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Oct. 28th, 2010


Happy Birthday Benson - Friday morning, Oct. 22

When Mallory went to bed on Thursday night, she knew that she would be woken up around 2 or 3 am by her boyfriend, whose birthday was on Saturday.

Mallory was ecstatic. She was debating just staying up, but she decided not to, because she wanted to stay up and talk to Benson for awhile - for as long as he could stay awake, anyway. She knew he'd be tired after driving all day. She felt bad that he was the one who had to drive to her for his birthday, but he'd insisted, so....

Mallory could barely get to sleep that night. She felt like a little kid on Christmas Eve, trying to get to sleep knowing that the morning would bring exciting surprises. She finally dozed off at around 11:30.

She was awakened by a text; she lived with two other girls, and she knew that Benson was too considerate to bang on the door and wake them all up. He probably wouldn't even have woken her up, if she hadn't insisted on it.

She ran to the door and threw it open, rushing to hug him before he even got the chance to step inside. "Hi," she mumbled into his shoulder, squeezing him tightly. She hated being so far away from him.

Oct. 17th, 2010


Kristy is a Bossy Busy-Body

It hadn't taken a full twenty-four hours after Stacey left Sam for word to spread.  Stacey moved into Mary Anne's apartment, filling her in, and she sent Claudia a short e-mail, hoping that her best friend would get on a computer in Japan sooner than later.  Claudia did and then made an international consolation phone call, but that only made Stacey feel slightly better.  Since she hadn't expressly told Mary Anne to keep things quiet, Mary Anne almost immediately told Kristy so that she could find out if Sam was okay.

Kristy wanted to give Sam time to tell the family on his own, but after a week she realized that he wasn't going to.  It was time to take matters into her own hands--like always.  So she picked up her cell phone and called her older brother.

"Hey, Sam, it's me," she said when he finally picked up.  "How are you?"

Oct. 11th, 2010


No Word

Prior to this weekend, Stacey had been excited to get Columbus Day off from work, but now she thought that work might have been the better option compared to sitting by herself in Mary Anne's empty apartment.  Mary Anne was visiting her boyfriend and her roommate was at work, leaving Stacey to sit and angst.
And she knew that she was angsting and that it would annoy the crap out of her if she had to hang out with anyone doing the same, but she was in the mood to feel sorry for herself and nothing was going to stop her.  Today was the anniversary of her miscarriage and it shouldn't have been a big deal; Little Elizabeth was clearly not ever supposed to make it and nothing could be changed about that.  Sometimes Stacey even almost forgot about her, but when she became broody she let it consume her and she fantasized about what life would be like today if her baby had lived.  Would she and Sam have gotten married?  Or would everything have gone the way that it did, anyway?
They hadn't spoken since Friday night and it was killing her.  She had hoped that he'd wake up on Saturday morning with the realization that he couldn't live without her and of course he wanted to marry her someday with no doubt in his mind.  Then he'd call and she'd rush home and they could be them again.
But no call came on Saturday or Sunday and now Monday was mostly over and there was still no word.  Stacey wondered if Sam even remembered what today was, but maybe he wouldn't call even if he did remember.  Maybe he hadn't figured out a way to tell her that his feelings hadn't changed and he didn't really want to be with her forever.

Maybe it was time to just give up.  He would have called by now if he wanted to, if he really cared.  And Stacey needed to stop replaying his promises in her head, the ones about how they'd talk soon and their relationship wasn't over.  Because maybe it was.

Oct. 8th, 2010


Sam and Stacey

Stacey and Sam had been invited out on Friday night, but Stacey was exhausted from a hard week at work.  She was one of the lowest members on the totem pole at the financial firm where she had worked since August, and with the 2010 Fiscal Year coming to a close on September 30th, her firm had been going crazy trying to process everyone's taxes.  She'd done twelve hour days every day this week and now that Stacey was finally home and in her jeans and bare feet, she simply wanted to relax.

