SERIAL HOTTIE by KELLY ORAM This was going to be the longest summer of my life Being deprived of my three best friends, Jesse, Josh, and Jackóotherwise known as the Jísówas worse than Iíd imagined it would be Itíd only been a week and I was already cracking like a nut job from the summer boredom If it werenít for the new kid across the street Iíd be in a room with padded walls already The new kid and his mom moved in the day after the Jís left to go to hockey camp for the summer Iím not even going to start on how unfair it is that I couldnít go with them just because of the fact that Iím a stupid girl ó a fact which my older sister says is debatableóbecause it will only make me punch something Anyway, the Jís all left to go become NHL material, and just when I thought for sure I was going to literally die without them, a moving van pulled up in front of the house across the street Naturally I was curious, so I sat up in my room, with a bowl of ice cream and Weezer blaring loudly through my open window, and watched as the movers began hauling stuff into the house After a few minutes, I stuck the spoon in my mouth and forgot to remove it until I got a massive brain freeze This was not because Iím a moron and donít know how to eat ice cream It was because a BMW, of all things, pulled up to the curb in front of the house Of course Iíve seen nice cars before, and it wasnít even about the fact that I live in the kind of neighborhood where people only drive minivans, but a BMW? Thatís like German or something If youíre going to move to Detroitóokay well Canton, which is only a suburb of Detroit, but still ó the least you could do is have the decency to drive American I waited to see what kind of people would have the nerve to roll up in a foreign car, and the woman who stepped out from behind the wheel seemed to perfectly fit the stereotype I had in my head She was super skinny, which, not to be rude to a lot of the moms on my street, was not something we were used to seeing around here She had really shiny brunette hair, like the kind you see on shampoo commercials Her clothes were probably designer, not that I would really know, and she had something hanging on her ear, which I decided was one of those cell phone things you see people using in the movies In fact, she looked like someone you would see in the movies Then he stepped out of the car and I felt like Iíd died and gone to The OC He had shaggy, dark brown hair that was as messy as the guysí that play hockey with me, except that his seemed to be styled like that on purpose It hung down into his eyes, making him look kind of mysterious, and he was really tall Definitely varsity basketball team tallónot that he struck me as the type to play organized sports And tall is good, because Iím like five, ten Not that Iím planning our wedding or anything, Iím just saying He seemed a little on the skinny side, but you could see the definition under his polo-fit tee It gave him the appearance of an Abercrombie & Fitch model, officially making him the hottest boy Iíve ever seen So hot, that I could feel myself blushing even though he was down on the street and had no idea I was watching him And thatís what I did for the rest of the week I watched him Iíd become obsessive about spying on him over the last week since it was my only form of entertainment Well, it was the most exciting entertainment anyway I did have my X-box to keep me company, but even Grand Theft Auto couldnít compare with Mr. Abercrombie working out in his garage The workouts started the morning after he moved in Every morning around nine a.m. he worked himself ragged Half the days he did an extensive cardio workout, with a jump rope of all things, and then heíd beat the crap out of a punching bag Thatís pretty fun to watch, but Iíll admit I liked the days when he lifted better He had one of those weight machines that allows you to work out all the different parts of your body, so after he worked his thighs and gluts, he moved on to my particular favorite, his upper body I kind of have the perfect view, too My bedroom window is directly across from his bedroom window, which sits above his garage So after his workout, I can usually catch a glimpse of him stripping his tank top off as he heads into his bathroom to shower Best ten seconds of my day Only today it was actually more like a whole minute, because he stopped to look out his window as he gulped down a bottle of water I was completely mesmerized by his hotness, and didnít think to hide from his view until our eyes locked I panicked and quickly ducked out of sight hoping that we were far enough away from each other, that maybe he didnít notice me Maybe I only thought heíd seen me I waited a minute and then peeked again to see if he was gone, but he was still standing there

Not only that, but itís like he was waiting for meólike he knew Iíd look again At that point what could I do, hide again? I think not I was already busted In an attempt to save my dignity, and hopefully make him think Iíd just happened to notice him and wasnít actually watching him, I threw my hand up and waved He didnít wave back, but beneath the intense stare he was giving me, the corners of his mouth curved into half a smile I couldnít help but think, Is he laughing at me? ìWho are you waving at?î a shrill voice called out from behind me Angela The dreaded older sister Just the name makes me shudder Sheís only a year older than me, but thatís enough to make her think sheís better than me in every way possible I hate her because sheís way pretty and wears a lot of skirts and stuff, and she hates me because Iím basically the oppositeóa pale, skinny, redhead, whoís taller than half the boys in school and could beat any one of them in hockey Angela barged into my room so suddenly that I jumped sky high at the sound of her voice ìWhat?î I yelped as I whirled around to face her ìWhy are you blushing?î she demanded the moment she saw my face ìIím not blushing Iím justÖ Itís hot in here What do you want?î She watched me suspiciously for a moment and then put the pieces together ìOh, my gosh!î she shrieked ìYou were watching the new guy work out, werenít you?î She pushed me out of the way to take her own peek at the window across the street, which was now empty, and added, ìDid I miss him take his shirt off already?î Good to know stalking runs in the family I was going to deny it and play dumb, but I was still so stunned by him catching me that I blurted out a ìyupî before I could stop myself Angela sighed in regret, but then pulled herself away form my window and turned her evil eyes on me ìWell, well, well, is Ellie Westley finally crushing on a boy? Itís about time.î ìWhat? I donítóî ìItís nothing to be ashamed of, Ellie.î Angela rolled her eyes as she cut me off ìHeís totally gorgeous and youíre almost sixteen I was starting to worry that youíd never realize what boys are for.î Iíd already had enough embarrassment for one day with the whole being caught spying thing I didnít need Angela making it worse with some sort of welcome to womanhood speech ìWhat are you doing in my room?î I yelled ìSheesh, I was just looking for my black clips.î ìDo I look like someone who would use your hair clips?î ìYou should You actually have really nice hair if you would just brush it once in a while.î I couldnít help reaching up to grab my ponytail defensively ìI brush it.î When Angela saw the frown on my face, she studied me for a moment then sighed ìI canít believe Iím about to say this but, why donít we go shopping today and get you a skirt and a swimsuit and you can come with me to the lake tomorrow.î ìExcuse me?î Never in all my fifteen years and eleven months of existence had such a statement come out of Angelaís mouth ìListen I know you miss those loser friends of yours, but maybe them being gone is a good thing.î I was shocked because she actually sounded sincere Well, sincere for her anyway ìIf youíll promise to not be quite soÖ you.î There goes the sincerity ìIíll let you hang out with my friends and me With the Jís out of the way, we might have a decent chance of turning you into a girl this summer.î I couldnít believe what I was hearing Had Angela gone mental? Was I not the only one going crazy from the summer break? Well Hell would have to freeze over before I agreed to a make-over, and considering it was like a hundred degrees outside, I pushed Angela into the hallway and slammed my bedroom door screaming, ìI donít have your stupid clips!î ìFreak!î Angela yelled back through the door I guess she was mad that I wouldnít let her play like Iím her Barbie Well, whatever! Just because my best friends were all boys, and I liked to play hockey, and Iíd never been kissed before, didnít mean I wasnít a girl And for the record, I didnít have a crush on the new guy I just thought he was really hot But even if I did, it wouldnít have been my first Iíd had crushes on boys before Not any of the Jís of course, but last year I totally liked my biology partner Eric Sherman That didnít work out so much since we dissected frogs and I mentioned I was disappointed that there wasnít any blood But still Feeling ready to punch something, which is basically how I feel every time I have to interact with Angela, I cranked up the My Chemical Romance and climbed out my bedroom window onto the roof of the garage where I like to go when I need space

I assumed thatís where Iíd spend the rest of my day because my life was just that exciting I actually didnít stay out on the roof that long, because Mrs. Haskins pulled up in front of my house ìEllie, honey,î she called to me through the open passenger window, ìare you free to watch Cameron this evening?î ìSure Mrs. Haskins What time do you need me?î ìSix oíclock okay?î ìShould be fine.î ìThanks Ellie!î She started to drive off, but then stopped again ìOh, and Ellie?î ìYeah, Mrs. H?î ìIf you see Bruno, would you mind hanging on to him till I can come get him?î ìHe got out?î I couldnít help the surprise in my voice Itís not like Bruno is a little Chihuahua who could sneak through a hole he dug under the fence Heís a 70-pound boxer Heíd never hurt a fly, but still not the kind of dog youíd want cruising the neighborhood on his own ìBob forgot to shut the gate after he took the trash to the curb this morning.î I laughed because that was just like Mr. Haskins That man would forget his shoes in the morning if Mrs. Haskins werenít there ìYou want me to help you look for him?î Mrs. Haskinís eyes lit up at the offer ìOh, would you?î ìSure Let me just put on my skates and Iíll do a few laps through the greenbelt for you.î ìOh, Ellie.î Mrs. Haskins sighed in relief ìWhat would I ever do without you?î More like what would I do without the Haskins? Iím saving up to by a car as soon as I get my drivers license, and the Haskinsí add to my car fund more than any other family in the neighborhood They pay really well and only have one kidóa baby whoíll be in bed by seven-thirty Plus, they always have the cupboards stocked, and they get all the movie channels Itís almost a crime to take their money ìSee you in a while Mrs. Haskins,î I called with a big friendly grin Not that looking for Bruno was all that exciting, but I was more than happy to slip on my rollerblades and go for a good skate Iíd been in the house too much this week and could use the exercise So, as Mrs. Haskins continued to drive down the street calling out for her dog, I headed in the other direction toward the greenbelt like Iíd promised I live in a subdivision called Brookhurst I donít mean one of those new ìhousing developmentsî where you have to put a potted plant or a flag by the mailbox just so that you can tell which house is yours Iím talking about a real neighborhood The kind of place where there may be a house here and there in need of a paint job, but the trees are mature enough that they actually produce shade Real estate people like to use the term ëcharacterí Itís the type of place where everybody knows everybody, and for some reason once you move in you stay until you croak Which is exactly why the new guy moving in was so exciting, and also why I couldnít stop thinking about him as I rolled around the neighborhood I went down every path in the entire neighborhood but didnít see any trace of Bruno Since Michigan is hot and muggy enough to be mistaken for a rainforest in the summer, I only did one lap and then called it quits I got to my driveway and ripped off my helmet to wipe at the sweat that had gathered under it No sooner did I toss the helmet in the grass than I heard the sound of paws thudding toward me Not only does Bruno love me because I feed him junk sometimes while Iím babysitting, but he seemed particularly excited at the moment because of his current freedom He came barreling at me at full speed ìBruno, no! Stay! Bad dog!î I called when I realized he wasnít going to stop But it was too late Bruno jumped up and knocked me right off my skates Everything happened so fast I crashed back against my driveway hard, and for a second, things went totally black When I came to my ears were ringing, my head was pounding, and I felt like I was going to vomit at any moment Then, just as Iíd suspected would happen, a giant tongue attacked my face Bruno only got the chance to give me one good lick before he yelped and fell limp beside me Thatís when I looked up to see the new guy staring down at me with the most intense eyes Iíd ever seen And, get this He was holding a Taser ìHi, Ellie,î he said in a strong, deep voice ìItís nice to meet you.î Well of course I screamed The psycho just killed the Haskinsí dog I screamed loud enough that the Jís probably heard me all the way at camp Then I tried my best to push the new kid away from me, but he was too strong I would have freaked out that such a hot boy was touching me, except I was too busy freaking out that such a hot boy was touching me! Pinning me to the ground, actually

ìEasy there, Ellie,î New Guy ordered me and then did the weirdest thing ever He took off his shirt Not that I didnít appreciate what was under his shirt, but I screamed again Well what was I supposed to do? The guy comes out of nowhere, kills a dog, pins me to the ground, and takes his clothes off? Oh yeah, and he knows my name How does he know my name? It wasnít until he wadded up his shirt and plastered it against the back of my head that I realized maybe he wasnít attacking me Once I understood this it finally dawned on me how much pain I was in There was a pounding in my head like nothing Iíve ever felt, and it seemed to match the rhythm of my heartbeat The thud, thud, thud was echoing in my ears and making my brain want to explode, but it was soon overpowered by a much worse sound One that was unfortunately all too familiar, and makes my head ache even when I havenít just cracked it on the driveway ìEllie! What the freak is with the screaming? Iím on the phone!î Angela was saying until she got to the driveway and saw what was going on The shriek that followed was blood curdling ìDonít worry, sheíll be all right, but sheís going to need stitches.î I was startled because the voice came from so close to me Itís like Iíd forgotten the new kid was there, and when I looked up I was surprised to see his face just a foot from mine Theyíre blue, I thought as I finally got a really good look at his eyes Iíd been wondering all week what color they were It was hard to tell from my window Deep, dark, ocean blue Gorgeous, just like the rest of him He looked down at me suddenly with the same amused grin heíd given me from his bedroom window, which I thought was strange But maybe I was looking at him cross-eyed since he held a finger up in front of me and slowly waved it from side to side The motion made me nauseous ìShe might have a concussion, too,î he said, still grinning at me Is a concussion funny? It certainly didnít feel funny ìWe should get her to a hospital Are your parents home?î ìTheyíre both at work,î Angela replied in a frantic voice She came rushing to my side as if she were completely freaked out, but I noticed the way she put her hand down on New Guyís forearm as she pretended to care about my well-being I smirked at her fingers clinging to his skin Obvious much, Ang? Angela was suddenly glaring at me for some reason, and the new guy laughed It was quite irritating because the situation was anything but funny I would have told him just where he could shove that laugh of his, but I started seeing these big, dark spots floating all around me, and sort of forgot that I was annoyed Plus, he didnít fall for Angelaís CosmoGIRL! techniques for getting his attention He looked down at the hand on his arm and immediately removed it That earned him a couple brownie points with me until he took her hand and placed it on the shirt heíd been pressing against my head ìHold this,î he instructed and then got to his feet to let my sister tend to me I was going to school him on just how not smart it was to leave a dying girl in the hands of my sister, when I saw him scoop up something huge into his arms, and I remembered what happened Bruno! How could I have forgotten about Bruno? He totally killed Bruno! Heís a dog killer! I wanted to yell at him, but heíd already disappeared inside his house He came back a minute later with keys in his hand instead of a dog, and a new shirt onóto both my sisterís and my disappointment ìYou know where thereís a hospital?î he asked Angela, handing her the keys to his BMW ìUh, just a mile or two from here,î Angela said, staring at the keys in her hand ìGood Iíll get her You drive.î The next thing I knew I was being scooped carefully off the ground My head responded with a vengeance, and I groaned when everything started to go black around me Unfortunately I didnít get to pass out because Angela screamed again ìThereís so much blood!î I could feel the new guy shrug his shoulders beneath my weight and then he said, ìIíve seen a lot worse.î ìYouíve seen worse?î Angela asked, vocalizing my exact thoughts New Guy didnít explain himself, though ìSheís got plenty left Trust me.î Angela frowned but New Guy just swept past her, not bothered in the least by my weightówhich is a lot more than youíd think considering how skinny I lookóand asked her to open the car door for him Angela did as she was told, but as the new guy climbed into the backseat with me she asked, ìDoesnít blood stain? Youíre going to get it all over your car.î Leave it to Angela to be worried about the car and not her dying baby sister I could barely make sense of anything at this point

My head hurt so bad the pain was almost numbing, and I was growing more and more tired by the second, but I could still hear the words he muttered under his breath as he pulled me against his chest, holding his shirt tightly against the back of my head again The expression on his face grew disturbingly dark and he muttered, ìWouldnít be the first time.î ìW-what d-do you mean not the first time?î I stammered, a little distracted by the threat of unconsciousness His scowl was gone so fast I wasnít sure itíd been there ìShh,î he said with a wink Then he looked up at Angela and barked, ìJust hurry, okay?î The movement of the car only made my stomach feel even queasier It made it very hard to fight off the unconsciousness that had been trying to overcome me The world around me seemed to slip out of focus and then my eyelids drooped ìOh, no you donít.î The new kidís voice was extremely tender, but the pat he gave my cheek, that made my eyes roll forward once again was quite the slap ìNo falling asleep.î Canít help it, I thought Iím so tired, and youíre so comfortable Maybe it was the possible concussion, but this was the closest Iíd ever been to a boy that hadnít just mowed me down chasing after a puck, and I fully intended to take advantage of it I relaxed in his arms and enjoyed the feel of the chest I was being held against For someone with such hard-looking muscles, the new kid is surprisingly soft New Guyís chest started to tremble beneath me and I looked up to see him shaking his head with laughter Iíd officially had it with this guy and his being amused with my dying My anger managed to give me a little burst of energy Enough to steady my gaze momentarily and growl, ìSomething funny?î I thought I sounded pretty menacing, but New Guy didnít bother to wipe the smile from his face He just looked down at me and shrugged ìYou are.î I tried to glare again, but I couldnít focus my eyes enough to do it I donít think I lost consciousness then, but maybe I did, because New Guy touched my face again Only this time he didnít slap it to keep me awake, he started brushing his fingers back and forth along my cheek The warm tingly sensation his fingers left on my skin was something Iíd never felt before Certainly nothing like whenever the Jís tug on my ponytail, or give me an elbow jab, or even when they give me a hand up after theyíve knocked me to the ground This was different It was like magic Wonderful, wonderful magic that made all the pain in my head disappear I was sure it was a concussion-induced hallucination, but even still, I was beginning to think it was worth it That is, until New Guy brushed my hair out of my face and said, ìSuch shiny, bright, red hair Gorgeous, just like the rest of you.î My stomach lurched and it had nothing to do with my head injury I recognized his words Hadnít I thought the exact same ones about him only minutes before? Had I really been talking out loud this whole time? Suddenly, all his amusement made sense The humiliation was too much for me to handle with everything else going on at the moment, and all those spots in my vision finally lumped into one giant shroud of black I only spent one night in the hospital, but I still came home with a raging headache Between the pain and the painkillers, I was pretty out of it for a good two days I wasnít sure how long Iíd been drifting in and out of consciousness, but I knew when I woke up this time that I was really awake and was going to stay that way My room was bright and airy since my window was open, but the light made my head hurt like a son of a you-know-what I threw my arm over my eyes and reached beside my bed where I always keep one of those grabby things Usually I use the grabby thing when I leave my game controller on my nightstand or drop one of my Twizzlers, but today I used it to grab my window shade Concussion or not, I have excellent hand-eye coordination and with just one little grab I plunged myself into total darkness ìHey!î Angela immediately protested Angelaís voice is not what you want to hear when you are recovering from a concussion ìGet out of my room,î I groaned since I didnít really have the energy to yell ìNo way You have a much better view than I do.î ìView of what?î ìThe new kid is playing darts in his garage.î ìDarts? Who plays darts?î Angela pulled the blinds up again I would have protested the action except that she said, ìWho cares? Heís doing it without a shirt on.î I got out of bed, found a dark pair of sunglasses, and pushed Angela aside to take a peek Just as I looked, the new kid flicked his wrist and sent a dart flying into what looked like the direct center of a bullís-eye

He smiled to himself as he crossed the garage and admired his aim, then he reached for his shirt I was worried that he was going to put it back on, but instead he used it to wipe the sweat off his face and began guzzling a bottle of water ìThis is even better than Greyís Anatomy,î Angela sighed, plopping down onto my bed when he disappeared into his house ìHeís gone You can leave now,î I said, pushing Angela out of my way so that I could lay back down I pulled my covers over my head, but Angela yanked them right back off ìGet up and get dressed,î she told me ìWeíre going over there.î ìWhat?î ìCímon, while we know heís home.î ìWhy do I have to go?î ìYou have an excuse to go over there I donít.î ìWhat excuse?î ìDuh You want to at least know the name of the boy who saved your life.î ìHe didnít tell you his name? Didnít you guys spend hours flirting in the waiting room while I was unconscious?î I laughed when Angela frowned Apparently the answer to my question was no ìShut up! He just never got the chance As soon as we got to the hospital, he let some guys wheel you inside and then said he had to go.î ìHe just left us at the hospital?î I thought this was strange, but Angela didnít agree ìItís not like he could have done anything else They wouldnít have let him come back with us because he wasnít family.î ìStill, to just dump two girls off at the emergency room and not even stick around to see if I was okay?î ìWay to be self-absorbed Ellie.î ìThatís not what I mean Thereís something really weird about that guy.î Angela finally lost her patience with me and began tapping her foot as she stood over my bed ìGet your lazy butt up right now or I will be forced to sit in here with you all day.î Ugh She would do it too I had no choice but to drag myself from bed When I got up Angela narrowed her eyes at me ìNothing dirty, no jeans with holes in them, and absolutely no jerseys When youíre dressed, I will do your hair so that we can cover up those nasty stitches Thank goodness the cut was low enough that they didnít have to shave half your head.î ìWould you give it a rest? My head is pounding again,î I grumbled ìAnd itís not from the concussion.î ìJust hurry,î Angela snapped and slammed my door on her way out I went to pull my shade down again so that I could change, and, not that I was looking or anything, but I just happened to notice the new kid reappear in his garage He examined the dart still stuck in the target, and then pulled something from his back pocket He threw so fast I didnít even see the knife until it was lodged in the bullís-eye in the exact spot the dart had been moments before There was no smile on his face as he admired his aim this time He pulled the knife out of the dartboard and then as quick as the first time, he threw it again The action was so fast it took me a minute to figure out where it landed But then I saw a mannequin in the corner of the garage rocking on its stand, the knife sticking out of its throat With a gasp, I quickly ducked out of view from the window I jumped back so fast that I banged the back of my head on my closet door It freaking hurt, and I yelled like there was no tomorrow ìWhat is going on in here?î Angela asked, barging into my room, yet again She took one look at me and her frown got even bigger ìYouíre not even dressed yet!î ìAngela!î I hissed, pulling her out of view of the window ìHeís crazy!î ìWhat are you talking about?î ìThe new kid!î Angela pulled free from my grip and looked out the window ìThereís nobody out there.î She was right I looked again and heíd already gone back inside and had apparently taken his knife with him ìHe had a knife He threw it at that dummy Slit the freaking thingís throat It hit dead center, like he could do it blindfolded.î Angela rolled her eyes and then pulled the prescription pill bottle off my nightstand ìHow many of these did you take?î ìIím not high on painkillers, you idiot.î ìYou sure sound like it.î Angela let go a frustrated groan and began tugging me out of my room ìIím not going over there!î I protested ìFine!î Angela screamed ìBe a loser! Iíll go by myself.î ìYou canít go over there! What if he slits your throat next?î Angela crossed her arms and gave me the evilest sneer ìThen you can blame yourself for my death because you made me go over there alone.î She stomped out of my room and I could hear her as she trotted down each and every stair Then she slammed the front door ìAngela!î I called down to her from my window in another hiss The glare she gave me was enough for me to know that she was not going to listen to me

When she started to head down the driveway, my eyes drifted back to the house across the street and then naturally made their way up to his window His blinds were down but cracked open the tiniest bit, and I could swear I saw a shadow standing behind them What was I supposed to do? I couldnít just let her go over there alone The guy was a psycho First he killed the Haskinsí dog, and now heís an expert knife slinger? ìAngela, wait! Fine! Iíll come JustÖ hold on.î ìTen seconds,î she called up to me I threw on the first shirt I could find that didnít have anyoneís number on it, ignored the no holes in the jeans request, and then carefully pulled my hair back into a ponytail I, for one, didnít care if my stitches were showing Angela rolled her eyes when she saw me, but didnít say anything except, ìTook you long enough.î ìI hate you,î I grumbled and then headed across the street with my sister, against my better judgment, to meet the new neighbor We got as far as his mailbox when a car blared its horn behind us I reached up to grab my throbbing head while Angela whirled around to greet her unexpected company I have no idea which of her gazillion male admirers were in the car, but one of them hung his head out the window and said, ìAng, babe, weíre all going to the park for some frisbee football Teddy and Alex are bringing a barbeque.î Angela glanced longingly back at the new kidís house She sighed and then climbed into the car without even a second glance at me I could here her shrieking playfully as the car sped off I sighed too, but mine was a sigh of relief The whole ordeal left me feeling particularly exhausted, and my head was throbbing Especially since Iíd whacked it again I headed back home refusing to look over my shoulder at the house behind me, and went straight to the comfort of my dark room I swallowed one of the pills on my dresser, turned on my fan, then collapsed on my bed and waited for the painkillers to render me unconscious I donít know how long I slept, but when I woke up I was assaulted by sunlight again ìCome on Angela, give me a break,î I groaned, throwing my arm over my eyes I reached for my grabby thing again, and with as much ease as Iíd done it earlier, I pulled my shade down I was about to yell at Angela to get out of my room, when a strange voice broke the silence ìNow that was almost as impressive as your high score on Skateboard Pro 2000 Iíve been trying to beat it for three hours and havenít even come close.î I looked down to see a shadowed figure sprawled across my beanbag chair playing my X-box and, well, what else was I going to do? I screamed bloody murder Only when I screamed it nearly made my head explode so it wasnít all that impressive and turned into a groan rather quickly ìYou know, Ellie,î the stranger, whoís voice suddenly seemed extremely familiar, said with another laugh, ìyouíre going to give me a complex if you continue to scream like that every time we meet.î I felt like I should be fearful for my life, but even in the mostly-dark room I could see him grin up at me from beneath those eyelashes that Angela would have killed for That face should be illegal As I continued to lay there, mesmerized by his beauty, his grin turned a little lopsided ìYou feeling okay?î he asked ìYou seemed a lot moreÖî he searched for a word and settled on, ìÖtalkative before.î Slowly, the memory of smacking my head pieced itself together Though it was near impossible to look away from the gorgeous guy whoíd come to my rescue, I threw my arm back over my eyes ìI was concussed!î I gasped ìMy brain was scrambled Whatever I said, it didnít count.î ìIím sorry to hear that,î he said, laughing ìI kind of liked the idea of being gorgeous.î I was so glad my arm was still covering my face, because Iím pretty sure he would have taken great pleasure in watching me blush Iíd never told a boy I thought he was good-looking before, but since he wasnít pretending I hadnít said it, I didnít see any way that I could deny it ìIím sure you already know that,î I mumbled I nearly had a heart attack when my arm was lifted off my face I hadnít heard him get up, or noticed when he sat down on my bed, but my new neighbor was now smiling down at me from an alarmingly close distance ìItís still nice to know that you think so,î he said in a voice that no guy had ever used on me beforeólike velvet and hormones mixed together It sent shivers through me, and donít think he didnít notice my reaction He hovered above me for a minute, staring so intensely into my eyes that it was causing my heart to do strange things in my chest

When I gulped, his smile widened ìSeth Bishop,î he said with a twinkle in those deep blue eyes of his ìSeth,î I breathed automatically, and then a second later was able to reclaim my swimming head A little I sounded breathless, but still managed to voice my main concern ìWhat the hell are you doing in my room?î He was surprised enough by my question that he afforded me my personal space, but amused enough by it that he didnít go far ìYou should be nice to me,î he said, still grinning ìI saved your life.î It was easier to concentrate when he wasnít right there anymore I started to get my confidence back ìAnd that gives you the right to break into my room and try to beat my Skateboard Pro 2000 record? Which, just so you know, will never happen.î Now that I could breathe again, I started to sit up I definitely could have managed on my own but the minute I moved, Seth jumped up ìCareful.î He actually fluffed my pillow for me and then gently helped me lean up a little When I was situated he asked, ìYou good? Need me to get you anything?î I just shook my head incredulously No guy had ever done anything like that for me before I mean, the Jís would have come to keep me company and all if they could have, but they would still have made me do paper-rock-scissors to see who had to go downstairs to get the sodas ìWhatís the matter with you?î Seth asked, laughing at the expression on my face I shook my head and said the first thing I could think of ìYou killed Bruno.î Random, I know But no way was I going to admit what was really wrongóthat it freaked me out to be treated like a girl Seth bit back a smile and plopped back down into my beanbag chair ìHe tried to kill you first,î he argued lightly I couldnít believe his response It was so heartless How could he be so nonchalant about taking the life of a big, dumb, but really sweet, and totally innocent dog? ìHe was just excited to see me!î I yelled, forgetting that doing so would only cause me pain I had to lower my voice again, but that was probably a good thing, because I was suddenly a little choked up ìIt was my own faultóalways take the skates off before the helmet Bruno wasnít trying to hurt me He wouldnít hurt anybody!î ìHow was I supposed to know that?î Seth retorted ìIím up in my room, hear you screaming ëNo!í and look out the window just in time to see a big pit-bull knock you to the ground You were bleeding all over, and he was attacking your face.î ìHe was licking my face And heís not a pit-bull.î ìWhatever.î Seth rolled his eyes at me ìThe dogís fine anyways I just stunned him is all He was tearing up my back yard before I even got back from the hospital.î ìBrunoís not dead?î This made me feel so much better ìOf course not What kind of guy do you think I am?î ìI donít know what kind of guy you are I donít know you Which reminds me What are you doing in my room?î He thought about not answering my question again, but then shrugged ìYour sister ditched you I didnít think you should be alone in your condition.î ìMy condition? I have a headache Iím not an invalid I donít need a babysitter.î ìEllie.î His voice made it sound as if what I said was absurd ìYou left me no choice I have been dying for you to come introduce yourself to me since the day I moved in It wasnít nice of you to tease me like that this morning You got my hopes all up and then turned around and went back home.î ìWhat?î I gasped ìI donít know how it works here, but out in California itís customary for people to welcome their new neighbors.î ìMy mom brought you cookies the first day you got here,î I said confused ìYeah, your mom I donít care about your mom.î ìAngela went over there to invite you to her beach party the other day.î ìBeach party?î he asked, distracted Now he was the confused one ìMichigan is surrounded by water on three sides,î I said ìWe may not have waves, but we have lots of beaches.î Seth frowned ìBeaches are useless without waves.î ìNot my point.î Even though I happened to agree Iím not much of a water fan Unless itís frozen, of course ìI happen to know you were home when she went over, and you didnít answer the door.î His eyes flashed up in surprise and it took him a minute before he could respond I realized that Iíd just admitted to spying on him, but, thankfully, he seemed to be more concerned with being busted ìMaybe I was washing my hair,î he finally said, fighting a smile ìYou blew off Angela?î

He couldnít hold back his grin anymore ìMaybe.î ìAre you gay or something?î I was glad to see that my comment mildly annoyed him ìNot everyone from California is gay,î he informed me ìYou blew off Angela,î I repeated ìNobody blows off Angela.î ìShe wasnít the sister I hoped would come see me.î What! ìMe?î I laughed to cover up my sudden nerves ìPlease.î ìYour sisterís hot,î Seth admitted, not with any real enthusiasm ìBut she knows it.î ìOh, so you mean sheís just like you?î It was the wrong thing to say Seth got really quiet all the sudden Then, after a minute, he said, ìWould you like me to go?î Something about the kid unsettled me, but the thought of him leaving surprisingly made my stomach churn ìI donít know,î I said honestly I hoped I sounded casual I didnít want him to know that he both excited and scared me He smiled at me again, but it was less confident somehow, I think he was afraid I might actually kick him out I relaxed a tiny bit, but I didnít know what to say, so I waited for him to talk He got up off my beanbag chair and sat instead on my dresser, pulling the only framed photo I kept in my room into his hands It was a picture of Jesse, Jack, me, and Josh all in our hockey gear Jackís nose was bleeding, Jesse was missing a tooth, and Josh, whose eye was purple and swollen, was carrying me in his arms But we were all smiling as if it had been the best day of our lives I loved that picture Seth seemed to enjoy it too He studied it for a few minutes with a grin on his face, and eventually turned it towards me He pointed to the kid holding me and said, ìThis is Josh, right?î ìUm, yeah.î I was startled ìHowíd you know that?î ìJust a guess Of all these guys, he seems like the one who would have all nine of the top scores behind yours on Skateboard Pro 2000.î I couldnít help smiling at that ìHeís been obsessed with beating my score for almost a year now Heíll never do it though If he ever does, Iíll just have to beat it ten more times and wipe his name completely off the list.î Seth looked down at the picture some more and then lifted just his eyes as he asked, ìHeís your boyfriend?î ìNo!î I gasped, too appalled by the thought to blush at the question I pointed to the picture and said, ìHe was just the only one strong enough to carry me home that day Iíd taken a cheap shot from a kid on the opposing team Actually tore a ligament in my ankle.î I smiled again as I remembered the fight it caused ìAs you can see, the guys didnít take too kindly to that I went down, and they didnít even know I was hurt before they started punching anyone and everyone they could It was one of the finest moments in street hockey history.î Seth smiled at the story and pointed to the picture again ìSo what about these guys?î ìJesse, and Jack,î I clarified as he pointed them out ìWhat about them?î ìAre either of them your boyfriend?î Hearing him say the word boyfriend was just as startling the second time, and this time I did blush Not because I was in any way interested in Jack or Jesse Dating any of the Jís would have been like dating, not my brother necessarily, but definitely a stepbrother, or a cousin I blushed because I was embarrassed that this stranger was asking about my love lifeówhich, of course, I didnít have one ìNone of them are my boyfriend.î I tried to sound annoyed by the subject instead of freaked out like I was, but it obviously didnít work because Seth put the picture down and came back to my bedside His smile went back to amused and slightly cocky ìDoes that mean you donít have a boyfriend?î I narrowed my eyes at him but he still figured out the truth He gazed at me for a moment then asked, ìHave you ever had a boyfriend?î I blushed again Even deeper than before My lack of response answered the question for me I think this was the reaction Seth was hoping for since he leaned in really close I instinctively tried to back away from him but seeing as how I was lying in bed, and he was blocking my escape, the only thing I could do was sink down into my pillow ìI wonderÖî he said when I could sink no lower I was flat on my back again, ignoring the discomfort the pressure was causing my stitches He leaned completely over me, trapping me between his hands and hovering at arms length directly above me His eyes were still quizzical, and yet they burned, almost wild, as he stared down at me When he spoke again, it was a whisper A velvety-smooth, dangerous whisper ìHave you ever been kissed, Ellie?î

I sucked in a deep breath and then held it while the blood drained from my face I was frozen, completely terrified by this beautiful boy and what it looked like he was about to do When Seth leaned in and brought one of his hands to my face, I flinched so violently it startled him Instead of kissing meówhich Iím pretty sure he wanted to doóhe sat back up and whispered, ìOkay Relax.î He brushed the hair away from my eyes, and then ran the backs of his fingers down the length of my cheek ìWhen youíre ready.î It sounded like a promise ìI think Iíd like you to leave now,î I whispered when I could finally catch my breath Seth pulled his hand away from me, his eyes studying mine, but the smile stayed on his face ìDonít be a stranger,î he said and then disappeared out my window I listened for his retreat, but he never made a sound When I was sure he was gone, I ran to my window and locked it Then, after that, I went through the house and did the same to every window and all the doors too For the next couple of days I avoided the house across the street I still took the occasional peek out the window during the workouts, but my days of obsessive spying were over Then Saturday night Heather Monroe was murdered and things slowly began to change My dad and I were watching the eleven oíclock news, waiting for the sports re-cap when the girlís tragic story came up I didnít know Heather Monroe from Novi, and, sadly, I wasnít shocked to hear a story about a girl whoíd been found beaten and stabbed 37 timesóI do live in the greater Detroit area But when her picture flashed up on the screen I found myself staring at a fifteen-year-old, tall, skinny, red-haired, hazel-eyed girl Something about the image was haunting, and not just because Iím a fifteen-year-old, tall, skinny, red-haired, hazel-eyed girl It was more than that Heather Monroe could have been my twin sister I know I wasnít the only one thinking that either, because my dad immediately turned off the TV, kissed the top of my head, told me how much he loved me, and then left the room That same night I dreamed of Seth for the first time I was standing in his garage and the entire wall behind me was painted like a giant bullís-eye I felt afraid I needed to escape, but my legs wouldnít move Seth was there, and when he looked at me with those blue, blue eyes, I got lost in them ìEllie,î he called to me, whispered my name almost reverently Then he began throwing knives at me I couldnít move The only thing I could do was pinch my eyes shut and wait for the pain, but the pain didnít come I opened my eyes again and the knives had landed in my clothing, pinning my arms and legs to the bullís-eye behind me I was trapped He walked up to me, admiring his aim My breath got shallower with every step he took my direction ìEllie,î he whispered again as he brought the tip of a knife to the side of my face ìRelax.î He dragged the blade down my cheek and then down the side of my neck so lightly that it could have been his fingers caressing me Then he dropped the knife to the ground I flinched at the sound and thatís when he kissed me He kissed me, and kissed me, and kissed me until I thought my body would melt from the wall into a small puddle on the floor Someone began pounding on the garage door, yelling my name I knew I should call out for help, but I couldnít make myself do it Not when his kisses were making me feel so good The knocking got louder and louder until eventually my mom walked into my room and shook me I woke with a gasp and my mom was immediately concerned ìIt was just a dream, Mom,î I told her, trying not to flush because I could still almost feel Sethís lips on mine ìA nightmare I think.î She smiled understandingly and then pushed my hair back to look at my stitches ìHowís your head this morning?î I thought about it for a second ìA lot better The headacheís gone.î ìI felt bad having to leave you every day,î Mom said with a sigh ìI should have taken a few days off work, but with the cruise coming up I didnít really have any time.î ìDonít worry about it,î I said quickly, not wanting her to feel guilty She and Dad are going on a cruise later this summer for their twentieth anniversary Theyíve never been on a real vacation before and I donít think Iíve ever seen either of them more excited about anything in their lives Theyíve been the easiest parents ever since they booked the trip They didnít even ground me when I got suspended the last month of school for wailing on Gabby Reese after she called me a lesbian No need to kill their moods over one dumb accident ìI just slept most of the time anyway,î I assured her ìAnd I really am feeling a lot better today

I could probably even go for a skate later Iím dying to get out of the house for a while.î Mom frowned at that but then sighed ìJust be careful and rememberóî ìAlways take the skates off before the helmet,î I finished for her, nodding my understanding Momís concern melted into a smile ìIíve got to go to the supermarket now, do you want anything?î ìRocky Road and Mint Chip?î Mom laughed ìI guess you really are feeling better.î She stood up from my bed and stopped at my door ìTake it easy today, Gretzky.î ìI did take it easy!î I yelled before my mom could say anything when I rolled into the house later that evening covered in blood I leaned over the kitchen sink and began to wash the blood off my hands and face ìIt was just a small pickup game in the park and I didnít even hit back!î ìWhat happened?î Dad asked from somewhere in the family room ìI took an elbow in the nose Donít worry Iím sure itís not broken Can somebody hand me a freaking towel?î I suddenly got what I asked for More than I asked for I was pulled against a body and my head gently tilted back until it was resting on someoneís shoulder Then the dishtowel Iíd requested was pressed lightly to my throbbing nose I instinctively screamed and tried to escape my surprise captor, but the arm around my waist was a vice ìThere are easier ways of getting my attention than continually bloodying yourself, Ellie,î the object of my nightmare cooed His lips brushed my ear, breath as warm as it had been in my dream For a single instant I thought Iíd been knocked out during the game and was having another nightmare I wrestled free of the embrace to find Seth looking wickedly amused ìWhat is the matter with you?î I gasped Seth held up the bloody towel with the perfect mask of innocence ìJust trying to help.î I snatched the towel from his hands angrily, and took a safe step away from him as I attempted to stop the nosebleed on my own ìWhat are you doing here?î Angela came into the kitchen and pulled something from the fridge ìEllie, is that any way to greet a guest? This is Seth,î she informed me ìArenít you excited to finally meet your knight in shining armor?î ìIt is nice to finally meet you,î Seth agreed The knowing smile he flashed me sent two different kinds of chills through me ìYeah,î I said sarcastically ìFinally.î I was glad when Angela broke the awkward silence, and even more glad when she weaved her arm around Sethís ìDinnerís all ready,î she said, pulling him the direction of the dining room ìYou can sit next to me.î It was a relief to have that killer smile of his pointed at someone besides me this time I retreated to the safety of my room and took a deep breath when the door was shut securely behind me As I changed out of my blood-soaked shirt, I thought about the person downstairs waiting to have dinner with my family So he liked to throw knives at mannequins and had no sense of personal space, that wasnít really reason to fear him I mean Vince Kowalski had no problem invading my personal space as he was bashing my face in this afternoon, and I didnít fear him In fact, the next time I was in the game with Vince, he was going to be really sorry But still, there was something very unsettling about Seth and it really irked me I went downstairs determined not to let this guy intimidate me After all, no guy ever had before ìHere she is!î my dad exclaimed proudly when I entered the dining room ìThis is our youngest daughter, Ellie.î My dad gestured to me and then swept his hand toward the woman Iíd seen driving the BMW She was even more striking up close and seemed oddly out of place at our dingy old dinner table ìEllie, this is our new neighbor Janice Wainwright, and, of course, youíve already met her nephew, Seth Bishop.î I tried to brace myself as I looked the direction my father was now pointing, but it didnít do me any good I met Sethís eyes and instantly all my resolve flew out the window My heart sped up, my adrenaline spiked, and judging by the way Seth was watching meóa predator stalking his preyóI was beginning to think he could smell my fear ìHey,î I mumbled, taking the seat theyíd saved me, which was unfortunately directly across the table from Seth I glued my eyes to my plate ìEllie, where are your manners?î Mom chided Something she did a lot with me I looked up then, but at least now I was annoyed instead of intimidated Seth grinned at me and I tried to keep the edge out of my voice as I said, ìThanks for helping me.î ìHelping you?î Angela repeated incredulously ìEllie, he rescued you.î She turned to Seth then, glowing with admiration

ìYou saved her life.î Seth flashed me another smile ìIt was my pleasure.î Angela quickly tried to regain his attention ìI donít know how you stayed so calm,î she said ìThere was so much blood You must be really brave.î ìOr maybe he just likes blood,î I grumbled under my breath ìActually,î Sethís aunt spoke up, startling me For a moment I wondered if sheíd heard me, but she was smiling ìSeth is great in emergency situations Heís certified in both CPR and First Aid and has had self-defense training.î Is expert knife slinging considered self-defense? I wanted to ask ìReally?î Angela cooed, resting her hand on his arm ìThatís so great!î ìYes, I have high hopes that heíll be a great doctor one day,î Ms. Wainwright continued to brag ìA doctor!î Angela gasped ìYeah, after seeing you in action, Iím sure youíd make a great doctor.î ìMaybe I should,î Seth said lightly ìSeems to me you could use one on staff in this house for Ellie alone.î Everyone laughed at that, except me, of course To my horror all I could do was blush It was my mom who finally threw me a bone and got the attention off of me ìIs that what youíre going to study then?î she asked Seth ìI assume youíll be starting college in the fall.î ìNo, Iím just barely seventeen Iíll be a senior in the fall Which is a good thing because I donít have any idea what I want to do I need the time to think about it.î My mom smiled sympathetically ìTransferring high schools before your senior year? Thatís got to be rough.î Ms. Wainwright sighed ìI did feel bad about having to move, but heís been very mature about it.î I caught my dad glancing at Angela with a smirk on his face and I couldnít hold back my smile either Angelaís going to be a senior too, and if my dad had transferred us this year, she would have started World War III Dad winked at me and then we turned our attention back to the conversation ìIt wonít be so bad,î Seth was saying as he grinned at me again ìThe neighborhoodís already turned out to be much more exciting than Iíd expected.î Everyone chuckled again with more glances my direction ìPlus now Iíll at least have a couple of friends to keep me company through the summer.î ìOh, more than just a couple!î Angela was practically bubbling over with excitement ìI can introduce you to a ton of people this summer In fact, thereís a big beach party this Friday I know itís not exactly the kind of beach youíre used to in California, but itís still really fun My friend Rachel has a lake house with a boat and jet skis Half the senior class is going.î ìI donít know about this party Angela,î Mom interrupted in a wary voice ìOh, donít worry, Mom Rachelís parents will totally be there Itís a barbeque, not a rave.î ìItís not that honey, I trust Rachelís parents But after what happened to those other girls? I just donít know if itís a good idea to be out so late on the weekends right now.î ìWhat girls?î Angela, Seth and I all asked in unison ìDo you mean the two stabbing victims?î Sethís aunt asked and my mom nodded ìRemember the girl we saw on the news last week?î Dad asked me suddenly ìThe one whoÖî Dadís voice trailed off and I shivered ìHeather Monroe,î I said ìShe wasnít the only one There was another girl the weekend before Stabbed to death in Farmington Hills She fit the same profile.î I shuddered again I could tell by the look on Dadís face that by ìthe same profileî he meant a carbon copy of me A moment passed between us, which Angela interrupted by blurting out, ìAre you saying thereís a serial killer on the loose right now?î My face blanched and my dad quickly assured us that there wasnít ìYou donít look too convinced,î I told him, because he didnít ìThe murders may be connected,î Seth said out of nowhere ìBut they canít be considered serial killings unless thereís three or more.î Ms. Wainwright must have seen the look I was giving her nephew because she said, ìNo, heís right I was watching a special report about it the other night The police are actually pretty sure that the two deaths are coincidence.î ìTheyíre sure?î my mom asked Ms. Wainwright shrugged ìThey seemed pretty confident.î Mom looked back at Angela ìWhen is this party?î ìFriday.î ìAnd Rachelís parents will be there?î Angela nodded ìPlus some of their friends too.î Mom looked at Dad and then back at Angela Finally she sighed ìYou canít go by yourself, and I expect you to be home by your normal curfew.î

ìThere,î Angela said turning to Seth ìYou have to come with me now because I canít go alone.î Seth frowned in confusion ìWonít Ellie be going too?î Angela snorted, which made Seth even more confused until he saw the look of disgust on my face ìIíd rather take my chances with the serial killer.î ìEllie!î My mother Again with the chiding For a moment everyone remembered that there was food on the table I was glad for the silence, but I could feel Sethís eyes on me I braved a glance and then wished I hadnít because he was watching me with that same intense-yet-amused look Iíd seen on him so many times already and it reminded me of my dream When the phone blared to life in the kitchen it felt like one of lifeís small miracles Angela jumped up, but before she could get two steps, my mom was hollering, ìSit back down, Angela!î ìBut Momóî ìBut nothing Weíre in the middle of a nice dinner with company.î ìBut you took my phone! I donít even have voice mail right now!î ìWe have an answering machine.î ìButóî Mom finally silenced Angelaís protests with a look and I laughed Angela is addicted to her cell phone, but last month she accrued like two hundred dollars in overages and my parents flipped Sheís grounded from the thing for the whole summer I donít have one either, but thatís just because I donít ever need one I only ever talk to the Jís and they just come over Most of the time they donít even bother to knock Still, when my parents offered to let me use Angelaís phone for the summer after she got grounded, I took it just to piss her off Itís buried somewhere in the mess that is my closet Angela caught me laughing at her and gave me a dirty look I started to stick my tongue out at her in retaliation but then the answering machine picked up the call in the kitchen When I heard three very obnoxious voices call out ìWestleeeeeeeeeey!î I forgot about antagonizing my sister and shot out of my chair ìEllie!î my mom called in a warning tone ìMom! Theyíre at camp! I canít just call them back!î My dad, bless his bald head, reasoned with my mom and I took off, hoping to catch my best friends before they hung up ìWhatís up losers?î I said breathlessly For a minute all I could hear was chaos, and then someone obviously punched someone else Apparently Jesse won the scuffle for control over the phone because he said, ìYouíre never gonna guess!î The excitement in his voice made me forget about everyone in the other room ìWhat?î ìWe got to scrimmage with the Wings!î ìThe Detroit Red Wings? You actually played with them?î ìFranzen, Zetterberg, HowardÖî Jesse said, and Josh yelled in the background, ìAll of them!î ìNO FREAKING WAY! YOU GUYS SUCK!î ìEllie!î Mom shouted from the dining room ìLanguage!î I glanced her direction and immediately saw Seth watching me Something about the look on his face pissed me off ìSorry,î I called to Mom ìIíll take it in the office.î ìWe still have company,î she called back, slightly annoyed ìFive minutes!î I took the cordless phone past the downstairs bathroom and plopped down into my dadís desk chair as the Jís took turns snagging the phone from each other in order to tell me all about the amazing summer they were having without me It was Josh who eventually said, ìSo you were in the hospital for a head injury? Whatís up with that? Canít hold your own on the court without us?î ìPlease.î I snorted ìI had to resort to playing at the park today and I killed those guys despite Vince Kowalski busting up my face.î ìKowalski mashed your face?î Jack said in the backgroundóthey must have had me on speaker ìSweet! Iíve always wanted a reason to pound that dillweed.î ìSorry, Jack Heíll be dead long before you get back.î ìKnock one of his teeth out for me!î ìWith pleasure,î I promised ìSo seriously, Westley,î Josh said again ìWhy were you in the hospital?î ìIt was so stupid My first concussion and it wasnít even in a game Bruno got out of his yard Jumped me without my helmet on I almost bled to death on the driveway Thereís a huge stain there now.î ìAwesome.î ìYeah, Iím gonna have a pretty nasty scar too.î ìSo who was the tool?î Jesse wanted to know ìWhat tool?î ìWe called last week and some guy answered Said you couldnít talk because you just got back from the hospital and were asleep.î ìHe answered the phone?î I nearly yelled For some reason the thought of Seth talking to the Jís was horrifying ìWho is he?î ìJust this guy Him and his aunt moved into dead lady Cromsfieldís house across the street.î ìHe got any game?î

I laughed ìNot any game that would be beneficial to you unless youíre thinking of switching to the other teamóif you catch my drift.î ìThe dudeís gay?î Jack gasped I heard a lot of snickering in the background ìHeís sure pretty enough to be gay,î I said ìHeís like a male version of Angela Dresses like a JCrew model, styles his hair, probably has legions of zombie girls at his beck and call Ang has been salivating over him since he showed up.î ìSounds like a bad horror film,î Jack said at the same time as Angela appeared in the doorway of the office Bad horror film was exactly the right description for her Specifically Carrie comes to mindóat the end when she goes psycho and wastes everyone at the prom ìEllie!î she hissed, ìSethís in the bathroom! He can probably hear every word youíre saying!î ìWell itís not like it isnít obvious,î I snapped, annoyed that sheíd been listening to my conversation In my best helpless airhead voice I said, ìOh, Seth youíre so brave! Iíd play doctor with you anytime!î I rolled my eyes, switching back to my normal voice ìI think some of your drool actually fell onto his plate.î The guys were howling with laughter through the phone Angela was turning a scary shade of red, enraged beyond anything Iíd ever seen before, and Seth chose that exact moment to wander into the office I think Angelaís knees wanted to give out, but somehow she managed to storm out of the room Seth watched her go for a second, but quickly turned his attention back to me ìWe miss you at the dinner table,î he said with a grin ìYour mom sent me to drag you back.î When I didnít respond he added, ìIím willing to use excessive force if necessary.î With the Jís on the phone, it felt like they were standing right there with me I drew a little courage from them, finally able to respond to Seth appropriately instead of melting into a big puddle of wuss I rolled my eyes at him and sighed into the phone ìI gotta go My momís having a cow cause weíre eating dinner right now You guys suck, you better at least have gotten me some autographs.î I said goodbye and when I ended the call, Seth was still standing there He was leaning against the doorway now, watching me, arms folded across his chest ìWhat?î I snapped ìYouíre very interesting when youíre in your comfort zone,î he said thoughtfully ìIs that supposed to be a compliment?î ìMore so, Iím sure, than being pretty enough to be gay.î My stomach lurched He had heard what Iíd said I steeled myself, refusing to let him intimidate me again ìIf you didnít like what you heard, donít eavesdrop next time.î I tried to walk past him out of the office, and his hand shot out, blocking my exit ìI liked some of it,î he said ìI liked the part where you said you wanted to play doctor with me.î Iím not sure how your stomach can cave in on itself and your heart can flip in your chest all at the same time, but the end result when it happened to me right then was that it caused my foot to stomp down on Sethís as hard as it was capable He stumbled back in surprise and I quickly made my escape When I sat back down Angela was glaring at me from across the table Who knew Iíd ever find her presence reassuring? ìWhereís Seth?î Ms. Wainwright suddenly asked I looked up, realizing he hadnít followed me Good, I thought I shrugged and stuffed my mouth with enchiladas ìEleanor, donít be so rude,î my mother said ìWhat? I donít know where he went He told me to come back in here, so I did.î ìEleanor?î Ms. Wainwright asked ìAs in Roosevelt?î ìExactly!î my mom said, forgetting about my attitude She always gets excited when someone shows interest in my name Probably because it so rarely happens ìThatís actually who we named her after, since sheís our little patriot Born on the Fourth of July Sheís turning her sweet sixteen here in a few weeks.î ìOh! Happy Birthday! Having your birthday on the Fourth of July must be kind of fun.î ìOh yeah, itís a real blast.î I tried not to be too sarcastic, but I donít think it worked very well ìItís in the middle of summer, and itís a holiday, so none of your friends are ever around Plus you get awesome patriotic names like Eleanor.î My mom, who was sitting next to me, very subtly pinched me beneath the table ìSorry,î I grumbled Then I really tried to be sincere I donít know what was wrong with me Iím not usually so grouchy ìI prefer Ellie,î I told Sethís aunt Seth came back then, smiling pleasantly to everyone ìWhatíd I miss?î Ms. Wainwright was more than happy to fill him in

ìEleanoróexcuse me, Ellieówas born on Independence Day Sheís about to turnóî ìSweet sixteen,î Seth finished for her He looked at me then as if nothing had happened between us As if I hadnít just made fun of him to my friends and stomped his foot when he made a pass at me ìAre you doing anything special? Party? Big date with your boyfriend?î I knew he was just giving me a hard time, he already knew I didnít have a boyfriend, but Angela laughed so hard she choked on her food and was thrown into a coughing fit Seth, I noticed, didnít seem to be in any hurry to come to her rescue ìIím buying a car,î I said, indirectly answering Sethís questions because in fact I had exactly zero plans for my birthday ìBeen saving up My dadís going out with me this Saturday to pick one out.î ìOh, Ellie, honey.î My dad cleared his throat and looked at me regretfully ìDidnít I tell you? I canít go this weekend Last minute trade show in Des Moins.î ìBut, Dad! You promised!î ìI know kiddo, but I have to go Weíll go as soon as I can, though It wonít kill you to wait a week after you turn sixteen, will it?î My heart sank My dad was one of the few people in this city who didnít work for Ford, Chevy, or GM Heís the Mid-western sales manager for a company that makes medical equipment like MRI machines and stuff He always has to take off for a day or two here and there Especially on weekends I couldnít help slinking back in my chair and sulking It was official This was the worst summer of my life Some sweet sixteen ìIf youíd like,î Seth said after a minute, ìI could take Ellie for you this Saturday.î I looked up, startled, but Seth was talking to my dad Unfortunately my dad seemed to like his suggestion ìDo you know a lot about cars?î he asked Seth ìI know enough But Iím really good with salesmen.î ìItís true,î his aunt said, laughing ìThat boy can haggle even the best down to pennies on the dollar.î I groaned inwardly Having been a salesman the majority of his life, my dad was now looking at Seth half proud, half rising to the challenge ìThat so?î he asked, leaning back in his chair, crossing his arms He looked at my mother questioningly and she nodded enthusiastically ìI donít see the harm in it,î Mom said ìEllie has been so excited about this Sheíd probably prefer to go with someone closer to her own age anyway.î She looked to me then ìWhat do you think, Ellie? Can Seth fill your fatherís shoes this time?î ìIíll make it up to you, sweetheart,î Dad added He really did look like he felt bad I sighed If I said no right now, Iíd hurt Dadís feelings and my mom would probably get mad Knowing her, I would get my car when Angela got her phone back ìOkay, I guess.î And then, just because I knew my mother was waiting for it I mumbled, ìThanks,î to Seth I didnít look up to see whatever smirk was on his face Monday afternoon Angela spent a good half an hour sitting on Sethís front porch flirting with him over sodas Iíll admit to watching this, but not because I was spying on Seth I just found it amusing to watch Angela fail miserably at her attempts to snag the hottieóhowever creepyóacross the street Seth seemed to enjoy her company well enough, but he didnít act toward her anywhere near the same way he acted toward me He talked, he smiled, he laughed, but he didnít touch her or crowd her In fact, from where I stood he almost seemed like a normal person Almost Just as I was considering the possibility that maybe Iíd overreacted to him, Angela was whisked off by a group of her friends I could tell that sheíd invited Seth to come along, but he glanced up at my bedroom window and then turned her down He waved as the car Angela jumped in drove off, and the second it was out of sight he immediately headed toward my house My heart raced as I ran downstairs I told myself again that Iíd overreacted and that he was normal, but for some reason I still hesitated to open the door when the doorbell rang I stood there debating, my hand about to turn the knob, when his silky voice called out to me ìEl-lie,î he sang ìCome out, come out, wherever you are! The catís finally away Time for the mouse to come out and play.î Instead of opening the door, as slowly and as silently as I could manage, I locked it Then I crept back up to my room hoping to catch a glimpse of his face as he went back home I peeked out the side of the shade and waited for him to cross the street, but instead a dark shadow appeared in front of my window

