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Emma rolls over in bed and smacks against a pale, freckled back. She opens bleary eyes and squints, taking in the white skin and the gingery hair, and moans, "Oh, not again."

Joe makes a quiet noise and shifts so that he's lying flat on his back. There is a large hickey blooming on the underside of his jaw, which she does not remember putting there. Clutching the sheet to her chest, she sits up and scans the room for her clothing. She spots her underwear and jeans on the floor, so she reaches out one foot to tug them towards her. She shimmies into them, then looks around for her shirt, but can't find her bra. Her shirt is thrown over Joe's laptop, so she picks it up, yanks it on, and then steals one of Joe's sweatshirts to cover up with.

Her phone is shoved into one of her boots, its light blinking with a new message. She thumbs it on and sees, wher r u?????? :((((((((( Unsurprisingly, it's from Andrew and is timestamped at 3:07 a.m. She rolls her eyes, snatches her purse from the doorknob, and tiptoes out of the room.

She takes the elevator up to Andrew's floor and walks into his room without knocking. He's lying on his couch, nursing a bottle of water and looking fairly miserable.

"Oh god," he moans when he sees her. "What did we drink last night?"

"Everything," she says, sitting on his feet. "Hungover?"

"Oh god," Andrew says again. "It's like God is hitting me in the brain." He looks at her with narrowed eyes. "Is that Joe's jumper?"

"Yes. Shut up," she adds preemptively. "Have you called your DJ crush yet?"

"Oh god," Andrew groans for a third time, covering his face with his hands. "I did. I saw it on my mobile's history this morning. I have no idea what I said."

"We can check it online!" Emma says, hoping to distract Andrew from Joe's sweatshirt. She leans down to pick Andrew's laptop off the floor. "What time did you call?"

"I think around four," Andrew says, pulling himself upright. "I don't know if I want to listen to it."

"We're going to," Emma says firmly. She types in the address for their school's radio station and curls up next to him. She finds the livestream recording on the front page and rewinds it until she gets to around 4 a.m.

“It was a little after this,” Andrew says after a moment. “I was -- I was singing along to this one. So it was after.”

“Let’s just listen,” Emma says. Andrew groans and buries his face in her shoulder miserably. “Oh, oh,” she adds as the DJ says, “And we have a caller. Hello, you’re on the line.”

“Hiiiiiii,” Andrew says on the recording, sounding very drunk and very happy. “I love your show, it’s amaaaaaaazing.”

“Oh, well, um, thank you,” the DJ says, sounding flustered. “I, um, I’m glad you like it. I didn’t think anyone actually listened.”

“I listen every night,” Andrew says very earnestly. “Sometimes I relisten after I’ve been dumped. It makes me feel less like crying.”

“I feel like crying on a daily basis,” the DJ says. “I can’t imagine that the sound of my own voice would make it any better.”

“You make every day better,” Andrew says wistfully. “You seem like a really lovely person.”

“I, um, thank you?” the DJ says. “Are you sure -- you haven’t hit your head recently or anything?”

“No!” Andrew says a little too emphatically to be believable. “But, um, I should probably go, I had to drink a lot to even call in.”

“Well, that explains a lot,” the DJ replies dryly. “It was nice having you call in, um...?”

“Andrew!” Andrew says enthusiastically. “One day I will meet you and take you out, DJ Jesse. But I must say goodnight -- and parting is such sweet sorrow!”

There’s an audible click and then a small silence. Then the DJ -- Jesse -- says, “Well, all right. That was -- unexpected.” To Emma’s unpracticed ear, she thought he sounded pleased, but she couldn’t know for sure. She turned off the feed and looked at Andrew, who appeared to be trying to suffocate himself in the couch cushions.

“Andrew,” she says, exasperated, and she grabs the back of his shirt to haul him upright again. “Come on, it wasn’t that bad.”

“I sounded like a moron,” he moans miserably. “He’s going to think I’m an idiot, Emma! He’s smart and clever and witty and I was a drunken git!”

“Well,” Emma says practically, “he doesn’t know your who you are yet, so I think you still have a chance. He sounds like he doesn’t get complimented much.”

“What if he thinks it was a prank?” Andrew asks, aghast, and falls into fresh misery.

It’s only a little while later that he recovers enough to say, “Hey, but you’ve distracted me -- you’re wearing Joe’s jumper.”

“So?” Emma asks, aiming for indifference and missing by a mile. She gets to her feet and starts tidying up the floor. “What about it?”

“It means you slept with him again,” Andrew says. Emma doesn’t answer and he lets out a triumphant noise. “I knew it!”

“Why does it matter? It just -- happens,” Emma says. She throws a dirty t-shirt at Andrew. “Do your laundry.

“Emma,” Andrew says, flopping over the edge of couch. “Drunkenly sleeping with Joe once is an accident. Twice is understandable. Eight times is a pattern.”

“It has not been eight times,” Emma says, though she privately admitted to herself that it really depended on your definition of ‘sleeping with.’

Andrew flapped his hand at her. “Semantics. My point is that it can’t just be a combination of alcohol and bad judgement. You like him.”

“Of course I do,” Emma says brusquely. “Joe is a nice guy.”

“No, I mean, like --” Andrew gestures expansively and nearly falls off the couch.

“I think you need to sleep more,” Emma says, gently pushing him back into his seat. “You’re falling over yourself.”

“Ugh, fine,” Andrew says, and he curls up onto his side. “Don’t trip and fall into Joe again,” he adds. Emma sticks her tongue out at him, then lets herself out.

Abigail, one of her residents, is waiting outside her door when she got to her floor. She squints at Emma and says, “Isn’t that Joe from the fifth floor’s sweatshirt?”

“No,” Emma lies. “What’s up?”

“I was wondering if I could ask your advice about something,” Abigail says, shifting from foot to foot. “It’ll only take a minute.”

Emma knows better than to believe that -- if a resident is actually coming to her for something, it means that they’re going to need to talk to her for a while -- but she says, “Sure,” and lets Abigail in. “Would you like tea? Cookies?”

“No, thank you,” Abigail says, polite as can be.

Fifteen minutes later she’s sobbing and Emma is holding out the tissue box for her. “The offer for tea is still open,” she says when there’s a lull.

“Do you have chamomile?” Abigail asks, watery. Emma smiles and nods, then gets up to boil some water. She grabs her half-eaten box of Oreos and a jar of peanut butter and hands them over to Abigail, who eyes the offering dubiously.

“I promise it will help,” she says kindly. There’s a knock at the door and Emma excuses herself.

Joe is standing on the other side, holding something green in his hands. “Hi,” he says. “I hope this isn’t a bad time, but --” He thrusts his hands forward and Emma realizes, with a small thrill of horror, that he’s holding her missing bra from that morning. She snatches it out of his hands, feeling herself go red.

“Thanks,” she mumbles.

“Last night was fun,” Joe adds with a small smile. “Talk to you later.” He leans in and pecks Emma’s mouth before turning and leaving. Emma groans to herself and shoves the bra into the sweatshirt pocket before heading back into her room.

The water has boiled, so she puts the teabag in her mug and passes it to Abigail, who has stopped crying and now looks interested.

“Who was at the door?” she asks with a knowing glint in her eyes.

“No one,” Emma says.

“It sounded like Joe,” Abigail says. “I remember, he busted Elle Fanning’s party last weekend.”

“He just wanted to ask me something,” Emma says. “Now --”

“Are you sleeping with him?” Abigail asks eagerly, leaning forward with wide eyes.

“What? God, no!” Emma lies instantly. “And we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about you.”

“This is more interesting,” Abigail says, sipping at her tea.

“Eat your cookies,” Emma says.

 

The thing with Joe had started the year before. Andrew and Emma had broken up during the beginning of sophomore year after a particularly bad fight where she threw all his plaid shirts out the window and he painted on her while they were working on the set for Cinderella. They brought out the best and the worst in each other in ways that could not really be fully comprehended, and they had decided that it would be best if they didn’t date anymore. Emma spend a day or two mourning the relationship by eating her sorrow and then Andrew came to her door and said, “We’re going to a party and we’re getting laid.”

Andrew had struck out because he was actually a hopeless romantic and didn’t know how to have one night stands, but Emma had run into Joe and he was funny and quirky and they had hooked up in the bathroom after mostly everyone else had passed out.

That would have been fine, except that Joe is an actor too and they see each other all the time and the long and short of it is, well -- there are a lot of cast parties.

“It’s not a thing,” Emma tells Andrew later when they’re sorting through the building’s mail. “I mean, I admit I think he’s attractive, but I think you’re attractive.”

