Hard Lessons

Written by Darien Mayne

Written after Stand by Me 5.14

Griffin walked along the pier, listening to the faint horns of the ships in the night, his eyes desperately searching for a sign of one of them in the dark ocean. The pier was totally abandoned, the late hour chasing most people home to their families.

He sat down on the bench breathing the salty air into his lungs slowly, remembering the many times he and Julia had walked along that same path, pointing out the important constellations to each other through the clear sky, joking about the people they passed and making up crazy lives for them, cuddling together on the bench watching the seagulls fly overhead and hearing the distant ships passing in the night as they became lost in a deep kiss.

"Oh what was wrong with Julia these days?" he thought bitterly, biting down hard on his lip at the image of Ned that came as he thought of Julia's unhappy face. His anger grew as he thought of the smug way Ned claimed her, the way he liked to toy with Griffin, as if he knew Julia more than her own husband did! He suddenly became aware of the taste of blood in his mouth - a flavor not so foreign anymore as his anger was constantly causing him to do alot of things to himself.

He licked his lip, then spit over the rail into the ocean. He watched the waves sweep by, washing it away, thinking how it would be so great if he could do that with all the problems in his life - just get rid of them. Send them on a long, flowing journey, each moment taking them further away from him and his family.

He had spent so much energy trying to get Julia to understand she could not change Ned. He tried to explain to her how he had tried so many times to think his father could be changed. He spent years thinking - praying - his father hated him, rather than believe his father was just a bad person. It was easier to think he was the problem, that he was such a disappointing child, that his father couldn't help his anger. It was easier than admitting that his father was just plain mean. He had succeeded in avoiding that belief, until he came home one day to find his sister in a panic because their mother had been taken to the hospital.

As he walked down the hospital corridor his fear and anger were colliding into a swirling confusion - he didn't know what he was anymore. He didn't know what to trust or believe, but overpowering all his doubt was the fear of walking into that room. He looked around for his father but didn't see him. He wasn't sure if he was relieved or totally infuriated.

When he walked into her room and saw her, all remains of his childhood died. He was no longer the carefree, foolish youngster he had always been able to hide behind. He could no longer deny the cruelty that this world could offer. Right along with the death of his childhood was the death of any doubt and denial he had ever held for his father's character or love.

He had never felt so alone, so scared, so damn stupid in his entire life. How could he have just foolishly lived in this childish fog thinking his dad was not the monster that he was? He had turned his back on his family, letting his mother get hurt because he hadn't been there to protect her.

He wiped away a tear with the back of his hand. He regretted the things he had done or let happen in his past, but he knew now that he couldn't have done anything, he *was* just a kid back then. But now was a different story. This was someone he could certainly save, if only she would let him. Hell, he had tried for weeks to make her see what he knew was ahead for her. He knew the way those people worked. He knew Ned would strip layer after layer from her until she was this completely vulnerable creature, not even able to breathe without asking if it was alright with him.

Griffin felt his stomach turn at the mere thought and his eyes stung from the tears that were once again threatening to overflow. His mind was racing with the next steps he would take to get Julia away from the jerk. He couldn't understand her need to try and fix her relationship with Ned. She had given up on him and their marriage so easily, almost without looking back, but here she was moving heaven and earth to save this relationship that was only hurting her. Couldn't she see that?!

Griffin looked up from his tortured thoughts as he finally saw a ship passing through the deep waters, far, far away from where he was. He almost wished he were back on that ship of his, away from all the troubles, but he knew he was needed here. At least he knew he had helped Claudia alot. She had just flourished since he had been spending time with her. The poor girl just needed someone to listen to her.

The strangest thing was that he couldn't figure out why no one had listened to her to begin with. She was amazing! So smart and funny and filled with intrigue and curiosity. He had to admit to himself that he felt more connected, more in tune with Claudia than he ever did with Julia, or anyone else, for that matter. She just understood people. She understood and she cared, that's all anyone could ask for in a friend, wasn't it? He liked spending time with her and found her a little bit of a break from the crap life was serving him lately.

But with the thought of Claudia, his heart ached again. He knew he was letting her down. Her sister was being hurt and he couldn't help her! He was trying so hard to make Julia understand, but Ned made sure to be with her every minute of the day - he had to fight him just to talk to Julia and she was so brainwashed already she wouldn't let Ned leave her side. It was a vicious cycle that he was scared to death was going to end in a very bad way.

