said, smiling. She skipped over to them, adjusting her glasses and pulling her hair into a ponytail. Zeke waved at her, a pretty smile on his face. Jimmy bit his lip when he saw her, his mouth folding into a smirk.

"I like your jeans," he whispered seductively in her ear as they started walking. Tina blushed, pushing up her glasses which were already dotted with drizzle. Tina liked when Jimmy Jr. complimented her clothes; even if she knew he wasn't really thinking about what she was wearing, but her body underneath. Still, his attention lingered on her as his hand wandered its way into her back pocket.

It was a short walk, and none of them minded the rain, especially Tina. She was wondering if Jimmy was also thinking about the last time it rained, and the night they spent under the heavy clouds. It wasn't the first time they made love; most of the instances involved alcohol stolen from Jimmy's dad, or alcohol consumed at one of Jocelyn's many parties. Something about drinking made Jimmy's eyes darken with lust and Tina's skin burn with sensitivity. While the alcohol relaxed her, thoughts of Jimmy's strong hands on her body always wormed their way into her mind. The night of the first time involved copious amounts of alcohol and even a little weed, so much so that Tina barely even remembered it. But she knew of course it was special, not just because it was her first time, but because it was his as well. She cherished that fact--that such an intimate, vulnerable part of Jimmy belonged to her and no one else.

They heard Jocelyn's party before they saw it, as usual. Music was booming from the speakers, high schoolers drunkenly singing along to pop music. A few people clumped together on the porch of Jocelyn's colonial-style home, smoking, having alone time, or simply getting away from all of the noise. Tina usually wandered to the porch after some time spent inside during Jocelyn's parties. The loud music and singing sometimes made her head hurt, and fresh air was badly needed after drinking too much. 

Zeke and Jimmy Jr. greeted some of the people on the porch, smiling big smiles and even hugging. Tina followed them into the house after awkwardly standing near Jimmy Jr., wishing he would put his hand back into her back pocket. She liked the idea of him publicly acknowledging their relationship without saying anything. He tended not to spend a lot of time with her at social gatherings like this, as he usually broke away from her into groups of people she didn't really know. While this was sometimes a painful occurrence, she tried not to be too sensitive. 

The three of them then walked into the house, where neon lights were flashing across Jocelyn's living room. They stepped over teenagers making out, barely seeing the entrance to the kitchen, where the alcohol was, through the darkness. Tina needed a drink, and she knew it too. She was tired of Jimmy forgetting their dates, tired of getting all dressed up for nothing, tired of being angry, tired of giving in to his apology when he kissed her. A drink wouldn't solve those exhaustions, but it would sure as hell make this night easier.

"Oh my god, you guys made it!" Came the nasally voice of Jocelyn through the darkness. She appeared in the neon scantily clad, her crop top hugging her chest and tight jeans rounding her hips. She smiled widely, holding a red solo cup in her right hand, the contents of which splashed around as she stumbled towards Tina, Jimmy Jr., and Zeke. Her fingernails were decorated with sparkly pink nail polish, her face with matching sparkly makeup. Jocelyn reached out and hugged Zeke, and Tina noticed her whispering something in his ear. 

"Hey Joce, what's good?" Jimmy effused, hugging her and grinning. She practically sank into him, already seeming to have had too much alcohol so early in the night.

"Hey Jimmy Jr.! Oh my god, I'm so happy you guys are here," she said, passively hugging Tina. "Tammy is freaking out because one of her hair extensions caught fire while she was smoking some bud (which is really strong shit, if you guys want some)."

"Oh shit, is she okay?" Zeke asked, almost laughing.

"I don't really know? I think so? You know how she is, she makes a big deal out of nothing sometimes. You should go check on her though, Jimmy, she's in the back," she explained, looking at Jimmy Jr.. Why would she need Jimmy, Tina thought, of all people?

"Yeah yeah, I will. Zeke, let's go," Jimmy affirmed, nodding at his friend. Zeke nodded in return and the two of them headed to the back of the house, where Tammy was supposedly freaking out. Tina sighed heavily; usually it took more than under a minute for Jimmy to abandon her at a party. She considered following them to Tammy, but Tammy didn't even like her and probably didn't even want her there in her "moment of need." Tina played with her fingers, looking at her sneakers as she watched Jocelyn out of the corner of her eye follow Jimmy and Zeke to the back of the house.

She was alone, yet again. Tina fidgeted with the sleeves of her sweatshirt and wandered to the kitchen, which was a little brighter than the living room, to make herself a drink. The vodka bottle that Tammy supposedly brought was about half full, so Tina generously poured it into a solo cup. She mixed the vodka with some nearby orange soda to dilute it, but when she raised the drink to her lips it was much stronger than she expected. Still, it didn't matter to her. Does anything matter?

Tears stung her eyes yet again, for the millionth time tonight. Tina couldn't help but think back to that night they made love in the rain, the way Tina was the only thing on Jimmy's mind. He wasn't wandering off somewhere at a party, wasn't playing video games with Zeke, wasn't forgetting their dates or being inconsiderate of Tina's feelings. Why couldn't he be like that all the time? Why couldn't that night have lasted forever?

Tina took a big gulp of her drink, which burned her throat and gave her a bit of nausea afterwards. The orange soda lingered on her tongue and made the drink easier to down. When she swallowed the last bit of it, she poured herself another. Does anything matter?

Tina inhaled deeply after her first gulp of her second drink. Maybe this was a horrible idea and she should just go home; if Jimmy wasn't going to spend time with her, what the hell is the point of even being at this party? She could be watching TV with her family or writing in her room, as she did most nights. She was already sick of all of the noise; she needed quiet. 

Tina grabbed her drink and headed out of the kitchen, feeling buzzed. She pushed through grinding bodies to the front door, where not five minutes ago she was following Jimmy through. It was raining harder outside, and something in Tina pushed her. She took her glasses off and pocketed them. She set her drink down on the flat railing of the porch and walked surely into the rain. 

The falling water was cool and almost chilly. There was no wind, and Tina could feel the humid air melting from precipitation. She reached her hands up, allowing the rain to dot her fingertips before crossing her arms behind her head and leaning back. The water felt refreshing on her face, especially on her eyelids which were always masked with her thick glasses. She inhaled the heavy, damp air, and exhaled deeply, depleting her lungs. 

"You okay?"

A deep voice startled Tina, who was completely stuck in a trance. She jumped, pulling her hands away from her head and opening her eyes. A dark, blurry figure focused as she quickly put her glasses back on. 

Zeke's face was concerned, a pretty knitted-brow expression that Tina hadn't noticed before. She noticed the dark color of his eyes, which matched his messy dark hair. She pushed some hair out of her face and continued to look at him, wondering why he wasn't with Jimmy. She then noticed a lit cigarette in his hand, the amber end effusing smoke.

"Tina? You okay?" He repeated, dragging the cigarette in his mouth. She swallowed, unsure of the answer. 

"Um, yeah. I think. Why aren't you with Jimmy Jr.?" She queried, fidgeting with the sleeves of her sweatshirt.

He shrugged. "He's talking to Tammy, I don't know. I wanted a smoke."

"Was her hair extension really on fire?"

He snorted. "I don't know, probably not. It might have been a story to get J-Ju's attention." He chuckled as he said this, but looked guilty after seeing her face. Tina's heart ached at his words. 

"Sorry... I mean--"

"No, it's fine," Tina said quickly, looking away and trying to hide her face.

Zeke awkwardly shifted, shoving his hands in his jeans. He puffed the cigarette in his mouth, looking at Tina.

"You want one?"

Tina looked back at Zeke, who then had his right arm outstretched. In his hand was a packet of cigarettes, and Tina almost shook her head in response. But her thoughts echoed in her head: does anything matter?

She reached out and pulled a cigarette from the packet. She fiddled with the soft stick before placing it in between her lips. Zeke leaned over and lit the cigarette with an orange lighter. He hovered his hand over the flame to protect it from the rain, and in that moment, Tina could smell his musky cologne. The smell made her flush and she inhaled a little too deeply. 

"Fuck," she coughed, heaving. Zeke smiled at her coughing, chuckling a little. She swallowed, her mouth dry, the taste of the cigarette a little gross. 

"I don't usually smoke," she explained, feeling the strange need to justify this decision to Zeke. She looked out onto the empty road outside of Jocelyn's house, slowly being coated with rainwater. "It's just--it's been a long night."

"Yeah," Zeke replied, dragging his cigarette. Tina mimicked the way he held it, in between his index and middle finger. "Not to be nosy, but what happened with Jimmy Jr.?"

"You tell me, you were with him all night," Tina scoffed, trying not to cough after her second drag. She liked the smell of the cigarette smoke. 

Zeke shrugged. "We just played video games. I didn't know you guys had a date, I would have made him go."

Tina scoffed again. "Yeah, well, apparently Jimmy didn't know we had a date either. It's not exactly out of character for him."

"What do you mean?" He inquired, exhaling smoke.

She looked down. "He forgets our dates a lot, even when I remind him. Sometimes I think he does it on purpose so he doesn't have to hang out with me when we aren't having sex."

Zeke shifted uncomfortably, and Tina blushed with embarrassment. The alcohol was kicking in, apparently.

"Sorry. TMI," she apologized, flicking some ash off of her cigarette. "I just... I feel so tired of him not paying any attention to me."

He looked down at the pavement, and Tina suddenly felt stupid. 

"Anyway, I don't know why I'm telling all of this to you. You're his best friend and probably going to tell him everything I said anyway, so I don't know why I even bother."

He looked at her, those dark eyes understanding. 

"I won't tell him anything," Zeke promised, his expression still. 

"Why not?"

"Because... I don't know. It would be wrong."

Tina chuckled, a cough tickling her throat. She leaned her head back and let her skin soak up the falling rain.

"I'm sorry that he... acts like that." 

Tina moved her head back forward and looked back at Zeke. He had finished his cigarette and was looking at her honestly. She could tell he meant it.

"It's okay," she muttered, inhaling the nicotine.

"No, it isn't." He said this almost darkly, so much so that she couldn't help but notice it. She looked over at him curiously, wondering what brought on his tone. His eye contact was sharp and almost unnerving; she could just barely smell his cologne through the scent of rain.

"I think I need to go home," she said flatly, turning away from Zeke and looking at her shoes. "I feel pretty tired."

"Okay," he responded, lighting another cigarette. "Do you want me to get Jimmy Jr.?"

"Don't bother. He won't even notice that I left," Tina said tartly. She finished her cigarette but held the butt in her hand. "Bye, Zeke."

"See you around, Tina," he said softly, blowing out smoke. His eyes lingered on her as she slowly turned away and started walking. Inside of her chest amongst the hurt, something was growing in the shape of those eyes. 

Chapter Text

When Tina reached her front door, she was truly exhausted. The night had yet to end, and all she wanted was to crawl in bed and stay there. She hoped to avoid running into any members of her family, though she knew that at least her parents would stay up to make sure she got home okay. 

Tina turned the key in her lock and thumped up the stairs, seeing the light of the TV reflect into the hallway.

"Tina?" Linda called from the living room. "Is that you already?"

"Yeah, Mom," Tina lazily replied. "I'm really tired, I'm just gonna go to bed."

"Tina, come say goodnight to me and your father."

Tina groaned, rolling her eyes. Her bedroom was just a few feet away. She prayed they wouldn't smell the alcohol or cigarettes on her breath and clothes.

She took a deep breath and turned away from her bedroom and into the living room. Linda had paused whatever was on TV, and she and Bob were sitting comfortably on the couch. But the moment Tina walked in the door, Linda knew.

"Tina Ruth Belcher, have you been smoking?" Linda accused, standing up very swiftly and putting her hands on her hips.

"What? No, I was just outside with the other smokers--okay fine, yes I have," Tina gave in, too exhausted to even lie. "I'm sorry, I know it's bad for me. I won't do it again. It didn't even taste good."

"Oh, honey," Linda sighed. 

"Did Jimmy Jr. make you smoke?" Bob inquired, now standing beside Linda with an irritated look on his face.

"Jimmy? No, Jimmy doesn't smoke. Look, guys, I just had one cigarette, okay? And it kind of relaxed me, after the night I've had."

"What night?" Bob asked, concerned. Linda put her hand on Tina's shoulder, and that was enough to bring exhausted tears to her eyes.

"It was... it was just really bad..."

"What happened, Tina?"

"Jimmy stood me up again, and I waited for over an hour for him, and then the restaurant kicked me out because they were closing. And when I went to Jimmy's I found him playing video games with Zeke, and then we went to Jocelyn's party and Jimmy totally abandoned me. And then Zeke was really nice to me and offered me a cigarette and he just--" she sputtered, speaking so fast her parents could barely understand her, "he was so nice, and I don't know if he's always been that way, and I'm just really, really tired and I need to go to sleep."

"Oh--okay, honey," Linda said uneasily. "Go get some sleep. And no more smoking!"

"Okay," Tina exhaled, wiping her eyes. Her voice shook as she said this.

She turned around and hurried out of the room, quickly walking to her bedroom and shutting the door tightly. She didn't even bother turning the light on, as she slid down the door and put her head in her hands. She was still a little drunk, and the night had been almost unbearable. 

She managed to change into her pajamas in the dark after kicking off her shoes and peeling her wet jeans off. She climbed into bed and pulled the sheets up to her chin, unable to handle being awake any longer. But even still, Zeke's voice echoed in her ears, telling her how it wasn't okay how Jimmy Jr. treated her. That concerned, kind look he gave her was burned into her vision, and she saw those dark eyes, those fingers caressing his cigarette, she smelled his musky cologne. She wanted to reach out and touch him, and as she was imagining it, sleep overcame her.

A sharp sound pulled Tina out of the deep sleep she was in with a start. She woke, unsure of if she had just dreamed the sound or not. She looked at the clock--it was 3:15am. Then, she heard it again--it was coming from her window, and she groaned as she pulled her warm covers off of herself and stood. She put on her glasses and slumped over to the window and unlocked it, pulling it open and looking down onto the back alley behind her house, where it was still raining outside.

It was what she expected--after all, this happened a lot. Jimmy Jr. was looking up at her, stumbling a little on the pavement below. Tina's heart hurt, but she motioned for him to come up. He smiled in that charming way he always does, and started climbing the drain pipe to her room. She sat back down on her bed, feeling exhausted, her eyes heavy. Soon, Jimmy's hand gripped Tina's window pane and he pulled himself into her room with her help. He was still wearing the same outfit from hours ago when they went to Jocelyn's party, his clothes damp with rain.

"Hey baby," he slurred, stumbling a bit before starting to pull his wet shoes off. "My dad's being a fucking asshole again. He's drunk off his ass."

It was then when Tina noticed in the darkness a mark on Jimmy's left eye. She gasped, and used the streetlight coming from outside to look at his face. His left eye was black.

"Oh, Jimmy," she whispered painfully. "He did that to you?"

Jimmy's charming smile faded. "Don't worry about it, Tina. I'm okay."

"Don't tell me not to worry. You have a black eye."

"Tina," he moaned, standing. He embraced her, kissing her neck gently. "I'm okay."

Tears filled her eyes. Everything that happened that night simply faded away and melted into one singular feeling: the need to take care of Jimmy. 

"I'm so sorry," she whispered, her voice shaking.

"Can I stay with you tonight?"

"Of course you can. Can I get you some water?"

"Yeah, baby, sure. Thank you."

At his affirmative she grabbed a spare glass with her water from earlier and quietly opened her door to go to the bathroom. She filled the glass with cool water and tip-toed back to her room, shutting her door softly. When she got back, Jimmy was wearing only boxers and laying on her bed.

"Jimmy? Are you awake?" She whispered.

"Yeah, I am. Thank you for the water." He took it and sipped it before setting it down on Tina's nightstand. He held her hands and pulled her into bed, her sheets still warm. She moaned softly as he enveloped her in his arms.

"I'm sorry about your dad."

"It's okay. I'm just glad Andy and Ollie got out of the way before he... you know. They ran upstairs and locked themselves in their room before good old Dad passed out. I just... I can't stay there tonight."

"I understand," Tina muttered, kissing Jimmy's warm collarbone and stroking his damp hair.

"I'm sorry for the way I treated you tonight."

Something in Tina froze. Jimmy hardly ever apologized like this, hours after the initial apology. She didn't respond.

"I know that I'm an idiot. I hope you aren't mad at me," he muttered. She rubbed his back reassuringly.

"No, honey, I'm not. Not anymore," she responded softly, kissing his skin gently.

"Hey," he started, grinning, "remember the last time it rained?"

Tina blushed in the dark, her cheeks feeling hot. 

"I took your hand like this," he whispered, caressing her hand in his, "and kissed you like this." Jimmy pressed his full lips to Tina's neck, where goosebumps immediately sprouted. She moaned quietly as he moved on top of her, sucking lightly on her skin. She pressed her fingertips into his back, running her hands up and down his smooth body. His lips travelled from her neck to her collarbone, his hands pressing gently on her midriff. His fingers moved playfully along her stomach, and he detached his lips from her skin.

"Is this okay?" He muttered, pulling upwards at her pajama shirt. She nodded eagerly, sitting up. He slowly pulled her shirt off of her, exposing her bare chest. 

"You're so fucking beautiful," he cooed quietly, continuing to kiss her stomach. Tina bit her lip to avoid moaning and ran her fingers through Jimmy's damp hair. She exhaled fully as Jimmy squeezed her breasts gently and kissed her hardened nipple softly. Tina panted as he did this, then by the back of his neck pulled Jimmy's lips up to her own. His warm chest pressed to her, goosebumps dancing across their skin. Tina wrapped her legs around Jimmy, pressing his erection into the dampening space between her legs. They kissed passionately, and Tina didn't allow the hurt in her chest to interfere with this moment. This moment was everything.

"I want you, baby," Jimmy moaned, panting as he pulled away from Tina's lips.

"I want you too," she purred, "so fucking badly."

He smiled against her skin, and she closed her eyes as he slowly peeled off her pajama bottoms and underwear. His strong hands on her body felt amazing, and Tina quickly pulled the blanket over them to keep warm. Jimmy kissed her stomach as his fingers wandered between her legs; when they came in contact with her clit she gasped, covering her mouth to keep quiet.

"Shh, baby," he hummed, starting to rub her folds gently. He dipped a finger inside her and grinned out how quickly she got wet from his touch. "You're so fucking wet, Tina."

She whimpered in response, and bit her lip harshly so she wouldn't moan in pleasure as he kissed her clit softly.

He came back up to her, kissing her passionately again. He pulled away to rifle through her nightstand drawer for a condom, which he quickly found. He playfully brushed the condom against her nose, causing her to giggle quietly. He pulled it open, pushing his boxers down. Tina wiggled impatiently as he rolled the condom onto his member, which made her breasts shift delightfully. Jimmy bit his lip at the sight of her, sprawled out on her back like this. 

"Are you ready, baby?" He whispered, positioning himself at her entrance. She moaned quietly in response, spreading open her legs. He kissed her deeply as he pushed himself into her.

Tina bit her lip from the initial, uncomfortable pain. She sighed heavily as Jimmy detached their lips to kiss her collarbone.

"Are you okay?" He asked, cupping her cheek with his hand. 

"Yeah--I'm good," she assured him, passionately kissing him again. When they pulled away, he locked eyes with her as he slowly started to move, sliding in and out of her easily. 

"Fuck, Tina," he moaned softly, "you feel so good."

"Yeah?" She whispered, her heart beating so fast as he started to thrust.

"Yeah," he answered, biting his own lip to keep from moaning. He thrusted in and out of her, and swiftly found the spot that made her melt. 

"Oh God," she whispered, closing her eyes, "oh God, oh God, fuck, Jimmy, please don't stop."

He started thrusting faster, hitting her G-spot generously. At every motion Tina dug her fingernails into Jimmy's skin, his lips brushing her cheek. She pulled her right hand away from his back to meet her clit and started rubbing.

"Oh God," she kept saying, trying so hard to whisper and not scream. The way she was helping herself reach orgasm was causing her to clench so hard around him. He thrusted harder into her, quietly moaning her name into her neck.

"Fuck, Tina," he groaned again, "I'm getting close."

"Me too, fuck." She started rubbing faster, and felt a pressure build in her stomach. "Oh god, fuck, Jimmy!"

"Fuck," he breathed, moving even faster inside her at the sound of his name in her moan. As soon as he felt her pulse beneath him and clench around his cock with her orgasm, he released into the condom, collapsing onto her. "Shit, baby."

"That was so good," Tina panted, waves of pleasure washing through her. She breathed heavily, closing her eyes, absorbing his heat. She listened for any motion outside of her bedroom, and thankfully heard nothing except the sound of the rain. Suddenly she thought back to this same exact moment two weeks ago, after they each reached their climax, intimately holding each other. It was this moment when Tina whispered "I love you," this moment when Jimmy kissed her in response. 

"Jimmy," she whispered, uneasiness growing in her stomach. 

"Tina," he muttered.

"Do you love me?"

There was a pause. Jimmy lifted himself up and looked at her quizzically. 

"Why are you asking me that?"

"Because I told you that... that I love you the last time it rained, and you didn't say it back."

"Oh baby, of course I love you." He cupped her cheeks, and relief washed through Tina. "You're the only person in this world that I trust. I wouldn't be here right now if I didn't love you."

"I love you too," she whispered, gently stroking his hair. "Let's go to sleep, okay?" 

He kissed her lips gently, and pulled the condom off of himself, tying it expertly. He leaned down to the floor to tuck it under Tina's bed before kissing her again sweetly. When he pulled away, he wrapped her in his arms. 

"I love you, Jimmy Jr. Pesto."

"I love you, Tina Belcher."

Chapter Text

Periwinkle light was seeping into Tina's bedroom. When she slowly opened her eyes, this pretty blue-purple light filled her vision. She sighed comfortably, becoming aware that Jimmy was still there with her. His arms were still around her, his warm skin caressing her own. She moaned a little, remembering the steamy details of last night. She looked over at him, and the sight of his still-black left eye pained her. She touched his cheek, noting the way the light of dawn illuminated his skin and complimented his red-blond hair. He stirred under her touch, and she slowly lifted herself out of bed. She walked her naked body to her window, noting that the sun hadn't come up yet. She loved this moment of morning--the moment before the sun came up but light was spilling through the sky, like the space between sleep and awake.

She bit her lip, an idea for the morning sprouting in her head. She walked back to her bed, kneeling on the floor to make herself eye level with Jimmy Jr..

"Jimmy," she breathed, stroking his face. "Let's go somewhere."

He groaned in response, and his left eye opened inside of the purple mark.

"Come to bed, Tina," he moaned, "it's still nighttime."

"No," she chuckled, "Come on, let's go watch the sunrise. Let's go to the beach."

"The beach?"

"Yeah, it'll be fun. Please?"

He sighed, and smiled a little at her. "Okay, fine."

"Yay!" She exclaimed quietly, feeling excitement wash through her. "Come on, get up then."

She stood up, walking over to her closet. She pulled on her undergarments, then the pair of jeans she was wearing last night. She found a white blouse and pulled it on while Jimmy was sitting up in bed, pulling on one of the t-shirts of his he kept in Tina's room. When he pulled on his jeans, Tina was tying her sneakers quickly, not wanting to miss the sunrise. 

"Ready, baby?" She asked, feeling wide awake. 

"Mmhmm," he grunted, tying his shoes. Tina noted the time, 5:55am, and knew the sun would come up around 6:15. She scrawled a note to her parents and grabbed her purse. She excitedly kissed Jimmy, who couldn't help but smile at her. She took his hand and pulled him quietly out of her room. She placed the note she wrote on her kitchen table under a salt shaker and as softly as she could, stepped down the stairs with Jimmy.

"Can you get your bike?" She said to Jimmy once out of the apartment and onto the empty street. The sky was that perfect deep dark blue that Tina loved.

"Yeah, I'll go get it," he said, grinning. She could more clearly see his black eye in this light, and she tried not to think about how much it must hurt. He kissed her hand, then jogged across the street to his house. As he was inside his house, she unlocked her orange bike and stuck the lock in her basket.

Soon, Jimmy came back out, shutting his door quietly and locking it. He walked his bike to Tina, smiling widely.

"Let's go," she muttered against his lips before leaning in to kiss him. They mounted their bikes and started riding towards Wonder Wharf. The cool wind pushed through Tina's hair, and she exhaled all the pain she felt last night. The feeling hadn't gone away--pain stays with a person like Tina. But she focused on the sunrise; something in her had to see the sunrise.

Jimmy whooped and she laughed, coasting down the empty street. The feeling was indescribable; the air was damp and cool after the rain, the sky was clear and deep blue. The sun was just barely peeking through the horizon as they turned onto the downhill road that led to the beach under Wonder Wharf. The water sparkled with the spots of orange and red, and Tina and Jimmy braked their bikes after coasting through the low tide. They leaned their bikes onto the scaffolding and kicked off their shoes.

Tina's eyes were glued to the horizon. Pink streaks were now sailing through the sky in ribbons, interrupting the deep blue. Jimmy took her hand and squeezed. She slowly pulled him down the sand and into the ocean, which licked their ankles. The view was breathtaking; Tina exhaled.

"You look beautiful," Jimmy professed dreamily, kissing her hand. He was looking at her, and she was looking at the sunrise. 

She smiled at his words, kissing his hand back in response. She soaked up those words, knowing they wouldn't always be around.

"I'm so lucky to have you," he continued, the orange light spreading over them. "I don't know what I would do without you."

"I love you, Jimmy," Tina proclaimed, closing her eyes, absorbing the heat. The sun was red in the distance. "We should swim."

"Swim? The water's freezing, why would we swim?"

Tina smiled, pulling off her blouse and unbuttoning her jeans. She tossed her clothing and glasses on the sand near their bikes and before diving into the biting water, "Because we're alive."

The water was freezing, but Tina didn't care. She swam towards the sunrise, floating on the surface and felt Jimmy swimming beside her. She was looking up at the now blurry sky; the colors blended together, and moments like this made Tina glad to wear glasses. The sky looked like a painting, a breathtaking sight that belonged only to her and Jimmy. There was nothing except her, Jimmy, and the sky; no forgotten dates, no alcoholic fathers, no nosy best friends, no tears and no tired eyes. Tina, Jimmy, and their sky.

Chapter Text

"I'm sorry, baby," Jimmy said, holding Tina's hands.

"It's okay," she responded, trying to smile. "I know you can't do anything about it."

"Yeah. This is going to be a long fucking shift, as it always is when my dad is pissed at me. But I can see you later, maybe tonight?" He said hopefully, making her grin. Hopefully his attention doesn't end here.

"I would love that," she beamed, biting her bottom lip in excitement. "Why is your dad even angry? You didn't tell me last night."

His smile fell. "Oh... you know, he doesn't like me hanging out with you. He really hates your dad."

Tina froze. "He gave you a black eye because of me?"

"Baby, no. He gave me a black eye because he's an asshole," he explained, cupping her cheeks. Still, guilt festered in Tina's chest. "And don't worry, I don't fucking care what he thinks. He can't stop me from seeing you."

"I'm sorry I came over last night," she said sadly, knowing it must have caused Jimmy Jr.'s fight with his dad.

"Tina, this was not your fault, okay? Stop blaming yourself." He kissed her firmly, cupping her face. When he pulled away, he said, "You are everything good about my life. This was not your fault."

"Okay," she sighed, trying to push down the guilt. "You promise?"

"I promise. I really have to go. I'll signal you over, okay?"

She nodded, smiling widely, thinking of tonight. "Okay."

"Bye," he whispered, pecking her lips. As she watched him walk away and into his dad's restaurant, she whispered it back.

She sighed, looking up at the blue sky. They had spent all morning together, swimming, drinking iced coffee, walking along the pier. They dried their hair in the sun, leaving Tina's dark locks salty and textured from sea water. After biking back, Jimmy had realized the time and knew his dad would want him back to open the restaurant around 10. Tina still had some time to kill before she had to be back at home for the opening of her dad's restaurant at 10:30, so she mounted her bike and rode the street, away from the restaurants.

Tina couldn't help but marvel at Jimmy's strength. He endured abuse from his father, but loved her enough to not stop their dads' conflict to interfere with his relationship with her. And all of this explained why Jimmy Jr. was the way he was--why he was so distant with her one moment and so intimate the next. Why he needed comfort in the middle of the night, why he needed to climb her drain pipe and be held. Why he impulsively went to concerts and bailed on dates to play video games. She tried not to justify his shitty behavior--his forgetfulness, his lack of communication, his tendency to not consider her feelings, but honestly it was hard for her not to. She just wanted to help, and her patience with him was part of that. But how much patience did she really have left?

Before she knew it, she was riding by Jocelyn's house. She braked to look at it, because it really was quite a sight. One of her living room windows was broken.There was a person asleep on the porch, bottles, red solo cups, and cigarette butts strewn across the porch and lawn. A thought flashed a cross her mind: one of these cigarette butts is Zeke's. 

"Jesus," Tina breathed to herself, taking it in. She noticed the person on the porch wearing familiar tight jeans, and Tina dropped her bike on the lawn and hurried to the porch.

Jocelyn was very still, to the point where she didn't even look like she was breathing. Tina's heart raced. 

"Jocelyn?" She called, touching the girl's shoulders. Her hair was tangled, and she stirred under Tina's hands.

"Oh, thank god. I thought you were dead," Tina exhaled, relief washing through her as Jocelyn opened her eyes.

"Tina?" She mumbled. "Is that you?"

"Yeah, it's me. Are you okay?"

"Oh yeah, I'm fine, except my head fuckin' hurts. I guess I just crashed here," she laughed, Tina's heart still racing from the scare. "Did you stay over? What time is it?" 

"It's 10am. No, I didn't, I went home around 10:30 last night, after--"

She paused. Jocelyn furrowed her brows.

"After what?" She pressed, in the nasal tone.

"After Tammy lit her hair on fire," Tina said, recovering from almost spilling all her business to Jocelyn, who laughed at Tina's words.

"Tammy didn't light her hair on fire," she chuckled. "She just wanted Jimmy Jr. to talk to her."

Tina froze. "What?"

"Oh, I mean, it's okay though, since you guys are only like, casual."

"What are you talking about?"

"That's what Jimmy said."

A pause.

"When did he say that?"

"Last night, with Tammy. You were there, weren't you?"

"No, I was outside with Zeke."

"No, Zeke was there, I think. Tammy asked if Jimmy would comfort her after burning her hair (which like I said, didn't actually happen, but Jimmy didn't seem to notice or care) and she asked if you, Tina, would have a problem with it. Jimmy said you guys were just casual, and then Zeke got all weird and left to go smoke."

Tina's heart ached. Why would he say that?

"Well, we're not," she said sharply. "We've been dating for almost a year."

"Okay, whatever. He might have just said that to Tammy, I don't know." Jocelyn shifted uncomfortably. "Wait, you were outside with Zeke?"

"Yeah," Tina gulped.

"I didn't know you guys were friends."

"We aren't, really. Or, I don't know. Maybe we are."

"He seemed pretty annoyed at the whole Tammy thing. What did he say to you?"

"Just that--" Tina stopped, thinking about what Zeke said. "I don't know, we just talked, I guess." The lie slipped out--in truth, Tina didn't want Jocelyn to know about what Zeke said. It seemed too private. 

"It would be wrong," Zeke had said.

"Okay," she mumbled, closing her eyes again. "Well I'm having another party tonight, you should come."

"Thanks, Jocelyn," Tina muttered. She looked at her watch, and realized the restaurant was going to open soon. "I have to go to work. I'll see you tonight."

"Okay. Bring Jimmy!" She called as Tina turned and walked towards her bike. Confusion rattled through her: Why would Jimmy say that they were just casual? Why would Zeke care about it? And she couldn't help but wonder, what else has Jimmy Jr. said about their relationship?

There's no way Jimmy really thinks we're casual, she thought. He told me he loved me. That's not casual.

But it didn't make sense. She felt angry, angry at Jimmy for saying that to Tammy, angry for not understanding why, angry at Zeke for not telling her about it last night. Tina clenched the handlebars of her bike and she rode in the direction she came and turned at the stop sign, towards her street. The only thing that made sense was that...

But no. Tina didn't even want to think about that... it couldn't be true. He would never do that.

She arrived in front of her restaurant, trying not to look at Jimmy Pesto's, knowing she would see Jimmy Jr. in there. Her dad had just opened, as he was wandering around behind the counter. Tina locked her bike outside and dared to look across the street. 

Jimmy was indeed in there, taking down chairs and wiping tables. His dad was in the bar, his little brothers running around. Her eyes lingered on him before she tore them away. Just casual, he said. What the fuck does that even mean, just casual?

Tina huffed as she pocketed her bike lock key and strode to the restaurant entrance, the bell dinging as she entered. Her dad turned to her on his way to the kitchen, sighing.

"Hey, Tina. Could you wait on the customers? Your mom and Gene and Louise wanted to sleep in today," he asked, clearly annoyed that the rest of the five Belchers weren't interesting in helping out with the restaurant.

"Sure, Dad," Tina mumbled sadly, sitting at the counter, picking at her nails.

"Tina?" He asked, his head poking through the kitchen window, "Are you okay?"

"Sure, yeah. I'm fine," she lied, not very well.

"Tina, come on. What's going on?"

She sighed, putting her head in her hands. "Jimmy Jr. told Tammy Larsen last night that we were just casual, and I don't know why he said that. There's no way he thinks we're actually just casual."

"Well, are you sure he knows that you guys aren't 'just casual'? These things are usually just misunderstandings."

"No, Dad, I mean we--" She stopped herself in time. "We've been dating for almost a year. We've... you know, said 'I love you.'" Embarrassed, she flushed. "I just don't get it."

"You said he told... well, another girl that you guys were just casual?"

"Yeah..."

"Well honey, I know you might not want to hear this, but maybe--"

"No, Dad."

"Tina--"

"No!" She cried. "He wouldn't do that to me. I know you hate him and you hate his dad and their restaurant but I actually know him. I'm sick of people thinking we shouldn't be together and that he's a bad person! You, Mom, Jimmy's dad, Zeke--you're wrong! You're all wrong!" She was yelling now, standing up in fury. Her dad furrowed his brows in surprise at her outburst. Tina's eyes brimmed with tears, which quickly started streaming down her cheeks. She shut her eyes tight.

"Tina, honey," her dad said softly. Tina realized he was next to her, and she felt his hand on her back. "Are you sure you're telling me this, not telling yourself?"

She looked up at her dad, pulling at her glasses to wipe her red eyes. "He's a good person. He loves me. He wouldn't... he wouldn't hurt me like that."

"Just because he loves you doesn't mean he wouldn't hurt you," Bob sighed, circling her back. "I was really stupid when I was younger. All teenage boys are, all of them. I wasn't always... loyal to my girlfriends. Like this one girlfriend I had when I was your age, Tara. We were only 17 but I loved her a lot, but then one night I was at a party and I kissed another girl. I did it because it felt right in the moment, not because I didn't love my girlfriend."

"Jimmy wouldn't do that to me." Tina's lip quivered. 

"Okay, honey. If you say so, I believe you. Like you said, you actually know him." Bob sighed again, then wiped the tears off of Tina's cheeks. "I'm sorry if I upset you. I know how much he means to you."

Tina bit the tip of her tongue, looking away. She didn't respond, feeling like a hole was punched through her stomach.

"Are you hungry?" Bob asked in attempt to lighten the mood. "Do you want a burger?"

Tina managed a smile at her father's kindness. "Yes, Dad. Thank you. I'm sorry I yelled."

Chapter Text

Tina waited tables for most of the day, taking breaks every hour or so. It was easy work; there weren't a lot of customers that Saturday, so Tina really didn't have to do much. Besides, Gene and Louise helped out (well, as much as they could while goofing off) when there were more customers than Tina could handle. During her breaks she rode her bike around town or wrote in her room, all the while trying not to think of Jimmy. She knew she wanted to ask him about what Tammy said, but the hurt in her chest was still there. She wondered why the universe couldn't let her have just one happy day with Jimmy, one blissful day when he didn't make her cry and they were perfect.

When Bob's Burgers closed around 8:30pm, Tina volunteered to stay behind and clean up, which was greatly appreciated by Gene and Louise, who ran screaming upstairs gleefully. After asking her dad if she could go to Jocelyn's again and receiving a yes, she started cleaning up the restaurant and watching for Jimmy's signal. She cleaned as fast as she could, eager to finish and spend time with him. She watched as his little brothers made their way upstairs together, then what seemed like a very tense conversation between Jimmy and his dad. Jimmy Sr., from what Tina could see, pointed at Bob's Burgers and then at Jimmy's left eye. Tina's heart burned as she watched Jimmy Jr.'s still expression, not even knowing how he could stand there and take his father's abuse. Soon, as Jimmy's dad threw him a rag across the counter before going upstairs, Jimmy's Jr.'s fists clenched.

Jimmy sadly looked over at Tina across the street once his dad was gone. Tina put her hand on the glass and wanted so badly to hold him in her arms, but he hadn't signaled her over. She blew him a kiss, and he smiled a little and mimed catching it. He turned away and started cleaning up his restaurant, wiping down the tables and stacking the chairs. Tina did what remained of cleaning while keeping her eyes glued to across the street. When Jimmy was finished, he turned the lights off in the restaurant and walked out, locking the door from the outside. Tina's heart soared as she watched him jog across the street and over to her, quickly checking her reflection in the glass. She opened the door for him and his eyes looked dark. 

"Jimmy--"

Before she could say anything else, Jimmy slammed his lips against her own. His lips were warm and his hands were cold, and he smelled just barely of ammonia from the cleaning. She moaned in the kiss, and he pushed her against the wall of the restaurant in arousal. She could feel his growing erection on the inside of her thigh, and couldn't decide whether to break the kiss and talk to him about what his dad said, or give him the intimacy he clearly needed.

He fiercely kissed her neck, biting and sucking on her smooth skin. She adjusted her glasses and groaned in response, grasping and grabbing at his clothes. Suddenly his body relaxed and he cupped her cheeks and kissed her gently, without the previous passion.

He pulled away, sighing into her. 

"Jimmy," she whispered again. He looked up at her, his hazel eyes shining.

"Tina," he whispered softly in response. He looked exhausted, his eyes lidded. She stroked his left cheek with her thumb, just under his black eye.

"Are you okay?" She said softly, holding his face in her hands. He leaned in and kissed her gently again.

"Jimmy," she muttered against him, pushing him off a little bit. "I need to know if you're okay."

"I'm not," he said sharply. "I just--I don't want to talk about it, Tina."

"Okay," she muttered, not wanting to push him. Her heart ached as he kissed her gently again, wondering how to respond to his advances. He pressed his forehead against hers and sighed, closing his eyes.

"I fucking hate him," he muttered. The pain in his words was palpable.

"I know you do," she whispered back, stroking his cheek again. "I wish I could help you."

"You are helping, Tina," he responded softly, his fingers playing with her hair. Tina couldn't help but feel a bit relieved.

"Jocelyn's having another party tonight," Tina said quietly, trying to change the subject. "Do you want to go?"

"Yes, I do. I need to get drunk." He said this flatly, and Tina was momentarily worried for him. Two nights in a row? It wasn't uncharacteristic of Jimmy, at least not on a weekend, but Tina couldn't help but worry about him. How could she not, after what drinking has turned his dad into?

"Will you...," Tina swallowed, "will you stay with me this time? At Jocelyn's party, I mean; it's just that you always walk off with other people, it would be nice if you could, well, not do that." She said this uneasily, anxiety building in her chest. Each word made her request seem more and more stupid and superfluous.

"Okay, baby," he agreed, and Tina smiled. Thank god he said yes. "Let's get going then, is that okay? Do you want to eat first?"

"Yeah, sure. I think that Mediterranean place is still open," she suggested airily, thinking of how one of Jocelyn's parties could actually be worthwhile.

"Let's go."

Chapter Text

After they ate their fills of falafel and pita bread, Tina and Jimmy walked the short block to Jocelyn's house. As it was early in the night, her house wasn't totally packed yet and they heard the party after they saw it. Tina felt hopeful about tonight--there was something about Jimmy's smile, something that told her she would actually be on his mind tonight. She didn't necessarily care if he did his own thing for a little while at the party, but she was definitely not looking forward to getting abandoned and spending the night alone.

The house was clearly not cleaned up from the previous party; last night's mess was still scattered throughout Jocelyn's yard and porch, and even more so inside. The neon lights were on and the music was blaring in the living room, where many of Tina's classmates were dancing. 

"God, it's so dark in there," Jimmy bleated as they pushed their way to the kitchen to get themselves drinks.

"Seriously," Tina agreed, pushing herself up to sit on the counter by the stove. At this moment, Tina considered bringing up the fact that Jimmy said they were "just casual" and ask him about it. She had actually been considering bringing it up all night, but they were having fun, and she was afraid to ruin the moment. Whatever attention Jimmy was paying her, she wanted to keep it that way.

Before they could pour themselves anything, the loud, nasally greeting of a drunk Jocelyn pierced their ears.

"Oh my god, Jimmy Jr. and Tina are HERE!" She announced, slurring her words quite a lot. "Do you guys wanna do SHOTS?"

Jimmy laughed, looking at Tina with that charming smile. She nodded, laughing herself at Jocelyn, who was wearing another scantily-clad outfit. Her sparkly top complimented her blond hair, which was tied in its usual half ponytail. She was yelling from her coffee table, which she was standing on and grinding on a guy Tina didn't know.

"Let's do it!" Jimmy confirmed happily, as Jocelyn whooped loudly in response. She hopped off of the coffee table and stumbled quite a bit on her way down, making Jimmy snicker. Tina giggled as Jocelyn made her way back up with difficulty, using the island they were standing at for support. Jocelyn pulled three red solo shot cups out of a plastic bag.

"Tonight is going to be SO amazing. We're playing Seven Minutes in Heaven later!" She exclaimed, pouring tequila sloppily into the glasses. "You guys have to play!"

"Oh, um--" Tina started.

"Fuck yeah we will!" Jimmy Jr. said excitedly, overpowering her.

"Tina, you'll play?"

"Um--yeah, sure."

"Dope shit! Wait Jimmy, do you have a black eye? Holy fuck."

"You should see the other guy," Jimmy bragged, smirking. Jocelyn laughed and Tina shifted uneasily.

"Same old Jimmy Jr.. Okay, let's fucking do this thing. Cheers!" They each grabbed their shots and pushed them together. Tina thought she prepared herself for the burning sensation that followed the tequila, but a wave of nausea and coughing washed through her as soon as she swallowed.

"Ooh!" Jimmy coughed, making Tina feel less embarrassed about her reaction to the tequila. Jocelyn seemed unfazed.

"Another!" She cried, already starting to pour more of the caramel-colored liquid.

I don't know if I can do another one, Tina thought, pushing through the nausea.

Jimmy whooped, and Tina took her shot cup in her hand, which Jocelyn already filled again.

"To one hell of a night!" Jocelyn shouted, her nasal voice echoing through the kitchen. They pushed their cups together again, and Tina braced herself for another swallow.

The second shot was slightly better than the first, as Tina was better prepared for it. When she opened her eyes, Jimmy was laughing, grinning widely at the sensation. She loved that grin; she wished he would smile like that all the time.

He turned to Tina and placed a sloppy kiss on her lips, his lips went with the tequila. It burned the sensitive skin on her mouth, but she liked it; his hands were strong on her waist.

"Would you like to dance?" coaxed Jimmy, smiling in that charming way. She bit her lip excitedly; Tina loved dancing with Jimmy. He was really talented in that way; she was always telling him he should apply to a performing arts college in New York, but he worried for his little brothers being alone with his dad.

"I would love to," she agreed, grinning. As soon as she took a step towards the living room, she felt the tequila working its way through the bloodstream. But weirdly, she wanted to have fun like Jocelyn had fun--she wanted to dance and sing and feel alive.

A new song began, the guitar refrain pulsing through Tina. She loved this song, and excitedly pulled Jimmy into the room, singing along to the words.

I am unwritten
Can't read my mind, I'm undefined

A warm feeling washed through her, and she beamed, swaying to the music. 

I'm just beginning, the pen's in my hand
Ending unplanned

Jimmy grinned at her, rolling his body to the music. Happiness filled Tina, and she truly fused with not just the music, but the moment: Jimmy's movements, his eyes on her, his charming smile, the lyrics, the neon lights, the darkness, and the tequila pulsing through her bloodstream. She was reminded of how she felt when swimming through the ocean that morning, staring up at the pink sky, or when she was riding her bike with Jimmy as the sun was peeking through the horizon. But even more, the feeling was the same as that night two weeks ago--that amazing night when the rain dampened her bare skin and filled her with something worth living for. She danced and sang and felt alive.

Feel the rain on your skin

~

An hour passed, and it was such a beautiful one. Usually around this time of drinking and loud music, Tina felt sick or exhausted and needed to go out to the porch for fresh air. But she was unwinding under the neon lights, unravelling to the beat of the music. She wanted to feel like this all the time, sweat dotting her forehead, her feet aching from dancing, her sweet Jimmy grinding against her, his lips brushing against her skin.

Out of the corner of her eye, Zeke was talking to Jocelyn in the kitchen. Every once in a while, Tina found herself looking at him, for no reason, she thought. He was wearing black, his dark hair the usual messy style. He was smoking a joint that he was sharing with Jocelyn, laughing at something she said. Sometimes Tina would catch him looking at her, and she couldn't help but wonder why.

"Oh my god, guys! Tammy Larsen is totally here," Jocelyn announced suddenly, and Tina's stomach turned. She had forgotten about just casual, and Tammy was a walking talking reminder.

"Hey bitches," she yelled over the music, greeting Jocelyn with a tight hug and a drag of Zeke's joint. Tina turned away and tried to keep dancing, but she started to feel nauseous--not at Tammy's presence, but at just casual. She couldn't stop thinking about just casual.

"It's Seven Minutes in Heaven time baby!" Jocelyn whooped, motioning for people to sit down and to turn the music down. She turned the main lights on, making Tina squint. "Okay babes, here are the rules. You spin the bottle but instead of kissing, you go into my dad's work closet for seven minutes in the total dark. You can choose not to go in but if you're gonna do that just don't play."

She stumbled to the center of the room, where people Tina knew were sitting around the bottle, including Zeke, Tammy, Jocelyn, and multiple other people from her class. She looked at Jimmy, who wasn't looking at her, but Tammy. Jimmy Jr. sat next to her on the couch and greeted her, which only made Tina feel even more uneasy. She couldn't help but feel like she was missing something.

She sat on the carpet, wondering why she was even playing. Probably because Jimmy was playing, or wanted her to play, though she knew that if she walked out and left he wouldn't even notice. He had danced with her and spent time with her, but Tina felt like an idiot. Of course that's over now. I should have known it wouldn't last.

"Okay, I'll go first," Jocelyn declared, leaning forward to spin the bottle. Tina knew it landed on Darryl from the sounds, but she was looking down at her fingers. She was reminded of how she felt while talking to her dad this morning--like someone had punched a hole through her. The hurt in her chest rose and bubbled.

She stood up and made her way to the kitchen, where the shot cups from earlier laid abandoned on the island. She picked one randomly and filled it with the nearby tequila, not thinking before ironically raising it in a toast to nothing and no one.

She brought it to her lips and downed it without a second thought. The tequila burned, but she didn't care. Does anything matter?

One shot became two, two because three, and three became four. Tina felt pathetic, her eyes burning with tears from the tequila. She coughed, feeling the familiar wave of nausea flow through her. She felt like an idiot for thinking Jimmy would pay attention to her, and she felt unfeminist for even caring. She felt stupid for thinking she could maybe have one perfect day with Jimmy. Just one.

Just casual.

She turned to head out of the kitchen, unsure of how much time she had spent in there. Her eyes felt heavy, the room spinning. Four shots was maybe too many.

She sat (more like fell) back down in the spot she was in before, wishing she had drank some water with her tequila. She groaned a little, pulling her legs towards her chest. Even with the music turned down, it was becoming too loud in there.

As she considered getting up and going outside, Zeke came out of the closet with a girl named Jessica. She was blushing, but he seemed unfazed, his dark eyes moving towards the bottle again.

"Okay, go again Zeke!" Jocelyn said, reveling in the drama of Spin-the-Bottle-Seven-Minutes-in-Heaven. Tina couldn't help but roll her eyes. Who the fuck even cares about this stupid game?

"Tiiiiinaaaa," came Jocelyn's voice. Tina looked her way, but she was pointing to the bottle.

Oh god.

It was pointing right at her. She froze, then looked up at Zeke, who seemed surprised at the result as well. Tina's breath hitched, and looked at Jimmy Jr., who was absorbed in a conversation with Tammy.

"Jimmy Jr., your girlfriend's about to go in the closet with Zeke," cried Jocelyn, cackling and singing Zeke's name. Jimmy just looked at her and shrugged, quickly turning back to Tammy and continuing to talk. 

"Jimmy," Tina said. Must I always be trying to get him to talk to me?

"What, Tina?" He snapped, turning away from Tammy again.

"So you don't care if I go in the closet with Zeke?" Tina scoffed, standing up. The room kept spinning, and she used the arm of the couch to steady herself.

"God, Tina, no. You can fuck him for all I care. I'm having a conversation," he sneered, rolling his eyes.

Just casual.

Is this the same boy from this morning? Jimmy's pretty smile flashed across her mind, the same mouth that kissed her all over last night, the same lips that uttered those pretty words at the beach.

You can fuck him for all I care.

Tina's heart panged. The hurt in her chest boiled and overflowed.

"Go, Tina, you're holding up the game," whined Jocelyn from across the room. Tina turned to Zeke, who was looking down.

"We don't have to--" he started to say, but Tina cut him off. 

"No, let's go." She tried to keep her voice strong as she stepped over legs, which felt like an obstacle course due to how much she had been drinking. Her heart swelled and her vision blurred as she made her way to the closet, opening the door. It was dark inside, and cramped.

You can fuck him for all I care.

Zeke was close behind her. She used the doorframe to steady herself as she stepped in, trying to figure out what she was doing. She didn't plan on actually kissing Zeke--she didn't even know why she was in there. She could have stormed off, but instead she was in a dark closet with Zeke, who was definitely not her boyfriend.

God, what am I doing in here?

The door closed, and darkness enveloped them. Tina could smell Zeke's cologne which mixed with the smell of marajuana and cigarettes. She could hear his breath. They had barely a foot between them.

The pause was defeating. Tina could just barely hear Jimmy Jr.'s voice through the door, above the music, and across the room. She could hear Tammy's hollow laugh, Jocelyn loudly declaring the timer had started.

Tina leaned against the wall of the closet, feeling claustrophobic. She started to feel embarrassed that Zeke witnessed that whole exchange, and she felt guilty. I hope he doesn't think I actually want to hook up with him.

"Tina?" He said. She could feel her lip shaking. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," she whispered. Her voice quivered; she didn't want to cry in front of Zeke, even though it was dark. 

"Jimmy's a dipshit," he said surely. She didn't respond, feeling the hot tears trickle down her face. They squeezed their way through her lips, where she could taste the saltiness of them. Could these shaking, tear-stained lips be the same that whispered lovely words to Jimmy last night? The same lips that kissed him this morning in the daylight? The same lips that sang along to Unwritten as Jimmy was dancing beside her?

"Do you want me to beat him up?"

Tina laughed a little, mentally acknowledging his effort to lighten the mood.

"I could, you know. I've done it before."

"Thank you," she whispered, trying to keep her voice flat, but it was too late. "I just... I just don't get it."

Her voice broke, and she was unable to block the waves of sobs from controlling her any longer. She pushed on her mouth with her hand, feeling almost unable to stand. The hurt was too much.

"Hey," Zeke soothed softly, finding her arms in the dark and gently squeezing them. "This isn't your fault. He... he doesn't deserve you."

"I just don't get it," Tina sobbed, leaning forward. Her head somehow came in contact with his shoulder, and he pulled her into him. His t-shirt was soft and his hands were rough and they stroked her back. I'm so fucking sick of crying.

"It's okay," he muttered into her hair. "It's okay, I got you."

"I feel so weak," she mumbled into his shoulder. "Every time I try to stand up to him he... he just... he always justs..."

"He what?" Zeke asked, stroking her hair affectionately. 

"He talks his way out of it. He kisses me and makes me feel like the center of his world, and then he pulls this shit again and makes me feel horrible. It happens again, and again, and again, and I just let him do it. What's wrong with me?"

"Hey," Zeke whispered, pulling her shoulders so that they were face-to-face. "There's nothing wrong with you. Absolutely nothing. This is his fault, not yours."

"I just don't get it," she repeated sadly, wiping her face. "I just don't get it."

"He doesn't deserve you." He said this surely and darkly, the same way he spoke last night before she left the party. "Are you sure you don't want me to beat him up?"

She smiled a little, though she knew he couldn't see her. "It's okay, not this time." But it's bound to happen again.

Just casual.

"Zeke, I need to ask you something."

He tensed, which she could feel under her hands, which were caressing his shoulders. His hands were warm on her waist, which she didn't notice until this moment.

"Okay," he said flatly, still tense.

"Last night... did--did Jimmy tell Tammy that he and I were... 'just casual'?"

Zeke exhaled and relaxed beneath her touch. He played with a loose thread on her shirt.

"Yeah, he did."

Tina swallowed, more tears threatening to fall.

"Zeke... is there something going on between Jimmy Jr. and Tammy?"

"No, Tina," he confirmed, and she exhaled, relaxing. "There's nothing going on between J-Ju and Tammy."

"Why would he say that, then?"

"I--I don't know. I guess he just... wanted to have his arm around Tammy, I don't know. Because he doesn't appreciate you, that's why. He doesn't deserve you."

"You keep saying that. What do you mean by that?"

"I mean he's a dipshit and you're--"

A pause.

"I'm what?"

"You're... you. I mean, you're just... you're... you."

"Are you always this eloquent?"

She could feel him smiling, and could just barely see it through the crack in the door.

"I guess I just think you deserve better. That's all."

"You don't know him like I do, Zeke."

"I know that he just made you cry for probably the tenth time in the last day. I know that he stands you up on dates, I know he usually abandons you at parties. I know he's rude to you in public and I know he told Tammy last night that you guys are 'just casual' when you clearly aren't."

Tina couldn't respond.

"Look, I don't want to cause any conflict, I guess. I just think you deserve better," he repeated. She fingered the material of his t-shirt and said nothing. "Do with that what you will."

"I thought you guys were friends."

"We are. Why?"

"It just doesn't seem like this advice is very... well, in his interests."

"Maybe I'm more concerned with your interests than his."

"Why?"

"Because I know sadness when I see it, and I see it in you, Tina. I see in your eyes, and I saw it last night when he convinced you to forgive him. I saw it when I mentioned him last night when we were outside. I saw it as we were walking to this closet, and if it wasn't so dark in here, I would see it now. I can see happy in you, too; when you were dancing with him, you were happy. When you were standing in the rain, before I said anything, you were happy. You deserve someone who makes you happy like that, but all the time, not whenever it's convenient for them."

