Brave Hearts

Written by Darien Mayne

Written after "Hesitation Dance"

Claudia looked at her watch for the fifth time in the span of ten minutes. Wherever he was, she hoped he was enjoying himself! What was going on in her mind to have started dating Cody again, anyway? He was ok for awhile, but when it came down to the finer points in life - the real crust of life - he just wasn't in the picture.

"Maybe if . . . " she trailed off, not wanting to torture herself again. "No more 'what ifs,' anymore, Claudia!" she realized she was speaking aloud when the little girl, sitting beside her on the bench, flashed her a worried glance. She shrugged it off, knowing that the little girl faced just as many torturous self-talks in her life. One day she would be like Claudia; she would realize that men had been her downfall, making her totally insane. Yep, that's the way of life, alright.

"Claudia!" Claudia looked up seeing Julia walking across the park toward her. "Claudia, what are you doing here?" she seemed annoyed. As to what, Claudia had no idea.

"Having a Boo Radley moment .. why?"

"The phone has been ringing off the hook for you all afternoon!"

"And just who would need me that bad?"

"I don't know." Her face scrunched up, "They kept asking for you saying you had a collect call, but wouldn't tell me who from. Maybe you'd better come home for awhile. It could be important."

"Who would be calling me long distance?" She spoke to herself more than actually asking a question. "Jamie is in Massachusettes for the summer, but I haven't talked to him since . . . well since I, like, dumped him for Reed," she half-giggled at the memory. What a loser she had been! Breaking his heart over some guy that never even noticed she was alive.

"Oh, God! I *hope* it's not Jamie!!" Julia exclaimed. "That kid was three steps away from the Ronald McDonald House."

"Hey, he was a nice guy. And not anywhere near mental."

"No, I meant he'd be there when I got done with him. He was so annoying!"

Claudia giggled, heartily. She smiled at the thought of how long it had been since a conversation with Julia had left her laughing.

"Come on," Julia nudged Claudia off the bench. "I've been ignoring Guiding Light and Another World all day, dreaming about who could be on the other end of that line!"

"Oh - oopths." Claudia looked down into her tea cup, giggling quietly to herself.

"What?" Julia asked, nervously. They had been home two hours and still no call. It was driving her crazy.

"I forgot I was waiting for Cody at the park."

Julia flashed her a comically blank look, "You forgot?"

"You think that means the relationship is in trouble?" She was kidding, but said it straight-faced.

She saw Julia start laughing and slide down in her chair, "Ya think? Could be!" She threw a handful of popcorn across the room at her little sister.

"Well, I just hope she was good..."


"His newest little fling."

"Wait a second! Cody was cheating on you?"

"Not officially."

Julia quieted, knowing the way Claudia worked. Give her space and she will spill all. Within a few moments, she was living up to tradition as she started to open up.

"Nothing major. He is just a flirter. Really doesn't bother me any because I've wanted to break up with him for weeks now."

"Why haven't you?"

"Oh . . . I can't be bothered," she answered shortly, shrugging her shoulders on a deep sigh.

They both looked at each other and started laughing at her Sunday morning manner.

"He just goes off on some rant that I'm not giving him a chance to prove himself, anyway. I'm soo sick of hearing it. Sometimes it's easier to just *not* fight." She looked up at Julia, "You know what I mean?"

"Oh please - I have some of the worst ex's! I mean if I lined up the last ten years of boyfriends, you'd see why I am so thrilled I'm just watching Oprah, instead of being ON Oprah!"

"Let's be truthful here, Jule. Most of your ex's are actually really nice guys."

Julia was quiet for a moment, then turned to Claudia. "So, what are you saying? I'm the one that always messes things up?"

"No," she looked down at her hands. "No, that's not what I was saying. I just meant --"

"No, forget it. You have a right to your opinion."

"Jule, I wasn't meaning th--"

Suddenly the phone rang out, making both sisters jump with surprise.

"Get it!" Julia exclaimed, starting to lose the melancholy.

Claudia stretched, half laying over the arm of the couch to reach the phone. "Hello?"

Julia watched her face for any hints.

"Oh ... yes! Yes, send it through, please!"

Julia was really interested now, as Claudia held her breath waiting for the mystery caller to be patched through.

"Oh my God!! How are you? Where are you? Are you ok!?" Claudia sat up quickly, pelting off questions faster than she could think.

"Ok, ok ... sorry!" She laughed, settling into the cushions deeply. She looked toward Julia, who was waving her hands in the air to get her attention. "Can you hold on for a sec?" She dissolved into laughter, "Yeah I guess you're right, I *am* paying for the call. So you'll do what *I* say!" She giggled again, then met Julia's eyes and quickly excused herself for a moment.

"Well?!" Julia was on the edge of her seat with anticipation, then saw the look on her sister's face. "Oh, did you want me to .. to leave?"

"If you don't mind, it is kinda private. I'll tell you about it later, ok?"

Julia paced in the kitchen, anxiously. She pretended to be waiting for coffee to finish brewing. Why was Claudia acting so secretive? Or *was* she acting secretive? Maybe she just valued her privacy after her small time away from home. People got used to certain things once they'd been off on their own, she knew. Her time at school had changed her a great deal. She had had to fight hard to get back to the normalcy of what "Julia Salinger" was all about in the past.

She flopped down into the kitchen chair, staring blankly at the wall. She cocked her head to one side, picking up the faint giggling in the background; Claudia. Claudia and her mystery caller.

She leaned up, peering into the living room, then snorted and retreated.

Julia walked through the living room, causing Claudia to sit up quickly. "Where are you going?"

"I'm gonna head back to the dorm. I have an exam in the morning."

"Oh ..." she turned her attention back to the phone, "Can you hang on a sec?" She rested her hand, the phone laying in her lap, "You can't stay the night? I'll be off in just a few minutes."

"No, I'm sorry. But we can watch that movie tomorrow night, ok?" She felt bad leaving, making Claudia feel guilty. But at the same time she couldn't sit there anymore feeling totally out of place. "You have a good night. I'll see ya around dinner time, tomorrow." She flashed her a weak smile and quietly walked out the door.

Claudia shook her head, then remembered the phone and picked it up, "Sorry, still there?"

"Sure I am. Everything ok?"

Claudia silenced, thinking. Everything was fine, for the moment, but would it stay that way? She doubted it.

"Yay? Neh?"

Claudia smiled, "Yeah, everything's ok."

"Was that Julia?"

"Yeah, she was going home."

"Alone or . . .?" his voiced played with sarcasm, yet evidently joking.

"Griffin!!" Claudia giggled, despite herself.

Julia made it to her car before she remembered her keys were on the kitchen table. She swore under her breath and reluctantly walked back into the house, each step raising a little more anger from within herself.

By the time to got to the door she was in a down-right foul mood and pouted on the way into the living room.


Julia stopped abruptly when she heard Claudia's voice. The realization had knocked the wind out of her. She was talking to Griffin! It had never even occured to her!

She shrunk back a moment, feeling foolish at her own elementary snooping tactic. Still, she didn't hear much of anything, just Claudia's giggling. "Uh!" she groaned in disgust, then slapped her hand over her mouth at the surprise of her own voice. She hadn't meant to say that aloud.

She could hear Claudia rustle and knew she'd been heard, so quickly retreated from the shadows. "I forgot my damn keys!" She exclaimed rolling her eyes, hoping the sound of disgust would be assumed to be connected to the keys.

"Oh." Claudia frowned a moment, not sure what she had heard. "Um, did you lose them or what?"

"No." She eyed Claudia disapprovingly, then pulled back, trying to remain calm. "I think they are in the kitchen," she twirled around and quickly made her way to the kitchen.

"Um, maybe I should call you back in a few minutes, Grif..."

"Was that a question or a statement?"


"Do you want to call me back? . . . Or were you just being polite?"

"No, no, I want to! It's just Julia -- I gotta talk to her for a minute."

"Ok. Go talk to her."

"You'll still be awake in a half-hour?"

Julia swore again, this time in unfettered vocals. She couldn't find her keys. She looked under the placemats on the table, then crossed toward the coffee maker. She desperately hoped she had set them down there.

She heard footsteps approaching and turned. Claudia stood in the doorway holding her keys out to her.

"They were on the coffee table."

"Thanks," Julia closed the gap between them, grabbing the keys hastily. She started past Claudia, but she blocked the way.

"You really need to be going so fast?"

"Come on, Claudia." She met her eyes, seeing she wasn't going to budge so easily. "I have to get back to the dorm." Still no movement. "I have to sleep!"

"It's ten-thirty, Julia."

"And your point is?"

"You never go to sleep until at least midnight."

"I have an exam in the morning. I told you."

"Can we just talk for a minute?" She started toward the table, forcing Julia to back up with her. She was clearly not asking her approval.

She sat down in surrender.

"I . . . I was going to tell you who was on the phone, Julia."

"What do I care who you spend your time talking to?" Julia fidgeted with her keys.