“And we dated for a year,” says Andrew. “So --”

“It means nothing!” Emma protests. “So have you thought any more about Halloween plans?”

For the past two years, Emma and Andrew had done couple’s costumes for Halloween. Freshman year, it was Cinderella and Prince Charming. Sophomore year, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. This year, Andrew had decided, “We need two costumes because Halloween is on a Sunday, so it’s going to be parties all weekend and we can’t wear the same costume two days in a row.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Emma had said, but Andrew was stubborn and also kind of a drama queen.

“I have thought of costumes,” Andrew says smugly. “Two -- Spider-man and Mary Jane and The Doctor and Amy Pond.”

Emma squints at him. “How will I dress up as Mary Jane? And hey, both of those girls have red hair!”

“You’ve been saying you wanted to try dying your hair red for ages,” Andrew points out. “What better excuse? And you can wear that Chinese dress thing she wears in the first movie.”

“Qipao,” Emma supplies, then frowns. “How did I know that?”

“No idea,” Andrew says. “I’ll help you dye your hair!”

“This is just you living your childhood dreams,” Emma accuses him.

“You like Amy,” Andrew says, which is actually totally true and basically the only reason Emma had agreed to watch Doctor Who with him in the first place.

“Okay, fine,” she says. “But I’m holding you to that hair thing.”

“It’ll be a party!” Andrew says, then gasps. “Oh, shit, did you see where I put that package slip?”

 

Emma fidgets in her qipao, and, annoyed, decides she’s taking the chopsticks out of her hair. Andrew makes a sad noise when she does so, and she rolls her eyes at him. “It hurts my head,” she says.

“I’m wearing a mask,” he points out, voice muffled.

“Don’t even pretend this isn’t your dream come true,” Emma says.

“Yeah, whatever,” he says. He takes her arm and leads her into Kristen and Robert’s apartment where the party is already going. Kristen spots them and makes her way over, looking magnificent with her tousled hair and Victorian clothing. Robert is at the keg and appears to be Dracula, judging by the high-collared cape and fangs.

“Mina Harker,” Kristen says when Emma asks. “Pretty cool, right?” She high-fives Andrew. “Welcome, guys, and have fun. Just don’t puke on anything.”

“We’ll do our best,” Emma calls after her. The two of them wander over towards the food and Andrew looks sort of forlorn, even through the mask. Emma grins. “Regretting your decision?”

“I can’t eat!” Andrew moans. Someone bumps into him from behind and he says, “Oof!”

A small guy with blue eyes and hair that is very strictly parted down the middle peeks out from behind Andrew. “Sorry!” he says and Emma and Andrew both freeze. “I just -- I got knocked into you -- sorry --”

It’s him! Emma mouths at Andrew, who nods frantically and then turns around slowly.

Jesse the radio guy is wearing a suit and what looks like a fake plastic cockroach on his shoulder. Emma raises her eyebrows, but Andrew says, “Kafka!” and Jesse’s face lights up in a huge grin. It’s kind of stupidly cute, and she grabs a handful of chips so she can munch while she watches them.

“How did you know?” Jesse asks Andrew.

“You’ve mentioned it on your show!” Andrew says, then seems to realize that he just gave himself away. “Oh, shit.”

“You sound really familiar,” Jesse says slowly. “You -- you’re Andrew. The guy who called in a couple of weeks ago?”

“Um, if I say no, will you believe me?” Andrew asks weakly. Jesse laughs and shakes his head.

“Not at all,” he says. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you,” Andrew says breathlessly and Emma decides that it’s time she made her escape. She runs into Selena and the two of them sing along loudly to a song before Emma gets sidetracked by beer and listening to the latest stories of Taylor’s love woes. She’s on her way to get a mixed drink when she spots Joe, who grins and waves at her.

“What the hell are you supposed to be?” Emma asks blankly, staring at Joe. He is wearing a huge fake black handlebar moustache and a slip dress, which seems to have writing on it.

He grins and holds out the skirt so she can read it. “I’m a Freudian slip!” he explains as she reads, Oedipal complex, cigar, dreams. “And you’re Mary Jane Watson.”

“I am,” she says, beaming. “My Peter has vanished, so I was afraid people wouldn’t get it.”

“Please,” Joe scoffs. “I’ve seen that movie approximately fifty times, I’d recognize that outfit anywhere.” He leans against the wall next to her and tugs at a strand of her hair. “I like the red.”

She laughs and says, “Of course you do. You want more fellow gingers.”

“Yes,” Joe admits. “And it looks good on you.” He pushes her hair aside and bends in to kiss her neck. She sighs and tilts her head to the side to give him more room. He smiles, his stubble and fake moustache tickling her skin, and wraps an arm around her waist.

“We really shouldn't," she says unconvincingly, even as she turns into him. He rubs his thumb over the jut of her hip and raises his head to smirk at her. "Oh, shut up," she says, and she kisses him, her mouth sliding slickly across his. He licks her bottom lip, seeming not to mind the taste of her lip-gloss, and bunched some of her dress in his hand. She wraps a hand around his neck and arches into him, suddenly completely turned on.

Joe pulls back and rips off the moustache, making a face. “Ah, that’s better,” he sighs, scratching his upper lip. “It was itching like crazy.” He tosses it over his shoulder and glances towards the door to the bedroom. “You want to --”

“Yes,” she says firmly, and she tugs him through the door. He shuts it behind them before she drags him back towards her, letting him press her against the wall. It’s quieter in the bedroom -- Emma is really going to have to apologize to Kristen later -- and Emma can relax into Joe, not worried about people watching them.

"Do you have a –" she starts when he pulls away to kiss her jaw.

"Left side, there’s a pocket. My left," he adds when she starts to reach for it. She digs in the dress’s pocket until her finger hits the plastic wrapper. She pulls it out and glances over at the door.

"It's locked," he assures her. "I checked."

"Confident," she remarks. He pushes the hem of her dress up and drops to his knees, knocking the breath out of her. "What are you –"

He gently nudges her knees apart and slides her underwear from her hips. She helps him get them off her, her hands shaking with desire. "You can grab onto me if you think you're going to fall," Joe told her, smiling, and he ducked his head between her legs.

"Fuck," she swears, head falling back. She threads the fingers of one hand through his hair and steadies herself against the wall with the other. His facial hair scratches the inside of her thighs pleasantly as he flicks his tongue lightly against her. She cants her hips upward, desperate for more friction, and he licks a long line up before sucking hard on her clit. She moans and clenches her hand compulsively in his hair.

It isn’t the best of positions, but he manages to get her off with his tongue and a well-timed finger, and she shudders hard against the wall as he takes the condom back from her and opens up the packaging. “You’re good?” he asks as he steps out of his briefs. She’s greeted to the very strange sight of him lifting up the hem of his dress so he can put the condom on and she has to stifle a giggle. “I’ll take that as a yes.

“Can I just say that it’s incredibly weird that you’re wearing a dress too?” Emma gasps as he lifts one of her legs around his waist. “Like, you work it, but it’s just -- kind of weird.”

Joe snorts and says, “Be glad I took the moustache off.”

“I am,” she says fervently, and her head drops back against the wall with a thud as he thrusts into her. It feels really dirty to be having sex with most of her clothes still on while a party goes on outside the door -- but she’s more focused on wrapping her arms around Joe’s neck and urging him on, the two of them rocking together and driving her into a frenzy.

Her hands tighten on his shoulders when she comes again, her thighs shaking and her eyes blurring a little. He strokes her hair, but doesn’t stop, even as she whimpers with overstimulation. “Do you think we can get you to three?” he breathes in her ear.

“It’s worth a shot,” Emma opines, and he moves one hand down so he could rub a thumb against her.

She comes a minute later, overwhelmed and really, really pleased. Joe kisses her hard and follows her, his knees buckling a little. They separate, both a little shaky, and they clean themselves up as best they can. Emma winces down at the trashcan -- Kristen is going to know exactly what happened -- and then pulls her underwear back on. When she turns around, Joe is smoothing his skirt back down and grinning.

“That was fun,” he says. “If I had known cross-dressing got to you this much --”

“It isn’t the dress, come on,” Emma responds, rolling her eyes.

“Oh, really?” Joe asks, grinning. He wraps an arm around his waist and leads her out of the room, smirking. “Is it my stunning good looks? Or my sparkling personality? Or my big di --”

“Emma!” calls Andrew, shouldering his way through the crowd. He’s taken off his mask and his hair is sticking up even more than usual. He catches sight of her and Joe and his eyebrows go up. “Hey, Joe.”

