"I'm sure they did." Emily busied herself with putting the newspaper sections back in order. It was nothing new for her to see her name in print, but seeing her name in a review of an Ashes of Brooklyn show she hadn't even been at wasn't something she had expected, especially since it was yet more negative attention she didn't feel she deserved.

"It's good news, Em. Why are you frowning?"

"It's nothing," she answered. "I guess at least something good came of that photo being splashed across the tabloids."

"Ah," Jesse said. "So that's what's bugging you."

Emily shrugged. "The last couple of weeks of being demonized by the media and Cory's fans have been a little uncomfortable. I'll get over it. I should probably be more concerned with whatever I can smell coming from over in that sink."

"I think it's Cole's turn for dish duty. It will probably get worse." He sat down at the table. "Next time I promise to take out any of the parts mentioning you."

"Let's hope that next time there aren't any parts mentioning me. I'm sure you guys would rather be known for your own merits, anyway, and not for some ridiculous out-of-context photograph that a few vultures with a lot of readers swooped in on."

"Is it really that bad?"

"What? Having everyone imply that you're a two-timing whore?" She shook her head. "Yeah, it's downright lovely."

"That's not what I meant," he said. "I meant the photo of you and me. I know I was a little alarmed when I first saw it, but once I got over it, the whole thing was kind of funny and cute."

She stared at him, wondering if he'd heard anything she had just said. He reached over to touch her arm.

"Relax," he told her. "You're way too wound up right now."

She felt herself grow even more tense at both his touch and his words. "You aren't helping."

He moved his hand away from her arm. "I'm trying to, but you've got to give me something here. Maybe you can try to have some fun with this. I am."

"Fun?" She waited for a few seconds, trying to figure out if he was serious about her enjoying herself. When he didn't say anything else, she gave him a long, hard look, trying to express without words that his suggestion was entirely insane.

"Do you remember what that is?" he asked.


"I wasn't trying to be. You've been on edge every time I've talked to you lately."

She opened her mouth to reply, biting off a retort when she heard footsteps in the hallway. Bailey appeared at the entrance to the kitchen a moment later.

"Hey, guys." Bailey yawned while running one of his hands through his slept-on hair. "Excuse me while I make myself presentable enough for a lady." He winked at Emily, then walked down the hall. She heard the bathroom door close and the whir of a fan start.

"Sorry if you took that the wrong way," Jesse said, once Bailey had left the room. "I'm not trying to be insensitive, you know."

"I know," she answered, her voice quiet. "I just haven't been in the best mood this week."

"Let's fix that. I'll make us lunch, and then we can go do something that's more fun than sitting here at this table in a pigsty of a house."

"Sounds good," she said. "But if I'm staying, we're not going to talk about anything that's happened since I met Cory. I just want a normal afternoon."

"Done." Jesse got up from the table. "I'm going to run down the street to the store to get a couple of things, then I'll come back and make us lunch. We'll be as normal as we ever were."

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