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Prologue I swatted a firefly from my ear as my eyes adjusted to the darkness while party goers laughed hysterically at something.

At one point, I think I heard Leo Gibson screaming that he was close to wetting himself, it was that funny. The boards of the dock creaked as I walked through the sea of underage drinkers and the strong smell of salt water and cigarette smoke. Farther down the dock, I saw my fathers boat floating out on the lake. Yo, Via! someone shouted, Youre low on beer! Fill your friggin keg! It was like the conductor waved his baton and the orchestra came to life. Laugh like cartoon hyenas and double over like old men with canes, now. Leo yelled over the laughter, Dude, Im serious! Im going to pee my pants! I shook my head. Fill it yourself, I told them, and this started a whole new chorus of laughs and struggles to keep upright. Drunks will literally think anything is funny. Have you guys seen Rick? The guy who yelled my name (actually, my high school nickname, but whatever) blinked. Rick? he asked, and I nodded. No. Wait, Ricks here? I walked away from the group of jocks at the beginning of the dock without answering. In the corner of my eye, I see Abe Ronrock walking by me, keeping his eyes forward. Im little of shocked that hes even here. Finally, I spotted the shaggy, light brown hair by the boat. Hes wearing his trademark black hoodie and ratty jeans. Hes looking at the boat with the same look of concentration I see when hes in class. Heres the truth: Rick is really smart but he doesnt like anyone, including me, to know about it. I still have trouble believing that his teachers still dont know how smart he really is. But that could be because theres talk that Rick has some drug connections. Ive never seen him smoke it himself, but Ive seen him passing it out to kids at school in between periods. Hey, I said, and he turned, offering me a light smile. I liked to call it the Rick Smile. Whatcha doing? He shrugged. Just looking at the boat, he told me. He hesitated before he grabbed onto one of the cables and swung himself aboard. Its a nice boat. Id kill to drive it.

I nodded, even though I could care less about boats. I hated the water. Whether it was swimming in it, sailing on top of it, or even just bathing in it, I hated it. So, it was only natural that my hatred towards water spread to boats as well. Howd the christening go? Rick asked while he ran his hands over the wheel. His hands made my mother cringe. His skin was dry and covered with calluses, plus the jagged fingernails made it obvious that he didnt care for manicures. Fine, I answered as I watched him walk around on deck. It was the third christening my father had had so I knew all the rituals. I name this ship Valerie and may God bless her and all who sail on her (no one ever understands how kinky that sounds). And then theyd pop the champagne, the cork aimed for the boat. Rick whistled before jumping back onto the dock with a thud. Youre lucky, Via, he told me, shaking his head. My dad wont even buy a new car, let alone a boat. I just shrugged, the wind messing up my hair. I hated boats. So, he said, finally turning away from the boat and to me. Do you know when your dads going to take it out for a spin? Im sure he wouldnt call it a spin, I informed him, and he rolled his eyes back at me, but apparently, he wants to take it out on the water tomorrow or something. Cool. I nodded. Yeah, I said, my voice flat. Cool. He smiled. Come on, he told me, taking me by the arm and pulling me across the gap between the dock and the boat with lightning speed, and then Im standing on the boat. Rick, I started to protest, already beginning to turn around, but I stopped when his lips slammed on mine. Its about time. I feel him leading me into the cabin and my flip flops start to slap against the steps before were hidden away inside the cabin, tangled up together. I may hate this boat, along with the others my dad owns, but with Rick, its a small, hidden safe haven for the both of us. His lips taste like beer, but thats his natural taste. My back is pressed against the counter with his hands roaming up my shirt.

Via, he growled into my hair, his Adams apple vibrating against my shoulder. What do you think of doing it here? In your dads boat? When I didnt answer, he took my silence as a yes. He unzipped my pants before using the pads of his fingertips to trace the skin around my belly button. My elbow accidentally bumps into something on the counter, crashes to the floor, and I feel small droplets splash my ankle.When Rick moved me, my flip flops squished under the liquid, soaking it up like a sponge. What was that? I asked against his lips. I pulled away and looked down, spotting a beer bottle shattered on the floor by my foot and beer dripping down from the counter. I have an idea. He stopped trying to kiss my neck. What was what? Rick asked, urgently, glancing around the floor. Hes not worried, I could tell, he just didnt want anything me to ruin the mood. Hey, I murmured, starting to smile. Do you have your lighter with you? Rick blinked. Yeah, yeah, I do. His hand fished around the pocket of his hoodie and he handed over his lighter, along with a cigarette. Why? I ignored his question. Dont you know smoking kills? I asked him as I bent down to inspect the growing puddle of beer. Yeah, well, so do cars and we dont stop driving them, do we? he retorted stubbornly. I could feel his eyes on me. Via, what are you doing? I dont answer because my heart is beating so fast that if I think I talk, Ill sound like my heartbeat. Boom, boom. Boom, boom. And all because Im about to let go of my hatred in a way no one ever told me how. As I flipped off the lid, I vaguely heard someone creeping quietly down the steps and calling out, Silvia? Are you down here? If I wasnt so busy thinking about what I was about to do next, then I probably wouldve wondered why Abe Ronrock followed me down to the cabin of my fathers boat. For a second, everything is peaceful and quiet, and then everything flashed to bright yellow. Via! What theare you crazy?! Rick screamed, and the floorboards of the boat started to creek. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him running up the stairs, leaving me behind. Correction, leaving us behind.

The rest is a blur. At one point, I was thrown back and hit my head. By now, it was getting hard to breathe and I could hear Abe Ronrock having the same problem. For a second, I thought I heard a yelp. I dont remember how I got there, but the next second, Im lying on the thick sand by the dock, coughing, close to choking even. Someone else was too, but I wasnt sure who. I blinked, but I couldnt see anything but the moon hovering over me, glowing. It was a full moon; bright, whole, and white. I couldnt take my eyes off it, like I was under a spell, even though I could hear someone asking me the same question. Are you okay? When I took my eyes off the moon, I saw a blurry Abe Ronrock leaning over me. His features were dark, but I couldnt tell if its because of soot or just that it was almost midnight. He held his arm to his chest. I couldnt hear his voice, or maybe I could but just barely, but his mouth forming the words over and over again. Are you okay? When I could finally hear again, the first thing I heard was, Omigod! Shes dead! Silvias dead! I opened my mouth to tell that annoying, little perky voice that I was not dead but I let out a strangled noise that hurt my throat instead. Then I saw it out of the corner of my eyes: the flames eating my fathers boat, the fire crackling and booming and the deck had been completely abandoned. Silvia? The voice was getting louder and clearer now. When I looked at his face, blinking, the first thing I saw was bright blue eyes staring down at me. Can you hear me? Of course I can hear him, and Id point this out to him in a heartbeat if my throat didnt hurt so much, or if I could stop coughing. But Abe had the same problem too. Not only was his arm practically glued to his navy Tshirt, he couldnt stop turning his head towards his shoulder and coughing into his short sleeves. Something about the way he was holding his arm threw me off. It didnt look right, like he was trying to protect it. As I squinted, thats when I noticed the red, blistering skin. Along his forearm to the top of his upper arm was a trail of blisters and boils. His skin was misplaced and kind of wrinkled, out of shape, and bright red. I remembered when someone yelped back in the boat. It was Abe.

He was burned. I opened my mouth, but all I just croaked. I wondered how he could talk but I could barely make an audible sound. Bright red lights flashed over Abes face, and then it turned blue, then back to red. It wasnt long before I heard car doors being opened and slammed as the faint sound of sirens got loud enough to make me flinch. Abe tilted his head up, tearing his gaze from me, and he waved his good arm, gesturing for someone to come over, then he looked back down at me. A second later, an arm snakes around Abes shoulder, (carefully avoiding his arm), pulling him up and out of my sight as someone else crouched down next to me in his place. Hey there, a fireman said to me as I blinked up at him. A guy, maybe in his mid-twenties, was hovering over me, his dark hair poking out from his helmet and an easy going smile on his face. Through my smoke-filled eyes, I noticed that he had a nice nose. My names Justin, he said. His hair fell over his brow when he cocked to head to the side. Whats your name? I opened my mouth, but I made that awful croaking sound again that made me sound like I was being strangled. The fireman, Justin, smiled and motioned for someone, just like Abe did. Before I knew what was happening, someone put an oxygen mask over my face. I wouldve jerked it away if the fresh oxygen didnt make it so much easier to breathe. The firefighter was still hovering, but he was leaning back as someone shined a bright white light in my eyes. When I got my voice back, with my voice muffled by the mask, I said, Youre hot. He laughed, shaking his head. Im also married, he said, and I slumped against the sandy ground, probably a million and one grains of sand buried in my black hair. Figures, I mumbled. He just laughed again. I scanned the crowd gathered on the road. Girls were crying and clinging to each other, blubbering over and over what happened. Guys just stood there, watching, a few were mumbling to their friends.

I spotted Rick hanging behind some jocks that were craning their necks to look at the burning boat. He was hanging back and running a hand through his hair. He looked like he was freaking out, and furious too. I guess I did more than just ruin the mood. A second later, I saw Abe sitting down on an ambulance. He had an oxygen mask on his face like I did, and a paramedic was examining his arm. At one point, I was sure I saw him wincing. So, what happened? The firemans voice took my attention away from Abe and the crowd of shocked underage drinkers. I dont know, I lied and he nodded back. It just kind of happened, I guess. I looked back out at the boat. Water was shooting out of the hoses the firemen had directed at the boat, but it was obvious that the flames had engulfed it beyond repair. The Valerie, named after my mother, was dead. Later, I was propped up against a tree, looking out at the boat. The fire was put out pretty quickly, but it was clear that the Valerie wasnt going to be sailing anywhere, ever. All thanks to me. When I glanced at Abe, he was talking to his father, a cop. I was pretty sure that his brother Chester, another cop, was lurking around somewhere too. Abe gestured to me, and his father glanced at me. I squinted at them, trying to read their identical lips. I thought maybe he could be telling his dad about how he followed me to the cabin and then boom! There was a fire. Later, I would learn that he was telling his dad about the fire but he was telling more than just that. He was telling him about how I started it. Justin (he disappeared for a while) walked back over to me. He crouched down to my level, like a parent readying to give a punishment. Are you sure you dont remember how the fire started? he asked, his eyes serious and dark. His easygoing smile was gone now, replaced by a frown. I nodded. Yeah, I told him, ignoring the skeptical look he had. I hit my head on the floor. Like this could explain my falsified amnesia. He just looked at me for a second, probably sizing me up in his mind. He only took his eyes off me when he heard, Silvia! Silvia, where are you?! before jumping to his feet.

It wasnt long before I was clobbered by my mother, wrapping her arms tightly around me and knocking me off my balance, which sounds sad when youre only sitting. Her face was wet, possibly from crying. Through her blonde hair that flew over my eyes, I could see my father standing over us. Is she alright? He turned to Justin, concerned. Boy, that would certainly change if he knew what really happened. Justins smile was back. Paramedics say shell be fine, Justin informed them. You have Abe Ronrock to thank for that. My father turned his head in Abes direction, watching as they poured liquid on his arm. What happened to him? he asked, glancing at Justin. He was burned when he tried to get Silvia here out of the boat, Justin filled in, nodding to me. Dad nodded. Well pay for the medical bills, he said simply. And he could too. He had more money than anyone here in Shiloh. Paying hospital bills were literally nothing for him. When Justin walked away, my dad turned to me. Are you okay? he asked, but I saw him glancing out of the corner of his eye to the burnt remains of his beloved boat, The Valerie. I nodded. Yeah, Im fine. I felt a lie beginning to brew in my throat. Im really sorry about your boat. He just let out a sigh. At least youre okay, he replied. My mother is sniffling in my hair, mumbling, Im so glad youre okay. Just then, I see my brother running down the sand dunes, sand flying around his feet and a blonde trailing close behind, struggling to keep up. I vaguely remembered her name being Kira. I already hated her and her too-perky-to-be-real breasts. My brother was a player in denial. He always came up with excuses and reasons as to why things didnt last with Skank This and Whore That. He went through girls like he did socks, but he would never admit it, not even about the socks. I gave Kira a week tops. What happened? Jack, my brother, asked as he came to a halt in front of us, sand flying on my bare legs. He glanced at the boat. Holy Even with her face buried in my neck, my mother was able shoot my brother a glare. Crap, he finished tentatively, blinking. Holy crap.

The boat obviously went up in flames, my dad said with a sigh, slowly sitting down by my feet, getting sand on his tan khakis. Your sister and that Abe kid were inside when it happened. My father went from declaring that hed pay for Abes medical bills to calling him That Abe Kid in three minutes flat. Howd it start? Just as he asked this, Kira skidded to a stop, panting (this time sand got in my eye). As she hitched her purse up her shoulder, she spotted the boat. Holy Jack shook his head quickly, eyes bulging, and he nodded at my mother. She blinked. Crap, she said. Holy crap is what I meant to say. So, what happened anyway? The boat, I said through my teeth, was on fire. Obviously. I really, really dont like Kira. Jack shot me a look as Kiras eyes exploded to the size of sand dollars. It did?! She took another look at the boat, like it was just noticeable now. Omigod, how did that happen?! Would you like to answer that, Silvia? I blinked, and we all turned our heads to look at Ken Ronrock, Abes dad. What do you mean? I asked, trying my best to ignore the feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was about to go terribly wrong, fast. Would you like to tell us how the fire started? he repeated, like I was slow. And dont tell me you hit your head. I did hit my head, I mumbled. What? Officer Ronrocks brow was furrowed as he leaned forward. What did you say? I looked away, feeling a scowl start to form. Nothing, I muttered. Okay, now just hold on, my dad told us, holding up his hands with a confusion expression. He turned to Officer Ronrock. Would you like to tell me what this is all about? Officer Ronrock pointed to me with his pen. Silvia set the fire, he explained nonchalantly, like he was saying that he had dinner at Papas Big Bowl of Chili instead of totally ruining my life. What? my parents said in unison. Jack was looking at me too, but he didnt look nearly as surprised as Mom and Dad did. He knew I hated boats.