Relaxing had been hard recently, mostly because of work, but also because of Sam.  Stacey still loved him every bit as much as she always had, if not more, but she hadn't been able to make herself not care that he didn't seem to have any plans for them beyond the present.  They had been living together for years and had almost had a child together and yet no plans?

And that was another thing.  Monday would be the fifth anniversary of her miscarriage and because of all the stress that she was experiencing, Stacey was feeling it more this year than in the past.  She didn't want to be sad, but she just was.  She often thought that she should bring up her concerns to Sam so that he could assure her that of course he wanted to marry her and of course he wanted to have babies with her--even if he just wanted to wait on all that for a couple of years.  She was fine with long as she was waiting for something that was definitely going to come.

She was pulled from her thoughts by Sam as he let himself into the apartment.  From her spot on the sofa, Stacey grabbed the remote and turned off the TV.  "Hey babe," she smiled wearily.  "How are you?"

Aug. 7th, 2010


Benson had to hand it to the Carver family--when they had a party, they had a party.  Madeline's twenty-second birthday was on Wednesday and she, Cary, and Salinger had had a private birthday party for just the three of them that night, but her parents had hosted a blowout party for their families, the Retlins, and tons of friends of Mad's and Cary's.  Benson was glad to get to see his roommate, Mad's cousin Garrett, and to introduce him to Mallory who had, of course. attended with him.

They had begged off as it approached midnight when it became evident that the party wasn't showing any signs of ending on its own.  Even Benson's parents were having too much fun with Mad's parents and aunts and uncles to put their drinks down and go home, but Benson wasn't too surprised by that.  After Salinger's birth four-and-a-half years ago, his grandparents had bonded and eventually made each other part of their respective families, just as Mad had done with Benson and Stieg.

It took almost a half hour just to make the rounds and say good bye to everyone that they needed to, but Benson and Mallory were finally in his car, driving away from the festivities.  "You wanna go anywhere, Mal?" he asked, taking the wheel with his left hand and reaching over to take hers with his right.

Aug. 1st, 2010


Mallory was feeling as happy as anyone had ever felt before. Her and Benson were together almost all the time, but it was a completely different feeling than being with Brian. She still couldn't believe how quickly it had all happened.

Luckily, Brian had had all his things taken out of her house by the time she'd gone home that day, and it didn't appear that he'd taken anything belonged to her or anyone else. She was a little concerned about the things in his apartment in North Carolina, though. She had most of the important stuff with her for the summer, but she'd left some books and furniture there.

Right now, though, she wasn't concentrating on that. She thought she would rather buy everything back that she'd left there then face him again, even though that would be expensive. She really just didn't want to see him again, though she figured she would probably run into him in North Carolina, knowing her luck.

Surprisingly, she hadn't heard from Brian. She'd been expecting to get, well, something; cryptic phone calls, notes with the letters cut from magazines, anything.

But there'd been nothing, and Mallory was enjoying just being with Benson again. She didn't know what would happen when they both had to leave again, but she was trying not to focus on that thought, because it depressed her. They should enjoy what time they had together; yet Mallory knew she would miss him tremendously.

Mallory had just gone to bed on a Saturday night when she finally got the message from Brian she'd been expecting. It came in the form of a text; perhaps he wasn't as crazy as she'd thought.

Babe im sorry and i want u back. im sorry.

And then a few minutes later:

I really am. plz, we can give this another try, i love you.

Mallory wasn't really surprised. He always apologized after fights, but there was no way in hell she would ever go back to him now. As long as he kept it to apologies, she thought she could handle texts. Hopefully he would get tired of her unresponsiveness and just give up.

Jul. 20th, 2010


Mallory hadn't spoken to Benson since the night of his party.


That wasn't technically true. They'd nodded to each other, and said hi, and other things you might say to someone that you were casual friends with.

But they hadn't talked, really talked, since the party.

She saw him sometimes at school. She'd decided to take a writing class, after all. Now it was halfway over and she still hadn't spoken to Benson. One part of her missed him desperately.