What could he do? What was there left to say to her? What was left to get her to see that he was working for her, not against her? He wanted her to be happy, he did. If only Justin were back in the picture, he would be estatic for Julia to be with him. He hated the guy - so smug and arrogant and a frightful bore - but Justin loved Julia and he knew that. He wanted Julia happy and safe, even if it meant away from him. Even if it meant with Justin. But not Ned. Ned was not the guy for any girl - no woman deserved that! Although Julia was sure making it hard by taking his abuse with such divine loyalty.

It made him sick to think anyone would be naive and ignorant enough to take that, thinking it was actually love. Julia was definitely smart - book smart - but she had no clue about the real world. She had struck out on her own into the big wide world and painted herself into an incredibly tight spot. She hadn't been ready to go off on her own, he only wished he had realized it before he let her go. She fooled him into thinking she was a big girl who could handle herself, but he was on to her game, now. Growing up in the family he did, it was hard not to see the signs like flares in the night sky.

Griffin looked up at the sky. The stars were blocked by the clouds, ringing reality in an ironic way - he couldn't even see the stars these days! He shook his head and headed down the pier back toward his motorcycle, realizing nothing was being solved by sulking all night.

Julia finished the paragraph she was currently pretending to read and looked up at Ned. He was sitting at the computer registering for his next semesters classes. He looked up feeling her eyes on him. "What's wrong?" he smiled sweetly.

"Oh, nothing, I was just ... nothing." She quickly looked back down at her theology textbook, wondering if anything such as that even exisited.

"What section of European Literature did you take?"

"What?" Julia looked up from her thoughts, "Oh, uh, section two." she flipped the page, looking up again when Ned asked her what time her class was. "Ten ... why are you asking me all this?"

"I thought we could take all our classes together." he looked back at the computer, quickly turning back to wink at her.

"I .... I don't know if that is such a good idea, Ned." she struggled to find the right words, "I mean, we'll be together *all* day."

"What's your point?" his voice was more of a threat than a question.

Julia laughed, "Well, I mean, what good would dates be? We wouldn't be able to wow each other with our beauty if we had seen each other all day, right?"

"What... Did you have something you needed to do without me?"

"No, I just mean ..."

"So, who is it that you don't want to be seen with me in front of?" he threw his pencil down on the desk, his voice housing that all too familiar tone.

"No one, Ned! It's not like that! I just thought it would make us crazy to be together all the time."

"Well, maybe I don't want to take my eyes off you, Julia!" He screamed.

Julia winced at the words, she remembered she had heard that said before, only in a very different way. Her heart had skipped a beat the first time she heard that, but now it only ached.

"You ever think of that? Did you ever think that maybe for some reason, I love you? Lord only knows why I do! You're such a pain in the ass!" Ned stood up from the chair nearing her, "Are you that stupid to not grasp it yet?!"

Julia laid her book down, pulling her kness up to her chest as she slid back on the bed. She could feel the explosion close, but didn't have the energy to fight it off anymore. She laid her face down against her knees.

"I'm talking to you!! God, you are such a bitch!" Ned screamed and grabbed her arm, yanking her off the bed and threw her up against the wall. "Can't you forget about yourself for five minutes to think of how I might feel!? Why do you always have to make me feel like some psycho just because I wanna spend time with you?! You should be happy *someone* wants to spend time with you!"

Julia shook her head, not able to speak. God, what was she going to do? He was really going to hurt her this time, she could see it in his eyes. Those eyes of fire and brimstone overflowing with a rage she had never seen. He drew his hand back screaming her name as he swung at her.

Claudia sat looking into a mirror as she applied her eyeliner. "I'm kinda nervous." She giggled, looking up at Griffin sitting across from her, strumming his guitar.

Griffin smiled, "I'm sure you'll do just fine!"

"I'm soo not good at this dating stuff!" she blinked looking at her reflection in the mirror, pleased with the appearance.

Griffin seemed to read her mind, "You look beautiful, Claude." He saw her blush slightly, before nodding in a silent thank you. "Go get him!"

"Why did you change your mind about letting me date him?"

"Because you ignored me, anyway." His voiced housed a small hurt.

"Griffin, I .. I didn't on purpose. It was just that he kept flirting with me and ..." she smiled in hindsight, "and I loved that. I like him, Griffin. I just like him." she silently wondered if he would ever forgive her totally for disobeying him.

