Secrets abound (supernaturally bound book 1)

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Secrets abound

Supernaturally Bound Series

Book One

by Erica Lee Cooke

Copyright © 2015 by ELC Publishing

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

Cover Art

Photographer: Erica Lee Cooke

Other books by

Erica Lee Cooke

 

The Eyes of a Phantom Trilogy

#1:The Eyes of a Phantom

#2 The Eyes to the Soul (coming soon)

 

Supernaturally Bound Series

#1:Secrets Abound

#2: Unbound (coming soon)

A special thank you to my wonderful cousin, Bettina Cooke.

Without your incredible feedback, this book wouldn’t be what it is.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

EPILOGUE

BOOK TWO SNEAK PEEK

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CHAPTER ONEA GIRL, A BOY, & A BONFIRE

 

Dread shoots through my entire being. My eyes are wide as they soak in the view before me. There is a single tree, formidable in every right. It dominates the scene with its enormous size. There is something almost wicked about the way its branches twist and reach for the sky, as if to pluck the full moon right out of its orbit. Unimaginable power ripples from it in waves.

A small noise draws my attention. A woman lies underneath the tree. Wait, there are two women. They wear cloaks pulled up over their faces, but their dainty hands and feminine stature give away their gender. One is standing while the other lies down. Familiarity tugs at my brain, but I cannot find the connection. There is no memory to connect this to. I have never met these women before. I would remember. Still, I cannot shake the feeling of recognition.

A booming shriek fills my ears, and I realize it comes from the woman lying on the ground. She is in pain. She yells again, louder this time. I press my eyes shut, unable to watch. Silence settles over me. When I open my eyes again, I am no longer at a distance from the tree. Instead, I am staring up at the woman. All of her features are blurred except for her smile. Her smile is warm and perfect. It comforts me.

The peaceful moment is eradicated as I am seized by the other woman. Terror grips me, once again. She carries me, but I do not know where to. I am being taken away from the woman with the warm smile. I feel alone.

“Miss King!” My eyes flew open at the sound of the familiar, shrill voice. Mrs. Conner’s eyes glared me down from the front of the classroom. “It would seem you lack the ability to remain awake during my class. Am I to assume that you find my lecturing rather dull?”

“Ummm...No?” I was sure this was a rhetorical question, but her eyes seemed to demand that I answer. Although I kept my gaze on Mrs. Conner, I could feel the other twenty pairs of eyes watching me.

“Then, I suggest that the next time you feel the need for a nap, you do it on your own time, not mine.” She scolded.

I nodded. A flush of embarrassment rose to my cheeks as I sank further down into my seat. I stared intently at my textbook as Mrs. Conner moved on with her lesson plan. However, my thoughts were far from WWII at the moment. The dream replayed in my head. It was the same one I’d been having ever since I could remember. I usually brushed it off, but this time it was so vivid.

The sound of the bell rang loudly, startling me out of my train of thought. Mrs. Conner rattled off our homework assignment which I rapidly jotted down. This was the last class on a Friday, so students were darting from the room as if it were on fire. The room emptied within seconds.

I maneuvered through the rowdy crowd attempting to reach my locker. I heard someone yell, “Bridget!” over the chaotic noise of the hallway. I knew who it was, immediately. There was only one person at this school with an Aussie accent. I twisted around to see Aiden Matthews dodging a few guys that were tossing a football back and forth as he made his way over to me. Aiden moved here from Australia last year. He and his brother bought the house next door to my foster home and we’d been best friends virtually ever since.

I leaned against my locker as I watched Aiden’s struggle. Aiden’s hair was dark brown, almost black with the mousse, messy style. My eyes lingered where his clothes clung to his muscles. I glanced away before he noticed my wondering eyes. He had a remarkable physique and I always had to catch myself from staring. Not that I had a crush on him or anything, but he was definitely attractive.

“Guess what?” His smile became mischievous.

"Monkeys captured Principal Heckler and are holding him ransom for one million bananas?" I replied as I placed my pinky to my lips, giving my best Dr. Evil impression.

“No, this is much better.” He laughed.

“Not possible.” I lifted a brow skeptically.

“Well, then I suppose youdon’twant this extra ticket I have to go see Psycho Sally in two weeks.” He teased, holding up the supposed ticket.

My eyes grew wide. “No way! I thought this concert was sold out!”

“It is, but I know some people.” He smirked.

I rolled my eyes. “You mean yourbrotherknows some people.”

“All I’m hearing is that you don’t want to go.” He teased.

“No! I want to go. I’m sorry. I will never question your connections, again.” I smiled.

He seemed to accept this because he handed me the ticket. I squealed enthusiastically as Aiden watched on in amusement. Satisfied by my reaction, Aiden steered me outside. Wrapped up in our conversation about the concert, we nearly collided with Cassie as she halted in our path.

Cassie Fields was another friend of mine. Actually, she and Aiden were my only friends at this school. Cassie and I had been friends since I moved into my current foster home (the last of six) five years ago. She was the utter opposite of me. I had dark brown hair, pale skin, and light green eyes. She had blonde hair, tan skin, and brown eyes. She had always been taller than me, even in junior high. Now, she had the model look with her 5’8 height and her long legs. However, being only 5’5 gave me the freedom to wear heels, which always made Cassie jealous.

Cassie could easily be the most popular girl in school if she wanted, which she didn’t. She never had much interest in people our age. She preferred the older crowd. She was the cliché spoiled, rich girl. This made us appear to be an odd fit as friends since I was a foster kid, but in reality, it made us perfect. Bouncing around from foster home to foster home left me guarded with little interest in getting close with someone. Cassie was as superficial as they came. There was no chance she’d expect us to have a heart to heart, which left my boundaries safe.

“We’re still going to the bonfire tonight, right?” She asked me.

“Only if you promise not to ditch me, again.” I frowned.

"I won't. I promise," and even as she said it I didn't believe her. "I'll come by your house around nine. I’ll bring an outfit for you. I just bought a skirt that'll show off your amazing legs. Later, B." With that, she waltzed off.

“You know she’s full of crap, right?” Aiden commented once she was out of earshot.

“Wait, you mean to tell me that of the million times she’s ditched me at parties, this timewon’tbe different? Damn, I thought for sure she’d become a more considerate person overnight.” I said sarcastically.

Aiden rolled his eyes. “If youknowshe’s going to ditch you, then why are you going?”

My friendship with Aiden was different than the one I had with Cassie. He had a way of getting me to let down my guard, something no one had ever been able to do before. He was the first person I’d ever opened up to about my past. Well, most of it, anyway. It was terrifying and comforting at the same time.

“She’s remarkably convincing.” I shrugged. “You should come with us.”

“I can’t tonight.” Aiden told me. “My brother is making me go to his work thing. If I can sneak out early, I’ll meet you guys there, though.”

“Well, by then it’ll probably be only me. I’m sure Cassie will ditch me by midnight.” I predicted.

Aiden frowned. “I don’t like you being at a party all by yourself.”

“Technically, it’s impossible to be at a party by yourself.” I teased.

His frown deepened. “You know what I mean.”

I rolled my eyes at his overprotectiveness. “I’ll be fine. I always am.”

I knew he wanted to argue, but he remained silent as we continued down the sidewalk. Since we lived next door to each other, it had become our routine to walk home from school together.

“Crap, I forgot to pick up the camera. I’ll catch you later.” I told him.

I whirled around and dashed back to the school. Mrs. Walker was probably going to shoot me. I was supposed to meet her after school to get one of the school’s cameras for my photography project. The class was technically photography and yearbook, but she let me slide on the yearbook duties. What can I say? I was her favorite. I sauntered into the classroom as Mrs. Walker was gathering her things.

“I was almost out the door, Bridget.” She reprimanded without even glancing up. Apparently, being her favorite did not exclude me from the occasional scolding.

“I know. I’m sorry.” I hastily grabbed the camera off of the shelf.

“Don’t forget, your final project is due at the end of April.” She reminded me.

“I didn’t forget. I’m working on it this weekend.” I assured her.

I strolled home alone this time. The moment I stepped into the house, the distinct aroma of alcohol burned my nose. I knew what I would find even before I entered the living room. Judy, my foster “mom”, was passed out on the couch with the TV still onJeopardy. I gathered the crushed beer cans that lay scattered across the floor.

Amy, the youngest of the five foster children that lived here, skipped through the living room into the kitchen. I followed behind her, arms full of cans. Dumping them into the trash, I saw her digging in the refrigerator.

Foster Care Tip #1: The dynamic of a “good” foster home is one where the older children take care of the younger ones and the foster parents stay out of the way.

“Would you like me to make you a sandwich?” I asked her.

“Yes, please.” She answered with an excited bounce.

 

By nine o’clock, I had my hair straightened and my makeup on. I stood in my underwear as I waited for Cassie to bring me the promised outfit. While I was perfectly content wearing a pair of old jeans and a t-shirt, Cassie would not approve. Cassie always bought clothes for me when she went shopping. She enjoyed dressing me up like her own personal doll. It was easier to let her have her way than to argue with her. If there was one thing Cassie was not accustomed to hearing, it was the word no.

Checking my reflection in the mirror, I took a moment to examine my body. My long, dark hair fell close to the middle of my back and contrasted with my creamy, white skin. I had always been jealous of Cassie’s slight frame. Anytime I commented on it, though, she reminded me that my chest was much larger than hers. She looked more like a younger Gwyneth Paltrow and I looked more like a slightly paler Megan Fox. I started feeling dumb for comparing myself to Cassie. I usually didn't analyze my body this much, but I guess every teen girl gets angst over her appearance at one point or another. All in all, I was comfortable with myself, though.

I contemplated wearing my hair in a ponytail as I gathered it into my hands. I glanced in the mirror to my bedside table on top of which laid my hairband. As I turned, I caught a glimpse of movement under my bed out of the corner of my eye. I let my hair fall down as I darted toward the bed.

“Harley, if you crawled through my window again, I am going to-” I lifted my bed skirt, but there was nothing there. I had expected to see Mrs. Henderson’s cat. Instead, I only found a few dust bunnies. “Hmm…”I must be seeing things.

I lifted myself back up as I tried to recall what I had been doing.Oh, right. My hair.I gathered my hair once again and turned to walk to my bedside table. As I rounded my bed, something that felt an awful lot like a cold hand wrapped around my ankle causing me to face plant on the floor.

I twirled around to scan under the bed, but it was still empty. My heart pounded in my chest as I studied my ankle.What the hell just happened?There was nothing in the floor for me to trip over. Plus, it felt distinctly like a hand had grabbed me. I glanced up at the sound of Cassie crawling through my bedroom window. Since my room was on the ground floor, it was easier to use my window than the front door. This way I could avoid Judy, altogether.

“What are you doing on the floor?” She arched one of her perfectly shaped brows.

“Just doing some yoga.” I joked, not wanting to explain the whole “hand grabbing my ankle” thing.

“Did you trip over your own feet, again? You are seriously the clumsiest person I know.” She teased.

Had I tripped over my own feet? It wouldn’t be the first time. It made more sense than anything else. I nodded accepting this explanation.

Cassie tossed me a shopping bag. I examined it to find a blue spaghetti strap and a black mini skirt. I lifted a brow at the scant outfit and rolled my eyes. Luckily, I had predicted such an outfit and had shaved my legs meticulously after I got home from school.

As I got dressed, Cassie studied my wall of pictures. Dozens of photographs I had taken of Cassie, Aiden, and I over the years covered the wall nearest my bed. Cassie’s eyes fell on a picture of me and her from junior high. It was Halloween night and we had dressed up as Madonna, each from a different era in her career. I was dressed in her mid-eighties style with a large cross necklace and cut off shirt. Cassie was wearing the infamous cone bra with her hair in a ponytail with a braided base.

I smiled to myself as I thought back to that night. Cassie and I had gone to a high school party where I got wasted. That was the night I had met Chad. Chad became somewhat of an older brother to me. Well, an older brother that got me into trouble more times than I could count. We had been close. Unfortunately, he graduated a year ago and joined the Navy. I received the occasional phone call from him, but he’d been at sea practically since he finished basic training.


Page 2

“Okay, let’s go.” I grabbed the camera and a jacket.

“Must you bring the camera?” She pressed her eyebrows together.

“Actually, yeah, I do. I have to finish my project.” I frowned.

“Then you can title it ‘Exhibit A’ since it’ll be used as evidence when the cops bust us.”

“This is for school. Obviously the pictures will be kept G-rated.” I rolled my eyes.Yeah, as if I’d actually take pictures of everyone drinking. “And don’t worry; I’ll be sure to get your good side.”

“Bitch, please. I don’t have a bad side.” Cassie lifted her arms in a model pose. I snapped a couple of shots of her, feeding her ego. As if her ego needed to be fed, obese as it already was.

We silently snuck out the window with expertise. Rounding the house, we strolled to her BMW, which she parked down the street. You could never be too careful with Judy. Even if she was completely hammered and so passed out that she appeared dead, she still somehow managed to wake up at the most inopportune moments. That’s usually when she’d get violent.

As I slid into the passenger seat, I choked on the new car smell. “What is it with rich people needing everything to smell new?”

Cassie shrugged her shoulders as she shifted into drive. “It’s all about appearances.”

A truer statement had never been spoken. Everything was two dimensional in the world of overindulgence. I rolled my eyes.

I stared out the window as we drove along a highway that was lined with thick trees. I glanced at the glowing clock on Cassie’s car radio. Anxiety gripped my chest as I realized how far this party was from Waverly. I had become accustomed to being ditched by Cassie at parties, but they had never been more than a couple miles from my house.Aiden might meet us later,I reminded myself. The thought brought relief with it.

Cassie had texted Aiden directions to the party earlier for me. I didn’t have a cell phone, so I was unable to do it myself. My part time job at Betty’s Diner was barely sufficient for buying groceries and school supplies. There was no extra cash for a monthly bill. Aiden had offered to buy me one, but that seemed like crossing the line between friend and charity case. Besides, I would hopefully have my own phone in a few weeks. Aiden and I were entering a contest where the prize was a new smartphone with a two year paid contract.

After a few more minutes of driving, Cassie finally turned off of the highway onto something that seemed less like a road and more of a path that just so happened to be free of trees. After a bumpy ride, we ended up at a large clearing amongst the trees. Cars were parked along the edge of the tree line. In the center of the clearing, there was a bonfire that appeared to have been burning for a couple of hours. A few feet away were some tables set out with a keg and various types of liquor. There were a couple of guys that lingered near the drink table. They were obvious as they checked Cassie out.

“I’m going to get us drinks.” She grinned. “I’ll be right back.”

She sauntered off in the direction of the boys. I seriously doubted she’d be “right back”, so I tugged out my camera. The party was well underway. The scale of drunkenness ranged between buzzed to speaking incoherently to a tree. Everyone seemed to be having an excellent time. Couples were cuddled under blankets having whispered conversations. There were a few guys having deep “drunken” discussions.

“Dude, I’m telling you, it’s all a conspirasssy,” some guy proclaimed rather loudly. His words were slurred and hard to understand. “The moon isss fraudu… fraudu…” He paused to regain himself. “It’sss not real. It’sss a hallogram.”

Laughing to myself over the guy’s crazy theory, I turned away. As I snapped pictures across the cluster of people, my eyes connected with someone else’s. It was apparent he had been staring at me, but he did not appear to be embarrassed over being caught. Ironically enough, his lack of embarrassment sort of embarrassed me. I bit my lip and glanced away.

I decided I’d taken enough pictures for now and found a place to sit near the fire. I glanced over to where Cassie was supposed to be, but she was nowhere in sight. I suspected she might have taken off into the woods with one of those guys. It was a record, actually. She ditched me in zero point two seconds.

“Hey.” I heard a voice say from beside me. The sudden noise made me jerk in a mortifyingly obvious way. I glanced up to see the guy that had been staring at me earlier. “Want a beer?” Being this close to him, I could make out his features. He was tall, tan, and had shaggy, light brown hair with dark brown eyes. His smile revealed a set of perfect teeth. “Is that a yes?” His smile widened and I realized I’d been staring at him.

“A beer sounds great.” A deep flush spread across my face as I accepted the second beer he was holding.

“Mind if I join you?”

“No, I don’t mind.” I answered.

“I’m Eli.” He told me as he slid down next to me.

“Bridget.” I smiled.

“I noticed your friend took off.”

“Yeah, well, she’s a Gemini.” I explained.

“Ah, so she’s superficial and flighty.” He nodded.

My eyebrows rose in surprise. “You know the zodiac signs?”

“My sister is pretty into the whole astrology thing.” He explained. “What’s your sign?”

“Cancer.” I smiled.

“Which makes sense since Cancers are loyal to a fault.”

“What makes you confident that I’m loyal?” I asked skeptically.

“You weren’t surprised that your friend ditched you, but you still came with her.” He pointed out.

“Fine, you got me.” I felt slightly uncomfortable with his freakishly accurate assessment of me. I was quick to change the subject. “What’s your sign?”

“Pisces.” He answered.

“So, you’re laid back.” I stated.

“I guess you could say that.” He smiled.

A sudden breeze blew across my skin causing goosebumps to rise and my muscles to shiver. I tugged my tiny jacket tighter, but it did nothing. Eli noticed and silently slid his jacket over my shoulders. It was still warm from his body.

“What’s with the camera? You some sort of narc?” He quirked an eyebrow.

“Yep, I work for the sheriff's department. I’m going to have to arrest you now.” I teased.

“If you wanted me in handcuffs, all you had to do was ask.” He winked. “What’s the camerareallyfor?”

“School project. I have to take pictures of ‘one hundred strangers’ and write a short biography about them.” I explained.

“Sounds like you might get to meet some interesting people.” He commented.

“In Waverly? Not so much.”

“That’s where you live? No wonder I haven’t seen you at any parties before.” He observed.

“Yeah, we usually don’t go to parties this close to Lincoln, but I guess my friend wanted to try something new.” I explained.

“I’m glad she did.” He smiled over at me. I bit my lip nervously under his gaze.

His grin grew at my reaction. He seemed to enjoy making me nervous. My attention caught on his mouth. His smile appeared to radiate a genuine happiness that was infectious. I couldn’t help but compare it with Aiden’s. Aiden’s smile was cute, too, but it was more of a smirk. I had never seen Aiden simply smile because he was genuinely happy for a moment. He always seemed to hide his emotions with quips and sarcasm. I never knew what he was actually thinking, which was both frustrating and intriguing.

“Bridget!” I heard Cassie shout as she sauntered toward us with some guy in tow. She had a bottle of tequila in one hand and the guy’s arm in the other. I could tell she was already buzzed and it wouldn’t be long before she was drunk. “See, I told you I wouldn’t ditch you. This is Bryan.” She flopped down on the ground next to Eli and me.

“Actually, it’s Ryan.” The guy corrected, sliding down next to her, but Cassie didn’t act like she heard him. She passed me the bottle of tequila and I took a swig.

“This is Eli.” I told her. “Eli this is Cassie.”

“Hi, Eli, you arecute. Are you single?” Cassie asked bluntly.

“Uh...Yeah.” Eli answered. I could tell he wasn’t expecting to be asked that right off the bat. He obviously didn’t know Cassie.

“Ah, really? Bridget is, too.” Cassie wiggled her eyebrows.

She was always trying to hook me up with guys. She desperately wanted me to lose my V- card. She thought that virginity was overrated, which was why she gave hers away so quickly. I didn’t know if the tight grip I held onto mine with had to do with my trust issues or if I merely wasn’t ready to let go of the one thing I felt I could control in my life. Maybe it was both.

“So, anyway, Ryan, do you live around here?” I asked trying to change the subject.

“I’m originally from Omaha, but I’m going to school in Lincoln, so I live on campus.” He said.

“Oh, what school?” I asked.

“I go to KU.” He answered. Cassie appeared to be bored with the conversation.

“Where do you live, Eli?” Cassie asked, steering the topic back towards Eli.

“Lincoln.” He stated.

“How old are you?” She pried.

“Seventeen.” He laughed, amused by her constant stream of questions.

“Bridget is sixteen and she doesn’t have a curfew. She’s so lucky. She can stay out as late as she wants. She doesn’t even have to go home if she doesn’t want to. No one would sick the cops on her likemyparents do.” She was beginning to babble, so I knew she was getting tipsy.

“Absentee parents?” Eli asked me.

“You could say that.” I told him.

I hated telling people about my situation, so I usually kept things nondescript when it came to my parents. Not that I could be more detailed, even if I wanted to.

“More like a mystery. Her life is so dramatic. She could totally star in a soap opera. She doesn’t even know who her parents are. Those deadbeats abandoned her as a baby, no offense, B.” Cassie blurted.

“Cassie!” I scolded her, but she didn’t stop.

“Her parents are totally MIA. She’s been living in foster homes since likeforever,and the foster parents she lives with now are total drunks. So, she can totally do whatever she wants.” Cassie said. I was furious at her for telling Eli things I told her in confidence. Unfortunately, Cassie was drunk by this point, which left her without a filter.

“Anythingyou want?” Eli said smoothly as he raised an eyebrow in question. I smiled in response as I pictured the possibilities. By now, Cassie had lost interest in us entirely and was making out with Ryan. Eli continued, “Such an eventful life for a sixteen year old.”

“It’s not as dramatic as it sounds.” I explained, hoping he wasn’t completely freaked out.

“Too bad. It would have made for an interesting biography one day.” He grinned.

“Yeah, it would.” I agreed with a smile. Eli reallywaslaid back.

“Okay, we’re headed out. Bryan is going to give me a tour of his apartment.” Cassie announced with a giggle.

I knew Cassie was aware of Ryan’s actual name. This was merely her subtle way of letting him know he wouldn’t be around long enough for her to bother remembering it. She turned to Eli and asked, “Is there any way you can give Bridget a ride home?”

“No problem.” Eli replied.

Cassie didn’t waste any time as she staggered behind Ryan toward her car. I was relieved to see her hand the keys over to the mostly sober Ryan. Cassie was in no condition to drive. She was actually in no condition to be making sexual decisions, either, but last time I said as much, she nearly bit my head off.

“I have another friend that’s supposed to meet me here, so you don’t have to give me a ride.” I told him.

“I don’t mind taking you home.” Eli asserted. His eyes met mine with a gleam, and I felt a warm flush sweep over me. I glanced away in an attempt to hide it.

I cleared my throat. “So, you know a lot about me now, thanks to Cassie, and I know nothing about you.”

“You know my name is Eli and you know I’m a Pisces.” He grinned.

I pursed my lips. “And that’s all I know. That’s not exactly enough for a biography.”

“Is that all I am to you, just some project?” He said sarcastically dramatic.

“Shut up.” I laughed.

“Fine, you can ask me five questions, and I promise to answer them honestly, but I must warn you, there’s not much about me worth knowing.” He flashed a side grin.

“I’ll be the judge of that.” I told him. “Question one: Where do you go to school?”

“Wellington Academy, next question.”

"Wellington Academy, isn't that a private school?” I asked.

I wouldn't have guessed Eli was a rich kid, but now that I thought it over, I was starting to notice the minute things that separated him from all the foster kids I knew. He had on those ripped jeans that you could tell came already pre-ripped and cost a fortune. On his wrist, he wore a watch that looked like it was made of real gold. His shoes were a spotless white with a Nike symbol on the side. I remembered seeing the same pair at the mall. They cost a few hundred.


Page 3

“Yes it is; next question.” He smiled. His words ripped me from my thoughts.

“Hold on, that wasnotone of my five questions. It was an extension question. I only asked because you gave me a nondescript answer.” I objected, entirely forgetting his expensive outfit.

“A question is a question.” He insisted with a smirk.

“Fine.” I gave him a mischievous smile. “Question three: How many people have you slept with?”

His eyebrows rose in surprise. “Ah, vengeful are we?”

“Yes, I am. Now, you said you’d answer my five questions honestly.” I reminded him.

“You’re right. I did say that. Okay, then, zero-.” He began.

“Bullshit.” I interjected.

“Zero guys.” He finished with a knowing smile. “And four girls.” He seemed more amused than embarrassed by the question.

“What is that mathematical equation used to figure out how many girls a guy hasactuallyslept with? Don’t answer that. That was not directed at you.” I asserted making him laugh. “It’s three times whatever number they give you. Therefore, you’ve actually slept with twelve girls.”

“First of all, you have it backwards. It’s women that lie about how many people they’ve slept with. Second of all, I told you I would be honest and I was.” He smiled.

“Okay, I guess I believe you. Moving on. Question four: Do you have any siblings?”

“Yes, an older brother and an older sister. I haven’t seen my sister in over a year, though.” He answered.

“I’m curious about your sister, but I won’t ask since you’re so technical with the rules of this game.” I jested.

He let out a laugh. “I’ll give you a freebie. My sister’s been working in Ireland, so she hasn’t been around much. What’s your next question?” He switched subjects before I could comment.

“Okay, question five: What’s your biggest secret?” I asked him, lowering my voice for dramatic effect. A mysterious expression I could not pinpoint passed Eli’s face briefly. It was barely a millisecond before his normal nonchalance was back.

“If I told you, then it wouldn’t be a secret.” He pointed out.

“Elijah! Would you get your ass back over here?” We heard someone yell before I could argue with him. We both twisted around to see who it was. It was one of the guys Eli had been sitting with before he came to talk to me.

“Come sit with us.” Eli offered as he rose off the ground.             

“Okay.” I agreed.

We gradually made our way over to the group. Three guys and two girls lounged out on the ground in a circle. The guys scooted over and made room for me and Eli. We slid down on a blanket they had spread out.

Then, Eli began introducing everyone to me. “Bridget, this is Grey.” He said pointing at the guy who had summoned Eli back to the group. He had spiky, blond hair with blue tips. “This is Hail.” He gestured toward the guy who had been talking to Eli right before he came to sit with me. He had shaggy reddish blond hair. “This is Jordan.” He said pointing to the last guy whose hair was almost as dark as Aiden’s. “And this is Tiffany, Hail’s girlfriend, and Nicole, Grey’s girlfriend.” Tiffany had long brown hair a few shades lighter than mine and Nicole had shoulder length, blonde hair.

“Hi.” I gave a general wave to everyone.

“Aren’t you freezing in that skirt?” Tiffany asked me.

I envied the jeans and sweaters she and Nicole wore. I silently cursed Cassie for the skimpy outfit. It was the last time I’d relinquish wardrobe control over to her.

“Yes, I am.” I told her.

She tossed me a blanket. “Here, it’s our last one so you and Eli will have to share.”

“I’m not cold.” He told me, but it would have been more convincing if his arms weren’t covered in goosebumps.

“Well, either we share or you’re taking your coat back.” I insisted with a smile.

He moved closer to me. As he covered us up, his hand brushed across my leg and lingered for a moment sending tingles through my numb legs. Now, we were close enough that I could feel the heat from his body. I resisted the urge to press myself closer against him, but I was extremely aware of his body’s movements. After a few minutes, the warmth brought feeling back into my legs.

“What happened to that hot blonde you were with?” Jordan asked me.

“She left.” I answered.

“How are you getting home?” Grey asked me.

“Oh, I thought I’d do some camping tonight. You know, pitch a tent, roast marshmallows, sing Kumbaya, that sort of thing.” I said jokingly.

“But it’s freezing out!” Nicole exclaimed with wide eyes.

Either she was too drunk to realize I was kidding or her personality matched her blonde hair perfectly. Nicole was as skinny as Cassie but not quite as tall from what I could tell while she was sitting. She wore her hair down in curls that seemed unaffected by the moist air. In fact, not a hair appeared out of place on her head.

“She was joking Nicole. I’m going to take her home.” Eli laughed.

“Oh, okay, good.” She said, appearing happy, again.

“You guys are all from Lincoln?” I asked the group.

“Yeah.” Grey said. “Jordan, Hail, and I go to school with Eli.”

“Nicole and I go to an all-girls prep school in Lincoln.” Tiffany said.

"Have you ever been to Lincoln before?" Eli asked me in a low tone.

"I went once with Cassie on one of her shopping sprees, but I didn’t see much of anything outside the mall.”

“Well there’s definitely more exciting things to do in Lincoln other than going to the mall. We hit all the clubs on the weekends. You should join us sometime.” Eli’s voice was smoky, causing shivers to race down my spine.

“Yeah, that’d be fun.” I breathed.

“So, can I get your number? Or would you rather I just stalk you online?” Eli asked.

“Well, I don’t have a phone, so I guess you’ll have to stalk me.”

“I’m into role-playing. Have any other fantasies I need to know about?” He said as he rubbed the outside of my thigh.

“That’s privileged information.” I responded flirtatiously.

Eli leaned within inches of my ear and whispered, “I have ways of making you talk.” With Eli so close, our bodies were pressed together making it hard to ignore the hormones that were ignited. My body felt on fire. A peal of shrill laughter cut through the moment and the spell was broken. Eli leaned back, breaking the intimate proximity between us with a disappointed expression.

“Or I could give you Cassie’s number and she could give me your messages.” I suggested, my tone mirroring his expression. He handed me his phone in agreement.

"Did anyone catch that Huskers game last night?" Grey asked while I was putting Cassie’s number into Eli’s phone.

"Yeah, that ref was a total douche." Hail growled.

I wasn't into sports, so I didn't know if they were talking about football or baseball. I didn't even know what was in season, right now. Obviously, Tiffany felt the same way because she turned to me and gave an extremely puzzled look. However, the guys were getting into their discussion, including Eli.

"I think we lost them." Tiffany said to Nicole and me.

"Oh yeah, they are lost in boy world, now." Nicole giggled.

“So, Eli’s taking you home, huh?” Tiffany asked, wiggling her eyebrows.

“Well, I have another friend who might be coming later, but if he doesn’t show up then Eli said he’d take me home.” I told them.

“Another friend who’s a guy?” Tiffany asked.

“Yeah.” I answered.

“Are you guys together? Is he cute?” Nicole asked. I felt awkward at being put on the spot.

“It’s not like that, we’re just friends.” I insisted.

“Well,doyou have a boyfriend?” Nicole glanced back and forth between me and Eli, whose attention was suddenly on our conversation. He had never gotten confirmation from me that I was indeed single.

"Nope." I answered. The guys seemed to be done with their sports talk.

“Let’s play Never Have I Ever.” Tiffany suggested.

“Yes! I’ll go get us more drinks.” Nicole shot up and darted for the drink table, Grey following behind her.

“How do you play?” Jordan asked.

“Well, basically you say ‘never have I ever’ and then you say something you’ve never done before, and anyone whohasdone that has to take a drink.” Tiffany explained. “And no lying.”

Nicole and Grey came back with both arms full of liquor and beer bottles. She handed a cup of vodka to me and Eli and then passed out drinks to everyone.

“Okay, I’ll start.” Tiffany said. “Never have I ever gone skinny dipping.” Nicole, Grey, and I all took a drink. Wow, first one and I already had to drink. This was going to be an interesting game.

“Never have I ever played strip poker.” Nicole said, giving a knowing look to Tiffany who rolled her eyes. I guess Nicole was the only one who hadn’t because everyone except her took a drink, including me.

“Never have I ever had sex in the back of a pickup truck.” Jordan said. Nobody took a drink. Obviously, these people werenotfrom Waverly.

“Never have I ever been arrested for kidnapping a pig.” Grey gave Hail and Eli a pointed look. They both took a drink.

“Andwhydid you kidnap a pig?” I asked them.

“It was another school’s mascot. Any other animal and we would have gotten away with it. You may not be aware of this, but pigs are not the most cooperative creatures.” Eli explained.

“Sure, blame the pig.” I laughed.

“Never have I ever smoked cigarettes in the school bathroom.” Hail said, continuing the game. Nicole, Tiffany, Grey, Eli, and I all took a drink.

“Never have I ever been arrested more than twice.” Eli said. His expression changed to surprised when I took a drink. “Wow, from narc to criminal in under an hour.” He gave me an amused smile. I gave a slight shrug but remained silent.

“Never have I ever hooked up with a girl.” I said quickly, trying to change the subject. All the guys took a drink and then so did Tiffany and Nicole.

“With each other?” Grey asked them.

They gave each other a look and then shrugged their shoulders. They weren’t going to give away any details. However, that didn’t stop Jordan, Grey, and Hail from harassing them over it. The game seemed to have come to an end since the guys were completely wrapped up in this new revelation.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” Eli asked me.

“Sure.”

We told the group we were leaving, not that they were paying us any attention. We moved past the tree line further into the woods until the party noises were merely background noise. Eli pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.

“Do you want one?” He asked.

“No, I’ve mostly quit.” I told him.

“What does that mean, you mostly quit?” He laughed.

“It means that when my friends ask if I quit, I say yes but every once in a while I sneak one when nobody’s around.” I explained.

“I’m the only one here, now.” He pointed out.

“Well, when you put it that way.” I said, taking a cigarette from him. He lit mine and then his.

Aiden detested it when I smoked. He was the main reason I quit. It was a never ending nagging that I couldn’t take anymore. Of course, it was a daily struggle not to smoke one. If someone offered me one, it was next to impossible for me to refuse.

We both only smoked half a cigarette and put them out. “I had fun tonight.” I commented.

“Yeah, me too.” Eli said, coming to a stop next to a tree. He whirled around to face me. “I met this great girl with an amazing smile.”

“Cassie does have an amazing smile.” I teased, stopping right next to him.

