Hesitation Dance

Written by Darien Mayne

Written after Fam-i-ly 5.17

"What is that?" Claudia scrunched up her face, giving Sarah a definite "No" to her outfit suggestion.

"I think it's sweet!" Sarah cooed, "And this is a Sweet Sixteen party, after all." She held the dress up, giving Claudia one more study, "You sure you don't like it?" her voice hopeful.

"Sarah, I'm not getting married!" Claudia exclaimed, ruffling the lacy neckline and rolling her eyes at the exaggerated fanciness of it all. "Believe me, I'm, like, the furthest thing away from marriage, ok?" she mumbled and plopped down on the couch, sighing in the process.

Sarah sat down besides her watching her tentatively, then had to smile.

Claudia saw Sarah's animated face, "What are you smiling about?"

Sarah nudged her knee, "So, who is he?" she pulled her knees up, resting her chin on them, getting in to the familiar "girl talk" position.

"No, No, nothing like that .." Claudia trailed off, hoping to change the subject. "So you guys can really afford this place, huh? Aren't you kinda scared since that shooting?"

"Nice try."

"What?" Claudia raised her eyebrows, waiting for Sarah to do her thing, "What do you wanna know?"

"Is he cute?" Sarah giggled, having missed the girl talk.

"No, he's a total dog, that's why I like him so much."

"Stop being a brat, I'm serious! We never get to have these talks." She frowned, "Or do you really not like talking to me? I thought we were pretty close, Claude."

"We are! We are, I'm sorry, I'm .. It's not you, I'm just in a mood right now, sorry." She shrugged her shoulders, feeling guilty over taking her frustration out on Sarah, who was being so good to her and throwing her a party, when no one else even recalled that sixteen years ago she was born into this lovely, wonderful, close-knit, totally insane family.

Well, no one else, except Griffin. Wasn't that ironic? The only two who remembered her birthday were the two non-Salingers. The two that the rest pretty much considered "baggage".

Of course Bailey was always there to stand up for Sarah, as she was *his* girlfriend, but even though he was civil and friendly to Griffin, he never defended him against Charlie or Julia. Wasn't it pathetic that someone had to defend Griffin with Julia? She had loved him enough at one time to, at least pretend, that she was going to spend the rest of her life with him, and now she was the one trying to make him disappear the most.

And Charlie? Oh he was impossible these days! Telling Sarah she has no right in parenting Owen when she was gladly ready to take full responsibility because Bailey wanted custody. She knew Sarah was so not ready to forfeit her young adulthood by taking in a grade-schooler, making her and Bailey these new parents at such a young age and pretty much killing all the carefree, romantic, easy-going times they were entitled to, like every other twenty-something.

But Sarah loved Bailey enough to try to accept this, and she loved Owen as much as a mother could. Couldn't Charlie see she was trying to make the stupid tug-of-war, he and Bailey were engaging in, easier on Owen??

And he was relentless with Griffin! Kicking him out of the house — no, correction — kicking him out of the shed, because he was the only one to do a damn thing to help Julia? Thank God, she hadn't been the one to be in Julia's situation! She would get no help at all from Bailey and Charlie!

"What's wrong?" Sarah studied Claudia's thoughtful gaze.

"Nothing .." she looked up from her thoughts, laughing to appease Sarah. "Nothing, I'm just trying to think if I should invite Michael to the party." she giggled nervously, hoping Sarah wouldn't be able to tell she was lying. She didn't even know any "Michael."

"Do tell!" Sarah squealed, raising her knees back up, getting into "the position" again as Claudia smiled shyly and began telling Sarah the bogus story of her meeting "Michael" at school and the longing glances they shared.

"There's a party?" Julia looked blankly at Griffin not knowing what he was talking about. "Doesn't anyone tell me anything that goes on around here, anymore?" She snorted, brushing past him to get a drink from the fridge.

"I'm telling you, now." Griffin stated shortly.

"Well, I don't think I can make it."

"What?" Griffin caught her eyes, "What do you mean you can't make it? You have two weeks to make the room, Julia."

"I have a few late mid-terms, ok? And that weekend there is this on-campus speaker, it's kinda important."

Griffin watched Julia as she sat down at the table, a diet Coke in on hand, a poetry book in the other. She started ruffling through the book, unaware that he was still there. He shook his head sadly, seeing she didn't even realize she had said anything wrong at all. "She's your sister, Julia."

"What?" Julia looked up at him, surprised he was still there.

"Your sister! You know, the only one who showed up hours early to welcome you home when you got back from Europe. Your sister, as in part of your family! " He yelled at her, forcing her to pay attention. "What are we supposed to tell her if you aren't there?"

"Oh, for heaven sakes, Griffin, it's just a birthday party! It's not like a wedding or something." She saw that disappointed glint in his eyes, "Look, what am I supposed to do? I have to study."

Griffin laughed, finding her excuses hard to swallow, "Julia, you haven't studied since you got there." He threw a key down on the table beside her, "If by some miracle you can make it, you might need the key to get into their apartment." Without waiting for her response or saying another word, he turned and walked into the living room, passing the family photos in the path.

He looked at all the baby pictures of the family, the shots of them all bundled around each other one Christmas. In another shot they were enjoying a spring picnic, Owen just a tiny baby there. Claudia and her mother were cuddled up in the corner, holding Owen together as he squinted against the bright sun. Julia was between her father and Charlie as they both playfully pulled her toward them.

Griffin shook his head again, he didn't know what was going on with that family. How could they have been so close at one point, and now so uncaring and uninterested in what each other were doing.

"What'cha doing?" Claudia came stomping down the stairs, a load of Diana's clothes in her arms. "I know, whatever it is, it can't be as exciting as helping me do laundry, right?" She laughed at Griffin's expression, knowing all to well she had successfully talked him into it. He was easy like that, thankfully.

"Actually, I thought you were outside, I was going to find you."

"What for?"

"Do I have to have a reason?" He smiled at her cutsey "aww, shucks!" gesture. "Well, actually, I was thinking about going into town to get some guitar strings. They're having this book fair across the street from the shop. I thought you might wanna come with and check it out. You and your books, and all...." He smiled.

"Oh, yeah! I forgot about that! Sure, thanks I've love to come along. Just let me throw these in the wash."

"I thought we were throwing them in the wash." He winked at her, a sign for her to run quick or there would be a tackling.

"Watch it!!" She yelled ducking his arm, rounding the corner into the kitchen.

"Can you keep it down, Claude? I'm trying to study here."

Claudia spun around, seeing Julia at the kitchen table. "Oh, sorry, I didn't know you were here. When did you get home?"

"I spent the night here!" she half-barked.

"Oh, sorry." she rolled her eyes, seeing Griffin standing against the wall and silently giggled at the fact that Julia had managed to go unnoticed overnight in the house. It was so unlike her.

Julia looked around to see them both laughing quietly, annoyed that she was having to put up with the both of them and then being left out of something. "Look, you two, I have a paper to write on the changes in satirical poetry over the years. I'm having to go back and read stuff from the turn of the century. I'm a little busy here!" She glared at them, making her total annoyance known.

"That's okay, we're leaving, anyway. We're going to that book fair down on Fifth. I had totally forgotten about it." Claudia said excitedly.

"Laundry?" Griffin motioned toward the soiled bundle still clutched against her chest.

"Oh, yeah. Hang on!" She turned and ran down the basement stairs.

Julia looked up from her book, watching Griffin. "So, um..." she laughed softly, a make-up tone in her voice, "I guess you'll be glad when she gets her driver's license, huh?"

"No, I offered to take her." He looked out toward the backyard. "I figured she had forgotten about it, or she would have been there all morning, already." He laughed to himself.