She knew that one reason that she hadn't spoken to him sooner was because of Brian. She loved him, but she knew he would flip his shit if he saw, or heard, about her speaking to Benson. He didn't like her talking to boys when he wasn't there, that was all. That was not perfectly reasonable, especially when said boy was her ex.

Still ... everytime she saw him, the butterflies in her belly began flying crazily. Today was no exception. Today, however, was different in that this time she wanted to speak to him.

"Hey," she said softly, touching his arm to grab his attention. She hoped he didn't hate her.

Jun. 10th, 2010


More Poor Timing

Recently, things had been a little tense in the McGill-Thomas apartment.  Stacey's inability to broach the subject of their future was putting a strain on her at an already stressful time in her life.  Now that she had graduated from Columbia, she was trying to find a job.  Well, she'd been applying to jobs for months, but now that she was out of school and her father was cutting her off financially, she was making her job search a full-time job.  In the past two weeks alone, she had attended three interviews, sent out her resume to over forty businesses and filled out extensive applications for fifteen more positions.  Many of her friends from graduate school were in similar circumstances as her, so she knew that she wasn't the only one not getting responses, but it was still stressful.
The added tension was messing with her blood sugar slightly, too.  It wasn't enough to talk to her doctor about, but she had to pay closer attention to her levels than usual.  All of this combined with Sam's ill will towards Ethan was enough to stress out anyone.  She had seen Ethan only once since the shower fiasco, when they rode the elevator up together.  She had been friendly and tactful, but also firm and clear that walking into her apartment in nothing but a towel had not only been inappropriate, but it had caused tension in her home and he had better not expect to be welcome there anytime soon as far as Sam was concerned.  Ethan had apologized profusely and then irritated her the tiniest bit by saying that he hadn't even considered whether it was appropriate or not because he wasn't interested in her any longer.  Stacey was glad that he wasn't, but she couldn't help but be a little miffed at the same time; no girl wants an ex to think that she's undesirable, ever.
Still, when Stacey relayed the conversation back to Sam that evening, she could tell that he remained unconvinced over Ethan's true motives and it only gave her something additional to worry over.
As if that wasn't bad enough, she returned home from the post office--where she'd bought more stamps to mail out more resumes--the elevator was out of service.  "Oh, you're effing kidding me," she scowled to herself.  Of course it would happen on a day when she'd worn cute but entirely unpractical high heeled shoes.  Glaring down at her feet, she removed the shoes, resigning herself to washing her feet as soon as she made it to the eighth floor, and started walking upstairs.
As she neared the seventh floor landing, she could hear someone calling out for help a little uncertainly, like he wasn't sure if he needed help or wasn't sure whether anyone would hear him.  "Uh, help?  Help?"
"Ethan?" Stacey called out, entering through the open stairwell door.  Immediately, she saw smoke coming in from #707, his apartment.  She dropped her shoes and purse and rushed in, nearly knocking Ethan over.  "What's going on?!"
"Thank God you're here!  I was cooking and, well....the pot caught on fire!"
Stacey rushed over to the stove and, sticking her hand into an oven mitt, grabbed a pot lid and put it on top of the pot, shutting the fire inside and tamping it down.  She turned off the burner and then used the mitt to start waving the smoke away.  "What on earth were you cooking?!"
Ethan bit his lower lip sheepishly.  "I was trying to make stove top popcorn.  I guess that maybe I turned the heat on too high?"
"You think?" Stacey asked with an eyebrow raise, clearly suggesting that he was some level of stupid.  She thrust the oven mitt at him.  "You're not going to have a fun time cleaning that up, but definitely don't go near it until it cools off.  And you need to check the batteries in your smoke detector because I didn't hear it go off."
"Oh, I definitely will, I promise," Ethan swore.  "Thank you so much for helping!"
"Well, it was either that or let my apartment potentially burn, too.  Anyway, I need to get going," Stacey continued, cringing inwardly when she thought of what Sam's reaction would be to all of this.  "I'll talk to you later."
She started walking out the front door, which was still open, only to see Sam right outside the door holding her purse and heels.  Oh crap, Stacey thought, wishing that she could have just explained later.  "Baby, you wouldn't believe what just happened.  Let's go upstairs and I'll tell you all about it."  She wanted to separate him and Ethan as much as and as soon as possible.

