Given the long night they'd had, everyone slept in until at least noon the following day. Mac texted everyone to say that Parker was back in their room and doing fine, but Piz didn't have any other contact with his friends except Wallace.

He lived with Wallace, Mac lived with Parker, and Veronica and Logan were likely together, but Piz realized that Lilly might be alone for the day—or worse, with her mother. After mulling over the idea of calling or texting her, Piz decided against it because he didn't want to be a pest.

The following day he was waiting in line at the food court when he felt someone bump the back of his knee, making it almost buckle beneath him.

"What the—" He spun around to find Lilly looking pleased with herself. "Oh, hi. Hey, you're wearing your glasses in public. Bold choice—I like it."

"Well, a cute boy told me I looked good in them," she said, tapping the frames with her index finger. "So how was the rest of your weekend after your exciting Saturday night?"

"A lot less exciting, fortunately. Wallace and I played some Xbox and then I read up for philosophy. Barely left the room except to eat. How, um…how are you doing?"

"You know something?" Lilly replied, more seriously than she usually did. "I'm actually OK, I think. I called my dad to tell him about what happened, and we ended up having a really good talk. I did tell him about changing my major." They sidestepped along the counter and placed their orders.

"You did? Please tell me you didn't say it like you did in the car."

She laughed, nudging his arm with her shoulder. "No, not like that. We were on the phone for a long time—I think he postponed a meeting, which was cool. But we talked about a lot of different stuff, so I decided it was as good a time as any to bring up the fact that I wanted to switch. He said I should major in whatever I liked to study—he told me he majored in anthropology in college! I never knew that."

"So my future degree in music theory still has the potential to bring me millions? Sweet." The woman behind the counter handed them their plates.

"Huh—the salad looks less wilted than usual," Lilly commented as she inspected her lunch.

"I wish I could say that about the chicken burgers." Piz made a face at his food, then began scanning the room for an empty table. "There's a…"

"Wallace! Darling!" Lilly shouted perkily as their mutual friend entered the food court. Wallace waved back in greeting and Lilly fluttered off in his direction. Piz sighed as he followed.

As the weekend drew near, Piz couldn't decide if he was looking forward to going out with his friends or not. He was intrigued by—and attracted to, if he was going to be honest with himself—the version of Lilly Kane that seemed to emerge when they were alone, so her antics when the whole group was together were growing increasingly irritating. He wondered whether he even wanted to go out that night when he heard the rat-a-tat-tat of Lilly's rings on his door.

"Come on in, guys!" he called.

The door swung open and Lilly flounced in. "Just 'guy' tonight," she said flopping down onto Wallace's bed. "I'm going stag—my dates blew me off. Veronica fed me some line about helping Logan write a paper, but I know that really means 'hot monkey sex.'"

Piz blushed.

"Come on, you know I'm right. How can they think we haven't cracked that code?" she smirked. "Plus, I heard them bickering about something stupid this afternoon so I predicted I'd get ditched for makeup sex."

"Looks like we both got ditched then," Piz said. "Wallace and Mac are both blowing us off for last-minute dates too. One of the cheerleaders asked Wallace to a jock party, so of course, that's where he is."

"Nice," Lilly said approvingly.

"…And Mac has her eye on a guy in the animal-rights club, so she's at some protest thing with them and Parker's going with her to be her wingman."

"Wingwoman," Lilly corrected.

"So anyway, it's just us, I guess, so if you don't want to…I mean, if you just…"

"Oh no, you're not getting out of this, Stosh Piznarski," Lilly said sternly as she stood up and put her hands on her hips. "I drove all the way home to change my clothes to go out tonight, so we are going out. And with Ronica gone, we can eat something other than Italian. Oo! Let's go to that Chinese place!" She folded her hands as if she were begging.

"OK, Chinese it is," Piz said. "It's a nice night—let's just walk there."

"Walk?" she whined.

"You spend all those hours on the treadmill and you're going to complain about walking six blocks?" He shook his head. "You Southern Californians…"

Lilly sighed dramatically. "Fine, if I must." She jumped off the bed, grabbing Piz's hand and pulling him out of his chair. "And I have my dad's credit card, so it's Jake's treat," she added with a grin.