Julia looked down at her book again, not really taking in the words. She glanced up at Griffin, watching him as he waited for Claudia. She had heard Bailey say something about them being in a band together, she just didn't know they had gotten to be such good friends.

She thought back to when she had first found out Griffin was musically inclined. She had been so surprised when she walked into the bicycle shop one day during his lunch break and heard him playing. She saw his boss was not around and had backed up toward the door again where he couldn't see she had come in yet, just to watch him, undetected, for awhile. He was good, too!

He had finally looked up from an amazing ballad and saw her. She saw him blush a little at being watched, but she also knew underneath it he knew he was good and had to be proud of himself.

That was the first and last time she had ever seen or heard him play. He never followed up on it when he was with her and she had to admit to herself now, that she had never encouraged him to do so. Had Claudia? Had she gotten Griffin to play again, she wondered?

Claudia came bounding up the stairs, "Um, Grif... you know that shirt you used to have?"

"Used to have? That doesn't sound good!" His confused expression making her smile a little before wrinkling up her face.

"Yeah, the one I borrowed the other day. The red and blue, short-sleeved flannel."

"What about it, Claudia?" Julia had become interested, as she had always loved that shirt on him, it's mention bringing back alot of memories.

Claudia shot Julia an annoyed look and redirected her gaze on Griffin, "It was somehow stuck in with underwear... Owen's."

"So you're saying I'm gonna have to lose 5 shirt sizes to fit into it again?"

"Afraid so." Claudia held up the significantly smaller shirt.

"Let's just pretend we did it on purpose." Griffin laughed, "Owen is always going through my stuff, anyway, wanting to wear one of my shirts. Just give it to him."

"You say my name?" Owen came into the kitchen, carrying an empty glass.

"Hey, buddy," Griffin took the shirt from Claudia and kneeled down to get more on his level, "Yeah, we were talking about this shirt we made for you."

Owen recognized the shirt and excitedly took it from Griffin. "You made it... for me?" "Yeah. You wanted one of mine, right?"

"Yeah!" He smiled, holding the shirt in front of him, "but they were all too big. Thanks!"

"You trying to look like Griffin, Owen?" Sarah walked into the kitchen giggling at the cutest image as Owen put the shirt on.

"It can't hurt." He looked toward Claudia, "Griffin's hot, right, Claude?"

"Is that so?" Griffin looked intently at Claudia, enjoying picking on her.

Claudia looked around the room, "Kids! You know I love 'em!!" she took Owen's hand, "Well, we gotta be going now...." she trailed off, walking Owen into the living room.

Sarah and Griffin laughed watching Claudia hustle Owen out of the room, hearing his objections all the way. "What? Sarah has said the same thing, too...." his voice trailed off as Claudia parked him in front of the TV, turning on his newest educational video.

"Really!?" Griffin now played with Sarah, he loved kids and the way they embarrassed and "outted" people.

"Oh please! If I'd met you before Bailey...." she trailed off suggestively, making a "no doubt" wave gesture and giggling heartily.

"Did you get that strangeness in your kitchen pipes taken care of?" Griffin asked starting to laugh at the thought. Sarah, too, laughed harder, and bent over from the hysteria.

Julia looked away from the two, she couldn't take anymore. Griffin was considered more of a family member than she was lately. It had been ages since she had had a real conversation with Sarah. She didn't even know what she was up to these days.

The last time she had talked to Charlie or Bailey they had both told her what a selfish person she was and she had left in a huff, vowing not to try to befriend them again anytime soon.

Owen acted liked he could care less if she were there or not.

Diana, didn't even know her aunt, crying every time Julia tried to hold her.

And the last time she had seen Claudia had been by accident, running into her at the mall. And she had been with Griffin and some guy that Julia didn't even know. What was going on around here?

Claudia walked back into the kitchen, "Ok, so Owen is occupied, shall we run?" she flashed Griffin a questioning look.

"Yeah, let's." He turned to Sarah, "We're going to a book fair, wanna go with?"

"A book fair?"

Griffin laughed, "Well, I'm going to get guitar strings, but we're stopping by the book fair for Claude."

"No, thanks, anyway. I only have a million books to read a semester. No time for leisure reading." She frowned. "Ok, well, we're off." Griffin motioned for Claudia to walk ahead of him and started toward the back door.

"Remember if you get paged with "titanic", I need help!" Sarah exclaimed as they all exploded into laughter at an inside joke that Julia was not aware of.

Sarah quickly made her way into the living room after Griffin and Claudia had left, leaving Julia alone with her thoughts. She hated feeling like she wasn't there when she was sitting right in front of them, only they hadn't noticed!

She closed her book on a pout and laid her chin down on the table. At least she had seen that Sarah and Owen were as friendly and talkative with Griffin as Claudia was, so it wasn't just that Claudia and Griffin were getting closer, but that Griffin was just being more accepted. That made her feel a little bit better, as she had to admit that her and Claudia never did have the best relationship. She hated the idea that Claudia could find a best friend in Griffin and couldn't in her own sister.

She let that thought sink in, then decided she was being silly. He had lived with her family for almost a year after she had left. He still pretty much lived there, in the way that he was there all the time. She would have to understand he would know things that were going on there, that she didn't. Besides what did she care what was going on there, anyway? Kitchen pipe problems? Shrinking laundry? What could she possibly be jealous of?! She had her own exciting college life to live, instead of the ins and outs of daily family life.

Griffin and Claudia walked along the sidewalk, "Who knew there were so many people interested in a book fair?" Griffin said, dodging a couple of teenage girls.

"No, see they're scooping guys out, not books." Claudia revealed laughing as one of them did a double-take at Griffin. "See?"

"Well, then they need to be in a bike shop, or a hardware store, yeah!" He raised his eyebrow in emphasis, "Unless these books have pictures, we don't care!" He laughed as Claudia rolled her eyes.

"You'd be surprised to know that I've caught you reading a book or two," she side-stepped him, stopping to look at a paperback.

"The phone book?" he joked.

Claudia shook her head, playfully.

"A take-out menu?"

Claudia once again shook her head, passing him.

"A bike manual?!" he saw her denial again and shook his head "What, then?"

"Does Shakespeare ring a bell?" Claudia raised her eyebrow, this time.

"I never . . . " he trailed off, realization setting in, "Ohh..." he slowly looked over at her. "And how did you remember that?"

"Well, I was trying to bug you and Julia, anyway, so I just pretended I needed something. Remember I said I had a report on "Romeo and Juliet" and asked if you had ever read it?"

"That was, what? Four years ago? Man."

"I had actually seen you looking at it while you were waiting for Julia to get ready to go out."

"Yeah, I remember. That was that night she drug me to that impressionist art show." He made a face, "I have seen art, in fact, I actually like art, but a bunch of naked people running around throwing paint at each other, is not art."

Claudia giggled, "All guys say that, but I actually agree with you."

"I actually liked it." Griffin smiled in retrospect, "Romeo and Juliet, I mean."

"Me too." Claudia closed her eyes and started speaking lines from the playwright, opening them to see Griffin staring at her. "Sorry," she giggled, embarrassed.

"No..." he cleared his throat, his voice quiet, "No, you were good."

"Really?" She smiled, thinking of all the times she had sat in her room and spoke those words aloud, to no one in particular.

"Really." Griffin's voice serious. He shoved his hands in his pockets, looking around at the crowd, still scurrying throughout the stands of books. "So," he looked down at the ground, "What else have you seen me reading?"

"Les Miserables" she laughed, "Well the English version, of course!"

"Ahh, another writing forced upon me by the confinements of higher education." He joked, then scrunched up his face, "Actually, you know, I liked that one too, believe it or not. It was one of those ancient, yet modern stories, if that makes sense."