"I know." He was silent for a moment, then added, "Besides, he is within my reach so if he messes up, I'm right on him." He said it with a serious tone, trying to lighten it up with a punching gesture.

"Why .... why do you care about me so much, Griffin?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I mean, my family has been so awful to you. My brother always treated you like some stranger off the street . . . and my sister!" she scrunched up her face in disgust, "My sister treated you like a damn doormat, Griffin! I . . . I'd think you'd just hate all things Salinger, you know?"

"Nah . . . Charlie is an ok guy, I understand where he was coming from. And Julia .." he shook his head, bitting his lip, "don't blame her for us breaking up. She was young, confused .. there was alot going on in her mind. Blame me, don't ever blame her. She is your sister, Claude. I'm just an also ran." He looked at his guitar, tightening up a string.

Claudia tried to take in all he had said, she tried to understand what he wanted her to think, but couldn't accept it. "But that is a load of crap, Griffin," she reached for his hand, stopping him from messing with the guitar to force him to look at her. "She was to blame. She is always to blame. Believe me, I know! And I wouldn't blame you for anything, unless I had seen you do something with my own eyes. I have grown up in this family, I know all the secret passage ways and I've seen the "wizard" behind the curtain - they don't fool me anymore."

Griffin cleared his throat, fidgetting in the silence as he looked up at the clock, "You better hurry, he's gonna be here in five minutes."

Claudia looked at the clock, "Oh, man!" she jumped up and ran to grab her shoes by the door. "You sure you don't wanna come with? Tonic is playing at The Ticket House. It's gonna be awesome." She wished he would go along, she hated seeing him staying home alone.

"Nah, you guys go ahead. I'm just gonna take it easy tonight." He smiled cheerfully. "But have fun," his tone not just a farewell, but more of an order.

Claudia smiled and ran out of the shed toward the house as Cody came out of the kitchen door. Griffin watched them walk off hand-in-hand around the house, heading off for a night of carefree, inexpensive fun.

He laid his guitar down and climbed the loft, laying down in bed. His late night had left him exhausted - physically and emotionally. He turned over grabbing the pillow and hugging it as he drifted off to sleep.

"Look, I'm sorry, ok?" Julia followed Ned as he walked out her dorm room. "Would you stop for a minute?"

"Why? Why, Julia?! What do you care?" He shook her arm off.

"I care, Ned! I do!" she ran after him grabbing his arm again, forcing him to turn around and look at her. "Let's take all our classes together. That's fine, that's good. Whatever. I didn't mean anything by it, I swear."

"No, I don't think so. Take the classes yourself..." he turned his back to her and walked down the hallway as she called after him.

Griffin awoke startled. He didn't know what had woken him, but he was uneasy. He glanced at the alarm clock quickly, noting that Claudia would still be out with Cody. He wondered if that had anything to do with his uneasiness. Or was it Julia? He had always had a way of knowing if something was wrong - somewhere - with someone he cared about. He could just feel these things.

He sat up looking around the dark room, climbed from the bed and started down the loft. He jumped when he heard a knock at the door, it's abruptness startling him. He grabbed his flannel shirt off the back of the chair, pulling it on as he made his way to the door.

"You busy?" Julia asked meekly, seeing the obvious surprise in Griffin's eyes at seeing her there.

"No! Come on in." He pulled her inside, taking her jacket and laying in on the chair. "Sorry it's so dark in here, I just woke from a nap." He apologized, starting toward the lamp on the table by the door.

"No!" Julia exclaimed, "I mean, I like it like this. This is nice. It..it reminds me of the first night we stayed here. Remember that?"

"Yeah .. of course."

"Remember the Golden Dragon take-out?" she smiled.


"You know I haven't eaten from there since?"

"No." he shook his head, not understanding the reason for her words or her entire visit.

"Stupid, I know, but it reminds me too much of you, I guess." She laughed, one of her forced, fill-the-silence, laughs.

"What's wrong, Julia?"

"Nothing. Nothing. I was just thinking." she looked up, advancing on him "Why?" she ran her hand across his cheek, running it up to brush a strand of hair from his eyes.

He grasped her hand in his, pulling it from his face, "Well, I mean you haven't said a single civil word to me in weeks and now you show up at my doorstep to chat about old times?" he made an incredulous face, "I mean, what gives?"