The pair made small talk as they made their way off campus and onto the streets of downtown Neptune. Piz told Lilly about his contacts at the campus radio station.

"What kind of show would it be?" she asked.

"A call-in show. Um, you know, political affairs, cultural affairs... whatever affairs. Witty, smart, go crazy. It's like Jon Stewart meets Crossfire, if Jon Stewart didn't hate Crossfire."

Lilly laughed. "If it works out, I promise I'll listen to it. I need to know more about…whatever affairs."

Piz shoved his hands into his pockets. "So—what's going on with the English major? Are you going to drop the business courses?"

"Nah," she said, shaking her head. "I talked to my counselor and we decided I might as well finish those up since my grades are decent. I've gotta keep all my credits so you freshie losers don't catch up to me." She gave him a light shove with her elbow.

"So, um…" Piz began.

Lilly saw the look on his face. "Is this another intrusive question? Do you have your recording pen on you again?" she teased.

"Yeah…I mean, no…I mean, yes about the question, no to the pen."

"OK, go ahead. For you, I'm an open book." She put her hands to her heart.

"Well, it's just that…OK, you said when we first met that basically, you partied too hard at BC and flunked out," Piz said slowly, "but at the library that time, you said you got As and Bs there. And you must have done all right, because after a year there, you're a sophomore here so you must have gotten all of your credits."

Lilly didn't respond.

"OK, never mind, too nosy. I'm sorry, I shouldn't—"

"I hated being Lilly Kane there," she blurted out.

Piz stopped walking. "What?"

"By the time I left for college, most of the people at Neptune High didn't care about the Aaron thing anymore," she said. "I mean, there were still people who didn't talk to me, but basically, it was old news. But when I got out of this town, I was still 'Teen Slut Lilly Kane.' Every time I walked into a room, everyone stopped talking and stared. You could practically hear the needle scratch, like in the movies."

Piz felt guilty about the things he'd said about Lilly before he'd met her. "Maybe once they got to know you…"

Lilly turned and began walking again, and Piz jogged a few steps to catch up. "That's what I thought—that's why I stayed for the second semester," she said. "I figured it might get better, that the novelty would wear off, but it didn't. None of the girls wanted to be friends with me, and any guys who wanted to date me just thought I was easy. One guy actually brought up Aaron on our first date! How gross is that?"

"Oh, God."

"Yeah—I think he wanted to see what all the fuss was about," she continued. "The fuck that got Aaron Echolls thrown in jail."

Piz tentatively put a hand out and rubbed her shoulder, then shoved it back in his pocket.

"The last straw was when I overheard my roommate leaving a message for some reporter at The Star. It sounded like she was going to get a big payday for giving them an exclusive on me—not like there was anything to tell, since I had no social life. That's why I did so well in my classes. " She laughed dryly. "Anyway, one call from the Kane family lawyers put a stop to her plan, but it made the last month of school uncomfortable, to say the least."

"Then I guess it's not such a big deal that Wallace always leaves his basketball shoes in the middle of the floor where I trip on them?" Piz replied with a tiny smile.

She giggled. "Wallace is the best—I seriously would have gotten an apartment with him if Alicia wouldn't have had a heart attack about it."

"She doesn't like you?"

"No, she just wouldn't want him living with a girl," Lilly explained with a slight eye-roll. "She's such a mom. Alicia and I actually get along great—I think she's trying to give me the mothering that Celeste doesn't, which is cool. I'd take her over Celeste any day. Wallace's mom can forgive, but my own mother is still mad at me for what happened. Everyone else in Neptune is over my big scandale."

"So that's why you came back here," Piz added. Lilly nodded.

"Then why can't you just tell your friends that?" he continued as they entered the restaurant.

Lilly was silent as they made their way to a table. Once they were settled, they perused their menus quietly, speaking only to discuss their dinner choices. After the server took their orders, Piz leaned forward on his elbows.


"So what?"

"Why haven't you told anyone else about why you really came back to Neptune?" She looked uncomfortable, and he impulsively took her hand in his, sure to be gentle with her fading bruises. "It just seems like you've a lot of stuff going on, and I'm the only one you can tell. I mean, I really like talking to you, and you can tell me anything. I totally mean that." He looked her directly in the eyes. "But I notice that the only one you seem to be able to confide in is the one who didn't know you in high school."