"Oh, I know, me, too!" Claudia exclaimed, "Did you ever see the play or hear the soundtrack?"

"Um, no."

"I've never seen the play either. I'm sure it'd be amazing." She smiled at the thought, "Oh, but you should hear the soundtrack. There is this one song "On My Own" - it's so .. " She searched for the right words, "so hopelessly romantic." She starred out into the distance, focusing on nothing in particular.

"I bet you even can play some of the songs from that play. You're classical discipline and all."

"Yeah, I can, actually. Haven't in a long time though."

They were both silent for a minute, walking through the crowd.

"But this game goes both ways, you know?" Griffin said finally, breaking the silence and shot her a knowing look.

"What do you mean?"

"You think you can hold those books over my head? How could that get out without completely ruining my reputation, huh, Claude?" He joked, "I have some dirt on you, too."

Claudia straightened her shoulders, flashing him an indignant look, "Oh, really? And what's that?"

"You are the ever classy and sophisticated, lady, but you think I haven't seen you watching "Animal House"?"

"No way!!" Claudia yelled, excited. Then looked around as several people turned their way.

"Um hmm... I'm afraid so."

"You're bluffing, everyone has seen "Animal House" at some point in time."

"Five times in a row, while wolfing down cookies and painting their toenails?"

"Oh, you!" She laughed, caught off guard by his accurateness.

Griffin stretched his arms above his head, "Yeah, I guess if this Shakespeare thing gets out I'll have to accidentally let the movie fest information out." He brought his hand down, lightly smacking her on the back of the head. "I'm gonna go get those guitar strings, I'll be back in a sec." He navigated through a crowd of teenagers.

Claudia watched him cross the street then turn and look back at her, laughing at their conversation.

"And I know, it's only in my mind, and I'm talking to myself, and not to him. And although I know that he is blind, still I say, there is a way for us/" Claudia quietly sang the lyrics to the Les Miserables song that was constantly running through her mind, these days, as she watched him disappear into the music store. She turned around, happily, to finally pay attention to the books.

"You were right not to listen to me, Claudia!" Sarah exclaimed excitedly, admiring the outfit Claudia had chosen for her party. "This is beautiful!"

"Actually, I saw it and thought of you. You'd look great in it. But, then I thought I'd try it on and I liked it even better. I've always loved your style..." she stopped and laughed a little, "Well, minus that last dress you showed me!"

"Ok, ok, so it was a tad dressy. You're right, no need to have this party like some shower - that is definitely the best route to take - casual, stylish... sexy." She smiled, thinking of how much Claudia had grown up. It seemed like she had matured in the blink of an eye - one minute she was this cute, noisy, sometimes annoying little girl and then she was this soft spoken, caring, beautiful young woman. It kind of amazed Sarah at times.

Then again, Claudia had been through so much in her life that it was only logical she would be more mature and do it quickly. Only she knew her physical aspects were not affected by life lessons, and Claudia was definitely a woman now - physically and mentally.

"Thanks for offering a party, Sarah." Claudia smiled shyly, feeling a little embarrassed that no one in her immediate family seemed to care. "It kind of takes the focus off all the stuff going on at home right now."

"Yeah, of course. Actually I just wanted to steal you away for myself - you know, do the spa, shopping... girl stuff - but Owen threw a fit!"

Claudia faked a laugh.

"Of course Bailey, Charlie and Julia joined in his objections. No one wanted to be left out!" Sarah added quickly.

"And Griffin?" Claudia asked, nonchalantly.

"Well, see he thinks like me - he planned some private thing. I'm sure he'll be here for the party too, though."

"So what did he plan?"

"Oh, I'll never tell." Sarah cooed, laughing. "Actually, I have no idea. I'm not sure if he even was going to go ahead with it. He might have just decided the party was enough, I'm not sure." She shook her head at the confusion, then laughed, "Anyway .. so did you invite Michael?"

"Oh, uh ... no. I might though, still have two days, right?"

"Ask him, Claude!"

Claudia thought about it for a second. True, there was no Michael, but there were plenty of guys from school. A few had even asked her out lately. Maybe she should invite one. Couldn't hurt to have someone around making her look "important", right?

Julia proofed her paper one last time before finally printing it. She stapled the papers together and walked down to McMullen Hall, dropping her paper off at her professors office.

She had decided Griffin was right, how could she not go to Claudia's birthday party? It was a family thing and lately she felt less of a family member than Thurber. If she wanted to be around to know the inside jokes, to share the goofy moments, she'd have to make the time. She had spent the last two weeks tying up ends, making room for her weekend at home. It was true she had her own life, but that didn't mean she had to break off all other relations, did it?

She got back to her dorm room in time to catch Maggie before she left to go home for the weekend. Maggie's surprised expression as Julia packed a few things for her own excursion home, made her realize all the more, how long it had been since she had participated in her family's life, only making her want to get home all the faster.

Griffin took the last sip of coffee, rinsing his mug out in the sink. There were a pile of dishes that he couldn't face at the moment. He had to laugh at the bachelor pad atmosphere. It had been a month since he had moved from the Salinger house into his new apartment.

His new roommate was a guy from the shop, a rather messy and unorganized guy, so he had quickly learned. Griffin was by no means a neat freak, but this guy was pushing his luck. But, he needed a roommate and so did his buddy, so they would have to learn to just deal with each other.

He jumped as the phone rang, awaking him from his thoughts. He answered, happy to hear the familiar voice on the other end. He had been calling his lawyer all week trying to get an appointment to go sign the divorce papers. Apparently his lawyer had finally gotten ahold of Julia's and they told him he could stop by the office and sign them as soon as he could.

Both lawyers were happy to get the situation resolved, as they didn't look forward to a separate hearing to legalize the divorce without Griffin's approval. Neither of them really enjoyed such a tactic and it was alot of unneeded paperwork. Griffin agreed he'd stop by that afternoon and quickly got off the phone, deciding to do the dishes, after all. He suddenly had a new air of energy.

Claudia hung up the phone, smiling. She checked the time noting she had a few hours before Griffin would be there. She laid down on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. 'So he's finally doing it!' she thought, fighting the urge to scream.

She giggled, then became thoughtful, feeling a little mean to be laughing over such a situation. Should she really be so happy that her sister's divorced was about to be finalized? She frowned, thinking it over for a moment before she felt the familiar anger take hold again. Of course she should be! Julia was the one who filed in the first place!

And the way she had done it was just cruel! She didn't deserve Griffin and she hoped one day Julia would finally understand that. Right now it was too much to ask for, as Julia couldn't see past her own nose, but one day, yes, one day, she would see what a mistake she had made.

Claudia loved Julia dearly, she just didn't like her very much. It was true they had had their problems all their lives, but it wasn't until Claudia saw, first hand, what her sister had done to a guy like Griffin, that she lost all respect for her. She couldn't get past the knowledge of how badly Julia had hurt him and how she seemed to not even care. Claudia, being a nurturing person, could not understand how a person could be so cold and uncaring. Nothing Julia could ever do would make her not love her, but love didn't necessarily include friendship and respect.

What a day! Her birthday, a party to celebrate it, *and* Griffin was signing his divorce papers! She had to laugh again, knowing she must look like a fool. But, she could hardly keep her excitement in check, at the idea of getting to actually see Griffin sign the papers. He was just taking her along, but didn't know the joy that was going to give her. "You're such a freak!" she laughed aloud, knowing she really didn't care. Not only was she static that he was finally wiping his hands clean of Julia, for her own selfish reasons, but also because she knew it was best for him. He needed the finality. He needed the closure. And he needed to be the one to finally end it.