He remained silent as he continued to smile down at me. Then, to my surprise, he bent down, gently grabbing my face, and kissed me. It was soft as his lips moved across mine almost as if he was asking for my permission. My lips tingled as he moved his face away from mine.

My body ignited with a fierce need that I had never felt before. It was as if all my senses were kicked into overdrive, and I never felt more alive. I connected with an unknown energy that seemed to surround us. My body seized control spurred on by that very energy as it coursed through my veins.

With a sense of empowerment, I gripped his shoulders as I twisted us so that his back was pressed into the tree. At his shocked expression, I closed the space between our bodies, and I moved my lips to meet his. His arms circled around my waist as I pushed my body flush with his. Taking control of the situation, I thrust my tongue into Eli’s mouth where I began to rhythmically massage his tongue with mine.

Overcome by my instincts, I didn’t feel like it was enough and had a craving for more. I began to rub him through his shirt. His chest was solid and I could feel the rippling of his form. I needed to be closer, so I raised the edge of his shirt, tracing my fingertips over his abs and on up.

Eli sucked in a surprised breath as I found the raised buds of his nipples. Inspired by his response, I moved their tips around between my fingers as I kissed down the side of his jaw in anticipation of moving lower. As things began heating up, an icy wind bit through my clothes, and my body shuddered. The moment was broken as I regained control over my body, and I pulled back.


Page 4

“Are you freezing, yet?” He grinned.

“Um…Yeah.” I said, still disoriented by the kiss.

“Do you want to go to my car?” He asked with desire still clear in his eyes.

“Sure.” I answered.

My body thrummed with unspent desire that seemed to lessen as we made our way over to the cars. Eli let out a grunting sound that drew my attention to him. He seemed to glare intently at something up ahead. However, when I did a brief scan to find the culprit, I came up short. I couldn’t figure out what had caused the abrupt mood change in Eli. It was only a moment later that Aiden appeared out of the shadows.

“Oh, there he is.” I told Eli. His expression was puzzled.

Aiden stomped over to stand directly in our path. His body was just as tense as Eli’s, if not more. I was dumbfounded by the whole exchange. Their entire demeanor screamed for a fight, which didn’t make any sense.

“What’s going on?” Aiden’s eyes never left Eli as he spoke.

“Nothing, I didn’t think you were going to make it, so Eli was going to take me home.” I told him. Their silent fight was beyond puzzling. Did I miss something?

“What’s up with you guys?” I asked them. Neither even offered a glance in my direction, as if I wasn’t even there. Annoyance filled me.

“Well, I’m here now, so you can go back to your party.” Aiden growled at Eli. “Come on, Bridget. I’m taking you home.” He said to me in a much softer voice.

“How about someone explain to me what all the tension is about before I goanywhere.” I barked, frustrated with them.Was I suddenly invisible?

“You’re crazy if you think I’m going to let her go anywhere with you.” Eli sneered at Aiden while simultaneously ignoring me.

“Let me?” Ok, now I was pissed. What the hell was going on here?

“I didn’t mean it like that. Listen, whatever you may think, he’snotyour friend.” Eli said to me in a much calmer voice than he used with Aiden.

“Hold on, do you two know each other?” I asked, directing the question at both of them. An unsaid message passed between them that told me there was something they weren’t telling me.

“Our paths have crossed.” Aiden muttered, obviously not willing to go into any more detail than that.

“Fine, don’t tell me. Just leave me out of whatever feud you two have going on here.” I growled.

I tossed Eli his coat. As I did, I noticed Grey and Hail were also on edge. Although they remained where they were sitting, their eyes were glued on the three of us and they appeared as if they were ready to leap into action if a fight broke out. I truly hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but if it did, I wasn’t sticking around to watch. I took off toward the woods.

“What are you doing?” Aiden’s voice roared from behind me.

“I can't deal with this. I'm choking on all the testosterone.” I threw the words over my shoulder.

I was so furious that I didn’t even feel the cold on my bare skin. My adrenaline was pumping hard as I raced on. I knew taking off was probably idiotic and over-the-top, but I didn’t care. I was drunk and pissed. I sprinted through the woods, dodging trees until my lungs felt like they were going to collapse. I plopped down, leaning back on the nearest tree and tried to catch my breath. Perhaps, I’d be camping, after all.

 

Eli

Eli stared after Bridget. He was shocked and more than slightly amused at the sudden turn of events.So, her friend was Aiden Matthews,Eli thought to himself.Things just got exciting.But then Eli realized what this meant. Aiden was in town. What was he doing here? And why was Bridget calling him afriend?There was more to this story, but Eli couldn’t think about that, right now. He was much more concerned with what Aiden’s presence meant for Eli and his brother, Sam. He knew that if Aiden was poking around, they’d never be able to finish what they’d started. Eli had had enough of this douchebag for one lifetime.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Eli shot accusingly at Aiden. He clinched his fist under the jacket that now lay across his arm.

“I could ask the same of you.” Aiden shot back with a fierce glare.

“Oh, you know, cute girl, wild party. You can put two and two together.” Eli taunted.

“You lay one finger on her and you are a dead man.” Aiden threatened in his annoyingly arrogant accent, getting right in Eli’s face. Surprised by Aiden’s reaction over Bridget, he knew he’d found a sore spot he could exploit.

Eli moved even closer and whispered daringly, “Too late.”

Aiden swung his fist, catching the side of Eli’s face. It knocked Eli off balance briefly before he punched Aiden right back. Grey and Hail were on them instantly, forcing them apart.

“This isn’t the place. People are staring.” Hail warned. With neither side satisfied from the fight, tension still lay heavily in the air. Grey released Eli, but Hail still held on to Aiden. Aiden tore himself from his grip but didn’t attack, again. Instead, he took off into the woods. Eli chased after him, determined to find Bridget before Aiden did. He knew she was the key to distracting Aiden long enough so they could do what they needed to.

Eli spent twenty minutes searching for Bridget without any luck. She was apparently faster than he thought. He finally gave up and headed back to the party. He noticed Aiden’s car was gone too and he hoped that meant that Aiden had as little luck as he did. Maybe Bridget had found someone to give her a ride home.

On his drive to Lincoln, Eli thought about Bridget. He wondered why she had such a hold over Aiden. Yeah, she was beautiful. Okay, she was more than beautiful, but that couldn’t be everything. What was so special about this girl that had Aiden following her around like a lap dog? If Eli didn’t know any better, he’d think Aiden was ordered to protect her. But why?

CHAPTER TWOA DREAM WORTH REMEMBERING

 

I lingered in the dirt for a few moments, attempting to calm down. Breathing in the frigid air, I took in my surroundings. The soft light of the moon made everything seem phosphorescent. The trees all appeared tall and intimidating. Various animals made shuffling noises through the bushes that surrounded me, causing my imagination to run wild.They are just bunnies,I consoled my racing pulse. I decided I would walk home. I definitely needed to start moving if I wanted stay warm since all I had now was my thin jacket.

I lifted myself off the ground. I scanned the forest as I tried to access some internal compass that I knew wasn’t there. Everything looked the same, so I gave up and headed left. As I strolled along my path, I soaked in the atmosphere around me. My instinct began to pick up on an invisible energy that had a calming effect on me. The trees no longer fed my panic but, rather, snuffed it out. Somehow, I felt protected by them.

Thinking of the strange energy, I was reminded of what had happened between me and Eli. What happened to me? While I knew that it was me, it was almost like having an out of body experience. I couldn’t believe how I had attacked him like that. It was as if something else was in control in that moment.

My thoughts were broken when I suddenly had the feeling of being watched. What was a serene calm a few moments ago seemed more like an eerie quiet, now. Where were the animals? My heart rate sped up and I picked up my pace. I glanced over my shoulder, but no one was there. Yet, that feeling of someone watching me was unshakable.

I screamed as I felt someone shove me to the ground. I twisted around to see who had assaulted me, but the forest appeared empty.I know this was not simply my clumsiness.Someone pushed me!I pulled myself up, wanting to get out of here as soon as possible. However, once I put pressure on my right ankle, pain shot through me entire leg.

Well, this wasjust great. Now, I had to walk fifteen miles in extremely uncomfortable sandals and a sore ankle with some invisible assailant close behind me. I’d say this couldn’t get any worse, but then it’d probably start raining. Why did I always let my temper get the better of me?

After I had only moved a few feet, something caught my attention. I heard an incoherent whispering behind me. I whirled around but nothing was there. I heard it again, but this time, it was louder and it sounded like it was saying my name. It didn’t sound like a human voice but more like the wind was whispering to me. I knew that description sounded crazy, but that’s the only way to describe what I was hearing. It had a calming effect on me and my intuition told me I should follow it. I limped in the direction I heard it coming from. No matter how far I moved toward it, though, it always sounded the same distance away from me.

It didn’t stop until I found myself back at the road. However, by that time, my ankle had gone from a bearable soreness to a throbbing pain, and it had started to swell. All thoughts of the whispering wind and the invisible attacker were pushed to the back of my mind. I made it only a few feet down the road before the pain was too much.

I flopped onto the edge of the road. As I listened to the silence of the deserted street, I began to wonder what the police’s initial reaction to discovering my dead body on the side of the road would be. Considering my outfit, they’d probably assume I was a prostitute who blew the wrong politician.Wow, my thoughts got weird and morbid when left astray.

The sound of a car driving down the road broke my train of thought. As it got closer, it began slowing down. I was unable to make out the type of vehicle since the headlights were blindingly bright. It came to a full stop twenty feet away from where I was sitting. I probably should have been terrified that it was some random psycho who wanted to chop me up and feed me to his cat, but honestly, what was the difference between freezing to death and being murdered? Either way I'd be dead. Besides, what could I seriously do if I couldn't even stand up?

While I told myself I wasn't afraid, I still felt my heart beat faster as I heard the car door creak open and slam shut. I closed my eyes and covered my face with my hands as I heard footsteps inch closer.

"Bridget." I heard a familiar voice say and I sighed in relief. I glanced up to see Aiden looming over me. "Will you please get in the car?"

I didn't acknowledge his question as I stared intently at the ground. I was still furious over everything and my petulant side won out.

"Seriously? You're freezing and from the looks of your ankle, you're hurt, but you're too stubborn to let me take you home?" When I still didn't respond to him, he said, "Fine."

He was swift as he lifted me from the ground and carried me to his car. I was shocked at how easily he accomplished this. He made it seem as if I weighed less than a feather, which I guarantee you, I do not. Once I got over the shock, I yelled at him to put me down, but of course, he didn't listen. He put me in the passenger seat and buckled me up. Then, he got into the driver's seat and turned the ignition. I wanted to continue arguing, but the heater kicked on and the warmth made me lose my train of thought. We sat in silence, except for the chattering of my teeth, for a few minutes.

“So, what was all that about?” I asked him.

"I couldn't very well leave you on the side of the road to freeze to death."

"You know that's not what I'm talking about. What’s with you and Eli?" I asked.

When he didn't respond, I glanced over at him, but I couldn't read his expression. He leaned over and switched the radio on. He sang along to some oldies song I had never heard before. I rolled my eyes and switched the radio off.

“Well?” I pressed on.

“What all happened at the party with your newfriends? You smell like cigarettes and…other things.” He said and then muttered under his breath, “Like sex.”

“Did you just say I smelled like sex?” I said, shocked.

“And cigarettes. Must have been a fun party.” Aiden said sarcastically.

“Whatever, stop trying to change the subject.” I growled and he responded with silence. "Aiden, come on. Tell me what happened back there."

Aiden let out a long sigh. "It's complicated. There's a long history there."

"Could you be any vaguer? You wouldn't want it to sound like a real answer or anything." I snapped, extremely frustrated. Aiden continued staring straight ahead at the road.

"What could Eli have possibly done to you? He was…sweet." I couldn’t help the smirk that appeared on my face. I knew that word would push his button. I was hoping it would make him explain himself.

Aiden shifted to face me, his eyes gripping mine. "He’s dangerous, Bridget. You need to stay away from him.” His voice sounded more serious than I’d ever heard it before.

"Oh, right, you want me to never see him again, but you don't want to tell me why. Should I be seen and not heard, too?" I frowned.

"You are sodramatic." Aiden said, lifting a corner of his mouth.

"Shut up." It was annoying that I couldn't keep myself from smiling at that. I knew I was being dramatic, but I despised being told what to do.

"Can we please not fight anymore, tonight?" He pled.

"Fine, but that doesn't mean this conversation is over or that I'm going to listen to you." I was too exhausted to discuss this anymore.

"Okay." Aiden said with a sigh, knowing there was no arguing with me over it. "By the way, you forgot this when you stormed off, earlier.” He reached in the backseat and handed me the camera. I had completely forgotten it and was thankful Aiden had thought to get it. I didn’t have the five hundred bucks to pay the school for it.

By the time we parked in Aiden's driveway, I was drowsy and my ankle had gone completely numb. I opened the car door and Aiden said, "Wait and I'll carry you in."

"No, I can walk." I told him stubbornly, heaving myself up onto my feet.

As soon as I put pressure on my ankle, searing pain caused me to lose my balance and I fell to the ground. Without saying I told you so, Aiden darted over to me and placed my arm around his neck. He placed one arm under my legs and wrapped the other around my waist. As he did, his hand just barely grazed my breast, but suddenly I was aware of just how close our bodies were. My heart began pounding so loud I was worried he could hear it. Snapping out of my thoughts, I realized Aiden was headed straight for my front door.

"No, I have to go through my window or we might wake up Judy." I insisted.

"Okay, but we'll make just as much noise if I try to carry you through your window. I'll just take you to my house for the night." He suggested.

"Your brother won't mind?" I asked.

"No, besides he won't be back until morning."

"Okay, it's not like anybody will notice I'm gone at my house." I glanced over to the dark house. Judy would be passed out by now, but Bill probably just got home from work.

Aiden waltzed back over to his house, unlocked his front door, and opened it, all while still holding me. I was impressed, if not jealous, by his graceful movements. He took me to his room and laid me down on his bed. He found a few extra pillows and placed them under my hurt ankle. Gently touching my foot, he examined it closely.

"It doesn't look broken, but it’s deeply bruised. Do you want me to run you a bath so you can get cleaned up?"

"A bath sounds excellent." I had no idea how exactly we would manage that without him seeing every inch of me, but the thick layer of dirt that caked my skin told me it was worth the risk. I knew I was a hot mess with my disheveled outfit and swollen ankle.

He left for a few moments, and I could hear the water running in the tub. My eyes scanned his room while I waited. I'd been in here a million times over the last year, but something seemed different. I couldn't quite put my finger on it though. His walls were covered in band posters, like always. His bookshelf was still in the corner with all his favorite novels.

Finally, I spotted it. There was a painting propped against the wall on the top of his bookshelf. A sheet covered half of it. At first I couldn't tell what it was a painting of, but my heart dropped once recognition set in. It was a painting of a tree. Not just any tree, though. It was exactly like the tree from my dream.

I felt a pit begin to form in my stomach. I was probably being paranoid. I mean, a tree is a tree, isn't it? And millions of painting portrayed trees, right? Yet, I still couldn't shake the eerie feeling I had that it was the same tree. Right at that moment Aiden strolled back into the room holding a robe.

"Here, put this on and I'll carry you into the bathroom." He ordered, setting the robe down on the bed. He turned his back to me so that I could change.

"Don't peek." I told him.

"I can't make any promises." He teased, but he stayed facing away the entire time exactly like I knew he would. He was a gentleman to a fault.

"Okay, I'm done." I told him.

He carried me to the bathroom. I couldn’t help but think of how close we were and how little I was wearing. I wondered if he was thinking about it, too. If he was, he showed no sign of it. Then again, he was ridiculously talented at hiding his thoughts. I suddenly wondered what else he was ridiculously talented at. My body warmed at the notion. Once we were in the bathroom, he placed me down on the side of the tub.

"Will you be okay from here?" He asked.

"Yeah, thanks." I replied and he left, closing the bathroom door behind him. The bathtub was full of warm water with lavender smelling bubbles. As I sank into the water, I could feel my muscles begin to relax. After a few moments, my exhaustion took hold and I dozed off.

I found myself back at that field. This time my dream was focused solely on the tree. Things were still happening in the background, but my focus was on that tree. I felt the urge to touch it. I wanted to grab hold of its unobtainable power. I needed to soak in its essence. It called to me like the sirens called to sailors. I needed to respond to survive. I would surely die if I could not reach the tree.

Suddenly, I couldn't breathe. I tried to let out a scream, but my lungs felt as if they were on fire. My eyes flew open and I realized my head was under the water. I lifted myself up, using either side of tub. I began coughing and gasping for air. Aiden barged in and rushed to me.

"Are you okay?" His voice was filled with concern.             

Once I caught my breath enough to answer I told him, "Yeah, I'm fine, now. I just fell asleep in the tub and..." It was at that moment that we both realized I was still naked in the tub and all the bubbles had disintegrated. His eyes wandered down briefly before he glanced away.

The last time Aiden had seen me naked was a few months ago. I had gotten wasted at a party at the lake and decided that it would be fun to go skinny dipping. The only problem was that it was in the middle of November and around fifteen degrees out. Aiden noticed just in time and stopped me before I got into the water. I swore I’d never get that drunk again.Kind of like I’d sworn to stop smoking.


Page 5

I stepped out of the tub and wrapped a towel around myself. I decided my bath was over. Aiden helped me back to his bed. My outfit had disappeared along with the dirty sheets. I knew Aiden’s OCD had gotten the better of him and he was already starting to clean up. He handed me a couple of painkillers.

"Do you want anything to drink?" He asked me.

"No, I’ve swallowed enough water for one night." I told him. After a pause, I decided I'd ask about the painting.

"When did you get that?" I asked him, pointing to the top of the bookshelf.

"My parents sent it to me. They bought it when they were in Paris.” He informed me.

"It's interesting." I commented. He studied me like he was trying to read my expression.

"It's just a tree, nothing special." He asserted.

"It's just...very familiar." I said ambiguously.

I had not told Aiden about my dreams. I hadn’t told anyone, for that matter. Dreams were on the list of things I was not comfortable talking about, but I had to know more about the painting and maybe Aiden could help me.

"Familiar how?" He pressed.

"Well." I hesitated but made the decision to continue. "I've seen that tree before. Not physically, but I have these dreams. Well, one specific dream really. It’s just sort of a recurring one." I babbled.

“Bridget.” Aiden cut off my incessant babble.

“Right, sorry.” I described the dream to him. His eyes became wide as I told him everything.

"And you're telling me the tree in this painting looks like the tree in your dream?" He asked me with an expression that seemed to say his mind was running a hundred miles a minute.

"No, I'm telling you the tree in the paintingisthe tree in my dream." I maintained.

"Come on, Bridge. There are a lot of trees in the world. I highly doubt this painting is the same tree from your dreams. Besides, I'm sure the tree in your dream is more symbolic than literal."

"Yeah, maybe." That possibility hadn’t crossed my mind, but it made sense. From the little I knew about dream interpretation, the things in your dreams usually represented something else.

"Listen, it's been a long night. I'll take the painting out of here for now so you can get some sleep."

I nodded. The thought of trying to sleep with that painting a few feet from me didn't sound too restful.

"Where are you going to sleep?" My question seemed to throw him off for a second as if he hadn't thought it over.

"Probably, on the couch or in Ash's room." He answered.

Ash was Aiden's brother. He had taken Aiden in when their parents decided they were going to focus on business and travel around to other countries, striking deals or whatever it was they did. Aiden had explained it to me once, but I hadn't been listening.

"Here's one of my shirts for you to sleep in if you want." Aiden tossed me a white cotton shirt. I slipped it over my head, getting a whiff of its scent. It smelled like Aiden. I resisted the urge to bury my face in it to inhale it further.

"Hey, Aiden?" I said right before he closed the door to leave. He opened it back up enough to stick his head in the room. "Thanks for coming back for me."

"Always.” He smiled and I knew he meant it. “Now, go to sleep." And with that, he closed the door, and I was left in a dark room. Sleep captured me instantaneously.

 

Aiden

Aiden lounged on the couch flipping through the channels on the TV as he waited for Ash to return. He had so much to tell him but wasn’t sure what it all meant. He at least knew Bridget’s dreams were a clear confirmation of her identity. He had hoped she wasn’t the one. After growing so close to her, the last thing he wanted was to drag her into this whole mess. He was almost tempted not to tell Ash, but he knew with Eli setting his sights on her, Sam wouldn’t be far behind. If they figured out who she actually was, the situation would get complicated and Bridget would be caught in the middle of it all. He couldn’t risk that. No, he had to tell Ash, tonight.

 

Bridget

The attic was dark and dank as my eyes searched for some unknown item. I felt an energy tug at me with a captivating lure. All the unfamiliar items were coated in dust except for a single corner to my left.These must have been recently stored here,I thought to myself. As I made my way over, it was as if something called to me from that corner. While the words were unfamiliar, the message was clear. It wanted me to come closer.

I crossed the breadth of the attic only to come face to face with the painting from Aiden’s room. It was entirely uncovered, now. There was no denying this was the tree from my dream. This painting was definitely what drew me to the corner. Staring at it made me feel as if I were right back in my dream, which allowed me to recall details once lost. I brushed my hand across the surface at the heart of the tree. Forgotten words echoed through my mind. Memories of an urgent conversation resurfaced.

“Do as we discussed. Do not stray from the path. Her destiny is in your hands, now. Keep her safe. May Hecate be with you, my loyal servant.”

“My Qu-.”

“No, our enemies reach is great, even in this world.”

“My mistress, I swear my fealty to you and this child. I will safeguard her with my life.”

The women’s voices struck a chord buried in the depths of my brain. I dug deep through layers of memories in search of it. I could sense it but couldn’t quite find it. My efforts were cut short when a thud traveled through the walls. I crept down the stairs so that I could hear what was going on. I paused halfway down so as not to be seen. I could hear Aiden and Ash having a hushed conversation.

"This happened tonight?" I heard Ash ask in a low voice.

"Yes.” I heard Aiden say quietly.

I wondered what they were talking about. Was he telling Ash about Eli? A pang of guilt surged through me for eavesdropping, but my curiosity was overpowering. I wanted to know more.

"So, now we know for certain. We have to tell the Elders." Ash said. Elders? What were they talking about?

"What happens then? What do they plan to do?" Aiden questioned.

"It'll be up to them. We’ll simply have to wait for their decision on the matter." Ash asserted. It sounded like they were discussing Ash's work.

“That’s not good enough. I need a guarantee on her safety.” Aiden growled.Her safety?What had Aiden told me that Ash did again? For the life of me, I could not recall. Was it dangerous?

“Need I remind you, you are still on rocky ground with the Elders after your last stunt? You are not in any position to be making demands.” Ash asserted.His last stunt?Aiden was in trouble with Ash’s work? Were they even talking about his job?

I felt a jerking sensation and, suddenly, I was back in bed. What just happened? Was that a dream? It hadn’t felt like one. I shifted on the bed causing the springs to creak.

“Shh.” I heard one of them say.

The next morning, I awoke to the smell of bacon and coffee. Without even thinking, I hopped out of bed. The moment I stood, I remembered all the events from last night, especially the part about my ankle. Instantly, I fell back down on the bed. My ankle was still sore as ever, although the swelling had decreased since I kept it propped up all night. I glanced around the room to find something I could use to hold myself up with.

That's when I noticed a pair of crutches leaning against Aiden's dresser. He must have found some in the attic when he took the painting up there last night. Ohgeez, I had forgotten about the painting. It all seemed silly, now. No wonder Aiden stared at me like I was crazy. What made me think that the tree from the painting was the same tree from my dream? I hoped Aiden had forgotten my ramblings from last night.

I grabbed the crutches and used them to make my way to the kitchen. Aiden was placing a plate of bacon, eggs, and French toast on the table. I sat down, and he handed me a fork and a cup of coffee.

"Thanks." I sipped the coffee. "Aren’t you going to eat?" I asked him when he slid down in the chair across from mine without any food.

"I ate when I woke up, three hours ago." He pointed at the clock on the wall. It was eleven thirty. I was surprised I had slept so late.

"If you already ate and I was asleep, then why'd you cook all this food?" I asked in between bites. I was too hungry to devote all my attention to the conversation.

"Well, I hoped if you started smelling the food, you'd wake up, and I was right." He smirked. He knew me too well. Then, his expression changed and I could tell there was something he wanted to say.

"What?" I asked him.

"Nothing, I wanted to apologize for last night. I shouldn't have acted like that. I just lost it when I saw you withhim." Aiden explained. I didn't know how to respond to that. Was he saying he was jealous? Or that he was simply worried? Probably the latter.

"It's okay. I might have overreacted, just a little." I confessed.

"Overreact? You? No, never." He said sarcastically. I rolled my eyes but continued to eat.

After a few moments I asked him, "Are you ever going to tell me the deal between you and Eli?"

"It's a long story and I promise to tell you later but for now, please just trust me when I say he's not someone you want to be around."

I raised an eyebrow. "You know, he said the exact same thing of you. Why should I believe you over him?"

"Well, A) you've known me longer and B) you can never trust a guy wearing a gold watch. That's a fact."

"This is all true." I said not indicating whether I would do as he asked or not. Honestly, I still hadn’t made up my mind, yet. I couldn’t explain it, but I had felt a connection with Eli. Was I willing to give that up?

"So? Are you going to stay away from him?"

"I'll think about it." I told him. Knowing that he wouldn't get any further with me on the subject, he dropped it.

"There's an extra toothbrush in the medicine cabinet, and I got you a towel if you want to take a shower."

"Thank you. I think I will." I told him. “By the way, you can get the painting out of the attic, now.”

“How did you know I put it in the attic?” He asked.

His question caused me pause. How did I know? I hadn’t actually seen him place it there. My mind trailed back to my dream last night. Had it even been a dream? If so, then how did I see the painting in the attic when he could have put it anywhere?

“I just assumed.” I lied as I scrambled into the bathroom.

After I finished my shower, I wrapped myself in a robe and limped to the living room. I could hear Aiden in the kitchen washing dishes. Normally, I'd help, but I'd be more in the way with my crutches than assistance.

I lounged out on the couch, grabbed the remote, and switched the TV on. I flipped through channels and stopped at the news. There was a picture of a young girl around my age on the screen. I raised the volume so I could hear what they were saying.

"Another young girl, Kimberly Turner, has gone missing as of last night. Police have not confirmed whether they believe it to be linked to the recent kidnapping and murder of three other young girls all matching the same description as Kimberly. The police do, however, advise all women to remain alert and try to avoid being out after dark in Lincoln."

I focused on the pictures of the four girls on the screen. They were right. All four had blonde hair and were all the same age. And three out of the four were dead. I felt a shiver run down my spine.

Once they moved on to another story, I started flipping through channels, again. I decided to watch an old black and white sitcom. It was an episode I'd seen a million times, so I wasn't paying that much attention to it. I started getting lost in my thoughts.

The news story made me think of Nicole. She fit that same description, and she lived in Lincoln. I was relieved to not have seen her picture on the screen, but it still made me worry. I hoped she was smart enough to be cautious. It was probably pointless to hope for Nicole to be smart enough foranything.I instantly felt a pang of guilt after that thought crossed my mind. I regretted not getting her number. I guess I could always Facebook her and Tiffany on Monday in BCIS.

Eli popped into my mind. I knew Aiden wanted me to stay away from him, but there was no way he could be as terrible as Aiden thought. However, I didn’t want this to come between us. I hated fighting with Aiden. Besides, I refused to be the type of girl who would choose a guy over her friends.

As much as I liked Eli, I knew we were simply too different. That comment that Aiden had said earlier about the gold watch could have easily been something I would have said yesterday. I mean, as much as I loved Cassie, I knew she’d never understand my world, and I never tried to make her. All she understood were boys, money, and clothes, and that was as deep as she got. Which is sufficient for someone who I’m merely friends with, but could I ever date someone from that world? I guess it’s not worth losing my friendship with Aiden to find out.


Page 6

“Don’t you ever get tired of watching the same episode over and over again?” Aiden asked me as he entered the living room. He slid down next to me on the couch.

“It’s a classic and classics never get old. That’s why they’re called classics.” I explained.

“Okay, if you say so.” He laughed. “By the way, your clothes from last night are in the dryer.”

“Oh, thanks, but you didn’t have to. I could’ve gone home and gotten something to wear.” I told him.

“As funny as it would have been to watch you struggle with your crutches and keeping that robe closed, I thought you might like something else to wear.” He smiled.

“Look at you, always thinking ahead. Reminds me why I keep you around.” I teased him.

“And here I thought it was for my smoldering good looks.” He joked.

“Oh, no, you’re not my type.” I told him with a smirk.

“No? What’s your type?” He asked. His eyes held an amused gleam that propelled me to further my teasing.

“Oh, you know, short, chubby, and definitely bald.” I said, making him laugh. “You have way too much hair for me. And your abs are way too hard. I like my men flabby.”

“So, you’ve felt my abs, huh?” The corners of his mouth tipped up. I could feel my cheeks instantly burn at his comment.

I was grateful when Aiden’s phone rang before I was forced to respond. He answered it and then handed it to me. “It’s Cassie.”

“Hey.” I said into the phone.

“Apparently you gave Eli my number last night because he’s been blowing up my phone all morning. He wanted me to tell you that he was sorry about last night and that he tried searching for you. He also wanted me to have you call him.” Cassie said all in one breathe. I knew Aiden could hear what Cassie was saying because he tensed up when she mentioned Eli.

“Okay, thanks for giving me the message, but I’m not going to call him.” I told her and Aiden sighed almost silently.

“Well, I’ll at least let him know you made it home in one piece. Are you sure you don’t want to call him? He wassuperhot.”

“I’m sure.” I told her.

“Okay, but I swear you are so damn picky. You seriously need to get laid.” Cassie began her lecturing.

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, I already know your opinion on my sex life.” I said in a bored voice. “Aiden needs his phone back.” Aiden seemed entertained by our topic of discussion.

“Oh, and don’t even get me started on you and Aiden. Why don’t you two just hook up already?” She asked. Okay, so this wasn’t the first time Cassie had suggested I hook up with Aiden, but it was the first time she’d said it when he was in ear shot.

“Gotta go, Cass, bye.” I said. I had never hung up a phone faster than I did at that moment.

“Aw, the conversation was just getting interesting.” Aiden grinned as I handed him his phone back.

“You shouldn’t eavesdrop on other people’s conversation.” I scolded

“I can’t help what I hear.” He said, trying for an innocent smile.

“I should get dressed.” I told him as I stood up and grabbed the crutches.

CHAPTER THREEROMEO THE WEREWOLF

 

The rest of the weekend was uneventful. I remained in bed with my foot propped. Aiden stopped by a few times to check on me, but his brother kept him busy all weekend. He did, however, manage to bring me a few of his books to read. I ended up missing school on Monday because it hurt too much to walk on my ankle. Plus, I had to call in sick for work since my job consisted of me being on my feet the entire time.

I met Aiden in front of his house on Tuesday morning. I was able to walk using only one crutch, but I was definitely slower than normal. We walked side by side for ten minutes or so.

“Okay, this is taking way too long. We’ll be late if we continue at this speed.” Aiden glanced at the time on his phone.

“Well, what do you suggest?” I asked him.

Without giving me a verbal answer, he grabbed my bag and tossed me onto his back. My first reaction was fearful that he was going to break the camera that was in my bag. That thought was lost when I started slipping. Scared I was going to fall, I wrapped my arms around his shoulders tightly. I felt like a child riding on his back like that. Not that I had gotten too many piggy back rides when I was younger, but still.

I was amazed at his speed, especially considering he had an extra hundred and fifteen pounds on his back. Okay, an extra hundred and twenty pounds, but whatever.

“God, Bridget, do you just jump on every guy you see?” I heard Vicky say.

Vicky and her two minions strolled up next to us as Aiden set me back on my feet in front of the school. Vicky Sinclair was one of the most popular girls in school and head cheerleader. She’d despised me since the day I moved to Waverly. Kyle, her boyfriend at the time, tried to hook up with me at a party. He got pissed when I wouldn’t have sex with him, so he just told everyone that we did.

“Only the cute ones.” I knew that would annoy her because she’d been crushing hard core on Aiden since he moved here.

“Oh, well at least now you’re setting standards. Good for you.” She said, making Mandy and Candy snicker.

I always referred to Mandy and Candy as Vicky’s minions. They were identical twins who followed Vicky around like puppy dogs. They both had long, dark red hair that they always wore in ponytails.

“Ignore them.” Aiden whispered to me, still helping me stay balanced by putting his hand on my shoulder.

I knew Aiden had heard the rumors of my supposed promiscuous sex life, most of them started by Vicky, but he never once asked me if they were true. Either he knew me well enough to know they were false, or he didn’t care one way or the other.

I wobbled into my first period right as the bell rang. I slid into the desk next to Cassie.

“Well, it looks like you had fun this weekend.” She glanced at my crutch. “No wonder you missed school yesterday.”

“Yeah, I twisted my ankle at the party.” I told her.

“What happened after I left?” She asked me.

“Alright, class. Open your textbooks to page one hundred forty-four.” Mr. Krieger said as he waltzed through the door not giving me a chance to answer Cassie’s question.

The rest of the period was spent listening to Mr. Krieger rattle on about the deeper meaning behind the author’s intent. While this subject was something I’d normally enjoy, Mr. Krieger’s theories were always a bit of a stretch. If anyone bothered to contradict him, their grade would surely reflect it. It was best to remain silent in his class.