"Nothing. I dunno, guess I just missed talking to you." she felt him let her hand go and looked down at her feet, noticing she hadn't even tied her boots before she left Palo Alto.

"Well, I've kinda missed the old Julia, myself." He leaned up against the wall, noticing her body language. For the first time since he had met her, she looked like a lost little girl, her body shaking a little, from the cold or nervousness, he didn't know.

She looked up at him, smiling at the way the moonlight came through the window casting shadows across his face. It reminded her of the many times she laid in bed watching him sleep, the shadows playing across his face and chest in those late hours.

"You want some tea or something? It's kinda chilly out there tonight."

She nodded, "Yeah, it is. It's been raining all week at school."

"So how *is* school?" Griffin started across the room, patting her on the shoulder as he walked by. Julia winced, but it went unoticed by Griffin.

Julia silently cursed herself for having brought that place up. She knew Griffin only associated it with Ned and she didn't want to deal with that now. "Oh, you know, papers and exams ... about it."

"Yeah ...." Griffin turned the small lamp on by the sink and grabbed a few mugs, "How's Maggie doing?"

"Fine. She's fine." Julia circled the chair, gathering her jacket to wrap around her shoulders and sunk into the soft cushion. She watched Griffin from afar, watching as he moved, remembering how she used to love to watch him cook.

'Oh what am I doing here?' she thought silently. She wasn't even sure how she had ended up at his door. She was just going for a drive to clear her head and the next thing she knew she was knocking on his door.

She knew she had really made Ned mad, he wouldn't even open the door when she went to his dorm. He was never going to forgive her and she knew it. God, why did she have to be such a pushy broad? She could have kept her mouth shut! So what if he wants to be with her all day - he was right, she should be happy someone wanted to! He loved her, why was that so bad?!

"--- blanket?"

Julia looked up realizing Griffin had been talking to her. "Sorry, what?"

"I was just saying if you're cold I can grab you a blanket." He crossed the room and sat down on the chair in front of her, handing her a mug of tea.

"Oh, no, I'm fine." she reached for the tea, making a point to touch his hand briefly in the exchange. His warmth something she desperately needed.

Griffin noticed her deliberate move, wondering how he was going to handle the situation. If only he knew what she was up to and why, he could proceed without worry. He looked up at her, catching her eyes momentarily before the distant light by the sink revealed she had a bruise across her cheek. "What the?!"

Julia quickly looked down, burying her face in the cup of tea.

"He hit you again!?" Griffin slammed his cup down on the table, "Julia, you have to get away from that bastard!" He reached for her, surveying the damage.

"Griffin, it's not ... it's no big deal. It's not what you think!"

"Lemme guess, you ran into a door? Got smacked playing volleyball? Got into a car accident?" his sarcasm strong on the last sentence as he crouched in front of her chair to reach her.

Julia felt the warmth from his hand on her face, it's touch painful but soothing at the same time. She didn't want to fight with him. She didn't want to try to explain herself to him again. She didn't want to talk at all. She just wanted to melt into him, letting her problems fall away again, where he would take care of her.

Her thoughts of Ned were pushed aside momentarily, wanting to just let Griffin be the man she needed Ned to be. Let him take Ned's place for a brief moment in time. She looked up at his hard eyes, the hate radiating from them. "I'm sorry, Griffin."

"Why are you apologizing, Jule? Just understand me, please. I don't *want* to be right, here! I don't! But I am. He isn't gonna change, no matter how much you love him." He tenderly ran his finger across her cheek, "Can't you see that? Can't you trust me enough to listen to me?"

Julia saw the pain in his eyes. She knew she was just aggravating the pain of his past. She never wanted to hurt him, although she knew she had done that quite enough in her life. "I know ... I know you're right, Griffin." she laid her cup down, running her hand around his waist, letting her other hand curl around his neck, hugging him close to her.

Griffin ran his hand around her neck, pulling her closer, needing to somehow protect her. He felt her tears burning into the crook of his neck, accompanied by her soft crying. "It's alright, Jule. I'm here," he kissed the side of her face, the anger at Ned building within him. How could someone hit another person like that? How could a big guy like Ned, smack around a small woman like, Julia? 'Yeah, he's such a big boy, beating up on someone half his size! What a man!' Griffin swallowed back the anger from his last thought. Right now Julia needed guidance and support, not someone getting all crazy himself. He'd take care of Ned later. Julia's objections would fall on deaf ears, that's for sure.