"You barely know me, Zeke."

"I think I know you better than you think, Tina." He raised his hands to her shoulders, and their noses touched in the darkness. Suddenly Tina became frightfully aware of how close they were, and she backed away, releasing him. She stumbled but steadily found her balance. Before she could process it, the door swung open, light flooding into the closet. Tina squinted, her eyes adjusting to the new light.

"All done, lovebirds?" Jocelyn laughed, and her body came into focus. Zeke left quickly, not looking at Tina as he did so. She heard the front door close, and took a step out of the closet.

Everything was the same. Jimmy was talking to Tammy on the couch, her other classmates strewn about in a messy circle, drinking and laughing and conversing. 

"Your turn again, Tina!" Jocelyn said excitedly, and Tina scoffed. 

"No, thanks. I'm going home," she replied, her head starting to hurt from noise and the bright lights. "Thanks for having me, Joce. I'll see you at school."

"Aww, okay," she replied sadly, and Tina didn't look at Jimmy as she moved towards the door, the room continuing to spin. Once she was outside, she inhaled the fresh air as deeply as she could.

As soon as she stumbled down the stairs with her bed and sleep in mind, she heard the front door open again and someone said her name. She sighed, turning around.

"What, Jimmy?" She sighed, exasperated. 

"Tina, come on. Please don't be mad at me." His black eye shone purple under the yellow street light.

"Oh I'm sorry--were you having a conversation when I dared to be mad at you?"

"Tina, baby, come on."

"Come on what?" She snapped again, raising her voice. "Come on, just stand there while you embarrass me in front of everyone? Come on, just come around and forgive you again? Come on, don't be pissed at you and Tammy for making me feel like shit?"

He furrowed his brows at her, scoffing. "You don't really care about that whole thing, do you?"

Tina's eyes burned with tears, her chest hot with rage. "You're right, Jimmy. You can fuck her for all I care. After all, we are 'just casual,' right?"

He froze at her words, looking unsure of what to say. He looked down guiltily. 

"Yeah, I know about that," she spat. "And I'm going home."

She turned, angry tears streaming down her face. The road shifted beneath her feet, and she could hear Jimmy Jr. calling after her, saying her name. Usually she would give anything to hear him calling her, to hear him plead her to stay. She took a deep breath and kept walking, wishing it would rain.

Chapter Text

When Tina got home, she didn't bother saying goodnight to her family. Her face was blank, her cheeks stained with tears. She went straight to her room despite their calls to her and kicked off her shoes. She went to the bathroom, her feet cool on the tile. She put her hands on the sink and looked at herself for a long time.

She couldn't decide whether she had been strong or weak. There's a lot more she could have said to Jimmy, but she also could have let him embrace her and make it okay. But she couldn't help but wonder if she just ruined their relationship, because how could she know how strong his feelings for her really were? One moment they seemed as reliable and steady as the summer sun, and the next moment they could evaporate like rain on the pavement. She knew how she felt about him, and that by itself was enough to bring tears to her eyes. Her love for him overwhelmed her, so it made sense than her heartache did too. 

She recognized the face in the mirror. This was the face of the person at the end of last night, the person who sank down her door with her head in her hands. This was the face of someone who was bailed on yet again to go to a concert. This was the face of a girl exhausted, a girl in love, a girl heartbroken.

A girl strong, Tina thought, looking into her own eyes. 

She didn't want to leave Jimmy. She didn't think she even had to strength to if she tried, not against his solid, attractive offense. She didn't want to leave him, but she wanted things to change. Things have to change.

She thought of her conversation with Zeke in the dark. She had let him behind her defenses yet didn't regret it, despite her not totally agreeing with everything he said.

He doesn't deserve you.

Doesn't he? He hides a beautiful person behind his sharp words. He's fun, he's a great dancer, he makes me laugh. He tells me I'm beautiful and that I am the only person in this world that he trusts. He goes to the beach with me to see the sunrise. He rides his bike with me in the early morning. He throws pebbles at my window, kisses my skin, loves me and me only. Doesn't a person like that deserve me?

But Zeke was right. Jimmy did make Tina cry, a lot. He did abandon her at parties and he did bail on their dates and he was rude to her in public and he did tell Tammy they were just casual. What kind of a beautiful person does that?

A beautiful, fucked up person, Tina thought. She took her glasses off and exhaled, turning on the faucet. She pressed the cool water to her face and sighed, closing her eyes, letting the water drip off of her face. 

She thought back to when she was dancing, in that beautiful hour, with Jimmy. The title of one of Jocelyn's many songs was lost to Tina, but one lyric echoed in her head. 

What's the point in having something if that something makes you thin?

She thought of the dark closet where Zeke touched her waist, the strong smell of cigarettes and weed and cologne. She lightly brushed her finger again her nose, which had so gently touched against his own. 

Did we almost kiss?  She thought, her heart racing at the thought. Oh my god.

Okay, Tina, wait a second, she rationalized. Just because we were close in the dark doesn't mean we almost kissed.

But despite this, Tina couldn't shake the feeling that she liked being close with Zeke. She liked the way he smelled, the way his hands rubbed her back, the way his warm skin brushed against hers. She liked his black t-shirts and his dark eyes and the way he darkly said Jimmy didn't deserve her.

Tina groaned, rubbing her eyes. She stumbled to the shower faucet, as she was still quite drunk. Once the water started to steam, she pulled off her clothes and watch and stepped in.

I don't have feelings for him or anything like that, she figured, washing the sea water out of her hair. Something in her wanted to keep her hair dirty and full of the sea salt, full of this morning with Jimmy. But this morning was over and gone.

I just needed comfort after Jimmy acted like an asshole. That's why I liked being close with Zeke. She sighed, the hot water warming her skin. Jimmy. Oh god, what am I going to do about Jimmy?

She knew she couldn't break up with him, nor did she want to. How could she ensure that things between them changed, instead of reverted back to the same cycle they were always in? Anxiety filled her stomach. What if he doesn't want to change?

Then I have to leave, Tina concluded. Even the thought of leaving Jimmy pained her, and she couldn't think about it anymore. She washed her hair and face, desperately trying to scrub the day off of her.

I know sadness when I see it, and I see it in you, Tina.

What the hell did Zeke know about me? He doesn't know me, Tina huffed, touching whatever remained of Zeke's touch on her arms. He just knows me as Jimmy's girlfriend, or maybe a bit from school. She never bothered to really notice Zeke, not like she did last night or in the closet. She hadn't ever thought of him as a friend, more of an acquaintance really. He was Jimmy's best friend and had been for years, so Zeke was an extension of Jimmy that Tina accepted when she and Jimmy Jr. started dating. He was usually hanging around, at parties or social gatherings. 

But in truth, Tina really didn't know anything about Zeke or his life. She had never met his family, except when they went to his grandmother's retirement home when they were in eighth grade. She didn't think she'd ever seen his parents, maybe once of twice when they were younger. She wondered how he knew so much about sadness.

Tina carefully stepped out of the shower, as a fall was the the last thing she needed. She wrapped a towel around herself and wiped the mirror to look at herself again. Who was Zeke, really? She felt drawn to him in an odd way, like she wanted to discover who he really was.

Tina put her glasses on and dropped her clothes in the hamper.

"Goodbye, shitty day," she mumbled to herself as she did so. She opened the door, the cool air of the hallway sobering her up a little. God, I had way too much tequila.

She opened her bedroom door and closed it, walking to her closet to pull out some pajamas. 

"Tina?"

Tina whipped around, her heart exploding out of her chest. "Oh my--God!" She exclaimed, gasping, sliding on her wet feet. Jimmy Jr. was standing by her window, an apologetic look on his face.

"Tina? Are you okay?" Bob's voice called from the hallway. 

"Fuck. Fuck!" She whispered, her heart racing. She motioned for Jimmy to hide, and he dropped, wiggling under her bed. She tried to think of a story as her dad opened the door and poked his head through. 

"Tina?"

"Hey, Dad, sorry. I--I just fell down, I slipped on my feet. I just took a shower, so I'm all wet. Sorry." She couldn't help but slur her words, and she inwardly prayed that her dad didn't notice.

He furrowed his brows and lowered his voice. "Tina, are you drunk?"

She smiled apologetically, swaying a little. "...Yes. Please don't tell Mom."

He gave her a stern look, but relaxed. "Okay, I won't tell your Mom. Stop coming home intoxicated."

"Okay, Dad."

"I love you. Goodnight, Tina," he grumbled, and shut the door. 

"Night," she responded, releasing her breath and anxiety as soon as she heard her dad walk back to the living room. "Jesus Christ, Jimmy. What the fuck are you doing here?"

He wiggled out from under the bed, his red t-shirt hiking up to reveal the smooth skin underneath. Don't think about his body, Tina, Jesus.

"Tina, baby, I am so sorry about tonight. I know I let you down," he apologized, walking over to her. She scoffed, rolling her eyes and turning to her closet to fish out some underwear. 

"You're such an idiot," she said as she found a blue pair. She stepped into them and turned back to Jimmy. "You can't just show up in my room. My parents are still awake and they would murder me if they found you in here."

"I was really quiet."

"Yeah, until you scared me. You could have sent me a text."

"You left your phone at Jocelyn's." He reached into his pocket and pulled out Tina's blue phone, which she didn't realize she forgot.

"Oh..." she sighed, taking it. Jimmy being thoughtful? That's new. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he said awkwardly, looking at her.

A pause. 

"Tina," he started gently, reaching out for her hand. She pulled it away. "Tina, please. Just hear me out."

"What could you possibly have to say to make this okay, Jimmy? This isn't just about tonight, and you know that. This is about all of it. This is about you bailing on hanging out with me, about you standing me up on dates, about you being inconsiderate of my feelings. You only show up here when you want something from me and I'm sick of it. And you know what? I bet you lied to me last night, I bet you don't even love me. I bet you just said that so I wouldn't be mad at you."

Jimmy looked hurt, more hurt than she had ever really seen him. She couldn't comprehend her own harsh words, but as soon as she said them she believed them.

"Tina," he pleaded.

"Unless you have something other to say than my name, it would be nice to spend a night not crying over you and actually sleeping," she said coldly, pulling pajamas out of a drawer.

"Tina, I'm sorry."

She scoffed. "Aren't you always?"

"I'm in love with you."

"Well, you don't act like it."

"I know. I know that, and I--I'm really fucking sorry, Tina. I don't know what came over me tonight... I think it has to do with my dad, I just... I don't know how to deal with my feelings in a... in a healthy way. I need your help."

"You need something from me. What a surprise."

"Tina, please, just listen--"

"I'm sick of listening to you, Jimmy! I'm sick and tired of all of it. Have you even thought about what I need?" She cried, feeling exhausted tears rim her eyes. She pulled her pajama pants on and slipped the shirt over her towel before pulling it off and dropping it to the floor.

"Okay," he said quietly, running a hand through his hair. "What do you need?"

"I need you to change." Her voice shook. "I need you to start putting effort into this relationship. I need you to show up on dates, on time. I need you to be proud to be my boyfriend, not just in private but in public, too. I need you to stop talking your way out of me being mad at you and I need you to take responsibility for your actions."

She let him take her hands. His eyes were shining, and glued to her face.

"Okay," he said again, pressing his forehead to hers. "Can I ask you something?"

"Fine," she agreed.

"What happened in the closet?" I thought you didn't care.

"Why are you asking me that?" She asked, feeling a sudden need to truly understand him. He looked up at her.

"Because... I just need to know."

"Why?"

"Because Zeke is... he's just, you know. He can be really nice in order to get what he wants."

"You mean like you do?" Tina scoffed, letting go of Jimmy's hands.

"Tina, please," he pleaded, and she looked at him, exhausted. "He's just... he can be manipulative even when he seems like he's not. Nothing... happened, in there, right?" 

"What would you do if it did?"

"I would kick his ass."

Tina laughed, imagining Jimmy trying.

"Right." 

"Tina, just answer the question, please."

"No, Jimmy, nothing happened in the closet. I didn't cheat on you, regardless of Zeke's 'manipulation.'" She rolled her eyes at the word, but Jimmy exhaled with relief. "I just cried and he made me feel better."

"You cried?"

"Yes, Jimmy, I cried. I cry a lot these days."

"And it was my fault?"

"Obviously."

"Tina, I'm so sorry. I promise I will never act like that again. I love you so much, and I promise I'll change. I'll do anything, just please... please don't leave," he begged, his hazel eyes honest. She wanted to believe him so much.

"Jimmy," she sighed, looking down. "Jimmy, I swear to god, if you hurt me one more time, I am gone and I am never coming back."

"Okay," he nodded, sighing. He pulled her into him, and she exhaled into his shoulder, breathing in his scent. He smelled so different from Zeke. "Okay. I won't fuck up. I love you."

"I love you," she whispered back, tightening her grip around him. She rubbed his back, trying not to feel too hopeful. 

"Can I stay with you tonight?" He mumbled into her damp hair, his arms tight around her. She nodded and pulled away, leaning in to kiss his lips. He tasted like tequila.

"Okay. But no sex."

Chapter Text

"I think I know you better than you think, Tina," Zeke muttered, his heart racing. He had been dreaming of this moment, when Tina would be just within his reach. He knew what he said about Jimmy was the truth--he wanted her to know it, too. But he also knew how vulnerable and drunk Tina was. 

Don't kiss her, he thought, not like this.

Without knowing it, he leaned forward, and their noses touched. He knew it was wrong to kiss her like this considering the state she was in, but this was the moment of moments. He'd dreamed about this, prayed for it, wanted it so badly that he even convinced himself it would never happen, it was that out of reach. He fought the urge to lean even more forward...

Suddenly, Tina moved back, out of reach again. He heard her gasp, and in a split second, he felt unbelievably guilty and stupid. I'm such an idiot. Of course she--

The door flung open, and the light burned Zeke's eyes. His heart was pounding, and all he could think is I need to get the fuck out of here.

"All done, lovebirds?" Jocelyn cackled, in the annoying way Zeke couldn't stand. He pushed past her, his vision blurring, stepping over people and their legs to get to the door. He opened and closed it, stepping outside and inhaling deeply. He put his hands on his knees and wanted to scream.

He moved to the right side of the porch, where he usually smoked. He pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket and quickly, expertly lit one, inhaling the nicotine. The drug pumped through him and he could breathe again.

The door opened again, and Zeke turned to see who it was. Tina was rubbing her eyes, closing the door behind her. She didn't see him, and his stomach turned. 

He pondered talking to her, but she stumbled down the stairs to the lawn, clearly wanting to be alone. Zeke almost laughed at the way she was walking--he didn't realize how drunk she really was.

The door opened yet again, and Jimmy Jr. pushed his way through, his eyes on Tina. Zeke wanted to roll his own eyes, puffing the cigarette and tasting the dry nicotine. Here we go.

"Tina," Jimmy said, climbing down the stairs. She turned around, her eyes heavy, her body clearly exhausted. Was she thinking about me?

"What, Jimmy?" She exhaled, slouching. He thought of her shoulders--he had touched those shoulders. He remembered the way her soft shirt felt under his fingers.

"Tina, come on. Please don't be mad at me." Zeke knew he shouldn't eavesdrop, but he couldn't help it. At these words, he wanted to punch Jimmy in his dumb fucking face. He rooted for Tina to tell him off.

"Oh I'm sorry--were you having a conversation when I dared to be mad at you?" Yes, Tina.

"Tina, baby, come on."

"Come on what?" She snapped again, raising her voice. Could this be it? The fight that breaks them up? Zeke's heart leaped at the idea, but didn't get his hopes up. He knew how persuasive Jimmy could be. "Come on, just stand there while you embarrass me in front of everyone? Come on, just come around and forgive you again? Come on, don't be pissed at you and Tammy for making me feel like shit?"

"You don't really care about that whole thing, do you?" Obviously she cares, you dumb fucking idiot. Zeke took a long drag, now really wanting to punch Jimmy.

Tina's eyes burned with anger, and Zeke could see it all the way from the porch. "You're right, Jimmy. You can fuck her for all I care. After all, we are 'just casual,' right?"

Fuck yeah, Tina.

"Yeah, I know about that," she spat. "And I'm going home."

She turned and walked quickly away, escaping Jimmy's calls after her. Zeke couldn't help but smile, applauding her in his head. She was always so well-spoken; he loved that about her. He wondered if Jimmy noticed how carefully she chose her words.

He let out a chuckle, exhaling a great deal of smoke. Jimmy looked stupid looking after her, running his hands through his hair. 

"Fuck!" He exclaimed, turning back to the house. His eye caught Zeke's, and Jimmy's face darkened. "What the fuck did you say to her, Zeke?"

Zeke couldn't help but laugh. "Nothing that wasn't true, Jimmy."

"You're such a dick," he spat, climbing the stairs and stomping his way over to Zeke like a child. "I'll tell her. You know I will."

"Go right ahead, Jimmy!" Zeke sneered, waving his cigarette in Jimmy's face. "Maybe she'll dump your ass and come running to me."

Jimmy froze, the pallor of his face whitening. "What the fuck did you say?"

"You heard me, dipshit. Don't make me kick your ass again," Zeke threatened, blowing smoke in his friend's face.

"You can't tell her, you know," Jimmy said flatly. Zeke exhaled, looking away. 

"Why can't I tell her?"

"Because everything will be ruined."

"I'll be surprised if you don't ruin it first. Guess who'll have a nice, comfy shoulder to cry on after you do?"

"Look, man. I don't want to fight you, okay?" Jimmy said, releasing his clenched fists. Zeke didn't believe him. "I love her. Please don't do this to me. You're my friend."

Zeke looked away, out into the street where Tina was standing. Who was he supposed to do right by, Tina or Jimmy?

"She needs to know."

"And I'll be the one who tells her. Just trust me. I'm taking my time with it," Jimmy promised. "I love her."

"Maybe I love her too," Zeke said quietly, looking at the smoke effusing from the cigarette. 

"I know you do, and I told you I didn't care. But this is my relationship, not yours, and unless she reciprocates feelings for you, you don't get a fucking say in it. So stop meddling."

Zeke kept looking away, avoiding Jimmy's eyes. He thought of Tina's fallen tears in the darkness. 

"Whatever," he mumbled, sticking the cigarette back in his mouth. He watched Jimmy go back into the house out of the corner of his eye, and leaned on the railing. He didn't know how much longer he could go without telling Tina, as there were two secrets on his mind that night.

Chapter Text

Tina woke early, as she always did when Jimmy stayed over. She scooted out from under his arms and stood, putting her glasses on. Her mind wandered back to last night, to Zeke's words in the darkness and Jimmy's pleading. She objectively knew she should have turned her back on him, that she shouldn't have given him another chance. But there was something in her that just couldn't turn him away, especially when he begged her not to leave like that. She was strong in other ways, and she was starting to realize it.

Tina sat on the floor in front of her window and looked up at the sky. It was that pretty deep blue she liked, the periwinkle light of the hidden sun flooding her room. She thought back to yesterday's morning, the cool air nipping her skin, that deep blue floating through her mind.

Jimmy snored softly, taking up more space now that Tina wasn't in bed. She looked over at him, at the way his smooth skin curved. She eyed a tiny scar on the left side of his face, sighing at the memory of him telling her how he got it.

She pulled her diary out of her nightstand drawer, shaking the pages loose for any spare condoms stuck in there. She leaned her diary on her window pane and used the pretty morning light to write with an old ballpoint pen.

Dear Diary,

I wish it would rain again; I wish I could dance in it, sing in it, feel alive in it. I feel safe when it rains; I feel complete. 

Tina groaned, unsure of what else to say. She felt like she needed to unload onto the page, but she was at a loss for words. She looked over at Jimmy's sleeping face, and something spiked inside her.

I told Jimmy last night that if he hurts me again, I'm gone. He doesn't know that I was bluffing--I don't think I could ever truly leave him. I don't know if I have it in me. I guess I just love him too much. 

And this whole thing with Zeke is so confusing. I know that I don't have feelings for him--I couldn't betray Jimmy like that. I think I just appreciate how easy it is to talk to him, and how well he comforts me when something happens with Jimmy. And I wish I knew Zeke better; he told me he saw sadness in me, like he was some sadness aficionado or something. I want to know how he could see that in me, and why he knows so much about it. 

And sometimes he speaks so ominously, I feel like he's referencing something I don't know about. But when I asked about Jimmy and Tammy, he told me there was nothing going on, so it can't be that. 

Unless there is something going on between them, and he just didn't tell me. I don't know. I hope that if something does/did happen, Jimmy will tell me about it. 

But then again, I told him that if he hurts me again, I'm gone. What if he is keeping a secret from me so I won't leave?

This is stupid. I should just trust Jimmy, and trust Zeke. The only evidence I have for a possible affair (is that even the right word? It sounds so adulty) is the whole 'just casual' thing. I'm already sick of thinking about that, though. I hope it was just something dumb he said in the moment, and not alluding to a greater disloyalty. I wonder what happened after Zeke left Jimmy and Tammy on Friday night; maybe I should ask Jocelyn. 

Or, I should just forget about it. Just forget about it.

But she couldn't. The image of Jimmy and Tammy conversing together on Jocelyn's couch Saturday night was caught in her brain, like an annoying fly in a room. She knew it couldn't be true, that Jimmy loved her and wouldn't do that. She swatted at the fly. 

Before she knew it, Jimmy was stirring. She turned to him and smiled, writing down some final thoughts. 

"Tina," he mumbled, "Come to bed."

"I'm coming, baby," she said, closing her diary and sticking it in her drawer. He moaned as she climbed back into bed, her cool skin pressing against his warm chest. She eyed his black eye, getting a better look at it. She brushed her thumb against his cheek. He shifted to lean his head on her shoulder, and she thought of how happy she was at this time yesterday.

"Jimmy?"

"Hmm, Tina?"

"What do you want most in the world?"

"You to cuddle me."

She smiled, rolling her eyes. "Seriously. Will you tell me?"

He opened his hazel eyes, looking up at her. She shifted, moving down so they were eye-to-eye.

"I want to get my own place, for me and my brothers," he said sleepily. "Somewhere our dad can't find us. I want to get a job and I want Andy and Ollie to live good lives, away from our dad.... And I want to dance."

"Have you thought about maybe... contacting your mom?"

Jimmy sighed, closing his eyes again. "I doubt she would care."

"Maybe she would. I know you don't have many good memories of her, but... she could help you and Andy and Ollie."

"She isn't even Andy and Ollie's mom, I really don't think she would care."

"Okay," Tina said, deciding not to push him on this. 

"You can live with us in our apartment," Jimmy said, smiling in that charming way. Tina couldn't help but grin. 

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. If you don't mind living with three boys."

"I'm sure I'll be fine," she chuckled. "Gene by himself is like living with three boys. I'll manage."

He opened his hazel eyes, and she marveled at the specks of green and brown in them. "What do you want most in the world, Tina?"

"I want to be a writer," she said, grinning. "I want to write for a living, all day and all night. I want to write poetry, and fiction, and fantasy and romance. I want to write everything I possibly can, even if I don't make much money."

He smiled widely. "We could go to New York," he suggested. "Andy and Ollie could go to NYU, and you and I would be wrapping up our degrees too, in our little apartment in Brooklyn."

Tina blushed, still marveling at him. Jimmy never talked like this; Tina always assumed they would part ways after high school come college, but his daydreaming suggested otherwise. 

"You could get a job on Broadway," she replied airily, imagining Jimmy dancing on a huge stage. "And I could write and work at a publishing company."

"And your first book would be about me, of course."

"Oh yeah?" Tina chuckled, Jimmy brushing some hair out of her eyes. "Why's that?"

"Because you love me, and I love you, and always will." His pretty words struck her, nearly bringing tears to her eyes. "And we'll be in debt, scrape together the rent every month, eat junk food and barely get by, but it'll be our life, so it'll be perfect."

He cupped her cheeks and pulled her in, softly kissing her. Her heart was warming, hope blossoming through her. It'll be our life, so it'll be perfect.

Our life, Tina thought. Our life, beyond high school, beyond Jocelyn's parties, beyond forgotten dates and misspent youth. Our life. Ours.

Chapter Text

Monday morning came quickly, but Tina was okay with it. She was happy to put the weekend behind her, as she was looking forward to a fresh, new week. On Monday, she pulled her hair back into a half-ponytail and pulled on a tight-fitted green top with her jeans. She ate breakfast quickly, barely speaking to her family before grabbing her backpack and hurrying out the door. Once she was outside, she saw Jimmy standing outside his house, his back leaning on the restaurant glass. He was--to Tina's surprise--smoking a cigarette. She marveled at how cool he looked like that, with his jean jacket and cigarette, leaning against the glass, looking at her through the smoke. 

"Hey," she greeted, walking her bike over to him. "Since when do you smoke?"

"Since my dad hates it," he smirked, running a hand through his hair. "You look beautiful, Tina."

She blushed a little, looking at her shoes then back up at him. 

"Do you want one?" He asked, holding one out for her. She had a strange sense of deja-vu. 

"Yeah, sure," she agreed, despite promising her parents she wouldn't. She wouldn't be seeing them for a while anyway, so it didn't matter. She took the one in his hand, and he handed her his red lighter. She lit the cigarette, the familiar dry taste of the nicotine filling her mouth. She tried not to cough, looking at Jimmy's pretty hazel eyes. He was smiling at her, that charming smile.

"How was your Sunday?" He asked her, making her grin. She was afraid that Jimmy wouldn't think to start working on being more considerate of her, but damn, he was actually trying. She heard it in his voice. 

"It was good, thank you," she responded, puffing the cigarette, her tired eyes drooping. "How was yours?"

"I missed you," he said flirtatiously, eyeing her. "We should do something tonight."

She couldn't help but smiled. He missed me? 

"You aren't sick of me?" She laughed, inhaling more of the drug. 

"I could never be sick of you, Tina." He said this slowly and surely and romantically, and almost darkly, in the way that Zeke spoke sometimes. God, what is happening this morning?

"Well lucky for you, I enjoy your company," she said, leaning against her bike. "You ready to go?"

He smirked, eyeing her jeans, which were the same ones she wore Friday night. He nodded and put out his cigarette, chucking it into a nearby garbage can. She was finished with hers, but it still smoked, about an inch and a half left. She put it out on the side Jimmy's dad's restaurant, and squeezed the end to put it out for sure. She pocketed the butt and they mounted their bikes. She watched Jimmy Jr.'s hair as it was pushed by the wind, his jean jacket rippling. God, I'm so crazy about him.

They rode to school together, the wind whipping Tina's hair behind her. She closed her eyes, the familiar feeling of biking in the morning washing through her like the nicotine in the cigarette. 

Jimmy and Tina hopped off of their bikes as they approached the school. People were trickling through the doors of Huxley, talking and yawning and frantically completing their homework. Once they locked their bikes, Jimmy put his hand in Tina's back pocket, making her blush with excitement. She told herself not to get her hopes up, but damn it was hard not to.

Their high-school was fairly small, which Tina didn't mind. She spent most of her time writing for the school paper or jotting down notes in her diary. She used to be more socially active when she was younger--she joined the drama club and speech and debate, but she quickly realized that she wanted to put all of her energy into one thing: writing.

"I can't wait to ditch this place," Jimmy said, stroking her lower back with his thumb. The sensation was enough to send shivers up her spine. 

"To New York?" She asked, wondering if he even remembered that conversation.

"To New York," he confirmed, smiling at her. For our life, Tina thought, grinning back at him. They stopped at her locker, and she entered the combination and lifted it open, thinking of New York. Something behind Tina caught his eye, and he pulled his hand out of her pocket. 

"I'll be right back, baby," he said mindlessly, walking towards whatever he was looking at. She nodded and smiled, transferring her notebooks from her locker to her red backpack. She fiddled with the zippers before closing at and sealing her locker shut.

Out of curiosity, she turned to wherever Jimmy Jr. went off to. Down the hall, Zeke and Jimmy were conversing, the latter smirking as usual. 

"Hey, Tina." 

The voice startled Tina, and she looked to where it was coming from. Gene, her little brother, was leaning on her locker. 

"Oh--hey, Gene," she greeted, looking back to Jimmy and Zeke. She couldn't help but wonder if they were talking about her.

"What are you looking at?" He asked, and she sharply turned her head back to him. "Are you looking at Jimmy Jr.? Ooooh."

"Shut up," she scoffed, flushing, rolling her eyes. 

"Wait a second." He furrowed his brows, the same way their father did. "Have you been smoking?"

Tina's stomach turned. Shit.

"Yes, but please don't tell Mom and Dad."

"Humph." 

"Gene, come on."

"Why were you even smoking? I thought you said it tasted gross."

Her eyes widened, and Gene clapped a hand to his mouth. 

"What?"

"Louise and I... might have listened to you tell Mom and Dad about it on Friday night," he confessed, smiling apologetically. Annoyance flushed Tina's face. "I wasn't really supposed to tell you that, though."

"You guys are the absolute worst. How much did you hear?"

"Um... everything."

"Ugh, okay," Tina groaned, tapping her head on the locker. 

"Why are you even still going out with Jimmy if he stood you up?"

She turned to her 15-year-old brother. It was a valid question, but one Tina didn't quite know how to answer. She could hear so many people in her life asking that same question to her.

"It's complicated, Gene. We... we love each other."

"It's complicated, or you love each other?"

"I don't know. Both."

"So, does that mean you don't like Zeke?" He asked innocently, but the question flipped Tina's stomach. 

"What?"

"Well, you said Zeke was really nice to you--"

"Yeah, so? That doesn't mean I like him. He's just my... friend, I guess."

"Oh, okay," he shrugged. "Louise thinks you like-like Zeke." She rolled her eyes at his language. What are we, in fifth grade?

"Louise doesn't know anything."

"She knows you wrote about him in your diary."

"WHAT?" Tina gasped, her eyes widening. Oh my god, I'm gonna kill her.

"Oh, oops--I wasn't supposed to tell you that either."

"She's dead. Look Gene, I don't know what's going on with Zeke right now, or why he said the things he did. What I do know is my relationship with Jimmy Jr. is really complicated and I can't explain it all to you right now," she sighed, folding her arms. She turned back to where Zeke and Jimmy were standing, and her boyfriend was making his way back to her, Zeke nowhere to be seen. 

"Speak of the devil," Gene muttered, walking away in the direction of the freshman wing. Tina turned to her boyfriend, a multitude of emotions flowing through her. 

"Hey, you okay?" She asked him, and he shrugged. "What's up with Zeke?"

"Oh nothing, I was just asking him about the math homework," he said mindlessly, and they started walking to their first class when he stopped, grabbing her hand. 

"Actually," he started, looking down guiltily. "That was a lie."

Tina furrowed her brows. What is happening right now?

"Okay," she said uneasily, unsure of how to respond to that. 

"I was actually asking him if he and I were okay. After you left on Saturday, I got pissed at him because I knew he must have said something bad about me to you. Anyway, things got kind of heated and I just wanted to make sure he and I were good," he explained, stroking her right hand in both of his. She bit the inside of her lip. 

"Why did you lie?"

"I--I don't know. I guess because I didn't want you to know about the fight. I don't want you to think of me that way."

"Why did you tell me the truth?"

"Because that's part of what you wanted, right? You wanted me to change, and I figured part of me changing is being more honest with you, even though you didn't say that specifically." Tina's heart warmed. She cupped his face with her hands, her eyes wet. 

"Thank you for telling me the truth," she breathed, and kissed his lips softly. "I appreciate that you're trying to change."

He smiled gently at her, and she looked into his hazel eyes deeply. She pulled him in and embraced him, closing her eyes and breathing in his scent. She gripped the collar of his jean jacket and allowed her love for him to wash through her.

Chapter Text

"I'm sorry, Tina," Jimmy sighed. She could tell he was pushing down his anger.

"It's okay, Jimmy. I understand," she said compassionately, leaning up to kiss his cheek. "It's alright. You should go."

"I'm sorry. I promise I will make this up to you. Maybe tomorrow?" He said hopefully, his pretty eyes looking deeply into hers. 

"I'll talk to my parents. I love you," she said surely, trying to smile. He held her right hand in between his hands.

"I love you too," he whispered into her palm before kissing it gently. He mournfully turned away from her and opened the door to his dad's restaurant. She backed up, blocking herself from Jimmy's dad's view. She wondered for a moment what it might be like to dread seeing her own father.

Jimmy had to work, as usual. He couldn't get out of it, even for an hour, according to his dad. He told her he wanted to take her to the Wharf and buy her dinner, but sadly those plans were thwarted by Jimmy Pesto Sr.. She hummed to herself, kicking a pebble on the ground.

What was she to do now? She had already gotten permission from her parents to have the night off because of how hard she worked over the weekend at the restaurant. She looked off into the horizon, with plenty of time before the sun went down.

She settled on an idea and jogged across the street to her building. She opened the front door and stepped in, making her way up the stairs and to her room. Tina pulled her swimming suit out of her closet and pulled it on, then replaced her jeans with a pair of shorts and her green top with one of Jimmy's sweatshirts.

She made her way back downstairs, her sandals clicking on the hardwood. After she found her way back to the street, she unlocked her bike from the lock and hopped on, sailing down the street.

When she made it to the beach, she inhaled the fresh sea air. She closed her eyes, coasting down the waterfront, excited to dip her feet back in the water. The wind blew her hair back and she sighed into the ocean air. She felt alive.

She braked her bike and stepped off, leaning it against a post. She dropped her sweatshirt to the sand and kicked off her sandals, excitement pulsing through her.

"I'm so lucky to have you," Jimmy had said to her, as the orange sunrise light climbed his body. She closed her eyes, picturing his face as he spoke to her. Maybe those words would be around more than she thought.

She soaked up the moment, lifting her hair so the sunlight would touch her neck. She lifted her arms to the sky and exhaled, swaying to the beat of the waves crashing on the shore. I wish I could melt into the sea and scatter across the water.

"Tina?"

The voice startled her, and she open her eyes quickly, her heart leaping. Zeke's dark eyes were glued to her, his face lit with sun.

"Sorry I keep startling you," he laughed, folding his arms. "Whatcha doing?"

Tina flushed, embarrassed he had seen her like that. She felt a blush burn her cheeks. 

"Oh, I'm just--" she started, stuttering. She suddenly relaxed; what do I have to feel embarrassed about? "I'm soaking up the moment."

He smiled, a real, genuine smile she hadn't ever seen before.

"What were you thinking about just now?" He asked smoothly, pulling his cigarettes out of his pocket and lighting one. "If you want to talk about it, that is."

"I was thinking that I wish I could melt into the sea and scatter across the water," she said, without considering whether or not to tell him, as she usually would. "Like the way light breaks on the ocean--it looks like shards of glass, glittering and glinting. I want to be those shards of glass."

He looked thoughtfully at her, then at the sea, where the light broke on the water. She didn't know why she told him all of that; that was usually something she would write in her diary rather than say to an actual person.

"What's stopping you?" He asked dreamily, and Tina laughed. 

"Physics," she replied, smelling his cigarette smoke. She thought of Friday night, that smell lingering in the air with his cologne.

His cologne. She could smell it now, radiating off of his black t-shirt, which looked similar to the one he wore on Saturday. 

He smiled at her answer, and offered her a cigarette from the packet, which was the same one from Friday. What the hell? She thought, taking one. I guess I'm a smoker now. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

"So what are you doing here?" She asked, observing the way he inhaled the drug. His dark eyes glinted. 

"I live near the Wharf. I come here sometimes, to the beach," he explained, looking out on the water. "It's a nice place to read." He held up a book, which she didn't notice before, but recognized. 

"Wuthering Heights," she said, smiling. "You're well-read, I see."

He smiled, and she noticed then a little color in his cheeks. 

"My favorite Bronte novel is Jane Eyre," Tina said, exhaling smoke. "I like Jane. She has fire."

"That she does," he agreed, playing with the cover of the book. "Is Charlotte your favorite Bronte sister?"

"Yes," she confirmed, grinning. She couldn't talk like this with Jimmy; he didn't like fiction. "You?"

"Actually, I prefer Emily," he said, and Tina laughed. 

"Of course you do," Tina giggled, thinking how she should have known. 

Zeke grinned at her. "What does that mean?"

"You know, with your black clothes and your cigarettes and alone time at the beach. Plus your brooding, of course."

"I brood?"

"Your middle name is broody."

"Actually, it's Daniel," he said, and Tina giggled more. She looked out onto the ocean before back at his book. 

"You know it's funny," she started, pointing to his book with her cigarette. "I actually checked that book out a week or so ago. I wanted to see what all the hype was about."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. I wrote my name in the front, look." She stepped closer to him and pulled on the cover, revealing the history of names the book has been checked out by. Tina Belcher's name was scrawled with a heart on the i, a tick she picked up when she was younger and couldn't shake. Zeke glanced at it, then back at her. They were suddenly very close, and Tina pulled her cigarette back to her mouth, stepping back. 

"Funny," he agreed, in that contemplative tone. "Was it you who underlined all those quotes?"

She blushed, remembering that she did that. "Yes, it was. I like to memorize the quotes I underline."

"Me too."

She exhaled smoke, looking back out on the water, noting how the sun was going to set soon. 

"Hey," she started excitedly, "You wanna swim with me?"

He furrowed his brows, clearly unsure of his answer. 

"Please? It'd be nice to have someone with me," she pleaded, unbuttoning her shorts. He smiled at her, nodding.

"Okay," he grinned, sticking his cigarette in the sand to put it out. She did the same and took her glasses off, throwing them by her clothes. She took off into the water, looking over her shoulder at him. At this moment he had his shirt off and was unbuttoning his jeans and pulling off his socks, and something about that made her flush. She had never seen his bare chest before.

The water was a biting cold, but Tina kept going. Without another thought she dove into the water, the cold enveloping her. She came up for air and swam towards the shards of glass on the surface. 

"Jesus, you're a fast swimmer," she heard Zeke say, making her laugh. He was a few feet behind her, and they were both waist-deep in the water. She stood on the sand, letting the water drip off of her. She missed having sea water in her hair.

She grinned at him, and splashed him a little. He was now getting closer to her, and she could more clearer see his body. His chest was chiseled and defined, and Tina remembered that he was on the varsity wrestling team. She cleared her throat and looked away from his body awkwardly. She leaned back into the water, wishing even more intensely than she could melt into the water. 

She looked over at him, and noticed he had leaned back into the water too, laying next to her. His eyes were closed, his body still.

"What are you thinking about?" She asked, feeling that familiar desire to understand him.

"'She burned too bright for this world,'" he responded. Tina quickly recognized it, Emily Bronte's words swimming through her mind. 

"'He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same,'" she said airily, absorbing the ocean water beneath them. 

"'I have not broken your heart - you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.'"

"'Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living. You said I killed you--haunt me then.'"

"'Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!'"

She looked over at him, and found that he was looking at her.

"'It was not the thorn bending to the honeysuckles, but the honeysuckles embracing the thorn,'" she said, keeping her eyes on him. His dark eyes were so different from Jimmy's; they reminded her of the color of the night sky without the moon. 

"'I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death; and flung it back to me,'" Zeke recited, his eyes glinting.

"'It is hard to forgive, and to look at those eyes, and feel those wasted hands,' he answered. 'Kiss me again; and don’t let me see your eyes! I forgive what you have done to me. I love my murderer—-but yours! How can I?'" She could feel his left hand brushing against her right. She was reminded of how rough his fingers felt on her skin in the dark.

"'Honest people don't hide their deeds,'" he said, looking at her intensely. Those words echoed in her head: Honest people don't hide their deeds. Was he trying to tell her something?

I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death; and flung it back to me.

Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!

I have not broken your heart - you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.

She burned too bright for this world.

Oh my god.

She stood up, the water dripping from her hair. She turned her back to him, the ocean coming up to her waist. Her heart panged. 

"Are you trying to tell me something about Jimmy Jr.?" She accused, turning around to look at him. He was just barely in focus; he was standing also, the sea water rolling down his chest.

He didn't say anything; he just looked at her with those dark eyes. 

"Are you?" She echoed, feeling something rise in her chest. He still said nothing. 

"Why do you do that?" She asked, feeling defeated. "Why do keep reminding me how you feel about Jimmy being my boyfriend? I know, Zeke."

"Then why don't you do anything about it? I told you I didn't think he deserved you. I thought you would have acted on it," he expressed, his eyes glaring into hers with the intensity of the sun.

"I have acted on it. I yelled at him. I told him I needed him to change and he said that he would, and I've already started seeing it."

He rolled his eyes obnoxiously, and that simple act annoyed Tina more than anything. "Come on, Tina. You don't actually believe that, do you? You can't be that naive."

His words hurt. Annoyance flushed her face. 

"What the hell do you know about me? You don't know me! You act like you do, but you don't."

"How do you know that?"

"Because we've never really talked before, Zeke! You've always been Jimmy Jr.'s friend, not mine. No matter how much he's told you, you can't possibly know enough about me to make any definitive judgements about my character."

He sighed, pushing his hair out of his eyes. "Tina, maybe I don't know enough about you, but I told you. I see sadness in you."

"What the hell do you know about sadness?"

"My mom died."

She immediately felt guilty for asking. Something cleared inside of her.

"Oh," she said quietly, "I'm sorry."

"It was a few years ago, in an accident. That's how I know. She was... she had a hard life. She had a look in her eyes, and I just... I see that in you, and it kills me."

She bit her lip, unsure of how to respond. She wanted to make him smile brightly again. 

"'Haunt me, then,'" she said quietly. He looked up at her, his dark eyes soft. She liked them like that.

"I just want you to be happy, Tina."

A pause. 

"Why did you run out of Jocelyn's party on Saturday?"

He looked at her and exhaled, glancing down and back up at her. 

"I needed fresh air."

"Why?"

"Because it was cramped in there."

"But why did you run?"

"I don't know, I just did. What's it to you?"

"I just--I thought maybe..." Tina sighed. "Never mind."

"No, what?"

"Never mind, Zeke."

"Tina, please tell me."

"No--it's weird."

"Just tell me. Please."

"I thought maybe you were going to... I don't know. Kiss me or something."

His body tensed. "Why would I do that?"

"I don't know, maybe as a fuck you to Jimmy. He told me you could be manipulative."

Zeke scoffed. "He said that?"

"Yes."

"That's pretty rich coming from him."

"Yeah, that's what I thought too. I mean, you weren't... going to, right?"

A pause.

"What would you have done if I had?"

"I would have pushed you off. I was really drunk, I don't know. Why do you ask?"

His eyes were burning into her, so much so she had to look away. 

"Well, for the record, I wasn't going to kiss you. I wouldn't do that to Jimmy," he said sharply, continuing to look at her. Is that the only reason?

"Okay," she said, wishing she could rewind and go back to when they were laughing on the shore. "I'm sorry about your mom. I didn't know."

His eyes softened again. "Thank you," he said quietly, looking away into the horizon. The sun was setting, and she looked off into the same direction. The orange light blended with the blue; she wondered what the sunset looked like to Zeke. She heard splashing, and when she looked back at him, he was already far in the distance.

Chapter Text

Tina biked home alone, in the dusk. She couldn't shake Zeke's soft eyes from her mind; they were still piercing her. She saw them whenever she closed her own.

I can't believe his mom died. Tina figured something bad had happened to him--boys like Zeke usually had something to brood about. His mom's death wasn't advertised at school--he probably tried to keep it a secret since it didn't reach Tina, even through Jimmy. She wondered if Jimmy even knew; despite their close friendship, Zeke didn't seem like the type of person that lets people in. She liked that he confided in her, though the content of his confession also made her want to cry. She wondered if he would confide in her again.

It was one of the most intense conversations she had ever had. Not just because of Zeke's piercing eyes, but because of his piercing words. Emily Bronte's writing in his mouth was more powerful to her than it was when she read it in the book.

What would you do if I had?

He tensed up so much when she asked him about the closet, about the almost-kiss. And he didn't even answer her question until moments after she asked it; why would he want to know her reaction to his advances before he even told her what they were?

Tina groaned, confusion rattling her. Nothing at all made sense; even Heathcliff's declaration. She thought of his and Catherine's on-and-off-again, chaotic excuse for a romantic affair. Catherine was selfish and manipulative, Heathcliff violent and destructive. Was Zeke insinuating that she and Jimmy's relationship mirrored that of Wuthering Heights' main characters? She and Jimmy weren't like that; they couldn't be. We have something real, something beautiful.

But didn't Catherine and Heathcliff have that too? Something real, something beautiful? What they did with it was the problem.

Tina sighed, looking forward into the darkening street. She pulled her bike in front of her dad's restaurant, which was still open. She sat on the curb next to her bike, resting her elbows on her knees and holding her hands together. She gazed into Jimmy Pesto's, finding Jimmy through all of the bustle of the dinner rush. He was smiling politely at a customer, wearing an apron and flipping open a little notebook to take orders. He couldn't see her, as he was too consumed in his work. She watched him move around the restaurant, cleaning up tables and greeting customers with that charming smile that made Tina's knees weak. She wanted that smile to be just for her; but deep down, she knew it belonged to the world.

She sat there for a long time. Zeke's words flooded her mind, so much so that she couldn't even pull apart the tangled sentences. She watched the cars go by, watched the people stroll along the sidewalk, with their families or friends or alone, like her. Alone.

She rested her forehead on her arms, the street darkening. She closed her eyes, wishing she could go back to the ocean with Zeke and make things right. She didn't want him to be mad at her; it didn't seem like he was, but in those last few minutes she couldn't read his face. She felt stupid for making him bring up his mom; usually she has more tact than that. She hoped she didn't make him sad, and she wondered what was on his mind as he was walking away from her. After she watched him get farther and farther away, she sank into the ocean, wishing she could undo it all. 

But before things went awry, it was actually quite a beautiful conversation. She could never talk the way she and Zeke did with Jimmy; he didn't care much for reading, wouldn't bother to memorize quotes from Wuthering Heights. She wanted to have quote battles with Zeke every day, she wanted to know who he was behind the cigarette smoke and the black clothes and the brooding. She wanted to know his heart, and she hoped he wanted to know hers too.

"Tina?"

Her mom's voice interrupted her thoughts and pulled her back to reality. She wasn't in the ocean with Zeke; she was sitting on the curb, alone.

"Hey, Mom," she said, looking over her shoulder. Her mom looked concerned, and she put a hand on her daughter's back.

"Tina, are you okay? You been sitting there for an hour."

"I'm good, Mom, sorry. I'm just thinking."

"What are you thinking about?"

Tina tried to smile, wondering which truth to tell her mom.

"Wuthering Heights," she answered.

"Oh, okay," Linda responded uneasily. "Your dad just closed the restaurant. Do you want to come up?"

"I'm okay, I'm gonna stay here a little longer."

"Tina, it's getting late. We think you should come upstairs."

"I'm okay, Mom, really. I'm gonna talk to Jimmy in a bit. I'm fine," she assured, managing a smile. Her mother looked anxious. "I promise I'm okay. I'm just having a weird day and I need to talk to Jimmy."

"Okay, Tina," Linda exhaled, fidgeting with her apron. "I love you. Come up soon, okay?"

"Okay, Mom. I love you too." Tina turned back to her curb, her eyes glued to Jimmy Pesto's, which usually closed around the same time as her dad's restaurant. Tina heard her mom's footsteps receding from her, and she heard the door of her apartment close. 

Jimmy's last customer left, and Tina let out a breath as his brothers and dad quickly headed upstairs, leaving Jimmy Jr. to clean up the restaurant alone, again. He locked eyes with her once they left, and she wondered how long he knew she was there. Once his family was gone, he walked over to the right wall of the restaurant and clicked the lights off and on once, twice, three times.

Their signal; Tina smiled at him from the curb, standing up and dusting off her clothes. Her legs felt sore from sitting in basically the same position for an hour, but she was glad to stand and move.

She jogged across the street before opening the door of the restaurant, Jimmy's smile growing at every step she took. He embraced her, and his skin was so warm... she missed it. 

"Hi," he whispered into her hair.

"Hi," she breathed.

"How long were you on the curb?"

"An hour, I think."

"Jesus, Tina. Are you okay?"

She pulled away and cupped his cheeks with her hands, exploring his hazel eyes with her own. She pressed her lips to his in response.

"Have you been to the beach?" He asked as soon as she pulled away. She wondered if he tasted the salt-water on his lips, or if he smelled it on her skin, or felt it in her hair.

"I found Zeke," she said, relaxing under Jimmy's touch. "We swam, and talked."

Jimmy tensed, clearly not liking the idea of Tina spending time with Zeke in the water.

"What did you talk about?"

"Wuthering Heights. And..." she debated telling Jimmy about Zeke's mom, unsure of whether or not he knew. "And about his mom."

"Oh, yeah," he said, and Tina felt relieved by the fact she wasn't spilling Zeke's secrets. "I was with him when he found out, in freshman year. It was... really hard for him. Why were you talking about it?"

"It had to do with something he said on Saturday, in the closet. He told me he saw sadness in me, and, well... that you caused it." Jimmy shifted uncomfortably, and she felt guilty for telling him, but he had to know in order to understand. "And when I asked him how he knew so much about sadness, he told me about his mom."

"He's such a dick sometimes," Jimmy muttered, squeezing the folds of Tina's top. "Wait, is this my sweatshirt?"

"Oh, yeah," she confirmed, looking down at it. "I found it in my room. Do you mind?"

"No, not at all. You look hot," he flirted, smirking at her. She couldn't help but blush. "Anyway, don't listen to him, he doesn't even know you."

"That's what I said. It's so annoying how he just assumed he knew me, like he and I have been BFFs for years," she vented, playing with the string on Jimmy's apron. "You probably don't remember this, but he kind of ran out of the closet on Saturday, and I asked him why he did that, because I thought he was going to..."

She trailed off, and Jimmy's eyes darkened with anger. 

"He what?"

"Well I thought maybe he was going to... kiss me."

"But he didn't, right?" He seethed, his eyes almost wild with jealousy.

"No, baby, he didn't. There was just a weird moment, I guess, when I thought he might. Anyway I asked him about it and he told me he wouldn't do that to you, so whatever. Don't worry about it," she assured him, brushing his strawberry blond hair out of his eyes. Despite her words, he didn't speak, and seemed to be playing something out in his mind.

"Jimmy," Tina said, stroking his cheeks. He looked at her with those dark, jealous eyes, and she tried to calm him down. 

"Jimmy, baby, nothing actually happened. You have nothing to be jealous about."

"You know that if he ever makes a move on you, I'll fucking kill him, right?"

"I know you will."

"I'm being serious."

"I know you are."

"If he ever tries anything--"

"Baby," Tina whispered soothingly, kissing his lips gently. "I know."

He sighed, unraveling beneath her touch. "I just love you."

"I love you too," she responded, a cathartic feeling washing through her. "Say more nice things."

"Hey, you know what I did tonight?"

She smiled, looking into his eyes. "What did you do tonight?"

"I started a fund. For New York." For our life.

"You did?"

"Yeah--is that bad?"

"No, no," she said dreamily, the cathartic feeling overflowing. "I just didn't know you actually wanted to do that."

"Well... I do. Do you?"

"Yes, Jimmy Jr., I do," she professed, grinning. "I can add my tips to it, too. It can be our fund, for our life."

"Yeah," he smiled, in that pretty, charming way. "Let's do it."

"Let's do it," she echoed. She kissed him passionately, biting his lip softly in that way that made him crazy.

"Mm, Tina," he moaned in the kiss, gripping her body. "Can I come over when I'm finished here?"

"Yes please," she mumbled, breaking away from him and releasing him, heading to the door. "I'll see you in a bit."

"Okay," he chuckled, and she leaned on the door, opening it and stepping out into the evening air, her skin shivering from Jimmy's words. 

Our life.

Chapter Text

The week escaped Tina. She spent it as she usually did—writing and reading in her room, working at the restaurant, watching TV with her family, journaling. The entire week, she wanted to wander back to the beach; but she was oddly afraid to. She was too timid to approach Zeke about what they talked about, but she also didn’t see any reason to be embarrassed. She continued to feel guilty about making him bring up his mom, but she also realized that she didn’t really make him do anything. He chose to tell her about his mom; she didn’t force him.

She just didn’t want him to be upset with her, and she didn’t know if he was. At school, he seemed to avoid her, but they didn’t have many classes together anyway, so she couldn’t tell what was going on with him. Sometimes on her way home with Jimmy, she would see him smoking behind the school with some of his wrestling friends, or reading in the public garden. He was still reading Wuthering Heights whenever she saw him, and sometimes she would even see him writing in a battered notebook. She wondered what he wrote in there; his thoughts and feelings, maybe? Quotes from Wuthering Heights? His dreams, his fears, his wishes, what he wants most in the world? All of the above?

She wanted to ask him that question—What do you want most in the world?—and wished she could gather the courage to. Sometimes when she passed him on her bike he would lock eyes with her, and she would feel something pass through her. In those moments she could feel her heart beating in every muscle in her body, a steady rhythm of please look at me like that again. She saw those dark eyes everywhere—in her dreams, in the clouds, in the horizon where the sun meets the sea. She wanted to see them up close and find color in them, if there was any to find. She wanted to hear his voice again, see his bright smile, listen to his quiet, rough whisper round his lips to Heathcliff’s declaration of pain.

These are the words she journaled in the early morning at her window pane with the deep blue sky. She couldn’t stop thinking about that day at the beach and the things he said to her: Honest people don’t hide their deeds; She burned too bright for this world; Actually, I prefer Emily; I can not live without my soul!; You can’t be that naive; I see sadness in you; I just want you to be happy, Tina; I wouldn’t do that to Jimmy.

His voice echoed through her, so much so that she could hear his words all the time. She wrote them over and over again in her journal, taping the cigarette butt he gave her inside. She pulled the two butts (one from Jimmy, one from Zeke) out of her jeans and taped those in there too, creating a special T-chart for each of the cigarettes they gave her. Next to each one, she wrote the date she smoked them. Jimmy’s half was growing, while Zeke’s was a simple two. She wanted to add to it, but she knew that she had to actually talk to Zeke first for that to happen. 

Without knowing it, Tina’s diary started to fill with Zeke—drawings of his eyes, the cigarette butts, his words written over and over. Honest people don’t hide their deeds. Honest people don’t hide their deeds. She wrote about the way her heart pounded when he looked at her with those dark eyes, the way his rough hand brushed against hers in the water, the way his face softened when she said, “Haunt me, then.” She drew the library copy of Wuthering Heights, the sparkling water on the ocean, his hand running through his wet hair. She thought of how he would answer her question, What do you want most in the world? Would he want to see his mom again? Go to a foreign country? Make money and live in a huge house? Become a professional wrestler? See the world? Fall in love?

Ironically, she also wrote over and over how she definitely did not have feelings for him, despite her journal suggesting otherwise. She rationalized that he was a mystery to her and that’s why she was starting to think about him more, why she kept the cigarette butts, why she wrote his words over and over. Honest people don’t hide their deeds. Honest people don’t hide their deeds.