Joe’s grip on Emma’s waist tightens almost imperceptibly for a moment, then he says, “Hi.”

Andrew smiles, then turns to Emma. “He disappeared!” he moans. “He muttered something about cats and vanished and what if I never see him again?”

“I think I hear some beer calling my name,” Joe tells Emma. “Talk to you later.” He kisses her before moving off through the crowd.

Andrew looks like he’s trying to decide whether to smile smugly or be miserable. He decides on the latter, no doubt so he can torment Emma later. “He’s even more amazing than I thought he would be,” he continues, grabbing Emma’s arm. “I love him.”

“Okay,” Emma says. “I think we need to get you a drink.”

“I agree!” Andrew says delightedly, and he drags Emma towards the liquor table.

 

“Okay so,” Andrew says to Justin the next night, leaning forward and accidentally knocking his bow tie askew. “Emma here has slept with Joe, what, eight -- no, nine times. That’s a pattern, right?”

“When was the ninth?” Justin asks, sitting up straighter. “Was it last night?”

“Yes!” Andrew says.

“Sweet, Andy owes me fifty bucks,” Justin says. “I knew they wouldn’t be able to resist each other on Halloween.”

“Excuse me,” Emma butts in, “but have you been betting on my sex life?”

“To be completely accurate, it’s yours and Joe’s,” Justin says, completely unapologetic. “Sorry, we would have told you, but Selena thought --”

“Selena is in on this?” Emma half-yells.

“She thought you guys might collaborate with someone and split the winnings,” Justin continues as if she hadn’t spoken.

“You guys are awful,” Emma says flatly, and she tosses what remains of her drink in Justin’s face. As he splutters, she gets up and walks away, annoyed that Justin should ever benefit from anything she had done, let alone her sex life.

She finds Joe by the refrigerator, where he is looking dubiously at the single slice of cheese and the jar of mustard. “Did you know that there’s a betting pool about us?” she asks him.

Joe slams the door shut and turns to look at her. “Um, what?”

“Justin just let it slip.” Emma leans against the refrigerator. “They bet on when we’ll hook up next.”

“That’s creepy,” Joe says.

“Thank you!” Emma looks over at him. “You know what this means, right?”

“Um, no?”

“We have to stop having sex,” Emma says.

There is a brief silence. Then Joe pouts attractively and says, “But I don’t wanna.”

“We can’t let them win,” Emma says firmly. “That’s giving in.”

Joe eyes her. “You’re serious.”

“Yes.”

Joe considers this for a moment, then holds out his hand. “Let’s fuck up their plans,” he says happily, and they shake.

 

The whole not-sleeping-with-Joe thing goes well for about, oh, the first week.

Then Emma gets a part in a student production and, it turns out, Joe does too. They stare at each other when they come into the first rehearsal, and then Joe says, “Fuck. You’re not --”

“I’m Beatrice,” Emma says, who had apparently gotten the part because the producers were “digging the whole fiery redhead thing!”

“Benedict,” Joe says, and he sighs. Andrew hurries in a moment later, out of breath, and falls into the seat next to Emma.

“Hi Joe! I’m Claudio!” he says proudly before turning to beam at Brenda, who is sitting on his other side. “My Hero.”

“Literally!” agrees Brenda.

The rest of the cast comes in while Emma and Joe try desperately to avoid each other’s gazes. It is a lot more difficult than Emma thought it would be. She distracts herself by turning to talk to Rooney, who is playing Dona Pedra (or at least that’s what they’re calling her, apparently), and pretends that she isn’t itching to talk to Joe and find out if he’s seeing anyone or if he wants to hook up in the janitor’s closet.

“So much for this being easy,” Joe says to her during their break. He’s wearing short sleeves and she notices now that he has a tattoo on his bicep. She raises her eyebrows.

“Very patriotic,” she says, touching it lightly. He hisses and she yanks her hand back. “Any particular reason?”

“My other costume for Halloween was a marine,” Joe says. “Rami got me so, so drunk.” He looks slightly mournful. “It was either the flag or a bald eagle. I’m glad we went for the flag.”

“A bald eagle would have been kind of cliche,” she agrees. “I guess it still hurts.”

“Yeah, a bit,” he says. Brenda turns around in her seat and smirks at them.

“Hey, Justin says you guys know about the bet now,” she says. “I have fifty on today, so if you’re feeling charitable --”

“No!” they both yelp in unison. Brenda pouts and turns back around. Joe looks at Emma and lowers his voice.

“We could always just not tell anyone,” he points out.

“There are no secrets at this school,” Emma says. “Someone will know.”

Joe sighs and puts his arm around her shoulders. “Well, I guess we can control ourselves.”

 

“Lock the door!” Emma hisses, letting her sweater drop to the ground. Joe locks it and then turns to kiss her, his hands firm against her jaw. She throws her arms around his neck and backs up until she can hop onto the edge of the bathroom counter. Joe tucks his fingers under the hem of her shirt and she wraps her legs around his waist to urge him closer.

“Someone is going to come looking for us eventually,” he points out when they separate to breathe. “Andrew and Brenda aren’t going to be rehearsing forever. And we’re kind of the main characters.”

“It’ll be fine,” Emma says, punctuating her words with a nip of his ear. He sighs and traces his fingers over her ribs.

“This is ridiculous,” Joe says. “Why do we care about the bet?”

“Because it’s insulting,” Emma says. “And also don’t you think it’s weird that we keep hooking up?”

“I don’t know.” Joe tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “I like you. So no, it’s not really that weird.”

“But --” Emma sighs. “Shouldn’t we do it right?”

“What, a date?” asks Joe. “You want to go on a date?” He smiles at her. “I can totally romance you if you want.”

“I didn’t say that,” Emma says.

“You totally want me to romance you,” Joe says. “Okay, then.” He steps back and bows elaborately. “Milady. Allow me to escort you back to the stage.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Emma says, hopping off the counter. Joe picks up her sweater and puts it around her shoulders. “This isn’t what I meant.”

“But it’s what you’re getting.” Joe takes her hand and leads her out of the bathroom. “So enjoy it.”

Emma rolls her eyes theatrically and says, “Okay, whatever.” She lets him bring her back to her seat and they sit down next to each other, smiling smugly at Andrew and Brenda who gaped at them in mock astonishment.

Jesse is standing at the front of the room with Rashida, and she introduces him with a smile. “This is our co-director Jesse Eisenberg,” she tells them. “Be gentle, it’s his first time.”

Andrew shoots Emma a panicked look and, when called upon to speak, uses his American accent. Emma rolls her eyes so hard it hurts, especially when Jesse squints at Andrew suspiciously.

“You’re being ridiculous,” Emma tells him when they walk back to their dorm, Joe’s arm around her shoulder. “You should just introduce yourself again, this time without a mask and in person. He seemed to like you on Halloween.”

“How would you even know?” Andrew asks. “You and lover boy here were locked in Kristen’s bedroom -- oh please, did you think nobody noticed?” adds Andrew when he caught Emma’s surprised look. “And what’s going on with the two of you anyway?”

“I have formally asked Miss Emily Jean on a date,” Joe told Andrew smugly. “And she said yes.”

“Is this because you don’t want anyone to win the bet?” Andrew asks as they go inside their building. “That’s pretty petty.”

“It isn’t because of that,” Emma says, scowling at him. Joe grins and kisses her cheek. “We’re just doing things the right way around.”

“Did we ever do things the right way around?” Andrew asks Emma as they get in the elevator.

“We did dinner and a movie a couple of times,” Emma reminds him. “That counts, right?”

“I never romanced her,” Andrew tells Joe. “So you should do that. I’m pretty sure she’s soft and squishy underneath all her sass.”

Emma pushes Andrew away from her and exits the elevator with Joe on his floor. He walks backwards, holding her hands in his, as he outlines his plans for their date. “I am going to take you to my favorite Jewish deli downtown and we will eat like kings. And I was thinking we could go down to the beach.”

“Yeah?” Emma asks, smiling. “Is that what you would put in your personals ad? Fond of long walks on the beach?”

“Always,” Joe says passionately. “It’s the only reason LA is better than New York.” He opens the door to his room and leads Emma inside. “Thoughts?”

“Sounds great,” Emma says. “And what’s the plan now?”

“I’m not sure,” Joe admits. “What do couples do?”

Emma tries to remember what, if anything, she and Andrew had one differently as a couple. “Watch TV? Talk? Cuddle?”

“We can do all of those things!” Joe tugs her towards his sofa and flicked on the television. “Food network?”

