Notes and disclaimers: Everwood et al property of Everwood Utah. No profit garnered ever from me for this. Happy birthday, Katie! Thanks to Sandy. Title from the John Hiatt song.



WALKING OFF YOUR BLUES



The first place he ran into her was the new and improved Mama Joy's. It was packed as usual and Bright was eating at the counter. He looked over at the blonde who had just sat down because even out of the corner of his eye, hi, hot. Then he truly looked. "Madison. As I live and breathe."

She didn't even try to smile. "Bright. Yay."

"If you're looking for the Browns, none of them live in town anymore. Especially not Ephram."

She said, "I know. And I'm not."

"How do you know? Were you just saying that to look cool and over everything?" Bright kept eating and Madison was ignoring her dinner, like she was shaken and didn't want it. Well, that seemed just. Bright wasn't the one who'd done anything wrong. Not wrong like her.

"I know because Delia emailed me. Emails me. We're in touch."

"She know you gave away her nephew and didn't even tell Ephram until way after?"

"She knows, Bright. Ephram told her. And she still writes me. Sorry." Now Madison ate.

"Well, Delia always was pretty forgiving."

When Bright finished eating, he didn't say goodbye or anything.

The second place he ran into her was school. It was the first day of class so Bright had his plan about when to arrive and staking his claim on the best seat – second row, not quite middle. Not too stuck up, not too slacker in the back. He arrived at the right time but the ideal seat was taken. By Madison. Bright sat down next to her in the second best seat.

She looked at him and frowned. "Why are you in this class?"

"Why are you?"

She tapped her fingers on her notebook. "I wanted to finish school. My old roommate offered me a place in her apartment, and a chance at a job. Here I am, Bright, okay?"

"What, you didn't like New York City? I thought that was, like, illegal."

"It's not illegal. And I didn't like New York, you got me."

Bright looked at her, really looked. She was still really hot but she looked tired, even at 10 in the morning. He said, "You're too cool for New York, huh?"

As the professor walked in, she said quietly, "New York was too cool for me. Everwood's my speed, I guess."

The third place they met and talked was that place Madison played that gig where Ephram got arrested. Cause Ephram couldn't even make a fake ID work or hold on to it. She was already at the bar when he got there and her happy greeting was, "Oh, God, are you everywhere, Bright? Are you stalking me?"

"Yeah, because running into each other at one of three restaurants downtown was something I totally arranged. Along with being in one of your classes where you took the best seat. And now we're in one of two bars in town, so clearly, I'm stalking you. Call the cops, Madison."

"Couldn't you go to the other bar?"

Bright waved to the bartender for a beer. "No, I could not."

"Why?" She was whining and she took a long drink of her half empty beer in front of her.

"That's where Colin's dad always drinks."

She sighed and Bright naturally noticed that her top was really tight and he could see down her bra. Ephram was there, he thought. She said, "So it's too old for you?"

"No. It's that a, Colin's dad thinks I killed Colin, and b, he's not wrong, and three, I'm kinda not in the mood to watch someone drink himself to death because of me."

She looked down at her beer. "Okay. Sorry." After another long drink, she said, "So how's your sister?"

"Now we've moved on to catching up. Yay." But he sat there with her for four more beers each. Amy was at Princeton, after taking a year off to help with Bright's mom. Bright's mom was doing great, still Mayor. Bright's dad was working Dr. Jake now and even getting along with his grandmother as the nurse. "It's all the same here, you know?"

"You're not complaining," Madison said.

"Why complain? I love Everwood. I was born here, grew up here. I pretty much know everybody and everybody knows me."

"And that's a plus to you." She kept looking prettier and prettier.

"Sure. You're here, too, aren't you? Not cool enough for New York City?"

"Crawling back with my tail between my legs." She rolled her eyes but smiled. "I retreated here."

"Well, it's nice seeing you back."

"You don't think that," she said and now she was laughing.

"Neither do you."

After two more beers each, she got up to leave and he held her arm. "Please tell me you don't live near me," she said.

"Three blocks away. But this is Everwood, pretty much everything is three blocks away."