I leapt back and flattened myself against the wall just as Seth knocked on it ìEllie,î he called, without the playful singing this time ìCímon, I know youíre in there I also know you have a weakness for ice cream Come hang out with me and weíll go to Dairy Queen My treat.î My mouth watered at the thought of a Heath Blizzard and I nearly opened my window ExceptÖ How did he know about my ice cream addiction? ìAt least tell me you found my note.î Note? What note? Seth sighed and then, as if reading my thoughts, said, ìLook at the high scores on Skateboard Pro 2000.î Of course I checked How could I not? I was admittedly relieved when I saw my score still at the top of the list, but the next score was only one point below it and the following eight each one point lower than the next As baffled by the impossibility of the scores as I was, I was even more surprised by the names claiming themóor words, rather The top ten names on the high score list now read: 1 Ellie 2 Youíre 3 The 4 Only 5 Reason 6 I 7 Donít 8 Hate 9 Living 10 Here I blinked Then I read the message again Then I had to sit down It was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me, and definitely the closest thing to a romantic gesture Iíd ever received I could feel the flush in my cheeks, but while my heart was thumping my brain was only processing fear How had he done this? And when? Those scores had been normal the last time I played this game, and that was after the day Iíd waken up to find him in my room ìEllie?î Startled, I quietly went back over to my bed, sat there, and just waited After a minute more I heard Seth get up and leave I peeked out the window and watched him scale himself down the big tree next to my house He went back home and as he walked past the punching bag in his garage he took an angry swing at it He started to go inside and then turned around and punched the thing again with his other hand Then, suddenly, he was beating that bag to a bloody pulp He pounded it for a solid five minutes with punches so fast I swear I couldnít even see half of them When he finally stopped to catch his breath he shook his hand and examined his knuckles After that, with one last glance my direction, he disappeared into his house The next day I went to the park to get in on a pick-up game and I noticed Seth watching me from a distance After that, I spent the rest of the week in my room and I was really starting to go crazy I was lying on my bed reading a Spiderman comic when I heard a car start up It sounded too nice to be any of my neighborsí minivans I looked out my window just in time to see Seth drive off in his BMW I didnít waste a second of this opportunity I threw my window open, cranked up my stereo, and put on my skates Iíd pulled out my hockey net and had just sailed my first ball through it when a voice behind me said, ìI knew you were avoiding me.î I was so startled I nearly fell on my butt ìWhere did youÖ?î My voice trailed off as I searched for the BMW I never heard return ìI drove around the corner and parked,î Seth said, understanding exactly why I was confused ìI knew you wouldnít come outside unless you thought I was gone.î I tried not to blush Iím not sure how well it worked ìIím not avoiding you,î I said Lying through my teeth of course I looked down and slapped another ball into the net ìIím not mad at you, you know,î Seth said ìMad at me?î I asked, startled ìWhy would you be mad at me?î ìOh, letís see You called me gay You stomped on my foot And youíre avoiding me for no reason?î ìYou deserved to get your foot stomped, and I did not call you gay,î I said, but my cheeks were burning again ìI called you pretty.î ìYouíre still avoiding me.î ìI am not avoiding you.î Seth clearly didnít believe me ìYou make me uncomfortable,î I blurted before I could stop myself ìBecause of the intense attraction between us,î Seth said, one hundred percent serious ìThatís natural.î My mouth gaped ìYouíd get used to it if youíd quit avoiding me.î Seth took a step closer to me, and my breath caught ìI am not attractedóî I stopped He was giving me that look again, not believing a word I said If he was trying to make me angry, it worked

I shoved him back and shot another ball into the net Seth watched with a frown ìArenít you supposed to be using a puck?î ìWhen youíre on the ice,î I explained I couldnít help my eye roll Apparently I was right about him not having any game ìBut a puck wonít exactly sail down asphalt In street hockey we use these.î I smacked the last orange rubber ball and it flew directly into the center of the net ìTeach me how to play,î Seth said suddenly ìYou?î I asked doubtfully I looked him over Even now he was clean, his hair styled, not a single wrinkle in his clothes ìYou want to learn how to play hockey?î Seth shrugged ìIt seems to be a prerequisite for making friends around here.î ìAngela and her friends donít play.î Seth smirked ìTeach me to play,î he said again ìI donít think so.î ìIíll make it worth your while,î Seth said ìWe could trade.î ìWhat do you mean, trade?î ìTrade services You teach me to play hockey and I teach you something in return.î I didnít want to know what he meant by that, but the words were out of my mouth before I could stop them ìTeach me what?î The wicked grin that flashed across his face confirmed my suspicions ìI can think of a million things Iíd like to teach you,î he said in that dangerously silky voice of his He reached up and tucked a wild strand of hair behind my ear I trembled beneath his fingertips He looked satisfied to have made me shudder and that stab of fear returned in my chest ìIím not interested in learning anything you have to teach me.î ìHow about self-defense?î Even though the thought of self-defense training seemed like a wonderful ideaóespecially with Seth living across the street nowóI was sure it involved a lot of physical contact Not something I was particularly interested in getting into with him ìIím not your average wimpy girl I can take care of myself,î I said and then skated away from him I quickly picked up the balls Iíd shot and as I reached for the net I was yanked off my feet Seth grabbed me so forcefully it nearly knocked the wind from me I gasped and then started to shout ìWhat are you doing? Let me go!î I struggled as hard as I could, but he had my feet off the ground and my arms locked at my sides Unlike the last time heíd held me, his muscles didnít feel soft His body felt like steel against mine and I couldnít break free from the cage his arms created ìLet me go!î I screamed again ìCalm down, Ellie,î Seth whispered in my ear ìIím just trying to show you something.î ìThat youíre a psycho?î I yelled ìIíve already figured that out!î I kicked my legs behind me, but it didnít seem to have any affect on his shins, not even with the added weight of the skates Sethís mouth was soft on my ear but his grip didnít give an inch ìYouíre so tempting.î His lips pressed against my neck in the smallest of kisses The goose bumps it rose on my skin infuriated me ìStop it!î I demanded, throwing my head back ìGet your creepy pervert lips off me!î My headbutt attempt failed and Seth whispered in my ear again ìLook at you right now I could do anything I wanted to you, and you couldnít stop me.î He kissed my neck again just to prove his point ìDo you like feeling so helpless?î I really didnít I was more terrified than I could ever remember being So terrified that water welled up in my eyes And I. Do Not Cry ìLet me teach you how to defend yourself,î Seth said ìPut me down!î I demanded, horrified when my voice broke He released me then, and I shoved away from him as hard as I could I blinked away the moisture in my eyes before it became actual tears No way was I going to let him see just how much heíd scared me ìYouíre insane!î ìI was just trying to prove a point You need me Ellie.î ìStay away from me you freak!î A look of anger swept across Sethís face, but he didnít lose his cool He opened his mouth to say something, but Angela came out the front door ìEllie, what are you screaming at? Oh, hey Seth! You ready to go?î Go? I was confused Seth shot me a look I couldnít read Then, like a light switch, he flipped on a bright smile for my sister ìIím ready whenever you are And might I add, youíre looking particularly ravishing this afternoon.î Seth took Angelaís hand and kissed it I would have protested the gross flirting going on before my eyes except that Seth had never acted like that toward Angela before His sudden odd behavior toward my sister creeped me out

ìSo how far away is this place?î Seth asked After another quick glance my direction he added, ìI hope itís a ways Iím looking forward to having you all to myself for a while.î Angela could barely string a sentence together she was so overwrought with ecstasy ìActually, itís almost two hours away.î ìIs that all? Well, we may just have to take a detouróget lost along the way.î At this point, if Seth wanted to attack Angela sheíd probably want him too She had no idea that he was secretly deranged I may hate my big sister, but Iím not about to let some psycho have her I watched Seth open the door to my dadís car and help Angela into the driverís seat After he shut the door for her he walked past me with a wink ìEnjoy the rest of your day, Ellie,î he said with a hint of danger in his voice ìIím certainly going to enjoy mine.î Seth opened the passenger door and before he slid into his seat I was already in the back buckling my seatbelt Both Angela and Seth turned around at the same time to look at me Angela looked incredulous but Seth was smiling like he just got what heíd wanted I was beyond freaked, but I didnít trust him alone with my sister, so I didnít have a choice ìWhat do you think youíre doing?î Angela finally asked, breaking Seth and I from our staring match ìComing with.î ìI donít think so.î I turned my anger on my sister ìTry and stop me.î Angela didnít know how to respond I think she was more surprised by the fact that I wanted to come with her than she was horrified by the thought of having to bring me Her eyes narrowed as she looked me over and then she huffed ìWell, youíre not going like that.î ìLike what?î ìItís a Lake party and youíre in ratty jeans and a baggy jersey.î ìYour point?î ìLake party? Youíre supposed to dress in swimwear.î ìTough nuts I donít even own a swimsuit.î Seth snickered and I glared at him so nastily that he actually threw up his hands in apology and wiped the smile from his face ìAll right,î Angela said, sighing ìSeth, weíll be five minutes.î Angela dragged me from the car and up to her room ìYouíre lucky weíre close to the same size.î She threw me an olive green wad of fabric ìThis will probably be a tiny bit too small on you, but close enough that it will work to your advantage.î I had no idea what she was talking about ìWhat is it?î I asked looking at the lump in my hand ìA swimsuit, moron.î I pulled the two tiny pieces apart ìWhereís the rest?î ìJust go put it on,î Angela sneered Then she threw me the tiniest pair of jean shorts Iíd ever seen and a tank top ìYou can wear that over the top of it And go get your flip-flops bigfoot You canít go the lake in Dickies.î ìIím not wearingóî ìTwo minutes or weíre gone,î Angela said and then went to join Seth in the car I knew my sister I knew she would leave just as sheíd threatened, and part of me really wanted to let her But then I thought of the way Seth had used the word ravishing while looking at her With a sigh I put on a bikini for the first time in my life Suddenly I was grateful for the shorts and tank top even if they were meant to fit a Barbie-doll I didnít look in the mirror as I left the houseóI was better off not knowing But I could imagine how ridiculous I looked when Seth laughed under his breath as I got in the car ìOh, stuff it, Abercrombie!î I snapped Seth burst into wild laughter, and I could hear Angela muttering something to herself as we pulled out of the driveway This was bound to be a crappy night Angela made quite the entrance with Seth in tow And I do mean literally in tow I hadnít said a word the whole drive no matter how much Seth tried to involve me in conversation, so about half way there he gave up and started being overly attentive to Angela again She ate it up, and when they got out of the car she latched on to him so quickly youíd think he was a six million dollar designer purse The introductions started with my sisterís best friend, and the party hostess, Rachel Within seconds a crowd of interested girls swarmed I stepped back, eager to escape, but then one of Angelaís other friends, Brooke, caught my arm ìAnd who is this?î she asked Angela She looked at me asking, ìAre you new too?î then turned to Seth before I could respond ìIs this your sister?î Most of Angelaís friends arenít exactly Ivy League material, but that comment was blond even for Brooke Not only was she one of my sisterís best friends, but she sat right behind me in home economics all last year Angela and I exchanged a glance and Angela was the one to say, ìBrooke, thatís Ellie.î

Brooke looked startled, and then gave me a once-over Before she could say anything, some senior I didnít know said, ìWhoís Ellie?î ìMy sister!î Angela snapped, frustrated The guy smiled at me in a way that shocked me ìI can see why youíve kept her locked up.î I wasnít impressed with the cheese-ball line, just stunned It was quite a relief when this guy Dave, who I play hockey with sometimes, walked past and went ìWestley?î even if he was standing with Vince Kowalski and staring at me like Iíd grown a third eye ìWhatís up, Dave?î I said, trying to nod casually ìMe, thatís what.î Dave looked me up and down with exaggerated slowness and then said, ìDamn girl.î I flipped him off, but we were laughing at each other and then Vince snorted ìAll this time Westley, I never knew you were a chick.î ìThatís funny,î I said thoughtfully ìI always knew you were.î When Vince took a step toward me, Dave held him back and to me said, ìFrisbee football You in?î I nodded ìSure, in a while I owe Kowalski a broken nose.î Vince grabbed himself rudely and I flipped him off, too, but this time I wasnít laughing I turned back around and Angelaís entire popular posse was staring at me When I braved a glance at Seth his eyes were burning with wicked amusement He was doing everything he could not to laugh ìLet me know when itís time to leave,î I grumbled to Angela and then stalked off to find a soda I grabbed a Dr. Pepper and a hot dog and then found a spot to sit where I could keep an eye on my sister without being bothered Seth stuck like glue to Angela for a while, going out of his way to touch her or tease her unnecessarily, but I cold tell when he got bored with it Apparently he had no intention of hurting Angela or taking advantage of her He was just messing with me He knew Iíd only come because of him just like he knew I was watching his every move Heíd been manipulating me from the moment Angela found us in the street, and I was totally acting the sucker When this became obvious, I was mad at myself for letting him get to me I refused to humor him a second longer Hoping that ignoring him completely would piss him off, I went to join the game of frisbee football that was still going on When I approached, I was met with a few low whistlesóall coming from guys Iíd played against with the Jís ìI may be in a swimsuit,î I growled ìBut I will still whoop anyone who doesnít shut his pie hole right now.î ìWe need one more over here,î someone said It was the senior whoíd fed me a pick-up line earlier I couldnít believe he was looking at me like he was really interested No guy, other than my psycho neighbor, had ever shown interest in me before Especially not someone who looked like him The guy had short sandy blond hair and pale grey eyes He was a little too muscley for my taste, but still, he was pretty hot I didnít know whether to be thankful to Angela for making me show up half-naked, or annoyed I did everything in my power not to blush as I went to stand by him, but was able to lose myself in the game rather quickly It was just a fun, friendly game of frisbee football to everyone playing except Vince Kowalski, who apparently thought it was the NFL And also thought I was a tackle dummy He tried to hit me several times and failed, but the third time I didnít see him coming and he plowed me right into a group of girls whoíd been watching on the sidelines In the collision I took a hard plastic sandal to the mouth and about four cups of diet coke to the front of my shirt After regaining my bearings, I reached up and felt my lip It was bleeding where the sandal had popped it open ìOh, that is it!î I yelled Dave offered me a hand up and as soon as I was on my feet I slugged Vince with everything I had in me I hit him so hard he flew back into the guy behind him My knuckles screamed in protest, but it was worth it because blood poured from Vinceís face like a waterfall ìNow weíre even,î I said and went off to find some ice for my hand On my way to the icebox I peeled off my soda-soaked tank top I hated parading around in a swimsuit, but the shirt wasnít just drenched with dark stains, it was sticky Wet is one thing, but sticky is gross Plus I needed the shirt I was trying, one handed, to tie the corners of the tank top around a huge mound of ice cubes when someone came up behind me and said, ìNeed some help with that?î I smiled shyly at the guy who seemed to be my new admirer and let him take over He picked up my hand and examined my knuckles for a minute ìThatís going to hurt for a couple of days,î he said and gently placed the ice on top of my hand

He led me onto the deck of Rachelís lake house and made someone move so that I could sit on one of the sofas ìIím Travis,î he said as he sat down next to me ìEllie.î ìSo Iíve heard.î Travis chuckled He looked out at the group of guys still standing on the beach The game wasnít going anymore ìYouíre the main topic of conversation right now I think you broke that guyís nose.î I shrugged ìHe had it coming.î Travis laughed again and then said, ìSo how come Iíve never seen you at any parties before?î ìParties arenít really my thing.î ìThatís too bad You sure know how to liven them up.î I smiled a little at that but didnít know what to say After a moment Travis broke the silence again ìYou want to go for a swim? Iíve already been in, the waterís really nice.î I wrinkled my nose ìWaterís really not my thing.î ìHow about the Jet Skis then? Iím a pretty decent driver I could take you for a ride without dumping you in the lake.î I hate to admit it, but I chickened out at his offer Not that Iím a total coward, but I couldnít believe what was happening This guy was asking me to hang out with him It was almost like he was asking me out on a date I was excited, but the idea of having to be on the same Jet Ski with him, holding on to him and everything ìThanks,î I said ìBut I think I just need to take it easy for a while and maybe find some Motrin for my hand.î ìOh, well, that works too Iím sure theyíve got something in the house and then we can find a nice quiet place to get to know each other better.î Travis jumped up and offered me a hand He pulled me to my feet and didnít let go of my fingers as he led me toward the back door When we got there, Seth was leaning casually against the frame, blocking our entrance ìGoing somewhere?î he asked us ìWhatís it to you, dude?î Travis asked, immediately taking the defensive I wasnít about to let Seth start a fight with this guy, which appeared to be what he was trying to do So instead of telling Seth to get lost, I explained myself ìIím just getting some painkillers.î ìYou mean like these?î Seth asked, pulling a small bottle of Motrin from his pocket ìDo you always carry Motrin with you?î I asked, taking the bottle from him ìSince I started hanging out with you,î he said ìNever know when youíre going to need it That is the kind you use, right?î ìHow did you know Ióî ìAnd to wash them down,î he continued, handing me a can of Dr. Pepper ìI know thatís your favorite.î I hated that Seth mysteriously knew so much about me, but Iíd promised myself I wouldnít let him get to me I took the can and sighed ìThank you, Seth.î I smiled up at Travis, who was staring at Seth in aóletís just say less than friendly manner I squeezed his hand reassuringly ìLooks like he saved us a trip,î I said, tugging him back toward the swing Travis stopped me before I could sit He glared at Seth, who was still leaning against the back door watching us, and said, ìItís getting a little crowded out here Why donít we go for a walk up the shore?î I gulped A romantic walk up the lakeshore with a guy Iíd just met? ìUmÖî ìItís almost dark,î Seth pointed out, inviting himself into our conversation Travis wheeled on Seth ìWhatís your problem, bro?î Travis was bigger than Seth, but Seth never flinched ìMy problem is, she came here with me Iím not about to let her go wandering off in the dark with another guy.î Travis turned his anger on me ìYou came here with a date? Were you planning to mention this?î It was easy for me to match his anger Neither of these guys owned me ìI came here with my sister!î I snapped and turned to walk away Travis grabbed hold of my wrist ìWhere are you going?î ìLet go of her,î Seth said, eyes blazing in the fading light But his warning was unnecessary because Iíd already wrenched my arm free ìIím going,î I said, glaring at each of them in turn, ìto find some people to hang out with who arenít acting like tools!î Someone started a bonfire and I plopped myself down in front of it The sun had gone down, and since I couldnít put my tank top back on I was starting to get chilly I was still so angry that when I felt a hand come down on my shoulder I nearly knocked my sisterís block off before I realized it was her ìSorry,î I mumbled, but Angela was far too excited about something to care ìI canít believe that just happened!î she exclaimed ìWhat happened?î ìI totally get it now.î

ìWhat are you babbling about? And why are you talking to me? Weíre in public.î ìEllie, Seth likes you!î Yeah, likes to torment me ìI mean, I knew something was up this afternoon when he was all flirty, and now it makes so much sense He was trying to make you jealous! And it totally worked, because you came tonight.î ìI came tonight because Seth is a psychopath and I didnít trust him alone with you.î Angela rolled her eyes ìItís okay to admit that you like him.î I glared at her, but she dismissed it ìReally,î she said ìIím excited for you Iíve always wanted a sister.î I frowned ìYouíve always had a sister.î ìYou know what I mean,î Angela said, waving me off again ìA real sister One who dresses like a girl and crushes on boys.î ìIím not crushingóî ìIím so proud of you, Ellie You came to your first party tonight and even though you bloodied some guyówhich, just so you know, isnít very coolóyou werenít the total social reject I thought youíd be You even had two guys fighting over you Hot guys!î ìAngela.î ìThat was brilliant of you, going off with that guy I thought Seth was going to kill someone, thatís how jealous he was.î ìHe probably just wanted to kill someone,î I pointed out, but Angela wasnít listening to me ìAnd then walking away from them both like you did? Theyíre probably going crazy over it Now we just have to figure out which one you want to go for.î ìAngela.î ìIíd go for Seth if I were you Body builders like that other guy usually care more about working out than they do about their girlfriends.î ìAngela.î ìBut still, heís a hottie, and if you really like himÖî ìAngela!î I finally broke through to her ìWhat?î ìI donít want either of them.î ìYou need a boyfriend, Ellie We canít waste this miraculous opportunity You might not ever get another chance.î ìAngela, Iím telling you, Seth is crazy.î ìWell, yeah,î Angela agreed, frowning ìHim having a crush on you does make one question his mental capacity But, hey, a freak for a freak Itís perfect! We just need to come up with a plan Iíll bet we could make him your boyfriend by the end of the night.î ìAngela Iíll speak slowly so you can understand I donít want Seth for a boyfriend The guy is unhinged.î ìHmm.î Angela said, thinking way too hard on the matter ìSo you want the other guy?î I sighed Angela is as crazy as Seth in her own way ìWho was he anyway?î she asked me ìWho?î ìThe guy you were with.î ìI donít know Some senior, I assume This is your party Your friends Donít you know who he is?î ìI donít think Iíve ever seen him before Whatís his name?î ìTravis,î I said ìTravis what?î ìI donít know, just Travis.î ìYou didnít ask him his last name?î I rolled my eyes ìSeth picked a fight before I could ask him anything.î ìAnd you donít think thatís romantic?î Angela asked with a dreamy sigh ìAre you sure you donít want to go for Seth?î I glared at her ìAll right, fine Travis it is Iím going to see if I can find out more about him You stay here and keep being sociable If you can flirt with anyone else, even better.î I let out a huge breath of relief when she finally left, but I knew sheíd be back Somehow Iíd unleashed a monster Dave and a couple other guys were sitting on the other side of the fire I thought of Angelaís request to be sociable, but decided to stay put I chose instead to chug the rest of the Dr. Pepper Seth had given me and relish the fact that I was alone I only got to enjoy about ten minutes of peace before I felt someone lurking behind me ìGo away,î I warned ìEllie.î Seth ignored my request and sat down right beside me ìI know youíre mad, but you donít understand Do you have any idea what that guy was trying to do?î ìTalk to me?î I snapped ìEllie,î he said again His voice was a whisper so soft it made my heart flutter I looked up without thinking and met his eyes Big mistake He managed to trap me in some sort of spell, and when he reached up to brush the backs of his fingers down my face I let him My eyes flittered shut at his touch ìYouíre so innocent.î I shivered, and I donít think it was from being cold ìYou need me.î My eyes snapped open, his words clearing the fog in my brain ìDid you not happen to see what I did to Kowalski?î I asked ìIím not helpless.î Seth pulled his hand back

ìI never doubted your ability to throw a punch,î he said with a laugh ìIím sure you can more than hold your own on a court But guys like your friend from earlier? Theyíre playing a whole different kind of game One you donít have the slightest clue how to play.î I had to turn my face away from Seth even though in the darkness he couldnít have seen my blush ìTrust me,î Seth went on ìYour boy, Travis? He was a pro He would have taken you on that walk, gotten you alone, and you wouldnít have been able to do a thing about it If you think I scared you earlieróî ìStop,î I said, still unable to look at him ìJust stop I get it.î And I did I hated how much sense he was making ìI may be innocent, but Iím not stupid Iíll figure it out.î ìI could help you.î ìI donít want your help.î ìDonít be mad.î ìGo away.î I turned my body even further from him and we sat in silence until a slight breeze picked up and I shivered again I felt Sethís hand come down lightly on my shoulder He brushed his fingers down the length of my arm, feeling the goose bumps on my skin ìYouíre cold,î he said I shrugged away from his touch ìIím fine.î Seth handed me something After looking down at it I turned to face him Heíd taken off the button up heíd been wearing and was now in nothing but the white tank top heíd had under it ìI donít need your shirt.î He thrust it at me again, rolling his eyes ìJust take it.î I didnít want to take it, but I really was kind of cold, and I was really, really tired of feeling naked The sleeves engulfed my hands and I had to push them back in order to fasten the buttons, but I was grateful to be covered I was about to say thank you when Seth let out a deep breath ìEllie, Ellie, Ellie.î He sighed, shaking his head slowly ìWhat am I going to do with you?î ìWhat?î I asked, drawing my knees up to my chest self-consciously ìNothing,î he said ìItís justÖî He reached up to fix my collar His hands lingered longer than necessary I pulled back a little and he smiled ìAs much as I could kill that guy Travis, I really canít blame him The sight of you wearing my shirt makes me want to take you for a long walk up a deserted beach myself.î I jumped to my feet, ripped the shirt over my head and threw it at Seth I hoped I kicked up sand in his face as I stalked off ìAngela!î I shrieked Angela wasnít standing far away ìOh my gosh, Ellie, I saw you talking with Seth You should have seen the two of you! I donít care what you say, you guys are meant to be!î Rachel and Brooke beside her were nodding vigorously ìYou are so lucky,î Brooke said ìHe is so gorgeous.î ìAnd he gave you his shirt?î Rachel squealed ìSo romantic!î All I said was, ìIím ready to go.î Angela frowned ìWe still have half an hour before we have to go I thought you were having a good time.î ìNow!î My head was pounding when I woke up the next morning Probably because after the party I dreamt all night long Some of the dreams were nightmares, but some of themÖ wellÖ letís just say I remembered what Sethís lips felt like against my neck and how his fingers could raise goose bumps on my skin a little too well The nightmares were comforting because they were so straightforward, but the good dreams confused me I didnít know what to think of Seth, but one thing was certain: there was no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that I was going to spend the day alone with him My car was just going to have to wait I went downstairs to try and explain the bad news to my mom, but I stopped in the hall when I heard her and Angela talking about me ìI donít get it,î Angela said ìThey were just talking and Seth was being so sweet Then all the sudden Ellie freaked out and made us leave She didnít say a single word the whole way home.î ìWell Ang, sweetheart,îóI could hear the sympathy in Momís voice as well as a sense of astonishmentóîshe was probably just scared.î Thank you! I was so relieved that someone else understood how creepy Seth is But then mom said, ìEllieís not used to boys the way you are.î ìAll she ever hangs out with is boys!î ìBut none of them has ever paid her that kind of attention before The Jís, theyíre good kids, but they treat Ellie like one of them Could you see any of them asking her on a date, or trying to kiss her?î Angela snorted ìEw.î I couldnít believe my mom and my sister were having this conversation about me, but at least Angela and I were on the same page with that thought Going out with the Jís?

Ew, ew, and ew! Mom continued, ìSo if Seth really likes Ellie, canít you understand how she might be very confused right now? Puberty is a very difficult thing Not everyone adapts to it as naturally as you did.î ìGross, mom, I canít believe you just said the word puberty.î ìWell, what else am I supposed to call it?î ìUm, nothing We are so done with this conversation And you know what? Maybe you shouldnít say anything to Ellie Iíll help her with Seth.î Hearing a chair scoot back from the table, I started to creep back up the stairs, but I still heard my momís stern reply ìAngela?î ìWhat?î ìYou leave your sister alone.î ìBut Mom, you didnít see her She needs help.î ìStay out of it!î Mom said again ìIím sure sheíll ask for your advice when sheís ready for it.î Ha! And monkeys might fly out of my butt, too I waited in my room until I heard Angela turn the shower on in the bathroom and then went downstairs to face my mom Thankfully she didnít say anything when I walked in the kitchen She just sipped her coffee while I grabbed a bowl of Cocoa Puffs When she finally did speak she didnít breathe a word about the party ìSo, any idea what kind of car you want?î ìI doubt Iíll have many options with only four thousand dollars to work with,î I said, finding the perfect segue into cancelling my plans for the day without bringing up Seth ìMaybe I should just wait until the end of the summer when Iíve saved a little more.î ìYouíd be surprised, Ellie Remember Genevieve from the hotel? Her husband Frank runs the Livonia Ford dealership and he said he had a few great deals right now I told him how hard youíve been saving and heís excited for you to come down today.î Crap! Not that Iím not grateful for my momís attempt to get me a deal despite our familyís lack of motor vehicle connectionsóMom doesnít work for a car company either, as helpful as that would be right now Sheís the front desk manager for the Dearborn Marriott Hotelóbut how was I supposed to get out of going now? ìHey Mom? If you know this guy, why donít you go with me today?î My mom studied me then in a way Iíd never seen her look at me before It took her a long time to reply ìOh, honey,î she said, sighing ìThat is going to take all day and Iíve got a whole list of things I need to get done.î ìBut Iím just a kid Donít you think I should have an adult with me for something like buying a car?î ìYouíre paying cash, so you wonít need me to sign any papers and you know more about cars than I do.î ìButóî ìYouíre about to turn sixteen Itís time for you to start taking on some grown-up responsibility Especially if youíre going to own your own car.î She paused to smile at me over her coffee mug ìI trust you to make a good decision.î Ugh, she was going for the whole guilt trip thing Sheíd been lecturing me on the responsibilities of having my own car for weeks If I told her I couldnít handle this on my own, sheíd probably tell me I couldnít get one Well, if she could go for the guilt trip, then so could I ìDonít you want to go with me, Mom? Itís for my sweet sixteen We could go just the two of us Spend the day together Get some lunch? We donít do that very often.î The truth is, offering some quality girl time just the two of us was pretty underhanded of me My momís a lot more like Angela, and itís no secret that Iím my dadís daughter I felt a little bad manipulating her, but desperate times call for desperate measures My mom got really quiet as she set down her coffee cup I had her! She was going to give inóI could see it in her eyes When she finally spoke I waited for her to say okay, but what came out of her mouth was, ìIím sorry, sweetheart I just canít today.î Thatís when I realized what she was doing ìShe totally got to you!î I accused ìWhat?î My mom sounded startled ìIím going to kill her!î ìKill who?î ìAngela!î I shouted at the top of my lungs ìThat little bióîI caught myself in time to not get grounded ìBrat!î ìEllie! What is the matter with you?î I couldnít help getting angry at my mom ìYouíre blowing me off because you want me to have to go with Seth!î Mom couldnít find a replyóIíd hit the nail right on the head ìYouíre as bad as she is!î I yelled ìEllie, stop shouting,î my mom said, her voice becoming stern ìIt was very nice of Seth to offer to help you Heís brand new in town and just wants to spend time with the only people his age that he knows It would be very rude to cancel on him.î ìOh, please You donít care about offending anyone You just want your freak daughter to be more like your perfect one.î

ìEleanor Elizabeth Westley!î Iíd crossed a line with that one, but I didnít take it back I folded my arms stubbornly, falling into a staring match with my mom I waited for her to start in on me, waited for the lecture and the grounding that I deserved, and was really surprised when I got compassion ìAngelaís not perfect, sweetheart, and youíre not a freak.î My mom reached across the table and put her hand on my arm She had that proud-parent look in her eyes ìYou are a smart, strong, beautiful young woman, Ellie,î she said ìIt was only a matter of time before boys started realizing that And now that they are, youíre going to have to learn how to deal with it.î ìOh, geez!î I sank back in my chair, more uncomfortable than Iíd ever been in my life This was not the lecture Iíd been expecting ìIím serious, Ellie.î ìSo am I. Iíll just wait for dad to get a car.î ìYou know how awful your dad felt about having to leave this weekend Heíll feel even worse if you donít get your car before your birthday He knows how much youíve been looking forward to it.î ìItíll be fine Mom One week wonít kill me.î ìItís more than that, Ellie Your father and I know youíre bummed about your friends being gone this summer and missing your birthday.î ìIíll throw her a party,î Angela said, coming into the kitchen ìThe Fourth is this Friday, which doesnít give me much time, but Iíll bet I can pull it off.î My mom looked at me hopefully and sighed when I shook my head ìThis is your sixteenth birthday,î she said ìIt should be special.î That struck a nerve, no matter how hard I was trying not to let it ìWell, thereís no way a stupid party full of Angelaís friends is going to make it special,î I snapped ìIngrate,î Angela muttered I glared at her ìForget it, itís just a stupid birthday.î ìEllie,î my mom said, frowning The pity in her voice threw my temper over the edge ìI donít want a party!î I yelled ìAnd Iím not going today!î ìWhat do you mean youíre not going today?î Angela gasped in a panic ìYou have to! Ellie, this is basically like a date I even called Rachel and Brooke to come help you get ready Theyíll be here in like fifteen minutes.î ìIt is not a date.î ìYou heard Seth last night on the way home Heís really looking forward to today You canít cancel on him, youíll break his heart.î ìIíll bet I will Iím not going anywhere alone with Seth.î ìSo take your sister with you,î Mom suggested quickly ìOn her date?î Angela asked, appalled But my mom had a point Maybe there was a chance I could still get my car today When Angela was there, Seth did a decent job of controlling his creep factor ìItís not a date,î I said again ìAnd if you donít go, I donít go.î Angela stared at me incredulously ìYouíre such a freak.î ìFine I guess Iím not going,î I said, turning to leave the room I got half way up the stairs before Angela came stomping up them behind me saying, ìAll right, Iíll go You big baby.î I locked myself in the bathroom before she could start giving me wardrobe tips Luckily, Rachel and Brooke did not show up to give me a first date makeover, but there was an outfit laid out on my bed when I got out of the shower I didnít want to give Angela the satisfaction of winning, but I didnít want to fight with her either I needed her to be in a good mood to keep Seth distracted I could tell she tried to be reasonable Sheíd laid out a pair of my own jeansóprobably just because Iím too tall to wear any of hersóso I put on the shirt without too much argument even though it was pink, had a strap around the back of my neck instead of sleeves, and seemed to be missing part of the back I came downstairs expecting her to complain about my ponytail but she just looked at me kind of startled and said, ìWow You actually look kind of cute Man, Iím good.î ìIs this really necessary?î I asked, pointing at the shirt I looked at the T-shirt she was wearing and frowned ìHow come you get to wear sleeves?î ìEllie, if youíre going to make me chaperone on your date, then you at least have to look like you tried to be cuter than me.î ìWould you give it a rest already? This is not a date!î But two seconds later the doorbell rang and we answered it to find Seth standing there with roses in his hand Roses! Angela gave me a very pointed look I ignored it Sethís eyes raked over me from head to toe, lingering curiously on the shirt I was wearing When his gaze finally made it back to my face, he laughed at my scowl and held out the flowers ìFor the almost birthday girl.î

I didnít realize I was standing there like an idiot gaping open-mouthed at the flowers until Angela elbowed me Seth had to actually take my hand and put the flowers in it ìUm, thanks,î I said, but for some reason it sounded like a question Seth held out his arm to me and asked, ìYou ready to go?î I looked down at his waiting arm and then at Angela She was giving me a pleading look, begging me to go without her ìIím ready,î I said, not taking my eyes off my sister ìYou ready, Ang?î Angela rolled her eyes With an irritated sigh she said, ìI just have to get my purse,î and stalked up the stairs ìYour sisterís coming?î I looked back at Seth and shrugged Sethís face was careful ìI thought it was just going to be us,î he said evenly ìShe wanted to come,î I lied Seth studied me for a moment, his gaze intense ìYou could tell her no.î Thankfully Angela came back then Huh Never thought Iíd say that ìOkay, Iím ready,î Angela said, glossing her lips as she stopped in front of us ìGreat,î Seth said with a big smile her direction But as he walked out the door he pointed to her face and said, ìYou smeared a little.î When I headed for the back of Sethís car, he grabbed me by the shoulders, steered me around the car, and plopped me in the front seat ìStay,î he ordered me and then hurried to slip behind the wheel After buckling his seatbelt, Seth brushed his fingers down the length of my arm and pulled my hand into his I stared down, slightly baffled at how heíd intertwined our fingersóIíd never held hands with a guy before ìSo.î His voice startled me I looked up and was met with a smile so warm I couldnít pull my hand away ìI was thinking we couldóî ìItís too bad you wonít be coming home with a car like this today, Ellie,î Angela, whoíd finally stopped fussing over her lips, interrupted as she climbed into the back seat At the sound of her voice I ripped my hand from Sethís Seth started the car, patiently sending Angela a smile in the rearview mirror ìYou like it?î he asked her I could still feel the warmth of Sethís hand on mine My skin tingled where heíd held it, as if it craved more Why did the first boy to ever like me have to be crazy? And I knew he was crazy because as he chatted with my sister about the perks of driving a BMW, his voice was perfectly friendly but he gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles ìEllie?î I looked up Seth and Angela were both waiting for me to say something ìWhat do you think?î Angela asked again ìI wouldnít buy one of these things even if I had a zillion dollars.î ìThatís not what we were talking about,î Angela said ìAnd donít be rude.î ìToo rich for your blood?î Seth asked me curiously ìTry too foreign This is Detroit Motor City? Ford, Chevy, GM?î Seth shrugged ìAt least with this car I wonít have to replace the transmission every three years.î Oh! Angela saw my eyes narrow and quickly stepped in ìEllie, we were talking about Pattyís.î ìWhat?î ìDo you want to go to Pattyís before we start looking for cars? I was just telling Seth how much you love it.î Pattyís is this old-school diner where they have the absolute best milk shakes on the planet I didnít really want to prolong this day any more than necessary, but some things are worth it ìFine,î I grumbled ìSee?î Angela beamed triumphantly at Seth ìI told you she canít ever resist Pattyís.î Seth visibly relaxed in his chair ìWhat other things canít she resist?î he asked Angela, grinning devilishly at me ìTickets to a Red Wings game,î Angela said automatically ìAnd guys who play the guitar.î I gasped ìAngela! Shut up!î I didnít realize she knew that about me ìReally?î Seth laughed and I turned a very deep shade of red ìMusicians, huh?î ìDo you play?î Angela asked Seth hopefully I prayed Seth wouldnít realize Angela was trying to play matchmaker, but I also suspected there wasnít much Seth missed ìI could learn,î he said Pattyís was pretty crowded When we walked in, I noticed a bunch of the guys I play against at the park sitting in the big corner booth While Seth and Angela went to talk to the hostess I strolled over to my friends ìThanks for the invite, jerks,î I teased Several guys choked on the food in their mouths when they looked up I didnít know what that was about until Dave laughed and said, ìWhatís with the makeover, Westley?î I looked around at the group of stunned guys and remembered I was wearing the clothes Angela had picked out I groaned and made Dave shove over for me

ìDonít start,î I said as I stole a few of his fries Since everyone was still staring at me I added, ìI lost a bet.î Yeah, I know, Iím a liar But it was easier than explaining the truth ìWhere were you this morning?î Dave asked ìKowalski was saying youíre afraid to play against him now since you know heís going to take you down for breaking his nose.î I snorted ìHe can try Iím not afraid of that dillweed I was just busy.î ìBusy?î one of the guys asked, and several of them snickered I followed their gazes and found Seth standing behind me ìOur tableís ready, Ellie,î Seth said without taking his eyes off of Dave sitting next to me ìReally busy,î someone else teased, igniting more laughter ìShut it, perverts,î I snapped Then, with a sigh, I stole a few more of Daveís fries ìTell Kowalski Iíll be there Monday morning in case he wants to get beat again.î When I stood up I heard someone say, ìI didnít know Westley liked ëem pretty.î Then someone else muttered, ìI didnít know Westley liked ëem at all.î I whirled around, ready to knock someone the freak out, but Seth grabbed me firmly around my waist ìWhoa there, tiger,î he said, laughing as he dragged me to our table Somehow, though Iíd fully intended on sitting next to Angela, Seth ushered me into the booth across from her and sat down next to me before I could protest Angela smiled at me really big from across the table Smugly I was about to kick her when Seth distracted me with a question ìSo that guy you were just sitting by, he was the same one you were joking with at the party last night, right?î ìAnd?î ìYou two seem reallyÖ chummy.î I knew what he was getting at, and even though that definitely wasnít the case with Dave and me, I didnít see the harm in letting Seth believe it was ìMaybe we are.î ìWhat guy?î Angela asked, startled ìHe means Dave.î ìDave Holcomb?î I nodded and Angela laughed ìYeah, right Ellie, donít tease poor Seth like that.î Poor Seth Right ìDave Holcomb,î Angela said, ìis one of the most popular guys in Ellieís class He could get any junior girl he wanted And half the seniors too probably.î Angela explained all this as if it should be a comfort to Seth, and really she was rightóDave and I are friends, but heíd never ask me to prom if you know what I meanóbut Seth didnít seem very thrilled with the idea of me being ìchummyî with such a sought-after guy It got quiet for a minute and we all sighed with relief at the sight of our server ìWhat can I get you guys?î the lady asked Seth gestured to me, so I said, ìIíd like a chocolate peanut butter shake please.î The woman nodded, then moved her eyes to Seth ìHow about an Oreo cookie shake,î he said Then he looked at me and added, ìWeíd better get a basket of fries as well.î ìAnd for you?î the server asked my sister ìOh, nothing for me thanks.î ìYou sure?î Seth asked while I said, ìNothing? You were the one who insisted we come here.î ìIím sure,î Angela said ìIíll be fine with my water.î Something was up with Angela She doesnít exactly pack away ice cream the way I do, but Iíd never seen her sit down in a restaurant and not at least order a Diet Coke A few minutes later I figured out what she was up to when I saw Rachel and Brooke walk into the restaurant Angela looked up just as her friends spotted us She tried to look surprised, but sheís not that good an actress ìOh, hey! What are you guys doing here?î she asked innocently when Rachel and Brooke slid into the booth beside her ìYes,î Seth said, that cool control back in his voice ìTo what do we owe the pleasure?î Rachel and Brooke didnít answer Sethís question Instead they started cooing at Seth and me like we were a couple of puppies in a pet shop window ìAngela was right You guys are just the cutest!î Brooke whined ìTotally adorable,î Rachel agreed ìIím so glad youíre together now You know Seth, Ellieís never had a boyfriend before so youíd better take good care of her.î I didnít have time to correct Rachel of my relationship status because Seth, of all people, said, ìOh, weíre not together.î But then he had to go and ruin it by throwing his arm around my shoulders and adding, ìDonít worry your pretty heads about it, though I have special plans for our little Ellie here.î ìSpecial plans?î I muttered ìCould you be any creepier?î Seth ignored me ìI promise you,î he said to my sister and her friends as he pulled me tight against him ìIíll take extra care with her.î

The blond brigade all sighed and started scrambling to their feet ìWell, weíll leave you to it then,î Rachel said ìHave fun you guys!î ìAngela!î I hissed when my sister stood up I knew she was going to ditch me! ìWhere do you think youíre going?î ìYou guys donít really need me to come today,î she said with a big innocent smile ìDo you Seth?î Seth gave my sister his first sincere grin of the day ìItíll be difficult, but Iím sure weíll manage.î ìYou told mom you were coming with me today,î I said, starting to panic ìYou promised!î Angela smiled down at me very condescendingly ìTrust me, Ellie, this is for your own good.î ìBut I wore your stupid shirt!î ìTotally cute, by the way,î Brooke said ìYou should wear pink more often.î I glared at my sister ìI hate you!î ìYou wonít later,î Angela said, which caused Seth to laugh Angela winked at him and then ran off with her friends, leaving me trapped in a booth with my psycho neighbor who still had his arm around me ìWell,î Seth said after my sister was long gone and our shakes were in front of us ìThis is a pleasant turn of events You know? Your sisterís not as bad as I used to think.î ìYeah, sheís worse Stupid traitor.î ìEllie, quit being ridiculous She did what she did because she cares about you.î ìRight,î I sneered Sethís entire demeanor was completely different now He was much happier and way too comfortable ìAngela just sees what you canít for some reason,î he said ìAnd whatís that?î The corner of Sethís mouth pulled up into a smirk and he turned, angling his body toward mine in the booth ìThat itís only a matter of time before I get what I want.î Seth looked as if he were the one caught in a spell this time His gaze was so intense that I shrank back as far as the booth would allow It wasnít far enough He cupped my jaw in his fingers, brushing his thumb across my lips ìGet your hands off me.î I was surprised when I actually sounded dangerous because that warm tingly feeling I got whenever Seth touched me was trying to convince me I didnít really want him to stop Seth sat back with a sigh and pushed my shake a little closer to me ìYou should drink that Itíll make you feel better.î ìActually, going home would make me feel better.î ìWonít you at least try to have a nice time today?î ìIf you would at least try to act like a normal person, I might.î Something flashed in Sethís eyes ìAnd whatís normal?î he snapped ìBreaking peopleís noses and having to be forced to wear clothes that actually fit? Youíre not exactly one to talk, you know.î I was so taken aback by his outburst that the only thing I could think to do was take a sip of milkshake A really long sip I knew Seth was watching me After what heíd said, I couldnít help feeling completely self-conscious I shrank back wrapping my arms around myself, my temper completely depleting Stupid Angela and her stupid shirt ìYou look very nice today,î Seth offered suddenly I glared at him, hating that he could read me so easily His face filled with regret ìIím sorryóI lose my temper sometimes.î I didnít say anything, even though I probably should have apologized to him too ìLetís not fight,î Seth said, attempting to make amends again ìWhatever,î I grumbled and then did the only thing there was left to doóI reached for the basket of fries sitting between us and dunked a really long one into my shake After shoving the fry in my mouth I noticed that Seth was watching me with that completely amused sparkle back in his eyes Once I got to the car dealership I started to relax I was buying my first car, after all Even with Seth around I was kind of excited Plus, it was easier to deal with Seth when I wasnít trapped in a small booth with him anymore ìSo,î Seth said as we wandered over to the used half of the dealership ìDid you have anything specific in mind?î Seth raised his eyebrows and opened the driverís side door to an F150 ìYou strike me as the truck type.î I tried not to smile at that and climbed behind the wheel Seth joined me in the cab and watched me as I tried to get a feel for the truck ìYou know whatís good about a truck,î he said eventually ìPlenty of room to haul all your gear when you go camping.î ìI suppose thatís true, though I wouldnít really know Iíve never been camping.î ìNever?î I asked ìNope.î Seth slid across the cab toward me ìI have, however, been to the drive in.î He slipped his arm around my shoulders with a grin ìBench seats are nice, donít you think?î I swallowed hard and hopped out of the car so fast that Seth fell over

ìNo trucks, then?î he called as I slammed the door in his face I was already looking in the windows of a Focus when Seth caught up to me I took specific note of the bucket seats up front and then climbed behind the wheel Seth settled himself into the passenger seat ìThis would get much better gas mileage,î I said ìItís kind of small, though.î Seth wiggled uncomfortably and then scooted his chair back I glanced around the car and tried to picture the Jís all cramming into the tiny car ìTrue,î I agreed ìLetís go try that one over there.î Seth followed me to a Fusion As I got comfy behind the wheel, he didnít say anything, except ìmuch better.î ìDefinitely,î I agreed, glancing over my shoulder ìAnd way more room in the back seat.î Seth turned to look at me with his eyebrows cocked way up ìEllie,î he said, laughing ìYou just freaked out over the idea of a bench I donít think you have to worry about needing a spacious backseat.î When I caught his meaning I blushed Why are all guys such horn dogs? ìI didnít mean I plan on making out back there I was simply thinking of the Jís They fully expect me to drive their sorry butts to school in the fall.î ìYeah, and they fully expect you to get busy in the back seat with them too.î ìShut up, they do not.î ìOh, yes they do Theyíre guys And youíre not Itís that simple.î ìTheyíre my best friends Weíve grown up in the same neighborhood together our whole lives I guarantee none of them is interested in me.î ìNot that theyíd tell you Theyíre probably afraid of getting their butts handed to them on a spoon But that doesnít mean they arenít thinking about it At least one of them is My moneyís on Josh.î ìWhat makes you say that? Youíve never even met the guy.î ìYeah, but who else would spend so much time playing something as lame as Skateboard Pro 2000? I hate to break it to you, but the guyís not obsessed with beating your score Heís hoping youíll get bored and jump his bones.î ìFirst of all, gross And second of all, Skateboard Pro 2000 is not lame.î ìIím afraid it is, Ellie In fact,îóSeth shrugged apologeticallyóîyour entire video game collection pretty much sucks Grand Theft Auto, MX vs ATV Racing, Madden Football? Whereís the action? The suspense? The danger?î ìI play Halo,î I said defensively ìHalo?î Seth laughed ìGive me a break!î ìWhatís wrong with Halo?î ìUm, itís boring You just run around and shoot at anything that moves Your sister could probably beat that game.î ìOh yeah, and whatís your favorite video game?î ìAssassinís Creed.î ìAssassinís Creed,î I repeated dryly Of course it is I shouldnít have asked ìExcuse me if I find murdering people disturbing.î ìItís not about killing people, itís about the challenge You canít just go in and blow off everyoneís heads You get points for stealth and creativity Blowing up a bunch of aliens is whatever, but pulling off the perfect murder? Thatís an accomplishment.î ìNo Itís creepy is what it is.î ìItís not that creepy,î Seth argued ìOtherwise why are there so many crime novels and cop shows out there? People are fascinated with murder.î This conversation had taken a turn for the weird really fast, but it was more of a conversation than Seth and I had ever had Well, a conversation that wasnít about him trying to seduce me, anyway Thatís why I encouraged him to keep talking ìPeople arenít fascinated with murder,î I said, knowing heíd argue ìSure they are Take those two girls your parents were talking about at dinner for example The media is fixed on them right now This city is just waiting for another girl to end up dead because thereís nothing like a good serial killer to liven up the conversation around the water cooler.î He had to bring that up Suddenly Heather Monroeís face was flashing through my brain and I shuddered violently ìItís not a serial killer,î I said ìAnd come to think of it, Iím really more of an SUV type of girl.î Seth scrambled to catch up to me after I jumped out of the car Iíd hurried off so fast I wasnít even sure what kind of car Iíd climbed into next ìYou donít think those two deaths were related?î Seth asked me ìThe cops already said they werenít.î ìThen theyíre lying.î ìWhat makes you so sure?î I didnít think I wanted to know Sethís answer, but at the same time I did I had to know if there was really a serial killer out there snatching girls who looked exactly like me

ìItís the number of stab wounds,î Seth said matter-of-factly ìBoth girls were stabbed over thirty times.î I suddenly felt sick ìCould be coincidence.î Seth shook his head ìFor most people who commit crimes like that itís about the pleasure they get while the victim is still alive The murder is just a means of cleaning up But for serial killers, itís about the killing No way two different guys would attack two different girls who happen to look so much alike and stab them so excessively If they had been regular murders, the attackers would have wanted to kill the girls as quickly as possible Even if the guys had no idea how to properly use a knife, there are way too many vulnerable places on the human body to miss them all Five or six stab wounds and chances are the girls would be dead Why would two different guys continue to chop up someone whoís already dead?î I was ready for this conversation to be over, but I couldnít get a word in Something had taken over Seth Iíd never seen him so animated ìNot only are the two killings definitely related,î he continued, ìbut itís a game for this guy The second girl was stabbed seven times more than the first My guess is he was trying to keep her alive as long as possible See if he could out-do his last death You watch Iíll bet you that there is another murder tonight, and the number of stab wounds will be close to or higher than the last.î I gaped at Seth, but he just kept going ìIíd also bet the killer is annoyed that the two killings havenít been connected Heís got to be proud of his workóthat many stab wounds is really quite impressive I bet this time heíll leave some kind of message or calling card so that they have to rule it a serial killing.î Seth was so caught up in his theory that he hadnít noticed just how excited heíd become, or how absolutely crazy he sounded He also didnít seem to realize that I hadnít said a word for minutes and was on the verge of throwing up He was startled back to reality when I flung the car door open I heard him call my name but I didnít answer I slammed the door shut and headed quickly for the office ìEllie, whatís wrong? Where are you going?î Seth asked when heíd caught up to me When I didnít answer him he grabbed my wrist and spun me toward him ìWhatís the matter with you?î ìLet go of me!î I demanded ìNot until you tell me what your problem is.î ìYou!î I shouted ìYouíre crazy! Sick!î I could see the anger flash through Sethís eyes the same way it had back in the restaurant, but he let go of my arm ìThere is something seriously wrong with you,î I said ìIím going home.î I got about two steps before Seth grabbed my wrist again ìEllie, wait.î He sounded more hurt than angry now, but I didnít care ìLet go of me right now or Iíll start screaming My mom knows the manager of this place Heíll have you arrested quicker than you can say psychopath!î Seth let go without another word I didnít look back, but I could feel him watching me as I stormed into the car dealership My mom didnít ask me about it when I called her from the car dealership and asked her to come pick me up, but Iím sure my face said enough When she got there I simply told her I didnít find anything I liked and we drove home in complete silence After that I grabbed a bunch of snacks and locked myself in my bedroom for the rest of the day Iím sure my mom and Angela probably thought that Seth and I had gotten into some huge loverís spat or something, but I didnít care I didnít want to talk about Seth to them Itís not like they would have listened or believed me if Iíd told them the truth No Iíd just be poor little naive Ellie nervous because a boy actually liked her for once When the Jís called me later that evening I couldnít stop thinking about what Seth said, so when Josh finally got hold of the phone I asked him if it was true Well, sort of ìHey, is my video game collection lame?î Joshís answer came so easily it startled me ìOf course Why?î ìNo For real.î ìYeah For real, Westley, itís pretty lame You donít even have Call of Duty or anything.î ìSo then you donít like Skateboard Pro 2000?î ìUgh, itís the worst I wish I could punk that stupid sport for existing and forcing us all to be subject to such lameness.î I gripped the phone receiver so tight in my hand I half expected it to crumble to pieces Just because Josh hated Skateboard Pro 2000 didnít mean Seth was right It just meant I needed to expand my X-box horizons ìIf my game collection sucks so bad, why do you always insist on hanging out at my house?î ìHey guys,î Josh called out