"I was going to tell you what's going on with him and what we talked about and . . ." she giggled nervously, "you know, everything." She met her eyes, "But you took off before I could."

"It's fine, Claudia. I already had this discussion with you. Remember?"

Claudia nodded thinking back to the night of her 16th birthday. Sure, she remembered the "go-'head" Julia had given her. But, somehow she didn't think Julia felt so gung-ho over it, anymore. If she ever had been, that was.

"It still applies, Claudia." Julia answered, reading her thoughts.

"I - I don't know what to expect, really. Maybe nothing." she trailed off, thinking. "Maybe everything." She finished, smiling in spite of herself.

"He's a good guy, Claude. You said it yourself earlier. I screwed that up. Not him."

"I wasn't --"

"You didn't have to, Claudia. Just forget it. Look, I really gotta go. I'm sorry." She smiled at her, ruffling her hair as she passed; a gesture she thought was sisterly enough to leave a good impression.

Claudia watched her disappear through the front door. "The chick is definitely in denial," she said to herself. She half laughed, half shook her head at the words. How wickedly evil was she to steal Prince Charming from her lowly little sister? Wait, 'little sister'?! She shook her head again, this time shaking the brain lapse away.

"So, how's the sister?" Griffin stretched deeply, falling onto the bed.

"She's fine." Claudia replied.

"She's never been 'fine,' Claudia."

"That's true."

"So what's the story? Tell me the truth." He laid on his back staring up at the thin white slats of light that the blinds cast across the ceiling. "Is she going to make it harder?"

"Didn't you expect that?"

"Not really. She's in the business of making others feel unworthy, not playing the victim. She hates to be the victim."

"Yeah, well . . . she is being made the fool and I don't think she handles that so diplomatically. In fact, let history show, she definitely doesn't handle that well."

"We're not making her out to be a fool, Claudia. This is not about her at all." Claudia heard him sigh, "Not about any of them."

"I know." Her words were quick and simple, but Griffin could hear the smile in them.

"I'd like to see that smile, right now."

"How do you know I'm smiling?"

"Well, aren't you?"

"Maybe . . . " she laughed. "What are you doing? Were you ready to go to bed?"

"You mean am I naked?"

"NO!" Claudia exclaimed. "I -- I meant --" she stopped abruptly, hearing Griffin laughing hard. "Just shut up."

"You are so easy!" He giggled, trying to stop laughing at her shocked reply. "No, Claudia, I was waiting up for you to call back. Doh..." he teased her, knowing it made her more at ease. He smiled, "Anyway . . . "

"Seriously, are you going to come back? When?"

"I'll probably be back in town in a few days. I have some stuff to finish up here." He heard her breathe heavily, figuring she was yawning. "You want to go to sleep?"


"Then stop yawning."

"I . . . I didn't."

"Oh." He closed his eyes, wondering if he was just painting things the way he wanted them. Did she really breathe deeply? Was he hearing things or was the breathing heavily an indication that she could really be that anxious for him to come back?

"I can't wait to see you, Griffin." Claudia broke the silence, answering his mental question.

"I don't have to though. If it's easier I could . . . I mean, there is plenty of work down here. I've got it all handled and there's more than enou--"

"You have to come back, Griffin." It was short and sweet and he knew she was right. "You can't stay gone forever."

"You could come here."

"How am I going to explain that to *them*?"

He winced at the bitterness bathing the word "them". She had so much anger toward her family - and all because of him. "Still, you have to understand the distinction between me and your family, Claude. I'm not a reason to --"

She interrupted him, "I know. I'm not playing you guys against each other."

"Then what? You sounded like you did in the park that day."

"You have no idea of the way this family has worked - before you, or after you. It's not all about you." She hesitated, not sure if she was ready to chance her next thought, but took advantage of a small stab of courage, "And when this all blows up, it won't have nearly as much to do with you as you'll think it does."

Griffin bit his lip, pushing the words back, but failing, "You think it will come to that? A confrontation, I mean."

"What? You mean, will I want that?"

"Yes," his voice was suddenly very quiet, making her smile at the boyness of it.

"Yeah. You don't think? . . . You don't think we'll get that far?"

"I've kinda learned not to expect too much. I don't place much hope on things that I have no control over."

"You have control, Griffin."

She heard Griffin breathe deeply, "Why don't we meet at the coffee house on Saturday. Around five, maybe?"

"Talk about a caffeine craving!" She giggled, nervously.

"None of them go there anymore, do they?"

"No. But who cares, anyway?" She waited for his strong voice to back her up, but it didn't come.

He instead hesistated, then laughed softly. "Go to sleep. I'll see you on Saturday, ok?" He hung the phone up before she could respond.

"Wanna go to a movie tomorrow night?" Cody handed Claudia a Coke as he sat down next to her on the couch.

"Um, I can't tomorrow." She took the drink from him and quickly averted her eyes back to the televison, trying to avoid him.

"What'ya have planned?"

"Um, I just have someth--" she stopped abruptly, deciding now was the time to have the talk. "Actually, truth is Cody, that I um ... I kinda have a date."

"A date? What do you mean 'a date'?" She looked over at him, then looked down. "You mean, like, with another guy?"

"Yeah. That's exactly what I mean. Look, I'm sorry, but I'm just not happy in this relationship. It's . . . it's," she looked up at him and saw the shock in his eyes. "Actually it's not us or you, or even me. It's this other guy."


"Well, I tried to ignore him. I tried not to think about him, Cody, but I can't."

"You've been seeing him?"

"No. No, I've never cheated on you. And I was going to tell you this in the morning before I met him, but . . . I just can't push the feeling away anymore, Cody. I think I love him."

Cody stared at her.

"We both knew this was going nowhere, Cody. I don't love you. You don't love me. What's the point in --"

Julia walked in the door just then, seeing Cody's devastated face and her heart quickened. Claudia had told her herself that she wouldn't break up with Cody, yet here she was - and for Griffin. This was getting all too personal, all to messy.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I'll leave you guys alone." She started for the kitchen, but Cody called for her.

"Julia, you can stay. Nothing's going on here." He looked around and grabbed his jacket, "Anyway, I have to be going."

"Stay," Claudia replied.

"No, I gotta go. Good luck, ok?" He sounded sincere which made Claudia feel even worse. But instead of giving into the feeling, she practiced her defense tactic. Everytime she had to fight about Griffin, everytime she had to defend Griffin, everytime she had to deal with the situation at all, she would simply picture him. She simply had to picture the way he smiled at her and she could get through the moment.

She watched Cody close the door behind him and was surprised she didn't cry. She had always been one to fall apart when she knew she hurt someone, but she didn't. She had her vision and it consoled her.

"So," Julia sat down on the couch, "You tying up loose ends?"

Claudia breathed deeply, keeping his face in her mind.

"I'm not trying to start a fight, Claudia. I am just curious. You're my little sister, you know?"

Claudia almost giggled at the words, the memory of accidentally thinking Julia the younger one, revisiting her mind.

"I'm going to see him on Saturday, Jule."

Julia swallowed hard, but said nothing. It surprised her that one sentence could sting so bad.

"I just thought you should know."

She finally found the wind, "Thanks, Claude." She was sincere, Claudia could tell. "When are you going to let on to Charlie and Bai?"

"When and *if* it needs to be said."

"Meaning what? You don't know if you'll be happy with him?"

"Well, more like I don't know if he'll really be happy with me."

"You're really worried about that?"

Claudia nodded, reserved.

"Oh, Claudia!" Julia scooted closer to her, brushing her hair over her shoulder to see her face. "Don't. Don't worry about that!"

"What?" She could not fathom nor understand Julia's support.

"He'll love you." She swallowed hard trying to stop the mental picturing of moments between them. "I mean, not in that way mayb--"

"Oh, stop it. Please." Claudia never wanted nor needed her sex advice and certainly couldn't handle it now.

"Ok," she studied her sister. "Ok, but if you ever ..." she trailed off, hoping they never got to that point, regardless of her faked outward support. "The reason we -- Griffin and I -- didn't work out, is because I wasn't enough like you."

Claudia caught her breath, the realism of hearing Julia say that was a shock.

"And . . . and he is patient. He's gentle." Julia's voice broke, betraying her. She laughed, like she had meant to do so, then quickly excused herself to get something to drink. Claudia let her be, thinking better of following her.

Was she doing the wrong thing? Was she being too incredibly selfish?

Julia lay in bed staring at the same block of letters that she had been pretending to read for the last hour. She finally dragged her eyes from the book and glanced up at Maggie who had her face buried under her pillow. She felt a stab of guilt for impeding so much on poor Maggie. They both were so drained from the fall and spring semesters of studying. And now, nearing the end of the summer semester, and ready to begin the Fall semester again, they were damn near postal! She should leave Maggie to the only sleep she had gotten in days.

"You know," Maggie's muffled voice made Julia jump as she watched her pull the pillow from her face. "If you really wanna study, you might actually have to turn a few pages, now and then."

Julia rolled her eyes at the sarcasm playing across Maggie's face. "I'd imagine, yeah."

