Sequel: Ours
Status: 6/6 Thanks so much everyone!

I've Got A Thing For You


“No.” Rory fiddled with her camera, not sparing Terry a second glance.

“It’s just dinner.”

“That’s what you think. But I know the truth.”

Terry sighed, crunching on a stick of celery. “Oh, really? Tell me, what’s the truth?”

Rory looked up, setting her camera down with a thunk. “The truth is that this is a test. Tell me honestly, Terry: did your mom suggest this, or did my dad?”

He frowned. “Uh, your dad did, but--”

“Exactly! I knew it.”

“You really hit your head harder than we thought, didn’t you?”

Rory scowled. “It’s true!” She lowered her voice, so the actual adults in the kitchen couldn’t hear. The three of them were laughing, listening to classic rock and banging pots and pans around, but you never knew who might be listening. “My dad is trying to make sure I’m not going to pull any Italy shit. Well, it’s not going to work.”

“Yeah, because no matter how much you love your dad, you’ll probably still jump in bed with this guy anyway.”

“No way. He tried to kill me.”

Terry sighed. “He drove you to the hospital. He sat with you the entire time, while you cried because you had to get stitches.”

“They stuck a needle in my face!”

“You can get a tattoo, but you can’t deal with some local anesthetic?”

“I didn’t get a tattoo on my face, did I?” Rory leaned against the counter. Her head was pounding again, but the painkillers they had given her two days ago in Duluth weren’t exactly the best. There was still a dull throbbing behind her left eye, and her skin felt tight where the stitches were. She’d never even had stitches in an arm or a leg before, much less her face.

She sighed, glancing towards the kitchen. The actual adults were in there, preparing some fancy barbecue thing, if you could even say fancy and barbecue in the same sentence. Not only because they hadn’t wrecked their boat like they originally thought, but because they’d decided to have a barbecue, and Matt Niskanen was invited. So what if he had driven Rory to the hospital? It was a forty-five minute drive, with traffic; Terry could’ve done that, no problem. And yeah, so he sat with her while they stuck a needle in her face, but he didn’t hold her hand, and he had ratted her out to the nurse about having a drink earlier. She tried to explain that she’d puked it up on the boat, but the nurses had looked at her like she was some lush delinquent. She spent the rest of the unfortunate experience ignoring him.

Rory would have been in the kitchen helping them, but she had a thing about kitchen knives, and Terry was just lazy, so the two of them had stuck to their plotting in the dining room. Well, if discussing the probability of her having sex with a guy she’d just met was considered plotting.

She would never admit it to Terry, but the idea was tempting. At first glance, Matt was cute. When you got a good look at him in a hospital exam room, you started to notice other things, things Rory had missed the first time around. Like the size of his arms, and the sultry heat his eyes oozed when he was daydreaming. His hair was shorter than she preferred, but his eyes alone made up for it. When she thought about it closely (and she had, several times), Matt could easily be hot.

But they weren’t in Italy. They were in Minnesota, and Rory was not going to sleep with him just because he could zap her panties off with just one look. She was determined this time around. She was twenty now; she wasn’t that same girl who made bad decisions and let her heart run away with her in Rome…and in London…and Mexico, and Egypt, and that other time in New York City… The point was, this time around, Rory was resolute. This time, she was putting her foot down. Besides, why would she want to sleep with a jerk? She snorted to herself. Exactly; she wouldn’t.

Which was why, when there was a knock at the door at half-past six, she ran to get it.

Rory paused to fix her hair, before opening the door. He was dressed in form-fitting jeans and a white t-shirt that showed off the muscles she'd noticed the first time they met. She leaned against the frame to hide the fact that her knees were weak just looking at him. He couldn’t know that he was doing it, but the smolder in his eyes was already reducing her reserve to ashes. Matt’s wavy brown hair was smoothed back away from his face, but one renegade lock fell over his right eye.

He smirked when he saw Rory, his eyes darting up to the bandage taped above her eyebrow. “Nice look you got going on there.”