May. 29th, 2010


Party at Benson's

Benson looked around his living room where his former SHS classmates had started showing up over an hour before.  So far everything was staying relatively clean--no spills anyway--but he wasn't too worried about it getting rowdier.  Cary had taught him a long time ago that if he wanted to throw a party, he needed to hide certain things and make sure that everything was exactly where it had been when their parents left.  And when he cleaned up after, he shouldn't clean things too well because it'd be a dead giveaway.

Presently, Elise was getting some guys to help her set up the beer pong table in the kitchen and he'd noticed his ex...well...ex-hook up buddy, Evangeline Sullivan, sitting on the lap of a former baseball teammate of his.  Yeah, everything seemed to be completely normal for an SHS party, even three years after graduation.

May. 27th, 2010


Benson and Mallory Meet Again

Benson had been looking forward to moving home for the summer for a while; he was happy to get to hang out with his brothers and even to baby-sit Salinger, who he was pretty sure was the smartest four-year old ever.  What Benson hadn't expected was that his parents would go away for Memorial Day weekend and leave the house to him and Stieg.  Stieg wanted to go to the beach with some of his friends and Benson encouraged him to go so that he could host a party for his old classmates.  Presently, he was at the grocery store buying some snack food and loading up on beer.

He wasn't watching where he was walking as he returned to his cart and wound up bumping right into someone.  "Hey, sorry about that," he said automatically before he looked down and saw that it was Mallory Pike.  "Wow, Mallory!  How are you doing?"

This was weird and he didn't quite know why it was.  He'd run into Evangeline Sullivan several times and it had never been odd.  I also never cared about her really, he reminded himself.  But different.

May. 15th, 2010


And Things Get Awkward

While Stacey and Sam were usually pretty good about keeping their apartment clean, recently they'd grown a little lax.  Stacey had marked today as her cleaning day and had even gotten up earlier than normal to make sure that she could start laundry before anyone else claimed the three washing machines in the basement because she and Sam were both nearly out of clean clothes.  She was also the one who took care of all the laundry responsibilities for both of them because she didn't mind adding his things with hers, but mostly because the first time that Sam did her laundry he had shrunk one of her sweaters to toddler-size.  Stacey decided never to risk it again, especially with such a large variety of clothing that had special washing and drying instructions.
On this particular Saturday, she had been lucky enough to put a second round of loads into the three washing machines after the first round was done; usually there would have been someone waiting by then to take them over.  All of her and Sam's things would soon be done and she thought that if that was the only thing she accomplished that day, she would feel productive.  Luckily, the cleaning frenzy had barely begun.  In their apartment, Stacey hooked her iPod up to the expensive Bose radio that her father had given her as one of her Christmas presents a couple years before, and put on her "Cleaning" playlist that consisted almost solely of Oldies because that's what she and her mom had always cleaned to in the past.
She had just finished making the kitchen immaculate when she heard a faint knock over the sound of her radio and her own voice singing along with Dusty Springfield's, "I Only Wanna Be With You."  She guessed that Sam must have forgotten his key when he went out since she wasn't expecting anyone, so she swung the front door wide open without looking through the peephole.  Then she wished that she had because she was acutely aware that her ragged denim shorts were too short and that she wasn't wearing a bra beneath an old t-shirt of Sam's that almost fully covered up her shorts because of its length.  If it had been Sam at the door she wouldn't have cared, but it was her ex-boyfriend instead.
"Hey," she said, giving Ethan a curious glance.  "Uh, what brings you by?"  She crossed her arms over her chest, hoping that he wouldn't notice the lack of a bra.  Even if she had known it was him at the door, Stacey wouldn't have been able to do much about her predicament because all of her bras were currently air drying on the drying rack that she'd set up next to the open balcony/ fire escape window.
"Stace, I know that this is a huge inconvenience, but do you mind if I use your shower real quick?  My water somehow got shut off and the Super can't look at it for another couple of hours--and I have to be at work in thirty minutes.  Please?  I'll really owe you one."  Now the reason why Ethan had a bath towel over one shoulder made sense--as did the two bottles of shampoo and body wash in his hand that Stacey hadn't noticed before.
Stacey wasn't sure how much Sam would like it, but she couldn't think of a good reason why Ethan shouldn't use their bathroom.  "Of course you can!  The bathroom is, uh, just through there," she said, pointing and letting him walk inside the apartment.
"Thank you so much, Stacey," he said, already making his way towards the door.  "I really appreciate it."
"Let me know if you need anything," she called after him as he shut himself inside the bathroom.  She wondered if she should grab a bikini top to use as a bra until he left, but figured that it was unnecessary--he would be gone soon.
And how is Sam going to like that when I tell him that Ethan was essentially naked in our apartment?  Ugh.  There was never any question in Stacey's mind about letting Sam know, but that didn't mean that she was looking forward to it.
As if God knew the exact moment to screw her over, Sam let himself into their apartment just then.  Above the sound of a Beatles song coming from the radio was the unmistakable sound of the shower running.  "Hey sweetheart," she smiled at him a little awkwardly.  "Um, so Ethan needed to use our shower....His water's off or something."