He walked her home because it was the nice thing to do. Nice bracing air, pretty girl to talk to. He got her to her door and then he was staring and she was staring and Bright thought, fuck, she's going to kiss me. She stopped short and said, "Maybe we could. Study together sometime. This class is harder than I thought."

"Didn't you used to tutor Ephram?"

"I helped Delia with her homework, not Ephram."

"Oh, okay. I got good grades my senior year in high school, you know." Though he was feeling really stupid standing in front of her.

"So it'll work out fine." She opened the door but didn't walk in. She said, "I can't believe we're in the same class. God." She walked in and closed the door.

He stopped counting how many times they ran into each other. He got an email from Ephram and let it sit for a few hours before replying. He decided the best bet was honesty. Not complete honesty, not 'I've been thinking about your baby mama in the shower' honesty. But definitely honesty.

Ephram wrote back quickly. Lots of hemming and hawing and what are you saying, but he seemed mostly okay with it. How very Delia of him, Bright thought. And it was all probably pointless, but at the very least he seemed to be becoming friends with Madison so it was probably a good idea to check. In case.

*

He said, "Are you in a band again? Ephram said you guys were good."

"No, I'm not. I don't know why I thought I'd be the one to make that work. You know? Everyone's in a band, most of them have a decent singer."

"Wow, you have, like, no self-confidence anymore, do you?"

She glared at him. "I had to give up a lot of things, Bright, I'm sorry if I'm too realistic for you."

"There's realistic and there's poor me, poor me. No wonder you and Ephram got along so well."

"Whatever, Bright." She packed up her books and then said, "Next week, right?"

"Yeah, totally. This is more fun than sex. I can't wait." Bright smiled.

*

She said, "Have you ever dated anyone? Like, for real, I love you, I care about you?" She pulled her hair back in a tight bun and he tried not to look at her breasts. He spent a lot of time trying not to look around her.

"Yes, I have, thank you very much."

"Ephram and blow up dolls don't count." She was smiling as she said it.

"Okay, I never said I love you to Ephram. And I've never had a blow up doll. I had a wonderful girlfriend named Hannah, but her dad died and she ended up going to a college near her mom so that's over now. She doesn't email me very often because she's trying to get over me but that was an actual real thing. So you're not the only one, dude." He missed Hannah, he really did.

"Wow, you've gone and got so grown up, Bright." Madison had a really pretty smile.

He turned back to their books.

*

Naturally, his dad thought it was horrible. He hadn't mentioned it until November, right before Thanksgiving. Mostly, he was thinking Amy would hear that he and Madison had been hanging out and, like Ephram, he thought honesty was the way to go. He called her from his parents' house, like always. His dad was walking up to complain again about how Bright always made long-distance calls from their house when Bright was saying, "Yes, that Madison Kellner. We have a class together, Amy. I'm not engaged or anything here."

Amy finished screeching and then she decided it was fine. "I still hate her for lying to him, but then I think, what would I have done? I have no idea, you know? And God, I don't even talk to Ephram anymore so, okay, I don't mind."

"Thanks for your approval, Amy. I'll keep running my friends by you and you can keep saying they're okay."

"Whatever, Bright. Give Mom and Dad my love." She hung up. Amy was nearly tolerable nowadays. Bright had never expected college to be so good for her. He wished she and Ephram were still friends, but that had been one nasty break up. At least he still had them both in his life.

He turned around and saw his dad, looking at him. Bright braced himself for the big lecture. All his dad said was, "Bright, I wish you wouldn't only make your long-distance calls from this house. You do have your own telephone line in your own apartment."

*

She sat in his car and blew on her hands. "You couldn't get a truck with working heat?"

"The heat will come on. It just needs to warm up a little."

"Winter in Everwood and you don't have working heat in your truck. I take back all those nice things I said about you possibly having a brain."

"Does this work with your other friends? The part where you're always making fun of me?"

Madison grinned. "My other friends love hearing Bright stories, actually."

"Ha ha. You make fun of me to your friends?"

She shrugged. "You're a funny guy."