“My favorite,” Emma admits, and she curls up next to him to watch reruns of Chopped.

 

Joe, miraculously, has a car that he keeps in the structure next to his dorm. Emma stares at it in disbelief and says, “This is a sweet ride.”

“Hell yes, it is,” Joe says, petting the hood affectionately. “What were you expecting? Some kind of lemony rust-bucket?”

“Kind of,” she says.

“I find your lack of faith disturbing,” Joe quips, sliding into the driver’s seat. “Come on, Emily Jean, let’s go get us some sandwiches.”

“You have got to stop calling me by my full name,” Emma says, getting in on the other side.

“You’re welcome to call me by mine,” Joe says as he pulls out of his parking space. “Although it’s a bit of a mouthful.” He winks at her as he says this and she rolls her eyes dramatically.

“Joseph Francis Mazzello III,” she pronounces, “you are a scoundrel and a rogue.”

“Probably,” he agrees. “But my name is very impressive.”

“That it is.” She grins at him, feeling more at ease than she thought she should. First dates were supposed to be stilted and awkward -- but she guesses that since they cheated on the order of most relationships, it makes sense that their first date should be easy and comfortable.

The food is as great as Joe promised it would be and she wolfs down her sub even though she hadn’t even been that hungry to begin with. Joe kicks her under the table and asks about her family and she talks about her mom and gets a little sad, because her mom’s been in remission for a couple of years now, but it still hurts a little to remember how small she had seemed lying on that hospital bed. Joe reaches across the table and squeezes her hand, looking guilty.

“Sorry, I should have -- I thought it was a safe topic, but I guess not,” he says sheepishly. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she says, smiling at him, and she loves that he doesn’t press her for more details the way Andrew sometimes would, that he’s content to let her say what she wants.

When they get to the beach, the sun is just at the horizon. Emma takes off her shoes and holds them in her hand as they wade through the sand. Joe tells her about his time as a child actor, brief as it was, and she makes sympathetic noises when he talks about getting awfully sick while filming in Hawaii.

She makes him sit with her on the sand so they can watch the last of the sunset, the sky stained vivid red and orange. She glances over at him, his face lit with the sun’s dying light, and she feels a strange lightness in his chest. He looks back at her and smiles, and then they’re kissing, passionate and desperate, his hands tangling in her hair as she pushes him back onto the sand. Joe rucks up the hem of her shirt and tucks his fingers just below the waistband of his jeans before they both remember the stupid bet and yank apart.

“Goddamn it,” Joe swears. Emma sits up, straddling his thighs and grinning a little when she feels how much he wants it. “This was a bad idea.”

“We can’t just let someone win,” Emma says. “Unless we figure out a way to split the prize with someone.”

“Ooh,” Joe says, leaning up on his elbows. “There’s an idea.”

“We should talk to Andrew,” Emma says. “He’ll go along with us.”

“Yeah,” Joe says. “I’m not letting Ashton win. He would be insufferable about it.”

Emma doesn’t know who he’s talking about, so she changes the subject to ask, “What do you think counts as sex?”

Joe raises his eyebrows at her. “Shouldn’t we wait until the third date anyway?”

“That’s a ridiculous rule,” Emma grumbles.

“If we go out separate ways and agree to...pleasure ourselves, will that do?” Joe asks. “Or is that creepy?”

Emma thinks about lying in bed and touching herself, knowing that Joe would be doing the same several floors below her, and says, “No, that could work.”

He smiles and runs his fingers through her hair. “Best first date?”

“Obviously,” she replies. She moves so that she’s resting against his chest and says, “Pleasure ourselves.”

“It sounded more pleasant than --” Joe stumbles, cheeks flushing. “You know.”

“Masturbate?” Emma says, just to see him squirm.

He makes a face at her and says, “Yes, that.”

“Aww, you’re cute,” she says. She kisses his jaw and closes her eyes. “You can imagine that it’s me. It’ll be like having sex by proxy.”

“I’d rather have you in my arms,” Joe says frankly, which is the sweetest thing she’s ever heard. She snuggles into him and mentally curses Justin, who she knows is behind this whole ridiculous betting pool.

 

“So you guys are just...making out and then, um, touching yourselves?” Andrew asks her a week later.

“What is it with you boys and the word masturbation?” demands Emma as she attempts to straighten Andrew’s teetering pile of text books. “It’s not going to bite you.”

“It just feels weird to say it in front of you,” Andrew admits. “So that’s really all you’re doing?”

“We don’t want anyone to win,” Emma says. “Unless -- we were thinking we could split the money with you.”

“That seems unethical,” Andrew replies primly, flopping onto his stomach to look at her better.

“You can use it to take Jesse out on a date,” Emma says, smirking at him. “If you ever manage to find the cojones to ask him out.”

“Nope,” Andrew says. “He’ll think I’m weird.”

“You are weird,” Emma points out. “And someone is going to say your name during rehearsals and you don’t sound that different with an American accent --”

“All right, fine!” snaps Andrew. “Okay, I’ll -- I’ll tell him it’s me, will that silence you, you harpy?”

“Yes,” Emma says, raising her eyebrows. “No need to be rude about it.”

Andrew sighs and covers his face with his hands. “I’m really stressed, Em. I’m freaking out about this play and I have a ten page paper due in Miller’s class on Thursday and --”

“Andrew,” Emma says, going to sit on the edge of his bed. “Breathe.” She squeezes his knee. “And if you need me to take a shift --”

“No, I can do my shifts,” Andrew mumbles. “Thanks, though.”

“Any time, sweetie.” She gets to her feet and looks down at him. “And I was serious about that bet thing. Tell Justin you’re in and we’ll figure something out.”

“That just seems mean,” Andrew says.

“He deserves it for starting it in the first place,” Emma says darkly. “He’s such an asshole.”

“Agreed,” says Andrew. “Thanks for stopping by.”

She leaves his room and runs into Joe, who must be on patrol that night. He looks at her weirdly and says, “You hang out with Andrew a lot.”

“Well, sure,” Emma says, frowning. “He’s my best friend.”

“Yeah,” Joe says, still with that weird expression on his face. “I know.”

Emma eyes him for a moment, then leans in to peck the corner of his mouth. “You want me to help you with rounds?”

“I’ve got it,” he says, smiling slightly. “You should go study for that Swedish test.”

“Ugh, Rooney is going to beat me anyway,” Emma sighs, but she goes back to her room anyway and cracks open her textbook.

Joe stops by her room after he’s done with his rounds and says, “So how did the studying go?”

Emma looks guiltily at her textbook lying abandoned on her pillow and says, “Great.”

“Yeah, sure,” Joe teases, sitting down on her desk chair. “I can see the reflection of your laptop screen in your window.”

Emma glares at him and minimizes the window that had been playing old episodes of SNL. “Fine, you caught me.” She smirks. “What are you going to do with me?”

Joe pats his thigh and raises his eyebrows, daring her to come over. Emma slides over towards him and says, “You should know better than that.” Emma swings her leg over Joe’s legs and settles so she’s seated on his lap. “Remember last semester’s cast party?” she asks, rolling her hips.

Joe groans and lowers his head to mouth at her collar. “Brenda almost walked in on us.”

“Yeah,” Emma says, running her fingers through his hair. “Do you think this will count?”

“Nah,” Joe says. “We have all our clothes on.”

“Fair point,” she says and she tips her head back, biting her lip as she rubs against the hard line of his dick. He snorts and slides his hands down to her hips.

It’s not the most dignified they’ve ever been, rubbing against each other until they both come in their pants, breathless and giggly, but it’s the most sexual contact Emma has had since Halloween. She hadn’t thought it would this hard to be around Joe and not want to jump his bones, but he sometimes will say something ridiculous or sweet or sometimes he’ll just smile at her and she’ll long to push him down on the couch and ride him until they couldn’t breathe.

Afterwards, they curl up on her bed together, both tired from the day. Joe kisses the back of her neck and slings an arm around her waist. Emma smiles and closes her eyes.

 

Andrew and Emma walk together to rehearsal on Friday, talking about their parts. Emma likes playing Beatrice; she’s sassy, exactly the kind of person Emma loves to play. Andrew is alarmingly sweet as Claudio and though she’s seen versions of the show where he comes off as a huge asshole, she knows that most of the girls in the audience are going to leave with horrible, soul-eating crushes on Andrew. The same thing had happened when he had played Romeo their freshman year.

Joe looks mildly annoyed when he sees them together, but he smiles quickly and says, “Hey, Andrew.”