"I'm... well, this will sound condescending, I'm sure, and I don't mean it to, but... I'm so proud of you!" Claudia smiled at Griffin as they walked down the corridor of the office building. He flashed her a questioning look and she reached for his arm stopping him, "No, I mean it. I think it was very hard for you to do that." She made a face, adding, "Although I don't know why."

"You wouldn't." Griffin said, shaking his head.

Claudia's first reaction was that she had offended him, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that!

"No, I know.. I —"

Claudia interrupted him as her second reaction set in, "And don't be saying I don't know anything about love, either! True, I've never been married, but that doesn't mean I don't understand love." She frowned.

Griffin shook his head quickly and lifted her face, making her look at him, "No! I didn't mean that either, Claudia! Really! I .. I just meant that..." he stalled looking for the right words, "I meant you wouldn't understand it, because you're not like her." He shrugged his shoulders, "I think it would be hard to figure out what is going on in her head when you are so different from her."

Claudia didn't say anything, she just looked at him.

"Anyway, it's over, right?" Griffin smiled.

"I hope so." Claudia smiled back at him, starting to walk again. "You're happy about that, right?" she stopped again, needing to see his eyes.

"Yeah. Yeah, I really am. It was getting to be such a hassle. A huge burden, you know? And to tell you the truth, I..." he stopped short, not sure if he wanted to continue.

"You, what?"

"Well... I'm not even sure why I loved her so much." the sound of his voice made him regret saying that aloud. It sounded too harsh. But he saw Claudia look at him, understanding what he had meant. "I think it had something to do with Jill."

"How so?"

"I'm not sure .. I mean, I think she was the only one who understood about Jill. My other girlfriends would never have understood something like that. The way I met Julia was like she was bringing a part of Jill back to me. Like, maybe, she was sent by Jill or something." He laughed, feeling foolish, "I must sound like an idiot, I know."

"No, you don't."

"Well, somehow in my mind I think letting Julia go was like I was agreeing to let go of Jill. It makes no sense, I know, because, of course, they were very different kinds of love I felt for each of them, but the outcome was the same. I thought twice, that I had this person who would always be there for me - and twice I was let down." He bit his lip, realizing the major difference, "Only Jill didn't do it on purpose. She couldn't help it. Julia could."

"I'm sorry. I really am. I know what you mean because I have lived with her all my life and this sounds awful but she let me down time and time again. She just is that type of person. She can't see beyond herself." she laughed, "I know I should be "shame on you"-ing here and defending my sister because that's what sisters do, right? But when has she ever done that for me? I'm done defending people who don't deserve it." she looked up at Griffin, "And I'm tired of not defending those who do."

Griffin smiled at her softly, "And I do?"

"You do." Claudia stated very seriously.

"You sure you weren't adopted?" Griffin smirked, giving her his questioning sideways glance.

"I wish!" Claudia laughed, "Come on, let's get out of here before you all of a sudden freak out on me and run to stop those papers from being filed! I am a tough girl, but not tough enough to tear you away from that office!" She mocked him, pulling on his arm.

"Not even in my most irrational moment!" He exclaimed, leading the way to the elevator. "Anyway, we have somewhere to be."

"Not for, like, six more hours!"

"I'm not talking about the party."

"Then where are we going?" She looked at him confused.

"Do I have to tell you everything? Geez, some things are best left unsaid, my dear." he ushered her out of the elevator, toward the street exit.

"And why is that?"

"I dunno, I just said that." he laughed, "Because .. because sometimes you aren't supposed to know."


"You make me talk too much, you know that?"

"There's no such thing as talking too much." Claudia stated, matter-of-factly.

"Not in your world!" He joked, as they walked to parking lot.

"What are we doing here, Griffin?" Claudia searched the crowd, as they walked into the auditorium.

"What does one usually do in a theater?" Griffin answered, briefly.

"Duh, but why are *we* here?" Griffin ushered her down the aisle, pointing out their seats.

"I'll have you know, this was not an easy task."

"I would guess not. It's totally packed here!" She sat down, fixing her skirt.

"Yeah, I just got lucky and happened to see a flyer for the show. Surprised there were these seats left, although I didn't know college plays were so popular."

"So what are we here to see?"

Griffin handed her a program, smiling at her surprised expression.

"Les Miserables?!"

"Yeah, what kind of luck was that, huh?"

"When did you plan this?"

"Well, I actually saw a flyer for it about a week and a half ago, which of course freaked me out since you had just said you wanted to see it. You must have been a good girl this year." He laughed.

"You are such a sweetie!" Claudia leaned over and hugged him, "Thank you."

"You .. you're welcome." he was caught off-guard by her gesture. "You know, this is the best way to see it performed, too."

"What do you mean? By theater students?"



"Well, think about it, it is perfect for the interpretation of the story. The story is about desperation, about being young and inexperienced, running on instinct .. like Shakespearean, in that way. Seeing it performed on Broadway would be amazing, but I think it would lack the realness. These actors, themselves, are young and inexperienced, instinct being their only guide. That is what the whole concept of the story is about. They would make it more realistic..." he looked over seeing Claudia starring at him, "I mean... don't you think so?"

Claudia nodded, thinking of all the times she had heard Charlie, Justin, even Julia referring to Griffin as "stupid", but they just didn't get it. They didn't get him. He wasn't stupid in any way, he just wasn't running around spouting off statistics like Julia and Justin always did. He didn't judge people on what they could memorize and didn't think people would judge him on those guidelines, either.

Julia would never have thought of what he had just said to her. The "intellectuals" of the world based their opinions on facts, but they never let their practical side speak. They relied on facts, Griffin relied on experience. He relied on common sense. He relied on emotions - that was more fail-proof than any book statistics, in Claudia's opinion.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Griffin laughed timidly, afraid he had just said something completely moronic.

"I just love the way your mind works."

"Was that sarcasm?"

"No! I'm serious. I love hearing your take on things." she smiled, touching his hand, "I thought what you said was awesome, Grif. And I totally agree with you. I think a degree of innocence is needed to show their story appropriately."

"Thanks." He shifted in his seat, taking his jacket off and watched as Claudia did the same. "Hey, did I tell you how beautiful you look, tonight?"

"Thank you." Claudia said calmly, although her heart was pounding a million beats a minute. She caught his eyes, hoping hers weren't revealing too much. "You, too."

He laughed nervously again, his voice becoming deeper, "No, I'm serious."

"So am I." Claudia thought she just might throw up, but laughed it off, knowing she was certainly not going to impress anyone that way. She looked back at the front as the lights dimmed signaling the start of the show.

Griffin watched Claudia thinking how much she had grown up. It had been within days that she had turned into this impressive woman. She was so much older than even he was, maturity wise, anyway. He guessed her life had caused her to grow up fast. He, too, had experienced that himself, the way one event in your life could change you forever. His father, Jill, Julia - they all had caused him to shed lives and try to start over, only he was more skeptical each time. Was Claudia as skeptical as he was? Did she find it hard to trust people, too?

She looked over at him, seeing him watching her. She questioned him silently with her eyes, then just smiled and turned away, not wanting to miss the show. He shook his head at the thought that Cody had messed up with her. He was a fool to of had this girl's attention and thrown it away so easily. She had a good heart, which was more than he could say for most the women he knew. That was something you just couldn't deny.

He wasn't going to pretend that Julia had never been so much a part of his life and his heart at one time, as she clearly was. He had loved her with more intensity than he ever thought was possible. But he also couldn't pretend that Julia had ever been as warm and caring as Claudia was. It was almost unreal to imagine them as sisters. It was not an insult to Julia, but a compliment to Claudia. She had a loving and caring nature that outshone most people, and then Julia was a tad less than most people, which made a vast difference in the two.