Lilly gave his hand a squeeze. "You really should get that radio talk show. If you need any references…"

The waitress brought their drinks and appetizer, forcing them to let go of each other's hand.

"I've just put those guys through a lot," she continued, picking at pot sticker. "I can't lay all this crap on them too."

"You yourself said that most people around here don't care about your past anymore," Piz pointed out. "I'd think your friends would be the most understanding."

"How much more can I ask them to understand?" Lilly asked. "What I did with Aaron was bad enough, but then I got hurt and they all had to wait for weeks to find out if I was going to wake up. And then Veronica and Logan and my brother stuck with me through all the rehab and recovery stuff—Duncan is the only reason I didn't have to repeat my junior year. I'm not sure why he had to take his junior year at all, when he'd already done all the reading."

She laughed sadly. "And when I finally got back to classes, anyone who tried to give me shit had to answer to Veronica and Logan, and they make a pretty tough team. This one bitchy cheerleader wrote 'whore' on my locker, and the next day, her tires got slashed and her hair turned blue from something in her shampoo…"

"What about Wallace?" Piz interjected. "He wasn't even in Neptune for all of that."

"Yeah, but he knew about me before he got here, and he accepted me purely on Veronica's say-so. Mac did too," Lilly said. She paused when the server brought them their food, but instead of picking up her chopsticks, she continued.

"I owe it to them to be normal," she said. "They've all spent a lot of time and energy worrying about me, and they've been there for me when no one else was. I just want to show them I can be the same as I was before."

"Who's the same now as they were three years ago?" Piz asked with a goofy shrug. "From what you've told me, Veronica has changed a lot since your…accident. And I can't imagine that Logan's the same guy he was before his dad went to prison. Look at me—my biggest childhood trauma was being only five feet tall when I started high school, but I'm not the same as I was three years ago."

Lilly guffawed. "Five feet? Aw, that's so cute! You were Veronica-sized! I want to see pictures."

"Hey, we're talking about your baggage, not mine. But really—you don't have to try and live up to some image from your past. Just be—whoever you are now. Personally, I like this Lilly Kane." Piz pointed at her with a chopstick.

She smiled shyly. "Yeah? It's not just when I'm wearing glasses?"

"Well, the glasses are hot. I think I've made my feelings clear on that issue." Piz felt his face grow warm. "B-b-but y'know, Veronica and Wallace already worry about you sometimes, and I think they'd actually worry a little less if you let them see the real you now."

Lilly looked intently at her plate for a few minutes. "You may be right about that," she finally said. "There's only so long I can keep this up. My 16-year-old self is exhausting."

"It's probably because you don't eat anymore," Piz replied with a playful scowl. "Jake's paying good money for that kung pao chicken and you're letting it get cold!"

She smiled and dug into her dish. "I'm still fabulous though, right?"

"More so," he answered with a broad smile.

He then dropped his chopsticks in frustration. "I don't know why I'm even trying with these," he said. "Less than half the food is making it to my mouth." Piz waved over the server to ask for a fork while Lilly laughed.

The conversation through the rest of the evening was light—they talked about classes, movies, music, the group's social plans for the rest of the weekend, and the likelihood that they would be abandoned again based on the relative success of Mac's and Wallace's dates.

"I'm saying Mac blows us off again for animal-rights guy, and Wallace shows up," Lilly said as they returned to campus and approached her car.

"Really? I'm thinking the other way around. Mac's so shy, and Wallace is, as he will gladly tell you, a player," Piz countered.

"That's exactly it," Lilly said. "Mac's taking this new guy seriously, so if things go well tonight, there's a good chance of plans with him again this weekend. Wallace's cheerleader thing is so not serious."

"You may have a point there," Piz conceded.

She wrapped her arm around his, grasping his bicep in her hand. "I think I'm glad we got ditched tonight though. I had a good time with you, Stosh Piznarski."

"I did too, Lilly Kane." They stopped at Lilly's BMW. "So, um, m-m-maybe we could, um, sometime, if you're free…"

"Yeah, we should do this again," she agreed.