“Hey, Joe,” Andrew says brightly. “Ready for another day of glorious rehearsals?”

Joe pretends to doff his hat as Jesse and Rashida come in. Rashida, reading off a sheet of paper, calls, “Andrew, Brenda, Rooney -- we need to block something.”

“Sure!” Andrew calls back cheerfully without looking. Emma sees Jesse go very still, his eyes narrowing. She winces and takes a step back, grabbing Joe’s arm.

“Andrew?” Jesse says quietly. Andrew’s face goes through a complicated series of emotions and he turns to look at Jesse. “Come on over here.” Jesse’s mouth is set in an unhappy line, but he sounds calm enough.

Andrew throws Emma a panicked look, but she just glares at him until he drags himself over to Jesse, looking very forlorn. Emma’s chest twangs sympathetically, but she and Joe have their own scenes to go over, so she doesn’t have the chance to find out what, if anything, Jesse says to Andrew.

The moment rehearsal is over, though, Emma grabs Andrew’s elbow and says, “Are you okay?”

Andrew looks really green as he turns his focus on her. “I think I’m going to be sick,” he says miserably. “He didn’t even say a word, he just looked at me with big sad eyes and can I please just go jump off the roof?”

“No,” Emma says, glaring at him. “You should go talk to him.”

“I don’t wanna,” Andrew whines. Emma rolls her eyes and seizes his hand.

“Come on, you absolute madman,” she says. “I’m sure he’ll forgive you if you just explain yourself rather than avoiding him like a coward.”

“Emma --” Joe calls and she flaps her hand at him.

“I’ll call you,” she tells him. “I have to help Andrew out.” She yanks him towards where Jesse is talking to Rashida, gesturing madly. She smiles pleasantly as she comes up to them and says, “Hi, sorry to interrupt -- Rashida, do you mind if we talk to Jesse for a moment?”

“Oh, sure,” says Rashida, smiling. “Great job in rehearsal today, Emma. You and Joe have great chemistry.”

Andrew coughs and Emma steps on his foot. “Thanks,” she says. Rashida leaves, waving at Jesse and telling him she’ll see him later. Jesse fidgets, crossing his arms as he stares at Andrew and Emma.

“What is it?” he asks, a little grumpily.

Andrew opens his mouth, then closes it again. Emma waits impatiently, tapping her foot. When it becomes clear he isn’t going to speak, she sighs huffily and says, “Jesse, Andrew has had a giant, embarrassing crush on you for, well, probably a year and he listens to your show all the time, only he’s embarrassed that he called in drunk and now he’s afraid you’ll think he’s an idiot. She looks over at Andrew. “Anything you want to add?”

“No, I think you’ve been very thorough,” Andrew says faintly. “Um. Hi?”

“Hi,” says Jesse, now smiling slightly. “Is that -- that’s all true, then?”

“Yes and I’m sorry I’ve been stupid and didn’t tell me your name or use my real voice, but I liked you so much when we met on Halloween and I don’t want to screw this up like --” Andrew draws a deep breath. “Well, like I did with Emma.”

“That wasn’t your fault,” Emma says, poking him in the shoulder. “It was both of us.”

Jesse looks at the two of them for a moment, then says, “Emma, will you please excuse us? I would like to speak with Andrew.”

“Yes, of course,” Emma says. She squeezes Andrew’s shoulder and whispers, “Let me know how it goes.”

He nods mutely and she leaves, shouldering her bag and heading out towards the dorm. Joe must have legged it, because she doesn’t see him anywhere. She sighs heavily, knowing she should probably apologize for blowing him off, and returns to her room to get ready for that night’s floor event.

 

“So hey,” Emma says when she finally manages to find Joe two days later, “I’m sorry about running out on you after rehearsals.”

“It’s fine, whatever,” Joe says dismissively. “Things come up, I get it.”

“You sure?” she asks tentatively, touching his shoulder. He doesn’t move away, so she steps closer to him. “I have some time, if you’re...free.”

Joe looks at her and smiles slowly. “There’s a bathroom near here,” he says, nodding to his right..

 

She yanks him backwards into the bathroom and kicks the door shut. He locks it and smirks at her before nudging her back onto the edge of the sink. She wraps her legs around his waist and kisses him hard, hitching against him as she listens for anyone trying to get in.

“I have class in five minutes,” Joe says in her ear as he rubs his fingers against her hip. “So --”

“I can get you off in three,” Emma says, and she undulates against him. He swears and bites her ear. She gasps, jerking against him.

It takes two.

Afterwards, they straighten themselves up and grin at each other sheepishly before exchanging quick kisses and running to class. Emma shifts uncomfortably in her seat, and then flushes when she realizes that Joe must be feeling the same thing. She bites the end of her pen and grins.

 

She and Joe spend the night together, curled up watching old reruns of Seinfeld. Andrew had never really gotten Seinfeld, which Emma considers to be a sign that Andrew is truly a Brit at heart. But Joe knows every episode to a frightening degree and when he laughs, it vibrates through his chest. Emma sighs and tucks her face into his neck, dozing off as Elaine bonded with her Bizarro friends.

When she wakes up a few hours later, Joe has shifted her onto her side. He’s curled up towards her, one hand resting over hers, and he’s fast asleep. Emma considers getting up and leaving, but it’s awfully comfortable. She closes her eyes again and shifts closer so that her feet bump against his. He makes a quiet, murmuring noise and clings to her hand.

Emma smiles involuntarily and closes her eyes to go to sleep again.

She is reawoken by a loud knocking at the door. Emma gently extracts herself from Joe and picks her way to the door on tiptoes. She peeks out of the door, sees it’s Andrew, and welcomes him inside, laying a finger to her lips to tell him to keep it down.

“I have to tell you my wonderful news!” Andrew says. “Is Joe here?”

“Yes, so try not to wake him.” Emma darts over to close the door to her bedroom before clambering over to her sofa and sitting down cross-legged. “What is your news?”

“So,” Andrew says to Emma, grinning idiotically, “Jesse and I went on a date.”

Emma claps her hands delightedly. “And?”

“It went really well!” he exclaims. “I couldn’t believe it, Emma, he was even lovelier in person than I thought he would be. He’s -- just wonderful.” He sighs dreamily and sits on her feet. “I think I love him.”

Emma thwacks his head gently. “You realize you sound ridiculous?”

“I am not ridiculous,” Andrew pouts. “I am in love, Emma, don’t mock me.”

“The two are not mutually exclusive,” Emma says. She strokes his hair. “So tell me what happened. Did you kiss with tongues?”

“No, of course not,” Andrew says. “It was only our first date!” He tilts his head up to grin at her. “But I did kiss him.”

“Aww,” she says. “And?”

“It was perfect,” Andrew sighs. “Only two seconds long, but he was smiling and blushing -- he blushes, Emma, I think he’s the most perfect man alive!”

“You’re losing it,” Emma tells him, but she’s smiling despite herself. “You really like him, hm?”

“Yeah.” Andrew hums to himself for a moment, then gets up. “Thanks for helping me out.”

“Always,” Emma says. “Let me know if you need anything.”

He leans in and pecks her on the mouth before practically skipping for the door. “I’ll never need anything again, so long as I have him!” he tells Emma cheerfully. “Good morning!”

Emma shakes her head in silent disbelief at him and turned to go back to bed. She drew up short when she saw Joe standing in the doorway to her bedroom, a slight frown on his face.

“Sorry, did we wake you up?” Emma asks, wincing. “I told him to keep it down.”

“Yeah, wouldn’t want to wake me,” Joe says, his voice oddly sharp and brittle. “Can’t have us running into each other.”

Emma stares at him. “What?”

“You really expect me to believe the two of you are just friends?” Joe asks, crossing his arms. “He’s here all the time.”

“He’s my best friend!” Emma snaps. “And I don’t like what you’re implying!”

“Fine,” Joe retorts. “You don’t have to like it, and I’m sure you don’t!”

“What the hell does that mean?” Emma puts her hands on her hips and glares at him.

“Nothing,” he says tiredly. “I have to go. Goodbye.” He stalks past her, purposefully moving so that their shoulders don’t brush. She stares after him, then swears and stomps back into her bedroom.

 

“Wow, you’re grumpy,” Rooney says when Emma swears violently after flubbing her line for the fourth time during rehearsal. “Everything all right?”

Emma glances over towards Joe, who is studiously ignoring Andrew and Emma in favor of talking to Brenda. “Sure,” she lies.

“You’re not as subtle as you think you are,” Rooney says kindly, patting Emma’s arm. “Let me know if you need me to prod some sense into him.”