Rory rolled her eyes. Jerk. “Thanks. I do try.”

She held the door open for him and he brushed past her, his arm touching hers. She tried to ignore it, but when he walked into the living room, she bit her lip and refrained from banging her head against the door as hard as she could. She calmly shut the door, and turned to watch him looking around at the living room of their cabin. None of the furniture was theirs, seeing as the place belonged to a colleague of her father's, but it was nice enough.

He glanced over at her, his hands in his pockets.. “Nice place.”

“It’s not ours. We’re renting it for the summer.”

He nodded. “Lots of people do.”

Rory wanted to ask who so badly, because seriously, who willingly went to Minnesota? Unfortunately, Terry slunk into the room at that moment, a beer in his hand. Instead of stepping forward to shake Matt’s hand, as Rory suspected he might, his eyes lit with recognition.

“Hey! I know you. The hockey player, right?”

Matt laughed, nodding. “Yeah. You’re that guy from the other day, at the lake! What’s up, dude?” They did some sort of complicated handshake thing, while Rory stood there and gaped.

“How do you two--”

“Remember, I said I met some guys from the local college? Matt here plays hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Remember, the city where you got your head patched up?” Terry laughed. “Poor thing, ever since she hit her head, she’s been a little off…”

Matt grinned. “Only since then?”

Rory scowled, as Terry clapped him on the shoulder. “I like you. Come on in, I’ll introduce you to the family.”

Matt glanced back at Rory over his shoulder, a playful gleam in his chocolate eyes. She pressed her lips together and shook her head.

You won this round, Matt Niskanen, but now it’s my turn.

Her family greeted him like they were old friends, her dad even going so far as to throw an arm around his shoulder and usher him into the kitchen. They asked him the usual questions about if he was hungry, what he was in the mood for, if he wanted a beer, before they got to what Rory had been waiting on: the intrusive questionnaire.

“So, Matt,” Terry said, snaking a look at Rory out of the corner of his eye. “You live around here?”

“Yeah, sort of. I grew up in this little placed called Virginia; it’s about an hour, maybe an hour and a half away.”

“Oh! But you live in Duluth?” Rory’s dad leaned over the island counter, pointing his knife at Matt with a shrewd look in his eye. “Bet you go to college, huh?”

Rory was impressed by the way Matt's eyes didn’t once glance down at that knife. “Yes, sir. I play hockey for Minnesota-Duluth.”

“Right!” Terry jumped in, nudging Rory aside. She scowled at him, about to hit him. “I met him and a couple of his teammates the other day at the lake. They invited me to a party last night, but because I’m such a good person, I decided to stay and take care of my delightful, yet injured cousin.” He reached over and patted Rory’s head; she swatted his arm away.

Matt eyed Terry evenly. “Right! Yeah, none of us ended up going. We were all supposed to take my car, but it still sort of smelled like vomit, so…”

Aunt Maura snorted into her martini glass. “Oh, Rory, why ever would you do such a thing?”

“Right,” Rory nodded, narrowing her eyes. “Because I meant to fall off a boat, hit my head on another boat, and puke in his car. Of course.”

“Well, at least he saved you.”

Matt and Rory spoke at the same time.

“He didn’t save me,” she snapped. “He was just there. Pure happenstance.”

“Yeah, well, if she hadn’t fallen on my boat…”

Rory rounded on him. “Oh my god, are you still whining about that? I didn’t fall on your boat, I fell into the lake. And for the record--”

“That bandage says otherwise. Are you going to tell me the water cut you?” Matt rolled his dark eyes for effect.

Rory sniffed, folding her arms. “Like I said, water is dangerous. I have--”

“--a thing. Yes, we know.”

Terry raised his eyebrows, his mouth hanging open. “Um. Wow. So…”

Aunt Maura drained the last of her drink, popping an olive into her mouth. Her eyes widened dramatically. "Well," she said, smiling brightly. "Isn't this fun?"

When nobody said anything, Terry clapped his hands together. “So! When’s the food going to be ready? Because I am starved; are you guys starved?”