I love Jimmy, she wrote, I don’t want to date Zeke or anything like that. I just feel the need to know him; I feel the need to understand him. And maybe I like the way his eyes look right into mine when he looks at me, and the way he memorizes quotes, like I do. Maybe I like the way he speaks, the way he says my name. He’s a... friend?

Meanwhile, she couldn’t see Jimmy very often outside of school. His dad never let him off work, so the only time they spent together was during school hours and at night when Jimmy sneaked into her window. The fact that his dad didn’t want him to see her worried her, especially what Jimmy Pesto Sr. would do to his son if he found out. But even then, Jimmy Jr. didn’t care what his dad thought, and that made Tina love him even more.

At night, Jimmy Jr. tossed pebbles at her window to wake her and climbed the drain pipe. Despite her worries about his father, Tina couldn’t deny that it was inexplicably exciting to fall in love when she wasn’t supposed to. 

He would pull himself through her window, smelling of cleaning supplies and oregano from the restaurant, embracing her and kissing her neck gently. She would pull him into bed and undress him slowly, working out his emotional knots with her soothing words. Sometimes they would stay up all night talking, or she would read poetry or some of her writing to him. He told her he loved her intonation as she read, regardless of the text.

And in the early morning, Tina would wake in his arms and pull herself out of bed, wrapping herself in a blanket. She would sit on her floor and rest her arms on her window pane and watch the sky fade from deep, intense blue to her and Jimmy’s sunrise sky. When they had to go to school, Jimmy would sneak back out of her window and get his bike to go with her, and it was perfect.

And even more, they dreamed of New York. Jimmy found an old, empty, gigantic jar of dried tomatoes in his restaurant, and they washed it and cut a hole in the lid. Tina peeled off the tomatoes label and glued pictures of New York City she found in magazines to the glass. On the lid, she wrote in her pretty cursive, Our Life. At the end of each day, she put her tips inside, and when Jimmy snuck over, he would put his tips inside too. Tina hid the jar in a loose floorboard in her room, next to her diary. They talked about what their apartment might look like, bickered over decor and where they would put their master bed, by the window or by the door. Tina wanted a terrace for plants, a place where she can drink coffee and write. Jimmy wanted an apartment by the East River, somewhere he could look out onto the whole city. In her diary, she drew pictures of her precious terrace, of Jimmy’s desired view of the city skyline. She imagined how the sun would rise and set on the skyscrapers and sketched images of her riding her bike all the way to the ocean. She dreamed, and dreamed, and dreamed.

Tina could tell Jimmy was trying to change, despite him not getting many opportunities to showcase his work on himself. His dad wouldn’t let him go out, so he couldn’t take her on dates, so the best he could do was be more considerate of her. She saw that he was trying—she heard his questions about her day and her thoughts, listened to him tell her his feelings about his dad, noticed when he kissed her passionately in public so she knew he was proud to be hers. But she also knew she wouldn’t be able to tell how far he had really come until one of Jocelyn’s parties, which as usual, were every weekend. Despite her wonderful nights with Jimmy, she had a seed of dread in her stomach that something bad was going to happen come the weekend.

Honest people don’t hide their deeds.

Chapter Text

Tina stared out into the sky, the window glinting from the sunlight. She searched for a cloud, so maybe a hint of rain would fall. Even a drizzle would be enough to make her cry joyfully. 

She was stuck in her last class of the day, English. This was the only class she had with Zeke, and she so desperately wanted to look to the back of the classroom for just a glance of his eyes. 

Stop it, Tina, she said to herself, mentally groaning. They're just eyes.

But they weren't just eyes. They were something greater than eyes to Tina, and even she knew it, deep down. But she wanted to hit herself for it; Why am I thinking about Zeke's eyes when I could be thinking about Jimmy's?

The bell rang, and Tina was desperate to get out of there. She wanted to go back to Jimmy, back to hazel, back to rain and away from the sea. Away from Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights, away from dark eyes and dark hair and dark words, away from I see sadness in you and Honest people don't hide their deeds. She was sick of thinking about Zeke because nothing was being produced from it; she was just growing more and more confused. She didn't want to even consider the fact that she could be betraying Jimmy with these thoughts, these... memories, these obsessions. She knew she was feeding into her own bullshit; but she couldn't even distinguish the truth from what she was telling herself. It all blended together in her mind, tangled like multi-colored taffy. She just wanted Jimmy, his voice and his kisses and his comfort. She didn't want Zeke, or she didn't want to want Zeke. She didn't know which conclusion was more accurate.

She grabbed her backpack and hurried out, exhaling. What is wrong with me? She walked to her locker, frustratingly pulling it after entering her combination. When it resisted, she slammed her fist against the locker.

"Damn it!" She swore, frustration echoing through her. She couldn't help but like the pain in her hand a little bit; it was a real feeling, a genuine stimulus, something physical she could produce. She punched the locker again, wanting to push a hole right through the metal. She punched again, and again, and again, pain erupting through her right arm. 

"Tina--Tina!" Someone yelled, and her arm was grasped. She looked to see who it was, and Jimmy's hazel eyes were wide and fearful. "You're bleeding."

He released her, and she looked at her hand, which had sprouted red, seeping spots on her knuckles. Her hand felt insanely sore, and when she extended her fingers the pain brought tears to her eyes. Everyone in the hallway was looking at her; even Zeke, whose eyes were soft, the way she liked them. His brows were furrowed. She looked away from him. 

She turned back to Jimmy, her heart pounding. The frustration melted, and she swallowed. 

"Tina," he fretted, taking her right hand between his two, the way that she loved. "What's going on?"

She looked over at her locker; in the center of a small dent, blood was splattered.

"My locker wouldn't open," she said flatly.

"So you punched it?" He questioned, clearly worried about her. 

I'm hiding something from you, she thought. But is it even a something? Is it just... regular, obsessive Tina? Is it just a thought in her mind, a fly in her room, a fantasy composed of air? A toast to nothing and no one?

"Yes," she replied, her tone empty. "I just..."

"You what?"

"I feel anxious."

"Why?"

"I think... something bad is going to happen."

"What, now?"

"No, this weekend. I... I'm worried you'll..."

"That I'll fuck up?" He asked, and she looked into his eyes. She saw pain in them. 

She couldn't respond. She didn't want to see that pain; she wanted to spray it with Windex and wipe it away.

He sighed mournfully, stroking her fingers with his thumbs. 

"I know it..." he started, quietly, softly, "I know it must be hard for you to have faith in me. After everything that happened... after everything I did. But I'm trying here, Tina."

"I know you are," she replied, exasperated. Her hand was really starting to hurt. "I know. It's just... I don't know. Maybe I'm getting my period soon or something. I guess I just feel confused." It wasn't a lie.

"Well... do you want to go to Jocelyn's party?"

"I would like to get very, very, extremely drunk, so yes."

"Okay," he said, pulling her in and kissing her. It felt good; she wished she could stay there, in the space where their lips touched.

"Do you want me to open this for you?" He asked sweetly after pulling away. She couldn't help but smile and laugh. I can't believe I dented my locker with my own fist. In an odd way, she felt empowered. 

"Sure. Thank you," she smiled, stepping out of the way. He spun the lock and entered her combination, opening it with some force, as the lock was probably a little damaged. He stepped to her side and zipped open her bag, grabbing her notebooks and tossing them in her locker. She found it funny how he so expertly knew her patterns; which notebooks she needed and didn't need, and the fact that she kept all her homework in a separate folder. It made her smile how he was the only person in this world that knew those things about her.

"Ready?" He asked, pulling a jean jacket out of her locker. It was actually Jimmy's jacket, but he liked the way she looked in it, and she liked the way it smelled like him. It was like a cotton version of one of Jimmy's hugs.

"Yes," she confirmed. He held out his jean jacket for her, and she pulled her backpack off to slip her arms through the sleeves. He turned her to him, adjusting it on her shoulders. She gazed at him dreamily as he lifted her hair over the collar and finally cupping her face.

"You have a strong punch," he smirked, and she smiled, feeling the ache in her hand. 

"Thank you," she laughed, pulling her bag back on. He leaned forward and kissed her nose, his soft lips soothing her. Her frustration was gone.

"Come on, killer," he said, making her smile even wider. He put his arm around her, and they headed to the exit.

Chapter Text

"I'll see you later, okay? I'll signal you."

"Okay," she agreed, shrugging off Jimmy's jacket and handing it to him. "Here, your keys and phone are in there."

He smiled at her thoughtfulness, kissing her deeply. She swooned, swaying, his kiss shooting her up into the sky.

"Thank you," he whispered against her lips. He took the jacket, and she stumbled a bit backward, hitting her front door. "I love you, killer."

"I love you," she said breathlessly, her arms growing colder without Jimmy's denim. He grinned widely at her, backing away, his eyes on her. 

She bit her lip as she watched him hurry across the street, pulling his phone out of his jacket pocket and shoving it in his jeans. She liked the way his body moved like that, underneath a white t-shirt. She wanted to reach out and grab him, pull him back to her, into her dark room and warm bed.

She sighed, looking at her hand. She managed to stop the bleeding, but her knuckles still hurt like a bitch. She almost wished she hadn't punched her locker, almost. In truth, she kind of liked the pain. It was something real--like her love for Jimmy, like Jimmy's warm jacket, like his new nickname for her, killer. It was original, it was funny, it was ironic, it was sweet, it was something real.

She watched him open the restaurant door, greeting his little brothers. They tossed and apron to him, and he caught it in the air, setting his jean jacket on the bar. She turned away, looking at her own dad's restaurant. She didn't feel like working, as she knew it would only make her hand feel worse.

"Hey, Tina," her dad greeted her from the kitchen, poking his head out of the kitchen window. Her mom said the same, as she was standing behind the counter.

"Hey, Mom and Dad," Tina said, taking off her backpack and throwing it on the floor by the counter.

"Tina, I hate to do this to you, but can you clean the bathroom?" Her mom requested, making Tina groan. "Your brother and sister are being little brats and refusing to work."

"Fine," she grumbled, making her way to the kitchen, where the cleaning supplies were. If only they paid me.

As she started to push open the door, her mom stopped her.

"Hold on, Miss Missy. What the hell happened to your hand?"

"I... punched my locker."

"You punched your locker?" Bob questioned, his tone shocked and impressed.

"Why did you do that, Tina?" Her mother asked, her tone concerned, her brows furrowed behind her glasses. Tina was already sick of this conversation.

"It wouldn't open."

"Tina, did Jimmy--"

"Oh my god, Jimmy had nothing to do with it. Just because I did something irrational doesn't mean Jimmy made me do it. I was just frustrated," she exasperated, annoyed. She was so sick of her parents antagonizing Jimmy. It wasn't helpful to her.

"We're just concerned about you, Tina."

"And I'm telling you that you don't have to be. I'm fine," she huffed, pushing open the door to the kitchen. She appreciated her parents' concern, but it was bad timing. She opened the supply closet and pulled out the mop.

The hours passed slowly, as Tina was looking forward to Jocelyn's party. Well, she was looking forward to drinking, and spending time with Jimmy. Saturday's party was going so well before it was ruined with You can fuck him for all I care, and Tina wanted to return to that beautiful hour when everything was pristine and the opposite of ruined.

During her break, Tina changed into a blue dress, one she bought because of the way it rounded her curves. She didn't usually find clothes she liked when she shopped, but this dress was perfect for her, and she knew it. She knew Jimmy would like it, but in case he didn't, she told herself it didn't matter. She wore it for her.

She volunteered to clean up the restaurant again, after getting permission from her reluctant parents to go to Jocelyn's. They were worried for her, because of the hand thing; but she didn't care. She continued to enjoy the pain, the something real.

She cleaned the restaurant quickly and half-heartedly, watching for Jimmy's signal, which came earlier than expected. He flicked the lights on and off three times, and her heart leaped, a grin spreading across her face. She hurried out of the restaurant, turning the lights off and locking the door. She stepped out into the cold air, goosebumps sprouting on her arms. She could see Jimmy's charming smile, his pretty face grinning so wonderfully at her. She lost no time getting across the street, whipping open the door to Jimmy Pesto's and collapsing into her boyfriend.

"Mm," she moaned as he kissed her deeply, his hands in her hair. She pushed her body against his, feeling that familiar warmth between her legs. Their mouths moved in sync, the cathartic contact making her shiver. Jimmy ran his fingers through her dark locks, almost tugging on them, which only made Tina  feel even more restless.

"Tina," he said breathlessly, "You drive me so fucking crazy."

She smiled against his lips, liking this sexual power she had over him. First the locker-punching empowerment, now this; she couldn't help but revel in the way she made him feel. She wanted to sink in it.

"We should just ditch this thing and go up to your room."

"Mm baby, but drugs! Alcohol!" She bleated, grinning. He chuckled, nodding.

"Okay, slow down, killer," he joked, smiling charmingly. She kissed him in response, pulling off his apron. "You ready to go?"

"Mm-hmm," she hummed, pulling away.

"You wanna wear my jacket again?"

She flushed, smiling huge.

"Yes, please."

He grinned, walking over to the counter and grabbing it, as it was tucked away in the shelves of the bar. He tossed it to her, and she caught it and shrugged it on. She rolled up the sleeves so they ended at her mid-forearms, and Jimmy turned the lights off. She opened the door for him and they stepped out, Tina handing him his keys. He locked the restaurant and took her left hand in his right, kissing the back of it.

"How's your hand, killer?"

She grinning at the nickname, and checked out her hand in the dark.

"Better, I think. My mom made me wrap it, so I officially look badass. I also took a bunch of painkillers, so I feel pretty good."

"Nice," he chuckled, swinging her arm, looking over at her bandaged hand. "I've never seen you get like that. When you were punching your locker."

She shrugged. "Well, I've never punched a locker before."

"Really, though. In all the time I've known you, I've never seen you get physical like that. I was worried about you. I thought something really bad happened."

"I don't know... I mean, you know me. When I get upset I usually just cry, I don't get angry. But sometimes... I just get so stuck in my own head. I tend to sit down with my own thoughts and I lose time. I keep thinking the same things over and over, seeing the same images, so much so that I need something to pull myself back to reality. A kiss, or the ocean, or the rain, or tequila, or a locker punch. I just get so... so absorbed in my own head. It gets to be too much."

"I understand, I think I know the feeling. Like... you feel the need to be tethered to reality, or else you might float off into space."

She looked over at him, her eyes shining. 

"Is that why you get intimate with me after something happens with your dad?" She asked gently, and he turned to her.

"I guess it is, yeah. I just get so angry, and my head fills with all of these... dark thoughts, this anger, or sadness, or frustration, and I'm afraid it'll wash me away. But when I'm with you..." he said, trailing off dreamily, his eyes sparkling, "I feel tethered to this earth, to you. You are my reality, Tina. You're my life."

Her heart panged, something warm washing through her. She stopped in the sidewalk and looked deeply in his eyes. She knew it must have been hard for Jimmy to tell her that, and she wanted to take him far away from this town. To New York, to our life.

"You're my life, too," she reciprocated. His smile was so soft, his eyes so pretty in the streetlight. "I love you, Jimmy. With everything I am."

"I love you, Tina."

She pulled him in and pressed his lips to her own, exhaling into him. She wanted to stay there forever, in the streetlight, in his embrace.

Chapter Text

Jimmy and Tina wandered their way to Jocelyn's party, their eyes full of stars. It was a cool night, the wind brushing Tina's hair behind her shoulders. She thought of I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul! when she looked at Jimmy's charming smile, that smile she wanted to be just for her. She no longer heard Zeke's voice when she thought of those words; she heard her own.

She ignored the seed of dread in her stomach, wishing not to indulge it as she usually would. She tried to feel hope that the night would go well, that nothing would derail her and Jimmy yet again. On the contrary, though, the seed of dread only allowed her to feel longing. She didn't know where to find hope amongst the hurt in her chest, amongst those dark eyes.

Jocelyn's looked as it usually did, the evidence of teenage carelessness strewn across her lawn. There were not many people on the porch this early in the night, and Tina wondered how long it would take for her to find her way outside. Jimmy grinned at the house, at the music pumping through the doors and windows to the outside world. She wondered what was going through his mind at that moment; what he longed for that night.

They entered, closing the door behind them. The music was louder that usual, the air smelling of marajuana burning. Tina liked smoking pot; she was fond of the way her mind blanked when she did, the way she pulled back to the earth and out of her head. 

You're my life, he had said to her, his eyes soft. The words made her heart flutter, but the ruling of the seed of doubt dominated her. She wanted to believe it, she wanted to believe it with every particle in her body; but she couldn't find hope. Only longing.

They found the kitchen and Jimmy pulled two red solo cups out of a bag. For a moment, Tina wondered how many of those cups one of Jocelyn's parties went through; there seemed to be an endless supply of them in her kitchen. It couldn't be good for the environment.

"What do you want to do tonight?" Jimmy asked, pouring vodka into their cups. "I was thinking we could dance. I like dancing with you."

"Yes," she beamed, remembering their beautiful hour. "I would love to dance with you."

He grinned, glancing at her. He poured a nearby two-liter bottle of ginger ale into their cups, then finished off the drinks with a shot of tequila in each. Jimmy's drinks were usually too strong for her, but she didn't mind tonight.

They greeted Jocelyn, who was playing a game of beer pong with some of Tina's classmates. Jocelyn smiled triumphantly as she and Tammy, her partner, were named the victors of the game. They sloppily high-fived, making Tina chuckle and roll her eyes. She wondered what it might be like to win beer pong.

She sipped her drink, the boisterous alcohol hitting her immediately. She could taste the tequila, and she was reminded of her very drunk crying on Zeke's shoulder in the closet a week ago. The strong tequila was already seeping into her mind. She hoped to make a new tequila-memory... maybe a positive one this time.

Jimmy laughed as Jocelyn drunkenly slurred their names, welcoming them to her party loudly. Tina always liked that about Jocelyn, how she was always so excited when she saw new guests. Hospitality was clearly important to her, and Tina noticed.

Jimmy turned to Tina, and she could barely see specks of green in his eyes. 

"You wanna dance, killer?"

She grinned, taking a big gulp of her drink before setting it down. "Yes, please."

He set his drink down too, smiling widely. He took her hand, and her mind momentarily flashed to that night in the rain, when he led her to his blanket on the sand. The night flickered across her mind like a stop-motion film as he pulled her to the dance floor, starting to move his body to the music. She laughed at the silly face he was making, remembering the sound that was made when the rain hit the ocean.

He grinded her, making her feel that familiar warmth inside of her again. He gripped her waist from behind her, and she swayed with her back and hips pressed to him. She could feel his bulge on her.

"Mm," she moaned, closing her eyes, absorbing the moment. The music was pumping through her and Tina was starting to feel the effects of the alcohol pulse through her. Her body felt lighter, her eyes heavy.

"You look so hot in my jacket," Jimmy slurred into her ear, his hot breath making her shiver. "You're so fucking beautiful, Tina."

She turned to him, pressing her body to his. She looked deep in his eyes and saw they were darkening with lust. There was a hunger in them, and she felt that same hunger in her chest. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tammy's blond ponytail bobbing in the kitchen, her stupid face looking towards the dance floor. A brave feeling washed through Tina, and she pulled Jimmy's lips to her own, kissing him fiercely, tasting the ginger ale on his lips.

He tightened his grip on her, moving her hands to touch her underneath his jacket and on top of her dress. The motion ignited her, and she pulled him even closer to her.

"You wanna go upstairs?" She mumbled quickly, against his lips. She could feel him smiling, feel his head nodding. Her fingers were running through his hair, rubbing the nape of his neck with her bandaged hand. Her heart was pounding.

He detached himself from her, smirking seductively. He kept his darkened eyes on her as he gently took her bruised hand and led her to the staircase while she bit her lip in anticipation. On her way, she grabbed their drinks and took a sip of her own. She could hear Tammy's voice talking to someone, and for once, Tina felt in control.

Her feet found the dark stairs and Jimmy turned away from her as they climbed them. Her heart was beating so hard she thought it might explode out of her, and she could feel her underwear dampening. If the alcohol wasn't kicking in before, it was now.

Jimmy turned the light on in the upstairs hallway, and the sudden sight of the bulge in his jeans made her flush. He turned to her and smirked, that sight making her yearn to grip the hot skin under his clothes.

He pushed open the upstairs bathroom door, the light from the street just barely illuminating the room. He reached for the light with his fingers, but she grabbed his hand.

"Keep it off," she slurred, and she could just barely see his smirk in the dark as she set down their drinks.

He growled softly, pulling her back into him. He kissed her roughly, pushing her against the bathroom door. He tasted like ginger ale and vodka and tequila, the different tastes swimming together on his tongue. She hungrily pulled at his shirt, and they barely broke away as she tugged it over his head and tossed it to the floor. As they fiercely kissed, he pushed his jacket off of her shoulders and gripped her arms, the denim falling to the ground. 

"Ugh, Jimmy," she moaned, her voice guttural and rough, the way it always was when she was aroused. She bit his bottom lip softly and he groaned, climbing his hands up her thighs. 

"Is this okay?" He asked quickly, lightly touching the material of her panties, and she nodded with excitement.

He hooked her fingers on her underwear and pulled them down, leaning down to let her step out of them and tossing them over by Jimmy's t-shirt. Her skin was hot and sensitive with anticipation, her eyes wild, her lips hungry.

She undid at his jeans and yanked at them as he moaned softly at her careless fingers brushing against his erection. He fisted the material of her dress and pushed her up against the door, eagerly kissing her. He pulled away and grabbed the jean jacket, Tina moaning from the lost contact. She saw him pull something out of the pocket and heard the familiar ripping open of a condom. She heard a rustle of his clothing, and when he came back to her, his hardened member was brushing against the inside of her thigh. 

"Jimmy," she breathed, her skin igniting. "Fuck me."

"Yes, ma'am," he whispered, and she could hear a smile in his words. He gripped her thighs and lifted her, leaning her against the door. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, attaching his mouth to hers as he pushed himself into her.

It didn't hurt the way it usually did--Tina moaned a little too loudly as he was suddenly deep inside of her, the tip of him brushing against the spot that unravelled her. She gripped his shoulders, panting, ready for this. 

"Can I move?" He mumbled onto her lips, and she agreed eagerly. He slid out of her and back in, and she couldn't help but almost fall to the ground in pleasure, moans slipping from her lips. 

"Tina," he moaned, kissing her neck and starting to gather a pace, "You feel amazing."

"Oh, god," she whimpered, the door squeaking with their heavy movements. "Oh, god. Harder."

He did as she said, and her pleasure only increased. She shut her eyes tight, feeling a familiar pressure build in her stomach.

"Oh god." She tightened around him, her orgasm hitting her like her fist indenting her locker. "Jimmy!" She cried out his name, which made him groan, thrusting fast in and out of her.

He let out a whimper, finally thrusting deep into her with his climax. He was still lifting her, and she could feel her forehead perspiring as she panted. She clutched his shoulder, feeling it slightly dampening with his own sweat.

"Tina," he breathed into her neck, her skin prickling with goosebumps from her orgasm.

"Jimmy," she exasperated, setting her feet back on the floor. The stretch in her legs was euphoric. He released his grip on her, and his hands fell to her side to touch the material of her dress. His face was still in her neck, and she gripped his hair and gently moved him so she could see his eyes.

She brushed her thumbs against his cheeks, which she realized were wet. Her heart panged, and she brushed his damp bangs out of his eyes.

"Oh, honey," she worried, trying to keep her voice still and soothing. "Why are you crying?"

He exhaled, lifting his hands to caress her wrists. She felt his face contort with a sob, and she pulled him back into her embrace as his cry became audible.

"It's okay," she soothed, running her fingers through his hair. "I'm here."

He cried into her shoulder, his fingers pressed to her back. She didn't know why he was crying, but somehow she felt his pain, like it was seeping out of him onto her skin.

Jimmy didn't often cry in front of her--this was maybe the third or fourth time it had happened. The other times had to do with his dad, or once, his mom. Despite this, she knew she was the only person he let see him cry.

"I'm sorry," he sobbed, his voice higher pitched than usual. She felt confused and furrowed her brows. Was there something she didn't know?

"Why are you sorry, baby?"

"Because I treat you badly. I'm shit."

"Jimmy, baby," she whispered, her heart hurting, "You are not shit. I love you."

"But you shouldn't. You should not love me, Tina. I'm fucked up. I'm rude, I'm selfish, I'm arrogant. You should not love me, I don't deserve that."

"Stop it with that, Jimmy." She pulled him foreward and cupped his cheeks, looking into his eyes through the dark. "You are not fucked up, and even if you were, you would still deserve love. Everyone deserves love."

"But you deserve better."

Tina's heart panged. 

"Did Zeke say that to you?"

"What does it matter? It's true."

"So he did," she concluded, anger rising in her chest. "Jimmy, he doesn't know us. He doesn't know me or what I deserve. He doesn't see the beautiful moments we have, the way you make love to me, how happy we make each other. He doesn't know you like I know you."

"I just..." he trailed off, looking down. "I thought of what it would be like to lose you, and I... I couldn't help but cry. I never want to make you unhappy. I'm sorry, Tina."

"I know you are. It's okay. I see that you're changing, even if you don't think you are. I see it, and I love you for it. You don't have to worry about losing me if you keep trying."

"Tina," he whispered, exhaling.

"Yes?"

A pause.

He looked into her eyes, her heart pounding as she waited for his answer. She couldn't help but feel like he was on the verge of telling her something important.

"I love you." 

"I love you too, Jimmy."

"I wasn't lying when I told you that you are my life. It's the truth."

"Okay," she said softly, touching his hair. She pulled him in, kissing his lips gently. She could still feel his hot tears on her face.

He pulled away, releasing her from his touch. She saw his silhouette moving, pulling off the condom and throwing it out. He pulled his shirt on and unwinded her panties, leaning down and allowing her to step into them and pulling them up for her. She thought it was sweet, that simple action making her heart warm.

"Thank you," she said, picking up Jimmy's jacket and putting it back on. She reached for her drink which she had set on the sink next to Jimmy's. The cold ginger ale cooled her throat and soothed her warm skin. She set it back down, pulling Jimmy close to her.

"I don't regret giving you another chance, you know."

He exhaled. "You don't?"

"No, I don't. And not just because I love you, and not just because you wanted me to. It's because... well, I guess because I have hope."

"Really?"

"Yes," she whispered, kissing his cheek. "I do. I have hope that you'll change for good, hope that we can get the fuck out of this town, hope for New York, for our life. I don't think I felt it before, though I think I subconsciously had it, but I feel it now. I have hope for us."

His eyes shone. "I have hope for us, too."

She smiled a little, pressing his lips to hers. She sighed into him, finally distinguishing the seed of doubt.

Chapter Text

Zeke flicked his cigarette butt out in the yard, eyeing Jocelyn's growing party from outside. God, why do I go to these fucking things?

Because Tina does, his thoughts answered, making him sigh. Tina. He had been thinking about her even more since their day at the beach. He loved being close to her, swimming with her, watching the ocean water roll off of her tan skin. After he left her alone in the water, he wanted to turn back, wanted to take his clothes back off and embrace her gorgeous body. He wanted to hear her voice again, watch her eyes flicker closed, see her hair smoothen as she dipped her head below the surface.

But he knew he couldn't stay with her. He knew that if he had lingered in the water with her, he would have done something he would regret. She's Jimmy's, he reminded himself as he walked away in the water. She isn't mine. The sooner I realize it, the better.

But after that day, he couldn't help but feel something shift between them. Something had changed, though he couldn't put his finger on what it was. He thought maybe it was the way she looked at him--it was the same way she looked at the ocean, the way she looked at the rain. She gazed at him with that look as she soared by on her bike, as she walked by the garden where he was reading, as she passed him in the halls. He wanted to know what was going through her mind in those moments, and he wished he had the courage to ask her. He tried to avoid her, but it was no use. He felt drawn to her, and he was worried she was starting to realize it.

The look she gave him that day, though, was different. He had never seen that look on her face before, after she punched her locker over and over. Zeke had been heading out of class when he saw her doing it, and out of shock, froze and didn't stop her. Jimmy showed up as he was about to approach her, and soon after she looked at him dead in the eyes. It was not the way she looked at the ocean, not the way she looked at the rain. It was not a look of pain, not a look of realization, not a look of anger. It was a look of Honest people don't hide their deeds. He didn't know how to interpret it as anything else.

He knew she would be here tonight, which is why he came. She usually came to Jocelyn's parties, because Jimmy wanted her too. Zeke wondered if she would go to them if Jimmy wasn't into it as he climbed the porch steps and opened the door, the music blaring, the beat pumping through him. He saw Tammy before anyone else, as he was also there for her, to deliver what she needed. Zeke pushed through teenagers over to Tammy, and suddenly noticed Tina dancing with Jimmy. They were kissing, and Tammy was rolling her eyes. The vision of Tina and Jimmy made Zeke sick to his stomach.

He looked away and towards Tammy, who was wearing her usual smirk. Her top was tight on her body, her jeans hugging her hips. Her green eyeshadow sparkled in the glow of the kitchen light, as she was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room.

"Hey. Do you have it?" She questioned, flipping her hair behind her shoulder. "They're making out and I need weed, like right now."

He nodded, digging in his pocket for Tammy's two grams. He pulled out the weed, which was shoved into a small plastic bag. She reached for it, but he pulled it back.

"Twenty bucks," he said gruffly. She rolled her eyes, but pulled a twenty-dollar bill out of her back pocket.

"Raising the price, I see," she noted, slapping the bill in his palm. He handed her the weed, pocketing the money. 

"I've got a business to run," he reasoned. She flicked the bag and examined it, ensuring it was her full two grams. 

"And there they go," she sighed, looking towards Tina and Jimmy, who were climbing their way to the second floor. "Up the Fuck Stairs. Typical."

Zeke shifted uncomfortably, leaning his body against the door frame. Tammy just barely stepped inside the kitchen. She turned and laid a rolling paper on the counter.

"We should just ditch the plan you know, since they're clearly so in looove." Tammy mocked the word, rolling her eyes and scoffing as she made a clean line of the bud in the rolling paper. "They'll just be magnetically drawn back to each other. It's probably not worth it."

"I don't know," Zeke said, shrugging. He pictured her face as she looked at him today, that Honest people don't hide their deeds look. "She's been looking at me differently. I think maybe she... I don't know. I think maybe she might be changing her mind about him. About me."

"You know that they're fucking upstairs, right? Like, right now," she snorted, almost laughing at the words. Zeke couldn't help but picture it: Tina's soft skin pressing against Jimmy, her thoughtful words blending with Jimmy's carelessness. 

"Shut up, Tammy," he cringed, shivering from the image.

"Just saying. Though, there is new evidence to suggest our plan might actually work. What you said about the beach was interesting," she reasoned, started to roll the joint. "You know, about her checking you out. She probably totally was, since you have a great body. I mean, you're smoking hot. How could she not check you out?"

"Don't flirt with me, Tammy." Zeke rolled his eyes, pulling a blunt out of his pocket.

"Ugh, don't flatter yourself. It's not a good look on you," she sneered, licking the paper and folding the joint. "And that thing today, with Tina's locker, that was insane. That was definitely about you."

"You don't know that."

"Um, didn't you see it? That shit was crazy, she fucking dented the thing, there was blood on it. Have you ever seen Tina get like that?"

"No, I guess I haven't." He lit the blunt, inhaling the drug. It calmed his nerves.

"Exactly. Something is clearly eating her, and I'll bet a million fucking dollars it had to do with you," she shrugged, reaching in her pocket for her pink lighter.

"It could have been about something else."

"Yeah, sure," she scoffed mockingly, lighting the joint and taking a big hit. "If you can find concrete proof about it, though, I mean, that would be great. I'll go through with the plan if you do."

"How would I do that, exactly?"

"I don't know, Zeke, get creative. Get her to confess it to you and record it or something. Doesn't she keep a diary? I bet she wrote about you."

"I'm not gonna go through her diary, Tammy. That's fucked up."

"Don't you want her, Zeke?" She asked quietly, turning to him. "Don't you want to fuck her the way Jimmy fucks her? Don't you want to hear her moan your name, to see her look at you with love in her eyes?" She said this slowly, and the image of him making love to Tina flashed through his mind. He had pictured it thousands of times, in every position. In this moment, he thought of her sprawled out on her back, her eyes closed and his name on her lips. 

He opened his eyes, looking back out on the people dancing, at the darkness. The image disappeared. He puffed the blunt.

"I can't go through her diary. That's a violation of her trust and privacy, and if she ever found out she would hate me."

"Ugh, you would make a terrible supervillain," she mocked, inhaling the sativa strain in her joint. "You're too emotional."

"Maybe I don't want to be a supervillain," he sighed, crossing his arms, smoking more of the weed. He imagined the way Tina's lips would feel on his cheek. "Maybe I want to be the hero."

"People like us don't get to be the hero, Zeke," she said, and he looked over at her. Her eyes were serious. "When we don't get what we want, we have to take it. It's like a social food chain. You have to be a shark, like Jimmy. He's a shark. When he doesn't get what he wants easily, he takes it. You saw it three weeks ago, that time it rained, and I saw it too. Why do you think I want him so much?"

Zeke was quiet. He didn't know if he could be a shark... but he knew that he had to be in order to push his fantasies into reality. He pictured Tina, sprawled on her back, her eyes sparkling with desire and affection. He would be the only thing on her mind; she would be the only thing on his.

"Fine," he sighed. "I'm not promising anything, though."

"The sooner, the better." She eyed him, inhaling the weed deeply. "I'm sick of being alone. It fucking sucks."

"Yeah," he agreed roughly. 

"Look, I don't get why you like her. I mean, I fucking hate her. I think she's boring and whenever I see her I want to punch her in her stupid face. But you and I are the same, Zeke. We both want what life won't give to us. So, like I said, we have to take it. We have to be sharks."

He stared into the darkness, then glanced back at her. She was already finished with her joint.

"Let me know when you have the proof. Until then, if you go ahead with the plan without me, I will deny, deny, deny, and then you'll really be the villain, at least to Tina. Sharks, Zeke." She eyed him, her brown eyes empty. He nodded, and she turned away from him.

"Fine."

Chapter Text

Tina opened the bathroom door and stepped out, her drink in her hand. Jimmy was right behind her, and the light in the hallway burned her eyes. She looked back at him, and saw he was looking at her too. She took his hand and kissed it gently, unsure what was going through his mind.

"How are you feeling?" She asked, stopping in the hallway, her eyes adjusting. He shrugged. 

"I'm okay, I guess. Better. I just want to get high," he said kind of flatly, looking towards the stairs.

"Okay," she said, wishing she could do more to help him. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

He smiled softly and kissed her cheek. "No, baby. You've done enough already."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. I just... I want to get high," he repeated. She nodded and sighed, stepping down the stairs. The volume of the music grew at every step, and it made Tina's head ache. When they reached the bottom, she downed the rest of her drink. 

"Do you want mine? I think I'm done with it," he offered, showing her how much he had left in there. It was full, to the brim. He had barely had any.

"Sure, thanks," she said, taking it. She fit his cup in her empty one and took two huge gulps. His was even stronger than the one he made for her.

"I'm gonna go to the back, Tammy usually has weed back there. Do you want to come?"

Tina thought of the dirty looks Tammy had given her in the past, and adamantly shook her head. 

"No, thanks. It's loud in here, I think I'm gonna go outside. I'll meet up with you later, okay?" 

"Okay." He leaned in and kissed her, his lips full and soft. Her skin still tingled from her orgasm.

She smiled widely as he stepped away from her, through the kitchen to the back room. She reconsidered coming with him, but she knew Tammy hated her, and couldn't bring herself to follow him.

Tina took a sip of Jimmy's drink and headed for the front door. She wondered if she would find Zeke out there, and realized she hadn't thought of him all night. If I had feelings for him, I would have been thinking about him. Ha!

She opened the door and stepped out, the fresh air cool and crisp in her lungs. She closed her eyes and took a deep inhale, a euphoric feeling passing through her. Her eyes felt heavy and her step was light, and she almost stumbled on the way to the stairs of the porch. Okay, so I'm definitely drunk now if I wasn't before.

She sat on the bottom step, her feet fumbling on her way down. She set her drink down on the porch floor after taking another sip and leaned back, her head resting on the top stair. She rested her eyes before opening them again, warming her hands in Jimmy's jacket pocket. It was a clear night; the stars were gleaming, and she thought of fate.

Were she and Jimmy fated to be together? She had written about the idea in her journal, but she wasn't sure if she really believed it. She didn't know if fate even existed; and if it did, it was one confusing son of a bitch. If fate brought her to Jimmy, it also brought her to Zeke. It brought her to the beach that day, where he had been coincidently reading the same book she checked out two weeks ago. If it existed, fate brought her to Jocelyn's porch, brought her lips to cigarettes, brought her shoulders to Jimmy's jacket. It brought the upstairs bathroom to her, brought the sunrise and sunset to her, brought the rain to her. It brought her pain and anguish, and happiness and euphoria. It brought her hate and love.

She felt the porch creak, and she turned her head. She saw black sneakers by her face, and those sneakers made their way next to her own. She smelled Zeke's cologne and a mix of cigarette smoke and marajuana. Her heartbeat picked up.

He laid beside her, his head rested on the top stair. She wondered what she was going to say; she thought of this moment all week, the moment she spoke to him after their day at the beach. Fuck.

"Hey," he said. 

"Hi," she replied uneasily, unsure of whether to look at him. 

"You want a smoke?" Yes, oh my god.

"Sure," she responded, thinking of how it would feel to add to Zeke's section of the T-chart in her journal. "Thank you."

He passed her a cigarette, and leaned over to light it. He shifted closer to her as he did this, and she could feel her pulse in her ears. 

She inhaled the nicotine, a warm feeling flowing through her as she did so. Zeke's cigarettes were drier than Jimmy's; she didn't notice it until this moment and wondered why.

"So I brought you something," he started, and Tina's heart fluttered. A gift? "It isn't really a gift, I just found it and thought you would like it." He reached into the pocket of his dark wash jeans and pulled out a folded piece of paper between his index and middle finger, the way he held his cigarettes. 

She could feel her heartbeat in all her muscles, just like she did when he looked at her with those dark eyes. He passed her the paper, and she uneasily unfolded it.

"It's a poem," he said, exhaling smoke. "I can read it to you, if you want."

"Sure, please do." Oh my god. A poem? She looked at his messy handwriting, and fingered the corner of the paper and he began, reciting the piece from memory. 

"When I see the sea once more

will the sea have seen or not seen me?

Why do the waves ask me

the same questions I ask them?

And why do they strike the rock

with so much wasted passion?

Don’t they get tired of repeating

their declaration to the sand?"

Her heart panged, her eyes filling with tears. She couldn't respond, her mouth sealed shut. She pictured the ocean in her mind, the waves crashing against the shore. Wasted passion. What questions did she ask to the sea, did the sea ask back to her?

"Again, please."

He said it again, and tears leaked from Tina's eyes. When he was finished, she was too timid to ask him to repeat it once more. She read the piece of paper over and over, five or six times before her thoughts solidified. 

"I... I love it," she breathed, wiping the tears off of her face.

"It's Pablo Neruda," he said, smoking effusing from his mouth. "I was going through some of my mom's books the other day, and she had one of his books of poetry. I looked through it and found that poem, and I thought of you, the way you looked when we were at the beach, before I talked to you. This poem reminded me of how you looked so connected to the ocean that day. Anyway, that's that, I guess."

Her heart swelled. She gathered the courage to look at him, and found he was looking right back at her, his dark eyes soft. She wondered if they were always like that when he talked about his mom. 

"Thank you," she whispered, folding the poem and carefully putting it in her pocket. "I love poetry. Pablo Neruda is phenomenal."

"Have you memorized any of his poems?"

"Just one," she confirmed, looking back out to the stars. You looked so connected to the ocean. This thought spun in her head like a cotton candy machine, and she could barely pull away from it to recite the one poem she knew by Pablo Neruda. 

"Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, ‘The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.’

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes."

She felt his great still eyes on her as she recited. She turned and gazed at him. Those dark eyes were still soft. 

"Again, please," he said, a smile cracking on his face. She grinned, and repeated it, locking eyes with him the entire time. Just listening to herself recite the poem was enough to make her heart swell, as it always did when she thought of this poem. She couldn't help but think back to when she didn't know if Jimmy actually cared for her; when he loved her sometimes, and she loved him too. The thought brought more tears to her eyes, which rolled down her temples.

"It's amazing," he professed, and she swore his eyes shone a little. "Does poetry always make you cry?"

She giggled, taking a deep inhale from the cigarette. "Only Pablo. Oh, Pablo. He makes me feel things. I can't help it."

He grinned, and they both turned their eyes back to the sky. Does poetry always make you cry?

"Is that what happened today, at your locker?" He questioned, turning his eyes back to her. She couldn't look at him. "You were feeling things?"

"Not Neruda things," she said, trying to make light of the topic.

"So... what things?"

"Emily Bronte things."

"Like what?"

"Like... anger. Frustration. I felt pissed off."

"I know the feeling," he replied, and she brought her cigarette back to her lips. It was already quite short, and she finished it quickly. Without having to say anything, he lit another one and handed it to her. This motion warmed her chest, and the alcohol was starting to make her head feel light and airy. 

You looked so connected to the ocean.

"I guess I was just mad. My locker wouldn't open, so I hit it, and I liked the pain. I hit it again, and again, and again, and again, and then Jimmy took my hand and there was blood on my locker and an indent in the metal. And I didn't care, you know, about the pain. I didn't care that it was really fucking hurting, or that I would have broken my hand if he hadn't stopped me. It felt... good. It was something real. And, I guess I'm stronger than I think I am."

"I guess you are. I get pissed off, too," he said, and she took a big inhale on her new cigarette. "Hitting something feels good, doesn't it?"

"Fucking amazing," she confessed, remembering the endorphins pumping through her. 

"I'm sorry I left you. At the beach."

She tensed. This apology seemed to come out of nowhere, and she tried to relax. 

"It's fine, I get it. I'm sorry I made you talk about your mom."

"You didn't make me do anything, Tina. I told you because I wanted to."

Her guilt over this faded away; she had been holding it inside all week. 

"Did you ask Jimmy not to tell me?"

"I made Jimmy swear not to tell anybody."

Her brows furrowed. "Why?"

"Because I didn't want to be that kid, you know? The kid with a tragedy, with trauma. It's the same reason Jimmy doesn't tell people about his dad. I also fucking hate sympathy. It feels fucking terrible."

"Yeah," she said, as if she understood. She didn't, but wished she could. Speaking of Jimmy, she thought of Monday at school--about the lie in the hallway, and the confession of truth immediately afterwards. "Jimmy told me about the fight on Saturday."

She felt his body tense. "He did?"

"Yeah."

"What did he say?"

"Just that he was pissed at you, I don't know. He kept asking me what happened in the closet that night. He seems threatened by you. He gets jealous." Tina, shut up. She didn't want to divulge Jimmy's feelings, but the alcohol was spilling the words through her mouth.

She heard him chuckle mockingly, but when she looked over at him, he had a genuine smile on his face. There was a pause, and Tina wasn't sure if Zeke was going to reply. She thought back to when she and Jimmy were in the bathroom, the way his hot tears felt on the pads of her thumbs.

"You know, he also told me that you told him I deserve better. It's getting pretty annoying, Zeke." 

His smile fell. "I've told him that plenty of times."

"Did you say it on Monday when he talked to you?"

"Maybe I did."

"You know, Zeke, if you're going to be my friend, you need to let this go. I know how you feel about my relationship with him, but I'm not going to change my mind. That ship has sailed. Just let it go."

She turned to look at him. His eyes were serious and intense. She wanted to look away, but it was like she was magnetically being pulled to him. Their eyes were locked. 

"I can't let it go," he said gravely. 

"Why?"

"I just can't, Tina."

"Why not? What aren't you telling me?" 

There was a flicker in his eyes. He sat up, throwing his dead cigarette to the ground. Her heartbeat picked up.

"I have to go," he said flatly, standing up. She furrowed her brows, and something in her mind cleared as she stood up after him. 

"There's something I don't know, isn't there?"

"Tina--"

"Isn't there?"

"I have to go, Tina."

"Zeke, please wait." She gripped his arm, and he looked down at the grass. "Please. Please tell me."

He turned to her, eyeing her, contemplating something. She felt starving to know, her ears hungry. There was something she didn't know; he just confirmed it.

"Zeke," she whispered again, her eyes wide, searching his face for an answer. He looked at her so intensely, his eyes burning her, and she felt something building. "Zeke, tell me."

In a flash, his hands were in her hair, his body heat warming her, his cologne in her lungs, his soft lips pressed to hers. The kiss happened so fast Tina didn't have time to consider whether to kiss him back or shove him off, or even to close her eyes. As soon as it started it stopped, and she felt like a statue, frozen in place, a moment in time solidified. He released her and opened his great still eyes, which were the softest she had ever seen them. Her heart was still, her eyes wide, her skin almost missing the warmth his body offered her. Suddenly, he pulled away, and disappeared in the dark street. 

"Holy fuck," she said.

Chapter Text

"Holy fuck," she said. Her still heart jumpstarted back to life and pounded in her chest. She almost thought she had fallen asleep and it had been a dream; but when she pinched herself, she was still standing in Jocelyn's lawn, her vision lit just barely by streetlight.

She reached up and touched her lips, where Zeke had so passionately pressed his own. She could almost hear her own heartbeat, it was so loud.

He kissed me. What was that supposed to mean? There was something she didn't know--was this it?

Suddenly, it hit her, knocking the wind out of her. Oh my god. Voices echoed through her head--Zeke's, Jimmy's, even Jocelyn's. 

I didn't know you guys had a date, I would have made him go.

Jimmy said you guys were just casual, and then Zeke got all weird and left to go smoke.

He doesn't deserve you.

He doesn't appreciate you.

I mean he's a dipshit and you're--

You're... you.

Maybe I'm more concerned with your interests than his.

You deserve someone who makes you happy like that, but all the time, not whenever it's convenient for them.

I think I know you better than you think, Tina.

How did she not realize it sooner?

What happened in the closet?

Because... I just need to know.

He can be manipulative even when he seems like he's not.

I was actually asking him if he and I were okay. After you left on Saturday, I got pissed at him because I knew he must have said something bad about me to you.

That's why Jimmy was so jealous. Because Zeke...

Was it you who underlined all those quotes?

She burned too bright for this world.

Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad!

I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death; and flung it back to me.

Honest people don't hide their deeds.

I just want you to be happy, Tina.

What would you have done if I had?

I wasn't going to kiss you. I wouldn't do that to Jimmy.

She breathed hitched. I wouldn't do that to Jimmy. He just did, though.

You know that if he ever makes a move on you, I'll fucking kill him, right?

But you deserve better.

I thought of you, the way you looked when we were at the beach, before I talked to you. This poem reminded me of how you looked so connected to the ocean that day.

The poem. Zeke was thoughtful, he was clever, he knew exactly which Wuthering Heights quotes to recite to her to make her really think about her relationship with Jimmy. The poem was not about Tina's relationship to the sea--it was about Tina.

Tina was the sea, Jimmy the rocks and shore, Zeke the narrator. That's what he was trying to say to her. How could she not realize it?

When I see the sea once more

will the sea have seen or not seen me?

When Zeke saw Tina, did she see him back? Did she feel the same way about him as he did about her?

Why do the waves ask me

the same questions I ask them?

Why did she mirror Zeke intellectually, emotionally? Why did he seek answers from her, only to have them not satisfy him?

And why do they strike the rock

with so much wasted passion?

Why did she waste her time with Jimmy when she could be happy instead?

Don’t they get tired of repeating

their declaration to the sand?

Doesn't she get tired of the endless cycle? Jimmy fucks up, she gets angry, he talks his way out of it, they have a special day, Jimmy fucks up? She had told Zeke about that cycle in the closet. She does get tired of it.

I can't let it go.

She had been so stupid.

Chapter Text

Tina couldn’t believe it, and yet everything was starting to make sense. Zeke had always looked at her in an almost sad, almost longing way, ever since she met him. Of course he had feelings for her; she couldn’t help but wonder how much it had to hurt for him to watch her heart be broken by Jimmy over and over again. He had feelings for her—he could even love her. Oh my god.

But why didn’t Jimmy tell me? She thought of his and Zeke’s close friendship, their steady bond. They had been friends since Zeke had moved to their town in 7th grade, and since then they were inseparable. They must have had years and years worth of secrets, of lies, of almost sad, almost longing looks. Zeke made Jimmy swear not to tell anyone about his mom; how was this any different?

It all made sense. Jimmy wasn’t usually the type to be jealous; he was a generally easy-going, careless person, so he didn’t mind that Tina had friendships with other boys. He must have known how devoted she was to him, so he never got upset or jealous with her.

But he did with Zeke, because Jimmy knew Zeke liked her, that Zeke might try something. Tina thought of Jimmy’s dark, jealous eyes, of his heart beneath her fingers beating quicker at the mention of Zeke and her swimming in the ocean. No wonder Jimmy was desperate to know what happened in the closet during Seven Minutes in Heaven. His best friend was in love with his girlfriend. She couldn’t believe she didn’t see it before.

“Fuck,” she breathed, looking up at the stars. What the fuck am I going to do about this?

She had to tell Jimmy, didn’t she? Zeke’s love for her was harmless up until that moment that night—the kiss. He had said he wouldn’t kiss her because he couldn’t do that to Jimmy, but he did do it to Jimmy. She hated that Zeke put her in this position.

You know that if he ever makes a move on you, I'll fucking kill him, right? 

She didn’t want to cause them to fight. She didn’t want Zeke to get hurt, as she was worried Jimmy was a lot stronger than he looked when he was angry. She had never seen him get violent, even with Zeke, who claimed he had beaten Jimmy up before. But she knew Jimmy had a lot of dark, violent thoughts, especially about his dad.

And she didn’t want Jimmy to get hurt, either. Zeke was a varsity wrestler, he was the crown jewel of Huxley High School’s wrestling team. He had always been really good at it, even in middle school. She knew that if she told Jimmy, Zeke would most definitely dominate him physically in a fight—but while Zeke was stronger and probably more strategic, Jimmy was angrier. She had no idea what would happen if they fought.

Tina stood there, in the light of the streetlamp and the stars. She didn’t know how to protect the both of them, and she also didn’t know how to protect herself and her own heart.

But the kiss—what a kiss. It was brief but passionate and fierce, and she didn’t expect his body to feel so warm and good against her. In all her thinking about Zeke since their day at the beach, she could have never imagined anything like that. His kiss was hot, and his lips tasted like cigarettes. She guiltily wanted to feel it again.

No, Tina. Stop it, she told herself, groaning into her hands. Kissing Zeke is bad. He’s not who you want. Jimmy is who you want.

But in truth, what was most amazing about the kiss is that it was something different. She loved kissing Jimmy, but Zeke’s lips were new and fresh and pure and just different. She couldn’t help but like it, as least a little bit.

I didn’t cheat on Jimmy, she thought, shoving her hands in her pockets. Zeke kissed me. I didn’t kiss back. She didn’t want to imagine what might have happened if his kiss had lasted just a second longer, if he had given her the chance to decide what to do.

“Fuck,” she said again, groaning. She hated this position. She didn’t want to be the person that came between the unshakeable bond of Jimmy and Zeke. Even though they bad-mouthed each other to her, they were friends and she didn’t want to change that. But she wouldn’t let Zeke do this to her—she wouldn’t let him meddle in her relationship. She was not the kind of person who would keep such a dirty secret from the boy she loves.

She turned back to the house, picking up her two cigarette butts off of the porch. She stuck them in her pocket with the poem Zeke wrote out for her, fingering the paper with her bandaged hand. She pulled it out and unfolded it, running her finger over the words wasted passion. The phrase made her heart pang. Was her passion really being wasted with Jimmy? Was her declaration to the sand as exhausting as Zeke thought it was? 

She stuck the cigarette butts in the center of the paper and folded it, sticking it in her bra. She didn’t want Jimmy to know about the poem; it would just make everything worse.

She pushed the door of the house open, unsure of how much time had gone by. If Jimmy was high, he might be indisposed, or it might intensify his anger. She resented Zeke for doing this to her. Why should it be her responsibility to deal with the consequences of him kissing her? She didn’t even do anything.

She stepped through the kitchen into the back room, where marajuana smoke filled the air, almost making her cough. Jimmy was sitting comfortably on the couch smoking a joint near Tammy, who was playing Connect 4 with Jocelyn. There were a few other people there, but Tina paid no attention to them.

“Omg Tina,” Jocelyn cried, looking away from her game. “What’s up? You never come back here.”

“Hey, Jocelyn. Jimmy, I need to talk to you,” she said uneasily, dreading this conversation. Jimmy’s reddened eyes turned to her, a goofy smile spreading across his face.

“Hey, baby,” he said airily. Oh god, he’s really fucking high. “What’s up?”

“I have to tell you something, can we go somewhere private?”

“Yeah, I don’t know if I can walk though.” She stepped towards him and gripped his hands and pulled him up. His legs wobbled, but stabilized. He laughed at this, and she hated to distinguish his good mood.

“Look at me, I did it. Okay, let’s go,” he giggled, leading her out of the room and handing Tammy the joint. She gave Tina a glare, but Tina tried to look away and out of the room. She held Jimmy’s hand as she led him out of the living room and through the front door. He leaned against the railing of the porch, smiling cheesily at her.

“What’s going on? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine—well actually, no. I was out here with Zeke, and... something happened.”

He furrowed his brows. She wondered if he was expecting what she was about to say. 

“What happened?”

“He kissed me.”

Jimmy’s face changed rapidly. His smile fell, his eyes widened and darkened. He stood up straight and looking away from her, around the porch.

“Where is he?” He spat, and Tina took his shoulders in her hands.

“Jimmy, I don’t know where he is. He ran off after it happened. I don’t know how long ago it was.”

“I haven’t seen you in an hour, Tina.” A whole hour? “Did you—”

“No, I didn’t.” His face was reddening, and she was trying to think of how to calm him down. “I don’t know how it happened. He just kissed me, it was really fast, I didn’t even have time to react. After it happened he just ran off.”

He said nothing. She tried not to be afraid of the way his eyes were dark with jealousy; she couldn’t find the specks of green in them she loved.

“Jimmy—”

“I’m going to kill him when I find him, Tina. I’ll search all fucking night.”

“Jimmy, stop! I don’t want you to do that!” She exclaimed, her heart racing, her eyes wet. “I need to talk to you first.”

“What’s there to talk about?”

“Does he have feelings for me?” She said it more like a statement than a question, and he looked intensely at her.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “He made me swear not to tell you.”

“When did he tell you?”

“I suspected for a while, I don’t know, for a year. He told me six months ago. He said he would never do anything about it, so I figured it was harmless. Obviously, it was not.” He rolled his eyes, and she could feel his hot skin beneath his t-shirt.