“Thanks,” Emma says tiredly. “Let’s just try that again, okay?”

She doesn’t talk to Joe for the entire rehearsal unless they have to exchange lines, and when she does, she isn’t quite able to keep her announce out of her voice. Jesse and Rashida love it, though, and tell her that she seems to really be finding Beatrice’s contempt. Joe snorts and she clenches her hands into fists.

After rehearsal, though, she stalks up to him and prods him in the chest. “What the hell is your problem?” she hisses through clenched teeth.

My problem?” Joe demands.

“Yeah, your problem. And don’t pretend you don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, I know you’re not that stupid.”

“Implying I’m a little stupid,” Joe notes angrily, narrowing his eyes.

“Well, you’ve certainly been acting stupid,” she says. “So what is your problem?”

His gaze slips past her and she turns to follow his look. Andrew is talking enthusiastically to Rooney, gesturing wildly. Emma can’t restrain the small, fond smile, and looks back at Joe.

“Andrew? Seriously? We’re --”

“Just friends, you’ve said, but he’s seen you naked,” Joe grumbles. “And he’s always around!”

“You’re jealous of Andrew,” Emma says in disbelief. “Andrew.”

“Why do you say that like it’s completely improbable?” demands Joe.

“Because it is,” Emma says, starting to grin despite himself. “You’ve met him.”

“And he’s charming and funny and, you know, ridiculously good looking, and you dated him, why are you acting like he’s repulsive?”

“Because he’s not anything like you!”

Joe sighs. “That’s kind of the point.”

“Joe.” Emma takes his hands in hers and looks at him very earnestly. “I broke up with Andrew for a reason. He’s a great guy, but he’s just -- not for me. And I think you need to think about the fact that you think I would go back to Andrew while I’m still going out with you.”

Joe goes white. “Oh, Emma, I didn’t --”

“I’ll talk to you later,” Emma says, and she left the auditorium, a sharp pain twinging her chest.

 

“So the two of you still haven’t had sex?” Andrew asks Emma, flopping over the edge of her bed and completely ignoring the textbook he had dragged to her room. “I thought you would have given in by now.”

“It depends on how you view sex. Besides, I’m not talking to him right now,” Emma says. She looks at him and frowns. “Why are you even here? Shouldn’t you be with your new boyfriend?”

“We haven’t put labels on anything yet,” Andrew says primly. “And also I’m broke, so I can’t take him on a proper date. It’s awful.”

Emma sits up. “How much do you need?” she asks, looking for her wallet. “And what on earth did you spend your money on.”

“I inadvisably contributed to that pool on you and Joe,” Andrew says. “What? It was tempting.”

She throws a pillow at him. Then an idea starts to germinate in the back of her mind. “How much did you put in?”

Andrew thinks for a moment. “A hundred dollars?”

“And what day did you bet on?” she asks, leaning across the bed to pick up her planner.

“Oh no,” Andrew says, eyes going wide. “You are not doing this.”

“Not doing what?” she asks. “What day?”

“You’re not -- selling your body to help me win a bet!” Andrew says, flailing a little.

“You can split the money with me,” Emma says.

“That makes it worse!” Andrew wails. “Emma, I can’t let you do this.”

“I’ll just ask other people until I found out what day you bet on,” Emma says stubbornly. “Tell me and you’ll have the money to take Jesse out on a date.”

“But Emma --” Andrew says.

“Stop acting like it’s something horrible and awful, Andrew,” Emma says, rolling her eyes. “I’ll be having sex with my -- with Joe. It’s not like it would make me a hooker.”

“It’s the principle of the thing, Em,” Andrew says despondently.

“Andrew, let me do this for you,” Emma says. “I can do this. Just, you know, split the money. What day did you have?”

“A week from Wednesday, after dress rehearsal,” Andrew says. “I figured performance high would carry through to the night.”

“That’s actually really smart,” Emma says, staring at him.

“You forget that I know you,” Andrew says dryly. “Emma, you don’t --”

“Shut up, Andrew,” Emma says, and she writes the date down in her planner.

 

Over the next week, Emma makes an effort to be nice to Joe without actually doing anything that might be misconstrued as an apology, because she doesn’t want him to think she’s sorry about being friends with Andrew. Joe seems to embarrassed to bring it up; he tries a couple of times, then turns red and hurriedly changes the subject. Emma would find it cute if it wasn’t also very annoying.

“I really don’t think an apology too much to ask for,” she tells Rooney who nods understandingly even though she has only the vaguest context for the statement.

“He’ll get there eventually,” Rooney says sagely. “Joe is a good guy, you know that.”

“Yes, I do,” agrees Emma. “But good guys can sometimes be idiots. And jerks.”

Rooney sighs. “Look, I don’t really find jealousy all that attractive -- oh, don’t look at me like that, anyone would be jealous of your relationship with Andrew -- but it’s understandable. I’m -- the guy I’m, he has a --” Rooney suddenly blinks and says, “I can’t say anything more about that.”

“Rooney!” Emma exclaims, staring at her. “Dish, dish!”

“I can’t,” Rooney says, looking anguished. “His, um. His divorce isn’t finalized.”

Emma gasps and tries, very unsuccessfully, to get Rooney to tell her more for the rest of rehearsal, but Rooney is very stubbornly tight-lipped about it. When Joe walks by at the end of rehearsal, Emma snags his arm and says, “Help me out with Rooney.”

“No, she scares me,” Joe says promptly, and Rooney grins mischievously before sliding out of reach. “Look, Emma, I’ve -- I really just want to --”

“We should have sex,” Emma says before she can rethink herself.

Joe chokes and spends about ten seconds coughing. “Um, what?”

“You and me, we should have sex.” Emma smiles and slides her hand down his thigh.

“Now?” Joe asks, looking as though he’s considering it.

“I thought we could go back to one of our rooms,” Emma says. “Just because that’s a good idea and all.”

“You’re an actor, aren’t we all supposed to be exhibitionists?” Joe asks, but he takes her hand, smiling. “And for the record, I am sorry about -- about what I implied. It’s just that he’s so --” He waves his hand. “You know.”

“Yeah, I kind of do,” Emma agrees, because she remembers what it’s like to be completely bowled over by Andrew and his bright smile, his utter sincerity, and the beauty that he wears like a cloak. “But I didn’t pick him.”

He kisses her then, his hands running through her hair, and they look at each other after they separate. “You’re sure?” Joe asks.

“Yeah; it has to be now,” Emma says. “Because --”

Joe lays a finger on her lips. “Okay,” he says.

“Joe,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I have to tell you --”

“Let’s go back to my room,” he says, and he drags her back to their dorm.

 

Emma has always enjoyed sex, has always enjoyed it with Joe, but there was something weirdly new and illicit about having full-on sex after going weeks without it. He presses his face between her breasts, hands rubbing over the cups of her bra, and kisses the skin over her sternum. She looks down at the top of his head, smiling, and moves her hips a little.

“I’ve missed your skin,” Joe breathes, and then he starts laughing, sending vibrations through her body. “Sorry, that sounded really creepy.”

“It kind of did,” she agrees, pushing him so that he’s lying flat on his back. She smooths her hands across his chest, thumbs one of his nipples, and he swears, scrambling to try to find the clasp on her bra. She snorts and pushes his hands away so she can do it herself.

He pulls her down, and her mind goes a little fuzzy at the feeling of his bare skin against hers. It has been so long, she thinks, kissing him. She wants to do everything, wants to suck him off and make him watch her get herself off, wants to ride him until he can’t say anything but her name --

It hits her, suddenly, that she hadn’t originally intended it to be like this. She had just meant to help Andrew with his bet. She groans and rolls off Joe.

He leans up on his elbow and looks down at her, brow furrowed. “Is something wrong?”

“We need to talk,” she says. “About Andrew.”

He lets out an annoyed huff of air. “Now?”

“It’s important,” she says stubbornly.

“I’m sure it is,” says Joe, “but we haven’t been able to have proper sex since Halloween and I -- do you have any idea what you do to me?”

“Joe,” she sighs.

“Enough about Andrew,” Joe says, and he kisses down her stomach and unzips her jeans.

She forgets what she had meant to say when he slides a finger inside her. She hisses in surprise and arches up into the touch; she hadn’t realized how much she had missed this.

“Easy there,” he says, grinning against her thigh.

“We’ll see how smug you are when our positions are reversed,” she says just as he presses her thumb lightly against her clit.

“I’d like to try that,” Joe says, his voice low and raspy, and he slips a second finger in beside the first.