"I'm not stupid. And I'm not a bad person --"

"Neither am I, Bright." She licked her lips. "You're a little stupid. About some things. But everyone is. I am." She started laughing and then stopped. "I swear, of all the things I expected when I came back to Everwood, Bright Abbott as my third best friend wasn't even on the list."

"Third best friend?"

She didn't answer. He said, "Third best friend is such a girl thing, counting like that."

*

Ultimately, Hannah ruined him. This was Bright's theory. After dating someone you really liked and enjoyed spending time with who also kissed really well, Bright didn't want a boring pretty girl anymore. He didn't want someone just to have fun with, either. He liked talking now along with everything else.

Which was also the reason he didn't just hit on Madison and be done with it. He liked talking to her, even if she did make fun of him. Ephram made fun of Bright, too, but Ephram didn't look nearly as good in a tank top and short skirt.

He bought her a gift for Christmas, but didn't go by her apartment until right before New Year's. She answered the door in red flannel pajamas, tugging the collar closed when she saw him. "You could have called, Bright."

"Drove by and saw the light on. And you said your roommate went to Denver, so. I got you a Christmas gift." He held up the red wrapped box and smiled.

She let him in and made hot chocolate. She actually liked her gift, holding up the candle and saying, "Nile Lily. It smells amazing."

"My mom really liked it."

"You had your mom pick out a gift out for me?"

"No, of course not. I can pick out a gift for a girl. I had a girlfriend, remember?"

She smiled. "You got me and your mom the same candle?"

"Also no. Dude, I watched my mother in the store and decided between the three she liked. My mom has pretty good taste, so I figured what she liked, you would like." She had a gift for him, too, though she hadn't wrapped it. "Building A Better Vocabulary? You really like me, don't you?"

She laughed. "Don't be offended. I just thought it was something you'd enjoy."

"Well, I'm a little offended, but if you give another glass of hot chocolate, I'll get over it."

He ended up staying to watch a crappy movie on Madison's crappy cable. He made brownies when they both got hungry. Madison dug out a bottle of wine to accompany their fine feast of chocolate. She said, "I really loved Ephram, you know."

"I know. He knows. It's okay," he said.

"Yeah, you know that for sure." She sighed. "I still don't know if I was right."

"Too late to worry about it now," he said. "Ephram's mostly okay, you know the baby is. I think you did the right thing. Not the not telling Ephram thing, because that was lame. It's done now, Madison."

She looked at her glass of wine. "It never feels like that." She was sitting there in her too big pajamas with her feet tucked under her and she looked as young as Delia. He leaned over and kissed her.

She kissed back and he thought, soft. Then she pulled back. She said, "Huh."

"I was thinking 'yay!' actually."

She blushed. "Okay, that, too."

"Look, I really like you. I didn't think I would and I didn't before, like, when you were with Ephram. But I do now. I think you like me, right?" If he could have done it without her seeing it, he would have crossed his fingers in hope.

"I do like you. I just, you're so Everwood." She sat back and smiled. "You love this town, you never want to leave, you never will. I'm just here because I had nowhere else to go."

"People end up all sorts of places because of that. Sometimes nowhere else to go is just finding out where your home is. Also, dude, I think we can date without you feeling like you're dating the whole town."

She looked at her hands. "In New York, I thought I could be anonymous. But, Bright, you're going to take me home to meet your parents?"

Bright rolled his eyes. "Come on, my mom's totally cool. Always has been. And ever since she got better from the cancer, my dad's been a little more mellow. Anyway, you worry too much. Which I think I like in a girl. But you don't have to."

She said, "Okay. Okay." She grinned and sat forward, holding his neck as she kissed him.

He took her to the new improved Mama Joy's for dinner and they even got a booth. Nina put down their plates and said, "Good to see you, Madison. You're not too cold in that apartment, are you? I have a little space heater we used to use back in house if you need it." One booth over, Bright's grandmother and Irv were talking about their latest trip to Los Angeles and she even waved at Bright. Madison ate her fries and then busted out the book, quizzing him on words like vivacious and multilingual. Bright took a deep breath and thought he'd never leave, not ever.

THE END.

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