What are you talking about? My mother pulled herself off me and stood up, smoothing over her shirt. Sand was stuck to her knees. Why would our Silvia do something like that? Officer Ronrock looked at me. Why dont you ask her, he replied. Right now, all I know is that two witnesses saw Silvia with a lighter near some beer, and then kaboom. Theyre lying, my dad stated simply, as if he had the power to change the facts. The officer cleared his throat loudly. One of the witnesses, he said, his tone not exactly friendly, was my son and he risked his butt to get your daughter out of that boat before it was too late. That shut Dad up. Plus, he still had to pay for the medical bills heard Justin heard him say so. Even thought it was just one person, he couldnt go against his word in front of the public. Officer Ronrock turned to me. When youre cleared by the hospital, youll be heading to the station with us. Then it got suddenly quiet, so quiet that I could hear the lake lapping on the rocks a few feet away. And even thought it was dark, I could see the shocked stares my family was giving me. Omigod! Kira suddenly exclaimed, her mouth hanging wide. Youre going to jail! Lock up, Officer Ronrock corrected. Shell have to go to court and get a verdict before shell go to jail. He paused. That is if Mr. Brendor decides to press charges. Over the officers shoulder, I took a long, hard look at his son. Abe and his dad didnt look a thing alike. His father had blonde hair, always styled in a buzz cut, and dark brown eyes, like his older son, Chester. They both had wide jaw lines and shared the same pasty skin. Abe, on the other hand, couldnt look more unlike them if he tried. He had black hair that he grew out in the winter, down to the point where he could barely see. His face was more of an oval shape, and his skin was starting to tan. But they all had one thing in common: massive biceps. At only sixteen, Abe had pretty good sized biceps and they were only getting bigger. I think it was considered a sin in the Ronrock family to be male without biceps. Last I saw though, Abe hadnt developed the traditional Ronrock abs yet, but Im sure he would before junior year. I remember almost fainting at the sight of Chester Ronrock shirtless on the beach once. Boy, was he ripped or what.

But the biggest difference between them all was the eyes. While his father and brother had the melting chocolate brown eyes, Abe has bright blue eyes. Sometimes, it looked like the blue eyes were a mistake, actually meant for Chester and Officer Ronrock. Abe glanced up, as if sensing my thoughts, and across the dunes, I saw those bright blue eyes staring back at me. I was too busy looking right back at him to hear my dad when he told Officer Ronrock that he was pressing charges against me.

Chapter One Lets see. Ive been in the juvenile detention center for about, oh, two years now. Now, Im eighteen. My age usually doesnt matter that much but this time it kind of does matter because if I wasnt eighteen, then Id probably be locked up for another year or two. Eighteen months ago, I was charged with first degree arson. My community lawyer was barely any help at all with shortening my sentence. With good behavior, he told when he sat across from me, I could be out by the time I was eighteen instead of twenty. But according to my lawyer and the judge, the reason for my four year sentence wasnt for turning the Valerie into kindling but instead for burning Abe Ronrock in the process. Oh, and endangering the life of Rick Gabriel. I was also told that it couldve been worse. That I was lucky it was my first criminal offense and that I was a minor. But, when I zip up my orange jumpsuit, I dont feel as lucky as I told. Tomorrow, my parents are coming to collect me and if I come back, theyre going to make sure that I get a good, long sentence that wont leave any room for good behavior. Their words, not mine. So, Brooklyn, my cellmate, said as she lay on her stomach on the hard cots we sleep on. Youre going home tomorrow, right? I nodded. Yup, I confirmed, not bothering to hide the lack of enthusiasm in my voice. I get to go home, with my parents, who pressed charges against me. Around here, stories like that barely get the bat of an eye. Tough life, Silvia, she mumbled, flipping over on her back, staring up at the ceiling. At least youre going to be sleeping on a real bed.

Tough life, Brooklyn, I repeated nonchalantly. A second later, a pillow smacked me in the face. I threw it back at her. Seriously, Brooklyn. She rolled her eyes. Youre the one complaining about leaving this Orange Jumpsuit Hell, she grumbled. Shut up, I warned. Brooklyn, for whiny and annoying as she is, is okay. I certainly couldve got a worse cellmate. Shes in for grand theft auto. Translation: she stole her boyfriends car for a night and he went ballistic and called the cops on her. She may think that being here for eight months is total torture but thats honestly nothing compared to two years. And shes only seventeen. I could mention that to her the next time she decides to cry over how long shes been in here, but I always decide against it because its only going to make her cry louder and cover my head with a pillow instead. So, whats the first thing youre going to do when you get home? she asked, and this question is usually the closest inmates ever come to being nice. I paused. I dont know, I mumbled. Probably sleep, and eat actually food for once. This couldnt have been more of a lie. When I get home, Im going to get my life back. Im going to get my friends, my job, and Rick all back in one swoop. But I was going to get Abe back too, but not in the same sense. I guess its not newsworthy that a cops son is a snitch, but still. I barely know the guy and then he went and ruined my life. If that didnt deserve revenge, then I dont know what is. But why am I mad at Abe, the guy who supposedly saved my life, for telling but Rick? It may have to do with the fact that if Abe hadnt said anything, Rick wouldnt have either. He was too paranoid about people finding out about his drugs. And its not like after Abe came forth that Rick could deny it anyway. That would just get him in trouble too. And like I said, Rick was smart. Smart enough to know how to stay out of trouble. Food, Brooklyn sighed, shaking her head. Thats almost a foreign word to me. What does it mean actually, Silvia? I stared blankly at her. Cut it out, I told her flatly and she did. Cut it out, I mean. .

The last time I saw my parents was at my trial. I didnt talk with either of them personally, and that was practically feeding the reporters with material. My dad took the stand, so did Ken and Abe Ronrock, Justin, and two other guys from the party. Rick, however, was nowhere near the trail. I even heard a rumor that he was somewhere in Arizona, drowning his sorrows. My mother didnt testify against me but she didnt testify for me either. Only Jack testified on my behalf. But by then, it didnt matter. The judge had made his decision. Im sure it happened when Abe took the stand in a suit that seemed to swallow him up. The only part that suit seemed to hug him was the sleeves around his biceps and that was it. The lawyers asked him question after question. I was sure it was working like a sleeping pill to the jury until they showed out the old pictures of Abes burnt arm. If I thought it looked bad from across the sand dunes in the middle of the night with smoke in my eyes, it looked awful on the screen in front of me. Granted, the lighting in the room when the picture was taken sucked and it made his skin look way paler and green, but there it was: red, blistering, and disfigured. My fathers lawyer put it best: Because of this fire, Abraham Ronrock is literally marked and scarred for life. He said so simply but yet depressingly at the same time. Even I couldnt smirk at the fact his first name was Abraham. At one point, someone asked to see how the burned looked now, six months later. I watched, just like everyone else in the room, as Abe shed his jacket. He paused for a second. Anyone wouldve thought that he was thinking that he was about to expose the horrible, ugly scar on his arm. But I wasnt anyone. I was sure that he was just trying to figure out how to show his arm without completely underdressing. Eventually, he rolled up his sleeve as far as it would go and a few gasped. It was healing; I didnt need to be a doctor to see that. The skin wasnt nearly as red but it was darker than the rest of his arm. Some places looked as if there were pockets of air still underneath his skin. As he was rolling his sleeve down, I saw his bright blue eyes flicker towards me.

Now, I was going to face my family again for the first time in eighteen months. There wasnt going to be any non-penetrating glass to separate us, now Id be staying in their house. There wasnt going to be anything to keep me on my side and them are theirs. I looked down at the folded orange jumpsuit I took off five minutes ago. I was in real clothes now, a navy sweater and a pair of jeans and my old flip flops. I was going home. As I waited for the officer to bring me my belongings, as they called it, one of the jailors came up to me. Going back out to the real world, huh? he asked, eyeing my change of clothes. I nodded. Yes, sir, I told him. I dont normally sir people but when it came to the jailors; it was pretty much a requirement to address them as sir if you didnt want to be threatened with a life in prison. His old gray eyes went hard on mine. You betta not screw this up, Brendor, he said sternly. Or else youll be back here before you can say Im innocent. If I screw this up, I replied as an officer handed me a brown bag, Ill be in a prison, not juvie. And then this place will seem like a playground compared to that, he told me. Real prison, for adult repeatas, is the worse place you can be on this earth. I considered this. Thanks for the heads up. The gates leading to the outside world opened up for me and I stepped out. I dont think Ill ever experience a better feeling than right now. But that good feeling disappeared when I spotted the black Benz waiting outside of the barbwire fence. An officer manually opened the fence for me, it clinking as he did, and then he motioned for me to go. I hesitated. He gestured again, visibly growing more annoyed. He had to hold the gate open with his hands until I left. Sighing, I went on. When I got up to the Benz, I yanked at the passenger door. It was locked. This just infuriated me.

I gave it another good, hard yank, but nothing happened. I waited to hear the click of the lock, but it remained silent. Looking up at the sky, I groaned at the clouds. I heard the window rolling down. Get in the back, Silvia. I didnt even need to look to figure out that my father telling me this. On the first try, the back door opened for me and I saw Jack sitting in the backseat, waiting. Hey, he said. I nodded. Hey. After I slid into the car, I waited for it to start. It didnt start. What are you waiting for? I could see the profile of my dads face in the front seat. For you to put on your seatbelt, Silvia, he said. He sounded wary. He was fed up with dealing with me after only a minute. Its only because of this tone that I dont put up a fight about wearing a seatbelt. He started the car, and just like that, its quiet again except for the engine running. It reminds me of when Officer Ronrock told my parents that I started the fire and all you could hear was the lake. Now its even quieter and, like, ten times worse than before. Jack shifted in his seat, the leather creaking as he did. It couldve be mistaken for a gunshot in here its so quiet. I didnt expect to be greeted with hugs and kisses, yeah, I know. Im not stupid. I set fire to their boat and that tends to give people a grudge sometimes. Even more so if that person was your own daughter. But still. I didnt exactly expect it to be this tense either. Its not like someone can just walk right up to me and ask me, So, how was juvie? Did you have a nice time? and what was I supposed to ask? So, did you replace that boat I burned down? And thats the way it was for the whole two hour long drive back to Shiloh. Quiet and intense. No one, not even talkative Jack, said anything. The Benz turned into my neighborhood. But if you hadnt been around for whatever reason for two years then you might have a hard time figuring that out. We drove by the big green house at the start of our block. I looked out the window, and I saw Pamela sitting on the front porch, reading a book. She looked up at the sound of a car passing by. Before the car whizzed away, I see her eyes widen.

I was back. I sunk into my seat. Just to be clear, Pamela and I were never really friends. But we had an understanding; it was just a silent one. But it was there, and we could feel it. It all started the night I was driving home from a party Rick and his frat brother, Evan, had. They lived right along the lake with a bridge like road leading back out to town. I had just got my license and I was on a total high that I finally got to drive, on my own. The high was so great that I didnt even care about not drinking. Okay, well, maybe I did a little, but still. New license was the point. When I drove down that road heading back to town, I never felt better. I went to a party, on my own, in my car. Nothing was going to ruin my night, nothing. The moon glowed like a spotlight out on the lake, and I saw out of the corner of my eye, a figure disturbing the glow, breaking it into two large, floating pieces. I slowed down as I got closer. The closer I got, I saw that it was a girl, holding her heels in her hand, wearing an oversized coat, walking home, alone. Now, a few days earlier I heard about a story about a girl in another state being grabbed after a party or something. So, when I saw her walking alone, I rolled down my window. Hey, I called out. Nothing. She kept on walking. I couldnt decide if she was ignoring me or if she couldnt hear my car driving along side of her. Hey! I called out again, louder this time. She jumped back, almost losing her footing and falling into the lake. I pressed my foot down hard on the brake so fast my head jerked forward. Sorry! I shouted, and then I noticed the radio was blaring. I turned it down. Sorry, I repeated again. I recognized her when she looked at me. She was Pamela Richards, one of the girls from my high school. She was a total teachers pet, and since her dad was the principal, I guess she was a principals pet too. She definitely wasnt the type to go out to parties. I heard she even turned down birthday party invitations.