“Who else knows?”

“I—I don’t know if he told anyone else. Why did he even kiss you?” He said angrily, balling his fists.

“We were talking, and I told him he had to let go of how he feels about me being with you. He told me he couldn’t let it go but wouldn’t tell me why, so I figured there was something I didn’t know. He tried to leave but I stopped him and asked him to tell me, and then it just happened. It was really fast, and I swear I didn’t kiss him back.”

He sighed. “I believe you.” She held his face in his hands.

“Please don’t fight him.”

“Tina, he kissed you. I’m not okay with that.”

“I know, but I don’t want you to get hurt. He’s a wrestler, Jimmy. He could seriously injure you.”

I could seriously injure him, Tina. I’m pissed off. He’s not,” he grumbled, “I’m going to find him, and I’m sorry, but you can’t stop me.” He pulled away from her, and hurried down the stairs before she could move. She watched him disappear into the dark street, the same way Zeke did. Her heart ached; she should have known Jimmy would leave her, but she wanted to believe he wouldn’t. Her heart cracked a little as she imagined a new set of injuries on Jimmy’s body.

“Shit!” She cried, tears flooding through her eyes. She ran her hands through her hair, panting with anxiety. Zeke, what have you done?

She couldn’t bear to picture them fighting. She knew she had to do something, and only one solution came to mind: she had to find Zeke before Jimmy did.

Chapter Text

Tina, in preparation for the night, picked up Jimmy's drink from the porch and downed it. She knew that she probably wouldn't be successful in finding Zeke before Jimmy found him--Jimmy knew him better, knew where he lived. All Tina knew is that he lived near Wonder Wharf, and there were tons of houses and apartment buildings there. She hoped he would be walking around instead of being at home.

She walked quickly home, glancing at her watch as she hurried down her street, a minute or two after Jimmy had done the same. It was already 10:30pm, and she had no fucking clue how that happened.

Well, she knew one thing: she had definitely lost some time to thinking after Zeke kissed her. She tracked the night in her head--the restaurants closed at 8:30pm. She and Jimmy got to Jocelyn's at around 8:45, and their sex and conversation lasted at least 30 minutes, so that puts her talking to Zeke around 9:15pm. Small talk, poetry, then the kiss--when she found Jimmy, it was around 10:15, and he took off at 10:25. She was going over this in her head, but still couldn't understand how the night went by so fast. Maybe it was the alcohol, or the orgasm, or the shock of being kissed by Zeke; or all of the above.

She pulled her keys out of Jimmy's jacket and unlocked her bike from the stand outside her dad's restaurant. She looked over into Jimmy Pesto's and she could barely make out the shadows of the tables and chairs. She had been in there that night, kissing Jimmy, and oddly she had been the one to ask him to go to Jocelyn's party, not the way around. What has gotten into me? She wondered, pulling her rusty lock out of place. I only go to Jocelyn's parties because Jimmy wants me too. The locker-punching really did a number on me.

She mounted her bike, unsure of where to search first. She decided to try the beach, where he once told her he liked to read. She didn't want to try the apartment complexes by the Wharf first, as she thought Jimmy might be there.

She biked the familiar path to the beach, the wind cool on her face. She was starting to feel drunk again, figuring it was because she very quickly chugged Jimmy's drink, which was basically full. She did it because she had no idea what was going to happen that night and whether or not she was going to find Zeke. She did it to relax, but she also knew she needed energy, as the alcohol was starting to make her feel sleepy.

She reached into Jimmy's jacket pocket, fingering the box of cigarettes until she pulled one out. She stuck it in her teeth as she coasted down the street and flicked his lighter to the end of the soft material, her other hand briefly leaving the handlebar to protect the flame from the wind.

She took a deep inhale of the cigarette, already feeling the stimulant doing its work. Her heart was beating faster, her mind clearing. I have to find him.

She kept the cigarette in her mouth as she rode, slowly down in order to look along the streets for Zeke's dark figure. She thought she saw him once or twice, but it was just some random person. Each time made her heartbeat quicken with joy and relief.

Her bike tires finally met the sand, and the sound of the waves crashing calmed her. Don’t they get tired of repeating their declaration to the sand? The poetry flashed through her eyes as she thought about that one line, imagining Zeke's scrawled handwriting. The shore was barely lit up by the moon.

And suddenly, she noticed a dark silhouette walking along the beach ahead of  her. Something in the person's walk reminded her of Zeke, and her chest burned with anticipation. She rode until she was about 15 feet behind the person and kicked her bike to the sand, running towards whoever it was.

Zeke's face looked behind his shoulder, and Tina sighed with relief at seeing it wasn't bruised. She had found him first.

"Tina?" He said, surprised. "What are you doing here?"

"Jimmy's looking for you. He's pissed," she explained, almost embracing him with alleviation from her anxiety.

Zeke scoffed, rolling his eyes. He noticed the cigarette in her hand. 

"He doesn't scare me. I can take him."

She groaned, remembering the anger she felt earlier. She wanted to punch him. 

"Zeke, you kissed me and that was really confusing," she sighed, tears wetting her eyes. "Then you ran off, leaving me with no explanation and forcing me to wonder why you did it and what I should do. You forced me to choose between keeping a secret from my boyfriend and your safety."

He looked down as she said this, and she wanted to grab his face and glare into his eyes. 

"I'm sorry, Tina. I didn't mean to put you in that position."

"I told Jimmy what happened and now he's walking around homicidal and high out of his mind, and I didn't want either of you to get hurt so I decided to find you before he did." She slurred her words, putting together this explanation on the spot. Zeke's eyes sparkled, and very suddenly, she smelled his cologne. It knocked the words out of her, and she instantly was unable to speak. The angry words were caught in her throat, and all she could do in that moment was smell his cologne.

"Zeke, why did you kiss me?" Tears filled her eyes as she said this, her voice exasperated. She knew what the answer was going to be, but in an odd way, she needed to hear him say it himself.

He looked deeply into her eyes, his face lit up with moonlight. Those dark eyes, those great still eyes were so severe she thought they might drill a hole right through her.

"You know why," he whispered, and she realized how close they were. It was the same proximity they had been in the closet last weekend.

"I need to hear it from you. Why did you kiss me?"

She puffed the cigarette, trying to calm her nerves. She needed to hear him say it; she needed his side of the story.

"Because I'm in love with you," he professed. Tina's heart stopped, her eyes wet.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because it wouldn't have made a difference. And Jimmy didn't want me to."

"So why now? Why kiss me now? Why not just tell me?"

Her heart pumped, a tear escaping her eyes. The ocean crashed.

"I guess I couldn't keep it from you any longer."

"But why?"

"I just couldn't bear it anymore, Tina. You have no idea what this has been like for me," he cried, his eyes widened. "Watching you with him makes me feel fucking sick. It was tormenting me."

She didn't know what to say, so she inhaled more of the cigarette. She didn't want to hurt him.

"The poem," she started, wanting to put everything out in the open, "You didn't just give it to me because you thought I would like it. It was about me, wasn't it? Me, and Jimmy, and you. I'm the sea and the waves, Jimmy's the rocks and the sand, and you're the narrator."

He smiled softly. She could still smell his cologne.

"You're so clever, Tina," he admired, chuckling a little. "You've always been clever."

"I just don't get how I didn't see it before."

"I do," he sighed, and he took her hands. His were rough, and he fingered her bandage. "It's because you see what you want to see. You see good in Jimmy when he manipulates you, you give him chance after chance even though he doesn't deserve it. No matter what I do, no matter how you feel about me, your heart will always be Jimmy's. That's why I didn't tell you."

Anger spiked within her. "My heart does not belong to Jimmy, Zeke," she demurred, pulling her hands out of his reach. "It belongs to me and I decide what I do with it, regardless of who I give it to. I knew what I was getting into when I gave Jimmy another chance last weekend. I didn't do it because he manipulated me, I did it because I wanted to. He doesn't control me."

"Don't you get tired of repeating your declaration to the sand?" He took her hands again, and this time she let him. His warmth was enchanting; she wanted to sink in it. She remembered just barely tasting the cigarettes on his lips when he kissed her. She didn't know how to answer, and as she was pondering it, they were suddenly, yet again, very close. She didn't want to step away; she wanted to let those eyes pierce into her.

"You can't kiss me again," she said softly, painfully. More tears rolled down her cheeks; they were hot.

"I know," he whispered. She could smell cigarettes on his breath, feel his warm hands enclosing her own. Her heart was pounding, and she wondered if he could hear it. "But if I could... would you want me to?"

"I don't think I can answer that." She could feel her pulse in her ears. His scent was washing through her lungs. 

"Why not?"

"Because I don't know. And because I have a boyfriend."

"But if you didn't?" He breathed, his hot breath on her face.

"I--I don't know."

"I think you do know, Tina, you just can't say it."

She couldn't respond; she thought her heart might explode.

"And I think that because the second you do say it, the second you admit to yourself what you feel for me, it becomes real. It becomes a betrayal."

At his words, more tears leaked out of her eyes. 

"I can't do this, Zeke." She stepped back, turned away from him and pulled her hands back to her body. She tried to gather herself, tried to not feel her tingling skin. She wiped her eyes.

"Why not?"

"Because it's wrong. You are not my boyfriend, and I shouldn't even be here with you. I shouldn't be hearing you say those things. It's wrong."

"It isn't wrong." He took her right hand gently, pulling her back to him. "It just isn't right, right now." He pressed her fingers to his chest, and she could feel his heart pumping, his chest rising and falling with his breath. She wanted to collapse into him, and could barely stop herself. She couldn't speak, biting her lip to resist her desires.

"'Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad,'" he whispered, and she closed her eyes, feeling his chest vibrate with his words. "'Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!'" She opened her eyes and stared into his. They were so soft, and he looked as beautiful as ever in the moonlight. 

"'Oh, God! It is unutterable,'" he breathed, stepping closer to her. She knew what was coming. "'I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!'"

Something shifted within her. She wanted to absorb those words, wanted to feel them deep in her chest. She wanted to feel his fingers wander her skin, feel his hot breath on her face, feel his lips on hers. She wanted to taste the cigarettes on his mouth; she wanted to press her body to his. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!

"Zeke," she breathed. She wanted to stop him, and simultaneously, never wanted him to. She wanted to hear Emily Bronte's words on his lips forever.

"Tina," he whispered, holding her bandaged hand. His heart was beating rapidly.

It took every bit of energy within her to pull away. A sob contorted her face, her heart slipping from her fingers. 

"I--I can't," she stammered, a whimper escaping her lips. She stepped away from him, trying to pull herself together. She sniffled and wiped her face again. "I can't. I love him."

"I know you do," he said quietly. He looked away.

"I--I just... I love him, and I can't help it. I need him, and he needs me, and I love him, and I can't do this with you." I should never have been looking for Zeke. I should have been looking for Jimmy.

"I have to go," she said, stepping even further away. "I did what I came here to do, I warned you. I'm going to look for him."

He didn't say anything. His eyes looked broken. 

"I'm sorry," she sobbed, and she swore she saw his chin shake a little. "I'm sorry. I just can't. I have to go." She finally turned, hurrying over to her fallen bike, listening to the waves crash on the shore. She tried not to look back at him, at those broken eyes.

She mounted her bike, sniffling and wiping her face. She pedaled away, taking deep breaths of the cool, ocean air. While she could hear her heart pounding, she also knew she left it on the beach in the hands of the boy with the great still eyes.

Chapter Text

"Zeke," she breathed. Her hand was still resting on his chest, and he could have sworn in that moment his heart would beat right out of his body and into her fingers. He wanted to embrace her, wanted to hear his name on her lips again, and again, and again.

"Tina," he whispered back, holding her bandaged hand and pressing it to his heart. He tried to not make the bruises there hurt as he held it, as he pressed it to his body. Her hands were soft; her fingernails painted blue. A ring with a sunflower enclosed her thumb, and he wished he could wrap off the bandage and kiss every bruise and cut on her hand. He wanted to be even closer to her, and couldn't help but step forward. His skin was tingling with sensitivity, and he thought of the way her lips felt on his, even if it was only for a brief moment.

Her hand slipped from his, and he could feel his heart cracking. She pulled away, her tears falling from her soft cheeks. He wanted to cry at this sight of her; he hated to see her so upset. He knew that she must have been feeling a lot of really intense emotions, and he felt guilty for confusing her. But he couldn't stop himself that night, not from being close to her, not from taking her hands, not from almost making her admit her feelings for him. At the beginning of the night he would have bet plenty of money she didn't feel the same, regardless of how differently she looked at him. But now, the way her heat was radiating off of her, the way she was allowing him to hold her hand, the way she didn't deny wanting to kiss him made him think otherwise. He knew that lack of a no does not mean a yes, which is why he didn't do anything more than speak to her and touch her when she let him. He just couldn't stop himself; she was the only person in the world he wanted to be with that night.

"I--I can't," she stammered, and he could hear her cry become audible as she whimpered. His heart panged as she stepped away from him, sniffling and wiping her face. He wished he could reach out and touch the soft skin under her eyes. "I can't. I love him."

"I know you do," he responded quietly. He looked away. I should have known better.

"I--I just... I love him, and I can't help it," she sobbed, and his heart broke with every word. Zeke knew she wouldn't have let herself kiss him, but he hoped she would anyway. He felt his own lip shake. "I need him, and he needs me, and I love him, and I can't do this with you." 

He couldn't respond; if he did, he knew his voice would break.

"I have to go," she said, stepping even further away. The wind whipped her hair, and she looked so undeniably gorgeous in the moonlight. Her eyes shone, and he kept a sob from breaking through his lips. "I did what I came here to do, I warned you. I'm going to look for him."

He couldn't speak. He just looked at her. He didn't want to ask her to stay; he knew she wouldn't. Their special moment was over, and now her time was Jimmy's. He should have expected this.

"I'm sorry," she cried, and he wished she would just go and get this goodbye over with. "I'm sorry. I just can't. I have to go." She finally turned away from him, running over to her fallen bike and lifting it. He just stood and watched her, his skin cold without her hand's warmth. He closed his eyes and let his tears stream down his face, his heart burning.

He exhaled, opening his eyes to find that she was far in the distance and let himself cry. He cried because he loved her, cried because he was about to destroy her relationship, cried because he didn't want to be a shark. He wanted to do this the right way, the correct way: he wanted Tina to leave Jimmy for him at her own accord, without his and Tammy's plan. He didn't care about Tammy, didn't care about her wanting Jimmy, didn't even care about what happened three weeks ago on the night it rained. The only thing and person he truly cared about was Tina.

Sure, Jimmy was important to him too. Zeke didn't want him to be unhappy, and he knew Jimmy would be miserable without Tina. Zeke didn't want to do that to his best friend--but he couldn't lie to Tina anymore, either. Why should this perfectly nice, amazing girl suffer because Jimmy needs her? Who is Jimmy to condemn her to that fate? Zeke wanted to be the hero, wanted to save her from his clutches, wanted to make her feel loved and prioritized and cared for and treasured, the way she should be. He cried because everything was fucking wrong--this plan, it was wrong. What happened three weeks ago was wrong. Jimmy's actions were wrong, and even Zeke's own were wrong--it was selfish of him to put her in the position he did by kissing her, but he also knew that if he hadn't, she would have gotten the truth out of him. She would have seen through any lies he told her, so he had to tell her something real—and his feelings for her were the most real thing he had ever felt in his life. He had to make her believe that what he was really hiding was these feelings for her, even though lately he hasn't made much of an effort. And even more--he needed to distract her from any other possibility to what he could be hiding. He did kiss his best friend’s girlfriend--but he also did him a favor.

Zeke took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. It was so strange how Tina was here one minute, absorbing his heat, and then gone the next, riding off into the darkness. He wondered what she was thinking—did she want to turn back? Was she feeling guilty for being there with him? Was she thinking of Jimmy and Jimmy only, or was Zeke on her mind too?

He ran his hands through his hair and looked down. She had dropped her lit cigarette in the sand, and it was still smoking. He picked it up, his fingers shaking. He brought it to his lips just to get one more taste of her; this cigarette was all that remained of Tina on the beach, and without it, no one would have known she was there.

He inhaled the nicotine as deep as he could, looking out into the ocean. The sound calmed him, and he sat on the sand, where Tina had once stood. The wind blew away his smoke, and he thought of what it would like to have her kiss him back. She was so surprised when he pressed his lips to her own that she was stoic, frozen in the moment. From what he remembered, he tasted cigarettes and ginger ale, maybe a hint of vodka. Her lips were soft and full, her hair smooth and smelling of vanilla. When he had opened his eyes to look at her, hers were wide, and he could barely see any color in those perfect brown eyes. What would it be like, he wondered, to lay beside her and stare into those eyes all night?

He remembered the way her eyes looked on the beach, wide and bright and full of life. Her skin was glowing with the orange light of sunset as she recited Wuthering Heights back to him, each quote chosen just as carefully as he had chosen his. The quotes she offered him echoed in his mind, as they had been since that day.

He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

He loved this quote, and when he read it in the book, he couldn’t help but think of Tina. He wondered why she recited this one specifically—maybe she just really liked it and thought it was beautiful, or maybe part of her believed she and Zeke’s souls were the same. Even if she didn’t believe that, he couldn’t help but think their souls were dust from the same star. He would have killed for her to feel the same way.

Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living. You said I killed you--haunt me then.

“Haunt me then,” she had said to him. He had been talking about sadness when she said that, and the way it killed him as he saw that look in her eyes. Haunt me then. His heart panged as he thought of her sweet, smooth voice saying those words as she tried to uplift him. Usually it was the other way around.

It was not the thorn bending to the honeysuckles, but the honeysuckles embracing the thorn.

Thinking back, was she trying to tell him something through that line? He wanted to believe that she needed to be swept away from Jimmy and his abuse—but she kept trying to tell Zeke that her being with Jimmy was her choice and her choice alone. It was an interesting thought—that Tina, his beloved Tina, his honeysuckle, was embracing the thorn that was Jimmy Jr., rather than the thorn bending to the honeysuckle.

It is hard to forgive, and to look at those eyes, and feel those wasted hands. Kiss me again; and don’t let me see your eyes! I forgive what you have done to me. I love my murderer—but yours! How can I?

By allowing her heart to be broken by Jimmy, she was her own murderer; but unlike Heathcliff, Zeke couldn’t help but continue loving her despite it. He wanted to make her feel safe and adored—he wanted to worship her soul, her body, those pretty eyes and that effortlessly beautiful smile. How could he enact his and Tammy’s plan? How could he do that to Tina? And if she ever found out...

“Zeke.”

He turned, his heart leaping. Tina?

But it wasn’t Tina. It was Jimmy; he was stumbling across the beach, but he wasn’t as angry as Zeke expected. He really was high out of his mind.

“Jimmy,” he started, almost feeling guilty as he stood up. “Just let me explain.”

“Even with your twisted fucking mind, how could you possibly think it was okay to kiss my girlfriend?” Jimmy growled, stopping a couple feet from Zeke. His fists were balled. Don’t fight him; Tina wouldn’t want that.

“Jimmy, she was asking questions. She knew I was keeping a secret from her. I had to do something.”

“So you lie. You don’t kiss my girlfriend!” Jimmy spat, his eyes dark. The moonlight made him look pale.

“She’s really fucking smart, Jimmy!” Zeke exasperated, chucking Tina’s cigarette into the sand. “She would have saw through any lie that I told her. I had to make her think that I told her everything I was hiding by kissing her. I did you a fucking favor, unless you wanted me to tell her about—“

“Fine,” Jimmy interrupted, anger still apparent in his voice. “Fuck. Don’t think I’m not pissed at you for it, though.”

Zeke rolled his eyes. “Then don’t think I don’t know the real reason you’re pissed at me right now.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“It means you don’t really give a shit that I kissed her, that I told her how I felt. What you really care about is that you can’t hold my feelings for her over me anymore. You’re fucking done blackmailing me, dipshit,” he said gruffly, his eyes serious. Jimmy’s face was still. “There’s nothing stopping me from telling her what you did that night it rained. That’s why you’re pissed.”

A pause.

“You can’t tell her.”

“Oh yes, I can.”

“Zeke, come the fuck on. It would destroy her. It would destroy me. You really want to destroy the two people you care about most in the world?”

It was a valid point. But Tina’s lips flashed through Zeke’s mind again; he felt overwhelmingly jealous of Jimmy for getting to kiss those lips every day, feel them on his skin, hear a whisper of love escape them. Zeke wanted to kiss those lips as much as he could, feel them wander on his body, hear them whisper Pablo Neruda to him as her soft hands ran themselves across his sheets. If it destroys her, I’ll put her back together.

“She has to know someday.”

“And I told you I would tell her.”

“Well three fucking weeks have gone by and that hasn’t exactly happened yet, so when the fuck were you planning on telling her?”

“When things between us get better. When she sees that I’ve changed for good.”

“You and I both know that isn’t going to happen,” Zeke said quietly. Jimmy sighed, running his hands through his red blond hair.

“I’m trying to change, Zeke.”

“Even if you do change, if that’s even possible for you, you still won’t be the person she deserves.” The words were harsh, and Zeke almost regretted them. But they were true; both of the boys knew it. “Don’t you want her to be happy?”

Jimmy’s eyes sank into him. “I could kill you right now.”

“Not before I kill you first.”

Jimmy’s jaw clenched. Instead of hitting Zeke, he exhaled and sat on the sand. Your girlfriend almost kissed me on that sand.

“What did she do? When you kissed her?”

Zeke sat down next to him, his heart racing at the memory; at what could have been if he had just lingered his lips on her a little longer. "Nothing. It surprised her. She just stood there." Zeke reached into his pocket and pulled out two cigarettes, lighting them. He handed one to Jimmy, who took a very deep drag of his. 

"What about after?"

"I just left after. I don't know what she did. What did she tell you?" Zeke dragged the cigarette, wishing the one Tina left could have lasted him all night.

"That she didn't kiss you back and you just ran off."

"Well, that's the truth."

"Have you seen her?"

A pause.

"She was here."

"What?"

"She left ten minutes ago to look for you."

"Did you--"

"No, I didn't. We just talked."

"What did you talk about?" Jimmy asked quietly, flicking some ash off of his cigarette. 

"You. And her. And... it. The kiss."

"I'm going to ask you something, and I need you to tell me the truth," Jimmy said seriously. He turned to Zeke, who looked right back at him.

"Okay," Zeke agreed.

"Does she have feelings for you?"

"Honestly, Jimmy," Zeke sighed, bringing the cigarette back to his lips, "I have no fucking idea."

"That isn't a no." Jimmy's voice broke, and Zeke felt genuinely guilty. He knew it was wrong of him to kiss Tina, to take her hand and press it to his chest, to claim that she had felt something for him. How could he do that to his best friend?

"You should ask her. I don't know if she has feelings for me. I thought... I thought maybe she did. I think that's the real reason I kissed her, instead of figuring something else out. I'm sorry." His honestly cleared some of the guilt within him. Jimmy just stared at the ocean.

"I'm sorry, too. For blackmailing you. That was really fucked up of me."

"Yeah," Zeke agreed quietly.

"I just... I don't want to hurt her. I got scared that you would tell her."

"I know. I... kind of get it. I probably would have done the same thing."

Jimmy scoffed, almost laughing. "No, you wouldn't. You're the fucking morality police."

Zeke laughed, and the boys chuckled together, listening to the shore.

"Do you think..." Jimmy started, his eyes falling to the sand, "Do you think she'll dump me? When she finds out?"

What a question. If I say yes, he'll never tell her. If I say no, he might tell her, and she just might leave him. He didn't want to lie, but he really fucking wanted to feel Tina's lips on his again.

Say no. Say no.

"Yes," Zeke admitted. Fuck. I really am the morality police. "Yes, I think she will."

Silence filled the space between them. The ocean crashed against the sand, washing away Tina's abandoned cigarette.

"You're better for her, aren't you?" Jimmy asked softly, exhaling smoke. "You're better for her than I am."

Zeke's heart panged. What is about to happen?

"That's not your call. It's hers." But yes, yes I am. Thank you for finally acknowledging it.

"But it's true, isn't it? Even if it is her call, it's true."

Zeke bit his lip, inhaling the cigarette deeply. His fingers shook. "Maybe. I don't know. If she's happy with you, I have to be okay with that. If she's happy with me, you have to be okay with that. If she's happy without both of our dumb asses, we just have to accept it. I don't care so much about who or what is better or worse for her. I just want her to be happy."

"I want her to be happy, too," Jimmy reciprocated. Like Zeke's, Jimmy's fingers shook against the cigarette. The boys looked out onto the ocean, listening to the waves. The amber ends of their cigarettes effused smoke, which danced above their mournful stares.

Chapter Text

The stars were shining brightly in Tina's eyes. The world was spinning as she sped down the street and tried to make sense of what the night had turned into. It seemed like forever ago when she dented her locker with her own fist, even when she asked Jimmy to take her to Jocelyn's party. She went over the events of the night yet again in her head--the restaurant rendezvous, bathroom sex & consolation, her conversation with Zeke, the kiss, telling Jimmy, finding Zeke, more conversation with him. She found it interesting that earlier in the night, Zeke ran off away from her into the street; just now, it was her who ran away.

She wanted to go back. She fought the urge to turn her bike around and coast back to the beach, where she knew he was. The hands that held her own were on the beach, the lips that whispered her name were on the beach, the cologne that made her knees buckle was on the beach. She wanted to go back, and that simple fact made her eyes sting with tears. She wanted to go back, but she knew she couldn't.

And in truth, she did want to find Jimmy. He was high and wandering around the dark streets, as Tina's clock was pushing midnight when she decided to give up and go home. She looked everywhere she could for him (except the beach, that is), including back at Jocelyn's party. She was terrified something had happened to him, but she also knew that there was only so much she could do after looking for him for 45 minutes.

She almost crashed her bike into her dad's restaurant as she was lost in her own head, thinking of what Zeke said to her. She didn't want to have feelings for Zeke--she didn't want to think about his hands, about his lips, about his cologne, but she couldn't help it. She didn't want to imagine that what he said about her feelings for him were true--that she was unable to admit them to herself out of fear of betraying Jimmy. Tina didn't know how Zeke understood her so well, how he could so effortlessly tell her truths about herself she couldn't even face. She wanted to believe he was just lucky in that way--or maybe... whatever their souls were made of, hers and Zeke's were the same.

She swerved just in time so as to not crash her bike and pressed her brakes hard, her heart racing. God, what am I doing?

I will not cheat on Jimmy, she told herself, shutting her eyes tight to intensely think the words. I wouldn't do that.

But if I could... would you want me to?

Yes. There was nothing more she wanted in that moment than to let herself open up to him, in terms of both her heart and her lips. She thought of his body heat, thought of his cologne, thought of his mouth, thought of his strong hands in her hair. She felt warmth spread throughout her and a familiar dampening of her underwear. She wanted to indulge herself, wanted to let herself imagine how it would feel to have Zeke's hands on her body, to feel him make love to her. She wanted it.

The second you admit to yourself what you feel for me, it becomes real. It becomes a betrayal.

She opened her eyes, her heart swelling at the words. She didn't want them to be true, but god damn it if they weren't. Zeke was right, and she knew it. She always assumed that if a betrayal happened in their relationship, it would Jimmy's, not her own. How can I do this to him? She thought of her beautiful Jimmy--the boy with scars and tears on his face, the boy with alcoholic father and an absentee mother, the boy who was rude and selfish and arrogant and who she loved with all of her heart. How can I be so in the wrong?

It isn't wrong. It just isn't right, right now.

Right now, he had said. What did that actually mean? That there would be a time when it would be right, when Zeke would be... her boyfriend?

She thought of what Zeke might be like as a boyfriend. He was sweet to her, he was gentle, he was thoughtful, at least as much as Tina herself was, if not more. Maybe he would bring her flowers, read to her, swim with her at the beach, dance with her in the rain. He was intelligent and well read--he wrote out poems for her, he checked out the same books in the library as her, he told her she deserved someone who would make her happy all the time and not when it was convenient for them. Would they borrow each others favorite books, mindlessly underline and write notes in the margins? Would they whisper Pablo Neruda's musings to each other as they lay in bed naked? Would Zeke, as her boyfriend, make her happy all the time, like he said she deserved? She imagined never being stood up on a date again--never being abandoned at a party, never being told You can fuck him for all I care, never being sought out solely when something was needed of her, never being forced to forgive again and again and again and again. She let herself think just for a moment what that would be like--and she wanted to cry as an intense desire for a relationship like that flooded through her. She wanted it more than anything; she wanted not to cry every weekend, not to awkwardly speak to waitresses after being stood up, not to wander her way to Jocelyn's porch after being left alone. She wanted not to have to defend her boyfriend to her parents, not have to say it's complicated to her brother, not want to hear about something suspicious her boyfriend said to another girl from Jocelyn. She wanted it, and that feeling was one of Tina's most painful in her life.

She locked her bike outside and pulled her keys out of Jimmy's jacket, stumbling her way to the door. She was still drunk, and she prayed her parents wouldn't be awake to see it. She knew they would smell cigarettes on her clothes... she wondered if they would notice that she had been touched by a boy that wasn't Jimmy. 

She unlocked her front door and stepped inside, the house welcoming her with its warmth. She carefully climbed the stairs, trying not to stumble. She imagined her warm bed, which she carefully made every morning. She wanted to sink in those sheets, wanted to drift off to sleep.

She tiptoed to her room, managing not to hear her parents' calls as she did so. She opened the door and reached into her bra to pull out the poem with the cigarette butts, setting it down on her shelf. She shrugged off Jimmy's jacket and placed it on her doorknob before closing her door and turning on the light, sighing deeply. 

"Oh my god--Jimmy!" she exasperated, seeing his face light up with her overhead light. He was sitting in front of her window, where she journaled every day. His pretty eyes sparkled. 

"Tina," he said softly, standing to greet her. She ran to him and embraced him; he smelled like weed. 

"I looked for you. I thought something bad happened to you."

"I know. I'm here, baby. I'm sorry. I'm just coming down from my high, Tammy's weed is really strong," he explained, stroking her hair. She hugged him tightly, hoping she wasn't too loud when she saw him.

She pulled back, gripping his hair and looking at his face. No bruises. 

"You didn't fight Zeke," she stated, stroking his face with the pads of her thumbs. "Did you find him?"

"Yeah. We just talked on the beach." The beach.

"So did you... make up?" She asked uneasily, remembering's Jimmy scary, furious eyes.

He smiled softly at her. "Yeah, I guess we did." He paused, gently grasping her wrists. "Tina, he... he told me you and him talked."

Fear surged through her. Did he know?

"Y-yeah," she stuttered, her heart starting to race.

"Tina, I love you," he whispered, looking down. He pulled her hands off of his face. "But I'm bad for you."

"What are you talking about?" She breathed. This again?

"I tried to tell you earlier. You deserve better, and Zeke..." Jimmy's voice broke. "Zeke is better for you than I am."

"Zeke is not better for me," she countered, her heart beating fast to accommodate her surging thoughts. She held his hands, new fears sprouting within her. Is he breaking up with me? "And even if he is, I don't care. I want you, not him."

"Tina," he muttered, his eyes wet. She looked fearfully at him, her eyes wide. This can't be happening. "I'm trying to do what's best for you."

"Fuck that, Jimmy!" She exclaimed, gripping his shoulders fretfully. "You do not get to decide what is best for me. That is not your decision--it's mine."

"Tina," he pleaded, looking down. He stepped away from her, and she stepped forward, following his movements. "Tina, please."

"No." She turned with her back to the window, blocking him. "I will not let your insecurity control you, control us. I'm deciding, right now, that you are what is best for me. I don't care what Zeke said to you tonight, he's wrong. You are my life."

His eyes were wide, a tear rolling out of his eye. The scar on his cheek looked especially prominent. Tina was panting with anxiety, tears stinging her eyes. 

"You are my life," she repeated, holding his face again, pleading him with her eyes.

He leaned forward, pressing his forehead to hers. She closed her eyes, tears leaking out of them. She thought her heart might explode. She couldn't believe she thought of being with another guy.

"You are my life," he said back to her, gripping her shoulders, feeling the soft skin on her arms. "Promise me you'll stay. No matter what happens."

She opened her eyes, furrowing her brows. She didn't want to lie. 

"I will always love you, Jimmy Jr.," she professed. It wasn't a lie. "No matter what happens, nothing will ever change that."

"Do you promise?"

"I promise."

He leaned in and kissed her lips softly, his lips tasting salty with his tears. She embraced him, clutching his back. I can't believe he was going to leave me.

She pulled away, walking over to her door and turning her light off, keeping her eyes on him. She kicked off her shoes in the dark and hugged him again, kissing his neck softly and touching his midriff. He panted quietly, then pulled her lips to his own with more hunger than before. She reached behind her and unzipped her dress, the material loosening around her body. He pulled her dress forward and it fell through her arms to the ground, her skin cool and tingling. She slowly pulled his shirt over his head and pulled him in, pressing her body to his. She could feel his heart beating rapidly against his warm chest.

"Tina," he moaned, running his hands along her back and fiddling with her bra strap, "I adore you."

She detached their lips, pulling away so their mouths were just an inch away. She stared into his eyes, which gleamed. Through the darkness, she could just barely see those specks of green she loved. 

"Jimmy," she breathed, pushing his hair back, "Make love to me."

His eyes glinted, and he kissed her softly again in response. She could feel what remained of his tears on his face. He took her hand and walked her to her bed, which she eagerly collapsed into. He leaned down and kissed her neck, his body heat warming her. As she looked up behind his head and towards the ceiling, Zeke's great still eyes flashed across her mind.

Chapter Text

When Tina woke up around sunrise, Jimmy woke up too. She stood and stretched, looking out into the sky for the deep blue color she liked. She heard shuffling behind her and looked over her shoulder, seeing Jimmy sit up in bed and rub his eyes. Usually he didn't wake up when she did, but now he was gazing at her with starry, sleepy eyes.

"Good morning," she said smoothly, wrapping her cold arms around her bare torso. 

"Good morning," he whispered back, running his hands through his red-blond hair, which was untidy and messy. She had always liked it most like that.

She sat on her bed next to him, and he sweetly pulled her soft blanket around her shoulders to warm her. She put her glasses on, her boyfriend coming into focus.

"Thank you," she said softly, touching his face. "I think maybe... we should talk about last night."

"Which part?"

"When you were here. When you were... you know." The thought of what happened pained her; she couldn't say the words.

"Yeah," he muttered, playing with her hair. "I just... I was trying to do the right thing."

It just isn't right, right now.

"The right thing," she started, brushing his hair out of his eyes, "Is listening to me when I tell you that I want you, not anyone else." Zeke. She thought of his name, and in that moment had no idea if she was lying to Jimmy or telling him the truth. She wished there was such a thing as a blend of both. "Don't ever do that to me again."

"Okay," he muttered, nodding. "I won't."

She leaned in and kissed him, his warm body pressing against her cool skin. She remembered the way they made love last night--the way he held her like she would slip through his fingers and disappear, or like it was the last time. The thought made her shiver.

"You should probably go soon," she whispered against his lips. "My parents are going on a trip and they're getting up early."

"Mm, okay," he agreed, running his fingers through her hair. "Can we hang out today?"

"I have to run the restaurant all day," she said sadly, sighing, "With Gene and Louise. It's going to be a fucking nightmare."

"Oh, yeah," he chuckled, "So you're basically gonna be doing it all by yourself, then."

"Pretty much. They're a pair of freeloaders," she giggled, though knowing how difficult the day would be. "But we can do something tonight."

"Sure, we can stay in if you want."

"Actually, I was thinking we could go out. You know, to Jocelyn's." I want to see Zeke. The dirty thought gave her goosebumps, and she pushed it down. 

"Okay, sure," he agreed, kissing her nose and standing up. He pulled his clothes on quietly, and she got up and gave him one of his spare shirts she kept in her closet, wrapping the blanket around her shoulders.

"Here," she said, handing the clean shirt to him. "I'll wash your other one for you."

He smiled, taking it and giving her the one from last night. "Thank you, baby," he said as he pulled on the new one. She marveled at the way his muscles moved as he lifted his arms, and when he had it on, he tied his shoes quickly before standing and pulling his jean jacket on. He kissed her gently, touching her body over the blanket.

"I love you," he whispered against her lips, her skin tingling.

"I love you," she muttered, keeping her hands folded around the blanket. She gazed into his hazel eyes, which glinted in the early morning light. 

He kissed her one final time, then pulled away, keeping his eyes on her as he walked to the window. He turned and opened it, stepping carefully onto the drain pipe. He gave her one final look before disappearing below her window pane, and she heard his feet hitting the lid of the dumpster before they made impact with the ground. She wandered to the window and watched him hurry through the alley behind her house to the street, his body vanishing behind her building. The sun was just barely rising.

She sighed, closing her window and sitting on the floor. She wished he had kissed her just one more time; just one more.

She leaned down and pulled open the loose floorboard, reaching in for her diary. Her hand closed around the spine of it and she pulled it out with her special old ball-point pen she kept in there. She had stolen that pen from Jimmy's dad's restaurant six months ago, when she saw Jimmy use it to take orders.

She opened her diary to a new page, tapping the pen on the paper. So much had happened, and she didn't even know where to start. She held her journal and pen and got up, walking to her shelf and grabbing the folded poem Zeke had given her. She sat at her desk and unfolded it, the cigarette butts rolling out. She turned to her cigarette collection and taped both of them on Zeke's side. On her new page, she taped the poem he had given her, running her fingers over the words.

Don't you get tired of repeating your declaration to the sand?

She wrote the words slowly, thinking carefully about each one. She wrote it again.

Because I'm in love with you.

Zeke's voice echoed in her head. She thought of everything she could remember that he said, writing each sentence over and over in her journal.

Watching you with him makes me feel fucking sick.

You see what you want to see.

The second you admit to yourself what you feel for me, it becomes real.

It isn't wrong. It just isn't right, right now.

Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!

She drew hearts next to the words, drew her lit cigarette from last night, drew how she remembered Zeke's eyes. She drew the timeless moors of Wuthering Heights, drew Catherine and Heathcliff's childish running, drew Zeke's lips with the word cigarettes on them.

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, she wrote, thinking about that sentence. His and mine are the same.

Shit. She wrote the word big, covering almost half a page. It looked strange next to Emily Bronte. I have feelings for him, don't I? What the fuck am I going to do about this?

Jimmy tried to break up with me last night. I wouldn't let him, even though I knew that if he did, I could go to Zeke.

Honestly, I don't know what exactly I'm feeling. I don't know if I just feel sexual, physical attraction to Zeke (which is definitely there) or if I want to date him. Maybe I just got caught up in the moment--the beach is a romantic place, maybe I just fell in love with the idea of an Emily Bronte-reciting, Pablo Neruda-reading, ocean-admiring, wonderful-smelling, love-professing, cigarette-smoking boy with great still eyes. Maybe I'm inventing a version of Zeke that is so unlike Jimmy in order to deal with the hardships in my relationship with Jimmy, the manipulating and the thoughtlessness and the other bad stuff. Maybe it's all in my head.

But the things he said to me... that isn't in my head. It can't be. His words are real, his love for me is real, his heart is real and he's been trying to tell me that. His heart is real and he is offering it to me; and fuck, I want to take it. I want to lock it in a box and keep it hidden from the world's prying eyes in the loose floorboard. I want to hold it, want to protect it, want to call it mine.

Tina sighed, biting the end of her pen. She groaned. BUT I CAN'T BECAUSE I HAVE A BOYFRIEND THAT I LOVE AND THAT I WOULD NEVER CHEAT ON!!!!!!!!!!!

And speaking of, what the hell just Zeke say to Jimmy to get him to try and break up with me? That was seriously uncool.

She drew Zeke's eyes again, but they didn't look right. They were missing the little glint in them, the warmth, the softness. In that moment, she would have done anything to see them again in their glory.

She wrote out the poem she memorized by Pablo Neruda. Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

She didn't want to be loved sometimes. She wanted an always love, a forever love, a dedication, a profession. She knew she got some of that from being with Jimmy--but the bad outweighed the good, and she knew it.

FUCK. Fuck fuck fuck, she wrote, over and over. The sun was gleaming into her room, and she could hear her parents walking around in her apartment. She put her pen down and closed her journal, getting up and shoving it into the floorboard next to the Our Life jar. She felt guilty just looking at that jar, at their savings.

She got up and put on a pair of Jimmy's sweatpants and a t-shirt, pulling her hair up. She slipped on a pair of socks and opened her door, pushing up her glasses. She walked to the kitchen and greeted her dad, who was reading the paper at the table. 

"Good morning, Tina," her dad said groggily, drinking his coffee. "What are you doing up so early?"

"I heard you guys get up," she lied, "And I couldn't go back to sleep, so I thought I'd come say goodbye." She poured herself a cup of coffee, which made her dad chuckle.

"Bobby, are we all packed?" Came her mothers voice, and she appeared in the kitchen, her eyes happy to see Tina as her dad said yes. "Oh Tina, good morning."

"Hey, Mom." Tina rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, pouring creamer into her coffee. "You guys excited for your weekend getaway?"

"We need it," her mother sighed, rolling her eyes behind her red glasses. "Your brother and sister are making me fucking crazy."

"Lin," Tina's dad said at her mom's language.

"What? Tina's 17 now, she can hear the word fuck. Anyway, we're staying with  my aunt in Vermont. Hey, it's a Ver-Aunt trip!"

Tina chuckled at her mother's enthusiasm, drinking her coffee and sitting next to her dad as he did the crossword. He filled out the squares as her mom wandered through the house looking for anything else they might need.

"So you're sure you can run the restaurant?" Her dad asked uneasily, looking over at her. Tina smiled. 

"I'm sure that I can do the best I can. Nothing bad will happen, Dad. It'll be fine. Have a nice time on your Ver-Aunt trip," she grinned, and her dad chuckled. 

"Okay. You know you can call us if you have any problems, right? Make sure you keep your phone charged. And watch your brother and sister, you know how they're always up to trouble," he said gruffly, looking back at the crossword. His pencil tapped on a square. "Hey, you might know this. Nine letters. '(Of weather) Characterized by strong winds'."

"Wuthering," she replied immediately. Wait.

She snatched the paper from her dad's hands, to his dismay, and looked at the crossword. There it was; 29 across, '(Of weather) Characterized by strong winds.' Nine letters. There is no way that is a coincidence.

She stared intensely at the text. What the fuck?

Is this a sign? She thought, looking at the word. Is the universe trying to tell me that I should... date Zeke?

"Tina?" Her dad questioned uneasily, looking at her, confused. She ignored him, looking at who wrote the crossword: Meredith Montgomery. She tried to think of Zeke's last name before suddenly remember it was not Montgomery, but Anderson. And his mom died, Tina.

"Damn it," she muttered, throwing the paper down. Maybe it is a sign.

"Tina, what just happened?"

She looked over at her dad, who looked almost worried about her.

"Dad," she started, biting her lip, "Do you believe in fate?"

"Fate? Like destiny?"

"Yeah. Like, the universe guides us to certain events, and sends us signs."

"Signs?"

"Yeah. Do you believe in it?"

"Well," he started, furrowing his brows, still confused, "I--I don't know about signs, but I think maybe there's something, or someone, guiding us and what happens to us."

"Do you think the universe would send me a sign through the crossword?"

"The--this crossword?"

"Yes."

"Um... I don't think so, Tina."

She sighed, slouching in her chair, her brows knitted, disappointed. Her dad shifted, looking at her. 

"What would the universe be trying to tell you through the crossword?"

"That there's... there's something, a person, out there for me that I should... you know, date."

"You mean, other than Jimmy?"

"Yeah, like there's a person whose better for me than Jimmy is, and that I should date him instead."

Her dad rolled his eyes and scoffed. "Well, I could have told you that."

Tina looked seriously at him. "Dad."

"Sorry. How is this connected to--what is it?--wuthering?"

"Well... this person and I, we have this book that we like, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and last night he... well, he told me he has feelings for me, and I guess I'm just confused, so when you asked me about the word, I thought maybe it was a sign from the universe that I should date him."

"And who is this guy?"

"...Jimmy's best friend."

"Oh, Tina."

"I know," she groaned, leaning forward and taking her head in her hands. "It's just that he's so... he's so different from Jimmy, and he treats me so much better, and he... he just..."

"Does Jimmy know how you feel?"

"No. I know I should tell him, I just really love Jimmy, so much more than I ever thought I could. And I don't even know how I feel about Zeke, the guy, so I feel like I need to figure out what I'm feeling before I actually do anything."

"Well honey, if you're searching for signs in the crossword," her dad reasoned, putting his hand on his daughter's shoulder, "Then I think you actually do know how you feel, you just need to face it."

She looked at her dad, smiling softly. She leaned in and hugged him tightly, sighing into his shirt. He hugged her back, and her heart swelled.

Tonight, she thought, I'm gonna face it.

Chapter Text

Tina tied her hair into a ponytail, stepping into the restaurant after turning the lock. Gene and Louise tailed her, and she checked the clock: exactly 10:30am. It was very important that everything go according to plan that day--from opening and closing the restaurant to Jocelyn's party. 

"Okay," she started, flipping the lights on. "Gene is going to wait on customers, and Louise, you and I can work the kitchen if we actually do get any customers. Louise, you're also on cleaning duty."

Louise groaned, rolling her eyes. "Why am I on cleaning duty?"

"Because you aren't nice to the customers and you can't work the grill."

"Why not?"

"Because you almost lit the restaurant on fire last time."

"This is stupid," she complained, sitting in one of the booths.

"Well, it's work, so tough." Tina rolled her eyes at her sister, making her way to the back of the counter. "Gene, we can take hour shifts on the grill."

"Sure," he agreed mindlessly, sitting at the counter. Tina leaned on it and looked over at Jimmy Pesto's, which had opened half an hour ago. She saw the heads of Jimmy's brothers, Andy and Ollie, moving about the restaurant together. She knew from Jimmy that they bussed tables because like Louise, they weren't good with the customers. Her heart quickened as Jimmy came into view, the shirt she gave him this morning tight on his chest. She bit her lip, looking at his body eagerly.

"Looking at Jimmy?" Gene teased in a sing-song voice. Tina snapped out of it, blushing.

"No," she lied, starting to spray the counter with Windex.

"You're such a bad liar," he laughed, doodling on his pad. "So I expect some kind of payment for not telling Mom and Dad you've been smoking."

She rolled her eyes, wiping the counter.

"Fine. What do you want?"

"I want to try it."

"Try what?"

"Smoking."

Tina choked, looking at her brother in surprise. I'm a horrible role model.

"No, Gene! Absolutely not. Smoking is bad for you," she beseeched, and Gene furrowed his brows. 

"You do it."

"That's--that's different."

"How is it different?"

"Because I don't do it very often. Okay, I guess it's not different," she huffed. "I know I shouldn't smoke, I don't know why I do it. But I am absolutely not helping you take up smoking."

He rolled his eyes at her, shrugging. "Fine. Cash, then."

"You can have my tips today. That's it." She thought of the Our Life jar, the way she guiltily looked at it this morning. She thought it was sad that after the confusing morning she had, she couldn't even add to it today. There's a metaphor in there somewhere.

"Cool," he agreed. "We're hardly gonna even get any customers today. I don't know why we're even opening."

Tina scoffed, chuckling ironically. "Because we're broke, that's why."

"Jimmy Pesto isn't broke," he huffed, looking over at the restaurant across the street. They already had customers, which made Tina's heart pang.

"Jimmy Pesto is an asshole. Besides, the food there isn't even that good."

"Is it nice in their house?" Gene asked eagerly, a starry look in his eyes. 

"It's..." She pictured their house, their quality furniture, the chandelier in the dining room. "It's really nice, yeah."

She sighed, picking at a spot on the counter. 

"Hey, we have to think of a Burger of the Day, you know," Gene reminded her, making her grin. 

"Dad didn't trust us with it, he gave it to me this morning." She said, leaning her elbows on the counter. "The Wuthering Bites burger. Comes on an English muffin."

"What, like that book you like?"

"Mmhmm," she confirmed. 

"Humph. I don't like it."

"I kind of love it," she said dreamily, looking over at Jimmy. She thought what he looked like this morning, lounging in her bed without clothes on, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. She often forgot how beautiful he truly was.

Which is why I am not doing anything about this Zeke thing, she thought to herself, stepping away from her brother. Jimmy is who I want--I should tell him about what I'm feeling, but I'm not going to up and leave him for his best friend. I'm not that girl, and we're not that couple. He hasn't been so working to change for me so I could dump him.

She connected her phone to the stereo, playing the radio quietly over the restaurant speakers. She soaked up the music, and Gene headed behind the counter with her while Louise kicked up her heels on the table and played a game on her phone. This is going to be a long day.

Some hours passed--Tina spent her time reading before the lunch rush when she wasn't on the grill or waiting tables. Around 12:30, she was waiting tables and sitting behind the counter with Pablo Neruda's The Book of Questions, looking up occasionally to see if her customers needed anything. The bell on the door rang, and she glanced up, a smile on her face to greet a new customer. To her surprise, it was Jimmy, with a container in his hand.

"Hi," he beamed, closing the door behind him. She grinned widely, and it was strange to see him in the restaurant during the day. 

"Hey," she smiled, and he walked over to the counter to where she was sitting. She set her book down, folding her arms. "What are you doing here?"

"I," he started, setting the container on the counter, "thought you might like some lunch."

He opened it, revealing a fresh salad with a tiny container of dressing in the middle. Her heart warmed, and the sight of the food made her grin even wider. 

"I know you like that salad place near here, and I figured you wouldn't want something from the restaurant, so yeah," he shrugged. "Anyway, my break's almost over, so I need to head back before my dad notices I'm over here. I just wanted to say hi."

She put her hands on his neck and pulled him in, kissing his lips gently. 

"Thank you," she whispered, his sweetness making her love him even more in the moment. "I love you."

He grinned, kissing her nose. "I love you. I'll see you later, killer."

"Bye," she waved as he walked away, the bell ringing again as he exited. She tried not to dance with joy as she smiled at the salad, too excited over his sweetness to even eat it. She just grinned like a child, covering the salad and deciding to eat it later, on her break.

The bell rang again, and Tina looked towards the door, hoping it was Jimmy. But it wasn't--it was a woman with long brown hair and a very nice sundress. She was tan, her teeth white and her smile bright. 

"Hi, welcome," Tina greeted, smiling. The woman sat at the counter, setting down her bag. 

"Hi, can I get a cup of coffee?" Tina nodded, leaning down below the counter to grab a mug. Behind her, the woman chuckled and muttered, "Funny."

Tina turned and followed the woman's eyes, which were looking at the board with the Burger of the Day. Tina smiled in response. 

"Do you come up with these?"

"No, my dad does, actually," Tina explained, setting the cup of coffee in front of the woman. "He got the idea from the crossword this morning. And, I really like the book, so he indulged me."

"I actually write the crossword," she explained, opening one of the creams Tina gave her. 

Tina's eyes widened, chuckling. This is funny. "So you're Meredith Montgomery?"

"Why yes, I am. My stepson likes the book too, though he's reading it to impress a girl he likes."

Tina chuckled. Typical boy behavior.

"You know it's funny you say that," Tina said, looking at the board, "I thought that that word in the crossword, wuthering, was a sign from the universe telling me to... well, date someone, this boy I know who likes the book too." She laughed at herself, realizing the absurdity of the idea. "Ridiculous, I know."

The woman smiled, sipping her coffee. "Ah, young love," she mused. Her eyes flickered to Tina's name tag, and her eyes glinted. "Wait, Tina?"

Tina turned to her instinctively. "Yes?"

"No, Tina? Tina Belcher?" She asked, and Tina's brows furrowed. 

"I'm sorry, do I know you?" Tina asked confused, and the woman laughed.

"No, but my stepson, he told me about you. His name is Zeke Anderson."

Tina wanted to face-palm. So it wasn't a coincidence. I knew it.

"Oh my god," she laughed, unable to believe the circumstances of this moment. "That's so insane. He didn't tell me he had a stepmom."

"Well, he's secretive, that one. He speaks very highly of you," she winked, and Tina blushed. "He recommended to me that I use the word wuthering in the crossword. He wouldn't tell me why, so I figured it had to do with the famous well-spoken Tina Belcher who liked Wuthering Heights."

Tina blushed again, her cheeks hot. She wanted to laugh in the face of the universe.

"Wow," she marveled, and the woman laughed again. Tina suddenly realized what she had said to her before she knew Meredith was Zeke's stepmom. "Oh my god. Please don't tell him what I said. About, you know, the universe."

The woman waved at her, making a face. Tina noticed her fingernails were painted red.

"Oh don't worry dear, I won't tell him. Though I'm sure he'd like to know," she smiled, winking again. "He and I were just out shopping in the area. I'm not sure where he went. Anyway, I'd love to try the Wuthering Bites burger."

"Of course," Tina said, smiling again at the woman's friendliness. "Coming right up." She turned to the kitchen window, where she saw Louise leaning back in a chair with her feet up and tomato slices on her eyes. "Louise, stop that. You're wasting tomato. Gene, another special."

"Got it!" Gene exclaimed, getting another English muffin from the fridge.

Louise shrugged in her chair. 

"We didn't have any cucumber," she explained, lifting a slice and opening her eye to look at Tina, who rolled her eyes. 

"I don't care. Stop it." Tina turned back to Meredith, who was sipping more of her coffee, eyeing Tina's book. 

"Pablo Neruda," Meredith commented, "Good choice. Zeke likes him, too."

"Yeah, he gave me a poem from there yesterday." Was it really yesterday? "I really liked it, so I found the book in that used bookshop a block away."

She hummed in response, opening a packet of sugar.

"If you don't mind me asking," Tina started uneasily, "How long have you and Mr. Anderson been married?"

"Oh no problem dear, I feel like I know you," she assured, smiling softly. "Mike and I married a year ago. It wasn't easy for Zeke, you know. He was very close with his mom." She spoke smoothly, and Tina envied her grace. "But he came around. I like to think he likes my company."

"I'm sure he does," Tina said, leaning her elbows on the counter. "I didn't know about the accident. He only told me last week."

"Well, like I said, he's secretive. That surprises me a bit though, given how much he talks about you. He was so excited when he got that book you like, he told me how he checked it out of the library right after you did because he saw you with it," she chuckled, before realizing what she just said. "Oh, shit. I probably wasn't supposed to tell you that."

Tina laughed, and felt stupid for not realizing that Zeke was reading it because of her. She grinned at Meredith's likability, wondering what she would be like as a stepmom.

"Special!" Gene said from the kitchen, and Tina heard the familiar placing of a plate on the kitchen window. She turned around and grabbed it before setting it in front of Meredith, the smell making her hungry herself.

"There you go, one Wuthering Bites burger," she said happily. "Can I get you anything else, Mrs. Montgomery?"