"What's the problem, Julia? I mean, really. I've been your roommate, friend, enemy, born again friend, etc. long enough to know you are fighting something. What is it? Your brother? Some frat jerk? Some pervert professor?"

"No. Nothing like that. It's . . . my sister, actually."

"Claudia? What could you possible have against Claudia?" She could still picture Claudia's worried face when she tracked Julia down at school. "She is always looking out for you. You know that she and Griffin were the ones to finally get you away from Ned." She sat up in bed, pulling the pillow into her lap. "She cares about you, Julia."

"I know. It's not that I was fighting with her. She's been nothing but supportive of me, you're right. Which is why . . . "

"What . . . ?" Maggie prodded.

"She's -- well, she and Griffin are . . . " she stalled, not exactly sure what the right word would be. And positive that the right word would hurt too much to say aloud.

"Oh my god!" Maggie exclaimed. "Are you kidding? Claudia and Griffin?!" She looked at Julia through huge eyes, then laughed as the girl in the next room banged on the wall. "So sorry, your majesty!" She yelled sarcastically into the wall. Then turning back to Julia she lowered her tone, "Claudia told you?"

"I was there when he called her the other night."

"Hmm ... so what, you still love him?"

"I didn't think so," she frowned.

"Wait, you spent almost a whole year with Popeye-the-Abusing-Sailor-Boy, trying to avoid Griffin and get that time of your life erased!" She saw the harshness in Julia's eyes, then softened her tone, "I mean, I don't mean to be a bitch or anything, but it seems to me you only want him because, for once in his life, he doesn't want you."

Julia let the words sink in before shaking her head in defense, "I don't think so."

"Explain to me, then."

"If I had wanted him back, I would have gone back after I left Ned."

"Exactly! Then why are you so upset that Claudia is dating him?"

Julia sat up suddenly, "Because, she is a baby!"

"A baby? Wow that musta hurt!"


"The delivery -- she's a big baby, Jule." She snorted at her, the sarcasm successfully understood.

"You know what I mean, Maggie. She's only sixteen. She's my little sister. He's my ex-husband. Don't you see something wrong, here?"

"You were with him, on and off, all through high school! Were you not younger than Claudia is, when you fell for him?"

"Fine. Yes, I was. But so was he. He's doesn't just stay the same age!"

"Oh that's a load of crap, Julia. You think he turned into an old pervert in the span of two years?"

"I --- no!" Julia snapped at her angrily, mad that she was making so much sense. "Look, I just keep thinking of our past together and it bothers me that he might give her *my* smile. That he might give her *my* kisses. That ---"

Maggie interrupted her, "Those aren't yours, Julia. They were his to give. You just happened to be lucky enough to have been on the receiving end, for awhile."

"Dammit, I know." Julia slumped back into her pillow.

"Lemme put it this way, if Griffin came right up to your door with roses and offered you the life you had had with him, would you be happy? Would you - could you - ever be happy enough with him to say forever, and actually mean it?"

Julia shot Maggie a blank look.

"What I mean, Julia, is do you think the love he needs and is looking for in his life would be offered by you? Do you think you could go back to the way things were and never for a moment wish to be somewhere else?"

Julia thought the question over a moment, then bit her lip at the answer. "No," She shook her head forcefully, mad at herself for being so fickle, so reckless.

"You might have loved him once, Julia, but he will not be happy with the level of committment you can bestow upon him. He needs more than the last third of your attention. You can't offer that to him, so why deny him that happiness?"

Julia frowned, mumbling under her breath, "Yeah ... Anywhere but in between."


"Nothing. Just a song he and Claudia were working on last spring. Counting Crows -- Nevermind!" The lost tone dissipated, replaced by anger, "You think Claudia could give him that happiness?"

Maggie noted the coldness in her words and felt a small stab of guilt at aggravating her roommate's torment, but at the same time she knew Julia needed to hear it. "I have no idea, Julia. What I *am* saying, is that you can't deny him the chance to find out."

"Damn." Griffin laughed nervously watching Claudia make her way through the crowded coffee house. She smiled at him when she spotted him and he felt his heart race a little faster.

"Nice, huh?"

Griffin turned to the guy he had been talking to, sitting at the table behind him. He had been waiting for his buddy and considered Griffin the designated sponge of his attention.


"The babe." He nodded at Claudia, taking a loud slurp of his coffee. "I've seen her here a few times. Looks like she lost the jerk, though." he looked up laughing, "Some kid punk. Totally a waste of her time."

Griffin didn't say anything, but smiled to himself.

"Maybe I can talk her into a little action, if you get my meaning." The guy giggled at himself, the obnoxious noise filling the air.

Griffin laughed aloud this time, knowing Claudia would laugh in his face upon hearing the proposal.

"That is a serious set of legs!"

Griffin turned around again, seeing him all but drooling and savored the disbelief in his eyes when Claudia sat down at Griffin's table. He smiled at Claudia tenderly, then winked and turned back around, leaning in closer to the guy, "Not tonight, buddy. She's kinda spoken for."

He hissed, then quickly made himself scarce.

"What was that all about?" Claudia asked watching the guy take off.

"Just a little guy talk." He smiled at her again, totally amazed at how different she looked, even in just a few months. "You're starting to pass me in age, I think."

"Nah, only in maturity." She laughed.

"Ouch!!" He feigned a stab to the heart.

She just smiled, staring at him.

"It's good to see you, Claudia." He reached for her hand and caressed it softly, before pulling away.

Her lips curled into a sly grin, "So, I made this wish on a star . . ."

"You did?" He exclaimed playfully, "Did it come true?"

"So far."

"I've been waiting so long for this." Claudia whispered, holding Griffin tightly as he hugged her. "Way too long." She turned, finding his mouth and kissed him softly.

"Kinda crazy isn't it?" he laughed, trying to lighten up the moment. "Here ya go," he wrapped her jacket around her shoulders. "So you won't forget it this time."

"Damn, that was my excuse to show up on your doorstep," she joked.

"Was that the plan?"

"Something like that," She trailed her hands down his sides, pulling him closer, then running one hand up his chest.

He breathed deeply, needing to keep a certain distance. "I gotta get going, Claudia," he took a step back from her.

"Come on, don't leave yet." She advanced on him, grinning playfully as she pulled him tight up against her.

He reached for her hand, "Small steps, Claudia. Small steps," He warned, kissing her tenderly. He gave her hand a final squeeze, then dropped it. "Get going."

"Ok, ok," she pouted.

"I've been looking forward to watching you climb up those stairs all night, so go!" He joked and flashed her a wicked grin.

She laughed, "Cody would barely slow down enough for me to jump out of the car."

"Didn't I tell you he was a jerk?"

"Shut up," she punched him on the shoulder. "I tried to warn you about Julia too, but did you listen? No!"

"You were eleven or twelve, if I remember correctly. And what was that boob theory you had?"

Claudia flushed at the memory.

"Julia had boobs, which made her vindictive and . . . what was it?"


"Yeah .. that's it."

"Ok, so I had a thing against boobs at the time. A misery loves company, kinda thing."

"But *I* wasn't supposed to have em," he laughed at her indignant expression.


He laughed heartily, enjoying toying with her. "It's ok, you're vindictive worthy these days."

"Like you'll ever know, you pig!" She hissed, and turned to leave.

"Have a good night." He sang, as she faked annoyance and stomped up the stairs.

"What the hell?" Griffin yanked the door open, face to face with Julia.

"We have to talk."

"Can you give the doorbell a break?" He groaned at the look in her eyes, dreading having to deal with her bad self-esteem droppings.

"I've been out here for ten minutes."

"I know. I was in the shower."

Julia glanced at his shirt, the collar slightly wet from the dampness of his hair. "Oh, so I see. Sorry."

"What's so deathly urgent?" he knew he was snapping at her and winced at his own tone. He should be being as kind to her as he could be, given the situation he was in.

"Do you have any idea what you are doing, Griffin?"

"Ok, ok ..." he opened the door allowing her into his apartment. "Let's have it out. Get it over with, already."

She plowed past him, trying to ignore how good he smelled. She looked around the living room. He had a pretty nice place, she had to admit. Much nicer than she could ever afford at the moment. She felt a strange twinge of jealousy at his life. He already had a career, his own money, his own place, his own rules. She was still sharing an 8X10 on a school campus. Would she ever decide what to do? Would she ever actually get anywhere?

She became aware of him watching her and flushed angrily. Had he seen the envy in her eyes? "So what *are* you doing, then?" She waited for him to fight back, but he just looked at her, seemingly uninterested. She seethed, "Are you willing to carry around the guilt that you broke her heart?"

"I'm not going to break her heart," he met her even-toned. "That's your line of work, Julia. Not mine."

"You're no saint, Griffin."

"I never claimed to be. You just assumed you deserved one."

"I deserve a lot of things that you aren't!" She hissed, "and Claudia deserves much more than I do."

"And I'll see that she gets it."

"What is your game plan, Griffin?"