Rory and Matt avoided each other’s gaze, saying nothing.

“Well,” Terry said quietly. “This is going to be fun.”


Fun was one way to describe it, Matt thought, as he stifled a grimace. Whoever had thought it was a good idea to place Rory across the table from him deserved to die.

She probably came up with it herself. She’s annoying like that. She smiled sweetly at him, folding her napkin in her lap. The bracelets on her wrist jingled together softly, and he watched the light catch them. It was a shame she was so hot…since she was a bitch.

As if she could read his mind, she kicked his leg again. He twitched, his hand closing around his steak knife. She didn’t miss that; her grin widened as he raised it and began to cut into his meat.

So far, being around her family was weird. He wasn’t even going to go, but when he had described how she looked to Mason and the guys, they all but drove him there themselves. Despite the sandals that kept banging against his shins, he was almost grateful they’d convinced him. She was wearing a form-fitting, low cut red dress with white polka dots accentuating her figure. Even the bandage on her head couldn’t distract him from the lush glossy lips, and the curled hair. When he had seen her for the first time, soaking wet and her dress transparent, he thought she was hot. But this…this was something else altogether.

They were sitting outside on the deck, at a picnic table draped in a floral print tablecloth. The air was warm, a little humid, but not too bad, and there was still enough sun to see by. The rich orange light gave her hair a reddish glow, and washed over her skin. Terry was sitting next to him, babbling a mile a minute about living in New York City. Matt had never been there, but it sounded pretty amazing. He was only half-listening though, keeping an eye on Rory as she nodded along to what her aunt was saying about the potato salad.

“Matthew,” Maura said suddenly, glancing over, her smile radiant. He didn't know what to make of this woman; her eyes seemed permanently glazed. “Have you lived here your entire life?”

“Yes, I have. I’ve gone on vacation a few times, but never anywhere very far. Mostly to the Twin Cities, or up to Canada.”

“Mmm, Canada. What a divine country. So picturesque. Rory, you’ve been there several times, haven’t you?”

Rory stared at her aunt, her expression deadpan. “What of it?”

“Oh, nothing. Maybe you’ve been to the same places?”

Matt stabbed into his potato salad with his fork. “Yeah, maybe we have.”

Rory narrowed her eyes at him. “That would depend, I suppose. Have you ever been to Nova Scotia?”

He shook his head.

“To Ottawa? Montreal? Toronto?”

“Toronto, yes. And Vancouver, but we mostly stick to Thunder Bay. It’s close, and it’s a great city.”

“See?” Maura nudged Rory. “You have been to some of the same places.”

“And yet I still fail to see the relevance, but please, continue.” Rory went back to ignoring them, digging into her food.

Maura asked him some more questions, about what his parents did, and what he liked to do in his spare time. He answered to the best of his ability, but he had never enjoyed being put on the spot, and if it weren’t for the subtle ways he could annoy Rory, he was starting to think maybe it would’ve been smarter to stay back at the cabin he was sharing with the guys, playing video games and drinking beer.

“So, you’re a hockey player.”

Matt glanced to his left, at Rory’s father, Tom. He was a nice guy, if a little strange. His hair was a sandy blonde, his facial hair overgrown and scraggly, the top of his head thinning slightly. His hazel eyes were an exact match to Rory’s, as was his smile.

Matt nodded, swallowing a bite of steak before answering. “Yes, sir. A defenseman for UMD.”

“A defenseman! Huh. I was a forward, back in my day.”

“That so?”

Rory sipped her beer, rolling her eyes. “Oh, jeez. Are we really going to hear this again?”

Matt turned on her, smiling politely. “I’ve never heard it. I’m actually pretty interested in what he has to say.”

She scowled. The expression on her face darkened when he dodged the kick she aimed at him.