He had every student so bored and zoned out that when the bell rang, we all jumped in surprise. I had drama next period with Aiden and, unfortunately, Vicky and Mandy. I sat down in the seat next to Aiden and noticed that,surprise surprise, Vicky sat down in the seat on his other side.

“So, Aiden,” Vicky said, placing her hand flirtatiously on Aiden’s arm. I glared down at her hand hoping I could sear her skin with sheer will. “My birthday is Friday, so I’m throwing a party this Saturday. You should totally come. My parents will be out of town, so it’ll be wild.” She continued.

“Uh, yeah, maybe.” He said noncommittally.

When Ms. Teal entered the classroom, she darted straight to the chalkboard. She was the only teacher that still used an actual chalkboard. Every other teacher I’d ever had used dry erase boards, but Ms. Teal liked the sound of the chalk scraping against the board. She was the only one.

To say Ms. Teal was a bit eccentric would be an understatement. Simply looking at her you could tell she was nuttier than squirrel poop. She was a slight lady with curly, grey hair that went to her shoulders and surrounded her head in a crazy pouf. She wore long flowery dresses with a jean jacket. She had these huge, thick glasses she always stuck on her head but could never seem to find.

She wrote out on the board “Romeo and Juliet” and spun around to face the class. She didn’t say anything but rather, stood there examining everyone’s reactions. Vicky and Mandy squealed and began whispering excitedly. All the guys in the room groaned. I’m sure they were all thinking of ways to get out of wearing tights. I was just praying that I wouldn’t have to play Juliet in whatever assignment she was about to give us.

“I’m going to separate everyone into groups, and each group is going to be given a scene from Romeo and Juliet. It is then your assignment to rewrite that scene to whatever adaptation you choose. For example, there was an animated adaptation of the play that made the characters all gnomes and no, Michael, you can’t use gnomes.” She said, and Michael lowered his hand. “Everyone needs to come up with an original idea and take on the play. Now, since there are only three guys in here, that’s how many groups there will be. Sorry guys, you are all going to be Romeos. Unless, of course, you decide dressing drag is a better way to go. It’s entirely up to you. I encourage creative freedom in here. You’ll have one week to finish everything. We will start seeing performances next Monday. I posted your groups and your scenes at the front of the room so get to work.”

I was grouped with Aiden, Vicky, Mandy, and three other girls. We were assigned act five scene three, the death scene and Romeo and Juliet’s last kiss.Gee, I wonder who will volunteer to be Juliet.

“I’ll be Juliet.” Vicky chimed right on cue. We were all sitting on the floor in a circle. Aiden was next to me and Vicky was across from us.

“Maybe we should focus on what our adaptation is going to be before we assign parts.” I said.

“Vicky’s the obvious choice for Juliet.” Mandy came to Vicky’s defense, as always.

“Unlessyouwant to be Juliet, then our scene could be about a prostitute and her forbidden romance with a duke.” Vicky said, making Mandy cackle.

“I don’t think that would count as star-crossed lovers.” Michelle, one of the other girls in our group said.

“Fine, whatever, be Juliet, I don’t care. Can we just decide on something so we can get started?” I asserted, annoyed that I had a full week of this to look forward to.

“Well, I think we should do vampires and werewolves.” Vicky suggested.

“No vampires.” Aiden said abruptly.

“Yeah, vampires are cliché and overdone.” I maintained, backing up Aiden even though I wasn’t sure why he cared one way or the other.

“What are you talking about? It’d be perfect and easy to do. All for vampires and werewolves?” Vicky said, and everyone but Aiden and I raised their hands. “Then it’s settled; let’s get busy.” Vicky got up to get her idea approved by Ms. Teal and everyone else went back to their desks to grab pens and paper.

“Hey, who cares if it’s corny? An A is an A. Plus, we can make them do most of the writing since it was their stupid idea.” I whispered to Aiden when I saw the annoyed expression on his face.

“You seriously want to give Vicky complete control over how many times Romeo and Juliet kiss?” He asked me with a lighter expression.

The thought of the two of them kissing made me feel anxious. I didn’t know if I was feeling jealous or if I just couldn’t stand Vicky getting her way. Maybe it was both.

“Oh, yeah, making out with the prettiest girl in school. Sounds like a real nightmare.” I said sarcastically.

“She’s not the prettiest.” He said in a low voice, his eyes locking with mine. I wasn’t sure if he was indicating that I was prettier than Vicky, but I could feel my heart flutter in my chest.

“Okay, so Ms. Teal loves my idea.” Vicky said as she returned to her spot beside Mandy. “So, Juliet will be the vampire, obviously, and Romeo can be the werewolf.”

“Why is that obvious?” Michelle asked.

“Hello? Werewolves are hairy.” Vicky scrunched up her face.

The rest of the period was filled with arguments over all the details, Vicky winning most of them. Aiden and I remained quiet, waiting for class to be over. I couldn’t stop replaying his comment in my head.

My next class was boring. Neither Aiden nor Cassie were in it and no matter how hard I tried not to, I always seemed to get stuck sitting next to Curtis. Curtis was only fourteen and he would have been a freshman if he weren’t a super genius, especially with computers. He was sweet but he had a huge crush on me and was constantly asking me out.

Fourth period, I had BCIS (a business computer course) which was taught in the computer lab. It was my second favorite class next to photography just because we got to play on Facebook the whole time. Coach Lauder taught the class, but he was only there because the school made all the coaches teach at least one class. These were considered the blow off classes and filled up first.

Aiden and I sat at the two computers in the far corner of the classroom. I logged into Facebook and searched through all my notifications. I had five new friend requests. I clicked on them to see who they were from. There was Nicole, Tiffany, Grey, Hail, and Eli. I was hitting accept on all of them but hesitated when I got to Eli’s name. I didn’t hit accept, but I didn’t decline it, either.

“So, do you feel like going to a party with me on Saturday?” Aiden asked me.

“She invited you, not me.” I frowned, not looking away from the monitor.

“Yes, but she didn’t say I couldn’t bring someone.”

“As clever as your little loophole is, why would I want to go anywhere near her house?” I asked.

“Because I’ll be there,” he said, “and it’ll piss her off if you come with me.”

“I still don’t know whyyoueven want to go.” I said. “Unless you’re hoping to do a bit of rehearsing with Vicky.” The thought made my stomach twist into a knot.

“No, I just don’t want to pass on a good party.” He said.

“Whatever you say, Romeo.” I murmured.

After BCIS, we went to lunch where Cassie was already sitting at our table. She was on her phone texting someone and didn’t even acknowledge us as we joined her. She giggled after a second and glanced up at us.

“Oh, hi guys.” She beamed.

“Who are you talking to that has you in such a fabulous mood?” I asked her.

“Bryan. We’re hanging out tonight.” She said.

“A date after your weekend rendezvous? You must really like him.” I had never seen her act like this with a guy.

“Whatever, we’re just having fun.” She insisted but continued smiling at her phone. It was wonderful to see her actually interested in someone. She usually ditched guys after a few days.

“Bridget.” Katie, the office aide, said as she handed me a note. “It’s from Mrs. Owens.”

I unfolded the note and read aloud, “Come see me last period.”

Mrs. Owens was our student counselor. I always dreaded our monthly meetings. She mostly just nagged me on my grades and asked how home life was.

“Well, at least you get to miss your last class.” Cassie reasoned.

“I’d rather deal with Mrs. Conner than Mrs. Owens.” I whined.

Next period, I went to the darkroom and started developing a few of the pictures I had taken at the party. The first ones were a couple pictures of Cassie I had taken before the party. I couldn’t use these for my project but would keep them for my wall at home.

There were quite a few pictures of people at the party, but I didn’t have anything for the bio part of it. I had gotten so distracted by Eli that I forgot to speak with anyone else. Oh well, I still had a few weeks to work on it. I’d probably just hit the mall with Cassie or something.

I hung up the pictures to dry and started working on a few more. When the pictures gradually became visible, I found myself studying them. They were of Eli. He was staring off with an inscrutable expression. The bonfire had lit up the right side of his face, casting shadows across his left side. He was so intense in this photo that I became curious as to what exactly ran through his mind.

I knew the bell was going to ring any minute, so I started gathering all my things together and putting away the chemicals. I’d have to leave the pictures hanging up to dry, for now. I locked the darkroom back up and returned the key to Mrs. Walker.

The entire way to chemistry I was distracted with thoughts of Eli. I was surprised by the moment I caught of him with his troubled expression. His mood had seemed light at the party. Well, at least until his showdown with Aiden.


Page 7

My mood fell even further when I entered the classroom and saw Vicky, yet again, flirting with Aiden. There were ten desks that sat two people, perfect for when we started doing lab experiments that required partners. Aiden was sitting at our usual desk and Vicky was sitting at the desk right next to ours. She was leaning over toward Aiden. She laughed at something he said and flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder. My chest tightened with anger.

“Ms. King, you were nearly late. You need to be in your seat by the time the final bell rings.” Mr. Reynolds reprimanded, snapping me back to reality. I was still standing in the doorway and everyone was staring at me, now. My temper flared up, just in time for Mr. Reynolds to get the full lash of it.

“Isn’t nearly being late simply being on time?” I snapped.

“Being almost late may not get you a tardy slip, Miss King, but your attitude just got you a detention. I will see you after school.” He proclaimed through narrowed eyes.

I rolled my eyes and sauntered to my desk. Great, now I’d have to hear Mrs. Owens gripe at me over this. I sat in the seat next to Aiden, folding my arms across my chest. I bet this was going to cause me to be late for work today.

“What’s with the foul mood?” Aiden asked in a hushed voice, leaning close to me.

“Nothing, I just hate detention.” I said, telling him only half of the truth.

Iwasupset because I’d have to spend two hours after school doing whatever punishment Mr. Reynolds came up with. However, I was also annoyed with the way Vicky was constantly all over Aiden, but I wasn’t going to tellhimthat.

After chemistry, instead of going to history, I went to the guidance counselor’s office. Silence filled the first moments of our session. Mrs. Owens was waiting for me to start talking, but she soon gave up and began the conversation.

“Bridget, I hear you have detention today.” She said, pausing like she expected an answer.

“Is that a question or a statement?” I asked.

“It seems your attitude has been getting you into a lot of trouble.” She pointed out.

“Yeah well, no one gets my sense of humor. What can you do?” I shrugged.

“You could try getting along with people. You never know, you might actually make a friend or two.” She folded her hands on top of her desk.

“I have enough friends.” I maintained.

“You have two friends, one of which is graduating this year. What will you do then?”

“Ah gee, I don’t know. I guess I’ll just have to dye my hair blonde and become a cheerleader.” I said sarcastically.

“And why would that be such a horrible thing?” She frowned.

“I know what they say about blondes having more fun, but I’m just not convinced.”

“I meant, why not consider joining the cheerleading squad?” She narrowed her eyes.

“In case you haven’t noticed, the whole rah rah thing isn’t really me. I’m not exactly oozing with pep.” I frowned.

“Okay, well there are a lot of different clubs you could join. You could meet new people, discover new interests.” She said earnestly.

“Listen, Mrs. Owens, I know you’re only trying to help and all, but honestly, the only thing I want to do is turn eighteen and graduate. I’m not interested in making new friends and I’m certainly not interested in joining any club.” I blurted.

“Fine.” She pressed her lips into a thin line. After a moment of jotting down notes, she asked, “How are things at home? Are there any problems with Bill and Judy?” Her tone was all business.

“No, they’re grrrrrreat.” I knew how much my Tony the Tiger impression annoyed her. So naturally, I did it as often as possible.

Okay, so Bill and Judy weren’t great. Far from it, in fact, but they were better than all the other homes I’d lived at. Foster Care Tip #2: Being ignored is far better than the alternative.

“Well, other than your attitude, it seems Mr. Matthews has been a positive influence on you.” She commented randomly.

“What does Aiden have to do with anything?” I asked, confused.

“You haven’t been arrested since he moved here, for one. You’ve barely missed any school and your grades have significantly improved.” She explained.

“Wow, that’s an awful lot of credit to be giving to a teenage guy. And I suppose you think I had nothing to do with it?” My tone was accusing.

“Of course, you did, Bridget, but it’s obvious you’ve changed since you met him.               You were arrested twice for underage drinking themonthbefore he moved here and then nothing in an entire year. Sheriff Brick might actually have forgotten what you look like.” When I didn’t respond, she let out a sigh of exasperation. And there it was; the sigh that ended every one of our meetings.

“Okay, Bridget. I want you to spend the rest of the period looking through these college brochures.” She handed me a stack of papers.

When the bell finally rang, I headed to my locker. Almost halfway there, Mr. Reynolds stopped me in the hall and told me I had to clean all the garbage off of the lawn behind the school.

“I have a twisted ankle. That’s going to take forever.” I whined. I was doing an awful lot of that today.

“Then you better get started right away because if it’s not done by the time I get here in the morning, you’ll be looking at more detention.” He brushed past me before I could say anything else.

When I got to my locker, Aiden was leaning against it, waiting for me. He slid over so I could open it and put my books away.

“He wants me to pick up all the trash that’s out back. Not only am I going to miss work, but I’ll probably be here all night.” I ranted.

“I’ll stay and help you. Maybe you can still make it to work tonight.” He told me.

We cleaned it all in an hour with Aiden doing the majority of the work, and I made it to the diner on time. I clocked in at exactly five o’clock on the dot. I twisted my hair back into a ponytail and tied my apron around my waist.

“It’s just you and me, tonight. Samantha called in sick.” Kayla said to me in a stressed sounding voice.

“More tips for us. I’ll take the Elvis side and you can take the Marilyn side.” I told her.

I worked at Betty’s Diner, which was the only local diner, so it was where everyone ate. It was designed to look like an old fifties diner. On one side there was a life-sized figure of Elvis and on the other side there was one of Marilyn Monroe. I always felt like Sandy when I put on my uniform. It was a striped poodle skirt with a white, button up blouse and a pink apron. I halfway expected John Travolta to waltz in wearing a leather jacket with his hair all slicked back.

The first three hours of work were insane. I was racing back and forth from the kitchen to the tables. I was surprised I didn’t mix up anyone’s orders, but, then again, I always worked better under pressure.

Around eight o’clock, it finally slowed down enough that I could take a smoke break. Of course, since I was trying not to smoke, it was merely me sitting outside in the cold for ten minutes, but I wasn’t going to pass up a break simply because I wasn’t going to smoke.

I strolled out the back door of the diner and plopped down on the cold cement. I felt a frigid breeze shoot down my spine, and I wrapped my sweater tighter around me. It was cold enough that I was able to see my breath, and it gave the illusion of exhaling smoke. I guess that was going to be the most satisfaction I’d get without lighting one up. Now that I was off of my ankle, it started feeling sore, again.

“Why are you sitting out here by yourself?” I heard Aiden ask as he rounded the corner of the diner. He knew what time I took my break, so he’d sometimes swing by.

“It’s only me and Kayla, so our breaks are solo tonight.” I explained.

“Is that safe? It’s dark out here.” He said, sitting down next to me.

“This is Waverly; it’s not interesting enough to be dangerous.” I asserted.

“You never know what could be lurking in the shadows.” He said.

It sounded like he was joking, but I could tell there was sincerity laced in there. I stared off into the darkness that surrounded the backside of the building. The more my eyes searched, the more I started noticing things moving around. Small animals searching for food, I’m sure.

“What are you doing tomorrow after school?” He asked me, breaking the silence.

“I’m off tomorrow so nothing so far. Why?” I straightened out my skirt.

“I have a surprise for you tomorrow.” He announced.

“What sort of surprise?” I asked.

“I’m going to take you to a place you’ve never been.” He grinned.

“Okay, but do you really think it’s a good idea to go to Australia on a school night?” I teased.

“Don’t worry. We won’t even be leaving Waverly.” He said.

“Aiden, I’ve lived here for five years, now. I highly doubt there’s a place in Waverly that I haven’t been to.” I said, arching my eyebrow.

“Well, would you like to make a bet?” He asked with a smirk.

“What are the terms?” My competitive side twitched to life at the prospect.

“The loser has to do one thing that the winner asks them to do, no matter what.” He said.

“Within reason.” I stuck out my hand.

“Deal.” He said, shaking my hand.

“Geez, your hand is freezing!” I jerked back.

“Is it?” He asked as he placed his hand on my face.

When I moved away, he began sticking his cold hands on me anywhere he could touch skin. I tried dodging his icy touch, but I couldn’t stop laughing, so my reactions were slow, and he was definitely winning this battle. In the struggle, my skirt rode up slightly and Aiden’s hand landed on my leg. I shivered for reasons other than his temperature. Our laughter settled, and our eyes locked for an intense moment.

“Bridget, we’re getting busy, again.” Kayla said, sticking her head outside.

“Okay, I’m coming.” I told her. Turning back to Aiden I said, “I’ll see you tomorrow. And I already know what I’m going to have you do when I win.”

“What’s that?” His lips curled up at the corner.

“You’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to find out.” I waltzed back inside with a teeny smile on my lips.

CHAPTER FOURBETTING ON A LOSING SEAHORSE

 

I woke up to the morning sun peeking through my window like an unwanted guest. With a groan, I threw my blanket over my face. It was no use, though. I was already awake. I threw my arms up in a stretch and tossed my feet over the side of my bed. I tested my ankle, twisting it from side to side. It still hurt slightly, but it had improved significantly.

As soon as Aiden and I began our trudge to school, I started in on him about the surprise. I tried guessing, but he continued saying no with a straight face.

“No, it’s not Miller’s pond. You might as well give up because you’ve never been there, and you aren’t going to guess it.” He said arrogantly.

There was no way that there was a part of this town I hadn’t seen, but I still found my confidence falter. Where could he possibly be taking me today?

I had a pop quiz in first period English, which was a shock to everyone. The whole class groaned in protest. It was a lengthy test, so it took all period to finish, and I didn’t get a chance to talk to Cassie about Aiden’s surprise.

I sauntered into drama class with low expectations. Our group was already sitting on the floor in a circle, discussing our assignment. Everyone except Aiden, of course, who appeared extremely uninterested. I scooted down next to him and tugged out a notebook.

“Bridget, since you couldn’t make our study session yesterday, we took the initiative and assigned you a part. You’re going to be Friar Laurence.” Vicky informed me.

“What study session? No one said anything to me or Aiden.” I narrowed my eyes.

“Well, I was going to, but then Mr. Reynolds gave you detention, so I figured why bother? And Aiden already knows what part he’s playing, so it would have been a waste of his time.” Vicky shot Aiden a smile that he pretended not to notice.

“Okay, whatever. What all did you guys get accomplished, yesterday?” I asked them. I shoved down my annoyance.

“Well, we got most of the script written so we can finish it today and start memorizing lines soon.” Michelle announced.

By the time we finished the script to where we all agreed on the contents, there still ended up being a kiss between Vicky and Aiden, which was one more than I wanted to see but oh well. We ran lines for the last ten minutes of class, all the way up until the bell rang.

Later in BCIS, I automatically searched for a map of Waverly on the computer. I couldn’t for the life of me find a spot I hadn’t been to, though. When Aiden saw what I was doing, he laughed.

“You are so impatient.” He said.

“You say that like you don’t know me.” I said, still scanning the map.

“True.” He paused. “You know, I already know what I’m going to have you do when I win tonight.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?” I asked.

“I’m not telling you until tonight.” He grinned.

At lunch, I waited for Cassie at our regular table. Once she sat down, I told her what Aiden had said.

“Do you have any idea what it could be?” I interrogated.

“I’m not sure.” She said, puzzled. A knowing expression spread across her face, and she broke out into a smile. “Oh, I know.”

“What is it?” I asked, incredibly curious.

“Don’t say a word.” Aiden asserted, sitting down next to us. Cassie glanced back and forth between the two of us, not sure who to side with. Then Aiden warned, “I won’t let you borrow my history notes.”

“Sorry, B. You know I suck at taking notes.” She shrugged.

“Traitor.” I teased.

The rest of the day dragged on. When three o’clock finally came, I headed to my locker. Speeding through the hallway, I got stuck behind two girls trudging slowly, and I overheard their conversation.

“What are you doing tonight?” One of the girls asked.

“I’m going to the carnival. You’re going too, right?” The other one asked.

Carnival? Since when does the carnival come to Waverly? That’s when it hit me.That sneaky bastard!

“You think you’re so clever, don’t you?” I asked Aiden as I reached my locker where he was waiting.

“Well, yeah, but that’s only cause it’s true.” He smirked, his accent making him sound even cockier.

“You had an unfair advantage. I was in bed all weekend and had no way of hearing about the carnival.” I protested.

“It was in the newspaper which I brought for you to read this weekend. It’s not my fault you didn’t.” He argued.

I didn’t respond having no comeback. Hehadbrought me the paper, and I had used it to make a pirate hat for Katie. I could have been a good sport and bowed out with grace, but I decided to grasp at straws instead.

“Well, I still don’t think you win because I’ve been to the field where they’re having the carnival at.” I maintained.

“But you’ve never been to the carnival.” He said, holding his ground.

“Talk about a shady technicality.” I asserted, trying to hold on to my pout, but it was difficult.

I was ecstatic about going to the carnival. It was something I never got to do as a child but had always wanted to. I had told Aiden months ago about wanting to ride on the carousel, so it was my own fault that he knew I’d never been to a carnival. I found myself smiling at the thought of finally getting to ride one. Then, I remembered I had lost a bet and my smile faded into a wary expression.

“So, what is it that you want me to do?” I asked.

“You’ll have to wait until tonight to find out.” Aiden said with a coy smile, making me wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into.

I was so sure I’d win, I didn’t even think of the consequences if I lost. I tried to push away any anxiety of his upcoming request and focus on the fact that I had a carnival to go to, tonight.

Later that evening, the sun began to set around five thirty. Aiden said he was going to come over around six so we could go to the carnival together. I was already dressed and finishing up my homework at my desk when he breezed into my room and sat on my bed.

“Hmm… Are you collecting on our bet?” I joked.

“No, if I took you to bed, it wouldn’t be because of a bet.” He grinned.

“Take me to bed? Does everybody from Australia talk like they’re from last century?” I laughed. Aiden always said things that made me realize just how different the slang was in Australia.

“How would you put it?” He asked, leaning forward like he was incredibly interested in my answer.

“Well, I’d probably just say let’s hump.” I joked. Aiden howled in laughter.

“No you wouldn’t.” He asserted through laughs.

“You don’t know. I might.” I argued, knowing Iprobablywould never actually say that to a guy.

“No way could you say that to someone with a straight face.” He challenged.

“Okay, fine.” I said, forgetting all thought of homework, and moved to my bed. I was eye level with him without even having to squat or bend. I put on my most serious face and told him, “Aiden, let’s hump.”

“Okay.” He said.

Before I even had time to react, he grabbed me and rolled me over onto the bed. I was giggling too hard to say anything. He was on his side leaning over me. He stared down at me for a second and my heart raced. I thought he might kiss me. He lowered his head to within an inch of my ear.

“I told you so.” He whispered.

“That doesn’t count. We aren’t going to have sex.” I said, trying to ignore how his body was pressed into mine.

“No?” He smirked.

“We’re going to miss the carnival.” I swatted his chest with my hand. I resisted the urge to run my fingers across his muscles which I could feel through his shirt.

“You’re right, and then I wouldn’t win the bet.” He lifted himself off my bed, and I felt disappointed as he did. I had to brush through my hair again thanks to Aiden.

The light breeze brought with it the smell of popcorn and music which elicited even more excitement. The first thing we saw was the Ferris wheel which was so tall and so brightly lit, we could see it almost from my house.

“I’ll tell you what I want when we are up there.” Aiden pointed to the top of the Ferris wheel.

“Why not now?” I asked him.

“Because I don’t want you irritated with me until the end of the night. I don’t want to ruin the carnival for you.” He explained.

“So, it’s something that’s going to make me mad?” I pursed my lips.

“Maybe.” He said with a smile. He grabbed my hand and said, “Come on.”

We jogged the last few feet to the ticket booth. When we worked our way to the front of the line, I tugged out my wallet.

“No, I brought you here. I’ll pay.” Aiden said, and before I could argue, he bought enough tickets for us to do whatever we wanted all night. “Let me guess, you want to go on the carousel first?”

“What if I buy you cotton candy, and then, we go on the carousel?” I suggested.

“Okay.” He agreed, knowing he wasn’t getting out of me buying himsomething. By the time we made our way back over to the carousel, I had my cotton candy ate and was helping Aiden finish his.

I rode on a charming white horse with a colorful saddle which left Aiden having to ride on the unicorn next to me. It was a funny sight to see. I tried hard to suppress my laughter, but it was useless.

The carousel began playing its cheerful music and moving around in a circle. All the animals bobbed up and down, and I could feel the excitement building. After a few minutes, though, it began to dissipate. I waited for this giant feeling of gratification that I was finally getting to ride a carousel, but all I felt was… bored.

“What’s the matter?” Aiden asked, noticing my chagrined expression.

“I guess I’m too old for the carousel. I might have found this exciting when I was five.” I said.

“Well, maybe we can still salvage this ride.” Aiden had that mischievous smile he got when he was up to something. He hauled himself up using the unicorn’s horn to where he was standing up on his animal’s back. “Come on.” He held out his hand to me. I took it, and he tugged me up to where I was standing on my horse.

Aiden took off ahead of me, jumping to each of the backs of all the animals that didn’t have anyone on them. I followed right along behind him. This was definitely more entertaining than sitting down.

“Hey, you two! Get off the carousel!” We heard the security officer yell from off to the side.

Once he realized we were going to ignore him, he leapt onto the carousel and tried to chase us. He was older and heavy set, so he wasn’t having any luck. He hopped off and waited by the side, ready to catch us when we came back around. He came close to grabbing my arm, but Aiden tugged me out of his reach, just in time. We raced toward the games and lost him in the crowd, but we could hear him yelling after us.

We dashed behind one of the ring tossing booths and stopped to catch our breaths. We exchanged a look and busted into fits of laughter. Once we calmed down, I heard Cassie’s familiar giggle, and I peeked around the corner of the booth.

She was talking to some guy I’d never seen before. She spotted me and waved me over. I noticed the guy was holding a stack of flyers.

“Hey, Bridget, this is Hunter. He tends bar at a club in Lincoln.” She said with a wink. He was incredibly attractive. He looked like a surfer with his straggly blond hair and tan skin. I was willing to bet he had washboard abs under his shirt.

“Yeah, I was just telling Cassie she should come to the club, sometime. Maybe, you could go with her.” He said, flashing a smile that would melt an ice cube. This guy was smooth. No wonder the club sent him out to bring in customers. “Wait, you twoaretwenty-one, right?” He asked, ignoring Aiden who was standing right behind us.

“Yes, of course.” Cassie responded with ease. Nobody would ever guess she was lying.

“Excellent. I make a great sex on the beach.” He said, handing us a flyer. It read “Club Ice: 21 and up. Ladies get in free until midnight.”

“I bet you do.” Cassie said flirtatiously.

Hunter told us bye and went over to another group of girls to hand out more flyers. Ryan strolled up holding a couple of slushes and handed one to Cassie. It was just like her to be flirting with another guy while her date was off buying her a drink. They strolled away holding hands toward one of the booths. I folded up the flyer and tucked it into my back pocket.

“You aren’t actually considering going to that club, are you?” Aiden asked on our way over to the balloon darts booth.

“I was thinking about it. Why?” I lifted an eyebrow.

“It’s in Lincoln.” He stated like that explained everything, but I knew he was referring to all the killings that had been happening.

“So is the concert.” I argued.

I was used to Aiden being overprotective, but that didn’t mean I’d let him boss me around. Aiden handed the kid working the booth our tickets.

“Do you want to go first?” Aiden asked me, dropping his argument. He knew when to push a subject with me and when not to.


Page 8

“Sure.” I took the darts from the kid’s extended hand.

You got three chances to burst balloons hanging on the wall in the back of the booth. The more balloons that you burst, the better prize you won. I had my eye on the oversized seahorse, but it was on the top shelf which meant I had to hit three balloons. I burst the first two but missed the third. I was disappointed but settled on the stuffed puppy.

Aiden took his turn and got all three balloons. He shocked me by pointing to the massive seahorse.

“Here, this is for you.” He said, handing it to me.

“How’d you know I wanted the seahorse?” I asked him.

“I saw your eyes light up when you noticed it.” He explained.

I found myself wearing a shy smile. This suddenly began to feel like a date, but that was silly. He hadn’t asked me here on a date. He’d asked me here as friends, didn’t he? Unsure of what to say, I simply thanked him and let the conversation drop at that as we strolled silently through the carnival.

I was lost in my thoughts when I heard a loud splash and a crowd of people laughing at something. I glanced over curiously and saw a group of kids from school gathered around the dunking booth. Someone would sit on a ledge above a tank of water, and people could pay money to hit the target with a ball which would dunk the person in the tank. You couldn’t use tickets here because the booth was specifically to raise money for charity.

As I moved closer, I realized Jenny was the one sitting in the booth. Jenny was a petite blonde and was one of the most timid people I’d ever met. She was someone I wouldn’t quite consider a friend, but she was an acquaintance of mine. She was someone I talked to on occasion, but our whole relationship was basically me standing up for her.

Jenny used to be friends with Vicky and her minions in seventh grade, but one day, they just dropped her. Ever since then, she was always being bullied by the self-proclaimed “popular” kids. I got to say, though, they weren’t all that popular with everyone else.

They appeared to be up to no good, again. Once I got closer, I saw that Cal was paying to throw more balls. Cal was the star pitcher on our school baseball team. He threw one and, of course, it hit the target and down Jenny went.

Jenny shivered as she lifted herself back onto the ledge. Her lips were a pale blue. It appeared that Cal had been there a while dunking Jenny, and Vicky was standing next to him cheering him on. No surprise there.

I shoved my way to the front of the line. I blocked Cal’s view of the target and crossed my arms. “This booth is closed.”

“Actually, the carnival is open for another fifteen minutes, and I’m feeling charitable.” Cal smirked. He reached down for another ball from the basket that lay on the ground. I kicked his hand, knocking the ball from it. “You bitch!” He grabbed my arm with a fierce grip.

“Don’t touch her.” Aiden stepped in. His voice was low and filled with warning. Cal released me, immediately. Aiden continued, “She said the booth was closed so move along.”

Cal scowled over Aiden’s shoulder at me. “I doubt you’d be acting so tough if your guard dog wasn’t here.”

“Anytime, motherfucker!” I tried shooting around Aiden, but he held me behind him. My fist was itching to meet Cal’s face.

“I’ll hold you to that. Just so you know, I’m not scared to hit a girl.” Cal taunted.

“Me either.” I shot pointedly.

His scowl deepened as rage filled his eyes. He leapt at me, but Aiden interjected by knocking him to the ground.

“Break it up before I call security.” The guy running the booth yelled to the group. “All of you need to go. Right now.”

Jenny was crawling out of the tank and drying off. I never knew whether to console her or shake her for her lack of a backbone.

“Come on.” Aiden tugged at my sleeve. I took one last glance at Jenny over my shoulder. Once I was satisfied that she’d be all right, I followed Aiden.

“I didn’t need your help back there.” I frowned.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Aiden asserted.

“As hard as it might be to believe, I survived by myself for fifteen years before I met you.” I pursed my lips.

“Thatishard to believe considering the trouble you get yourself into.” He teased.

I rolled my eyes. “I do not get myself into trouble.” I lied.

“Bridget, you just started a fight with the school’s star athlete.” He pointed out.

“I could’ve taken him.” I grinned.

“I’m sure you could’ve.” Aiden laughed.

We made it over to the Ferris wheel just in time for its last ride. The seats were the perfect fit for two people, but since I had my seahorse, I found myself squished between it and Aiden. It was hard to concentrate on the view while our bodies were touching. All I could think about was the way the muscles in his arm felt pressed against my side. Our hands were so close that I had to resist the urge to interlock his with mine.

“Okay, so are you ready to know what I want you to do?” He asked once our seat reached the top of the Ferris wheel.

“Hold on.” I shifted so I could face him. “Okay, go ahead.”

“I want you to go with me to Vicky’s party this weekend.” He announced.

“Whoa, I said within reason.” I threw up my hands.

“It’s just another party, Bridge. We go to parties all the time.” He insisted.

“If it’s just another party, then why are you so determined that we go?” I arched a brow.

“It’s a favor for Ash.” He admitted.

“Why would your brother care if you go to some party?”

“Vicky’s dad has been stealing a lot of his business. Somehow, he’s been staying two steps ahead of Ash, so he’s been trying to get me to go over to Vicky’s house to do some snooping. When she invited me to the party, I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity.” He explained. “It’ll be much easier if I have someone to watch my back.”

“You know, if you had simply told me that in the first place, I would have agreed earlier. And then you wouldn’t have had to waste your request on the party.” I informed him.

“So, you’re willing to go?” He asked.

“Of course, Aiden, what are friends for if not to help infiltrate enemy territory?” I smiled. I still wasn’t looking forward to the party, but at least now I knew the real reason Aiden was going, and it wasn’t because he wanted to hook up with Vicky.

“So, you’re saying I wasted a guaranteed favor from you?” Aiden’s eyes twinkled as his grin reached them.

“Yep. Now you have no leverage over me.” I teased.

“Oh, is that so?” He smirked.