Griffin rolled his eyes and couldn't stifle an amazed laugh, "God, get over yourself, Julia! As hard as it may be for you to understand, the world does not revolve around you. There are times in my life when I do things for myself, not for you."

"Like Rosal--"

Griffin interuppted her abruptly, "Don't even bring that up, Julia." He glared at her, his eyes burning through her. "I made a mistake. A horrible mistake, ok? I was confused and hurt and ..." he trailed off, not believing the mention of her name still stung him with so much guilt. The disappointment he had in himself was like nothing he had ever known. Not even the eternal disappointment from his father.

"Self-centered?" Julia attacked.

"More like self-sacrificing." He spoke quietly, meeting her eyes. "I was so wrapped up in your stupid need for attention and cheerleading, that I lost myself along the way. I've always loved that about you - the way you left who brought you to fend for themselves. I never would have ended up with . . . her, if I had been given a little bit of attention from you. All I ever saw looking back at me was disappointment.

"Everything you longed for in your life and couldn't achieve on your own, you pretended like I was the one who ruined it for you." He took a step closer to her, "Well, I've got news for you, Julia, I'm not in your life anymore and I see no changes in you. Where's the bestselling American novel? Where's the band of lifelong friends? Where's the perfect guy that will let you trample all over him, in vain, just to be a few inches higher?"

"You know nothing about my life, anymore."

"I know your life will never be what you want it to be until you stop blaming others for your shortcomings and take some responsibility. For the good and the bad."

"This is not about me, ok? I'm here to discuss Claudia."

"A much nicer topic, in my opinion!" Griffin growled, slamming himself into the couch. "I have to leave soon. So can you wrap this up?"

"Where are you off to? A date with my *little* sister?"

"Work, Julia. Some of us have actual jobs." He glared at her, then shook his head sadly, "It's really a shame that you never took the time to get to know her."


"You don't know anything about her. You don't realize how amazing she is."

Julia's stomach rumbled at the words. The look on his face was so . . . What was it? Serious? Proud? What?

"I'm not going to hurt her, Julia."

Heartfelt. The look was heartfelt. And she could hear it in his voice. She believed him. How could she not? But this was not a battle she wanted to surrender to so easily, "I don't know if I can trust you."

"I don't really care if you trust me or not. All that concerns me, is that Claudia trusts me. That's what's important, Julia."

Julia winced, the words feeling like someone had literally slapped her across the face. She knew for the first time since meeting him that he truly did not care what she thought. She knew he was definitely not in love with her anymore. Why did it leave her with such a feeling of emptiness?

"I gotta get going. Are we finished here?" Griffin grabbed his keys off the bar, apparently not noticing the look of rejection on her face. She couldn't remember the last time he hadn't known her distress before she had. She had been able to lie to herself for months, but the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice was no longer ignored. "Julia?" he prodded, as he gulped down the rest of his coffee.

Julia swallowed hard, and left her ex-husband's apartment without a word. Not daring to look back.

Charlie groaned as he pulled another box down from the closet shelf. Where had he put Owen's shot records? He knew he had to show a copy to the school to enroll him, but where he had stashed it since then was a total blank.

"What the heck? Did the closet spit-up?" Kirsten walked in with Diana, somehow fearing to let her crawl on the floor.

Charlie laughed, shaking his head. "I can't find Owen's records. I know it has to be in here!" He groaned again as he reached the bottom of the box.

"They're in the cabinet in the living room."


"Don't you remember? I told you I put all the kids' records and important information in the hutch? They were scattered all over the place, so I ---"

"Ugh! I had forgotten that!"

Julia suddenly whirled in, making Kirsten jump and startling Diana into a crying fit. "Hey, sorry," she turned to Charlie, "Is Claudia home?"

"No. She's out with Cody."

Julia heard the words coming out of her mouth before she could stop them, "She's dating Griffin, Charlie."

Julia jumped back as a box came crashing down in front of her. Charlie spun around, "What?! She's ..." he shook his head in disbelief.

"She broke up with Cody for him."

Charlie kicked the box out of his way, advancing on Julia, "And you let her?! What is wrong with you, Julia? He's like . . . a lot older than her! He's her brother, for God sakes!!"

"In-law! And an EX in-law, at that," Kirsten added softly. She knew she should keep out of it, but neither of them knew Griffin the way she did. They knew him as the failure of a husband and brother-in-law. They never saw him for the person he was *before* them. Then again, they never saw anyone as having a life before entering theirs.

"Like that makes it ok?" Charlie barked.

"Just calm down, that's all. He's a nice guy. What's the problem?" She looked up to see her husband and her sister-in-law staring at her as if she were a complete stranger.

She set Diana in her playpen, then sat down on the bed, "Julia, you divorced him. Are ... are you jealous or something?"

"What is this of your business, anyway?" Julia snapped, turning her back on Kirsten and addressing Charlie, "I . . . I think maybe you should have a talk with her. I mean I tried, but she thinks I'm just jealous and not listening. I tried telling her how much older he is in experience and all, than she is. But, you know Claudia." She swallowed hard, mad that she had let her emotions betray her sister.

"Where are they? Do you know?"


"That son-of-a-bitch!" Charlie cursed, banging his fist againt the wall. "Only he would be stupid enough to pull a stunt like this!"

"I'm afraid he might just be using her." Julia added, knowing she was nailing the last bolt into the grave of their happiness.

"I don't think I'm going to let you pick the video, next time," Claudia said, as she turned off the TV.

"That was a great movie! What are you talking about?"

"Have I ever seen so much violence, blood, bad manners?!" she half giggled to herself.

"'Braveheart,' Claude! It was war!" he exclaimed, laughing, "Otherwise, that was the best love story I've ever seen. Didn't you get lost in it?"

"Well, maybe." She sat back against the couch, leaning into Griffin's shoulder.

"Sure," he nudged her playfully. "It's not like you were just crying or anything."

"Well, I mean, why did they have to have him seeing *her* when he is dying? It was just so . . . "



"Yeah, I know. But, man, people really knew how to be in love back in those days. They could see clearly. They knew the truth and easiness that love presents. There's too much greed and selfishness in the world today. Nobody can look past themselves long enough to see what they have going for them."

"Love is never easy."

"True. But maybe it shouldn't be so hard, either."

"Well," Claudia turned to him, running her hand up to his cheek. "Sometimes it's worth the fight. And sometimes the effort is deserved."

"Ah, 'tis true, my love." Griffin faked an Irish accent, bringing a smile to her lips. He held her eyes for a moment, then leaned down and kissed her softly.

"What am I going to do with you?" Claudia whispered, laying her head against his chest.

He rested his chin on her head. "Meaning what?"

"That you're worth the fight."

"You sure about that?"

Claudia looked up at him, smiled.

"It won't be easy." Griffin caressed her cheek.

"Never is. But you deserve the effort, don't you think?" She held his eyes, then initiated a kiss, feeling his lips curve into a smile. She ran her hand around his neck, tangling her fingers in his hair.

"I hope so." Griffin finally answered, before Claudia kissed him again. She ran her other hand up, playing along his chest. She heard him breathe ruggedly, and smiled to herself.

He smiled, despite himself. He knew he needed to pull back. But he loved when she touched him. He loved when she kissed him. He loved when she would just smile at him, the way she did.

She kissed down his neck, stopping to place a special kiss on the "chocolate drop" freckle. She had always thought it to be the perfect place to kiss him.

He sighed deeply, leaning his head back to allow her better access. She obliged, then trailed kisses down his neck and onto his chest.

His head snapped upright when she began pulling on his shirt and kissed his exposed stomach. He grabbed her hands and brought them to his lips, placing a soft, comforting kiss on them. "Claudia --"

"What?" She looked up at him, an annoyance evident in her eyes. If he downplayed her like she was a child, she was sure she would scream. She knew she was younger, but that didn't mean she couldn't satisfy him. She could be everything he needed and wanted. He only needed to let her prove it.

"Stop." His heart pained a little at the disappointment in her eyes. "Just . . ." he pulled her up, hugging her against him. "Just sit here with me, ok?"

"Why," her voice was quiet and embarassed, "Why are you --"

"Why are *you*?" He interrupted, his voice a little more forceful than he had intended.

"What? I just . . . " she trailed off, unsure of what to say. She looked up at him then became angry at the look of pity on his face. A look that seemed to reveal he didn't want her. "Fine, your choice." She said coldly, pulling back from him. She wanted to get out of there before she let him have the satisfaction of seeing her cry.

But he held fast to her, not letting her slip away. "Claudia, that's not what I meant." She looked up at him, he smiled apologetically, "Not what I meant."

"Then what?"

"Just a little too fast, Claude." he looked down at his hand, trying to get the courage to bring up subjects best left unmentioned, in most cases.

"But, you're . . . used to it." She finished, catching his eyes, "I mean you were married."

"Used to it?" he shook his head, "Come on, Claudia, I'm not that shallow. Having been married or not, I don't just *expect* it. I'm not on a set schedule or something." He laughed at the last part, then saw her face and felt sorry he had made a joke of it. He knew she was probably a little confused and a lot insecure.