May. 9th, 2010


Stacey Thinks Too Much

Stacey couldn't sleep.  Sam had passed out an hour ago, but she was still lying on her side in the dark.  They'd had another great weekend in Stoneybrook for Mother's Day, but once the celebration was over and they were back in New York City, Stacey couldn't help but feel a little...sad, she guessed.  She did her best to hide how she was feeling from Sam by telling him that she was tired.  So they had gone to bed, he'd gone to sleep, and she was trying not to move around too much so that she wouldn't wake him up.

Mother's Day.  Maybe it was silly of her, but Stacey couldn't help but think about how she could be a mother right now.  Little Elizabeth would be turning three right about now if not for the miscarriage and Stacey wondered what she would have been like.  She and Sam had talked about that before, but, as time went on, their baby came up less and less often in conversation.  She came up less often in Stacey's thoughts, too, but every once in a while it would really hit her and make her a little blue.

In her mind she was a Lizzie--happy, laughing, squealing even.  There would be toys and dolls and thick cardboard books scattered around their apartment--not this one, though.  They would have a two-bedroom if they had Lizzie with them.  Sam would have to keep Stacey from spending too much money on clothing for the little girl and she'd probably have to keep him from buying her too much candy--Stacey was sure that their daughter would have him wrapped around her little finger, after all.  And she was sure that her baby would have been beautiful, too.  She didn't see how she and Sam could produce anything less than perfect.

But none of that had happened.  Elizabeth hadn't made it and Stacey had never really become a mother.  She knew that she probably wouldn't be finishing up her Masters degree right now if she had a child, but she didn't know if that made her better off.  She also knew that having a kid right now wouldn't be great for them--even if she wasn't terrified of another pregnancy--but she wasn't sure how Sam felt about all of that.

It was perfectly okay that he hadn't proposed to her last month--really it was.  Stacey knew that they were still young and didn't need to get married yet, but that didn't stop her from wishing that Sam would bring up the subject.  They talked about the future sometimes, but he had never specifically said that they'd be husband and wife while they did any of the things they talked about.  She had never even noticed that until last month's non-proposal, but now it was on her mind.  She wanted to say something to him, to ask what he saw for them, but she couldn't make herself do it.  No matter how many times she told herself that of course he wanted to marry her one day, she wasn't completely certain.  And even though not knowing how life would be with Elizabeth made her sad, not knowing what Sam wanted with her seemed like the better option right now.