"Oh, call me Meredith," she waved again, grinning at the burger. "I'm just fine, thank you, Tina."

Tina smiled without a reply, not wanting to bother Meredith as she ate. She stepped away, looking at her watch. It was almost time for her break.

"You know," she heard Meredith say, and she turned back to her, "Zeke also told me a bit about last night."

Tina's heart stilled.

"W-Which part?"

"The kiss," she said softly. "He doesn't look it, but Zeke is a sensitive kid. I know you're with Jimmy, and I don't want to tell you what to do or anything, I just can't help but worry about Zeke. Just be careful, okay? I don't want him to get hurt."

Tina's chest warmed at Meredith's kindness, and Tina nodded, smiling softly. 

"I understand. I'm trying," she said, sighing. "I guess I'm in a weird position. Jimmy and Zeke are friends, and I don't want to be what comes between them." Tina, she's a complete stranger, stop it.

But Meredith just nodded compassionately, taking a bite of her burger. How can eating a burger look so elegant?

"Jesus," she moaned, her eyes rolling at the taste. Tina grinned, chuckling at her response. "This is really good."

"Thank you, my dad is very proud of his spicing of the beef," Tina smiled, fingering the edge of her book, looking at Pablo Neruda's photo.

"He should be, this is amazing." She eagerly took another bite, sipping her coffee in between bites. She finished the burger quickly, dabbing her mouth afterwards.

"This is great, I have to tell the Wharf Daily News food people about this place," she said happily, her pretty fingernails tapping on the counter. "It was wonderful to finally meet you, Tina. I hope to see you again soon."

Tina smiled widely as Meredith reached into her purse, pulling out her wallet.

"Thank you, Meredith, I'll tell my dad you said that. It was nice to meet you, too. Tell Zeke I say hi."

"He'll be overjoyed," she winked, pulling a bill from her wallet and placing it under her plate. "Keep the change."

Tina's eyes flickered to the bill, the face of Ulysses S. Grant staring back at her. Holy shit.

"Oh, thank you so much!" She thanked, taking the bill. She had never seen a 50 up close before, her heart racing with excitement. Meredith chuckled and waved, gracefully walking out of the restaurant. There is no way in hell Gene is getting this 50.

She looked at her watch, deciding to take her break a little early. She called Louise to clean the counter and tables and get ready to wait on customers. She gathered the dishes and tips from the past customers, placing the cash and change on the kitchen window for Gene.

"I'm taking my break--I'll be back in 15," she called, untying her apron and pushing it in the cubby underneath the cabinet. She saw Louise bob into the room with a rag, and was happy to see her actually doing something she's told to do.

Tina grabbed her salad and keys, exiting the restaurant into the warm midday air. She turned, unlocking the door to her apartment and closing it behind her. She went to the kitchen and grabbed a fork for her salad and walked to her room, setting the salad on her desk. She walked to the loose floorboard and opened it, pulling out her diary.

She slouched in the chair of her desk, spreading the dressing across the lettuce. She sighed and tapped her pen against the page, looking at her big writing of Shit from this morning.

"Wuthering," she said aloud, leaning back in her chair and taking a bite. "Wuthering."

She wrote the word and definition. Wuthering.

"Fuck," she sighed, thinking about her conversation with Meredith. I can't believe Meredith Montgomery, writer of the Wharf Daily crossword and Zeke's stepmom, wandered into my dad's restaurant.

It was strange--she thought she knew what she was going to do, but she felt like she had just discovered another part of Zeke, a part she wasn't aware of. The part that took his dad's remarriage hard, the part that told his stepmom about the girl he liked, the part that was wuthering and sensitive. And, she liked his stepmom so much, Tina almost wanted to date Zeke just so she could spend time with Meredith.

"What the fuck am I going to do?" She whispered, wishing an answer would appear on the page. She didn't want to break up with Jimmy, and she felt the same way she did when deciding not to act on her feelings for Zeke other than telling Jimmy about them. But she imagined Zeke's dark eyes, his pretty face, and she wanted to reach into her imagination and brush his dark hair out of his eyes. She sighed at the vision, remembering the way his lips felt on hers.

"Wuthering," she whispered again. She turned her fork in the salad, looking at the poem Zeke had given her, and the words next to it: Don't you get tired of repeating your declaration to the sand?

Well, god damn it.

Chapter Text

"So you want to get some lunch?" Meredith asked, and Zeke shrugged, looking at the pavement. They were getting close to Tina's and Jimmy's restaurants, which made him feel uneasy. He wasn't feeling up to talking to either of them.

"I'm alright, you go ahead," he said mindlessly, thinking over his plan again.

"Are you sure? I can pick you up something."

"No, I'm fine, thank you. I'm just gonna go to the bookstore," he lied, and she had an almost sad look on her face, which gave him a pang of guilt. The look reminded him of Tina's tearful eyes last night.

"Okay. Text me," she said, and he nodded. She looked both ways before crossing the street near Bob's Burgers, where Zeke could see Tina sitting at the counter, reading. Even from across the street, he could see her pretty eyes moving across the page, her hair tied in a ponytail cascading down her shoulders.

He sighed, Tammy's voice echoing in his head. When we don't get what we want, we have to take it.

He groaned a little, speeding in front of Jimmy Pesto's and out of Tina's view. He had thought of the plan a million times over, but there were also a million ways it could go wrong. He had to be fast--he didn't know when Tina would take her break.

You would make a terrible supervillain.

Zeke sighed, crossing the street, thinking about Step 1 of Operation Be A Shark, Zeke: Find the Drain Pipe. Jimmy had told him about it a few months ago, but he didn't actually know where it was, as he had never been to Tina's house before.

Keeping out of Tina's view, he walked passed Tina's front door into the alleyway next to her house. He looked up at the wall, looking for the drain pipe. God, where is that fucking thing?

He got to a fence, and found that it was locked, of course. He rolled his eyes, his heart quickening. He looked behind him at the street, and when no one passed, hopped it swiftly. He lost his footing on the way down, falling to the pavement, his back aching.

"Oh, fuck," he swore, standing up. At least I found the fucking drain pipe.

And there it was, climbing from the base of the house, around a doorway up to a window. He stood back and tried to look into Tina's room to make sure it was hers, but realized he would only know for sure once he was in there.

"Okay, Step 2: Climb the Drain Pipe," he said to himself. Jesus, I'm breaking and entering. This is great.

We both want what life won't give to us.

He sighed, looking at the drain pipe. Can I actually climb this fucking thing? It doesn't look stable.

You have to be a shark, like Jimmy. He's a shark.

"Fuck," he muttered. Jimmy climbs this thing all the time. Just do it.

He put his hands on it, lifting himself up with the support of the dumpster beneath him. Tina's window was within reach, and he grabbed the window pane with one hand, and with the other, put his hand on the glass and pushed it open. Once he had enough room to crawl through, he put his sneakers on the drain pipe and pushed him head-first through the window.

He landed on his feet, the backflip working a lot better than he expected. Holy shit, I'm in Tina's room.

He looked around, her room looking similar to how he pictured it: she had lots of books and notebooks and her shelves were filled with her trinkets. Her bed was carefully made, and he could just barely smell her vanilla scent in the room. Her walls were peach pink and littered with post-its and folded notes, and he had a weird urge to read every one. 

No time, he thought to himself. And that's creepy.

Step 3: Find the Diary. Zeke knew Tina had a brother and sister, so she probably kept her diary somewhere really safe. He looked under her bed, in her mattress, under her pillow, behind a small painting, in her drawers. He felt horrible the whole time, his heart racing, praying no one would hear him. He hated looking through Tina's things--this was not the how he wanted his first time in her bedroom to be like. He imagined he and Tina would be too busy to be looking at her stuff.

"Damn it," he sighed, walking back over to the window to get a better view of the room. "Where is that fucking thing?"

The floor squeaked beneath his foot. He looked down and pushed his toe down on the hardwood, and it squeaked again. He got on his knees and ran his fingers along the hardwood, looking for an opening.

He found it. He pushed up, a loose floorboard coming right up. There it was--the diary. It was well-used, the spine and cover folded and battered. Inside the floorboard as well was a jar that caught Zeke's eye--Our Life.

He couldn't help himself. He pulled up the jar, seeing photos of New York glued to it. It was a quarter full of change and small bills which rattled as he looked at it. Our life? Could she mean Jimmy?

Did they plan to go to New York together after high school? The thought hit him in the chest, picturing them together in their own apartment. He didn't know Jimmy had plans with Tina for college--he always assumed they would part ways when they went to separate colleges, which was inevitable. Could it be that Jimmy was actually serious about Tina?

He shook his head. Okay, no time for that. Step 4: Get the Proof.

He put the jar back and grabbed the diary, opening it to the most recent page. God, I fucking hate Tammy for making me do this.

He tried not to look at the words, though he knew he would have to eventually. He pulled out his phone, swiping to the camera and started taking photos as fast as he could. He laughed at the gigantic written Shit on the page and noticed the poem he gave her taped in there. He saw his name multiple times, saw messy drawings of him, of his eyes. The sensation inside of him was overwhelming--his heart was racing, his camera buzzing, his eyes flicking across the pages for any mention of him. Tammy was right. She did write about me.

He moved the pages, drawing after drawing of Zeke's eyes, and written next to them were things he said to her. Holy shit.

Guilt was climbing in his chest. He knew what a horrible thing it was to look through Tina's journal, to take photos of it. Every time the guilt overwhelmed him he closed his eyes, pictured Tina looking at the ocean with a bright smile. He pictured Tina happy, and told himself that he would make her happy. He just had to be a shark in order to get there.

You have to be a shark. You have to be a shark.

He turned to a thick page, his eyes widening. The page was full of cigarettes, the paper split down the middle into a T-chart. Zeke and Jimmy's names were written on each side, and Zeke's had four cigarettes while Jimmy's side had six or seven. Each butt had a date next to them, and both Jimmy and Zeke's names had hearts next to their names. He couldn't believe she kept every one that they had given her.

He had gotten maybe twenty photos when he heard something. Zeke froze, and recognized the sound as a door closing, then footsteps on the stairs. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuck.

He hurriedly shut the diary and shoved it back in the loose floorboard, moving the board back on top. He heard more footsteps and prayed that it wasn't Tina, and if it was and she was coming in here, there wasn't enough time to get out of the window. Oh my god. Fuck fuck fuck.

His heart raced, and he looked under her bed. He moved and shoved himself underneath the bed, keeping very still as he heard more movements. Suddenly the door opened, and Zeke clapped his hand to his mouth. Oh my god, Tina.

He heard her humming, and Zeke didn't move a muscle. He saw her feet in her white Keds walk to the loose floorboard, where he had just been. Shit. This is not part of the fucking plan!

She opened it, and he moved slightly to keep himself in the shadows. She pulled out her diary, and thankfully didn't notice him. She walked over to her desk and sat down. He heard shuffling, the opening of something, and then the crunching of eating. Jesus fucking Christ.

"Wuthering," she said aloud. Oh my god. Did she notice that word from the paper? He thought she might see it--he figured she was the type to do the crossword. He pictured her in her pajamas, sitting cross-legged at a table, a pencil between her teeth as her eyes flitted across a paper, silently muttering ideas for words to herself.

She said the word again, and Zeke kept his mouth covered, hoping she wouldn't hear his breathing, or worse, his heartbeat. Who am I, Edgar Allen Poe?

He heard her sigh and hum some more, a pen scrawling on the paper of her diary.

"Fuck," she whispered, and he wondered what was going through her mind in that moment. Is she thinking about me? "What the fuck am I going to do?"

Maybe she is thinking about me. He wanted to think so, and remembered everything he say in her diary. He couldn't help but look forward to looking through it, which simultaneously made him feel horrible and excited. She had drawn him, sketched his lips and his eyes, wrote out the words he said to her. He didn't know she thought about him that much, though it did make sense given what happened last night.

Last night. Last night wasn't even anything--they had a romantic moment on the beach and that was it. They didn't kiss, not really, but right before she left, he thought she would tell him the truth about how she felt. In a way, she did--she loved Jimmy. Zeke hoped she was saying that to herself more than to him.

"Wuthering," she said again, softly. Why is she thinking so much about that word? He heard her sigh again, and more crunching of eating. Please don't find me. Please don't find me.

He told himself to calm down, because to freak out would be to get discovered. Just relax and don't move.

He didn't know how much time passed. He figured her break wouldn't be very long, but he felt like he had been laying there for an hour when it had only been a few minutes. Eventually, she walked back over the the floorboard and put her diary inside. He noticed a fifty in her hand, and she stuck it into the jar--Oh shit, Meredith.

Meredith always had 50s. Did she go into Bob's Burgers? Did they talk about me? A million thoughts raced through Zeke's mind, and he felt so stupid. Wuthering. The crossword!

Fuck, he thought. Meredith must have gone to Bob's Burgers and talked to Tina about the crossword, and about Zeke, which could have been prevented if he had just agreed to eat lunch with her. God fucking dammit.

He heard Tina humming, and she straightened up some things on her desk. After what felt like forever, she made her way to the door, opening and closing it. Zeke exhaled for what felt like the first time, wanting to hit his head against the floor in agony. I'm a terrible fucking person.

When he heard Tina's front door open and close, he relaxed, trying to still his racing heart. He figured he had gotten enough photos for Tammy so he scooted out from underneath the bed and looked outside to the alleyway. Step 5: Get the Fuck Out of There.

He felt nervous climbing out, but when his feet hit the dumpster, he felt fine jumping off. He closed her window carefully, grateful she didn't notice it was open when she was in her room. He hopped the fence again, jumping to the alleyway. I can't believe I pulled this off. He felt high, endorphins pumping through him.

He turned the sidewalk away from Bob's Burgers. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and texted Meredith as he headed to the bookstore. He turned at the stop sign and walked through the entrance of the bookstore, and he froze when he saw Meredith standing inside, waiting for him. A smirk played on her lips. 

"So, you want to tell me what you were really doing?" She asked slyly, and Zeke's heart raced. 

"I--I was just walking around," he lied, shoving his phone back in his pocket. 

She rolled her eyes. "My womanly instincts are detecting that you're full of shit."

"Come on, Mere," he said, shrugging. She raised an eyebrow. "I wasn't doing anything."

"Right," she said ironically, tapping her painted nails on her arm. "Well guess who I just met?"

"Who?" He asked, trying to sound genuine.

"Your girl, Tina Belcher. At her dad's restaurant."

Zeke scoffed. "She's not my girl."

Meredith smiled, her eyes glinting. "I wouldn't be so sure about that."

He looked at her swiftly, his heartbeat picking up again. "Did she say something about me?"

Meredith laughed. "What were you really doing just now?"

"Please, Meredith, oh my god. If she said something about me, you have to tell me--"

"I don't have to tell you anything, young man," she chuckled, running her fingers along a shelf of notebooks. "These are cute," she commented, taking one out and examining the purple hard cover and soft paper. "You should get one for Tina. Does she journal?"

Jesus, if you only knew the irony of this moment, Meredith. "Yeah, she does. Maybe she would like one, yeah." She is almost done with her current one. I would know.

He paused, and she smiled again, handing him the purple journal. "So you really aren't going to tell me what she said?"

"Oh, keep your pants on," she said, waving at him. "We just met, it was just friendly. I won't tell you any specifics, but I will say that you've been on her mind." She said this last part in a sing-song voice, and Zeke's heart leapt, a smile growing on his face. He knew this already--but it was nice to get some more confirmation about it. He kept this grin on his face as he paid for the journal, which Meredith put in her purse for him. On their way back to their house, they passed in front of Bob's Burgers, where he saw Tina reading at the counter again. A pencil was between her teeth, like in his vision on her doing the crossword, and he just barely read the words Pablo Neruda before she was out of sight.

Chapter Text

Gene and Louise wandered off an hour before closing, leaving Tina alone in the restaurant. She read her book until closing time, playing her own music over the speakers and serving only a few customers. She closed the restaurant a few minutes early, flipping the sign and sighing. As she did so, she looked over at Jimmy Pesto's. She saw Jimmy's dad cleaning glasses at the bar, saw Andy and Ollie mopping. Her heart ached as she glared at Jimmy Sr., at the cruel hands in beer glasses, the hands that abused his own son. Tina was sure Jimmy Jr. was the only one he physically assaulted, as her boyfriend nobly protected his brothers. 

Jimmy Jr. came into view, and he started wiping down tables and putting up the chairs. Tina saw his dad say something and Andy and Ollie ran off together, leaning the mop on the wall. She tried to look away as she saw Jimmy ball his fists at his father's words.

She turned away, unable to bear witness to the abuse. Her head was pounding, and she leaned her wrist against it, feeling the pulsating pain.

She slowly cleaned the restaurant, waiting for Jimmy Jr. to be ready for her. She danced to her own music, hoping the sight of her across the street would make Jimmy smile.

Before she knew it, the bell on the door rang again, Jimmy's head poking through. She grinned when she saw him, the endorphins from dancing pumping through her. He smiled softly at her, and she embraced him, pulling his face into her neck affectionately. 

"Hi again," she said against his shoulder.

"Hi again," he replied, holding her waist. He kissed her neck and she ran her fingers through his hair.

"How are you?" She said compassionately, stroking his hair. He pulled away and looked into her eyes before kissing her deeply. She sighed into the kiss, wondering if this is how he will always answer that question. 

He pulled away, nuzzling his face in her neck again. 

"Let's go to the beach," he said quietly, and she furrowed her brows. 

"Right now?"

"Yeah. I need to be somewhere good, and happy. We can go to the party after. I just want to spend time with you," he explained, and she couldn't help but smile a little. 

"Okay, should I change--"

"No, what you're wearing is perfect," he said, finally pulling away and looking back into her eyes. "You're perfect, Tina."

She stroked his cheeks and held his face in her hands, feeling the guilt make itself known in her chest. She wanted to him how tragically unperfect she was--how his best friend had been on her mind.

"Okay," she agreed, "Let me just get my keys. You wanna bike?"

He nodded, kissing her sweetly. "I'll meet you outside."

He turned away from her after saying this, opening the door. She grabbed her phone, unplugging it from the sound system and pulled off her apron. She stuck her book in her back pocket and nabbed her keys, shoving them into her pocket. She turned the lights off in the restaurant and walked outside, locking the door behind her. 

She walked to her bike, which was still parked outside. She unlocked it and put the book and the lock in the basket, pulling her hair from the ponytail. She dusted off her jeans and top, hoping she looked okay for a late-evening stroll on the beach. 

She waited for Jimmy, who showed up with his red bike, walking it out of his front door around the side of Jimmy Pesto's. She smiled at him when she saw him, but there was a lonely look in his eyes she didn't notice before. 

"Let's go," she said, mounting her bike. He nodded and did the same, and they coasted down the road to the Wharf. 

She missed riding her bike with Jimmy--there was something really special about it, about how she could look over at him and know he was right there.

She closed her eyes when they reached the beach, and she was transported into the saga that was last night. She was here with Zeke--she touched his chest here, he confessed his love for her here, told her it isn't wrong it just isn't right, right now here. She felt guilty just being on this beach with Jimmy, who didn't know what exactly happened here last night, that he was almost betrayed here.

She shut it out. She didn't know how or even when to tell Jimmy about it. She knew that the sooner she did, the better, but Zeke was right--the second she admits it, it becomes real. 

Damn you, Zeke, she thought, groaning. She looked at Jimmy, whose eyes were closed, the ocean air blowing back his locks. The moonlight was lighting the sky; she couldn't see the stars.

They braked and stepped off, leaning their bikes against the scaffolding as they normally did. She looked out into the ocean, feeling the urge to swim. Jimmy looked at her, and she took his hand. 

"Do you want to talk about it?" She knew he would know what she meant--she couldn't help but think of Jimmy Pesto Sr.'s angry hands.

"There isn't much to say," Jimmy Jr. said flatly, stroking the back of her hand with his thumb.

"You can tell me anything, you know," she reminded him, turning her body and holding his left hand in both of hers. "Anything."

There was a glint in his eye, and he smiled sadly. "I love you, Tina. You know that, don't you?"

"I know," she whispered, and brought his hand to her lips to kiss it softly.  "I love you too."

"No matter what happens," he started, his voice serious, "I love you. Please, please remember that."

She furrowed her brows. There was something behind his voice. 

"Jimmy--"

"We should swim," he interrupted, pulling his hand from hers and pulling his shirt off with one swift motion. He threw it to the sand by their bikes. "Come on, killer."

She felt uneasy about what he had said, and she got the feeling there was something she didn't know. She didn't like the way he changed the subject so quickly, the way he deflected her advances.

"O-Okay," she said, kicking off her shoes and pulling her socks off. She undressed quickly, and he waited for her in his boxers with his feet in the water.

She dipped her foot in, and immediately drew it back. 

"Jesus, it's fucking freezing," she laughed, and he chuckled. She walked into the water, the cold water giving her goosebumps. The smell of the ocean was deep in her lungs.

She exhaled and ran as fast as she could into the water, diving in and allowing the waves to consume her. She thought of the way they made love on the shore and swam in the ocean--how long ago was it? A month ago? It seemed like yesterday, but last weekend's Seven Minutes in Heaven felt a million years in the past. You see what you want to see.

She floated on the surface, listening to Jimmy swim beside her. She looked out into the sky and searched for stars, but she could only see Venus shining brightly back at her. The full moon illuminated the beach and she looked over to it. She remembered the way the moonlight made Zeke's skin glow with a kind of celestial beauty. Those dark eyes were heavenly in the way they sparkled at her.

She looked over at Jimmy, swimming beside her. He stood up in the water, his skin glistening. She bit her lip at the sight of him lifting his arms to brush his dripping hair out of his eyes, the moonlight rippling on the water. She planted her feet in the sand and stood up next to him, the water rolling off of her body. She took his hands, and he opened his eyes and gazed at her. 

"Jimmy," she whispered, her heart racing, "Is there something you need to tell me?"

He looked down, stroking her hands. He took a deep breath, his lip shaking, and her heart broke.

"Tina," he started, his voice quivering, "The only thing you need to know is that I fucking hate myself and you're the only person in the world that I trust."

She held his face, pulling him into her and embracing him. It killed her to see him cry; the way his face contorted with sobs cracked her heart.

"Okay," she whispered, deciding not to push him on this. He'll tell me when he tells me.

He gripped her waist, pressing his cool body to hers. She could feel his hot tears on her shoulder. She wrapped her arms around his neck, feeling the water get colder around her legs. 

"You're the only person in the world that I trust," he repeated quietly, pressing himself against her.

"I know," she whispered, stroking his hair. She kissed his shoulder, tasting the sea water on his skin. "I love you."

"I'm sorry," he sobbed, gripping her. "I'm so fucking sorry."

She held him even closer, wishing he would just tell her what was wrong.

"Whatever it is," she whispered, rubbing his back, "We can work through it. I forgive you, whatever it is."

He squeezed her skin, kissing her neck. "I don't know what I would do without you."

"I love you," she repeated, pulling his face forward to look at him. She could barely see redness in his cheeks in the moonlight. He stepped away from her, releasing her from his touch, leaning back into the water and sighing. She bit her lip, then leaned down into the ocean next to him. She took his hand and looked up at Venus.

Chapter Text

Zeke looked up at the full moon. He wished the moon could tell him what to do--that anyone could tell him what to do. He knew what he was about to do to his best friend was wrong; he didn't want to hurt Jimmy. He thought of when they were kids, when life wasn't littered with drama and sex and romance. He wished he could be transported back into his childhood, back to Wagstaff, before his mom died and before Jimmy started dating Tina and before life became complicated.

He looked at Jocelyn's house, eyeing the porch, which had a few of Zeke's wrestling friends. He wondered if Tina was coming tonight--she probably was, as she usually came to these parties. He hoped she wouldn't figure out what he did with her journal.

He threw the cigarette he was smoking out into the yard and climbed the steps to Jocelyn's front door. When he entered he was met with the familiar smell of marajuana and humidity, and pushed past guests to the kitchen. He made himself a very strong drink, barely pouring any soda in with his vodka and tequila. This is going to be a very long night.

"Hey, you're here, finally." Tammy came into view as he was topping off his drink with ice from the freezer. Her eyes were red. "Do you have it? The proof?"

Zeke sighed, dropping ice into his cup. "Yeah. I can't believe I fucking pulled it off, I hid under her fucking bed as she was walking around."

"She came in?" Tammy's eyes widened, her face contorting into a laugh. "Oh my god, how did she not catch you?"

"I have no idea," he said, taking a lot sip of the drink. "Are they here?"

"No, not yet. Well, let me see the pictures!" She exclaimed excitedly, sipping her own drink. Zeke had a bad feeling, rolling his eyes. 

"Why do you even want proof anyway?"

"Because I want to make sure our plan will actually work, Zeke," she groaned impatiently. "If you have proof she's into you, then she won't go back to him after we tell her. Instead, she'll run to you. It's really very simple."

"Whatever," he mumbled. 

"Now let me see!"

"Fine." He pulled his phone out of his pocket, going to his photos. He chose one with a drawing of Zeke's eyes and some writing, flipping his phone and showing it to her. 

"Oh my god," she gasped. She zoomed in the photo, reading the text. "I remember the way his hands felt on my body when we were in the closet.... His hands were rough, and strong, and he smelled like cigarettes and perfection. I wanted to stay there with him forever. Oh my GOD, ZEKE!!"

His heart panged to hear Tina's beautiful words in Tammy's mocking mouth. He looked down guiltily. 

"Oh my god," she inhaled, looking at the photo. "She's in love with you."

"We don't know that."

"Oh yes we do. I never really thought our plan would work until this moment, but it will! Holy shit." Zeke looked away, taking a big sip of his drink. He heard the familiar click of a camera, and looked at Tammy, his heart freezing. Her phone was hovering above the photo. 

"Wait--what are you doing?" He snatched his phone back, a smile playing on Tammy's lips. 

"Send me the photos," she commanded. 

"What? No, I'm not going to do that. I did what you wanted, I took photos of her diary."

"Zeke," she said, holding up her phone with the new photo. "I want the photos. All of them."

"Why?"

"It's my leverage against Tina, dumb dumb. If she knows I have these, I can blackmail her into never going back to Jimmy. And if you don't send them to me, I'm going to show her this. Now, the photos, please."

Zeke stared incredulously at Tammy. Fuck.

"How did you get like this?" He breathed, marveling at her malevolence. "That's a horrible thing to do."

"I already told you." She rolled her eyes, crossing her arms. "We have to be sharks. This is my protection. Now I saw how many there are, so I'll know if you're sandbagging me. Send me the photos."

He glared at her, sighing. I'm so sorry, Tina.

He selected the photos of the diary, then texted them to Tammy. His phone hovered over the send button before pressing it, looking away.

She waited for the message, and squealed when it came.

"Ooh, she's such a naughty girl!" Tammy laughed. "She wrote about what it would be like to kiss you. Goddamn, Tina, I didn't know you were so dirty!"

He looked away, unsure of how much he could bear. 

"I'm so fucking excited to do this," she giggled, putting her phone in her pocket. "Okay, so here's what we're gonna do. When Jimmy and Tina get here, you're going to be on the porch and I'll be in the back. When Tina and Jimmy inevitably split up, she'll go to the porch, where you'll tell her about the night it rained. Hopefully she'll storm to the back and make a big scene and embarrass herself, it'll be great." Zeke looked down shamefully, nodding along. "I'll keep Jimmy busy."

"Shouldn't she hear what happened from Jimmy?" Zeke asked, chugging more of his drink. "He said he was going to tell her."

Tammy rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right, like that'll ever happen," she scoffed. "No, you should tell her. I don't want any of the blame, plus if you tell her she'll think you're honest."

"And what do I say if she asks why I didn't tell her before? She's smart, you know."

"Not smart enough to figure it out sooner," she snorted. "Tell her Jimmy blackmailed you, which is the truth. Speaking of, I'm so glad you're not his bitch anymore."

Zeke rolled his eyes, reaching into his pocket for a joint. "I wasn't his bitch."

"Um, he was blackmailing you with your feelings for Tina so you wouldn't tell her what he did, and you let him. Sounds like you were his bitch."

Zeke laughed. "By that definition, now I'm your bitch."

"You sure are," she smiled, taking his joint from his lips and taking a hit. "I'm so pumped for tonight. Text me when you have Tina outside."

He looked away. "Okay."

Chapter Text

Tina and Jimmy biked from the beach to Jocelyn's, Tina's throat itching for a drink. What Jimmy had said to her was massively confusing--but she knew that whatever he was so anxious about telling her, she could take it. I'm strong now, she thought. And if anything has been proven in my relationship with Jimmy, it's my enormous capacity to forgive.

You see good in Jimmy when he manipulates you, you give him chance after chance even though he doesn't deserve it.

Zeke's words echoed in Tina's head. She wanted to believe Jimmy did have good in him, that he did deserve forgiveness. She looked over at her boyfriend, riding beside her. The wind whipped back his hair, his skin glowing with moonlight. Doesn't he deserve my forgiveness?

The idea was wearing her. She just wanted to get drunk.

They rode onto Jocelyn's lawn, setting their bikes down on the side of the porch. Jimmy was smiling when they entered, already starting to move to the beat of the music. Jocelyn's chaotic neon lights were already flashing and hurt Tina's eyes when she looked at them. The house was already packed, and it was only 10:30pm.

As usual, they pushed their way to the kitchen to make themselves drinks. Jimmy said hi to multiple people while Tina stood behind him, timidly waving at his friends. They entered the kitchen and turned the lights on, Tina's eyes burning in their effort to adjust. 

"What do you want to drink?" Jimmy asked, pulling more red solo cups out of a bag. How are there always red solo cups? "You wanna do shots?"

"Yes, please," Tina agreed eagerly, and Jimmy smiled charmingly at her. He found two shot glasses and rinsed them in the sink, then opened Jocelyn's tequila. He poured the caramel-colored liquid inside the glasses, and Tina prepared herself for the burning sensation and nausea that was to come.

He handed hers to her, then they raised their glasses. She thought of last weekend's pathetic tequila adventure in the kitchen, when Tina raised her glass to nothing and no one.

"To you," Jimmy toasted, his eyes sparkling. "For being the best person I know."

She smiled softly, feeling guilt rise in her chest. She tried not to think of Zeke.

She clinked her glass against his and quickly downed the tequila. While she coughed a little to accommodate the burning sensation, she didn't feel the usual nausea. I guess I'm getting better at this.

Jimmy laughed, and she felt her face flush. He kissed her cheek, his lips wet with the alcohol. 

"I think I'm gonna go to the back for some weed, you wanna come?"

Her heart sank. She thought of last night, the dirty look Tammy had given her when she walked to that space to take Jimmy Jr. away from her.

"No, thank you," she answered. "No weed for me."

"Okay." He kissed her lips, and she tasted the tequila on his mouth. He smiled at her one last time and turned, walking out of the kitchen. She sighed, clinking her shot glass on the counter. She looked at the tequila, and wondered how such a simple liquid can have such a strong control over those who drink it. 

She poured herself another shot, and another, and another, and another. She thought of the intense drunk she had felt in the closet with Zeke, the way the room spun and the darkness encircled her. Does anything matter, she had thought that night. The thought was truly sad--the idea that Jimmy's small actions can make her philosophically question the meaning of life.

She looked at the tequila, which glared back at her. Is Jimmy my tequila? Does he make me love drunk and stupid and unable to think clearly?

Yes, Zeke's voice answered in her head.

I don't want to be love drunk anymore, she thought, staring at the alcohol. I want to be able to think clearly.

So stop drinking, Zeke's voice responded. The simple answer felt like a punch in the face. Stop drinking.

She set her shot glass down, feeling lightheaded. She closed her eyes, picturing Zeke's great still eyes. She wondered if he was here tonight.

She gripped the wall, her feet fumbling beneath her. Oh god, I'm really drunk. She blinked hard, trying to find the front door in the darkness. Her eyes settled on the doorknob, but the neon lights made it difficult to find her way there. She stumbled to the door, collapsing onto it, finding the brass knob.

The fresh air felt like a cool glass of water, and she took a very deep breath. She shut the door, the music fading. The air felt so good, she moaned a little as she filled her lungs with it.

She stepped very carefully down the stairs, trying not to fall again. The grass spun as she reached into the basket of her bike, pulling out her book of poetry. She found her way back to the stairs, clutching the book, then leaned on the railing and opened it to the last poem she was on.

She ran her fingers over the words, wondering what Zeke would think of this poem. She smelled cigarette smoke in the air and looked to her left. Speak of the devil.

"Hey," Zeke said, his eyes glinting. His dark hair was messy, and she had an odd urge to smoothen it. He was smoking a cigarette, leaning on the railing beside her. Her heartbeat quickened as she smelled his cologne, the scent alone warming her chest and enough to make her want to lean into him.

"Hi," she said back, then remembered the way they left things last night. Oh god.

"See anything I would like?" He asked, motioning to the book with his cigarette. She smiled a little; she loved how he interested he was in what she was doing. Jimmy isn't like that.

"Well, yeah, maybe," she said shyly, turning the page, "There's this one poem I've been stuck on you might like."

"Do tell," he said smoothly, and she flushed. I'm very drunk, shit.

She fumbled with the page before finding poem LXIX. She cleared her throat and read it out loud. 

"Do thoughts of love fall
into extinct volcanoes?

Is a crater an act of vengeance
or a punishment of the earth?

With which stars do they go on speaking,
the rivers that never reach the sea?"

She looked over at him, and he exhaled smoke. His eyes were so soft, and she wanted to fall right into them. Her heart panged as she became aware of how warm he was beside her. He brought the cigarette to his lips, and she couldn't help but stare at them.

"Again, please," he purred, and she looked back to his eyes. How did we get so close again?

She tore her eyes away from him and back to the page, where the words seemed to sprout wings and fly off of the paper. She slurred her words when she repeated them, her heart racing after each second she could smell Zeke's cologne.

"I love it," he professed, and he inhaled more of the cigarette. She bit her lip, trying not to look back at his mouth. 

"Yeah, it's..." she started, fingering the page, "It's very profound. I'm... I'm worried that I'm a river that will never reach the sea."

"You are the sea, Tina," he answered softly, and she could see her glasses reflecting in his eyes. "If anything, I'm a river that will never reach the sea."

Oh god. What does that mean?

"Tina, do you..." He started, his tone changing to a more serious one. He looked away, sighing anxiously. "Do you remember that night it rained, three weeks ago?"

What the fuck?

"Um," she stuttered, closing the book, "Yeah, sure. I was with Jimmy all night. Why do you ask?"

He didn't look at her, but kept his eyes on his cigarette. "Actually, you weren't with Jimmy all night. Before he was with you, he was here."

"Here? You mean--here, at Jocelyn's?"

"Yeah, here," he answered, and she saw his fingers shaking. "Tina, there's something you don't know about that night."

She furrowed her brows, anxiety flooding through her.

"What don't I know?" Is this it? What Jimmy was trying to tell me at the beach, in the water?

Zeke looked seriously at her, his eyes hardening. He bit his lip, and she felt that same starvation for hidden knowledge she felt last night before he kissed her.

"Zeke, what don't I know?" She repeated, frantically searching his eyes for an answer. Oh god. Oh god.

"Jimmy cheated on you, Tina."

Chapter Text

Three Weeks Ago

Jimmy stared at his mother's smiling face. He had always been told he looked like his mother--that they shared the same hazel eyes, the same red-blond hair, the same beaming smile. It was something his father always complained about.

He downed another shot. His dad was passed out on the couch, and definitely wouldn't notice that Jimmy had been drinking his alcohol when he woke up. The plus side about having an alcoholic for a father was that Jimmy Jr. could steal as much alcohol as he wanted--his dad had no idea how much he drank in one sitting.

This was the only photo of Jimmy's mother in the house. In the picture, she was young and happy, smiling brightly with a book open on the table in front of her. Jimmy didn't remember very much about his mom--he remembered seeing her reading on the orange armchair in their living room, her red hair tied up. The other memories weren't worth thinking about; they mostly consisted of his mom and dad fighting endlessly, and Jimmy would often hide in his room with his hands over his ears to block out the noise. When she left, his dad slowly got rid of each photo except this one. Jimmy figured his dad wanted a reminder of what she "did to their family"; ironically, his dad continued to think this even though his cheating is what lead to their divorce. Jimmy's brothers were proof of it.

The glass frame containing the photo was smashed. Jimmy shivered at the memory--his dad punched his fist through it on his mom's birthday earlier that year. When Jimmy Jr. protested that it was the last photo he had left of her, his dad then punched his fist into his son's face, lodging a piece of glass in his cheek. It had taken Tina over an hour to get the piece out, but the scar was still there. Jimmy ran his finger over the familiar white bump, wondering if it will always be there.

Tina. He had been wanting to see Tina all night--whenever he looked at that photo of his mom, he thought of Tina, about the way she loved to read. The alcohol burned his throat, and when he stood up, the room shifted. He rubbed his eyes, taking a deep breath, stumbling to his front door and opening it quietly so he didn't wake his dad.

The fresh air was cool in his lungs, and he imagined Tina's full lips on his skin, her soft hands in his hair. He loved having sex with her--she was eager and lively, especially after they both had been drinking. He loved the way she cuddled him after they had sex; it always made him feel safe and cared for. He felt a familiar tightening of his jeans and opened his eyes to see the dark street. 

He crossed, looking into Tina's apartment. The overhead lights and TV were on, so he knew he had to be quiet. He hopped the fence in her alley quickly and looked up at her window. Her light was on, and he couldn't help but grin, imagining her pretty smile. He looked around the back alley for a pebble, quickly finding one. After a few tries, he managed to hit her window and waited excitedly.

Her face appeared, and he smiled at her. She opened her window and poked her head out, her hair falling in her face.

"Jimmy!" She hissed. "My parents are still awake!"

"Please," he pleaded, and she rolled her eyes. 

"Fine. But you have to be quiet."

"Yes, ma'am," he smiled, hopping on top of the dumpster. He climbed the drain pipe expertly--even drunk, he had done it so many times there was no way he would fall. He pulled himself into her room, noticing her pajamas and smiling at how cute she looked in them. The warmth of her room was welcoming, and he embraced her, inhaling her vanilla scent.

"Hey," he said into her neck, kissing her. 

"Hi, Jimmy," she chuckled, touching his hair. "What's up?"

"We," he started, pulling away and taking her hands, "Should go to Jocelyn's party."

She furrowed her brows, sniffing. "Are you drunk?"

"Yes, I am. Now, the party?"

"Jimmy, I--I don't know. I think I want to stay in tonight," she explained timidly, her eyes excited. "I just got this book, Wuthering Heights, and--"

"No, fuck that shit. Come out with me, it'll be fun," he interrupted, and her face fell, the excitement extinguished. She pulled away, something darkening in her eyes.

"Don't be hurtful," she said quietly, looking away. "You can't just show up in my room drunk, insult my book, then try to convince me to go out with you."

"Baby, come on," he said smoothly. Usually this worked for him--even when she was annoyed, he could always talk his way out of it. He took her hands and kissed them, keeping the charming smile on his face that he knew she liked.

"I just want to read tonight," she answered, turning away. He rolled his eyes. 

"Tina, don't be such a square."

She turned back to him, her eyes hurt. He knew he shouldn't have said it--he hated when she looked hurt like that. She took an angry breath, and he wanted to laugh at this sight of her. She was always cute when she was annoyed.

"I am not a square," she defended harshly, tearing away her hands. "I hate when you drink like this. You act just like your dad."

The words hung in the air. He froze, glaring at her, unable to respond. Anger began to pulse through his chest, heating his cheeks, and her face softened. There was a pause, and she realized what she said. He balled his fists, his breath heavy.

"Jimmy, I'm sorry--"

"No, fuck you," he seethed, his voice gruff. "I can't believe you fucking said that to me." He could hear his heartbeat in his ears. How could she fucking say that?

"Jimmy, don't go," she pleaded, taking his hands. "I'm sorry."

He pulled away, his pulse beating rapidly, his vision blurring. He almost never got angry at Tina--she was usually so forgiving, so understanding, so willing to do whatever he wanted.

He narrowed his eyes, then turned away towards the window, his vision dark. You act just like your dad. You act just like your dad. He stuck his foot out the window and found the drainpipe, glaring at her as he did so. She was saying his name, but he blocked her out, her words sounding warbled. How could she say that?

He jumped to the alley, anger burning his eyes as his feet tingled from the impact. He thought of his father, the way he drunkenly stumbled around the house, the familiar look in his eyes right before he got physical. His dad's eyes got so dark and scary--it made him feel like a helpless child. I'm not like that, Tina.

He huffed, jumping the fence and stomping to the street. He turned left, away from Tina's restaurant to Jocelyn's. All he wanted was to forget Tina, forget what she said, and get high out of his fucking mind. How could she fucking say that to me? Tina never talked to him like that, never stood her ground like that.

He looked up at the clouds, which were dark and thick. He balled his fists, turning left at the stop sign, still breathing heavily. He heard Jocelyn's party before he saw it, the loud music and sound of teenage chatter very familiar. He wanted to sink into the sound and forget everything that had just happened.

He jogged up the porch stairs, Tina's words echoing in his mind. He noticed his shaking hands as he gripping the doorknob, flinging it open. You act just like your dad. As usual, the house was dark inside, and Jocelyn yelled his name from across the room. 

"Jimmmyyyy!!!" She shrieked, and the sound rung in his ears, the room spinning. He didn't say anything, continuing to head to the kitchen. He searched the counter, his eyes settling on a half-full bottle of gin. Tina's face flashed across his mind, which only made his chest burn with anger.

He grabbed the gin, popped it open and took a big swig. It burned his throat immensely, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

"Jesus, what's wrong with you?

Jimmy Jr. opened his eyes, turning to the voice. Tammy was leaning on the doorway, her tight clothes hugging her body. Her lips were red and folded into a smirk. He gulped the gin, his chest burning to the alcohol. 

"Tina and I had a fight," he spat, taking another sip. Tammy's smirk grew.

"Trouble in paradise?" She laughed, tapping her fingernails on the counter. Jimmy rolled his eyes.

"I wouldn't call it paradise. She's just annoying sometimes." Jimmy, shut up. He didn't really believe that about Tina, and he knew it, too. But her voice echoed in his brain, making him want to punch his fist right through the wall.

"I can relax you," she said smoothly, stepping towards him. "You want some weed?"

"Fuck, yes," he answered, and she nodded to the back room and headed out of the kitchen. He followed her, smelling Tammy's fruity body spray.

They sat down on one of Jocelyn's couches, the room empty except for them, as it was still early in the night. Jimmy always liked this room--the red walls, the fairy lights, the consistent smell of bud. He was already starting to feel better, feeling the soothing effects of the gin.

Tammy reached into her pocket, pulling out her purple pipe, pink lighter, and little bag of weed, setting them on the table.

"It's really good," she assured him, opening the bag carefully. "Zeke always delivers the best shit."

She poured a little of the grinded bud into the pipe, tapping the side to settle it. She handed him the full pipe, clicking on her lighter. Jimmy brought the mouthpiece to his lips and Tammy lit the weed. He inhaled deeply, the weed popping softly. The drug surged through him smoothly as he inhaled a second time, setting down the pipe. 

"Fuck," he exhaled, euphoria washing through him. "It's so fucking smooth."

"Mm," she responded, taking a hit herself. He could already feel it working. "So what happened with Tina?"

Jimmy rolled his eyes. "She said I was acting like my dad."

"Is that so bad?"

"Yes, Tammy. It is," he said gruffly, taking back the pipe and lighting it again for another hit.

"What's wrong with your dad?"

"He's just..." Jimmy trailed off, inhaling more sativa. "He just fucking sucks, that's all."

"Hm," she hummed, leaning back into the couch next to him. She turned, and he could smell her fruity perfume. Her red lips looked especially full, and he tried not to look at them. "You wanna get her back?"

Jimmy looked into Tammy's eyes, something glinting in them. His heart began to race, feeling her body heat radiating off of her.

"How would I do that?" He breathed, his pants starting to feel tight. 

"I... may have an idea," she whispered, leaning forward. He was still, closing his eyes. He knew it wasn't right, but vexation at Tina was still pulsing through him. Fuck it.

He grabbed her hair, pulling her lips to his own. He could taste her lipstick, and it felt like being reborn. It had been so long since he had kissed someone besides Tina.

She moaned into him, shifting her weight. She pulled away and moved on top of him, her skin warm against him as she straddled his legs. He could feel his erection growing, the weed making him feel lightheaded.

"Let's go upstairs," she murmured, and he nodded and moaned in agreement. She smiled, kissing him deeply before moving off of him and smirking at the bulge in his jeans. Shit, when did Tammy get so hot?

He got up quickly, taking one final hit of the weed before following her out of the room and through the kitchen to the Fuck Stairs. She took his hand and smirked at him, batting her lashes. He was breathing heavily as he turned away from her to look out into the living room.

Zeke's eyes caught his own. His friend looked shocked, and for a moment, Jimmy Jr.'s eyes lingered on Zeke's. He knew this might be a problem later, but he pushed it out, the alcohol surging through him and making him move slower up the stairs.

Tammy pulled him into the bathroom upstairs, shutting the door roughly and collapsing into him. He groaned as her hand gripped his crotch through his jeans, in a much more harsh way than he was used to. Tina was always so gentle with him and his body--she worried about bruising him, worried about hurting him, worried worried worried She's always fucking worrying about me.

He moaned into Tammy's mouth as she bit his lip, unbuckling his belt and pulling down his jeans to expose his erection. She gasped when she saw it before grinning, looking up at Jimmy with those mischievous eyes. She maintained eye contact as she kissed the tip of him, making him moan loudly as pleasure washed through him. She sucked him slowly, teasing him in a way that Tina never did. His eyes fluttered closed, biting his lip as Tammy's nails ran across his hips, her mouth strong and tight against his member.

She pulled away suddenly, making him groan with the loss of pleasure. He pulled her lips up to his, kissing her deeply.

"Do you want to fuck me?" She whispered, stroking his erection with her right hand.

"Yes," he moaned, kissing her again and feeling a euphoric sensation pass through him. She bit his lip again and pulled off her shirt, her breasts full and large in her red bra. He excitedly unbuttoned her shorts and pulled them down. Panting, she sat up on the sink and he tugged his shirt off, throwing it to the ground with the rest of their clothes.

She spread her legs and eyed him seductively, biting her red lip. He almost came at the sight of her tempting full skin and naughty eyes. He went to her and fit himself between her legs, squeezing her breasts eagerly before pulling off her panties roughly and tossing them to the ground. He gripped her body as he positioned himself at her entrance, touching her glistening folds with his fingers.

"Wait--a condom," he sputtered, reaching into his jeans. She chuckled. 

"It's okay, I'm on the pill," she said playfully, gripping his hips. "Now fuck me or I'm going to explode."

He pushed himself inside of her, making her gasp.

"Oh, fuck," he groaned. She was tight around him, her fingers gripping his shoulders. She felt amazing--her vagina was hot and wet and welcoming, her soft whimpers making him even harder inside of her.

"Mm, Jimmy," she cried, enthusiastically tugging his hair, "Give it to me."

He kissed her neck, inhaling her perfume. He started thrusting, the feeling unbelievable, his nerves exploding. She was moaning loudly, and he held her hips for balance. Time escaped him; the weed really was strong. He had no idea how long they had sex for--at some point it started raining, the sound soothing him and masking his and Tammy's loud moaning.

"Oh god," he groaned, feeling pressure build in his chest. "Fuck--fuck!"

He cried out as he came, hitting the sink, and she squeezed against him with her own orgasm. They were panting, Jimmy resting his head on her shoulder, gripping her skin. He wished she would wrap her arms around him and rub his back.

"Shit," she gasped, breathing hard. She pulled back, looking into his eyes. "I bet Tina would never fuck you like that."

Oh my god. Tina!

He froze, his eyes widening. "Oh my god," he panted, pulling away from Tammy. He frantically grabbed a tissue and wiped himself off, his heart pounding. "Fuck, fuck fuck fuck fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck--"

"Jimmy--"

"Fuck!" He cried, panic surging through him. "I have to go. I have to go."

"Jimmy, what's wrong?"

"I just cheated on Tina!" he shouted, his cheeks hot. He pulled up his pants and found his shirt, hurriedly putting it on and starting to hyperventilate. She hopped off of the sink, grabbing his shoulder. 

"Jimmy, calm down--"

"No!" He exclaimed, pushing her away. "I can't believe I did this. I'm so fucking stupid." He opened the door, the light flooding into his eyes. He was still high and very drunk, the hallway spinning and the stairs seeming to move by themselves. He hurried out of the hallway and down the stairs, starting to panic as he did so. The music was loud and pumping, and he pushed past everyone, running to the door. 

It was pouring outside. The rain hit his skin harshly, and he had an odd sense the universe was punishing him.

"Fuck!" He shouted at the sky, continuing to hyperventilate. Oh my god. What am I going to do?

I have to see her, he thought. I have to tell her what happened. I can talk her out of being mad. Everything will be fine. It'll be fine.

He repeated this to himself as he bolted down the road, turning at the stop sign. In a flash he was back at Tina's apartment, hopping the fence and listening to the rain hit the pavement. Everything will be fine.

He looked up at Tina's cracked window, the light still on. Thank god she's still awake. He hopped on the dumpster and started climbing the pipe, trying not to slip on the wet metal. He stuck his hand under her window pane and pushed up, seeing her pretty, innocent face turn to him.

"Oh my god--Jimmy!" She gasped, hurrying off of her bed. She opened the window completely and grabbed his hand, helping him inside. He panted as he hit the floor, his wet clothes dripping onto her hardwood.

"Tina--"

"Jimmy," she whimpered, embracing him despite his wet clothes, "I'm so sorry about what I said. It was so fucked up."

"No," he muttered, pulling away and looking in her eyes. "You were right. I was acting like my dad. I'm sorry."

A drunk, angry, asshole adulterer? Sounds a lot like me.

"I'm so sorry, Jimmy," she apologized again, embracing him. He held her waist and looked at his hands behind her back. He had just touched Tammy's body with those hands. 

He pulled away, looking into her eyes. Say it, Jimmy. Tell her.

But he couldn't. Those eyes were so doe-like and soft; he imagined the way they were earlier in the night, how hurt she looked when he insulted her. The words were caught in his throat.

"Let's go somewhere," she whispered, stroking his face. "Let's go to the beach."

"The beach? It's raining."

"Exactly," she smiled, pulling away to her closet. "It'll be fun."

She looked so happy and full of hope--she was so innocent and loving. He knew in that moment he wouldn't be able to tell her.

"Okay," he agreed, managing a smile for her. "I'll meet you outside."

"Okay!" She echoed back to him, already starting to change out of her pajamas. He turned away, stepping out of her window onto the pipe, cursing himself. I'm a horrible fucking person.

He jumped to the ground, the rain cold on his skin. He wished he could have undone the night, that he never started drinking in the first place, that he never insulted Tina and he never went to Jocelyn's. He knew he had to tell her about Tammy.

What if, he thought, I just didn't tell her? Why does she even have to find out?

She deserves to know, his conscience fired back. And, Zeke saw you.

Fucking Zeke. Shit.

He hopped the fence again, running across the street to his house. He opened the fence on the side of his apartment building and pulled out his red bike before walking it to the curb. He then saw Tina standing outside, with a cute yellow raincoat and a big smile on her face. He remembered in that moment just how much she loves the rain. 

"Come on!" She called excitedly. Jimmy grinned back at her, and mounted his bike, starting to ride down the street towards the beach. When he looked to his right she was there, laughing and grinning hugely as the rain soaked her hair. He loved to see her happy like this; he never wanted to hurt her.

Soon, they reached the empty beach. They dropped their bikes and Tina ran out on the sand by the shore, whooping and laughing and dancing. He went up to his happy, beautiful girlfriend, noting how pretty she looked with her hair all wet. He took her hand and she gazed at him with those pretty brown eyes. I need to figure out how to make this up to her.

He pulled her into him, touching her soaking hair and kissing her lips softly. She sighed into the kiss, her skin soft and her glasses foggy. She gripped his t-shirt and touched the hot skin underneath the fabric, moaning softly. Okay, there's an idea.

He reached behind him and pulled his shirt off, her eyes glinting with yearning. He no longer felt drunk--he felt present, in the moment, and the only thing he wanted was to make her feel amazing.

He pulled her in again, touching the skin beneath her clothes. "Do you want to--"

"Yes," she answered quickly, shrugging off her raincoat and tossing it in the sand. He grinned, feeling the rain on his back. He pulled her shirt off slowly, kissing her neck softly and trailing his mouth down to her collarbone and stomach. She whimpered as he did so, and he felt overwhelmingly grateful to have her there with him.

He tugged her skirt down, kneeling and kissing her hips and upper thighs. He stood back up, kissing her nose. He moved away from her, grabbing their clothes and spreading them out on the sand for them to lay on. She chuckled sweetly at him, and it was so euphoric to hear her laugh.

He grinned and took her hand again, leading her to their patch of sand and his makeshift blanket. She smiled widely at him and laid down on their clothes, looking at him with hungry eyes. He bit his lip at the sight of her, moving on top of her and kissing down her stomach again. He hooked his fingers on the sides of her panties and slid them down, causing her to gasp and wiggle beneath him. He looked at her pretty face contorting with pleasure as he pressed his tongue to her center and ran his finger over her opening, sliding it into her.

"Oh god," she moaned as he took her clit in his mouth, sucking softly. "Fuck."

He loved hearing her whimpers of delight mixing with the sound of the waves on the shore and the rain hitting their skin. When she reached her climax, she came hard on his face and cried out his name, his lips dripping with her wetness. She was shaking, her eyes closed, her whimpers soft. He thought his pants were going to rip--his penis was already getting so hard again.

"Mm, Jimmy," she sighed, opening her eyes. She ran her fingers through his hair as he wiped his mouth on his shirt. She sat up and pulled him in, kissing him deeply. She cupped his erection and squeezed him gently, making him moan into her mouth. She gently pushed him on his back, hovering over him. He ran his fingers along her back and unhooked her bra, her breasts bouncing free. She unbuckled his belt and zipped down his fly, pulling his wet jeans off of his legs.

She squeezed his erection through his boxers, making him groan with anticipation. She pulled them down and he heard the ripping open of a condom. Jimmy opened his eyes to see Tina's delicate hands rolling it onto his shaft confidently, making him smile. She's so fucking hot.

She moved on top of him ambitiously, sliding the head of his penis into her. She moaned softly as she sat down, pushing all of him inside of her.

"Shit, Tina," he murmured, the incredible feeling washing through him for the second time that night. The image of her riding him alone almost made him cum--the sight of her was overwhelmingly sexy.

"Jimmy," she moaned, her breasts bouncing gloriously. The rain cooled his perspiring skin, and he closed his eyes, taking in the feeling. I can't believe I ever wanted to hurt this amazing girl.