"Why would you have slept with my sister when she was younger than me, but you don't want to with me?"

"I didn't say I didn't want to." He held her eyes softly, "But that doesn't mean we should." He looked down at his hands, "Anyway, I didn't sleep with Julia for a very long time, Claudia. About a month before we got married was the first time we slept together." He took a deep breath, feeling more than uneasy talking about his past sex life with Julia.

Claudia looked at him in shock. How could it be that they had waited so long? She felt a twinge of disgust thinking of Julia's miscarriage at her age. She had slept with Justin, but not Griffin? "W ... why?"

He turned to her, afraid she would freak when he pried into her past, but it was needed to explain his reasons for stopping her. He wanted her to understand his feelings on the subject; ones he hoped she would understand. "I'll tell you if you tell me?"

"Ok, what?"

"Um," he scratched his forehead not exactly sure how to just out and out ask her. He took a deep breath and dove in, "You and Cody -- you guys never . . .?"

"God, no!" Claudia exclaimed, almost laughing at the thought.

"Thank God!" He mumbled under his breath, relieved. Then aloud to Claudia, "Ok, so, is it right to assume you're a virgin?"

"Uhh .. you said the 'v' word," Claudia groaned, turning away from him in embarassment.

"Don't say it like that." He lifted her chin up, forcing her to look at him. "It's not a bad thing, trust me!"

"Am I that obvious?"

"No, nothing like that. I just know you are an emotional person and I don't think you'd take something as important as sex, for granted."

Claudia nodded, then frowned, "So, I guess virgins aren't exactly a turn on, huh?"

Griffin laughed at the irony of the question, "I wouldn't say that..." he trailed off, grinning at her playfully.

"Your turn. Why didn't you and Julia have sex?"

"Because she was a virgin."

"But you just said --"

"I didn't want to be the one to take that from her. It's a major thing and I didn't want her having any regrets. I didn't want to be the one to shatter that innocence when she was still so young." He shook his head, "I guess I had her pretty much mapped out in my mind. Maybe I somehow knew she wasn't going to end up with me in the end. I didn't want to be any part of her regret. And to tell you the truth, I didn't want that responsibility."

"Responsibilty of being her first? Or of possibly being one of her regrets?"

Griffin sighed, "A little of both, I guess. I mean, I was still pretty young, myself. Responsibility is a scary thing, sometimes."

"But, you loved her?"

"I was falling in love with her, yes. But when I told her that we shouldn't do it, it was pretty early in our relationship. I wasn't in love with her, yet." He looked down, his eyes not focusing on any particular thing. "Of course, I didn't exactly expect her to jump Justin the minute I left for school, but . . ." he trailed of bitterly.

Claudia made him look at her, "Did . . . did you think that's what I had done with Cody?"


"Did you think I had gone back to Cody because -- were you worried I had pulled a Julia?"

"No. Well, maybe I was a *little* worried." He smiled sheepishly, "Imagining you losing it to that jerk, could drive any person insane!" he smiled, teasing her.

"Thanks," she shot back.

He smiled, then became serious, "Why did you end up with him again?"

Claudia snorted a laughed, "Pathetic. Because I was acting pathetic." She saw the confusion on Griffin's face. "I was sitting around just waiting for you to come back. Waiting for you to call. Waiting for . . . " she shrugged, finishing shortly, "You. I was just waiting for you."

She shook her head looking up at him, "But you never called and you never came back, and.... He was calling me, like, every other day and I was ignoring him. Then one night I was watching a movie and the answering machine went off about nine times and I realized, 'Maybe he isn't going to come back. Maybe he was letting me down easy.' Cody was the only one ever paying attention to me. I started getting this look of pity from everyone, and I got sick of it. I got sick of the feeling I made myself feel. The feeling that I'm sitting around waiting for someone who wouldn't wait around for me. Someone who probably doesn't even think about me in the least. It made me mad enough at myself, that I figured I had to just get over it and get the hell out of the house. It was more about getting out of my trance than needing a date, trust me."

"I'm sorry." He lifted her chin, "I *was* thinking about you. Always. I was just trying not to," he bit his bottom lip. "I didn't want to cause all this trouble with your family again."

"I didn't try to replace you with him, Griffin. I was just acting like I was into the monotony of it all. I never cared about him really. I don't need a man like Julia always does. It was just an ego thing, a way to prove to myself that I could get along if you didn't come back." She scrunched up her brow, "But I failed pathetically. I was more miserable with someone around that wasn't you. " She looked up at him, starting to laugh, "In fact, I'd hardly let him kiss me. That's why it was funny you asked me about sleeping with him a minute ago."

"Yeah, funny," Griffin pouted.

"Oh, stop it!" She giggled, "Not like you didn't have a few hot nights in LA! Like I said - you're used to it, I know."

He smiled, then rolled his eyes, "I'm not used to 'it,' believe me. Least not anywhere near lately."

"What does that mean?"

"Let's just say it's been awhile."

"Whatever!" Claudia shook her head. He had no idea what 'awhile' meant!

"I'm serious. It's been . . . " he thought for a moment, "a little over a year."

Claudia was momentarily shocked, then realized he was probably picking on her. She laughed, "Oh, please!"


"I don't believe you." She utterly wished he was telling the truth, but she somehow didn't dare buy it.



"Well, first of all, I wasn't over Julia yet and couldn't exactly bring myself to go out cruisin' for chicks, ya know?" He rolled his eyes at the idiocy he had fallen into with that part of his life. "And hell, after being married to someone like Julia, it's enough to make you rethink your sexual status!" He laughed, "Staying away from women was pretty much the only thing I wanted. But, then I fell for you." He looked up at her slowly. Since when had he ever felt the need to give out such information about himself?

Claudia blinked quickly, totally lost in the idea that he had really waited for her - in every sense of the word. "So ... " She stopped and cleared her throat, letting her nervousness show, then blushed, "So, were you really afraid I had slept with Cody while you were gone?"

"No. Well, I hoped not, of course!" He gave her a stern look, "And for more than one reason." He linked his hand in hers, watching their fingers melt together in the dim light, "But I wanted to ask so that . . . I needed the subject brought up to --" he fidgeted.

Claudia giggled, flattered at his nervousness.

"I wanted to explain to you why as much as I care about you, and might want you, that it's not anywhere near the time for such things. There's no rush with us. You understand that?"

"Yes." She looked down at her hands, frowning.

Griffin saw the confusion in her eyes and allowed himself to tell her what he had spent several nights thinking of, himself, "I know you think this is what you have been waiting for. I know that you think you are in love, and maybe you are. And you think being in love is all that matters." He raised his hands up in the air, "And it does matter - a lot! I mean that's, like, the ultimate gift that you could ever give a person, truly!

"But, there's no rush on things. We have known each other a long time. I think we are pretty close and have been for awhile, so I know you think it would be the next logical step in most relationships. But we are just getting to know each other in *this* way." He smiled shyly, "It should take time. It's something that is worth the wait, Claudia." He took her hand and held it tighly, "Don't you think getting to that moment could be just as good as the moment itself?"

Claudia let out a long sigh, smiling, "Yeah," She touched his cheek softly, almost like it was a test that he was real. "You're right, Griffin. You're right about us, and about me. I'm not ready for sex, yet." She growled with frustration, "I mean, I really want to, of course! . . . But I agree it's too soon." She scrunched up her face, "But, it's just that I . . . " she fidgeted, "I thought you would lose interest if I wasn't like your past girlfriends." She swallowed hard, thinking it must be her pride, and added, "More mature."

Griffin took her face in his hands, "Claudia, that's so stupid. I'm not with those other girls, am I?"

"I guess not."

"Besides, whose more mature that Claudia Salinger!?"

"Well, I was thinking more along the lines of adventerous or sexy, not the mature by a tragedy buffet variety." She laughed weakly. She felt foolish. And most of all she felt like a traitor to herself. She did take sex seriously. And even though she knew, or hoped, that he was the one it would eventually happen with, she was not yet ready for it. She could have given up such an important moment so quickly, just to keep a man. What was that? That was a Julia move. It wasn't her style.

Thankfully, Griffin was too decent and cared too much for her to have let her sacrifice herself. She now knew how much he cared about her. She leaned close, hugging him tightly, "Thank you, Griffin." She spoke into his neck, afraid to look at him at her next question. "Will you hate the responsibility?"

Griffin pulled back, looked into her eyes. He smiled, shaking his head. And when he kissed her, he did it wholly. The intimacy of the moment, conveyed in a swirl of tenderness and passion. The depth of his kiss reaching her meticulously, slowly, thoroughly. He vowed that she would know how much she was wanted and cared about, every day he was with her. His lips curled into a smile at the thought, breaking off the kiss. "So, what was this about me being worth the effort?"

"Yuuh" Claudia mumbled, dazed by the kiss. Her heart pounded as his feelings for her were successfully understood.