ìEllie wants to know why we hang out at her house so much.î It was quiet for a second, and then Jesse and Jack sung out in unison ìAngela!î ìMy sister?î ìDuh,î Josh said ìShe may be wretched, but that doesnít mean I wouldnít mind catching her getting out of the shower one of these days.î ìYouíre sick,î I teased, but I felt much better Clearly Seth was wrong about the Jís And if he was wrong about them, then maybe that meant he was wrong about the murders too ìAnyway, we gotta go,î Josh said ìWish you could be here, Westley Youíd seriously love it.î ìYeah!î Jesse yelled in the background ìWeíre gonna have to figure out a way to make you grow a pair by next summer!î Well They may have been a bunch of tools, but at least they were consistent That tincy bit of normalcy made me relax a little, but I still kept a close eye on the house across the street Sethís car was still gone Heíd waited around at the dealership sulking until my mom got there, but he didnít follow us home and hadnít come back yet When Seth didnít come home by midnight I started to feel bad I hadnít exactly been nice to him and he was obviously upset about it I waited all nightócouldnít sleep I even quit peeking out the window after a while and actually climbed out onto the roof needing some air Around 4:30 a.m. a pair of headlights came shining down the street and I dove back into my room I shut off my TV and even covered my alarm clock so that my room was pitch black Then, through the tiniest crack in my window shade, I watched Seth climb out of his car He seemed exactly the same as he always did as he went inside The light turned on in his room for a few minutes and then it went back off Nothing to see No strange behavior And now that he was home, I realized it was nearly dawn and was able to finally pass out ìEllie, youíre still alive, right?î I woke up to the sound of Angelaís voice, which is always unpleasant, but it wasnít as antagonistic as it normally is I groaned something that sounded close to, ìGo away.î ìNo can do, little sis Mom told me not to bother you, but if you stay in your room much longer sheís going to come in here, and trust me you donít want her to She keeps using the word puberty.î I grumbled something completely unintelligible this time ìIf it helps, I brought breakfastódouble fudge chunk.î I sat up and Angela climbed onto my bed holding two pints of ice cream and two spoons When I tried to take one from her she pulled it back ìThis doesnít come without a price,î she said ìYou are going to tell me exactly what happened yesterday.î I rolled my eyes and snatched the ice cream from my sisterís hands She sighed, took a bite out of her own pint and then asked, ìSeriously Ellie, what went wrong? Because Seth likes you I mean he really, really likes you Heís come over three times today asking for you He even brought you new roses because you forgot to put the ones he gave you yesterday in water and they wilted Look, see?î Angela pointed to the bouquet on my dresser ìThese ones came already in a vase.î ìHeís come over three times? What time is it?î ìAlmost one I tried to ask him what happened but he wouldnít tell me Ellie, he looked upset.î ìUpset-angry?î I asked ìMore like upset-frustrated,î Angela said ìI donít think Seth gets angry.î ìHa! Angela you donít understand Heís not the same around you as he is around me He has problems Heís seriously crazy The way he looks at me, and touches me all the time…î I felt my face heat up The blushing was definitely not going to help my case any ìItís like heís restraining himself from hog-tying me and dragging me out to the woods.î ìCome on, Ellie, thatís a little harsh, donít you think? Heís just being a guy Youíve just never had a guy interested in you before.î ìNo, thatís not it! Listen, when we were at the car dealership he started talking about those girls But he wasnít just talking about them It was like he was obsessed with them Like he understood what happened because his brain works the same way.î ìWhat girls?î ìThose two girls that died The ones mom was talking about with his aunt at dinner.î ìOh, them Actually itís three girls now And theyíre saying itís definitely a serial killer.î ìWhat?î ìItís been all over the news today,î Angela said As I turned on my TV Angela frowned ìWait Are you saying you think Sethís brain works like a fifteen-year-old girl?î she asked

ìNo, Iím saying he thinks like a serial killer.î I held my breath when I turned to CNN and saw that Detroitís new serial killer had made national news Sixteen-year-old Olivia Harvey from South Lyon had been found in a park this morning, beaten and stabbed 41 times ìAt least she doesnít look quite as much like you.î Angelaís voice startled me so badly I jumped ìDid you see the last one? That girl looked like she could be your twin.î ìThank you, Angela Because that makes me feel so much better.î I muted the TV, but I couldnít take my eyes off the screen ìSo they ruled them all serial killings?î ìThey had to The killer left Polaroids of the first two girls with the body.î Angela didnít notice the gasp that escaped me She kept talking ìMom was watching the news this morning and they had some expert profiler on He said the killer was claiming his victims.î ìHe said that would happen,î I whispered ìAngela, he knew!î ìWhat are you talking about?î she asked, finally turning her attention back to me ìSeth! He knew! Yesterday he told me another girl would die, and not just eventually He said someone would die last night Promised me, even!î ìWell, thatís not such a big deal I mean, the others both died on the previous two Saturday nights Thatís why theyíve nicknamed the killer the Saturday Night Slasher.î ìHe also told me the killer would leave a message so that theyíd have to connect the killings.î ìHuh Well that was kind of a lucky guess.î ìIt wasnít a guess.î ìHow could it not be a guess?î My mind was reeling with a million different thoughts That sick feeling Iíd had in my stomach the day before was back So much so that I had to put down my ice cream ìI donít know, but he knew I swear to you Seth knew.î Angela stared at me like I was the one who was crazy and then she burst into laughter ìDo you realize what youíre saying?î What exactly was I saying? ìEllie, you just accused Seth of killing three girlsóof being a serial killer!î Angela started laughing again, and I tried to laugh with her, but I couldnít When she saw the look on my face she got herself under control ìYou canít be serious,î she said ìA serial killer? Do you really think that Seth, the hottie seventeen-year-old boy across the street whoís bringing you roses, could actually kill someone?î I had to think about it Did I think that? Did I really believe Seth could do it? I found myself nodding my head Angela rolled her eyes ìOkay, I get that he freaked you out a little yesterday, but now youíre the one whoís being crazy So heís a little forwardówhich, Iíll be honest, I would love if he came on to me like thatóbut that doesnít make him a psycho.î Angela was calling me crazy, but the more I thought about it the easier it was to believe ìThink about it,î I said ìThe murders started right after Seth moved to Michigan And you say he really likes me, right? All the dead girls look just like me! Plus, the killerís obsessed with stabbing his victims and thereís no question Seth knows how to handle a knife.î ìSo you say.î ìI know what I saw! And yesterday he was talking about knowing all the vulnerable spots on the human body in order to be able to stab them as many times as possible before they died His aunt said he knows first aid and stuff And you know how strong he is.î ìGetting good grades in biology and knowing self-defense isnít a crime.î ìHe attacked me in the street the other day!î ìHe attacked you?î ìYes! Attacked me! Just to scare me Just to show me that he could.î Angela was clearly not being convinced ìHeís smart Like, really smart He knows things about me that he shouldnít, he breaks into my room, heóî ìHe broke into your room?î ìMore than once Look at what he did to my video game.î I turned on Skateboard Pro 2000, but it didnít have the desired affect Angela read the high score list and squealed ìOh my gosh, Ellie, that is so sweet! Didnít you just die when you saw this?î ìBut how did he do it? And when? Itís not like I invited him over Plus, he never came home last night I know, because I sat up all night waiting for him.î That made Angela pause ìStalk much, Ellie?î she said with a smirk ìIím serious!î ìI can see that.î Angela finally lost her patience with me ìYou are such a freak Remind me never to have girl-talk with you again.î ìNo one asked you to in the first place.î Angela started to leave and stopped at my door to glare at me

ìSeth is sweet, funny, romantic, and completely gorgeous And for some insane reason he likes you You are an idiot! I am not going to let you screw this up because youíre a freaking prude.î ìBite me,î was my brilliant comeback ìWhatever Iím going to talk to Seth,î Angela grumbled ìI hope he leaves your mutilated body in a park!î I called after her I eventually came out of my room, but I just hung around the house No way was I going to go outside and risk seeing Seth For some reason it was a relief to have my dad come home that night We spent the evening watching any channel on TV that didnít have the news on, and we talked about what other types of cars I might like He didnít ask about Seth either, but unlike my mother, he didnít seem to care much about it, and that was nice When I went up to bed I found a note on my pillow along with one of the flowers pulled from the vase on my dresser In strong handwriting it read: What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson The note wasnít signed, but I knew it was from Seth I tried to tell myself that heíd given it to Angela to give to me, but Angela would have handed it to me, watched me read it, and then made a huge fuss over it No way would she have been able to just place it on my pillow for me to find later, even if Seth had given her those exact instructions I went to my window, sighed when I found it locked, and then turned my attention back to the note I knew what the saying meant, but I wasnít sure exactly what Seth was trying to tell me with it Was he telling me to look inside him? Because when I did that all I saw was a possible homicidal maniac Or did the ìusî mean him and me? What lies behind us being yesterday, and what lies ahead of us beingÖ I shudder to think Either way there was definitely nothing lying within us or between us or around us or anywhere because there was no us I wanted to crumple up the note and throw it away, but I couldnít There was something about it Just like there was something about the vase of roses on my dresser that I couldnít dump bleach on no matter how many times Iíd thought about doing so I took the rose off my pillow and put it back with the others after taking in a long drag of its scent Then I taped the note to the mirror on my dresser and tried not to think about it as I went to sleep My dreams that night were the worst theyíd been all summer After everything with Seth, and the serial killer stuff, and the dreams, I had an unhealthy amount of tension built up inside me So I may have been acting a little crazy come seven a.m I went barging into my sisterís room and began rummaging through her drawers I wasnít exactly being graceful and neither was Angela with the mouthful she gave me when I woke her up ìSorry,î I grumbled ìBut thereís a pick-up game in the park at 7:30 I want to get there before they pick teams.î ìAnd that would require ransacking my dresser becauseÖ?î ìBecause when I played frisbee football at the party the other night it was a million times easer to move around in your tank top and shorts than in baggy jeans and a jersey Not to mention I got elbowed in the boobs way less.î ìSure,î she agreed with a snort ìThatís because the Neanderthals you always play with finally realized you had boobs to watch out for.î ìAre you going to help me find something to wear or not?î I snapped, throwing a pile of clothes on the floor ìAll right Geez Do you mind?î Angela acted like it was a huge ordeal to get out of bed, but I noticed her smile as she slid her closet door open ìYou have a sports bra, yes?î ìOf course.î ìThen here.î Angela threw me a white tank top ìWear that over it and take the pink Adidas pants Second drawer, left-hand side Youíll have to wear them low on your hips, cause your legs are longer than mine, but they have a drawstring Get one drop of blood on them and youíre buying me new ones.î ìWhatever.î Angela sighed and finally cracked a grin ìI work from ten to four today.î Angela works at Old Navy ìCome see me and Iíll help you pick some stuff out Iíll even get you my employee discount.î ìMaybe, if I had a way to get there,î I grumbled, still peeved that sheíd ditched me Saturday ìIím sure Seth would be more than happy to give you a ride.î ìA ride to hell on the Saturday Night Slasher Express,î I muttered as I left ìItís not even Saturday, freak!î she yelled after Iíd slammed her door ìShe shoots, she scores!î Dave hollered, slapping me a high five ìAnd thatís game, losers!î It felt really, really good to let go all of the tension, anger, and frustration inside me, and as a result, I killed on the court that morning

Sure when Iíd shown up in Angelaís workout clothes the guys had given me crap about not being able to play now that I was a girl, but weíd been out there for three hours and Iíd not been on the losing team once My theory was right about Angelaís clothes, too I was much cooler, much more comfortable, and my chest had only been assaulted once this morning When I got hit, theyíd even stopped the game for a minute to make sure I was okay I didnít need that, but I definitely needed to take Angela up on her offer to help me shop I crashed onto a bench, ripped off my helmet, and wiped at the sweat on my face while I caught my breath As I drained a bottle of water, this guy Greg, that Iíd just scored the winning goal on, fell down beside me ìYou may look like a chick now Westley, but youíve still got game.î ìOf course I do,î I teased, ìand if you werenít so easy to score on I might actually get to use it sometimes This was barely a workout.î Gregís grin grew as wide as his face ìGirl, if you were looking to score all you had to do was say so You have no idea how easy I can be.î I groaned for the hundredth time todayóthe innuendos had been nonstop I punched Greg in the arm and hollered, not just to Greg, but to everyone present, ìAm I really going to have to hear this crap every time we play from now on? Youíre like a bunch of wild dogs!î Among the laughter someone shouted, ìA bullmastiff baby! Or a pit-bull!î ìYou wish Sanchez!î someone else said Another guy chimed in, ìMore like a Chihuahua!î I groaned again and a shadow fell over me I looked up to see Dave smiling down at me ìAdmit it Westley You like playing with us better than the Jís.î ìNever!î I laughed ìYou just like me playing with you guys better because it means you get to win occasionally.î ìYou talk a lot of smack for someone wearing a ponytail,î Dave said, offering me a hand up ìYou and me, one-on-one sometime Weíll see who leaves crying.î ìYouíre on.î As I gathered my things I noticed a familiar tall, lean figure propped against a shiny BMW near the edge of the park When he caught my attention he held up his index finger and motioned for me to come to him Yeah, right I quickly glanced away, but I knew the minute I was alone Seth would come after me, so I did something Iíve never done before in my life ìHey Dave, you heading home?î ìYeah Whatís up?î I shot Dave a smile much more confident than I actually felt ìYou mind taking the long way? Walk a girl home?î ìUhÖî Dave looked confused and very surprised, but at least he didnít look disgusted ìYeah,î he said a little uncertainly ìSure.î We headed across the park together in the direction of my house And I did everything I could not to look behind me, where I knew Seth was probably still watching, completely furious ìThanks,î I said in order to break the awkward silence that had settled between Dave and me ìNo problem Whatís up?î ìItís stupid really.î I laughed nervously ìYou know that whole serial killer on the loose thing?î ìYeah, I heard about that.î Dave glanced at me curiously ìIt got you spooked?î ìSomething like that I sort of fit the profile of all the dead girls, you know? My Dadís going a bit crazy over it He made me promise I wouldnít go anywhere alone Iím also pretty sure Iím grounded every Saturday night until the guyís caught.î ìI guess your dadís never seen your right hook.î I smiled at that At least somebody thought I could handle myself ìCould be worse, I guess,î I said, shrugging ìHe could have locked me in my room and nailed the windows shut.î Dave chuckled and then completely changed the subject ìSoÖ who was that guy you were with at the diner the other day?î I snorted and shook my head Guys ìWhat?î Dave asked defensively ìNothing Thatís just the exact same thing he asked me about you.î ìOh yeah?î ìJust as soon as we sat down He thought you and I looked chummy.î I gestured quotation marks with my fingers Dave seemed amused by this, but he didnít say so Instead he repeated his question ìSo who is he? I didnít realize you were seeing anybody.î ìHis name is Seth,î I explained as my face turned devastatingly red ìHe moved into the house across the street from mine And, uh, yeah, not seeing him.î ìYou sure? Because it kind of looked like you two wereÖ chummy.î ìOh for crapís sake!î Dave burst into laughter

ìChill, Westley Iím just messiní with you.î ìYou and everyone else for the last freaking week.î ìCan you really blame people?î ìItís not like you guys havenít ever seen a girl before.î ìCome on, you know youíre different Itís got people talking.î ìDifferent?î I asked, startled ìIím not different.î Dave looked me up and down with one eyebrow raised ìIím still the same person,î I said ìIt just happens that thisîóI gestured to my outfitóîis surprisingly comfortable and a lot easier to play in.î ìSure,î Dave said, suppressing a laugh ìBut itís more than just the clothes I donít think Iíve ever seen you without at least one of the Jís present Youíre branching out.î ìPure necessity The Jís are at camp You try spending a whole summer with nothing but an X-box and my sister to keep you company.î ìActually,î Dave said, considering the possibility ìI wouldnít mindóî ìUgh Spare me the Angela swoonage, okay?î ìFair enough But still Going to partiesÖî ìLong story.î ìDatingÖî ìI told you I am not datingóî ìFlirting with guys so that theyíll escort you homeÖî My jaw just about fell off my face it dropped so fast ìI didnítóthat was notÖî My voice trailed off I didnít have a clue how to finish my sentence I glanced around frantically and was relieved to see we were almost to my house Dave burst out laughing and I punched his arm hard enough that he nearly tripped on his skates ìWould you cut that out?î I yelled ìThe whole messing-with-Ellie thing is really outwearing its welcome.î Dave continued to laugh until we reached my driveway ìHey.î He stopped and pulled his hands up in defeat ìI never said different was a bad thing Whatever your deal is right now, it suits you.î Oh man, I was going to blush again, I could feel it How embarrassing Dave punched me back then, more playfully than Iíd hit him but still hard enough to nearly knock me over ìJust donít go getting all soft with your game,î he said ìNo oneís going to show you any mercy just ëcause you went and got a little hot.î This time I just rolled my eyes ìYou can leave now.î I pointed to my house ìYou are no longer of any use to me.î ìLater,î Dave said, but as he turned to leave, he noticed Seth working over the punching bag in his garage and stopped to watch him for a second I was surprised I hadnít noticed the Beemer parked out front when we skated up the street And I definitely didnít like the fact that every time I ignored Seth he felt the need to beat something Dave eyed Seth for a minute longer, then turned back to me more serious than heíd been all morning ìBe careful with that guy,î he said I couldnít hide how surprised I was by Daveís warning ìI saw him at X-treme Saturday night Letís just say heís not shy with the ladies.î ìOh, I have no doubt of that,î I said dryly So he got mad at me, went to a club, and made out with as many chicks as possible Not really surprising ìHowíd you get into X-treme, anyway?î I asked ìYouíre not eighteen.î Dave winked ìI have my ways.î ìFake ID?î ìYou should invest in one and come with us sometime You know, since youíre branching out and all Youíre tall You could pass for eighteen.î ìDancing? Are you kidding? I think Iíll stick with hockey.î ìWell, see you Wednesday morning, then.î ìYeah.î Something occurred to me then ìHey Dave? Out of curiosity, did any of those girls Seth hooked up with Saturday night happen to be red heads?î ìYeah, actually.î And Angela thinks Iím crazy What if that red head was Olivia from South Lyon? Dave pulled me from my thoughts when he said, ìAfter seeing you at the diner, I assumed he was with you I almost beat him down when I realized he wasnít.î Dave glanced behind him again, where Seth was still viciously beating away calories ìKind of glad I didnít.î ìA wiser choice than you realize.î I laughed ìThanks for the thought, though, and thanks for bringing me home.î ìNo problem See you later, Ellie.î For a second I watched in wonder as Dave skated away I think that was the first time heíd ever called me by my first name Maybe something was different about me ìYouíve been spending way too much time with Angela,î I muttered to myself and then hurried into my house before Seth could stop me Wednesday morning I expected Seth to show up at the park like he had on Monday since Iíd done everything in my power to avoid him Sometimes itís nice to be wrong I got to have a nice stalker-free game

Well, nice except for the part where Dave told everyone I had to have a babysitter on account of being serial killer bait Babysitter comment aside, though, I have to admit I was relieved when a few guys who live closer to me offered to take me home I didnít want to ask Dave again and have him think I liked him But I also knew Seth would probably be in his garage working outóAKA waiting for meówhen I got home, and I didnít want to be alone when I showed up The escort turned out to be unnecessary Sethís garage was open like it always is, but I was surprised to see that he wasnít in it Then I noticed that his car wasnít there and my heart leapt for joy in my chest Iíd been cooped up in the house so much lately, hiding from Seth, that even though Iíd just played hockey for the last couple of hours I couldnít bring myself to go inside I fell to the grass in my front yard, ripped off my skates, and lay there enjoying the fresh air I could have stayed like that for hours, except for some reason Sethís open garage seemed to be screaming at me The car was gone, the house was completely dark and still, and the garage was left wide open It was begging me to come over and take a look around Not that Iím some major snoop or anything, but Seth had me seriously freaked I figured Iíd be safer if I could find out somethingóanythingóabout him Plus, if I could find something really creepy to show Angela, she might get off my case about him It took me ten minutes to work up the guts to go over there, but once I did I was kind of fascinated It made me realize how desperate I was to know more about Seth Youíd think that someone who drives a BMW would want to park it in the garage, but Seth never didóprobably because there was no room for it with all the gym equipment and the piles upon piles of boxes It seemed to me like Seth and his aunt didnít plan on staying in the neighborhood long Theyíd hardly bothered to unpack I read the labels on some of the boxes At first they seemed normalóphotos, books, crock pot, Christmas decorations But then I started seeing boxes labeled FBI, first-degree murder, fingerprinting, child abduction, federal laws, local law enforcement proceduresÖ ìWhat the?î That was weird I mean I didnít know what Iíd expected to find in here, but as creeped out as I suddenly was, I guess a part of me hadnít believed Iíd find anything strange I knew I should leave, but there was a tall metal cabinet sitting in the corner and I simply couldnít help myself I opened the cabinet and stared in disbelief Knivesólots of them, and all different kinds Seth had everything from a machete to a Swiss Army knife, and they were all neatly hanging there shiny and sharp, like they were on display in a museum Deciding it was definitely time to leave, I shut the cabinet, turned around, and screamed when I found Seth standing at the entrance to his garage Seth didnít say anything He was standing there with his hands tucked casually in his pockets, watching me through narrowed eyes He was also, I noticed, standing between me and any escape route from his garage ìSeth!î I gasped as soon as my heart started beating again I forced myself to play it cool ìGeez you scared me I didnít hear you pull up.î ìThatís because I didnít pull up I walked up.î Sethís voice was toneless, his face still cautious ìBut whereís your car?î ìTechnically itís my auntís car She does drive it every now and then.î ìOh.î Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Ellie, you moron! I waited for him to say something, but he didnít He didnít move He didnít speak He just stood there It was torture ìSo…î I gulped ìDid you go for a walk or something? Exploring the neighborhood a little?î ìI was at your house Angela found me waiting for you on the porch when she left She told me I could wait inside.î Seth finally removed his hands from his pocketsóonly to fold them across his chest ìI didnít realize youíd try to come see me first.î ìOhÖ yeahÖ well IÖî Think, Ellie! Think! ìI was just in my yard and I thought I heard a cat meowing.î Yeah, thatís good ìIt didnít look like you were home, and I was afraid it was stuck in here.î ìIt was nice of you to be so concerned.î ìI didnít find it I must have just been hearing things Sorry I guess Iíll just be going now.î I stepped forward and to the side, planning to give Seth a very wide berth, but the second I moved Seth took a matching step, placing himself directly in front of me again ìWhatís the rush?î he asked casually

ìNo rush,î I said nervously ìIíve just been playing hockey for the last couple hours Iím tired and I kind of need to hit the showers.î I took another step and again Seth matched me, but this time heíd moved forward a little too A few more steps and heíd be within armís reach I froze and so did he Maybe if I reasoned with himÖ ìSeth.î ìEllie?î We stared each other downóme looking at him wearily, him looking politely inquisitive When I couldnít take the silence anymore I sighed ìYouíre not going to let me leave, are you?î Sethís face lifted then, as if this thought had never once occurred to him He stepped aside and waved his hand, gesturing for me to be his guest I definitely wasnít falling for it, but I didnít think I was likely to get another chance, so I took off running Seth snatched me up so fast I didnít even see how he did it In a split second my feet were off the ground and he was dragging me inside his house I kicked and punched as hard as I could, but he had me from behind and I couldnít make any good contact As Seth struggled to get the door shut behind us I managed to kick him hard enough that he dropped me I ran for the front of the house, but Seth caught me near the base of the stairs and flung me over his shoulder I like to think it was with great effort that he managed to get me into his room I mean, I struggledóyou bet I struggled Iím even pretty sure heíd have a few bruises later But Seth seemed to know exactly how to hold on to me, and he was just plain stronger Before I knew it, heíd dropped me on his bed and gone to stand in front of the door I went straight to the window, but unlike my house, there is no roof to climb out onto, just a second story drop I whirled around and gave him a mouthful that would make a sailor blush Seth leaned back against the door, enjoying himself immensely ìEllie, calm down I just want to talk to you.î ìThen try using a phone, freak!î ìYouíd never take my call Just like you wonít answer the door when I come over.î ìI wonder why!î I was so angry that I grabbed the first thing I could reachóa lamp off of his nightstandóand chucked it without hesitation Seth had to scramble to duck from it He was surprised that Iíd thrown it at him, but instead of getting angry like Iíd expected, he looked at the busted lamp and sighed ìEllie, come on, stop it I only want to talk.î I picked up his alarm clock tore it from the wall and hurled it at his face He didnít duck quite fast enough this time and it clocked himóexcuse the punóreally good on the side of his forehead Seth pressed his hand to his head like it hurt and calmly said, ìFine Weíll do this the hard way.î Reaching for the next thing I could grab, I screamed, ìYou mean weíve been doing it the easy way?î One corner of Sethís mouth twitched into a smile and then in a flash he had me pinned face-first to the floor ìI do love your spunk,î he told me, pulling my arms behind my back, ìhowever inconvenient it is at the moment.î I wasnít in the mood for his compliments I started screaming as loud as I could and tried to wrench myself free, but my arms screamed in protest ìIf you hold still it wonít hurt,î Seth said calmly after I gasped ìAnd you may as well stop screaming Thereís no one home to hear you Not here, or in either house next to us, or in your house across the street.î ìSo I should just lay here and take it?î I yelled I thrashed even harder and cried out, surprised by the pain that shot through my shoulders ìCareful Ellie, you could dislocate your arm like that You need to hold still.î I didnít have any choice but to stop struggling ìThere,î Seth said proudly Though, if he was proud of me for calming down, or proud of himself for forcing me into submission I couldnít tell ìNow, are you going to be reasonable?î ìGet off me!î ìIf I do, youíll just try to run away and I want to talk to you.î ìI donít want to talk to you! You canít treat people like this!î ìYouíre not leaving me any options Iím going crazy waiting for you Ellie.î ìClearly!î ìI like you A lot.î ìWell youíre doing a bang up job at winning my heart you psycho!î ìSo Iíve noticed Tell me how to do it right, and Iíll let you up.î ìYou canít Itís impossible So why donít you go abduct someone who would appreciate it? Angelaís as stupid as you are crazy Iím sure she wouldnít mind.î ìI donít want Angela I want you.î Even despite how angry I was that statement made me blush Itís just that no oneóand I mean no oneóhad ever picked me over Angela before ìBut why?î I asked before I could stop myself ìAngelaís prettier and popular

Plus, she probably doesnít wonder if youíre the spawn of Satan.î Seth ignored the Satan crack ìAside from my weakness for redheads?î He chuckled and then sighed ìEllie, Iíd really rather have this conversation face to face If I let you up will you talk to me, or are you going to start throwing things again?î At this point I was pretty sure Seth wasnít going to carve me upóat least not todayóso I decided to give in and let him say whatever it was he wanted to say I figured the sooner I did, the sooner Iíd get out of here ìFine You want to talk, then talk Iíll behave as long as you stay away from me And none of your soft caress/smoldering gaze/sexy voice crap either!î Seth laughed as he lifted himself off me, but he didnít seem to trust that I wasnít going to bolt He took a seat propped against his bedroom door After swinging the stiffness out of my arms, I climbed up on his bed, which was pushed into the far corner of his room, and placed myself securely against the two walls Seth sat there with this look on his face as though he were trying to figure out exactly how to proceed Well I sure wasnít going to help him out with conversation so I took the opportunity to check out his room He had plaid sheets, a couple posters up on the walls of bandsóit bothered me that he had the same taste in music that I doóa bookshelf full of CDís, DVDís, video games, and paperback novels At first glance it looked perfectly normal, just like his garage had, but like the garage there were a few subtle differences For one, it was clean I donít mean it was more picked up than my roomówhich Iíll admit is a little sloppy, though definitely not the ìpig styî my mom says it isóI mean his room was clean There was not a single dirty sock, his bed was neatly made, and the things on his bookshelf were alphabetized Seriously, alphabetized Which brings me to my next problem Sethís DVD collection consisted of movies like Silence Of The Lambs, American Psycho, Seven, and the entire collection of the TV show Bones I didnít recognize any of the books, but judging from the titles they were all crime novels And, of course, there was his lovely video game collection starting with good olí Assassinís Creed I heaved a shudder and moved on with my inspection, stopping short when I saw the CB radio on his dresser Random ìItís a police scanner,î Seth said, startling me so bad I knocked my head against the corner behind me Iíd almost forgotten Seth was in the room, heíd been so quiet When I looked up his eyes were fixed on me Heíd clearly been watching me analyze his room I wondered if he could tell what I was thinking about it I hoped not ìA police scanner?î I repeated just to break the tension in the room ìAre those even legal?î ìDepends on what you use them for.î ìAnd what do you use it for?î Evading the police after you carve up girls with one of the bazillion knives in your garage? Sethís eyes narrowed as he considered answering me, but when he spoke he said, ìYou donít like me.î It wasnít a question, but he waited for an answer When I didnít give him one he asked, ìDo you hate me?î He seemed sincerely curious, so I felt bad for not responding this time The problem was, I wasnít sure how to answer Hate didnít seem like the right word The seconds of silence ticked on When Seth finally spoke again he said ìI donít understand you,î and he didnít look like he was happy to be admitting that ìYou arenít like other girls You donítÖî Seth was really struggling for words now but he didnít seem upset exactly, just frustrated ìNo oneís ever responded to me the way you do.î I tried not to scoff at that too badly, since I knew somewhere deep inside Seth there were, in fact, feelings Still, I made enough of a reaction that Sethís eyes flashed a hint of self-consciousness ìDid you know Iím from Beverly Hills?î he asked me suddenly I thought about not answering again, but that felt mean and something about the way Seth looked just then made me unable to be a jerk Grudgingly I said, ìNot surprising.î Seth was trying to hide his emotions, but I could tell he was relieved when I spoke ìThings are different there People are different.î He hesitated again and then said, ìIím rich, Iím good-looking, and my aunt is a very famous novelist, so I know a lot of the right people.î I was startled by how matter-of-factly Seth blurted all that He wasnít bragging, though, he was just explaining something Whatever it was, I wasnít catching on I think Seth could tell, too, because he smiled a little and explained himself further

ìIn the world I was raised in, thatís all that matters People donít care about your personality Most of them donít even bother to get to know you Itís all about what they think you can give them.î ìCharming.î Seth shrugged off my sarcasm ìThatís just life At first I didnít think it would be any different here All the girls Iíve ever known were all the same Even Angelaóat least a little When I first met her all she saw was the BMW and the smile.î ìActually, what she saw were the extremely hot workouts in your garage every morning.î With a gasp, I slapped my hand over my mouth That was not supposed to come out of it Seth laughed once, but spared me the humiliation of teasing me ìBut not you,î he said, tactfully moving the conversation along ìThe first time we met you sawÖî ìA taser-wielding dog killer who mysteriously knew my name?î I offered, surprising us both when I cracked a smile Seth broke into a wide grin ìYouíre not like other girls, Ellie,î he repeated ìNot like anyone Iíve ever met.î I folded my arms tightly across my chest and clamped my jaw shut I refused to let Seth sweet-talk me into forgetting I was being held here under duress Seth ran a hand through his hair, frustrated that Iíd clammed up again ìI donít know how to act with you,î he confessed ìMost girls are easy, but I canít figure out what you want.î ìThatís because I donít want anything from you.î Iíd warned him not to, but he looked up at me from beneath his long eyelashes and turned his voice to a smooth whisper ìI wish you did.î ìSorry.î I forced myself not to tug at my clothes It was rapidly becoming way too hot in his room ìI donít know what to tell you Except that invading my personal space, breaking into my room and, uh, attacking and holding me hostage? All excellent ways to make sure that never happens.î But suddenly I wasnít nearly as angry about all those things ìAt least you didnít break my nose.î Ironically, realizing I wasnít angry anymore made me very, very angry ìOnly because you had my arms pinned behind my back,î I growled ìI am sorry about that, Ellie I would never have done it if you werenít throwing things at me head.î I shrugged at his dry tone What did he expect, sympathy for the new bump on his forehead? ìSorry Itís my natural reaction to being kidnapped.î Seth sighed heavily ìI didnít want to do this.î He dropped his gaze to his lap and began picking at the strands of hideous brown shag carpet that blanketed his bedroom ìItís degrading having to force you to talk to me like this.î ìSo why do it?î Seth lifted his shoulders and dropped them, his mask of confidence finally dissolved He looked beaten ìBecause itís worth it if I can get you to listen long enough to not hate me anymore.î Surprisingly, Iíd almost prefer creepy-full-of-himself Seth At least I knew how to feel about him This new vulnerable Seth was much more confusing Maybe Angela was right Maybe I was insane thinking Seth was capable of killing people But then, he did just kidnap me Maybe he was manipulating me again I sighed ìItís not that I hate you.î Seth looked up at me again from beneath those thick long lashes, almost daring to hope Geez, he knew how to tug at a girlís heartstrings Seriously, why did he have to be so hot? ìI donít trust you,î I said quickly ìYouíre not normal I wasnít kidding about that You seriously creep me out.î ìSo you donít like me,î Seth clarified, ìbut you donít hate me.î I cringed at the harshness of the truth, but Seth bounced back to his normal self ìI can live with that,î he said ìGood So then I can leave now?î I started to get up and Seth rose to his feet ìNot quite.î ìWhy not? You plan on keeping me locked up in here forever?î Seth cracked a smile ìJust until you develop Stockholm syndrome.î ìBut you just said you could live with me not liking you.î ìOkay, I meant I could work with it, because hereís the thing, I think youíre lying to me.î ìExcuse me?î I was so surprised by his statement that I didnít realize heíd made his way across the room to me until it was too late I stepped back and fell onto the bed again Glaring at him, I scrambled back to the corner and pulled my knees tightly up to my chest When Seth climbed on to the bed after me, I realized that the corner was not the best ideaóSeth had me completely trapped ìYou think that you donít like me,î he said, ìbecause youíre nervous But when I touch you, you donít exactly run screaming.î

To prove his point Seth slowly grabbed my hand I didnít like him being so close to me, and I trembled when he took my fingers in his He was right, though I didnít pull away I totally could have because he was barely clinging to me as he brushed his thumb over the back of my hand But I didnít ìYou see?î He brought my hand to his lips and kissed my fingertips I pinched my eyes shut and sucked in a sharp breath My heart pounded in my chest as I felt Seth place my hand against the side of his face ìYou do like me,î Seth whispered, breaking the no-using-his-sexy-voice rule again He turned his head and kissed the inside of my wrist ìYouíre just scared.î Seth gently tugged my hand, his lips trailing up my arm as he pulled me closer to him ìEllie, look at me.î I couldnít open my eyes I felt strangely dizzy My entire body was shivering even though I felt impossibly hot ìStop,î I breathed Seth obediently pulled his lips away from my skin but he still clung to my hand ìYouíre going to give in sooner or later,î he said, his voice sending even more chills through me ìThe sooner you stop fighting it, the sooner youíll see you have nothing to be scared of.î When he stopped talking I opened my eyes I shouldnít have The eyes I found staring back at me were both sincere and hungry Sethís gaze dropped to my mouth, making me suck in a breath Then he slipped his hand around the back of my neck and began gently guiding my face toward his My body obeyed without my permission The second his lips brushed mine, naked panic set in ìI said stop!î I gasped, shoving him away Seth fell back slightly dazed, and seeing an opening I reacted instinctively I leaned back and kicked my feet as hard as I could into Sethís stomach, knocking the wind from him ìThat was for kidnapping me, jerk.î I said and then flew across the street to the safety of my own home Sixteen It didnít feel any different than fifteen And July fourth? Still the lamest birthday ever It started out pretty much the same as it has every year since I was old enough not to be in day care during summer break Mom and Dad busted into my room at seven a.m. with a very off-key performance of ìHappy Birthday.î Mom sat down on the edge of my bed and wrapped her arms around me ìIím getting off work a little early so I can take you to the DMV before it closes Youíll be a licensed driver by the end of the day!î I might be excited about that if I actually had a car to drive, I thought But I didnít say that I forced a smile and said, ìThanks Mom.î ìAnd you and I will go first thing tomorrow morning and find that car that has your name on it,î Dad said, pushing Mom aside for a hug of his own ìBut in the mean time, Iíll be home at six and weíll all go out with your sister for a birthday dinner together and then go see fireworks How does that sound?î Lame But I didnít say that either ìSounds good to me.î ìHave a good day then, sweetie,î Mom said, kissing my forehead and rising to her feet ìTry not to break any bones today.î ìYours or anyone elseís,î Dad teased That made me crack a real smile ìNo worries, Dad No one to fight with today The guys at the park play Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.î ìHappy Birthday, kiddo.î After my parents left I tried to go back to bed, but I couldnít sleep I was too depressed I really hate self-pity, so I went for a long skate to get my blood pumping A good adrenaline rush usually makes me feel better Except it was already really, really hot out, so I didnít last that long I can tolerate the sweat if Iím in a game, but just trolling around a deserted neighborhood isnít worth it When I came back inside I was surprised to see Angela at the table, already showered and dressed ìWhat are you doing up?î ìBrookeís coming to pick me up soon.î ìYou working?î I asked Maybe this day didnít have to be a complete waste I really did want to get a few new clothes Especially since the jersey I was currently wearing was sticking to my back ìMaybe she could take me, too, and you couldÖîóugh, it was painful to say this to heróîyou know, what you said Help me pick out some new clothes.î Angelaís eyes got so big they nearly popped out of her head into her cereal bowl ìForget it,î I said quickly when I felt the blood rising to my cheeks ìNever mind.î ìNo, no, Ellie, we can! Iíll totally help you! I just canít right now Iím not working I promised Brooke Iíd go with her to Lansing

She has some family barbeque thing Weíll be gone all day.î ìOh.î When I turned to head upstairs Angela quickly stopped me ìBut Iíll be back around five-ish We could go then.î The excited look on my sisterís face was weirding me out She was never excited by the thought of having to spend time with me ìCanít,î I said ìMomís taking me to the DMV and then we all have to go out for a family dinner and fireworks.î ìOh, yeah.î Angelaís enthusiasm was gone again ìThatís today, isnít it?î Nice ìNo offense,î she said, ìbut thatís like the lamest sixteenth birthday ever.î Did she have to rub it in like that? I was already bummed enough It was actually getting hard not to show it I just shrugged and headed toward the stairs again ìEllie?î I looked back at my sister ìLetís go tomorrow,î she suggested ìWe could take the day and go to the outlets Iím sure mom and dad will give us the car Iíll even let you drive.î Angela smiled at meóa sincere, honest smile Maybe the first real one sheíd ever given me But it was full of pity and actually made me feel worse ìYeah, okay, maybe,î I said, knowing I wouldnít go but not wanting to hurt her feelings for once By the time I got out of the shower I had the house to myself Nothing like the sound of silence to make a bad day drag on Daytime TV is the worst, and I quickly realized that everyone was right about my video games Not that I want to take up assassinating people or anything, but Skateboard Pro 2000 really was starting to get old With a sigh I turned off the X-box and retreated to my window to watch Seth work out Iíd told myself that I wasnít going to do that anymore, but Iíd been unable to keep that promise Yeah, the guy dragged me kicking and screaming into his bedroom, but it was weird He really didnít want to hurt me I think he was just trying to explain why heís a freak It seemed like he knew he was a freak and was almost insecure about it I couldnít get that vulnerable, desperate face out of my mind Plus, he wasnít exactly forcing me to hold still when heíd pressed my hand to his face My arm was still tingling everywhere his lips had touched it And when his lips touched mine for that tiniest brief second? It wasnít even long enough to be counted as an actual kiss, but still, I couldnít forget it It didnít help that Seth had completely ignored me since then, either He hadnít so much as looked at my house since Iíd run from his I mean, I know thatís what Iíd wanted, but now that I was getting that wish I was kind of annoyed by it Was he mad at me for kicking him? Because that is so not fair, heíd kidnapped me! The more I thought about Seth, the more I needed some fresh air I went out to shoot hoops in my driveway Iím not the best at basketball, but hockey doesnít help release anger quite as well as basketball if thereís not someone to knock over I realized that I was making myself accessible for another attack, but I didnít care I refused to hide today After Seth finished his workout however, he disappeared into his house and never came back out Not even a single glance my direction before he went inside The jerk Itís not that I necessarily wanted Sethís attention, itís just that since my friends were gone, my parents were at work, and my sister had turned down the opportunity to give me a makeover, the fact that not even my psycho stalker, who knew it was my birthday, wanted to see me today was kind of a low blow If it werenít for the UPS guy showing up right then, I might have gone over and asked Seth what his freaking deal was, even if it could get me sliced up and dumped in the Detroit River ìIíve got a package for an Eleanor Roosevelt Westley?î ìThatís me,î I said And then it registered what heíd called me ìEleanor Roosevelt?î I grumbled, knowing who the package was from without needing to look ìIdiots.î ìRoosevelt? Is that really your name?î The UPS guy asked as I signed for the box ìNo Itís not My friends just like to make fun of me because I was born on the fourth of July.î ìOh Well, Happy Birthday!î ìThanks.î Was it sad that the UPS guy said happy birthday when even my own sister hadnít? I waited until the truck was gone to see what my moron friends had come up with from camp I was almost afraid to look If it was a bunch of sweaty jock straps they were going to be dead I was so completely shocked by the red and white fabric in my hands that the box fell to my feet forgotten It wasnít the token souvenir Red Wings jersey that surprised me, it was the personalized autograph from Ten-time NHL All-Star Hall Of Famer Steve Yzerman on it that literally made my knees buckle

ìFor Ellie, Happy sweet sixteen! Love, Steve Yzerman.î I read the inscription over and over again in disbelief as I sunk to the driveway I was still in so much shock that I landed on the box and smashed it When I pulled it out from underneath me I noticed a note in the bottom Ellie, Youíll never guess who was a guest coach today! We told him how you couldnít come because you were minus a nutsack, and that you were going to kill us just for getting to meet him since heís your hero, and the guy just handed this over Heís seriously the coolest! Youíd better pick out a sweet ride for us now, since you totally owe us! Happy Birthday! Jessie, Josh & Jack Ps I was the one who told him about you I think that deserves all-time shotgun privileges! -Jack I couldnít believe it Who cares if they called me Eleanor Roosevelt? Best Friends Ever I wasnít angry about anything anymore In fact, I felt like I was about to cry I didnít, of course, but the rest of my day flew by after that I no longer cared that I didnít get my car, and that I had to go to dinner and fireworks with my family I didnít even mind that Angela gave me a freaking dress as a birthday present, or the fact that as soon as we got to the city park to see the fireworks she ditched us and left me alone with my parents In the end, my sixteenth birthday, well it still kind of sucked, but it wasnít the worst Iíd ever had Things got a little better the next day too, because my dad got up bright and early with me and took me car shopping It took hours, but he helped me get a sweet deal and when all was said and done I was the proud new owner of a Jeep Wrangler Four-wheel drive, baby! Jet-black, removable doors and top The Jís were going to be squished, but I didnít care I was in love Even Angela swooned a bit when I pulled into the driveway that evening ìOoh, shiny!î she crooned ìLetís get cute and go cruising tonight, Ellie! We could pick up Brooke and Rachel, too It would be so fun!î ìNo way!î Dad said quickly ìItís Saturday You girls are not going out tonight.î ìBut Dad!î Iím not sure why the order threw Angela into a panic I, for one, had been expecting itóSaturday night being serial killer happy hour and all And besides that, go cruising with her and her friends? In what universe did she think that was going to happen? Angela launched into a huge hissy over it, though She looked to me for help, but I just shrugged ìDude Itís the UFC prelims tonight.î ìThe what?î Angela asked I explained as if she were slow ìUltimate Fighting Challenge preliminaries?î ìUgh!î Angela scoffed in utter disgust ìYou are so hopeless.î Dad and I had a good laugh when Angela stomped into the house Angela locked herself in her room with the cordless phone for a good half an hour, but eventually she joined us in the family room, sighing every so often as she painted her fingernails ìI thought you guys were going to watch some fight,î she said, frowning at the rerun of SportsCenter on the TV ìDoesnít start for an hour,î I said ìAnd youíre just going to sit here and watch sports talk until it starts?î ìYup,î my dad and I said in unison Angela sighed again and moved on to her toes When she ran out of her own nails she said, ìEllie, give me your feet.î ìI donít think so.î ìOkay your fingernails then.î ìWhat fingernails?î I asked Mine were bitten down to the nail beds ìFine Let me do your hair then.î ìWhy?î ìBecause Iím locked up like a prisoner on a Saturday night, Iím desperately bored, and I just want to see what it would look like.î My sister had been trying to give me a makeover for practically my whole life I never thought Iíd see the day when I gave in, but something about the morning before-when sheíd wanted me to go shopping with her-had stuck with me I donít know Itís almost like, well, like she liked me Like she wanted to be my friend and not just my evil sister It had been nice of her to want to make my birthday a little better Knowing how hard it must be for her to be grounded on Saturday night for basically no reason, I felt like I owed it to her to return the favor Instead of ìget lost, loserî I glared at Angela and said, ìWhatever.î After all, sheíd been right about the clothes And itís not like anyone was going to see whatever she did to me tonight It couldnít hurt to let her do it just this once, right?

Actually, it hurt quite a bit As soon as Iíd agreed, Angela squealed and dragged me off to her bedroom There was all kinds of scrubbing and pulling and poking and prodding involved, and then she pulled out these tweezers and went after my eyebrows I never knew that whole ìbeauty is painî thing was literal Forty-five minutes after sheíd started, Angela declared that the only thing left was to put on the dress sheíd gotten me for my birthday It was a strappy, knee-length sundress thing ìCasual but classyî sheíd called it Iíd never worn a dress before in my life I told her I wasnít about to start now, but she insisted, saying that if it didnít fit me then she would give me the receipt and I could take it back and exchange it for something else After I broke down and put the freaking thing on, Angela marched me into her bedroom to look in her full-length mirror She hadnít allowed me to see myself before now and I was definitely afraid to look It wasnít as bad as Iíd expected Sheíd gone really subtle with the hair and make up I still looked like myself, just a cleaned up version of me At least thatís what I thought anyway, but when Angela dragged me downstairs to show my parents youíd think sheíd transformed me into Julia Roberts or something My mom gushed so lavishly I thought she might burst into tears My dad however, after being quite startled, frowned ìAngela,î he said, with a weary sigh ìIs this really necessary?î ìDad!î Angela gasped And even my mom turned on him this time ìReally, Steve, be nice She looks beautiful Ellie, you look fantastic.î Mom and Angela waited for my dad to agree but he just reached up and rubbed his temples like he suddenly had a massive headache Almost as if it were fate letting my dad off the hook, the doorbell chose that precise moment to ring My mom answered it, and when she called for me my heart gave out Who could possibly be coming to see me now? For the first time since theyíd left, I was really glad the Jís were out of town If not even my own father could handle seeing me like this, then no way they could Theyíd probably disown me My mother called for me again, and my dad and Angela went to see who it was, but I didnít move The only person that could possibly be standing at my door right now was Seth Mr. Saturday Night Slasher himself I was not about to let him see me all cleaned up and pretty like some sort of sacrificial virgin being brought to the alter for slaughter ìHey Mr. Westley,î I heard someone say I knew the voice instantly and was so surprised to hear it in my house that I forgot all about the dress I was wearing ìDave?î I asked, coming around the corner into the living room My dad had been smiling at Dave as he shook his hand My dad knows Dave fairly well, since heís played golf with his dad for years But when Dave saw me he stopped shaking Dadís hand and his eyebrows went up Way up It made my dadís frown come back Behind Dave were Greg and Sanchez ìWestley?î Greg asked, nearly dropping the gum from his mouth, his jaw was hanging so slack ìOh, for the love of!î Dad groaned ìDo you see? Do you see what my problem here is Karen? How can you encourage this?î Suddenly Dadís stress made perfect sense to all of us Mom sighed ìWhat are you guys doing here?î I asked Dave quickly before my mom could say something to Dad about puberty ìA bunch of us are getting together to watch the UFC prelims,î he replied He was having trouble staying focused ìYou down, or what?î Finally he couldnít take it anymore and he laughed ìWestley, what is that?î Dave was pointing at my outfit ìNothing.î I sighed ìI was just taking it off.î My sister grabbed me before I could stomp up the stairs ìOh, no youíre not I just spent forty-five minutes making you look fabulous You can go just like you are.î ìIím not showing up to fight night in a dress.î ìNah, itís cool Westley,î Dave said, holding back laughter ìYou lookÖî He had trouble finding a word Behind him Greg and Sanchez were still staring at me like Iíd grown a third arm When Dave finally said the word ìniceî they snickered ìSo come on,î Dave said ìLetís go First round starts in ten.î ìGot room for one more?î Angela asked Dave ìFor Angela Westley?î Dave grinned ìAlways.î I gagged at Dave trying to flirt with my sister and then turned to her ìYou want to go to fight night?î ìI want to do anything that will get me out of the house right now Plus, I want to see everyoneís reactions to my hard work.î

I looked at my dad He was still looking very grumpy ìIím sorry, David,î he said ìMy girls arenít allowed to go out on Saturday nights right now.î ìOh, yeah, Mr. Westley, I get that whole serial killer thing Thatís why I brought the guys with me.î Greg and Sanchez puffed up their chests when Dave pointed at themótrying to look tough ìThereíre three of us Weíll go straight there, Angela and Ellie will never be alone, and there will be parents home Then weíll bring them straight back here after itís over I promise Iíll never let them out of my sight.î Not that I didnít appreciate the jailbreak, but I was surprised that the guys were willing to make the effort Dad shook his head stubbornly ìI donít think soóî ìMom!î Angela threw my mom a desperate look and to my surprise Mom gave her a knowing smile in return ìSteven? May I have a word with you in the office please?î Oh great Now Momís as bad as Angela with the matchmaking bit When my parents were out of the room Dave laughed ìWow, you werenít kidding when you said your dad was freaking out over this serial killer thing.î ìYeah, and you morons really werenít helping the situation any with all your gawking,î I said ìDrool much?î For a split second Dave looked startled, but he quickly smirked ìDonít flatter yourself, Westley It takes more than a dress to get me excited.î My parents came back in the room then Mom looked smug Dad looked beaten ìThere will be adult supervision?î he asked and Dave nodded ìAnd youíll go straight there?î Dave nodded again Dad held out for a few more seconds even though it was clear heíd already lost the fight Finally he sighed ìI want you home by midnight,î he told Angela and me Then he looked at just me and said, ìAnd take your sisterís cell phone with you I want you to call me every hour.î As my dad went on with his instructions, I wondered how much of this was because of the serial killer and how much was the dress ìAnd you have the pepper spray I got you, right?î ìSteve,î Mom said, finally putting a stop to Dadís rambling ìTheyíll be fine.î Dave threw his arm over my shoulder ìWeíll take good care of her, Mr. Westley.î Dadís frown grew even bigger and he looked at Angela ìThis is your doing,î he accused It was definitely the dress making him upset ìSheís your responsibility.î Angela understood his meaning as much as I did ìDonít worry, Dad,î she said, beaming proudly at him ìI know what Iím doing.î Dad eyed Daveís arm around me again and grumbled, ìItís not you Iím worried about.î After my dad stomped out of the room, Dave asked, ìWhat was all that?î I looked up at him like he was an idiot and shrugged his arm off me Angela rolled her eyes and said, ìSheís daddyís little girl Heís having a hard time adjusting to the new and improved Ellie.î ìHeís not the only one having a hard time with it,î Sanchez muttered I elbowed him in the stomach as hard as I could on my way out the front door, forcing him to double over ìHowís that for hard? Pervert.î On the way to the fight, Angela talked Dave into stopping at Rachelís house I tried to tell her that Rachel, who was even more popular than Angela, would never agree to go to fight night with a bunch of juniors, but she insisted Of course Dave wasnít going to argue if it meant he got to show up with both Angela and Rachel When we got to Rachelís house Angela dragged me out of the car ìWhat do you need me to come for?î ìBecause even if she doesnít come I still want her to see you She didnít think I could make you pretty.î Angela knocked on the door, waited about two seconds and then let herself in ìRachel!î she called to a dark house ìWeíre here!î ìWhat do you mean ëweíre hereí?î Thatís when the lights flew on and about a zillion people jumped out yelling ìSurprise!î Surprised does not begin to cover it It was so unexpected that I didnít even know what was going on until my sister turned to me with an expectant face saying, ìI know you didnít want a party, but you looked so miserable yesterday, how could I not?î ìYou threw me a surprise party?î I asked, still not quite believing it ìI had to Itís your sweet sixteen I couldnít let it be just dinner and fireworks with your parents What kind of big sister would I be?î As the shock faded I whirled around Dave, Greg, and Sanchez had come in the door behind me and were watching me with rather amused expressions ìYou knew about this?î I asked ìYou didnít tell us it was your birthday,î Dave said, grinning Greg and Sanchez looked just as proud to have been in on the secret

ìAngela found me at the fireworks last night.î I looked back at Angela, incredulous ìBut I didnít just invite all my friends,î she said, defensively ìSee? I had Dave help me get your friends here too.î I finally looked around the room and sure enough all the guys from the park were there Even Kowalski And they all looked very excited to have surprised me for my birthday It was a little overwhelming I mean I knew we were friends and all, but a surprise party? And Dave, Greg, and Sanchez going through all that trouble to get me here? I didnít realize I was so well-liked ìSo?î Angela asked nervously I think she was afraid I was mad at her ìWhat do you think?î I continued to stare at the sea of people smiling at me and felt this strange lump in my throat ìI think this was pretty cool of you Ang,î I admitted And then, because it felt like we were coming dangerously close to some kind of sister bonding moment, I added, ìExcept for the part where you tricked me into wearing a freaking dress.î Everyone burst into laughter ìAnd thatís why we love Ellie,î Dave said, plopping his hand down on my head and ruffling my hair That must have been the signal for the party to begin, because everyone stopped paying attention to me and began mingling I batted Daveís hand away from my head and he laughed again ìHappy Birthday, Westley,î he said, and then disappeared into the crowd As soon as he was gone I mentally began counting FiveÖ FourÖ ThreeÖ ìOh, my gosh, Ellie, Seth was right about you and Dave! Youíre perfect for each other.î I gave her too much credit Next time Iíd have to start at three ìUh, Seth didnít say we were perfect for each other, he said we were chummy And, yes, heís right, weíre friends.î ìBut you could so be more Iím sure of it I donít even think it would take very much.î ìI thought we were all about Seth,î I argued just for argumentís sake ìBut Ellie you donít even like Seth, and youíre right, heís kind of creepy.î That surprised me ìWhat makes you say that?î ìI went over there this morning to invite him to the party and found him buried in a pile of books about personality disorders I asked him if he wanted to help me plan the party and he said he was too busy When I asked what he was doing he said, ëFiguring out how to make Ellie fall for me.íî ìWhat?î ìI know, right? I would have thought that was super romantic if he werenít reading a book about sociopaths when he said it.î I donít know what I found more disturbing, that Seth was sitting around trying to figure out ways to make me fall for him, or that he was looking for advice from Hannibal Lecter ìBut Dave,î Angela continued, snapping my attention back to her, ìis perfect True, heís not quite the Zac Effron Seth is, but heís still pretty cute and super popular Plus you already like each other You both just need a push in the romantic direction.î I sighed and Angela began pouting ìPlease?î ìYou can try all you want, but itís not going to work Dave and I are just friends.î Angela took that as a green light to play matchmaker She gave me a giddy squeal and ran off As she disappeared I sighed again ìWow, she seems determined.î The statement came so naturally that I answered it automatically ìWhen Angela goes into matchmaker mode, thereís simply no stopping her.î ìSo how do I get put on her list of viable candidates, and could you kindly point out who my competition is?î That made me turn around ìTravis?î I asked, startled to see the jock strap from the lake party last week His face brightened considerably when I called him by name ìYou remember,î he said ìIím glad.î He grinned this big cheesy grin at me that I couldnít find the least bit impressive Once Seth pointed out what a player this guy was, it was easy to see I smiled at the thought of Seth nearly picking a fight with Travis last week Iíd been so mad at the time, but looking back, what he did was actually pretty sweet Seth? Sweet? Did I really just say that? ìIím glad I found you,î Travis said, placing himself in my line of vision so that I had to look at him ìWe didnít really get the chance to talk last time.î ìHow did you find me, anyway? Angela didnít know who you were.î ìSo you were asking about me?î Travis looked so pleased with this that it was kind of fun to burst his bubble ìNo Angela asked me about you after she saw us talking.î ìAnd whatíd you tell her?î I shrugged ìI told her what I knew That youíre some guy named Travis.î