With our feet back on the ground, Aiden placed his hand on my back, guiding me to the exit. The carnival was closing down for the night. My mood was light as we strolled home together.

“Yesterday, you said you already knew what you were going to ask from me.” Aiden commented unexpectedly, as if it had been something on his mind.

“Yes, I did say that.” I replied ambiguously.

“So, what would you have asked for if you had won?” He pressed.

“I suppose you’ll never know, since I lost and all.” I smirked.

“You are such a sore loser.” Aiden laughed, stopping in front of my door.

“Well then, it’s a good thing I don’t lose often.” I joked. Aiden handed me my seahorse. He had carried it home for me while I carried the puppy. “Thanks for everything, tonight. It was fun.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” He paused. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.” I replied.

He lingered like he wanted to say something else but decided against it. He sauntered the short distance over to his house. If I had any suspicion that this was anything more than friends hanging out, the lack of a kiss (or even a hug) at the end of the night proved it was not.

CHAPTER FIVEFOR A GOOD TIME CALL

 

I woke up the next morning cuddled beside the stuffed seahorse. It still smelled like Aiden from when he carried it home for me. I took a deep breath inhaling the scent. It smelled woodsy but sweet, like cedar or something. It was definitely the smell of Aiden. I crawled out of bed purposely ignoring the twinge of longing I felt building in my chest.

As I stepped into the shower, I let my mind wander back to the dream I just had. I would have thought my dream would have been all about Aiden, but instead, Jenny was the star of it. I was walking into the school and saw Jenny screaming and tearing papers off the walls. She seemed to be having a meltdown. Her face was red and covered in mascara trailed tears.

I pitied her hurt and tears, but I reminded myself it was only a dream and shook it off. I hurried my shower along as the other girls began to wake up. I knew the knocks for the bathroom would be coming soon. I flung open the door, a towel wrapped around me, to find Clarissa waiting for me to get out. Clarissa was fifteen with blonde hair and blue eyes. We shared a room, but it seemed we hardly saw each other. She was always out with her friends or her boyfriend.

“Aiden’s here.” She brushed past me.

“Where?” I asked glancing around.

“Notherehere. He’s in our room waiting for you.” She watched me curiously. “Why are you being a spaz? Did your date not go well?”

“I’m not being a spaz and it wasn’t a date.” I affirmed.

“Whatever you say.” She said, putting toothpaste on her toothbrush. “Just be sure to put a sock on the door if you two are going to bump nasties.”

Before I could argue, she closed the door in my face. I rolled my eyes. Just as Clarissa had said, Aiden was sitting on the edge of my bed.

“What’s up? School isn’t for another hour and a half.” I tossed off the towel that was wrapped around my head and threw it in the hamper. My wet hair fell around my shoulders. “Not that you aren’t welcome here anytime.” I added with a smile.

“I’m not going to school today.” He announced.

“Why not?” I sat down next to him on the bed.

“Ash and I are going to England. Our parents need us for a few days.” He explained.

“So, does this mean I don’t have to go to Vicky’s party on Saturday?” I asked hopefully.

“No, I’ll be back Saturday morning. We are still going to that party.” He asserted with a smile. “My flight leaves in a few hours and I wanted to come tell you goodbye.”

“Okay then, I’ll see you Saturday.” I said. He didn’t move to leave, so I asked, “Was that all you wanted to say?”

“Yes and no.” He picked up the seahorse off my bed and began to examine it. “You slept with it last night.”

“Yeah.” I admitted.

He had said it as a statement not a question, but I still felt compelled to answer him. I moved to my closet and picked out an outfit for the day. If he wasn’t going to say what he wanted to say anytime soon, I had might as well start getting ready for school.

“Turn away.” I ordered and he shifted to face the door.

Once I was dressed, I stood in front my mirror and started brushing through my hair. I decided to braid it. It was still wet, so if I took it down later, it’d be wavy. I grabbed my mascara and brushed it on my eyelashes. I never bothered with powder since I never broke out. Once I was ready, I waltzed back over to Aiden. He stood up like he was going to leave, but didn’t.

“I forgot something last night, and I wanted to do it before I left.” He informed me.

“Okay, well what’d you forget?” I glanced around the room. I didn’t remember seeing him with anything when he came over yesterday.

“This.” He grabbed my arm, guiding me to him. He leaned down and kissed me softly on the lips. “I’ll see you Saturday.” He whispered against my mouth. Then he left.

I stared at the door, completely dazed. I slowly brought my fingers to my lips. I didn’t know what to think of it. My lips curled upward into a smile that didn’t fade until the moment I strolled into the school.

The first thing I saw when I waltzed in was Jenny. It was the exact scene from my dream. She was yelling and crying, and she was running around tearing off papers that were taped to the walls. I lost my breath, and my chest tightened up at the sight. I pinched my arm to make sure I wasn’t still asleep.

“Ouch.” I said to myself.

No, I was awake. Part of me was glad for that because of the kiss but part of me was seriously distraught. I didn’t know which I was more concerned over, Jenny’s public breakdown or the fact that I had dreamed of it last night.

I almost slipped on a piece of paper on the ground. I bent down to pick it up and saw why Jenny was so upset. It was a picture of her in her underwear, and there were copies all over the walls and on the floor. Under the picture it read, “For a good time call 402-555-2216”. I was shocked. That was her real number. She was probably getting calls all morning. I was officially more concerned with Jenny, right now. My psychic dream, or whatever it was, could wait.

I gathered up all the papers I could see. Who could have done this? Who would be so cruel? I knew exactly who: Vicky and her gang of plastic Regina George wannabe bitches. I was steaming, now. If I had even as much as seen one of their faces, I probably would have ended the day in jail. Instead, I picked Jenny up off the floor and led her to the principal’s office.

“What happened?” Mrs. Clive, the school secretary, asked obliviously. I handed her one of the flyers.

“These are all over the hallway. Someone’s depraved version of a practical joke.” I told her.

“Oh my!” She exclaimed, her face turning bright red. “I’ll get the principal.”

I waited with Jenny. Mrs. Clive called Jenny’s parents to tell them they needed to come pick her up. Jenny continued crying into my shoulder all the way until the principal finally emerged from his office. He had a serious expression on his face as he scanned us. He gestured for us to join him in his office.

“Ms. White, do you know who could have done this?” He asked Jenny.

“Isn’t it obvious? It was the same people who have been bullying Jenny for years while you’ve turned a blind eye.” I answered for her.

“And who might that be, Ms. King?” His tone was condescending.

“Vicky Sinclair.” I said. He gave me a skeptical look.

“And how exactly would Ms. Sinclair have come into possession of such an indecent picture of Ms. White?”

“Cal.” Jenny whispered barely audible. “I sent that picture to Cal Monahan when he pretended to date me last month.” My jaw dropped. I had no idea Cal had done that or that she’d been gullible enough to fall for it. Let alone that she’d sent that sort of picture to such an asshole. “It’s also all over my Facebook. Vicky’s the only one who knew the password I used.”

“We had better wait for your parents before we discuss anything further.” Principal Heckler’s lips pursed as his face became white. The moment his star pitcher’s name was brought up, he suddenly took this much more seriously. “Ms. King, you can go to class now.”

I gave Jenny a hug and reluctantly went to English. I handed Mr. Krieger my excuse slip for being late and sat down beside Cassie. She gave me a look like she wanted to ask me a million questions. There was a lot I wanted to tell her, too. So much had happened today and it was only eight thirty.

Cassie passed me a folded piece of paper. I unfolded it and readIs Jenny okay?

I don’t know. She’s upset.I wrote back.

I can’t believe someone would do that. Poor Jenny.

I know.I wrote.

So… Not to seem uncaring by changing the subject, but I saw you walking up to the school today and you had a huge grin on your face. I have to know, what happened that made you so happy?

I smiled at her as I read it and remembered the earlier event. I contemplated whether I should tell her. I wasn’t sure what it meant and if I told her, it might seem like I thought it was more than it actually was. Oh well, maybe she could give me some insight on it.

Aiden kissed me this morning.

What? You have to tell me EVERYTHING!I wrote out the whole story to her and she wrote back.That’s weird. And then he just left?

Yeah. What do you think it means?”

I don’t know, but you should find out Saturday.She suggested.

What? I just ask him, straight up?

If he kisses you again before the party is over, then you’ll know he wants to be with you. If he doesn’t, then yes, just ask him what it meant.

The bell rang, and I shoved the note into my bag. I decided I didn’t want to deal with Vicky until I could calm down, so I skipped drama class and spent it on the roof. I almost went for my cigarette stash but decided against it. Instead, I used the time to gather my thoughts and evaluate my dream.

The more I mulled it over, the more confused I became. I felt myself trying to find a reasonable explanation for it, but I was drawing a blank. I guess coincidence could never truly be counted out, but I didn’t think it was the case.

I decided to think about something else. I thought of how I was going to get Vicky and Cal back for what they did. I knew the best way to get revenge would be to simply prove them guilty. If I had irrefutable proof, Principal Heckler wouldn’t be able to brush it under the rug. But how? I’d need to recruit some help.

Next period, I waltzed into algebra early. I sat down beside Curtis, the only freshman in our junior level class.

“Hi Curtis.” I said, giving him a smile and more eye contact than I ever had.

“Hi Bridget.” He responded with a huge grin.

“Is there any way I can get your help with something at lunch today?” I asked in my sweetest voice. I knew it was wrong to use his crush on me like this, but I reminded myself it was for a worthy cause.

“Yeah, absolutely.” He answered without hesitation.

“Great. Can you meet me in the library?” I asked and he nodded.

After BCIS, I headed straight for the library. Curtis was already there waiting for me at a table. I gestured for him to follow me to a computer.

“Okay, so what can I help you with?” He asked me.

I loaded Facebook and searched for Jenny’s profile. It was atrocious. There were so many pictures of her in her underwear, and there were status updates like “I’m feeling horny” or “twenty bucks and I’ll flash the cam”.

Curtis gave me a somber look. He must’ve heard what had happened. It was all everyone was talking about.

“I need to find out who hacked this account. Is that something you can do?”

“Does cold weather make fingernails grow faster?” He asked, as he began typing quickly.

“Um… I don’t know.”

“Yes.” He said, shaking his head. He stopped typing and gazed up at me. “It is most certainly something I can do, but I’ll have to do it from my computer. These computers suck. Also, it might take a few days.”

“That’s fine. I just need you to prove who did it.”

“That, I can do.” He told me and went to finish his lunch period in the cafeteria.

I felt better about it all as I strolled to the darkroom for photography class. I had morphed my anger into resolve, which was much more productive. Now, I could focus on my project without a wandering mind. Not that my mind wouldn’t wander a bit because that’s all it seemed to do, but at least it wouldn’t wander into Jenny territory, for now.

I unlocked the darkroom door and stepped in. My pictures were still hanging where I left them. The first one to catch my eye was the one of Eli. This project was making it awful hard to forget about him. I took down all the pictures and put them in a folder, for the moment.

Once I finished developing the rest of the film, I realized that Eli was in at least half of the pictures I took at the party. I felt like a total stalker. Good thing he’d never see all these. I left all the pictures drying and locked the darkroom up.

The entire way to chemistry, I resisted the urge to turn around and go home. I didn’t want to spend the entire period sitting that close to Vicky, but I couldn’t afford to miss any more classes. Especially a class I was borderline failing. With a huge sigh of resignation, I sauntered into the classroom.

I stopped dead when I saw Vicky and Candy laughing like this morning never even happened. I could feel my rage begin to build, again. I felt a deep vibrating in the pit of my stomach that began spreading to my head and the tips of my fingers. It was a sensation I had never felt before, but then again, I didn’t think I’d ever been this upset before, either.

I tried to ignore them by going straight over to the supply closet, but Vicky decided that she wanted to get supplies at that moment, too. I opened the closet and reached for a pair of goggles.

“Those are mine.” Vicky grabbed my wrist. I felt all the energy that had been pulsing through me shoot out my wrist and into her hand. “Ow!” She exclaimed, pulling her hand away.

I caught a glimpse before she covered it with her other hand. It was red,reallyred. She glared at me like I had just punched her and moved back to her desk.


Page 9

Whatwasthat? Static electricity? Maybe. If it was, it had been building for a while because that was strong. I wasn’t vibrating, anymore. It was like all that energy just dispersed or something. How bizarre.

I spent the rest of the period staring straight ahead or down at my paper. I didn’t want to look at Vicky, again. The next class went by in a flash. I was lost in thought the entire time and couldn’t tell you a single thing Mrs. Conner said.

After school, I went home and got dressed for work. I left my hair in a braid and tugged on the poodle skirt and blouse that screamed 1950’s. I walked the short distance from my house to Betty’s Diner.

I was relieved to see that both Kayla and Samantha were here today. I wouldn’t have to cover quite so many tables. I needed the money, but Isowasn’t in the mood to be cheerful, today.

“How are you today, Mrs. Harris?” I asked Julie Harris. She was a heavy set lady with short brown hair that she always wore curly and tall like you would have seen in the eighties. She was well-known as being the town gossip, so I always knew my ears would get a workout when she sat in my section.

“Oh, hi Bridget. I’m fabulous. How are Bill and Judy? I haven’t seen them around in a while.”

“They’re good.” I said unable to keep my tone from sounding bitter.

She gave me a sympathetic look. Everyone in town knew Bill and Judy were drunks, but nobody ever spoke of it directly to them or their foster kids.

“Do you know what you want to drink?” I asked her.

“Sweet tea.” She said, and I left to get her drink. I entered the kitchen to get to the pot of tea and cups.

“Should I start making the chicken strip basket?” Damon asked. Damon was the evening cook at Betty’s Diner and worked mornings at Jeffery’s Marketplace.

He was sexy in a “too cool for school” sort of way. He had messy black hair and had tattoos all the way down his arms. His lip was pierced. He wasn’t supposed to wear his lip ring at work, but as long as Betty wasn’t here, then he would. He was nineteen and had graduated last year.

“What ifImake the chicken strip basket, and you go take Mrs. Harris her order?” I suggested.

“No, I’m good.” He gave me a lopsided grin. He was so cute when he did that.

“Oh come on. She won’t talk your ear off. You scare her.” I smiled.

“While it may be my goal in life to scare the old bitties of this town, Betty would kill me.” He said.

“Fine, but if I’m not back in ten minutes, you send someone to save me.” I pouted.

“Deal.” He laughed as he threw chicken strips and French fries in the deep fryer.

“What can I get you today?” I asked Mrs. Harris as I set her drink down on the table.

“I’m not sure, yet.” She pretended to examine the menu. She always did this to keep me standing there listening to her stories, but she always ended up getting the chicken strip basket. “Have you heard about that Lincoln murderer?” She asked.

“Yes, I saw something about it on the news.” I told her.

“You know what they’re calling him now, right?” Her eyes were wide. “They’re calling him John Wilkes Booth. Get it? TheLincolnmurderer.”

“Yes, clever.” I tried to strip my voice of sarcasm. It was difficult. I was disgusted with how the media was glorifying the killer. He was a sick bastard who deserved to rot in hell. Not someone to give clever nicknames to.

“Well, I hope all you kids are smart enough to steer clear of Lincoln. I know everyone thinks that only blondes are in danger, but a psycho is a psycho, and you never know what they are going to do.” She said.

“Yes, ma’am. “ I answered. She gave me a sour look at the word ma’am but didn’t say anything.

“I guess I’ll get the chicken strip basket.” She said finally.

“Okay, I’ll go put that order in for you, right now.” I told her.

I glanced around for a second. She was the only one in my section, at the moment. Samantha and Kayla were rolling silverware at one of the booths. I decided I would hide from Mrs. Harris in the kitchen until her food was ready.

Damon was placing bread in the toaster when I entered. I noticed something on his neck. At first I thought something was actually crawling on him, but then, I realized it was a tattoo.

“When did you get the tattoo on your neck?” I asked him, hopping up on one of the counters opposite the grill.

“A few days ago. It’s a scorpion. Do you want to see?” He asked.

“Yeah.” I answered.

He sauntered over to where I was sitting and angled his head to the side. It was an incredibly realistic scorpion. This made me think of Aiden’s tattoo. I hadn’t seen the whole thing. It started so enticingly on his rippled abs and continued on with a downward descent to unknown territory I had yet to explore but had thought about on more than one occasion. What was visible seemed to be a tail of some sort, but I couldn’t tell what animal it might have connected to. I pushed the images from my mind and focused on Damon’s tattoo.

“I like it. I didn’t know you were a Scorpio.” I said.

“Yeah, what sign are you?” He asked, going back to his work.

“Cancer.” I answered.

“Nice. You should get it tattooed somewhere.” He suggested.

“Well, I still have a couple of years to decide on a tattoo.” I muttered.

“You know, if you don’t want to wait until you’re eighteen, I know a guy. I could hook you up.” He grinned.

“Thatsounds sanitary.” I said sarcastically.

“No, it’s all good. I get all my tattoos from him. I’ve never had a problem.” He assured me.

“Alright, I’ll think about it.” I said. He handed me the now ready chicken strip basket.

“Good luck.” He winked. I went back out to face Mrs. Harris.

The next few hours were busy. Betty’s Diner was the only restaurant in Waverly, so we had a full house most nights.

Cassie came in right as it slowed back down, so I decided to take my break. I waltzed to the kitchen to clock out and take off my apron.

“Could you make me a couple of burgers, please?” I asked Damon sweetly.

“I guess I could do that.” His lips tipped up at the sides.

“Thank you.” I smiled. I took two cups and a pitcher of water with me to the booth that Cassie lounged in.

“Food is on its way.” I slid into the seat across from her.

“Good, I’m starving.” She poured herself a glass of water. “Do you want to use my cell to call Aiden?”

“No, it can wait until Saturday. Besides, I wouldn’t know how to havethatconversation over the phone.”

“Face to face is good. Faceonface is even better.” She winked before glancing behind me. Her expression changed to flirty and she said, “Who is the hottie bringing over our food?” Damon walked up and set our food down in front of us.

“Cassie this is Damon, our cook. Damon this is Cassie.” I introduced.

“Nice to meet you.” Damon gave her a nod.

“Back at you.” She said, giving him a smile. Damon went back to the kitchen and she said, “If things don’t work out with you and Aiden, you should definitely hook up withhim.”

“Cassie, you think I should hook up with every cute guy.” I rolled my eyes.

“So, you admit you think Damon’s hot.” She teased.

“Well, yeah. I mean look at him.” I grinned.

“I thought I’d bring you some fries.” I heard Damon say beside me. He eyed us awkwardly, set them down, and waltzed back toward the kitchen.

“Oh my God! I’m going to kill you Cassie. How long was he standing there?” I asked her.

“Long enough to hear how cute you think he is.” She laughed.

I was horrified. I knew my face was bright red. I would definitely remember to get her back for this. I finished my burger and fries while I listened to her rattle on over Ryan.

When my break was over, I darted through the kitchen to the back office to clock back in. I stood in there for a second deciding how I wanted to approach Damon. I seriously could strangle Cassie. She really knew how to make things awkward for me. I took a deep breath and entered the kitchen.

“Listen, I know you heard Cassie and me talking back there…” I began.

“Hey, don’t sweat it. It’s never a bad thing to hear a cute girl admitting she thinks you’re hot.” He said with his side smile.

“Okay, so we’re cool? No awkwardness?” I asked.

“We’re as cool as Vanilla Ice.” He said.

“Then we’re lame?” I teased.

“Oh, you better take that back before I start rapping.” He threatened.

“Okay, I take it back, just please do not start rapping.” I laughed.

The rest of the night went smoothly. We even got the diner cleaned in record time, so we were all getting out early. I stepped out the back door into the cold and wrapped my sweater around me, preparing for the long walk home.

“Do you need a ride?” Damon asked me as he stepped outside. I almost turned him down but decided a warm car was far too appealing.

“Sure.” I said.

I followed him around to the front as Kayla was locking the back door. He drove an old red Camaro, but it was well taken care of, so it still appeared nice.

“Where do you live?” He asked me when I slid into the passenger’s seat.

“Mansfield Street.” I told him, and he began driving. He flipped on the radio and a Metallica song came on.

“Do you like them?” He asked me.

“Yeah, Enter Sandman is one of my favorite songs.” I answered.

“Mine, too.” He smiled.

“That’s my house.” I pointed it out as we got closer.

“Oh. I didn’t realize you lived with Bill and Judy.” He sounded taken aback.

“How do you know Bill and Judy?” I asked, surprised.

“I lived with them six years ago. I was only there for maybe two months.” He informed me.

“I didn’t know you were a foster kid.” My eyebrows flew up.

“Back at you.” He chewed his bottom lip near his lip ring. “Listen, I know how awful it can get there. If you need a place to stay or anything, just call me.” He handed me a piece of paper he’d scribbled his number on.

“Okay, thanks.” I smiled appreciatively. “So, where did you go after you left Bill and Judy’s? I mean, you were still in Waverly, I’m assuming.”

“There’s another foster home on Montrose Court. It was a little better than here.” He gave a tight smile.

“But they are never really good, are they?” I pursed my lips, already knowing the answer.

“No they aren’t.” His tone held a deep understanding.

“Do you still live there?” I asked.

“No, I live in the apartments on Thirty-Seventh Street.” He told me. “I moved out as soon as I turned seventeen.”

“But you stuck around Waverly?” I asked.

“Yeah, I like my jobs and friends here.”

“Oh.” I paused in silent thought. “I guess I’ll see you later. Thanks for the ride.” I told him as I got out of the car.

As I strolled up the driveway to my house, I thought of how terrific it was to talk to someone who survived foster care. It gave me a form of hope that there was actually a light at the end of this dreadful tunnel. My seventeenth birthday was months away, but it seemed like an eternity. My chest felt warm as I recalled Damon’s offer.

I unlocked the front door to a spotless living room, which could only mean one thing.

“There’s an inspection tomorrow. Make sure your room and the bathroom are pristine.” Judy barked, coming out of her bedroom after hearing the door. “And I need your tips from tonight.” She held out her hand.

“What? No. We need that for food.” I argued. The assault was abrupt and unexpected as Judy’s hand made contact with the side of my face.

“Don’t sass me. I amnotgoing to ask you, again.” She warned. Irritated, I yanked the wad of ones out of my bag and handed them to her. “You need to come straight home from school tomorrow. Do not be late.”

I stomped off to my room to clean. Clarissa had most of it done by the time I got there. I started folding the clean clothes that had been piled in the basket.

“Hey, Clarissa, you were here six years ago, right?” I asked her, grabbing a shirt.

“Yeah, I’ve been living here for seven years. Why?”

“Do you remember a guy named Damon?” I grabbed a pair of pants from the basket.

“Yeah I remember him.”

“Why was he only here for a couple of months? What happened?” I asked her.

“He got in a fist fight with Bill. They kicked him out.” She answered quietly.

“What? Why?” I pried. Her expression became guarded.

“Well, no one told you this, but,” she paused, glancing away from me, “Bill used to get real handsy with the girls when he got drunk.” She admitted. I was shocked. I had no idea. I thought I’d finally found a foster home that didn’t have those issues. Foster Care Tip #3: Just because you do not see it happening, does not mean that it isn’t. She continued, “There was this one girl living here at the time. Her name was Linda. Bill was trying to mess with her one night. Damon intervened, but of course, he was the one punished, not Bill. Before Damon left, he told Bill he’d kill him if he found out he did anything to anyone else. I guess it scared Bill enough to not do it again because he hasn’t since.”


Page 10

“Wow.” I exclaimed and then cautiously asked, “Did he ever do anything to you?”

“No, I was only nine at the time. He usually started around twelve. But if it hadn’t been for Damon, he would have.” She explained. “Why’d you ask me about him, anyway?”

“He’s working at the diner. He mentioned living here, so I was curious.”

“He is? Is he doing okay?” She asked her tone a bit too eager.

“I think so. I mean, I don’t know himthatwell, just from working together.” I stated.

“Oh, well, tell him I said hi.” She told me as she tied off a trash bag and disappeared into the hallway.

CHAPTER SIXA MAN IN A TRENCH COAT

 

I woke up the next morning feeling groggy. I forced my eyes open when I heard my alarm going off. I slammed my hand down on the snooze button and laid there for a few more minutes.

When I finally crawled out of bed, I barely remembered that I was supposed to make it perfectly this morning. I spent ten minutes just smoothing out the sheet.

I left the house early so I’d be sure to avoid Judy, and when I got to school, it was nearly vacant. The only person I saw was Jenny, but her back was to me as she headed around a corner. I jogged to catch up with her.

“Hey Jenny, wait up.” I yelled. She twisted around, and I could see that she was carrying a box. “What’s going on?”

“I’m cleaning out my locker.” She answered with a tiny voice. Her eyes were red and puffy as if she had been crying all night. “My parents are pulling me out of school. I’m moving in with my aunt and uncle in Lincoln.”

“What happened to Vicky and Cal?” I asked.

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” She sounded defeated.

“So they harass you, andyouare the one who has to leave?” I was getting livid all over again.

“I guess that’s about the sum of things.” She gave me a tight smile. We strolled to her locker.

“Hey Bridget.” Her rough voice broke the silence. “I don’t want to move to Lincoln. I hate my aunt and uncle. They’re awful people.”

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

“Well, let’s just say my uncle has a temper and my aunt has a blind eye.” She said darkly.

“Did you tell your parents?” I asked, horrified. I thought that sort of thing only happened to foster kids, those of us who didn’t have family or anyone to care about them.

“Yes, but they don’t believe me.” She said.

She twisted the knob on her locker. She put in the right code and yanked the locker open. When she did, a huge pile of condoms fell out and onto her head. Her locker had been filled to the top with them. The floor in front of her locker was now covered in condoms and not a single one in a wrapper.

Jenny stood, staring at the ground in shock. Then, she did something that made me proud of her. She brushed them off her head and out of her locker and continued gathering her things like it had never happened.

When her parents came to get her, we said our goodbyes and gave each other a hug. I had a gut feeling that this would be the last time I saw Jenny White. Maybe, there was nothing I could do about that, but I could definitely seek vengeance on her behalf.

Vicky didn’t show up for school, probably in preparation for her party tomorrow night, so I didn’t have to deal with her. The whole day was uneventful and, might I say, extremely boring. I forgot how dull school was without Aiden. I was so glad he would be back in the morning.

As soon as school let out, I went straight home for the inspection. No matter what foster home you lived in, one thing always stayed the same. There was always an inspection by an agency specialist once every three months.

When I waltzed into the house, I saw that Mrs. Morris was already here and sitting in a chair in the living room. Across from her were Bill and Judy, all cleaned up and looking as though they were leaving for church. They all laughed at something Bill said. Bill and Judy were friends with Mrs. Morris, so she always gave them a heads up when she was going to be coming over. That’s the only way Bill and Judy ever passed these things because it was the only day that there was absolutely no liquor in the house.

I greeted Mrs. Morris and went to wait for my interview in my room. Clarissa was already in there sitting on her bed flipping through a magazine. She seemed bored. I’m sure this wasn’t her ideal Friday afternoon.

“Do you work tonight?” She asked me.

“No, I’m going to the mall in Lincoln with Cassie. She’s going to shop and I’m going to work on my project.” I told her.

“How many people do you have so far?” She asked, making light conversation.

“Around seventy, I need another thirty.” I said.

“Wow, you’ve got a lot done. Where did you meet them all?” She asked.

“Here and there but mostly in Omaha. I’ve been working on it all year.” I said.

We heard a knock on the door and we both straightened up. Clarissa put the magazine in the drawer of her bedside table as I got up and answered the door. Mrs. Morris stepped in. She flopped down into our desk chair and twirled it around to face us.

“How is everything, girls?” She asked as per usual.

“Good.” We said in unison.

“Any problems?” She asked.

We both shook our heads no. Foster Care Tip #4: You can never trust the foster care agent. Sure, there were a few that actually loved their job and wanted to help you, but the majority of them were jaded. Foster Care Tip #5: If you have a problem, suck it up. No one cares about a bunch of unwanted children. You are seen as a burden on society and will therefore be treated as such.

“Good. Then, I will see you girls in a few months.” She stood up and left the room.

“Wow, these are getting shorter and shorter.” Clarissa said to me once Mrs. Morris was out of earshot.

“I know.” I agreed.

I started getting ready to go to the mall. I gathered all my film and put them in my camera case. By the time Cassie drove up in front of the house, Mrs. Morris was pulling out of the driveway. I hopped into the passenger seat of her BMW and buckled up.

“Let’s go before Judy sees me leaving.” I told her and she stepped on the gas.

“We should go check out Club Ice, soon.” Cassie said after we had been driving for a few minutes.

“You just want to see that Hunter guy, again.” I teased.

“Well, yeah. He wasgorgeous.” She bit her lip. “That hair. Oh, and those arms.”

“I thought things were going great with you and Ryan.” I reminded her.

“He’s fun to hang out with if that’s what you mean, but it’s not like he’s my boyfriend or anything. We’re just having fun.” She contended.

“Doesheknow that? From the way he looks at you, I can tell he thinks you two are more.” I pointed out.

This made her quiet and thoughtful for the rest of the ride to the mall. I didn’t interrupt her thoughts because, honestly, I had my own problems to mull over. So much seemed to be happening so rapidly leaving me with too many unanswered questions.

Mystery number one: How’d I have a dream about Jenny at the school before it even happened? And why? What was the point? It’s not like I could have stopped it from happening, even though I wished I could have. I’d never had a dream of the future before, had I? The most I could ever remember is having a great deal of déjà vu moments when I was younger but nothing as specific as this. I supposed there was nothing I could do about this mystery, for now.

Mystery number two: I wasn’t so sure I could merely write off what happened between me and Vicky as simply being static electricity. First of all, I had brushed against other people moments before and there was nothing. But then, suddenly, when she grabbed my wrist, that’s when it released? And besides, I’d never heard of static electricity actually leaving a red mark on someone. But then, what was it? I couldn’t think of a logical explanation for it. In fact, I couldn’t even think of an illogical explanation.

Mystery number three: What did Aiden’s kiss mean? Was he interested in taking our relationship to another level? Or was it simply a friendly kiss goodbye? Hopefully, I’d have more answers tomorrow.

It truly seemed I wouldn’t be getting any of my questions answered right away. I sighed and stared out the window, watching the buildings as we passed them by. I decided to push everything out of my mind for now and focus on my project. And that included Aiden, which was hard.

Cassie parked in the covered parking lot outside one of the clothing stores. I stepped out of the car and grabbed my camera case, waiting while Cassie brushed her hair and reapplied makeup. I leaned against the car and glanced around. The parking lot was crowded with cars which meant the mall was busy, so maybe, I’d be able to get most of my project finished.

Something caught my eye off in the corner of the parking lot. I almost didn’t notice him because the corner was so dark, but there was a guy standing there. He had on sunglasses and a long trench coat. He was tall, like maybe six foot five from what I could tell. He had short, salt and pepper hair and a long scar on his cheek. He was beyond creepy and he was staring right at us.

“Hurry up, Cassie. There’s some creep staring us down.” I told her, and she hopped out of the car, locking the doors behind her.

“Where?” She asked.

“Right over there.” I pointed to the now empty corner. “Well, hewasright there. Let’s just go inside.”

I tried to shake off the eerie feeling the man had given me as we wandered into the mall. I spent the first hour watching Cassie try on outfit after outfit. Then, I decided if I was going to get anything for my project done, I had better go off by myself. She told me she’d meet me in the food court in an hour, but I knew that meant closer to two hours.

I spoke with a few people in the food court and a few store employees, basically anyone who was willing to take a second to talk to me. Once I used up all of my film, I still had some time to kill, so I wandered into a cramped antique store.

I browsed through the jewelry. There were a bunch of pendant necklaces that appeared to be a few centuries old. I couldn’t find anything that was my style. I was about to give up when I spotted an open jewelry box. It was facing away from me, so I couldn’t see what was inside, but something drew me toward it.

I lifted the box to peek inside. It held an intricately designed silver ring. It appeared to be something that would have been passed down through the generations of a family. I wondered how it got here. Why would someone get rid of an heirloom like this? I glanced at the price tag.Five dollars?That couldn’t be right.

“Excuse me, ma’am? How much is this ring?” I asked one of the employees.

“Five dollars.” She answered.

I wanted to ask why but bit my lip to remain silent. This ring was certainly worth far more than five bucks. I inspected it closer, expecting to find fault in it, but it was in perfect condition considering its age. I smiled as I allowed myself to believe this was actually a fantastic deal. I slipped it onto my finger already knowing it would not fit. The ring was too large even for my thumb. Still, I couldn’t pass up the fabulous deal. As I paid for the ring, my stomach growled. I decided I’d wait for Cassie in the food court.

I ordered myself chicken nuggets and French fries. As I ate, I observed all the people around me. There was a couple being overly cutesy and sharing a chocolate shake. There were teenagers from a private school still in their uniforms hanging around the huge fountain in the middle of the mall. I scanned their faces hoping to see Eli amongst them, but he wasn’t.

I dropped the chicken nugget I was about to bite into when I spotted the scarred man from earlier. He was sitting on a bench across from the fountain, staring at the group of kids. I wished I hadn’t used all the film so I could have taken a picture of him, just in case. He was really giving me the hee bee gee bees. He turned away from the group and locked eyes with me. I held my breath as he stood up and disappeared into one of the stores.

“Hey B, look at this top I found.” Cassie said right behind me, causing me to jump a few inches.

“Cassie, you scared the crap out of me.” I told her.