May. 3rd, 2010


Although generally Laura didn't appreciate being told that one of her best friends would rather spend time with a boy, she had managed to be understanding for Mallory's birthday. Partly because she wasn't going to ruin Mallory's day, and partly because on her birthday, Laura preferred just spending it with her boyfriend. So rather than argue, she'd pushed back the birthday dinner a day.

So now she was in JJ's bar and grill, irritated at being around a crowd, but trying to be happy and enthusiastic for Mallory. Who wasn't there yet. Trying not to frown, Laura leaned back into her seat. It was probably Brian's fault. "I bet Brian's being a dick," she muttered to Matt.

Sitting next to her, his arm resting on the back of her seat, he shrugged. "Probably," Matt agreed, tapping his fingers on the table. He didn't really like Brian too much either, but they'd only met once, and unlike Laura, he wasn't quick to dislike people. "What d'ya think?" he asked Josh. Josh usually seemed a lot less biased than Laura.

Laura interrupted. "That he's a dick," she said in exasperation, before looking at Josh, expecting him to agree. "A total dick, right?"


No Stranger to the Rain

It was no secret that Greer hated thunderstorms and always had, so she really should have taken that into account when she bought her house along the beach in Malibu. Two stories high, it was smaller and more compact than most townhouses, but it had the advantage of not being attached to any other homes. The beautiful large windows had seemed advantageous, too, when she'd first toured the home and fallen in love with it, but now she could see every bit of the storm and she felt surrounded by it. Even closing the curtains didn't do much except shield her from the sight, but enhance the feeling that the storm was closing in on her. Even though it was far from a hurricane, she couldn't help but remember back to Hurricane Julie when she and Brad had....



Dawn &Price

Dawn was in the kitchen, making one of her many famous tofu meals. She had the radio on and danced from place to place, all while singing along to John Lennon. Yes, she was an original, but it bothered her very seldomly, and with Price, she felt quite complete and at ease with who she was. Even though she knew he was going to be disappointed when he found out what they were eating today. Not once had Dawn compromised her vegetarianism since she moved out on her own several years ago, and she wasn't planning on doing it today either. Price would just have to deal, and sneak a burger later. But she didn't expect him to be happy about it, as it was a frequent cause of argument in their home.

As she heard the door fling open, she lowered the volume on the stereo.

"Hi babe!" she called from the kitchen.

May. 2nd, 2010


Mallory had managed to get through the entire day without thinking about Benson. Not that she thought of him a lot, but it was especially hard on her birthday, she'd found. Her favorite birthday gift would always be the graffiti on the water tower, that he'd painted for her sixteenth birthday.

However, as the night wound down and she found herself sipping a cup of tea at her kitchen table, she allowed her mind to wander.

She'd had a nice enough day. She'd gone out for brunch with Brian, and they'd spent the day together. He'd bought her a bouquet of roses, and a sweet card. It was.. a good day, for him. He'd made an effort to not be so irritable, for her sake, Mallory thought.

Still, Mallory couldn't help thinking of how Benson was doing. She missed him. She hadn't wanted to break up with him, and he hadn't wanted to break up with her. They'd both decided it would be for the best .. but sometimes Mallory wondered if it was, really.

Elise would know how he is... she thought, taking a final sip of her tea. Glancing at the clock on her wall, she was startled to see that it was 11:12. Definitely too late to call her now ... but maybe she would in a few days.

So it was that Mallory put her mug in the sink, turned off all the lights, crawled into bed next to Brian, and thought about Benson.

May. 1st, 2010


Ghosts of Boyfriends Past

The elevator doors were just closing when Stacey heard someone shout for her to keep them open.  Barely in time, she stuck her hand in the way and the doors opened to show a dark-haired guy carrying two heavy brown boxes and making his way towards her.  She looked at him curiously, sure that he couldn't possibly be....
But then he looked away from the boxes and over at her just in time for both sets of eyes to grow wide.  "Ethan!" she exclaimed right as he said her name in the same surprised tone.  "Wha-what are you doing here?"