Speaking of Angela Where the freak was she? I figured for sure sheíd have returned dragging a clueless Dave with her by now I started scanning the crowd looking for her Somewhere in the back of my brain it registered that Travis was asking me something, but I couldnít answer him because Iíd spotted Seth across the room He was talking to some girl I recognized from school, but he seemed to be paying about as much attention to her as I was to Travis I donít know why Iíd assumed Seth wouldnít be there Angela said sheíd invited him My heart gave an anxious flutter Or maybe that was my stomach twisting in on itself at the sight of him So hard to tell with Seth Both reactions are equally likely ìI see big brotherís here again,î Travis grumbled, startling me from my stare Heíd followed my gaze and was glaring at Seth so hard I had to smirk Seth felt us watching him and looked up The lifelessness I saw in his eyes confused me Oh, he stared at me, same as always, but there was no sparkle, no hint of desire, or even the danger that there usually was At least, not until he looked at Travis Then there was plenty of danger He and Travis resembled a couple of caged pit bulls ready to tear each otherís throats out Not that Iím naturally vindictive or anything, but an idea hit me that I simply couldnít resist ìWell you asked who your competition was,î I said to Travis, then smiled as sweetly as I could Sethís direction I figured Seth wouldnít mind that I was using him since it was in an effort to get rid of Travis Heís a pretty sharp guy and it didnít take a genius to see what I was doing But when I sent him a big friendly wave and mouthed the words ìHi Seth,î he was shocked He returned my smile and started making his way over to us Oh, great! I hadnít meant to actually encourage him Now the best I could hope for was that he and Travis would kill each other, thus ending the party and allowing me to go home and watch the UFC fight Before I had to deal with that problem though, Angela returned, dragging Dave with her ìEllie, there you are! Iíve been looking all over for you.î She gave me a look that suggested she was not happy to see me standing there with another guy Dave eyed Travis curiously, too, but he wasnít so subtle with his thoughts as Angela was ìAnother guy youíre not dating, Westley?î ìFollowing my sister around like a lap dog, Holcomb?î I shot back ìOh, you guys,î Angela said with a laugh Nobody could have missed the way she stepped up to me, putting herself between Travis and I, consequently pushing me next to Dave ìWhoís your friend, Ellie?î After I begrudgingly gave introductions, Angela said, ìSo, Travis, how come Iíve never seen you around school?î ìIím a senior over at Stevenson High in Livonia.î ìOh So who do you know from Canton?î ìWell, Iíd like to know Ellie better,î he said ìShe pretty much stole my heart when she busted that guyís face at the lake last week.î With that, Dave burst into laughter ìYeah, she tends to do that.î ìWhat, steal hearts or punch people?î Travis asked I glanced at Dave, surprisingly curious of his answer, but he just smiled knowingly at Travis and said, ìGood luck with this one,î plopping his arm over my shoulder Angela had to be loving that ìSpeaking of punching people,î I grumbled Dave stepped away from me, lifting his hands in surrender ìAll right Chill, Westley Iím just playiní.î ìYour favorite pass time lately But I was talking about the fight Can we still turn that on or what? Iím sure thereís a big screen around here somewhere.î More like a small movie theater Rachelís parents owned one of the biggest houses in Canton It made the lake house with the boat and the Jet Skis look rather unimpressive ìWhat fight?î Travis asked Dave answered before I could ìThe UFC Prelims.î ìThose are tonight?î ìYup,î I said ìAnd weíre missing them, so why donít the two of you go see if we can turn them on?î Travis started to say something, but Dave gave me a mock salute and said, ìThe birthday girl has spoken.î I gave him a special salute of my own as he dragged Travis off to find Rachel They werenít even out of sight before Angela was clinging to my arm, bouncing up and down ìDid you see that? He was totally flirting with you!î ìThat wasnít flirting That was Dave doing what he does bestógiving me crap.î ìI donít think so, Ellie Itís obviously on a subconscious level, but Dave is in to you But listen to me, if weíre going to make this happen, you really have to ditch muscle man

Whatís he even doing here, anyway?î ìHow should I know? Itís not like I invited him I didnít even know about this stupid party.î Angelaís face fell and I instantly felt like a jerk Which was surprising, because I donít normally feel bad for being rude to Angela But what was even more surprising was that I apologized ìIím sorry,î I said, shocking us both ìI didnít mean the party was stupid Iím just annoyed by Travis Oh, hey, I know Why donít you go find some girl to keep him busy?î ìOoh Good idea Now, no more flirting with anybody else.î ìI wasnítóî It was no use Angela was already gone On the bright side, Angela was gone And Dave was gone And best of all, Travis was gone I plopped myself down into an empty armchair with an exhausted sigh, and closed my eyes, enjoying the alone time But I only got a momentís peace ìYou left your hair down.î Only one voice can make my heart speed up and raise the hairs on my neck at the same time I opened my eyes and sure enough Seth was staring down at me with that familiar deep blue piercing stare ìAngela made me,î I muttered, cursing myself for sounding as nervous as I suddenly felt Seth sat down on the arm of the chair, looking me over in a way that made me blush ìI like it,î he said ìA lot.î He reached out to touch my hair and I cringed back so violently it startled him In an instant his face went sour ìWhat is your problem?î he snapped ìMy problem?î Hey, if someone gets pissed at me, I get pissed backójust ask Kowalski I canít help it I guess even possible psychopathic killers are no exception to my anger management issues ìYou were the one smiling all friendly a minute ago.î ìThat doesnít mean I want you to touch me Geez, Seth! I was just doing that to piss Travis off so heíd leave me alone.î Seth played back the scene in his mind and I could see the exact moment he realized it was true His anger was gone, and, just like a minute ago with Angela, I suddenly felt like a world-class jerkwad Except I hadnít just hurt Sethís feelings a little bit, Iíd crushed them He gave me this scorned, bitter look that racked me with so much guilt I couldnít let him leave When he started to walk away I jumped up and grabbed his wrist ìSeth, wait Iím sorry, okay?î Seth glared at me, but calmed down despite himself the instant I touched him I could feel the way his muscles relaxed beneath my fingers When he looked down at my hand I let go of him, but I attempted a sincere smile It probably looked more like a grimace Seth watched me for a moment as if he were in pain and then lost whatever internal debate heíd been having ìHere,î he said sullenly He pulled a tiny, messily wrapped gift from his pocket ìHappy Birthday.î ìA present?î Heíd gotten me a gift I was shocked, and surprisingly flattered ìSeth, you shouldnít have gotóî ìJust take it,î he said, his anger returning so quickly it made my head spin ìI donít think I can handle any more blows to my ego from you.î I gasped I was surprised heíd misunderstood me Usually he reads me like an open book ìNo, I didnít mean it like that Iím just surprised You didnít have to get me anything.î ìSurprised? You are the most stubborn person Iíve ever met!î His face was starting to turn red, he was so frustrated ìEllie, it shouldnít be a surprise that Iíd want to do something nice for you on your birthday I donít understand why you hate me so much.î For someone so mysterious Seth sure couldnít hide his emotions That vulnerable, self-conscious kid I met in his bedroom was back, and he was clearly struggling with my constant rejections Psycho or not, there was something about that faceóand not just that it was beautifulóthat made me want to make him feel better ìCut me some slack,î I said in the softest voice I had ìIím trying here.î I held out my hand and Seth hesitantly dropped the package into it As I tore off the paper I forced myself to be extra polite Not exactly my strong suitóas my mother is always pointing out ìThis was very nice of you Seth Thank you.î I was surprised by what I found in my hand Seth had given me a tiny pink Swiss Army knife on a keychain ìIt wonít fend off any serial killers,î he said ìBut they can come in quite handy, and everyone needs a good keychain for their first set of car keys.î I couldnít help the smile that crept across my face

The pink was the perfect contrast for my shiny black jeep, and, actually, the gift was surprisingly thoughtful ìI saw the jeep parked out front of your house tonight Itís yours, right?î My smile got even bigger ìItís a beauty,î Seth said ìBut I donít think your friends are going to be very happy when they see the legroom in the back seat.î My eyes flashed up at Seth and after a moment I smirked ìThen they can walk.î Seth and I laughed, but the minute I realized we were acting like normal people together, I clammed up again I couldnít help it When I could no longer look at Seth, I turned my attention to the knife in my hand I started pulling out all its gadgetsótweezers, a toothpick, scissors, nail file, and finally a tiny blade I thought of all the different knives in Sethís garage This one didnít look dangerous like those had This one was cute ìI know itís not an autographed jersey or anything,î Seth said, sounding surprisingly self-conscious ìI was going to get you season tickets for the Red Wings, but my aunt suggested I start smaller.î I smiled, figuring Seth was kidding about the season tickets, but when I glanced up I couldnít really tell I started to say ìItís perfect,î but then it dawned on me what heíd said ìHow did you know about the jersey?î Seth shrugged ìI was watching you from my room yesterday I figured the jersey was autographed or something when you almost passed out.î ìYou were spying on me?î I asked, forgetting that Seth is surprisingly sensitive Also ignoring the fact that I spy on him on practically a daily basis In an attempt to soften the blow I said, ìIím surprised you didnít come say hi.î Seth kicked the carpet under his shoe ìI wanted to, but you made it pretty clear the last time we talked that you donít enjoy my company.î His voice was suddenly bitter again ìThatís not fair, Seth You kidnapped me You dragged me by force into your house and locked me in your room I was terrified! It was like you saidóyou could have done anything you wanted to me Obviously I couldnít have stopped you.î Sethís face paled ìYou donít think!î he gasped I couldnít understand his reaction Itís like heíd never even considered the possibility that Iíd been scared of him ìI wouldnít have hurt you, Ellie.î He looked so utterly horrified by that thought that I was shy to admit the truth ìIt didnít feel that way.î Seth was starting to turn green, and the only thing he could manage to say was, ìIím sorry.î He meant it He was definitely sorry I didnít understand it, but it made me feel better Less scared of him somehow Perhaps Iíd been a little harsh with that whole Saturday Night Slasher accusation Nobody as upset as Seth was by the thought of scaring me could be a killer Well, I couldnít just leave him looking and feeling the way he did, so I walked away from the crowd and took a seat on the steps that led upstairs I motioned for Seth to join me He was reluctant to do so, but when he did finally sit down he still couldnít manage to leave any space between us I let it slide this time ìSeth,î I said with a long sigh ìItís not that I hate you, because I donítóthatís not it.î ìThen what is it?î ìYou donít just make me nervous, you scare the crap out of me I wasnít kidding when I said thereís something wrong with you Youíre way too forward, you donít seem to have any concept of personal space, and you do things like break into my room and kidnap me Peopleónormal peopleójust donít do things like that.î Seth frowned so I quickly said, ìBut I donít hate you I mean that If you could just tone it down, we could probably be friends Like right now? This isnít so bad.î Seth perked up at the tiny glimmer of hope Iíd just given him ìI can do that,î he promised me There was a determination in his voice that caught me off guard When we made eye contact something happened I donít think either of us realized just how close we were to one another but suddenly he was caught in a moment he couldnít resist, and I was caught in one I couldnít escape This is it, I thought as Sethís breath started to come faster My first kiss There was no stopping it I think he tried because he whispered my name rather helplessly as he started to lean in, almost like he was pleading with me to break the connection for him But I couldnít In the end, it was Angela that snapped us out of it ìEllie!î she yelled from across the room Her voice shattered the moment between us ìEllie, where are you? Your stupid fight is on Has anyone seen the birthday girl?î I just about jumped out of my skin and it took Seth a second to shake himself from his daze

I wasnít sure if I was more disappointed or relieved that Seth wasnít going to kiss me I mean, did I really want my first kiss to be with someone who scared me? Someone who might very well be killing innocent girls in his spare time? Someone who really liked me, and tried over and over again to prove it no matter how rude I was to him? I had no idea ìDid she say fight?î Seth asked, breaking me from my thoughts I was glad for the safe subject and nodded ìYeah.î ìThe UFC Prelims?î Seth asked excitedly in this really adorable way ìYou like the fights?î ìI should have known you were a UFC fan,î I said ìWhat with the way you go at that punching bag in your garage.î ìI had the chance to train with Georges St Pierre for a while last year He got me pretty in to it.î Seth shrugged as if it were no big deal, but let me tell you, training with Georges St Pierre is not no big deal ìNo freaking way! Thatís awesome!î I jumped up and began dragging Seth across the house in search of the fight No wonder I love watching you work out so much Seth came to an abrupt stop and raised an eyebrow my direction It took me a second to figure out what his problem was but then my jaw dropped ìI didnít!î I did not just say that out loud! ìYou know, Ellie,î Seth said, not bothering to hide how much he was enjoying this moment ìYou donít have to watch from your bedroom Youíre welcome to join me anytime Iíd be happy to show you a few things.î I couldnít think of anything to say I just stood there fighting the urge to be sick until Seth could no longer hold back his laughter ìCome on,î he said, tugging my hand ìIíll give you the behind-the-scenes scoop.î When we reached the rec room where Dave was already settled on the couch watching the fight, I was still feeling beyond mortified Then to make matters worse both Angela and Dave immediately zeroed in on my hand Or, more accurately, how it was still clinging to Sethís ìI found another UFC fan,î I explained, dropping Sethís hand like a hot potato I couldnít read Daveís expression, but the look on Angelaís face was one of surprise and annoyance After a quick glare at me she put on a big friendly smile ìSeth! Iím so glad you made it!î Angela greeted him with a hug and somehow managed to place herself between the two of us when she let go ìSo, you know about all this fight stuff?î she asked Seth When he shrugged she weaved her arm through his ìGood! Because I am so lost I need someone to explain it to me.î Seth shot me a questioning look, but I just rolled my eyes sympathetically I knew why Angela was acting all flirty with him, but I wasnít about to explain her matchmaking plan to him Especially not with Dave sitting right there Of course, it turned out that I didnít have to explain anything to Seth, because when Angela pulled him down to the couch with her, she ìaccidentallyî bumped me, knocking me straight into Dave I would have killed her if I werenít completely preoccupied with the fact that I was now in Daveís lap Um yeah, that wasnít a little awkward or anything ìDid someone tap a keg I didnít know about?î Dave laughed as he scooted me off his lap to the empty spot on the couch next to him ìBecause Iím pretty sure you usually have more coordination than that, Westley.î ìI didnít fall, you dillweed!î I leaned around Dave to glare at Angela ìI was pushed.î ìGeez, Ellie It was an accident Sorry Freak out much?î Okay, so not an accident Angelaís not exactly the queen of subtle and it was plenty obvious to Seth what sheíd just done I know, because he was glaring harder at the back of her head than heíd ever glared at me And thatís saying something, considering all the times Iíve called him a psycho to his face But at least Dave seemed completely oblivious ìYeah, whatís with you tonight, Westley? Youíre so grouchy Sit back and relax already.î Feeling somewhat defeatedójust not quite sure whyóI sank back into the couch with a long sigh The problem with that was that Daveís arm had been resting on the back of the couch and when I leaned back my head came to rest on it Now, for someone who didnít know any better it could have looked like Iíd just cuddled up with him, but freaking out and moving would have made me look like an idiot, so I stayed put and left it up to Dave to move his arm Oddly enough, he didnít It didnít take long before the rec room filled up with enthusiastic fight watchers Even Angela would squeal in either fear or disgust whenever there was an awesome hit The only person unable to get absorbed in the fight was yours truly

Thatís right, me The person who asked to turn it on in the first place And you know why I couldnít relax and enjoy myself? Dave, thatís why Dave and his stupid arm that he still hadnít bothered to move I mean, leaving it there was basically like putting it around me You know, sort of Yeah, it was there first, butÖ The stupid thing had to be asleep by now, so why hadnít he moved it? Did that mean Dave wanted his arm around me? Did I want Daveís arm around me? What did Seth think about it? And why on Earth did I care what Seth thought about it? If Angela was right and Dave did like me, then I should be happy about that Shouldnít I? I mean, heís the betterósaferóoption Except that Seth isnít an option, heís a psycho Isnít he? And, again, how in the world did Seth even get into this debate? This was supposed to be about Dave and his stupid arm Except that Seth and I had talked and it was almost normal, so now I was completely curious to talk to him again You know, just to see if he could be semi-normal two times in a row Not because I liked him or anything Okay, Iíll admit I was obsessing about this, but at least it didnít go on for long Weíd only had the fight on for maybe ten minutes when Rachel wandered into the rec room and turned off the TV, claiming the fight was ruining the party She ignored all the angry protests and turned on some lame dance remix of some even lamer pop song Then she grabbed the nearest acceptable guy and began to dance with him Several other girls followed suit and soon what used to resemble a fight night now looked more like a dance party Seriously, all it needed was a smoke machine and a strobe light Angela got up to join the party and Seth rose with her I think he was going to ask me to dance because he was looking right at me when he started to hold out his hand, but before he could say anything Angela slipped her arm through his and said, ìCome on, Seth Why donít you show me how they dance in California?î That familiar flash of anger swept across Sethís face so fast that Angela missed it I didnít, though, so I nodded my head (encouragingly, I hoped) and mouthed, ìjust go with it.î Seth didnít look happy, but he let Angela drag him away ìWhat was that all about?î Dave asked when they were gone ìNothing,î I said ìAngelaís just sticking her nose where it doesnít belong and this time itís going to blow up in her face if sheís not careful.î ìAngelaís meddling?î Dave laughed ìIn whose affairs, exactly?î ìMine, of course, same as always And Sethís And now yours too.î ìMine?î Dave asked ìHow is Angela meddling in myÖî Daveís voice trailed off as he realized that we were the only two people still sitting on the couch and that we werenít exactly sitting on opposite ends I laughed when he looked back at me, slightly pale ìYou all caught up now, Einstein?î I teased ìIím pretty sure sheís told everyone her plan too Notice how theyíre all conveniently ignoring us?î Dave looked up, startled We were sitting alone on the only sofa in a crowded room and amazingly no one was bothering us Too amazingly Some of them were watching us while trying to pretend not to And then there was Sanchez, who wasnít pretending not to He made suggestive gestures when he happened to catch our eye ìSee?î I told Dave, giving Sanchez a suggestion with a gesture of my own ìEveryoneís trying to figure out whatís up with us and, Iím sorry to say, youíre even starting to make me wonder with all the flirting and the cuddling Seriously, are you in to me or something?î Daveís jaw fell slack about the same time as he realized his arm was still draped over the back of the couch behind me When his eyes got huge and he slowly pulled his arm back to safety I burst out laughing ìChill Holcomb, Iím just messing with you.î I was laughing so hard tears were beginning to form in my eyes ìI mean, not the part about Angela trying to hook us upósheís totally doing that But Iím not afraid youíre trying to put the moves on me Oh, man, you should see your face right now!î I gave Daveís leg a pat as I jumped up and then laughed myself all the way into Rachelís back yard where I could get some air I was hoping for a little peace and quiet, but there were as many people outside as there were inside Unlike at the lake last week, where there was all that wind coming off the water, it was still really hot outside tonight, so the pool appeared to be a pretty popular hangout At least most of the kids swimming belonged to Angelaís crowdómy friends were more the foosball and cheespuffs typesóso aside from the occasional birthday wishes, they left me alone

I took a seat on a patio swing and watched a bunch of jock straps try to impress bikini-clad girls by doing back flips off the diving board ìThere you are!î Iíd had maybe two minutes of freedom ìThis is why I donít do parties.î I groaned as Travis sat down on the swing next to me and handed me a red plastic cup Diet Coke Gross ìDidnít I ditch you once already?î Travis laughed like I was jokingóexcept, yeah, I wasnítóand then he began droning on about pointless crap So it was a small miracle when my sisterís cell phone went off ìYou didnít call me when you got there,î my dad greeted me when I answered the phone ìSorry, Dad I was a little distracted You do know what Angela did to me, donít you? I assume thatís what that little powwow with Mom was about before we left.î ìYeah Sorry about that, kiddo I wanted to give you a heads up, but Angela and your mother would have killed me.î I sighed ìIf it makes you feel any better, Iíd rather be home watching the fight with you.î ìI know.î My dad chuckled ìBut donít worry Iím TiVo-ing it for you.î ìSweet.î ìWell, I should let you get back to your party now I just wanted to make sure youíre okay.î ìIím fine No serial killers present And, yes, before you ask, Rachelís parents are home Thereís also no drugs, no alcohol, and plenty of prettier girls here than me to distract all the guys from the fact that Iím wearing a stupid dress.î ìVery funny Just rememberóhome by midnight.î I felt the urge to sigh again ìI wish youíd said ten,î I complained, making my dad laugh again ìYouíll survive I promise.î ìYeah, yeah Bye Dad.î I laughed to myself as I hung up the phone, surprised that my dad had made me feel a little better The feeling didnít last long though, because Travis was still there asking dumb questions like, ìHey, is that the new iPhone? Can I see it?î ìIf it will shut you up,î I said and handed him the cell It didnít ìThat was pretty smooth with your dad,î he said, his eyes glued to Angelaís phone He was as bad as she is Seriously, I donít get the obsession with cell phones ìWhat was smooth?î ìWhat you said about no guys paying attention to you when really thereíve been so many I didnít think Iíd get the chance to talk to you at all.î ìIím not that lucky,î I grumbled Travis laughed again and handed me back Angelaís phone ìHere, I programmed my number in there for you, so if I lose you again, you can call me.î ìYeah, okay, sure.î Again, Travis missed my sarcasm and went on to tell me how hot I looked in my pretty new dress I was so desperate to ignore him that I decided to brave the sugarless drink I was holding, but as I brought the cup to my lips I felt a hand brush my shoulder The touch gave me the goose bumps, which could only mean one thing I glanced over my shoulder and Seth was there He had his back to me talking to a couple of girls, but I was sure his touch had been intentional It wasnít creepy, though It was as if he didnít want to interrupt me, just wanted me to know he was there The weird thing was how comforted I was by his presence Iím not sure how or when it happened, but I wasnít really afraid of Seth anymore Now I was just curious I needed to get rid of Travis so that I could talk to him again ìMan, itís getting late,î I said with a fake yawn that turned realóthis party was exhausting me ìI think Iím going to go find my sister.î I started to stand up, but Travis threw his arm over my shoulder ìAre you ready to leave? I could take you home if you want.î Yeah Like thatís gonna happen I sat back with a sigh Travis was like a leech Whenever I pulled away, he clung on tighter ìCome to think of it,î I said, trying a different tactic ìI doubt I can go anywhereóbirthday girl and all Thereís probably a bunch of candles Iím supposed to blow out somewhere Iíd better go find out.î Travisís arm over my shoulder tightened just enough to make my temper flare ìI have a better idea,î he said So he was too stupid to pick up on my insults, but not too stupid to recognize that he was about to get ditched again ìIf you need a break, Iím sure we could find a nice quiet place to relax until youíre needed I give a great back massage.î Um, ew I only have so much patience to begin with, and Travis had officially used it all up with that beauty of a comment My hand clenched around my plastic cup As soon as I got rid of this soda, he was seriously gonna get it

I brought the cup to my lips to chug it, but before I could, it was knocked clean from my hand and landed all over Travis Of course I knew whoíd done it, but I didnít think it wise for Travis to figure out the truth, so I pretended to be guilty ìOh, Travis! Iím so sorry!î I gasped My acting may have been a little over the top ìAre you mad?î Travis looked way annoyed as he wiped at his clothes, but he still managed to smile ìNah, itís cool,î he said He laughed as he got to his feet ìIíll tell you what Iím going to see if I can clean up a little, then Iíll bring you a new drink Maybe a Redbullósomething with a little kick in it.î ìGood idea.î ìIíll be right back Donít go anywhere.î ìI wonít,î I promised And I didnít either I didnít have to As soon as he was gone, Seth took his seat ìI didnít get any on your new dress did I?î he asked, obviously very pleased with himself ìNo, youíre aim was perfect But you shouldnít have done that If Travis had seen you, heíd have gone ballistic.î Seth rolled his eyes, clearly not worried by the idea of having to fight Travis, even though Travis was bigger than him ìParty rule number one, Ellie Never drink something someone handed you unless you open it yourself.î Seth magically produced an unopened can of Dr. Pepper, which I eagerly accepted I chugged half of it before realizing his meaning ìYou think Travis put something in that drink?î I asked, a little shocked by the suggestion ìYou never know.î Seth shrugged ìBesides, I just donít like that guy.î I resisted the urge to smile and tried to sound stern as I said, ìThat wasnít very nice of you.î ìActually, I thought it was extremely generous.î ìHow do you figure?î ìWere you, or were you not about to punch him?î Seth took one look at my face and smirked ìI did the guy a favor Saved him the embarrassment of getting hit by a girl.î ìStill I was really going to enjoy pummeling that tool.î Seth and I had a good laugh and when it died down I racked my brain for something to say I was afraid if things got quiet it would get awkward We were doing so well at the moment I didnít want to ruin that ìGood news,î I said ìMy dadís TiVo-ing the prelims for me, so we donít have to miss them after all.î ìWe donít?î Seth echoed, suspiciously His doubt made me blush ìYeah, well, you knowÖ I just meantÖî Seth continued to stare at me, pretending to not know what I was talking about ìYou just meantÖ?î he prompted He was going to make me say it The jerk So much for not letting things get awkward Me inviting him to come over and watch the fight was basically like asking him out and he totally knew it Iíve never in my life ever come anywhere close to asking a guy out, and Iíd be willing to bet Seth knew that too I wanted to change the subject just to spite him, except that it really would be fun to watch the fights with someone whoís actually trained with the fighters Plus, it might be nice to spend some time with Seth that was actually by choice I glanced at Seth again Yup, still watching me Waiting very patiently for me to officially invite him over to hang out with me Except, judging by the look on his face, I donít actually think he wanted to hear it in order to watch me squirm I think he needed to hear it to see if I really meant it I thought it over very quickly and decided that I did mean it I just wasnít sure I could get it out Donít be a wuss, Ellie I took a deep breath and let it out in a huff ìIíd really like it if you came over and watched the fight with me tomorrow, all right?î I cringed, expecting Seth to laugh at how irritated I sounded Which he promptly did ìYouíre serious, arenít you? You want to hang out with me.î I felt my face heat up, so I glared at him ìI still reserve the right to change my mind if you go psycho on me again.î He laughed ìWell, then Itís a date.î Itís a date? Heíd said it playfully, but I seriously doubted he meant it that way He could barely restrain himself from touching me when he thought I hated him I couldnít even imagine what heíd be like if he thought it was okay ìCome to think of it,î I said, my stomach caving in on itself ìThatís probably not a good idea Never mind.î ìEllie, I promise I wonít ëgo psychoí on you.î ìItís not you Iím worried about Well, not only you If you come over acting all obsessed-lovesick-stalkerish the way you doÖî Seth frowned at my choice of words, but hey, sometimes the truth hurts

ìSorry, but you do,î I said, ìand I seriously doubt my dad could handle it Especially not right now He didnít exactly take Angelaís stupid makeover with grace He almost didnít let me out of the house for my own birthday party.î Seth forgot about my insult and laughed ìWell I canít really blame him for that I wouldnít have wanted to let you go either.î He reached out and absently pulled a strand of my hair through his fingers I was surprised when I didnít flinch away from him ìYou look beautiful tonight,î he said ìI really do like your hair down around your face like this.î He twisted my hair around his finger and then let it fall against my cheek Then he took a moment to look me over from head to toe and frowned in thought ìInterestingly enough, I could do without the dress It looks great, but I like you best when youíre completely in your comfort zone, even if that is just a t-shirt and jeans Thereís nothing sexier than your confidence.î I couldnít have covered up my shock if my life had depended on it No oneís ever even said the word sexy in front of me, much less used it as a way to describe me ìActually,î Seth said, smiling at the expression on my face ìYour innocence is pretty sexy, too.î I wished heíd stop using that word It was making me incredibly nervous, and my nerves only ever seem to encourage Seth Which was what was happening right now Heíd turned toward me, putting one arm on the back of the swing behind me, and was officially leaning in ìDangerously sexy.î And there was that word again ìIt makes me want to doÖ thingsÖî ìUm, things?î Saturday Night Slasher type things? Or hormonal teenage boy type things? ìFun things,î Seth assured me As if that answered my question Sethís gaze kept fluttering back and forth between my eyes and my mouth Okay, this is it, I told myself Now heís going to kiss you If you donít want it, youíd better stop him now Yeah, as if I could have done anything to stop him? I was frozen stiff I couldnít think I couldnít move I couldnít even breathe All I knew was that for every part of me that was screaming to run from him, there was as much a part of me that straight-up wanted him I waited, holding my breath and trembling enough that Seth had to have felt it, but he didnít make a move I couldnít understand Why didnít he just do it? He clearly wanted to, and I wasnít giving off any stay-away-from-me vibes this time At least, I donít think I was Somehow, Seth knew exactly what I was thinking ìNot now, Ellie Youíre still not quite ready.î I let out the breath Iíd been holding Relief? Disappointment? Relief Definitely relief Well, more relief than disappointment ìDonít worry,î Seth continued ìWhen you are ready, I wonít hesitate.î Seth sat back, allowing the mood to lighten again He laughed and said, ìBut Iíll probably lock your sister in a closet first Have you noticed how sheís been everywhere tonight?î This made me laugh, and I was beyond glad to have the tension gone ìOf course she has,î I said ìSheís trying very hard to keep you away from me.î ìWhy? I thought she was on my side.î ìShe was,î I assured him ìWas?î I nodded ìSheís over you Sorry Donít take it personally Angelaís very fickle Plus, she just got really tired of me fighting her about you and has moved on to someone she thinks I wonít resist as much.î Boy was that ever the wrong thing to say Sethís eyes narrowed severely ìSheís trying to set you up with Mister-weíre-just-friends-even-though-Iíll-let-him-walk-me-home-and-cuddle-on-the-couch-together!î he accused, outraged ìSome people call him Dave,î I snapped, annoyed with his attitude ìAnd we were not cuddling.î Sethís eye-roll was over the top ìPlease You were in his lap.î ìI was pushed! And that was your fault anyway It was your stupid jealousy in the diner that gave Angela the idea in the first place.î ìThat was completely justified,î Seth argued ìYou were sharing the guyís fries when you were supposed to be out with me.î Okay, that was true And it was completely rude of meóthatís kind of why Iíd done it ìWhatever,î I said, waving dismissively ìWhy are we arguing about this anyway?î Sethís anger vanished and was replaced with a strange desperation ìBecause youíre going to fall for him, Ellie Iíve seen the two of you together and Angelaís right If sheís really trying to hook you guys up, he wonít need much convincing and you wonít resist him.î

Seth looked so worried that Dave was going to steal me away from him that I almost laughed It was kind of adorable I dropped my attitude and teased, ìI resist you just fine, donít I?î ìFor now But you canít keep it up forever.î That sounded a bit like a threat, so in an attempt to keep the mood light I said, ìUnless, like you said, Angela convinces Dave that he likes me and he sweeps me off my feet before you manage it.î ìDave canít have you!î Seth exploded, his temper finally getting the better of him ìI wonít let him!î He was taking on that psycho-stalker trait again, so I scooted away from him as far as I could ìOkay, Seth? Maybe we should just keep the conversations short for now Work our way up to being friends.î ìEllie, wait!î Seth grabbed hold of my wrist before I could leave ìIím sorry.î He took a deep breath, willing himself to calm down ìIím sorry,î he said again He was so frustrated he had a hard time finding words ìIÖ Itís just that DaveÖ You donítÖ If he needs Angela to point out to him how special you are, then he doesnít deserve you.î I didnít know what to say It was probably the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me Definitely the most romantic I was blushing and I didnít even care Seth let go of my wrist and instead pulled one of my hands into both of his ìEllie, I donít think you understand how muchóî ìEllie!î Angela shouted, appearing out of thin air ìAre you trying to be the worst guest-of-honor ever?î Dave was with my sister again He let her do the talking and just settled for eying me curiously His gaze slid to Seth and his look went from careful to suspicious I looked back at Seth just in time to see him slump back in defeat He stared down at his empty hands and I realized Iíd yanked mine free of them the second Iíd heard my sisterís voice Sethís disappointment made me wish there was some way I could put it back Not to mention, now I didnít have any idea what heíd been about to say And I wanted to know I wanted to know bad Thanks a lot, Angela ìWhy are you hiding out here?î Angela asked ìIím not hiding from anyone Do you see me hiding? Though, I probably should be hiding from Travis.î ìWell, stop doing it anyway Itís cake time You have to come blow out the candles.î I groaned ìUgh Canít you just do it without me? Everyone who even cares that Iím at this party is right here.î Angela threw her hands up in the air ìSeriously Why do I even bother?î She threw a desperate look at Dave ìA little help here?î Dave laughed and stretched out his hand to me ìSuck it up, Westley Fifteen more minutes Blow out some candles, eat some cake, and then Iíll take you home.î I let Dave pull me to my feet and Seth immediately followed suit I gave him a ìwhat can you do?î look and then headed back inside I got about four feet before Dave tugged me to a stop ìHold up a minute.î Seth stopped at the sound of Daveís voice, but before either of us could question what was going on, Angela linked her arm through Sethís ìCome on, you can help me light the candles,î she told him A little too enthusiastically Seth looked back at me as Angela dragged him inside He was daring me to stop my sister, to save him and even claim him, but I couldnít I was too thrown by the fact that Dave was holding me back for some reason Even weirder, he hadnít grabbed me by the shoulder or ponytail or somethingóheíd grabbed my hand And was still holding it ìWhatís the problem?î I asked, pulling my hand to safety ìThereís no problem, exactly.î Dave was totally up to something He glanced back at the house where everyone was gathering just on the other side of the sliding glass door I waited expectantly, and when he turned back to me he said, ìChill for like two minutes, Westley.î ìDude I really donít think I can handle any more surprises tonight, so if theyíre up to something in there, just take me home now.î ìNah, itís nothing like that I just wanted to talk to you.î Dave shrugged awkwardly ìI was talking to Angela just now.î ìYeah?î I snorted a laugh ìShe make you stupider? Cause she has that effect on people.î I didnít understand the smirk Dave gave me for that, but he grinned and then said, ìI guess weíre about to find out.î And then, suddenly, Dave Holcomb was kissing me Dave Holcomb! Kissing! ME!

I wasnít sure how it happened, or why, but his lips were most definitely on mine At first I was so confused that I couldnít move But then Dave nudged my upper lip with his, urging my lips to part, and my body was in such a state of shock that it could do nothing but follow orders I may have been doing it badly, but I was kissing him back Dave! My first kiss was with Dave Holcomb It had my head reeling But not in the way first kisses are supposed to make your head spin, Iím pretty sure Otherwise kissing would be highly overrated I have no idea how long we stood there kissing, but after it was over it felt like an eternity before anybody said anything Dave pulled back and watched me with a careful expression, waiting for some kind of responseóany kind of responseófrom me He didnít get one I could only stand there gaping at him Eventually he wrinkled his nose and said, ìWeird, right?î ìYou think?î I gasped ìWhy would you do that?î ìI donít know It seemed like a good idea at the time.î ìCongratulations Angela did make you stupider.î ìWhatever Youíre the one who brought it up earlier I blame you.î Dave laughed ìIíd never even thought about it before that.î ìI told you my sister was trying to hook us up and you thought it was a good idea?î ìWell, no Not at first But then I talked to Angela, and I donít know She made it make sense I kind of like the idea of a girlfriend who can hold her own in a game of one-on-one and would happily watch a fight with me I figured it couldnít hurt to give it a shot.î Except it had hurt Dave Holcomb had stolen my first kiss Stolen it and ruined itónot that he seemed aware of the fact I never figured Iíd be the kind of girl who would care about something like that, but I was surprisingly upset I wasnít about to let Dave see how I felt, though, so I shook my head, almost pityingly, and muttered, ìCome on, moron I need some cake.î I walked into Rachelís house hoping to go find Seth, but couldnít get past the wall of people gaping at Dave and me I gave Dave a this-is-your-fault-take-care-of-it look, but the dillweed loves to torture me, so all he did was throw an arm around me, smile at our audience, and say, ìSomeone said there was cake?î I quickly blew out my candles, scarfed down a piece of cake, and then made Dave take me home There was still twenty minutes until curfew, so I figured Angela would put up a fuss, but she actually didnít In fact, she was so willing to accommodate me that I couldnít help being suspicious I found her sitting on the same stairs Seth had nearly kissed me on earlier When she saw me she jumped to her feet and said ìYou ready to go?î before I even had to ask Then she gave up shotgun automatically and didnít say a word on the drive home except to thank Dave for his help She pounced on me the minute I got in the house, though She started to say somethingóI assume about Daveóbut then my mom walked in the room excited to hear the details about the party ìWhy donít you tell her, since my life is more your business than mine anyway,î I hissed at Angela I surprised us all with how venomous I soundedóguess I was still more than a little pissed ìIím going to bed.î I donít know why, but I half-expected Iíd find Seth in my room when I got there and was disappointed when I didnít I slammed my door as a warning for Angela to stay away and then went to my window Sethís car wasnít back yet I sighed Seth had disappeared from the party before I got the chance to find him, and I knew he had to be mad I waited up for a while, hoping heíd come home and I could explain I wanted him to know that there wasnít anything between Dave and me More than that, I needed him to know the truth I donít know why, because Iíve constantly been hurting his feelings since I met himósometimes intentionallyóbut this time I couldnít stand the thought that Iíd hurt him Thereís no way he hadnít seen what happened And after what heíd said about Dave not deserving me, seeing that kiss had to hurt Especially when he could have kissed me first and restrained himself I waited for over an hour, but Seth never came home and I fell into a restless sleep Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, is ice that Iíve never had the privilege of sailing across Thatís how I knew I was dreaming So when a dark figure in a red and white jersey with a goalie mask appeared I hoped it was Chris Osgood or someone come to give me a few pointers As the figure got closer, I realized I wasnít having a dream This was a nightmare, and the man coming at me was the Saturday Night Slasher I tried to escape, but suddenly I was tied to the crossbar of my net The Slasher lifted his knife to my face and slid it down to my throat

He laughed a deep, menacing laugh when I started screaming, but instead of slicing through my skin he dropped his knife and started kissing me When he pulled away the hockey mask was gone, and I was staring into the laughing eyes of Dave Holcomb ìWow, Westley,î he said ìYou really suck at kissing Looks like youíre going to need a lot of practice.î Behind Dave, a long line of Saturday Night Slashers formed, each waiting their turn to torture me with kisses I started screaming and thrashing, but couldnít escape and Slasher Dave kissed me over and over again The torture didnít end until Iíd thrashed so hard I woke up on the floor in a tangled heap of sheets I barely had time to figure out where I was before my dad came bursting into my bedroom in his boxers, gripping a nine iron Angela and my mom wandered in behind him, looking equally scared ìSorry,î I said, picking myself up off the floor ìIt was just a dream.î ìPretty intense dream,î Angela grumbled My mom yawned, but smiled sympathetically ìYou want to talk about it?î Um, no I definitely didnít want to talk about a dream where the primary form of torture was kissing Especially not with my mother ìIím good,î I said, praying I didnít blush ìGo back to bed Iím sorry for scaring everyone.î Mom managed a ìgood nightî through a heavy yawn, and my Dad double-checked the security of my bedroom window without saying a word He didnít know Iíd been locking it ever since the day I realized Seth might come through it ìAll serial killer proof?î I asked, but my joke fell flat when my dad couldnít muster a smile The look on my Dadís face told me heíd had plenty of his own nightmares about the Saturday Night Slasher And Iím quite sure his didnít end in kissing ìIím all right,î I assured him when he looked ready to camp out the rest of the night at the foot of my bed ìGo back to sleep, Dad.î ìI love you, kiddo,î he whispered, kissing my forehead Declarations of love are definitely not my thing, but I choked out a ìyou too, Dad,î anyway As soon as my parents were gone I glared at Angela, wondering what she was still doing in my room ìWhat was your dream about?î she asked ìNothing,î I said quickly No way did I want to get into that with Angela ìWas it about Seth?î ìGive it a rest, Angela Iím not talking to you right now Itís four thirty in the morning Go back to bed.î ìCanít sleep,î she told me, ignoring my anger ìYouíre not the only one having nightmares about Seth tonight.î ìI wasnít dreaming about Seth.î For once ìWait Why were you having nightmares about Seth?î Angela glanced out my window across the street and then sank to my bed ìIím sorry I didnít listen to you before when you tried to tell me Seth was crazy.î ìSethís not crazy, and did you really just apologize to me? What the freak happened?î ìTonight, after he saw you and Dave together, he was so mad.î Angela can be so blond ìOf course he was.î ìHe punched his fist through Rachelís living room wall.î ìBig deal.î I shrugged ìIíve put my fist through the kitchen wall and the family room wall And remember that time I put my foot through my bedroom door?î ìYou donít understand I felt really bad for him because he likes you, and Dave sort of won you andóî ìWhoa, whoa, Dave didnít win anything I told you weíreóî ìóand he looked so upset, so I went to talk to him and heóheóhe grabbed me.î ìójust friendsówait Seth hurt you?î Angela frowned ìWell, no,î she admitted ìBut he grabbed me and trapped me against the wall He was so mad And you were right about him He really is the killer and now youíre next on his list and itís all my fault.î ìWow So this is what I sounded like when I accused Seth of being a serial killer Youíre right I was crazy.î ìEllie, his exact words were, ëyour selfishness just killed your sister.íî I wanted to tell Angela she was crazy, but I found myself smiling instead How did Seth know? How did he know I was so upset tonight? Because he knows me, I thought Angela shook meóliterally shook me by the shouldersófrom my thoughts ìEllie, he admitted right out that he was going to kill you.î ìI donít think thatís what heóî ìDonít you see?î Angela interrupted ìHe never wanted to come after you before because he liked you But now that youíre with Dave, he canít have you, so heís going to come after you next.î It was hard not to laugh at her ìIím going back to sleep Talk to me tomorrow when youíre being less stupid,î I said, even though I had been thinking those exact same kinds of thoughts just days ago

I slept in, since I had no desire to go to the park after all the guys witnessed Daveís Angela-induced brain fart last night Not to mention I was tired from lying awake for hours stressing about Seth after Angela told me how upset heíd been Angela was sitting on my bed with my dadís binoculars, watching the house across the street, when I woke up I glanced at the clock, surprised to see that it was already nine thirty I jumped up to my window and pushed Angela out of the way for a glimpse of my own Missing the hockey game was one thing, but missing Sethís workout? Talk about ruining my day ìDonít bother,î Angela told me ìHe already went inside.î I glanced at the clock ìBut he never works out for less than an hour.î Angela was crammed back by my side looking through the binoculars ìThatís because he probably broke his hand.î ìWhat?î ìYou should have seen him this morning Itís like you saidóhe was totally unhinged He punched that bag until he was bleeding Look!î Angela thrust the binoculars at me and when I took a peek, sure enough, there were bright red smudges on the punching bag But the stains didnít disturb me the way they did AngelaóSeth wouldnít be the first boxer to make his knuckles bleedóthey made me feel sorry for him Seth must have felt worse than I thought I had to set things right I had to go over there and explain ìWhat are you doing?î Angela asked me when I got up and threw some clothes on ìWhat do you think? Iím going over there.î ìWhat?î Angela gasped ìWhy?î ìUm, to apologize maybe? ìApologize? To Seth? For what?î ìHow about breaking his heart? You know how much Seth likes me! He was trying so hard last night and you sicced Daveóa guy he hates passionatelyóon me On second thought, Iím not apologizing to him You are.î I grabbed Angela by her collar and started dragging her out the door ìNo!î she screamed so forcefully I let go of her ìEllie, you canít go over there You were right Heís crazy.î ìHe has a temper,î I agreed ìAnd heís a bit socially awkward But heís not crazy Actually, you were right this timeómuch as it pains me to admit that.î ìNo! Ellie, no! Youíve never listened to me about anything in your life Ever Why would you start now?î ìBecause heís not a killer.î I started dragging Angela again, but she fought back and tried to pull me to my window ìI saw him!î she said ìYou saw Seth kill someone?î ìI saw him do the knife thing You see that metal cabinet? Itís full of knives Heóheóit was so fast Iím so sorry I didnít believe you before.î ìSo he throws knives,î I said ìItís a hobby A weird one, itís true But weíve already established that heís a bit strange Iím going over there You coming or not?î I was almost out the door when Angela suddenly gasped ìWait a minute! Hold it right there, missy.î I stopped at the suspicion in my sisterís voice When I looked back at her she was tapping her foot with her arms folded tightly across her chest ìSince when do you care about Sethís feelings?î ìI donít,î I said quickly, but the redness suddenly in my cheeks probably told my sister I was lying ìLiar!î See? ìWhat happened between you two last night?î Angela demanded to know She looked about ready to wrestle me to the ground for answers ìNothing.î ìBull Every time I saw you, you guys were together.î ìNot my fault You know how Seth is I couldnít get rid of him any more than I could get rid of you or Travis.î Angelaís eyes narrowed as she tried to decide whether or not she believed me Well, I wasnít going to just stand around until she decided to bleed me of all my secretsósheís evil enough, I wouldnít put it past heróso I chose to use the moment to distract her once and for all ìCan we please forget about Seth? Iím taking my new jeep out for a nice long drive today and find those so-called outlets you spoke of I was going to ask if youíd come with and help me shop, but if youíd rather sit here and spy on the neighbors, thatís fine.î ìWhat?î Angela perked up, just exactly as I thought she would ìYouíd really let me help you pick out some clothes?î I shrugged It was going to cause me physical pain to admit my next statement ìI kind of liked the way I looked last night.î Okay, that did it Angelaís jaw hit the floor ìNot that Iím going to let you buy a bunch of dresses,î I said quickly, ìbut we both know I canít pick out a new wardrobe on my own, and I donít really think I have a choice anymore

I sort of mentioned maybe buying some new clothes to Mom and she made me take this.î I went over to my dresser and pulled a wad of rolled up cash from my sock drawer Angelaís eyes widened with excitement ìI think she was afraid that Iíd spend all my money on a new car and then continue to go around wearingÖ well, the clothes I own now.î Seth who? Saturday Night Slasher what? Angela is just way too easy ìYou have no idea how long Iíve wanted to do this!î she squealed She practically dragged me down the stairs ìDo you know how pretty you really are? Iím going to show you, Ellie And I promise youíll like it We donít have to go crazy or anything Your looks are more of a subtle beauty It wonít be bad, I promise And when weíre done youíll have all those guys you hang out with foaming at the mouth.î ìUh, most of them do that anyway Itís not exactly attractive.î ìBut now theyíll be drooling over you.î I burst into laughter ìYeah, right.î Angela continued to ramble on about how for years now sheís wanted to make me realize my potential as a girl and blah-blah-whatever all the way to the outlets But she was happy, and believe it or not, I was sort of having fun ìVeto,î I said as Angela pulled a purple shirt off a rack At least, I think it was a shirtóhard to tell with all those ruffles I looked around at all the frilly, glittery clothes and wrinkled my nose ìIn fact, letís just save some time and veto this whole store.î ìYou canít veto an entire store, Ellie.î ìOh, yes I can.î ìThat is totally abusing your power.î ìAnd trying to shop in this store is abusing yours We agreed you wouldnít go crazy.î ìBut this would look so cute on you Youíre trying it on.î ìIím going to get a milkshake,î I called over my shoulder, already making my way out of the store and back into the mall ìCatch up to me when youíve come back to reality.î By the time Angela found me, I was sitting at a table in the food court sucking down the last of a chocolate shake ìTook you long enough.î ìFor your information, I stopped at the newsstand on the way here.î I raised my eyebrow at the bag hanging from her wrist that hadnít been there before I was sure it contained one butt-ugly ruffled purple shirt-dress thing ìWell, somebody had to try it on,î Angela muttered ìIt was fabulous and forty percent off.î ìThe newsstand?î I laughed ìWeak Like Iíd ever believe youíd stop at a newsstand, even if you werenít in a mall?î Angela scowled and then threw a newspaper down on the table in front of me I didnít care that I just ate my words I was already sucked in to the lead story on the front page ìMayor of Detroit implements city wide curfew?î I started to read the story ìThe body of fifteen-year-old Crystal Chambers was discovered in Maplewood Park in Garden City this morning, upping the death count in the string of serial killings to four With no new leads, state officials as well as law enforcement are urging citizens to take extra safety precautions.î ìNo one under the age of eighteen is allowed out without adult supervision after 10 pm on the weekends,î Angela whined ìThe mayorís urging all the surrounding cities to do the same Cantonís already kind of lame I bet weíll be on lockdown by the end of the day.î ìI think itís smart.î ìBut none of the bodies were found in Detroit.î ìDoesnít mean the girls werenít taken from there.î ìI know.î Angela sighed ìItís just that a city-wide curfew that could spread to the whole of the metro area? That means itís serious They donít have any leads They canít find this guy, and they donít know how to keep people safe.î I was still reading the rest of the articleóthankfully there was a picture of the mayor of Detroit and not the newest victim I didnít need another face to haunt me I looked up when Angela said, ìIím scared for you, Ellie.î ìIíll be fine, Angela,î I said seriously ìItís not like Iím going to go asking for trouble I mean, what are the odds? There are over five million people living in the greater Detroit area So long as I donít go hanging out in any dark alleys or 7-11 parking lots, the Saturday Night Slasher will never even know I exist.î ìUnless he lives across the street.î ìSo weíre back to this?î I asked, sighing ìIím sorry I ever brought it up Ang, Seth is not the Saturday Night Slasher I only ever said that because I was mad that you were trying to make me go out with him.î ìBut what if you were on to something? The guy is kind of creepy, right?î When I couldnít deny that, Angela went on

ìThink about it He moved to Michigan right before the murders started happening He has a thing for knives Heís obsessed with you and you look just like all the dead girls Plus, he didnít come home until almost six oíclock this morning I know, because after you woke us all up last night I noticed that he wasnít home, so I waited up for him.î ìAnd you call me a stalker,î I grumbled I think weíd had this exact conversation before, only now weíd switched points of view ìIf you havenít noticed, Seth never comes home before dawn on the weekends, and if you had parents that would let you get away with that, you know youíd do the same thing.î ìHow can you ignore the coincidences? I know how much Seth scares you You have nightmares about him so bad they have you falling out of bed.î This conversation was already annoying me, but when I was reminded of my dream I got mad ìThat dream wasnít about Seth last nightóit was about Dave!î ìDave?î Angela, her brain being hardwired for gossip, was completely sidetracked ìWhy would you have nightmares about Dave?î ìNothing No reason Arenít we supposed to be shopping?î I flew out of my seat and headed out of the food court ìBecause he kissed you?î Angela demanded, catching up to me and clinging on so I couldnít run away ìOh my gosh, was it bad? It was bad, wasnít it? How bad was it?î ìDo you want me to give the sparkly store another try?î I asked I was sorry Iíd brought it up ìThat bad?î Talk about foaming at the mouth ìDeee-tails!î she whined ìYouíre talking about Dave Holcomb Heís, like, every girl in your gradeís fantasy.î ìOh yeah, Iím sure every girl dreams of being kissed just to have the guy pull away and tell her it was weird.î ìHe did what?î To her credit, Angela looked really pissed off on my behalf ìWell it was weird.î I said ìI told you we were just friends You should have stayed out of it.î Itís a good thing we passed a guy in a giant hot dog suit just then, and that the guy totally laughed at me, because Iím sure all that padding in his suit cushioned the blow when I punched him, and I really felt a lot better after hitting someone Angela glanced down at the giant weenie at our feet He was now stuck on his back flailing his arms in the air ìGeez Ellie, no need to go all anger management on mall losers It was just a kiss.î ìHey!î the guy on the ground protested ìIt wasnít just a kiss It was my first kiss.î I knew that would make Angela feel bad While I wasnít necessarily the type to fantasize about my first kiss, Angela totally was She actually covered her mouth with her hand, gasping in horror like sheíd single-handedly ruined my life ìYeah,î I said, sort of rubbing salt in the wound on purpose I guess I was still really irked at her ìSo, uh, thanks for ruining it.î The guy stuck on the floor laughed again ìDude,î I said and kicked him Too bad it didnít hurtócurse that stupid foam suit ìYouíre making minimum wage dressed as a giant wiener I seriously doubt youíre getting any action either.î Oscar Mayer Boy muttered something under his breath Iím pretty sure he wasnít telling me that he had an itch, but before I could beat him senseless, he was drowning in Diet Coke ìWay to go, Ang,î I said, more impressed with my sister than I think Iíd ever been in my life I didnít know she could be cool ìNobody talks to my baby sister like that,î she told the stupid loser on the ground ìUm, actually, a lot of people talk to me like that.î ìShut up, Ellie,î Angela said, hooking her arm through mine ìYouíre ruining our dramatic exit.î ìLater, wiener boy Hope that suit gives you a rash,î I said as Angela carted me off before security could kick us out or something Once we were back to our shopping, Angela apologized for ruining my first kiss, and then wouldnít rest until she had every detail After she had the entire story she began coming up with a list of possible guys to ìreplaceî him Amazingly, I had a lot of fun shopping with my sister that day I continued to veto most of her clothes while she blabbed on about how I needed to get past my bad experience and not let it keep me from starting to like boys I actually paid attention to some of her dating advice, because I did plan to ìmove onî as sheíd suggested I just didnít plan to do it with any of the boys on her list of acceptable guys They say a summer romance can make everything magical Well, let me just tell you that whoever ìtheyî are, theyíre absolutely right This, the most boring of all summers, had become magical pretty much overnight because I was in love

Seriously, how did I go sixteen years without having my own car? Have I mentioned how much my new jeep freaking rocks? I hadnít even had it a full week yet, but it had already changed my life It gave me freedom This past week, there was nothing I needed more than freedom See, I donít think Angela bought my promise to not go see Seth Either that, or she thought I was completely suicidal over what happened with Dave and thought I needed distractions Ever since our shopping escapade on Sunday, Angela stuck to me like glue Sheíd dragged me out with her and her friends Sheíd invited her friends to come hang out with us at our house Sheíd even dragged me to work with her and got me my first non-babysitting job Not that Iím at all a fan of clothing stores or discounts, but the job had a certain appeal for the afore-mentioned reason that I love driving my car The job would keep gas in it more than babysitting Anyway, after spending the week not being set upóaccording to Angelaówith half the guys she knows, I desperately needed some freedom, so I went for a drive It was amazing Thanks to the warm Michigan sunshine, the removable top on my Jeep, and a little band known as Sublime, my Friday morning had been, well, very sublime (pun intended) Right around lunchtime Angelaís cell phone rang The stupid thing had been quiet all summer up until this week, when for some reason it started going off constantly This was only slightly annoying Especially since Angela had her freaking ring tone set to a Lady GaGa song But, since I was in an exceptionally good mood thanks to my sick Jeepówhich Iím in love with, by the wayóI decided to see who had been calling all week It wasnít my mystery caller on the other line, but itís still a good thing I answered it, because it was my sister, and she sounded rather hysterical ìEllie! Iím so glad you answered I need you to come pick me up right now.î ìWhat? Where are you?î ìAt a minimart across the street from that swanky new sushi place in Livonia.î ìYouíre where?î ìYou know the restaurant Iím talking about, right?î ìYeah, I think so Why are you at a minimart in Livonia?î ìJust hurry, okay?î ìFifteen minutes,î I told her, but I think sheíd already hung up I actually got there in closer to ten minutes At first I didnít see Angela, but then I noticed this crazy person in an Old Navy hoodie, waving frantically at me through the window of the minimart ìWhat the freak, Angela?î I asked when I got inside ìYou scared the crap out of me You call me from an unknown number saying youíre stranded in Livonia and then just hang up? What the crap is going on?î ìSorry about the hang up I was on a payphone.î ìA payphone?î ìI know, right?î Angela laughed ìI canít believe those actually work.î ìUm, why are you stranded at a minimart in Livonia? Howíd you even get here? I thought you were at work.î ìI was at work Ellie, you are not going to believe what happened!î ìYouíre stranded at a minimart in Livonia, wearing a hoodie in ninty-five degree weather I think Iíll believe pretty much anything at this point.î ìSeth came to see me at work today.î Okay Thatís not what I was expecting her to say I felt this weird twinge of disappointment in my stomach Not that Angela would have let Seth get anywhere near me, but he hadnít even tried to come over this week I hadnít talked to him since my birthday party Not since he saw me kiss Dave Iíd figured he was a little disappointed, but heíd been practically psycho about pursuing me so far I didnít think one kiss would make him give up on me and send him chasing after Angela But, it was only a matter of time, I suppose I should have known They always go for Angela ìWhat happened?î I asked, trying not to sound as disappointed as I was ìWell, he still looked mad, so, you know, at first I thought he came to kill me But he never got close enough to touch me, so I didnít have to start screaming.î I waited expectantly for Angela to elaborate ìHe came to apologize,î she said, as if that explained everything ìHe said he was sorry for losing his temper Saturday night, and told me that heís just glad youíre happy.î ìAnd whatíd you say?î ìWell, duh I said thank you It was very nice of him to say he was sorry I mean, he really freaked me out the other night.î ìAngela! I mean about me You told him the truth about Dave and me, right?î ìOf course not I told him you were more than happy

