Mercedes pulled a bundle of cans from off one of the shining, metal shelves and handed it over to Marley with a grunt. They worked in silence for minutes, placing can after can in meticulous rows in the pantry. The silence was filled with the clutter of metal, the shifting of cardboard and an infrequent "is that the last of it?" from either party. Marley hadn't brought a hair tie to hold her hair back from her face and had spent as much time pulling it behind her ears as she had spent putting cans on shelves.

"This is hard work,' she lamented, looking at Mercedes writing numbers down on a clipboard.

"Tell me about it,' Mercedes sighed, grabbing another cardboard container of cans and handing them to Marley. "These go on the bottom shelf."

Marley nodded and took the container from Mercedes, squatting to put the canned yams and corn in the far recesses of the cabinet.

"What'd you do for Halloween?"

Mercedes gulped. "I hung out with a friend. What about you?"

Marley shrugged. "I don't really know anyone here, I watched a few cartoon movies. My mama doesn't really like anything too scary, so… claymation stuff."

Mercedes furrowed her eyebrows. "None of them kids in your neighborhood came by your house for candy?"

Marley nodded. "They did. I just got tired of telling them I didn't have anything to give them,' but she chuckled. "Maybe they wanted the pork chops that were thawing for breakfast…?"

"Maybe not,' Mercedes said quickly, the two girls laughing. "I did get to pass out some candy. The kids were cute. I think I'm starting to like Halloween; it makes me want to be a mom already, so I can dress my kids up as something silly like a lady bug or a butterfly."

Marley nodded. "I was a butterfly for Halloween one year… makes you wonder why kids want to be certain things. Like, why not a princess or a singer?"

Mercedes shrugged and began to help Marley unstack the cans. "Who knows? Maybe you wanted to be something beautiful."

Marley gave a wry laugh. "Unluckily for me,' she sighed. "Nothing's changed."

Mercedes stopped short and looked at Marley incredulously.

Marley continued before turning red under Mercedes's gaze. "What?"

"Marley, you're joking… you're so beautiful, what are you talking about?"

The girl laughed awkwardly and continued to work. "Thank you. I— I'm trying to be better about the self-confidence-thing… I don't think I'm ugly, don't get me wrong,' she said, gushing. "But I just feel like everyone else has something, and I don't. So many of the girls at school are stunning, like, way too pretty to just be in high school in Ohio, like, what? Are you a movie star? Why are you here?' Marley over-acted as she thought about girls who looked like Quinn Fabray, not that she even knew who that was yet. "I think you're stunning, you have these curves and this beautiful smile and… you're radiant, Mercedes. Then I look at me, and I'm just Marley. The coolest thing about me is my last name, and it's really not even mine,' she sighed. "Brown hair, blue eyes and the most boring, unassuming life ever. The most miserable one. So, I don't know. I want to wake up and have someone see me for the person I want to be, but I know that person doesn't exist. Everything is just inside of my head; sometimes I don't even feel like I'm there."

Mercedes had been frowning, but listening for the entire lament. She looked at Marley with genuine eyes and a sigh. "I know what you mean,' she began, but she didn't want to feel the space with a competition of who was more disheartened by comparing themselves to the rest of the world. "And for what it's worth, I think you're beautiful. One of the prettiest girls I've ever seen, those girls at school all look like carbon copies of each other. What's more important than that is you're kind, and you have a good heart. That's so rare, Marley. Trust me, I know… and you know, God loves that. But, so do people. In this world, you're going to have a lot of people walk over you and look past you and mistreat you, and you're going to be so sad, and you'll be mad, and you'll cry. You'll hate the world, but when you find something good, you'll know it, and you'll know that it's true, because you deserve it… I like you, and I like you even more because you remind me of myself,' Marley smiled. "Listen: I don't know if you can see it, but so many people are just pretending. When you're just you, you don't need to compare yourself to anyone because what you're comparing yourself to isn't real. Most people are just showing you who they want to be, and that doesn't sound too far off from what you were saying about yourself, does it?"

"No,' Marley shook her head, looking at something nameless on the floor.

"Hey, I've invited a lot of people to help me with my church's pantry, and you're the only one who's said yes. That speaks a lot to your character. There's so many people that are pretty on the outside and hideous on the inside… you're not one of them."

Marley sat in contemplative thought for what felt like minutes before giving a light laugh and smiling at Mercedes. "You're a good friend,' she breathed out before continuing to work. "Enough of that mumbo-jumbo; who did you hang out with on Halloween? Anyone you've mentioned before?"