"Oh, this is the song I was telling you about!" Claudia instinctively reached for his hand, getting his attention. "Remember?" she smiled excitedly.

"Yeah," Griffin nodded, trying to watch the actress.

"I think she even sings it better, if that's possible." Claudia whispered.

"I can see you singing that." Griffin whispered, clearly noting the actress' high voice.

"I can't sing, Griffin." she looked at him, "But you can." she waited a beat, "You should, I mean. I've heard you sing before, we didn't need to have Melanie do the vocals for the band."

Griffin looked at her in awe, "How do you know all this stuff about me?"

"I've watched you alot. I've thought about you alot." she smiled at the song and squeezed his hand for emphasis, "Here's my favorite part! Listen..." she closed her eyes, listening.

Griffin looked down at her hand still holding his, then back up at the stage, getting into the song himself. Who knew he would ever actually like that kind of music? But it did have great lyrics.

The song finally ended, and the story picked up again. They watched scene after scene, definitely seeing Griffin was right about the actors portrayal being crucial to set the mood, all the while neither one of them moved their hand.

Julia sat on the couch in the loft. Her family and friends bustling around her, but she wasn't paying attention. She had checked her machine at school for her messages and had gotten a call from her lawyer that her divorce papers were being finalized. When did Griffin sign them? Why didn't he tell her he had changed his mind? Was he really only holding out on signing them until she broke up with Ned? Did he still love her at all, or was it just he didn't want her to get hurt? 'Well apparently the later, idiot!' she thought to herself, feeling a strange emptiness. Why would she care, since she had been the one to file? He could have signed them weeks ago and her lawyer was just now getting to her, right? She shook her head. 'And where the hell were he and Claudia, anyway?!' she thought bitterly.

At Julia's last thought she heard the door open and saw Griffin and Claudia walk in.

Claudia looked down right beautiful! She ran over to Sarah hugging her and having a private conversation with her. Julia was seething with jealousy. Claudia hadn't seen her in two weeks and she didn't even say hi, yet!

Griffin looked over at Julia and smiled softly, "So you could make it after all, huh?" He sat down on the couch beside her. "I'm glad. It's good to see you."

"Really?" Julia asked meekly, hating herself for being weak.

"Of course!"

"Hi, Julia!" Claudia bent down to hug her, "Thanks for coming. I know you're probably really busy at school and all."

"I'm never that busy, Claudia. You're my little sister!" she laughed, tapping Claudia's chin in a maternal fashion. "So, you look great! Where were you guys?"

"Oh we were at the lawyers and —" Claudia stopped short, realizing what she had just said and saw Julia turn to Griffin.

"You signed those papers, today?" Julia thought she would cry right there, why she didn't know. She wasn't going to stay married to Griffin and she knew that, but somehow her ego needed to think he was never going to agree. "Nevermind, nevermind..." she shook her head, telling herself that she would not cry, "Where else were you?"

Claudia shot Griffin an apologetic look, seeing him nod and gesturing for her to answer Julia, and quickly. "Oh, it was so cool!" She exclaimed, making herself as animated as usual, "Griffin took me to see the USF theater group in "Les Miserables"! It was so much more beautiful seeing it performed. You should go see it, Jule!"

Julia forced a smile, ""Les Miserables"? Since when do you like that sort of thing?" she directed her question to Griffin.

"Well, I do like that sort of thing, but even if I didn't, it was for Claudia, not me."

"Oh." Julia looked down feeling foolish at his harsh tone. "I... I think Diana needs to be changed, I'll be back." She picked the baby up from the playpen at the end of the couch and disappeared up the stairs.

"Well, that went well." Claudia muttered, sitting down in her place. "I'm so sorry!"

"It wasn't your fault." Griffin smiled at her, "I was going to tell her I signed the papers today, anyway, but, I guess her lawyer called her. Anyway, they are dated so she would have known when I signed them." he rubbed his eyes, "Man, I shouldn't have said that so coldly. I've just, I dunno, had it with her selfishness. I sometimes just snap, now." He growled in frustration, "I'll be back, I better go talk to her." He disappeared up the stairs after her.

"How'd it go?" Sarah saddled up next to Griffin when he came downstairs.

"Like it always does, I 'spose." He frowned, "She is insisting she filed for divorce so there is no reason for her to be upset that I signed the papers."

"Well, she definitely is upset, Griffin, but I'd just let it go. What else can you do?"

"Well, I could stay married to her forever, never have sex again, and watch as she seduces every walking man." He raised his eyebrow, "But, that doesn't sound like a winner to me."

"Oh, shut up!" Sarah laughed. She looked across the room at Claudia and one of her friends. "Is that her boyfriend?" Sarah nodded in their direction.

Griffin turned around and saw Claudia and a guy talking in the corner. She laughed and hit him on the arm, playfully. "Not that I know of." He saw the guy reach for her hand, leading her in a dance. "Last guy she 'dated' was one of the guys in the band, I don't know who that is." He felt a strange sort of feeling. What was that? Was he possibly jealous of this guy dancing with Claudia?

"Well she was telling me about some guy she really likes, but she never introduced me to him. I think she said his name is Michael." Sarah leaned into the wall, a glassy look in her eyes, "Don't they look cute!?"

"No, not really." The sound of his own voice startled him, he didn't think he had said that aloud.

"Well, he's not my type, either, but..." Sarah trailed off, seeing Owen going through the pockets of a stack of jackets, "Oops, gotta go!" Griffin watched her run across the room retrieving Owen and quietly scolding him for his mischievousness.

What was he thinking?! He was just protective, that's all. So Claudia might have a little crush on him, but he didn't feel the same way. He couldn't. This whole day had just worn him out.

Claudia saw him across the room and quickly made her way through the crowd to him, "How's Julia?"

"Fine. And yourself?" he nodded in the direction of her "friend", "Who's the guy?"

"Oh," she scrunched up her face, "Just a guy from school." She secretly wondered if "competition" in this case was a bad thing. Maybe she should have left the other guys at home. But what was the look on his face? Could that be a hint of jealousy? Her thoughts dissipated as fast as they had formed, Griffin would never feel like that about her, she had been fooling herself into thinking she could somehow manipulate that. Girls like Julia got all the good guys, the nice girls got left behind.

"What's with that face?" Griffin waved a hand in front of her face, dragging her from her thoughts."

"Nothing. Just tired I guess." She saw her friend staring at her and Griffin, giving her a stab of courage, "Wanna dance?"

"Me?" Griffin asked surprised.

"Sure, why not."

"I don't dance, Claudia."

"It's not like a salsa or something, it's just a slow dance - everyone can do that, even you." She took his hand, shuffling backwards, pulling him into the middle of the room.

"You never give up, do you?"

"And he finally gets it, after all these years! Somebody, call the press!!" she giggled, watching him get that determined look on his face. "Now, shut up and dance."

"Such a lady, such a lady...." Griffin teased, as she finally stopped dragging him and stood still. "Hey, I actually like this song, so you should be lucky, 'cause if I didn't..."

"You'd be dancing here, anyway!" Claudia ordered, lightly. Then became serious as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Griffin smiled at her, she looked really happy that day, for the first time in a long time.

All the stuff with Charlie last year had left her with a sadness that was never lifted, but the last few weeks she had been looking better and today she looked like a totally unscarred Claudia.

"What?" Claudia saw he was thinking something.

"Nothing, you just look really happy today. I like seeing you smile for a change." Griffin laughed, turning away from her for a second, not sure what he thinking. He saw Julia in the background watching him. He smiled at her, feeling torn between being friends with Claudia and helping Julia rebuild her life. He didn't know what to do anymore. But it was apparent that Julia did not like him hanging out with Claudia at all.