With the glow off the water, I could make out the wet, dark trails down her cheeks. She was crying, and her hair was a mess too. Tangled and knotted together, it could pass as a rats nest. Do, you, um, I said, pausing as she walked on, ignoring me, and I tapped lightly on the gas, need a ride or something? No thanks, she said. She sounded like she had a cold. I didnt speed up. Its okay, really, I told her, and she just looked at me, coming to a stop. I dont mind and its going to take you like, what, an hour to get back to town on foot? She seemed to hesitate, and then, sighing, she pulled at the passenger side door and climbed in, shoes in hand. Thanks, she mumbled as she put the seatbelt on. No problem. For a few minutes, we just drove in silence. Then, I said, So did you have a good time? It was probably a stupidest thing to ask since she was obviously trying to stop crying so her time probably wasnt that amazing. She laughed, but it was forced and hallow. No, she replied, rubbing her temple with one finger, leaning her elbow on the door, No, not at all. For a second, I wished my time wasnt that great either so I could relate. But it wasnt awful, it was amazing. I loved every second of it, but I doubted she wanted to hear that. I swallowed, and then I said the only thing that came to mind, Do you want to talk about it? She eyed me, raccoon eyed and all, incredulously. I didnt really blame her. I was popular in high school. I went to all the games and sat at the Cool Table at lunch. Popular kids didnt ask girls like her if they wanted to talk about their crappy time at parties. But the thing was, even though Im popular, I didnt have many friends. I was never alone, but I never considered them as my friends,someone who I could call in the middle of night if I couldnt sleep or someone Id tell all my secrets to. Because I knew that if I wasnt popular then they wouldnt be my friends at all. Theyd treat me like Pamela and ignore me in the halls or worse. There would be no more gossiping about whos on and whos off in the bathrooms. Itd be just me.

No, she finally said, and again, I didnt blame her. I hung out with some of the biggest mouths in Shiloh. It was easy to assume I was just like them. But I wasnt, and even though that got ignored and avoided a lot, they knew it too. Kay, I said simply, leaving it at that. After a second, I flicked the radio back on. Loud rap music blasted through the speakers and it made us both jump in our seats. After I turned it down, I heard, Has a guy ever. . . I turned my head, accidentally turning the music down to an inaudible volume. I was surprised to say the least. . . . Touched you? she asked slowly, wringing her hands. Like, in a . . . bad way? I paused. No, I said finally. She just nodded. I kept my eyes focused on the road. It all clicked: the runny make-up, the crying, and the hair. Has a guy ever done that to you? I asked quietly, like the volume of my voice could strike her. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her gulp, heard it too. When I looked at her, she was even more flushed. Can you just take me home? she asked, just as quietly as I had. That was the only time I wished I was friendlier, that Id know what to say more often. But like always, I had no idea what to say. So, I nodded because its all that I know how to do. Yeah, I told her. Youd think that this would make us friends, but it didnt. It just gave us an understanding. I didnt know how to define it, but there was an understanding, whatever it was. But of course, the world wasnt done. I remembered that after we passed Pamelas house that we still had one more house to pass. Abes. On Jacks side of the car, through his window, Abes house came into view.

In the flash I see it; I realize that barely anything has changed. Its still the same light blue with black shudders. The basketball net still hangs off the top of the garage and the porch swing sits on the porch by the screen door. The only thing different is a swing set. The car comes to a stop but the second I look out the window, I realize that its not my house at all. What are doing here? I asked Jack before he can get out of the car. This isnt our house. He gave a look, like Ive just announced that Im the Virgin Mary. Yeah, it is, he said slowly. We just changed a few things around, thats all. By some things, he meant everything. Its not the soft yellow it used to be, instead its dark green. The white shudders were replaced by black ones, like Abes, and the porch is gone. My porch is gone. What happened to the porch? I asked, gesturing to the green nothingness around the door and under the windows. I loved that porch. Id do my homework out there, sitting on the plastic, white beach chair. Id read or surf the net. Id come out here to my porch when I wanted to kill my brother or when I just needed to be alone. Id watch the sun set over the rest of the houses on the other side of the neighborhood while I sat on my porch. Id watch the hot Latino guys cut Mrs. Drakes lawn across the street on Saturdays. We decided to get rid of it, Dad said nonchalantly as he pressed the key into the lock. It was just a porch after all. Somehow, I think getting rid of my porch was my dads twisted way of getting revenge for burning the Valerie, as if juvie wasnt punishment enough. What else did you change? Beside me, my mother fidgeted. I could tell somethings up but Im not sure. Jack cleared his throat loudly. We may have made some. . . he paused, rubbing the skin under his nose, changes to your room. I narrowed my eyes. What kind of changes? Its my new office now, Dad declared loudly, throwing the front door open. My old one was too small for my new equipment.

Mom flinched. We said we were going to tell her gently, she reminded him slowly as she rubbed her forehead, her wedding ring glinting in the light. His brow furrowed. That wasnt gentle? Wait, I said, holding up my hands. Where am I going to sleep? Youve got to be freaking kidding me, I grumbled when my parents lead me to my new bedroom door. The basement. Seriously? See? Mom pointed to me; her expression basically said I told you so. This isnt gentle. Dad sighed and looked up to the ceiling. Its not the basement, Silvia, he told me, exasperated. Then what would you call it? I asked. I crossed my arms just to prove how intimidating I could be, but seeing as he was looking at the ceiling tiles, I wasnt doing a very good job. He hesitated before he glanced at me. The lower level of the house. Russell, Mom warned, glaring. Letting out a sigh, he shot her a what? look. Since when did my parents talk so much in looks? So, I said slowly, clarifying, youre sending me down to sleep in the lower level of the house? Dad gave me a look. Its not like its a typical basement, Silvia, he told me, pulling the basement door open and flicking the light on. I saw a bright white carpet at the bottom of the stairs. It has a flat screen for Petes sake! A flat screen is supposed to make me feel better after my parents banish me to the basement? Youre not being banished, honey, Mom cooed soothingly. She hesitated to touch my arm. All your things are down there, and you dont have to be down there all the time! But still. Its the basement. Before I can protest further about living in the basement, I heard a small beep. Dad lifted up his wrist, and he sighed at his watch. But he looks a little relieved too. Ive got to go to work, he announced and Mom sighed too, looking down at the ground. Its my job, Valerie. I have to go. But tonight? she asked, and I know Im not supposed to catch this, but I saw her gesture to me, like Im a guest, staying for dinner and cocktails on the porch.

Or that would be the case if they hadnt gotten rid of my beloved porch. He shrugged helplessly. Its either that or be homeless, he informed her before leaning down to kiss her cheek. Bye. And then hes gone (poof!), just like that. He used to take forever to leave. Wait until the scene was over in the movie, or until the crook on TV was caught, or wait until the Journey song ended. He was constantly finding excuses to stay, even if they didnt count as excuses at all. And now, he left without any. Actually, he looked like there wasnt anything that could stop him from bolting to the car. Well, you must be hungry! Mom rushed over to the fridge and started pulling out random fruit. I saw her pull out pineapple slices. Now Im the one hesitating. Mom? She glanced up, a smile on her face. Its hollow, like Pamelas laugh two and a half years ago. What? Im allergic to pineapple, I reminded her. You are? As I nodded, she looked down at the slices. She let out a laugh, shaking her head. My memory these days! I smiled, but I could feel my gut wrenching and twisting around my chest inside. And no, it isnt because she doesnt remember that Im allergic to pineapple. Well, actually it is, but not for the petty, how-could-she-not-remember-what-Im-allergic-to reason. Its because my grandmother, her mom, was diagnosed with Alzheimers four years ago. Its one of those things that you know is there, but its a silent rule not to mention it out loud. It lingers in rooms but you act like its not there at all. But our concern wasnt really for Nana. I mean, we were worried about her and we wished that she was with us in the head, but who we were really worried about was Mom. Every time she misplaced something or forgot something, we all held our breath until she remembered. There would be this look on our faces when shed say something like, Oh, where did I put. . . Everything she forgot was just another reminder to us all. She might forget us too.

Chapter Two I have a meeting with my parole officer this morning. At eight a.m. Even my parents new cat is yawning at this. Hes not even ready to be up at this hour. Hes still crashed on the couch with his paws semi-in the air and chin exposed. Looks like me when I have a hangover, which I havent had in forever because, hello, Ive been locked away for two years. But Im pretty sure if there was a picture of me during my hangover days, I would look like that cat. When I stumbled upstairs (yeah, upstairs. Thanks, parents) I have the surprise of my life when I see Jack, fully dressed and showered, sipping his coffee. He looks so old for twentytwo. The Jack I knew considered noon to be the hour of the dead. I remember there being a time when Jack would come out of his room as we were eating dinner, so I was stunned to say the least now. What are you doing? I asked groggily. Jack looked up, and he grinned. Im drinking my coffee, he said, holding his cup up for proof. Want some? I just stared at him. Since when are you awake at eight a.m.? I asked, watching as he furrowed his brow. You know? Youd wake up at, what, six p.m. every day? He shrugged. That was before I got a job, he said in a matter of fact tone. That was while I was still seeing Kira, and Brittney, and Lisa, and what was her name? Tori? Tiffany, I filled in, flatly. So, if youre not seeing them, then who are you seeing? Some girl named Tess? He gave me a look. What? I asked, shrugging. The name sounds like a girl youd go out with. So, who is it? Scarlett, he said proudly. I raised an eyebrow. Scarlett? He shot me another look. Shes not like the other girls, okay? he said, glaring. I didnt meet her at a party or something.

Then where did you meet her? At a bookstore, he said triumphantly. Bookends, remember that place? I made a face. What were you doing in a bookstore? The Jack I knew hated books. The Jack I knew hated Bookends. The Jack I knew would never go looking for girls at bookstores. He hesitated, running his fingers along his mug. I didnt say where I got a job, he said quickly before taking a gulp of coffee. Anyway, she was buying some book by someone like Sarah Dressen? I dont know who it was. So, anyway You got a job at Bookends? I asked incredulously, cutting in. Where you freaking high or something? Jack blinked. Well, yeah, he said, his eyebrows furrowed. Havent you been listening to me? But you hate books. He took a small drink of coffee, looking away. You do hate books, right? I asked slowly, waiting for him to jump in and declare that books were repulsing or something. He scratched the back of his neck. I did hate books, he said very quickly, like before. But then I read this really good book by I dont care who its by, I said, cutting in once again. Since when do you read? Since when do you pick up girls at bookstores? And since when did you start working at bookstores? Since you went away, he said with a sigh. I gave him a look. He rubbed the back of his neck again. Look, Im sorry, he said, rushing. But its true. A lot has changed since you. . . Got hauled off to juvie? I offered. Since you went away, he said, like it was code. Here was another thing not to be said aloud. You know those train tracks out back? Yeah. I had no idea where this was going. He took another sip. Well, they started using them again, he said nonchalantly. Last year. Its mostly just freight trains but it happens, like, every day now.

In case youre going like What train tracks? theres some train tracks behind our house. My dad had a fascination with them. He called it the only part of our neighborhood that wasnt perfect and polished. The only thing that was real. The train tracks were totally out of place in our neighborhood, and almost everyone hated them. It was like Abes blue eyes. Totally out of place but fitting in perfectly anyway. But they were never used. I heard they closed them down because some of the track was missing or something. It was because of this that my mother didnt have a fit every time Dad would take his beach chair out to the tracks and just sit there, right in the middle, watching the sunset. Theyre using the tracks again? I asked. But they said some of the track was missing or something like that. Jack shrugged. I guess they fixed it. I glanced over Jacks head to the clock. Ive got to go, I said, seeing that I had about fifteen minutes to meet my parole officer. Have fun! Jack called out cheerfully, waving as I left. The train tracks, Bookends, my porch. If those things all changed, then what else had? . I was sitting next to a guy with tattoos on his neck. It didnt help that they were all pretty much flaming skulls. And the guy wouldnot stop fidgeting and bouncing his leg. It was like I was waiting for the doctor, except like a million times worse. There are no snotty kids running around or frantic moms with screaming infants, which I guess is actually a plus. But instead, Im sitting next to people with bouncy legs and black fingernails. But its not like I dont look like I belong here either. No, the leather jacket, dark denim jeans, and my gray T-shirt kind of gave me away. And Im probably the one with the highest offense too. I bet most of the guys in here just went out for a spin after having too many, while I decided to light up my dads boat. Silvia Brendor, a voice calls out, sounding like theyre reading my name off a sheet or something.

I stand up, pulling on my leather jacket. The bouncy leg guy looks up as he chews nervously on his nails. I honestly couldnt be surprised if he suddenly pulled something. A woman with blonde hair points blandly at a door to the left. In there, she told me, cradling a phone between her chin and shoulder. When I step inside, my parole officer is overlooking a file, probably mine. Take a seat, he says without looking up. I sit down on the black leather chair in front of his desk. I wait. He flips a piece of paper in the file. I get the feeling hes ignoring me. Is that what all parole meetings are going to be like? I asked, raising an eyebrow. I kind of hope he doesnt notice me wringing my hands on my lap. He looks up from the file for the first time, glasses tipped down his nose. Like what? I brush my hair behind my ear. You know, I said, gesturing to the folder. You look in my file, and me just sitting here. Is this like Intimidation 101? He closed the folder, and then sat on the corner of his desk. Am I intimidating you? I straightened in the leather and said truthfully, No. Shame. He stood up and sat down in his chair, which happened to look a whole lot more comfy than my chair. So, hows home? I resisted from groaning. You dragged out here, at eight a.m., to ask me how home is? He blinked. Im your parole officer, he said, in a matter of fact tone. I can drag you out of bed, to my office, whenever I want. You can? He shrugged. Well, you can ignore me, he said, and I could sense a but coming, if you want to be arrested again. I rubbed my temple. I was sure I looked like my mother right now, but with black hair and a leather jacket. So, now that you got your answer, I said, bracing myself on the arms of the chair, can I go? No. Sit back down. He pointed to the chair with his pen and pushed his glasses back up his nose. Have you violated any of your parole restrictions?