I told him you guys are great together and that thatís where youíve been all weekóhanging out with your new boyfriend.î ìWhat?î ìI had to, Ellie Heís a lot less likely to come after you if he thinks youíre always hanging out with Dave.î I slapped my hand to my face ìFine,î I said, letting out a huff of airóI definitely had to talk to him now ìSo, explain to me how Seth apologizing to you turned into you stranded in Livonia.î ìOh Right So after I said you and Dave were together, Seth started asking me a bunch of questions.î ìWhat kinds of questions?î ìAll kinds of questions If I thought Dave was a good guy How long weíve known him At first I thought it was kind of cute, even if he is basically stalking you But then he asked if I thought Dave was a good fighter, or if he could protect you So of course I thought he was planning to beat up Dave to get you, and I said Dave could more than take care of you, and asked him who you needed protection from.î My mood perked up a little at this, even though I guess it shouldnít have I shouldnít be excited about the possibility of Seth wanting to fight Dave in order to win me back But Iíd never had guys fight over me The Jís have fought for me before, which was pretty awesome, but theyíve never fought over me Thereís a big difference It was romantic, Seth asking about Dave and wanting to beat him up Plus, it seemed he was still on Team Ellie and not one of the hundreds of Angela worshipers No matter how psycho Seth can get, he still gets major brownie points for that ìSo whatíd he say when you asked who I needed protection from?î ìHe didnít exactly He just started asking me all sorts of questions about that guy from your party, the muscley one.î ìTravis? If he thinks Iím hooked up with Dave now, why would he care about Travis?î ìI know, right? I thought it was weird too I told him you donít like that guy at all When I told him you didnít know him, and that Travis didnít even go to our school, Seth freaked out.î ìWhat do you mean he freaked out?î ìHe got crazy-mad like at your party, asked me everything I knew about Travis, and then just left He didnít even say goodbye or anything.î ìWhat the freak?î ìMy thoughts exactly,î Angela said ìHe was acting so strange When he took off I figured he was up to something, so I followed him.î ìYouÖ followedÖ himÖî Angelaís face lit up with excitement ìDonít worry, we were totally stealthy about it.î ìWe?î ìYeah Rachel was there to pick me up from work, and Seth doesnít know Rachelís car, so when he drove off we followed him He stopped at the bank and then came here.î I glanced around the minimart we were standing in The only person here was the guy behind the counter watching my sister as if sheíd clearly lost her marbles ìNot here,î Angela said when she saw me looking around ìHeís at the sushi place across the street See?î I squinted at the restaurant across the street and could barely make out the guy sitting at a table behind the glass window to be Seth It looked to me like he was just eating lunch ìOkay,î I said, ìso whereís Rachel?î ìShe had to go to dance, so I called you.î I shook my head, bewildered ìYou are insane You know that, right?î ìYou wonít be thinking that when we catch Seth and I save your life.î ìWhatever Iím leaving If you donít want to be stranded, I suggest you come with.î ìCome on, Ellie, live a little Stalk your stalker with me.î ìAng, the guyís just eating lunch The only thing weird about it is that heís eating sushi, which is totally nasty.î I started to walk out the door and Angela stopped me ìYou werenít there,î she said, having gone one hundred percent serious all the sudden ìIt felt like he was interrogating me Heís up to something I know he is Just wait with me for a while Please?î I stared at the pout on Angelaís face and then gave in ìFine.î How was it that I couldnít say no to my sister right then? When did that happen? Iíve never even cared about her feelings, much less been unable to say no to whatever ridiculous demand she was making Forget the clothes, there were much stranger things happening to me this summer On the bright side, this time she was just asking me to spy on Seth, which is something I do all the time anyway Maybe thatís the reason I couldnít say no, and it actually had nothing to do with starting to like my sister Hopefully ìJust for a little while,î I said ìIf he doesnít do anything strange, weíre going home.î ìFine, deal The best place to see him is from the payphone on the corner that I called you from, but you canít go out there like that.î

Angela bought a trucker hat from the minimart and handed me her hoodie ìHu-uh,î I protested ìItís ninety-five degrees out there and this is your stupid idea Youíre wearing the hoodie I get the hat.î Angela smiled sweetly, but didnít give up the hat ìYou know I would, Ellie, butóî ìNo you wouldnít.î ìOf course I would,î Angela demanded, pretending to be offended ìBut you have to wear the hoodie Seth is obsessed with you He would recognize your hair from a mile away.î Crap! She had a point I put the sweatshirt on and grumbled, ìIf I die of heat stroke, itís all your fault.î ìIf you die of heat stroke, can I have your Jeep?î ìNo.î There was a concrete bench next to the payphone, so Angela and I bought a pack of Twizzlers and a couple of super gulps and went to pretend we were waiting for a bus Angela was rightóI could see Seth a lot better from my new position on the corner He looked much more comfortable than me inside the air-conditioned restaurant He looked pensive He looked good ìHe almost kissed me the other night,î I said randomly ìI was completely freaked at the time, but then I was kind of disappointed when he didnít, you know?î Angela turned very slowly to look at me with raised eyebrows I couldnít blame her for being surprised It wasnít that my confession had come out of nowhere, it was that it came at all Never ever in a big fat ever had I offered up information about my life to her willingly My face turned beet red I felt more awkward than Iíd ever been, but everything with Seth and Dave was driving me crazy, and I needed someone to talk to about it Obviously I wasnít going to call up the Jís and be all, ìSo thereís this guyÖî Angela was all I had ìItís just thatÖî Angela waited patiently for me to continue I was grateful she didnít interruptóthis opening up thing was harder than Iíd anticipated ìSeth was the first guy who everÖî I stopped, unable to get any more words out ìI know youíre disappointed about Seth,î Angela told me ìBut itís really for the best.î ìItís more than just that, though.î I was studying my feet, completely unable to look at my sister, until she said my name in a kinder voice than I thought she was capable of When I looked up, she smiled encouragingly, seeming to understand exactly how hard this was for me It helped ìGuys donít like me,î I said ìNot the way Seth does Take Dave The other night he said he liked the idea of having a girlfriend who was like me, but then he kissed me and there was justÖnothing Or the Jís Iíve known them forever and Iíll bet that thought has never even occurred to any of them Iím always just one of the guys I guess I never realized how much that bothers me until now.î ìI donít think it ever has bothered you before,î Angela said Again, shocking me with her sincerity ìThe fact that it does now is whatís making you change Ellie, Seth is just the beginning Trust me, now that youíre not so oblivious anymore, there are going to be plenty of other guys Ones who arenít crazy You remember my friend Marcus who came over on Wednesday? He remembered you from the beach party and actually asked if you were going to be there when he came over.î Someone in Angelaís crowd was asking about me? It was enough to make my jaw fall slack and Angela finally laughed ìWhy do you think I forced you to hang out with me all week?î Angela nudged me with her shoulder ìYou may be a late bloomer, but youíre still a Westley Trust me, you donít need Seth.î I looked again across the street and remembered how I felt on Saturday night A sigh escaped before I could stop it ìStill I bet heís a really good kisser.î Angela watched Seth, too, and nodded vigorously ìOh, for sure! How else do you think he gets his victims to go with him? Heís so hot, Iíd follow him into a dark alley if I thought I had a chance at making out with him.î I laughed, then tugged at the neck of the hoodie I was wearing ìSpeaking of being so hot, I think weíre going to have to call it quits on the spying thing Heís not doing anything, and I really am going to die of heat stroke.î Angela sighed, knowing I was right She started to get up, but then froze ìUnlessÖî I turned to see what she was looking at just as a tinted black sedan pulled to a stop in front of the sushi place A guy in a dark suit stepped stiffly out of the car He wasnít your standard cop, but he was definitely something ìHe looks like a secret agent,î Angela said ìIím sure itís coincidence

Heís probably just grabbing some take out.î ìYeah,î Angela agreed ìBut lets just watch for a minute If Sethís a killer, wonít he get nervous around cops?î ìGood point.î I sat back down and watched in complete wonder as the cop entered the restaurant and sat down at Sethís table The two talked for a second, and then the cop slid a folder full of papers across the table to Seth ìWhat the?î Angela and I glanced at each other ìDo you think that was illegal?î Angela asked as the cop drove off The entire moment had taken all of three minutes ìOh, yeah Cops donít just give out information to people.î I couldnít believe it ìIíll bet thatís the case files for the Saturday Night murders Iíll bet theyíre in it together How else could he be leaving no evidence behind?î I had no idea what to think I honestly didnít think Seth was a killer, but what the freak? I didnít know what was in that file or why he wanted it Or even how he could possibly know dirty cops But I did know one thing Wherever he was going next, I would definitely be following him ëNextí happened to be the park in Garden City where Crystal Chambersí body was found last Saturday ìNo freaking way,î I whispered as we watched Seth head straight for the farthest corner of the park The girl was found on Sunday morning, and it was now Friday, so the yellow tape was long gone, but Iím sure it had to be the crime scene he was standing in ìEw,î Angela said when Seth sat down beneath a tree She was whispering, too, even though we were clear across the park from Seth and he couldnít have heard us in a million years ìDo you think heís sitting in the exact spot whereÖ?î ìThere has to be a rational explanation.î I mean, there just had to be ìYeah, itís called heís a psycho who kills girls and then goes back later to soak up their death karma.î ìDeath karma?î I repeated dryly ìWhatever.î Angela shuddered ìIím done This isnít fun anymore Letís get out of here before he sees us and decides to come after us in our sleep.î I agreed with Angela that it was time to leave No way did I want to have to explain to Seth what we were doing following him around the city But not because I was afraid he was going to slice me up first opportunity he got At least I didnít think he would Angela prattled on all the way home about how Seth was the killer She made me swear over and over again that I wouldnít go anywhere near him, but the dayís events hadnít convinced me that he was a murderer I already knew he had a crime fixationóhe has all those novels in his room, and the way he talked at the car dealership that day meant he obviously did a lot of research on the subject But that didnít mean he ever hurt anyone For all I knew, Seth had a sixth sense and worked with the cops to solve crimes like the chick on that one TV show Or maybe he was a ghost whisperer Hey, weirder things have happenedóI did just have a heart-to-heart with my big sister ìMaybe we should call the cops,î Angela said as we pulled into our driveway ìWhat?î ìOr at least tell mom and dad.î ìTell them what? That Seth is a serial killer? Dad would just laugh at you and mom would probably ground you from scary movies or something.î ìBut we could tell them about how crazy he is.î ìSure, just tell dad that the boy across the street is stalking his daughter? If he knew half of the things Sethís done, heíd move us across the country to get away from him You want to spend your senior year in Kansas or somewhere?î I was right and Angela knew it, though she clearly didnít like it ìAlright, fine,î she relented ìBut just promise me youíll stay away from him, Ellie Promise.î ìYeah,î I said ìSure, whatever.î Not Iím going to hell for the lies I tell I decided to stay outside for a while and go for a good skate Iíd been so busy with Angela this week that Iíd barely had any time to myself Plus, after wearing that hoodie I was already plenty sweaty What better time to get in a workout? Iíd just finished lacing up my first skate when a shadow fell over me ìYouíre late, Westley The game was Monday.î I glanced up and Dave smiled down at me as friendly as ever ìAnd Wednesday,î he added I shrugged and continued to tie my other skate I donít know what he wanted me to say He knew exactly why Iíd avoided the park this week He was obviously here to try and smooth things over between us I just hoped heíd do the guy thing and not actually, you know, say it I understand girls are supposed to be all about expressing their feelings, but Iím totally down with avoidance When my skates were on I let Dave help me to my feet and managed a very cool, ìWhatís up?î

ìWere you going somewhere in particular? You owe me a game of one-on-one.î Heíd said the magic words Any tension left between the two of us was gone I grinned ìI take it youíre in the mood for a good butt-whooping?î I dragged my nets out to the street and proceeded to put my money where my mouth was An hour later I was sufficiently humiliating Dave when Seth finally got home ìGoal!î I shouted as I sailed the ball through Daveís net Again ìAnd I do believe thatís game, sucker!î ìDude, I was distracted by that car.î ìAnd whatís your excuse for the other nine goals?î I asked as we dragged our nets to the curb in order to let the car pass I didnít realize the car was Sethís until it slid to a stop in front of his house Dave skated up beside me and gave a low whistle ìA BMW?î he asked curiously I sighed, and with a sad shake of my head answered, ìI know Itís embarrassing.î I suddenly realized that this was the perfect opportunity to talk to Seth Iíd wanted to all week, and now I was hoping I might be able to piece together some kind of explanation about what heíd been doing today Right now was my chance It was daylight and we were in public, and Dave was there to keep things from getting out of hand Because, yeah, I guess there was still a slight possibility that Seth was a psycho killerójust a really sweet one Plus, Angela was inside Thereís no way she could get out here to stop me in time With that, I became determined Seth had briefly met my eyes when heíd pulled up, but after seeing Dave at my side he was doing his best to pretend we werenít there He didnít even look my way when he got out of his car, so I had to yell, ìHey, Seth!î to get his attention And boy did it Seth practically stumbled over his feet, he stopped so short Then, when I smiled and gave him a friendly wave, he couldnít even say hi back He just stared at me like Iíd lost my mind I couldnít really blame him Itís not like Iíd ever initiated a conversation with him before Usually I ran for the hills with my tail between my legs ìHi!î I said again as I skated over to him, towing Dave with me Seth had to drag his stare away from Dave to look at me He watched me with suspicious eyes, the side of his mouth curving up into a hard smirk I didnít understand the joke Donít let him intimidate you, Ellie No fear I steeled myself and smiled even more sweetly ìI havenít seen you all week.î ìYes I noticed youíve been very busy this week,î he said, his expression completely neutral He couldnít help the way his eyes flashed to Dave again, though I figured it was as good a time as any to make introductions ìI know you guys saw each other at the party Saturday, but I didnít think youíd been technically introduced.î Dave held out his hand, and Seth surprised me by smiling at Dave as he shook it ìDave, this is Seth He just moved here from California Seth, this is my friend Dave.î Both guys raised a brow at my emphasis on the word friend ìWell, somebody has to stop all those rumors you started last weekend!î I snapped, so much more annoyed than Iíd have liked to be Sethís cool expression never faltered and he said, ìFrom where I stood, it looked like you guys were starting that rumor together.î Dave bust a gut with laughter, but I couldnít tell if Seth was giving me crap or if he was just really jealous Either way, I didnít need it If he was going to be like that, then I wasnít going to go out of my way to be nice to him With a groan, I whirled around to go take my skates off and Dave said, ìLighten up, Westley,î but it was Seth who grabbed my wrist to keep me from leaving The reaction was instantaneous My arm tensed beneath his grip to keep a shudder from exploding through my whole body I tried to ignore the feeling ìWhatever,î I said, and blew some of the loose strands of hair out of my face In an attempt to change the subject I looked at Seth ìDid you still want to learn how to play hockey? Dave and I were just playing a little one-on-one We can teach you if you want.î I glanced at Dave for confirmation and was horrified to see him looking at Sethís hand Because Seth was still holding on to my wrist ìActually, I gotta get going,î Dave said in a way that made me blush He smiled again at Seth and added, ìYou donít need me to teach you, anyway Ellie really is the best in the neighborhood If you figure it out, come with her to the park in the morning Game starts at seven thirty.î He turned to me again

ìDonít punk out this time.î I rolled my eyes, but said, ìIíll be there.î The minute Dave turned to goówhich would, of course, have left me alone with SethóAngela conveniently wandered outside Yeah, she hadnít been watching us out the window or anything Seth glanced over at me, curious of the disappointed sigh that escaped me when Angela walked toward us ìHaving a party out here and nobody thought to invite me?î she said cheerfully Only Dave laughed at the lame joke Oh, brother ìFive bucks says Dave doesnít have to get going anymore,î I muttered so low that only Seth heard Seth chuckled and slid his grip down to my hand, lacing my fingers in his The action didnít exactly go unnoticed by anyone My face paled a little, but I didnít pull my hand away, and, uh, yeah, that didnít go unnoticed, either ìWe could make it a party,î Seth offered suddenly to the group ìWe could double tonight Go to dinner Maybe catch a movie or something after.î Double? As in double date? Iím being asked out on an actual date? Obviously another first for me But could I do it? Could I go on a date with Seth after watching him take files from dirty cops and creep around murder scenes? I felt Seth squeeze my hand, and when I looked up he said, ìWhat do you say?î with that smile of his And those eyesÖ ìUm…î Holy crap his lips looked really kissable ìWhat?î ìSounds good to me,î Dave said with a hopeful expression The poor guy He might be able to snag half the seniors in school, but Iím fairly certain Angela Westley wasnít in that half ìIím down,î I finally said Angela glared at me when I agreed to the date I gave her a what-was-I-supposed-to-do look, but it didnít matter She was going to rip me a new one the minute we were alone ìOh,î she said, turning her fake smile on Seth and Dave She pulled me away from Seth and locked her arm through mine ìThat sounds like a lot of fun, but Ellie and I canít go We already have plans.î ìWhat are you talking about? I donít have any plans.î Now she was really going to kill me, but I just couldnít help myself ìDonít you remember, Ellie? The sleepover at Brookeís house?î ìOoooooooh Right The sleepover How could I forget?î Angela elbowed me, but it didnít matter how sarcastic I was being Both Seth and Dave knew she was making it up anyway It looked like Seth was going to call her on it, except that Lady GaGa started singing Poker Face and Angela spazzed ìIs that my phone?î I laughed at the longing in her voice ìThe freaking thing has been ringing off the hook for a week.î ìWell, did you ever think to answer it?î ìWhy would I? None of my friends have the number I donít even know the number.î I could tell the phone was about to go to voicemail because Angela looked like she was ready to tackle me ìKnock yourself out,î I said, handing her the phone She squealed as she snatched it and took off across the lawn for some privacy I quickly turned to the guys ìI apologize for my sister Iím pretty sure she was dropped on her head as a child A lot.î ìEllie!î Angela yelled behind me ìWhat?î I asked defensively, but she hadnít heard my insult She was handing me the phone ìItís for you.î ìIt canít be I told you I donítóî ìHeís asking for you.î ìHe?î Seth asked while Dave said, ìHow many boyfriends do you have, Westley?î I glared at Dave as I answered the phone Angela, Seth, and Dave all watched as if it were the most interesting thing Iíd ever done ìHello?î ìEllie, there you are! Iíve been trying to get a hold of you all week.î ìWho is this?î ìTravis.î ìTravis?î ìYou spilled Coke on me at your party last week?î ìI know who you are Howíd you get this number?î ìYou gave it to me.î ìNo, I didnít.î ìSure you did Listen, we never got the chance to set up a date last week Do you want to go out tomorrow night?î ìNo can do, dude Sorry Canít go out on Saturday nights right now Serial killer on the loose and all.î ìThatís cool,î Travis said ìWe donít have to go out We can just hang out at my house My parents wonít be home, so weíll be able to chill.î I laughed ìYeah, Iím sure Sorry Iím actually babysitting, so even if I wanted to, I canít.î ìOkay Well, I have to work tonight, but we could hang out sometime this week When are you free?î

Ugh Some people are too dense for their own good ìUh, Travis? Learn to take a hint Youíre a tool, and weíre not going out Ever Go drink a protein shake or something.î When I hung up Dave laughed so hard he cried ìGo drink a protein shake? Dude, that was harsh.î I just shrugged ìI tried to let him down easy.î ìDid you really not give him your phone number?î Seth asked Unlike Dave, he was not laughing ìI told you I donít even know the number to this phone He had to have asked around or something.î ìHe wanted to take you out tomorrow night?î Seth asked again, getting more and more irritated by the second I was beginning to understand what Angela meant earlier when she said he interrogated her ìYes to tomorrow but no to the going out part He wanted me to come over to his house, because his parents werenít going to be home.î ìEw,î Angela said ìHe actually said that? He could have at least pretended he wasnít trying to get into your pants.î ìAgreed,î Dave said ìThe guyís a tool Why do you hang out with him?î ìI donít I just met him for the first time that day at Rachelís beach house Now he wonít leave me alone.î ìI donít like it,î Seth said ìWell, of course you donít.î Angela grumbled I was shocked to see the nasty look she gave Seth I think it startled Dave and Seth, too Seth glared back at her and then went in his house without saying another word, slamming the door behind him ìWhat?î Angela snapped at me, even though Dave was the one staring questioningly at her ìHeís too possessive of you You guys arenít even going out.î ìIf youíre so worried about it, do you really think itís smart to piss him off?î ìI wouldnít have to if youíd quit making it worse Letting him hold your hand and agreeing to go out with him? What were you thinking?î ìUm, Iím gonna go now,î Dave said, backing away slowly from our fight ìSee you tomorrow morning, Ellie.î ìYeah, later,î I said, then took the fight with my sister in the house, where Seth wouldnít overhear us ìWhatever it is you guys are looking at me like that for, I didnít do it,î I said automatically when I came in the house Saturday evening and my parents looked up from their hushed conversation with grim faces My parents both eyed me warily ìYou know about the city curfew, right?î my mom asked I looked at the clock and frowned ìUnless it got bumped up five hours, I think Iím good.î ìWe donít need your sarcasm, Eleanor.î Mom only used my full name when she was really upset I tried to recall the last few hours I hadnít done anything that I could think of worthy of being busted ìWell, what are you mad at me for? Itís not my fault some psycho wants to snatch me up and stab every square inch of my body.î Momís face blanched ìEllie, please!î ìWe arenít mad at you,î Dad said, sighing ìWeíre just worried Weíre going to cancel our trip.î Well, itís no wonder youíre cranky ìNo! No way! You are not canceling your twentieth anniversary because of me.î ìItís not because of you,î Dad said The look on his face didnít agree ìOkay, itís not only you Itís your sister too.î ìOh, yeah, because the Saturday Night Slasherís been going after so many blonds.î ìEleanor!î ìWhat? Iím sick of everyone making such a big deal out of this! Heís never gonna find me He grabs up drug addicts and runaways He stalks nightclubs and dark streets downtown Tonight Iím going to be sitting in the Haskinsís house with the doors locked, eating frozen pizza and watching some lame action movie Nothing bad is going to happen!î I stomped up to my room, but could still hear the tail end of my parentís conversation through the vents At this point theyíd decided not to cancel anything, but they were still pretty worried I hoped theyíd just get over it already I mean, yeah, itís a little disturbing to know that someone is out there in my city killing girls that look like me, but the more paranoid my family got about it, the more I believed the hype was just stupid By the time I walked down the street to the Haskinsís house at seven and the sun was starting to set, I wasnít even creeped out Much And then I was rightóso far, nothing bad had happened The night was going exactly as I said it would all the way down to the cheesy action movie Of course, this big summer storm hit, so the wind was howling and the thunder was cracking Plus, Iíd happened upon Kiss The Girls before finding Delta Force, so when the Haskinsís doorbell rang about fifteen minutes after Iíd put Cameron in bed, I admittedly felt a tinge of fear

Without turning on any lights in the front room, I tiptoed to the front door and peeked out the peephole Standing there, bathed in the harsh light of the front porch, was my extremely hot neighbor, soaked from head to toe My heart and my head screamed at me simultaneously I definitely shouldnít answer it I opened the door Amazingly, I was met with a smile every bit as grim as my parentsí had been earlier ìYou shouldnít be opening the door for strangers on Saturday night,î Seth scolded instead of greeting me ìI didnít open it for a stranger I opened it for you.î Sethís frown turned suspicious ìYou knew it was me and you still opened the door?î Not sure why my face was heating up, I shrugged ìI was feeling generous.î ìDo I dare press my luck and ask if I can come in?î I debated It was hard to forget that image of him sitting in the park where that girl was killed At least it was until he looked up at me through his wet eyelashes ìI promise Iíll behave,î he said But it didnít matter I was already throwing the door open for him Seth immediately closed the door and locked it behind him The deadbolt slid into place with a click Gulping, I took a step back Now whoís being paranoid, Ellie? ìSo, what are you doing here?î I asked as I led him through the house to the family room, grateful for the bright glow of the television ìI hear stalking redheads is the thing to do on Saturday nights.î Sethís voice came from too close behind me I could feel it on my neck I whirled around with a start Seth mistook my unease to be a reaction to his words, and not the fact that he was almost touching me and we were all alone and the last time we really talked heíd almost kissed me ìIím sorry,î he said, throwing his hands out like he was afraid I was going to make a break for the exit ìYouíre right Not funny Iím sorry.î I headed toward the couch and when Seth followed like he was going to sit right next to me, I kept walking and plopped down in Mr. Haskinsís armchair Seth noticed, but didnít say anything about it ìI just wanted to see you without Angela around,î he explained, surrendering himself to the big lonely couch As he grudgingly sank into the cushions he muttered, ìSheís really starting to get on my nerves.î ìWhat did you expect, Seth? You scared the freaking crap out of her last week,î I said, incredulous I think both of us were startled by the fierceness with which I came to Angelaís defense ìShe thinks youíre some crazy freak whoís obsessed with her baby sister.î Seth glared at me, then sighed, then turned his attention to the muted TVóChuck Norris was busy roundhouse kicking like seven guys ìIs that what you think?î he asked ìHonestly?î Seth slid his gaze back to me, waiting for my answer ìI donít have any idea what to think about you You can be very sweet You are incredibly sweet.î Seth looked so surprised by my compliment that I buried my gaze in my lap ìBut,î I continued, blushing again ìMost of the time youíre alsoÖî My voice trailed off I didnít exactly want to say what I was thinking Too late ìIím what?î Seth demanded warily When I cringed he said, ìJust tell me.î You asked for it ìWell, youíre creepy In a likes-to-drown-kittens-for-fun kind of way,î I said with a wince I quickly added, ìI donít think you mean to be,î as if that would make him feel better or something ìBut I donít think you realize it either.î I forced myself to look at Seth He was looking at the TV again Not watching itójust sort of staring at it He let out a long, exhausted breath ìIím sorry,î I said, feeling like crap ìI was too harsh.î ìSíokay.î Seth still wouldnít meet my eyes ìIíd rather know how you feel, even if it sucks At least then I understand.î Great Could I feel any worse? With a long, exhausted sigh of my own, I rose to my feet ìCome on.î I held out my hand to Seth He looked at it as if it might bite him, but after a moment he allowed me to pull him up I dragged him into the kitchen pointing to the row of barstools lining the counter ìSit.î He did so without any argument Seth watched wordlessly as I pulled a pint of Chunky Monkey out of the freezer and sat down next to him ìYouíll feel better I promise,î I said, handing him one of two spoons I didnít wait for him to dig in After I took a bite he picked up his spoon, and we shared a pint of ice cream in silence

Right about the time I wondered what was going through his head, I heard a strange clicking noise Seth had abandoned his spoon for a butterfly knife and was flipping it open and closed as he stared into the ice cream carton I screamed, of course, and the noise from it snapped Seth out of whatever psycho daydream heíd been having He looked at the knife as if seeing it for the first time Gasping in horror, he reached out for me when I jumped off my stool, but I was too fast ìWhat the freak, Seth!î I screamed, running around to the other side of the counter and safely out of reach ìEllie, wait! Itís not what you think! Iím sorry!î ìSo am I! Sorry I let you in the door!î Seth tried to come in the kitchen after me and I screamed again ìStay back!î ìEllieóî ìI mean it, Seth Stay away from me.î Seth backed away with his hands up But not in an ìI surrenderî kind of way More like he was a big cat waiting for a good moment to pounce ìEllie, please Just give me a chance to explain.î ìIím calling the police if youíre not out of here in five seconds.î ìLook Iím putting it down.î Seth slowly placed his knife, blade closed, on the counter and slid it away from him My eyes followed the knife Part of me wanted to grab it, but I wasnít stupid It may have been out of armís reach now, but he was quick and it was still closer to him than me ìI can explain if youíll let me.î My eyes snapped back to Seth at the sound of his voice Heíd moved into the kitchen with me now and was standing close enough to touch me if he wanted to Okay, Iím sure he wanted to, but he didnít Him restraining himself right then is the only reason I didnít call the police or pull a butcher knife out of the block on the counter behind me ìI donít want to hurt you,î Seth said when he realized I was giving him the chance to explain ìThe thing with the knifeóitís a nervous habit Thatís it I didnít mean to scare you I would neveróî I didnít hear the end of Sethís sentence because right then a giant crack of thunder exploded outside and a bright flash whited out the entire house, causing the power to go out I gasped in the sudden blackness, not happy that I could no longer Seth Seth must have anticipated my anxiety over the power outage, because he immediately pulled me to him, locking me against his chest ìSeth,î I warned ìLet me go.î ìI watched my mother get stabbed to death when I was nine years old.î Did he really just say that? With that one admission all the fear and fight left me I didnít even feel the need to break free from his grip I was overcome with morbid curiosity ìWhat?î Even in the dark, when I could only see shadows, Seth wouldnít meet my eyes He let me go and slunk down the counter to the floor ìIt was a car jacking in San Diego,î he said ìThe guy stabbed me, too, he just accidentally missed my heart They found our car in Riverside, but they never found the guy who took it That Christmas, Dad took his own life and I was sent to live with Aunt Janice.î ìSeth.î Seth shook his head absently ìIt was a long time ago.î I didnít know what to say, but I sat down next to him on the floor and gave his hand a squeeze When his body went stiff next to me I realized that we were now holding hands and it had been at my request I hadnít meant to do it, but letting go now felt like it would be a very cruel rejection I think that rejection was exactly what Seth was waiting for I considered it, but didnít have the heart to do it Instead of letting go, I laced my fingers thorough his After a heartbeat or two, Seth finally accepted the fact that I was holding his hand and tentatively pulled that hand to his cheek He left it there a moment and took a deep breath I was shocked to feel the tiny shiver that ran through his body Itís one thing for me to shudder at his touch, but for him to tremble at mine was something else entirely ìSo, um, how come the obsession with knives? Youíd think after something like that youíd be scared of them now.î Hearing the nerves in my voice, Seth quickly let our hands fall back to his lap He was quiet for a minute, and just when I thought he wasnít going to answer my question he said, ìWhen I came to Beverly Hills, child services recommended counseling, but my aunt Janice has never done things the conventional way She said it was better for me to face my fears in the literal sense and gave me my first knife.î My gaze drifted the direction of the knife lying on the counter ìThat one?î I wondered aloud Seth understood what I meant ìYeah Aunt Janice found someone to teach me how to use it and then enrolled me in self-defense classes.î

ìDid it help?î Seth sighed ìThe nightmares stopped I wasnít afraid to leave the house anymore Obviously it didnít work entirely, though, since I grew up to be so intense.î Seth let go of my hand and then said, ìOr crazy Or psycho Or everything else youíve called me in the last month.î I could hear the frown in his voice when he added, ìCreepy in a likes-to-drown-kittens-for-fun kind of way?î Wow Those words all sounded so awful now ìYou forgot pretty enough to be gay,î I said He chuckled, but my laugh was forced The only thing I could think to say was, ìIím sorry.î Seth turned to face me then I could just barely make out his facial features now that my eyes had adjusted to the dark It was enough to see the intensity in his eyes ìNo,î he said fiercely ìDonít be sorry Youíre the first person Iíve ever told this to and I didnít do it so that you would feel sorry I just want you to understand I donít want you to be afraid of me.î ìOkay,î I said, even though it was impossible not to feel sorryósorry for him and sorry for all the mean things Iíve ever said to him We sat there a few more minutes in silence until, thankfully, the power came back on We met each otherís gazes but the moment was awkward Not knowing what else to say, I got up and grabbed the ice cream from the counter It was nothing but ice cream soup now With a sigh I threw it away and then handed Seth his knife back After he took it he grabbed my hand and said, ìI donít want you to be scared of me You have no idea how sorry I am.î I shrugged and tried to pull away but Seth wouldnít let go of my hand ìEllie, I would never hurt you.î Seth waited for me to say something, but I couldnít find my voice I nodded and pulled my hand from his This time he let me go He sat back down at the bar and watched while I wiped up the melted ice cream that had leaked onto the counter ìAfter my parents died I started having trouble with the kids at school.î Seth seemed to be talking more to himself now than to me ìMy psychologist said that Iíd developed a personality disorder Aunt Janice thought that was ridiculous and pulled me out of school.î He paused for a minute, then added, ìAnd therapy Iíve had nothing but private tutors ever since.î Seth began mindlessly flipping his knife open and closed again without realizing he was doing it It really was a nervous habit ìI was reading about personality disorders not that long ago, after you said I wasnít normal,î Seth said, frowning ìMaybe that guy was right.î ìI donít know about that,î I argued, though I wasnít so sure ìIt would explain the way you feel about me,î Seth said ìAnd how I canít ever get things right with you Iím trying, Ellie Iím trying really hard But itís difficult, because all the intense feelings I have for you drive me so crazy.î Iíd been about to take a seat on the stool next to Seth, but stopped at the casual mention of his ìintenseî feelings for me Seth grimaced at the way I backed into the kitchen, putting the counter safely between us again ìAll I want is for you to like me,î he said, frustration creeping back into his voice ìBut every time I begin to get anywhere with you I screw up so bad, I lose more ground than I had to start with.î Seth looked so disappointed that I managed to get over myself and plopped down next to him ìYou havenít lost all your footing,î I said ìI really donít hate you, you know I wouldnít even say I donít like you anymore You just take some getting used to.î Seth looked down at the knife in his hand He closed it, but continued to fiddle with it ìSaying that you donít dislike me anymore isnít the same thing as actually liking me.î ìNo,î I agreed ìYouíre right It isnít.î Seth frowned again and there was something so cute about it this time that I smiled and said, ìBut I donít share ice cream with just anyone.î I nudged him playfully with my elbow I could feel the surprise radiating off Seth as he turned to face me full on, but I couldnít look up I was red as a cherry I couldnít believe Iíd just told Seth that I liked him Granted, he didnít think I meant, ìLets forget the kitchen and go make out on the couch.î But I think maybe I did ìIím sorry, by the way,î I said, my eyes still completely focused on the counter in front of me ìI told you, donít feelóî ìNot about thatóabout last week That whole thing with Dave at my birthday party.î My face was now so red, Iím pretty sure the blush was creeping down into my arms ìAngela said you were upset.î

ìAngela also said that you and Dave spent the last week in Happy Couple Land.î Not only was I startled into looking up at him, but I couldnít hide my disappointment ìS-so you werenít upset about Dave kissing me?î I stammered Somebody stamp LOSER on my forehead right now Seth regarded me with a cool expression, but the light slowly crept back into his eyes When he smirked he was instantly transformed back into the charming, confident Seth I met when he first moved in ìUpset,î he said, ìis not nearly a strong enough word for what I felt watching Dave steal that kiss from you If you hadnít started kissing him back when you did, it wouldnít have been the wall I pounded my fist into.î Sethís face suddenly flushed with so much anger that he actually sneered in disgust ìHe doesnít even know, does he?î I had no idea what Seth meant, but the question sounded rhetorical ìHe doesnít have any clue that that was your first kiss.î I treated that statement as rhetorical too Sethís anger vanished as instantly as it had come ìIt shouldnít have been like that,î he said I thought Iíd put a ban on the sexy voice back in Sethís bedroom, but it was back and bringing a whole bunch of tension with it ìIn front of all those people,î Seth continued ìAnd with someone you didnít even want to kiss.î ìIf I remember correctly, you thought I wanted to kiss him,î I said, swallowing hard Was it my imagination, or was Seth getting closer? ìBut you didnít, did you?î He was definitely leaning in ìI saw the look on your face afterwards, Ellie Why do you think I was so mad at Angela?î I frowned ìIf you knew that kiss didnít seal the deal with Dave and me, how come you left?î ìI didnít think killing one of your friends would help me win you over.î It didnít seem like Seth was exaggerating ìI wanted to kill him, Ellie I came close Too close So I left before something bad happened.î Nope He wasnít kidding Not at all Cut him some slack He watched his mom get murdered Thatís bound to screw a guy up Seth noticed my unease and grimaced ìCreepy?î Wincing, I held up my thumb and index finger about an inch apart ìLittle bit.î Seth let go a frustrated sigh and started with the knife flipping again ìI donít know how to fix it,î he said ìI hate seeing you with other people Whether itís talking on the phone with your best friends, or playing hockey at the park, or even just bickering with your sister Youíre so natural with everyoneóso relaxed Youíve never been that way with me Not once If I knew how to be normal for you Ellie, I would Even if it meant being more like that idiot, Dave Holcomb.î I smirked at the ìidiotî comment Seth didnít even try to hide his jealousy Iím amazed he didnít tear Dave to pieces with his bare hands when I introduced them yesterday ìSeth,î I said ìIf you were normal, you would have moved in and immediately fallen in love with Angela like everyone else If you were normal, I would treat you the exact same way I treat every other guy I know Think about that You do not want that Trust me, if youíre looking for anything other than friendship from me, being more like Dave would not be the best idea Heís not an idiot, though.î ìIs too,î Seth muttered ìWhatever My point is, donít worry so much about being normal.î Seth narrowed his eyes at me, unsure where I was going with this Where I was going was probably the last place he ever expected, and it took me a minute to spit out my next words ìSo long as youíre not scaring me senseless,î I said, blushing as I shrugged my shoulders, ìI kind of like that youíre different.î Once Seth got over his shock, something dangerous flashed in his eyes and for once it wasnít anger It wasÖ it wasÖ I donít know But it was scaring me in a really exciting way ìEllie,î Seth said, slipping off his stool Thatís all it took for him to be standing over me I knew what he wanted And I knew that this time he wouldnít stop himself I could see it in his eyes I could practically feel it This was already a better kiss than Daveís and Seth wasnít even touching me yet Seth took my face in his hands ìIím going to kiss you now,î he warned me, his whisper so smooth it gave me goose bumps ìYou may not like it, but Iím afraid it has to be done.î Uh, pretty sure Iím going to like it Seth grinned as he lowered his face to mine ìYouíre thinking out loud again.î I started to gasp in horror, but the instant my lips parted Seth threw his mouth on mine, literally stealing the breath from me It made me want to gasp all over again from the sheer pleasure I was feeling

His lips were light, but moved with such urgency it felt like he needed this kiss in order to stay alive I lost all sense of anything but the feel and taste of his lips, except Iím pretty sure that at one point his hands were in my hair destroying my ponytail The whole experience left me feeling lightheaded, and when it was finally over I woke up to find that I was no longer sitting on my stool, but standing in Sethís arms It was a very good thing he was holding me up because my knees had given out We were both panting slightly as Seth leaned his forehead against mine ìThat should have been your first kiss,î he said ìWasnít it?î I asked, dazed Whatever Dave did last week, it was nothing even remotely close to what Iíd just experienced Seth had just completely wrecked me There was a smile in Sethís voice as he asked, ìYou okay?î The fog wouldnít lift from my brain entirely, but I managed to bring my eyes into focus ìHuh?î Seth was watching me, more amused than Iíd ever seen him His whole countenance was differentólike a weight Iíd never known was there had suddenly been lifted from him ìDo you need to sit down?î he asked me That sounded like an excellent plan When I nodded, Seth dragged me back into the family room and pulled me down to the couch with him ìMy knees feel like jell-o,î I said ìIs that supposed to happen?î The only answer I got from Seth was a laugh and him going, ìOh, Ellie,î with a happy sigh It looked as though he was content to just sit there with me tucked into his side for the rest of his life, but the fluttering in my stomach was quickly turning to nerves, so I interrupted the peace with another stupid question ìSo, um, what happens now?î ìWhat do you mean?î Seth asked He was busy winding his fingers in my hair ìI donít know It just feels like we should be doing something.î ìWe are Weíre babysitting.î When I frowned, Seth laughed ìYouíre just feeling restless because normally youíd be running away from me by now.î This was true ìIf I didnít have Cameron to worry about, I still might.î ìWell, lucky we have Cameron then.î Seth laughed so lightheartedly that I nearly forgot why I was supposed to be scared of him in the first place He pulled me close long enough to kiss the side of my head, then let me go He settled for holding my hand, which I think was another physical restraint on his part in an attempt to make me more comfortable I was grateful for it ìSo, what are we watching?î he asked, turning his attention to the TV When he saw what was playing he went, ìEllie, you are not watching old Chuck Norris movies.î Seth stayed with me until the Haskins got home at twelve-thirty, and it never occurred to me that the Haskins might not like that until I heard the garage door go up Of course, Seth had it all smoothed over with one sentence ìIím sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Haskins, but I didnít think it was safe for Ellie to be all alone on a Saturday night with a serial killer on the loose.î Mr. And Mrs. Haskins actually thanked Seth for being so thoughtful, then went off about how much all the dead girls look like me ìThis is a fascinating conversation and all,î I said, interrupting them ìBut Iíd rather not have nightmares tonight So do you mind if I go home now and donít talk about the fact that thereís a creep out there who would slice me up if he had the chance?î ìOh, goodness Iím sorry, Ellie I never thought of it like that Iíll just take you home now,î Mr. Haskins said as he grabbed his keys again and headed back toward the garage ìMr. H. I live eight houses down the street You donít need to drive me.î ìEllie, Seth is right There is a serial killer out there.î ìI can get her home safe, Mr. Haskins,î Seth offered ìI donít mind Iím going that way anyway.î The next thing I knew, I was walking down a deserted street in the middle of the night with my extremely hot neighbor who is an extremely good kisser The storm had settled to just a light drizzle and we walked down the middle of the street to avoid the downed tree branches and flooded gutters Even though weíd just spent the last couple hours alone together, the TV had been on, and the storm had been noisy Now it was really quite Too quiet ìDid you know our street was originally called Chuck Norris Drive?î I asked just to break the silence Seth gave me a look Heíd watched the end of the movie with me, but heíd laughed all the way through it ìItís true,î I went on ìBut they had to change the name because nobody crosses Chuck Norris and lives.î Seth tried not to laugh, but he failed ìI canít believe youíve never had to fight off admirers before,î he said

ìThereís no way that at least half of the guys you hang out with arenít madly in love with you.î ìBelieve it,î I said, trying to avoid the awkwardness of his statement ìUntil you came along, no guy ever even called me by my first name Well, I guess you and Travis But you were first, and he doesnít count because when he met me I was wearing Angelaís stupid bikini.î Seth frowned when I mentioned Travisís name Weíd reached the street between our houses and as I headed for mine, Seth grabbed my hand ìCome home with me tonight.î ìExcuse me?î I was shocked and had to work to control my sudden anger ìI donít mean it like that,î Seth said Lucky for him, he looked sincere Iíve punched guysí lights out for asking a lot less ìJust tonightóSaturday night Just so I can keep an eye on you.î ìYou werenít lying to Mr. H. earlier,î I said, astonished ìYou really did come over tonight because you were worried, didnít you?î ìEllie, you have no idea what Saturday nights have become for me I have to go find ways to distract myself every weekend in order to keep from breaking down your door.î ìOkay, am I supposed to be pointing out the times you do or say something creepy? Because now would be one of those times.î Seth ignored me ìStay with me tonight,î he said again ìSeth, Iíll be fine Come over in the morning and check on me if you must, but I cannot go home with you End of story.î Seth didnít look thrilled, but he didnít argue with me ìFine,î he said and walked me up to my house He quieted his voice to a whisper as he walked me to the door, probably thinking the same thing I wasóthat my overprotective father was no doubt waiting up for me and wouldnít like Seth bringing me home instead of Mr. Haskins ìGoodnight, Ellie,î Seth whispered, then surprised me by leaning down to press his lips quickly to mine All that did was make me want to grab him and try to recreate our kiss from earlier I wondered if he could read my mind, because he flashed me a wide grin ìSee you in the morning.î I rolled my eyes ìAnd I promise Iíll be very much alive.î ìDad, Iím home,î I said, shaking my father Heíd fallen asleep in front of the TV I guess Mom was able to calm him down a little after I left this evening I figured Iíd find him pacing the kitchen when I got home Hopefully that meant both he and my mom would be in better moods from now on Dad wiped the sleep from his eyes and smiled at me ìGood,î he said Then he kissed the top of my head, double-checked to see if the front door was locked, and disappeared up to bed I was exhausted, too, but the emotional roller coaster Iíd been on tonight had my mind reeling There would be no sleeping for Ellie Westley tonight I threw on my pajamas, turned on my TV, and had just settled into bed when I heard the tiniest knock on my bedroom window At first I thought Iíd imagined it, but then I heard it again I muted the TV and crept quietly along the wall to the edge of the window, listening hard for evidence that I wasnít crazy ìEllie!î someone whispered from the other side ìItís me.î If the voice hadnít been so familiar, I would have screamed loud enough to wake the dead ìSeth?î ìYeah Open up.î Angela would have been disappointed in me on multiple levels if sheíd seen how quickly I obliged him I cracked the window open, but before I could finish saying, ìWhat are you doing here?î he let himself in and locked the window ìSeth!î I hissed ìIf my parents find you in here, my dad will kill me before the Saturday Night Slasher ever gets a chance And heíll kill you first!î ìThen stop making so much racket,î Seth whispered ìWhat are you doing in here?î Seth made himself comfy on my bed and smiled up at me ìItís morning,î he offered, as if that should explain everything When it clearly didnít, he elaborated ìYou said I could come check on you in the morning.î He glanced at the clock on my nightstand It was nearly one ìTechnically, itís morning.î ìCute.î ìLook You said you couldnít come over to my house, so Iím staying here tonight With you.î Something about the way he tacked on that ìwith youî made me thank the stars that I didnít listen to Angela on the subject of sleepwear My big flannel Simpsons pjís were extremely comforting at the moment ìYou are not spending the night with me, Seth.î ìOh, yes I am Even if I have to tie you up and gag you ëtill morning to keep you from waking everyone in the house.î A small tinge of fear pricked my chest, but I swallowed it back ìYou wouldnít.î Seth cocked one of his eyebrows

ìDonít think so?î Heís bluffing Probably Maybe Hopefully I decided Iíd really rather not know When I sighed my defeat Seth held out a hand to me ìCome here, Ellie.î I eyed him dubiously as he lay propped up against my pillows ìNo, thank you.î Instead of lying down with him, I climbed down to the foot of my bed and sat with my back against the wall When Seth decided that I really wasnít going to join him, he crawled over next to me ìHow are we ever supposed to get any sleep sitting up like this?î he asked ìNewsflash, Seth There is no way Iím getting any sleep with you in here, no matter what position Iím in.î ìWould it help if I take the floor?î ìIt would definitely make me feel better, but it wouldnít help me sleep.î ìWell, if youíre going to lose sleep no matter what, then Iím not moving to the hard floor.î It got awkwardly quiet all the sudden and when Seth reached over to take my hand in his I was already tense I flinched just enough to make Seth frown He pulled his hand back to his own lap and closed his eyes ìIím confused,î he admitted, trying very hard to control whatever emotion was escaping him at the moment ìI thought we had a nice time tonight.î ìWe did,î I agreed cautiously ìI kissed you goodnight on your front porch less than fifteen minutes ago.î ìYou did,î I agreed again ìAnd you werenít scared of me then.î ìI wasnít.î ìBut Iím making you uneasy now?î ìYes.î After everything weíd been through tonight, I found it easier to be straight with him ìItís hard not to be scared of you.î Seth reached for my hand again This time he took it ìI really donít want you to be scared of me Ellie, I swear I could neveróî ìNo No I know It helps to know a little more about you now, but itís not just that Itís the things you say, and the way you look at me.î I felt the weight of his body perched next to mine, and the warmth of his hand and added, ìAnd how youíre always finding ways to touch me.î I looked down at my lap, expecting Seth to laugh at my naivety, but he surprised me with a grave seriousness ìIíve never wanted someone so bad in all my life,î he admitted, pulling my chin up so that I was forced to look at him Oh, great Honesty That was a brilliant idea Now he was touching me, and looking at me, and saying things all at the same time I couldnít breathe Or I was breathing too fast I didnít know But I couldnít really think at the moment ìIím sorry if that scares you,î Seth said ìBut I canít help it When Iím with you I feel so much, itís overwhelming.î I gasped and tried to scoot away from Seth, but he pulled me all the way into his arms ìNot a chance,î he said lightly, his embrace turning to iron around me ìYouíll never get used to it if you keep running away.î Holy hyperventilation ìSeth, youíre scaring me again.î ìRelax, Ellie Trust me.î His lips were suddenly at me ear ìClose your eyes,î he demanded in a calm whisper A shudder ran through my body and my eyes fell shut like they were under a spell ìTake a deep breath.î I felt Sethís chest rise and matched the action We took a couple of relaxing breaths together and then my body basically melted against his ìGood girl,î Seth said, relaxing his grip He shifted me in his arms so that I was essentially cradled against his chest, and began winding his fingers in my hair He laughed when I sighed with utter content ìYou see? This isnít so bad Now weíre going to sit here until you realize that the only thing youíre really scared of is how much you actually enjoy what youíre feeling.î ìWhat am I feeling?î Besides exhaustion and extreme comfort ìYou tell me I know you feel more for me than just fear You kissed me like you meant it.î ìI did?î I blurted Seth laughed again ìYou did.î ìOh.î We fell into a big, fat, awkward silence I mean, what was I supposed to say to that? Probably not what I said next, which was, ìHave you ever noticed the similarities between you and the Saturday Night Slasher?î It was just what came out of my mouth when I glanced at the muted TV and saw the news reporting something about the new curfews being implemented around the metro area I felt really bad when Seth let go of me and turned slightly pale ìIím sorry,î I said through the hand Iíd slapped over my mouth ìForget I said that I just blurt out random crap when Iím nervous.î ìWhat did you mean? What similarities?î ìNothing I didnít mean it I was just thinking of something Angela and I were talking about earlier.î

Seth seriously looked appalled It was worse than him getting angry ìYou and Angela were comparing me to a serial killer?î I cringed ìUm, no.î We were accusing you of being a serial killer ìLiar.î ìIím sorry! Itís just that you and the Slasher both showed up in my life at the exact same time, haunting my every move It was kind of hard not to notice when you both scared me so much Plus, you both have a disturbing thing for knives Youíre sort of a crime enthusiast, and heísÖ really enthusiastic about committing crimes.î ìThatís not exactly the same thing,î Seth argued I countered with, ìYou both have an obsession with redheads.î That finally made Seth smile ìNot anymore,î he said ìI donít have an obsession with all redheads anymore, just you.î I blanched, which I think is what Seth was aiming for because he laughed and then held out his arms for me to climb into again I vigorously shook my head, so Seth reached over and pulled me to him When I put up less of a fight than Angela being dragged to a shoe sale, and even snuggled up against him, I sighed, annoyed with myself Seth pushed my hair out of my face ìWhatís the matter?î he asked He sounded completely serene now that he was holding me again ìAngela and I were also wondering earlier how girls can be stupid enough to go home with creepy guys like the Slasher, who only end up killing them.î ìAnd sitting here with me just now reminded you of that?î I sighed again ìI just figured out how it happens.î Okay, youíre not making things any better, you idiot Seth frowned ìBecause Iím creepy and I scare you?î he asked dryly I smiled sheepishly ìAnd yet I still opened the door for you tonight And let you kiss me And let you in my room Then I had the gall to be surprised when you scared me again And now here I am again Back in your arms.î Seth must have liked hearing me say I was in his arms, because he promptly squeezed me and kissed the side of my head I resisted the urge to shudder ìI am one of those stupid girls I wonder if the Saturday Night Slasher ever did find me, would I let him in, too?î ìOf course you wouldnít.î ìHow do you know? When you pulled that knife out earlier I seriously thought you were going to kill me Then twenty minutes later we were making out.î Seth laughed again, but I wasnít trying to be funny ìWhat?î I snapped ìOne of these days Iíll teach you the difference between a single kiss and making out.î I was glad he couldnít see me blush But then again, it probably didnít matter, because he had to have noticed the way my heart started pounding ìYou only let me kiss you tonight because deep down you knew I wouldnít hurt you,î Seth continued, finally answering my question ìIt took me a long time to gain that trust and you still wonít even lay down on this bed with me Believe me Ellie, you are not one of those girls If your life were ever really in danger, you would put up one hell of an impressive fight.î ìIt wouldnít be enough, though,î I muttered ìI hate that Iím so helpless against you Iíve never felt completely defenseless before.î ìYou arenít completely defenseless You have to remember that Iíve been practicing self-defense since I was ten Iím also a trained boxer, a black belt, and Iíve been through both boot camp and the police academy.î ìReally?î I gasped Seth shrugged ìLong story, but the point is, Iíve specifically been trained to take down an attacker and you still give me a fight Most guys probably wouldnít stand a chance against you You donít really have to worry, though, because no one is going to touch you I swear it, Ellie.î Seth hugged me fiercely and with that one squeeze finally convinced me that I was completely safe Even if he turned out to actually be the Saturday Night Slasher and used his creepy knife-throwing skills to kill a million redheads, he wouldnít hurt me I sat there in Sethís arms, trying to wrap my head around the idea of him All the things he could do The strange, exciting, and lonely life heís had so far The tragic past that was somehow romantic The most mind-blowing part of it all was the fact that he seemed to think I was the one thing he needed to make sense of it all I understood what he meant about feeling overwhelmed ìI canít believe you were stabbed,î I whispered, trying to come to terms with the things heíd told me tonight ìDo you have a scar?î Sethís chest shook with silent laughter and I was reminded of Eric Sherman in biology class Unlike my old lab partner, Seth didnít seem bothered by my morbidness