Julia smiled sadly at Griffin, wishing she could go about a month back in time. True, she had totally made a mess of her and Griffin's life, but it was all mendable. All mendable, until she filed for divorce. You couldn't go back from that, she knew even the ever forgiving Griffin, wouldn't go back from that.

She saw him staring at her intently, wondering what exactly he was thinking. She hoped it wasn't total disgust for her; she had been so awful to him in so many ways. She had never meant to be. He smiled at her gently. Was that a sign that he maybe understood she hadn't done any of those things on purpose? Could he ever love her again like he had at one time? No, she supposed not. But she couldn't blame him either.

She went to smile back at him, but Claudia had said something to him, causing him to lean down to hear her, only he never looked back up. She knew that look on his face, just as surely as she knew her sister had totally fallen for him. Could she blame her? Julia remembered that jolting fall herself, when she was even a tad younger than Claudia. It wasn't a trip well rehearsed or well scrutinized, but a trip that took you by total surprise. A trip that never promised a return.

Griffin stood outside his apartment fumbling with his keys. He finally managed to get the door unlocked and stumbled to the couch, falling down in one exhausted move. He had been awake for nearly 27 hours and desperately longed for his bed, only he was too tired to make the trip.

His roommate walked into the living room carrying a handful of beer bottles, "Want one?" he smirked.

"And how long have those been stashed in your bedroom?"

"About two weeks. Disgusting, isn't it?"

"I'd say so." Griffin let his head fall back on the arm rest, and stared at the ceiling.

"Man, you look like hell! What have you been doing?"

"I have no idea!" Griffin answered confused. His mind had been on overdrive all night.

Had he really felt something when holding Claudia? Had the actual moment of truth surfaced from that dance? He sat up shaking his body, as if to throw the thoughts off, "I'm going to bed."

"Yeah, you do that, man." he waved a goodnight, calling after him, "And lay off the crack."

Griffin didn't find the humor at the early hour and just shuffled sleepily into his bedroom, taking shoes and socks and his shirt, and so forth, off as he did, needing to just get into bed as quick as possible, his body and mind exhausted.

Only he couldn't get to sleep - his mind raged on relentlessly. If he didn't have one problem he had to create another one. What was his major malfunction? There had to be normal people that had normal lives and normal partners - why did he trip over every crack in the pavement?

Julia was definitely a closed chapter in his life, that was not questioned. But was he really starting to transfer that old feeling to Claudia? Did Claudia carry a special place in his heart? Was that specialty changing? Could he really even think of her this way? She was his junior by several years - didn't that cause a problem if nothing else?

But Claudia was more mature than he or Julia ever hoped to be! Claudia was not a normal girl. She was his favorite. She had been for quite sometime, the favoritism was just changing in nature. Or was it? Was he just totally exhausted and thinking unclearly, or did he for sure feel a strange twinge of jealousy as he watched Claudia dancing with the guy from school? Did he really forget Julia was even there when Claudia had leaned closer to say something to him? He didn't remember looking back at Julia - had he forgotten?

He ran his hand through his hair then over his face, he just needed some sleep. If he could get some sleep he might be thinking more clearly the next morning. He cursed quietly, remembering he and the band were going into the city to catch a concert. He just wanted to sleep for three days, then deal with it all.

Strangely though, he wanted to see her again. Already. "Safety in numbers," he whispered into the dark, knowing that Heath, Cody, and Melanie would be there, too. "No problem." He turned over hugging the pillow and having to smile at his day. He was indeed totally exhausted and confused, but he had had a perfect time with Claudia. And he had even loved the play. He sighed deeply, taking in his last few thoughts before he drifted off to sleep.

"They are so amazing, aren't they?" Claudia handed Melanie a drink. "They don't even keep track of the lyrics, they just make something up new every time, did you know that?"

"Yeah, I heard them talking about that one time, too." Griffin replied.

"It's like those guys who can't even read music, but they are perfect in any organization - just going with the flow, and all." Claudia added.

"I think we all kind of do that. None of us actually writes this down in music, we all just go along and work off the other." Griffin smiled, "We are quite talented, if I do say so, myself."

"And I'm the most talented, yeah, you know the beat keeper and all." Heath added, arrogantly, stifling a laugh.

"Ahh, shut up!" the other four bellowed.

"Let's go stand over on the floor before it gets too crowded, besides I think those ladies would appreciate this table." He smiled at the group of teenage girls standing near them. He and the others veered away, navigating through the crowd.

Griffin reached for Claudia's arm, pulling her through the crowd and in front of him. "Since you are so short!" he teased.

"Yeah, and I still tower over Heath!" they both laughed knowing it was sadly, very true. Claudia leaned her head back looking up at Griffin, "So did you get some sleep last night? I thought you were going to fall asleep on Sarah and Bai's doorway."

"Yeah, I actually made it home and even to the bed."

The crowd around them were dancing wildly, goofing off and Claudia turned around raising her eyebrow at him.

"No!" He shook his head, "You just dance with yourself, sistah!" he snapped his finger, in the hip motion.

"Come on!!" she yelled starting to jump up and down, joining Melanie and Cody in a pathetic display of headbanging.

"Stop it!" Griffin looked around, seeing people looking at them. He reached out, grabbing Claudia and making her stand still. "Stop."

"You need to chill, Grif!" Melanie danced with even more passion, taking up the slack from Claudia. "You don't know how many times I've almost been arrested 'cause they thought I was under the influence."

"I can take a wild guess." Griffin rolled his eyes.

"We, shall move on, then," she stated dramatically, as she and Cody joined hands, doing crazy circles across the floor.

"How did those two ever get to step foot off their native soil?" Heath replied rhetorically.

"Yeah, loosen up," Claudia did the snapping gesture at Griffin this time, mocking him.

"You are crazy enough as it is, no need to try to be, Claude."

"That's true."

Griffin looked toward Cody and Melanie who were dancing slowly, getting very close. He started to turn away just as he saw them kissing. Claudia followed his glance, seeing them.

"I'm sorry." Griffin said quietly.


"Doesn't that bother you? I mean, seeing him kissing her?"

"No." She smiled, "I dumped him remember? Besides, apparently Melanie's standards aren't nearly as high as mine are."

"She has standards?" Heath asked, then opted to keep quiet as they both gave him an annoyed look. He spotted someone he knew, just in time, as he could see that he should leave them alone. "Catch ya guys, later." he scurried off through the crowd.

"We seem to run people off, don't we?" Griffin replied.

"No you do." Claudia joked. "Hey, look!" she pointed toward the stage as the main band replaced the other.

"Finally," Griffin sighed, standing behind Claudia.

The crowd around them calmed down only to start dancing again as they started playing their well known song.

"I can't embarrass you that bad, at this beat." Claudia laughed.

"You won't embarrass me, no. Just don't headbang," he ruffled her hair, then dropped his hands to her shoulders, standing poised behind her.

Melanie and Cody, waved through the crowd getting Griffin's attention and motioning they were leaving.

Claudia leaned back against him, "Did Cody and Mel just leave?"

Griffin leaned down so she could hear him, "Yeah."

"Hmm, I wonder where they're gonna go!?" Claudia joked, of course knowing where they were going.

Griffin rested his chin on her shoulder, "And you went out with him. Aren't you just ashamed!" he joked, knowing Claudia would have taught him a thing or two, if he had tried anything on her.

"I didn't exactly go out with him, I mean, like once." she answered indignantly, then added, "And, yes, I am ashamed. He's a loser." She said it with the same tone, but the humor wasn't there anymore.

"I was just kidding, Claude." Griffin felt bad having brought it up.

"Well, you told me. Oh well, live and learn, right?"

"That's, like, my life motto, apparently." He laughed.