Griffin laughed at her unusual incoherence.

She laughed with him, leaning up against him as they stretched out on the couch. "Sorry. I meant, yes."

"Do you mean that you are thinking of telling your family about us?"

"I think so. It would not make sense keeping it from them, would it?"

"Charlie will probably try to keep you from seeing me. But, I guess he'll freak out whenever we tell him, so . . "

"He will *not* be able to keep me away from you, Griffin. He can just go to hell if he thinks --"

"Whoa, calm down!" Griffin laughed, loving her fire.

"Sorry," she giggled at herself. "Maybe Julia already told him. I asked her to keep quiet, but ..."

"Oh, I would doubt it. If he knew, he'd be over here trying to murder me." He frowned at the hassel he knew was coming. He decided not to think about it until he had to and looked up at the ceiling. "Hey?"


"What's that one?" He pointed to a rectangular shaped shadow casting across the ceiling.

"A pack of diapers."

He laughed quietly.

"What do you see?"

"A car battery." He turned his head slightly, " For a '98 Neon, to be exact."

"We are so predictable." She yawned, turning on her side and settling deeper into his arms. The last thing she heard was the soft drum of his heart, as she drifted off to sleep.

Claudia snuck into the kitchen, hoping Charlie and Kirsten were still asleep. It was, after all, Sunday. Maybe they decided to take it easy and sleep in. She cursed herself for the millionth time for falling asleep at Griffin's. This would make telling them about him a losing battle from the get-go.

She tiptoed across the kitchen, smiling sofly to herself at the stillness of the house. "Oh, please be asleep!" she whispered, only to be startled when Diana let out a deafening squeal from the other side of the kitchen door. "Damn!" Claudia cursed and ducked into the side hallway, just as Charlie walked in.

"You are never leaving this house!" Charlie groaned.

Claudia's shoulders slumped in defeat. She had been soo close to not getting caught! She turned around and surprisingly realized he wasn't talking to her. He had Diana, strapping her into her high chair. He kissed her forehead and continuing to grouse, "Every female goes insane. There are no men out there good enough for you. It's never gonna happen. You better just get used to me. I'm the only man in your life, little one." He smiled at her wide eyes, the giggle escaping her spit bubble covered lips. She blew spit in his face, as emphasis.

"Ok. Well, that's ok. Julia and Claudia get revenge in worse ways. I'll take a little spit, yeah." He went to the icebox to retrieve the baby food.

Kirsten came in. "Why didn't you wake me up? I told you I'd take her to the store, in case .." she trailed off, not wanting to bring Claudia's name up.

"What? In case Claudia decides to grace us with her pesence?" He threw a spoon in the sink, and cursed under his breath. "It's ten thirty, Kirsten! Where the hell is she? Oh, nevermind! I know where she is!" He crossed the room and flopped into the chair opposite Diana. "You'd think even if she was stupid enough to sleaze around with Griffin, she'd still think to at least *pretend* she was behaving. At least come home at night instead of wh--" He stopped short, realizing he almost referred to her as a whore. "Nevermind." He shoved a spoonful of cherry vanilla pudding into Diana's mouth. She glared at him, not appreciating his lack of delicacy.

"Let me do that." Kirsten wrestled the spoon from Charlie's hand. "Before you choke the child!" She shooed him away telling him to try to get some sleep.

"If Claudia comes home anytime soon, wake me up!" He boomed, stomping out into the living room.

Claudia exhaled the breath she dared not take while Charlie was speaking. How did he know about her and Griffin? If Julia told him, why was he so upset? Julia was so reassuring and supportive. Surely she would have made him see it wasn't a bad thing, she and Griffin.

She tiptoed up the stairs, succeeding in hiding from Charlie. She had to call Griffin and warn him. She dialed his number, but there was no answer. Where was he? He had dropped her off, but he should be home by now. She replaced the phone in it's craddle and frowned.

She decided to talk to Kirsten before Charlie laid into her. She wanted to know how he found out and .. She stopped in the hallway when she heard Griffin's voice. She sprinted down the stairs, meeting him and Kirsten in the kitchen. "What are you doing here, Griffin?!"

"The house looked totally empty, so I came up to make sure you had gotten in ok. I didn't think you had your keys. Anyway, I heard Charlie screaming about you." He shrugged, "Or *us* I guess is the more appropriate term."

Kirsten wiped Diana's face, "Don't worry about it too much. He just didn't sleep all night. He knew you guys were together and he was so angry." She scrunched up her brow, "I don't think I've ever seen him that angry!"

"Is this supposed to be comforting?" Griffin questioned.

Kirsten smiled, "Sorry. Anyway, I talked him calmer, but he never went to sleep. Nothing like brewing all night."

"How did he know where I was?" Claudia saddled up next to Griffin, an unconscious comfort tactic.

"Julia came storming in last night all upset about it."

"What?" Claudia looked up at Griffin. "She was all supportive and ... she knew a few weeks ago. She told me to go for it. That she didn't mind."

"She does," Griffin and Kirsten said in unison.

Griffin had avoided telling Claudia about her barging into his place, yelling. Julia had let her down in so many other ways, he wanted her to believe that she for once supported her. But now he knew he had to fess up, "She came to my place trying to get me to stay away from you." He touched her hand, a useless gesture he knew, but he had to do something.

"That . . . " Claudia's voice broke, tears welling up in her eyes, "That, bitch."

Kirsten spoke quietly, "She told Charlie she thought Griffin was just using you."

"She what?" Claudia merely breathed the words out.

"I told her she was being ridiculous. Overreacting, but ... but she basically told me I'm not in this family so to mind my own business." She put the baby spoon into the sink, adding quietly, "And Charlie all but agreed with her."

Claudia felt the tears burning her cheeks, but couldn't stop them. "Charlie - he almost called me a whore. He believed Julia over me. How dare he think such things about me!"

Griffin put an arm around her, "He doesn't really think that. He's just mad right now."

Claudia shook his arm off, "No. No, he isn't. He actually . . ." she trailed off looking up at Griffin. "It's like what I told you last night! He can go to hell for all I care!"

"Claudia?" Griffin pleaded with her to calm down. "It's ok." He hugged her close, "He doesn't think your a wh --" he stopped short, not being able to say the actual word. Not when it was referring to her. "You're his little sister! He has to protect you, that's all. He's mad at me, not you. You knew he would react badly, didn't you?"

"Where did he get my being a whore?" Claudia ignored Griffin, "Just because I'm dating you? Did they ever think to ask me what I was doing before condemning me? Before condemning *you*?! Why can't they understand you are a nice guy? Why are they always bad-mouthing you?!" She cried harder now, insulted at being related to them. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She looked up at Griffin, begging him for answers, "Why . . . would Julia say you were using me?"

"What *were* you guys doing?" Kirsten asked, reaching for Diana. Claudia's crying had upset her and she was starting to wail.

"I fell asleep at his house. On the couch, watching a movie."

"Well, actually we fell asleep after the movie and car battery thing." Griffin heard her small sigh.

"You're funny." She replied sarcastically, but she had stopped crying for the moment.

"Did Julia spend the night here?" Griffin asked. He half hoped she would walk into the kitchen at any moment. In his mind's eye, he could only hope for the Lord to save her after he got his hands on her.

"Yeah." Kirsten suddenly looked up, worried. "But I don't think she's here anymore." She added quickly.

"Why are you defending her?" Claudia whispered.

"I'm not." Kirsten frowned, "I just don't know who's side to be on here."

"You must be joking." Griffin replied cooly.

"No, no! I didn't mean Julia. I'm definitely never on Julia's side." She made a face that despite the drama, had both Griffin and Claudia laughing heartily. "I meant, Charlie."

"But he --"

Griffin interrupted, "Claudia, he's her husband. She has to be careful, here. Don't blame her."

"I don't agree with his opinion of you, Griffin. But I do agree with his worry over you never coming home last night, Claudia. I can't pretend to think that's ok, but it was an accident, I know."

"What does he care?!" Claudia blurted out. "I stayed over at Reed's all night, and he never even noticed I was gone! He is just throwing a fit because it's Griffin."

"Maybe ..." Kirsten trailed off.

"When did you do that?" Griffin asked, quickly.

"Oh, shut up." Claudia replied, but secretly smiling to herself.

"Maybe I should just get out of here, for now." Griffin turned toward Claudia, "I'm gonna call Charlie when I get home and ask to come talk to him. Wish me luck." He kissed her quickly on the cheek and left the three women alone in the kitchen.

Griffin ran down the front steps leading from the Salinger house and toward his motorcycle. He was too mad to notice Julia walking up toward him. But when he did see her, he had to fight the urge to wring her damn neck and clenched his jaw tightly, just waiting to see what she could possibly have the nerve to say.

"You're up early," Julia smiled softly, seeing the uneasiness in his eyes. Why she had tried to push the demon back, she didn't know. She was, after all, a bitch and a very good one, at that. So why fight it?

Griffin closed his hands into fists so tightly his nails dug into his skin. He met her eyes hard then shook his head.