Ah, the good ol parole restrictions. Im not allow to drink, or do drugs, leave the state, go near boats, be on a boat, drive alone, or, the goodie, approach Abe Ronrock. When they told me I wasnt allowed, I laughed. Really, and that didnt set well with the warden. I wasnt even sure who they were talking about at first because they kept calling him my victim. Then, I asked the warden after he read my restrictions. What happens if Abe approaches me? He wasnt fazed. He wont. Why not? The warden wasnt amused by my game of Twenty Questions, Parole Style. Victims dont approach their attackers, he put it simply. I was okay with being called a con or an ex-con; I was okay with being called an arsonist, but what I wasnt okay with being called an attacker. I didnt attack Abe, I said, trying not to let my rage seethe through my teeth. He was just there. Nevertheless, he told me. He was there, and now he has a burn over his arm for the rest of his life, and you put it there. Does it really matter what its call? Silvia? I glanced up, breaking out of my memory of talking with the warden last week. Did you violate any of your parole restrictions? I shook my head. No, I have not. He places his pen down. Have you seen Abe yet? Now, I didnt even fight a groan. No, I said, and he writes something down. Why does everyone care if I see Abe or not? We live in the same neighborhood, it cant be avoided forever. My parole officer looks up from what hes writing. Everyone cares because this is a serious matter, he told me. You didnt just burn your fathers boat; you also burned Abe in the process. People dont like that around here. So, what? Hes carrying around a grudge or something? No, the person carrying around a grudge was me. Sure, he had a reason to be upset but I was full on outraged. I went away to prison for two years because of him. Everything I knew went away because of him.

I havent spoken to Abe Ronrock myself, he told me, shaking his head. But we would like this to be a civil arrangement. And the best way to do that is to keep me away from Abe? Yes. I just shake my head. We also have a group for you to attend, he told me, holding up a sheet, squinting. Guidians. He shook his head sadly at the name. Youll be going twice a week. Excuse me? Guidians? I asked. He nodded. Its a group for ex-cons and minors on their way to becoming ex-cons, he explained. The ex-cons mentor the minors and persuade them to make better choices in life. I raise an eyebrow. And Ill be a . . .? A mentor, he filled in. Do I look like the kind of person who should mentor someone? I tugged at my leather jacket, as if this proved just how bad I am. He shrugged. Its not my call on what you do, he said, leaning back in his chair, and it squeaked in protest. But you are going to go, twice a week, every week. And if I dont? This was a stupid question, but I knew the answer. Id go back to prison, because this was obviously a new restriction. Im sure I dont need to spell it out, he said, and then he paused. But there is something you should know about Guidians. What? He ran a hand over his face, sighing. Abe Ronrock is one of the administers. It was probably the wrong thing to do, but I let out a laugh. Your keeping me away from Abe Ronrock by putting me in a group heorganizes? Its flawed logic, I admit, he said, nodding. But I believe itll do you good to be in this group, and its not in my power to evict Abe from his own group, so yes. What happened to not speaking or approaching him?

He looked worn out from talking with me for just ten minutes. You are to remain civil to him, he said finally. If youre civil, I dont see a problem arising that I cant talk my way out. After a few more minutes, my parole officer lets me go and the blonde woman calls in the bouncy leg and his black fingernails in next. I watch briefly as he threw his black bag over his shoulder and scurried inside. Because Im not allowed to drive by myself, and I didnt feel like waking up my mom just so she could take me to my parole meeting, I had to take the bus, which is actually pretty fast seeing that no one ever uses it. Shiloh is a town that doesnt have many walkers. Its a given that if you want to live in this town, youve got to have a car or else you can just head off somewhere else. I sat down at the bus stop, five minutes early. I kick out my legs as an older man takes the seat beside me on the bench. I glanced around the area. It was a Saturday morning, so most people were off sleeping their weekend mornings away. It wasnt too busy, but then again, town never was. Suddenly, I heard the familiar sound of a shrill like giggle. Turning my head, I saw Erin and Peyton. They were what most people called my friends before I went away. My mother referred to us as besties when she tried her best to relate to me. But I didnt consider them my friends, really. Sure, I hung out with every day and when they had a breakup, I offered the helpful hes such a jerk line to make them feel better, but I didnt consider them friends. But Erin and Peyton were better than no one. I waved my hand in the air and Erin, who was facing in my direction, squinted her eyes behind her sunglasses, then her jaw dropped. That was classic Erin thing to do. She jabbed Peyton, then pointed over to me. I watched as Peytons light brown hair flew around as she whipped her head before she saw me too. Like Erin, she was wearing sunglasses too and I was pretty sure they were sharing the same lip gloss again. Silvia?! Ill give you a hint at how loud she was. Remember the old guy beside me? Well, even he looked up when she shrieked this. In their high heels, they nimbly rushed over to the bench. OMG! Erin squealed (she had a thing for using chat speak for actual conversation). Your back!

I nodded. The strong scent of their perfume invaded my nose as they hugged me limply. I am, I said. I obviously needed to get used to their friendliness again. I cant believe this! Peyton said. We thought you were on the death penalty or something! The old guy beside us gave me a look before he slid closer to the edge of the bench. I dont think they give out the death penalty for arson, Peyton, I told her and she furrowed her brow. Well, whatever, she said in her nasal voice. They both had nasal voices and they could really get on your nerves if you had a hangover. Were just happy your home again! Me too. There was a pause, a good long silent one. It wasnt like we didnt have anything to talk about. Its been two years after all; things are bound to change after two years. Boyfriends, breakups, high school scandals, pervy teachers, et cetera. But I could see the wheels turning in their heads, their hesitation visibly coming into play. They realized that Im not their Silvia anymore. Im not Silvia, friend of Erin and Peytons, on and off again fling of Ricks, daughter of richest man in Shiloh. I was Silvia, boat burner, ex-con, and arsonist. Well, Erin said. I recognized the fake smile on her lips; she used to give it all the time to her teachers when shed get caught passing notes. Wed get going. Peyton nodded, agreeing. Yeah, my bus is about to come soon anyway, I said, and as if on cue, the bus coughed to a stop in front of us. Erin eyed the bus, pursing her lips. She must have thought I was insane to ride in something that was so unsanitary. Well, bye! she said, waving rapidly. Then she and Peyton walked off, probably rolling their eyes behind the safety of their sunglasses. Bye, I said to no one in particular before I climbed abroad the bus. My image changed just as much as this town did.

Chapter Three . I glanced at the clock. Today at three, I have my first Guidians meeting to go to. Its still two-thirty. Hmm, I guess the hour didnt just magically change within the last ten minutes that I looked at the look. Maybe Im hoping that I could forget about my Guidians meeting so I wont have to go. Im not one for groups, and I have no doubt this one is going to make me express myself and say whats really on my mind. And then theres the thing where Abes going to be there, watching. If you think Im feeling guilty, then think again. Im just not looking forward to see someone who has a scar because of me, thats all. I wanted my revenge, but I dont want to be around him long enough to provoke conversations like Why did you burn down the boat? or look at me! Im a scarred freak now because of you! I can hear Jack in the living room. I know hes talking with his girlfriend because Ive never heard Jack talk so sweetly before. Plus, when the phone rang, he practically did a nose dive trying to get it. When Jack hung up, he came into the kitchen where Im reading my Guidians pamphlet, compete with nausea, barfing, and, worst of all, feelings. Guidians is going to be a blast! Not. Its so stupid that Im rolling my eyes at my own thoughts. Was that your girlfriend? I asked, keeping my eyes on the pamphlet but managing to raise an eyebrow at the same time. He nodded, practically beaming with happiness. He pulled open the fridge and took out a Coke. Yup, he said, sucking it down. You should meet her. I twisted my lips. Maybe. From what I heard, Scarlett was really nice and sweet and someone I'd like for my brother, but I knew Jack. He wasnt the relationship type.

If my brother wasnt such a man-whore, then yeah. Id meet Scarlett and make an effort, but my brother never stuck with a girl long enough to even know their last name, and I learned that the hard way. He had a girlfriend when I was fourteen. They were both eighteen and I really liked her. Her name was Cynthia and she didnt treat me like I was a kid, like everyone else. She didnt ignore me all the time, like his old girlfriends did. I didnt have any sisters, and they got together around the time Nana got Alzheimers so Mom wasnt around much. Cynthia did all the girlie things with me and someone finally showed me how to use an eyelash curler. She was the first girlfriend my brother had that I actually liked. She took me to the mall every Saturday morning and she helped me pick out my outfit for my first day of high school. If I couldve talked Jack into marrying her, I wouldve. But that October, Cynthia stopped coming around. First it was just not picking me up on a Saturday or not showing up before her classes at the university to help me pick out my clothes on Mondays while listening to me go on about crushes. And then she just didnt come around at all. When I asked Jack what happened to her, he just shrugged. After persistent bugging, Jack finally caved. Were done, Silvia, he said, just like that. Were through. I never liked any of his girlfriends since. Some were nice, others I wanted to ship to Timbuktu. If I tried, I might have liked a few of them, but I knew that within the week, they would be would be history and someone else would be in their place. A lot of them thought that she and Jack were soul-mates. Sometimes, I didnt know whether to feel sorry that they didnt know the fate of their relationship or to just roll my eyes at their stupidity. I think youd like her, Jack told me, tossing his now empty can of Coke in the recycling bin. You guys like a lot of the same authors, I think. Same authors. Oh right! Hey, since youre working at Bookends now, I said and he nodded, could you pick me up Along for the Ride? Its by Sarah Dessen. It came out while I was locked up. He nodded. Sure, he said, and then he reached for a pen and wrote down the information on his hand. Jack forgot almost everything. He looked up at the clock. Oh right. He looked back at me, flicking the pen away. You need a ride to Guidians, dont you?

I sighed. Dont remind me. Jack chuckled at this. Come on, he said, grabbing his keys. Ive gotta get going and I dont think youre gonna get a ride somewhere else. Fifteen minutes later, I was standing outside of Jacks car and he was poking his head out the window. Have a nice first day of school, he said, grinning and totally loving this. Play nice with the other children, and no funny business or Ill have to have a talk with your teachers. I reached into the car to smack his head. Ow! He rubbed the spot by his ear, glaring. If thats the way you treat other kids then you might be expelled, Silvia. Thats what I want, I told him flatly. The smirk on his face faded. Sighing, he said to me, Look, Silvia. This place probably isnt all that bad and whats the worst they can make you do anyway? Listen to other kids whine about how much their lives sucked and how it drove them to pot, alcohol, or any other unhealthy way of compensating. Just play nice, Jack commanded, rolling up his window, and then leaving me in front of the community center, which will be known as torture chamber for the next hour. I walked up to the double doors. Big, white, and boring, probably like the Guidians group meeting I was about to attend. I walked inside slowly, and then spotted the big arrow with GUIDIANS written underneath. A second later I was in the doorway of a large room with hardwood floors and white walls with about ten windows and another set of double doors that led outside to some kind of garden. Inside the room was a guy, probably in his early forties, setting up chairs in a circle. This was enough to make me want to bolt all the way home. The guy looked up, startled. Oh, I didnt see you there, he said, going back to arranging the chairs. Are you here for . . . um . . .? Guidians? I asked. He nodded, scooting a chair a little closer to another. Yeah, he said. I nodded, but he didnt see me with his head ducked in concentration. Arranging chairs was obviously a hard job, but someone had to do it. Yeah, I am, I told him.

He nodded once again. Im Norman, he introduced, standing up and eyeing his work. After nodding again, this time to his masterpiece of chair arrangement, he turned to me. And you are? Silvia Brendor, I told me. I was the only one there. Okay, he huffed. Take a seat. Well be getting started in another minute or so. Now I nodded, taking a seat by the wall. So, am I the only one coming or what? I asked him. He chuckled a little. No, he said, shaking his head. He seemed big on neck movements. Weve got a few more kids coming in too. I looked around the empty circle of chairs. Where are they? Norman paused. Probably trying to find a way out of coming. He ran a hand over his face. Sickness, traffic, getting lost. Theyll throw the whole book at you. Just then we heard the door open. We both turned our heads and I heard, Sorry, Im late. There was traffic and something about a duck family. . . Thats as far as Abe got. By then, he had walked through the doorway, started to take off a man-purse. His bright blue eyes first landed on Norman, and then he looked over at me and stopped dead in his tracks. There, in the burned flesh, was Abe Ronrock. Im not sure what made my pulse race at first. Whether it was the red T-shirt he wore that exposed his burned arm (which looked, like, ten times better than it did in court) or if it was because in the eighteen months I hadnt seen him, he turned hot. The tan Abe had been working on two years ago had obviously kicked in. What used to be the color of ice cream cone (the light colored ones, I mean) was now a color I could only relate to honey. His biceps were amazing and I noticed that he recently cut his black curly hair. The shirt he was wearing hugged his chest so perfectly that I knew he finally got the Ronrock traditional abs. And then there were his eyes: blue as ever. Oh, uh, Abe meet Silvia, Norman said, gesturing to us both. Silvia, this is my partner I guess you could call him. He runs Guidians with me.