The crowd came alive as the song came to an end, the next song starting immediately, it's beat even slower.

Claudia shivered a little, unsure of it was actually the cold air or the fact that Griffin was so close.

"You cold?" Griffin ran his hands from her shoulders, and around her, entwining his hands in front of her, trying to warm her up. "Of course, the only time I don't bring my jacket!" he shook his head.

"I'm fine." Claudia saw Heath waving at them, signaling he was leaving, too. "Man, why are they all leaving?"

"Well, he's leaving with that guy, so I hope he's just bored!" Griffin laughed then sobered, "Sorry, that was kinda off-colored."

"That guy plays like you." She was watching the main bass player, pointing out that even his mannerisms were the same.

They stood quietly, listening to the ballad as they gently swayed back and forth to the beat. Claudia leaned back to say something just as the crowd cheered a guitar solo, drowning out her words.

Griffin waited a minute for the applause to die down, then leaned down closer. Claudia was laughing at some joke he hadn't heard.

He turned her around facing him, "Nevermind. It was nothing..." Claudia waved her hand, laughing at her own joke.

Griffin laughed at her laughing, both calming down and staring at each other for a minute before she stepped closer into his arms, totally surrounding herself within him. She raised her arms up, wrapping them around his neck, convincing him to dance with her, again.

They weren't standing out, as the entire crowd was dancing, but they didn't notice the crowd. They held gazes, before slowly moving in together, their lips meeting in a soft kiss.

Claudia ran her hand up, playing with the hair along his neckline, as he ran his hand up to caress her face and ran it behind her neck, pulling her closer to him.

Griffin, nuzzled her neck, finding it's warmth comforting. Their hands pulled each other closer, their mouths finding their way back together, their lips brushing against each other softly, joining in another warm kiss.

A young kid ran by and knocked into them, jarring them -- the kiss interrupted. They stared at each for a minute, as they stood frozen, trying to comprehend what they had just done.

Griffin once again laid in his bed, his mind racing a million miles a minute. He couldn't believe what he had done! One minute he is wondering if his feelings are starting to change a little and the next minute he is kissing her! He let out a deep sigh, wishing just once in his life he had something come easy to him.

He had never expected or planned on feeling this way for Claudia, it was too complicated. Julia was history for sure, but could he really date her sister? Wasn't that the oldest trick in the book? And she was much younger. And she was Charlie's little sister, again, which was like shooting himself in the foot - twice. He could just picture the coffin he would be buried in if Charlie found out about that little spectacle tonight. Oh, it was only getting worse as tried to think it through!

But weren't some people worth the fight? Some people like Claudia? She was nearly in tears as they left the club. To her she finally found a "decent guy", who she could trust and love, only he was pushing her away. Didn't she understand he was not rejecting her, but the situation itself? Yes, he supposed she did, maybe she was only disappointed. But how could they actually go through with this?

He tried explaining this to her on the way home, but, the truth was he was talking more to convince himself, because she had felt so right with him. They had been kissing for a few minutes and hadn't even realized it until they were interrupted! Was that a normal occurrence? He had never been surprised to find out he was kissing someone, before tonight. Was that a valid point or was he reaching?

He had loved kissing Julia, it had always been great, but with her it was like a pre-show act. With Claudia it was like that was what they were trying for. That was all they wanted.

Had he found someone that might be the person he needed the others to be? She already was the only one to have really understood him in his whole, pathetic life! Had she found this decent guy that she knew would treat her right? The only one to pay her the attention she so badly needed? Was that enough? Should they chance it?

She was indeed younger, but, like he had pondered the night before, she was more mature than he would ever be. She understood people and took care of herself. She was stronger than Griffin had ever been. The things he had gone through in his life had truly affected him, and not always for the better. Claudia, on the other hand, only got stronger with each passing hardship. She was so amazing.

He rubbed his eyes, hard, for no other reason than out of frustration. When would he be able to make a decision in his life that was just for him? For the good of himself and the other person involved, instead of having to worry about how everyone else would react to his decision.

At least Claudia knew what the situation was, she knew he adored her - he always had, always would. But, why couldn't he, just once, make her happy? She deserved to be happy! And as doubtful as Julia had made him in the past, he now knew he was a good guy. He knew he was good enough for Claudia. Would anyone else see that?

Griffin, Cody and Heath were sitting in Heath's garage where they had been rehearsing since Griffin had moved into the new apartment.

"Where the heck are they?" Cody complained, looking at the MOPAR clock on the wall.

"Melanie called about a half hour ago and said she was on her way. Something about her car stalling." Heath twirled his drum stick, staving off boredom.

"Chicks!" Cody exclaimed, rolling his eyes. "And Salinger? Where is she?"

"I dunno .." Griffin began to wonder if she was going to show. Was she avoiding seeing him for some reason? Maybe she was embarrassed over the whole thing. He shook his head, or maybe she was just embarrassed thinking he was rejecting her.

"Well, should we just get started, anyway? Melanie just needs to sing, and Claudia never needs direction, anyway." Heath suggested, hoping to get some use out of the time.

"Uh, you know, I... I gotta go!" Griffin jumped up grabbing his guitar case. "I just remembered there's something I have to take care of." He walked off, "Oh," he turned around, "If Claudia shows up, tell her the park." Cody and Heath looked at him confused, "Nevermind, she'll know what I mean. Just tell her, ok?" He waited for them to nod and took off.

"I figured you'd be here." Griffin sat down on the bench next to Claudia.

"And how did you know that?"

"You, the park... kinda goes together." He tried to smile, but didn't quite manage. "So , why didn't you go to rehearsal?" He looked at her, "You avoiding me?"

Claudia quickly looked up at him, "No! Why would you think I would be avoiding you?"

"Just a thought.." Griffin bit on his lip, nervously. "So why didn't you show?"

"I wasn't avoiding you. If that were the case, I'd take off running now, right?" she smiled meekly, "No, I was just . . . thinking."

"Complicated, huh?" Griffin looked at the ground.

"Among other things." Claudia frowned, "What did you do last night when you got home?"

"Other than yell, you mean?" Griffin laughed.

"I mean, is this thing just cut and dry for you, or did you think about it?"

Griffin looked up at her, just wanting her to understand where he was coming from, "No, Claudia, this isn't an easy thing for me. I thought about it all night." He ran his hand through his hair. "Didn't get much sleep."

"Me, neither." Claudia smiled slightly at the fact that Griffin truly seemed bothered by the situation. She had hoped he wasn't totally unaffected by their kiss.

"See, I like when you do that." Griffin's voice deep.

"Do what?"


Claudia smiled again, looking down at her hands, "Well, it just kinda makes me happy that you were actually pondering the situation." She looked up, then quickly returned her eyes to her hands, "I mean, that maybe it means something to you."

"It does, Claudia." He tipped his head down, getting her to look at him.

"You'll never believe this, but Julia had a little talk with me." Claudia meet his gaze, "She said she sees what is going on with us."

Griffin closed his eyes, "Great," he shook his head, "And?"

"That's the funny thing - she's ok with it." Claudia laughed, "You believe that one? And this was the night of the party that she said all this. I told her she's seeing something we're not, because I never thought..." she stopped, feeling slightly embarrassed, "Well, I never thought you'd ever see me like that." she shook her head, "But, of course, I didn't say that to Julia. I was playing like I didn't think about you like that."

"And what did she say?"

"Oh, I don't know! Just that she knows me and knows you and that she can tell."

Griffin didn't say anything.

"She agreed she might have misread you, but, that she knows me too well, and that she can't blame me, since she fell for you when she was younger than me." Claudia looked at him, "She said alot of great things about you."

"Yeah, well..." He made a face at the thought of Julia only understanding him after everything had come unraveled. "Doesn't matter."