Tom beamed, completely oblivious to what was going on between the two young adults at the table. “Yep, Ian and I both played back home in Syracuse. He was a center, I was a winger. Those were the good ol’ days, playing out in the backyard on a pond our dad made. Ian used to make some of the prettiest passes…”

Matt glanced at Rory’s taciturn uncle. He was bald, with a flaming skull tattooed on the back of his head, his sunglasses appearing to be a permanent fixture on his face. He had barely said a word in the two times that Matt had been around; to be totally honest, he was scared shitless of the man. He couldn’t picture the man as a child, much less a child playing hockey and making pretty passes.

Tom shook his head. “Anyway, now there’s all these teams and leagues and such. Think you might make a career out of it?"

Matt glanced at Rory, surprised to find she was gazing at him evenly, her slender fingers wrapped casually around the neck of her beer bottle. She cocked an eyebrow at him when she noticed him looking, but didn’t say anything. She sipped her beer, her lipstick kissing the edges of the bottle.

He shrugged, shifting on the bench, realizing that all of them, except for Ian, were awaiting his answer. Yeah, he had lived in Minnesota his entire life, and that was mostly what people did there; everybody knew it as the state of forestry, iron, and hockey. But he always felt kind of ridiculous when he said it aloud. Yeah, he did want to play pro hockey; it was his dream. But he always suspected people would doubt him, seeing how far he would have to go to make it a possibility. Plus, he didn’t want to jinx himself.

Rory suddenly dropped her bottle with a thud. “What does it matter?” She glanced pointedly at her dad. “Quit bugging him and let him eat.”

Tom sat back in his chair, holding up his hands defensively. “All right, all right. I was just curious!”

“Y’know,” Terry drawled, reaching across the table. “Due to the circumstances of your unfortunate fall and the fact that you’re on painkillers, I don’t think you should be drinking.” He snatched the beer bottle away from her before she could retaliate. He grabbed Matt’s unused napkin and wiped the rim, before handing it back. He took a long pull, before smirking at Rory. “Thanks, darling.”

“Fuck you.”

“So, Matthew,” Maura said pleasantly, smacking her lips. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

He looked down at the napkin beside his hand. Rory’s lipstick was a deep red, the imprint a vivid smear. He shook his head slowly. “No. No, I don’t.”

“I can’t see why not!”

Okay,” Rory exclaimed, glaring at her aunt now, too. “I think that’s enough of the awkward questions. Can we just eat and talk about something else now?”

The adults did eat, occasionally commenting on how good the steaks were, or the potato salad that Maura had made, quietly sipping their beers and lemonade, but not a single other question was asked of him. He wanted to thank her, but that would be rude to everyone else at the table; plus, how could he, when he was having so much fun pissing her off?

Before he could try and drop any subtle hints, he felt a feather-light touch at the base of his ankle. His head snapped up, but Rory was drinking a glass of lemonade. The only indication he had that it was her was the small smile on her mouth, the lipstick half-moon left on the glass.


Terry and Rory sped through the dishes. Well, she sped. He lounged, slouched, dried, chatted, hummed, whistled, complained, dried some more, and eventually stopped altogether, abandoning her to join the adults and the guest in the living room.

It was always the rule -- whoever cooked didn’t have to clean. Hell, she knew Terry better than anyone; she knew he wouldn’t help. But still, she felt a nagging annoyance, one that she took out on the dishes, spraying them with water at full-force and scrubbing much harder than was necessary.

Why did she care if they asked intrusive questions? He was just some guy, and they did that all the time, to everyone they met. Sure, he was some guy who had saved her life, but how much did that really mean, anyway? She could’ve swam to the surface. She didn’t ask for his help.

She sighed, leaning against the counter. The most important question was why did she touch him? That one was still a mystery. It's got to be the meds, she thought. What else could it be?

She finished washing the platters and bowls, piling them up in the drying rack before wiping her hands on a towel. She was almost afraid to go out there into the living room, afraid of what she might say or do. Touching his ankle had been a terrible, awful decision; now she was curious about the rest of him, and that was dangerous territory.

Rory hung back by the door, listening. Were they interrogating Matt again? Was Terry embarrassing her, as usual? Before she could decide to go in or not, the door suddenly burst open, and she jumped back, startled.