Julia closed her eyes at the feeling of him holding her tightly, she had missed that. The smell of his hair, the feeling of his arms around her, the sound of his heart beating in her ear. "Don't let go ..." she whispered, wrapping her arms around him tighter, pulling him as close as she could get him.

"I'm not going anywhere." Griffin, still kneeling on the floor, began to stand up, guiding her to move with him. They stood up, not letting go of each other and remained embraced in the middle of the room for a long time before Griffin turned around and sat down in the chair, pulling Julia against him. She curled up on his lap, nestling against him like a little girl.

Griffin laid his chin on top of her head, feeling her breathing hard, her sobbing ceasing. She curled one arm around his waist, the other was laid across his chest, her hand entwined in his. "You don't deserve to be treated like that, Julia. You don't." Griffin whispered softly, hoping she would listen now. Hoping her coming to him like this and needing his support made him more important on this matter. Maybe his support now would make her believe in him more. He had more than enough horrible stories to tell her to get through to her, but he didn't want to have to scare the hell out of her. He hoped he could get her out of the situation without making her feel more violated and humiliated.

"Yes, I do." Julia's muffled voice broke the silence. She nuzzled her face into his chest more, seeming to be trying to disappear.

"You do *not* deserve that! What the hell makes you think you do, Julia?" He pulled her face from his chest, demanding her to look at him.

She looked up into his eyes, then started crying again, "I'm an awful person. I'm a waste of space .." she sniffled, knowing she must look pathetic.

"You are not an awful person. You are a brat sometimes, but that's to be expected, you *are* female!" He grinned at her, trying to tone the drama level down a bit. He hated seeing her cry and to be crying over *that* jerk really infuriated him.

"I was so awful to you, Griffin. I've been awful." She placed her hand on his cheek.

"This isn't about me. Our relationship has nothing to do with this." He shook his head, "Ned is hitting you, Julia. He is abusing you! There are laws against that, you know? Hell, I got arrested for hitting him! If someone his own size can go to jail for doing something he deserved, why is it ok for him to hit you for no reason?" He held her eyes, seeing her ponder the thought for a moment before crying harder.

"I did that, too!" she cried, laying her head on his shoulder. "I had you arrested!"

Griffin shook his head for bringing that up, "That isn't even what I was talking about, Jule. I'm just simply stating the fact that HE is the one who should be ashamed here. HE should be the one having to suffer, not you."

"I'm sorry." Julia turned her head on his shoulder, breathing in his scent. She nuzzled him, kissing his neck. "I'm so sorry..." she ran her hand up his chest, wapping it around his neck as she looked up and faced him. She pulled her other hand from his and placed it on his face, feeling the softness of his skin, "I'm sorry."

Griffin breathed hard at the situation, her touch stirring up many unresolved feelings. "Jule...", he looked into her eyes feeling that old connection, the familiar, slow moving moment of theirs.

She curled her fingers around the ends of his hair, his neck warm against the back of her fingers. "Shhhh..." she ordered, planting small kisses on his nose and down his neck. She saw him close his eyes at the feeling, a small sign of victory in her favor. She smiled as his soft breathing became more ragged as she trailed kisses up his neck, remembering he'd always liked that. "Remember this?" she whispered, as she placed her lips on his. She giggled at his response, knowing she could always get him in the mood.

He let her kiss him softly then travel down his neck again, her hands scanning his chest, searching for a sign of bare skin. She pulled back, finally getting ahold of the buttons and began unbuttoning them slowly, adorning his chest with a mixture of kisses as each button revealed more skin.

Griffin sat frozen, watching her as she continued to pamper him, his flesh burning at her touch. He wanted to grab her and kiss her, but was taking too much pleasure in just watching her work along his chest, the union of her mouth with his skin sending anxious waves of desire through his body.

Julia looked up at him, feeling his body trembling. She knew his body and what it wanted. Yes, she had been away from him for awhile but she knew his body, she knew his sounds, she knew his looks, she knew all there was to know at that moment. She remembered all she needed, to see what he was offering.

She opened his shirt, pushing it off his chest slowly as she lifted up to reach his mouth again, teasing him softly before he opened up for her. He caught her eyes and held them, taking her in hungrily as they closed their eyes in unison.

They ate at each other hotly, Julia's hands roaming selfishly over Griffin's body before realizing his hands were still caught up in his shirt. She yanked the shirt off his arms, throwing in on the floor in a haste, anxious to feel him touch her.