He also, apparently, wasnít bothered with nakedness, since he said, ìItís not very impressive,î and pulled his shirt off quicker than you could say ìrock-hard abs.î Sure, Iíd seen Seth shirtless once or twice, but the first time I was suffering from a concussion, and the other times had been from like fifty yards away through my bedroom window Thisóhaving him here in my room, on my bed, in the middle of the nightówas completely different I sucked in a breath and tried not to stare ìSee?î Seth said, running his fingers over a small faded pink line ìWow, thatís really it?î I said when I finally noticed the mark If he hadnít pointed it out I might not have seen it It made sense now why I hadnít noticed it before ìI was expecting something more deadly looking.î Seth laughed ìI told you it wasnít impressive The knife wasnít very big, and itís really faded over the years You can still sort of feel it, though.î I reached out automatically, but realized what I was doing before my hand touched his skin and pulled back my fingers ìItís okay,î he said I wasnít about to just, you know, touch him, so he picked up my hand and placed it over the scar ìSo close to your heart,î I whispered in a shaky voice I could feel his heart beating rapidly beneath my fingers I couldnít imagine someone pushing a blade into it Making it stop Killing him ìIím glad they missed,î I admitted When I mindlessly began brushing my fingers back and forth across the raised surface of Sethís skin his breath caught, and he grabbed hold of my hand ìEllie,î he said, shaking off a wave of chills ìBe my girlfriend.î ìW-what?î I scrambled all the way to the other side of the bed as far as I could He didnít try to stop me, but when I looked back his eyes were hungrier than Iíd ever seen them, and his chest was heaving like he was having a hard time holding air in his lungs He swallowed hard ìI need you to be mine I canít handle this chasing you around nonsense anymore These moments we have, where it feels like I almost have you but Iím always wondering what youíre thinking and waiting for you to run from me? I canít take it Itís time for this to be a real relationship.î ìIÖ UmÖ I donítÖî ìYes, you do.î ìLet me think about it.î Seth shook his head and crawled toward me ìIím not giving you a choice here,î he said, coming to a stop just a couple inches from my face ìYouíre not?î I asked stupidly So much for all that fight he said I had Seth shook his head again and closed the distance between us ìIíll be good to you, though,î he said against my lips I couldnít have argued with him even if Iíd wanted to Which, lets face it, I didnít He kissed me lightly at first, but the instant I kissed him back he threw his weight into it I had to wrap my arms around his neck to keep from falling backward off the bed, and that was that I was on my back pinned beneath Sethís full weight Only this time I wasnít scared he was going to kill me I was worried he was going to try and teach me about a whole lot more than just making out ìSeth,î I gasped once he finally gave me a chance to get a breath He moved his mouth to my neck, and donít get me wrong, I liked it I liked it a lot But I hadnít even been his girlfriend for like thirty seconds yet and something told me Seth needed, if anything, less encouragement than Iíd already given him I pushed him back a little and tried again ìSeth, wait Stop.î ìSorry,î Seth said, snapping out of it somewhat He brought his lips back to mine for another kiss and then said, ìIím sorry Youíre right Youíre not ready for that yet.î ìNo No, Iím not,î I agreed quickly before I could change my mind Then, for my own benefit I added, ìNot for a long time.î ìAll right,î Seth said with a laugh ìDonít worry, Iím stopping.î He rolled off of me then and pulled me so my back was against his chest, somehow molding his body around mine ìHow about this?î he asked in a teasing voice ìCan you handle at least this?î Are you kidding? Iíd never felt anything more comfortable in my life ìYes, this I can do,î I said, already half asleep It was nearly two a.m. after all, and Iím more of an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of girl ìActually, I could get used to this.î Now that I wasnít worried about anything anymore, sleep was taking over so fast I was already practically in a state of delirium ìThis is nice There should be a name for this.î ìSpooning.î Seth chuckled ìHuh?î

ìItís called spooning.î ìSpooning I like spooning Wow, I need to shut-up before you change your mind about me.î Seth laughed again ìGet some sleep, Ellie,î he said So I did I was out within seconds and slept like a brick It was the best nightís sleep Iíd had all summer In fact, I was so gone I didnít wake up until the sun was just starting to light up my room and Seth was sneaking back in my windowówhich meant that heíd snuck out of it at some point and I hadnít noticed ìSorry,î he whispered ìI didnít mean to wake you up.î He climbed back into my bed and did that spooning thing again It was still awesome even when I wasnít half asleep ìGood morning.î ìItís early Go back to sleep,î Seth said as he kissed me on the neck and then nestled right back to the position heíd been in when I fell asleep It was like heíd never left, except now he was showered, in fresh clothes, and smelled amazing I, on the other hand, probably had hair like a haystack and morning breath, and was glad I wasnít facing him ìWhat time is it?î I asked ìSix thirty.î ìWhen did you leave last night? I never heard you go.î ìAbout an hour ago.î ìAn hour? You stayed all night?î Seth laughed at the surprise in my voice ìI told you I was going to I wouldnít have left at all except I had to solidify my alibi.î ìHuh?î ìMy aunt doesnít really pay that close attention to when I come home at night, but I think sheíd notice if I didnít come home at all She gets up to do yoga at six and always checks in on me.î ìSpeaking of parents who like to check in on their kids, you have until about nine before mine wake up and then youíd better not be here.î ìEight thirty, then Which means we have two more hours to sleep, and I promise Iíll be gone when your parents wake up.î Seth kept his promise Come nine a.m. when Angela barged into my room like always, Seth was right where he was supposed to beóin his garage working out Angela let my shade fly up obnoxiously to announce her presence ìLate night?î she snapped when I groaned and threw the covers over my head ìAs a matter of fact,î I grumbled Since there was no chance of her leaving, I joined her at my window to spy on my boyfriend while he worked out My boyfriend It sounded so strange And it still didnít feel real For a second I wondered if it was real Did it count if heíd simply told me I was now his girlfriend? Or did I have to actually agree to it for it to be real? After thinking about it, though, I was pretty sure Iíd agreed to it, even if I didnít do so vocally My boyfriend ìHello!î When did Angela start snapping her fingers in front of my face? ìEarth to Ellie!î ìHuh?î ìSpill it Right now.î ìWhat?î ìYouíre smiling like Mom at a New Kids On The Block concert.î ìI am not!î ìAnd now youíre blushing Tell me whatís going on!î Seth is my boyfriend now My drool-worthy boyfriend And how was your night? ìNothingís going on.î I couldnít tell Angela about Seth Sheíd kill me Though I doubted Seth was going to let me keep us a secret very long He was probably going to burst through my front door singing it to my parents the minute he was done working out Geez That was going to be awkward Whatever I wasnít saying a word ìLiar, liar Pants! On! Fire! I saw him!î ìWhat the freak, Angela, shut-up!î I hissed, sprinting across the room to slam my bedroom door shut ìIf Mom and Dad find out he spent the night here Iím dead!î Angelaís eyes turned to saucers ìSPENT THE NIGHT?î she screamed Thankfully she screamed it in a whisper ìI only saw him walk you home from babysitting What do you mean he spent the night?î Crap! ìDid I say spent the night? I meant walked me home last night.î ìYou tell me everything right now or Iím telling Dad.î ìYou wouldnít rat out your own sister.î ìIf you donít quit spending the night with Seth I wonít have a sister!î ìWould you chill? Itís not like we did anything.î ìOh, my gosh, youíre blushing again! What did you do?î ìNothing!î Angela looked like she had steam coming out of her ears and I felt like I had it coming off my face The entire conversation was whispered, but we were screaming so forcefully at each other that we were probably both going to end up horse I was the one to give first I sank to the bed and calmed down enough to speak in a normal voice ìHe kissed me Iím his girlfriend now But nothing else happened We just slept.î Angela didnít follow my example with the whole calming down bit

She seemed to get even more pissed off ìThe freak was getting info from dirty cops and stalking crime scenes and you decided to be his girlfriend?î ìNo,î I said indignantly Wow Now I sounded like a five-year-old ìHe just told me I was He said I didnít have a choice.î ìAnd you didnít think that was kind of creepy?î Actually it was kind of hot ìELLIE!î Angela screamed, appalled For real screamed this time Crap I really have to fix the stupid filter on my mouth ìYeah, you really do.î CRAP! ìGive me a break, Angela He didnít have a shirt on How could I resist? You said it yourself, that youíd let him drag you into a dark alley for a chance to make out with him.î ìWhat do you mean he didnít have a shirt on? You said you guys only kissed.î ìItís not what you think He was just showing me his scar from where he got stabbed.î ìWhere he gotÖî Angela turned a little green and slumped down onto the bed ìStart from the beginning,î she demanded ìAnd donít even think about leaving anything out.î I sighed ìWell, I was watching Delta Force…î I told her everything All of it And she was pretty good about not interrupting Well, good for Angela Which meant she let me finish the story without taking over and making up her own version based on what she wanted to happen But thatís about it ìSo,î I said once I got to the part where I woke up to her opening my window shade ìYou see how we were wrong about him, and that heís totally sweet, and that itís okay for me to be his girlfriend? I wonít lie to you, Ang, Iím kind of excited about it After last night, Iím not even really that nervous anymore Itís like you said, I think this could be good for me.î I looked out the window again Seth was now doing pull ups with his legs out in front of him like an L instead of dangling beneath him Man, he is so hot And heís all mine The thought was enough to make me giddy ìEllie, stop it.î Angela said ìNo more swooning.î ìWhy?î I couldnít help getting defensive Angela was totally being a buzzkill ìIíll tell you why Lets break it down,î she said, taking on a businesslike manner ìWhat youíre telling me is that your orphan boyfriend watched his mother get brutally murdered, was stabbed, lost his father, was sent to live with a crazy aunt, taken out of school so he never met any other people his own age, trained to be some kind of lethal weapon, and is now forcing you to be his girlfriend.î That about sums it up ìAnd Iím saying that all of that explains why Seth can be a littleÖî ìA freakshow?î Angela offered While I tried to find a better word for it, Angela got up and started pacing my room ìOkay, I totally agree that that all makes senseóit explains a lot about Seth The problem is where somewhere in that warped little brain of yours you use all of this to see excellent boyfriend material, I see Jack the Ripper or the Unabomber.î ìAngela.î ìAntisocial Eccentric More issues than Sports Illustrated Possible personality disorderóaka sociopath You know who else was a sociopath? Ted Bundy.î ìSeth is not Ted Bundy, Angela And heís not the Saturday Night Slasher.î Angela gasped as she remembered something ìEllie, there was no murder last night!î ìWhat?î ìItís been all over the news this morning No bodies were found There was no murder.î ìGood.î ìNot good,î Angela disagreed ìNot good that nobody was murdered last night?î I asked, confused ìDonít you see?î Angela asked Obviously not ìSee what?î ìThere was no murder because Seth was with you all night Itís him! Itís really him! It has to be.î ìGive it a rest, Angela!î I finally exploded ìYou werenít there last night You didnít see himóheís not a psycho You donít know him like I do You have no idea what youíre talking about, so just shut up!î ìI wonít shut up! Your boyfriend is a psycho! Heís dangerous!î ìYouíre just jealous! Youíre mad because Seth picked me and not you!î This is when my dad finally burst into my room half asleep, rubbing his head like he had a migraine His timing couldnít have been more vital, either, because that jealous crack had pushed Angela over the edge ìGet over yourself!î she screamed and then called me a name that was sure to get her grounded Dad stepped in between us, and even though Angela started it, Dad grabbed hold of me Good thing, too, because I was about to rip her freaking head off

ìGirls!î Dad yelled ìWhat is going on in here? The entire neighborhood can hear you shouting.î ìAngelaís being a dillweed!î ìEleanor,î my dad said, yanking me across the room and pushing me out my door ìGo walk it off.î ìBut I didnít do anything! Sheís the one whoóî ìWalk it off!î Uh, yeah, so that was not the first time my father had said this to me Itís probably not even the thousandth time heíd said it to me He meant it, too He expected me to go for a nice long walkósomething about me being completely unreasonable and not willing to listen to anyone when Iím really pissed off Eh, heís probably right ìWhatever,î I spat, and made sure to slam the front door so hard the walls shook when I left I took off down the street in my pajamas and bare feet, punching a dent in our mailbox as I went I heard Seth call my name, but I didnít look back The last thing I wanted to do was get in a fight with him because I was pissed off at Angelaódisplacing my anger is also a lovely quality of mineóor worse, accidentally tell him what Angela and I were fighting about Yeah, that would go over real well I must have walked for a good two hours Dad was gone when I got home, but Mom was waiting for me, killing the time with a bookóprobably some psychobabble about how to control your out-of-control teen What she said when I came in the door was, ìFeel better?î What I heard was, ìGet your butt in here so we can have a talk.î Iíd calmed down, but I didnít really feel any better I said, ìNot really,î and sunk down into a chair, answering both the asked question and the unspoken command ìDo you want to talk about it?î I donít know why my mom always feels compelled to ask questions she already knows the answers to I glared at her, which she didnít appreciate Again, what she said was, ìYour sister is really upset.î But what I heard was, ìYou watch your tone with me, young lady You do not want to piss me off right now.î ìI donít know why youíre so worried about her,î I said, not watching my tone as much as I probably should have ìSheís the one who barged into my room and stuck her nose in my business where it didnít belong Sheís the one who was yelling at me Sheís the one who called me aóî ìShe thinks you hate her,î Mom said quickly before I could finish my sentence ìI do hate her.î ìShe said she was just trying to help.î ìWell, she should be trying to mind her own business.î Mom regarded me thoughtfully for a minute and then came at me from another angle ìSeth came by looking for you a little while ago He saw you storm off Seemed really worried.î She was probing for cracks in my armor, but all she got out of me was another glare We sat in a silent standoff, which I won She cracked after a measly two minutes ìEllie, talk to me Tell me whatís going on with you.î ìAngelaís being ridiculous Same as always.î ìNo, Ellie Tell me whatís going on with you Somethingís been bothering you lately.î ìYeah, Angela.î ìItís not your sister.î I folded my arms across my chest and went back to my brooding ìWhereís Dad?î I asked, hoping to distract her ìHe took your sister out to lunch.î ìWhat?î That stung ìSince when does Dad choose to deal with Angela over me?î Mom finally sighed ìYour dadís great for when you get suspended for fighting, or need help with your slap shot He deals with the bumps and bruises, or in your case, concussions and nosebleeds.î When Mom managed a sincere smile my stomach churned ìYouíre kind of uncharted territory for him right now,î she said, confirming my suspicions of where this conversation was headed ìYour dad took Angela because he thought maybe you needed your mom this time So talk to me, Ellie I canít help if you donít tell me whatís wrong.î ìUgh! Nothingís wrong with me Iím fine.î ìItís okay to be upset, Ellie This is a difficult time in your life Youíre growing and changingóî ìOh, my gosh, Mom! Stop!î I threw my hands over my ears and tried not to barf ìI am not having this conversation I got my period like three years ago, okay? I know about the birds and the bees.î I couldnít take it anymore and fled for my room As I stomped up the stairs my mother called up after me in an annoyed voice, ìIf you donít want to talk to me about it, then you should be nicer to your sister She can help you, Ellie.î Fifteen minutes later my mom was knocking on my bedroom door I prepared myself for round two of her parental pep talk, but instead she just handed me the cordless phone

ìHere she is,î she said into the receiver before handing it over ìIím glad you called She needs some cheering up Try to talk some sense into her if you can.î I snatched the phone away from my mom and waited until she was good and gone before answering it ìSeth?î ìWestleeeeeeeey!î ìWhatís up?î ìWhoís Seth?î ìWhy do you need cheering up?î ìItís us!î Getting a call from all three Jís at once was always chaos ìI know itís you, idiots Whatís going on? Anything new happen at your-life-is-so-much-more-exciting-than-mine camp this week?î ìI took a six pound dump,î Jack offered ìYou lie.î I laughed The Jís could always make me feel better ìItís true,î Josh said ìOur whole scrimmage team weighed in before and after.î ìI won twenty bucks!î ìCongrats, Jack Youíve reached a new level of disgusting.î ìBut I won twenty bucks.î ìOh, my gosh, you guys You have got to come home Iím going crazy.î ìThatís for sure,î Jesse agreed ìIf even half the rumors weíve heard are true.î ìWhat rumors?î ìNothing big,î Josh said ìJust that you turned into a chick this summer.î After that the guys started spouting them off so fast I couldnít tell who was saying what ìYou wear pink.î ìYou flirt with guys.î ìYou go to parties.î ìYou got a job at the Gap.î ìItís Old Navy,î I grumbled As if that were any better ìYou have a nice rack.î ìWatch it, Jesse!î I warned ìYou broke Kowalskiís nose so bad heís gonna need reconstructive surgery,î Josh said quickly ìWeíre really proud of you for that one, by the way.î ìThen thereís the one that you were wearing a dress.î ìForget that I heard you wore a bikini.î ìBluuugh Thatís a scary thought I didnít hear that one.î ìShut up, Josh.î ìNo, dudes, I got the winner,î Jack jumped in ìI heard you got down and dirty with Dave Holcomb.î ìNo freaking way!î Josh shoutedóobviously he hadnít heard that one, either ìDave Holcomb? Seriously? What the hell, Westley?î ìI did not get down and dirty with anyone.î ìNow whoís the liar?î Jack teased ìWho told you that, Jack? You tell me right now! Iím going to kick theiróî ìSo you didnít make out with Dave Holcomb? Because everybody has been sayingóî ìEverybody? Whoís everybody? Youíre at camp!î ìWestley, youíre the only person left in the known universe without a cell phone Half the school texted us about you this week.î I groaned and the guys burst out laughing I couldnít blame them, really Itís not like Iíve never taken pleasure in their pain ìDonít worry about it too much, Westley,î Josh said, sounding somewhat genuine ìWeíre coming home in a week and a half Weíll get it straightened out Weíll have a blanket party and beat you back to normal or something.î ìYeah,î Jack said ìBecause Iím not hanging out with you if youíre acting like a chick.î ìUnless you really do have a nice rack.î ìJesse! Talk about my rack one more time! I dare you!î ìYeah, dude,î Josh said ìYouíre talking about Westley Thatís just gross.î ìUgh! Bite me, losers!î It felt good to hang up on them, but not good enough to not be completely pissed off still I screamed at no one in particular and threw the phone, smashing it into pieces when it hit my dresser Then I cranked up my stereo, climbed out onto my roof, closed my eyes, and started counting to infinity ìHow long have you been up here?î Seth asked, taking a seat by my side ìI donít know Six, seven, eight songs.î ìWhatís going on?î ìNothing Iím all good.î ìYeah,î Seth said with a laugh ìYouíve got Rage Against The Machine cranked up to eleven because youíre in a fantastic mood.î Remember that displacement of anger problem? I glared at Seth so nastily that he couldnít laugh this time Without saying anything he got to his feet For a second I thought he was going to leave me to my foul mood, but instead he took me to Pattyís and ordered me a banana split ìI think you owe your mailbox an apology,î he said once I had ice cream in front of me ìBetter it than Angelaís face,î I muttered Seth smiled as he picked up my hand and examined my knuckles ìThey sore?î I shrugged and he brought my hand to his lips, kissing each knuckle individually It didnít exactly make the swelling go down, but it sure felt a lot better than ice

ìIíll wrap it for you when we get home,î Seth offered He gave me back my hand and said, ìSo are you going to tell me whatís wrong, or am I going to have to make you tell me?î ìIs that going to be a habit with you?î I snapped ìForcing me to do stuff?î Seth shrugged lightly ìIf itís necessary.î ìAnd making me be your girlfriend? That was necessary?î To my everlasting annoyance, Seth laughed ìNot just necessary That was a matter of life and death.î ìLife and death? What, were you going to kill me if I said no?î Seth just gave me a knowing smile and said, ìI wouldnít have let you say no.î He took a bite of ice cream ìJust like Iím not going to let you say nothingís wrong.î ìNothing is wrong.î Sethís playful attitude was gone in an instant ìDonít lie to me, Ellie.î He had the audacity to make it sound like a warning Two could play that game ìYou do not get to control me,î I growled ìI am not yours I do not belong to you Just because youíre stronger and possibly psycho, doesnít mean you get to boss me around Iím not cool with being told what to do Just ask Angela She tried to tell me what to do this morning and almost got her head knocked off for it.î ìAnd what exactly was all that yelling about this morning?î ìAngela was trying to tell me I couldnít date you Trying to make me stay away from you She thinks youíre unstableódangerous.î Seth glared at me, but I donít think it was me he was mad at ìAre you?î I demanded ìDangerous?î Seth repeated fiercely ìTo some people, yes To you? No.î ìThen quit trying to act like you are You want something from meóask Donít use fear to try and manipulate me It pisses me off!î I was so worked up at this point, I was about ready to take this argument out to the parking lot I half expected Seth to suggest it first, but his mood flipped in an instant I was confused by the sudden admiration in his eyes ìIím not going to be allowed to get away with murder anymore, am I?î he asked, almost awestruck ìYou wanted me not scared of you Well this is me not scared of you I donít put up with stupid crap, so knock it off.î Seth looked as if he still couldnít believe what was happening A grin spread subconsciously across his face and he said, ìNo oneís ever ordered me around before.î ìFeels good, doesnít it?î I was being facetious, but Sethís grin got even wider ìYou have no idea,î he said, and then pulled me to him for a kiss He didnít give me a quick look-at-the-cute-happy-couple kiss It was a get-us-thrown-out-of-the-restaurant kiss When he finally pulled himself off me and caught his breath, he did that thing where he looks up at me through his eyelashes with a hint of vulnerability and said, ìEllie? Would you please give your overprotective boyfriend a break and explain to me whatís wrong, so that I can make whatever it is go away and stop worrying about you? Please?î I laughed despite myself, but then I sighed and reached for my spoon This was going to take a lot of ice cream ìNothingís wrong, exactly I mean, this morning Angela was being a total dillweed, but then I had it out with my mom, too I also hung up on the Jís when they called Those idiots were just being themselves, but Iíve given them more than enough ammunition lately to deserve the fire I got today.î ìWhat do you mean, ammunition?î ìI guess you donít understand because you havenít been around my whole life, but this?î I gestured to myself ìThe Ellie youíve met this summer is not the Ellie people are used to For some reason everythingís different Iím talking epic proportions Invasion of the Body Snatchers different I donít know whatís wrong with me.î ìI donít think anythingís wrong with you.î Seth grinned ìI happen to like every single thing about you.î His smile fell away and his eyes tightened the tiniest bit as he added, ìExcept maybe your fondness for Dave Holcomb.î ìWell, you might like the new me,î I said, ignoring the Dave crack ìBut nobody else seems to know how to deal with it My sister My friends Definitely not DaveóI still canít believe the moron kissed me My parents have pretty much gone off the deep end ëGrowing and changingí is the phrase my mom used when she tried to talk to me this morning And now the Jís will be home in a week and a half.î ìAh, yes The prodigal friends returneth,î Seth said Heíd kept his tone light, but whether he knew it or not, the spoon in his hand was now bent at a ninety degree angle ìYes Theyíre coming home, and I donít know what to do.î

ìWhy should you have to do anything? Arenít they your best friends?î ìExactly,î I said ìThey know me better than anyone They arenít going to be able to deal with me I canít even deal with me Theyíre the last thing still normal in my life, and when they come back and see me wearing pink and hanging out with myóî I choked on the word and Seth laughed at me ìBoyfriend, Ellie Your boyfriend You can say it.î Except I couldnít ìWith you Theyíre going to freak Then Iím going to get mad at them for being idiots Youíll get all jealous and hate them like you do Dave, and Iíll have to make a choice If I choose you, then the Jís are going to want to kick the tar out of you, and when they try youíll kill them Then theyíll be dead, youíll be in jail, and Iíll be forced to hang out with Angela and Dave for the rest of my life.î Seth cocked an eyebrow at me when I was finished with my rant ìThought this all through once or twice, have you?î ìIím serious!î Seth pulled me to his chest and I wrapped my arms around him without even thinking about it This boyfriend thing had its perks ìEllie, try to relax a little,î Seth said ìWould it help if I promise not to kill them? I canít promise Iíll like them In fact, youíre right, I pretty much already hate them But I can control myself I wonít make you choose.î ìYou wonít have to,î I said miserably into his chest ìTheyíre not going to like me now, anyway Iíll be too much like a ëchickí for them now.î Seth pulled me away from his chest He took my face in his hands, locking me in an intense gaze ìEllie?î He slowed his tone like he was lecturing a two-year-old ìDo you like your new clothes?î ìYes,î I admitted grudgingly ìAnd do you like hanging out with your sister and her friends?î ìOccasionally.î Even more grudgingly Sethís smile softened ìAnd do you like having a boyfriend?î I glared as hard as I could at Seth as I grumbled, ìYes.î He looked too amused with my answer ìWell, then who cares what your friends or anyone else thinks, so long as you like you? And you know how much I like you.î Seth kissed the tip of my nose, then let go of my face He took another bite of our ice cream after bending his spoon back into shape ìYour parents are only worried about you because they love you, and Angela seems thrilled that youíre willing to go shopping and let her do your hair now Everyone else will come around And if they donítóand lets hope for my sake that they donítówell then, Iíll just have to take back my promise not to kill them.î Seth was smiling brightly ìThatís not funny,î I told him ìGood,î he said ìI wasnít trying to be funny.î When I first answered the door Monday afternoon and found Senior Detective Andre Pierce of the Detroit PD, I was floored Aside from the fact that the guy was all official and scary looking with a gun strapped to his hip, he seemed to be here to talk to me Iíd kind of assumed it would be Seth knocking, because I hadnít seen him since our Pattyís outing yesterday He said he had things he needed to do last night, and I hadnít invited him to the hockey game this morning I didnít think it the best idea, given his distaste for Dave, and knowing how much the guys have started harassing me since they discovered my ìnice rack.î So, yeah, big scary inner-city cop who seemed to know exactly who I was when I opened the door was quite the shock ìC-Can I help you?î I stammered He smiled with ease ìYou must be Eleanor.î ìUh, yeah.î I heard my mom yelling at me to mind my manners in my head ìI mean, yes, sir.î ìDetective Pierce is just fine, Eleanor.î ìEllie.î ìOkay, Ellie Iím here to do a follow-up on a report your sister filed yesterday afternoon.î ìAngela filed a police report?î ìShe did, indeed I need to ask her a few more questions Is she perchance home at the moment?î ìUh, yeah.î I turned my head toward the stairs and yelled, ìAngela!î It was the first word Iíd spoken to her since our fight ìDoor!î I looked back at the cop, wondering if I was supposed to let him in I didnít I just opened the door a little wider and said, ìSheíll be right down.î ìExcuse me, Ellie?î the guy asked when I started to walk away ìIíd like to speak with you, too, if you donít mind Iíd like to hear your take on things.î ìWhat things?î I asked slowly I was starting to have a bad feeling Before the cop could answer me Angela came downstairs She stopped short when she saw the uniform in the doorway ìOh,î she said, surprised ìHi.î She shot a nervous glance my direction, and thatís when I understood

ìTell me you didnít! You called the cops on my boyfriend? Are you insane?î ìWell, you obviously werenít going to!î she yelled back ìOf course I wasnít!î The cop cleared his throat Something about a police officer makes you feel the need to obey Both Angela and I stopped and waited for instruction ìLadies? May I come in, so we can get this all sorted out?î Once we were all seated in the living room Angela said, ìSo how come youíre here? I already told the guy yesterday everything I know And to be honest, I donít think he believed me very much I didnít think he was even listening to half of what I said.î ìBecause what you were saying was idiotic,î I grumbled ìIím sorry, Officer, my sister is totally wasting your time Seth is no more a murderer than I am.î The stupid guy patronized me with a smile and then said to Angela, ìItís our job to follow every lead, no matter how small, Miss Westley If youíre truly concerned, then you did the right thing by calling the police Now, if you could just start at the beginning?î ìBut how come? I told the cops everything I knew yesterday.î ìIím from the Detroit PD Lead investigator on the Slasher case I have a lot more information than your local department Might find something in your story that the Canton black and whites missed.î ìOh Okay.î ìSo, tell me about this boy Seth.î That stupid traitor told him everything! She told him about how the murders started right after he got here and how at first I was the one who thought he might be the killer She told him how Seth was stalking me and how I said heíd kidnapped me She even told him about Sethís knife collection and his aim Then she went into detail about his parentsí deaths and his possible personality disorder That seemed to interest the guy a lot, and he asked me a ton of questions Then Angela went on to explain how we followed Seth and saw him with that secret agent-looking guy and how he went to the crime scene in Garden City When she told him about how he was asking her all kinds of questions about Travis, this also interested the detective ìAnd who is Travis?î ìJust some tool I blew off.î ìHeís this senior over at Stevenson High in Livonia He likes Ellie, too, and when he asked her out Seth got all crazy jealous.î ìHe did not!î I protested ìHe just didnít like that Travis basically stalked me Dave didnít like Travis, either, but I didnít see you calling the cops on him!î ìDave didnít break into your room and force you to be his girlfriend Seth is a psycho and a stalker Why canít you see that?î ìSo Seth broke into your house?î Detective Pierce asked He was taking notes again He was probably running out of pages in his notepad by now ìAnd heís forcing you to be his girlfriend?î ìNo,î I told him, and then told Angela again ìNo!î The cop waited for explanation ìAll right,î I huffed ìHe came in my bedroom window Which I opened for him! And yes, he said I didnít have a choice in being his girlfriend, but that was only because he knew I wanted to be, but I was just too nervous to say yes Heís not a psycho I want to un-file the complaint against him.î The detective laughed at me like I was this silly little girl I swear I was thisclose to going to jail for assaulting a police officer ìIím sorry, Ellie Itís my job to follow up on all leads And while the story does seem purely circumstantial, you have to admit there are a lot of similarities between this young man and the killings.î ìWell, donít you dare put my name on that complaint with hers I donít want anything to do with it.î ìDonít worry Ellie, Iím quite aware of your feelings on the matter.î The guy stopped talking then and studied me with a distant look in his eyes ìIt is remarkable,î he said, almost to himself, ìhow much you fit the profile You look just like one of the victims.î ìHeather Monroe,î I whispered automatically The temperature in the room dropped a good ten degrees All of us shuddered ìI can see why your sister is taking this so seriously,î Detective Pierce said of Angela, almost admiringly Then he turned to me, his face full of concern ìI would think youíd be more worried about your safety considering the situation.î ìI am.î I couldnít help the whine in my voice and kicked myself internally ìJust because I donít think Seth is a freaking serial killer doesnít mean Iím an idiot I donít ever leave the house alone I donít go anywhere near downtown, and Iím locked up tight here every weekend My dad practically guards me with a shotgun.î

ìGood girl.î Detective Pierce finally rose to his feet ìWell, thank you ladies for your time Iíll look into this andóî ìBut he didnít do anything!î ìI promise Iíll be very discrete, Ellie, and very thorough I wonít go pointing any fingers at anyone if Iím not absolutely one hundred percent positive with hard evidence to back me up.î Something occurred to me then Something horrifying ìAre you going to talk to him?î I gasped ìAre you going to tell him Angela called the cops on him?î ìOh, no, of course not.î He paused ìIíd ask that neither of you say anything, either If there is any truth behind this theory, we donít want to scare him off Iíll just look into it quietly and if I need anything else from you, Iíll let you know ìDonít worry, Ellie, most likely youíre right and this is all just a misunderstanding In the mean time, though, you might want to be a little more careful Donít be alone with him, always carry a phone and a can of pepper spray, and keep doing what youíre doing to stay safe We donít want anything to happen to you.î Angela and I both watched out the window until the police cruiser disappeared down the street Angela moved first ìEllie, I had to,î she said She sounded upset, almost enough to cry Though, what she had to be so upset about I couldnít for the life of me understand I was so angry I donít think Iíve ever been angrier in my entire life I was so angry that I didnít even want to hit her I couldnít even look at her I just turned from the window with shaking hands and headed for my room ìEllie, I know youíre mad,î Angela said, following me up the stairs ìBut we have to be sure If itís not him, then the cops will figure that out and we wonít have to worry anymore But if it is himÖ Ellie, I had to.î She followed me all the way to my room, choking on her last wordsóshe was going to cry I didnít care She turned Seth in to the freaking cops Accused him of murdering four girls I slammed the door right in her face and ignored her for the next two days ìOkay, look, if youíre going to come with me, then you have to behave yourself.î Seth frowned as he threw his skateboard to the ground at his feet Have I mentioned how hot it is that he skateboards? ìWhatís that supposed to mean?î ìIt means,î I said, lacing up my skates, ìthat you are insanely overprotective, and hockey is a contact sport The guys donít hold back just because Iím a girl If I take a hit, you are not allowed to start any trouble.î Sethís frown got even bigger and he waved me off like I was being ridiculous ìYouíre also the jealous type,î I continued I laughed at the glare I got for that comment ìIím the only girl that plays, and, most of the time, the only girl present I get flack for this Always There will most likely be perverted and/or suggestive comments made at my expense, and again, you are not allowed to cause trouble.î ìHey, if some punk hockey player gets all up on my girl, Iím not just gonna sit there and watch.î ìSeth?î I warned ìCan you handle it or not?î ìJust donít go flirting with half the neighborhood the way you do with Holcomb, and there wonít be any problems.î ìBeing within fifty feet of someone of the opposite sex does not constitute as flirting Get over it or stay home.î ìI want to see you play, so Iím going with you I can understand the game is hands-on, but I refuse to let a bunch of tools sexually harass my girlfriend, so I make no promises You get over it.î We glared at each other for a minute, but neither of us was going to back down, so eventually we just let it drop and headed to the park I had to hold back a laugh when the minute we got there Dave greeted us with a big friendly grin and told me that since he and I were both going to be captains today, Iíd already lost before I showed up I told Dave to bring it, and then turned back to Seth ìThat was trash talk Not flirting.î Seth was clearly not convinced, so I gave him my best eye roll and added, ìIím gonna go play Have fun brooding.î Seth grabbed my wrist as I started to take off and whirled me around so hard that I smacked into his chest His arms snaked around my waist instantly ìCome on, Seth,î I said, fighting a shudder There was nothing sweet or innocent about the way he held me against his body ìNot in front of the guys Please?î Seth glanced over my shoulder, and when I craned my neck to see if the guys were staring, Seth pulled my chin back to him ìI just want to give you a kiss for luck,î he said, and then for the next minute solid he turned the park into a place unsuitable for children under the age of thirteen

The whistles and catcalls and rude comments from my friends all started immediately, but I just lifted a certain finger their direction and let Seth kiss me ìYou all finished marking your territory now?î I grumbled, reaching to redo the ponytail Seth had messed up ìThat depends,î he said, his arms still around my waist ìDid everyone over there get the message?î ìI think everyone in the state of Michigan got the message,î said a voice from behind us ìAngela!î Seth said pleasantly Too pleasantly ìThis is a nice surprise What brings you to the park this morning?î I hadnít spoken to my sister since that cop showed up day before yesterday, no matter how much she tried to play nice Seth, on the other hand, seemed to be doing enough talking for the both of us Heíd been trying desperately to make up for scaring Angela Especially since I told him she didnít want me to be dating him At least, I think thatís why heíd been so overly friendly these last two days Too bad the harder he tried to prove he was a good guy, the more it just made him look creepy ìJust came to see what all the fuss is about,î Angela said Sheíd had this strange combination of fear and anger emanate from her whenever sheíd spoken to Seth all week You could tell she wanted to chew him the freak out, but she was too scared to do it I remember those days Iím glad theyíre over ìIf Ellie can give a shopping spree a chance, then itís only fair I watch one of her games.î Bull! She saw that Seth came with me and didnít want him to get me alone ìWell, Iím glad youíre here,î Seth told my sister as he flung his arm over her shoulder ìIím going to need someone to explain the game to me Also, to keep me from jumping anyone that touches Ellieóshe says Iím not allowed to start any trouble.î Seth laughed at his own joke, but Angela looked a little queasy as Seth carted her off to the nearest bench Itís a good thing Seth and Angela were both just there to keep an eye on me and didnít actually care to see me play, because the game was over two seconds after it started Travis was so the last person Iíd ever expected to be playing hockey in my park-on my court-that I didnít notice him until it was too late Granted, when everybody was in a helmet and jersey of some sort they all looked the same, but I looked right into his eyes when we faced off and didnít recognize him until after he illegally checked me so hard that I ate pavement The fact that heíd intentionally nailed me right in the boob couldnít have been more obvious ìOops, sorry about that.î Ignoring the burning pain in my chest, I jumped to my feet and reached my assailant just a second before Seth did Seth looked murderous, but no way was I going to let him steal my fight from me I pushed him out of the way and then pushed the guy whoíd hit me ìWhat the hell!î I screeched ìWhatís the matter, Ellie? I thought you liked to play rough.î And thatís when I recognized him ìTravis?î ìSo you blew me off for big brother, huh?î he scoffed ìNo bother.î He looked pointedly at my chest and smirked ìDidnít feel as good as I thought they would anyway Smaller than they look.î I hauled off and swung as hard as I could, but Travis was expecting it He caught my punch and twisted my arm around behind my back so hard, he nearly pulled it from its socket ìSo you do like to play rough,î he said, laughing, and thatís when all hell broke loose Seth flew at Travis and the blow freed me of Travisís grip, but also knocked me to the ground in the process Dave was right there to give me a hand up He asked me if I was okay, but I wasnít the least bit concerned with myself at the moment ìSeth!î Seth had moved so fast that I donít think anybody but Travis and me knew what was going on until I yelled, ìPut it away, Seth Iím fine, all right?î Seth held the blade of his knife against the base of Travisís throat a second longer ìIf I ever even see you again,î he said, his voice eerily controlled, ìit will be reason enough for me.î Travisís face had gone white and the surrounding circle of guys was frozen in shock ìSeth, calm the freak down! Iím fine.î Slowly, I pulled Sethís hand away from Travis and took the knife ìYou see?î I asked, flipping the blade closed and waving the knife in front of Sethís face ìThis is what I meant by no causing trouble.î Seth reached for the knife, but I snatched it away and tucked it in the front pocket of his jeans for him I looked around at all the shocked faces of my friends I sighed ìCome on,î I said to a still livid Seth ìLetís go for a nice long drive or something, but not in your piece of crap Beemer.î The crowd parted to give us an exit

Only Dave was brave enough to step forward and give Travis a hand up ìSo, uh,î he said to me as he pulled Travis to his feet, ìweíll just catch you Saturday, huh?î ìProbably best,î I said, and slapped him a goodbye five Then, since I was close enough, and Travis wasnít expecting it, I kneed him in his boy parts hard enough to put him on the ground again ìOops Sorry about that Catch you guys later,î I called out to the stunned crowd without looking back It took Angela a minute to work up the guts to chase after us ìWait! Ellie! Where do you think youíre going?î ìTo blow off some steam,î I said ìWith Seth And without you.î I was surprised when Angela had the nerve to step in front of my path ìI donít think so He just pulled a knife on somebody.î ìHe was defending me Travis almost broke my arm.î ìI donít care, youíre not going anywhere with him.î Sethís face flushed with anger again He started to say something, but couldnít get a word in before I shouted, ìWhy donít you go call the cops, then!î Her face suddenly dropped Almost as if my words had willed it to happen, two cop cars came screeching around the corner I couldnít believe it As I stood there, stunned, Angela held up the cell phone Iíd left with my other stuff on the picnic table ìI already did,î she whispered Seth and I looked at each other, and the hurt in his expression was enough to make me hate my sister forever She knew it, too She could see it in my eyes ìEllie, he had a knife to Travisís throat I was just being responsible.î She looked at Seth, who was still so surprised, he couldnít say anything ìIím sorry, Seth But donít tell me youíre not capable of using it What was I supposed to do?î We looked behind us The cops were already talking to all the guys A couple of them were pointing our direction I laced my fingers in Sethís and sighed ìCome on, then.î In the end, my sister got me arrested The police took a statement from everyone at the park, and then hauled Travis, Me, and Seth down to the police station After hearing the whole story, the police asked if I wanted to press assault chargesóeither physical or sexualóagainst Travis The guy is a jerk, but that kind of goes against the code of schoolyard puck Not to mention, if I did heíd just press charges against meóeither physical or sexualófor nearly retracting one of his testicles That would open the floodgates for a million other people to press charges against me Kowalski could probably have me thrown in jail for twenty-to-life, as many times as Iíve hit him When I didnít press charges Seth got pissed at me and we started arguing Then Travis said something way uncalled for about my ìeasy natureî, and I flew at him The cops had me in cuffs nearly as fast as Seth had Travis at knifepoint earlier Travis and I were given a stern warning and told that if we were caught fighting again weíd be booked for disorderly conduct and kept overnight But because of the whole threat-with-a-deadly-weapon thing, poor Seth got charged with a misdemeanor and released on bail to his aunt We were all threatened with court-ordered anger management After that I was pretty sure that any relationship between Seth and I was going to go down Romeo and Juliette style You know, forbidden Then I saw the look on my fatherís face when he came to the police station to pick me up and my suspicions were confirmed He was pissed ìI canít believe my dad let me come over tonight Even if it is just across the street, itís still Saturday.î I was draped on my stomach across my beanbag, becoming more and more envious of Sethís gaming chair by the minute Since we werenít allowed to go out on any kind of real date tonight, Seth demanded I come over and play some ìrealî video games He supplied these ìrealî games and I supplied the Dr. Pepper and Twizzlers ìI canít believe he let you come over at all I was sure your parents were never going to let me see you again after the other day.î ìAt first they werenít going to Dude, Iíve never seen my dad so mad Of course, all Angela told him before he came to get me was that I got in a fight and you pulled a knife on someone and threatened to kill him.î ìLike I said I canít believe he let you come over tonight.î ìWell, yeah, but then I told him about how Travis was basically stalking me I may have exaggerated a bit I also may have embellished a little about him totally feeling me up Oh, and if my dad asks, my shoulder still hurts from where Travis was about to break it.î Seth gave me a sideways glance ìYouíre quite the little liar, arenít you?î ìLucky for you

When I was finished you were basically my Dadís hero Until I was forced to use the B word, anyway.î ìBoyfriend, Ellie The word is boyfriend Really, I promise it wonít kill you to say it.î ìWhatever After the B word came up you were number one on his crap list But you instantly became my momís hero, so it balanced out Plus, it helped that your aunt came over yesterday to plead your case.î ìShe did?î I was surprised that Seth was surprised ìIt was a really smart move Sheís really what changed their minds I thought for sure you sent her over there.î Seth shook his head ìI had no idea I was gone all day yesterday.î ìOh Well, she worked my parents over really good She went on about how sorry she was, and how sorry you were, and how much you were so fond of their precious little Eleanor, and how devastated you were that we had to break upóthatís where the B word came in to play Ugh That was worse than being arrested.î Seth laughed at me again, but I chose to ignore it ìShe said you only reacted to Travis so violently because this is the first time youíve ever been in love, and youíre really overwhelmed by it.î Sethís eyebrows flew so high, they practically blended with his hairline I slapped my hand over my mouth ìSorry,î I muttered ìI wasnít gonna tell you that part.î We had the mother of all awkward pauses and I kid you not, I watched Sethís cheeks turn pink I had to get the conversation going again ìAfter that your aunt went on and on about how hard this move has been for you and how I was really helping you make the transition Then she asked if she could talk to my parents alone, and Angela and I got booted to our rooms I tried to listen through the vents, but couldnít really hear much I think she was telling them about everything youíve been through with your parents and allótrying to explain why you even had the knife in the first place After she left, my parents didnít say much the rest of the night, just that it was okay that I saw you again, so long as you stop carrying concealed weapons.î Seth was quiet for a minute He seemed at a loss for words Eventually he said, ìShe really used the L word?î ìDude.î I nodded gravely ìAnd it was worse than the B word A lot.î When Seth frowned I became desperate to change the subject ìIím thinking I need to invest in a chair like yours It looks very comfortable.î I dropped my game controller and moved from my beanbag to Sethís bed After a nice big stretch, I looked at the TV screen and said, ìI donít understand your fascination with this game Itís so slow Iím a hockey player I much prefer Halo, where I can just run in there and blow stuff up.î ìImpulsive, irrational, and impatient,î Seth said ìIím afraid youíd make a horrible assassin ìI, on the other hand,îóAt that exact moment I watched some guy on the game fall to the ground, deadóìwould make a great assassin Not that I want to kill anybody, but Iíve always wished I could try it Just to see if I could get away with it.î I choked on the Dr. Pepper I was drinking ìIím just saying,î Seth muttered ìI bet I could.î ìAnd you wonder why my sister thinks youíre the Saturday Night Slasher.î Seth glanced up at me, startled, so I muttered, ìIím just saying,î back at him Seth turned off the game and joined me on his bed ìAngela thinks Iím like the Slasher?î ìNo She thinks you are the Slasher.î When Seth frowned, I shrugged ìI can see it.î ìYou can see it?î Seth asked horrified ìI donít believe it.î Not now, anyway ìIím just saying I can understand how she came to the conclusion Weíve already been through the fact that there are plenty of similarities between the two of you, and you have to admit there are things about you that donít add up.î ìLike what?î Seth asked He was still frowning, like he wanted to argue with me but he was too curious not to ask ìWell, like how you know so much about crime and stuff You just admitted to thinking you could get away with murder, but thereís only so much a person can learn from watching CSI When we were at the car dealership, it was like you really knew what you were talking about Like you understood the mind of a killer.î ìEllie, ever since I was nine Iíve been living with a woman who eats, breathes, and sleeps murder mysteries.î Seth got up and pulled one of about thirty-five paperback novels off his bookshelf and handed it to me ìMy aunt is a best-selling crime novelist When sheís not busy plotting the perfect murder, sheís researching how to do it.î ìSo that explains the boxes in your garage Itís all her notes and stuff?î

Seth nodded ìAnd guess who helped her gather all those notes Iíve basically spent the last eight years as a glorified research assistantóa live-in intern.î ìArenít there child labor laws against that?î Seth laughed ìIt hasnít been all bad Aunt Janice is sort of a method-researcher You know, like if youíre going to write a book about a boxerÖî ìYou go train with Georges St Pierre,î I finished for him ìWeapons training, medical training, clinical psychology, criminal court Weíve researched it all Weíve spent the day in prison, interviewed convicted murderers, helped perform an autopsy Boot camp, police academy, the FBIóthat was the coolest We got to sit in at the base of operations for an undercover op I got to meet the Director of the FBI Heís an awesome guy.î Seth threw me a sideways glance and added ìCooler than Chuck Norris.î ìNobodyís cooler than Chuck Norris,î I argued ìThat dudeís so bad-A, he can roundhouse kick a light saber and break it in two.î Seth burst out laughing and couldnít resist pulling me into his arms ìIf you say so,î he said ìBut can you understand now, how I might be a little fascinated with murder? Iím actually thinking about joining the FBI Maybe being a profiler.î ìMakes sense,î I agreed ìYou may not be good at interacting with people, but you really seem to have them figured out.î Seth either appreciated my compliment, or got bored with the conversation, or just had the hormones of a normal seventeen-year-old guy, because he responded to my statement by kissing my neck And I donít mean, like, he kissed it I mean he was kissing it A lot All over His mouth was on my ear, under my chin, at the base of my throatÖ Can I just tell you that that is way different than being kissed on the cheek or even the lips? I didnít expect to feel whatever it was I was suddenly feeling, but man, was it intense I gasped and then for some reason blurted, ìExplain why you moved here.î ìBecause you were here,î Seth mumbled between kisses He pulled down the sleeve of my shirt and kissed my bare shoulder This was as bad as kissing my neck, if not worse I shuddered so violently that I panicked ìVery funny,î I said, scrambling off the bed Seth sighed when I sat in his gaming chair and started chugging the nearest soda I could find ìWhyíd you really move here?î I asked after Iíd downed almost the whole can in one drink ìShouldnít you be in some million-dollar house in Grosse Point or something?î ìResearch,î Seth said, clearly pouting as he sprawled out on his bed Alone ìSheís going for a desperate housewives thing with this next bookóSuburban Secrets But sheís never lived in the suburbs I wasnít exactly looking forward to leaving Beverly Hills for some random suburb, so she let me pick where we moved I picked Detroit because of itís reputation, and I picked this house because when the realtor showed it to us you were doing homework on your roof while eating ice-cream and listening to Social Distortion.î ìI donít remember seeing you.î But that was way too much detail not to be true ìI moved here for you, Ellie,î Seth confirmed, hitting me with the full force of his eyes, and looking very pleased with himself when I blushed He got up, picked me up out of his game chair, and plopped me back onto his bed His eyes sparkled with mischief as he said, ìAnything else youíd like to add to this interrogation? Perhaps youíd like to know what I dream about when I sleep?î ìUm, nope.î I had a feeling I knew what he dreamed about, and if I asked, he might just show me ìIím good now Youíve convinced me Youíre nothing but a normal, non-serial-killing, teenage boy.î Seth leaned in like he was going for my neck again, but before his lips touched my skin he sat back and frowned ìDoes your sister really think Iím the Saturday Night Slasher? She actually thinks I killed all those girls?î ìAfraid so Why do you think sheís been so crazy lately? She thinks the only reason you havenít killed me yet is because you like me, and that Iím dead the minute you get tired of me.î ìThatís ridiculous, you know For one, I could never get tired of you, and two, I couldnít kill you, even if I wanted to.î ìWhy not?î ìBecause Iím your boyfriend If someone killed you, Iíd be prime suspect numero uno Serial killers canít kill people they know, no matter what It would be too easy to connect them to the murders If I were the Slasher, then youíd be completely safe.î ìGood to know Iíll have to tell Angela.î ìIíd be tempted,î Seth said, his mood turning suddenly dangerous

ìIf I were the Saturday Night Slasher, Iíd be completely tortured by you.î Before I knew what had happened Seth had me pinned on my back on the bed, holding my hands loosely above my head ìYou would?î I asked, still a little breathless from the swift change in his mood ìEllie, you are exactly the Slasherís type, with one exceptionóyouíre a fighter Your strength and spirit pose an insanely appealing challenge Every day Iím tempted to push you to the limit, just to see what youíre capable of Not to mention, youíre off limits Or, you would be if I was him Thereís nothing sweeter than that which is forbidden.î Seth lowered his mouth to my ear and whispered, ìItís maddening enough to make even the most controlled man lose his focus,î in a way that sent a chill down my back Then he started kissing me again ìI-Itís a good thing you arenít the Slasher, then,î I stammered, struggling with the conflicting emotions of desire he was creating in me, and the fear I thought Iíd conquered, but was my bodyís natural reaction to his intensity Seth pulled his face back enough to look into my eyes ìAnd if I were?î he asked curiously ìUm,î I said, taking note of my compromising positionóbeneath him on his bed with my hands pinned above my head ìThen this would be really awkward?î In another flash he laughed lightheartedly, gave me one of his happy sighs with the ìOh, Ellieî attached to it, and then kissed me like he planned on never stopping My first make-out lesson lasted about two minutes before the doorbell rang ìSomebody order a pizza?î I gasped, attempting to sit up ìIgnore it,î Seth answered, determined to not let me catch my breath I was surprisingly willing to accommodate his request, until the doorbell rang again several times in a row Whoever was out there was either panicked or angry about something ìCrap!î ìWhat is it?î Seth asked when I pushed him off me in a panic and frantically tried to redo my ponytail ìIt could be my father.î ìWould that be a problem?î ìConsidering I told him that your aunt was going to be home all night and that we would be downstairs watching movies with her the whole time and most definitely not home alone in your room making out? Yeah, it could be a big problem.î ìWow You really are a liar.î Seth laughed, but it turned to a sigh as he sat up and straightened his shirt ìAnd I finally had you right where Iíve been trying to get you for weeks.î ìOh, just come on.î When we got downstairs we could hear Angela yelling through the door ìEllie! Open up I need to talk to you!î I thought Seth was going to go postal Angela had been getting on his last nerve for some time now, and when it turned out that she was the one whoíd interrupted us, he snapped his cap ìYou have got to be kidding me,î he said as he flung the door open ìWHAT?î Angela looked pale She stared at Seth as if she thought he was going to physically rip her head off if she got too close She didnít speak to him, only me ìI just need to talk to you for a minute,î she said desperately ìIn private Please?î She looked legitimately upset, which is uncommon for her, so I decided to take pity on her ìFive minutes.î ìNo!î Seth yelled, this time at me ìExcuse me?î I asked, incredulous I was as mad at my sister as Seth, but Seth was about to be in the doghouse if he didnít watch it Seth rolled his eyes at me ìYou canít give her what she wants Itíll only get worse if you do Donít talk to her.î It sounded more like a suggestion that an order, but stillÖ ìTell me what to do one more time.î Seth glared at me so hard his face turned bright red, but he choked back whatever argument he was going to say and instead went, ìIím sorry I donít mean to lose my temper, but Ellie, she got me arrested.î ìUh, yeah, I was hauled down to the station too, but you donít see me freaking out She just asked to talk to me for a minute She even said please.î ìSheís manipulating you.î ìI am not!î Angela yelled, finally brave enoughóor at least angry enoughóto face Seth ìEllie, I really need to talk to you.î ìAbout what? You never need to talk to me.î Angelaís eyes flickered to Seth before she could help herself ìI donít believe this,î Seth muttered He turned all his fury on Angela ìLeave us alone! I havenít done anything wrong I havenít hurt Ellie, and I havenít touched you Sheís happy Iím happy Our parents are happy Whatever your problem is with me, get over it, or things between us are going to get really ugly.î Oh No

He Didnít ìWhoa Did you just threaten my sister?î Seth was startled by just how angry I suddenly was He was confused and definitely not happy ìWhose side are you on?î ìNot yours, if youíre going to be telling me who I can and canít talk to and threatening my family.î Sethís face crumpled like I was betraying him ìEllie.î He tried to plead with me, but seeing vulnerable Seth appear only pissed me off further He didnít get to threaten my family and then make me feel sorry for him about itóI donít care how hot he is I instinctively hooked my arm through my sisterís and began to cart her home ìIíll call you when Iím not so pissed off that I want to punch your lights out,î I spat over my shoulder ìAnd donít eat all my Twizzlers!î ìThanks, Ellie,î Angela said with a sniffle as we made our way into the house ìI didnít think youíd listen I thought you hated me.î As soon as the front door shut I yanked my arm out of hers ìI didnít do that for you.î I said, and then raised my voice to a shout ìAnd I do hate you! First you tried to make me like Seth when I didnít want to Then you ruined my first kiss Then you tried to get me to unlike the guy you made me like Then you got me arrested And now youíre well on your way to breaking me up with my first boyfriend Why canít you just stay out of my life!î Big, fat tears began falling down Angelaís face, but I didnít care At least, I told myself I didnít care, but I knew that was a lie because it hurt when I stormed up to my room, and it was hard to ignore her when she called after me I guess Angela and I had had one too many fights lately, because my dad came in my room and literally dragged me downstairs by the arm I could hear Angela in the office crying to my mom before I got there ìIt doesnít matter Sheís always hated me Always!î she was saying ìOh, and like you havenít always hated me, too?î I said when my dad pushed me into the office ìYouíre embarrassed of me!î ìENOUGH!î my dad exploded ìYou two are going to stay in here until you learn to get along!î Mom quickly scooted out of the office as Dad said, ìEleanor, if you lay one finger on your sister, Iím enrolling you in military school in the fall.î With that, he shut us in the office It sounded like he pulled a chair over from the kitchen table and popped a squat in front of the door so we couldnít escape Brooding silently sounded like a much better plan than kissing and making up, so I plopped down in the desk chair and prepared to sit there all night It was hard to stay as mad as I was, though, when Angela was crying hard enough to have snot running down her face I grudgingly threw a box of Kleenex at her, but I still wasnít volunteering any apology She could kiss my butt first As it turned out, listening to Angela cry was torture, and I wondered if that was part of my dadís plan I was really relieved when she finally broke the silence, because I wasnít going to last much longer ìThatís not true, you know,î she said, starting to get control of her sniffles ìIím not embarrassed of you.î ìYeah,î I scoffed ìRight Youíve invited me to hang out with you and your friends so much all these years because you like having a freak little sister.î ìGet over yourself Ellie Youíre not some victim here Youíre the one who hates me Youíre the one whoís embarrassed of me You think I donít know what you say about me? How you and your stupid friends all make fun of the popular girly-girl airhead? Iíve tried to be nice to you lots of times I stopped inviting you to do things because you would never come.î ìThen why are you always trying to give me stupid makeovers? You always just want to take me shopping and do my hair and makeup and crap because I donít look like you and your friends.î ìThatís not true I do that because those are just the things I like to do I like to go shopping I like to do hair I thought it would be fun to clean you up Youíre pretty, Ellie You donít think you are, but you are Excuse me for wanting my baby sister to understand that being a girl isnít a bad thing Thereís more to life than just playing hockey with the Jís, and you know Iím right I know youíve had some fun this summer I know youíve liked hanging out with me, too.î ìIf you like me so much, then why are you trying to ruin my life? Youíre perfectópretty, smart, popular Guys fall at your feet and worship you Like, every guy Even Dave Even the Jís drool over you.î ìDave likes me?î Oh, geez! ìWhy do you have to take away the one guy whoís ever liked me? The one guy in the world that doesnít call me by my last name, or tug my ponytail, or who wouldnít laugh if I wanted to put on a dress?