“Rory!” Terry exclaimed, grinning brightly. “Didn’t see you there. All finished?”

“Yeah, no thanks to you.”

“You looked like you had everything under control. So, guess what?”

Rory shook her head; it was no use arguing with someone so stupid. “What?”

“Matt has graciously invited me to hang out with him tomorrow! You know, for the Fourth of July.” As if summoned by the power of his name, Matt appeared beside her lanky cousin, looking between the two of them.

Of course. How could she have forgotten? That was why they were in Minnesota in the first place, as her father had decided to remind her that morning. She was supposed to take pictures. This was, after all, not simply a vacation, but also their job.

“Right. Well, congratulations. That sounds like fun.” She tried to smile, but it felt brittle.

“Of course it does. That’s why you’re coming, too!”

Her mind tried to process that, and failed. “I’m what now?”

“Your dad said it would be a good idea,” Matt piped up. “He said you needed to get some pictures of fireworks, for your job? He suggested it, and I don’t mind having you along. Mason might get annoyed at me for letting a girl invade bro time, but--”

Rory held up a hand, cutting him off. She didn't care who Mason was or what the hell bro time was; her attention was still focused on the strange idea that her father had suggested her tagging along. “Stop, stop talking. You’re telling me that my father suggested I go to your…thing tomorrow night?”

“Yeah.” Matt looked confused. “Why?”

“Uh-huh. Okay. If you’ll excuse me…”

Rory scooted past the two of them and into the living room. Aunt Maura and Uncle Ian were playing Jenga, seated on the floor on different sides of the coffee table, while her dad strummed an out-of-tune guitar on the couch. “Dad,” she said sharply, the sound startling him. “Can I talk to you?"

"Sure thing, doll." He glanced up at her. "What's up?"

"Can we talk alone?"

"Yeah, sure." He set the guitar down and followed her to the entryway, beside the front door.

When she was sure that nobody could hear them, she asked, “What is this about me going to hang out with Matt and his friends tomorrow?”

“Oh, well, he mentioned they were having a little get-together for the Fourth, and he had already invited Terry, so I thought--”

“Is this about Italy?”

Her dad stopped short, blinking. “What? No!”

“Are you sure? Because I feel like you’re putting me up to something here.”

“Look, Rory.” He itched his eyebrow, letting out a sigh. “I love you. You are my favorite person on this planet, and I want you to be happy. I don’t mind the boys because maybe one of them will be that one, for you. But I do want you to be careful.”

“So in other words, don’t end up like Mom.”

He smiled briefly. “Your mom was, and still is, a hell of a woman. I’d hate for you to be anything less, but…yeah, just remember who you are, okay?”

Rory eyed him suspiciously. “I feel like there’s something else.”

“And remember that we’re working, and I need some pictures. I know you wanted to go to Australia--”

“Seriously, why--”

“--but the focus this summer is American roots, going back to basics. Minnesota is just the place for that.” He smiled fully, lightly ruffling her hair. “You’ll like it here, you’ll see.”

“I highly doubt that." There was nothing for her to like about Minnesota, so she just shook her head. "So--”

“Yoohoo!” Aunt Maura suddenly rounded the corner, Matt following behind her. “Matthew is about to leave, and I thought maybe Rory could escort him to his car.”

Rory stifled a groan. “You have got to be kidding me.”

Aunt Maura frowned. “Rory, he was a guest here tonight, and you should show him the proper courtesies. Go on!” She waved her hands, gesturing at the two of them. Rory’s dad only laughed and escaped while he could; she wanted to hit him.

“Fine,” she mumbled. “Let’s go.”

"Bye, Matt!" Terry called. "We'll see you tomorrow!"

"Yeah, see you!"

She didn't wait for Matt to catch up. He followed her quickly, the door slamming behind them. She kept two paces ahead of him, not looking back once. The sun was about to set; the horizon a deep gold that darkened to orange and then black, several stars already glowing in the gloom. Rory folded her arms over her chest, walking down the gravel driveway towards the car parked at the bottom of the hill. Just looking at it reminded her of the other day, and heat rose to her cheeks.