Mercedes bit her lower lip. "No, no one you know,' she replied anxiously before she began to stack cans for Marley.

"Here— I'll grab some more, don't worry,' Marley began. "And, you spill. I don't know about your friends, and you know all about mine, so dish."

"Well,' Mercedes began, wanting to choose all of her words carefully. "It's just a friend that I've gone to school with for a while, since we were kids. We're pretty close, and they didn't have any plans for Halloween, so we passed out some candy at their house and ordered some food. Nothing serious, but it was fun."

Marley nodded, bringing more cans and boxes of food over to Mercedes. "Is it a girl friend or a boy friend,' she asked with aim.

"It's a boy,' Mercedes gave. "But not a boyfriend, just a boy who's my friend. That's it."

Marley raised her hands in defense. "Hey, I was just asking… is he cute,' she laughed.

"Oh, my God. I'm not doing this with you,' Mercedes said, rolling her eyes, but she too began to laugh. "He's pretty good looking though."

Marley smiled, "There we go, that's all I wanted to know,' but she continued. "What did you guys dress up as?"

"I was a scarecrow, and he hated that,' Mercedes said, beginning to smile. "And, do you know he didn't dress up? He was telling me how much he liked Halloween, and then didn't even dress up and had the nerve to talk about my costume,' she shook her head.

"There's a smile… What's this guy's name?"

Mercedes began but stopped short, remembering how she and Sebastian had discussed coming from different walks of life. Would it hurt for Marley to know that she was friends with one of the most popular boys at school? Even if it wouldn't, would it help? "Girl,' Mercedes started, trying to be somewhat kind but digress. "You don't know him, you just moved here, remember? He's just another person we go to school with out of, like, thousands."

Marley deflated a bit but maintained her curiosity. "Okay, well, tell me more about Mr. No Name… please, entertain me. All my mom and I watch is Golden Girls. I need hot gossip immediately,' she pouted and clasped her hands together.

"There's no 'hot gossip', Marley,' Mercedes began but fell victim to Marley's pleading eyes. "Okay. He and I have gone to school together since, I don't even know how long. When we were really young, probably kindergarten for all I know. The last time we were in a class together was, like, fourth grade though. We were pretty tight, he used to be really rowdy, but he knew how to not get in trouble. If you hung out with him, you would usually end up in some type of trouble, but he never seemed to,' Mercedes thought back before chuckling. "It's still the same way with him now, really… We would hang out at lunch and stuff. We used to always sit beside each other in art class, but after elementary school, we didn't really talk much, but everyone splits up in middle school anyway, and then they split into new friend groups when all the schools filter into high school, so I hadn't talked to him in years. I mean, years… then one day at the school assembly at the beginning of the year, we ended up sitting next to each other—'

"On purpose?' Marley interrupted.

Mercedes shook her head, "I couldn't even tell you why he recognized me, the last time we spoke to each other, we had to have been, like, twelve or thirteen, and he was trying to get me to vote for him as SGA president,' Mercedes shrugged. "I knew he remembered me then, because he was bringing up all this stuff from elementary school that I barely remembered… well, I remembered, but I didn't expect him to. Anyway, so we just talked at the assembly, and it still felt like I knew him. Like, nothing had really changed,' she wiped her hands off on her pants and let out a sigh. "We've been hanging out again more since then, and it's easier now. He drives, and I have money, and we have stuff to talk about other than hating homework and end-of-the-year pizza parties. It's been nice to have a friend around that I grew up with technically."

Marley sat in thought for a few seconds before beginning to straighten the row of cans. "I think this is done,' she said, pointing at them. Mercedes nodded and stood to grab the last bin for them to place on the shelf. She rubbed the small of her back, aching from bending over for most of the midday event.

"And you guys are just friends? I mean, not that boys and girls can't be friends, I'm not saying that. They just usually aren't nowadays,' Marley campaigned. "And it seems like you guys have a nice bond. I never hear you talking about boys."

"Yeah,' Mercedes replied quickly. "And what if I liked girls?"

Marley raised her eyebrows and surprised, her mouth opening in surprise. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. That would… totally be okay too, I have no problem with that….' she watched a smile spread on Mercedes's face. "... you're joking with me, aren't you? Please, tell me you're joking."

"You should see your face."

"Mercedes, you almost gave me a heart attack. I'm here trying to ask you all these questions about a potential boyfriend, and I'm barking up the wrong tree the entire time. I would feel so silly and so bad. I wouldn't want to offend you by, like, any means."