“Sorry. Why are you so jumpy?” She asked.

“I saw that man, again.” I told her.

“Where?”

“He was right over there. He was staring at me.” I said.

“Riiight.Some guy was looking at you. And why is this cause for alarm? You’re hot. He was probably just checking you out.” She said, but it wasn’t at all reassuring. Maybe, I was being paranoid, but I couldn’t help it. The guy gave me the creeps.

“Are you ready to leave?” I asked, deciding I wasn’t feeling all that hungry anymore.

“Yeah, can you carry a few of my bags? Here, one of these is yours, anyway.” She said, tossing me a couple of bags.

“Mine? As I recall, you ditched me at the last party,again. I meant it when I said I wasn’t going to another party with you.” I teased.

“Whatever, bitch, you know you love me. You can’t say no to me. Besides, this is for your date on Saturday.” She said.

“My date?” I asked confused.

“Yeah, you know that high school party I wouldn’t be caught dead at? The one Aiden invited you to so he can finally hook up with you.” She winked.

“One kiss and a party do not equal a hookup. Plus, this is totally a reconnaissance mission, not a date.” I declared.

“Whatever.” She tossed a couple more bags my way. I couldn’t believe how much she had bought in only two hours. She loved shopping, so it was a good thing her parents could afford it.

That night, every time I closed my eyes I kept picturing the scarred man’s face. I tossed and turned for hours before I finally fell asleep. I woke up the next morning to someone saying my name. I opened my eyes to see Aiden and was surprised by the excitement that filled me. It felt like he’d been gone for weeks instead of just two days.


Page 11

“Hey, you’re back.” I said in a raspy voice.

I glanced over at Clarissa’s bed to see that she never came home last night. Aiden sat down on my bed beside me feet. I glanced at my alarm clock. It said it was already almost nine o’clock.

“I’m back. And I brought you something.” He whispered, smiling down at me. He set a tiny gift bag on the bed in front of me. I lifted myself up into a sitting position.

“A present? For me?” I said in a more cheerful voice.

“Yes. It’s rude to leave the country and not bring back gifts for your friends.” He said as though it was simply a friendly gesture, but I doubted he brought anything back for Cassie. “Open it.”

I grabbed the gift bag and dug through the tissue paper. Finally, I came upon a small jewelry box. I opened it with careful fingers. It was a light blue, braided, leather charm bracelet, and it had a charm of England’s flag on it.

“Aw, I love it. Thank you.” I said, throwing my arms around Aiden. The hug was meant to be brief but, somehow, it lasted a bit longer. He smelled incredible for someone who just got off a plane. I moved back and began putting the bracelet on my wrist.

“Are you ready to party tonight?” He smirked.

“Ugh no, not at all. A lot happened while you were gone and the last thing I want to do is be anywhere near Vicky.” I asserted.

He gazed at me in confusion. I told him everything that happened to Jenny. I left out the part about the dream, though.

“Is she okay?” He asked.

“Honestly, I don’t know. She didn’t seem to think it was a good idea for her to move in with her aunt and uncle, but her parents were forcing her. I truly hope she is.” I worried the inside of my cheek.

“Well, maybe you could put Nair in Vicky’s shampoo tonight or something.” He said. I chuckled at the thought of Vicky being bald.

“As fun as that would be, I wouldn’t want her to come across as a victim. I want to prove what she did to Jenny. Which being in her house might help me do, so as much as I don’t want to, I guess we are going to a party tonight.” I reluctantly agreed.

“Aces!” He exclaimed. “Okay now, get up. It’s late.”

“No, it’s not. It’s early.” I said, lying back down and covering my head up. “I’m going to sleep for another hour.”

“No, you’re not.” He asserted.

He uncovered me, but I ignored him and flipped over onto my side. He leaned onto my bed and started tickling my ribs. He was one of the few people who knew the exact spot I was most ticklish. I tried maneuvering away from his hand, but it was hopeless. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Finally, I managed to grab his arm and tug him onto the bed. After wrestling with him for a few moments, I ended up on top of him, holding his arms down so he couldn’t tickle me anymore.

“Okay, uncle.” He smiled up at me.

I released his arms. He grabbed my waist and scooted me down. He sat up with me still on top of him. He moved so easily that I knew he was much stronger than me, and I wouldn’t have ended up on top of him if he hadn’t wanted me there.

Gazing down into his crystal blue eyes, I finally got tired of resisting the urge, so I leaned down and kissed him. He responded instantly, his tongue exploring my mouth. He tasted almost the way he smelled, only sweeter.

His hands roamed up and down my back, sending tingles all over my body. Then, he drew me closer, which made me realize how little I was wearing. I felt evidence of just how excited Aiden was getting as our kiss intensified. The only thing I could think about was how his mouth felt on mine, which was pretty damn good. After a moment, he pulled away and there was only the sound of our heavy breaths.

“I’ll let you get dressed.” He said, moving out from under me.

“Wait, you never told me what we’re doing.” I was having trouble breathing, so the words sounded like I was speaking from underwater.

“It’s supposed to snow next week,” he said in a hinting tone, “which means snow day.”

“Which means we can finally pull our prank.” I finished.

Aiden and I had been planning this prank for a while. We were entering a contest that this online show was holding. The contest was the best themed prank. Catch was, the prank had to end up on the local news or in the local newspaper, but that part was easy. There was never anything interesting going on in Waverly, so you could bet your bottom dollar that anything out of the ordinary would end up in the paper.

“What does that have to do with today?” I asked.

“We need supplies, and we can’t get it here, or everyone will know it was us. We’ll have to drive to Lincoln.” He stated. “I’ll be back in thirty minutes and we can leave, then.”

“Okay.” I said in resignation, finally slipping out of bed.

By the time Aiden returned, I had already showered, straightened my hair, and put on makeup. He sauntered into my room as I was putting on lip gloss. He was carrying a coffee cup and handed it to me.

“Since I made you wake up, I thought the least I could do was buy you caffeine.” He said. I took a sip of it.

“Mm, a caramel latte, my favorite. Thank you.” I said, giving him a genuine smile. We strolled over to his driveway and got into his brother’s car.

“Where are we going to find Halloween decorations in February?” I asked him.

“There’s a costume store in Lincoln that sells it all year.” He said. He flipped on the radio and scanned through the stations.

“Whoa, go back.” I said and he did. It was a news update.

“Another girl went missing, yesterday. She was last seen at the Westfield Gateway Mall in Lincoln. Her name is Jessica Thomas. She was wearing her school uniform. She has blonde hair and blue eyes. Her picture is posted on our sight. If anyone has any information, we ask that you call the Lincoln police station.”

“Oh my God!” I exclaimed.

Aiden jerked his head to the side. “What is it? Do you know her?”

“Cassie and I went to that mall yesterday, and I think saw that girl there. And I might have seen the guy who took her.” I said, causing Aiden to turn and face me.

“You saw her get taken?” He asked.

“Not exactly, but there was this creepy guy watching her and her friends.” I described the guy to Aiden.

“Are you sure? A scar and a trench coat? Seems to me he would have stood out to everyone.” He questioned. “Did Cassie see him?”

“I’m not crazy, Aiden. I know what I saw.” I asserted. However, I was feeling anythingbutcertain at the moment.

“I know you’re not crazy, Bridge. But you have been under a lot of stress the last few days.” He pointed out.

“He was there.” I didn’t know if I said it for his benefit or mine. My chest became tight and restrictive. Honestly, the last few daysdidhave me questioning my sanity. Between my tree dream and my psychic dream, I just didn’t know what to think.

“Okay, I’m sorry.” He paused. “Are you going to call the police station?”

“I doubt they believe me.” I gripped my leg. He didn’t respond. After a few minutes of silence I finally said, “Maybe I should.”

“Should what?” He asked.

“Tell the police. I mean if he is the killer and I don’t say anything, anyone else killed will be on my shoulders.”

“No matter what, Bridge, the only person’s shoulders those deaths are on is the killer’s. However, if you want to tell the police, then we could go by the police station.” He said. The muscles in my chest loosened slightly. If he truly thought I was crazy he wouldn’t have offered to take me to the police station, would he?

“I do. Want to, that is.” I said resolutely.

“Okay, we’ll go there first.” He flipped on his blinker and made a right turn. We parked in front of the Lincoln police station.

“Do you want me to wait in the car or come in with you?” He asked.

“Come with me, please?” I felt nervous. Let’s just say, I did not have the greatest affinity with cops. In fact, if we had been going to speak with Sheriff Brick about what I saw, not only would henotbelieve me, but I’m sure he’d find a way to have me arrested for the murders.

“Okay.” He reached over and gave my hand an encouraging squeeze. And with that, I suddenly felt all the courage I needed.

“Can I help you?” said a woman at the first desk we came across.

“I have information about the most recent girl to go missing. Jessica, I think.” I told her.

“Alright, you’ll want to talk to Detective Lansley right over there.” She said, pointing at a tall, scrawny man in business casual attire. He wasn’t in any specific uniform, but he did have a badge on his belt. He saw her pointing at him and waved us over.

“I’m Detective Lansley.” He announced, shaking my hand and then Aiden’s. “Have a seat.” He gestured to the chairs across from his desk. “Now what can I do for you?” He asked, but what he actually meant was, “What canyoudo forme?”

“I saw Jessica at the mall yesterday.” I explained. The detective leaned forward with interest.

“So then, you know Ms. Thomas?” He asked.

“No, but I’m fairly certain I saw her yesterday with her friends.” I told him. He appeared skeptical.

“Is this the girl you saw?” He held up a picture. I studied it carefully and focused hard on my memories from yesterday.

“Yes, that’s her.” I was positive now.

“Okay.” He pulled out a notepad. “Was there anything unusual or suspicious that you noticed?”

“Yes. I saw a man watching them. He noticed me looking at him and disappeared into a store.” I described the man to him. His expression was incredulous.

“Alright, let’s set you up with a sketch artist.” He said in a resigning tone.

The sketch artist was a young, black man named Phil. I told him everything I could remember about the man. Once the sketch was finished, Phil took one look at it and actually laughed.

“Girl, you’ve been watching too many scary movies. Real life murderers don’t look like this. They look like every day people. Like you, me, and your friend here.” He glanced at the sketch and laughed, again.

“Fine, but I didn’t seeyouthere. I sawhim.” I shot.

“Alright, alright. I’ll pass this along to the detective.” He said.

I left my name, house phone number, and address with the lady at the first desk. Aiden and I strolled back to the car.

“Are you okay?” He asked me once we were on the road, again.

“Yes. I actually feel better. Even if they don’t believe me, at least I told them what I saw. If they don’t listen to me, then whatever happens will be on them, not me.”

“Good, I’m glad you feel better.” He smiled over at me. I couldn’t help notice the way he worded that. I tried to shush the voice that told me Aiden was only placating me. He still didn’t believe what I had seen.

We spent the next few hours in the costume store buying all sorts of things. Finally, we headed back to Waverly to get ready for the party, tonight. On our way back, I remembered I needed to call Curtis. I tugged my notebook out of my bag and found where I had scribbled down his number. I asked Aiden if I could use his phone. I punched in his number and hit send.

“Hello?” He answered.

“Hey, Curtis, it’s Bridget. I wanted to let you know that I’m going to be at a party at Vicky’s later, so if there’s anything you need me to do, just let me know.” I told him.

“Okay, call me if you get an opportunity to get on her computer.” He said.

“Okay, I will.” I hung up. So now, I had a real reason to look forward to tonight. I might get what I needed to bring Vicky down.

CHAPTER SEVENAIN’T THAT A KICK IN THE BALLS

 

Once I was home, I slipped into the black skirt that went mid-thigh and the hot pink tank top Cassie had bought me for my “date”. As I curled the ends of my hair and sprayed it with hair spray, I couldn’t help but think about Cassie’s insistence that this was a date. Part of me hoped she was right. I was reapplying my mascara and lip gloss when Aiden knocked on my window, which I had left open for him and crawled in.

“You look stunning.” His voice was awed.

“Thanks.” I turned my face away so he wouldn’t see me blush, but somehow, I think he knew. “Um, can we stop by the diner so I can pick up my check first?”

“Sure.” He said as I slipped on a pair of strappy sandals.

Once we drove up to the diner, we spotted Mrs. Harris’s blue Prius parked out front, so I decided I would go through the back to avoid her. Aiden moved the car around the building and put it in park. I saw that Damon was leaning against the wall taking a smoke break.

“Damn, where are you headed tonight?” He asked. I couldn’t stop the shy smile that appeared on my face.

“A party.” I told him. “Is Betty still here? I was hoping to get my check.”

“Yeah, she’s in her office.” He took another drag.

I stared at his cigarette with longing, but I shook it off and went inside. I waltzed back to Betty’s office. Her door was open, but she was staring down at some papers, so I knocked to let her know I was there. She glanced up and gave my outfit a disapproving look.

Betty was Chad’s mother, so she felt the need to parent me since Chad and I were friends. Not that I didn’t appreciate her. Lord knows, I wouldn’t have a job if she didn’t feel protective of me. I wasn’t exactly the best employee.

“Bridget, is there any way you can work tomorrow night? Stacy’s kid is sick.” She said.

“Yeah, sure. Can I get my check?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s right here.” She said, handing it to me.

I sauntered back outside where Damon was finishing off his cigarette. I was tempted to ask him for a puff but decided against it. Aiden would be complaining at me the entire night if I did.Sonot worth it.

“So, it looks like I’m working tomorrow.” I told him.

“Awesome.” He said. “Have fun at your party.”

“Doubtful.” I said.

“Oh? Why is that?” He asked.

“It’s a long story.” I said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you.” He put out his cigarette and headed back into the diner.

I strolled back to the car and slid into the passenger seat. I tucked my check into my bag. After getting a look from Aiden, I buckled my seatbelt.

“Who was that guy that was checking you out?” Aiden asked me, sounding jealous.

“That’s Damon. He’s the cook. And he wasn’t checking me out.” I said, even though I thought maybe hehadbeen checking me out. Aiden gave me a brief look of disbelief.

“Okay, so we need a game plan.” Aiden said after a few minutes.

“Right, so how do you want to play this?” I asked him.

“I guess when we get there, we mingle for at least ten minutes, and then you can ask where the bathroom is. After you excuse yourself, try to find Vicky’s room. I’ll distract her while you do what you need to do. After you come back down, we’ll sneak off and find the office.” He said. I didn’t like the sound of himdistractingher, but I wasn’t going to say as much.

“Don’t you want me to distract them while you find the office?” I asked.

“No, getting caught by myself would be a great deal more suspicious than if I was caught with a girl.” He explained.

That made sense, and even though I tried to tell myself we were only going topretendto be hooking up, I still felt my pulse speed up. As my heart began pumping rapidly, Aiden glanced up quickly with a grin like he could hear my pulse's change of pace.

We parked by the curb in front of Vicky’s house. I trailed behind Aiden as we approached her door. He handed me his phone and I stuck it in my bra since I didn’t have any pockets.

“Lucky phone.” He gave me an amused look and rang the doorbell while I stood behind him. Vicky answered it and gave a huge grin. She threw her arms around Aiden before he could react, but when she saw me, her smile twisted into a scowl.

“Why is she here?” She asked Aiden, pulling out of the hug.

“I brought her.” He stated like it needed no explanation.

“Fine, I’ll let all the guys know the stripper’s here.” She glared at me.

Multiple insults popped into my head, but I bit back my tongue. Literally, I had to physically bite my tongue to keep from saying anything back. Aiden and I brushed past her into the living room.

The house was full of people. It should be easy to sneak off without anyone noticing, but I decided to stick with the plan. So, while Aiden followed Vicky into the kitchen, I sat down on the couch to mingle for a few minutes.

We got to the party late enough that most everyone was drunk. On my right was a couple doing some heavy making out and on my left was Levi Clark. Levi was on the baseball team at school and was one of the most arrogant guys I’d ever met, right up there with Cal and Sheriff Brick.

“Hel~lo Bridget. You look smoking hot, tonight.” Levi put his arm on the back of the couch behind me.

“Hi Levi. “ I said in an uninterested tone that didn’t seem to faze him.

“So, what are the odds of me finally getting a taste of your candy?” He asked.

“Oh, I’d say they’re somewhere around a million to none.” I frowned.

“What if I let you have a taste of mine, first?” He tried to guide one of my hands to his crotch.

“I have to go to the bathroom.” I stood up, yanking my hand away from him.

“Now, that’s what I’m talking about.” He stood up beside me.

“Alone.” I said sternly.

“Fine, whatever. You don’t have to be such a bitch.” He muttered.

“Apparently, I do.” I mumbled under my breath and headed for the stairs.

It was easy enough to find Vicky’s room. She actually had a sign on her door that saidprincess. I quietly stepped in, closing the door behind me. I spotted her laptop and pushed the power button. I grabbed Aiden’s cell phone and dialed Curtis’s number.

“Hello?” He answered after only one ring.

“I’m on her computer now. Luckily, there’s no password.” I told him.

“Okay, do exactly as I say. Click on start, and then selectAll Programs. Now find and click onAccessoriesand then,Command Prompt. Got it?”

“Yes. Now what?” I asked.

“Okay at theCommand PrompttypeI-P-C-O-N-F-I-G. Now hit enter.” He said and waited for me to do it. “Now look for where it says IPv4 address. Did you find it?”

“Yeah.” I read off the number to him. “Is that all you need?” I asked.

“Yes, that’ll help me match the IP address to the one that hacked the account. I’ll get back to you on it next week.” He said and then hung up.

I shut her laptop down and placed it right back where I found it. I put Aiden’s phone back in my bra and stuck my ear to the door to make sure the hallway was quiet. I slipped out when I only heard silence.

As I sauntered back down the stairs, I noticed something that would definitely put a damper on our plan. Vicky was glued to Aiden. He was sitting in one of the chairs in the living room and she was sitting on the arm of the chair.

When he spotted me, he lifted his shoulders and gave me an expression that said he didn’t know how to get rid of her. If I went over there now, it would only start a fight and get us kicked out of the party. I had to think of something quick.

I grabbed a glass swan off one of the shelves and dashed to the downstairs bathroom. I dropped it into the toilet and flushed. Water started flowing over the rim and onto the floor.

I hid over by the stairs and watched as someone went into the bathroom and emerged back out, immediately. She raced over to Vicky and told her about the toilet. Vicky followed the girl to the bathroom.That should distract her for a while,I thought to myself.

Aiden’s expression told me that he was impressed. He took the opportunity without hesitation. I followed him into the downstairs hallway as he searched for Vicky’s father’s office. Finally, we came across double doors that screamedoffice. Aiden tried to open them, but they were locked.

“Do you have a bobby pin?” He asked. I tugged a non-crucial one out of my hair and handed it to him. He began picking the lock with it. After a few seconds, we heard it click.

“Where did you learn to do that?” I asked, thoroughly impressed.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” He teased. He pushed one of the doors open and waited for me to slip in. He closed the door behind us.

“What are we looking for?” I glanced around the room. My eyes landed on the massive desk near the back wall.

“Youaren’t looking for anything. I just need you to sit on the couch over there and watch the doors. If you see the doorknobs turn, just say my name, okay?”

“I’m the lookout?” I pouted. It had been such a rush sneaking into Vicky’s room.

“The lookout is the most vital role.” He said and I knew he was merely placating me. I rolled my eyes and sunk into the couch.

Aiden flipped through filing cabinets and drawers. I wondered what exactly it was he was searching for. After a few minutes, he seemed to find something.

“I need my phone.” He said, concentrating on a file he found.

I rushed over and handed him his phone. I went back and flopped onto the couch. He started taking pictures of whatever was in the file. Just as he was putting everything back, I saw the doorknob start to turn.

“Aiden.” I said and instantly he was over on the couch.

Without hesitation, he lifted me on top of him and began kissing my neck. His lips found my mouth as his hand caressed the curve of my leg. I kissed him harder almost forgetting we were supposed to be only pretending, but it came right back to me when I heard the door behind me finally open.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize this room was occupied.” A girl I’d never seen before said. She was holding hands with some guy. It was obvious they were searching for a place to hook up.

“No problem.” I breathed. They closed the door behind them. “Did you get what you needed?” I asked Aiden, hyperaware I was still sitting on his lap.

“Yes I did. Thank you so much for helping me.” He grabbed my hand and interlocked his fingers with mine.

“Well, you did kind of force me into it with the bet.” I teased.

“Yes, I did. I’m sorry.” He grinned, not appearing apologetic in the slightest.

“Don’t be. I got something out of tonight, too.” I admitted.

“Making out with me?” He smirked.

“Thatand I got Vicky’s IP address. So now, I’m one step closer to proving what she did.” I asserted.

“Well, I’d say we’ve had a productive night.”

“I agree.” I stood up, stretching my arms. “Do you think we should go, now?”

“Maybe in a few minutes.” He said in a mischievous tone. He tugged me back down onto the couch sitting next to him.

“Ah, I thought it was supposed to be pretend.” I teased.

“There’s no pretending needed when it comes to kissing a beautiful girl.” He said in a soft, sensual voice that gave me shivers.

He leaned over and kissed me. Then, he kissed me again and then again, until he was on top of me. His lips moved easily with mine as I closed my eyes, allowing the sensations of the moment to overtake me. His hand found my leg, again. My hands inched under his shirt in search of the muscles of his stomach, but as he pressed his body against mine, my hands circled to his back grasping at his strong shoulders. I felt heat spread through me at the pressure I felt from our bodies being pressed together.

I kept telling myself we werenotgoing to have sex tonight. Not here in Vicky’s house. But myresolveseemed todissolvea bit more every second. He moved his lips to my neck, tracing it with soft kisses. Then, I felt his teeth scrape against my skin.

“Your teeth are sharp.” I whispered. He immediately jerked away and off of me. I shot up, but he was facing away from me.

“I’m sorry.” He said in a muffled voice.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, unsure of what was happening. He didn’t say anything for a few seconds, but then he turned back to me.

“Nothing, we should go soon before someone else catches us in here.” He stood up.

He offered his hand to help me up and I took it. I straightened out my skirt and tried running my fingers through my hair to fix it, but I knew it was no use.


Page 12

We went out the doors, and Aiden bent down to relock them with the bobby pin. We strolled around the corner of the hall and saw Levi and a few other people standing around drinking. Levi spotted us.

“Oh, look everyone, Bridget K. spreads them, again.” Levi sneered.

Before anyone could even laugh at his comment, Aiden punched Levi in his eye. Levi tried to swing back, but Aiden easily avoided it and shoved Levi against the wall.

“Aiden don’t.” I put my hand on his arm.

He glanced at me and let Levi go. We brushed past everyone and were heading to the front door when Levi decided he wasn’t finished insulting me.

“It’s no wonder your mom abandoned you. She could tell the instant she saw you what a slut you’d grow up to be.” He spat at our backs. I slowly spun back around, and everyone in the room seemed to freeze.

I strolled back over to him and slapped him across the face. The sound from it was loud leaving a red mark on his cheek. Right as I was going to turn back around, he whispered, “Kyle always said you liked it rough.”

Without even thinking twice, I kicked him in the balls. He let out a wail as he doubled over in pain. I sauntered back over to Aiden with everyone’s eyes on us. At that moment, Vicky hurried back into the living room after hearing Levi’s loud moan.

“You throw one hell of a party. Let’s do this again, sometime.” I said, smiling at Vicky, and closed the front door behind us.

“Well, we certainly know how to make an exit, don’t we?” Aiden said as we drove home.

“That we do.” I laughed.

The next morning, I only had time to do a few loads of laundry before I had to leave for work. Since I was covering for Stacy, I’d have to work the earlier shift. She was one of the few full time employees, so I’d be there for a full eight hours which didn’t bother me. Actually, I needed the hours after Judy took my money the other night.

I was dressed and leaving the house by ten thirty. When I got to work, I strolled right into the beginning of the lunch rush. I hurried to the back to clock in and grab an apron.

“Good morning, Bridget.” Mac said as I passed back through the kitchen.

“Hi Mac.” I replied.

Mac was one of our day cooks. He was an older man around fifty or so. He had white hair with a matching beard and a pot belly. He was always super cheerful. He played Santa every year at the mall in Lincoln, but he didn’t have to change much to get into character. Honestly, if even a small part of me believed in Santa, I’d be demanding to see his flying sleigh that he surely had stashed in his garage.

The first three hours were busy because of the church rush, but by the time two o’clock rolled around, it had started to slow down. When Damon showed up to relieve Mac at three, the diner was empty, and I was in the kitchen helping chop vegetables.

“So, was the party as awful as you thought?” Damon asked once Mac had gone home for the day.

“Part of it was but part of it was okay. “ I smiled at the memory of Aiden’s lips.

“Ah, and does the okay part have anything to do with that guy that drove you to the party?” He asked, taking me by surprise. I hadn’t realized he’d noticed Aiden in the car.

“His name is Aiden and yeah, he might have had something to do with it.” I admitted.

“Now, what’s this about a party?” I heard a familiar voice say from behind me. I twirled around to see Chad.

“Chad! What are you doing here?” I asked, throwing my arms around him. He picked me up off my feet and gave me a tight squeeze.

“I have time off before we head out to sea again, so I thought I’d spend it in my home town.” He set me back down. “Wow, BK you grew up a lot in a year.” It felt odd to be called BK, again. Chad and some of the guys I used to hang out with called me that, but I hadn’t gone by it in a while.

“Me? Look at you. You used to be scrawny, and now, you’re a beef cake.” I laughed. Chad had the burr haircut that all military men had, and you could see muscles through his shirt.

“How’ve you been?” Chad asked Damon.

“Good. I haven’t seen you since graduation.” Damon said. Damon and Chad were both nineteen and had graduated together, but they weren’t from the same circle.

“Nobody has. I left out for basic training the day after graduation.” Chad said. Then, he turned to me and asked, “So, you went to a party last night? Are they still as fun as I remember?” He hopped up on the counter and grabbed a roll.

“Not this one. It was a party of jocks.Sonot your scene. Actually, I got into a fight right before I left.” I said.

“Do you go out of your way to spread sunshine, or does it simply follow you everywhere you go?” He asked, giving me a playful punch on the shoulder.

“What can I say? I’m a charmer.” I grinned at him. I was ecstatic to see him, again. I had missed him.

“Yeah, a charmer of snakes, maybe.” He teased.

I stuck my tongue out at him in response.

“Did you know the first time I met this girl we were at a party? And there she was, out drinking every guy there.” Chad told Damon. “That’s when I knew this girl needed some serious protecting.”

“Aw, you’re like my own giant condom.” I retorted. “Besides,youwere the one that got me thrown in jail on New Year’s Eve.”

“That wasn’t my fault, and as I recall, webothgot arrested that night.” He asserted in an amused tone. “Speaking of, how is the great sheriff of Lancaster County these days?”

“I haven’t been to the sheriff’s office in over a year, if you can believe it.” I told him.

“Ah, living on the straight and narrow, are we? Or is it you simply got better at hiding it?” He asked.

“Both.” I laughed.

Betty stepped into the kitchen, her blondish gray hair pulled back in a ponytail. Chad hopped down off the counter but not soon enough, and Betty gave him a glare.

“Don’t think that just because you’ve been gone a year, the rules don’t apply to you.” She told him.

“Love you, Mom.” He smiled sweetly.

“Love you, too. Hey Bridget,” She turned to me. “Kayla called in tonight, so can you stay until closing?”

“But I’ve been here since eleven.” I said.

“I saw that you put in a request to have Saturday off. If you stay, you can take it off.” She offered.

“Okay, deal.” I was actually glad for the situation. I had remembered to put in the request to be off for the concert kind of late, and it wasn’t looking like I’d get it off, but now I would.

“It’s a sad state of affairs whenI’mthe responsible employee.” I said after Betty went back to her office. Chad hopped back on the counter.

“You can say that, again.” Chad said, and I threw a dinner roll at him. “So, what’s Saturday?”

“A concert.” I explained.

“Oh, and are you going with Aiden?” Chad interrogated. I gave him a quizzical look, unsure of how he knew about Aiden. “I heard you mention him to Damon.” He added.

“Well, if you must know, yes I’m going with Aiden.” I replied.

“Okay, well, if you’re going to be dating this guy, then I’ll need to meet him.” He declared.

“Slow down there, I don’t even know if we’re going to be dating. Besides, it is too soon for you to be sticking your nose in our relationship considering I don’t know if there is one. You always scare guys away.” I argued.

“It’s my job to scare them away.” He smiled. I gave him a pointed look. He rolled his eyes. “Alright, well, just promise you’ll point him out to me if he breaks your heart.”

“Promise.” I lied and went to wait tables. Chad left not too long after that, giving me a brief goodbye hug.

It finally slowed down enough for me to take a break around eight. I decided I’d take it outside so I could get fresh air. I took a seat on the pavement and let the cold air fill my lungs. After a few minutes, I heard the back door open, and Damon sat down beside me. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered me one.

“No thanks. I quit smoking.” I said.

“How long have you gone without one?” He placed a cigarette between his lips.

“Two months, ten days, four hours.” I replied dramatically.

“Wow, good for you.” He said lighting his cigarette.

“Well, not actually in a row.” I admitted. I stared at it as he took a long drag.

“Are you sure you don’t want one?”

“Fine, just give me one.” I rolled my eyes. “Please.” I added.

He tugged one out and handed it to me. I leaned over so he could light it and I sucked in, savoring every last bit of poison as it entered my lungs.

“See, now isn’t that better? If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you should never be a quitter.” He said with his lopsided grin.

“Hello square one, we meet, again.” I muttered, blowing the smoke out. After a few minutes of silence, I said, “Clarissa says hi.”

“Clarissa? How is she?” He asked.

“As good as anyone in our situation could be.” I frowned.

“Good.” His voice became distant.

“She told me what happened when you lived there.” I said.

“Yeah.”

“It’s incredible how you stood up for that girl.” I admired.

“Linda.” He said in a haunted voice. “That was her name.”

“Do you know what happened to her? Did she move out of state?” I asked.

“She’s dead.” He muttered and then cleared his throat. “She died last year, overdosed on heroine. After what that bastard did to her, she just couldn’t seem to numb herself enough. I tried to help her, but she was transferred to a home in New York.”

“Oh my God.”

“Don’t tell Clarissa, okay?” He begged.

“Okay, I won’t.” I promised him.

After our shift, Damon dropped me off at my house. Judy’s car wasn’t in the driveway, so I decided to use the front door, for once. I was silent as I twisted the doorknob so as not to wake anyone who might be sleeping. The living room was empty, but the television was on a late night show. I grabbed the remote and switched the TV off. With the living room now quiet, I could hear whispered voices coming from the kitchen.

I wasn’t sure why, but a sick feeling burrowed itself within my gut. My intuition told me to hurry as I darted for the kitchen door. My heart dropped when I barged in. Clarissa sat at the kitchen table, and Bill jumped away from her guiltily.

“What’s going on?” My voice was tight with anger.

“Late night snack, baby doll. You should go to bed.” Bill said.

“It’s late. We shouldallgo to bed.” I asserted. “Come on, Clarissa.”

She didn’t need to be told twice. She rushed from the room like she was being chased by a pack of wolves. I glared at Bill as he disappeared to his bedroom.

“What happened?” I asked her as soon as we were in our bedroom.

“Nothing. He was just being weird.” Clarissa said, but she couldn’t look me in the eye.

“What do you mean, being weird?” My eyes narrowed.

“He just… always tries to give me back rubs. That’s all.” She asserted.

“Promise me you’ll avoid him, alright?” I insisted.

She nodded in agreement. The knot inside my chest relaxed. Her face told me she was still upset, so I decided to cheer her up.

“You want to see something cool?” I asked her.

“Sure.” She grinned.

I tugged out the ring I had bought at the antique store. This was the first time I’d even pulled it out since I got it. I placed it in my palm and held it out so she could see it. She grasped it with her thin fingers and inspected its design.

“Did you steal this?” She asked.

“No, of course not.” I declared.

“Then, how could you afford it?” She asked in awe.

“I got a great deal. I guess the store didn’t know its worth.” I told her.

“EvenIcan tell it’s worth a fortune.” She twisted it around between her thumb and index finger.

“Maybe they had it marked wrong. Either way, they sold it to me for five bucks.” I shrugged.

“Wow, did you luck out or what? You should sell it and make a profit.” She suggested.

“Yeah, maybe.” I wasn’t sure why, but the thought of selling it didn’t seem appealing. Maybe it was the fact that I’d never had anything as nice before, but I wasn’t quite ready to give it up.

I watched as Clarissa admired it for a few more seconds. Even though the ring would obviously be far too large for her fingers, she slid it onto her right ring finger. Energy dispersed through the room in an invisible wave. I blinked in confusion. What was that? My eyes went to Clarissa to see if she had felt it, too. She was staring down at the ring seeming to be in her own thoughts.

“Clarissa?” I whispered.

Her eyes lifted to meet mine, and I inhaled sharply. Her eyes were jet black. A crooked smile inched across her face. I didn’t understand what was happening, but something told me it had to do with the ring. But, how could that be? I had tried the ring on at the store and nothing happened to me. Without another word, I ripped the ring from Clarissa’s hand and she instantly went back to normal.


Page 13

“It doesn’t fit.” She said in a dazed voice.

“I think you’re right. Maybe, I should sell it.” At least, now I knew why it was only five dollars.