He rubbed her clit with his thumb, making her grip him and moan even louder,  bouncing even faster on his throbbing cock. He could feel himself getting ready to cum and noticed she was feeling the same way, as she was squeezing against his shaft in a familiar way.

"Oh God--Jimmy!" She cried, hitting her climax at the same time he hit his own.

"Fuck--Tina," he groaned, spilling out into the condom. He closed his eyes, biting his lip and leaning back into the sand, his body relaxing. He panted, letting his arms fall to his side, the rain cooling his skin. Jimmy felt Tina's soft hand brush his cheek and he opened his eyes to see her gazing down at him. She's so fucking incredible.

He reached up and cupped her cheek, pulling her down to him. She pressed their chests together as her kiss warmed him, and he rolled on top of her, kissing her neck. He wanted to stay here forever. 

"I love you," she whispered into his shoulder. His heart froze, his body tensing. He felt time slow down; guilt began to seep into every part of his body. They had never said that to each other before--could she really mean it?

Do I say it back? He wanted to, but the guilt inside of him flooded into his throat. He couldn't get the words out--he didn't feel deserving of them, of Tina.

He looked into her eyes deeply before leaning down and kissing her passionately. I hope she takes this as an I love you too.

"Hey," he muttered, smiling down at her. "We should swim. To you know, clean off."

She grinned. "I hope there's no lightening tonight--if there is, we're fucked."

He chuckled, and her eyes looked especially beautiful. He stood up, pulling off the condom and tying it. He inhaled the smell of the rain, and felt Tina take his hand. I do love her.

She led him to the water, which was the coldest he had ever felt. She didn't seem affected--Tina ran right into the water and dived, making Jimmy himself smile. God, I love her so fucking much.

He tried to ignore the aggressive cold as he walked deeper in the water, listening to the rain hit the ocean. 

"Fuck it," he told himself. He dived in right after her, the cold water enveloping his body. When he came up for air he saw Tina with her arms open and floating on the surface, as if accepting the water. He watched her swim, feeling the guilt inside of him grow. I can't believe I cheated on her.

He looked away, taking his head in his hands. He had to do something, had to either tell Tina or make sure she never found out. Jimmy had to talk to Tammy and Zeke.

He walked to Tina in the water, touching her warm body. She leaned out of the water, grinning at him.

"We should get going," Jimmy suggested, kissing her hand. "I think the storm is going to get worse."

"Okay," she smiled, leaning back down into the water. She started to swim to shore, and Jimmy swam beside her.

They put their wet clothes back on, ignoring the irritating sand. Before they mounted their bikes Jimmy kissed Tina passionately, still in an effort to make up for what he had done. She smiled widely at him after, and even in the darkness he could see her blushing.

They got on their bikes and rode away, the rain pouring down on them. Jimmy tried to think of what he was going to say to Tammy and Zeke as they reached Tina's apartment.

She turned back to him, smiling hugely, her wet hair whipping in the wind. 

"I had an amazing time," she professed, kissing his cheek. "Thank you."

"I'm glad." was all he could say. He kissed her deeply before she locked her bike and went inside. He sighed to himself once she was gone--what the fuck am I going to do?

He hopped back on his bike and made the quick journey back to Jocelyn's. He threw his bike to the lawn as he hurried up the stairs, desperate to end this insane night.

He pushed past his classmates to the kitchen and through to the back, where he figured Tammy would be. He was right--she was playing beer pong with Jocelyn, Zeke, and Lenny DeStefano. Her eyes glinted when she saw him. 

"Jimmy, you're back!" exclaimed Jocelyn, throwing back a cup of beer. "Wait, why are you all wet?"

"Hey, Jocelyn. Tammy, I need to talk to you," he said firmly. Tammy bit her lip and nodded, and followed him through the kitchen and living room to the porch. 

Jimmy closed the front door and turned to her, looking around for prying eyes. They were the only people on the porch. 

"Tammy, what happened tonight can never happen again," he stated, running a hand through his wet hair. "It was fucked up of me to cheat on Tina."

Tammy's smirk fell. She bit the inside of her cheek and didn't response. 

"Please, promise me you won't tell Tina."

"Why should I promise you anything? Wasn't the whole point of us hooking up to hurt her for what she said?"

"Yes, it was, but I was just pissed, I don't actually want to hurt her. I--I love her," he promised, sighing frustratedly. "Look, please just swear you won't tell her or anybody else."

"Fine," Tammy agreed, crossing her arms. "I won't tell anybody. But that doesn't mean Zeke won't."

Jimmy froze. "Zeke?"

"Yes. Zeke saw you. He already chewed me out, you're next."

"Fuck," he groaned, remembering Zeke's feelings for Tina. "He's going to fucking kill me."

Tammy looked towards the house, the door opening. "Speak of the devil."

"Jimmy," Zeke exclaimed gruffly, slamming the door shut. "How could you do that to Tina?"

"Zeke, how about you mind your own fucking business?"

Suddenly, Zeke's hands were on his shoulders, his angry eyes shining. Jimmy stumbled back and off of the stairs, his back hitting the lawn. 

"What the fuck?" Jimmy shouted, standing back up. Zeke climbed down the stairs, his fists balled. 

"You're such a fucking dick," Zeke spat, and without warning Jimmy's face exploded in pain. "How could you do that?"

"I don't know!" Jimmy yelled, opening his eyes and pushing Zeke back. "Look, I don't know what fucking happened. I was drunk and Tina and I had a fight."

Zeke took an angry breath and suddenly Jimmy was seeing stars, his eyebrow aching. He stumbled back and hit the lawn again before feeling Zeke's body weight on top of him, holding down his arms and repeatedly hitting him in the face. 

"Get--off!"

"Fucking--asshole--"

"Zeke, stop!" Tammy shouted, and suddenly Zeke's body was gone, white-hot pain exploding in Jimmy's face.

"Fuck," he breathed, taking a gigantic breath. "What the fuck is wrong with you, Zeke?!"

"What is wrong with you?" He shouted back, and Jimmy opened his bruised eyes. Zeke was standing over him, Tammy holding him back. 

"Zeke, stop." She said this firmly, and Jimmy couldn't understand why she cared so much.

Panic flashed through Jimmy. "Zeke," he exhaled, standing up carefully, "Promise me you won't tell Tina."

"The fuck I won't."

"Zeke, I swear to fucking God, if you tell Tina I'll tell her about your feelings for her," Jimmy spat. Zeke's angry eyes cleared, his face horrified. 

"Fuck you," he snapped, shaking Tammy off of him. "Fine, I won't tell her. But that means you will, Jimmy."

"I will!" Jimmy lied, brushing the dirt off of his clothes and wiping his bloody mouth. "Fuck."

Zeke's body turned away from him, stomping towards the house. Jimmy put his hands on his knees and looked towards the ground, still feeling Zeke's weight crushing him.

"Are you okay?" He felt Tammy's hand on his shoulder, and Jimmy rolled his eyes. 

"I'm fine. I can take a little pain."

"That was quite the ass-kicking," she joked, and he scoffed at her. "That blackmailing was impressive, though. You're quite the shark, Jimmy."

He looked over at her, and saw her smirking back at him in the same way she was earlier.

"I love Tina, Tammy."

She rolled her eyes, uncrossing her arms and turning her back to him. She started walking to the house, and over the rain, he heard her speak.

"Yeah, whatever."

Chapter Text

"Jimmy cheated on you, Tina."

Tina froze. She stared into Zeke's eyes, the porch beginning to spin.

No, no, no.

"Tina?"

No.

"You're lying to me," she breathed, pulling away from him.

"Tina, I promise--"

"You're lying so I'll break up with him and date you instead!" She shouted, stepping back. "You're lying!"

"Tina, just think about it," he pleaded, taking her hand. His cigarette fell to the ground. "He's been acting different, hasn't he? Being more thoughtful, apologizing to you for no reason?"

"That's because he's changing," she affirmed, "Not because he--cheated on me."

"Tina," Zeke whispered, squeezing her hand. "I saw him go up the stairs with Tammy. I heard him make Tammy promise not to tell you. Both of them said they hooked up upstairs. You have to believe me."

Tears stung her eyes. She felt like an anchor had been dropped in her chest. 

"You... you told me he didn't deserve me," she remembered, something sinking inside her. "All those things you said..."

He looked at her sadly. Oh my god.

The front door busted open. She turned towards it and Jimmy stumbled through with a terrified look on his face. Tammy was closely following him, leaning on the doorway without her usual smirk.

Jimmy looked frantically between Tina and Zeke, a panicked look on his face.

"Tina," he murmured, his eyes fearful. She could smell the marajuana on his clothes.

"After we fought," she started, her voice breaking, "You were here? With--with her?"

"Um, her is right here."

Tina ignored Tammy, staring into Jimmy's eyes. He said nothing, looking down. 

"Oh--oh my god," she inhaled, feeling herself beginning to hyperventilate. "You--you showed up in my room, you took me to the beach, we--we had sex....  You--" Her voice cracked, feeling horror wash through her. "You had sex with her right before we went to the beach?!"

"Tina..." He muttered, looking down. "I'm so sorry."

She felt her heart shatter. How could it be true?

"And the night didn't end there," Tammy said, almost laughing. "Did it, Jimmy?"

Jimmy shifted, clenching his jaw. Oh my god.

"What happened?" Tina demanded, feeling tears drop out of her eyes. Her stomach was tightening. 

"I--I came back," Jimmy admitted, biting his lip. "To... to make Tammy and Zeke promise not to tell you. And Zeke... beat me up."

Do you want me to beat him up?

I could, you know. I've done it before.

"It was the ass-kicking of the year," Tammy laughed, lighting a joint. "It was seriously entertaining. Tell her why you cheated, Jimmy. That's the best part."

"Tammy, stop," Zeke warned. She just shrugged. 

"Why did you do it?" Tina whispered, her face hot. I can't believe this is happening.

"I... I was hurt about what you said. About how I was acting like my dad. I wanted..." He swallowed, tugging at his hair shamefully. "I wanted to hurt you."

Oh my god.

She inhaled painfully, stumbling and grabbing porch railing for balance. This can't be real. This can't be real.

"How could you do this to me?" She cried, feeling her face contort, her vision blurring. The hurt in her chest was rising; the pain was too much.

"Tina, you--you said that we could work through it, whatever it was," Jimmy sobbed, looking at her sadly, his breath shaky. "You said you would forgive me. Please, I... I need you to forgive me." He grabbed her hand but she snatched it back, starting to really hyperventilate.

"I will never forgive you," she swore, stepping back down the stairs. "I will never forgive you. You are--you are a horrible person."

He looked horrified, his eyes wide and tearful at her harsh words. 

"You--you manipulated me," she affirmed tearfully, starting to sob. "You lied to me, you bailed on our dates to do God knows what, you yelled and snapped at me, you got jealous over Zeke, you showed up drunk in my bedroom and insulted me, you fucked ANOTHER GIRL and then had the nerve to make love to me on the beach. You say you want a life with me, that I'm the only person that you trust, but you don't care about me, you don't love me. You love yourself."

He cried softly at her words, and she felt each one of them deeply. I have finally, finally stopped drinking.

"I will never, ever, ever forgive you, and I regret the day I met you," she spat hatefully, wiping the tears off of her face. She looked at Zeke and Tammy, whose eyes were wide with shock. "I defended you to everyone. My mom and dad, Zeke, even my brother who couldn't care less about what I do. You made me a fool, and I'm the one that has to look in their eyes and tell them they were right about you." She sobbed uncontrollably, tugging at her hair. "Is this what you wanted, Jimmy? You wanted me to feel this way? You wanted me to feel hurt because I had the nerve to compare you to your father?" Her eyes stung, and she wanted to push him to the ground. "Well guess what? You got what you wanted, because I have never hated anyone in my life before, and I hate you right now."

She exhaled deeply, looking away from his horrified face. The lawn spun and she wiped her face, though her eyes still leaked profusely. Without looking at Jimmy, she grabbed her bike and hopped on, trying not to lose it.

Her mind was whirring as she started pedaling. How did I not figure this out?

You should go check on her though, Jimmy, she's in the back.

Tammy didn't light her hair on fire. She just wanted Jimmy Jr. to talk to her.

I don't know what I would do without you.

Jimmy said you guys were just casual.

Just because he loves you doesn't mean he wouldn't hurt you.

You can fuck him for all I care.

I'll do anything, just please... please don't leave.

It might have been a story to get J-Ju's attention.

Do you want me to beat him up?

I just... I don't know how to deal with my feelings in a... in a healthy way.

This is his fault, not yours.

What happened in the closet?

He doesn't deserve you.

Zeke is better for you than I am.

I think I know you better than you think, Tina.

No matter what happens, I love you. Please, please remember that.

I can't let it go.

Why are you even still going out with Jimmy if he stood you up?

I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death; and flung it back to me.

You know that if he ever makes a move on you, I'll fucking kill him, right?

Honest people don't hide their deeds.

We're just concerned about you, Tina.

I wouldn't do that to Jimmy.

I know it must be hard for you to have faith in me.

Don't you get tired of repeating your declaration to the sand?

My head fills with all of these... dark thoughts, this anger, or sadness, or frustration, and I'm afraid it'll wash me away.

It becomes a betrayal.

You should not love me, Tina. I'm fucked up. I'm rude, I'm selfish, I'm arrogant.

Watching you with him makes me feel fucking sick.

You are my life.

You see what you want to see.

The only thing you need to know is that I fucking hate myself and you're the only person in the world that I trust.

It isn't wrong. It just isn't right, right now.

Well honey, if you're searching for signs in the crossword, then I think you actually do know how you feel, you just need to face it.

I'm so fucking sorry.

I can not live without my soul!

Because I'm in love with you.

Tina wanted to scream. She shut her eyes tight, the voices blending together in a montage of pain in her head. How did this happen?

Suddenly, she was thrown off her bike--pain erupted in her forehead and she felt herself rolling on the concrete. She slowed, feeling her body scraping, coughing.

"Ow, fuck," she groaned, touching her forehead with her wrist. Her ankle and her knees were hurting, her elbows aching. Did I just get in an accident?

She turned, her vision disoriented. She saw her bike on its side in front of the tall stop sign. Shit.

She looked up. The moon was full, yet she could see the stars more clearly than earlier in the night. The voices played again in her head, all the people in her life telling her how bad Jimmy was for her, even Jimmy himself. She had refused to listen, defended him, made herself into a fool.

She sighed, starting to sob again. The image of the stars blurred as she cried, the pain in her chest overflowing. I feel so fucking stupid.

She cried heavily, in a way she had never cried before. She almost screamed, trying to release some of this pain. This is it, she thought, looking at Venus. This is my breaking point. This is the moment of moments.

She sighed deeply, the pain in her forehead starting to throb. She touched it with her wrist and looked at it, blood seeping out of her head. Shit.

She looked up at Venus, feeling numb and oddly sober. She wanted to cry even more when she pictured Jimmy's broken face as she told him she hated him, but she was all out of tears.

The air was fresh and cool. She wished Venus could tell her what to do; how was she supposed to get up and keep living her life? How was she supposed to go home and sleep in the bed that she and Jimmy practically shared? How was she supposed to show her face to those who were right about him all this time?

She swallowed, closing her eyes. I'm such a stupid fucking idiot.

She heard someone speak, but she just looked at Venus, feeling empty.

"Tina? Oh my god." The voice came into focus, and she couldn't bring herself to move.

Someone touched her shoulder, and her eyes flitted to the face above her. It was Zeke's; his left eye was dark, and she noticed his cheek was bleeding.

"Tina? Are you okay?" He asked frantically, looking at her forehead. "Jesus, you fell. I thought you were dead."

Tina's eyes stung with tears. I thought I was all out of these.

"Maybe I am," she said airily, looking back up at Venus. "Maybe this is my hell."

She felt him take her hand. She looked back at him, seeing pain in his eyes. 

"Haunt me then," he muttered, kissing her hand. She let out a sob, and he pulled her up. "Let me take you home."

"Okay," she whispered, trying to stand. Her forehead panged and she groaned in pain, stumbling. She thought she was going to go down again, wind pushing through her hair, but she felt Zeke's hands on her waist.

"I got you," he assured her, lifting her up. "Can you walk? Where does it hurt?"

"My--my head hurts, and my knees and my elbows," she said, managing to take a step. "I think I'm just a little banged up, I don't think I'm concussed."

"I don't think so, either. Hold on here, I'm gonna get your bike, okay?"

"Okay." He released her and she steadied herself, the sidewalk spinning beneath her. "Shit... I think I'm gonna go down again--"

Her feet fumbled, her eyes closing, ready for the fall and impact of the sidewalk. But she felt Zeke's hands on her again, and she opened them to stare into his pretty eyes, seeing the dark nature of the left one.

"I got you," he repeated. He helped her stand again, and kept his arm around her waist as she walked, wheeling her bike on the other side.

"What--what happened to your face?"

"Oh... Jimmy kind of flipped out."

"Oh." Did that whole thing actually happen? It felt like a very strange dream, almost otherworldly. 

She closed her eyes, letting Zeke guide her steps. Her head was pounding, her clothes still damp from her trip to the beach. He stopped and she opened her eyes, seeing her brown front door. 

"Can you stand by yourself? I'll lock your bike."

"I--I think so." She held the building for balance as Zeke's hand disappeared from her waist. She moaned in pain as her headache worsened, pressing her hand to her head, trying to tell it to stop. She heard Zeke moving around and the familiar click of her bike lock, and suddenly Zeke's hand was back on her waist. 

"Zeke," she whispered, opening her eyes. She could more clearly see the bruises on his face. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you. When you told me."

He waved her off. "It's okay, Tina. Don't worry about it."

She paused, taking a deep breath. The pain was worsening.

"Tina," he started. I love how he says my name. "I don't think you should be alone tonight. You're injured and... upset."

She opened her eyes to look at him--she had never seen that look on his face before. It was genuine concern. 

"I'm not coming onto you or anything," he said quickly, a blush in his cheeks. "I can sleep on the floor. I just... I don't think you should be alone."

"I think I might need to be alone," she muttered, reaching into her pocket for her phone. "But I might change my mind. Can I have your number?"

"Sure." He took her phone and quickly put in his contact, handing it back to her. She pulled her keys out of her pocket, unable to tell which one was meant for the front door. 

"Shit," she muttered, jingling the keys, "They all look the fucking same."

"Here, I got it," he said, taking them from her. He looked at them closely before trying one or two before the door opened.

"Thank you," she said quietly, feeling something very strange in her stomach. Do I feel... cared for?

She looked up the stairs, already dreading the climb. 

"Fuck," she sighed, feeling frustrated tears sting her eyes. 

"Let me help you," he said, and she nodded. He tightened his grip on her, and they climbed the stairs slowly, Tina almost passing out again.

Once at the top, he looked seriously at her. "Tina, if you need me, please just call me. I'm right here for you. I want to help."

She tried to smile, nodding. "Okay. Thank you, Zeke."

"It's no problem. Seriously, don't hesitate to call me," he pleaded, kissing her hand again. She nodded, that feeling of being cared for washing through her. 

"Thank you," she repeated softly. He turned away from her and headed down the stairs, giving her one final look before closing the door, which locked automatically behind him. 

She sighed, looking in the hallway mirror. Jesus.

She really was banged up. The wound on her forehead wasn't as bad as she thought, but blood had climbed down her face, mixing with tears and the dirt from the sidewalk. She had a bruise on her cheek from when she fell.

God, I need a shower, she thought, revolted by her own image. She sighed, turning away, hearing Gene and Louise talking in Louise's room. She opened her bedroom door, and that simple act was a mistake. She turned her light on and took in the sight.

Jimmy wasn't physically in her room, but yet, he was everywhere. He had slept in her bed, touched her things, pulled her clothing off of her. Her closet was filled with his clothes, her bookshelf covered in photos of them, her journals overflowing with her musings about him. Her heart broke as she looked at her room, which wasn't even her own anymore.

"Oh my god," she sobbed, unable to tear her eyes away from it. I wish Zeke hadn't left.

She heard Louise's door open, and her siblings appeared before her, their faces contorted with shock over the way she looked. 

"Tina, oh my god."

"Holy shit, are you okay?"

She turned to them, pity and surprise written all over them. She couldn't help but stand there and cry--they had no idea what had happened to her.

"Tina, what happened to your face?" Louise asked concerned, putting her hand on her older sister's shoulder.

"I--I fell off my bike," Tina sobbed, gripping the walls for balance. "Jimmy--Jimmy cheated on me."

"Oh my god," Gene breathed, putting his hand on her back too.

"I--I can't sleep here," she cried, shutting her door. "I have to stay at a friend's house. Do... do you guys mind?"

"No, of course not."

"No, Tina, we'll be fine."

"I have to call Zeke, and take a shower. Can one of you go in my closet and get me a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants? Not the blue ones, and not the dark grey ones. The other grey ones. And I need my bathrobe and underwear and a bra, a comfy one. And socks."

"Okay," Louise agreed, opening Tina's door and shutting it behind her. Gene embraced Tina, sighing into her shoulder. 

"I'm so sorry," he said quietly, making Tina's heart pang.

"Don't ever cheat on anyone, Gene," she whispered, pain evident in her voice. "I've never felt this terrible in my entire fucking life."

"I promise, I will never, ever, ever cheat on anyone. Pinky swear." He held up his pinky, and Tina couldn't help but smile at him. She locked their pinkies and embraced him again, holding him tightly. When he pulled away, he rubbed her back in circles as she fumbled with her phone. The screen was bright and alarming, making her headache worse.

"Gene, can you get me like, six or seven painkillers and some water?"

"Sure," he said, pulling away from her and heading to the kitchen. When she could see her screen, she clicked on Zeke's contact and called him. She pressed the phone to her ear, and he answered immediately. 

"Tina? You okay?"

"Zeke," she whispered, his voice already making her feel better. "Zeke, my room..."

"Is he in there?"

"No, no, not literally, but everywhere I look I see him, and I just--" her voice broke. God Tina, stop fucking crying. "I can't sleep in there. Can I stay with you tonight?"

"Of course you can. I'll head back."

"Okay, I need to take a shower first, my brother and sister can let you in the house, just knock and say it's you."

"Okay, I'll be right there."

"Thank you."

"I'll see you soon, Tina." He hung up, and she felt immediately comforted by the fact that she wasn't going to have to spend the night in her own bed. It was a very tragic thought.

She headed to the bathroom, stumbling a little and turning on the shower. She inhaled the steam, shrugging off her jacket. 

"Here you go," Gene said, placing seven painkillers on the sink with a glass of water.

"Ugh, thank you." Tina put all seven in her mouth and drank the entire glass of water, feeling the extra-strong pills already starting to work. "Zeke's going to be here soon, he's gonna knock. Let him in, and don't give him a hard time, please."

"Sure," he said, and Louise appeared next to him with Tina's clothes. She set them on the toilet seat, and Tina rifled through them to make sure neither the shirt nor the sweatpants were Jimmy's. Thankfully, they weren't.

"Thank you," she said genuinely. They smiled at her, the first good thing to happen all night. "I don't know what I would do without you guys."

"Aww, you know we have your back, T," Louise assured her, squeezing her shoulder.

"I'll be out in a bit. If I'm not out in 10 minutes, come check on me, I'm still woozy and I might fall."

They nodded and shut the door. Tina tried not to look in the mirror as she undressed, not wanting to see her bloody face again. She counted twelve bruises on her body before she stepped in the shower, the hot water soothing her. Her head was starting to feel better.

She tried not to think about anything as she washed her hair and rubbed a bar of soap across her skin, clearing it of sea water and dirt. Despite her efforts, she saw Jimmy's broken eyes when she closed her own. His face was so red, his eyes so wide. She tried not to think of what she said to him as too harsh--she knew he had needed to hear it, he needed to know what he had done to her; but it didn't make it any less painful. 

She stepped out quickly, the shower lasting only five or six minutes. She turned it off and pulled on her bathrobe, dropping her dirty clothes in the hamper. She washed her face at the sink, clearing away what remained of the blood. She pulled out the first aid kit and cleaned the wound, trying not to cry out as it stung. She covered it with a bandage and looked into her own eyes. She looked better-ish; she hated how her eyes were still puffy.

She dried her hair and pulled on her undergarments. She dressed herself slowly, trying not to fall down, as the room was still spinning a great deal. She brushed her teeth quickly and put her glasses on. She wondered what Zeke would be thinking, sitting in her living room with her brother and sister.

She pulled on her socks and hung up her bathrobe, grateful she didn't have to go back in her room. She grabbed her shoes and walked to the living room, where Gene and Louise were eating ice cream. Zeke was back, and his cologne was a comforting smell. He stood when he saw her, that concerned look on his face again.

"Hey," he greeted her, and she tried to smile. "How are you? Still dizzy?"

"I'm okay," she sighed, sitting in the armchair. She pulled on her shoes, the laces tangling around her fingers. Shit. "This is weird, but do you mind tying my shoes? I'm still kind of disoriented."

"Of course, yeah." She felt that cared for feeling again as he kneeled in front of her, tying the laces on her Keds quickly.

"Thank you," she said when he finished.

"You ready?"

"Yeah, thanks. Gene, Louise, I'll be back in the morning. Don't cook anything, especially you, Louise."

"See ya, T!" 

Tina held Zeke's arm, already feeling better from the shower. He helped her down the stairs and out the door, catching her when she stumbled. 

Once they were outside, the fresh air felt nice in Tina's lungs. She looked over at Jimmy's apartment, seeing his room light on. She tore her eyes away, her heartbeat quickening.

"Thank you for letting me stay with you tonight," she said again, stepping carefully. "I just... I can't sleep in my own bed, or in my room. Not until I completely clean it of him."

"I understand," he soothed, rubbing her back. "You're going to be okay, you know."

She wanted to scoff. "I hope so. I'm afraid this night will never even end."

"It will, I promise," he swore, and she smelled the cigarettes on his clothes. "I'm sorry about the way you found out, Tina. You should have heard what happened from Jimmy, not from me."

She did scoff this time. "I'm glad I heard it from you, Zeke. If Jimmy had told me, who knows how much he would have lied."

"Yeah," he said quietly, looking away. They continued down into the street. 

"Jesus, what time is it?"

He looked at his watch. "It's 11:30."

"Fuck," she breathed. "I can't wait to go to fucking sleep."

He smiled a little, and his hand felt nice on her skin. The wind gave her goosebumps. 

"Speaking of, are your stepmom and dad home?"

"No, don't worry, they're out. It'll just be us, and they won't mind if you stay over."

Tina thought of earlier that day (Jesus, it hasn't even been a day) when she had met Meredith--she smiled at the memory. The muscles in her face were exhausted.

"I like your stepmom, you know. She's cool," Tina affirmed, smiling a little. "She speaks highly of you."

Zeke blushed, and they turned a corner. 

"Yeah, she's a good stepmom, I'm happy to have her. Did you guys... talk about me?"

Tina laughed for what felt like the first time in her life. "What, you nervous?"

He blushed even darker, and she grinned. "Don't worry, she didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. At least, subconsciously."

"Hm, okay," he hummed, and she could tell he wanted to ask more, but was restraining himself. She thought it was cute the way he looked away from her like that.

"Here we are," he said, reaching into his pocket for his keys. Tina looked up, seeing a yellow house on one of the town's fancier streets. The house was cute, the shutters painted blue. He led her to the porch and helped her with the stairs. He stuck his key in the lock and opened the door, turning on the lights and helping Tina step in.

It was beautiful inside--the living room had a huge bookshelf and a pretty glass light piece. The walls were littered with paintings and the shelves were stacked full of photos.

"Oh my god, baby Zeke!" Tina exclaimed, picking up a photo of Zeke as a toddler wearing a sailor costume. "This is the cutest thing ever."

He grinned, blushing. "Come on, my room is this way." She nodded, setting the photo back down and following him down a narrow hallway. At the end of it, he opened the door to his room, and it was much bigger than Tina expected. His walls were a deep purple, with multiple bookshelves and a very organized desk. His queen-sized bed was made and his sheets were deep blue, like the color of the sky in the early morning that she liked. An electric guitar hung on the wall next to a landscape, the shelf littered with medals from wrestling. 

"Wow," she breathed, taking it in. He smiled at her, kicking off his shoes. 

"Can I get you anything? Do you want some water?"

"Yes, please, water would be great," she answered, and he nodded, walking out of the room. She carefully wandered to his shelf, fingering the spines of his books and clinking his medals against each other. On one shelf she noticed a small bottle of cologne, and the sight of it excited her a little bit. She picked it up, taking off the cap and smelling it. Impulsively, she sprayed a little on her wrists, continuing to look at his trinkets. She found a photo of a woman with dark hair and Zeke's eyes--she was smiling and looking at a man with Zeke's build in a tuxedo. They must be his parents. Her heart warmed as she looked at his mom; Tina wished she could have met her.

Zeke's door opened, and he appeared with a cup of ice water. She put the photo down, smiling gratefully at him and taking the glass. 

"Thank you," she said, the cool water helping her stabilize herself. He turned on some fairy lights, and she noticed the cuts on his face again. 

"Is your face okay?" She asked timidly, and his eyes softened. 

"I'm alright, Tina. I'm a wrestler, I can take it," he assured her, but something about looking at them made her feel uneasy. 

"Maybe this is weird, but will you let me clean your wounds?" She asked shyly, setting her water down on his desk. "I don't want them to get infected, you know, since it's my fault you even have them."

He sighed, taking her hand in his again. "This is not your fault, Tina."

She looked down, but didn't pull her hand away. 

"I'll get the first aid kit," he said before standing and moving to a door Tina didn't notice before. He stepped into the bathroom, opening a cabinet and pulling out a container and washcloth and filling a bowl with water. He pulled her up a stool to sit on, bringing it to his desk before sitting down. 

She sat down at eye level with him, suddenly feeling shy. She had cleaned Jimmy's cuts thousands of times, but in this moment she felt almost paralyzed by Zeke's warm stare.

Her heartbeat picked up, and she opened the first aid kit, taking out the bandages and antibiotic ointment. She turned on Zeke's lamp to get a better look at his face. 

She took a deep breath, dipping the washcloth into the water and pressing it to the rather large cut on the left side of his face. She expected him to move due to the pain, but Zeke didn't even flinch, keeping his eyes on her.

"So... do you think Jimmy was going to tell me, eventually?" Zeke shifted, shrugging. 

"I don't know, maybe. He said he was going to, but I didn't really believe him."

"He told me he found you, at the beach. He tried to break up with me last night," she sighed, continuing to wash the cuts on his cheek. "I should have just let him."

"Oh I... I didn't know he was going to do that. I didn't tell him to do that."

"Yeah," she breathed taking out some swabs. "It's fine if you did, I don't really care anymore. If I hadn't been so insistent that he was a good person none of this fucking shit would have happened anyway, because he and I would be broken up and you wouldn't have had to tell me about Tammy. All of this is kind of on me if you think about it."

He took her hand again, looking at her seriously. 

"Tina," he said slowly, softly, "None of this is your fault. Jimmy did not cheat on you because you made him do it, he did it because he's not a good person and he has a really fucked up way of thinking. Maybe you weren't thinking clearly about him, but... I don't blame you. Love makes people do some crazy shit."

She smiled a little at those words, dipping her swab in the ointment.

"I don't want love that makes me not think clearly," she confessed, wiping his cuts with the swab. "I want love that's like... it makes me feel hopeful, you know? Love that does make me think clearly, instead of a delusional idiot."

He touched her arm softly, and she looked into his eyes, feeling her heart beat wildly in her chest. She bit her lip, looking back at the swab. She set it down, taking the tiny bandages between her fingers and unwrapping one. She placed it carefully on a cut on his jaw. 

"You're good at that," he complimented, and she shrugged. 

"I've done it so many times, you have no idea," she sighed. "Speaking of, when Jimmy fought you... well, is he okay?"

Zeke raised an eyebrow. "He cheated on you and you're still caring for him."

She rolled her eyes at his tone. "Well, I can't help it. We dated for a while, you know."

"I know," he said softly. She unwrapped another bandage, placing it on his cheekbone. "I'm glad you said the things you did to him. He needed to hear it."

"Yeah," she sighed, throwing the bandage wrappers in the trash. "I didn't think I could... say all that, you know? It was weird, it was like I suddenly just realized everything he's done to me, and it just spilled out of me. I didn't think I was capable of that."

"I did," he muttered, and she gazed at him. "I always thought you were capable of saying all of that. You're stronger than you think, Tina."

She bit her lip, placing the remaining contents of the first aid kit back in the container. "You lied to me, you know. You told me nothing was going on between Tammy and Jimmy."

"I know. I'm sorry," he apologized, taking her hand again. "I know I shouldn't have lied to you, I didn't want to. It's just... that night, when he cheated on you and then came back, he told me that if I told you what he did, he would tell you about... you know."

She looked back at him, imagining how painful that must have been. She squeezed his hands, her heart aching for him. 

"Oh... I'm sorry. I didn't know he was blackmailing you."

"It's okay. Look, Tina, there were a million times when I could have told you, and I didn't, and for that I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "Jimmy may have blackmailed me but I didn't have to listen to him. I'm really sorry, Tina." There was something about his apology that felt strange and different, and it took Tina a second to put her finger on it. He's taking responsibility for his actions. That's what's different.

"And I was worried that if you found out, you know, about me, that you would... hate me."

The words struck her, bringing tears to her eyes. She touched Zeke's face, stroking his injured cheek, the space below his black eye. 

"I could never hate you, Zeke," she whispered, looking deeply into his eyes. "In fact, I'm quite fond of you." She smiled a little as she said this, a blush forming on her face.

He smiled softly at her, gazing at her with a kind of affection she had never seen in Jimmy before. 

"Wait, are you wearing my cologne?"

Tina blushed heavily, looking away. 

"Um, no," she lied, very unconvincingly. He smiled widely. "I just... I like it. Is that creepy?"

"No, it's not creepy," he smiled, brushing some hair out of her eyes. "You must be exhausted. I'm going to go get my sleeping bag so I can set up on the floor, okay? You can have my bed."

"Okay," she agreed, and didn't realize what he said until he had stood up and started walking away. 

"Wait," she halted, and he turned around. Oh my god, am I really about to say this? "Maybe... don't sleep on the floor."

He furrowed his brows. "Do you want me to sleep in the other room?"

She sighed, too shy to say the words. "No, I thought maybe... it would be nice, if you know... slept with me."

"In the bed?"

Her cheeks flushed, and she couldn't help but smile embarrassingly. "Yes. Only if you want to, though."

"I do," he said, a mesmerized look on his face. There was a pause, and she bit her lip. 

"Okay," she agreed, turning off his lamp, keeping her eyes on him.

"I'm just going to get ready, okay?" He said a little anxiously, and she nodded. He grabbed the first aid kit and moved to the bathroom, shutting the door. Oh my god, that was so awkward. She wanted to giggle at his embarrassed face, the way he timidly agreed to sleep next to her. She felt something strange inside of her--she was almost excited about sleeping in Zeke's bed with him, about not being alone.

She wandered to his bed, setting her phone, keys, and glasses on his nightstand. She noticed that he had a small terrace outside that was just big enough for two people. She looked out of his glass terrace doors at the water, wondering how earlier that night, she was swimming with Jimmy in that same ocean. This ocean seemed like a different one; one that Jimmy was no longer a part of.

She laid on the side nearest to the terrace, pulling up Zeke's comforter. She heard the faucet running in the bathroom and wondered what he was doing, hoping it wasn't too embarrassing that he knew she was wearing his cologne. Zeke's sheets were soft and welcoming, and she moaned a little as she got into them. She stretched out her limbs, feeling the bruises on her legs ache. The door of the bathroom opened, and she sat up a little, looking at him. He was wearing sweatpants and another of his black t-shirts, the timid look on his face gone.

He turned off the fairy lights and climbed into bed next to her. She thought it was strange to be in such an intimate place in Zeke's life--where he slept, where he dreamed, where he had sex. Don't think about that Tina, oh my god.

They were facing each other, and she wanted him within reach. 

"Is this okay?" He muttered, referencing their closeness. 

"Yes," she whispered back, relaxing into his pillows and scooting even closer to him. "I like being close to you."

"I like being close to you, too."

There was a pause. She opened her eyes, finding he was looking back at her. 

"Zeke?"

"Hmm?"

"What do you want most in the world?"

He paused, thinking. He bit the inside of his cheek, and she wondered if he always did that when he was thinking.

"Right now, or in general?"

"Mm, both."

"Well right now," he started, shifting, "What I want most in the world is to make you feel happy, and safe. And... loved."

Her chest warmed, her heart beating faster. 

"Check," she said, smiling. He grinned, then reached over to brush some hair out of her eyes. 

"In general, I think I'd like to get out of this town and travel. I want to see the world, you know? My mom, she always wanted to travel, but she never got the chance to. I'd like to do that for her."

Tina's heart panged. Her fingers wandered over to him, finding his hand in the dark. She squeezed it. 

"What do you want most in the world, Tina?"

"I want to write and publish a book," she answered, stroking his fingers with her thumb. "I want to write for a living. I don't really care where I live or what my day job is, I just want to write."

"What do you want to write about?"

"Everything, anything. I'd love to write a book that one day is considered a classic, you know? That's what I want most," she said dreamily, imagining it. "That would be perfect."

He was smiling at her, and she loved the way his dark hair flopped on the pillow. 

"I've been thinking... about you," she whispered, the words spilling out of her. "About what you said on the beach, last night."

"What have you been thinking?" He asked softly, squeezing her hand.

"About, well, everything. The poem, the kiss, the quote from Wuthering Heights, all of it, everything. And... you were right. I do see what I want to see. Like I said earlier, I don't want a love that makes me not think clearly. I gave Jimmy so many chances, chances don't even mean anything to me anymore. And last night, the truth hurt, but... I needed to hear it, and I needed to hear it from you."

"Why me?" He asked quietly, his eyes soft. 

"You because... you know Jimmy as well as I do, even better probably. And because, well, you're..."

A pause. 

"I'm what?"

"You're... you."

He grinned. "Are you always this eloquent?"

Tina chuckled, her anxiety dissolving. 

"I needed to hear it from you because you would never do what he did. Because you're honest with me, you're a good person, you're thoughtful and smart and considerate of my feelings. And because you were right, now that you can kiss me, now that I don't have a boyfriend... I want you to."

She closed her eyes as she said this, her heart racing. She opened her eyes, and felt Zeke's rough hands on her shoulder. He was gazing at her, his eyes glinting. He lightly cupped her cheek, stroking it with his thumb. The feeling was enough to ignite her.

She looked deeply into his eyes, wishing she had the courage to move closer. Fuck it--I do have the courage.

She scooted closer, so much so that their noses touched. She was reminded of how it felt for the tips of their noses to meet in the closet and how she recoiled; but now, there was nowhere else in the world that she wanted to be.

She so slowly leaned in, nervous he would pull away. She looked at his lips, then at his eyes, which were starry and pretty as ever. She took a deep inhale and closed her eyes, pressing her lips softly to Zeke's.

The feeling was euphoric; his lips were soft and full and even better than how she imagined them. He didn't taste like cigarettes or weed or alcohol, but minty like toothpaste. He kissed her back immediately, and that fact alone made her truly relax into him. She leaned in even more, deepening the kiss but keeping their slow pace, opening herself up.

He sighed into her, cupping her face, warming her body with his own. Simultaneously, they pulled away slightly, detaching their lips. Tina opened her eyes, thinking her heart might explode out of her chest. Zeke opened his eyes slowly, and when they were fully open they gazed wonderfully at her.

"Your eyes are beautiful," she whispered, and he smiled softly. He leaned in and they kissed again, Tina feeling magnetically drawn to him. She touched his hair, thick in between her fingers. It was the most amazing kiss she had ever had, and she couldn't help but recognize that fact over and over in her head.

Zeke moaned a little in the kiss before they pulled back again, Tina trying not to breathe too heavily.

"You're incredible," he whispered, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "And you had a long day and must be tired."

She bit her lip, nodding. Her eyes felt heavy, the weight of the day almost crushing her out of consciousness at his words.

He leaned up and kissed her forehead, taking her into his arms. She sighed into him, closing her eyes. He held her tightly, stroking her hair to soothe her. She hoped this wasn't a dream as she felt sleep envelop her; she welcomed the darkness. 

Chapter Text

Tina woke slowly, moaning a little as she opened her eyes. She was wrapped in deep blue sheets and her heart jumpstarted when she didn't remember where she was for a moment. She looked around Zeke's room, remembering last night. She thought of the kiss, blushing a little, running her fingers over her lips.

She looked over at the other side of the bed, but Zeke wasn't there. She smelled cigarette smoke and looked at his clock, which read 6:04am. She turned to the terrace, seeing Zeke's figure sitting cross-legged and smoking a cigarette, looking up at the cotton candy-sky. 

Tina took a sip of water, putting her glasses on. Zeke's pretty face came into focus, and she watched him smoke for a moment before pulling off the covers. She touched her feet to the hardwood and stood, the bruises on her legs aching. She reached for the handle on the terrace door and opened it, Zeke's eyes turning to her.

"Good morning, beautiful," he greeted sweetly, smiling. She blushed, sitting down next to him and looking out at the sunrise. It was magnificent: orange light was filling the streets, pink and blue circling the sky.

"Good morning," she said timidly. She noticed his cigarettes and lighter and grabbed them, pulling out a cigarette for herself. The wind was chilly, and his eyes were starry. Goosebumps prickled her skin, and she couldn't tell if they were from the wind or his intense gaze.

"How did you sleep?" He asked, and she lit her cigarette carefully. 

"Wonderfully. Thank you. You?"

"I had some stuff on my mind," he said smoothly and flirtatiously. She grinned, thinking of his warm lips on hers. She bit her lip, the cigarette starting to wake her up. 

"Is that why you're up so early?"

"I always get up early, I like the sunrise," he explained. "Why are you up early?"

She smiled, almost not believing how similar they actually are. "I get up early, too. I like to journal in the morning."

He nodded, looking away back at the sky. Tina sighed as she looked at the sunrise, remembering her and Jimmy's early morning swim. That morning, the sky belonged to her and Jimmy. She wondered if Zeke had watched that same sunrise from right there, on the terrace. She looked over at the way the orange light lit up his skin. The sky did not belong to us, she thought, biting her lip. It belonged to the world.

"How are you feeling?" Zeke asked, flicking some ash off his cigarette. Tina felt the hurt in her chest, but tried not to push it down.

"I'm alright, I guess," she answered, shrugging. "All of this has just happened so fast. At this time yesterday I was waking up with Jimmy and telling him not to try to break up with me again and denying my feelings for you." She blurted out the last part, a flush setting in on her cheeks. 

"And do you?" He murmured, his eyes soft. "Even when you aren't high on painkillers?"

She smiled, chuckling. "I wasn't high, trust me. I knew exactly what I was doing."

He seemed to exhale with relief, and she furrowed her brows. 

"Were you... worried about that?"

"I guess I was just scared you weren't thinking clearly, you know. You were drunk, then the whole Tammy thing happened, then you fell, and took a bunch of painkillers. I just thought maybe you would... regret doing what you did last night." It was a valid point, and she thought it was cute how he was too shy to say out loud that they kissed. 

"I was thinking clearly, Zeke," she answered, taking his hand. "I've never thought more clearly in my life."

He relaxed, and kissed her hand. She felt butterflies in her stomach as he exhaled smoke, his warm gaze alluring her.

"Do you want some coffee? I was going to go make a pot," he said, sitting up to stand. "And if you're cold, I can get you a sweatshirt."

"Yes, to both coffee and the sweatshirt," she swooned, grinning. "Cream, no sugar, please."

"Okay," he agreed, standing. He kissed her hand one final time and put out his cigarette in an ashtray Tina didn't notice before. He stepped behind her and through the door, then quickly came back, handing her a grey sweatshirt. She thanked him shyly, setting her smoking cigarette in the ashtray and holding out the item. 

Zeke Anderson read the back, Huxley Varsity Wrestling. Go Wolverines! She blushed, fingering the soft material. She always imagined as a freshman and sophomore what it might be like to date an athlete, to be sport around their jackets or sweatshirts.

But Zeke and I aren't dating, she thought, pulling the sweatshirt on. The material on the inside was welcoming and warm, her goosebumps distinguishing. Not yet, at least.

Do I want to date Zeke? She pondered, picking her cigarette up again. Immediately, her brain fired back: Yes, dumbass.

She was reminded of Friday night after she talked to Zeke, the way her mind buzzed with what he would be like as a boyfriend. She thought of more nights spent in his bed, more mornings on his terrace, more conversations on the beach, more quote battles. She thought of the jealous gazes of the girls at her school as she walked down the hallway with his arm around her, as she wore his varsity jacket on her shoulders. She thought they might have dates at the Wharf, that she can actually bring him over for dinner, that they didn't have to sneak around and into each other's rooms. She thought of future Sunday mornings, waking slowly and gazing at the sunrise, or hungry dark eyes on her body as she pulled off her clothes, the dawn hitting her skin. She thought of that cared for feeling she felt last night, and feeling that all the time. Never having to go to another of Jocelyn's parties when she didn't want to, never being forced to forgive and forget, never being stood up.

She thought of Jimmy's broken eyes, the way he would watch her and Zeke together. She thought of glancing into his restaurant during the day to find him looking sadly at her, seeing his bruises at school and not saying anything about it. She thought of coming between the unshakable bond of Zeke and Jimmy Jr., being the girl that tears them apart. What would people say about her?

And am I even ready to start dating? She considered, blowing out smoke. Maybe I should wait for a bit, and be alone for a while.

But she knew that being alone was the opposite of what she wanted. She wanted those Sunday mornings--wanted the jealous stares of her classmates, wanted to fall asleep in his arms, wanted to show off his jacket on her body, wanted to bring him over for dinner and have him meet her parents. She didn't just not want to be alone--she wanted Zeke.

"Goddammit," she whispered, looking out on the Wharf. She heard the terrace door open again, and Zeke walked in with two cups of coffee and a soft smile. She grinned as she saw him, taking her warm mug from his hands. 

"Thank you," she said gratefully, tasting the coffee and moaning as she felt the caffeine run through her. 

"What were you thinking about just now?" He inquired, getting comfortable again and crossing his legs. She could smell the cologne on her wrists, and she blushed at her thoughts.

"I was thinking about what you might be like as a boyfriend," she replied honestly, and he grinned at her, sipping his coffee. 

"Oh, I'm an excellent boyfriend," he assured her, his tone making her laugh. 

"Oh, yeah?"

"Oh yeah. I'm never late," he grinned. "I'm very romantic, I always bring flowers on dates, and mothers love me. I also love to spoil my girlfriends."

"Hmm," she hummed, biting her lip to keep her gigantic smile at bay. "Do you pay for dates?"

"When I'm allowed, yes I do. If she wants to split the check, I'll do that too."

"What kind of flowers do you get?"

"Depends on the kind she likes. If she has no preference, roses or tulips."

"What's your ideal date?"

"Hm... A picnic at a park, on a nice day, where we can read to each other."

"Do you cook?"

"I try to, I can make breakfast foods and a grilled cheese and not much else."

"Do you get weirded out by period blood, or buying tampons?"

"Not even a little bit."

"Do you let your girlfriend wear your varsity jacket?"

He grinned even wider, and there was a glint in his eyes that made Tina's cheeks feel hot. 

"If she wants to, she can wear my jacket."

"Are you the jealous type?" She didn't mean to ask this more seriously, but she couldn't help but wonder how possessive Zeke got, if at all. He shook his head.

"No. My girlfriend is not my property."

She bit her lip as she watched his eyes. They were serious--she could tell he was telling her the truth. She played with the sleeves on his sweatshirt, her heart panging. 

"Can I trust you?" She whispered, feeling vulnerable. He set down his coffee mug, taking her hand.

"Yes," he said earnestly, his eyes sparkling. "Tina, I don't want to move too fast with you, if you even want to move anywhere with me at all. I would never want to make you uncomfortable. I know that you probably need some space to heal after what happened, and it's okay if you... you know, change your mind about me."

She cupped his face, that cared for feeling washing through her. She stroked his cheek with her thumb. 

"I am not going to change my mind," she affirmed, sitting closer to him. She felt comfortable in his sweatshirt, comfortable drinking his coffee, comfortable on his terrace with his face in her hands. "You're right, I think I do need to heal, but I also don't want to heal all by myself."

He brought her hand to his lips, kissing it softly and keeping his pretty eyes on her. 

"I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't found me," she said softly, her heart starting to race at their close proximity. "On the sidewalk. I probably would have just laid there all night, or until someone called an ambulance."

"Then I'm glad I found you," he replied, his eyes kind. "What are you doing today?"

"I have to run the restaurant with Gene and Louise. My parents are in Vermont, they're getting back tonight," she explained, sipping more of her coffee. "And I have to clean my room. I can't crash here forever."

"I wish you could," he smiled. "You know you can call me if you need anything, right?"

"I know," she confirmed. She really believed him. "Anyway, I should get back and get started on my room."

"Okay." He stood up with her, and she took one final look at the sunrise before opening the terrace door, drinking what remained of her coffee. She set her mug on his nightstand and checked her phone. 

"Jesus," she muttered, scrolling through all of her messages, missed calls, and voicemails from Jimmy. 

"What's up?"

"Jimmy called me about a billion times last night." She deleted all the voicemails and all of the messages. "What does he think 'I will never, ever forgive you' means?"

Zeke handed Tina her shoes, which she was able to tie herself. She sighed, throwing her phone to the bed. She hoped Jimmy wouldn't be in her room when she got back.

"So what are you doing today?" She asked him, and he shrugged, sitting at his desk.

"Reading, probably, and I'm working today."

"Working? Where do you work?"

"I'm a lifeguard at the beach," he explained, and she raised her eyebrows, grinning.

"I didn't know you were a lifeguard," she mused, tying her shoes. He smiled at her. 

"There's a lot you don't know about me, Tina," he grinned, leaning back in his chair. She flushed, taking a final sip and standing. "Do you want me to walk you home?"

"Sure, thank you," she agreed, and they headed for the door. "I'm worried Jimmy might be in my room when I get back. He can sneak in through the drain pipe."

"Oh, okay," he said gruffly, and she followed him out into the hallway. His house looked even more beautiful during the day, and he opened his front door for her.

She stepped out into the chilly air. She looked down, realizing she forgot to take Zeke's sweatshirt off. 

"Oh, your sweatshirt," she reminded him, and he just shrugged and started walking. 

"Keep it today. You look good in it," he cooed flirtatiously, and she couldn't help but smile.

"Thank you," she muttered, walking beside him. "I'm really glad I stayed with you last night. Thank you for having me."

"You're always welcome to stay over, Tina," he replied, and she took his hand as they headed up the hill. The short journey to her apartment was much shorter when he wasn't helping her walk.

"So tell me something else I don't know about you," she said, swinging their hands.

"Hmm," he hummed, looking up into the blue sky. "The reason I picked up Wuthering Heights is because I saw you reading it."

He blushed, and she smiled. 

"Actually, I did know that."

He laughed, rolling his eyes. "Meredith?"

"Yeah," she giggled. "And it was a little obvious, though not to me, because I'm a completely oblivious person apparently."

"What's something I don't know about you?" He asked, and she bit her lip. 

"I've always wanted to see the Pacific Ocean," she said shyly, taking out her keys. "I don't know why, there's just something about it, I guess."

They reached her door and she stuck her key in the lock, remembering how last night Zeke helped her with her keys. She opened the door and started heading up the stairs, throwing her phone and keys on the table. She looked at her bedroom door, anxiety building in her chest. 

"Do you think he's in there?" She muttered anxiously, and Zeke put his hand on her back. 

"I'll be back, okay?" She nodded, and he opened the door and looked inside, turning back to Tina. "All clear, beautiful."

She relaxed, exhaling. "Thank you," she sighed, and he embraced her tightly. She was reminded of how closely he cuddled her last night, goosebumps coating her skin. Her nerves felt alive.

She pulled slightly away, looking deeply into his eyes. She glanced at his lips and couldn't help but bite her own at the sight of them. He stroked her cheek and she took a heavy breath, closing her eyes. 

He pressed his lips to hers, the kiss hotter and stickier than last night's. Tina moaned a little against him--she had been waiting for this kiss since the last one. She ran her fingers through his thick hair, her body warming with his contact. Zeke cupped her face, bringing her closer to him.

They pulled away, and Tina opened her eyes slowly, biting her lip again. His eyes were soft, and she wished she could have asked him to stay with her all day.

"Bye," he whispered, pecking her lips.

"Bye," she swooned, gazing at him. He held her wrists and kissed the back of her right hand, pressing a quick kiss to her lips one final time. She sighed as he released her, stepping down the stairs. She heard the door open and close, and she couldn't help but smile and dance a little.

"Oh my god," she sighed, grinning widely. She felt lost in the moment, so completely different from how she felt as she was standing in this hallway last night.

"Oooooh, Tina!" Came the obnoxious voice of her brother, following the giggles of Louise. Tina whipped her head, seeing the heads of her siblings poking out of Louise's room. 

"Oh god--you guys!" She rolled her eyes, but even they couldn't extinguish the smile on her face.

"You like Zeke," Louise sang, grinning at her mischievously. 

"Shut up, Louise." Tina narrowed her eyes at her sister, turning away to the kitchen. 

"Is that his sweatshirt?"

"Go away!" Tina opened her bedroom door, shutting it behind her. 

Okay, she thought, staring at her room. Time to cleanse my room of Jimmy fucking Jr..

She sighed, starting with her bed. She pulled up her sheets and pillowcases, throwing them into her hamper. Before she threw them in there, she looked inside, seeing the shirt Jimmy was wearing last night.

I'll wash your other one for you.

She stared at it, wondering what to do. What am I supposed to do with all of his clothes?

She groaned, deciding to deal with it later. She moved to her bookshelf, taking off photos of them and trying not to look at them. She threw the photos in the trash, pulling her old journals from the shelf and throwing them on her mattress. She wanted to keep those journals, but didn't want to have to see them. She grabbed an old shoebox and put them inside.

Slowly, her room was purged, and whatever remained of Jimmy either went into the wash, the trash, the shoebox, or a pile of things to give back to him. We're over, she thought. I am sober.

Chapter Text

Tina stared at the loose floorboard. She knew she would have to face the Our Life jar, but as she stared at it, she recoiled. She wanted to burn the entire fucking thing and all of the money in it. It's dirty money, she thought, glaring at the glass. It's the money of a liar.

It was a beautiful dream, their New York fantasy. More importantly, it was something she and Jimmy shared, something they worked towards. It was too fucking good to be true.

She sighed, finally gathering the courage to pick it up out of the floorboards. She didn't know how much she and Jimmy had each put in there, so she decided it was only fair to split the amount (except for the 50, which Tina knew was hers.) She closed the floorboard and turned the lid of the jar, placing it on the floor. She looked inside at their savings and wanted to cry at how stupid she was.