"Marley, you're one of the nicest people I've ever met. I think he'd probably want to meet you, he wouldn't believe how kind you are. He's pretty cynical, if you ask me. Getting him to laugh is, like, work. And I'm so funny."

"So funny."

Mercedes walked the bin back over to Marley, placing it on an empty shelf adjacent to them for the two to grab from. "We are just friends… I don't know, it's just… hard to explain. I did have a little school crush on him back when we were younger."

Marley had stood up and began to smile. "Was it mutual?"

"Who can say? He hasn't mentioned if he liked me then or not, but he knows I liked him… he thinks it was cute… and I guess it was,' Mercedes sighed. "I know that my feelings for him shouldn't be dependent on his feelings for me. If I like him, I should acknowledge that whether or not he feels the same. I want to be true to myself in that way, but there's something in my mind that won't let me go to that place with him. I feel all the things I think you're supposed to feel when you like someone, but liking him just feels like the wrong thing to do."

"Well, what do you mean by that?"

"I don't know. Like, he does a lot of stuff I don't like. And I know I do stuff he doesn't like, but he does so much more stuff that I don't like. If I like him as more than a friend, then that means I wasn't just this good and honest friend to him like he thinks I am, it just means I stayed because I had feelings for him… I know how it feels to be used or know that someone is only speaking to me because they need something, and I feel like liking him would be the same as using him. I'd just be using him to make me happy."

Marley thought, but she didn't want to leave much time in silence between them. "I don't think that's a bad thing. People, like, need each other. They want each other, they love each other. They want to be around each other. If he didn't have that same want for you, he wouldn't spend time with you as well… my mom tells me that if you didn't have to pull someone by the skin of their teeth, they probably wanted to go… maybe you can think of him in that way. Liking someone isn't a crime, everyone has crushes. You know yourself, you know your heart. Even if he was just your friend, you would've still hung out with him on Halloween night to make sure he wasn't alone. That's just the type of person you are. I mean, hey, you became my friend, and the first time we met, I, probably, totally freaked you out. You're a good person, Mercedes. You're a great friend. You'd be a great girlfriend to any guy… or girl you'd like… People become more special to us when we love them, but we love people because they're special."

Mercedes looked at Marley with her eyebrow raised. "That was deep, Marley… thank you."

Marley laughed. "I spend a lot of time with older people, so… it rubs off. And I'm happy to help."

"For as much time I spend in church,' Mercedes gestured around them. "You'd think I'd be more in-the-know."

Marley continued. "What makes you think you like him? I can tell you what I think; we can gather whether this is a bonafide crush or not."

"Hmm,' Mercedes put a hand to her chin. "He's funny, but not in the way you'd expect from him. His reactions to things are so ridiculous. It's like he never expects people to do these totally normal things… Okay, so the other day, a few days after Halloween, we were on the way to school, and we stopped to get something to eat, and he almost got into a car accident, and he and the guy argued in the parking lot. That's fine, I was just hoping we wouldn't be late to school. When he finally got back in the car, I asked him if he realized the guy used to be one of our teachers in middle school. Once he heard that,' Mercedes rolled her eyes. "Then he couldn't let it go. At first, he didn't believe a teacher was arguing with a child, and then he couldn't understand why Mr. Weist was turning into a fast-food restaurant at seven in the morning instead of being at school, then he started talking about 'why is eating here if he's on salary', and I asked him 'if you have your parents' credit card, why are you eating here?', and we just went back and forth for, like, thirty minutes. By the time we got to school, he was so upset. He just told me to have a good day and walked away,' Mercedes snickered to herself. "He gets so worked up, but, like, no matter how worked up he is, he usually still wants to talk to me. Like, if we fight, he wants to fix the problem. I don't think I've ever had someone in my life that wants to keep me in their life as much as he does."

The girls had finished most of the work while Mercedes talked, Marley moving to organize the last bit of disarray in the room. "I think he likes you."

Mercedes sighed. "You don't really have the full picture, Marley."

"Care to share?"

"No,' she sighed, walking to the door with Marley shortly behind her. Reality hit like a brick. "I think I like him, well, I know I do, but I don't want to spoil something that feels nice."

"I understand that,' Marley nodded, turning the light off and closing the door behind her. The dim light in the hallway led to a glass door where they could see the headlights from Nani's car. "Your mom has, like, perfect timing."

"Hey, no boy talk in the car, okay?"

Marley crossed her fingers and nodded her head.