He ran his hand up underneath the back of her shirt, relishing in the feeling of her bare skin again. God, he had missed her! He had missed the sweet surrender in her alabaster skin, he missed her delicate smell, he missed her tender kisses, he missed her soft cries. He pulled her shirt off over her head, connecting with her again in a deep kiss before anything could be said.

He ran his hand over her chest and down to grasp her waist. She pulled back a little then quickly advanced toward him again, pretending like nothing had happened, but he realized what he had done. "I'm sorry!" He apologized quickly pulling his hand back a little. She tried to move his hand back and started to kiss his chest, but he pulled her away from him.

"Lemme see .." He saw her look away, not wanting to face him. He pulled her hand away from her skin, seeing the fresh bruise across her chest. "God, Julia ..." he shook his head, for the first time not knowing what to do next.

She wouldn't look at him, possibly from shame, possibly from pride, possibly because she, too, didn't know what to do. He ran his hand up her shoulder flowing softly down over her breast, carressing her gently, trying not to hurt her. "I'm sorry ... ", he caught her eyes finally, holding them in an intense gaze, studying them. He tried to see what she was thinking as he, her soon to be ex-husband, discovered and tried to heal a most intimate wound.

She smiled softly at him, pulling him closer and whispering that he felt good. She pushed up against him, feeling his reservations, but dead set on getting him back on track. "I'm fine, Griffin." she kissed his neck. "If you want to help me," she trailed up to his mouth again, one word at a time, "Then just make love to me." She licked along his bottom lip, teasing him again until she could see his breathing picking up again.

Griffin remained frozen. He didn't know what to do. He had been ready to make love to her before, but the newest discovery of the wounds Ned had inflicted upon her had broken his heart all over again. How could she be with someone that would do that to her?!

Julia lifted his face up to meet her's, looking at him intently, "Just make love to me like you used to . . . ", she whispered, her eyes seeming to beg him to make it all better. He felt the urge to love her like he had at one time. He wanted to take her to a place she could be without harm or pain. A place to save her from the hell her life had become. He caressed her cheek, wondering how long it had been since he had seen the old Julia.

She turned around more, placing one leg on either side of him, sitting on his lap to face him directly. She whispered in his ear, things she had said to him a million times before. Her torture coming to an end as their tongues met, making the moment feel all too familiar, all too comfortable and normal.

Julia laughed wildly, pulling his hand away from her breast and yanking at his jeans in an uncustomery frenzy. Her expression slipping from the intimate Julia that Griffin had known at one time and into this woman that he had never been with. "Come on!" she exclaimed, emphasizing his slow responses. "What are you waiting for!?!" she snapped at him, insulted at his reserve.

He watched her behave in a way she never had and knew that she was not there with him. This was not the way she made love to him. This was not the way she had ever been with him. He knew this as surely as he knew that this was how she was with Ned. She was having sex with Ned, just using his body.

As Julia looked blankely at him he started to laugh, more out of anguish than humor. "I ... I can't do this!" He had just realized that his wife was having sex with someone else, with a person who had bruised her body like he had so traumatically discovered. A person that did not and would not ever love her. She was having sex with a person that was all that Griffin was not. He knew that to Julia, he was just a warm body to take care of her physical needs.

He pushed her back away from him, climbing out from under her and over the arm of the chair. Not only had he just realized the person he had given up his life for was still just using him, but he realized with a stunning strength that he no longer loved her.

"What .. What do you mean? Griffin!?" she sat dishevled, shocked at his behavior. What was he saying to her? Was he turning *her* down?!

"Claudia .. she ---"

"You were thinking of my sister!?" Julia yelled, trying to find her shirt on the floor.

"No! God, it's ..." he ruffled his hair, frustrated, "She said something to me earlier today that I didn't really believe . . . not until just now." He watched her pull her shirt on, glaring at him.

"Hey, Grif!" Claudia barged in the door, suddenly seeing the scene ahead of her, "Oh God! I'm *so* sorry!" She swung around to leave.

"No, it's fine." Griffin called after her. "Nothing is going on here, Claude." He glanced at Julia as she flashed him a cold look.

"Not a damn thing!" Julia hissed. She grabbed her jacket and stomped off, brushing past Claudia.