Does it really bother you that much that Seth didnít pick you? Is that why you hate him so much?î ìOh, shut up You know that isnít true As soon as I realized he liked you, I was the one who tried to hook you up, remember? You know exactly why I donít want him near you.î I let go a semi-crazed laugh ìAngela, you canít really believe Seth is a serial killer! Itís crazy! You know itís crazy You said so yourself when I first mentioned it.î ìEllie, Travis is in the hospital.î That stopped me short ìWhat?î ìThatís what I came to tell you Dave called Travis was attacked last night It was a carjacking.î ìA carÖî I was in so much shock, I couldnít even finish my sentence Angela nodded ìHe was going home from some party downtown last night and his car was stolen Ellie, he was stabbed.î ìJust like Seth.î ìExactly like Seth And he was beat up so bad that heís still unconscious Dave says everybody thinks Seth did it.î ìWhat?î I gasped ìEllie, you were there at the park You heard what he said.î ìH-he-heóî I stammered ìHe wouldnít.î ìSo this is what? Another coincidence? That the same thing that happened to Seth would happen to Travis just a couple days after Seth threatened to kill him? I know you donít want to believe it I know you donít think he would hurt you butóî ìHe wouldnít hurt me,î I said fiercely That much I knew Angela sighed ìMaybe youíre right Maybe he wouldnít hurt you But would he hurt someone else if he thought he was protecting you?î Yes Heís told me so several times Angela could read the answer on my face, but she didnít rub it in ìIs it such a stretch to think that if Seth could do that to Travis, that he could do it to someone else? Ellie, those girlsÖî ìHe didnít do that!î ìHow do you know?î ìBecause I just know! He may have attacked Travis, but if he did, it was only because Travis hurt me He was just protecting me.î ìShould it make a difference? Travis is in the hospital.î All of the fight, all of my anger, my defiance, all of it left me, and I slumped into my chair as far as I could go How could he do it? How could he hurt someone like that? Because he cares about me ìI care about you, Ellie.î I looked up at my sister in shock Not because Iíd somehow said my thoughts out loud again, but because of what sheíd said in response Angelaís eyes welled up again and she reached for another tissue ìYouíre right,î she whispered ìMaybe I have been a little embarrassed of you Weíve both been pretty nasty to each other over the years I know you think Iím awful, and I canít blame you for hating me, but I donít hate you Iíve liked getting to know you a little this summer Iíve liked having a sister I can talk to and hang out with Iím really sorry about getting you arrested, and more sorry about your first kiss But you have to trust me Iím not trying to break you up with Seth because Iím jealous Iím scared, Ellie.î She shrugged awkwardly and blew her nose ìI sort of just found you I donít want to lose you.î My eyes burned and my chest felt like it was caving in on itself I was so shocked, and more overwhelmed than I think Iíd ever been in my life ìIím sorry, too,î I managed to choke out ìIíve spent my whole life having to hear everyone say over and over how perfect you are Even our own mom Iíve always hated you for that I guess youíre not the one whoís been jealous.î ìYou shouldnít be jealous of me Guys like me because Iím pretty, but they like you because youíre cool.î When I looked up at Angela, she shook her head ìI never noticed it until that night at Rachelís lake house I always just thought you were a geek who only hung out with the Jís, but you had just as many friends at that party as I did, and the people that didnít know you spent the night asking me about you.î ìI think that was just your bikini.î Angela laughed at that, but shook her head again ìYouíre fun, and tough, and confident It took me a whole thirty seconds to convince Dave that youíd be an awesome girlfriend So you guys didnít have it But now that heís put the idea into peopleís heads that youíre a dating possibility, theyíre probably all calling dibbs over who gets to take a shot next Trust me, they canít all be like Dave Somebodyís bound to make you swoon.î Angela started to laugh, until she saw the look on my face Somebody already had made me swoon It just turned out that he was a jealous, overprotective, emotionally disturbed psycho

ìAng,î I whispered ìWhat am I gonna do?î ìI donít know,î she whispered back ìBut donít worry Weíll figure something out.î And thatís when the unthinkable happened Something that I donít think has ever happened in the history of man except through excessive force Angela and I hugged each other ìIím sorry I didnít listen to you,î I said with a squeeze She hugged me back just as tight and said, ìNo, Iím sorry I should have trusted you when you told me he was weird in the first place Itís my fault you fell for him.î Of course that had to be the moment when my dad decided to check on us ìAll right, girls How come I donít hearÖ?î His voice trailed off and I looked over just in time to see the gum fall out of his mouth ìKaren!î he shouted, gaping at us ìKaren, hurry!î My mom probably thought Iíd killed Angela the way she came running When she burst into the office and saw my sister and me with our arms around each otheróand not because we were choking one anotheróher knees just about gave out ìWho are they and what have they done with our children?î ìI donít know, but I think Hell must have frozen over.î ìAre you sure itís real?î ìDid you put something in their dinner tonight?î Dorks ìDorks.î I was startled when my thought echoed me This whole saying my thoughts out loud thing was starting to get out of hand But it turned out that Angela and I just think alike It was her whoíd called them dorks My parents finally started laughing at themselves and congratulating each other on their excellent parenting skills, earning eye rolls and groans from both Angela and me ìCan we come out now?î Angela asked ìI donít know,î my mom said ìIím thinking we should leave you in there forever.î With another groan Angela looped her arm through mine and tugged me past them ìWeíll be in Ellieís room.î For the second Sunday in a row Michiganís parks were free of any dead redheads, and itís because Seth spent the night in jail At least, thatís what Angela told me when she woke me up bright and early at eight that morning Last night, after weíd escaped our parents, we were up in my room trying to decide whether we should tell them about Seth attacking Travis, when two cop cars showed up at Sethís house We watched from my window as the cops took Seth away in handcuffs His Aunt hugged him tightly before they put him in the back of the car When the cops drove away, Ms. Wainwright followed in the Beemer The car had not come back yet ìBut he told me yesterday that murderers would never go after people they know Travis, he knows And has reason to hate If Seth were a killer, he wouldnít be that stupid He may have attacked Travis, but he isnít the Slasher.î ìWho else could it be?î Angela said ìLast weekend Seth spent the night here with you and there was no murder Last night he was taken to jail and once again, there was no murder.î I had to admit, it looked bad ìEllie, we have to tell mom and dad We have to call that detective.î ìNo!î My heart was racing Watching Seth get carted off last night was awful I sat all night in my window, waiting for his aunt to bring him home I couldnít stand the thought of him being in jail I knew he could take care of himself against the other criminals, but there was a part of him that was so vulnerable I just wanted him home where I knew he was safe I needed to tell him I was sorry for getting mad yesterday and let him know I appreciated that he wanted to protect me, even if he did take it too far ìHe was only protecting me,î I said, frustrated ìThatís the only reason he went after Travis Iím not going to blame him for the Saturday Night murders unless we have proof Actual physical proof.î I glanced at the house across the street, sitting there so empty and tempting, and sighed ìI have to know for sure.î Angela watched me slip on my shoes She followed me all the way across the street before asking, ìWhat are you doing?î ìWhat are we doing?î I corrected her ìItís a little thing called breaking and entering.î ìWhat? We canít!î ìWhy? Itís not like Sethís never broken into my room I have to at least try to figure it out If he has any kind of proof over there, then Iíll accept that my boyfriend is a psycho killer and weíll call that detective I promise.î ìBut you canít just go breaking into peopleís houses, Ellie You could end up in jail, too.î ìI need closure,î I admitted desperately ìI still like him, okay? Angela, I like him a lot If he killed those girls, then I need proof I have to see it with my own eyes I need something thatís going to make me stop liking him.î

A sinking feeling crept into my stomach just then I stopped everything I was doing and looked into Angelaís eyes ìAnd if I do find proof that he killed those girls,î I whispered, pushing back nausea, ìthen Iím really going to need my big sister there to keep me from completely freaking out.î Angela stared back at me, swallowing horrible thoughts of her own, and grabbed my hand ìOkay,î she said, sounding resolved ìOkay, lets do it.î ìThanks.î As it turned out, my first criminal act was surprisingly easy to accomplish, because Ms. Wainwright had left in such a hurry last night that sheíd forgotten to lock the front door ìI wonder if weíll get half the time, since weíre only entering and not actually breaking,î Angela said when we shut and locked the door behind us ìLets just hurry so that we donít get caught, and then we wonít get any time.î ìSo what are we looking for? Where do you think we should start looking?î ìHis room,î I said automatically ìThereís a metal box under his bed Iíve been dying to look in I saw it once when he had me pinned to his floor.î I started to head up the stairs, but Angela was just standing in the middle of the room gaping at me ìEllie,î she said slowly, her cheeks turning a light shade of pink ìI know the whole dating thing is really exciting, but I donít know if you should be moving that fast I mean, you only got your first kiss a couple weeks ago.î ìWhat do you think I was doing?î I gasped when I finally caught Angelaís meaning ìHeíd kidnapped me and trapped me in his room After I smashed his lamp in a million pieces and bruised his head with his alarm clock, he had to pin me to the floor to keep me from throwing anything else We werenít doing anything.î ìOh Good.î Angela followed me upstairs ìBecause that would be really awkward if you guys did do something and he ends up in jail for life Youíd have to go on an episode of Dr. Phil to get normal again.î ìI need to go on Dr. Phil just because I live with you,î I argued as we walked into Sethís bedroom Heíd cleaned up the sodas and Twizzlers from our game night and had my beanbag tucked neatly in the corner with his game chair ìKind of creepy in here, donít you think?î Angela asked I looked around ìLooks like a normal room to me Just really, really clean.î ìWhat do you think I mean by creepy?î ìWhatever Just start looking for anything weird.î I reached under his bed and pulled out the metal box It was a small red toolbox and, unfortunately, it was locked ìQuick, there has to be a key somewhere Look around for a tiny key Check his dresser drawers or something.î ìIím not looking through his underwear Heís your boyfriend You check the dresser.î I rolled my eyes and started rummaging through his drawers Two seconds later, I felt Angela hovering behind me ìHuh,î she said ìBoxer-briefs Interesting Wouldnít have guessed that.î ìI thought you didnít want to go through his underwear.î ìIím not You are.î ìThereís nothing here,î I said, closing the last drawer Angela picked up a bottle of cologne while I went to the nightstand ìThis looks expensive,î she said, squirting some on her wrist ìCould you at least try to be helpful?î ìWow, this smells good Does he always smell this good?î Unfortunately ìNothing in the nightstand but his taser,î I said I couldnít help picking it up and pushing the button Blue sparks sizzled ìI wonder how bad this thing hurts.î ìI dare you to try it.î I held the taser out to Angela and pushed the button again ìTry it on you?î ìFunny Put that thing down and lets see what heís got in his closet.î Angela slid open the closet door and began looking at the hanging clothes ìOoh, itís too bad it hasnít been cold out I bet Seth looks gorgeous in this,î she said, pulling a dark brown suede jacket off its hanger When she tried it on I asked, ìAre you even looking for evidence, or just snooping?î ìI wonder how much money he dropped on this wardrobe I wish I hadówait.î Angela gasped ìWhat is this?î There was something taped to the back of the closet I shoved all the clothes aside and Angela let out a quiet shriek ìWhat is it? Some kind of shrine?î ìDonít be stupid, idiot Shrines need like candles and stuff.î ìWhatís he doing with pictures of dead girls taped in his closet?î Angela asked ìIím more concerned about the girls up there who arenít dead,î I whispered Until that moment I never actually believed Seth had anything to do with the Saturday Night Slasher But we were looking at a collage of pictures, police reports, and post-it notes, all from the Slasher case

Heather Monroe, Olivia Harvey, Crystal Chambers, and the first victim, whoís name turned out to be Monica Stanleyóthey were all there, staring me right in the face with the pictures of three other girls who all fit the same profile ìItís not a shrine,î I whispered ìItís research Heís studying the case Look how he has it all organized Itís like heís trying to solve it.î ìAre you kidding?î Angela asked, pointing at the picture of a girl named Jennifer McConnelly ìThat is not solving it That is a picture of his next victim.î I tried not to believe her ìWhat about all this information, then? All the police reports All the profiles of the people working on the case Why would he have that?î ìHe needs to know how close the cops are to catching him, obviously You asked for proof This is your proof Give me my phone Iím calling Detective Pierce.î ìNo! Itís not enough It canít be him.î Yeah, I was in complete denial So what? ìEllie, you promised What more do you need? For him to come after you with a knife?î ìPictures!î I gasped Angela was starting to get frustrated ìWhat do you think these are?î she yelled ìNo I mean polaroids The killer left polaroids of the victims behind, right? So theyíd connect the murders? Well, donít all killers like to take souvenirs? Heís taking pictures of them If Seth is the killer, then heíll have those pictures.î ìHey, good thinking.î ìIíve already checked the dresser and nightstand.î I looked around the perfectly tidy room and went back to Sethís bed ìHelp me lift his mattress.î ìCareful Ellie, do you really want to know what he keeps tucked between his mattresses?î ìOh, shut up and lift.î ìEllie, if he is really killing people, do you think heíd be dumb enough to keep the evidence between his mattresses? You have to get more creative than that.î ìAnd where do you suggest I look?î I snapped as I pushed my arm under his mattress ìThe only place you seem to be looking is over my shoulder Would you please help me?î Angela sighed as if I were asking her to take my finals for me ìAll right, fine.î With a look that suggested I was an idiot, Angela reached beneath the bed and pulled the toolbox into her lap After examining the small lock she said, ìItís not much more than something youíd find on a suitcase Iím sure we can pick it Do you have a Bobbi pin?î She and I both snorted at the same time ìSorry I forgot who I was talking to.î ìWill this work?î I asked, handing her my keys with the pink Swiss Army knife keychain ìAw, this is so cute,î she cooed ìWhere did you get this?î ìSeth gave it to me for my birthday.î ìHuh, thatís actually really sweet Too bad weíre going to use his present to put him in jail.î After a minute of fiddling with the lock, it clicked open Angela started to lift the lid and my heart skipped a beat ìWait,î I whispered Angela looked up at me ìDid you want to do it?î ìNo! IóIóI canít look I donít want to know whatís in there.î ìWe have to look.î ìBut what if it is him? I canít handle it You look You look and then donít tell me If itís him, I donít want to know.î ìEllie.î Angelaís voice turned sympathetic ìItíll be okay If it is him, then weíve stopped a murderer from killing innocent girls Youíll be safe again.î She smiled playfully ìIíll be ungrounded on the weekends again.î That made me smile ìAh, the real reason youíre helping me.î We both managed a short laugh and then Angel took a deep breath ìHere goes.î I pinched my eyes shut and held my breath ìOh,î Angela whispered in awe ìWow.î ìWhat!î My eyes flew open and Angela handed me the toolbox Inside the box was what was left of Sethís parents A handful of photographs, a matching set of wedding bands, a pair of eyeglasses, a lock of his momís hairóalmost an exact match in color to mine ìShe was beautiful,î Angela said, staring at a picture of Sethís mom I picked up a family picture and looked closely at Sethís father ìSo was he,î I said Neither of us could raise our voices above a whisper ìItís no wonder Seth is soÖî ìYummy?î Angela offered Seth was a nice mix of the two of them He had his fatherís eyes and his motherís nose and smile In the picture they were on a beach and a nine-year-old Seth was proudly showing off a sand castle like he didnít have a care in the world

He had on a smile Iíd never seen him wear The picture hinted at just how much his parentís deaths had changed him My heart just about broke in half seeing them together When the front door slammed shut downstairs, I jumped so high the contents of the toolbox scattered ìTheyíre home!î Angela hissed I frantically shoved everything back in the toolbox, while Angela took off Sethís Jacket and fixed the clothes in his closet to cover up the wall ìWe canít get out the window,î I told Angela ìWeíre going to have to wait until Ms. Wainwright goes to her room or something, and then sneak out.î ìWhat about Seth?î ìHeís probably still in jail.î Just then we heard Sethís aunt say, ìYou want me to make you a sandwich or anything?î ìNo, thanks,î Seth repliedógeez he sounded depressed ìIím just tired.î ìAlright Then Iím going to make some calls in my office for a while Weíll get this sorted out.î ìYeah, sure.î Seth didnít sound as optimistic as his aunt We heard the sound of the office door shut and then there were feet heavy on the stairs Angela and I looked at each other in horror Sethís bedroom door was hanging wide open and in like two seconds he was going to walk in and find us snooping through his stuff We were dead ìQuick, Angela, hide behind the door Iíll distract him and you slip out.î ìEllie, no!î Angela grabbed the taser from the nightstand ìI have a better idea.î ìWe are not tasing him! He wonít hurt me, Angela,î I hissed as I shoved her behind his door and made sure she was out of site Then I dashed over to his bed and hugged his pillow like Iíd been sleeping for a while Iím not even sure my eyes were all the way closed when he walked in his room ìEllie?î he gasped I did my best impression of someone being stirred from a deep sleep After a moment, I took one look at his destroyed face and didnít have to act when I rushed to him and threw my arms around him ìSeth! Iím so glad youíre back I was so worried.î The way his arms came around me was more reactive than anything ìWhat are you doing here?î he asked, shocked and completely confused I pulled my chin back to look up into his eyes, but I refused to loosen my grip around his waist ìI know about Travis,î I said ìThatís what Angela came to tell me about.î ìEllie, wait, I swear Ióî ìIt doesnít matter,î I told him quickly I didnít want to hear his excuses I didnít want to even think about what heíd done If I could just ignore that and focus on his faceóhis beautiful pain-stricken faceóI could forget anything was wrong and just be glad to see him long enough to get Angela to safety ìWhen I saw the cops out front of your house last night I thought I was going to be sick They took you away in handcuffs, and after hearing about Travis I was sure they were taking you to jail I thought I wouldnít see you again, and Iíd left so mad yesterday I thought you were going to spend your life in prison thinking I hated you.î I squeezed Seth even tighter and my name escaped his mouth in the form of a sigh He hugged me back as if my very presence was renewing his strength ìHow come they let you go?î I couldnít help asking ìThey only brought me in for questioning.î Sethís body tensed beneath me ìI donít know why they bothered They didnít believe a word I said The only reason they didnít arrest me was because they didnít have any proof Travisís car is still missing, and he didnít get a good enough look at his attacker The guy wore a mask and came at him from behind when he was getting in his car.î I shuddered, wondering how Seth could talk so nonchalantly about a guy heíd nearly killed Seth felt me shake and squeezed me so tight it almost hurt I scrambled for something to say ìI hope you donít mind that I came over, but I was just so worried sick about you.î ìMind that you came over?î Seth repeated incredulously The confusion may have been gone from his voice, but the disbelief sure wasnít ìI was afraid youíd hate me I didnít think youíd ever let me explain.î Hearing Sethís door creak, I glanced over his shoulder My sister was still waiting for a chance to make a break for it I felt Seth start to turn and brought my hand to his hair, slowly raking my fingers through it Sethís eyes fell shut at the caress ìI donít need an explanation,î I told him ìI just need my boyfriend to kiss me.î Seth was baffled, but successfully distracted Angela could have driven a tank out of his room and he wouldnít have noticed ìYou just said the B word,î he said ìAnd yet youíre still not kissing me.î Seth didnít have to be told again

He kissed me so earnestly that even though I knew he had a closet full of dead and possibly soon-to-be-dead girlsí pictures, I melted in his arms On the bright side, Angela was able to escape safely On the not so bright side, I was now kissing someone who probably stabbed a guy and possibly killed four girls, and I was finding that I didnít really want to stop Thank goodness for Lady GaGa If thereís one thing that can kill my mood to make out, itís pop music ìDonít answer it,î Seth growledóapparently, it didnít kill his mood But I knew it would be Angela attempting to rescue me, so I answered it ìHello?î ìEllie, hey, are you still at Sethís?î Seth heard Angelaís voice come through the receiver and that did kill his mood He let go of me and fell to his bed, scowling I laid down on the bed with him, even though that made me want to kiss him some more I needed to be close enough to him that he would still hear whatever excuse Angela was about to give me ìDonít worry, weíre not fighting anymore,î I explained to Seth, smiling when he rolled against me and draped his arm over my stomach In the phone I said, ìYeah, Iím still here Seth got home like five minutes ago, so I was thinking Iíd stay for a while Why, whatís up?î ìYouíd better get home I just heard Dad wake up.î I shot straight up There was a good chance this excuse was real ìThanks Iím coming right now.î Seth clung to my hand and gave me an inquisitive look ìSorry,î I said ìBut I do not want to have to explain to my father what Iím doing at your house at eight in the morning in my PJís.î Seth looked unhappy about having to let go of me, but at least he didnít look pissed off ìAre we ever going to get the chance to make out with no interruptions?î ìNot right now,î I said ìIíll call you later Iím glad youíre home.î Seth walked me to the front door and wouldnít let me go until I kissed him ìYou owe me a make-out session,î he warned me I just responded with a smile Angela practically tackled me the minute I walked in the door ìI cannot believe we got away with that!î she said once sheíd slammed my bedroom door shut Both of us headed straight for my window ìWhen that front door opened I thought we were goners Nice distraction, by the way Way to make out with a murderer.î My natural instincts wanted to spit out some stupid comeback, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was a sigh ìYou have to accept it, Ellie We have to call the cops.î ìBut we didnít find anything that proves he did it It could still not be him.î ìBut what about those pictures in his closet? There were three girls there that arenít dead yet Do we have to wait until they are?î I was defeated and I knew it ìI guess not.î Three hours later I still wasnít convinced talking to the cops was the right thing, but Angela and I were sitting in the food court of the mall with the detective weíd talked to before ìI could have come to your house,î Detective Pierce said once heíd ordered a coffee and joined us at our table ìI really should be talking to you with your parents.î ìNo!î Angela and I said together I think it startled Detective Pierce ìOur parents are leaving to go on a cruise this Wednesday,î Angela explained ìIf they knew about all this they would cancel their trip.î ìItís their twentieth anniversary,î I added ìAnd theyíve never been on a vacation without us before It would break their hearts if they didnít get to go.î ìYou mean to tell me that you girls will be home alone this weekend?î ìIím almost eighteen,î Angela said, taking offense ìWeíre old enough to be home alone Plus, we have an emergency contact list five miles long Weíll be fine.î ìAnd thereís really no reason to worry, right?î I asked ìI mean, you said last time that all this stuff with Seth is probably just coincidence Right?î The detective tugged at his collar, obviously very uncomfortable about something ìWhat?î I demanded, while Angela more politely asked, ìDid you find something?î The cop looked around the crowded mall and leaned over the table to whisper to us ìWe found your friend Travisís stolen car There was a knife inside.î ìWhatís that got to do with Seth?î I asked ìOr the Saturday Night Slasher?î Angela added ìThe knife was covered in blood, so we ran DNA tests We found Travisís DNA, as well as the DNA of two of the Saturday Night victims Whoever attacked Travis is definitely our serial killer.î ìWell, that doesnít make sense,î I argued ìThe Saturday Night Slasher has been flawless He hasnít left one single fingerprint or strand of hair or anything through four murders

Why would he suddenly attack some random kid, steal a car and then be so careless to leave the murder weapon behind Thatís just stupid.î Detective Pierce patronized me with a smile ìCrimes of passion are always more careless Your boyfriend was really upset about Travis getting physical with you.î ìBut you canít prove it was Seth who attacked him!î The copís smile turned rueful ìItís true Thereís no proof that it was Seth who attacked Travis,î he said I donít think he was trying to console me ìEverything, even what youíve told me about the pictures in his room, is all circumstantial We canít nail this kid until we have hard proof.î I flinched at the way heíd said nail this kid This cop was convinced, and he was out for blood And if he was that convinced, and he was the lead detective on the Saturday Night Slasher caseÖ My world came crumbling down around me ìSo itís true then,î I mumbled ìSeth really is theÖî I couldnít finish my sentence My boyfriend was a serial killer I kissed a serial killer I liked a serial killer Still liked him I felt Angelaís arm go around my shoulder, but it didnít make me feel any better ìWhat am I supposed to do now?î I whispered ìUh, break up?î Angela suggested ìNo!î Detective Pierce said so suddenly that Angela and I both jumped ìWhat?î Angela gasped ìI canít just stay in a relationship with a murderer.î ìEleanor,î the cop said gently ìYou have to act normal No sudden break-ups If Seth thinks youíve figured out his secret, if he suspects youíre going to turn on him at all, heíll kill you to protect himself Itís what these guys do You have to play along until I can catch him Itís the only way to keep you safe.î ìBut Seth wonít come after me No matter how much he probably wants to, he canít Itís too risky and he knows it He said as much when I told him Angela thought he was the Slasher.î ìYou told him that?î Angela gasped ìI had to tell him something,î I snapped defensively ìHe was more than a little butt-hurt about you calling the cops on him.î That made Mr. Detective man flinch ìYou told him that you guys called me?î he asked carefully ìDo I look like Iím stupid?î I said ìOf course I didnít tell my boyfriend that my crazy sister called the police and accused him of murdering four girls I wanted to keep him as a boyfriend at the time No Angela told him she called the cops on him in the park after he pulled a knife on Travis He didnít understand why she would rat him out so easily when no one actually got hurt and he was only defending me.î ìSo he doesnít know that youíve been contacting the police about this? He just thinks itís a crazy theory?î ìYes.î ìAnd does he think you believe it?î ìOf course not.î Detective Pierce sharpened his gaze on both of us and slowly asked, ìHave either of you told anyone anything about any of this? Your parents? Friends?î Angela shook her head and I said, ìJust when I told Seth Angelaís crazy theory But I didnít tell him how much she believes it.î Detective Pierce let out a breath ìGood,î he said ìThis has to stay just between us If Seth suspects anything at all, heíll come after you Iím doing my best to get him behind bars, but I need just a little more time.î I raised my hand as if waiting for the teacher to call on me ìSo, Iím still confused How exactly am I supposed to act like a normal girlfriend to a murderer?î Detective Pierce laughed Highly unprofessional, if you ask me Stupid authority figures thinking they are so superior all the time Of course, I have anger management issues ìFrom the sounds of it, you are already anything but a normal girlfriend, so just be yourself.î ìWhatís that supposed to mean?î I snapped I had no idea why my question made the detective smile, or Angela snort Judging from the looks they were giving me, I was waiting for them both to sigh and go, ìOh, Ellie.î They had to spell it out for me before I got it ìIt seems that you keep young Mr. Bishop on his toes in the romance department,î Detective Pierce said ìHuh?î ìYou make him insanely jealous because all your friends are guys, you donít put up with his crap, and Iím guessing you probably donít put out enough for his liking either,î Angela translated ìI think Detective Pierce is saying youíre unpredictable in a relationship.î Detective Pierce nodded and said, ìWhich will work to your advantage Weíll get him as quickly as we can, and Iíll keep an eye on you, but just remember the most important thing to keeping yourself safe right now is never let him know you suspect him.î He glanced at Angela next to me and added, ìYou, either.î

I looked at my sister with a frown All sheíd ever done is suspect him ìWe are so dead.î ìThis sucks.î I was eating Ben and Jerryís straight from the carton on my front porch Wednesday morning with Angela, instead of playing hockey in the park where I should have been This was the second game Iíd missed Ever since my psycho boyfriend knifed down some jerk that tried to feel me up, everyone I knew was avoiding me like I had the plague They hadnít actually said not to show up, but it was pretty clear that they were afraid to even look at me for fear that Seth would come after them next I watched my boyfriend viciously attack the punching bag in his garage ìMy life is over.î ìThatís a little dramatic, donít you think?î Angela asked ìUm, no Thanks to Seth, everyone I know is terrified to come near me Iíll never play hockey again Iíll never have friends again The only people who still even talk to me are either related to me or kill people on the weekends for fun.î ìLook at the bright side You only have two more years until you can find a nice out-of-state college where nobody knows you Assuming your boyfriend doesnít kill you first.î ìThank you so much for that, Angela.î As if he knew we were talking about him, Seth looked our direction and waved tentatively to us He took a minute to gulp down some water and wipe the sweat from the back of his neck ìAnd speaking of our serial hottie,î Angela said as we both plastered fake smiles on our faces and waved back ìIs it wrong that I still wouldnít miss watching his workouts for anything, even knowing he uses those muscles for overpowering helpless girls?î I didnít want to miss them, either That was part of my problem I sighed again and Angela echoed it ìHow are things in fake relationship land?î she asked upon the return of my depression ìAwful,î I said ìI think I would fail miserably as an actor I canít ever relax around him I havenít let him kiss me since we talked to Detective Pierce He knows Iím scared of him He knows Iím upset I donít think Iím keeping him happy at all.î ìBut do you think he knows weíre talking to the cops?î I shook my head ìHe thinks Iím scared of him because of Travis He keeps telling me that he didnít attack Travis He thinks I donít believe him.î ìYou donít,î Angela pointed out ìI know But heís not supposed to know that He also knows Iíve been upset about my friends and thinks I blame him for not being able to play hockey anymore.î ìYou do.î ìI know The worst part is, heís been extra sweet because heís trying to make everything okay again If he werenít a serial killer, heíd be the perfect boyfriend.î It seemed I couldnít do anything but sigh anymore And gorge myself on ice cream ìI donít know how long I can do this, Angela.î ìWell, hopefully you wonít have to much longer I mean, thereís a good chance heíll try to kill someone this Saturday, right? Then Detective Pierce will get him and it will all be over and things can go back to normal.î My stomach churned when Angela said the word normal I scooted my ice cream far away from me ìNormal?î I scoffed ìNothing about my life is normal anymore It hasnít been all summer.î ìHoly pink shirt Batman!î a voice called out from the curb in front of my house When I looked up and saw the Jís walking up my front lawn I let out a shriek and jumped to my feet Josh happened to be the closest, so he was the one I tackled I was so relieved to see themóand so desperate for something in my life to make sense againóthat I didnít care how girly it was I ran full force and literally leapt at Josh, wrapping him in the tightest hug I had in me Josh was forced to catch me, but try as he might to stay on his feet, my attack had come as such a surprise that we tumbled over ìWhat the hell, Westley?î he screeched when we came to a stop in the grassóme laying on top of him ìGet off me, you psycho!î I rolled off him and Jack helped me to my feet I was still so blissfully happy to see them that the minute I had my balance I wrapped my arms around an unsuspecting Jack and squeezed like I was never going to let go ìUm, Westley?î Jack asked as if Iíd completely lost my marbles ìSorry Iím just so glad youíre back,î I said, but couldnít make myself let go ìGeez, Westley,î Josh murmured behind me ìThey said you went crazy, butÖî Thatís when Jack started fidgeting beneath my embrace ìGuys?î he squeaked

ìLittle help?î I finally pulled back When I met Jackís eyes his face went all pink, which then made my face go all pink and I quickly looked away But looking away didnít help, because I found myself staring at Jesse He watched me for a second, but then broke into a grin and held open his arms ìWell, come on then Iím not scared of you.î I donít know why, but his acceptance of the new me is what made me lose it all together I fell into his arms and actually got misty-eyed ìThanks, Jesse,î I whispered, praying that none of them would hear the emotion in my voice Jesse squeezed me so tight that I started to believe maybe my life wasnít going to come to an end Maybe I could still be the new Ellie and it would be okay Of course, Jesse had to go and ruin the moment by saying, ìDude, you really do have a nice rack Thatís crazy! All this time I never knew.î I finally realized why he was hugging me so hard I ripped my chest away from his and punched him hard in the stomach ìPerve on me again and Iíll make sure you never have children!î As soon as Jesse could breathe again he started laughing ìGood news, guys She may be hot now, but sheís still the same old Westley.î ìShut up, dillweed.î Josh threw his arm over my shoulder and said, ìIf it helps, I still donít think youíre hot.î We all finally burst into laughter and just about the time somebody yanked on my ponytail, a door slammed rather loudly across the street, bringing me back to reality The guys all questioned my sigh, but I just muttered, ìIíll be back,î and headed across the street without further explanation I pounded on the front door and when he didnít answer I yelled, ìTheyíre my best friends! Iíve known them my whole life What do you want from me?î The door between us swung open and Seth glared at me, too enraged to speak When I opened my mouth to start yelling, he yanked me against him and smashed his lips on mine At first his kiss tasted of anger, but it quickly melted into something so sincere that my muscles relaxed His hands came around my waist, holding me up when I threatened to collapse His breathing was ragged and his eyes burned wildly as he stared into my face more fierce than Iíd ever seen him ìI know things arenít good between us right now, but I canít lose you, Ellie,î he said ìI canít.î He shot a worried glance over my shoulder and I remembered the Jís I whirled around, my face burning, and sure enough, they were standing there gaping Jesse looked shocked, Josh looked slightly disgusted, and poor Jack looked really confused I dragged Seth over to the Jís and shrugged awkwardly ìSeth, these are the Jís Guys? Seth My, um, myÖî ìBoyfriend,î Seth grumbled, annoyed when I didnít say the word ìSo we noticed,î Jesse said ìYouíre not gonna start doing that in front of us all the time now, are you?î Jack asked Josh nodded vigorously and added, ìI just threw up in my mouth a little.î ìYeah,î Jesse chimed in ìYou never see me sticking my tongue in anyoneís mouth.î I shuddered That was something I hoped I never saw ìOnly ëcause no chick would let you, Jesse,î Jack said Jesse smirked ìYour mom doesnít have a problem when I do it to her.î Jesse got punched again and as he and Jack fell to the ground in a wrestling match I gave Seth a dry look ìDo you see now why the Jís are not an issue?î ìThen what is the issue?î Seth asked ìThereís no issue,î I said quickly ìEverythingís fine.î Josh, who was now trying to hit on Angela, said to Seth, ìDonít let her snow you, dude Westleyís a big, fat liar.î ìDo you mind?î I snapped Josh flashed me a big grin ìNot at all Actually, this whole Westley-has-a-boyfriend thing has potential.î I was about to give Josh the finger, but Seth grabbed my hand ìCan we talk?î ìWe are talking.î Sethís face flushed with anger ìAlone?î ìUm.î ìEllie, you canít keep avoiding me!î Apparently one rumor that hadnít reached the Jís yet was the news of Seth stabbing Travis, otherwise they might have thought twice before starting in with the crap ìOoh, lovers spat!î ìTrouble in paradise already, Westley?î ìBetter watch it, dude Westleyís not so good at carrying on a conversation without punching people.î ìThis ought to be good Ten bucks says Westley lays him out in less than two minutes.î I could see Sethís temper nearing its boiling point ìPlease? Before I kill oneóor possibly allóof your best friends?î he asked, trying not to growl

I glanced nervously at Angela and she mouthed, ìKeep him happy.î I looked down at Sethís white knuckles and swallowed back my nerves ìYeah, okay, fine,î I said, and Seth practically raced me inside his house ìBetter make it a quickie, Westley!î Josh hollered loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear ìWe still have to show you all our sick new skills.î ìLooking forward to it! It will be that much more pathetic now when I cream you!î I yelled and shut Sethís front door I leaned against it and let out a breath ìIdiots Why did I want them to come home so bad?î ìThat is going to get old really fast,î Seth said, glaring at the door The loathing Seth displayed for my best friends was overwhelming I guess itís a good thing he wasnít going to have to put up with them much longer I pitied his cellmate ìThey donít mean it,î I said ìIf theyíre razzing us, thatís a good thing Theyíre not completely freaked out And right now theyíre the only people still talking to me, so you should be nicer.î Sethís face crumbled when I glared at him ìEllie, I didnít touch Travis I know how it looks, but you have to believe me.î ìI do believe you.î ìNo, you donít! Youíre scared of me again Youíve been on edge with me for days, and I donít understand, because when I came home from the police station you said you didnít care You waited here all night for me to come home and were happy to see me Everything was great, and then later that day something happened What are you not telling me?î Sethís gaze was accusing and it made my stomach flip He was aware of a lot more than I realized ìWhat do you mean?î I asked slowly, trying to stay calm Seth was not calm ìI was at the mall on Sunday!î he yelled, grabbing fistfuls of his hair and yanking them in frustration ìI saw you and Angela talking to that cop!î I blanched, and then I backed away from him, slamming my back into the front door Seth quickly reigned in his temper ìWho was he? What did he say to you thatís made you afraid of me?î I was freaked out What was I going to do? I had to come up with something and quick, but I was too scared to come up with a decent lie If I couldnít fix this right now, Seth would know we knew about him, and Angela and I would both be dead ìWere you following us?î I demanded, trying to stall Seth let go a frustrated breath and stalked upstairs I thought about leaving, but my curiosity got the better of me, so I followed him ìWhat are you doing?î I asked when he pulled the toolbox from beneath his bed He didnít answer me He set the box on his dresser, popped the lid with his knife, and pulled a small box from it that hadnít been in there when Angela and I went through it ìI wasnít spying on you,î he grumbled, shoving the box into my hands ìI was there buying you this.î I was scared to look, but too curious not to My jaw hit the floor when I opened the case and found a necklace inside A necklace with a freaking diamond hanging off it ìHoly crap, is that real?î ìEllie, the other night was a bad night When I came home and found you waiting for meÖî Sethís voice was suddenly clouded with emotion ìNo oneís ever been there for me like that Ever I wanted to get you something special, so youíd know how much you mean to me Something only a boyfriend would give you.î I suck I had to swallow back bile Oh, the guilt Iím a jerk! Iím scum! Here he thinks I was being this super supportive girlfriend, when really I was looking for evidence to get him thrown in prison for the rest of his life But heís murdering people, Ellie ìI saw you and your sister talking to that cop and figured it wasnít a good idea to interrupt you I assumed he was asking you about Travis But I also thought youíd come home and tell me about it Only, you didnít You came home acting like you thought I killed someone.î He knows! Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap! I started looking for an escape route Seth grabbed me by the shoulders and said, ìWhat did he say to you?î ìNothing!î I gasped ìI-I-heÖî I panicked and blurted, ìIt wasnít about Travis It was about the Saturday Night Slasher.î Seth froze and I realized my mistake If Seth didnít know we were on to him before, he sure did now I searched frantically for a lie ìThat guy is a detective in the Slasher case He just wanted to talk to me because I fit the profile He said heís been visiting all the girls he could find that could be at risk and telling us how to stay safe.î I thought my story sounded reasonable enough, but I donít think Seth bought it, because he got pissed

Scary pissed Itís like he just shut off all his emotions and turned to stone in order to gain complete control of himself It was the type of eerie focus I could only imagine he had when he was slicing up screaming girls ìHow did he find you?î he asked, his voice like steel ìCops donít just have a database of all the teenage redheads in the world.î Oh, no He didnít just know the cops were on to him He knew we turned him in ìUm…î I hated how much my voice was shaking I didnít like him knowing I was scared ìHe didnít say But I did get hauled down to the big house last weekend They didnít take my fingerprints or anything like they did you, but Iím sure thereís a report somewhere with my name in it Plus several cops there that day mentioned I was serial killer bait Any of them could have said something.î That seemed to do the trick Seth stood there, lost in thought for a minute, but he eventually snapped out of it and switched back over to calm, loving boyfriend He pulled me against him and murmured into my hair in a silky voice ìThatís whatís had you so upset this week? Why didnít you just tell me?î ìI donít know I guess I was embarrassed I feel like a paranoid mental case.î Seth kissed my head and rubbed my back, trying to sooth away my nerves while he held me His touch was so tender, his smile so sincere And the way he got lost in my eyes? It was too much to resist When he told me not to worry and promised me I was safe, it was hard not to believe him He felt it the instant I relaxed He looked at me with these big hopeful eyes and asked, ìSo you werenít just afraid of me? You really do believe me about Travis?î I couldnít lie to him I couldnít stand there and look into that face that wanted me to have faith in it so badly, and tell a lie ìItís the Slasher Iím scared of, Seth Talking to that cop made it real I mean, if that detective could find me, then the Slasher could, too Iím sorry Iíve been a little crazy.î Seth held me in an embrace that could have created world peace It ripped my heart in two How could this boy be the Saturday Night Slasher? I wished there were a way I could separate the two of them and just keep this Seth I hated how he made me want to trust him I hated how he made me feel I wished I could just hate all of him the way I needed to, but I couldnít Especially not when he broke the tender silence in the room by whispering, ìI think my aunt was right, Ellie I think Iím in love with you.î His declaration was so raw it was terrifying, and yet the way my heart reacted to his confession was even scarier ìSeth,î I breathed ìIóI donít know what to say.î Seth shook his head ìYou donít have to say anything I just needed you to know.î As I stood there battling feelings I couldnít recognize and emotions I didnít know I was capable of, Seth clasped the necklace around my neck After making sure it was straight, he regarded my overwhelmed expression and then hesitantly brought his lips to mine, giving me time to protest if I needed to I didnít protest As he gave me the worldís most loving, tender, perfect kiss, I realized that my heart belonged to him forever, and nothing in my life has ever caused me more pain I ripped myself away from him and staggered back, trying to catch my breath ìIím sorry, Seth,î I said, gasping I took off the necklace and left it on the nightstand as I backed out of his room ìIóI have to go.î I raced downstairs and across the street, pushing away the sound of Sethís voice calling me back, and ignoring the Jís stupid taunts There was only one person in the world that I wanted to see right now and that was Angela By the time I got to where she was still waiting anxiously for me on our front porch and threw myself into her arms, I was full on crying No, not crying I was sobbing Somewhere, a new rift was just created in the space-time continuum ìEllie?î Angela asked I could feel the Jís standing behind me and couldnít even begin to imagine their shock ìWhat happened?î Jack asked, while Josh demanded, ìDid he hurt you?î ìWeíll kill him!î Jesse said, and I didnít doubt theyíd give it their best shot Theyíd get the beating of a lifetime ìNo,î I said quickly ìHe didnít hurt me He didnít do anything wrong.î I was hit with a new wave of tears ìHe did everything right.î Behind me I heard someone mutter, ìChicks.î ìGo home, you idiots!î Angela barked over my shoulder ìSheíll call you later.î After my once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-repeated emotional breakdown on Wednesday, I told Angela everything

She turned out to be a surprisingly good listener and didnít even judge me for being in love with a serial killer Much She listened, cheered me up as best she could, and helped me hide my depression from my parents until they left for their vacation later that night Iím all for this new sisterhood Angela and I seemed to have, but by the time Saturday came and we were officially on lockdown for the night, I hadnít seen or talked to anyone but her in days, and it was starting to show ìNo,î I said when she flipped to MTV ìI am not watching this all night No way.î ìWell, you can forget about ESPN.î ìDonít you have some boys you can go call or something?î I snapped ìDonít you have some video games you can go play or something?î she spat back I snatched the remote from Angela and started flipping through the channels ìSaturday TV sucks.î ìForget this Iím going to Rachelís Mom and Dad arenít even home Theyíll never know if we leave.î ìYouíre just gonna leave me here alone?î ìWell, why not? Youíre probably the safest redhead in southern Michigan Not only did Detective Pierce say that Seth canít hurt anyone he knows, Seth loves you Heís not going to kill you Besides, itís eight oíclock already Heís probably out stalking his next victim right now.î Almost as if the fates were mocking us, the doorbell rang then, and guess who was standing on our porch? ìSo, if heís here right now,î I whispered to Angela as we peeked out the window, ìdoes that make me his next victim?î Angela looked both confused and worried ìI donít get it, whatís he doing here?î she whispered back ìYou guys,î Seth called out in a flat voice ìI can see your shadows through the curtain.î Angela and I jumped away from the window, plastering our backs against the front door ìWhat do we do?î I asked ìDo we let him in?î ìI guess I mean a real girlfriend would,î Angela mused ìDo you think Detective Pierce is out there watching him? He wouldnít let anything happen to us Maybe we should let him in.î ìEllie!î Seth called out, pounding on the door again ìIím not leaving until we talk.î ìHe sounds angry,î I said ìEllie, please?î ìActually, he sounds desperate,î Angela said Her face filled with sympathy and I cringed Sheíd not yet been exposed to vulnerable Seth, and it seemed she was just as susceptible to him as I was, because before I could say anything she opened the door ìHi Seth,î she started to say, but he stormed right past her, locked the door behind him, and then turned to me I backed up until I ran into the wall ìWere you just never going to speak to me again?î he asked That was pretty much the plan ìIím sorry,î I said with no further explanation What was I supposed to say? I hate that Iím in love with you, and being around you hurts too much? Even now, as he stood there silently begging me to accept him, my heart and my head were raging a war inside me He started to come toward me and in a surprise move Angela stepped to my side, clasping my hand ìShe just needed some time, Seth.î I was impressed by the confidence she displayed Her protective front made Seth stop, and I was finally able to muster up some courage Keep him happy, I reminded myself He canít know we suspect him ìDo you want to stay for a little while?î ìYes.î I glanced at my sister She looked wary, but she was leaving the decision up to me ìCome on in, then,î I said with a sigh ìWe were just watching TV.î Seth brushed his fingers against mine as I walked past him Why did his touch have to be so electric? It sent a current through me, making it impossible for me to break the connection I looked helplessly at Seth and then gave him what he wantedómy hand ìCanít we go up to your room or something?î he asked me in a low voice His eyes darted to Angela ìYou and I have some unfinished business, and I was kind of hoping for a little privacy.î Unfinished business? I swallowed hard Maybe Iím his redhead of choice tonight after all ìUm.î ìSo, Seth, what are your plans this evening? Anything fun?î Angela said, coming to my rescue She herded us into the TV room before Seth could talk me into going upstairs ìItís Saturday Ellie is my only plan for the night The amount of fun we have is up to her,î Seth answered, glaring at my sister with contempt ìAnd you, apparently.î

Angela and I exchanged a startled look I tried to sit in my dadís easy chair, but Iíd given Seth my hand and he was not about to relinquish it He tugged me down to the couch with him ìAre you okay?î he asked when I stiffened at his side I nodded quickly, but Seth looked like he didnít believe me In an attempt to convince him I pulled my feet up underneath me and leaned against him Bingo Seth immediately forgot about everything except the fact that I was snuggling with him He forgot about our ìunfinished businessî and resolved himself to a long night of watching TV Two reruns of The Simpsons and an episode of House later, I started to doubt Detective Pierceís promise that this would all be over soon Seth obviously wasnít planning on going anywhere or killing anyone tonight I was going to be stuck being his girlfriend forever Of course, as I sat there next to him and he lightly massaged the back of my neck, relaxing me into a state of semi-consciousness, I figured there were worse things I must have drifted off, because I was startled awake by my sisterís gasp ìWhat is it?î I asked, blushing as I lifted my head off Sethís shoulder Luckily there was no drool Seth didnít let me sit up ìItís nothing,î he whispered, pulling me back against him ìGo back to sleep.î ìEllie, look!î Angela said, but it didnít matteróIíd already seen it The eleven oíclock news was on and I was looking at the face of a redhead But it wasnít just any redhead I recognized her instantly as one of the pictures in Sethís closet ìThere was another murder?î I gasped ìTonight?î I looked at Angela She was just as astonished as I was ìIt wasnít from tonight,î Seth said, interrupting our silent conversation We both looked at him and waited for him to explain ìHavenít you guys seen the news at all the past couple days?î ìI guess not,î Angela said after thinking about it ìNot since our parents left Theyíre the news junkies.î ìWhy?î I asked ìThey found her last week,î Seth said, pointing to the screen ìBut only identified her as one of the Saturday Night victims yesterday,î ìYesterday?î Angela and I asked together ìFifteen-year-old Jennifer McConnelly from Wayne, Michigan,î Seth recited ìWashed up on shore of the Detroit River Wildlife Refuge last week They think she was dumped near the river and got washed away in that big storm we had.î ìShe died two weeks ago?î Angela asked ìThe night of that big storm?î When Seth nodded, Angela looked at me with wide eyes, but I was missing whatever it was she was trying to tell me with that look ìHow come it took them a week to identify her?î I asked Seth smirked ìThink about it It took them a week to find her She wasnít in the best condition.î ìEw.î ìPlus, with the animals in the refuge? Iím surprised they were able to confirm her a Saturday Night victim at all I bet the Slasher was quite unhappy when she wasnít found.î ìYou almost sound like you were unhappy about it,î I grumbled I received a glare from Angela, but Seth just shrugged ìIt was driving me crazy,î he admitted ìIt doesnít make sense for a serial killer to break pattern And then there was no murder last Saturday either I donít like it.î Seth frowned and pulled me into his arms, squeezing me protectively ìNow that theyíve found Jennifer, Iím sure there will be another victim tomorrow.î Okay, so maybe that squeeze wasnít so protective Maybe he was just getting antsy for Angela to leave the room so he could kill me already ìEllie,î Angela said, clearing her throat She was looking at me with crazy eyes For the life of me I couldnít figure out what was suddenly going on with her, so when she said, ìDo you still have those black clips I let you borrow? My hair is driving me crazy,î I didnít question the idiocy of her statement Iím sure Seth knew I hadnít borrowed any hair clips from Angelaóyouíd have to be a moron not to guess thatóbut I didnít care Angela was freaking out about something, and I was too curious not to find out what she wanted to tell me, so I said, ìUh, yeah Let me show you where they are.î Seth really didnít want to let me get up, so I said, ìIíll be right back,î and brushed my lips against his That brief kiss offered up spontaneously by me made him smile so big I realized just how affection-starved he was Wow, I suck The kiss had the desired effect, though He let me get up without questioning whether or not I was going to run and hide He was so distracted that I donít even think he questioned the lie I should try that more often

Angela stopped at the base of the stairs After glancing back to make sure Seth hadnít followed us, I turned to her ìWhat is it?î Angela glanced back, too The coast was still clear ìEllie,î she squeaked with excitement ìWe have to go call Detective Pierce!î ìWhat? Why?î ìWe have to tell him the news about Seth.î I was totally confused ìWhat news?î ìDonít you get it?î ìUm, no?î ìSeth didnít do it!î ìWhat?î ìThat girl was killed two weeks ago,î Angela said as if that should explain everything ìAnd?î ìThe night of the big storm?î ìStill not getting it.î Angela rolled her eyes ìThe night Seth spent with you.î It was so simple that I still didnít understand My sister was highly disappointed in my mental capacity at the moment ìIf he was with you all night, then he couldnít have killed that girl,î she said ìHeís not the Slasher And if heís not the Slasher, then that means he didnít hurt Travis either Heís been telling you the truth!î ìBut if he didnít go after Travis, who did?î Not that this wasnít great news, but Iíd just started accepting the horrific truth, and now I was just supposed to unbelieve it? ìWho cares?î Angela said ìThe only thing Seth is guilty of is being a hottie You can be his girlfriend now Like, for real Itís okay to love him.î ìI donít know What about the pictures, and theóî ìHeís a weird crime buff, like you said Who knows? Ellie, he was with you all night and somewhere all the way across town a girl was murdered It couldnít have been him Detective Pierce said the guy who attacked Travis was no doubt the Slasher Travis must have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.î ìButóî ìYou said yourself, Seth keeps telling you he didnít touch Travis And lets be honest, Seth seems like the kind of guy who wouldnít have a problem admitting if he had gone after Travis Heís telling the truth He has to be That dead girl proves it!î ìBut it doesnít make sense,î I argued ìSure it does Youíre just being a chicken because Seth said he loves you.î ìIím not a chicken.î ìYouíre totally a chicken Iím going to go upstairs to call Detective Pierce right now and tell him the good news You go back in there and spend some time with your weird-but-not-totally-psychotic boyfriend.î ìYouíre going to leave me alone with him?î I couldnít help my sudden panic ìSee? Chicken Youíll be fine, I promise.î I sighed Maybe I had such a hard time believing Sethís innocence because I wanted it so badly Thereís just no way it could be that easy ìYouíre really that sure heís not going to try and kill me the second you disappear?î ìHave I ever steered you in the wrong direction before?î Angela said, turning me to face the family room where Seth was waiting for me When I said the word ìDave,î she rolled her eyes and gave me a little push I stumbled into the other room and bumped into something solid and very teenage boy like ìEverything okay in here?î Seth asked suddenly I screamed, of course Well, heíd startled the living daylights out of me The way Seth can creep up on a person is unsettling Angela smiled more brightly at Seth than Iíd ever seen her smile at anyone ìEverythingís fine I just didnít realize how tired I was I think Iím gonna call it quits for the night.î She threw me a sarcastic smile and said, ìIíve got some boys to go call or something Think you can handle ëEllie Watchí the rest of the night?î Seth nodded dumbly, like he still didnít understand what was going on, because the thought that she could be leaving us alone was impossible I have to admit, it was rather adorable ìGood Iím out,î Angela said, and then wandered up the stairs When we heard her bedroom door shut Seth turned to me, stunned ìIs she really gone? I didnít think she trusted me enough to leave us alone.î No way was I going to explain Angelaís sudden change of heart ìI told you Angelaís fickle,î I said, telling myself I had nothing to be scared of ìI didnít think you trusted me, either.î All the playfulness was gone from Sethís voice and it made me feel like a jerk I hadnít trusted him When I didnít say anything right away he asked, ìWhy did you run from me? Why havenít you spoken to me in three days? Why wonít you even look at me right now?î I hadnít realized I was staring at my feet I met his gaze then, and wished I hadnít Ugh, that face Why did he have to look at me like that? Freaking Bambi couldnít make me feel worse if Iíd been the one to shoot his mom ìIím sorry,î I whispered

I wished I could find more of my voice, but at least with it shaking the way it was Seth could tell how much I meant what I said ìWhat did I do wrong?î he asked ìNothing,î I said quickly ìYou didnít do anything wrong.î If you didnít kill anyone, then youíve done absolutely nothing wrong ìIím the one who keeps screwing up Iím a sucky girlfriend.î Seth studied me and either decided that I was telling the truth, or I wasnít going to give up the truth ìYouíre forgiven,î he eventually said Then, in a move so fast it knocked the breath from me, Seth scooped me up and had me pinned beneath him on the couch ìYou owe me a makeout session.î I swear that boy is made of pheromones ìAnd this timeóî He was too distracted by my lips to finish his sentence I had to turn my head away from his kisses in order to speak ìThis time?î I asked Seth leaned up and grinned like the devil ìThis time thereís nobody to stop us Your parents are gone Your sister doesnít care anymore I even explained to my aunt that you guys were home alone and needed someone to stay with you, so I donít have to leave this time You are mine tonight, and I donít even need an alibi.î I shuddered at the way heíd called me his It was so possessive, but in an infuriatingly sexy way that made me want to submit For a second I didóI got lost in his kiss Until something clicked into place in the back of my brain ìYour alibi!î I gasped ìWhat?î ìYou left!î I scrambled to a sitting position, struggling to push Seth off me ìLast time you were here, you didnít stay with me the entire time You left!î Seth looked all kinds of confused I suppose I couldnít blame him ìYeah?î he said, unsure why I was freaking out ìTo talk to my aunt, remember? But I donít have to this time.î He started with the kissing again and had a hard time stopping enough to say, ìI wonít leave you tonight, Ellie.î Seth continued to kiss me, but I could no longer kiss him backómy head was reeling Iíd been asleep for hours that night He said heíd only been gone for an hour, but really, he could have left at any point He had plenty of time to sneak out, kill someone, wash away the evidence, and sneak back in my room after sunrise The one thing that made my sister so sure he was innocentóhis alibiówas one giant black hole Seth tried to lay me back down again, but I wouldnít let him ìSeth, wait,î I said, starting to panic I turned my head to the side, but that didnít stop Seth His lips grazed my cheek and then went for my ear ìKiss me, Ellie,î he demanded softly ìBefore I go crazy.î I shivered ìOh, no Not the sexy voice Thatís not fair!î Seth ignored me ìJust kissing,î he said, bringing his mouth back to mine ìNothing else I promise You can handle just kissing.î Seth proceeded to pull out my ponytail so that he could tangle his fingers in my hair He was going to win this battle He was a serial killer and I was going to give in to him I wanted to give in to him Iím as psychotic as he is ìI love you, Ellie Do you have any idea what that feels like?î Yes ìI need you to kiss me Right now.î Oh, for crapís sake I kissed him I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him like there was no tomorrow After all, he was a killer with a taste for redheadsómaybe there was no tomorrow for me Oh well If he kills me tonight, at least Iíll die happy The kissing stopped instantly I opened my eyes to figure out what happened and found Seth eying me cautiously ìWhat did you just say?î I frowned Had I just said something? ìWhat did you mean, ëif he kills you tonight youíll die happy?í If who kills you? Me?î Oops Curse my stupid brain! ìUhÖî Now Iím dead for sure ìI donít know what you mean I didnít say anything.î ìEllie.î Anger flashed in Sethís eyes and he pulled my hands off his neck ìDonít lie to me I heard you loud and clear What did you mean?î ìNothing,î I snapped, my temper flaring in response to his ìAnd if youíre gonna get crabby, then you can leave.î ìI donít think so Not until you talk to me.î I jumped off the couch and Seth was on his feet with his hand locked around my wrist before I could even think of running ìLet go of me.î He didnít ìExplain,î he ordered ìNow.î ìScrew you.î I pulled away, and when Seth still didnít let me go I balled up my free fist and swung as hard as I could