He teases her until her legs are shaking and tears are gathering at the corners of her eyes. She smacks his shoulder hard until he takes the hint and grabs a condom before hurriedly slipping out of his jeans and briefs. She leans up on her elbows to watch as he pushes into her, his hands firm on her hips.

“Finally,” she breathes, and she kisses him, hitching her hips so that she’s almost in his lap. She comes when he kisses one of her breasts, and then she comes again a minute later when he gives a particularly emphatic thrust.

He breathes, “Emma,” against her neck when he comes, hands clenching in her hair. She kisses him until he’s gasping and slipping out of her. She slides out of his arms and back against the pillows on his bed, grinning lazily up at him.

“That was pretty good,” she says. She watches as he pulls off the condom with shaky fingers. “I guess it was good for you too?”

“You have to ask that?” He gets up to throw the the condom and wrapper away. She rolls on her side so she can unapologetically scope out his ass. She feels another twinge of guilt and tries to push it down.

“Joe,” she says, and he grins back at her.

“Yeah?” he asks.

She looks at him and wonders how he will take the news of the bet. She bites her lip, then shakes her head and says, “Nothing.”

He climbs back into bed next to her, handing her a shirt to sleep in and pulling on his boxers. He curls up behind her, and she lies next to him, hating the way her stomach roils with shame.

 

She tries to sneak out early the next morning, but he wakes up as she’s gathering her clothing off the floor. He props his head on his hand and smiles. “Morning.”

“Morning,” she says without meeting his eyes. “I have to go --”

“Eat breakfast with me,” he says.

“What?” she asks, thrown.

“Breakfast. You eat it, right?” Joe sits up. “Come on. We have a show tonight, we have to be at our best.”

“Oh, right,” Emma says. She had almost completely forgotten about that. “I, um. Sure?” She shimmies back into her clothes. “We have to be fast, though.”

“Sure,” Joe agrees. He slips out of bed and puts on a fresh pair of jeans and a t-shirt. “Come on.”

Feeling a little sick, she trails after him as he leads the way to the nearest dining hall. “Joe,” she calls. “Joe, I need to tell you --”

“Hey!” says a voice and they both turn to see Brena coming towards them, looking very perky and awake. “How are you --” She breaks off, looking Emma up and down. “You were wearing that yesterday.”

“Um,” Emma says.

“Oh my god!” Brenda shrieked. Emma winces and covers her ears. Brenda flaps her hands and says, “Sorry, sorry, just -- oh my god! Whose day was it today? I think it might have been Andrew! I have to go tell Justin --”

She hurries off in the opposite direction, talking to herself. Emma chances a glance over at Joe, who had gone very still at the sound of Andrew’s name.

“Joe?” she asks hesitantly.

“Please tell me that you didn’t make a deal with him,” Joe says.

“I tried to tell you,” Emma says, reaching out towards him. He flinches away. “Joe, that wasn’t why I -- I didn’t --”

“You should go find him,” Joe says, turning away from her. “Find out how much you won.”

“Joe --”

“Bye,” Joe says, and he stalks away. Emma has more dignity than to shout after him and instead does as he suggested and goes to find Andrew.

 

“You didn’t tell him?” demands Andrew when she had spewed the whole story out to him. “What on earth is wrong with you?”

“That was pretty stupid,” agrees Jesse, who doesn’t look at all put out by Emma’s sudden frantic appearance. “Though I don’t know if it’s as stupid as pretending you had never met him before --”

“Will you ever let me live that down?” Andrew asks in exasperation. Jesse grins up at him, cheek dimpling. Andrew’s face goes soft and affectionate, and he leans down to kiss Jesse as though he can’t help it.

Emma watches them sadly and then flops backwards on Andrew’s couch. “I hate everything.”

“I would too,” Andrew says when he manages to extract himself from Jesse’s embrace. “We should go talk to Justin about getting my winnings.”

“That’s not going to help,” Emma sighs.

“Well, I want it because I’m taking Jesse out,” Andrew says. “So we should go.” He grabs Jesse’s hand and starts for the door. “Coming?”

“Fine,” Emma says, even though she kind of wanted to go back to her room and take a shower. “Let’s go.”

They head down to where Justin lives, just a block off campus. He doesn’t answer the first knock, so Emma pounds on it until he yanks the door open, looking exhausted and touseled.

“What?” he demands.

“I caved,” Emma says. “Bet is over.”

“Oh, balls,” Justin says. He looks from Emma to Andrew and sighs. “Fine, come on in, I have the money in my safe.”

“You have a safe?” Andrew asks, following him back inside his apartment. Jesse brought up the rear, looking amused.

“Have to keep my valuables somewhere!” Justin replies cheerfully. “Anyway, got the whole pot in here.” He gets down on his knees and pulls a box out from underneath the sofa. He punches in the code, then opens it and pulls out a thick wad of cash.

Andrew’s eyes go wide. “Jesus,” he says in shock, taking it with trembling fingers. “How much is there?”

Justin shrugs. “Something like fifteen hundred bucks,” he says. “Don’t spend it all in one place!”

Andrew spreads it out in his hands, looking awed. “Oh my god.”

“Shit,” Emma says, plucking one of the bills out of the stack. “I, um. Wow.”

“Here,” Andrew says, dividing the stack roughly in half. “That should be good.”

“You need to count it,” says Jesse, snatching the money from him. “Come on.” He carefully counted the money out into two neat piles, slid one to Emma and the other to Andrew. “There we go.”

“Jesse,” Andrew says very seriously. “This means we can go anywhere we want.”

“You should put that in your bank account,” Jesse says responsibly and Andrew whines all the way out of the apartment until finally Jesse says, “All right, you can take me out to one restaurant, but no more than --”

“Yes!” Andrew crows, kissing Jesse’s cheek. “I know exactly where to go.”

Jesse rolls his eyes at Emma, but is smiling brightly, as though he can’t believe his luck. Emma looks down at the stack of money, then folds it up and shoves it in her back pocket.

“I have to go,” she says. “See you later.”

“Bye!” Andrew says, waving, and Emma starts off back for the dorm. She isn’t sure if she’ll actually find Joe there, but she’s hoping that he had stalked back to his room.

Emma knocks on his door and waits, but there’s no response. She waits for nearly two minutes, then sighs and carefully splits up her wad of cash. The gap in the door is just wide enough for her to shove half the money into his room, which she does with great care. She takes the other half, puts it in an empty mason jar on her desk, and stares at it for a while before sighing and going to take a shower.

 

Emma tilts her head up to let Selena put her stage make-up on and tries not to fidget. Her costume is a little scratchy, and her hair is still down. Selena sweeps a thick line of eyeliner across her lids and says, “Keep your eyes shut for a minute while I do your hair.”

Emma listens to the sounds of Brenda putting on her costume, Rooney’s soft voice murmuring her lines, and tries not to worry too much about the performance.

“You all right?” Brenda asks as they get ready to go onstage before the first scene. Armie straightens his vest and grins at them.

“We’ll be fine,” he tells both of them. “We’ve rehearsed enough.”

“I’m fine,” Emma says in response to both of them. “We should go onstage.”

“Yep,” Armie says and strides out from the wings. Brenda and Emma wait a few moments as he takes the prop letter from the messenger and reads it, then Brenda says, “Well, this is it,” and the two of them go out onto the stage.

 

The shows go better than Emma could have hoped, and she grows to treasure the second part of the play, when Joe has to smile at her and take her hands in his. It’s completely ridiculous, she knows, but she doesn’t know how to apologize for what she did and she doesn’t even know if he got the money or what he thought of it.

“You should talk to him,” says Rooney, who seems to have taken her matchmaker part in the play to heart.

“It was just -- it’s better, I think,” Emma lies, taking off her costume. “I can’t let him -- it’s better than getting my heart broken, right?”

“Oh, Emma,” Rooney says pityingly, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Isn’t it already?”

Emma has to admit that Rooney may have a point. “At least I did it to myself,” she says, and she pulls on her sweater and jeans before leaving the theatre. She passes Andrew and Jesse on her way out; Andrew has pulled Jesse into his arms and they’re pressed together so tightly that it’s hard to distinguish their separate limbs. Emma swallows hard and walks outside into the cool air.

She doesn’t see Joe aside from performances, even though they share a dorm. He had even changed his schedule so that they wouldn’t be working in the mail room or the resource center at the same time.

Emma looks at the schedule, annoyance bubbling up until she clenches her fists in irritation. She had resolved not to bug him, to let him be, but this -- this is just childish. She turns sharply on her heel and marches up the stairs to his floor.