"Wait, Julia!" Griffin chased her out into the backyard. "I ... I don't know how to say this except to say that I love you. I'll always love you. You're my first love, my best friend, but," he scratched his forehead, trying not to sound too harsh. He wanted to help her stay away from Ned, but it was apparent by the way she was trying to seduce him that he was not making a difference in her decision about that part of her life. She was only there because for some reason Ned was unavailable. His turning her down had no bearing on her leaving or going back to Ned. He knew she was going to go back to him whether he had made love to her or not. He would have to help her depart from Ned in a different way, the situation having changed dramatically.

"But I'm not *in* love with you anymore, Julia. I just realized that and I think it woulda been a big mistake to have continued." Julia finally looked at him, her eyes not as hard. She looked like she was even starting to understand his words. "I will always be here for you, Jule. Always. I'm just . . ." He stopped short, seeing her smile at him softly, a silent understanding. "I'm just not that man anymore, Julia. I'm not the man that would ruin my life again and again, for someone who wouldn't even change hers a little to accomodate me in it." he caught her eyes, trying to convey he was not being hurtful on purpose, he was just speaking his mind, "I'm just not going to ruin my life again. Not now. I'm actually starting to find some things I might miss this time around. I love you, but . . . I can't love you like that anymore."

Claudia sat in the shed, hearing them talking quietly outside. She didn't know what she should do. If she could get into the house without disturbing them, she would, but for now she was stuck there. She hoped they didn't decide to come back in as that would be an embarassing departure for her.

She looked out the window, silently cheering Griffin on. She couldn't hear what he was saying, but she could tell by his mannerisms that he was the one controlling the conversation. She even had to giggle a little at the way Julia was avoiding looking at him. She so deserved to be given a good talking down to, although she knew Griffin would never do that.

Claudia saw Julia smiling at him, making her a little nervous as to the direction the conversation had taken. "Oh, please don't take her back, Griffin!" she said quietly, sick at the thought that Julia could once again have him all to herself. She could have all his love and then throw it away again, just as Julia always did. There were so many things wrong with that scenario that Claudia couldn't imagine the fates allowing it to happen twice.

She saw Julia apologizing to Griffin, and suddenly felt guilty at her wishing Julia pain. She should be praying for whatever would make her sister happy, shouldn't she? But she did intend on having a life, she couldn't just sit around cheering for Julia to be happy when Julia was *never* happy.

She much prefered to spend her time hoping for Griffin to be happy. He asked for so little and gave so much in return. If only Julia had seen that before. Actually, she knew that Julia still didn't see that, she probably never would. She tried to imagine going through life never knowing what you have, then losing it, and still being oblivious to the fact that for a brief moment in time you had what most people spend their whole lives looking for. It had to be a very lonely life to live.

Just as sad was the life that was bad to begin with, then finding the one person that you think makes you happy, but in reality, really only brings you more pain. So everything that makes you happy is making you miserable. That was Griffin. He had thought Julia was the answer to all of life's problems, until she opened up a whole new barrel of problems, that only being with her brought. That was the tragedy; This guy with nothing, ready to give a never- satisfied woman everything! It was enough to make Claudia scream. In fact, she had done that a few times.

"Oh, God.." she whispered to herself as she saw Julia hug him, holding him tightly. "Oh, what's going on?!?!" she tapped her foot on the floor, one of her nervous habits. "No, I can't watch!" She turned from the window, walking to the chair and sitting down in a huff. What a pathetic life she led herself, just got home from a date with a total loser to find that the only person with a possible clue could have gone insane. Uh!

She glanced at the floor seeing Griffin's shirt laying haplessly beside the chair. She laughed at the situation. Here he was trying to overlook her life to make sure she didn't run off with any losers and nearly making a mess of his own. But she had to love that he loved Julia so much, oh if only there were more men like him around! A few more modern day Romeos, ready to forfeit everything for true love.

"Hey," Griffin walked in, smiling sheepishly at Claudia.

"Big night?" Claudia joked.

Griffin just laughed, retrieving his shirt from the floor and quickly putting it on.

"I'm really sorry about that! I shouldn't just barg in like that, that was ..." She scrunched up her face trying to imagine what she would have done if she had walked in there a moment earlier, or had things gone differenty, a moment later.

"No, it's fine, Claudia, really. It's your house, anyway." He pointed out matter-of-factly.

"It's *our* house, Griffin." She hated when he implied he was just a visitor. "But, seriously that was so rude of me. I'm sorry."