CHAPTER EIGHTRAISE YOUR WEAPON

 

I woke the next day with the ring on my mind. I thought about throwing it away, but that might be too dangerous. Whatever was up with the ring, I couldn’t just let it loose on some unsuspecting person. On the other hand, if I kept it, I couldn’t risk someone else trying it on, again. I needed to keep it on me at all times. Even though it had not affected me, I did not feel comfortable wearing it on my finger, so I slid it onto a silver chain and tucked it under my clothes.

Later that day, drama class was being held in the school’s auditorium so all the groups could perform on a stage. Aiden and I were in one of the dressing rooms backstage getting ready for our performance. I was already dressed in a brown friar robe (which was incredibly unflattering and smelled like cat piss) with a rope tied around my waist. Aiden had on a tight pair of black jeans (which apparently Vicky thought was “totally werewolf”) and that was it. He wasn’t wearing a shirt or shoes. You could tell Vicky picked out the costume.

I was helping Aiden glue on fake fur that we found in the make-up supplies. His usually smooth chest was now half covered in hair and we were working on the other half. I was trying hard to focus on the job at hand and not how hard his abs were (they were insanely hard, by the way). I was careful to cover up the exposed part of his tattoo with fur so he wouldn’t get in trouble for it.

“I’ve changed my mind. Let’s just ditch the rest of class.” Aiden said looking hot but extremely uncomfortable in the black pants.

“That’s tempting, but Mrs. Owens will kill me if I faildramaof all classes.” I told him. “But if you want to skip the scene, I’ll tell everyone you got sick or something.”

“No, it’s no fun ditching without you.” He said. My heart swelled in my chest. We heard a knock on the door and Michelle popped her head in.

“We go on in five minutes.” She told us and closed the door.

“Alright.” Aiden said, standing up out of the chair. “Do I look hairy enough?”

“Yes, very animal-like.” I grinned.

We sped to the right wing of the stage to wait for our cues. Aiden got his and waltzed out. He was a phenomenal actor. When it was time for the fight scene between Romeo and Paris, Aiden moved swiftly and realistically. I began to tense up as the kiss scene drew closer.

Aiden was standing over Vicky, reciting his lines, and finally he moved down to kiss her. I held my breath until I realized he was going for her cheek. I allowed myself to smile, but it immediately vanished when I saw Vicky turn slightly, catching the kiss on her lips. I clenched my fists at my side, trying to calm down. I still had to go onstage and perform. I couldn’t afford to let Vicky mess me up and cause me to get an F.

I relaxed my face to a neutral expression and sauntered onto the stage. The rest of the scene went precisely as we had rehearsed. Of course, I was distracted with how attractive Aiden was lying there playing dead. He was doing an eerily fantastic job of it, too. If I hadn’t known he was acting, I might’ve checked for his pulse.

After it was over, Aiden and I went back to the dressing room to clean up and change. The only thing I had to do was take off the robe which I had put on over my clothes. I grabbed a couple of rags and left to wet them down. When I returned, Aiden had already changed back to his jeans but was still shirtless. I handed him one of the rags and used the other to wash the hair off his chest.

I glanced up at him and noticed he had a bit of Vicky’s lipstick on the corner of his mouth. I reached up and began wiping it off with my thumb. He gave me an apologetic look but didn’t say anything, which was good. He didn’t have anything to apologize for. It’s not like he did it on purpose. Even if he had, it’s not like I was his girlfriend. In fact, I had no ideawhatI was to him, at this point.

Next period, Curtis was already sitting in the far corner when I strolled in. I slid down next to him. I stared expectantly as he dug around in his bag.

“Did you find something?” I asked him.

“Is it illegal to carry an ice cream in your back pocket in Kentucky?” He asked.

“What?” I asked. I never understood him.

“Yes, I found exactly what you needed.” He handed me an envelope. “This has proof that Vicky logged into the account first, and then, Cal logged into it multiple times, after that.”

“Which one uploaded the pictures?” I asked.

“Vicky uploaded the pictures, and Cal is the one who continued updating the statuses.” He explained. “And I emailed all this anonymously to the sheriff, just like you asked me to. You can take this to the principal, but you can’t tell him you got it from me. I could be arrested for the things I had to do to get this information.”

“Okay, I promise I won’t tell him it was you.” I assured him. “Will this be enough to get them in trouble?”

“Even if Principal Heckler claims it’s all phony, the sheriff’s department can easily verify all of it.” He said.

“Thank you so much, Curtis. I owe you tremendously.” I smiled.

“No, you don’t. I wanted to help Jenny. She didn’t deserve any of that.” He asserted. I gave his arm a gentle squeeze. It felt wonderful to hear that I wasn’t the only one on Jenny’s side.

Right after school, I went straight to the principal’s office with the envelope in hand.

“I need to speak with Principal Heckler.” I told Mrs. Clive.

“He was just leaving for the day, Bridget. Can this wait until tomorrow?” She asked.

“It’s important.” I told her.

“Okay, I’ll let him know you’re here.” She pushed a button on the phone and spoke into it. “Sir, Bridget King is requesting a moment of your time… She said it’s important… Okay, I’ll send her in.” She hung up the phone and turned back to me. “He’ll see you, now.”

“Well, if it isn’t trouble herself.” Principal Heckler commented. He was behind his desk gathering papers when I entered his office.

“Trouble? Right here in River City?” I retorted.

“Close the door and have a seat.” He frowned. I sat down across from him. He glanced up from what he was doing and asked, “What seems to be the important issue?”

“I have proof that Vicky and Cal were the ones who hacked Jenny’s Facebook and posted all those things.” I handed him the envelope. He opened it up and flipped through the pages.

“Who gave you this?” He raised an eyebrow.

“You know, I put a tooth under my pillow last night and when I woke up, I found this. If you ask me, the tooth fairy’s getting cheap in her old age.”

“Charming as ever, Ms. King, but what about this? If you don’t give me a name, then I’ll suspend you.” He said.

“You mean I wouldn’t getto go to school? Bummer.” I said, calling on his bluff.

“Well, if I don’t know who gave you this, then there’s no way to tell if it’s legitimate. So, there’s nothing I can do.” He placed the envelope in his desk drawer. I was sure he was planning on shredding it, later.

“See, I thought you might say something like that. So, I had all this information emailed directly to the sheriff. I just thought I’d give you a heads up on the authority’s involvement. I wouldn’t want you to come across as an incompetent principal.” I told him. I stood up and marched out while he stared after me.

“Do you feel better?” Aiden asked when I met up with him at the front of the school.

“I’ll feel better when they’re being punished.” I bit the inside of my cheek.

I spent the rest of the day at work. The diner was extra busy for a Monday and I made an exceptional amount in tips, but I was exhausted by the time my head hit my pillow. I fell asleep instantly.

I snuggled in closely to Aiden’s body. His arms were tight around me as I pressed my face into his chest. I inhaled deeply, expecting to smell his woodsy smell, but I didn’t. He smelled more like burning. The only word I could think of to describe it was like brimstone. Something wasn’t right.

I lifted my head, expecting to see Aiden. My eyes widened and a guttural scream escaped my lips. I stared up at a man with jet black eyes. He appeared in his mid-twenties with wild, brown hair. My heart slammed against my chest as his hand flew to my mouth.

I wanted to ask who he was and what he wanted from me, but his fingers squeezed tighter on my face, blocking my airways. Horror pulsed through my veins in a painful stream of fiery waves.

His mouth opened into a crooked grin that revealed sharp, fang like teeth, as if each and every tooth had been chiseled into a point. His fingers dug further into my cheeks. I could see his nails were more like claws. This couldn’t be real.

I attempted to wriggle from his grip but was trapped in his arms. My eyes darted to Clarissa’s empty bed. He inched closer to my face

“Why can’t I possess you?” His voice was deep and rough, much like you might imagine a demon to sound like. Was he a demon? He just asked about possessing me. His eyes studied me. “What are you?” It was something I should have been asking him. Even though he was asking me questions, his hand remained over my mouth. His eyes moved to my chest where the ring was outlined under my shirt. “Give the ring to someone I can use or I’ll kill you.” He threatened before disappearing.

My breathing was heavy as my heart pounded in my chest. My hand flew to the ring on my necklace. He was the one who possessed Clarissa. He wanted me to give the ring away.No way was that going to happen.

As I lay in bed, I tried to convince myself it had been a dream. It didn’t work. I could still feel his fingers on my cheeks. I could still see his razor sharp teeth inches from my face. I could still hear his evil voice. With his essence hanging around, my room no longer felt like a place I wanted to be, so I grabbed some clothes and headed out my window.

Once I reached Aiden’s house, I quietly knocked on his window, knowing he usually stayed up late. Aiden lifted the window with a questioning look but let me pass without comment. He allowed me to take over his bed while he slept on the couch, something he’d done for me a million times before.

The next day, I tried rationalizing the incident by telling myself it was only a dream. I pushed it out of my mind and refocused on the Vicky situation. The school day seemed to start out calm, and I was beginning to doubt that all my efforts were going to result in anything. I was in drama class, sitting next to Aiden, and I could hear Vicky and Mandy whispering on the other side of him.

“You did an amazing job yesterday, Aiden. I never knew you were so talented.” Vicky said, turning away from Mandy and toward Aiden. Hearing her voice, especially being directed at Aiden, caused my anger to start to build, again. It felt like it did the other day in chemistry, like a low thrumming in my stomach. I could feel it shooting through my veins.

“Thanks, but it doesn’t take talent to play dead.” He said, almost sounding short.

I smiled at his obvious lack of interest in speaking with her further, but it didn’t seem to be enough to dissolve any of the growing rage in me. Vicky seemed taken aback by his change in mood towards her. She glared at me like I was responsible for his attitude. There was a knock on the classroom door, and everyone turned to see who it was. Ms. Teal opened the door and the office aide handed her a note.

“Vicky, you’re wanted in the office.” Ms. Teal said.

Vicky gathered her books and left the classroom. The last twenty minutes of class left me stuck in suspense. I wanted to know what was happening so badly. As soon as the bell rang, I sprang from my seat and shot straight through the door.

Aiden was right behind me, but we got separated in the crowded hallway. He tried catching up with me, but it seemed like someone new was always in his way. I could tell by his expression that he knew something was about to happen, and it didn’t look like he’d be able to stop it.

As I stomped up to Vicky’s locker, I could see that she was busy cleaning it out. She glanced up and saw me walking over to her. She stood up from her crouched position and glared me down.

“I know you had something to do with this. Candy said she saw you leaving Principal Heckler’s office yesterday, and then today Cal and I areexpelled.” She said dramatically, and all I could do was smile. The tension between us was causing the thrumming to turn into more of a buzzing, like my body was full of bees just dying to escape and sting Vicky.

“You did it to yourself. I hope you have fun being homeschooled.” I spat.

I was turning to walk away when I felt her grab my hair, and she yank me backwards. I stumbled for a second before I found my balance. She tried shoving my head against the lockers, but I was able to wiggle out of her grip. I whirled around with a newfound fury. I pulled back my arm making a fist with my hand and slugged her in the nose.

I grabbed her shoulders and I could feel all my built up energy release into Vicky as I shoved her against the lockers. I punched her once more, but this time in the eye. I felt someone’s arms grab me around my waist and lift me off of her. I tried to rip out of their grip, but it was solid like a statue. I spun around to see who it was and found Aiden staring down at me.

I instantly calmed down when I gazed up into his blue eyes. They had a remarkably serene effect on me. I relaxed into his arms as I tried to catch my breath. I glanced back over to where Vicky was. She was slouched over, holding her nose which was now bleeding all over the place. There was a dent in the lockers where I had shoved her body into them. Not only was I astonished that I had let out enough force to damage the lockers, but I was shocked that it hadn’t done more damage to Vicky.


Page 14

“You, go to the nurse’s office.” Principal Heckler said, pointing at Vicky. “You,” he said, pointing at me, “my office, now.”

Aiden loosened his grip, but hesitated a second before letting me go completely. He gave my hand a reassuring squeeze as I moved away from him and trudged to the front of the school. I sat down in the way too familiar chair in Principal Heckler’s office.

Principal Heckler and Vice Principal Phinn had obviously been discussing me before they waltzed through the door because they both fell silent when they entered the room. They sat across from me as I nervously played with my bracelet that Aiden gave me. I had worn it every day since he gave it to me.

“Alright, Miss King, let’s get right to it.” VP Phinn said, glancing through a folder that, if I had to guess from the size of it, was probably my permanent record. “You are suspended for the rest of today and tomorrow. Then, you will have two weeks of detention every day after school in the library.”

“Two weeks?Butsheattackedme.” I argued.

“Which is why you are getting off so easy.”

I shut my mouth knowing that if I kept talking, I would simply end up with even more detention. I was smart enough to know when to stop speaking… most of the time.

I wandered to my locker to grab my bag so I could go home. I was surprised to see Aiden waiting for me there. Third period had already started, and he was supposed to be in health class.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him. He held up a bathroom pass and I said, “Oh.”

“What happened?” He asked me.

“Suspended for two days and detention for two weeks.” I yanked my bag out of my locker.

“What were you thinking?” He sounded frustrated.

“I wasn’t. I’m sorry.” I said, unsure of why I was apologizing but just feeling the need to. “Thank you for breaking it up before things got too bad.”

“You’re welcome.” He said gentler than before. “So what are you going to do today?”

“I guess go home and work on my project. You want to skip school and come help me?” I suggested, not actually expecting him to agree.

He thought it over and then surprised me by saying, “Okay.”

“Alright, I’ll meet you out front.” I told him.

After I stopped by the darkroom to pick up the rest of my pictures, I signed out at the front office. Aiden was around the corner of the school where no one would see him leaving with me.

The first thing I noticed when we arrived at my house was that Judy’s car wasn’t there. I was curious where she went, but I felt relieved that I wouldn’t have to explain anything to her. I unlocked the front door and entered the empty house. This was a rare thing. The house almostalwayshad someone in it, usually Judy. She didn’t work and mostly sat around drinking all day.

I dropped my bag by the foot of my bed and flopped down on the floor beside it. Aiden slid down next to me, leaning against my bed. I dumped out all my pictures and spread them across the floor in front of us.

“Okay, the first thing we should do is separate all the pictures by gender and then age.” I declared. After a few moments of sorting, Aiden picked up a picture and examined it. I glanced over to see which picture it was. “That was at the bonfire.” I said, seeing Eli’s picture in his hand.

“You don’t need him in your project, do you?” Aiden asked.

“Actually, I do. I have to have ahundredpeople in my project, and I’m still short a few. Eachonecounts.” I told him, grabbing the picture from him and setting it in the young male pile.

“Then, use me instead.” He grabbed the picture again and tossed it into my waste basket. I smiled at him and grabbed it back out.

“Nice try, but that wouldn’t work. Mrs. Walker specifically told me no friends.” I explained, setting the picture in the pile, once again. “Why are you acting so jealous over a picture?”

“It’s not the picture. It’s the guy.” He said, reminding me of the fight we had the night of the bonfire. He had never explained to me why he loathed Eli, but I knew now wasn’t the time to question him.

“A guy that I met once at a party and haven’t seen since,” I said, scooting closer to him and putting my arm through his, “and who is probably off somewhere in Lincoln while I’m here with you.” I leaned up and kissed him. I slid onto his lap where I was straddling him. “A guy who doesn’t get to do this.” I continued as I kissed him, again.

“True.” He gripped me tighter, guiding me down for another kiss much more intense than the last two. His mouth was warm and tasted sweet. His tongue was hot and wet as it massaged mine. He wrapped an arm around my waist and moved me closer to him. I felt his excitement through his pants, and my body called out to feel more.

I had always told myself I was innohurry to have sex, but if there was any guy that could change my mind, it’d be Aiden. I slid my hand through his hair, interlocking my fingers with its thick strands. Aiden tugged my shirt up over my head. His hand slipped up my back and had my bra unsnapped before I even knew it. I wondered exactlyhow muchexperience he had.

He stared at my bare chest with admiring eyes before continuing to kiss me. His hand slowly found its way around to my front and cupped one of my breasts. His kisses moved sensually down my neck until they found themselves on my nipple. Electricity shot through every inch of my body. His teeth grazed my breast, and I let out a gasp of excitement. As warmth spread downward, I pressed my pelvis as close to Aiden as I could with our clothes on. He lips found mine and kissed me, once more

We were jolted back to reality when Aiden’s phone started playing a guitar solo. We stared at each other breathing heavily as the phone continued to ring. He reached into his pocket and tugged it out.

“Cassie?” He spoke into the phone. “Hold on a second.” He handed the phone to me and I put it to my ear.

“What’s up?” I asked. Aiden handed me my shirt and slid me off of him. He got up and left the room. It sounded like he went to the bathroom.

“What the hell happened today? I heard you gotsuspendedfor kicking Vicky’sass.” She said. I could tell she was in the cafeteria from all the noise in the background.

“Yeah, I’m suspended today and tomorrow. How’d you know to call Aiden’s phone?” I asked, pulling my shirt on over my head.

“He’s not at lunch and he’s with you ninety percent of the time.” She pointed out.

“Well,” I said, pausing to make sure my bedroom door was closed so Aiden couldn’t hear me, “you have the worst timing.”

“Oh myGod, were you two playing hide the salami?” She asked.

“No,” I whispered.

“Whatever.” She said in a disbelieving tone. “Anyway, I was going to ask you if you wanted to go the mall, later.”

“Sure, but let’s go to a different mall, this time.” I said. I desperately didn’t want to run into that creepy guy, again.

“Okay.” She said, and I heard the bell ring in the background. “I have to go. You and Aiden can resume making out.” I tried to make myself deny it, but I was a terrible liar, so I remained silent. “No response? I knew it! You twoweremaking out. Is he a great kisser? He looks like a great kisser.” She continued. Part of me wanted to tell her that he was an amazing kisser, but I didn’t want him to overhear our girl talk.

“I can’t talk about this, right now.” I said, lowering my voice again as Aiden strolled back into the room. “Go to class, and I’ll see you after school.” I hung up the phone and handed it back to Aiden. He placed it back in his pocket and sat down on the floor across from me. I felt somewhat disappointed by the distance between us, but I knew I needed to work on my project while I had the time.

“What did Cassie want?” He asked as he sorted through the pictures.

“She asked me to go to the mall with her after school.”

“Are you guys going to the one in Lincoln?” He asked with that worried edge his voice always got.

“I’m not sure. We might check out one in Omaha, this time.” I said.

“That would be better.” He commented.

I rolled my eyes at that. “Aiden, if I want to go to Lincoln, I will. I’ll do what I want.”

“Yeah Iknow. If there’sanythingI know about you, it’s that you will doexactlywhat you want.” He said in what sounded like an exasperated tone, but when I ventured a glance at him, he was smiling. “Which is something I both hate and love about you.” He said, taking me by surprise.

“As much as you try to boss me around, I would have thought it was something you completely hated.” I frowned.

“I don’t mean to boss you around. It just drives me crazy not knowing if you’re safe.” He said apologetically. I felt my stubbornness begin to subside.

“I get it. I guess, I’m just not used to having someone care about me.” I admitted.

“Well, you’ll just have to get used to it.” He paused. “Because I do.” I bit the inside of my cheek to suppress the goofy grin the insisted on being plastered across my face.

We spent the next few hours fixated on my project and ended up getting the majority of it finished. By the time Cassie showed up, we were putting all the pictures away. Cassie crawled through my window with her hand over her eyes in a dramatic gesture.

“Third party here. Put the clothes back on.” She said, as she proceeded to peek through her fingers. Seeing our decent state, she commented, “What? Do you need more time? I can come back in an hour.”

“Cassie, just come in.” I said with a blush. I glanced at Aiden to measure his reaction which was cool as always.

“Fine, are you ready to go?” She asked me.

“Yeah.” I said. Since no one was home, I guided Aiden to the front door. “I’ll see you, later. Thanks for helping me with my project.”

“No problem.” He paused in the open door.

We stood there awkwardly not sure what to do. Were we at the stage where we kissed each other goodbye? Wanting to end the moment but not wanting to push it too far, I stuck out my hand for him to shake. I instantly felt ridiculous, but it was too late, and I had to see it through. He took it and gave it a squeeze. Once he left, I closed the door behind him and twirled around to see Cassie leaning against the wall.

“That was hard to watch.” She pressed her eyebrows together.

“Did I really just shake his hand?” I asked horrified.

“Yes. Yes, you did.” She said. “You guys seriously have to DTR.”

“Yeah, we do.” I agreed, knowing we had todefine the relationshipor there would only be more awkward moments to come.

The ride to Omaha was spent singing along to the radio. It was fantastic to feel carefree after everything that had been happening, lately. It truly seemed like things were beginning to look up, for once. Vicky was gone, Aiden and I were getting closer than ever, and the more Cassie hung out with Ryan, the happier she seemed to be. Not even the evil ring demon could put a damper on my mood.

For the first hour at the mall, we went from store to store trying on clothes and shoes. I usually didn’t enjoy this type of thing, but I was in a fantastic mood, and nothing could bring me down. Or so I thought.

We decided to go to one last store which sold accessories. We were trying on sunglasses when I heard a familiar laugh off to our left. I glanced over to see Vicky in the jewelry section with Candy and Mandy. Of all the places for her to be, of course, we had to run into her here.

I was tempted to simply leave the store, but Vicky spotted us, and I didn’t want it to seem like I was running away. So, I set my bag down on the ground and grabbed another pair of sunglasses. I was determined to appear unaffected by her presence. I was checking out my reflection in the mirror when I saw Vicky saunter up behind me.

“Just so you know, I’m going to a private school in Lincoln, now. So, honestly, you did me a favor. Now, I get to go to awaybetter school where they take out the trash. Not give it a school ID and call it a student.” She said in the snottiest voice she could muster.

“Don’t mention it. In fact, not having to see your face every day is thanks enough.” I twirled around to face her.

I noticed that her face was almost back to normal. Her black eye had faded and her nose wasn’t puffy anymore. Damn, she must have a spectacular plastic surgeon. She made a “humph” noise and shoved past me, bumping into me as she did so. I fought back the urge to start another fight with her and twisted back to Cassie who was staring hopefully at the situation. I could tell she was waiting for round two.

“Let’s just go.” I told her.

She gave me a face of disappointment but nodded in agreement. I slung my bag over my shoulder and headed for the exit. I was startled when the alarm sounded as we strolled through it.

“You two, stop right there.” We heard the security guard say.


Page 15

Part of my brain told me to run, but the other part said I hadn’t done anything wrong. We both stopped and spun towards him.

“May I?” He asked gesturing at our bags.

We shrugged, knowing he wouldn’t find anything and handed them over. He shuffled through them. He searched through Cassie’s first and didn’t find anything, so he handed it back to her. After a few seconds of rummaging through mine, he paused and pulled out what appeared to be a pair of earrings.

“I didn’t put those in there.” I said, puzzled for a second, but then it dawned on me.

Vicky must have slipped them into my bag when she bumped into me. I glanced back into the store and saw Vicky and her minions chuckling at us from the sunglasses stand. I couldn’t even describe how much I despised that girl. Let’s just say, if she was on fire and I had water, I’d drink it.

“Yeah nice try, you’re coming with me.” He grabbed my arm. He led me to the security office where he scribbled a few lines on a form.

“What’s your name?” He asked me once we were in his office. Cassie was sitting in a chair next to me with her eyes wide.

“Barbra.” I told him.

“Last name?” He asked irritably.

“Streisand.” I said.

“Barbra Streisand…” He started to write it down until realization crossed his face. “Very funny. What’s your real name?”

“I told you.”

“What’s your parent’s phone number?” He asked, moving on.

“402-SUCK-IT.” I glared at him. “Don’t forget to dial a one first.” No way was I going to let him call Judy.

“Where are you ladies from?” He asked Cassie, hoping to get a real answer.

“Waverly.” She told him.

“Ah, Waverly, huh? Then, I’ll just call the sheriff’s department, and they can sort all this out.” He said. “You can go on home, now. Your friend is probably going to be spending the night in jail.” He told Cassie as he picked up the phone.

Things were just gettingbetterandbetter.I detested everyone at the sheriff’s department, and the feeling was mutual. This was going to be a long night.

“You’re in huge trouble, young lady.” The security guard asserted once Cassie was gone. “Those earrings you were trying to steal cost five hundred dollars.”

“I didn’t try to steal them.” I maintained.

“So, I guess they just fell into your bag?” He said sarcastically.

“Something like that.” I muttered.

“Well, that sounds like a suitable argument for your lawyer.” He said.

I guess I was going to have to call Jim. Jim Hughes was originally my “court appointed attorney”, but he’d defended me so many times that I’d simply started calling him directly when I got arrested.

I had been waiting in that tiny room with the arrogant rent-a-cop for an hour and a half before Deputy Long finally showed up. Deputy Long was twenty-four with dark hair and medium build. The security guard handed him a file and they stepped out of the room. They were having a conversation in hushed whispers, so I couldn’t make out any of it.

“Hi, Bridget, long time no see.” The deputy said when he reentered the room.

“Not long enough.” I muttered as he put handcuffs on me.

“What if this time,yourecite your Miranda rights, and we can see how much you remember?” He paused for a moment. “No? Okay then.” He gave me the full speech on my rights as he led me to his car parked out front. He moved me into the backseat and shut the door behind me.

Once we got to the sheriff’s department, I called Mr. Hughes and he said he’d be there in thirty minutes. Deputy Long placed me in a jail cell to wait for my lawyer. They only had two cells and, unfortunately, I was familiar with both of them.

I sat down on the hard bench and waited. I was grateful it only took him twenty minutes to get there. I stood up and moseyed over to the bars when I heard his voice.

“Jimmy, did you miss me?” I asked him as he stepped up to the cell, briefcase in hand.

“Only every second of every day.” He said with a smile. “It hurts that you only call when you need something.”

“So, what’s the damage?” I asked him.

“Well, right now it looks like you’re going to be charged with shoplifting, but considering the earrings cost five hundred dollars, it’ll be up to the DA whether or not he wants to pursue charges of petty theft.” He explained.

“So, what does that mean for my current predicament?” I gestured to the cell.

“I’m working on having you released until your court date. Do you have anyone to pick you up? Judy, maybe?” He asked.

“No, I don’t want her to know. I can get a friend to come get me.” I told him.

“They won’t release you to a minor.” He reminded me. So, that ruled out Aiden or Cassie.

“That’s fine. I know someone.” I told him, and he nodded. He handed me his phone, and I dialed Chad’s number. It surprised me that I still had it memorized.

“Hello?” He answered.

“What are you doing right now?” I asked.

CHAPTER NINEA JAILBIRD, A SNOWDAY, & A ZOMBIE

 

“I hope you remembered to get your card stamped.” Chad gave me a once over through the bars.

“This is one place I’mnotlooking for a free stay at.” I frowned. Deputy Long unlocked the door and let me out of the cell.

“See you next time.” The deputy said as he handed me my bag that had been confiscated.

“What happened?” Chad asked me once we were on our way home.

“I have a new arch enemy.” I said dramatically.

“Well, itisa day that ends in Y.” He smirked. I shot him a look.

“Are you saying I’m unlikable?” I raised my eyebrows.

“No, I’m not saying that.” He paused. “It’s just that, you’re the kind of person you either love or you hate. There’s not room for in between.”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. But I also realized I just didn’t give a shit. I didn’t care if people liked me or not. Truth be told, I didn’t like most people.

By the time we drove up in front of my house, the sun had already, set and Judy’s car was parked out front. Chad walked me to the door. We stood on the porch for a second, illuminated by the light.

“Thanks for picking me up. Judy would have made my life a living hell if I had called her.” I smiled.

“You’re welcome, but you should probably try to stay out of jail from now on. I won’t be in town for long and next time it probablywillbe Judy picking you up.” He glanced down at me.

“I know, but it’s not like I meant to be arrested.” I said. He reached down and gave me a hug goodbye.

“I’ll see you later, jailbird.” He told me and sauntered back to his truck.

As he drove off, I could hear Judy’s loud voice in the living room, so I decided I’d go in through my window. As I began rounding the corner of the house, Aiden stepped out of the shadows, startling me.

“What the hell are you doing? You scared the crap out of me.” I snapped.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” He apologized.

“Why were you lurking in the shadows? It’s creepy.” I knew I sounded snippy, but it had been a long day.

“I wasn’tlurking. I just heard the truck drive up and saw you get out. I thought you were hanging out with Cassie today.” He said, obviously wanting to ask me who the unknown man was.

“Iwaswith Cassie, all the way up until I got arrested.” I said as I began moving toward my window.

“You werearrested?Forwhat?” He followed behind me.

“Well, apparently I wanted a pair of earrings so badly that I stuffed them in my bag and tried to leave with them.” I clenched my fists in anger.

“You didn’t do that.” He stated behind me. I halted, twisting to face him.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“Because I know you, and you’re not a thief.” He said with confidence. It made me feel warm to hear him say that. To have someone who thinks the best of you instead of assuming the worst. “Alcoholic, maybe. Thief, no.”

“Shut up.” I said with a small smile. “It was Vicky. We ran into her at the mall, and she must’ve slipped them into my bag when I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Why didn’t you call me?” He asked.

“They wouldn’t have released me to a minor, and I only got one call. I called Chad. I know you wanted to know who that was.” I said, and he gave me a guilty smile. “He’s an old friend. He’s in town for a few weeks.”

“Are you okay? Do you want me to stay for a while?” He asked.

“No, I’m fine. I just need to get cleaned up and in bed.” I told him. We were at another moment of unknowing, but I was too tired to play the game. Without hesitation, I gave him a light kiss on the lips. He wrapped his arms around me and held on for a second before letting go.

“Goodnight.” He gave me one last kiss.

I stuck my hand under the slightly opened window and forced it up. I crawled into the empty room. Grabbing my robe, I dashed to the bathroom and turned on the water. Nothing sounded better to me at that moment than a hot shower.

Once the bathroom was properly steamy, I stripped and stepped into the tub. I could feel the dirt and grime from jail wash away down the drain. I closed my eyes and let the hot water run across my face.

Once I was clean, I turned off the water and wrapped a towel around me. The mirror was fogged up from all the steam, so I grabbed a rag and wiped it off. At first, I only wiped where I could see my face and my neck. I stared at myself, and, for a moment, it felt as if I were looking at someone else. I stuck out my tongue and wiggled it back and forth to check that it was me. My reflection copied my actions.

I shrugged and continued wiping the rest of the mirror. A dark figure appeared over my shoulder and I dropped the rag. I whirled around, but there was nothing there.It must have been my mind playing tricks on me, I told myself. I couldn’t seem to convince myself fully because my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Was that the ring demon? No, that had been a dream.I just need some sleep,I thought.

I lay in bed for an hour, but still couldn’t calm down enough to fall asleep. I had managed to chalk up all the ring incidents to lack of sleep and too much drama. It had to have been a nightmare. But then what about this? Could I honestly claim that I was hallucinating? That had to be the only explanation. I didn’t believe in ghosts and that was that.

I guess I managed to convince myself because I fell asleep. I slept peacefully enough for a few hours, but I woke up around midnight. I wasn’t sure what specifically woke me up, but I had an eerie feeling in the pit of my stomach. All the hairs on my neck stood up, and I could feel goosebumps rising on my arms. My heart pounded in my ears but that was the only sound.

My eyes searched the room but all seemed calm. Clarissa was asleep in her bed, our bedroom door was closed, and moonlight was beaming in through the window. I rubbed my hands against my arms to rid myself of the goosebumps. I began drifting back to sleep after a few minutes, but I saw a flicker of light through my eyelids and they flew back open.

At first the room was black, but after a few seconds I saw a lighted figure flicker in and out in the middle of the bedroom. My whole body felt frozen in place. I couldn’t even bring myself to scream. Heck, I couldn’t even breathe. It faded in and out for a few more seconds, but then I found myself staring at a glowing, transparent figure. Terror gripped me. My heart pounded in my chest as if dying to escape.

The light gradually formed into a shape. This one was different than the ring demon. It was a girl, no a woman, with blonde hair. She was wearing what appeared to be a white night gown. At first she had her head hung over with her hair falling across her face, but then she slowly lifted it to where she was facing me. Her eyes were a pair of glowing, white orbs. My eyes fell to her cheek or rather, her lack of one. She had a gaping hole on one side of her face.

I gulped back a scream for fear of attracting more attention from her. She closed her eyes and moved toward me. She wasn’t so much walking as she was floating. Once she was at the edge of my bed, she reached out one of her hands toward me. Her hand gripped my ankle. The touch was incredibly familiar as my mind traced back to the night of the bonfire.The hand that tripped me.

I couldn’t hold it back anymore; I let out a scream. The girl’s eyes grew and she began to shriek. Mine sounded fearful but hers sounded like death itself. It was so gut wrenching, I thought I might throw up right there. Clarissa made a noise, and the girl disappeared with a twirl. Clarissa switched on her lamp and gave me a grouchy look.

“Did you see that?” I asked her in a shaky voice.

“See what?” She asked sleepily.

“Nothing, go back to sleep.” I said.

She didn’t need to be told twice. She switched off the lamp and fell back asleep. There was no way I’d be able to go back to sleep, so I tugged on pants and boots and crawled out the window. I was just going to take a walk by myself but then decided I’d see if Aiden was still awake. I was sure he would be. He always seemed to be awake. It was like that guy never slept.