“Hey, wait up.” Fingers closed around her elbow. “What’s the rush?”

Rory took a deep breath, turning to face him. Remain calm. “You probably don’t want to keep your friends waiting.”

He smiled, shaking his head. “Are you serious? They won’t mind.” One of Matt’s hands was in his pocket, a slight smirk on his lips. He jerked his head away from the driveway, in the opposite direction of his car. “Come on.”

“Come on what?”

“You’ve never been to Minnesota before, right?” He held out his hand. “I want to show you something.”

Rory stared at his hand, suspicious. Sure, she had spent all sorts of questionable days and nights with guys she had just met, but never out in the middle of Nowhere, Minnesota. When she was being asked out in a crowded Italian square or New York shopping mall, she didn’t mind, but it was darker in Minnesota than anywhere she had ever seen, and she didn’t know if her dad would hear her if she screamed. Plus, she was under the influence of pain medication...

But…he was looking at her with those eyes, and smiling… "Oh, come on," he said, his dark eyes almost black. "Just two seconds."

Her resolve crumbled.


Matt didn't know why he did it, but he did. Something about the look in her eyes... Jesus, what am I doing?


Rory took his hand, and let him lead her off the driveway, into the grass. She was distracted by the feel of her hand on his, and she didn't immediately notice that they were walking into the woods until she tripped for the first time. That was when she began to regret her decision. Away from the dim light outside the front door, it was nearly pitch black, the only light coming from the stars. She tripped and stumbled over rocks and bushes, stubbing her toe on a root and nearly pitching face-first into nothingness, but he held her hand the entire time, and guided her through the trees.

What the hell, she groused in her mind. Can't hold my hand when I'm in the hospital with a needle in my face, but he can hold my hand now? What a guy.

They came out on the other side at the edge of a lake. A cool breeze whistled through the reeds, and the night was alive with the sound of frogs and crickets. Against her will, Rory shuddered. Matt’s fingers twitched on hers.

“Are you cold?” He was whispering.

“No. I just have a thing about bugs. Particularly hopping ones that make noise.” She didn’t know why, but she whispered back.

He laughed softly. “You and your things.” He pulled her forward, towards the lake.

There was about a foot of solid ground before it devolved into slimy mud. Her sandals stuck in the slop, making awful sucking sounds when she raised her feet. She was blushing in the dark, thankful he couldn’t see. About twenty feet from where they’d broken through, the ground raised; there was a tiny hill, an island, surrounded by mud and freshwater reeds, where they stopped. Matt let go of her hand, and sat right down on the swell of solid land. He patted the area next to him.

“Come on.”

She looked around, frowning. “What exactly was it that you were going to show me?”

“Sit down, and you’ll see.”

She sighed, doing as he said. She tossed her hair over her shoulders, wrapping her arms around her knees and staring out into the blackness. There was nothing left of the sun but the faintest sliver of light over the mountains. More and more stars arrived in packs, dazzling Rory as she looked up at the sky. Her meds were starting to wear off, the dull pulse in her head growing to an ache that made her grit her teeth.

“So your family was really nice.”

Rory snorted. “Oh, please. They’re all nuts.” The words came out before she could stop them. “Sorry about the questions, by the way. I know they were pretty invasive.”

She could feel him shrug beside her. “It’s okay, I guess. Thanks for deflecting them.”

“I just hate that they always do that. I mean, how is it any of their business what your parents do, or if you want to play hockey for a living?” She rolled her eyes, though he probably couldn’t see. In fact, she could barely see him; only his silhouette was visible, an outline of silver against the inky black beyond.

Something about the dark, the way she couldn’t see him but she could feel him, made her world shrink down to just the two of them beside the lake, like it was just them, the water, and the stars. Even the noise of the wildlife seemed to dim, until their voices were magnified, the loudest sound she could hear in the stillness of the night. There was something so freeing about it that she couldn’t stop herself from speaking.

“You do though, don’t you?”

His shoulder brushed hers, as he whispered, “Do what?”