"You can come over whenever you want to, Claudia. Believe me, there won't be another scene like that. Seriously!" He laughed embarassed.

"So, what happened to that learning your lesson thing, huh?" Claudia joked with him, laughing at his slight blushing. With anyone else she would never say such a thing, but with Griffin she knew he wouldn't take it the wrong way.

"I never was the best student." He rolled his eyes, "Anyway, how's your lesson going? Arn't you home kinda early?"

"Lesson over. Grade denied," she stated shortly, feeling a little embarassed at the situation. Griffin had known Cody was a jerk all along, she should have listened to him.

"What happened?"

"Let's see . . . he constantly refered to me as "the babe", had a clan of retarded friends hanging around, got totally drunk and then tried to beat up some guy for smiling at me."

"That good, huh?"

"Well, it gets worse - Bailey was the one smiling at me." Claudia laughed at Griffin's surprised expression. "Anyway, I shoulda listened to you. Damn you for always being right!" she smiled, then became serious, "Thank you for always looking out for me. And thank you for apparently knowing what's better for me than I do."

Griffin shook his head, "No, I should be thanking you. I know you really don't want to hear details, but you saved me from making a *huge* mistake tonight. That little talk we had earlier today, well... you... you were so right about something. I just never wanted to believe it." He looked up at her, smiling, "As much as I thought it would hurt to admit that, it doesn't. It's like I'm relieved. Like this huge burden or something has been lifted. Stupid, hu? I wonder why that is?"

Claudia smiled, seeing a difference in him. Usually he had a sadness in his eyes that no matter how happy he would be in a given moment, it never faded. But now it was gone. He genuinely looked happy. "Maybe you were confusing one emotion for another ... maybe finding out who the real Julia is, the deep down, confused Julia, somehow made things clearer for you."

Griffin looked at his hands in his lap, seeming to think that over a little, "I mean . . . do you still love her, Griffin?" She saw him look up at her quickly, then felt she had over-stepped her boundaries, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked that." He looked at her like he wanted to say something, but didn't. "It's just, you always look like you feel like you arn't worth anything, that you are less of a person because Julia is not with you. Like you think she is more important than you are, but you're so wrong Griffin. She is not a bad person, she's just Julia. She's this confused, never going to be satisfied person, and we've all grown to accept that. But you... you make people feel like they are important. You make people see the great things in themselves. Doesn't that mean anything to you? That you make people feel like being a better person?"

Griffin looked confused, "I have no idea what you are talking about. I drive people crazy, apparently. Anyone I've ever been close to hasn't stayed long, if that tells you anything."

"You are talking about people who had problems long before you ever showed up in their lives, Griffin. Julia, your father -- you are this person that is so beyond them that they don't know how to deal with it. You're this great person that doesn't need Julia to complete you. And I think you have realized that." She moved over, sitting on the table in front of him, "I think you know that now. That sadness that I've always seen in you seems gone."

He looked up at her, smiling, "God, you're a smart girl." He scrunched up his face, "How is it you know this about me before I have even absorbed it?"

"I've got a proposition for you, Griffin." She slapped him on the leg.

"Uh oh..." he joked. "What?"

"Well, how about I make all your life decisons and you make all mine. We seem to do that better than making our own!" she laughed.

"I do believe you're right. Well, I've always been better at solving other people's problems than my own, that's for sure."

"Well, I like this *much* better!" Claudia exclaimed pointing at him excitedly, "You are smiling, and *meaning* it!"

Griffin laughed dodging her waving hand, his smile fading a little, "You know, Claude? I'm not ..."

"You're not what? You're not meaning it?" Claudia sat back down, worried.

"No, I mean, I'm not in love with Julia anymore," his bit his lip, looking around the room before a smile spread across his face, "Wow, that sounded good!"

Claudia laughed, "Yes it did! And so does Tonic, so let's go!" She grabbed his hand yanking him from the chair. "They're still playing at The Ticket House - late show."

"I guess I hafta do what you say, huh?"

"Yup! You are hereby bound to follow my every order! But don't worry I won't make you like run down the Golden Gate Bridge naked or anything!" She giggled.

"Thank you."

"For sure!" she said jokingly, before he pulled back on her hand, drawing her attention.

"No, I mean it. Thank you." He flashed her a knowing glance.

Claudia nodded at him, a silent answer again. They seemed to do alot of that - talking without saying anything. She picked up her purse from the chair as they walked out the door.