She wiped her eyes and dumped the contents of the jar on the floor, sitting down. She began to split the coins and bills, putting what was Jimmy's back in the jar. 

You can live with us in our apartment.

Don't think about it, Tina.

But she couldn't help it. Jimmy's voice echoed in her head like a skipping record, bits of a shattered dream blurring together.

We could go to New York.

Our little apartment in Brooklyn.

And your first book would be about me, of course.

Tears dotted Tina's eyes. The change blurred together and she balled her fists, the memory of that early morning rising the pain in her heart.

Because you love me, and I love you, and always will.

Don't cry, Tina. He's not worth it.

And we'll be in debt,

The coins shimmered on the floor. She was repulsed by the fact that he had once touched them. 

Scrape together the rent every month,

"Liar," she whispered, starting to rip off the images of New York on the jar.

Eat junk food and barely get by,

Her tears fell and splattered on the coins. She hated the way the metal glistened, the way the change mocked her.

But it'll be our life, so it'll be perfect.

The jar fell from her hands, hitting the wood. The strong glass didn't break but the coins inside rattled, and she leaned forward, her stomach tightening like it did last night. She pressed her forehead to the cool metal and sobbed, her hot tears falling. She held herself, unable to stop the flow of tears. Her gut ached, her head hurt, and the pain was overwhelming. It really had been a beautiful dream.

Chapter Text

Tina kept her eyes on her book. It was hard not to look at Jimmy Pesto's, not to take a peek at Jimmy Jr.. She looked at her watch, noting that he was going to take his break soon. Please don't let him come over here.

She stared at poem LXIX, thinking of last night. That morning she had jogged to Jocelyn's to get her book back, which was sitting on the porch, where she had left it. She thought of Zeke's soft eyes when she read it to him, the way his cigarette rounded his lips. 

Do thoughts of love fall
into extinct volcanoes?

What a night it had been. It was chaotic and emotional and the worst night of her life; but she couldn't help but relive her moment on the porch with Zeke, before he told her about Jimmy and Tammy. 

Is a crater an act of vengeance
or a punishment of the earth?

She remembered the way her heartbeat picked up when she smelled his cologne. She lifted her wrists and inhaled deeply, Zeke's scent filling her lungs. Warmth spread through her chest at the smell, and she closed her eyes, picturing his pretty face. She had never quite noticed his beauty before, not until the last week. She had always thought he was attractive at least, but she never paid attention to it. It was a special kind of attractiveness, a celestial beauty that reminded her of galaxies full of stars.

With which stars do they go on speaking,
the rivers that never reach the sea?

"You are the sea, Tina," he had said. "If anything, I'm a river that will never reach the sea."

What did that mean? She thought back to the poem he had given her, about how she represented the sea and the waves. A river that will never reach the sea would mean... he would never get to her, he would never reach her. Was he talking about love? How he thought she would never love him?

I could love Zeke, she thought, fingering the page. I could really love him.

The bell jingled, and Tina quickly put in her bookmark and set the book down. She looked up, her heart stopping. 

"Tina," Jimmy whispered, and Tina felt like an anchor dropped in her chest. 

Don't cry. Don't cry.

"What are you doing here?" She spat, glaring at him. "I'm working."

"I know, I--I'm sorry," he apologized, and she noticed his face. He had a busted lip and multiple bruises on his cheeks. Zeke. "I just... I had to see you, please just let me explain."

"No," she said firmly, stepping back. "I don't want to hear your explanation."

"Tina, please--"

"No!" She exclaimed, tears dotting her eyes. "Here's what's going to happen. I am going to go upstairs and get your stuff that was in my room. When I get back, I'm going to give it to you, and then you are going to walk out of this restaurant and out of my life because I cannot handle being around you." Her voice broke, and she sniffled. He looked like she had just punched him in the face. "Okay?"

He nodded, looking down. She sighed heavily, her hands shaking. 

"Louise," she called to the kitchen, "Watch the counter, okay?"

"Got it!" Louise answered, and Tina opened the counter barrier and hurried past Jimmy, trying not to touch him. 

Don't cry, Tina. Be strong, she told herself, opening the door and hurrying to her front door. She quickly climbed the stairs, walking down the narrow hallway to her room. She opened her room and grabbed the box of Jimmy's things she had prepared, sticking the Our Life jar with Jimmy's half inside. The box was mostly clothes, his CDs, a pair of sunglasses, and a few other things she discovered during her purging. She pushed the door open again, heading back down the stairs and opening the door with one hand. She pushed open the restaurant door, where Jimmy was standing, still looking down.

She shoved the box into his arms, turning back and lifting the counter. 

"Wait, are you wearing Zeke's sweatshirt?"

Tina turned back, rolling her eyes. "What the hell do you care?"

"So what, are you dating him now?" Jimmy scoffed, and Tina glared at him, anger pulsing through her. 

"You and I broke up last fucking night. You really think I would do that?" She spat, her eyes hard. She felt Louise's hand on her shoulder.

"Tina, I told you that he can be manipulative. He's not who you think he is."

She rolled her eyes again, crossing her arms. 

"Will you please leave already?"

"Tina, please. I'm so--"

"Jimmy," she exclaimed firmly, balling her fists, "Please do me the favor of not forcing me to listen to your apology and just get the fuck out."

His eyes looked broken. She looked away and towards Louise, who was glaring hatefully at Jimmy. She heard him sigh, and the bell on the door jingled again. She clapped her hand to her mouth and started to cry, waves of sobs pulsing through her.

"Oh, Tina," Louise soothed, embracing her. Tina's stomach hurt from crying; she leaned into her younger sister, sighing and wiping her eyes. "You just say the word and I'll kill him. No one will ever find his body."

Tina chuckled a little, but she knew Louise was serious.

"I just feel so stupid," she sighed, pulling away. "Mom and Dad were right about him."

"Have you told them yet?"

"No, I don't want to worry Mom. You know she'll come right back immediately if I tell her."

"Yeah," Louise agreed, brushing some hair out of her sister's eyes. "Did Zeke and Jimmy fight?"

"They did," Tina groaned, crossing her arms. "Zeke was the one who told me about the cheating. After I left, Jimmy just attacked him."

"Isn't Zeke a varsity wrestler, though?"

Tina smiled, playing with the sleeves of the sweatshirt. "He sure is, that's why Jimmy looks so much worse than Zeke."

Louise laughed, grabbing an order from the kitchen window. "So what's up with you and Zeke? You guys aren't dating, then?" She headed out of the counter and set the order in front of the customer. 

"No, we aren't. We just kissed last night. And this morning," Tina shrugged, leaning on the counter. Louise's eyes lit up. 

"What was it like? Was it good?"

Tina blushed, looking away. "Yes," she mumbled, and Louise grinned. 

"Is he a better kisser than Jimmy?"

"Louise."

"What? It's an honest question."

"I don't know, I've only kissed Zeke twice. Well, technically three times, but the first time doesn't count."

"Why not?"

"Because I didn't know what was happening, it was totally out of nowhere. Anyway, it doesn't matter, because we aren't dating."

"Do you want to date him?" Louise asked, leaning on the counter next to her. Tina smiled softly. 

"I--I think so. Yes," she confirmed, flushing. "It's just really fast, I don't want to just jump from one relationship to another. I need some time, you know?"

"Yeah," Louise hummed, looking away. "Well, I hope you do date Zeke. Mom and Dad will love him. Plus, he's actually, you know, nice to you."

Tina grinned, blushing again. "He's more than nice to me. He's... like, an amazing person. He's so thoughtful and sweet, and he and I are so similar. He actually cares about me." 

"Aww, T," her sister cooed, giggling. "When you have sex, though, you have to tell me everything."

"Louise," Tina blushed, looking away. "Oh my god."

"I'm just saying, Zeke seems like he would know what he was doing with a--"

"Louise!"

"Just saying!" She exclaimed, a grin on her face. She headed to the kitchen, humming, and Tina looked back towards the counter, cooling her heated face. She hadn't thought extensively about what it might be like to have sex with Zeke, but if it was ever going to happen, she was looking forward to it.

Chapter Text

Tina sighed, the warmth of deep blue sheets overwhelming her. She opened her eyes slowly, dark purple walls spinning. She could feel his hands on her, rough fingertips grazing her skin. She bit her lip, preparing for this.

She looked down, pleasure washing through her at the sight. His dark hair was between her fingers, his soft lips kissing the inside of her thigh. She moaned as he trailed his tongue up her sensitive folds, her clit throbbing with anticipation. She panted, tugging at his hair. His tongue pressed to her clit and Zeke opened his great still eyes to meet her own.

Tina inhaled sharply, shooting up in bed. It was dark as she looked around, realizing she was in her own room and not Zeke's. She touched her forehead, her skin sticky with sweat. Her heart was racing as she panted, palming her heaving chest. She closed her eyes again, seeing Zeke's dark eyes look at her from between her legs.

"Oh my god," she swooned, opening them again. She fingered the material of her soft t-shirt and looked down at her open legs, at her black panties. She touched the sheets and gasped at the small damp spot below her.

She felt wide awake. She couldn't get the image of Zeke's eyes out of her mind, nor did she want to. She readjusted her ponytail, climbing over her bed and setting her feet on the cool wood. She stood up and stretched, reaching her arms up and taking a deep breath. Her heart was still racing.

She looked at the time, noting it was 4:58am. She sighed, but didn't care much about her lost sleep.

It had been a few days since the night she spent in Zeke's bed. When her parents got back Louise told them about what Jimmy did, and Tina pretended like she was fine so she didn't have to talk about it. Her mother was especially concerned, and she started to unnecessarily coddle her oldest daughter with ice cream and a soft, pitiful voice. The good thing about Linda's coddling was Tina didn't have to work in the restaurant as much, as according to her mother, she had a broken heart. Tina was grateful for this, but often didn't know what to do with herself when she wasn't working.

Her dad was concerned as well, but he also never could hide how he really felt about Jimmy very well. Bob grumbled about how he knew this would happen, how that boy was trouble and always would be. Tina didn't know which of her parents' reactions she hated more.

It was nice to escape her family at school, though without Jimmy her entire routine had completely changed. She biked alone in the morning, arriving at Huxley much earlier than she had to in order to avoid Jimmy. After she pried open her locker with much force (the lock really was damaged), she spent her time in the library or the school garden to pass the morning. She shared one class with Jimmy, Spanish; it was her daily torture. Usually they would walk together to that class, but Tina found herself taking an entirely different route in order to stay out of Jimmy's sight. During class, she tried not to look at him and blocked him out. The first day was the most difficult; it was very slowly getting easier. 

She ate lunch by herself, usually in the garden as she worked on her homework or read. She tried not to feel sorry for herself, especially after she quickly realized her entire social sphere revolved around Jimmy. When they broke up, Tina found herself alone more often than not. She was okay with it though, as those who did talk to her usually asked about the breakup. She didn't want to advertise that she had been cheated on, especially if it gained sympathy. Zeke was right: sympathy does feel fucking terrible.

Zeke hung out with her during the school day; he started sitting next to her in English and they had fun debating literature. He always managed to take her mind off of Jimmy; Zeke would often find her at lunch and ask about her day, or help her with her locker after English. She never got tired of his company; seeing his pretty eyes meet hers from across the room made her heart beat so hard with anticipation she thought he would be able to hear it. It was nice to have a friend; and one who cared so much about her.

Tina pulled on a pair of sweatpants, thinking about her dream and trying to still her beating heart. She headed over to her desk in the dark, turning on her lamp and sitting down. She bit her lip, pulling out a spare piece of paper. She wasn't using her diary so much anymore; it was too full of Jimmy. She kept her current journal in the shoebox with the others, and she had been meaning to get herself a new one.

She hovered her pen over the paper, trying to think of what to write. Mindlessly, she wrote out the poem Zeke had given her, drawing a sunrise next to the words. She sighed, putting down her pen, thinking of her dream. 

She reached for her phone, unlocking it and opening her texts with Zeke. They didn't text often, but Tina would frantically reach for her phone after it would notify her when she got a text. She even put a special text tone to Zeke's contact.

She hovered her fingers over the keyboard, wondering if he'd even be awake. She knew he was something of a night owl, and as it was five in the morning, she thought she'd give it a try. 

Hey, you awake?

Okay, not bad, Tina, she thought to herself, biting her lip. Not creepy at all.

She watched her phone screen for a while, deciding he wasn't awake. She set it down, picking at her blue fingernail polish. 

She stood up, eyeing her bookshelf, wondering what to do with herself. She fingered the spines of her books, thinking of how it might feel for Zeke to kiss the inside of her thigh. She sighed at her imagination, wondering if that would even ever happen. She had only ever had sex with Jimmy; how different would sex with Zeke be?

Her phone pinged and Tina whipped around, grabbing her phone excitedly. She opened her texts, biting her lip at Zeke's response. 

Sure am. Thinking of you.

"He's thinking of meee," Tina sang to herself, smiling widely and wiggling happily. She tapped her thumbs together before typing a response. 

Thinking of you too. Tina wanted to tell him about the dream, but embarrassment flushed her face. What would he think of me, having sex dreams about him?

What are you up to? Zeke texted, and Tina smiled again.

Nothing really, I just woke up. She paused, gathering her courage. I... may have had a dream about you.

About me? Do tell.

She blushed again, groaning at herself. Fuck, now I have to tell him.

It was Rated R, if you know what I mean.

She waited for his response, her heart pounding. She bit her lip at the sight of his text bubble, but then it disappeared. The three dots in the bubble reappeared, then vanished again. Damn it, Zeke.

Suddenly, his response came, making Tina flush an even darker shade of red. Was I good?

She laughed, spinning in her chair. She wondered how she was going to face him later that day, knowing just the sight of his eyes would make her blush.

Better than good. She typed back, giggling as she sent it. I do wonder how realistic my dream was, though.

There was a pause, and Tina wanted to hit herself. Too far, Tina, she thought, and her heart pounded as she waited for his response.

Depends on what we were doing in your dream. Any weird kinks I should know about?

She laughed, her anxiety melting at his message. She should have known that she can relax around him; even with this topic.

Nothing weird, promise, she texted back, grinning. You?

I'm open to anything.

She felt her cheeks growing hot, imagining Zeke's eyes looking up at her from between her legs. Her heart raced at the thought.

I do hope your dream was realistic, came a new message as she pondered this. I like to exceed expectations.

She bit her lip, thinking. Does that mean he wants to... have sex with me? She contemplated, picking at her polish.

Of course he does, stupid, she thought back to herself. She grinned, trying to think of what to say.

Me too, she simply responded. She put her phone down and exhaled, a cathartic feeling pulsing through her. She grinned so hard her face hurt.

Her phone pinged again, exposing his next message. Can I see you?

She furrowed her brows, typing back, Now?

No time like the present.

She smiled, her heart starting to beat excitedly again.

You in the mood for breakfast? He texted, and she stood up, wanting to dance.

Absolutely.

I know a great place. I'll come pick you up. 10 minutes.

Okay :)

She sighed, grinning hard again. She stood up and went to her closet, trying to pick something to wear. She bit her lip, not wanting to look too formal. It was only 5:15 in the morning.

She tugged off her t-shirt and sweatpants, choosing a sea-green pleated dress and a white cardigan. She quickly brushed her hair and tied it into a ponytail, leaving a couple strands in her face. She tied her white Keds on and grabbed her backpack. She quickly wrote a note to her parents saying she left for school early and tiptoed to the kitchen, leaving the note on the table. She made sure she had her phone and keys before climbing down the stairs carefully and stepping outside into the cool air.

She locked her door behind her, breathing in the morning air. She checked her watch, seeing that she was right on time: 5:25am.

Just as she realized this, she saw Zeke's figure turn the corner. She smiled as she saw him, and in the light of the street lamps, saw him grin too. He was a navy blue t-shirt and she hurried towards him, beaming.

"Hi," she breathed, blushing at the sight of his eyes and taking his hand. His eyes sparkled. 

"Hi," he answered dreamily, looking at her clothes. "You look radiant this morning."

She grinned even wider, trying not to think of her dream as she looked at him. 

"Thank you," she said sheepishly, her cheeks hot. Her face was starting to hurt again from all of her smiling. "So where are we going?"

He kissed her hand, leading her back the way he came. 

"There's a little breakfast place by the Wharf, Gourmet Spot," he answered cheerfully, and she noticed a glint in his eye. "Or as I like to call it, G Spot."

She laughed, swinging their hands as they made their way down the hill. 

"So what were you doing up this morning?" She asked curiously, imagining him in his room.

"I," he started, grinning, "Was making plans."

"Plans?"

"Yep."

"For what?"

"For us," he said shyly, his eyes soft. Tina's heart started to race. "For this weekend. If you would allow me, I would like to take you on a date."

She bit her lip, trying to contain her excitement.

"A date?"

"Yep," he confirmed, smiling. "I want to show you what it's like to go on a proper date, with a proper gentleman." He said this last part in a silly way, making her giggle. 

She bit her lip, eyeing him. 

"Yes."

"Yes?"

"Yes, I will go on a date with you," she confirmed happily, squeezing his hand. He seemed to relax a little, exhaling.

"Awesome," he smiled, and they stopped. "We're here."

Tina hadn't even noticed her surroundings. She looked up, realizing they were near his house at a cute little restaurant overlooking the Wharf and beach, Gourmet Spot. She grinned excitedly, wiggling with anticipation.

"Let's go," she beamed, and he led her to the entrance, opening the door for her. They must have just opened, as the employees were rubbing sleep from their eyes.

"Hey, Zeke," a red-haired waitress greeted from behind the counter, gathering some menus. "Ooh, and friend."

"Hey, Dana," Zeke greeted back politely, waving. "This is Tina."

The waitress waved back, and Tina smiled as Zeke pulled out a chair for her at a table by the window. She sat down, looking out at the beach. She was excited for the sun to come up. 

"Do you come here a lot?" She asked him, and he shrugged. 

"Sure, they're the only place in town open this early," he responded, winking, and Dana brought them menus and some water. "And the Eggs Benedict is to die for."

"Sure is," Dana agreed playfully, her eyes sparkling. "Some coffee for you, Tina?"

"Yes, please," she nodded, setting down her backpack. Dana nodded back and walked away, taking out two mugs behind the counter.

"So are you going to tell me the plans for our date?" Tina asked innocently, biting her lip. Zeke smiled and looked down, then fitted his chin in his palm.

"Absolutely not. It's a surprise," he said playfully. Tina groaned light-heartedly.

"Aw, please?"

"Nope. But I think you'll love it," he teased, his eyes glinting. "How's Friday night?"

"Friday is perfect," she confirmed, leaning forward. It was only two days away, but to Tina, Friday felt like a million years in the future. Dana brought them their coffees, and Tina opened a cream.

"Something to eat for you guys?" Dana questioned, and Tina bit her lip.

"I would love to try the Eggs Benedict," Tina said politely, and Zeke grinned.

"Two Eggs Benedict. Thank you, Dana," Zeke echoed. She nodded and walked off, leaving them alone. Tina took a sip of her coffee, enjoying the bitter taste.

"I want to know more about you," Tina said surely, setting down her mug and leaning forward. Zeke's eyes glinted again. 

"Okay," he agreed. "What do you want to know?"

"Everything," Tina said airily, biting her lip. Zeke sipped his coffee; she noted that he took it black. Of course. "You mentioned a few years ago that your family has moved around. Where have you lived?"

"I spent the majority of my childhood in Texas," he answered, shrugging. "I picked up a bit of a southern accent, which thankfully I've kicked. I lived in California, too, by the Bay Area. You'd like it there, it's very lively."

"Why did you move so much?"

"My mom, she was an aerospace engineer. She worked for NASA in Houston and then in Silicon Valley."

"Wow," Tina breathed, drinking more coffee. "That's incredible."

"Yeah, it's pretty cool," he grinned. "We moved here so she could work at the Goddard Institute. This is the longest I've ever stayed in one place."

"What was she like?" Tina asked gently. Zeke smiled softly.

"She was really smart," he answered, nodding a little. "And caring, and kind. She was a terrible cook, she burned everything. She was... hard to be around, sometimes. She could be difficult, I guess. She used to get in these moods, and sometimes she wouldn't get out of bed unless she had to work."

He looked away, off into the distance. The sky was lightening.

"She would have liked you." He looked back at her, and Tina took his hand, gently squeezing. "She would have fucking hated Jimmy." Zeke chuckled, and Tina smiled too. She wasn't sure of what to say, so she rubbed his hand with her own.

"Anything else you want to know?" He asked, and Tina deeply inhaled, nodding. 

"Yes," she confirmed. "Tell me about your first kiss."

Zeke grinned, shrugging.

"I was twelve, I think. It was when I lived in the Bay Area, and I went to this birthday party. I got bored pretty quickly and went outside with a good friend of mine, Peter. We ended up just hanging out and we were sort of cuddling on a hammock." Zeke blushed at the memory. "Anyway, we kissed, and it was terrible because neither of us knew what we were doing. It was cool, though."

"It was with a boy?"

"Yeah, everyone's queer in the Bay Area," he chuckled, and Tina grinned. "I'm bisexual, myself."

She bit her lip, rubbing his hand again affectionately. 

"Cool," she responded, and Zeke's eyes sparkled. "What about your first... you know, time?"

He chuckled at her shyness. "You mean when I lost my virginity?"

"Yes," she blushed, and he smiled even wider.

"It was last year, with my ex, Maria Sanchez," he answered. "We were high at her parents' place, they were away. It lasted maybe 10 seconds."

Tina laughed, and Zeke flushed with embarrassment. 

"I know, I hate it. Needless to say, I've gotten better at it," he said flirtatiously. Tina bit her lip, remembering her dream. At that moment, Dana walked over with their steaming plates, and Tina's mouth watered at the smell. The sun had started to rise, gleaming into the restaurant.

The Eggs Benedict was to die for. They talked about everything--Zeke told her more about his childhood, about how he hoped to one day wrestle professionally, about his favorite color (dark purple) and least favorite vegetable (bok choy). Every bit of information was another piece of the puzzle that was Zeke, and Tina couldn't get enough of it. An hour passed before Tina looked at her watch.

"We should head to school," she pointed out, finishing her second coffee.

"Sure. We're ready for the check, Dana," Zeke called, and she walked over and set down the black leather book. Zeke opened it and pulled out his wallet and tucked in a twenty and a ten, telling her to keep the change. 

"You two are such a cute couple," Dana commented, her smile bright. Tina saw Zeke blush, and just as he was about to correct her, Tina turned to Dana.

"Thank you," she beamed, and she felt Zeke's eyes on her. Dana took the money as they stood up, grabbing their bags. 

"Have a good one!" Dana called, and Zeke and Tina waved at her as they exited, stepping out into the morning. Zeke took her hand, his eyes sparkling as he gazed at her.

"What?" She asked, and anxiety panged her. Should I have corrected Dana?

"I was just wondering why you didn't correct her," he said dreamily, shrugged. Tina blushed. 

"Oh--I don't know. I guess because..." She paused, and felt something build inside of her. "I like thinking of... us, that way, even if we haven't made any decisions, you know. I still want to take things slow, I just... I like the idea of you, being..."

"Your boyfriend?" He finished, squeezing her hand. She flushed, looking down. 

"Yes," she confirmed quietly, biting her lip. His eyes were glinting again. "Is that okay?"

"It's better than okay," he muttered, and she realized that they had stopped on the sidewalk. He pulled their hands apart and held her waist. "I want to take things slow, too. We don't have to have labels yet."

"Okay," she said breathlessly, smelling his cologne. Their closeness made her heart race. "But maybe..."

"Hmm?"

"Maybe soon, we can... have labels. Not yet, but... soon."

"Soon," he echoed, glancing at her lips. They hadn't kissed since Sunday; Tina's lips were aching for it.

She slowly moved her arms from her sides to around his neck, gently pulling him in. She closed her eyes and their lips brushed against each other before he leaned in closer, pressing their mouths together.

His mouth was warm from the coffee, and he very lightly bit her lip. She moaned into him, and he pulled away with a soft smile on his face. She opened her eyes, unable to breathe.

"Do you want a ride to school?" He asked quietly, rubbing her back with his hands.

"Yes, please," she agreed, remembering to inhale. He pecked her lips again, leading her down the street. Parked on the road was Zeke's navy blue convertible--she had never seen it up close before, but had seen him driving it. She bit her lip excitedly.

He opened the passenger door for her, and she climbed in, her heart racing, recovering from their kiss. She swooned, looking around. It was pretty clean and it smelled really nice; a mixture of air freshener and Zeke's cologne, as well as a hint of cigarette smoke. She ran her finger over his CD player, and opened the glove box to look at what he listened to. As Zeke climbed in the driver's seat, she saw lots of Nirvana and 90's rock, a genre she hadn't explored. She pulled out one of Nirvana's CDs, and as the engine woke up, she ejected the last CD and placed in the new one.

"Nevermind," he commented, eyeing her as he pulled out of his spot. "Good choice."

"Thank you," she grinned, clicking her seatbelt on.

"You'll know this one, hold on." He pushed a button and skipped the first two songs, a guitar refrain filling the car as he turned back to the road.

"I do know this one! My dad likes it," she grinned.

Zeke smiled, and started singing along. "Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be."

Tina's heart warmed, and she sang along, too, realizing she knew the words. The music was heavy in the air, but she liked it, dancing a little in her seat as she and Zeke sang. They got to school quickly in his car, and she pouted when they parked. He turned to her and smiled, turning the music down. 

"So I have something for you," he prompted, and she unbuckled her seatbelt. 

"What is it?"

His eyes glinted again, and he reached in his backpack and pulled out a purple, hardcover notebook.

"You told me you needed a new journal, and so I got one for you," he smiled, and she took the notebook, her heart panging. The paper was soft, and she flipped through the pages. "Do you like it?"

She looked back at him, unable to believe how considerate he was. "I love it. Thank you."

He took her hand and kissed it. "There's a bit more to it, look at the first page."

She bit her lip excitedly, heeding his instructions. On the first page of the journal, in Zeke's scrawled handwriting, was a quote.

"I’m wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there: not seeing it dimly through tears, and yearning for it through the walls of an aching heart: but really with it, and in it."
  -Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

Tears rimmed her eyes, and she read the quote three times before she turned back to his anxiously expectant face. Before he could say anything, she dropped the journal in her lap and embraced him, pressing her lips to his own.

He was surprised for a moment, but kissed back softly. Her heart was racing, her eyes wet as she held his face in her hands.

"I love it," she whispered again, pulling away. His eyes sparkled, his cheeks flushing. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, beautiful."

Chapter Text

Tina rubbed the material of her dress, smoothening out the wrinkles. She eyed herself in the mirror and wondered what Zeke would think of it. It was magenta and flowed against her curves, but as she looked at it, all she could see was the image of herself sitting alone in a restaurant; abandoned.

Tears stung her eyes; over the week she had tried not to think of Jimmy, but even with her room purged, it was difficult. She didn't want to suppress her emotions until she exploded, and she also didn't want to distract herself with Zeke from dealing with what happened.

She thought of calling Zeke and cancelling. Maybe this was too soon; maybe this was a horrible idea. Zeke wasn't just some guy Tina liked, he was Jimmy's best friend. Tina hadn't thought to ask him about his possibly ended friendship with Jimmy, but guilt washed through her as she couldn't help but think of herself as what came between them.

She felt nauseous. She wondered if what she was doing, going on a date with Zeke, was completely wrong, and if she should have waited out of respect for Jimmy.

Respect for Jimmy; really, Tina?

Texting and early-morning breakfasts were one thing, but a formal date? That was something else entirely. Tina couldn't help but flinch at the idea. She wanted to punch her reflection, wanted to get out of her own head, wanted to feel the familiar pain of impact in her fist.

"Shit," she whispered, wiping a tear from her cheek. "I'm such a fucking idiot."

She sat on her bed, turning away from the mirror and sighing. She gripped her skin and eyed her phone. Just call and cancel. He'll understand.

But she didn't want to cancel. She didn't want to hear Zeke's sad voice remind her that it was okay that she needed time, to hear the disappointment reflect in his eyes on Monday. He had been planning this date, he had put effort into it; she didn't want to disappoint him.

Her phone lit up and pinged. It was a new message from Zeke: I'll be there soon. Walking now.

She checked the time. They agreed earlier that day that he would pick her up at seven, and it was 6:55.

"It's too late to cancel, Tina," she told herself roughly, standing up and walking back to the mirror. "Just go. It'll be fun."

She checked her makeup and hair, adjusting her glasses. She took a deep, soothing breath, and opened her door.

She walked to the kitchen for some water, hoping it would calm her stomach. Her family was still downstairs at the restaurant, so she thankfully didn't have to endure their retellings of all of Tina's failed dates with Jimmy. She had already gotten enough of that from her dad.

She poured herself water, chugging the glass. The cool liquid was soothing, but nausea persisted. She sighed, frustrated, setting down the glass a little too hard on the counter. I should have punched my mirror.

She checked the time again, knowing any second now Zeke would be within reach. She stared at the clock in their kitchen, and the exact moment it struck 7:00, there was a quiet knock on her front door. She took another steady breath, climbed down the stairs, and opened the door. 

Zeke looked amazing. His hair was styled elegantly with gel, his black blazer fitted on his shoulders. He had a sleek black tie and a white collared shirt and a brilliant smile when he saw her. She smelled no cigarettes or marajuana on his clothes; only the soft scent of his cologne. He was holding a bouquet of cream-colored tulips, which were beautifully fragrant and fresh. The sight of him made Tina's nausea and second thoughts completely disappear.

"Hi," he greeted smoothly, smiling warmly.

"Hi," she breathed, continuing to take him in. He eyed her dress and his eyes glinted. 

"You look stunning," he said airily, and Tina felt her cheeks warm.

"Thank you," she said shyly, and reached out to stroke his tie. "You don't look so bad, yourself." His eyes were sparkling, and she wanted to sink into his warm body. She eyed the tulips again, running her fingertips over the heads of the flowers. "These are beautiful, I love them. Come in while I put them in a vase."

She stepped away invitingly, and he grinned as he stepped in her apartment.

"So I'm assuming you don't need my help up the stairs this time?" He teased, following her as they climbed. 

She rolled her eyes playfully, though she knew he couldn't see her face. "Ha, ha."

They stepped into the kitchen, and Tina looked back at him over her shoulder. She couldn't help but smile at his tamed hair, at his formal attire. 

"So where are we going, oh proper gentleman?" She giggled, pulling out a vase from a cabinet. Zeke smiled mischievously.

"A restaurant," he answered vaguely, leaning on the doorframe as she filled the vase halfway with water and started to clip the ends of the flowers.

"I guessed that much," she grinned, snipping at the stems. She finished, gathering the tulips and placing them carefully in the vase, arranging them in the way she liked. "Did you do your hair yourself?"

He chuckled, looking away, a little embarrassed. "I may have had some help from Meredith. I think she's just as excited about this date as we are."

"Well let's get going then," she said, pushing some hair out of her face as she placed the vase on the kitchen table. "I'm starving."

"Good." He took her hand in his and led her back to the stairs. Tina grabbed her purse from the railing and followed, her heart starting to pound. She had a strange, primal urge to abandon their date plans and drag him into her bedroom by his tie instead. 

They stepped out, and Tina turned to lock the door. The lights in the restaurant illuminated them, and Tina noticed her entire family looking out at the two of them. 

"Oh my god," she groaned, her cheeks pink. Zeke grinned smugly.

"Can we go say hi?" He asked, smirking. Tina started to shake her head sheepishly, but Zeke kissed her hand, and she gave in. 

"Prepare to be embarrassed on my behalf, then," she grumbled, and he smiled widely and excitedly, pulling her to the door and stepping into the restaurant.

"Hello," he greeted formally, and Tina's parents looked surprised. "I'm Zeke, you must be the Belchers."

"Welcome," Linda said warmly, shaking his hand. "It's so nice to finally meet you, Zeke. Tina hasn't shut up about you all week."

"Mom," Tina groaned, and Zeke smiled even wider. He seemed amused by this.

"Hi, Zeke," Bob said gruffly. "Good to know you're the kind of boy who's on time for our Tina."

"Oh my god," Tina breathed, looking away.

"Of course, sir. I'm honored to take your daughter out tonight," he said smoothly, and Bob's eyebrows raised at his formal language.

"Don't keep her out too late," Louise warned, smirking. Zeke winked at her.

"And no smoking!" Gene chimed in, crossing his arms. Tina wanted nothing more than to get out of there.

"We'll be back by 10 at the latest, promise," he swore, and she seemed satisfied. "It was nice to meet you all."

Zeke took Tina's hand again, his face amused by her tortured expression. She hurried him out, making him laugh.

"So," she started, wanting to forget that interaction, "Where are we going?"

"It's not far," he said, kissing her hand as they walked. "I like your family."

Tina groaned, making him chuckle. "They're kind of a handful. They've been very protective, after... you know."

"I can imagine," he empathized, rubbing her hand with his thumb. "Do you think they liked me?"

She turned to him, surprised at his timid tone. It didn't occur to her that he would want her family to like him; Jimmy had never cared about what her family thought. Tina brought Zeke's warm hand to her lips, kissing it gently. He was truly adorable. 

"Yes, I do," she affirmed, and felt him relax. "You made quite the impression in there. You lived up to my musings."

"Oh yeah?" He asked playfully, and she blushed.

"Yep, because apparently I haven't shut up about you all week," she giggled, and he smiled.

"May I ask what you've said about me?" He queried politely, and she blushed again.

"It's so embarrassing."

"I think we're past embarrassing. Please?" He smirked, biting his lip. Her mind blanked as she stared at his bottom lip, at the way he bit it. She had to remember to breathe.

"Um--oh," she said heavily, looking back at his eyes. "Just that you're, you know... like, amazing and perfect. And how you're too good for me." Shut it, Tina.

But he just smiled softly, his eyes warm but sad. 

"Tina," he whispered, stopping and squeezing her hand. "I'm not perfect."

"But aren't you?" She breathed, her heart racing at their closeness. She stroked his tie again. "I mean, I've yet to find a flaw."

He looked down, then kissed her hand. His lips were warm on her skin, and she wanted to feel them all over her body.

"Darling," he muttered, touching her face, "You're too good for me."

She shook her head a little, shivering at their contact. "False."

"Nope," he demurred, and she could feel his hot, minty breath on her face. She was reminded of the night they spent together, of their steamy lip-locking in his bed. Her breath caught, and she tried to keep her eyes open as she swooned.

"What are you thinking?" He asked softly, tucking some hair behind her ear.

"I..." she mumbled, trying to put her thoughts together coherently, "I liked the way you bit your lip."

He paused, and his eyes sparkled. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," she breathed, continuing to swoon. "What are you thinking?"

"My thoughts are a little... PG-13."

She smiled, and he blushed a little. "Tell me."

"I'm wondering if we should ditch our reservation and if I should just take you back to my room," he muttered softly. Her chest warmed, and she couldn't resist any longer. She leaned in and pressed her hot lips to his, unable to control her impulses. She ran her hands through his tamed hair, messing it up again. She moaned as he parted his lips and gripped her waist, his hands strong on her body. It was wonderful--it was sticky and hot, and she shivered under his touch, her nerves exploding. Something occurred to her, and she furrowed her brows, pulling back. 

"Wait--we have a reservation?"

His eyes looked glassy. "Yes."

"What time?"

"7:15."

She quickly glanced at her watch--that was in three minutes.

She moaned quietly as she thought through her words. "Well as much I want to..." she blushed, biting her lip, "indulge myself, I'm very curious what you planned for us tonight."

He grinned, nodding. "Okay," he said softly, pecking her lips once more. "Let's go."

It was a short walk to the beach. The night was cool and a bit breezy, and once they were on the main beach where all the fancy restaurants were, Tina could hear some music playing in the distance. There were quite a few people outside, though not crowded enough to bother her. 

Zeke led her to one of the fine dining places, The Blue Plate. Her eyes widened as he opened the door for her with a smirk on his face. She bit her lip in anticipation, practically dancing inside with excitement. 

"This place is so expensive," she said quietly to him. He continued to smirk. 

"Don't worry about that, Tina," he soothed, and took her hand again. He turned to the hostess behind the counter. "Hello, I have a 7:15 reservation for Zeke Anderson."

"Aw, yes," the hostess smiled, standing. "Mr. Anderson, right this way. How's your father?"

"Very well, thank you," he said politely. The hostess led them to a private table by the window, a nicer placing than the rest of the tables. Fairy lights hung above them, and a real red flower was in the small vase.

Zeke pulled her chair out for her, and she bit her lip as she slid in, grinning widely. 

"I can't believe we're here," she gushed, making Zeke smile. "I've always wanted to eat here. I hear the specials are incredible."

"They are," Zeke confirmed. "Do you like champagne?"

"Um--sure," she answered, furrowing her brows. "But we're, you know, 17."

"Don't worry about that," he assured her again, and before she could ask, a waiter appeared in front of them. 

"Good evening," the man said, and Tina forced herself to take in the reality of the moment. "Mr. Anderson, nice to see you. Some drinks to start?"

"Two glasses of Prosecco, please," he ordered, and the waiter nodded, setting down two elegant menus before disappearing again. As Tina stared at him, bewildered, Zeke commented, "What would you like to eat? You can have anything you want."

She cleared her throat, trying to focus on one thing at a time. She glanced at the menu, each entree sounding more delicious than the next.

"I--I don't know," she stuttered, and he smiled. "Can you order for me? You seem to know what you're doing."

He chuckled, nodding. "How about the Fennel and Potato Gratin with Camembert?"

"I understood about half the things you said, but it still sounds great, so yes."

He laughed quietly, and at that moment the waiter appeared again with two tall glasses of sparkling champagne.

"We'll both have the Fennel and Potato Gratin with Camembert," Zeke confirmed, and Tina couldn't believe this was the same person who offered her a cigarette in the rain two weeks ago. Simultaneously, she had a very sudden moment of clarity--this boy, this beautiful boy, was so much more than she ever expected. He knew about fine dining despite not being able to cook much, he preferred Emily Bronte to Charlotte, he read literature on the beach, he bickered with Tina about books, he smoked like a chimney yet could show up on a date with nothing but a soft scent of cologne, he wanted to travel the world, he was lovely and thoughtful and considerate and yet Tina was the girl he loved.

She didn't know how many seconds she lost, but when Zeke said her name she was pulled back into the moment. She was almost panting, her eyes wet, her heart racing.

"Tina? You okay?"

"Yes," she breathed, taking a sip of water to still her beating heart. She then grabbed her champagne glass and raised it, and he did the same. 

"To us," she toasted, and he grinning softly, repeating the words back to her. 

"To us." They clinked their glasses together, and Tina brought the sparkling alcohol to her lips. It was sharp, but not in the same way tequila was sharp. The Prosecco was cold and welcoming and bubbled on her tongue.

"Mm," she moaned, setting down the glass. "That's really good."

He nodded in agreement, and her brows furrowed. 

"So how is it that you can order champagne?"

He smiled, leaning forward. "My dad's a doctor, he works at the hospital. He performed surgery on the owner of this place and saved his life, so we eat here for free. And, the owner lets me order alcohol."

"Wow," she breathed, taking another sip. "That's incredible... I didn't know your dad was a doctor. I hope I get to meet him soon."

"You will," he grinned, smirking again. "He wants to meet you. According to him, I haven't shut up about you, either."

Tina blushed, biting her lip and smiling. The thought that Zeke even had feelings for Tina was utterly absurd to her; what had she done to deserve such a perfect boy?

"What are you thinking about?"

"I feel so..." she trailed off, her voice dreamy. "I feel so lucky to be here with you. Everything that happened... it feels so in the distance."

"Does it?"

"Yes," she confirmed, sighing. "I mean, it's been painful. When I was laying on the pavement, I was thinking about how stupid I'd been. I thought the pain I felt would never go away. But because of you..." His eyes sparkled. "I've come out stronger."

He took her hand, rubbing her skin gently. His fingertips were rough.

"I just want you to be happy," he whispered, and her heart panged. He had said that to her at the beach, and the image of his wet body was alarmingly beautiful, even in her mind.

"I am happy," she told him, setting her other hand on top of his. "You make me happy."

His eyes glinted, and he smiled softly. There was something sad in his eyes. 

At that moment, the food came steaming their way. It was beautifully plated, the yellow dish glistening. She felt hunger strike her stomach and the waiter placed the plate carefully in front of her. 

The dinner was lovely; the gratin was incredible, and Tina tried not to eat too quickly. She wanted to stay there forever with him--she would have given anything.

Eventually, they found their way back to the beach, Tina's head feeling heavy from the champagne. The breeze felt nice on her skin. In the distance, she heard that same music from earlier, and realized she and Zeke were gravitating in its direction.

"I am so full," she sighed happily, linking their arms together. "And, tipsy."

He chortled charmingly, his hair falling in his eyes. The night sky was bright with stars, and she could make out his soft smile in the darkness.

"So what's next for us?"

"You'll see," he said vaguely, grinning. She rolled her eyes playfully, smiling broadly.

"So cryptic," she commented, checking her watch. It was almost 9:00, and she marveled at how easily time went by with Zeke. She looked out at the dark horizon, remembering how uneasy she felt earlier. 

I wonder what Jimmy's doing right now, she wondered, before realizing what she just thought. Ew, nevermind.

They approached the music, which Tina identified as a slow indie rock band. They were playing at the beachside restaurant, and many people were dancing. Tina's cheeks grew warm, but the music was relaxing. She turned to Zeke, whose eyes glinted. Where did I find such a perfect boy?

He held out his hand. "May I have this dance?"

Her heart started to race, a euphoria feeling washing through her. She bit her lip and nodded slightly.

"Yes," she breathed, taking his hand. He led her to the dance floor and pulled her into him, his hand on her waist and the other in her palm. She inhaled his cologne, closing her eyes and resting her head on his chest.

"Mm," she hummed, swaying with him to the music. She thought of the night they spent together, how closely he held her. She wanted to let him hold her like that again.

"I have a new poem for you," he whispered into her hair, and she smiled a little, keeping her eyes closed. She nodded against him, inviting him to share.

"You are the daughter of the sea, oregano's first cousin," he began. "Swimmer, your body is pure as the water;
cook, your blood is quick as the soil.
Everything you do is full of flowers, rich with the earth."

She opened her eyes, rubbing her thumb agains his hand. His voice was soft and musical. 

"Your eyes go out toward the water, and the waves rise;
your hands go out to the earth and the seeds swell;
you know the deep essence of water and the earth,
conjoined in you like a formula for clay."

She pictured them at the beach, the way his skin glistened with water. She wondered if he was trying to tell her something.

"Naiad: cut your body into turquoise pieces,
they will bloom resurrected in the kitchen.
This is how you become everything that lives."

She looked up at him, tears rimming her eyes. His eyes were deep and enchanting, and she thought she might sink into them if she wasn't careful.

"And so at last, you sleep, in the circle of my arms," he whispered, the hand on her waist so slightly pulling her closer, "that push back the shadows so that you can rest-
vegetables, seaweed, herbs: the foam of your dreams."

A tear dropped from her eye, and he removed his hand from hers and gently brushed it away. Her heart was pounding, various phrases from the poem echoing in her head. Deep essence of water and the earth. Turquoise pieces. Bloom resurrected. Circle of my arms. The foam of your dreams.

The moment was heavy; it was the moment Tina knew she was in love with him. She felt frozen, the realization of her affection stunning her. She closed her eyes, letting the idea wash through her.

She felt his smooth lips on hers, and found strength to lean in to kiss him deeply. It was different from all of their other kisses--it was passionate, it was warm, it was special, it sparkled on her lips like the champagne. 

She moaned unintentionally, continuing to sway with him to the music. The vocalist of the band was humming beautifully and Tina's heart pounded powerfully in her chest.

Zeke pulled away slightly, their lips just a centimeter apart. She wanted to say it, wanted to tell him that she loved him, but Jimmy's broken face flashed across her mind. The image made her feel nauseous with guilt again, and she thought of how angry and hurt Jimmy would be if he knew she was here with Zeke, on the verge of confessing her love.

"Tina?" Zeke whispered, and the image of Jimmy in her mind made her vision blur. She felt frozen, her breath shaky. "Are you okay?"

What do I tell him? She didn't know what to say, more tears rolling down her cheeks. She wanted to punch herself in the face; Zeke really is too good for me.

"Tina?" Zeke said again, his face concerned. She looked into his eyes, pain filling her chest.

"I..." she started, her voice quivering, "I'm just... feeling things."

"Bad things?"

"No," she muttered, then shook her head. "Yes. I don't know. Things that are both bad and good and horrible and great."

He looked confused, and she felt stupid. "I'm sorry," she muttered, groaning. "I don't know how else to explain."

"Okay," he said uneasily, his brows still furrowed. "Can I help?"

Wow, I love him. Fuck. "No, I... Yes. You're already helping."

"O-okay." He rubbed her back, and she tried taking a few deep breaths, which helped. She pressed her face again his chest, praying she wouldn't get makeup on his nice shirt. She felt herself starting to calm down, continuing to take deep breaths. 

"Can I hear the poem again?"

"Yes, darling," he agreed, his voice enchantingly relaxing. He repeated the poem, rubbing circles into her back. When he was finished, she sighed, looking back into his eyes. 

"I guess it's my turn again, then," she muttered, managing a smile.

"Bring it," he challenged playfully, making her laugh.

"I..." she started, her heart stilling. "I want to be yours, and I want you to be mine."

His eyes sparkled, and she touched his cheek.

"Oh, Tina," he sighed, running his fingers through her hair. "I've been yours for years."

Her chest warmed, and she leaned in and kissed him again. His pretty words echoed in her head.

I've been yours for years.

Chapter Text

"I had a wonderful time tonight," Tina breathed, wrapping her arms around Zeke's neck. He was smiling softly, his eyes bright.

"Me too," he grinned, and she felt her heart starting to pound.

Say it, she told herself, biting her lip. He's your boyfriend now. Tell him how you feel!

But the words were caught in her throat, too large and passionate for this moment.

"Maybe I can... see you tomorrow?" She suggested, feeling her pulse beat in her ears. She tried not to swoon as his beautiful face appeared heavenly in the streetlight.

"Yes," he confirmed, and she leaned in, pressing her lips to his. Butterflies filled her stomach--she couldn't believe the moment. She and Zeke were officially together--she half-thought it was a dream, that at any moment she would wake up alone.

She pulled away, opening her eyes. She took her keys out of her pocket and stuck one in the door. 

"See you tomorrow..." she smirked, "Boyfriend."

He grinned and bit his lip. "See you, girlfriend."

She giggled and opened the door, shutting it behind her. It was dark and cool in her hallway, and she sighed, swooning. She leaned against the door, her head light and airy. What an amazing night.

It was the most incredible date she had ever been on. The combination of fine-dining and dancing would have made her nervous had he told her about it beforehand, but the experience of it was less nerve-wrecking than she thought it would be. Zeke's presence calmed her, made her feel less anxious. He was more than a boyfriend--he was becoming her best friend.

She bit her lip, making her way up the stairs. She heard the TV on, and saw her brother and sister in the kitchen eating ice cream.

"Hey, guys," Tina greeted, setting her purse down on the table next to the tulips. "Where's Mom and Dad?"

"Hey, T," her sister said, scooping some rocky road onto her spoon. "They're out with Aunt Gale. How was the date?"

Tina grinned, collapsing into a chair. Her feet ached from walking so much in her heels.

"It was fantastic," she gushed, touching the heads of the tulips. "We're officially dating now!"

"Dope," Louise grinned, finishing her dessert. Gene smiled at his older sister, putting a knowing hand on her shoulder.

"Well I'm going to bed," Tina sighed, standing. "My feet fucking hurt."

"Night, T!"

"Goodnight, Tina."

"Night, guys." She headed out of the kitchen, opening her bedroom door. She turned the light on and immediately noticed the glass. Shards of it glittered on the floor. What the fuck?

"Tina?"

She gasped, her heart racing. Jimmy was standing in the middle of her room with tears in his eyes and blood on his hands and arms.

"Oh--oh my god!" She exclaimed, taking in his image. His lip looked freshly busted, his eyes heavy. He stumbled a little in place, and she noticed her window. It was smashed, the evidence clear all over the floor.

"Oh my god!" She repeated angrily, stepping away from him. "Jimmy, what are you doing?"

"Tina, I need--I need to talk to you." He slurred his words, and she could smell the whiskey on his breath four feet away. 

"You're drunk," she affirmed, recovering from the shock of seeing him.

"Tina, please just hear me out--"

"No! I'm not going to hear you out. Get out of my room."

"Tina--" After he said this, his eyes glassed over, looking at her dress and heels. His face changed. "Were you on a date?"

She rolled her eyes, scoffing. "It's none of your--"

"Were you with Zeke?!" He shouted, startling her. Anger pulsed through her veins.

"What's it to you?" She shouted back, her chest burning. He rolled his eyes at her, glass crunching beneath his feet.

"My best fucking friend," he growled, balling his fists. "How could you do that?"

"I didn't do anything," she yelled, kicking the shards. "You're the one that cheated on me."

"So that gives you the right to date my best friend a week after we broke up?"

"Um, yeah, it does."

"You're fucking unbelievable," he scoffed, his eyes hard. Her heart raced, and her fists ached from clenching them.

"I'm unbelievable? Did you break into my room and smash my window just to yell at me?" She exasperated, crossing her arms. "Because if you did, you can get the fuck out now."

"It was locked," he shrugged, as if it was a mild inconvenience. 

"Yeah, I KNOW!" She screamed, practically barking at him. "I locked it so you wouldn't show up in here like it's your goddamn living room." She paused, sighing frustratedly. "Have you been in here since the restaurant closed?"

"I had to make sure your parents didn't hear it. Tina, I told you that I needed to talk to you," he reasoned, stepping toward her. He slurred his words again.

"I am not talking to you," she stated firmly. "Get out or I'm calling the police."

His eyes widened, and he laughed humorlessly at her. "The police?"

"GET OUT!"

"Fine!" He gave in, turning away. She noticed the glass wounds in his hands and arms, the blood dripping onto the floor. He unlocked the window and slid it up, giving her a dirty look before throwing his feet over the window on the drainpipe. Tina heard Gene and Louise behind her, looking over her shoulder to see her startled siblings.

Before she could say anything, she heard Jimmy swear, and something hitting the ground outside. Her heart stopped, and she heard his scream of agony as she ran to the window, looking out.

He had fallen, his body writhing on the pavement below. He was yelling, and tears formed in her eyes. 

"Oh my god," she breathed, shock paralyzing her.

"Tina!" He cried, starting to sob. 

"Call an ambulance!" She wailed, turning around and running out of the room, pushing past her brother and sister. "CALL AN AMBULANCE!"

She ran down the stairs, tripping. Even at the front door, she heard the screams of Jimmy Jr. piercing her. Tina's vision blurred as she opened the fence and ran to Jimmy's body.

"Jimmy!" She cried, collapsing next to him. Blood seeped onto her magenta dress, his face red and wet with tears. "I'm here, I'm here, it's okay."

"Tina," he groaned, bawling. "My arm."

She looked down at his left arm, the one closest to her. It was contorted in a shape it should not have been. Blood had already soaked through his white shirt, staining the pavement below. She tried to push through the shock of seeing his clearly broken limb, trying not to feel nauseous at the sight of it.

"You're going to be okay," she cried, looking back at his arm. He was groaning in pain, trying not to move anymore. "You're going to be okay. There's an ambulance coming."

She held his face in her bloody hands, stroking his cheeks and pushing the hair out of his eyes. Her tears fell onto his broken body, and he kept moaning her name.

"Tina," he wailed, "Tina, it hurts."

"I know," she cried, listening intently for a siren. "I know, honey. You're going to be okay."

"I--I slipped," he muttered, squeezing his eyes tight. His voice was rough.

"I know," she repeated, trying not to get hysteric. "You're going to be okay."

She leaned forward, pressing her forehead to his. She hoped it would distract him from the pain, and whispered over and over, "You're going to be okay." She tried not to look at his arm, knowing that if she did, she would lose it. She was barely holding herself together, knowing she had to be strong in that moment. 

Finally, she heard the wail of the ambulance, which came screeching to a stop behind her. She turned, looked past the fence. 

"Back here!" She called, her voice hoarse. "Here!"

She saw the paramedics rush over to her, two women with calm expressions. They ran to them, and Jimmy kept moaning as he opened his eyes.

"He--he fell out of the window," she sobbed, pointing to the smashed window by the pipe. "I think he broke his arm."

"Ma'am, please step away," one of the women ordered, and Tina forced herself to let go of Jimmy. He groaned at the lost contact, and Tina realized one of the paramedics was rolling a stretcher over to them.

They were speaking to each other, and to Jimmy, who kept calling for Tina. She sobbed, running her hands through her hair, trying not to look at his arm. Her gut ached as they lifted him onto the stretcher, a fresh, agonizing scream from Jimmy ripping through the air. They rolled him quickly away towards the vehicle, one of the women opening the doors. Tina followed them quickly, her legs aching.

"Can I ride with him?" She begged, her vision blurry. One of the paramedic shook her head, climbing in and shutting the doors before Tina could object. Tina started to hyperventilate as the ambulance wailed away in the direction of Marymount Hospital, the car getting smaller and smaller in the distance.

She felt hands on her, and she turned to see her siblings with frantic expressions.

"What happened?"

"Is he going to be okay?"

"Tina?"

"Tina, you're covered in blood," Louise gasped, looking at her sister's clothes. Tina's words were caught in her throat, and she looked down at her ruined dress. Her heart raced as she realized there was blood all over her body.

I have to change, she thought, unable to speak the words. She pushed past her brother and ran up the stairs as fast as she could, trying to get Jimmy's scream out of her mind.

She hurried to her closet, pulling her dress over her head and grabbing a random shirt. She could barely think clearly--she was still hyperventilating, her hands shaking. She pulled off her shoes and stepped carefully into her jeans, cautiously avoiding the glass on the floor. She hurriedly tied her sneakers, running back out of her room and grabbing her purse from the kitchen.

She hurried down the stairs again back into the night, where her siblings stood stunned on the sidewalk. 

"Tina, where are you--"

"I have to go to the hospital!" She cried, turning away and starting to run. She pushed past pedestrians, tears streaming down her face. She focused on running as she made her way down the street towards the beach, turning sharply on Zeke's street.

She searched frantically for his yellow house, suddenly finding it and pounding on the door. When there was no immediate answer, she pounded again, trying not to start hyperventilating again.

"Zeke!" She wailed, pounding on the door. Suddenly, it opened, revealing a very startled Meredith.

"Tina!" She exclaimed, taking in her hysteria. "What--"

"I need Zeke," Tina sobbed, pushing hair out of her eyes. "Something terrible has happened."

"O-okay," she said uneasily, eyeing Tina's image with worried eyes. She turned and opened the door for her to come in. Tina dashed inside and up the familiar stairs, praying to herself that Jimmy was okay. She could still hear him screaming. 