Claudia looked out at the kids running around, watching as they chased each other, "Doesn't matter what Julia said? Or just doesn't matter?" Claudia avoided looking at him, thinking it would be easier for him to speak his mind if it wasn't the most flattering thing, without her staring at him.

"Would you stop that." His words were an order, not a question. He reached for her, turning her face to look at him, "Why do you keep assuming I could care less? I was there too, you know!"

Claudia held his eyes, wanting to hug him, but not daring to do so.

He let his hand fall from her face, and looked out at the same kids as they ran by laughing, "I... I thought a lot last night. I kept running this thing over and over in my mind. Every time I thought I had made the reasons of why to avoid this, overwhelming, I'd think of another reason why it was right." He looked at her, "I mean why "we" would be right." He bit the inside of his cheek, "But, with that came another reason why it wouldn't be right."

"For us or for other people?"

Griffin chuckled, "You're a smart girl."

"Then what should it matter, Griffin?" She spoke quickly, somehow thinking the faster she talked, the less chances he had to think it over, "I mean, the people that surround us - my family - will never be happy! Why can't we make ourselves happy and forget about them?"

"Because, they are your family. You can't overlook your family for someone else, Claudia."

"Not even you?" Claudia's voice broke.

"Don't cry on me here, please?" Griffin's own voice desperately quiet. "I can't take you crying."

"I'm sorry," Claudia breathed deeply, trying to make things easier for him, "I'm sorry, but, I don't understand how I'm supposed to choose them over you. I don't know how I am supposed to do that, Griffin, when I can't even trust them." She felt herself lose the battle as the tears ran down her face.

"God, Claudia, they love you so much. They all have their own stuff going on and get lost in that sometimes, but —"

"So do you, Griffin! You have all your own problems and stuff, but you never get too busy for me! Why is that?"

Griffin raised his hands up not knowing what to say. She had made a valid point, a point in which he didn't know how to explain. "Well... look at my sister. I wasn't there for her when I should have been. I was too busy with my own crap, stuff like that happens, Claude. They think you're the strongest one of them. They never worry about you, like they worry about Julia, or Bailey or Charlie - you're the only one who's never cracked under stress or peer pressure. They have to use their energy stopping the other one from doing something stupid." He laughed at the image, "I mean, let's face it, those people have got some problems going on!"

Claudia laughed, despite herself, "Yeah, but .." she shook her head, "But, I'm not some wonder-woman! I'm not guaranteed to take all this stuff and just keep tracking through. They *should* worry about me." She looked into his eyes, "They should worry about me, like you do." She took a deep breath as the tears fell again, getting angry at the thought of those people causing the problem, "I can't think of choosing them over you, Griffin. I won't."

"You won't have to." He looked at her, then cowardly looked away, "At least not right now."

"What do you mean?" Claudia forced him to look at her, scared at his sad face.

"I just don't think... I mean, I don't know what I'm doing, Claudia!" He leaned his head back, breathing in deeply.

"Griffin...." Claudia looked down at her hands again, seeing there was no point in continuing. She thought her heart would literally break into two, her tears falling harder.

"Please, stop crying. I don't mean to make you cry." Griffin took her hand in his. "It's just, right now, it's crazy. I'm not even divorced from your sister, yet! You know how insane that sounds?! I'm... I'm having all these guilty feelings about Julia, although I know I shouldn't, and then this thing with you came out of nowhere and that makes me feel even guiltier about Julia."

"Why worry about Julia? If that's all, then it's easily handled. She has never given a second thought to you, even when you tried to help her get away from a guy who was hitting her! You think you owe her something?"

"It's not just Julia. I'm totally over Julia, in that way. It's just... everything! Charlie would murder me, and I do mean kill, dismember, and hide the body!"

"Not every guy is like Charlie. He should know that."

"You're his little sister - every guy is a threat. And one that just divorced his other sister, is certainly not a good bet." He placed his other hand on hers, cupping it, "You know how I feel about you?" she nodded, "I'd give anything if I had met you at a time when my life wasn't so crazy. I would give anything if you were this totally unrelated person. With everything else going on, this one thing keeps running through my mind; when I said that Julia and Charlie weren't the only problem, I meant that I'm the problem —"

"No, Griffin! Please, everything that Julia made you feel - forget! You are not a bad person!"

"That's not what I meant. I meant that I'm not the right person for you right now. I'm so messed up, right now, Claude." He smiled at her, "But, speaking of Julia — last night going through the pros and cons of this thing, I realized the distinction of myself when I'm with you and when I'm with her. When I was with her, I always felt like I wasn't good enough, not because she was perfect or anything, but because she always made me feel like I was somehow inferior. However when I'm with you, I know I'm good enough." He shrugged his shoulders, "And it makes no sense because I should feel less worthy around you, because you deserve the best. But that's what you do for me."

Claudia smiled, "I think that's the sweetest thing I've ever heard." she laughed a little, feeling the warmth of his hands on hers, "But, I don't think you're messed up, Griffin. I think you are probably the most amazing person I know." Her eyes pleaded with him to change his mind.

"I'm not saying no, exactly. I'm just saying, not right now. I don't know what to do with all this. With all these new feelings I have, here. I'm... I'm going to take a job up in L.A. this summer. I need to get away and just think things through."

"You can't leave!" Claudia almost yelled.

"I'm gonna come back! It's just a summer job a friend offered me."

"You won't." Claudia looked away, feeling like another part of her was dying.

"Claudia? Look at me." His voice was forceful, "I am coming back. I promise."

"You are no longer tied to us, there are no obligations, you don't have to come back. Before there was always Julia bringing you back, but you guys are over. There's no pending marriage, no pending divorce - it's over. You have no reason to keep coming back."

"You. I will always be here to see you. Even if nothing comes from these new feelings we have, here, you will still always be a part of my family. You and Owen are always in my thoughts and my heart. You know that?" he smiled an evil grin adding, "Although I never really had the urge to kiss Owen." Claudia rolled her eyes, "I wouldn't just leave you and not come back! Do you really think I'd do that?"

"I don't know. I mean a couple of ex sib-in-laws aren't going to keep you from other places calling to you."

"Claudia, you are probably the best friend I've ever had. There is no way that is ever going to change! I'll be back. It's just a summer job. Just a chance to let things calm down around here. And time to give me, and you, some time to think."

"You'll call a lot?" Claudia sniffled.

"Yes, I'll call you." He wiped her tears away, "Just don't pull any crying phone calls or I'll kill you when I get back. I can hardly take tears in person, but certainly not over the phone."

A group of kids ran by them, heading toward a woman calling them from her car.

Griffin realized it was already dusk, "It's getting late, we should probably go." he stood up stretching and put his hand out to Claudia, "Let's go get something to eat."

She took his hand and stood up, "Am I fit to be seen in public?" She laughed referring to her make-up.

"What? You can bawl in a public park, but don't wanna go indoors if your hair is messed up or your make-up isn't perfect?" He smiled at her, glad to see she had stopped crying.

"Ok, ok."

"Just lemme know how the place is."

Claudia shot him a confused look.

"Well, you didn't actually think I was gonna join you in a restaurant, with you looking like that, did you!?"

"Oh, shut up!" Claudia yelled, using her free hand to belt him in the stomach.

"Ok, ok." Griffin looked down at her seriously, "So, we're cool, right?"

"If you're coming back, we're cool. If you aren't, then I'm adding kidnapping to your rap sheet, 'cause I'll stow away."

"I'm coming back." He squeezed her hand.

"Well, I just might wait for you." She smiled up at him, dropping her head back to look up at the first star in the sky. She closed her eyes for a minute, then opened them, looking back at him, "If all goes right."