Apr. 22nd, 2010


darcy/irv... parenting class. oy vey.


This Meeting of the Associate Members of the BSC is Now in Session

Logan had ten minutes left of his shift and he was looking forward to getting home.  He'd been pulling over speeders, stop sign pausers, and violators of Connecticut's no cellphones while driving rule for a few hours and he was kind of sick of all the excuses.  Cookie Sobak claimed that she was on an emergency call, but when he asked who she was talking to, her story started changing until it turned out that she was on the phone with a nail salon trying to move back her appointment because she was late--and that also explained why she was speeding.  Yes, some days were like this, but other times he got some good stories out of the day to make it all worth it.  Or he did something that helped someone and that made it worth it, too.

Just when he was thinking that he could go home, he clocked a silver MINI Cooper going 40 in a 25 mile per hour zone.  Sighing, he flipped on the flashing lights and the sirens and then turned out of the side street where he'd been idling and followed the MINI Cooper until the blonde driver pulled over to the side of the road.  He parked behind her and let her wait until he'd filled out information on his clipboard before he got out of the squad car and walked to her car.

"Do you know how fast you were--ah, wow, hey, Shannon," he grinned as he recognized the blonde.  "Long time, no see.  How's my favorite co-associate member of the thankfully defunct Baby-Sitters Club?"

Apr. 20th, 2010


Mark was absolutely ecstatic as he paced anxiously in the arrivals terminal of the Stamford Airport. After some convincing -- with much reluctance on his part -- Lauren had taken Alyssa on a two week long trip to Thailand, where she had family. The two weeks had been more than long enough -- Mark missed his little girl like crazy, and oddly enough, found himself missing Lauren too.

The two of them had settled into a very unorthodox way of life. They lived together in a three bedroom house -- a room for each of them -- and raised Alyssa together, although there was absolutely no romance between the two of them. Lauren bickered at him like she'd always had and went to school, and Mark went to work and got dinner started every night. According to his buddies, it was as though he was married but without the sex. Mark had never looked at it like that -- it was what worked for them. Besides, it was Lauren. There was no chance he'd be into her.

But then she left, and he was alone. And he missed her. The bathroom didn't smell like her perfume, the house wasn't filled with the mother-daughter giggling and no one rolled eyes at Mark when he offered the wrong answer on Jeopardy. He bragged to his buddies about how nice it was going to be to be alone for two whole weeks, but really... it hadn't been as fun as he expected. He didn't want to start having feelings for Lauren -- it seemed as though it would be more trouble than it would be worth -- and vowed he wouldn't let himself get attached to her, which would be easier said than done, since Mark had the tendency to not realize something was happening until it was too late to go back.

He stopped pacing and stood attentively as the weary passengers started to make their way into the airport. He kept his eyes peeled for Alyssa, but with her being only four years old, he didn't spot her until he heard the familiar, adorable voice pipe out, "Daddy!"

He crouched down and held his arms out as Alyssa barreled into them, nearly knocking him over. He squeezed her tight and lifted her as he stood, burying his face into her lovely Loreal Kids scented hair -- Mark would be lying if he said he'd never tried the strawberry smoothie scented shampoo. And it was true -- no tears.

"Hi, Droopy," Mark greeted, holding tight onto her and using the affectionate-but-embarrassing nickname he'd come up with her when she was just learning to walk and he didn't want to change her smelly diaper. "I missed you!"

He glanced over her shoulder at Lauren and grinned at her, stepping closer to her and awkwardly placing a arm around her waist, hugging her in a friendly greeting -- because, sometimes they were friends. And she still smelled good. Better than the Loreal Kids shampoo. "Hey, kid," he told her as he pulled away. "Good to see you didn't get hit by all that lava," he added, knowing she'd be pleased that he watched the news even while she was away.

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