I wasnt sure if I should play along and pretend like I didnt know him or if I should just spill the beans. We met, Abe said, placing his man-purse on the ground. You did? Yeah, once. He looked directly at me, blue eyes and all. Nice to see you again, Silvia. I made a face. I burned his arm and he says it nice to see me again? Maybe there was more damage than I knew of. You too, I said cautiously when Norman wouldnt stop looking at me. When Norman left to go get water bottles from his truck, Abe is neatly stacking up name stickers on a table by the blue pens. Here, he said. I looked up. Hes holding out a red name sticker that has HELLO, my name is _____ on it and a pen. Thanks, I mumbled back. He just nodded and went back to stacking. A second later, I saw him scribble his name down on one himself and he peels off the back then sticks it on his chest. Lucky sticker. After writing down my name, I place the sticker on my side. I always hated how people always put their stickers on their chest. I felt there were a million other places to put it. I threw the crumpled up wrapper in the trash can across the room, nailing it. Abe saw this. Nice shot, he commented, finally leaving the name stickers alone. He tried shooting his own crumpled wrapper into the can, but he missed. Crap. I watched as Abe walked over, picking up the wrapper, and just drops it inside. As he does, the scar flashes in my direction. A second later, I heard the door swing open, banging the wall. Abe winced as he stood up, looking wary already. Then, at the speed of light, a blur on a skateboard flashed by me, sending a gust of air flying through my hair. The blur spun around Abe once then came to a stop by the name stickers table. A kid, not much younger than me, grinned. Hes wearing a dark hoodie and has a nose piercing with emo styled hair. Hey, Abe, he said.

Abe just glanced at him. I think someone told you not to bring that, he said instead, nudging his foot at his skateboard. The kid shrugged sheepishly, smiling. Its how I get around, he explained, taking a seat. He looked at me. Hey, youre new! I nodded, shifting my weight. Yeah. Im Mitch, he told me and I nodded once more, hoping hed just leave it at that. I was caught with pot, by my mom. Whatd you do? I blinked. Your mom caught you with pot? Mitch sighed, shaking his head sadly. It taught me a very valuable lesson, he said. Abe turned, facing us, interested now. He crossed his arms over his muscled chest, listening closely. Never, ever let your mom buy you underwear, he said gravely. She will look in all your drawers, find all your baggies, and then tell your father. At the dinner table, in front of your grandparents. Abe let out a sigh. Thats not the lesson youre supposed to learn, he told him. Mitch shrugged once again. Its the one I learned. Since when did Abe start acting so old and lame? Not that Id know what he was like a couple of years ago, but there was no way he couldve survived Madison High with that attitude. Im sure Im looking at him like hes grown two heads or something. And as if he sensed this, he turned his head to me. His blue eyes meet my hazel ones, and they locked. The look is strong and intense enough for me to look away. It was like a hard push, knocking you to the ground. If he gave that look to any other girl, shed blush and look away before glancing back with a small smile or a terrified expression. But Im not any other girl. Not Silvia Brendor. Thats not how she works. I sat up straighter, forcing my gaze mirror his. Im sure Im challenging him in some sense, but I cant help it. Its my nature. Hello? Is anyone even here? Hello?!

Abe, breaking first, looked his head in the direction of the voice. A girl with red hair and a nose piercing (like Mitch), walked into the room, squinting. Then her eyes land on us. There you are! Do you know how hard this place is to find?! Abe crossed his arms. This is the first room in the building, he explained in a tone that would make Erin and Peyton feel stupider than the time their shared crush told them they were. But to this girl, it didnt mean much of anything at all. So? Sit down, Abe instructed, gesturing to the closest chair to him. Ill be right back. After Abe left, Mitch leaned toward me and whispered, Dont worry about him. Hes usually not that uptight. Gee, I wonder why. Yeah, the red head said, taking a seat, and then she glanced in the direction he left. Whats his problem anyway? Did Kel call? Not that I saw, Mitch said, shaking his head. I vaguely remembered Kel from high school. I think she was a cheerleader. I never really talked to myself, but Erin was friends with her, but I heard she befriended Abe against her friends wishes. Why does it matter if Kel called? I asked, not being able to help myself. I thought they were still friends. I could see the red head readying herself to fill me in. Kel is Abes ex, she said, whispering. She was leaning way too close to me for comfort. They broke up two months ago. Mitch nodded, confirming this. They dated for, like, eight months? She looked to Mitch for confirmation, who nodded. Anyway, people are saying that she broke up with him because they had sex, and it wasnt that good. Or, Mitch said loudly, shooting her a look, they also say that he broke up with her because Abe was secretly attracted to her mother and Kel found out about it. That doesnt even make sense! She shook her head, clearly thinking something along the lines of amateur. Why would he break up with her?! Mitch looked smug. Because Abe was secretly in love with her mother and wanted to be with her instead of Kel.

There was a loud groan. Not this again. We all turned around to a see another girl, with dark brown hair and big brown eyes, standing there, shaking her head at the circle. What? The other girl tried to fake a look of innocence. She didnt know about what happened between Abe and Kel yet! We had to fill her in! Between Abe, Kel, and Kels mother! Mitch exclaimed loudly. We all know what happened, the new girl said, turning to me. Abe broke up with her because he found out the girl who burned his arm off was coming back to town. What happened with Abe and Kel is none of your business. Once again, we all turned around. I was preparing myself to see yet another face of some delinquent with their own input of the Abe/Kel relationship, and guessing from the redhead and Mitch, theyd probably have a nose piercing. Instead, it was Abe himself. The redheads cheeks began to flame furiously to match her hair and she ducked her head. Mitch slouched in his seat, sighing. The new girl just shrugged and found her seat before taking out her phone and started texting. I just stared at Abe. He stared back. Then he just shook his head, as if saying he was done. Did everyone get their name tags? he asked, arms crossed over his chest again. This was followed by a response of grunts, shrugs, and Mitch shaking his head. Then what are you waiting for? he asked. It was amazing the kind of power he had over them. Just like that, they were up and scrambling to write their names on stickers. I suddenly realized why he was decided to make this group. It was all about control. About having power over something, or someone, when in reality he had no control whatsoever.

One last girl came in. Her blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail, head ducked with earbuds in her ears. She was wearing a dark T-shirt, black shorts, and matching flip flops. She was looking at Abe, but she wasnt looking at his burn. She was looking at his face, waiting. He nodded over to the table where Mitch and the redhead were fighting over a pen. Name tag tables over there, he told her. After they all put on their names, I figured out who each one of them was. The girl with dyed red hairs name was Tristan. The girl textings name was Stella. And the latest one, the one with the black attire, her name was Elsie. A minute later Norman came back, carrying the water bottles, and he smiles at us all. Its like theres an immediate change in energy when he comes into the room. Everyone just relaxed, and even Abe looks a little more at ease as he took a seat, away from our circle of delinquents. Alright everyone, Norman greeted, sitting in our circle (unlike Abe, whos sitting by the name tag table). So, lets get to know each other a little better, shall we? I looked longingly at the pair of scissors on the table. It would only take one swift movement to lodge them in my neck before any of these . . . weirdoes decide to unload on us. Well, Im Mitch, Mitch said, starting us off. I feel like Im at an AA meeting, but its more like a BB meeting. Boat Burner meeting. I was busted for pot by my mom, he went on, nodding, twisting his lips. She turned me in for what she likes to call tough love detox. Norman nodded sympathetically at him, and then he looked at Stella. She glanced up from her phone. Im Stella, she said flatly. I spray painted my teachers house after he decided to make me take his class again. Stella took a quick look around the room, sighing. Instead, Im here. And then she went back to texting.

Then Tristan was up next. Im Tristan! she announced chirpily, waving. I stole a necklace from the people I babysat for and then I sold it for a fake ID. Everyone looked at me, including Abe. I can see it on his face. Hes wondering what Im going to say. I wonder what Im going to say too. Im Silvia, I said and Tristan grinned, waving at me. After giving her a look, I said, I burned my dads boat to a crisp. I can still feel Abes eyes on me. Last is Elsie. Im Elsie, she said, wringing her hands. She isnt looking at us, but at her lap. I attacked an annoying cheerleader at Madison and broke her nose. Elsie, Norman warned. We dont refer to other people as annoying, especially if weve broken their nose. But she was. Anyway! Norman exclaimed, clapping his hands together. Im Norman and this he gestured to Abe is Abe. This is a group we created to help others learn from our mistakes, without necessarily making them. Some of you will be mentors, Abe informed from behind us, and the creaking of everyone turning in their chairs followed the sound of his voice, the rest of you will be mentored. Who am I mentoring?! Mitch says, laughing. Abe didnt find this very amusing. Your being mentored, Mitch, he explained, cocking his head to the side, by me. Mitch slouched again. Bummer, he muttered. Abe raised an eyebrow. Stella, Norman said, eyeing her until she put away her cellphone. Youll be mentoring Tristan. Stella is visibly alarmed by the size of the grin on Tristans face. And Silvia, Norman said, turning to me. Youll be mentoring Elsie. Elsie looked as excited as me.

For the mentors, Abe said loudly as Mitch dragged his chair over to Abe, youll be mentored by Norman and me. Were called Guidians, Norman announced and even Abe seemed to flinch at this. You may mentor others but me and Abe will guide you. Silvia. I felt my spine stiffen at the sound of my name and the way it sounds coming from his mouth. Its the first time hes acknowledged me as who I am. I turned around, seeing him staring at me. Youre with me, he told me. For Guidians maybe, he was with me. But in reality, he wasnt with me at all. We were on different sides. Attacker and victim. Im sure we both wanted each other to die a painful death, and he might have a better reason than me, but I still had a reason. Because of him, I lost everything. Everything changed for me. From my family to where I slept to what I ate. Nothing was the same, and nothing wouldve changed if he had kept his mouth shut. What changed for him? So he has a scar, all that changed is the appearance of his arm. He had everything he had that night. The same friends, the same job, the same family, the same house. Nothing changed for him. While my life turned upside down.

Chapter Four According to Norman, Im supposed to tell Elsie the graphic details of my crime. This isnt something I really want to do. Id much rather keep the fact Im the one who gave Abe his ugly scar a secret from everyone here. But Im not ashamed or anything, I dont know how attached these kids are to Abe. I could be forming a Guidians mafia if they find out. Although, I guess theyre going to eventually.

That still doesnt mean I have to be the one to tell them. Elsie flipped the pen Norman gave her to write down the points in my lesson. Arent you supposed to tell me about what you did or something? she asked. I nodded. Yeah, I told her. She gestured for me to go on. Well, then . . . Sighing, I looked at the points of the lesson I was supposed to tell her about offenses. I had to explain what I did and why, what my punishment was, and how it totally sucked. This basically just means scare the kid from making crappy decisions like you did. Okay, I said, and across the room I could see Stella and Tristan sitting on the floor, going over their own lesson, I set fire to my dads boat two years ago. You said that already, Elsie informed me. She pointed the eraser of her pen to the nowempty circle of metal chairs. Introduction, remember? This was already grating on my nerves. Thats too bad because thats all Ive got, I told her. Elsie glanced at my sheet of points. Youre supposed to explain why you did it. Only one thing came to mind. It probably wasnt the best answer to give but if they wanted the truth, it was the only one theyd get from me. I was angry, I told her. For the first time during our whole lesson she makes eye contact with me. Why? Now here is where it starts to sound stupid. I dont know, I answered, running my fingers along the small table. I just was. I wasnt even lying. I really didnt know where the sudden rage came from, but suddenly it was there and it wasnt planning on leaving anytime soon. And two years later, its still there like an uninvited guest and you had no idea what they were doing here to begin with, and you dont know when theyre leaving. What did they do? I blinked. They hauled me off to juvie, I said flatly, like I was saying that it was meant to rain tomorrow or what I had for breakfast. Elsie looked around. I thought for a second a small smirk crossed her face. None of us has been to juvie before, she said, like it was an inside secret. What was it like?

I guess this could be described as the How it Sucked part, and suddenly the whole room was looking at me, eyes wide and a jaw dropped. The dropped jaw was Tristans by the way. I didnt know if they were all generally interested in the answer of my question, to decide whether or not going to juvie was a big enough deal to forgo their troublemaker ways, or if they were surprised that someone actually went to juvie. Either way, it didnt matter to me. I didnt like being the center of attention. And they were waiting. Waiting to hear what juvie was really like, from someone who was a two year resident. Juvie wasnt that bad honestly, I said, just to spite Norman and Abe, and to let everyone know that I wasnt going to play along with their game. I kind of liked it there. Maybe Ill go back sometime. I could see Normans eyes narrowing as Abe begun to frown. It was about time they knew I was a force to be reckoned with. Were the people there mean? Tristan piped up, like I was on display, ready and willing to answer all the questions they had about juvenile detention centers. Nah, I replied, waving this question off with the bat of my hand. They werent tough at all. You took one step in their direction and theyd burst into tears. It was like I could see Normans blood pressure beginning to rise. Was the food awful? I shook my head. Of course not, I said and I could see Norman getting out of his seat, coming toward me. Juvie is kind of awesome. Trust me, its nothing to use against you. Suddenly, I felt a hard yank on my arm then I was being pulled away. As Im being tugged away, I heard someone say, Whoa. Before I know it, Im pushed down into a chair, away from the rest of the group, in another room completely. Im sitting, half on/ half off, on a chair in front of a desk and Norman took a seat in the chair behind it. When he sat, I can see that hes trying hard not to glare at me. What was that? His tone is so low and grave that Im positive hes trying not to seethe out every word hes going to say.