She whipped open Zeke's door, and the sight of him didn't help her hysteria as she thought it might. He was still in his suit, but without the tie, and he whipped his head towards her as she busted in.

"Tina--"

"Zeke, we have to go to the hospital," she cried, running to him and grabbing his clothes. "We have to go right now."

"You're covered in blood," he breathed, shocked. 

"We have to go right now!"

"Okay," he agreed with worried eyes, grabbing his phone and keys from his desk. They ran together back out into the hallway, and Tina dashed down the steps and out of the door in a second.

"My car's over here," he told her quickly, pointing. They sprinted to his blue convertible and Tina pulled on the passenger door, climbing inside as fast as she could. The engine roared to life before she realized Zeke was next to her.

"Tina, what happened?" He questioned, pulling out of his parking spot onto the road. She started to hyperventilate again, unable to get Jimmy's scream out of her mind. She pictured his disfigured arm, his bloodied shirt.

"Tina, you have to calm down," he affirmed, taking her hand in his. His hand was rough and strong, as if trying to pull her out of her head. "Tell me what happened."

"Jimmy--Jimmy was in my--my room," she gasped, trying to put together a coherent sentence. "He was drunk, and I told him to get out." She started to cry again, the road blurring ahead of her. Her stomach hurt, and she leaned forward, setting her forehead on the dash. She was sweating, trying to breathe normally, her breaths erratic and sharp.

"Tina!" Zeke exclaimed, squeezing her hand harder. "Tina, baby, you need to calm down."

"He fell out of my window!" She wailed, leaning back onto the seat, her heart burning. "They wouldn't let me in the ambulance..."

"What did he look like?"

"What?"

"Tell me what he looked like."

"Why?" She gasped, looking over at him. He was surprisingly calm.

"Tina, I wrestle. I've seen all kinds of injuries, not to mention the fact that my dad is a doctor. If you tell me what he looked like, we can figure out what's wrong with him."

It made more sense than she thought it would. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to picture his body objectively. 

"His left arm," she started, opening her eyes, "It was... horrible, and bloody, and bent the wrong way."

"Okay, what else?"

"His--his face," she breathed, "His face was bloody."

"Could he move his legs?"

"I--I think so."

"Could he speak to you?"

"Yes--he talked to me."

"Okay," Zeke sighed, stroking her hand. "It sounds like he just landed on his arm and it broke."

"They wouldn't let me in the ambulance," she repeated, her voice cracking. Her chest was burning again. 

"Tina, he's going to be fine," Zeke affirmed, turning the car. "We're almost there."

"They wouldn't let me in the ambulance," Tina sobbed, pressing her hand to her face. Her breaths were sharp and inconsistent and almost painful. 

"Tina, you're having a panic attack," he said calmly. How is he so calm? "You have to take deep breaths."

"I'm trying." Her voice quivered, and she noticed her hands shaking violently. They were coated with drying blood. She focused on the road ahead of her, not daring to close her eyes. If she did, she would see Jimmy's broken arm, see his red face, see the blood all over his shirt....

"We're almost there," Zeke said again, starting to drive faster. "Tina, he's going to be okay."

"Okay," she breathed, staring at the open road, her hand on the dashboard. She focused on breathing, which steadily got more consistent. After a minute of this, they turned into the parking lot of the hospital. The lights inside were florescent and white, and before Tina knew it, they were rushing through the front door.

"Can I help you?" Asked the woman behind the counter, looking up from her computer. 

"We're here for James Poplopovich Junior," Zeke said firmly, taking Tina's hand again. "He must have gotten in a few minutes ago in an ambulance."

"One moment," she said politely, typing into the computer. She looked back up at them, her eyes patient, as if she was preparing for Tina to get hysteric. "He's still being treated, you'll have to wait."

"Wait?" Tina exasperated, her thoughts racing. "No, we aren't waiting. What room is he in?"

"Tina--"

"Ma'am, he's being treated, and he'll need his rest."

"But what's wrong with him?" 

"I can't give out that information."

"Bullshit!" Tina cried, prepared to smash her hand onto the counter.

"Tina," Zeke said firmly. He took her shoulders in his hands and turned her to him. His face was serious, and Tina could feel more hot tears on her cheeks. "He's being treated. They're figuring out what's wrong with him."

She exhaled, pressing her bloody hands to her face. Pull it together, Tina.

He said more things to the woman behind the counter, and Tina stood motionless in the lobby, her hands still glued to her face. She squeezed her eyes tight, focusing on her breathing again. She felt Zeke open her purse and pull something out.

After a moment, Zeke touched her wrists, pulling her hands away from her face. He held up two visitor's passes and Tina's driver's license, which he put back in her purse. 

"I got us passes. We have to wait on the fourth floor, and they'll call us when they know what's wrong with him."

She nodded, unable to speak. She took his hand and squeezed, continuing to focus on her breath. He put the pass around her neck and walked her to the hospital elevator, which was lit so brightly her eyes stung.

She continued to take very deep breaths, filling her lungs and then depleting them completely. Zeke squeezed her hand rhythmically, which was more comforting than she thought it would be.

The doors opened and dinged, and they walked past another brightly lit hallway. Tina opened her eyes to a waiting room, complete with chairs and magazines and a large window to the dark outside world. Zeke sat next to her on one of the couches, pulling her into his warm arms. She collapsed into him, inhaling his cologne deeply. 

It's going to be okay, she thought to herself, squeezing her eyes shut again. He's going to be fine.

She didn't know how much time passed. It felt like hours, but it could have been minutes. She went through the events of the night in her head, from the doubt about going on the date to Jimmy's fall. She forced herself to remember the entire night and commit it to memory, simply as a way to pass the time. As soon as she focused on this her breathing became normal. Her head was pressed to Zeke's chest, and when she finished remembering the entire night, she listened to his heartbeat very intensely. He rubbed her back the whole time, holding her close.

"Tina Belcher and Zeke Anderson?"

The voice was steady and calm, and Tina sat up very quickly, making her feel light-headed. She opened her eyes and adjusted them, Zeke helping her up.

"Here," he said, and the nurse nodded and walked over to them. "We're here for James Poplopovich Jr.."

"Yes, yes," she confirmed, looking at her clipboard. 

"Is Jimmy okay?" Tina asked hoarsely, her voice rough. The nurse smiled softly. 

"Jimmy has a closed fracture on the humerus bone of his left arm," she said calmly, writing something down. "He's going to be fine with a cast treatment and he doesn't need surgery to realign the bone."

Tina sighed with relief, the feeling washing through her and stinging her eyes with tears. A weight she didn't realize was there lifted off of her.

"Can we see him?" Tina asked, her voice shaky and cracking. The nurse nodded. 

"He's in 406, he's asleep from the medication. He's been saying your name, Tina." She pointed down the hall, and they hurriedly thanked her before heading quickly down the hallway. Tina wiped the tears off of her face as she pushed open the door, finding Jimmy's face in the room. He was lying on a hospital bed, his left arm in a fresh white cast. He looked peaceful, his hands and face cleaned of glass and blood.

He moaned a little at their entrance but didn't wake up. The machine he was attached to beat steadily. Tina collapsed into a chair at his side, breathing heavily.

"Jimmy," she whispered, brushing some hair carefully out of his eyes. She exhaled, closing her eyes with relief. She felt Zeke's hand on her back, and heard him pull up a chair next to him.

"Are you okay?" He whispered, and Tina took Jimmy's right hand, the one closest to her.

"I am now," she exhaled, stroking his skin. "We should call his brothers."

"I'm sure the hospital called them," he said quietly, leaning a little on Jimmy's bed frame. There was a pause. 

"If it was a closed fracture, why was there so much blood?" He wondered aloud, and Tina sighed. 

"He smashed open my window," she explained. "I think he punched it. It was locked, and he had all these cuts on his hands and arms. When he broke his arm the blood must have gushed out of the existing wounds."

"Mm," he hummed. She looked at him, her eyes full of tears. 

"I thought he was going to die," she confessed tearfully, her voice breaking. Zeke's eyes glinted with sadness, and he squeezed her shoulder. "When he fell, he was screaming... he was screaming so much and I thought..."

"I know," he soothed, brushing hair out of her eyes as she sobbed. 

"And I was the one who told him to get out," she cried, squeezing Jimmy's hand. "It was my fault, I should have just listened to what he had to tell me." She saw Zeke's shoulders hunch through her blurred vision. She pressed Jimmy's warm hand to her forehead and gazed at her ex-boyfriend, at his peaceful, closed eyes.

She felt Zeke's chair move, and his body heat vanished. She furrowed her brows, looking beside her. Zeke was walking to the door. 

"Where are you going?" She asked, her voice quivering. I need you, she wanted to say. 

He turned, his expression painful.

"If I ask you something, will you tell me the truth?" He questioned, his eyes hard. Her breath hitched, confusion making her heart pang.

"Yes," she agreed, unsure of what he was getting at. 

A pause.

"Do you love him?"

She looked at him without understanding, the absurdity of the question pulling at her heart.

"What?"

"Do you love him?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Tina," he sighed, clenching his fists, "Please answer the question."

"No," she answered firmly, standing up. "I don't love him."

He didn't believe her; she saw it in his eyes.

"Zeke," she started, her voice suddenly strong. His eyes met hers.

"I hate being right," he muttered, looking away again.

"Zeke--what--"

"On the beach," he explained, his voice flat. "I told you that no matter what I did, no matter how you feel about me, your heart will always be Jimmy's."

Angry tears filled her eyes. She felt paralyzed by the ridiculousness of his words, and she was unable to move.

"What are you talking about?" She spat, glaring at him.

"Come on, Tina. Don't lie to yourself, please," he exasperated, his eyes dark and hard as black obsidian.

"I am not lying to myself," she affirmed tearfully, her chest filling with hurt. "You are being ridiculous."

"No, I'm not," he argued, clenching his fists again. "I just wish you had realized it yourself before you wasted my time."

The words stung, and Tina recoiled. She felt like a hole had been punched through her, pain aching in her gut.

"How can you say that?" She sobbed, wishing she could pinch herself and wake up from this nightmare of an evening. "I watched him fall out of a fucking window. This is his blood on my hands." She raised her palms and reminded him of the dried blood. "How was I supposed to react to that?"

Zeke shook his head a little, his jaw clenched. She couldn't believe the things he was saying, the absurdity of his speech was almost as confusing as the words themselves were hurtful.

"I don't love him," she repeated, and Zeke's angry eyes met hers.

"Yes, you do," he demurred. Before she could react, his phone rang, piercing the air. She sighed, turning away and wiping her face.

"Hello?" Zeke growled into the phone, before his expression softened. "Oh.... Okay. I'll be there soon.... Yeah, he's fine. He broke his arm, he just needs a cast.... Okay. Bye."

She turned back to him, and his eyes were gentler than they were before. 

"I have to go pick up Andy and Ollie," he explained, his voice still flat. "Their dad can't drive right now."

She ran a hand through her hair, the pain in her chest dulling. "Okay," she whispered, not wanting to look at him. She didn't say anything, and without realizing it, Zeke disappeared into the hallway.

She sighed, rubbing her hands along her cold arms. She bit her lip and tried not to cry more, tried not to think about what Zeke had said. 

But she couldn't help it. His voice echoed in her head, his hurtful words cutting her with a serrated knife.

She opened her eyes, taking steady breaths so she wouldn't continue to cry. She stumbled back to her chair and took Jimmy's hand again, pressing her finger to his wrist. His pulse beat steadily beneath his skin.

She sniffled, kissing his warm skin. The image of her stained skin was no longer startling to her, though she looked like she had walked out of the prom in Carrie.

She pressed his hand to her forehead, wishing she could see his charming smile that she loved. That damned smile; just the thought of it was warm and helped her breathe.

Jimmy stirred, and she looked at him, holding his hand. He very slowly opened his eyes, turning his head a bit to look at her. Her heart panged as he smiled so softly, his hazel eyes pretty in the bright light.

"Am I dead?" He whispered, and Tina's heart stilled. "I've always known you were an angel."

She tried to smile, taking a heavy breath.

"You're not dead," she told him, keeping her voice quiet so it wouldn't shake. "You're in the hospital. You fell out of my window."

His brows furrowed, and he sighed knowingly. 

"Oh," he remembered, and looked at his arm, his eyes widening at the sight of the cast. "Oh, shit."

"Yeah," she breathed, squeezing his hand.

"I'm so glad you're here," he whispered, turning his eyes back to her. "I missed you so much."

Her eyes filled with tears again; she couldn't stop it.

"I love you," he said drowsily, his eyes flickering closed. They opened again, and they were the softest she had ever seen them. They reminded her of Zeke's caring, loving eyes.

She kissed his hand, the way she used to.

"I'm so sorry about what I did," he muttered. "It was so stupid."

"Yeah," she said again, stroking his skin.

"Do you still hate me?"

She managed a small smile and brushed some hair out of his eyes.

"I never hated you," she confessed, brushing her fingertips on his cheek. "I'm not capable of hating you, Jimmy Jr. Pesto."

His eyes glinted, and she thought she heard him sigh with relief.

"Can you forgive me?"

She paused, unsure of what to tell him. What was the truth?

"Someday," she answered after a moment. "I promise."

That seemed to satisfy him. He smiled and closed his eyes again.

"Can you recite something for me?" He whispered, keeping his eyes closed. "I like listening to your voice."

She sniffled, wiping a tear from her face. She nodded.

"What would you like to hear?"

"Something happy," he answered. She brushed some more hair out of his eyes.

"Okay. Let me think," she agreed, and searched for something she had memorized that was happy.

"I got one," she confirmed, and Jimmy nodded a little to signal her starting. "It's called The Passionate Shepherd to His Love by Christopher Marlowe."

"Okay," he said sleepily.

"Come live with me and be my love," she started, keeping her voice steady as she recited. "And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love."

She finished, and he moaned quietly. A moment of silence passed before she realized he was asleep again, and she stroked his skin again.

Her heart panged. She memorized that poem after they started talking about New York, about the Our Life dream. It was painful for her to recite, but she knew it would make him happy. At least, she hoped it would.

Chapter Text

Tina opened her eyes slowly, the bright lights of the hospital waking her. Her eyes stung as she moaned a little, feeling an aching pain in her neck from sleeping on the waiting room chair. Her eyes adjusted quickly; she had been dreaming of white hallways stained with blood.

She sighed, leaning forward to stretch. The night had dragged on much longer than she thought it would. She spent as long as she could in Jimmy's room, though the hospital staff insisted that she come back in the morning for visiting hours. Before she left Jimmy's side, Andy and Ollie ran in with tears in their eyes. Tina explained what happened, and the three of them sat together in relative silence until they were kicked out by the nurse in the name of Jimmy's rest. Tina wasn't surprised that Jimmy Sr. didn't show up at the hospital, as he was indifferent about Jimmy's condition the previous night, according to Andy. At midnight, the brothers left to come back in the morning, and Tina figured Zeke had given them money for a cab.

He didn't come back. She wanted to talk to him, wanted to force him to explain himself, but she was too angry and tired to reach out to him. After a very worried phone call from her mother, Tina was too exhausted and frustrated to call Zeke. Annoyed, she turned off her phone at one in the morning as she was settling into the waiting room chair.

Tina turned her phone on to see no new messages from Zeke. It was five to eight o'clock, when Tina could go back into Jimmy's room to be with him. She stood anxiously, trying not to look at Jimmy's dried blood on her hands and arms. She wondered how terrible she must have looked; she definitely had blood and dirt on her face, as well as raw eyes from crying. She walked a few paces to the coffee machine, digging in her purse for some change.

As she counted her quarters, she saw a woman with light red hair step out of the elevator. There was something very familiar about her face, but Tina ignored the feeling, starting to shove the coins into the machine.

"Excuse me," Tina heard the woman say to the desk, "I'm here to see Jimmy Poplopovich Jr.."

Tina whipped her head around, seeing the back of the woman's body as she faced the desk. She hurriedly punched in her coffee choice, quickly grabbing a styrofoam cup.

"Name and relation?" The man at front desk asked. Tina listened intently for the woman's answer as the steaming coffee poured into her cup.

"Mariah McAllister," the woman with red hair answered. "I'm his mother."

Tina's heart stopped. His mother?

"One moment," replied the man, typing. "ID, please."

Tina looked away, searching her mind. She tried to remember all she could about what Jimmy had told her about his mother. According to him, she left when he was five years old, just after his twin brothers were born. She couldn't remember where Jimmy said she lived, though it must not be very far if she got here so quickly. The hospital must have called her after Jimmy's house phone didn't answer; Andy and Ollie listened to the voicemail the hospital left, which is how they knew about Jimmy Jr.'s injury. She must still be one of his emergency contacts....

Tina quickly poured in a cream as the woman handed over a card, waiting patiently. Tina grabbed her cup and walked over to her as she was handed her pass.

"Excuse me," Tina said, lightly touching the woman's shoulder. She turned, and the resemblance to Jimmy was striking. They had the exact same eyes, shape and color. Their hair was the same shade of red-blond, the same texture. She had a kind face, one that was stunningly similar to Jimmy's. Her mouth was different, her lips full, and she had more freckles than her son.

"Hello," the woman said uneasily, eyeing the blood on Tina. I probably look homeless.

"I'm sorry to bother you," Tina said, backing away a little. "My name is Tina, I know Jimmy Jr., he's my... friend."

"Oh," she muttered, raising her eyebrows.

"I was with him when he broke his arm," Tina explained. "He fell out of my window."

She nodded knowingly, and Tina bit her lip. 

"Listen," Tina started, fingering her cup, "I know Jimmy really well, and I think I should go tell him that you're here before he sees you. I just know that he'll be very startled, he's on a lot of pain medication, and he might freak out. As you know, obviously, he hasn't seen you in a really long time."

The woman looked down, a guilty expression flashing across her face.

"I understand," she sighed, not meeting Tina's eyes. "I don't want to startle him."

"Okay," Tina said, hoping she didn't hurt the woman's feelings. "Just wait outside the door, it's right down here."

The woman followed her to Jimmy's room, and Tina gave her a small smile before opening the door and closing it behind her. Jimmy stirred, opening his eyes at Tina's entrance. She saw an empty breakfast tray next to him.

He smiled widely, leaning forward to see her.

"Good morning," she said, trying to smile for him. She walked over and set down her coffee.

"Hi," he breathed sleepily, still smiling. "I had a dream about you."

"About me?"

"Mmhmm," he confirmed. "We were shepherds, like in the poem."

"Sounds wonderful," she smiled, taking his hand. "Listen, Jimmy, I need to tell you something."

He nodded, closing his eyes a little as he listened to her.

"Your mom is here."

He opened his eyes, his smile falling.

"What?"

"The hospital must have called her," Tina explained, watching Jimmy's confused face. "I just met her in the waiting room. She wants to see you."

"Oh," he sighed, looking towards the door. "I haven't seen her since I was five."

"I know," Tina said softly, squeezing his hand.

"I... I think I want to see her. Will you stay here, with me, though?" He asked quietly, looking back at her.

"Yes, I will," she confirmed, stroking his hand. She stood up, releasing him, and opened the door.

She watched Jimmy's face as his mother stepped into the room. He looked innocent, like a child. Tina knew how angry and hurt Jimmy felt when it came to his mom; but at that moment, he didn't appear to be either. He looked collected, confused, surprised, and not at all angry.

"Jimmy," Mariah said softly, stepping towards him.

"Mom," he answered, sitting up. His eyes were wide as he looked at her; Tina wondered if he realized how alike they looked. "I missed you." His voice broke, tears dotting his eyes.

The woman hurried forward, sighing tearfully.

"My sweet boy," she whispered, and they embraced. Tina looked away, this moment seeming too private for her eyes.

They hugged in silence for many minutes. Tina stood by the door after retrieving her coffee, silently sipping. She wondered what this interaction must be like for Jimmy; she thought of how childlike he looked when he saw his mom, the way he embraced her as if no time had gone by.

After a while, they pulled away, wiping away their tears. His mom pulled up a chair on his left side by his cast, rubbing his shoulder affectionately and sniffling.

"Mom," he moaned softly, leaning back into the pillows, "I can't wait to talk to you, but I just got more medication and I'm exhausted."

"Okay," she nodded, a warm smile on her face.

"Tina?" Jimmy called quietly, trying to keep his eyes open. She walked back to him, setting down her coffee and sitting on his right side.

"Yes?"

"Will you say the poem again?" He requested, smiling. "It gave me nice dreams."

"Yes," she agreed, brushing some hair out of his eyes. "Come live with me and be my love...."

She recited the whole thing, and by the end of it, he was snoring quietly. She sighed as the poem hung in the air, and she tried not to think of Our Life.

"You two have quite the bond," his mother commented. Tina looked back at her teary eyes. "Are you together?"

"No, not anymore," Tina answered, squeezing Jimmy's hand. "We've been through a lot."

"Yeah," she sighed. Her eyes glinted, and she closed them as she spoke. "Do you think... Does he hate me?"

"No," Tina replied immediately, empathizing with her. "You're his mother, he could never hate you."

Mariah nodded a little, taking deep breaths.

"That being said," Tina started, sighing, "You have a lot to repair with Jimmy. And I don't want to offend you, but you need to start taking responsibility for him." Her voice broke, and she worried she was going to start crying again. "The home that you left him in is a horrible place. His father... his father beats him." Mariah kept her eyes closed. "You have to take responsibility for him, and not just him, but Andy and Ollie, too. I know they're not your sons, but they may as well be. Their mother died, and the only person that takes care of them is Jimmy, and Jimmy Jr. is too young to have that burden. You have to do something about that."

Hot tears streamed down Tina's face as she pictured her bloodied Jimmy. Mariah nodded again, opening her eyes and looking at Tina.

"You're right," she breathed, her eyes intense. "I know you are. Not a day has gone by that I don't regret leaving Jimmy Jr.. But after a few years I started to think that it was too late, that too much time had gone by. When I got the call from the hospital, I figured it was Jimmy's dad's fault that his arm broke, and I drove here first thing this morning. But even though it wasn't his dad's fault, I know that I need to do something."

Her voice shook, and Tina bit her lip to keep from crying.

"Tina, I know I don't owe you any promises," Mariah sighed, stroking Jimmy's cheek. "But I promise you that I am going to fight like hell for my boys. I don't care how long it takes, and I don't care if their dad objects. I promise you that I am going to get them away from Jimmy fucking Pesto if it is the last thing I do."

Tina managed a smile, her stomach warming.

"I sure hope so," the girl responded, biting her lip. "But I'm not the one you need to convince."

Mariah nodded, sighing.

"Do you think... do you think he'd ever want to live with me?"

Tina shrugged. "Maybe. I think so."

Mariah smiled a little, combing Jimmy's hair with her fingers.

"I should go home," Tina sighed, standing. She grabbed her coffee, scribbling out a note for Jimmy on a napkin with a spare pen. "My parents are probably worried about me."

"Say hello to them for me," Mariah smiled. "Your mom and I were friends."

"Oh, okay, I'll do that," she agreed, picturing Mariah and her mom together. "I'll see you soon."

"It was nice to see you, Tina," Mariah muttered, her eyes soft. She turned back to Jimmy, and Tina waved goodbye as she got one last look at her ex-boyfriend. She imagined him happy, and the thought warmed her chest.

She stepped out into the hallway and made another coffee before finding the elevator and going to the ground floor. She didn't have a ride back home, and she was too angry to call Zeke and didn't feel like dealing with her parents. She figured it was only a few miles, deciding to walk.

She walked along the beach, listening to music. She felt calmer than she had in a long time; the idea that Jimmy could finally live a normal, peaceful life was comforting to her. She knew that Jimmy would jump at any opportunity to get himself and his brothers away from his dad; she didn't want to tell Mariah that, not wanting to get her hopes up. Whether she accepted it or not, Mariah abandoned her son, and Tina knew that Jimmy wouldn't easily forgive and forget.

When she got home, her feet were aching, her eyes drooping with exhaustion. She hoped her parents would just let her sleep and relax instead of working. She wondered if what she had gone through, seeing Jimmy fall, hearing him scream, holding his bloody body in her arms, was a traumatic event. Was she now a victim of trauma?

She unlocked the door, and immediately saw her parents at the top of the stairs.

"Hey," Tina sighed, feeling more tired after every second.

"Tina," her mother gasped as she walked up the stairs. "Are you alright? Is Jimmy okay?"

"Jesus," her father mumbled, eyeing his daughter. "You look like hell."

"I feel like hell," she groaned, rubbing her neck. "Jimmy's fine. He broke his arm, he's going to be okay."

"I wish you had come home," her mother sighed, leading her daughter to the kitchen. "I cleared the glass off of your floor."

"Thank you," Tina sighed, collapsing into the chair. Her mother set down a plate of eggs and bacon in front of her, and Tina didn't realize how hungry she was until she smelled the food. She started eating very quickly.

"Is that..." her father started uneasily, "Is that his blood on your hands?"

"Don't faint, Dad," Tina mumbled, her mouth full. She swallowed, and saw her father looking away, taking big gulps of water from a glass. "I just want to take a shower and go to sleep. Is it okay if I don't work today?"

"It's fine, honey," her mother agreed, sitting next to her. "Are you alright?"

"I'm..." Tina started, sighing. "I'm okay, I think. It was... it was really scary."

"I'm sure it was," Linda sighed, touching her daughter's shoulder affectionately as she continued to eat.

"Hey," Tina said, setting down her fork, "Jimmy's mom is back."

Linda furrowed her brows. "Mariah?"

"Yep. She drove here from... wherever she came from. The hospital called her."

"Wow." Her mom raised her eyebrows, pursing her lips. "She's been away for years, hasn't she?"

"Yeah. She says hi to you guys." Tina shoved a final forkful of bacon into her mouth. "I'm gonna go shower now. Thanks for breakfast, Mom."

"You're welcome, honey." Tina stood up, leaving her purse on the kitchen table. She headed to the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror.

Wow, I do look like hell. The makeup from last night had streamed down her face and mixed with blood and dirt. Jimmy's blood stained her skin, from her face to her neck to her arms, and especially her hands. She sighed, kicking off her shoes, and turned on the shower. She didn't allow herself to think as she washed the previous night off of her body, the blood circling the drain.

She stepped out, wrapping a towel around herself. She pressed cool water from the sink to her face before stepping out of the bathroom and opening her bedroom door. She stopped as her smashed window came into view. All of the shards were gone, like her mom had said, but the window remained. She stared at it, at the fact that Jimmy had punched his fist right through it in an effort to talk to her.

She closed her eyes, trying not to think about it. She walked to her dresser and pulled on sweatpants and a t-shirt, tying her wet hair into a bun. She popped a sleeping pill into her mouth, swallowing it dry. She hoped the pill would prevent her from dreaming.

She moved to her bed, climbing in and pressing her face into the pillow. Sleep came very quickly; she dreamt of rolling hills and a shepherd with a bright smile and hazel eyes.

Chapter Text

Tina woke at two in the afternoon, which was much later than she expected. She got up and stretched, the flashes of a peaceful dream sitting on her vision. But the moment her smashed window came into view, the entire night rushed back to her. She heard Jimmy's agonizing screams, heard him moaning her name as the paramedics took him away, heard him crying for her on the ground. She remembered his bloodied arm, bent beyond its figure, and the wail of the ambulance as it drove away. She thought of how painful and short her breaths were as Zeke drove them to the hospital, the hysteria pumping through her veins. She remembered Zeke's angry eyes, the way he insisted that she still loved Jimmy.

"Dick," Tina muttered to herself. How dare he say all that bullshit to me.

"I do not love Jimmy," she huffed to herself, turning away from the window and walking out into the hallway. I mean, it's ridiculous.

Normally, Tina would have obsessed about this for days--journaled about it constantly, wonderingly aimlessly if she really did have feelings for Jimmy still. But she had never been more sure of anything in her life than the fact that she did not still love Jimmy Jr.. She loved him as a friend, sure; how could she not? They grew up together, they had known each other and their families for their entire lives. Jimmy had been her first love, her first kiss, her first everything. We played together in kindergarten, for fuck's sake.

Annoyed, Tina made a pot of coffee and multiple Pop Tarts. As the toaster whirred, she noticed that her purse was still on the table. She bit her lip and opened the flap, pulling out her phone.

Zeke had called twice. Her heart stilled as she saw his name lit brightly on her screen. She took a deep breath and put the phone to her ear to listen to his voicemail.

"Tina," it started, and she closed her eyes to take in his beautiful voice. "I really... I really need to talk to you, and apologize for what I said. I came by your house but your mom said you were sleeping and I didn't want to disturb you.... I just... I need to see you. I... please call me back."

The line beeped, and Tina set down her phone. 

"What am I doing?" She whispered to herself, feeling warmth spread through her chest. She exhaled heavily, hurrying out of the kitchen back to her room. She pulled off her pajamas and changed into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. She thought of the previous night, before all of the madness happened, when she and Zeke were on their date. She remembered his soft voice whispering poetry into her ear, his hands strong on her body, leading her in their dance. 

You are the daughter of the sea, oregano's first cousin...

"I love him," Tina sighed, sipping her coffee. "Dammit."

More forgiveness, Tina? She asked herself, her eyes stinging with tears. How much more forgiveness do I have?

Her finger hovered over the call button next to Zeke's name. She knew he wanted to apologize, which meant he knew the error of his ways. I should at least hear him out.

She groaned, setting her phone back down. She suddenly felt a rush of adrenaline, hearing Zeke's pleading voicemail in her head and imagining his apologetic eyes. Fuck it. I can be brave.

Tina pulled her sneakers on, grabbing her keys and phone and shoving them in her pocket. She hurried down the stairs and out the door, locking it quickly. Her mind was racing as she rushed down the block, wondering what she was going to say to Zeke. Anxiety was filling her chest like a balloon, and she tried to ignore it as she stopped in front of Zeke's yellow house.

"You can do this," she told herself, shaking her hands nervously. "Don't be a coward."

She sighed, closing her eyes as she knocked on the door. It opened quickly, revealing Meredith in a red sundress. The woman looked relieved to see Tina, who had a sudden flashback to the night before, to Meredith's panicked face as Tina rushed past her.

"Hi," Tina greeted uneasily, shaking away her memories. "Is Zeke here?"

"Tina," Meredith smiled, "I'm so relieved you're here. Zeke's right upstairs. How's Jimmy?" She stepped to the side and Tina tried to smile, her heart continuing to beat rapidly. 

"He's okay, he broke his arm. Sorry about... y'know, yesterday--"

"Don't apologize, dear," Meredith interrupted as Tina stepped past her. "It was an emergency. He fell out of your window, yes?"

"Yeah," she muttered. "Thanks."

Meredith nodded empathetically, and Tina hurried up the stairs into the dark hallway to Zeke's door. She heard music playing in there, some heavy rock song she didn't know. She wondered what he was doing in there, what was on his mind. She thought of turning around and going back home; I don't know if I can do this.

"Don't be a coward," she whispered to herself. She raised her fist to knock on the door, closing her eyes as she knocked twice.

"Meredith, I don't feel like talking," Zeke's voice answered flatly. Tina bit her lip, trying to shake off her anxiety. Don't be a coward. She gripped the doorknob and turned it, pushing open the door. 

Zeke was at his desk, writing in a book filled with colors from highlighters. He looked up at her with an annoyed expression, which fell very quickly as he realized it was Tina.

"Tina," he breathed. He shut the music off, silence filling the room. Her heart stilled as he whispered her name, and she noticed the book he was writing in: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The beach flashed across her mind, their earnest literary confessions. She glanced quickly around the room, which was less organized than usual: Zeke's bedsheets were all messed up, his desk covered in papers and highlighters. What had he been doing?

"Hi," she said, her voice small. She found his eyes, immediately relaxing in them. Don't be a coward.

"Tina, I'm--"

"Before you say anything," she interjected, "I have to tell you something." Zeke nodded and stood up as she shut his bedroom door behind her. He looked very nervous, his cheeks pink with guilt. He was wearing his usual black attire, but his t-shirt looked old and his hair was sticking out in every direction. He had bags under his eyes, and she quickly wondered if he had slept at all.

"Last night was the most horrible and terrifying night of my entire life," she started, her voice cracking. She tried not to cry, swallowing the lump in her throat. Zeke looked down, but nodded slightly to show that he was listening. "It was traumatic and I know that I will never forget how scared I was. You have to understand that Jimmy... he isn't just my ex, Zeke. We grew up together, I've known him for my entire life, and he was my best friend for a long time. I'm not going to apologize to you for caring about him, especially because it's only been a week since we broke up. And if you can't see past that, then I should just leave right now, because that would mean that you aren't worthy of me."

Courage pulsed through her as she said this, feeling that strange power she felt when she slammed her fist into her locker. It was the familiar pain of something real.

"Zeke, I don't love Jimmy, and I'm sure of that. Maybe I wasn't sure a few days ago, or even this time yesterday, but I'm sure now. And I know that because..." she paused, taking a deep breath and hearing her voice shake, "because I love you."

Zeke's eyes because soft and glinted, his gaze bright and intense. She refused to look away, hot tears streaming down her face as she bared her soul.

"And before you suggest that I can love both you and Jimmy at the same time, I  don't and you just have to trust me. If you can't do that, you should tell me now because I refuse to put myself through the emotional turmoil that is a relationship without trust." She paused again, closing her eyes to exhale a deep breath. "Okay. That's my speech."

His eyes were so soft, and Tina exhaled again as he lightly touched his cool fingers to her tear-stained cheek. The moment was heavy and magnificent; she could feel her anxiety melting away and puddling at her feet. Zeke wiped away the warm tears below her glasses frame, the nerves underneath her sensitive skin alighting. 

"I love you," he whispered, pressing her forehead against hers. "And I'm so sorry for being such an idiot."

"I know," she muttered, lifting his chin to press her lips against his. She kissed him gently, running her hands through his messy hair to smoothen it down. He hugged her waist and moaned so softly against her lips, and in that moment everything was complete.

She tugged at his shirt, gripping it in her fists. A familiar warmth passed through her body, making her skin even more sensitive. He released her waist and pulled his lips away to swiftly pull his shirt over his head, his eyes still soft and sweetly gazing at her as he did so. This is it, she thought wildly, This is the moment of moments.

"I love you," he said again softly, as she pulled him back to her and pressed her fingers against his shoulder blades. She traced the smooth pads of her fingertips down his collarbone, his body heat radiating off of his warm skin. She bit her lip, imagining the rest of his body without clothes. She took his hands and kissed them both before taking slow, confident steps towards his bed, leading him into her arms.

"I think you good, gifted, lovely," she started, knowing he would recognize the quote, "a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you–"

"And," he continued passionately, laying her down on his covers, "kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one."

Chapter Text

Zeke sighed happily, puffing his cigarette as he flicked through his well-used copy of Jane Eyre. It was a warm Monday, and while he technically wasn't supposed to be smoking on school grounds, the garden was the perfect smoke break spot. He fingered the page with the quote Tina recited to him, closing his eyes and thinking of Saturday night, the way the late afternoon sun lit Tina's skin brightly against his purple sheets.

It had finally happened. She told him she loved him--he had been thinking about how those words might spill from her perfect lips for months, the way her eyes would shine as she said them. And even more, they made love, and it was exactly what it should have been. It was better than his dreams, than his fantasies, than his musings in his journal. She was eager and passionate, her moans forming a symphony on that beautiful mouth. Her skin was warm and smooth, her giggles as he fumbled with the condom wrapper the prettiest laugh he had ever heard. "Tonight is about you," he had whispered into her thigh before tasting her, and he could see the delighted surprise in her eyes as an answer. He could tell that Jimmy had never said anything like that to her, and he looked forward to treating her with every bit of respect she deserved, in the bedroom and out of it.

Zeke flicked the ash off of his cigarette, checking his watch. His lunch break was almost over, so he shut the book and put it in his bag. He finished the cigarette quickly and put it out before throwing the butt in a nearby trash can. He entered the double doors of the school, remembering as many details about Saturday night as possible. He was going over the Jane Eyre quote again when he turned the corner and saw Tammy at the end of the hallway, taping a piece of paper to the wall, a stack of papers in her hand. Was she putting up flyers?

He walked towards her as his next class was in that wing, before Tammy turned to him with a sly smile. 

"Hey handsome," she greeted, flipping her hair over her shoulder. "Come to see the show?"

"The show?" He questioned, confused. He turned his head to look at the flyers, to discover that they were not at all flyers. 

"Oh my god," he breathed, panic seeping through him. "Tammy, what are you doing?"

"What does it look like?"

He ignored her snarky remark and ripped the page off the wall, tearing it up and throwing it away. Tammy smirked, which only fueled the fire burning inside of him. 

"Tammy, you have to stop. These are her personal-"

"Private thoughts? Yeah, that's the point," she explained, irritated. She grabbed another paper from the pile and stuck it to the wall. 

"Tammy, stop. Why are you doing this?"

"Why do you think?" She snapped, turning towards him. "You got what wanted from the plan, Zeke. You have Tina, but you know what I have? Nothing." Her eyes were hard and cold, a stark contrast to her red lipstick. "And that's because we overlooked a very crucial detail in the plan, which is that Jimmy actually really loves her. Did you know that? Because I didn't. Jimmy and Tina had a serious bond, even if it happened after he slept with me. He loves her and that means he's not interested in me."

"You don't have to do this."

"I do, actually. This is the kind of rude awakening that Jimmy needs to see that his perfect little Tina is in fact a lying tramp who was in love with his best friend while she and Jimmy were dating."

"Then why not just show the pages to Jimmy? Why post them all over the school?"

She shrugged, taking a deep breath. "I could never resist a touch of drama." At these words she grabbed a fistful of papers and launched them into the air. They fluttered down like white birds, the images from Tina's diary swimming through the air. 

"Tammy," Zeke's voice shook, "she'll figure out it was me who took the pictures. Don't do this."

She gave him a hard look. "I already did." The bell signaling the end of 8th period rang at this moment, and Tammy leaned back into the door behind her to reveal a hallway full of the photos of Tina's diary. Zeke froze as he stared down the hallway, the wreckage of his doomed relationship flashing across his eyes. 

~

Tina bit the end of her pen, staring at the clock at the front of the room. It had been a long, annoying day, and she only had one more class after this one, English. It was the best 9th period class because Zeke was in it, and she looked forward to it all day. She just had to get through Spanish, though the class wasn't as hard as it usually was because of how things were with Jimmy. Well, it wasn't perfect--there was still some tension, but since he was admitted to the hospital, she and Jimmy were more friendly. It was nice to be on good terms with him, even though she knew it wouldn't last when he found out about Zeke.

Her mind wandered to Saturday as the bell rang, when she and Zeke had made love beautifully in the afternoon. A warm feeling filled her stomach as she thought about it, packing her bag with her things. She got up and filtered out the classroom, eager to get to English and see Zeke. She followed her classmates out the door, and, looking at the floor, saw her worst nightmare come to life. 

But the things he said to me... that isn't in my head. It can't be.

Tears filled her eyes as she picked up the page, her eyes flicking across the words she had chosen so painfully. His words are real, his love for me is real, his heart is real and he's been trying to tell me that. His heart is real and he is offering it to me; and fuck, I want to take it. I want to lock it in a box and keep it hidden from the world's prying eyes in the loose floorboard. I want to hold it, want to protect it, want to call it mine.

"Oh my god," she muttered, looking towards the corner of the page. From the diary of our favorite cheating liar, Tina Belcher.

She couldn't believe it. She ripped the page in half in attempt to destroy it, but as soon as she looked up, all eyes in the hallway were either on her or on the diary pages. She turned to the wall and saw even more pages, mocking her with their mundanity. 

I just feel the need to know him; I feel the need to understand him. And maybe I like the way his eyes look right into mine when he looks at me, and the way he memorizes quotes, like I do.

She tore the page down, not bother to look at the typed comment in the corner. She tore down page after page, picking as many up from the floor. She tore them from the hands of her giggling classmates, on the verge of tears.

"Stop!" She cried, ripping the images from their hands to get them to stop reading. She turned and faced the long end of the hallway and brutally realized that there was nothing she could do to prevent everyone from reading the pages. 

Jimmy appeared in front of her, his brows furrowed, his eyes angry. His cast was limp at his side. 

"Tina," he said in angry confusion, "did you... love Zeke when we were together?"

Her voice was caught in her throat. She could feel herself starting to hyperventilate as she heard the laughter of her classmates, pointing at the text.

"Tina?"

I have to get out of here.

"Tina!"

I have to get out of here!

Tina, with her fistfuls of the pages, ran down the short end of the hallway to the exit, shoving open the doors and not bothering to look around her. Tears blurred her vision as she heard someone who might have been Zeke call her name. She ignored him, focusing on getting the fuck out that building. 

She tried to breathe normally as she hurried to her bike lock, shoving the pages in the basket and putting her jacket on top so they wouldn't fly away. She quickly unlocked it, hearing her name called again, and pushed off into the street as fast as she could. 

This has to be a dream, she thought, wiping tears from her eyes with her wrist. Some twisted nightmare.

She reached over and pinched herself, but when she opened her eyes she was still there, coasting down the street to the beach. She couldn't go home because she didn't want her parents to know she skipped class, and she didn't want them to see her upset. She resisted the urge to pinch herself again, the street blurring into an empty grey from tears.

She squeezed the handlebars, trying to center herself. She didn't want to be so upset that she crashed like last weekend, so she stared out into her destination, the ocean. She breathed very deeply, wiping her eyes quickly to focus on getting to the beach. When her feet hit the sand, she let it wash through her: someone had taken photos of her diary, possibly broken into her room. She wanted to scream, her throat itching, her fists clenched. Furious tears burned her eyes and she whipped around to look out into the horizon, as if it might give her an answer.

Chapter Text

"Tina!" Zeke called, panic rushing through him. She hurried past him anyway, her feet moving faster than he'd ever seen them. Her face had been pinking, her eyes wild with disbelief and anger. He wanted to chase her, but at the blink of an eye she had left the building.

Tammy was laughing with an almost Shakespearean wickedness. When Zeke looked back at her in fury, she just shrugged, her arms crossed. Zeke balled his fists and took off after Tina, pushing through his gossiping classmates out into the street. 

"Tina!" He yelled again, before spotting her pulling open her bike lock. He hoped she had heard him and would listen, but she pushed off into the street anyway. Zeke squeezed his fists, wanting to punch himself. 

This is because of me, he thought, watching Tina turn the street corner, his heart hurting. I did this to her.

He thought back to last Saturday, trying to remember any damning detail that would make Tina realize it was his fault. He had left the window open when he came in, but Tina didn't seem to notice it. Was there any way she could tell it was him through the pictures?

Oh my god, he realized, I'm thinking like Jimmy. I'm trying to get away with this horrible thing I did to Tina in order to preserve my relationship with her.

"Zeke! Where did she go?" Jimmy's voice came from behind him. He turned, pulling his anxious hands out of his hair to face his friend. He hadn't yet gotten used to seeing Jimmy in a cast.

"I-I don't know," Zeke said earnestly, his voice dry. "She just took off."

"Do you think she went to the beach?" Tammy walked confidently out of the school as Jimmy said this, looking around for Zeke. She approached them slowly, like she owned the sidewalk.

"Maybe," he shrugged, feeling nauseous.

"Well, let's go," Tammy said, her hands on her hips.

Zeke glared at her. She glared back.

"You're the one who did this. You're not going."

"I didn't do it so I could watch Tina run away. Let's go," Tammy urged, rolling her eyes. She strode to the parking lot, leaning on Zeke's car. "Come on!" She called from afar. 

"Fuck," Zeke groaning, irate. He clenched his jaw as he started walking to the car.

"How did you even get the photos?" Jimmy called to Tammy, jogging after her. 

"I don't want to spoil the surprise, sweetheart," she said, smirking. "Let's just say I'm queen of blackmail."

Jimmy raised an eyebrow at her, but didn't respond. He glanced at Zeke with suspicion before climbing into the backseat. Zeke pulled open the door gruffly, reprimanding himself for trying to get away with this awful thing, for thinking like Jimmy. I don't want to be like Jimmy, he thought, frustrated, as he shoved the key into the ignition. She was unhappy with him. But if I tell her...

He pulled out of the lot, gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles went white. Tammy shrugging again. 

"I had to do it, Zeke."

"Shut up, Tammy."

"Zeke," Jimmy said sharply, "Did Tina really cheat on me with you?"

Zeke could've laughed. "Define cheating." He pulled out onto the street, turning left. 

Jimmy rolled his eyes. "Did she have feelings for you while we were together?"

"Yes and no."

"Zeke, for fuck's sake."

"You saw the pages, Jimmy. You know as much as I do."

Tammy snorted, and Zeke shot her a look.

"Jimmy, you seriously need to open your eyes," Tammy commented, picking at her fingernail polish.

"What are you talking about?"

"Do I have to do everything?" Tammy said under her breath, turning towards Jimmy in the back seat. "Jimmy, Tina is currently in love with Zeke. Ok? She has been for quite some time now, since her and Zeke's sunset rendezvous at the beach. Tina wrote out the things Zeke said to her over and over in her diary. Tina was in love with him. Which means that she lied to you and played with you for weeks."

"Tina didn't lie," Zeke defended, glaring at Tammy. "She didn't know what to do. She loved you, Jimmy, she was trying desperately to hold on to what you two had. And don't forget that even if she did cheat on you, dick, you cheated on her first."

"Still, that doesn't give her the right--"

"To what?" Zeke snapped, pulling into a parking spot by the pier. "To want more than a washed-up relationship with someone who doesn't treat her well?"

"Ugh, I hate when you go all morality police," Tammy provoked, opening her car door and slamming it shut. Zeke gave Jimmy one last glare through the rearview mirror before opening his own door. 

Zeke and Jimmy hurried down the wooden stairs to the beach while Tammy followed, eyeing the beach for Tina. Zeke's eyes scanned the sand, and when he recognized the black hair of a distant girl, his nerves exploded in fire.

"She's over there," he pointed out, starting to hurry towards Tina. Shit, what am I going to say to her?

I'm such an idiot, he thought, before steadying his breath to focus on Tina. He knew he needed to calm down. If he could just get away with this one thing...

"Tina!" He called, before fearing she would run away again. She was sitting on the sand staring at the horizon, her arms wrapped around her knees. As Tammy, Zeke, and Jimmy walked toward her, she looked up. There was a familiar look in her eyes, and Zeke realized it was the same look she had given him after punching her locker over and over. It was the look of Honest people don't hide their deeds.

Does she already know it was me?

Tina stood, her hands and arms shaking slightly, her face still locked in that expression. Her eyes were focused on Tammy.

"Tina," Zeke said again, this time more gently. Her eyes flicked towards him, but her expression was still. "Are you okay?"

To his surprise, she started laughing, but not the soft, perfect sound that he was used to. Her laugh was dry and sarcastic.

"Are you serious?" She asked incredulously. "Am I okay? Do I look okay?"

Tammy scoffed next to Zeke, and he quickly thought, Tammy, don't push her. Zeke truly didn't know this side of Tina, or what she might do.

"Poor Tina. Always the victim," Tammy sighed, and Zeke mentally facepalmed. He looked back at Tina, whose sarcastic smile had fallen. Her eyes had this glare, this ferocity, and her next move happened fast.

"You bitch!" Tina shouted, lunging towards Tammy and knocking her to the ground. Zeke and Jimmy's eyes widened with shock, instinctively stepping out of the way. Tammy yelped before the boys realized Tina had a hold of her opponent's hair in one hand and was punching her in the face with the other.

"You did this!" Tina yelled, this time with even more anger. Jimmy stared at the fighting girls with disbelief, before both he and Zeke snapped out of their shock and ran to pull Tina off of Tammy.

"Get off!" Tammy exclaimed, breathless, her voice even more high-pitched than usual. Zeke grabbed a hold of Tina's left arm and pulled, but she resisted him. When did she get so strong?

"You took pictures of my diary and published them all over the school!" Tina yelled, and Tammy pushed on her face with her hands. Zeke and Jimmy collectively managed to pull Tina off of Tammy, using almost all of Zeke's strength. He spotted blood on Tammy's cheekbone. 

"Tina--stop!" He exclaimed, helping her stand. Once on her feet, furious tears filled her eyes, and she shoved Zeke off. 

"Why?!" She shouted at him, her face red with scratch marks. "Why should I stop? She deserves it! She took pictures of my diary!"

"I know, Tina, but--"

"How is this different from you and Jimmy attacking each other when you get into an argument?" She countered, her tone sharp. "She took pictures of my diary!"

A small chuckle came from Tammy, who was wiping blood from her nose. Zeke's heart stilled. Fuck.

"What?!" Tina shouted to the girl on the sand. Tammy looked up, her eyes cold. 

"It wasn't me who took the pictures."

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck--

"What are you talking about? Of course it was you."

"Actually, it wasn't."

A pause.

"Well who else could it be?"

"You're a smart girl. Think about it," Tammy said, her voice teasing and amused. 

Tina's face was unlike any Zeke had seen, her eyebrows furrowed, her eyes hard. She was thinking intensely, and Zeke knew she was seconds away from figuring it out. 

Something clicked inside of her, and she hurried to her bike, pulling out some papers in her basket. Fuck. Fuck.

She stared intensely at them, before her eyes locking on the upper left corner of the page. 

"The floorboard," she muttered softly. "I stopped keeping my diary in the floorboard last weekend. This must have happened..."

"Before you and Jimmy broke up," Tammy finished, her voice still light and amused. "Any ideas?"

"Gene and Louise would never do this," Tina muttered, her eyes dancing across the page for more clues. She looked up at Jimmy, who shook his head quickly. 

"Oh no," he confirmed, raising his right hand in defense, "It was not me. I would have had nothing to gain from that. I was already on thin ice with you."

Tina seemed to agree with that because she didn't counter it, her eyes flicking back to the page. Zeke felt his stomach drop, and gave Tammy a pained, panicked side-eye. She just shrugged a little again, her eyes glinting with the smallest touch of sadness, as if to say, I have to do this. I'm sorry.

He looked back at Tina, who was looking at him. Her face was much blanker, but there was something in her eyes... disbelief, exhaustion, and just a hint of melancholy. Her eyes filled with tears; she knows.

"There it is," Tammy said softly.

"Tina, I'm so sorry," Zeke whispered, a rising pain in his chest. He heard the waves crash behind him. Tina's lip shook.

"You broke into my house?" Her voice was dry and soft, her tears voluminous. "You looked through my things? You took pictures of my diary and you sent them to that--to that--to that witch?"

"Tina, she-she made me do it-"

"YOU BROKE INTO MY HOUSE!" Tina screamed, ripping the page ferociously. "Wait, was this--was this the day Meredith came in? Was she distracting me while you rifled through my things to exploit my private journal?"

"Meredith didn't know--"

"So this was just you and Tammy, working together?!"

"She made me do it!"

"Actually, I didn't make you do anything," Tammy said, standing up, her legs wobbling. "You didn't have to do it."

"I did," Zeke insisted, shaking. "You told me to get the proof or you wouldn't tell Tina."

"What proof?" Tina asked uncertainly. Wait... shit. "What proof, Zeke?"

Zeke looked down, wanting to hit himself. Why did I say that?

"The proof that you liked him, genius," Tammy explained, her left eye starting to puff up and turn purple. "I wanted proof so that when we told you about what Jimmy did, you wouldn't go back to him."

"That is so fucked up," Jimmy said angrily, clenching his own fist. "How could you guys do that to her?"

"Look who's talking, cheater," Zeke spat.

"So this was all an elaborate scheme to ensure that you and your precious Jimmy could live happily ever after?" Tina cried, ripping the page even further. "You published the pages, for what? So that Jimmy would know that I liked Zeke while he and I were together and swear me off forever? How stupid are you? News flash Tammy, HE WILL NEVER LIKE YOU!"

"Shut up!" Tammy shouted, her voice sharp. "As if you know anything, tramp."

"You want another black eye?"

"Tina, stop--"

"You do not get to tell me what to do," Tina cried, furiously turning to Zeke. "I can't believe you did this to me."

"Tina, I had no choice. I'm sorry--"

"You're sorry, or you had no choice?"

"I just--I wanted--"

"WHAT?!" She shouted, her eyes unrecognizable. "You wanted what? You wanted me to sleep with you? You wanted to spite your best friend? You wanted to help poor, defenseless Tina get out of a toxic relationship?"

"I just wanted to help you."

"Wow," she said, with mock gratitude, putting her hand over her heart. "You wanted to help me. I feel so helped right now, how would I ever have gotten through the last few weeks without your help?"

"Tina--"

"I didn't need you to help me!" She yelled, and Zeke stepped back. "I didn't want your help. And is this your definition of help? Breaking into my room, going through my things, reading my diary and taking pictures of it and sending it to her?"

He looked down shamefully, tears sliding down his cheeks.

"Look me in the eyes, you coward!" She pushed him back, forcing him to look up. She took no pity on his tearful expression. Cold seawater licked his ankles and dampened his jeans. "You embarrassed me. You manipulated me. You lied to me who knows how many times and you used me. Was this your plan the whole time? To learn of my feelings for you and toss me aside once I slept with you?"

"Tina--no--I love you--"

"You two had sex?" Jimmy's voice came through, and Zeke remembered he was there.

"Shut up, this is too good," Tammy shushed him, but Jimmy's eyes seemed broken.

"It's none of your fucking business, Jimmy," Tina spat at him. "As if you're so innocent."

"Tina, I swear I never wanted you to be upset. I didn't think--"

"That I would find out?" She finished, her words like knives. "Well maybe you should have thought about that before you did this." She looked away, and laughed sarcastically again. "I can't believe Jimmy was right about you. I really can't believe it. He told me that you were manipulative, and I, like an idiot, fell for all your games anyway, because I thought he was just saying that to keep me from liking you. But it's really true. I can't believe it."

Zeke's voice was caught in his throat. Tina stepped away, glaring at her now ex-boyfriend. She turned, wiping her eyes, and headed towards her bike. 

"Tina, wait--"

"No, you know what? Fuck all of you," she spat, pointing at them. "You cheated on me," she said to Jimmy, who turned red. "You're fucking crazy," she spat at Tammy, who shrugged in agreement. "And Zeke, from the bottom of my heart, fuck you."

She turned again, speeding off on her bike in a flash. Zeke stood there in disbelief as his once gentle, loving Tina stuck out the middle finger as she rode away. He exhaled, wishing he could start this day over again. He felt empty inside.

Tammy lit a cigarette, clicking her tongue awkwardly. 

"Well," she said, "this has been a fun afternoon. Jimmy," she nodded to him in farewell, "Zeke." She turned and walked away, as if she had no injuries, as if nothing had happened. 

Zeke was staring at the sand, where Tina's footprints were already fading.

"Zeke," Jimmy said. "Zeke."

The boy looked up at his friend.

"Do you want to go... you know... get drunk?"

He could've laughed. He pictured Tina's face, her tears of betrayal, and nodded.