I circled Aiden’s house to his bedroom window. I peeked inside at his empty room. His bed was made, and his door was open. I tapped on his window hoping he was close by and could hear it. Sure enough, he appeared in the doorway and sauntered over to the window.

“Is everything okay?” He asked me after he opened the window.

“Yeah.” I lied. His expression told me he didn’t believe me but wouldn’t argue. “Do you want to go for a walk?”

“Sure.” He climbed out the window. It was wonderful to have someone I could always count on.

“Did you have a bad dream, again, or something?” He asked after a few minutes of silence. We strolled side by side down the empty street, watching the air exit our mouths as we breathed out into the cold night.

“Or something.” I said and he gave me a curious look. “I’m not sure what it was, actually. It probablywasjust another bad dream.” Or at least Ihoped.

“Do you want to sleep at my house for tonight?” He asked.

I glanced away from him in thought. I had slept at his house a million times before and never thought twice about it, but we had been only friends back then. There had been no underlying expectation, not to say that there was now, but it felt peculiar. However, I knew I wouldn’t get any sleep in my own room.

“Yeah, that’d be great.” I finally answered.

He slid an arm around my waist and tugged me close to him as we walked. It felt perfect.I could stay in his arms forever,I thought but instantly wanted to smack myself for having such a corny thought. I stared up at him. The light from the street lamps lit up his handsome features, and my eyes couldn’t seem to get enough of him. He caught my eyes and smiled, causing my heart to skip a beat. His eyes were such a bright blue that they almost seemed luminescent.

When we got close to his house again, he stopped and turned to me. He drew me against him and wrapped his arms around me tightly. I pressed my face into his chest, and I could feel myself relax into him. He kissed the top of head and nuzzled into my hair.

“You smell different.” He said questioningly.

“Ismelldifferent?” I asked glancing up at him.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t see why. I haven’t changed shampoos or anything.” I said like this wasn’t the oddest conversation I’d had in a long time.

“Hmm…”

“Is it a bad change?” I asked, worried that I randomly started to stink or something.

“No, not at all. It’s just…unexpected.” He answered.

We began walking again and when he wasn’t watching, I grabbed a strand of hair and sniffed it. It smelled like apples. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then again, he was always saying bizarre things like that. You’d think I’d get used to it, but I didn’t. I should probably just accept the fact that I would never fully understand Aiden, like he would never fully understand me, but there was just something about mysterious guys that made girls want to figure them out.

I sighed in frustration, and Aiden gave me a puzzled look. He opened his window and gave me a boost to go through it. He crawled in after me but with much more grace than I had.

“I can sleep on the floor.” I suggested.

“No, you can have my bed. I’ll sleep on the couch.” He said.

“But then your brother will see you in there.” I frowned.

“He doesn’t care.”

“Then, why’d we crawl through the window if your brother doesn’t care?” I asked, making him pause in thought for a second.

“I didn’t want to wake him up.” Aiden said.

“O-kay.” I gave Aiden a look that said I thought he was being odd. I took off my boots and began unbuttoning my pants. “Oryou could sleep in here with me.” I said, surprising Aiden and myself. I wasn’t sure what had gotten into me, but suddenly I felt very sensual, very seductive.

“Are you sure that’s such a good idea?” He asked, his eyes following my hands as I moved my pants down my legs, tossing them aside.

“Good? I don’t know ifgoodis the right word for it.” I tugged my shirt over my head and tossed it on the floor. I was now in only my bra and panties (which were a matching pair of red lace). Aiden stood completely still like if he dared to even breathe, he would rush to me and give in.

I wasn’t sure why I was acting like this. All I knew was that I wanted him,badly. He was sexy beyond belief. His eyes were like staring right into the ocean, so tranquil and radiant. The way his lips curved into his smile, they were so luscious, so kissable.

I moved closer to him, but he remained frozen. I wasn’t sure why he was resisting, but I knew what I wanted. I grabbed the back of his neck and moved his mouth to mine. I traced his lips with my tongue, and he caved. He lifted me up into his arms, and I wrapped my legs around his waist. I removed his shirt with ease as he carried me to the bed and set me down. His body pressed down onto mine, and I could feel how much he wanted me.


Page 16

He unfastened my bra and yanked it off in one swift movement. I ran my hands over his chest, pressing my fingers into the indentions of his muscles. My heart raced as he kissed me with more passion than ever before, and I responded with just as much. His kisses moved down my neck as his hands roamed my body. One of them found its way into my underwear, and my breath caught.

This was new territory for me, but I wasn’t scared. His eyes gripped mine as his hand gently caressed me. I felt new warmth spread through my body, and I wanted more. He teased me with his finger until he finally pushed in. I gasped with newfound pleasure. His eyes studied my face as his finger found spots I had no clue even existed. My breathing became rapid as new feelings pulsated through me.

I traced down his abs until I reached the top of his pants. I struggled with the button but got it undone after a moment. I slipped my hand into his pants and into his boxers until I found what I was searching for. It was far bigger than I expected, not that I had too much to compare it to, but I had seen a few.

The moment I grabbed a hold of him, his whole body seemed to quiver. My eyes searched his face. I couldn’t read his expression, but his eyes grew dark. Unsure of what to make of it, I began stroking him. All of a sudden, he jerked back. When I glanced up, he was facing away from me on the edge of the bed.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, worried I had done something wrong.

“Nothing, but this isn’t a good idea.” He said in a hushed voice with his back still facing me. I thought of arguing, but it seemed like I had been snapped back to reality, myself. I was flabbergasted at the way I had just behaved. That wasn’t me. I’m avirgin, I don’tseduceguys. What’s wrong with me? Still, I was curious why Aiden had pulled away. It was obvious from the looks of his pants that his body still wanted me. He stood, buttoning his pants. “It’s better if I sleep on the couch.”

“Okay.” I muttered.

I was mortified not only that I threw myself at him, but that he had then rejected me. I didn’t know how I was ever going to face him, again. He probably thought I was the hugest slut ever. I wrapped myself up in his blanket and tried to push all thoughts out of my head. It was quite the battle, but I eventually won and fell asleep.

 

Aiden

Aiden sat on the couch trying to collect himself. He knew he’d crossed the line tonight, but part of him wanted to rush back into the room and finish what had been started. He rubbed his hands over his face roughly. This was not part of his orders. He was supposed to become her friend, nothing more. Still, he found himself unable to resist her more and more. He knew he needed to end things, but, as selfish as it was, he simply didn’t want to. He wanted to run away with her and forget about all this, but he knew the consequences if he did that. This wasn’t only about him.

Aiden had never expected the mission to turn out like this, but the moment he laid eyes on Bridget, he could feel something awaken inside of him that had been long asleep. She was so breathtakingly beautiful, and she didn’t even know it. She’d had a hard life, which was something Aiden could relate to, but she was still caring. She didn’t let it make her hard and cold like Aiden had for so long.

He groaned, unable to keep his mind off of Bridget’s nearly naked body lying in his bed. Need coursed through him as he thought of how close he’d come to sleeping with her. Would that have been so bad? He could tell that she had wanted it, too.No, that would have been unforgivable,he scolded himself. To sour what should be a perfect memory of her first time? How could she make an informed decision when all she knew about him were lies? He would be worse than scum to take her virginity under false pretenses. He had to get himself under control.

 

Bridget

When I woke up the next morning, Aiden was long gone to school, but he left me a note on his dresser. It read:

Bridget,

You were sleeping so well,

I didn’t want to wake you.

I will see you later.

-Aiden

I was relieved that I didn’t have to face him, just yet. I tossed off the blankets and saw that I was still in my red panties. All the humiliation of last night came rushing back to me. I threw on my clothes and crawled back out Aiden’s window. I didn’t feel like dealing with Ash at the moment, and I wasn’t sure if he was home or not.

I thought of how I should spend my last day of suspension. Wallowing in my shame at home wasn’t an option because I could see Judy’s car parked out front. My shift at the diner didn’t start for a while, so I decided I’d wander around town until I was no longer supposed to be in school.

The library seemed like the obvious choice, if not the only choice. It wasn’t as if Waverly had a plethora of hang out spots. I strolled along the backstreets so that none of Bill or Judy’s friends would see me out and about during school hours and report back to them.

I decided to cut through an alley that led one street over from the library. It was deserted as I avoided trash cans and empty boxes. About halfway, I heard footsteps echo behind me. I twirled around to see Cal. He must have seen me come down here and followed me.

“What do you want?” I crossed my arms over my chest defiantly.

He was quick to close the distance between us. “Vicky told me you’re the one that got us expelled.”

His face was covered in a scowl. I could tell he was looking for trouble, but I wasn’t scared of him.

“I revealed the truth, if that’s what you’re referring to.” I lifted a brow.

“You ruined my life. I lost my scholarship because of you.” He spat.

“What? Universities don’t want dickheads that harass innocent girls attending their school? Their loss, am I right?” I taunted.

The blow was unexpected as his fist met with my gut at full force. I doubled over, attempting to catch my breath. My eyes snapped up furiously at him. Rage poured from them straight into Cal. He faltered as he caught my expression. Horror flashed across his face.

My body vibrated with excess energy. I stood, but Cal sprinted out of sight before I could attack. I howled in anger and punched the nearest thing which happened to be a commercial size trash container. The green metal bent around my fist as I released the energy into the spot of contact. Shock poured through me. Did I seriously just bend the metal? With myfist? No, it was probably already bent.

 

I woke up the next day still feeling rattled by all the strangeness that had been occurring. On top of everything, I wasn’t looking forward to two weeks of detention. I was nervous about walking to school with Aiden. However, when I saw him, he acted like nothing had happened. I went with it. It was far less humiliating than actually talking about it.

“We’re supposed to get a lot of snow tonight.” Aiden commented.

“Do you think school will be cancelled tomorrow?” I asked him.

“Yeah, I do, but we should probably do it in the middle of the night after the janitor leaves.”

“You don’t think anyone else is going to try to pull a prank tonight, do you?” I asked him.

“No, I don’t think anyone is going to do anything as bold as this.” He answered.

“How are we going to get in?” I asked.

“I’ll leave a window open.” He announced.

It sounded like a solid plan, but anxiety nibbled at me. I’d be screwed if we got caught. I was already in so much trouble as it was, but it was too late to back out, now. Besides, I had my eyes on the prize. I wanted that cell phone.

The day seemed to go smoother with Vicky out of the picture. I still had to deal with a few glares from Candy and Mandy, but the bite wasn’t there with those two. They were like lost puppies without their mama.

Despite the detention I had to look forward to, I was in a great mood. Even when I got a note from Mrs. Owens that she wanted to see me last period. I knew that two meetings in two weeks wasn’t a good thing, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.

When last period rolled around, I made my way to Mrs. Owens office. I stopped outside her door and stared at the sign on it. It read: Kathy Owens, School Counselor. I knocked on the door and opened it when she said to.

“Ms. King.” She started off. I knew this was going nowhere good when she called me Ms. King. “Let me see if I’ve got my facts straight. In the last few days, you’ve been in afight, gotsuspended, and beenarrested?”

“Yeah, that about sums it up.” I grimaced.

“I don’t understand, Bridget. You were doing so well. You made it a wholeyearwithout getting into to trouble. Is all this because Chad’s back in town?” Her tone was accusing. Only in Waverly would your school counselor know when your friend was visiting. I hated small towns.

“Chad? He wasn’t even with me.” I argued.

“It says here he’s the one who picked you up from jail.” She flipped through a file.

“Yeah because I called him.” I said. “Are you even going to ask mewhyI was arrested?”

“It says you shoplifted.” She said matter-of-factly.

“Are you going to ask me if I did it?” I asked. She raised a skeptical eyebrow. “That’s what I thought.” After that, I shut down. I picked a spot on the wall and stared at it for the next forty minutes.

After our meeting, I reported to the library for detention. The librarian pointed to a cart full of books and instructed me that I was to put them where they belonged. I was in charge of the books that went to the second floor. I didn’t understand how there could be so many books that needed to be put away on the second floor when no one ever goes up there.

It was quite an ordeal trying to pull the cart up all those stairs. Once I was up there, I took a moment to look around. It was dark, dank, and dusty. Walking through the aisles, a cloud of dust surrounded my face and caused me to sneeze.

“Gesundheit.” I heard a small voice say from one of the corners.

“Thank you.” I followed the voice. I found a slight freshman girl with curly, strawberry blonde hair and glasses. She was sitting in the corner on the floor with a book spread across her lap. She glanced up at me with a surprised expression. “I’m Bridget.”

“I’m Sylvia.” She said, going back to her book.

“Did the principal give you detention, too?” I asked her.

“No, I’ve always loved it up here. It’s so quiet.” She said in a hinting tone.

“Oh, okay. I’ll just get back to work.” I left her to her book.

I took as long as possible to put away those books so it’d fill up the entire hour. When I left, Sylvia was still in the corner reading her book. Now,thatwas concentration.

That evening, Aiden and I packed everything and went over our plans. He had left the window in the chemistry lab open, so that would be our entry point. Snow was already coming down heavy, so we were positive school would be closed the next day. That meant that after the janitor left tonight, the school would be empty all weekend. Tonight would be our best shot of pulling this off without getting caught.

Once everything was in order, we watched TV on his couch as we waited for it to turn two a.m. I could feel my eyes getting heavy, and before I knew it, my head was on his lap, and I was asleep. I woke up briefly, but he told me to go back to sleep and he would wake me when it was time. I didn’t hesitate to shut my eyes and return to my slumber.

A few hours later, I felt Aiden nudge me and whisper that it was time. I forced open my eyes and glanced around. The clock said it was two and the window was frosted over. I grabbed my coat and wrapped it around me.

“Aren’t you going to grab your coat?” I asked, noticing his bare arms.

“Oh yeah.” He said, running to his room. He emerged, this time wearing a coat. “Okay, let’s go.”

We grabbed the bags that were full of our decorations and headed outside. We decided it was best to go the back way so we could avoid being seen by any cars. We cut through our backyards and into the woods. Most people would have found this creepy, strolling through the woods in the middle of the night, but I knew these woods like the back of my hand. I felt calm, blissful even. The trees were all so picturesque covered in snow, and I felt an urge I couldn’t resist.

I dropped the bag I was carrying and raced to the nearest tree. Grabbing the lowest branch, I hauled myself up into the tree. I sat on the tree’s branch, taking a deep breath. It felt like the tree was cradling me as the breeze surrounded us both. I closed my eyes and could hear the trees speaking to me.

“What are you doing?” Aiden yelled up at me, breaking my reverie. I suddenly felt disoriented and dizzy. I gripped the tree to keep from falling.

“I… I don’t know.” I admitted. I slowly climbed back down, grabbing Aiden’s hand for balance as I leapt off the last branch.

“You’ve been acting unusual, lately.” He commented.

Unsure of how to respond, I didn’t. Ihadbeen acting extremely unusual lately, and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t stop the flush of embarrassment that crept up my face. He saidlately.Was he referring to my striptease the other night? I didn’t dare ask.


Page 17

By the time we got to the school, my hands were beginning to feel numb. Aiden pushed open the window he had left cracked. He sprung up higher than I could and crawled through it. I stared at the distance from the ground to the window without confidence. Aiden stuck his head back out and gestured for me to toss him the bags.

Once all the bags were inside, he reached down, offering me his hand. I grabbed hold of it, and he lifted me up through the window with unbelievable strength. The warmth inside the school felt incredible.

Without a word, we set to work. The plan was to turn the school into one humongous haunted house. We found a few more bags that we had stashed throughout the school earlier in the day.

We separated to cover more ground. The halls were eerie in the darkness. I cleared my mind of all scary thoughts and began decorating lockers. Once I was finished with that hall, I entered the girls’ bathroom. I flicked on the light. The lightbulbs gave off a quiet humming sound that couldn’t be heard during a normal school day.

Childhood stories of Bloody Mary and the Candy Man played in my mind. Anxiety rooted itself in the pit of my stomach, and I wanted to hurry out of the bathroom. I couldn’t leave my job unfinished, so I rushed through the decorating. After only a few minutes, I decided I was done and moved to leave.

My hand pushed the door, but it refused to budge. A lump lodged itself in my throat as I suppressed the urge to panic. I took a deep breath and tried, again. No luck. I separated my feet to get a better stance and pushed with all my weight. Still nothing. Okay, I was officially panicking. My alarm went from a four to a ten as the light flickered out.

I threw my body against the door over and over. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the ring demon standing under the bathroom window. I screamed in horror as he opened his mouth to reveal each of his pointed teeth. He moved slowly toward me with his jet black eyes glued to my face. His earlier promise to kill me suddenly surfaced.

“Why haven’t you listened to me?” He continued in my direction. “You fucking bitch!” He shouted as he neared me with his hands raised as if to grab my neck. “I’ll rip your pretty little throat out!” He roared as he lunged the final couple of feet.

I cringed, frozen in fear, waiting for the impact. Then, I heard a voice through the door as someone tried to open it from the outside.

“Bridget? What’s going on? Why won’t the door open?” I heard Aiden’s voice cut through the sound of my pounding heart.

“It’s stuck.” I tried to keep the panic from my voice, but I was unsuccessful.

Relief flooded me as the door flew open and the ring demon disappeared. Aiden tugged me from the bathroom and wrapped his arms around me.

“Are you all right?” He asked.

“Yeah, sorry. I guess I get creeped out easily.” I inhaled slow breaths.

“I think anyone who’s watched a scary movie with you could have told you that.” He teased.

“Shut up.” I laughed, and it helped to calm my nerves.

All that was left was to prepare the grand finale which would be the principal’s office. Aiden borrowed yet another bobby pin to unlock the door, and this time I had him show me. We put a life size zombie in Principal Heckler’s chair behind his desk. I propped a pencil in his right hand. Aiden pulled out a red tie that was exactly like the one that Principal Heckler always wore and tied it around the zombie’s neck.

“Where did you find that?” I asked him, laughing so hard I had to wipe tears out of my eyes.

“I bought it in England.” He explained.

After we decorated the rest of the office, we strung a bucket of slime above the door. So when Principal Heckler opened it Monday morning, he would get a nice surpriseNickelodeon style.

We carefully made our way back through the school to the chemistry lab, carrying the bags with us so we wouldn’t leave any evidence. Aiden threw the bags out the window onto the ground and then bounced down after them, landing on his feet. I followed his lead, much less elegantly, though. I landed on top of him causing both of us to tumble to the ground.

“Are you okay?” He asked helping me up.

“Yeah, are you?”

“Yeah. We should go before someone spots us.” He asserted. We grabbed the bags and headed home.

The next day was indeed a snow day, so our prank remained on hold until Monday when everyone returned to the school. I put it to the back of my mind and focused on the fact that we now had a three day weekend. Excitement filled the air in the tiny town of Waverly.

Everyone was outside, enjoying the snow. Parents were helping their kids build snowmen. People were digging out their sleds from their attics. Children were building forts to protect themselves from flying snowballs. It was a cheerful day.

I slipped on snow boots and my coat and crawled out my window to meet Aiden. He was dressed the same as always. I guess he didn’t consider snow to be a worthy enough reason to change his attire.

The first thing I did was race to the front yard and plop down into the snow. I laid down on my back, moving my arms and legs back and forth to make a snow angel. We spent the next few hours playing in the snow, having a carefree time, but unfortunately I had to work the evening shift, so it came to an end sooner than I would have liked. I was distracted the entire walk to work thinking about the concert the next night. I wasn’t sure if I’d even get any sleep that night.

When I got to work, I was surprised when Betty called me into her office. When I opened her door I saw two police officers from Lincoln sitting across from her desk. I closed the door behind me.

“Bridget King?” One of them asked me.

“Yes.” I said hesitantly.

Were we already caught? How could they know already that we broke into the school? Maybe someone saw us. My heart began to speed up, but I kept my face neutral.

“Do you know Jenny White?”

“Yes, is she okay?” I asked, suddenly worried.

“That’s what we’re trying to find out. It seems she ran away. Have you heard from Ms. White recently?” The balding officer asked.

“Not since she moved to Lincoln.” I answered.

She ran away? That seemed a bit bold for Jenny, but she probably just couldn’t stand to live with her uncle. The officer stared at me, trying to read my expression and decide if he believed me or not.

“Alright, well give me a call if you hear anything.” He said, handing me his business card.

“Okay, I will.” I said, and he stood to leave.

After my shift ended, I began my trek home, thinking that the snow seemed less magical when it was seeping into your shoes. The wind cut through me with its icy fingers just as something that felt like very real fingers grasped my shoulder from behind.

“The time has come, bitch. I’ve got plans, and you’re in the way.” The ring demon announced inches from my ear as he slid his hand from my shoulder to my neck.

“Let me go!” I screamed as he started sinking his freakishly long nails into my throat, but it was no use. He used his free arm to trap me against his chest.

“You’re not listening.” He whispered in a deceptively calm voice.

“Just leave me alone!” I growled as I shoved at his chest.

“You know what you have to do for that to happen.” His eyes darted to the road where a blue Prius slowed down next to us. He gave me one last look of warning before vanishing.

“Bridget, do you need a ride?” Mrs. Harris asked through the window.

“Sure.” I said as I attempted to hide my erratic breathing.

For the first time ever, I was grateful for Mrs. Harris’s pointless chatter. It allowed for me to become lost in my thoughts without the need to participate in a two sided conversation. My heart pounded with anxiety when the reality of his threats sunk in. I had no idea what to do.

Later that night, as I had predicted, I had trouble sleeping. I fidgeted as I thought about the ring demon, then Jenny, and then Aiden. Then, thinking about all the unusual things I’d been seeing. Then, thinking about how abnormal I’d been acting. I simply could not shut my brain off. When I finally did drift off, I had a disturbing dream.

It was confusing. We were at the concert having a great time, but then it suddenly got dark, and I became terrified. I wasn’t sure what I was scared of, but it was definitely someone or something. I felt someone grab me. Then, Aiden was fighting someone. He spun toward me and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

When I woke up, my heart was still racing, and my breathing was heavy. I remained in bed for a moment in the dark before I twisted around to look at my alarm clock. It was three a.m. It took me another hour to get back to sleep. I woke up the next day around noon to Aiden shaking me.

“What do you want?” I snapped, irritated that I was being woken up.

“Get up. I want to show you something.” He told me.

I made a moaning noise and kicked the covers off of me. He handed me a cup of coffee and led me outside to where a truck was parked.

“I officially have my own wheels.” He announced.

“This is yours?” I asked, surprised.

“Yeah, my brother bought it for me, today. We can take it to the concert tonight.” He grinned.

“So, your brother knows we’re going to a concert in Lincoln?” I arched a brow.

“Not exactly. He thinks we’re going to a movie in Omaha.”

“Okay, so ixnay on the oncertcay.” I said, brushing off my Pig Latin.

“Exactly.” He laughed.

After I got dressed, we went for a drive. His truck was nice. The interior was brand new. As I was checking out the inside, I noticed a brown bag under my seat. It had a bottle of Jack Daniels in it.

“For tonight, so we don’t have to worry about our fake ID’s.” He explained.

That was a fantastic idea because the fake ID’s we had weren’t the greatest. They only worked half of the time except for at the liquor store down the street. It worked there every time because the clerk was ancient and nearly blind.

“Awesome, I’m so excited.” I exclaimed.

“Yeah, me too.” He grinned.

 

Eli

Eli stared down at the picture in his hand. It was one of him from the bonfire party and there was a bright red X across his face. On the back it read:Stay Away. He glared down at the envelope it came in, once again. So, Aiden knew where he lived. Eli was not surprised. That little bastard always was resourceful. Of course, if he thought this would deter Eli in any way, he was dead wrong. In fact, this made Eli all the more determined to get close to Bridget. If he could hook up with a hot girl and piss Aiden off at the same time, well that was just a win-win situation.

CHAPTER TENPSYCHO SALLY AND PSYCHO EDDIE

 

Later that evening, Cassie came over to help me get ready for the concert. She brought a few outfits for me to choose from. I ended up wearing a pair of tight skinny jeans that Cassie said made my butt look fantastic, a black off-shoulder top that clung to my chest emphasizing my curves, and black heels.

“Should I wear my hair up or down?” I asked her.

“You should wear it down in loose curls.” She declared. “So, is tonight,the night?”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m not even sure where we stand, right now. He’s been giving me so many mixed signals.” I complained.

“What kind of signals?” Cassie layered on her watermelon lip gloss.

“He always pulls away when we’re making out, for one. I’m just starting to think he’s not interested in me that way.” I confessed.

“I can tell from the way he looks at you that he’s interested in you that way.” She asserted.

“How does he look at me?” I asked skeptically.

“Like he’s a fat kid on a hot day and you’re a double dip ice cream cone.” She announced. I rolled my eyes but couldn’t help laugh at the analogy.

“Well, then how do you explain his behavior?” I asked expectantly.

“Maybe it’s because you’re a virgin.” She shrugged.

“How would he even know that I’m a virgin?” I frowned. Was my inexperience that evident? My face burned at the notion. Was my virginity a turn off for him?

“Sorry to break it you, B, but it’s sort of obvious.” She announced. She let out a laugh when she glanced over at me. “See? You’re blushing, right now. When you make sex into a big deal, it puts a lot of pressure on a guy.”

Her words gave me pause. Was my virginity placing pressure on Aiden? I never meant to make him feel obligated to live up to some fantasy of what a first time was supposed to be like. Is that how he felt? I was silent as these thoughts bombarded my brain.

Cassie left ten minutes before Aiden crawled through my window. He was wearing dark jeans and a white shirt that was slightly form-fitting. When he stood right under the light, I could see his abs through the shirt, and I thought of how it felt to kiss them. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t realize I had been staring at him. I felt embarrassed until I realized he had been staring at me, too.

“Wow, you look beautiful. “ He said after a moment. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah, do you have the tickets?” I asked him as I grabbed my black coat.

“Of course.” He said, as we crawled out my window.

Once we were in his truck, he switched the heater on. There was still plenty of snow on the ground but the roads had been cleared by snowplows earlier in the day. It was an especially cold night, and I was grateful that the concert was inside.

“How’d you convince your brother to buy you a truck?” I asked Aiden after we had been driving for a few minutes.

“It was an early graduation gift.” He told me.

“Oh, yeah? How does he know you’re not going to flunk out in the next three months?”

“My straight A’s have him confident that I’m not.” He laughed.

“Well, if you were a true friend, you would flunk and graduate next year with me.” I teased.

Although I said it lightly, Iwasdistressed by him leaving for college soon. I didn’t even know how to imagine my senior year without him around. Cassie would still be here, but I couldn’t talk to her the way I could talk to Aiden. The thought of him leaving made me feel lonely.

“Cheer up. We still have six months before I go anywhere. Let’s just enjoy our time together.” He said, obviously able to see the sorrow on my face.

“Okay, you’re right.” I agreed, deciding to push thoughts of him leaving to the back of my mind. I grabbed the bottle of Jack. “Cheers.” I took a swig as I turned the music up.

By the time we got to the concert, I was already tipsy. We parked in a spot halfway between the building and the highway. We stood in line for twenty minutes before we made it inside.

There was an unknown band on stage playing. They were opening up for Psycho Sally. They were decent, but nobody was paying too much attention to them.

It was extremely crowded and people kept shoving their way in between Aiden and I, so he grabbed my hand and led me to our seats. The instant his hand touched mine, it felt like energy was running through our linked bodies.

Not long after we sat down, Psycho Sally came onstage and began playing. It was a remarkable show. Everybody was up dancing and singing along. Even the mosh pit got a bit too crazy and had to be broken up by security. I couldn’t believe how many people were there. When it was over, everyone started moving toward the exits all at once.

“It’s going to take a while to get out of here. I’m going to run to the restroom.” I told Aiden.

“Okay, I’ll meet you out front.” He said and morphed into the crowd.

When I finally made my way to the bathroom, it was equally as crowded, so I had to wait a few minutes. I finally got to a sink and washed my hands. I smoothed my hair down a bit. It didn’t look too messy considering I had been dancing all night. I guess that hairspray Cassie let me use was well worth the money she spent on it.

As I left the bathroom, there were three guys standing in a dark corner, drinking beer and talking. They were so large and muscular they could have been pro football players. The burliest of the three had a scruffy beard and was bald. As I passed them by, one of them howled a crude comment to me.

“Fuck off.” I told them and kept walking.

One of them grabbed my arm and yanked me over into the corner. The moment his hand touched my arm, the thrumming began to build again, but this time it was more out of fear than anger.

“What did you say to me?” The bald one muttered.

He was close enough that I could smell the beer on his breath. These guys were drunk. I was outnumbered and they were larger than me, but I wasn’t going to let them intimidate me.

“I said fuck off.” I told the guy as I ripped my arm free.

I knew by his expression that I had pissed him off. He shoved me against the wall and held me pinned there. He had one hand over my mouth so I couldn’t scream and one arm across my chest.

“Someone needs to teach you how to treat a man.” He slurred at me.

That’s when his friends decided they were going to help him out. Each of them grabbed either of my arms and held them against the wall. The one with the bald head still had one hand on my mouth, but his other was now free. He reached his hand up my shirt, inching toward my chest with a disgusting sneer on his face.

I felt his cold hand on my stomach and the thrumming instantly became a heavy buzzing. As he groped my chest, I felt a painful jab against my hip. I stared down in disgust when I realized his erection was poking my side. He followed my gaze and saw what I was staring at.

“That’s what a real man feels like.” He declared with a nasty smile as he thrust forward into another sharp jab.

My stomach rolled as my terror pulsed through my body with an intensity that seemed to be growing. As my body trembled with disgust, his warped mind interpreted it as a sign of anticipation for what he thought he had to offer.

“Like that? Yeah, you like that. You want some more? Big Eddie will give you what you been craving.” He murmured in a husky voice.

His friends muttered in encouragement as he thrust forward at me again, but this time when his erection made contact with my body, all the energy buzzing through me surged into him where his body met mine.

He fell back like he had been shoved and was doubled over. He crumbled to the ground, howling in pain. His two friends were still holding my arms but stared down at him in dazed confusion. I realized my mouth was no longer covered.

“Aiden!” I screamed as loud as I could.

I knew there was no way he’d actually hear me but my first instinct had been to call for him. As soon as his name left my mouth, they snapped out of their confused state, and I was again the center of attention.

Now, they were irate. The other two picked me up and threw me to the ground. One held my legs down and the other held my arms while covering my mouth this time. I was seriously starting to panic, now. I couldn’t believe that only a few minutes ago this room was packed, but now it was empty. I tried getting free, but these guys were strong. I didn’t know what they were going to do to me, but it couldn’t be good.

“Hey Eddie, we got her for you.” The shorter one of the three said, and then turned to me. “You’re really going to get it now, bitch.”

Before I even had a chance to react, I saw a blur and suddenly my hands were free. It took my brain a few seconds to realize that the blur was Aiden’s fist punching the crude remark right off the guy’s face. I was relieved Aiden had heard my scream, but before I could process the situation, Aiden had kicked the second guy in the face while he was crouched over my legs.

Aiden turned back to me and offered his hand. He asked, “Are you alright?” Before I could respond, his nose scrunched up like he got a whiff of something horrible. He immediately jerked back. In a menacing voice that sent shivers down my spine, he said, “What did he do to you?”

He whirled away from me with a rage in his eyes that I had never seen before. As his head turned, Eddie’s fist slammed into the side of his face, but Aiden was unaffected as he retaliated with a blow of his own. Eddie’s whole body rocked with the force of Aiden’s fist. With Eddie incapacitated to the point that he no longer posed a threat, I assumed it was over, but I underestimated Aiden’s fury. I was worried that he was taking it too far when I saw the intensity in which he began to punish Eddie with repeated blows.

I rushed forward unsure of how to stop him, so I did the only thing that came to mind. I pressed my body against his back and circled my arms around his waist. Eddie began to topple backward, and I tightened my arms around Aiden’s waist as he leaned forward with the intention of continuing his assault. His entire body tensed for a moment. I whispered his name, and he seemed to snap back to reality.

He spun around and put his arm around my shoulders as he ushered me away. He said, “Let’s get out of here.” His words struck a chord in my memory. Last night’s dream came rushing back to me with a spine tingling sense of déjà vu. As these disturbing thoughts coursed through my mind, I stumbled. Aiden moved closer to brace me from a potential fall. At the door, there were a few security guards, so we stopped and told them what happened. They set off in the direction we indicated to find the men.

The parking lot was packed full of cars trying to get out. By the time we made it to his truck, we realized it would be a while before we could even get out of our spot. Since we were both in need of a moment to collect ourselves, we decided to wait it out in the back of his truck.

When I finally had a second to comprehend what had just happened, I felt a lump form in my throat and tears fill my eyes. I swallowed hard forcing the lump back down and then the unreleased tears dried up. I despised crying. Holding back tears had become something I was excellent at.

We were lying down staring up at the stars for a few minutes before Aiden flipped over on his side propped up on his elbow. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yeah I’m alright. You showed up just in time.” I smiled up at him to show I truly was okay.

“Just in time would have been before they even had a chance to touch you.” He said, sounding cross with himself.

“It wasn’t your fault. You can’t be with me every second. I’m just thankful you heard my scream.” I instinctively set my hand on his arm.

When I did, there was an invisible spark that we both felt. He reached over and brushed a strand of hair out of my face. I felt tingles where his fingers traced my skin. He leaned down until his face was millimeters away from mine, but he hesitated. My heart beat hastily in anticipation. He stared at my lips, lingering. Losing my grasp on self-control, I closed the gap between us, pressing my lips to his.