"Not talking today?"

"Not to you." He side-stepped her, continuing toward his bike. Maybe if he was lucky he would accidentally run her over. He giggled a little at the image.

"Something funny?"

He stopped and turned around looking back at her, "Yeah, you."

Julia faltered for a response.

"You're so pathetic." Griffin replied, in a matter-of-fact tone. He shook his head and left her speechless.

She watched him drive off. And then, after he was already gone, thought of a comeback. Why did he always do that to her? He was the only person that could get under her skin and leave her at a loss for words. She imagined it was his tone that threw her off. He was stating a fact, not throwing insults. "Dammit," she muttered, dragging herself up the steps. Somehow there seemed to be more there than when she had left that morning.

"Are you serious?" Kirsten asked, a big smile in her voice.

Julia could almost see her smiling face as she rounded the corner and saw her sitting at the kitchen table with Claudia.

"That is so sweet, Claude!"

"I know. I guess it kinda shocked me. I don't know why exactly, but it was just so--" she stopped short as she noticed Julia standing by the kitchen door. "Oh you better get her away from me!" Claudia whispered coldly.

Kirsten turned around seeing Julia and suddenly wanted to bash her head as much as she was sure Claudia and Griffin did. "Julia, maybe you should give us some privacy, please."

"Excuse me?" Julia could see Claudia had won Kirsten over, too. "This is *my* house," she barked, walking past them and opening the fridge.

"It's my house too, Julia." Kirsten stood up, meeting her eye to eye. "You seem to keep forgetting that."

Julia looked at Claudia in surprise at Kirsten's attitude, for a moment forgetting they were at odds. "What is wrong with you, anyway?" She directed to Kirsten.

"You. You're my problem. You have an ego that just won't fit in the house with the other five of us. Lose it or get out." Her voice oddly calm, she turned back to Claudia and sat down again, "So, anyway, it sounds great, Claudia."

"Yeah," Claudia smiled, at the memory of the night before. She had been telling Kirsten about Griffin's talk with her. She would have normally had such a conversation with Sarah, but Kirsten was so open and easy to talk to. She was the only one, besides Sarah, that didn't judge Griffin. She didn't just assume anything and had enough faith in Claudia to know she was doing right. "But keep quiet about it, ok?"

"Won't tell a soul." Kirsten smiled at her. "I knew someone like that, once." She smiled, looking off into the distance. "Very special," she winked at Claudia, not wanting to get in detail with Julia in the room. "We'll talk later, I have to get Diana down for a nap."

Griffin took a slow, hot shower, thinking the entire time of what had to be done that evening. He dreaded it. But, at the same time, he had been putting it off so long he was almost thankful it was showtime.

He worried about Claudia. Was she going through hell at home, right now? Maybe he should have gone over sooner, even though Charlie was expecting him later that night. He laughed at the idea of "expecting." Would it be with a gun in his face? Or a baseball bat, poised to hit him? What a choice!

He shook the water off as he stepped out of the shower. Last night had gone so well. He hadn't thought it would be so easy to talk to Claudia about . . . things. But, she had proved him wrong in a splendid fashion. It had been a lot harder talking to Julia about such things. He still remembered the fit she threw when he tried to break it down for her and even then he had been lying about his real reasons. There was no need for holding back with Claudia, which was a refreshing thing to have in his life.

He dressed quickly because he had to run by the shop before he went to talk to Charlie. He had been scheduled to work that night, but traded with a friend instead, only the guy had no idea what he was looking at once he got the hood open on the possessed truck. It was a tricky job and Griffin knew he had to point him in the right direction. He really needed to be at work since he was the only one with a handle on the job, but Claudia had to come first, of course. So, a quick run-down of the situation and then off to talk to Charlie. He grabbed his keys and ran out the door.

"Can you at least *try* to be civil?" Kirsten begged Charlie, as he paced waiting for Griffin to show up.

"He's trying to make a fool out of my little, little sister and you want me to be nice to him?"

"He's trying to do the right thing here, Charlie. At least give him that credit."

Charlie growled, pacing the floor faster.

"I had a talk with Claudia and he is being more responsible and mature with her than . . . " she shrugged her shoulders, "than even you were with me when we started dating."

"You weren't a child, either! Claudia is going to say whatever makes him look better! She is a little kid who is being dominated by an older man she has looked up to for years. She is awed by him, she'll do anything he tells her to, for God sakes!"

"And do you want to know what he tells her to do?"

Charlie looked up at her, aggravation seeping from his very core, "What? What did she tell you?"

Kirsten sat down hoping to talk seriously with him, but saw the look on his face and knew he wasn't going to be rational. "Nevermind."

"Did he do anything to her? What did he do?" Charlie yelled, walking up to her, "God, I'm gonna kill him!"

"What... Where do you get this Stallone act from? Who appointed you as her body guard? You were never any saint with girls, remember that!"

"Yeah, I know what guys are like! That's ... that's all I'm trying to do here, Kirsten! I'm just trying to protect her. Men, by nature, never have good intentions." He finally lowered his voice, "Some are better than others, but ..."

"And what makes Griffin so bad?"

"Going after sisters is just sleezy, no matter what the circumstances!"

"He didn't 'go after' Claudia, it just kinda happened." She saw the jump in his eyes and added quickly, "The feelings, Charlie! The feelings just came out of nowhere, is what I meant."

Charlie closed his eyes, exhausted and fell onto the couch.

Kirsten took the moment to work her magic. "Charlie, you know Claudia. She isn't going to do something - anything - that she doesn't want to do. And what you are worried about, she doesn't want to do, yet. Ok?" She saw Charlie let out a small sigh. 'Approaching victory, maybe?' She thought hopefully, then added to the fire, "And think back to the rare times when you and Griffin actually saw eye-to-eye." She paused allowing him the chance to offer one of the memories.

He looked over at her, shaking his head. "There weren't many times, Kirsten. Can't you understand that we just don't like each other? Why are you always trying to make people become best friends?"

"I'm not trying to make you become best friends with him, Charlie. But, he is *Claudia's* best friend, right now. She is so hurt by you right now that she is acting like she could care less if you approve of her or not, but she does care. She is always trying to appeal to you. Can't you see how hard she tries? You're the only father she has, Charlie! Fathers are the ones to pull their kids aside and tell them how proud they are of them. Fathers are the ones who send their kids off on their first dates, wishing them well and giving them a little extra cash, 'just in case.' Fathers are the ones who kiss them before they leave for their prom, wishing them the time of their life. . . Just be that father that she needs." Kirsten took Charlie's hand in hers, "And let her be that kid, Charlie. Kids make mistakes, but they learn from them. Don't deny her the chances to find out, on her own, what she wants from life. You'd be surprised at how many mistakes she will learn from. And even more surprised at how many choices she makes that *aren't* mistakes. Let her show you."

"Why do I ever let you talk?" Charlie laughed for the first time that day. "You make a hell of an argument, but . . ." He shook his head slowly, "But if he starts to mouth off to me, I'll just kill him and ask questions later."

Kirsten laughed, "Yeah, he'll come in here like Al in some mobster movie, I'm sure."

Charlie looked off into the distance, "You know, the only times we have really fought or really got along, all had to do with protecting someone."


"Griffin - he and I have gotten together at times when we were worried about Julia, or something. Then other times we'd fight like banshees over .. Julia or something." He laughed at the irony. "I actually threw him out of the house for beating up a guy who was hitting my sister."

"Well, you thought you were looking out for Julia at the time. See? Just let Claudia chance it, please? I promise you, it won't be much of a gamble."

"Charlie?" Kirsten and Charlie looked up at Claudia who had just walked in. "Charlie, can you please . . . Just don't --"

"I'm not going to kill him or anything, Claudia. I promise, I'll mind my manners." He smiled at her, which totally surprised her.

"You're not? You will? What just happened here?"

Charlie studied his sister. She had been crying all day, that was evident, but there was more. "Are you ok?"

"Am . . . am I ok?!" Claudia looked to Kirsten for help. "What do you mean am I ok? You've been parading around here like Hitler all day and NOW you ask if I'm ok?" She flew her arms in the air in exasperation, "No, I'm not ok, Charlie! Griffin is going to be here in, like, any second, meeting the Wrath of Khan here and .. and your asking me if I'm ok?!"

"Claudia, calm down."

"Don't tell me to calm down! I will not calm down! You calm down and maybe I'll calm down so maybe Griffin can calm down and .. and ... and we can all be calm!" Charlie tried hard not to laugh at her ranting, biting on his bottom lip to steady himself.

The doorbell rang, causing Claudia to tense up at once. "Oh please, please let him be nice." Claudia said quietly, pulling on her jeans in nervous habit as Charlie answered the door.

Griffin and Charlie walked into the living room. Charlie offered Griffin a seat, sitting down beside him. Griffin flashed Claudia a questioning look at Charlie's lack of insanity, thus far.