“Want to play hockey for a living. You want to go pro.” She didn’t know much about a lot of things, but she did know that Minnesota was a hockey state. They were the American Canada, and if he had a chance to make his dream come true…

There was a long pause where she just listened to him breathe. “Yeah,” he finally said. “Yeah, that’s all I really want.”

She let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “I thought so. Are you any good?”

He laughed again. “I guess you’d have to come see sometime.”

“I saw a game in Canada, once. It was in Toronto. I had no idea what was going on, but I had to, for my job.”

“Yeah, what is it that you do? Your dad mentioned something…”

“We work for a travel magazine that my dad helped found, called Wanderlust. He’s a senior writer, and I’m a photographer. That’s why we travel everywhere, and when we get to places, we have to do certain things, so I can take pictures of the ‘atmosphere.’ Like in Toronto; we had to go to a Leafs game, since it’s the center of the hockey universe. And then here--”

“--you need a picture of fireworks.”


“That’s really cool. You’ve been all over the world, haven’t you?”

“Not all over, but a lot of places, yeah.” She leaned to the right, her shoulder touching his. She stayed there. “They did an article on me and my dad in the New York Times, since that’s where we’re from. It was weird…”

“How so? I think it sounds cool.”

“Oh, well, seeing my face in such a famous newspaper was strange. People stopped me in the street in Syracuse for a while after that.” She laughed. “It pissed my mom off. She used to do it with us, but then…” She suddenly stopped. Why was she telling him all of this stuff? Why did he even care?

“But then?”

"But then she left." Rory could see the summer vividly in her mind’s eye: they had been in Ontario; one afternoon, they were wading in a lake, screaming and laughing, splashing each other; the next day, she was gone, a note left in her place saying she couldn’t do it anymore. Just because she remembered it, though, didn't mean that she wanted to talk about it. "So, tell me, what's so special about Minnesota?"

"Why don't you want to talk about your mom?" His voice sounded closer than it had been a minute before.

Rory froze. "Who says I don't want to?"

"Let's just say that subject change wasn't the most subtle. Did she...pass away?"

"God, no. She's still alive and kicking. I just..." She shook her head. "Look, why do you care?"

There was silence, all except the noise of the humid night. A bead of sweat had formed in the middle of her back, and it slowly dripped down below her bra.

"I don't know."

Well, it was an honest answer, if nothing else. The words seemed to stick before they tumbled out. "She left."



"How come?"

"I don’t know. I honestly don’t. Sometimes, people do crazy things." She ran a hand through her hair. "She wasn't exactly the best mom, anyway. My dad was just fun, before she got knocked up, and then he was a meal ticket. When I got old enough to let go of, she just…did.”

Wild. That was how her dad had always described her mom, that proud gleam in his eye. Despite everything, he’d loved her. The sad thing was, he still did.

Rory cleared her throat. “Anyway, that’s enough. Were you going to show me something or weren’t you? Because…” She trailed off, his fingers finding hers in the dark. He grabbed her hand, squeezing comfortingly. He didn't say anything about her mom, but maybe he didn't need to. She could hear him move, before he spoke.

“There. Look up.”

She did. Above them, coating the sky, was a purple haze edged in green and pink, the hues twining and dancing beneath the stars. The sky around them glowed blue. The moon had begun to rise, a ghostly silver beacon ascending from beyond the black ridges of mountains.

Rory gasped aloud. “Oh my god.” There was teal and yellow and green and orange and pink and purple and so many other colors, blending into one; she could barely form a thought, her eyes glued to the sky. “That’s beautiful!”

“I thought you’d like it.” He sighed contentedly. “I’ve lived here forever and I never get tired of them.”

“Wow. It's incredible... You get to see this every night? Shit, I wish I would've grabbed my camera--" She broke off, the tips of his fingers brushing her cheek. She inhaled sharply.