“Joe!” she shouts through the door. “Open up!”

“No!” he shouts back.

“I want to talk to you!” She pounds on his door. “Open your damn door or I’m going to sit her until you do!”

There’s a pause, then he yanks the door open and glares at her. “What do you want?”

“You’re being a child,” she says bluntly. “You changed your schedule?”

“I don’t really want to see you right now, in case you hadn’t noticed,” he says irritably, moving to close the door. She shoulders her way into the room and closes the door behind her. “Emma --”

“Look, Joe, I don’t know how to -- I tried to tell you, okay? I didn’t do this to hurt you. Okay,” she amends, “maybe originally I had the idea because I was annoyed that you thought I’d cheat on you with Andrew --”

“I apologized for that! And I don’t really --”

“-- but I tried to tell you that I had made the deal and you kept cutting me off!” She shoves his shoulder. “And I gave you half the money!”

“Oh, like that’s not insulting,” he scoffs. “‘Here, Joe, here’s some money to make you feel better about the fact that I used you to help my ex-boyfriend win a bet.’”

“If you don’t want it, give it back!” Emma holds out her hand. “I could always use it.”

“I don’t have it anymore!” Joe says.

“What the hell did you do with it?” demands Emma.

“I gave it to the American Cancer Society!” Joe says.

Emma falters at that. “What? Why?”

Joe shrugs. “I don’t know. You -- I just remembered you saying that your mom had cancer, and I thought -- I don’t know, it seemed like a good thing to do with it.”

“I --” Emma stares at him. “I love you.”

There’s a very long moment where Emma doesn’t realize exactly what she’s said. Then she claps her hands to her mouth and says, “Oh my god, forget I said that, I have to -- I have to go, goodbye.”

“Emma,” Joe says, sounding pitying, and Emma flees before she has to listen to him say something well-meaning and nice. She escapes into her room, locks the door, and curls up on her bed to have a good cry over what an idiot she had been.

 

“Really,” Andrew says, looking at her over the edge of his mug. “You look awful.”

“I couldn’t sleep,” Emma says, stirring her cup of coffee.

“Why not?” Andrew asks, frowning. “Are you worried about the last performance?”

“No,” Emma says. “More -- the cast party.”

Andrew sighs. “You and Joe still haven’t made up?”

“I don’t know,” Emma admits. “It’s hard to tell.”

He drinks his tea slowly. “Hard to tell?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Emma says tiredly. “I’ll -- I can deal with it, okay? You just stay with your awesome boyfriend.”

“Bitter, bitter,” tsks Andrew. He leans across the table to kiss her cheek and then stands up. “Take a nap or something before tonight. We can’t have you passing out during the party.”

“Yeah,” Emma sighs. She stirs her coffee moodily and stares unseeingly at the far wall. She wants to put off heading to the auditorium for as long as possible so she doesn’t have to ever be alone with Joe. She has her pride.

When she arrives at the theatre, Rashida hustles her backstage saying, “God, Emma, cutting it close there!” and corrals her into the dressing room. Selena clucks at the shadows under Emma’s eyes and twists her hair up quickly before setting to work on her make-up. Emma barely gets dressed in time to make it to the wings for the first scene. The lights on stage flick on, Armie walks out, and Emma sucks in a slow breath before following Brenda onto the boards.

Emma performs her lines on autopilot, her heart pounding hard against her ribs. It isn’t until Joe turns to her and says, “What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?” with a small smirk playing around his lips that she regains her energy.

“Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?” she retorts, and Joe grins at her quickly before quickly returning to a scowl.

They blaze through the play, acting it better than they ever have before. Emma feels it like never before, feels her affection for Joe bleeding through her character and into her dialogue. They shoot lines of dialogue across from each other while exchanging brief, fleeting smiles, and when they finally take each other’s hands, it’s a relief to be allowed to touch him.

He smiles tremulously at her as he delivers his lines, and she tries not to give away her own feelings, but she knows that she betrays herself in some way by his smile and the slight tightening of his grip on her hands.

In the chaotic aftermath of the show, they’re torn apart as soon as they’re through taking their bows. Emma looks for him, but doesn’t see any gingery flash of hair amongst the crowd of actors and crew. Andrew seizes her into a hug, kissing her cheek, and says, “You’re brilliant, Em, love you so much!” before running off to grab Jesse.

Emma hurriedly changes into street clothes and then follows Brenda and Rooney out to Rooney’s car. “Where are we going?” she asks, yanking her sweater tighter around her shoulders.

“Rashida rented out a hotel ballroom,” Rooney says. “Got us rooms too. Went all out for it.” She seizes Emma’s hand in hers. “You did amazing tonight, Emma, really.”

“Thanks,” Emma says, trying to smile but only halfway succeeding. “I, um, it was good. It felt good.”

“Of course it did.” Rooney squeezes her hand and beams at her. “So let’s go celebrate.”

 

The party is somehow already in full swing when they arrive. For some godforsaken reason, Justin is there and drinking a beer while talking enthusiastically to Rashida, who looks politely interested. Emma rescues her by asking if she’s seen Andrew, and Justin latches on to someone else.

“Thanks,” Rashida says with a wry smile. “Amazing job tonight -- I mean, you’ve been great the whole run, but tonight you knocked it out of the park.”

“Thanks,” Emma says. “I had a great time. You were a good director.”

Rashida ducks her head. “Thanks,” she says. “Be sure to come by in the spring, I’m sure I’ll have a place for you.”

“Thanks,” Emma repeats, and Rashida waves before moving off into the increasing crowd of people. Emma grabs a glass of champagne off table and downs it, her hands shaking a little. I have to nut up, she tells herself, scanning the guests for a sign of Joe. No more pretending, no more idiocy. She would just have to tell him that she had meant what she said and deal with the consequences.

“Have you seen Joe?” she asks Armie as he walks past her, making a beeline for his girlfriend.

“He’s on his way,” Armie says with a mysterious wink. She stares at him, then looks around again, as if Joe will materialize out of nowhere.

She drinks another glass of champagne and is about to go find Andrew when the crowd suddenly goes quiet. She glances up and sees Joe making his way towards her, a bouquet of roses in his arms.

“Joe,” she says, voice coming out shaky and weak. “What -- what are you doing?”

“Brava, Emily Jean,” Joe says, smiling widely. “You were transcendent tonight.” He holds the flowers out to her and she takes them, still numb with shock.

“Why?” she asks.

“‘I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?’” Joe drops to his knees before her and takes her free hand in his. “Is that a bad quote to use here?”

“Not at all,” Emma says breathlessly. “Joe, you’re -- are you serious?”

“Of course I’m serious,” Joe says, beaming. “You’re incredible, Emily Jean, and I am so sorry I’ve been kind of ridiculous and awful.”

“I was awful too!” Emma protests.

“You were both kind of awful,” Jesse says from where he’s standing in the curve of Andrew’s arm. “It worked, though.” He shrugs unrepentantly when they both turn to glare at him.

Anyway,” says Joe. “My point is that I was going to tell you I loved you too, except you ran out on me. I don’t -- I know you’re sorry about the thing and I’m sorry about being a jerk, so can we just -- do this properly this time around?”

“Yes,” Emma says, and she hauls him to his feet before throwing her arms around his neck, kissing him hard. Justin whoops and the rest cheer, and Emma can’t even bring herself to mind.

They leave the party with Emma comfortably tipsy and Joe verging on drunk. Emma takes one of the key cards from Rashida and takes Joe to the elevator. He grins at her, and she wraps her arms around his waist, leaning into him.

“I missed you,” she says quietly into his collarbone. “I’m sorry, you know. I wanted to hurt you, at first, and then I didn’t and by the time I -- it was too late.”

He strokes his fingers through her hair. “I know. And I know you wouldn’t cheat on me, it’s just that Andrew is -- well, Andrew.”

“Yeah,” she agrees. “But I chose you.”

The elevator doors open, and she pulls him backwards towards room 402, fishing the key card out of her back pocket. Joe stops in the doorway, looking hesitant.

“What?” she asked, unbuttoning her sweater. “Second thoughts?”

“I just -- do you think we should wait until morning? Just to be sure we both, you know.” Joe shrugs. “I don’t want you to regret anything.”

“For the last time,” Emma says, kicking off her shoes and pacing towards him, “I want you. I love you. And I think we’ve waited long enough.” She flicks open the button on his jeans and smiles. “Unless you have any objections?”

“None,” he says, suddenly beaming again, and he kicks the door shut behind him.