Kirsten advanced on Claudia, coaxing her to go into the kitchen with her so that Charlie and Griffin could talk, alone. Claudia hesitantly agreed, afraid the minute she left Griffin's side that Charlie would tear into him. She smiled softly at Griffin, just happy that he had shown up. Most guys would have left skid-marks at the idea.

"I'm not going to kill him, Claudia." Charlie reassured, seeing her hesitance to leave.

"That's a relief," Griffin replied.

"It could be worse than death. Keep an eye on him, Griffin." Claudia turned and left them alone.

"Why is that again?" Griffin settled into the couch.

"Why is what?"

"Why aren't you going to kill me?"

Charlie laughed a little, even though seeing Griffin face-to-face brought back a lot of his anger. He shouldn't have let Kirsten sway him so much. When Claudia would be crying her heart out over this punk, he'd be the one to have to nurse her back to mental well-being. 'No, Kirsten will do it!' he thought, smiling at his thoughts.


Charlie looked back up at Griffin, still wanting to punch him for even *thinking* of his little sister. But, he had promised her he would behave. "I'm not going to kill you because my little sister in there is totally smitten by you. I hope you realize you have a very delicate situation on your hands."

Griffin almost felt better hearing the anger in Charlie's words. The cool, calm guy that answered the door had set his alarm off. "I --"

"I wasn't going to let you see her again, but my wife seems to think I'd be making a big mistake. She seems to buy this 'good guy' act from you, too. For Claudia's sake, I hope she is right."

"Charlie, I'm not gonna hurt her. You don't have to be worried that I'm gonna . . . " he fumbled for the words not sure of what would be best, "use her, or whatever." He winced at the words himself, hating that image.

Charlie momentarily lost the collective composure, then quickly calmed himself, "I hope so. I hope you have grasped the concept that she is only sixteen, Griffin."

"I'm well aware of that, Charlie. I have no intention of --"

"Everyone has intentions."

"I want to love her, Charlie. That's all." He met his hard gaze, "Look, me and you have never gotten along and I know this has to be one hell of a situation for you to be in, I do. But, trust me in the least to realize I'm serious about her and I'm not going to hurt her. As much as you'd love to think I'm some criminal sex-addict or something, I'm not. Can't say as that I'm sorry about that."

"Just keep an eye on the situation here, Griffin. She is sixteen years old, you're twenty-whatever. She thinks the world of you - she'd do just about anything you wanted her to. Do you see why this is a little scary for me? Can you see why I could get a little upset over that issue alone, not to mention that you are my other sister's ex-husband?"

"I know, I know. It's pretty crappy sounding when you put it like that. I'm not claiming this is a perfect situation, it isn't. I avoided it as long as I could, Charlie. Do you think I want to be here with you talking about this?" He shifted uneasily, "Look, I know what you are feeling because if my little sister were dating an older guy and . . . I would feel the same way and probably try my hardest to keep him away from her, too." He held his eyes, "But, I promise you, you don't have to worry about me and Claudia. I'm not . . . like that. I'm sure you don't trust me as far as you could throw me, but . . . I'm dating her, not seducing her, ok? I'm not gonna go anywhere where you're thinking. At least not for a long, long time. I would tell you to ask Julia about it, but it's not like she would really back me up, given the situation."

"Yes, I will."

Griffin and Charlie looked up to see Julia walking toward them.

"What?" Griffin asked, disbelieving the scene.

"I said, I will back you up."

"Julia, what are you doing here?" Charlie asked, annoyed. "Look, I'm having a talk with him and so far it's been pretty civil, so why don't you let us --"

"I think I would know more about this situation than you would, Charlie." She sat next to Griffin, "I'm sorry, Griffin. I'm sorry I made this so hard for you and ... and made it even worse for you with Charlie."

"Julia, I don't need any more of your games. I can get my own points across. Just go away." Griffin, slid away from her.

"I'm not pulling any stunts or playing any games, Griffin. I'm really sorry." She shrugged her shoulders, "I was jealous. I didn't want to think of you and her together. It wasn't right, I know, but what can I say?"

"Whatever it is that you came here to say." Griffin said dryly.

"I came over to tell Charlie what you were just trying to tell him."

"Which is?" Charlie asked.

"That he isn't going to use her or hurt her. He's not like that. He . . . " She trailed off, not wanting to get too personal, especially since they were talking to Charlie.

Griffin turned back to Charlie, determined not to let Julia have the spotlight, again. He knew she was there for more than his defense and he refused to find out what. "Charlie, I just want to be with her. Wouldn't you? She is an incredible person."

"Yeah, I guess I can see your logic there."

"Trust him, Charlie." Julia added.

Charlie looked at her, wanting to see her eyes. He had always known when she was lying, but she didn't look like she was. He wanted to ask her more specifically WHY he should trust Griffin, but refrained. He would corner her in private, but he took what mercy and decency he had left, to spare Griffin that moment.

"Well, that went well," Julia smiled at Griffin.

"Yeah, I guess it did," Griffin answered shortly. He waited for Claudia to return.

"Oh, she'll be a few minutes, I'm sure." Julia replied, noticing his fidgeting. She slid closer to him, "I'm sure Charlie is going to give her a little grief, too."


"In fact, she might not even be able to go out tonight."

"I think I'll wait to see what she has to say." He saw her drop her eyes momentarily before looking up at him strongly. He knew she was trying hard to act unaffected by his coldness.

"So, Griffin, how is it that you have so much time off work?" she asked quickly, changing the subject.

"I'm supposed to be at work right now. I switched with a buddy."

"Oh," she glanced into the kitchen as much as she could.

"So, what's on your mind, Julia?" Griffin watched her fake surprise. She was trying hard to be such an actress, but she failed miserably.

"Nothing. I was just trying to help you out."


"Why is everything a scam with you?"

Griffin didn't answer her, but instead moved further away from her.

"Let's go get some coffee," Julia ordered.


"I mean, Claudia is busy, right? So why don't we get out of here?"

"You must be joking."

"Ok, fine. No worries, just a suggestion." She looked at him hard. "You know, not many women would have done a favor like that for her ex-husband." She saw his non-expression and laughed, "Do you really think Claudia is going to be able to satisfy you, Griffin?"

Griffin laughed, "Oh my god! You are just incapable of a mature thought, arn't you?"

"Just asking. I mean, she's a little girl. Not a woman." She smiled baitingly, "Like me, I mean." She slid closer to him, her hand reaching for his thigh.

"God! What are you doing here, Julia? You just told Charlie all that stuff and .. did you .. did you even mean any of it? Or was it just more of your act?"

"Geez, I was just asking!" She shook her head, "Anyway, I'm sure you'll realize it's not gonna work, sooner or later." She leaned in closer to him, brushing his cheek with her nose, even as he backed away. "I'm betting on sooner."

"Get away from me, Julia!" Griffin yelled, standing up. He looked up and saw Claudia standing at the doorway, watching her sister make a total fool of herself. For a moment Griffin wanted to defend Julia, as it was all to embarassing as to her throwing herself at him. But, then he felt nothing but satisfaction at her display.

"Nice technique, Julia," Claudia glared at her sister, before she started laughing. It was all too humorous. "So incredibly pathetic! I see why you are so seriously single."

Griffin side-stepped Julia to talk to Claudia. "So? How did it go?"

"Strangely, ok." She laughed. "And I take it yours went ok, obviously?"

"Yeah. He didn't kill me!" Griffin laughed.

"Wanna get out of here?" Claudia asked, nudging him playfully toward the door.

"Do I have a choice?" Griffin laughed.

"Um . . . no." Claudia cast one last glance at Julia, then turned her back to her. "I'm thinking we need some coffee. What do you say?" She pushed him out of the room.

Kirsten walked into the livingroom, glaring at Julia, "Smooth, Julia! Really smooth."

"What?" Julia mocked confusion.

"We'll be back later." Claudia called out, waving to Charlie and Kirsten.

Claudia jumped as she opened the door and met Bailey on the steps. "God!"

"You called?" He smiled, playfully.

"You scared me!!" Claudia yelped, smacking him on the arm.

"Sorry." Bailey laughed at her. "Where you guys heading off to?"

"Anywhere but here." Claudia whispered, then smiled at him, "See ya later, Bai."

"Yeah, don't be such a stranger!" Griffin smirked, patting him on the shoulder as they walked out into the cool night air and closed the door behind them.

"Bye . . . guys." Bailey spoke into the door and shook his head in confusion.

"What was --" He stopped short upon entering the livingroom and seeing Kirsten's death stare at Julia.

Kirsten looked up and smiled easily, "Hi, Bailey!". She dropped her eyes on Julia one last time, giving her final glare. She sat down in the nearest chair and started pulling playfully on Charlie.

Charlie laughed, and let her pull him onto her lap. He wiggling against her waiting for her to regret her joke when he was too heavy for her.

"Ok, ok, get off!!" Kirsten choked out, laughing breathlessly.

Bailey sat down on the couch, grabbing a few chips from the bowl on the coffee table, "So, what's going on? Anything new?"