I shrugged, not at all intimidated by his staring. The truth? I offered. He paused; his breathing is so loud it actually echoes in the room. He tapped his finger to the desk. This is a group, he said, where we teach and guide minors to stop them from repeating certain mistakes and ending up I leaned forward. Like me? He blinked, but he didnt miss a beat. In all honesty, yes, he said truthfully. Abe and I made this group to stop kids from ending up, as you said, like you. Chuckling, I got comfortable in the chair. My life isnt so bad, I told him. He leaned back in his chair, his index finger resting over his lip. That so? I nodded. Silvia, he said, and I prepared myself for The Speech, at the age of sixteen you were incarcerated and now, at only eighteen years old, youre an ex-con. Thats not an easy life, Silvia. I twisted my lips. And you would know this how? He was quiet for a long time All Im saying is this a group to guide others, he informed me, ignoring my previous question, and if you cant do that, then Ill have to contact your parole officer. I was sure my organs turned into icebergs. I may say that juvie wasnt that bad, but in no world did I ever want to go back. I dont want to sleep on one of those cots again or feel that trapped again. I got this feeling when they shut my cell door. It was like a tightening in my gut, a wrenching. And the loud sound the door made when it finally shut, locking, it really made you feel trapped. Forget the fact that you actually are trapped, and that you might as well be in a collapsed cave instead, but you feel just as trapped. Its like the doors are telling you, theres no way out now. Thats how I felt every time they locked my cell, that awful slamming noise attacking my ears. Theres no way out of this now. And I didnt mean the cell.

If my parole officer found out that Im not cooperating, then hell see this as a parole violation, and I might go to the adult prison. This is apparently ten times worse than juvie. Alright then, Norman said, as if he can sense what my silence really means. Can I assume that from now on, youll be cooperating? Prison vs. Guidians. I looked away, folding my arms. Yes, I told him, not hiding the begrudging tone to my voice. Good. . I sat on the side of the curb, waiting for Jack to pick me up, if he even remembers that he has to. I could just picture myself an hour later, standing in the rain and Jacks sheepish smile as he finally picked me up. I forgot, hed say. But, of course, now I have my cellphone so if hes even just fifteen minutes later, Ill text him annoying messages until I see his Audi pulling up to the community center. Back before I was arrested and went off to Kind of Awesomeville, me and Jack had a system for when he was late picking me up, which happened a lot because I had just gotten my license when I was arrested. Anyway, if he was late or forgot, hed owe me an ice cream or, my favorite of the options, a sour lemon and blueberry slushie. Sour lemon and blueberry slushies may sound, well, disgusting, but theyre really good, but according to Jack, its just me. Theres only one place I know that sell them and its The Iceberg. Now I hoped that Jacks late so he can buy me one. I looked at my time app on my phone. Hes five minutes late now. Blueberry slushie, here I come. Five minutes turned into seven minutes, and seven minutes turned into ten minutes. A second later, I heard someone approaching the curb where Im waiting for Jack. Its quiet for a minute after the footsteps stop, and then, Do you need a ride? I looked up.

The sun is shining around Abes upper body so brightly that I have to squint up at him while his blue eyes are big and staring down at me. His black hair is almost glinting in the sun. My brothers coming to pick me up, I informed him, turning to stare at the parking lot. There are only two cars, Abes and Normans. Hell be here any minute. I cant help how hostile my voice sounded. I just dont like people who change my life so drastically that I cant even recognize it. If you told me that Abe would be the one to change my life, like this, Id laugh. Abe was . . . different. He was good looking, but not popular. Didnt have many dates or girlfriends, not a crowd of friends to blend in with. He had the body to be popular, but something was just off about him. Maybe it was his good grades or the fact his familys blood ran blue not red. Whatever it was that repelled us, it never went away. Even now, I can still feel it. Abe was shy, friendly, but shy. The first time I saw him, he was in my English class. In class, you can just tell whos popular and whos not. The populars kept their head held high, leaning back in their seats like they own the place, confidence just literally seeped through their pours. But the unpopulars kept their head down, hunched over, like there was a secret in their eyes. Abe kept his head down, black hair falling over his eyes. Hes push it away from his eyes with the eraser of his pencil when he looked up. The first time I really noticed his presence was when we were on a class trip to New York City. The whole town was surprised we could afford to go, but somehow it was pulled off. We drove of course, but still. It happened in the hotel. I managed to sneak into the boys hotel room and into their bathroom where I was making out with Michael Harrison. It was kind of a blur, one moment Michael is saying we should do it and the next, the door opened (wed forgotten to lock it) and theres Abe, standing there and holding a gray toiletry bag. Oh, he said awkwardly, shifting his weight. He was looking away from us, his neck a deep red. Sorry. After he shut the door, I scrambled over to lock it and told Michael no. Now, Abe is just standing there, squinting while he looked at the parking lot, the wind flapping his hair around. I wondered why hes still there, but I know better than to ask. How long have you been back? he asked, looking right at me. With the sun, his eyes seem to look . . . unreal.

His blue eyes throw me off, like more visual shoving. Theyre too intense. Three days, I answered, wishing that Jack would just show up already, forget buying me a slushie. I silently curse his crappy memory. So, are you staying or . . . what? Am I staying? You got that right. I was staying alright, and I was going to fix my life and do a lifetimes worth of damage control. And then I was going to ruin his life, just like he did two years ago. Yeah, Im staying. I couldnt believe my icy cold voice. It was worthy of an Emmy or some other kind of award. It was a vocal masterpiece. Sorry to ruin your summer. What? Abes black brows furrowed slightly while his black hair fell over his forehead. He lifted his hand up to brush it back from his eyes. What are you talking about? The sun burned my eyes as I tried to give me a you know what Im talking about look. You dont have to try to hide it, I told him. I already know you dont want me here. There was a pause. Yeah, Abe muttered, and nodded. He looked out at the parking lot. But you are. I nodded. And Im not going anywhere, I said to the light blue truck I was staring at. I heard his keys jingle. Yeah, I know, he replied, and then he stepped off the curb. I watched as he walked out to the parking lot, swinging his keys around his index finger. The wind still tossed his hair around as Abe manually unlocked the light blue truck and climbed inside. When hes about to start the truck, he looked at me. Our eyes locked again, and he remained still, frozen in place. Because of this, I didnt dare to move either. He blinked once then started the truck. He drove away without giving me a second glance. A minute later, Jacks Audi pulled up to the parking lot, and I think I saw the reason why he was so late picking me up. Sitting in the passengers seat, is a girl. A girl with her dark brown hair pulled into a ponytail, and laughing at something Jack had said. The Audi came to a stop in front of me. They both turned around to face me.

Jack rolled down her window and called out, Was that I nodded, pulling open the backseat door. Luckily for me, Jack wasnt the type to ask questions about my life, and I hoped that still counted for where Abe was concerned. What was he doing here? I blinked. Jack used to be so big on people minding their own business. Nothing, I mumbled, putting on my seatbelt. Jack rolled his eyes briefly before he gestured to the girl in the passenger seat beside him. Silvia, he said and I sat back. This is my girlfriend, Scarlett. She turned in her seat, smiled tensely, and waved. Hey, she said. My brothers girlfriends usually smiled tensely at me. But most of the time it was because they wanted him alone and not with his little sister, not because I was an ex-con. Hey, I said back. For whatever reason, Jack hasnt pulled out of the parking lot yet. Its so awkward in here. Its the kind of silence that begs to broken but it just cant. The awkward moment when youre an ex-con and youre in the same car as your brother and his girlfriend. Finally, Jack let out a small, nearly inaudible sigh, and he started the car. As we were driving out of the parking lot, I reminded Jack, You owe me a slushie for making me wait ten minutes. Jack glanced at me. A slushie? He looked at Scarlett, like she would be able to explain what I meant. Why would I owe you a slushie? That sinking feeling I get in my gut every time I realize something changed happens again. Dont you remember? I asked him and he shook his head. We had a deal? He made a face. He still didnt know what Im talking about. A couple of years ago, I reminded him, waiting for him to jump in. He doesnt. Every time you were late, you owed me a sour lemon, blueberry slushie? Oh! Jack nodded now, turning into a new road. I remember now. A sour lemon one, though? Those are nasty. They are not, I mumbled. Scarlett turned around in her seat. Where do you get them from? The Iceberg?

My eyes widened. You know about The Iceberg?! I gaped. The reason Im so surprised is that The Iceberg is almost completely off the map. The Iceberg is in another town, which is unbelievably smaller than ours, and its not very well known. The slushie/ice cream place around here is the Penguin, and theyreslushies are nasty. She nodded quickly. Oh yeah, she confirmed. I found it after I move here from Bay View. The Penguin sucked too much to take. The lines are forever and by the time I get my slushie, its practically just dyed water. I know! Jack looked at me using the review mirror. He looked like he was happy, happy that I was on the verge of bonding with Scarlett over how much The Penguin sucked. This week he would be happy that I was bonding with her. Next week hed be saying she wouldnt come around anymore and that his new girlfriends name is Kara and he wanted me to make an effort with her too. I sank into my seat and turned to the window. Were passing by all the familiar places I knew, or at least I used to know them anyway. The grocery store Good Greens came into view, then the store Sexy Favors, then Papas Big Bowl of Chili. And then I see my favorite store, right next to Bookends, So Fetch. So Fetch is a clothing store that opened up shop a few years ago, probably around the time I was twelve. The owner was a serious Mean Girls fan and named the store after the line That is so fetch. There was a TV on the counter playing the movie over and over again. A second later, Jack pulled into The Iceberg, but someone who hasnt been here in a while, someone like me, wouldnt know that. They would think were at a cheesy outdoor place. Where are we? I asked, even though I could read the words The Iceberg written up on a sign with snow and icicles hanging off each letter, I still didnt believe it. The Iceberg, Jack answered in an obvious tone, getting out of the Audi. Where else? Even as they got out, I stayed put. This didnt look like The Iceberg. This looked more like the outside part of a Burger King. The white tables with gum stuck under the bottoms were gone, replaced by rainbow colored circular tables with cheap beach chairs. The small shack up on a porch with three dogs in a small fence by the window where you picked up your order of ice cream was gone too. The first window, where you ordered, was still there though.

The handwritten signs listing the types of ice cream and beverages disappeared too. Nothing, not even the fence was the same, was the same. Scarlett knocked on the window beside me. I jumped, banging my head on the door. Grimacing and rubbing my wound, I asked, What? She gave me an apologetic look. Sorry, I saw her mouth, her voice just barely coming through the window. Are you coming? Sighing, I nodded. As soon as I opened the door, I heard the dogs begin to bark at us, or our car. They were puppies last I saw them, but now they were full grown Jack Russells. Jack used to joke about how he should get a Jack Russell one of these days, to honor himself or something like that. Hed say how the owner of The Iceberg had such a massive crush on him that she bought Jack Russells just to feel close to him. It didnt help that our dads name was Russell either. The gravel crunched against our flip flops and at one point, Im sure my shin got nicked by one flying from under Jacks feet. I dont blame the gravel, Jacks feet stink. Theres a wheelchair ramp now, right by the steps up to the porch to order your ice cream or slushie. I guess thats a plus side to change. Too bad the wheelchair ramp isnt the only thing thats new. Welcome to The Iceberg! a girl in a white T-shirt that says The Iceberg in letters that match the sign above my head, said happily. What can we get for you today? I looked around as Jack orders a cherry slushie (eww, disgusting), trying my best to not cringe at the cheesy rainbow colored tables surrounding us. Since when this place look so vomit-worthy? Jack nudged me. Usual? I nodded. A small sour lemon, blueberry slushie, Jack told her, and I almost clapped for his memory. Maybe there was hope after all. He looked at Scarlett. Can I assume another usual? She grinned, and I noticed they were holding hands. Yup, she told him. A Mix up Slushie, he told the girl now. A Mix up Slushie was made after so many people wanted more than one flavor and they just decided to give it a name after a while.