I donít think Seth believed Iíd ever actually hit him Or maybe he thought I couldnít Thatís the only explanation for the fact that he didnít duck fast enough, and the look of surprise on his face when I clocked him Seth stared at me, shocked, and I glared back, my chest still heaving with fury Slowly, he reached his fingers up to his nose When he pulled back his hand he examined the blood on his finger with a sense of awe I yanked my arm free from him ìDonít Order Me Around!î ìYou hit me.î He was still baffled by this ìAnd Iíll do it again if I have to Get out of my house!î Seth finally pulled himself out of his stupor ìIím not leaving while youíre acting like a crazy person Whatís going on?î He stepped toward me and I jumped back, swatting his hand away When he realized how serious I was, he assessed the situation Unfortunately, he decided tackling me was the way to go He rushed me, but this time I saw it coming and he wasnít going to get me so easily It took him four times as long to pin me to the ground with my hands behind my back this time, and once I was finally rendered helpless we were both exhausted ìYouíre getting much better at that,î he said, and he had the nerve to sound amused If I were facing him, I would have spit in his face I already knew it was no use struggling, but that didnít mean I didnít I struggled and struggled and struggled until my body ached Then I screamed in frustration when I was forced to give up ìI hate you!î ìNo, you donít.î This set me off again and Seth spoke over my thrashing and cursing ìYou know Iím sorry for this, but you are too stubborn for your own good, and youíre not acting rationally right now Tell me why you think I am going to kill you.î I answered him by thrashing again so hard that I nearly pulled my arm from its socket Part of me wanted to rip it from my shoulder just so that Seth would feel bad, but before I could work up the guts to do that, Seth leaned his head down to mine ìPlease calm down,î he begged I hated that he sounded full of concern ìI canít handle this game youíre playing Something is wrong Something has been wrong all week and you need to tell me what it is The truth this time, please I canít help you unless you trust me.î ìI know itís you, all right!î I yelled, defeated ìI know you killed those girls! And if youíre going to kill me, then just do it already, because I canít take this anymore! I hate you! I hate you for making me feel things about you that I shouldnít!î ìEllie!î Seth gasped ìWhat are you talking about? I havenít killed anyone!î ìNow whoís the liar?î ìIím not lying! How could you even think that?î ìThey found Travisí car!î I screamed, and then all the fight left me I couldnít yell anymore ìThatís what that detective you saw me and Angela talking to was saying They found Travisí car and inside there was a knife that had both Travisí DNA and DNA from two of the Saturday Night girls.î Thatís when the fight left Seth I felt his body go limp He stumbled as he climbed off me When I rolled over onto my back, Seth was sitting there looking ghostly white I doubt he would have been capable of even standing at the moment if heíd tried He looked scared, which made me want to comfort him I hated him for that But I also couldnít help myself ìI didnít want to believe it, Seth Iím sorry I tried not to But he was so sure.î ìIf thatís true, why come to you? Why tell you that? Why not just arrest me?î ìBecause he doesnít have hard proof that you attacked Travis He needs you to go after another girl He said I couldnít break up with you, because youíd figure out we knew He said I was a good distraction for you and told me to keep you happy.î I couldnít stop myself from smirking bitterly ìI pretty much failed that assignment big time.î ìBelieve me,î Seth said with a harsh laugh ìHis plan worked like a charm Youíve kept me plenty distracted this week Too distracted.î Seth rose to his feet and began pacing the room ìI should have figured it out,î he chastised himself ìI saw him with you and didnít question it I knew something was wrong with you I even knew you lied to me on Wednesday, but I was so worried about you that I didnít put it together How could I have been so stupid?î Now he was angry Angry that heíd been discovered, and angry that heíd let a girl distract him into screwing up his otherwise perfect operation Seth lost himself in thought and pulled his knife from his back pocket

My blood turned to ice in my veins as I watched him mindlessly flip it open and closed As I was contemplating my chances of escape if I bolted for the door right nowówhich were poor considering he was on his feet now and heíd pounce on me the second I tried to standóSethís eyes suddenly flashed down at me ìThis detective,î he said ìHeís with the FBI?î He seemed almost crazy now I figured it wasnít wise to give him any more crap I shook my head ìDetroit PD.î ìHe wanted to use you as bait, and you just went along with it?î ìHe didnít use me He just said that if you knew I knew your secret, youíd try to kill me He said not breaking up with you was the only way to keep me safe He promised heíd keep an eye on me He said he knew you wouldnít hurt me.î ìIíll bet he did,î Seth muttered I had to look away as I said my next words, because I was ashamed for believing them ìI thought I knew it, too,î I whispered pathetically ìEven if I thought you were killing girls that look just like me, I was sure you would never hurt me Thatís why I went along with it And thatís why I was so upset Wednesdayóbecause I couldnít make myself hate you I couldnít not like it when you kissed me You told me you love me and IóIóyouíre a serial killer! And stupid me couldnít help falling for you anyway.î Sethís anger vanished He smiled so lovingly it hurt ìYouíre right,î he teased ìThat was stupid of you Not that I donít appreciate it.î My jaw dropped ìIs this a joke to you?î ìNo!î Seth said, all of his anger returning in an instant Man, do I have a talent for making him lose his temper or what? ìItís not a joke And I canít believe youíre not taking it more seriously Youíre in danger, Ellie Real danger Do you realize that?î Seth was one hundred percent serious, and his tone was harsher than Iíd ever heard it It was the first time I really truly believed he was going to do it He was going to kill me It was only a matter of time now Well, heís not getting me without a fight ìAnd what about your parents?î he continued to rant ìI canít believe your parents went along with this And left you alone on top of that.î ìAre you kidding? My parents donít know anything about any of this When Detective Pierce found out we hadnít told anyone, he made us keep it a secret He was afraid of tipping you off He was afraid if my parents canceled their trip you might get spooked and kill me.î ìWait He knows youíre home alone this weekend?î Sethís eyes narrowed and his whole body went rigid He grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet ìWeíre getting out of here right now,î he said It took me a few steps before the realization hit This was it ìThe hell we are!î I said, ripping my hand from his I was surprised he hadnít been holding on tighter I tried to book it up the stairs, but he caught me by the ankle ìYou donít still believe I want to kill you?î Seth asked incredulously I knew it would only be a matter of seconds before he had me pinned again, but I was close enough now that Angela might hear me over the stereo blasting from her room ìAngela!î I screamed ìAngela! Call Detective Pierce!î ìEllie, stop! Just wait!î ìGet away from me!î I kicked backward and managed to hit Seth in the face hard enough that he let go I scrambled up the stairs If I could just get to my sisterís room, we could lock the door and wait for the cops to show up Seth was too fast He flew at me as we reached the top of the stairs He had me on the floor again ìAngela!î I screamed ìEllie, just listen to me for a second! You canít call him!î Seth shouted at me ìDonít you get it? Serial killings are handled by the FBI, notóî Seth cut off mid-sentence and let out a cry of pain Then Angela screamed and Seth fell limp on top of me ìAngela!î I yelled ìAngela, what happened? Are you okay? Angela!î I pushed Sethís body off me and found my terrified sister standing over us, holding Sethís taser ìAre you okay?î she asked, her hands shaking and tears streaming down her face Seth coughed my name, not quite unconscious, and when he tried to reach his hand toward me, Angela and I both screamed and my frantic sister zapped him again I had to pry the thing out of her hands before she let go of the trigger This time Seth was out cold ìI donít think youíre supposed to do that to someone more than once,î I breathed as I poked Sethís unconscious form

It was the only thing I could concentrate on at the momentómy brainís way of dealing with my fear I cringed at how bloody his face was I guess Iíd kicked him pretty good Angela and I were both so shaken that when the doorbell rang we screamed again before realizing who it would be ìDetective Pierce!î Angela gasped We ran down the stairs and flailed ourselves into the startled policemanís arms Yeah, he was a little shocked to find two hysterical teenage girls suddenly clinging to him Angela and I both launched into the story at the same time, until Detective Pierce laughed and pulled us off him ìGirls,î he said calmly ìOne at a time, please.î I stepped back, able to calm myself faster than my sister I let her do the talking, since I doubted she was capable of stopping herself She seemed to be in shock As Angela clung to the detectiveís jacket and began to explain that Seth tried to kill me and was now unconscious in the upstairs hallway, Detective Pierce stepped in the house and slowly closed the door behind him, sliding the deadbolt into place He held a supportive arm around my sister, listening carefully to her story, but he never took his eyes off meóhis crazed, hungry eyes I realized it just a second too late Detective Pierce recognized the moment that understanding hit me He smiled Ugh, Ellie, you stupid, stupid, stupid idiot! Seth was right Iím too stubborn for my own good ìHe was trying to tell me, but I wouldnít stop to listen.î ìThe kid had it figured out, did he?î Detective Pierce laughed ìI knew he was trying Why do you think I needed you to distract himóah, ah, Ellie,î he said when my body tensed ìHave a little patience.î Angela pulled her face out of Detective Pierceís chest and only had time to ask, ìWhaóî before the psycho whirled her around and trapped her tight against his body I never saw when he grabbed a knife, but he suddenly had it pressed against her throat Angela and I both froze ìEóEóEllie?î ìDonít move, Ang,î I warned her Then I focused my gaze on Detective Pierce He still hadnít taken his eyes off me Iím not even sure heíd blinked And I thought Seth was creepy ìDonít worry, Ellie,î the Detective said, ìIíll give you a sporting chanceólooking forward to it, actually Just not quite yet.î Detective Pierce finally broke his stare to grin at my sister in a way that would give me nightmares later I was glad Angela couldnít see him ìWhat about her,î I asked, pushing my hysteria back as best I could My voice still shook, though ìWill you give her the same sporting chance?î Detective Pierce gave Angela a calculating look ìI could,î he mused Then his eyes locked on me again ìBut you and I both know it wouldnít matter Youíre not a fighter,î he whispered into Angelaís ear ìAre you honey?î Detective Pierce slowly slid the blade of his knife down Angelaís throat catching it on the collar of her shirt The material dipped low enough to show her cleavage She gasped and tears started to stream down her cheeks I watched, horrified, as Detective Pierce laughed and then licked the tears off her face ìStop it!î I shrieked, while Angela began to sob I couldnít hold back my own tears any longer, but instead of panic overtaking me, my fear turned to rage I shifted my weight onto the balls of my feet I didnít have a clue what I was going to do, but no way was I going to let that creep hurt my sister ìCareful, Ellie,î Detective Pierce warned But the way his voice purred, I think he was hoping I would try it ìLet her go.î Detective Pierce let out a harsh laugh ìYouíll never get through us both,î I said, trying to sound stronger than I felt ìYou know Iím not just going to stand here and wait for you to finish with her, and sheís not really the one you want.î ìThatís not entirely true,î Detective Pierce said, though he couldnít hide his desire Angela definitely wasnít who he was after He wanted me so bad that he could hardly stay focused ìIíd hate for Angela to miss out on any fun After all, Iím very grateful to your sister Your stupid, imaginative, ridiculous, silly, brilliant sister.î He kissed the side of her head and sighed ìWhen you filed that report, you gave me a gift Two gifts.î Angela gasped at his words ìItís my fault,î she sobbed ìAll of your victims have had criminal records Thatís how you were finding them You never would have found Ellie if I hadnít called the police about Seth.î ìNot in a million years,î Pierce agreed conversationally

ìBut sheís so deliciously perfect Seth, tooówith his accident, his parentsí deaths, a violent temper, and a personality disorder? I couldnít have created a better scapegoat if Iíd conjured him out of thin air.î ìEllie,î Angela sobbed ìIím so sorry!î ìDonít be sorry,î Detective Pierce told her ìYouíve saved lives Who knows how many other girls I would have gone after if you didnít give me such a beautiful way out?î This didnít exactly make Angela feel any better She began to cry so hard that Detective Pierce could hardly hold on to her I tried to ignore her I couldnít afford the distraction I figured if I could just keep him talking long enough, Seth would wake up and call the police Or maybe kill the psycho Either option was fine with me ìYou attacked Travis,î I said, putting the pieces together ìAfter Seth got in trouble for threatening Travis, you attacked him to make Seth look guilty.î ìHow could I resist? With my knife connecting Travis and the Saturday Night murders? Once they find the two of you in the morning, no jury in the world will let Seth walk.î Detective Pierce was starting to get restless His knife was falling away from Angelaís neck as he resisted the urge to attack me I saw an opportunity to distract him Of course, that meant provoking him into coming after me I just hoped Angela had good sense enough to run for it as soon as he did ìYou talk a big game for a guy who only goes after starving runaways and crack addicts.î The danger Iíd seen flash so often in Sethís eyes was now overpowering Pierceís stare My defiance was exciting him ìTrue,î he said ìWhich is why this is going to be very, very interesting.î I looked into his wild eyes His pupils were dilated so large that all I could see was black My heart raced There was so much adrenaline coursing my veins, I donít think it was physically possible to feel panicked I knew that would come when it was all over In fact, I bet Iíd be more screwed up than Seth if I survived this But right now I could only focus on the game And this was a game A sick, twisted game Well, I wasnít going to let the Saturday Night Slasher beat me any more than Iíd ever let Dave beat me in a game of one-on-one I channeled all the crazy energy my fear was giving me, squared my shoulders, and pulled my shaking hands into tight fists ìBring it.î Okay, Iíll admit Iím not always the smartest person in the world, and I had a feeling what I was about to do was just about the stupidest thing I could have possibly done, but I figured rushing him would be the last thing he expected me to do Before I could chicken out, I ran at him I was right that it surprised him and he had to shove Angela out of the way in order to fend off my attack He threw my lightweight-of-a-sister so hard that she slammed her head into the front door and landed in a heap on the floor She was in shock and probably had a massive headache, but at least her throat hadnít been slashed Things, however, werenít looking quite so good for me Iíd managed to get my sister out of harms way, but Iíd also managed to get grabbed from behind ìI hope thatís not all youíve got, Ellie.î Itís not Detective Pierce was a huge guy, but he obviously hadnít taken the same self-defense classes that Seth had been taking for years He hadnít lifted my feet off the ground the way Seth always did, making it possible for me to stomp down on his foot, and heíd wrapped his arms around my shoulders instead of at my elbows, giving me more than enough wiggle room to throw my elbow back into his ribs The blow was enough for me to break away from him and I took off through the house, headed for the back door ìEllie!î he shouted, and just like Iíd hoped, he forgot all about Angela and came running after me If it werenít for the stupid kitchen table that stood between the sliding glass door and me, I would have been outside and able to make enough noise to alert the cavalry I started to go around the table, but Detective Pierce caught up to me ìYouíre going to have to do better than that,î he said, grabbing me by my hair As he yanked me backwards I was able to grab hold of a chair and I swung it around as hard as I could Unlike any of the times Iíve seen Chuck Norris smash someone with a chair in the movies, the thing didnít shatter into a million piecesówhich was totally disappointingóbut it did leave a giant gash on the side of his face Judging from the look he gave me, I was definitely the first Saturday Night girl to bloody him up I got to the back door, but it was locked, and before I could slide it open, a very pissed off serial killer picked me up and slammed me down onto the kitchen counter My head hit in almost the same spot Iíd busted it at the beginning of the summer, and those floating black spots in my vision came back for a visit

My eyes rolled for a moment, but snapped into focus when I burst into searing pain so hot that I thought I was being lit on fire For a minute I couldnít think All I could do was scream from the pain as Pierce dragged his knife across my stomach It wasnít deep enough to spill my guts or anything, but thatís how this guy operatedóheíd make it last ìThatís right, Ellie,î he cooed ìScream for me, my little fighter.î His voice brought me out of the pain and I realized he was on top of me I became franticóthrashing as violently as I could, even though it caused my stomach to catch fire all over again I got one of my arms free and punched him But thanks to the muscles in my stomach being sliced up, I couldnít get enough force to knock the man twice my size off me The sicko liked it when I hit him, though I tried a new tactic and started feeling around my head for something on the counter, but the only things within my reach were a stack of mail, Angelaís purse, and the keys to my Jeep The keys to my Jeep! My tiny pink Swiss Army knife had never looked more beautiful Seth told me when heíd given it to me that it would never ward off a serial killer, but I was willing to test the theory I snatched it up and pulled the blade open with my teeth, then jammed it as hard as I could into whatever part of Pierceís body was the closest The little inch-long blade jabbed all the way into his forearm, and though it wasnít exactly a fatal wound, it had to have hurt like freaking hell I had completely thrown him off his game When he stumbled back, I did the only thing I could think of to do, which was to pull the knife out of his arm and start stabbing him again ìHow do you like it, you psycho!î I screamed as I jammed my knife into his arm a good two or three more times Um, apparently he didnít like it, because he called me the B wordóthe real B word, not the one I occasionally call Sethóand stuck his much bigger knife into my stomach for real this time Itís funny, because I felt it, and I knew exactly what was happening, but itís like the pain was so intense that it simply stopped hurting The stab wound hadnít hurt nearly as bad as the slice job heíd done a minute ago I didnít even scream I just sort of gasped and got really cold I waited for something moreófor him to pull the knife out and stab me again, or at the very least say some creepy comment, or put his slimy fingers on meóbut none of that came Instead, there was the sound of a skull cracking and Angelaís blood curdling scream I opened my eyes as Pierce dropped to the ground, and there was my sister, holding a frying pan with smears of blood on it She was shaking so hard that she could barely hold onto it ìEllie!î she cried ìJust hold on I already called the cops!î ìWhereís Seth?î I asked, but when I spoke I coughed up a tiny bit of blood and Angela went into hysterics again A minute or so later, everything turned to chaos as a million cops swarmed my house Angela was whisked away, as well as the unconscious serial killer I was surrounded by a team of paramedics Whatever they injected into my body, bless their hearts, didnít just take the pain away, it was going to let me sleep through the part where they took the knife out of my stomach Iím fairly certain that was a good thing I was already drifting off as they put me on the stretcher, but I could just barely recognize the person being helped down the stairs as I was carried out the front door Sethís eyes locked with mine for the briefest moment The only word I could think of to describe the look on his face was ëhauntedí I tried to call out to him, but I had this stupid mask on my face, and I just plain didnít have the energy to do anything more than whisper Anyway, I was sure he didnít hear me I drifted off into unconsciousness after that I was sure Seth was never going to speak to me again, but hoped I was wrong when I woke up and felt a hand locked on mine so tightly that I couldnít feel my fingers ìSeth?î ìEllie!î Nope It was Angela Not the person Iíd hoped for, but surprisingly she was better ìHey, sis,î I said, happy to see her unscathed Well, relatively unscathed Her eyes were all red and puffy, her nose was swollen with snot running from it, and she had this tiny gash above her eye that was taped shut with a butterfly strip The sick part was, she still looked gorgeous No doubt sheíd have the entire male population of Cantonópossibly all of Michiganófalling all over themselves to nurse her back to health ìYou look like crap.î Angela let go this half-hysterical laugh/cry thing and very weepily said, ìIím so sorry

All of this was my fault.î ìAnd yet Iím the one who got skewered, while you walked away with just a bump on the head Whereís the justice in that?î I felt like a total jerk when Angela burst into tears ìOh, my gosh, Ang, I was totally kidding!î ìBut itís true!î she wailed ìMaybe,î I said, taking on a serious tone ìBut you were only trying to protect me, and, in the end, you did save my life.î Angela looked up at me and frowned ìDetective Pierce was huge, and you took him out with one blow,î I explained I didnít even have to fake the pride in my voice ìWe need to get you in a game sometime Iíll bet you have a brutal slap shot.î Angela was startled, knowing the depth of the compliment I was giving her I laughed at the expression on her face and said, ìYou may be girlie, but youíre still a Westley.î Angela sniffled, but her face looked hopeful ìSo then, you donít hate me?î ìYouíre my big sister Of course I hate you,î I said, but I cracked a smile ìYouíre such a liar.î Angela and I had a good laugh and she leaned over my bed to squeeze meóthis hugging thing was getting easier for us ìSpeaking of lying,î I said after a moment ìHave you talked to Mom and Dad?î Angela cringed ìOh, yeah Weíre toast The FBI sent a helicopter to their cruise ship to get them If I were you, Iíd play up the traumatized victim angle as much as possible, because the FBI told them that weíd been talking with Detective Pierce behind their backs for a couple weeks now Their plane lands in about two hours, and then weíre pretty much grounded indefinitely.î ìItís a good thing we came now, then.î Angela and I were startled by the intrusionóguess weíll both always be a lot more jumpy now I was really surprised to see Dave standing in the doorway to my hospital room, considering he hadnít spoken to me since Travisí attackónone of the guys had Even more surprising still was when Greg and Sanchez followed him into the room Dave came up to my bedside and pulled a giant bouquet of roses from behind his back Red ones My jaw dropped at the sight and I pulled my eyes up to meet Daveís smirk ìFor the love ofódo not tell me youíre hoping for another shot.î ìRelax, Westley I learned my lesson the first time.î Dave turned to my sister and handed her the flowers ìThese are actually for you,î he said, shrugging ìI wasóIím glad youíre okay.î As Angela took the flowersóand actually blushedóI scoffed ìSeriously? Dude I got knifed and you give her flowers? You suck.î Dave burst out laughing ìSorry I didnít think you were the flowers type.î ìThatís not the point.î ìIs too,î Greg said He and Sanchez had come around to the other side of my bed ìWe didnít get you flowers, because we thought youíd like this better.î He and Sanchez exchanged smiles and then Sanchez pulled a Barbie-doll sized Steve Yzerman bobble head from behind his back Theyíd put a Freddie Kruger mask on him and super-glued a Swiss Army knife the size of my keychain in place of his hockey stick Theyíd whited-out Yzerman on the back of the jersey and written Westley in its place with a Sharpie ìYou guys are tools,î I said But I was hugging the treasured doll to my chest ìAnd this is much better than flowers Thanks.î As Dave was ruffling my hair and Greg was slapping me five we heard the sound of sneakers skidding to a halt on the slick hospital floor I looked up in time to see a three-J pile up ìWhat the hell is this?î Jesse asked ìBack the freak up off our woman,î Josh ordered Dave, Greg, and Sanchez suddenly flanked me on both sides, creating a very distinct ìus verses themî situation Dave smirked, sitting on the edge of my bed so he could throw his arm over my shoulder ìSorry, guys We scammed your goods this summer,î he announced ìAnd weíre not giving her back without a fight.î ìWhatís he talking about, Westley?î Jack asked, shooting me an accusatory glare I just shrugged, but Sanchez piped up: ìWhaddya say, Westley?î he asked ìYou wanna show these summer camp sissies what real game is?î Now that Iím a ladyówell, less crude than I was at the beginning of the summer, anywayóI will not repeat the trash talk this earned them from the Jís Needless to say, it almost came down to a friendly schoolyard brawl and ended with a promise for the street hockey showdown of the century just as soon as I was able to play again Well, that and a handful of nurses kicking everyone except Angela out to make room for my next set of visitors I was exhausted I didnít exactly want any more visitors, especially when those visitors were two guys whose stiff suits screamed ëfederal agentsí

But then Seth shuffled in behind them I felt my heart skip a beat Or two Or three I really hadnít believed heíd ever speak to me again after everything Iíd done to him Everything Iíd accused him of I was happy to see that he was okay, and hated myself for the way his face was black and blue from where Iíd kicked him But mostly I felt sick at the way he wouldnít look at me Sethís eyes were glued to the floor and he hesitated at the threshold of my room Clearly he did not want to be here Clearly he didnít even want to see me ever again I felt what I think was my heart breaking, and the way my stomach started churning didnít do much for the recovering stab wound in my gut I felt a reassuring squeeze on my fingers and looked over to see Angelaís hand holding mine She smiled, but her eyes were full of concern for me ìThereís my two heroes,î one of the suits said in a booming, jolly voice He was referring to Angela and me I couldnít help but stammer, ìHóheroes?î The guy chuckled like a lean, less-bearded Santa Clause ìThe two of you stopped a serial killer last night Iíd say thatís pretty heroic.î He came to shake Angelaís hand and mine ìFrank Gambini, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation It is truly a pleasure to meet you both Especially you, Eleanor Seth has told me so much about you.î I glanced at Seth and he quickly jerked his head away Heíd been watching me, but he still couldnít meet my eyes ìIóHeó?î ìHe was very concerned for your safety, Eleanor Heís been working with Agent Johnson hereîóhe gestured to the other suitóìto try and solve the case.î I looked closely at the tall silent guy standing next to Seth, and recognition hit me He was the guy that met Seth in the sushi place It wasnít an illegal exchange after all Seth had called in a favor to his friend, the director of the FBI, so that he could try to make me safe I was so flattered and grateful that Seth would go to such crazy lengths for me that I suddenly blurted, ìBut he did solve it!î I wanted everyone to know how amazing he was And I especially wanted Seth to know that I knew what heíd done ìHe knew beforeÖî I couldnít finish that sentence so I said, ìHe tried to tell me I was just too thick to listen.î Mr. Gambini raised a brow at Seth ìIs that true, Bishop?î he asked, startling Seth into raising his gaze from the floor ìYou figure it out?î Seth looked at Mr. Gambini and shifted uncomfortably ìYes, sir Just barely.î ìAnd you didnít think to call Agent Johnson before these ladies were attacked?î ìI was about to, sir ButÖî Sethís eyes finally flashed to me, but he quickly looked back at Mr. Gambini ìBut my girlfriend and her sister kicked my ass before I could, sir.î Angela and I both winced We both pretty much felt like crap about what we did to poor, innocent Seth Mr. Gambini didnít seem as concerned about it He roared with a laughter that rattled the halls ìThat is quite the feat,î he said, smiling at us ìIíve seen young Mr. Bishop take down some of my highly trained agents.î Mr. Gambini continued to rattle on about the physical condition of Detective Pierce too, and thanked us for taking it easy on Seth, but I couldnít really listen Not after what Seth had just said When I couldnít take it anymore, I interrupted the director of the FBIówhich my mother would have killed me for doingóand said to Seth, ìDonít you mean ex-girlfriend?î I couldnít hide the shock in my voice Seth finally looked at me, and for once I couldnít read his expression There were way too many emotions painted in it to single any one out ìUm,î I said, trying to ignore the fact that everyone in the room was now staring at me ìI assumed accusing you of being a murderer, messing up your face, and my sister nearly tasing you to death was sufficient grounds for a dumping.î ìSorry about that, by the way,î Angela interrupted, cringing again ìAre you saying you still want to be my girlfriend?î Um, DUH! I blushed under Sethís gaze, regretting that Iíd brought up the subject I really wished all these people would leave As if reading my mind, my lovely sister smiled at Mr. Gambini and asked, ìHave you guys seen the cafeteria here yet? Iím starving, and that cop from earlier said I wasnít allowed to go anywhere unescorted until my parents got here.î Mr. Gambiniís face brightened ìLunch sounds like a fantastic idea,î he said ìCome on, Johnson, you can help me fill Ms. Westley in on the questioning process.î

ìOh, about all that? When you get our statements and stuff, do you think you could mention that hero bit to my parents? Like, a lot?î Angela asked as they walked out the door I heard Mr. Gambini laugh all the way to the elevator The room was suddenly empty, save Seth and me It was so quiet, it was almost loud I needed to break the silence ìUmÖî Seth was staring at his feet again and hadnít moved from his spot against the wall next to the exit I half expected him to bolt ìFor what itís worth, I really am sorry I know thatís not going to help you hate me any less, butóî ìHate you?î Seth gasped ìI donít hate you.î ìThat is a lie! You canít even look at me anymore!î Seth glared at me, making me feel bad for losing my temper ìBecause I canít stand to see you like that!î he yelled back, and then slunk down the wall to the floor His voice was suddenly nothing more than a whisper ìI promised Iíd keep you safe, and look at you.î ìYes, look at me I am safe,î I said, hoping the grin I gave him would be catching It wasnít ìYou know what I mean.î ìAll right, fine But itís not your fault You didnít know how pig-headed I am when you made that promise And besides, you did keep me safe If you hadnít tipped me off about Detective Pierce, things could have gone much worse Iím the idiot that took too long to get it Iím the idiot who fell for Pierceís crap Iím the idiot who thought you were capable ofÖî I felt my stomach churn again ìHow do you not hate me?î ìI was being set up, Ellie By a cop And he was doing a really good job of it I donít blame you at all for listening to him and wanting to protect yourself In fact, Iím proud of you.î Wow Are we a messed up pair or what? ìOkay, so you donít blame me and I donít blame you,î I said ìHow about we both stop feeling like dirt and just agree that my scars are going to be so much more impressive than that puny little thing on your chest?î Seth was startled for moment He finally came to my bedside with the strangest combination of sadness and joy in his eyes ìFine But you never answered my question.î ìWhat question?î ìDo you still want to be my girlfriend?î His voice shook like he was scared to death of my answer ìBecause Iím pretty sure you said you hated me several times last night.î I smiled at his question, because the answer was so ridiculously obvious This was exactly what Iíd wanted for a long time now This was my Sethósweet, vulnerable Seth, who looked at me like I was the whole universe, as well as a tasty morsel of something he couldnít wait to devour He still screamed of danger, but now I didnít have to feel guilty for being drawn to that danger ìYeah,î I told him ìBut I also admitted to falling for you.î Seth tried to hide his reaction from me, but he had a hard time keeping everything in He reached into his pocket I thought he was going for his knife, but instead he pulled out the necklace heíd tried to give me on Wednesday ìWill you keep it this time, please?î Seth didnít wait for an answer before he clasped the chain around my neck As he reached around behind me, closing the distance that had been between us, my body, I am ashamed to say, went completely haywire My heart sped, I shivered, my breath caughtÖ And, um, yeah, Seth was not exactly oblivious Seth gave me his most amused ìOh, Ellieî sigh yet, and then sat back ìSo, which is it?î he asked, the smile on his face turning dangerously confident ìDo you love me or hate me?î ìIóî Snapping my jaw shut, I narrowed my eyes as I realized he was playing with me He was trying to get me to say it The L word Not just the L word, but the whole thing, complete with the ìIî and the ìyou.î ìFat chance, buddy.î Youíre not getting me to say ëI love youí that easy, even if it is true Seth suppressed a smile and crossed his arms over his chest ìYou are aware that I heard that, right?î CRAP! Acknowledgments: My special thanks go out to all the usual suspects To Bluefields! For your faith in me and for all the effort you put into publishing my work To my husband, Josh, for all the love, support, and feedback (And for ignoring my occasional dirty looks when I get said feedback.) To my older sister Robin, who thinks that sheís ìAngelaî, even though sheís totally not And, last but not least, to all the Classically Challenged book ladies! Thank you for the years of support, late nights, and banning me from talking about a certain Book That Shall Not Be Named

Youíre the best darn book club that ever existed! BONUS MATERIAL ìHOUSE HUNTINGî (Sethís first glimpse of Ellie) This was going to be the longest summer of my life Iíd been in Michigan for exactly six hours and twenty-three minutes, and I already knew I hated it here The air was so thick you could almost drink it, and there were too many trees Everywhere you looked it was trees Trees and concrete If the hot, humid air and trees werenít enough to suffocate me, the thought of having to live with a bunch of uncultured, simple, Middle Americans would definitely do it After driving all around the Detroit metro area today looking at houses, Iíve learned that these peopleís idea of sports cars were either Mustangs or Camaros, and fine dining equaled Applebees and Outback Steakhouse Iíd never see a decent California Roll again And would it kill them to listen to something other than hip-hop? Just as we were passing yet another dilapidated strip mall, we turned into a neighborhood called Brookhurst ìI know youíre just going to love this one,î the real estate lady cried from the front seat ìThis neighborhood in particular has so much character!î ìWhat do you think Seth?î My Aunt Janice said, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror One word came to mind Hell Technically, the map said Hell was about an hour Northwest of here, but still This was close enough Of course, I couldnít exactly say that to my aunt I was the one who picked this crap city Seriously, what was I thinking? I shrugged noncommittally ìItís not Beverly Hills.î ìBut thatís the adventure, right Seth?î Aunt Janice sounded like she was trying to convince herself more than me I could tell from the look on her face at each of the last five houses weíd looked at that she was just as impressed as I was ìOkay, here we are!î That real estate lady was way too perky for her own good I sort of wanted to stab her I might have been subconsciously considering it, because as we walked up to the front door of what I prayed would not be my future residence, my knife had somehow found itís way into my hand and I was flipping it open and closed Aunt Janice gets on my case when I do that I tucked the knife back in the pocket of my jeans and when the real estate lady went to show my aunt the kitchen I wandered up stairs where I wouldnít hear her voice anymore I guessed the bedrooms were decent sized enough, but whoever decorated this placeóback in what I could only imagine was like 1972óhad a thing for nasty shag carpet, wood paneling, and wallpaper the colors of red, burnt orange, and gold It was like someone had puked up autumn inside this house Iíd seen enough I didnít care if I was a spoiled, rich brat from Beverly Hills This whole idea that we experience middle class was bogus I was literally heading out of the bedroom with the purpose of marching downstairs to demand that Aunt Janice forget this asinine plan and take me home when, suddenly, someone in the neighborhood decided to disturb the peace with Social Distortion My curiosity betrayed me I forgot about my current mission and wandered over to the window The music was coming from the house directly across the street and the upstairs window that mirrored the one I was standing in was wide open I leaned against the window and waited to see if I could catch a glimpse of the neighbor Despite the good taste in music, I did not want to be stuck living across the street from some tool I really didnít have much tolerance for most people my age Guys especially A heavy backpack flew out the window onto the roof above the garage, and then a tall redhead wearing a sports jersey big enough to drown her followed it My breath caught in my lungs She was gorgeous But she was the kind of gorgeous that didnít know what she was Her long, straight, fiery hair was pulled back into a haphazard ponytail, exposing a long slender neck I couldnít see her eyes, but even from all the way across the street I could tell that her full pink lips would be perfect for kissing I couldnít really see her figure underneath her baggy clothes but as she settled in against the side of her house, I could tell she had a leanness to her that suggested she was a serious athlete She was doing her homework on the roof, blaring rock, and eating what could only be mint-chip ice cream She had a can of Redi-whip sitting beside her, but she didnít put it on her ice cream like a normal person She would take a bite of ice cream and then chase it with whipped cream sprayed directly from the can into her mouth I was completely mesmerized by this odd girl, and, oh, how I wanted to be that can of whipped cream No, I wanted to take that can of whipped cream andÖ

I jumped when I heard voices come up the stairs behind me I pretended to be checking out the closet space when Aunt Janice and the real estate lady entered the room ìSoÖ?î Aunt Janice asked I could hear the hope in her voice She knew I wasnít thrilled to be moving, and that I was even less thrilled with having to downgrade from the posh lifestyle I was accustomed to The poor woman wanted so desperately for me to find something I liked Iíd found something I liked, all right But it wasnít this crappy house ìYeah,î I said, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible ìI might be feeling this one.î Aunt Janiceís eyes lit up ìOkay,î she squeaked, trying to contain her relief Sometimes it was hard for her to dial back her intensity ìWell, you just take all the time you need Get a feel for the place Weíll take a quick walk down the street and check out the neighborhood a bit.î ìSounds good.î ìKay.î Aunt Janice jumped forward to wrap me in an excited hug ìLove you, Seth Youíre an amazing kid.î I tried not to roll my eyes Or smile My aunt could be ridiculous sometimes Always trying to makeup for my childhood Always wanting to make sure that I knew I had someone who loved me Iíd never admit it to her, but I loved the affection It didnít even embarrass me anymore Love you too, Aunt Janice ìSee you in a few minutes.î After I was sure my aunt and the real estate lady were gone, I went back over to the window To my relief, the redhead was still sitting there Her empty bowl of ice cream was set aside now, replaced with a can of Dr. Pepper Not even diet I didnít realize girls could eat ice cream and drink regular soda Her head bobbed along to the music, and whatever she was scribbling in her notebook looked more like a drawing than any math problem or book report A big yellow school bus zipped down the street and stopped a few houses away A minute later three guys came clomping up the street, laughing obnoxiously I tensed when I realized they were headed for her house Was one of these idiots her boyfriend? ìWestleeeeeeeey!î they all three called out in unison I relaxed a little That didnít seem like boyfriend behavior Especially not when one of them addressed her next as, ìDude!î ìDude! Whereíve you been? You totally missed it! Someone messed up Gabby Reeseís face this morning Sheís gonna have a fat shiner for Prom.î The girl, WestleyóI assumed it was a last nameóput down her soda ìI didnít miss it, dillweed I did it.î Did what? Messed up that girlís face? ìYou did not!î My mystery girl shrugged ìShe questioned my sexual preference in a highly offensive way, so my fist questioned the proximity of her face in an even more offensive way.î I felt my eyebrows hit the ceiling Sheíd said it so casually, and smiled, not proudly, but like she found the whole ordeal amusing Iíd never seen a girl more relaxed, more natural So comfortable in her own skin ìHence my absence at school today,î she continued to explain ìI got sent home with a three-day suspension.î One of the guys turned to the first one and held out a hand ìPay up, loser I told you that was Westleyís handiwork.î The first one coughed up his due ante and then said, ìHey, Westley, just what is your sexual preference anyway?î Quick as a flash, the girl took off her shoe and whipped it at the guyís head He dodged it, but only barely Both her arm and her aim were impressive ìWhatís yours, jerk-face?î Everyone laughed, even the girl Even me It was really quite something to watch She was something After a minute they all settled down and one of them said, ìSo whatís up? Are you grounded now or what?î ìDonít know It was really weird When my mom picked me up from school I got a stern talking to, but then the travel agent called about her cruise and she forgot all about punishing me She just dropped me off at home and went back to work.î ìSweet Then get down here and letís go Itíll probably be your last chance to get in a game before we leave for the summer because your butt is toast when your mom gets home and realized she forgot to lay down the law.î I wondered what kind of game they meant and I absolutely loathed them for taking her away But thatís what they did She crawled back inside her house, and, without bothering to close her bedroom window, reappeared on her front porch and began lacing up a pair of in-line skates Before she could leave, a car came to a screeching halt in her driveway, making her friends scatter like bowling pins

ìEllie!î a petite blond in a short skirt called as she waved goodbye to the carful of girls whoíd dropped her off Ellie Her name was Ellie Ellie Westley It was such a cutesy name, but I still liked it It softened her up somehow The blond continued to complain loudly as she forced her way past Ellieís friends to the front door ìCan you please not let your band of losers loiter where people can see them? Itís humiliating And did you really punch Gabby Reese in the face? If I lose my junior prom court nomination because of you I will seriously kill you.î I laughed for several reasons First, because of the look Ellie gave her friends behind her sisterís back And, second, because, for the life of me, I couldnít understand how these two girls could possibly be related Or, maybe, more accurately, how theyíd survived this long without killing one another Living across the street from them would never be boring, that was certain ìBite me, Angela,î Ellie said ìI only hit her because she called you a boyfriend-stealing cheerleader wannabe who probably paid people to nominate you for junior prom princess I was defending your honor I swear.î Angela shrieked, believing the lie, and dashed into the house No doubt to call her girlfriends for moral support and do damage control Ellie and her friends didnít wait until she was gone to fall to the ground laughing They were still trying to get a hold of themselves when my aunt and the real estate lady came walking back up to the house They eyed Ellie and her friends curiously, and Ellie watched them right back, the interest evident on her face too I could tell Ellie was wondering about who might move in to the house across the street from her, and consequently into her life Without having to consider it, I knew the answer Me I was going to move into this house I was going to plunk my bed right down beneath this very window Then I was going to make Aunt Janice live in this crap-hole city until Ellie was ready to move to California with me I went downstairs to meet my aunt, hoping to get a better look at Ellie and maybe see what her reaction to me was, but she was already gone when I got outside, skating away down the street with her friends She never looked back ìSo, is this the one? Can we stop looking?î Aunt Janice asked when she saw me I looked back at the house and then glanced up at Ellieís open window This was definitely the one I nodded ìWe have a winner.î BONUS MATERIAL CHAPTER ONE FROM SETHíS POV The day I finally met Ellie started out like every day since Iíd moved to Michiganówith me chugging down a glass of wheatgrass juice across the table from my Aunt Janice while she tried yet again to convince me to move my gym equipment into the basement ìI think itís already eighty-five degrees outside,î she complained ìAre you sure you wouldnít rather move your stuff into the basement? Itís cooler down there.î Weíd had variations of this conversation six days in a row now ìThereís no real light down there Iím a southern California boy, born and bred I need sunshine.î A true statement, though not the reason I did my workouts in the garage I was hoping Ellie would notice me and come say hi I wasnít going to admit that to my aunt, though ìBesides, eighty-five isnít that hot.î ìIt is when you combine it with ninety percent humidity,î Aunt Janice groaned She was working on her latest manuscript at the kitchen table because she claimed it was too hot in her office She had two fans pointing directly at her and a squirt bottle set to mist that she occasionally sprayed herself with Sheíd also given up her morning coffee for iced lattes and had converted her lucky writing sweats into a pair of cutoff shorts ìWhy couldnít you have picked a house with air conditioning?î I shrugged ìYou wanted this move to feel authentic None of the houses in this neighborhood have air conditioning.î Aunt Janice took her glasses off and rubbed the bridge of her nose ìYouíre right,î she said with a sigh ìThis insanity was my idea And it is good for us to experience Weíre very spoiled, you and I, arenít we?î ìSpeak for yourself,î I teased, even though we both knew she was right ìHave you heard me complain even once since we moved here?î ìNo.î Aunt Janice smiled affectionately ìYouíre such a good kid, Seth I donít deserve you Thank you for coming here with me, and thank you for having a positive attitude.î Really she was giving me too much credit If it werenít for Ellie Iíd have done nothing but complain about this hellish state twenty-four, seven Of course, itíd be better if Ellie would actually talk to me

An entire week Iíd been here, and I donít think Ellie even realized I existed Either that, or she didnít care that I did That was a depressing thought, so I chose to believe she was just off in her own world If only I knew how to extend that world to include me Normally Iíd have been happy to go talk to her first, but somehow I didnít think that would fly with her She struck me as the type who had to do things on her own terms As far as I could tell, if I hit on her I was likely to get punched I couldnít go over there and ask her out, no matter how much I wanted to Plus, thereís no way Iíd even get to her That sister of hers would glom onto me the second I stepped foot on their porch Iíd seen probably a dozen different guys come and go from their house this week and while Angela flirted with them all, she still watched me like a hungry animal I wish Ellie looked at me with the amount of lust her sister does Hell, I wish she looked at me in general The thought of Ellie already being in a relationship crossed my mind Iíd dismissed it after watching her with those guys the first time I saw her, but maybe I was wrong My hands clench into fists at the thought of Ellieís boyfriend I hated the guy more than Iíd ever hated anyone, and I didnít even know if he existed yet Aunt Janice pulled me from my nightmarish thoughts with another sigh ìI still worry about you overdoing it Make sure you drink lots of water Donít overheat.î ìIím not a car, Aunt Janice,î I said I kissed the top of her head, then headed outside, praying today would be the day that Ellie and I would finally speak It wasnít At least, not then I did my workout as normal with no interruptions Ellie was nowhere to be seen Angela checked the mail twice Aunt Janice was right about the heat No matter how much water I guzzled during my workout I was still dying of thirst I grabbed another ice-cold bottle from the fridge before hitting the shower As I drank, I glanced out my bedroom window at the house across the street Ellieís bedroom was directly across from mine She had a tendency to leave her window open with the shade all the way up, and that habit, I hate to say, was turning me into some kind of stalker Iíd even broken down and found my binoculars I couldnít not look A personís room says so much about them, and I needed to know everything I could about Ellie if I was going to make her mine I didnít notice Ellie until Iíd emptied my water bottle She was standing in her window looking right at me Our gazes met and a rush of adrenaline surged my veins It was the first time weíd made eye contact But as quickly as weíd noticed each other, she ducked out of sight She scrambled away like she was embarrassed It was almost like she thought Iíd caught her staring at me and not the other way around Hope sprang inside me Had I caught her staring? Was it possible she watched me the way I did her? I waited I had to know if sheíd look again Come on, Ellie Look again Look at me I willed it to happen Even just a tiny peek and Iíd be able to tell something of her thoughts Iím extremely good at reading people Sure enough, Ellie slowly stepped back into view She was far enough away that I couldnít read the expression on her face, but I could tell she was startled to see me still standing there I could tell she was embarrassed It was enough Whether sheíd been watching me, or just happened to notice me, sheíd taken a minute to check me out I was sure of it And judging from the level of discomfort she displayed, she liked what she saw She may have even had a few dirty thoughts I hoped so Itíd make us a little more even I wasnít sure how someone could have such an effect on me, but my entire body felt alive with reckless energy just knowing that she was looking at me That she was thinking about me at that very moment I liked thatóliked it too much, maybe I thought sheíd duck away again but she surprised me and waved as if embracing her guilt It was sheepish and defiant at the same timeóas though she felt shy for the first time in her life and didnít quite know how to handle it The idea that I could make a confident girl like Ellie feel shy was so hot that I couldnít return her wave It was too casual a gesture for the kinds of thoughts I was entertaining right then Our moment was over too quickly Something or someone startled her so badly she practically jumped out of her skin Considering her parents both worked, I knew who that someone probably was With our moment officially over, I went to get ready for my day, trying to come up with a good way to approach her

Because I couldnít wait for her to come to me anymore Not after that Not now that I knew sheíd noticed me Today was the day One way or another, I was going to talk to the girl of my dreams It didnít happen like I expected It was only about forty-five minutes after Iíd seen Ellie in her window Iíd managed to shower and do my hair, but getting dressed had been trickier I didnít know what kinds of guys Ellie liked and I absolutely didnít want to make the wrong impression It was clear that I was her sister Angelaís type, and I was pretty sure that in Ellieís opinion that would count as a strike against me I needed something that might suggest there was more to me than good looks and a nice car Jeans were obviously a given, but I didnít own a sports jersey of any kindóEllieís standard attireóso I figured since we had the same taste in music, a t-shirt of my favorite local LA band would be good It could be a good conversation starter Iíd just splashed on a little cologne when I heard what Iíd come to recognize as the sound of skates jumping the curb I wandered over to my window and sure enough, Ellie was standing on her driveway looking like sheíd just come back from a good, long workout This was perfect She had no car, and an obvious weakness for ice cream, and she was currently dying of the heat I was betting that if I went down there and asked her if there was some great local ice-cream place nearby she wouldnít be able to turn me down, even if she wasnít interested in me She took off her helmet and wiped at the sweat on her browóa gesture I found unreasonably endearingóbut then she looked up startled She threw her hands out in front of her and yelled, ìBruno, no! Stay! Bad dog!î The dog was big and looked fierce He had clipped ears and a stub for a tail like a pit bull Iím no dog expert, but this couldnít be good Iíd learned about dog attacks when working with a K-9 unit once in Los Angeles After watching what those police dogs could do to a full-grown man, I stay clear of them But I wasnít about to let one eat my future girlfriend I didnít even think, really I just reacted on instinct I grabbed my Taser, which I always keep on hand since Aunt Janice wonít let me carry a gun, and ran downstairs By the time I came flying out the front door, Ellie was on the ground unconscious and the dog was on top of her The thing went for her face and I didnít hesitate I stunned that dog into next Tuesday The dog yelped and fell to the ground, but heíd be fine eventually I was more worried about Ellie There was a decent sized pool of blood staining her driveway Sheíd cracked her head open pretty hard, but on the bright side she was already awake Her gaze looked a little rattled still, but when she noticed me hunched over her she was able to focus her eyes on me Such a pretty hazel More green than brown, with tiny flecks of gold in them They were beautiful eyes I couldnít believe I was finally getting to stare into them ìHi Ellie,î I said ìItís nice to meet you.î I couldnít keep the smile off my face This was so not the way Iíd imagined introducing myself to her, and yet, somehow, it seemed appropriate that our first meeting involved weapons and a lot of blood Ellie apparently didnít appreciate the unusual circumstances of our meeting, because she shrieked like a banshee She must have been confused from the bonk on the head because she looked up at me with sheer panic in her eyes and immediately began pushing me away ìEasy there, Ellie,î I said, trying to sound calm She was going to hurt herself even more if she didnít lie still There was a lot of blood and I needed to stop it The only thing I had was my shirtóironic considering how long Iíd taken to pick it out With a sigh I yanked it over my head and pressed it to her wound She screamed again, but after a moment she seemed to understand a little better what was happening and began to calm down Once the fear had subsided, she groaned I couldnít blame her She probably had a killer of a headache and all that screaming couldnít have helped anything ìEllie! What the freak is with the screaming? Iím on the phone!î Iíd forgotten about the older sister I was really hoping to get to know Ellie a little before I had to interact with the vulture, but I supposed in this situation it couldnít be helped I suppressed a sigh as Angela approached She screamed a blood-curdling scream that sounded nearly identical to Ellie I guess they were related after all ìDonít worry, sheíll be all right,î I assured Angela ìBut sheís going to need stitches.î ìTheyíre blue,î Ellie said suddenly ìDeep, dark, ocean blue.î I had no clue what she was talking about until she added, ìGorgeous, just like the rest of him.î

I nearly laughed outright Not that I wasnít equal parts thrilled and relieved to know that she was as attracted to me as I was to her, but this was hardly the time to flirt She must have hit her head hard I waved my finger in front of her face and she moaned like she was about to throw up ìShe may have a concussion, too,î I said to her sister ìWe should get her to a hospital Are your parents home?î Angela had been staring at the blood on the ground, but snapped out of her trance at the sound of my voice She finally came rushing over beside me ìTheyíre both at work!î she cried, nearly hysterical ìObvious much, Ang?î Ellie asked I followed Ellieís gaze to where her sister was ever-so-delicately clinging to me This time I did laugh Out loud Even in her concussed state she managed a disgusted smirk The sisters glared at one another for a moment, but then Ellieís focus slipped and she started blinking She needed medical attention I plastered Angelaís hand to the shirt against Ellieís head ìHold this,î I said I hoped sheíd be able to follow at least that much instruction until I came back I had my doubts, though, so I hurried just in case I burst through my front door moments later with the unconscious dog in my arms and my aunt jumped up from the table ìSeth? What on Earthóî ìItís a dog I tased it It attacked the girl across the street.î ìIt attackedÖî My auntís voice trailed off, horrified She ran to open the back door for me ìIs she all right?î ìIt didnít bite her,î I assured her as I laid the dog on the back porch ìBut she hit her head I think she has a concussion.î I ran into the laundry room and grabbed the first shirt I could find ìThe dog has a collar Could you call its owner while I drive the girl to the hospital?î ìOf course.î Aunt Janice followed me to the front door ìDo you need help getting her there?î ìHer sisterís outside We should be fine.î ìOkay Iíll call the girlís parents Her mother gave me her phone number when we moved in Which sister was it?î ìThe redhead.î Aunt Janice nodded as if unsurprised ìSheís an interesting one, isnít she?î I didnít realize I was grinning until Aunt Janice gave me a sly look ìOf course,î she said with a playful sigh ìThe redhead I should have known.î She looked around the hideous, non-air conditioned house ìIt all makes sense now.î ìGoodbye, Aunt Janice!î Outside, Angela actually had managed to keep pressure on her sisterís head ìYou know where thereís a hospital?î I asked, giving her my keys ìUh, just a mile or two from here.î ìGood Iíll get her You drive.î Carefully, I scooped Ellie into my arms All I can say is itís a good thing I work out Ellie must be made of all muscle I could feel how skinny she was beneath her baggy clothes, but she was far from a lightweight Suddenly, however inappropriate it may have been at the time, I was imagining what it would be like to get into a good wrestling match with her I would love to try it I was snapped from my daydream by another scream ìThereís so much blood!î I glanced back at the driveway It wasnít as bad as Iíd originally thought ìIíve seen a lot worse.î ìYouíve seen worse?î ìSheís got plenty left Trust me Can you open the door for me?î As I climbed in the car Angela asked, ìDoesnít blood stain? Youíre going to get it all over your car.î Instantly, an image from my nightmares flashed in my mind ìWouldnít be the first time,î I muttered I tried to push away the memory as I crawled in the back and carefully adjusted Ellie in my lap I pushed the shirt to the back of her head again and tried to ignore the blood This was not the same situation, and this was definitely not the time to have a panic attack ìW-what d-do you mean not the first time?î Ellie whispered She sounded weak Tired But she nuzzled her face against my chest and my years-ago accident was forgotten ìShh,î I said, giving her a wink I hoped she found comforting Then I snapped, ìJust hurry, okay?î to Angela, who had yet to move the car When we turned the corner out of our neighborhood onto the main road Ellie groaned and her eyes rolled in back of her head ìEllie,î I whispered, giving her a gentle shake She didnít wake up, so I slapped her cheek with just enough force to wake her up If there was one thing I knew about head injuries, it was that you werenít supposed to go to sleep if you had one ìOh, no you donít,î I said, smiling from relief when she opened her eyes

ìNo falling asleep.î ìCanít help it,î she murmured, melting like butter against me ìIím so tired and youíre so comfortable.î She fit so perfectly against me that it was almost as if she were made for me If I werenít worried about her physical well-being I could have held her like that forever As it was, even bleeding all over me, I wouldnít have given back this moment for anything I fought a shudder and pulled her tighter against me Ellie released a contented sigh against my chest ìFor someone with such hard-looking muscles, the new kid is surprisingly soft.î I laughed I was sure Ellie wasnít fully aware of the words coming out of her mouth Clearly, the part of her brain that sheíd rattled was the part that filtered her thoughts before she spoke them ìSomething funny?î she asked, and I almost had to laugh again ìYou are.î And she was I appreciated this rare glimpse into her unguarded mind, almost as much as I was going to enjoy it when she remembered this moment after she felt better Oh, Ellie, I thought as I stared down at her You are going to be so much fun I couldnít help myself I brushed my fingers along her cheek She was so soft So perfect In that moment it was just me and Ellie Everything else had faded away She shuddered beneath my touch in a way that gave me goose bumps, and then looked up at me with a lazy smile ìSuch shiny, bright, red hair,î I whispered as I tucked a fallen strand of it behind her ear ìGorgeous, just like the rest of you.î THANK YOU FOR LISTENING FOR MORE LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE THIS CHANNEL AND DON’T FORGET TO TURN ON ALL THE NOTIFICATIONS BY CLICKING THE BELL ICON SEE YOU ALL! BYE!

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