Rory wasn’t going to. On the walk down to the lake, she had promised herself, swearing on her father’s love and the Bible she’d never even read, that she wouldn’t kiss him. But with their shoulders touching and his fingers on her skin, and the way he had brought her to that place, just to show her those lights…

He didn't give her time to consider it. His mouth found hers in the dark, hot and eager.

She had sworn. But if a promise was never said aloud, did it mean anything at all?

No. Nope. Nothing. They turned, their bodies morphing, shifting towards each other. Hands grasped and pulled, the sound of their desperate, wanting breaths rising in the air. Matt’s hands were in her hair, tangling the curls at the base of her neck, holding her to him. Rory parted her lips with a rush of breath, and he took the invitation, slipping his tongue into her mouth. She shuddered, arching against him.

The movement caught him off-guard and he leaned backwards. Before they could ease up, the soft dirt edges of their island crumbled beneath their combined weight. He lost his balance, their safe haven collapsing. They broke apart, tumbling backwards into the lake. Rory shrieked, falling through the darkness. They both landed with a splash.

Rory rose out of the shallows, spitting out a mouthful of lake water yet again. She shook back her soaked, limp curls and glared at the area of darkness that was choking, spitting out water and laughing.

“You think this is funny?” Rory stood, her bare toes digging into the mud. Somehow, she had lost her sandals, and there was no way she would find them in the dark. She could feel mud splattered all over the back of her dress, and in her hair-- She took a deep breath, but that didn’t help. She was absolutely drenched, and he was just sitting there, laughing.

“Yeah, I--I do, actually.” He coughed some more.

“Ugh, do you know how much bacteria is swimming in this cesspool? I have this thing about mud; it’s disgusting--” She heard a splash, before more water slapped her in the face. She screamed, trying to dodge another impending splash, before falling into the water again. Her knees sank into the mud, and she hit the surface of the lake with her palms, shaking her head. “Oh my god, Matt Niskanen, I hate you!”

“Oh, come on…”

“No! Leave me alone!” Kicking her way through the shallows, she stalked to the shore, her legs covered in mud all the way up her calves. She had no idea where her shoes were, and her dress was ruined. How am I going to go back to the cabin like this? My dad is going to laugh his stupid ass off. Ugh, and Terry…

“Wait, at least let me walk you back.”

“No! Just…go back to your dumb friends. I’m mad at you.”

“Because you have a thing about mud?” He started snickering again. “At least you didn’t puke in my car again…”

“Oh my god, stop talking.”

“Are you still coming with us tomorrow?”

“No!” She paused, thinking of her camera. Shit. “Maybe.”

“Well, can you tell Terry to get some beer? Mason can pay him back..."

“Go fuck yourself!” Rory cast one look over her shoulder. In the moonlight, she could just barely see him standing on the shore, his shirt dripping. She made a tch noise in the back of her throat, before stomping off through the weeds.

It took her much longer to find her way back to the driveway, but when she did, she wasn’t as mad. Actually, she was kind of…she didn’t know; she didn’t even think there was a word for it. Sure, she was annoyed. After all, those were forty dollar sandals that she'd gotten for her birthday, and her hair was absolutely flat and stiff with weeds and clumps of mud. She probably looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but at the same time...

She paused, waiting until she could hear his car start. The sound faded down the driveway. She reached up, touching her fingers to her lips. They were swollen, but she liked it. She looked up at the northern lights, at the colors still dancing across her sky. She couldn't help the small smile that tugged at the corners of her lips, at the memory of his hand on hers.

She hated Matt Niskanen. But a big part of her was really starting to like him, too.


The moment Matt walked inside the cabin, drenched and spattered with mud, the guys paused their video game and turned to stare. Their eyes were wide, their mouths hanging open. He didn't say anything. He just raised his arms in a shrug, before letting them fall back to his sides.

They all busted out laughing, Matt included. He didn't even know where to start, except maybe with the part where he imagined he might be in love with Rory Montgomery.

Nah, he thought, shaking his head. Not tonight.

Those kind of ideas were better left out under the stars.
♠ ♠ ♠
Chapter Tunes:
"Animal" [Rory] -- "Even If She Falls" [Matt]