And what flavors would you like? she asked, all preppy and hurting my ears. I could so tell that she was a cheerleader at one point in her life. She just looked like a girl whod die without pom-poms. Green, cherry, and blue, Scarlett answered after Jack hesitated, forgetting the combination of flavors. Even though it looked like she was used to his memory, I still got the familiar drop in my stomach. Jack looked at us both, shaking his head sadly. You guys are nuts, he said as we waited by the pickup window. You cant just like a normal flavor like . . . orange or something, can you? I shook my head. Too bland, I told him and Scarlett agreed. And pass up all the funny disgusting faces people give me? she joked, nudging his ribs. No way, disgusted faces are hilarious. Just as Jack smiled at her, her phone buzzed in the pocket of her shorts. She paused, both of them glancing down at the bulge in her pocket. She reached inside and glanced at the ID. She looked up, smiling at me. Its my friend Toby. Hes having some problems with a girl, she said apologetically. She turned to Jack. Im going to go tell him to call me back, okay? He nodded, giving her temple a small kiss. Im sure he felt my stare after she walked off. He turned to me, sighing. What, Silvia? I could answer this question in a heartbeat. What was change, What was him, What was their relationship. The world was changing and he didnt know it, he just went off like this was how it always was, kisses on temples and jobs at bookstores. But what could I say? Nothing. I could say nothing. As we waited, a couple with a little boy came up the stairs. The little boy, who had darkish hair, instantly ran to the dog fence and tried to stick his little hand through the holes in the wire. Logan, his mother said, snatching him up just as one of the dogs tried to nip at his hand. She planted a kiss on his cheek. Are you in line? the guy asked me, gesturing to the window. Owen, the mother said, her ring glinting at me as she shifted Logan in her arms. A second later, the guy, Owen, took him from her. Thats the pickup window, silly. He furrowed his brow. Logan was squirming in his arms. What?

She pointed to the other window. Thats where you order the ice cream, she said with a warm smile. She nodded to the window in front us. This is where you pick up your ice cream. He seemed to consider this, and then he shrugged. Alright then, he said. That girl in the white shirt/former cheerleader appeared in the window. Heres your slushies! Even the cups were different. Ohhhh, Blushes Scarlett came up with a BRILLIANT way to get me to post. Making a Rebecca Black profile with the hideous songFriday. Scarlett is an evil genius. Chapter Five . There used to be this time, a long time ago obviously, when my mother would demand that we all eat together at the table or wed all have to go hungry. Eating separately or on the go made her cringe, which is the reason we never eat fast food, which as she said, would only benefit us anyway. But now Dad doesnt come home until at least eight, and Moms not home for dinner either. After lunch, she takes off and we dont see her again until seven and by then, she mumbles that shes exhausted, grabs a banana or something, and heads up to bed. Now Jack cooks dinner, or his version of cooking anyway: ordering in. Just as hes throwing the greasy pizza box in the trash under the sink, Mom comes through the door. Hey, Jack said. He never sounds surprised that she misses dinner. I dont know why that seemed to get under my skin so much. Theres pizzas in the fridge if you want some. No, thanks, Mom answered, slipping off her shoes and she sighed. Where were you? I asked, pushing my Styrofoam plate with my half eaten pizza on it away. She jumped like shes startled that Im here, like she forgot I came home. Oh, I was with Nana, she replied quickly, walking to the medicine cabinet. She says hello. What a load of bull. Nana doesnt remember who I am, she told me so.

Mom opened an orange bottle, shaking out a couple of pills. A second later, she downed them like a pro and Jack handed her a glass of water. It looked like their routine or something. Well, goodnight, she said with a tired smile, kissing Jack on the cheek. I glanced at the clock; right on track. Its seven-thirty. She paused, just for a second. Im just tired, sweetheart, she told me and she stood over me as I sat in the barstool, like shes debating something. She cant decide whether to kiss my cheek or not. In the end, she gave my shoulder a quick squeeze. Night, darling, she cooed sweetly before retreating to the stairs, the sound of her muffled footsteps following. I looked at Jack. What did she just take? He shrugged. Sleeping pills or something? He glanced at the bottle, still on the counter. She has trouble sleeping sometimes. Looking back to the stairs, I wondered if the cause of her sleeping troubles has more to do with me or with Nana. Have you seen Nana yet? Jack asked, kind of quietly. I wasnt sure he actually asked until I turned to look at her, noticing that he was avoiding my gaze. No, I told him in a sigh, crossing my arms. I havent. Whats the point anyway? She wont remember me. Shell just call me a whore whos sleeping with her husband. Shes still Nana, he murmured with a shrug. If she was lucid Thats the thing, I said loudly, shes not lucid. I sucked in a breath, lowering my voice. Shes not. If she was, that it would be different but she has no idea who I am. Shell just think Im someone else. The last time I went to see Nana, she called me Peggy and told me to stay away from her husband or else shell break my precious picture frame collection with a baseball bat. You dont know that, he reasoned. She could see you and remember who you are, just like that. You never know. I just shook my head. Jack let out a sharp sigh. Fine. And then he left the room, his footsteps thudding heavily up the stairs, leaving me alone.

Ive never said anything to him or even Mom, but I get worried about him. He forgets everything all the time, just like Nana did, and just like Mom is now. I can deal with Nana not remembering. Ill handle it if Mom cant one day either. But Jack was something else entirely. I couldnt imagine him being locked away somewhere, reliving days from years ago, forgetting everyone around you like they were never there to begin with. Jacks my big brother. When I get old, hes supposed to make fun of me for my wrinkles and say something like his grandkids are cuter than mine. Hes supposed to be the one giving me a hand when I decide its time to poison my husband and collect his life insurance. Hes not supposed to stare at me like Im a stranger, shake my hand, and ask for my name. Hes not supposed to get Alzheimers to begin with. . Two years ago, on a Saturday, it would be considered a miracle to see me before two p.m. I might as well have been Lazarus walking down those stairs. It was such a big thing that my brother would mock a gasp and my mothers eyes would widen before asking if I was hungry. Now, two years and a jail sentence later, on a Saturday morning, I was up at nine, downing cup after cup of coffee and getting ready, albeit reluctantly, to head out for my second Guidians meeting. My mother used to be a morning bird, but now, at nine a.m., she was in her room, snoring. But Nana had that affect. Lucid or not, she knew how to tire someone out, especially Mom. As I poured myself another coffee, not able to completely shake the feeling of wanting to go back upstairs to my bed and put the AC on high, I heard the muffled footsteps of someone coming down the stairs. After I turned around, I blinked to make sure its not just my sleepy mind playing tricks on me. Not only was Dad dressed before noon on a Saturday, but he wore a dark blue shirt and khakis. There was also a golf bag hitched on his shoulder, clubs poking in all directions. Are you going golfing? I asked incredulously as he walked around me to the obviously beloved coffee pot, Seriously? With his back turned to me, the sound of the coffee pouring filled the room. Yes, seriously, he said, placing the pot back. Dont you have a meeting today? I blinked; I was still stuck on the golf bag. Yeah, I said slowly and I glanced at the clock, in an hour.

I know what youre thinking. What, he cant go golfing on a Saturday? Of course he can. Hes Russell Brendor. This basically meant he can do whatever he pleases, whenever he pleases. But on Saturdays, he stuck around home. Starting up the barbeque and hollering to us that were having steak tonight, and thats that. He woke everyone up early so we could get started on whatever plans he made for the weekend, which were the only things that got him through the week, knowing that he would have the best weekend, again. On Saturday mornings, Id find a stack of DVDs and board games on the coffee table, and I could almost hear Dad begging for someone to play Clue with him, despite his constant peeking. So when he said hes going golfing, then I dont believe it. Call me nave, but I thought thered be board games and the barbeque and DVDs. Not a golfing bag, on the way out the door, again. He turned around, and looked me over in my black tank-top and dark green shorts. Then youd better get dressed, he advised. And then, just like that, hes gone. He placed his mug down in the sink before he walked out, his golfing bag hitting me on the hip as he passed. A second later, the door closed. For someone who used to love being home so much, hes never home. Was it me that changed? Last week, before I came home, was everything still the same? Was Dad always home and was Mom still up with the birds? Was it just me? Or did the world move without me. Did things just change? Would they still have changed if I were here, instead of locked up in my cell? As I debated this, Jack comes running down the stairs, so fast I thought hed tumble. See ya! he hollered, throwing open the door, keys in his hand. Wait! I yelled, placing my mug down on the counter with a clunk. How am I supposed to get to Guidians? You need to give me a ride. Jack ran his hand through his hair. Sorry, Silvia, he said apologetically, but rushed. Im taking Scarlett out. I huffed and crossed my arms over my small frame. What about me? He shrugged. Figure something out, he said before he dashed out the door, slamming it behind him so fast and hard that it shook the kitchen, and then it went deadly silent. Half an hour later, Im sitting at the bus stop again, waiting on the bus with an old lady whos reading a copy of My Husbands Affair. I hated the bus. I swear Im, like, the only person on there without mobility issues.

Today, according to the email Norman gave me last night, were learning/teaching the importance of helping others because it gives us a whole new perspective on life. I say, its all crap and whether we all become delinquents, druggies, drinkers, and convicts is our own business but whatever. I leaned back, closing my eyes, and waited to hear the familiar cough of the bus slowly driving up to the stop to collect its victims. But instead, I heard something else, but just as familiar if not more. Its the rumbling of a beat up Volkswagen, too dirty to even make out the natural color. The rumbling is followed by loud rock music that blasts so loudly that the lady besides me complained to herself about it. I opened my eyes, seeing that muddied Volkswagen in front of me, the passengers window rolled down and the driver watching me. Via? Rick asked, flicking down his sunglasses. He glanced at the bus stop sign, frowning. Are you waiting on the bus? What are you, eighty? The old lady glared and then mumbled something about manners. No, I told him. I dont know why, but my skin suddenly began to prickle. Im on probation. I cant drive yet. Awesome, he said, but I cant tell if hes being sarcastic or not. Where are you headed? The community center, I answered. I know he thinks its lame. It was a common rule among the populars, community centers sucked, period. His expression just confirmed everything I suspected. The community center? He looks so appalled, its a little amusing. Why would you want to go there? I have to, I told him. Probation, remember. He hesitated for a moment before he gave a sheepish nod. Yeah, he mumbled, as if he has any idea what its like to be on probation. Then he nodded for me to come inside. Get in. I dont even think about it before I stood and popped open the door to the Volkswagen, dirt crumbling on my fingers, and I climbed in. When I slammed the door, Rick is lighting a cigarette. Want one? he asked, flicking open his lighter and using both his hands to light it. I shook my head. No, thanks, I told him, lowering the window after he puffed out a cloud of hazardous smoke. I rather my lungs not look like burnt hot dogs.

He shrugged, nonchalant as always. Suit yourself, he said around the cigarette, the Volkswagen protesting briefly as Rick went back onto the road. At least someone was the same: Rick, the Volkswagen, the hatred towards the community center, smoking. It was all the same. Knowing how much the rest of this place has changed, I wouldnt have been surprised to find Rick handing out bibles at homeless shelters. But he wasnt. He was in his old Volkswagen, smoking, and driving me to a place he hated. He was still Rick. I looked away from the open window, turning to Rick. Are you and Evan still selling? He hesitated before he answered. Rick was no idiot, remember? For all he knew, the cops had an idea about him and Evans, and who knows who else, drug ring and wanted to use me to get them to talk. But he gave in, because Im, well, Via. Yeah, he replied, nodding and flicking on his turn signal before making a sharp right. Why, you want some? Right after I get out of juvie? I asked, incredulous. I let out a laugh, shaking my head sadly. Do you have any idea how stupidthat would be? Im still on probation. Rick smiled, nodding. It would be a rookie move, he agreed. A minute later, Rick pulled up to the community center parking lot, parking right next to Normans small red car. I hesitated before I got out. Rick was a small bit of familiarity that I was too desperate to let go of. Something had to stay the same, just so I didnt lose my mind in this different world. So, Rick said. His arm was hanging out the window, smoke blowing out to the hood of the car thanks to the breeze. I was wondering if you wanted to get together. I knew Rick. He didnt mean this in the whole do-you-want-be-my-girl kind of way, and I wasnt the type to be someones girl anyway. Where? I needed this familiarity so badly that it didnt matter to me what wed do or if it could violate my parole restrictions. Like Rick would talk anyway. He looked at me, his brown eyes taking me in. At my apartment. I hated Ricks apartment.

It reeked of pot and meth and cigarettes, not to mention cheap perfume that made me gag. And then there was the whole thing where they made you come up to their apartment using the fire escape because of their all too nosey neighbors and their paranoia. But still. Familiarity. Ill be there at seven, I told him, and then practically shoving my entire body into the door to open it. It always needed a little extra push to open from the inside. When I got up to the building, I saw Abe by the doors, leaning against the brick wall. I looked him up and down, he wasnt smoking. What are you doing out here? I asked him. He nodded his head at the doors. Its hot in there, he told me and just then I noticed the small beads of sweat underneath his black hair. So just turn on the AC. Abe looked amused but in his head Im sure he was thinking you dont think I wouldve thought of that? Its broken, he explained, turning his head toward me. I turned to look through the see through doors. I swear I saw a heat ripple. Sighing, I shook my head. That sucks. He nodded slowly. Yup, he replied, popping the P. I glanced at him, but he was looking away from me now, his head titled up. You really think hanging out with Rick Gabriel is the smartest thing to do? he asked the roof and the birds flying above it, and he kicked his flip-flop at a small pebble. I narrowed my eyes. Whats it to you? I may have said that it wasnt much of a secret that Evan and Rick are involved with a drug ring, but I thought if Abe knew about it, he wouldve told his brother or his dad. He may not be a cop, but he still had blue blood. Abe shrugged. Just a thought, he said nonchalantly, titling his head down a little and looking out at the parking lot. His blue eyes squinted in the harsh light. But if Juvie is so awesome, maybe it doesnt matter. I paused, feeling a burning under my skin. Maybe you should think about fixing the AC, I told him coldly, then I shoved open the door farthest from him. As the door swung shut, sending a gush of cool air to the back of my neck, I think I heard him laugh at me.