I shifted back after a second, unsure if Aiden wanted to continue, but as if our lips were connected by a rubber band, his face surged forward until his lips met mine. All questions of his attraction to me vanished as our kiss became more fervent. His lips were warm against mine. He wrapped his arm around my back and drew me closer to him. His tongue traced my lips and enter my mouth where it intertwined with mine. His hand slowly slid down the curve of my side and rested on my hip. My chest was pressed against his as our kiss went deeper. Our lips remained locked for what seemed like a lifetime until the kisses tapered off into gentle caresses of his lips along my jaw.

As I lay cradled in his arms, I never felt so cherished and safe in my life. I pressed my face into his chest and breathed in his scent. I felt him press his lips against the top of my head and linger for a moment. When we finally broke apart, we realized we were the only ones left in the parking lot.

“Maybe we should go before we get run off by security.” I told him, but secretly I wanted to continue cuddling.

“Yeah, we probably should.” He sounded disappointed, as well. He hopped down off the truck and helped me so I wouldn’t break my ankle trying to jump in my heels.


Page 18

We didn’t say much on the drive back. We were both still processing what had happened and what it meant. I knowIwas confused on what it meant after all the hot and cold signals he’d been giving me, lately. I wondered what he thought about it, as well. I was further confused by his silence. I mean, I knew he wasn’t the best at communicating his feelings, but he could at least give mesomeclue as to what he was thinking. The car ride wasn’t so much awkward as merely quiet.

“I’ll see you later.” I told him as I opened the door to get out.

“Do you still need help studying tomorrow for our chemistry test?” He asked me right before I slid out of his truck.

“Oh, right, yes, I do. I haven’t even started studying, yet.” I admitted.

“Okay, see you tomorrow then.”

When I was in bed that night, I had too much on my mind to fall right to sleep. I tossed and turned a while for my second night in a row. Except tonight, Aiden was the only thing on my mind. I kept picturing his blue eyes gazing down at me. I remembered the way his lips moved with mine and how it felt to have his strong arms hold me against him. Before I knew it, I was asleep and dreaming of Aiden. We were kissing again, but then suddenly he jerked away and said, “I don’t want this.”

“You don’t want to be with me?” I asked feeling confused and hurt.

“We should go back to being friends.” He announced.

I woke up disoriented and confused. I was relieved that it was only a dream but worried it might be closer to reality than I’d like. The dream had played out what had been stuck on replay in the far back of my mind. I was always skeptical of positive things in my life. It never seemed worth getting my hopes up for something only to be disappointed. My thoughts slowly faded until I fell back to sleep.

I woke up the next morning to Clarissa bouncing up and down on the end of my bed. She was fifteen but still seemed to act like a young child at times.

“What time is it?” I growled.

“It’s already eight.” She informed me like that was late or something.

“Are you kidding me? Go away! I didn’t even get home until after two last night.” I told her.

“I know. I heard you moaning last night in your sleep about Aiden. What did you two do that made you dream about him?” She pried.

“Nothing.” I answered too quickly. She could tell I was lying.

“OH MY GOD! You totally hooked up with him, didn’t you?” She exclaimed. “Well, it’s about time. I knew you two had the hots for each other.”

“Please, go away.” I covered my head with the blanket.

“Fine, I’ll just ask Aiden when I see him.” She threatened.

“No, don’t do that.” I told her. “We didn’t have sex, okay? We only kissed, that’s it.”

“Could youbeany more boring?” She rolled her eyes and left.

I laid there for a second hoping I’d be able to fall back to sleep but no such luck. I crawled out of bed and went to make me coffee.

By the time I showered and got dressed, it was time for me to head over to Aiden’s to study. We always studied at his house because mine was so chaotic all the time. It was usually only the two of us at his house. Ash was there sometimes, but he worked so many hours that it was a rare thing.

I knocked on Aiden’s front door and almost instantly he opened it, startling me a bit.

“Hi.” I walked in, setting my books down on the coffee table in the living room.

“Hi.” He smiled.

I flopped down on the couch and opened up my chemistry book to the chapter the test would be over. A few seconds later, he slid down beside me. He glanced at the book to see what we were going over. I could feel his face close to mine, and my heart began to flutter.

I read the first paragraph aloud from the textbook. I went to turn the page and my hand brushed Aiden’s. I glanced up at him and noticed he was staring at my mouth. All thoughts of studying fled my brain. I thought back to last night, and I wanted him to kiss me, again.

“Aiden?” I bit my lip.

“Yes?” He asked without looking away from my mouth. He inched closer to me, and I lost all train of thought. He reached his arm around my back and tugged me closer to him.

This time when he moved in to kiss me, there was no hesitation. I knocked the textbook from my lap and heard it fall with a thud to the floor, but I didn’t care. I reached my arms around his neck and guided him down until I was lying underneath him. His kisses moved from my mouth down my jaw. He began kissing my neck with soft, hungry kisses. Need coursed through my body. His hand moved from my leg to my side and rested right below my breast. He reached down and slipped my shirt over my head.

His lips had only been away from my body for a second, but he kissed me again like it had been years. Our tongues were entangled with one another and moved to a rhythm that made them seem as if they were dancing to music only heard by us. His hand moved around to my back and had my bra off in less than a second. He stared at my exposed chest before I twisted us around to where I was on top of him.

He seemed surprised by it, so I took the chance to remove his shirt, too. This time, I found myself staring at his chest. He was so ripped, and yet I never saw him working out. The black ink of his tattoo stood out on his slightly pale skin. I began to wonder if I would finally get to see the rest of it.

I lowered my face to the edge of his pants, right over his tattoo. My lips skimmed across the skin of his stomach before I pressed them against the hard outline of his muscles. He let out a moan that fed the desire inside of me and caused it to grow with exponential speed. I trailed along the path of the sharp v-line of his hip.

He tugged my face back to his and we began kissing, once again. I moved my hands over his chest and his abs, feeling all the indentations of his muscles. His hands moved up my back and around to my chest.

He caressed my breast gently, but his kisses became more vigorous. My skin hummed in pleasure under his touch. He branched out spreading his attention to suckle my ear and nibble his way down my neck. His lips gently massaged the side of my neck. It felt so good I leaned my head more to give him better access with a moan of approval. His hot mouth seemed to cover more territory as his teeth grazed my tender skin. I felt him apply more pressure and with it came a minute amount of pain. As if to make up for it, Aiden began to massage the area with his lips and tongue.

We heard a car door shut outside and we could hear his brother speaking loudly on his phone as he strode up to the house. We jerked apart instantly and struggled to find our clothes. By the time Ash opened the door, we both had our shirts on, but my bra was stuffed into my bag, and I was breathing heavily. It had to have been obvious what we were doing two seconds prior, but at least he didn’t see me half naked. Ash’s eyes bounced from Aiden to me with a disapproving expression. He inhaled deeply and stared Aiden down.

“Aiden, we need to talk.” Ash said in a serious tone and left the room.

“I better go.” I said to Aiden.

“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.” He handed me my book.

Once I got home, I headed straight for the bathroom. I figured after all these heavy make out sessions with Aiden, I was in a real need of a cold shower. Feeling calmer, I stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around me.

I had the room to myself, so I stood naked in front of the mirror. The first thing I noticed was the mark Aiden left on my neck. It was like a mix between a bite and a hickey. It was going to take a lot of concealer to cover this up.

The second thing I noticed was a mark on the front side of my hip. I licked my finger and rubbed at it, but it wasn’t coming off. It was a thin black line that had never been there before. I didn’t know where it came from, but it seemed to be a part of my skin, almost like a tattoo. I shrugged, deciding I’d keep an eye on it in case I had some bizarre skin disease.

 

Aiden

Aiden wiped his mouth and followed Ash into the dining room. He braced himself for the lecture of a lifetime.

“I’m disappointed, Aiden. You know what this mission means and you are possibly compromising everything.” Ash scolded.

“I’m sorry.” Was all Aiden could muster. He knew what he did was wrong, but he found that his self-control tended to vanish when he was around Bridget.             

“What were you thinking? What if you revealed yourself to her? It’s too soon. She’s not ready. It would have ruined everything, and you came so close today.” He paused, his eyes gripping Aiden’s. “I could smell the blood.” He accused. “Do you need to be reassigned?”

“No.” Aiden said quickly. Panic crept up. Aiden knew he was the only one who could keep Bridget safe. He knew her best and had a great advantage that someone new wouldn’t have. “I’ll fix it. I promise.”

 

Bridget

I didn’t see Aiden again until the next morning when we walked to school together.

“Last period is a pep rally, today.” I reminded him.

“Yeah, do you want to meet in our usual place?” He asked.

Our usual place was the roof of the school. I used to go up there to smoke and be by myself before he moved here. Then, one day, he found the secret way to get up on the roof a week after he’d been here. That was the first time we had talked at all. From then on, it was the place we went to skip pep rallies, assemblies, and anything we didn’t want to attend including class sometimes.

“Okay.” I said.

He was quiet the rest of our walk to school, but as we got closer, we saw the reporter from the local paper outside of the school. We gave each other a sideways glance knowing exactly what story she was here for. You see, in any other town, a school prank would never make the paper. But in Waverly, hardly anything ever happened. This would probably be front page news.

We waltzed by nonchalantly, trying to avoid suspicion. Inside the school, the janitors were already hard at work, cleaning everything up. Students were gathered around discussing what had happened. School started like normal despite all the excitement.

Aiden was AWOL for the rest of the day. We had three classes together, but he didn’t show up to any of them, and he wasn’t at lunch. I wondered if he had left early. I guess I’d find out if he didn’t show up on the roof later.

I was called to the office during chemistry. Anxiety pulsed through me as I wandered through the empty hall. I told myself there was no way for them to know I had any involvement, but different scenarios kept running through my mind. Maybe I dropped something while I was decorating Principal Heckler’s office that pointed to me. I had to push all that out of my mind and stick with my story.

“Have a seat.” Principal Heckler ordered when I opened the door. “I’m going to give you one chance to confess, and I won’t have you arrested for destruction of property.”

“Okay, I confess, it was me.” I took a deep breath. He got a smug look on his face like he had won some war. “Iput the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop. I got to say Principal Heckler, you aregood. Man, it feels terrific to get that off my chest.” He gave me a cold look to say he wasnotentertained. I noticed a spot of slime on his neck that he missed. It took all the will power in the world not to laugh at that moment.

“Listen here, you little delinquent. I am getting awful sick of your blatant lack of respect. Iknowyou had something to do with this, and when I prove it, youwillbe expelled. You can count on that, missy.” He said, gesturing it was time for me to leave.

The bell rang, signaling the start of the pep rally. I snuck over to the janitor’s closet that had the panel in the ceiling leading to the roof. I climbed up a few shelves and pushed open the door on the ceiling. I hauled myself up onto the roof through the opening and closed it behind me.

I could already see Aiden sitting on the cement block that acted more as a bench to us than whatever its original use was. I smiled to myself thinking about everything. He twisted around to look at me, and my smile faded. Something appeared to be bothering him. I got that pit in my stomach that told me something dreadful was going to happen.

“What’s going on?” I slid down next to him.

“We need to talk.” He said in low voice.

“Okay, then talk.” I said, already knowing what was coming.

“This last week has been a mistake. It never should have happened. We’re friends, and I shouldn’t have crossed that line.” He said in almost a whisper, as if it were a struggle to even get the words out.

“What are you saying?” I asked.

“We work better as friends.” The words came crashing into my ears like firecrackers. This was exactly like my dream.

“Is this about something your brother said?” I asked.

“He made some excellent points. I’m graduating in a couple of months. Then, I’ll be going to college in the fall. Where could this honestly lead?” Everything he said made sense, but I still felt betrayed by the words.

“What happened to ‘we have six months, let’s just enjoy our time together’?” I asked him, getting aggravated by the situation.


Page 19

“It’ll be too messy when I leave. It’s better to end it here.” He said matter-of-factly.

“So, basically, I’m not worth trying to make it work.” I spat.

“That’s not what I’m saying, Bridge.”

“Well, Aiden, that’s what I’m hearing.” I lifted myself up off the ground. I staggered back over to the door but whirled back around. I wasn’t going to say anything else, but when I saw the pity in his eyes, it sparked more anger. “I’m so glad I didn’t fuck you, since I’m such a mistake and all.”

It was visible that my words hurt him. I was tempted to feel sorry for him, but I knew he didn’t deserve any sympathy from me. I decided I didn’t care that the pep rally wasn’t over, and I didn’t care that I had detention. I was going home, now. I darted through a back door of the school and headed straight home.

The next morning, I rode to school with Cassie to avoid walking with Aiden. I evaded him as best I could all day. I spent lunch in the library talking to Sylvia. If I had a class with Aiden, I sat on the opposite side of the room.

That evening, I was scheduled to work, but was tempted to call in. If I didn’t need the money so bad, I would have. But there I was, dressed in my uniform, smearing concealer on my eyes trying to cover up the fact that I’d been crying for the past two days. I shoved the carton of chocolates I had been gorging myself with all day out of pure emotion into my bag and began walking to work. I took the longer way to avert passing by Aiden’s house. It was proving to be a difficult task, avoiding someone that lived next door.

Everyone could tell I was in a foul mood, so they all dodged me. I took orders and refilled drinks without any hint of perkiness. I was relieved when I finally got to take a break and headed out the back door. I lit a cigarette and stuck a chocolate in my mouth. I never used to be an emotional eater but a lot of things about me had been changing.

“Everything okay?” I heard Damon ask as he joined me on break.

“Not particularly.” I answered. I took a drag from my cigarette and let the smoke fall from my mouth.

“Does it have anything to do with Aiden?” He asked, curiously.

“Yes.” I frowned.

“Do you want to talk about it?” He asked with concern.

“I’d rather just forget it.” I tossed another chocolate in my mouth. He stared at me, truly noticing the abysmal state I was in.

“Well, if that’s the case, candy is dandy.” He took my chocolates away laughing at the dangerous look I shot him. “But liquor is quicker.” He handed me a flask that was three quarters of the way full.

“Do you make a habit of drinking at work?” I accepted his offer and took a swig.

“What kind of employee do you think I am?” He asked, pretending to be insulted.

I smiled for the first time since Aiden dumped me. It felt odd, though, like it wasn’t a real smile but merely a cheap imitation. Of course, I’d take what I could get. I finished off the flask in a few gulps.

“Is this all you have?” I asked him.

“That’s all I have here.” He glanced over at me. “There’s more at my place. You’re welcome to it.”

I gave him a smile that told him I was indeed interested in getting more intoxicated tonight. I was willing to do anything that would push Aiden out of my mind. Once we finished our shifts, Damon and I drove back to his apartment.

“Anything in particular you like?” He closed his front door behind us.

“I’m not picky if it’ll get me drunk.” I told him.

As he disappeared into the kitchen, I decided to explore his place. He lived in a small apartment, but his layout made it seem more spacious than it actually was. He had a blue sofa that looked like it folded out into a bed, a stereo in the corner next to a shelf full of CDs, and a flat screen TV on the wall across from the sofa. He had some nice things, but I guess when you worked two jobs, you could afford alittleluxury.

His bedroom was probably the nicest of all. He had a king size bed with a dark blue comforter set. He had another slightly smaller TV on the wall. There was a chest of drawers that was made of wood on the left wall. I brushed my hand across the design that had been carved into it. I was beginning to wonder if two jobs were even enough to pay for all this, but it wasn’t my place to ask.

I spotted a huge cabinet in the corner of his room. I couldn’t tell what was in it because its doors were closed. I reached up to grab the knob, but a hand pressed the door shut before I could get it fully open. I glanced up to see Damon grinning down at me.

“What are you doing?” He asked in a light tone.

“Sorry, I was being nosy.” I apologized.

“Well, you don’t want to see what’s in there.” He said, piquing my curiosity even more.

I let him lead me back to the living room where he had a couple bottles of alcohol and two glasses sitting on the coffee table. I sat on the couch next to him and poured myself some whiskey. After a few minutes, I began to feel it. I knew it probably wasn’t a great idea to drink so much so rapidly, but I couldn’t seem to control myself.

“The best way to feel better is to talk about it.” He insisted.

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” I swished the alcohol around in the cup before taking a drink.

“I’m speaking from experience.” He said.

“Okay, I’ll tell you what happenedifyou show me what’s in the cabinet.” I offered.

By this time I was feeling dizzy from the alcohol. He leaned back contemplating it but finally nodded and stood. I followed him to his room with a walk that was less than straight. Right before he opened it, he twisted back around to face me.

“Just so you know, you’re the first girl to ever get to see this side of me.” He said, making me even more anxious to see.

“Well, I feel special.” I said flirtatiously.

He smiled turning back to the cabinet. He slowly opened it up and moved out of the way so I could examine the contents. I was shocked to see all the shelves were full of books. And when I say books, I donotmean comic books. There were novels by John Steinbeck, Robert Heinlein, William Faulkner, and more. I’d only read maybe half of them and I’ve read alotof books growing up.

“Okay, this is the most boring secret I’ve ever seen.” I declared.

“That’s the secret. I’m actually boring.” He said with a joking, wide eyed look.

There was something sexy about a guy beingsecretlysmart. Like when you pour yourself a bowl of sugary cereal and a prize falls out. You were already content with just your cereal, but the surprise was an added bonus.

“Are you sure that’s supposed to be a secret?” I teased.

“Oh, gee thanks.” He feigned offense. “Okay, your turn.”

“Ugh, I need more alcohol, then.” I staggered back to the couch. I poured some more whiskey and took a gulp. “Short version, this past week, mine and Aiden’s relationship had been going fast and furious, but then yesterday, he slammed on the brakes.”

“Why?” He asked.

“I’m not sure.” I gave a drunken laugh. “I guess he doesn’t find me attractive.”

“He said that?” He lifted a brow in disbelief.

“He fed me some bull about him leaving for college next year and blah blah blah.” I rolled my eyes.

“Well, there’s no possible way he broke up with you because he wasn’t attracted to you. Unless he’s gay, that is.” He tipped up the corner of his mouth in a side grin. I could tell he was getting drunk himself because he was gradually losing his ability to pronounce his words.

“He’s not gay.” I asserted.

“Then, he didn’t break up with you because he wasn’t attracted to you. There’s not one straight guy that wouldn’t be attracted to you.” He gazed down at me.

I stared down at his arm that was on my lap. I gently traced his tattoos with my finger tip up his arm. His muscles were lean but still defined.

“He’s an idiot.” Damon’s voice was low.

“Hmm?” I continued moving my fingers along his skin.

His fingers gently lifted my face. “He’s an idiot.”

He slowly gave me that lopsided smile that I found so alluring. I knew I’d probably regret it tomorrow, but I was drunk and the impulse was too strong. I moved my face the short distance between us and pressed my lips against his.

His mouth was warm and welcoming as I slipped my tongue in to meet his. Our kiss lasted a few moments before I moved back. I was mistaken on how fast I’d regret the kiss because I instantly knew it was a mistake. Damon and I were just friends, and I needed it to stay that way. I wondered if this was how Aiden felt about things between us.

“Does this couch turn into a bed?” I asked, breaking the moment.

“Uh, yeah, it does.” He answered.

“Okay, I should probably sleep off this alcohol.” I told him, clearly cutting any expectations he might have had.

He cleaned up our mess and moved the coffee table out of the way. I tossed off the cushions from the couch to find the folded leg to the bed. I tugged at it without much luck. Damon lifted it out with one hand, making me feel even weaker. He brought me a few extra blankets and a pillow and went to his room, closing the door to give me a bit of privacy.

I woke up groggy the next morning with an awful hangover. I glanced at the clock on the wall and realized I was already an hour late to school. I flew out of bed and scrambled to find my shoes.

“What’s the matter?” I heard Damon ask from the kitchen.

“I have to go to school.” I told him.

“Have tois such a strong term.” He strolled into the living room. “Why don’t you skip and we can hang out, today?”

“I can’t. I’mthisclose to being expelled and you know what happens to foster kids that get expelled.” I frowned.

“Yeah, they get relocated.” He pursed his lips.

“Exactly, and I don’t want my life completely uprooted,again.” I paused. “But thank you so much for last night. You were a really goodfriend.” He nodded his head to show that my hint was coming through loud and clear.

“Let me give you a ride.” He offered.

By the time we stopped by my house so I could change out of my uniform and finally got to school, I was only two hours late. Which honestly, was two hours later than I should have been, but what can I say? Shit happens. The rest of the day followed suit and was equally as crappy as I did my best to avoid Aiden.

Things did not improve that night. I awoke around three to the feeling of my hair being played with. When I glanced up to see the ring demon, I leapt from the bed with a scream. I wanted to burn off every inch of me that he had touched.

“You didn’t do what I asked.” He stated in a much calmer fashion than the last time. It seemed he had decided to change tactics.

“I’m not going to do that.” I declared.

“And why not?” He sprawled out further on my bed, making himself right at home. My stomach curled at the sight.

“I’m not handing a possessed ring over to some innocent person.” I asserted.

“Nobody’s innocent, Bridget. You, of all people, should know that.” He smirked, knowing he’d hit a sore spot.

My stomach dropped to my feet. Did he honestly know things about my past or was he merely screwing with me? If this truly was a delusion, then he would know anything that I knew. My gut clenched at how much sense that would make. Especially, considering how real this all felt at the moment.

“If I did give this to someone and you had access to a body, what would you do?” I asked.

“Kill my brother.” He stated nonchalantly.

“What?” I said, horrified.

“Oh, don’t get your panties in a wad. He deserves it. He’s the one who trapped me in this stupid ring.” He scowled.

“How?” I asked.

“I underestimated Nathaniel’s craftiness. I was the better sorcerer. He shouldn’t have been able to do it, but he managed to trick me. Once I killed our coven and stole every ounce of magic, Nathaniel said he would join me. I should have known it was a trap. Stupid me, I trusted my brother.” He barked out a laugh that held no amusement.

Sorcerer? Coven? What was he talking about? Could his tall tale hold actual truth? Either way, I wasn’t about to let this monster loose.

“I can tell by your horrified expression that you are on his side. So be it. You have one week to find me a suitable body, or I’ll slit your throat while you sleep.” He announced before vanishing. My hands trembled at his threat. I knew he would do it, too. I had to figure out a way to destroy the ring before he could follow through with it.

CHAPTER ELEVENA CLUB OF ICE

 

“That’s it!” Cassie said on our way to school Thursday morning. “No more moping. It’s getting ridiculous. I get that you and Aiden had some sort of falling out or whatever, but you havegotto get over it. Tomorrow night you are coming with me to Lincoln to hang out with Bryan.”

“I don’t care to be a third wheel.” I frowned.

“You won’t be. There’ll be a group of people. We’re all going to Club Ice.” She smiled.

“I don’t know.” I bit my lip. I didn’t know how to tell her that I had more on my mind than just my breakup with Aiden.

“Well, you don’t have a choice in the matter. You’re going whether you like it or not. Oh, and you’re also going to eat lunch with me, today. No more hiding in the library. You can’t avoid Aiden forever. The sooner you face him the sooner things can get back to normal.”

“Fine.” I told her, but I didn’t think it was possible for things to go back to normal.

Later in BCIS, despite my promise to Cassie, I sat far away from Aiden. I pulled up a search engine determined to find information on the ring demon. I had a few details to work with. I had Nathaniel’s name and the fact that the ring demon had killed his entire coven. I wasn’t sure how to search forthat, so I typed in “Nathaniel murders Nebraska”. Random news stories popped up that seemed to have nothing to do with what I was looking for. I changed my search to “Nathaniel brother murders Nebraska”.

The first story that popped up caught my attention. I clicked into it, and my stomach dropped. There was a picture of the ring demon, only he appeared normal, handsome even. His name was Jeremiah Winslow. His family was a wealthy one, and they lived in Lincoln.

The story spoke of the murder of an entire family,Jeremiah’s family. Funny how he forgot to mention that his coven was his family. Yet, he felt betrayed by his brother’s actions. He was seriously screwed up. Apparently, Jeremiah vanished after the slayings and was under suspicion for their murders.

Finding all this information seemed bittersweet. I would have to be incredibly unbalanced to be making this all up in my head. The proof was right here in front of my face. I thought about having Aiden look it over for a second person’s confirmation, but I loathed him more than I cared about this, at the moment.

I shifted my attention to Nathaniel. I searched for Nathaniel Winslow and found a current address in Lincoln. My new plan was to return the ring to Nathaniel and let him sort out his brother. I felt better knowing I’d be getting rid of the ring, soon.

When lunch rolled around, I was tempted to go to the library, again. However, I knew if I did, I’d never hear the end of it. So, I grudgingly made my way to the cafeteria and sat in our usual spot. A few minutes later, Aiden slid into the chair diagonal to mine and Cassie sat across from me. The lunch started out fairly normal.

Cassie filled all the silence with her constant stream of chatter. The only difference now was that I didn’t look in Aiden’s direction, at all. Cassie left ten minutes early to go to class so she could speak with her teacher over a late assignment, which left Aiden and I alone at the table. At first I pretended he wasn’t even there, but after a few seconds, he moved to Cassie’s empty seat.

“Bridget, can we please talk?” His eyes pleaded with me.

“What is there left to say?” I frowned.

“Can we please just put this behind us and get back to normal?” He begged.

There was that word again; normal. The more I thought it over and what it meant, the more I realized they were right. This wasn’t normal. Normally, I would never let a guy get me down like this. In fact, normally, I’d never even put myself in the position to get hurt this bad. Butnothing had been normal since I met Aiden.

“You’re right. Things do need to go back to normal.” I told him with a newfound perspective on everything. “Normal before you came along.” I finished under my breath and with that, I got up and went to my next class. I wasn’t going to ignore him, anymore. However, I also wasn’t going to let him stop me from having fun, either. It truly was time for me to get back to normal, starting with tomorrow night. Once I dropped off the ring to Nathaniel, my life would finally go back to normal.

Friday night, Cassie and I were at her house getting ready to go out. I was wearing a black mini dress with black wedges, and she was wearing a black skirt with a green top and black, high heeled boots. Her house was parent free, so I was going to stay the weekend with her.

“Look what Bryan got us.” Cassie grinned, handing me a new fake ID.

“Wow, this is amazing. It looks so real. It even has my address on it so no chance of getting the info wrong. Where’d he get it?” I asked her.

“Someone at his school makes them. Now we can drink at the club.” She squeaked excitedly. Tonight was going to be fun. I was going to drink, dance, and, most importantly, not think of Aiden, at all. Who knows, maybe I’d meet a hot guy, tonight.

We left out early so that I could stop by Nathaniel’s house. Cassie was curious about our random detour, but I kept telling her it was nothing. We pulled up to a house much larger than Cassie’s. I expected nothing less from everything I read online. The Winslows were filthy rich.

I was nervous as I knocked on the front door. Cassie waited in the car. Well, more like pouted in the car. She had wanted to come with me, but this was something she could not be present for.

I had expected a servant to answer the door, perhaps a butler or maid. Instead, the door swung open, and Nathaniel stood there with a curious expression.

“Can I help you?” He asked.

“I need to speak with you.” I told him.

“Concerning?” He did not move to let me in.

“Your brother.” I stated.

“I don’t speak with reporters.” He began to shut the door, but I placed my hand on it to stop it from closing.

“I’m not a reporter.” I asserted, but he raised his eyebrow skeptically. “I found the ring.”

His expression switched to one of horror. “That’s impossible.”

I tugged it out from under my shirt and showed it to him. “Can I come in?”

Alarm covered his face, but he stepped aside for me to enter. I followed him through a long corridor until he led us into a study. He motioned for me to sit.

“How exactly did you come to possess the ring?” His voice shook slightly as he spoke.

“I bought it at an antique store. I have no idea where they got it.” I explained.

“How did you find me?” He asked.

“Your brother has been sort of… haunting me.” I told him.

“That’s impossible.” He stated.

“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” I told him, myPrincess Bridereference going straight over his head.

“I’m telling you, I trapped his soul into that ring. He can’t do anything from such a state.” He announced.

“Okay, well, I’m tellingyouthat I have seen him. Not only has he possessed my foster sister, but he’s visited me on more than one occasion. So, while all this may be implausible, I assure you that it is not impossible.” I said, my eyes gripping his.

“You’re right.” I could see him worrying the inside of his cheek. “There is one thing, but I don’t know if it’ll work.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“There is a cleansing spell, but I’d need help. Except, it has to have another sorcerer or Jeremiah might possess them once he was out.” He told me.

“He can’t possess me.” I informed him.

“Are you sure?” He asked.

“Yeah, I mean, he was pretty pissed about it.” I said.

“Alright, bring the ring back next week, and we’ll try it.” He told me.

“Don’t you want me to leave the ring here with you?” I asked.

“No.” He said sharply. “I mean, I think it would be safer with you.”

I wasn’t so sure about that, but short of throwing it at him, there was nothing I could do. I felt relieved to be sharing this burden with someone else, even if he was more terrified than I was. Perhaps, that should have given me a clue to simply ditch the ring in a river, somewhere. I just couldn’t get over the guilt I’d feel if anything were to happen.

I joined Cassie back in her car, and we drove to the club. We smoked while we waited outside for Ryan and his friends to show up. The cigarette tasted even sweeter since I was mostly doing it to spite Aiden.

“I thought you mostly quit.” I heard someone say behind me. I twisted around to see Eli smiling from behind Ryan. Tiffany, Nicole, Grey, and Hail were also with them.

“I started again.” I smiled back at him.

I was surprisingly delighted to see him here, even though I should’ve been annoyed that Cassie didn’t tell me he was a part of the “group of people”. While everyone else waited in line, Eli led me around the corner where it was quieter.

“Listen, I’m sorry about the party. I don’t blame you for not returning my calls. Aiden’s your friend.” When he saidfriend, I felt my face twinge. “Oh, is he more than a friend?”

“No, we’re just friends. And about the party, it’s fine. I’m over it.” I told him. “Let’s just forget it ever happened and go have fun.”

“That sounds great.” He appeared relieved that I didn’t hate him. We rejoined the group, who were now at the front of the line.

As I had suspected, our fake IDs worked like a charm. Surveying the club, I could see that Club Ice was not simply the name but more of a theme. Everything was decorated in blue and glistened like it was all actually made of ice. Grey found us a rounded booth in the corner and, precisely like everything else, it had the appearance of ice. Tiffany, Nicole, Grey, and Hail headed straight for the dance floor. Cassie, Ryan, Eli, and I wanted to order drinks first. Eli bought me a huge long island ice tea. Cassie stuck with drinking fruity drinks. Eli and Ryan drank whiskey. After a few minutes, Cassie’s favorite song came on, so she dragged Ryan out on the dance floor.

“Let’s dance.” I said to Eli, feeling the sweet bliss of the alcohol as it began affecting me.

“Okay.” He grinned.

We got up and found a spot on the dance floor. There was a hip hop song playing that had a really good beat. We both started dancing to the music. I moved him closer to me where our bodies were dancing up against each other. I turned facing away from him, moving back and forth against him. He had his hands on my hips as I swayed them. After a few more songs, we made our way back to the booth to catch our breath for a second and drink more. We both took a few shots of tequila.

“This is fun.” I boldly pulled myself up onto Eli’s lap. I was definitely more than tipsy by this time.

“Yes it is.” He wrapped his arms around my waist.

I leaned down and kissed him. I had wanted to do that since the moment he kissed me in the woods at the party. He drew me back in for another, longer kiss. This time his tongue met mine, and I pressed myself harder against him. We pulled apart when Nicole and Grey sat back down, but I remained on Eli’s lap.

“Let’s go smoke.” I told Eli as I stood up and grabbed his hand.

He let me lead him outside and around the corner to the alley we had been in earlier. Without saying anything, I pushed him up against the wall and kissed him.

“A guy could get used to that.” He grinned down at me.

“Is that your way of saying you missed me?” I lit a cigarette.

“Maybe.” He took a drag. “So, am I going to have to wait another two weeks to see you, again?”

“I don’t know. Do youwantto wait two weeks to see me, again?” I teased.

“Definitely not.” He tugged me toward him.

It felt terrific being pulled toward someone instead of being pushed away. I abruptly lost any train of thought as he stared down at me. His eyes were so dark and intense that it felt as if they burned straight through me, in a pleasurable way. He kissed me again but, this time, slightly sweeter than earlier.

“Text me and we can make plans.” We went back in for another kiss when Cassie and Ryan rounded the corner.

“There you two are!” She waltzed toward us. “Bryan and I are going back to my place. Everybody else is going to hit another club. Do you want to go with us or them?” She asked me. I was shocked that she didn’t ditch me. I guess peopledochange. Maybe, Ryan had something to do with that.

“I’ll go with you and Ryan.” I told her.

I was too drunk to make smart decisions, right now. I gave Eli one last kiss and followed Cassie to her car. On the quiet ride back to Waverly, Eli dominated my thoughts. The way we danced. The way we kissed. How his arms felt around me. I was so worried before about being from different worlds, but now my concerns seemed silly. Who cared if we didn’t end up having some long lasting relationship? I was having fun, and that’s all I cared about, right now.

For the next few hours, I had Cassie’s phone glued to my hand texting Eli. I always slept in the guest bedroom when I stayed at her house, but this night, neither one of us were sleeping. I could hear the moaning from her room where her and Ryan were doing things I preferred not to picture. After a while, Cassie tapped on the door and came in.

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