"OK! OK, great." Piz shifted his weight uneasily from foot to foot as she stood there staring at him, not moving to open her car door. "Then, I guess I'll see you, um, tomorrow maybe? I, um…"

"Oh my God—just kiss me already! Jeez!"

Before he could be embarrassed, Lilly stepped toward him, tilting her head up. He leaned down to meet her and gently pressed his mouth against hers. Her lips were even softer than he expected them to be; she parted them slightly and brushed his lips with her tongue.

Suddenly a lot less nervous than he'd been a few seconds earlier, Piz cupped her face in his hands and deepened the kiss. Lilly responded by wrapping her arms around him and running her hands across his back. As he felt her nails through the fabric of his shirt, Piz's breathing quickened. He grazed his lips across her jawline and down her neck, sucking at her pulse point. She moaned in his ear and he hardened at the sound.

Lilly reached back and boosted herself onto the hood of her oversized car; Piz thought it was just to even out their height difference until she wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled him close. Kissing her again, he clutched her denim-clad thighs and couldn't help but think about touching the bare skin there.

When she grasped his shoulders and leaned back onto the car, pulling him down on top of her, it was almost more than Piz could take. The way she was grinding her hips into his was making him lose all rational thought.

He stood up quickly and backed away. "Wait," he gasped.

"What?" Lilly panted, pushing herself back up to a sitting position. "You don't want…"

"Not here…like this," he said, gesturing at their very public location.

"You know that being seen making out with me could do wonders for your rep," she replied with a smirk.

Piz furrowed his brow. "Lilly, it's not like that."

"I know. Sorry. Bad habit." She reached out and grabbed his belt loops, yanking him toward her again.

"No, wait." He ran his fingers through her hair as he brushed it off her shoulders, then rested his hands on her tiny waist. "I don't want you to think that I might be using you, you know—like those other guys."

"I don't think that. I wouldn't be doing this if I did." Lilly tried to kiss him again, but he didn't lean down so she could reach him. "What's the problem?"

Piz took a deep breath. "Lilly, what I mean is, I really like you—I mean, the real you I've gotten to know lately, and I don't want to mess this up."

Lilly put her hands against his chest. "You don't have to prove anything to me. I know you're a nice guy. I thought that was obvious. That's what I like about you." She paused for a few seconds and looked down. "But, you know, if you don't want this, I understand…"

"No!" Piz interrupted. "I do!" He put his hand to her cheek and kissed her sweetly on the lips. "I really do. I think this could be good—great. But I also think that if we move this fast, it would be a mistake. We haven't even been on a real date yet."

"Hey—I bought you dinner and then tried to have my way with you. That's not a date?"

He laughed. "First of all, your dad bought us dinner, and second, a default outing just because we got dumped by our friends doesn't count."

"How about tomorrow then?" Lilly suggested hopefully. "I could stand to skip out on the bowling. We'll ditch them this time."

"You're on."

She exhaled hard, making her bangs flutter. "Well, if that's the plan, then I'd better go home, because having you standing between my legs is making it hard to go slow. No pun intended," she said, leering at his crotch.

"Oh! Sorry." Piz jumped back, blushing again. He helped her down from the car and then nervously pulled his shirt down over the front of his pants.

"Good night then," Lilly said. "See you tomorrow."

"Good night." They came together for one last kiss, which quickly heated up as their tongues clashed together. As Lilly tangled her hands in his hair, Piz briefly considered moving things into the back seat of her car and tossing aside his "go slow" idea—but this time, Lilly broke off the kiss.

"You may be a nice guy, but I think there's a little bit of bad boy in there too," she breathed, tracing his mouth with her finger. "That may just be the perfect combination." She sighed loudly. "OK, now I'm really leaving."

Lilly got into her car and pulled away, pausing to give him a little wave as Piz stood in her parking space, watching her go.

He stood there for a minute, his head still spinning. The events of the evening barely felt real: The gorgeous, fascinating, complicated girl rarely wanted the nice guy, but this one wanted him. And he wanted her. Maybe being a nice guy was actually going to work out for him this time.

Want more? There's a sequel, from Lilly's POV: "The Things Guys Will Say" - I can't seem to create html links here, so see my profile for the link!