I hate being laughed at. Who doesnt, obviously? Ohhhh, this revenge thing is so on. Watch your back, Abe Ronrock. Im viable to set fire to it when your least suspecting it. I just have to figure out how. When I stepped inside, Norman is fanning himself with a makeshift fan made out of a Guidians pamphlet, sweating and clutching a half filled water bottle. Why dont people take care of their air conditioners? he asked, shaking his head in unison with the pamphlet. I mean, its June! Its not a month to neglect your air conditioner. Nodding, I glanced at the silent AC in the window to the far right. Its that ugly tan color they used to give electronics back in the day. Someone should really replace it. Why doesnt someone replace it? I asked, turning to Norman, who was starting to sit into a metal chair. Because the communityAh! Norman shot up from the metal chair as it was on fire, and to Normans partially bare thighs in his cargo shorts, it probably was. He turned to face the chair. That was hot! Thats the thing about metal chairs in the summer, I said, pointing to the smoking chair. Theyre hot. He sighed, shaking his head. But as I was saying, the community center is having a hard time making ends meet as it is. If they have the money, they wouldnt spend it on air conditioners. I twisted my lips. So were just supposed to melt in the heat? Norman grinned and a bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face. Exactly, he replied. I just shook my head. Ten minutes later, everyone was in The Circle of Doom (as Mitch put it when Norman and Abe werent listening) and everyone was beginning to melt. Im sure inside those heels of Tristans were liquidizing toes. Even Abe couldnt hide the fact that he was just as hot. Temperature wise, I mean. Every other minute, he had to run his forearm over his brow. His black curls were beginning to look as if he just got out of the shower. And believe me; everyone in this room could go for a shower right now.

Alright, Norman said, but more like panted, to us all, still fanning himself. We had a fan, but it too small to stop everyone from sweating like hogs. This summer, were going to learn the importance of helping others. Yawn. You may not care about yourselves, Norman continued, or you might only care about yourself. But helping out people is always a good place to start for either one of those. Why do we have to help other people out? I asked, raising an eyebrow. I thought the whole point of Guidians was to stop us from becoming street thugs and repeaters. No, Abe answered loudly from across The Circle of Doom, his arms folded over his chest. I wondered if he was aware of the giant sweat stains forming under his arms. The point is to be a better person. Norman held up his hand, as if he suspected something was about to break out between us both. Just give it a shot, Silvia, he told me, looking solely at me. Whats the worst that could happen? In reality: probably nothing. But still, Silvia Brendor didnt do charity work. I could die trying to do whatever it is your thinking of having me do, I told him. With this heat, its possible. Norman just rolled his eyes. Well, if you die, I apologize and Ill never make you do it again. Stella and Tristan will be working at the nursing home, Abe said, turning to them both, glaring at Stella, who was on her phone. Mitch and I will be working at the swimming center. Sweet! Mitch exclaimed, offering me a first bump. Im going to be a lifeguard! No, Abe said, wary and deadpanned. Well be cleaning out the bathrooms and locker rooms. Not everyone can be a lifeguard. I snickered a little at the thought of Abe, picking up used, soggy towels, and soaked socks as the reeking smell of Dude floats around him in the boys bathroom. Maybe I didnt need to carry out my revenge after all. Abe glared at me, arms tightening around his chest. And Silvia and Elsie will be working by renovating yards, he said finally, never taking his eyes off me. His blue eyes intense are nothing that I cant handle. Mainly for the Roberts, he added. Roberts.

Where have I heard that before? Oh, I know now. Kel Roberts. Kel Roberts as in Abes ex. As in the girl who dumped Abe, or vice versa. As in the girl who took Abes virginity. Kel Roberts as in the perfect key to my plans. The Roberts? I asked, raising an eyebrow. Abe fidgeted barely. Youd miss it if you werent totally staring the crap out of him like I was. Yes, the Roberts, he confirmed. Im sure I smiled, evilly of course.

Chapter Six I dont care if Im technically working with Elsie and a couple other grubby guys on yards in the afternoons, sweating my body weight, pulling stupid stumps; Im getting my old job back. Maybe if I could prove to Norman that I could get my own joband be paid tooby myself, hed let me out of this little arrangement. And the plus side was that Abe is still picking up after jocks in bathrooms and sweaty locker rooms, and although he was being tight lipped about it, I saw the way he grimaced when Mitch mentioned an abandoned pair of briefs. He was just as sick of this as I was. But I was just pulling stumps, for now. I sat in the waiting room of the acupuncture clinic, waiting to for Laura. I was going to kiss her rear all she wanted until I was back in that gray, cushioned chair, telling patients where to go to get stuck with needles. AC and money is way better than humidity and free labor. After about fifteen minutes, Laura came out of the hallway, holding a folder in her perfectly manicured fingertips, and when she glanced up, she spotted me. Her eyes widened and then her pupils darted around the room, like she was afraid anyone would see me and know I used to work here. Silvia? she asked, almost as if she was hoping this was just someone who looked like me. She forced a smile, shaking her head in surprise. I just cant . . . youre here.

I nodded, mentally puckering my lips for the butt kissing. I am, I told her, legs crossed with a magazine on my thighs, and Im here to get my job back. Lauras blonde little head flew right and left, like a kid being told to look both ways before crossing. The nervous smile on her face shone like a hotel sign, one letter flickering. You . . . Inside her mouth, her tongue continued to dance around her mouth, despite not saying anything. . . . Want your job back. This wasnt a question. It sounded more like a concern. Yeah, I do. Well, you see. . . As you can tell, Laura had a hard time continuing sentences without pausing nervously or maybe it was just my presence. That kind of raises a problem. I almost said because Im an ex-convict? but I held my tongue. And what would that problem be, Laura? Laure just sighed. Weve already replaced you. As if on cue the door opened and that cheesy bell rang. Laura said she liked it because it let her know that there was a new customer, but it drove me insane, like an alarm clock. I turned my head because Laura seemed to react to this. Like the person walking here was making her nervous. Like the person had replaced an ex-cons job and the ex-con was sitting right there. When I saw who it was, I had to admit, I was shocked. Maybe stunned even. It was Pamela. Her wavy dirty blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail, and her dimples were showing when she took off her sunglasses. Sorry, Im late, she announced, sticking one of arms of her sunglasses in her mouth. I had to. . . I did a small wave when she looked at me, and her sunglasses fell on the ground. I nodded to the sunglasses, one arm folded and the other outstretched. Your sunglasses fell, I told her, just in case she was too busy gaping to notice. Pamelas green eyes flickered. Oh. I, um. . . She dropped down to the ground and hung the sunglasses off the V-neck of her shirt. Yeah, I guess. Silvia, Laura said, the nervousness in her voice leaking right through her teeth. This is Pamela; she took over your job as the receptionist.

Pamelas hair was neat and combed, lip glossed applied perfectly on her lips, sunglasses hanging on her shirt, purple flip flops on her feet. But all I saw was the dirtied, messed up, raccoon eyed girl walking home from a party, asking if a guy ever touched me. Maybe that was why I went without a fight, without insisting that I could do my job now, even if it were just part-time. Somewhere, I still felt sorry for that girl walking home. Well, good for you, Pamela, I said to her, not an ounce of sarcasm or spite in my tone. I meant it. She was probably a better receptionist anyway. She had that easy going look to her, the kind that made old ladies feel comfortable and start bringing out pictures of their grandchildren, and shed actually be interested. Unlike me. I had the rough, edgy look to me. I was the kind that made old ladies hide pictures of their grandkids because I look like someone whod steal their toys for drug money. When I stood up, Laura sighed, almost inaudibly, in relief. It was so quiet; she thought she got away with it. But I heard it, and thats when it hit me. She was afraid of me. Heck, the whole town was afraid of me and what I was capable, probably too many episodes of Criminal Minds and 48 Hours Mystery that taught them that arsonists never stopped. And well that may be true; I didnt feel the urge to set fire to every little thing. On paper, I may be an arsonist, and to Shiloh, I was definitely an arsonist. But to me, I just felt normal. But maybe because Im the only one thinking that Im normal that actually means Im the insane one. . At seven-thirty, I stared at the familiar fire escape that would lead me to the apartment where I could finally let go, even though it happened to be a drug dealers apartment. I was never early or on time when it came to guys, especially Rick. Coming early meant you were eager, coming on time meant you wished you could show that youre eager, late was low key. I was low key.

I started walking up the fire escape, passing the lower apartments. Mrs. Michele was sitting on her yellow couch, three cats lying around in sight, and she was yelling at her TV, which was probably playing her latest game show craze. Then I passed Mr. Rino, who was preparing himself a meal with his wifes urn on the coffee table. There was a time when I hesitated in front of his window and watch him eat at the coffee table, his eyes never leaving her urn. Now I kept on walking. When I reached Ricks apartment, I could already smell the pot and cheap perfume from the stairs. They opened up the window; this meant they wanted to flush out the smell. I dont knock or alert them in any way; I just lift my leg through the window, over the small bookshelf under it and felt for the ground. When I found it, I pulled the rest of myself through. Im in Evans room and its still a mess, maybe even in the same way as it was years ago. The beds never made, and the fan on top of his small TV works pathetically, only sending a small ripple through his posters. As made my way through what I call Evans Minefield, Evan stepped through the doors, smoking a joint. He swore loudly when he saw me. Silvia! he shouted, shaking his head. Hes never liked surprises much. What are you doing here? I didnt think this needed to be explained. Rick, I said simply. Evan just shook his head. Hes in the living room. As Evan picked up a sweatshirt and proceeded to sniff the armpits, I found my way to the door, only stepping on a furiously creased comic book on the ground by his bed. Just like Evan said, Ricks in the living room, shirtless and barefoot, sitting on the couch. He was watching The News as he also smoked a joint, not yet noticing me. Hey. I sat down beside him, my body sinking into the couch and the old, ratty springs protested against my butt. I nodded at the TV. Whats going on? The living room was dark, the only light coming from the glow off the TV and the sun shining through the blinds on the windows. The blue background on the TV set reflected off Ricks face. He puffed out white smoke. Some guy was shot on the way home from Madison, he said, using his joint to point to the reporter holding a microphone and filling the Shiloh in on what happened.

Tough life, I said and he nodded. We werent the kind of people who felt bad for people who got shot on the way home or the people who got grabbed in alleys. That was life, and it sucks at different levels for different people. The shot changed from the reporter to the street where yellow crime scene tape was hanging off telephone poles. It was probably taken this afternoon and just used now. There were two police cars, one of them had a door open. Three cops were together, forming a small circle by one of the cars. One of them was Chester Ronrock, Abes brother. Chester was once the heartthrob of Madison High. He was on the football and basketball team, had blonde hair and dark brown eyes, the Ronrock abs were on his body from day one. He fit right in. But, like all the Ronrocks, he was serious. Sometimes that threw kids off and theyd take the time to decide whether hanging out with someone who went from hot then cold in a matter of seconds was worth it. And in the end they chose Chester. They always did. Abe wasnt as lucky. He started his first year the same year Chester graduated. I think kids thought hed be another Chester. Hot and then cold but someone who was, in all ways, cool to hang with. But he wasnt. Abe seemed to always be one thing: cold. Sure, he wasnt mean or anything. Adults wouldve called him shy not cold. But he just didnt fit in so it didnt matter anyway. Abe used to eat lunch by himself outside until Kel Roberts came around. For the first two years of high school, he ate alone under a tree. But then Kel started to hang out with him after they became chemistry partners. Erin and Peyton thought that Kel could do better. But, before I started to hate Abe for turning me in, I thought Kel was practically saving his life. I never really talked to Abe, but I almost did once. One day, when I was fifteen, I was rummaging through my locker, trying to find my book, which seemed to have disappeared. I leaned into closer to my locker as someone approach the locker next to mine. I heard the spinning on the lock. He was opening it just as I found my book. I was pulling my head back when suddenly something flew back and hit me on the side of my face, throwing me off balance, and I dropped my books.

I was sure that I about to fall, on my butt no less, when a hand enclosed around my wrist, and kept me upright. Im. . . My hand was hovering over my eyes but I lifted it up just a bit so I could see who dared to hit me with their locker. Im so, so sorry. My blinking eyes met his bright blue ones. His mouth was open, but he wasnt saying anything. I wasnt even totally sure that he was breathing, but his hand was still around my wrist. I remembered his fingers just barely touched the sore spot where his locker whacked me. It was so quick, I wasnt fully sure it was there. Then he let go of me, as if my skin began to burn his fingers. Im. . . He turned away, grabbing his books from his locker and shutting it, and then he paused. Im sorry, he said one last time before he rushed past me, holding on so tightly to his books that his knuckles turned white. Now, Chester Ronrock glanced over the shoulder of the cop in front of him, over to the camera. He looked at it just for a minute before he turned away, looking back at the uniforms around him. The smell of Ricks joint brought me back down to earth. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rick staring at me with that look in his eye. When I turned my head, his lips crashed onto mine. I laid out on the couch on my back, feeling him hovering over me, his lips tasting of the joint he just finished smoking and of beer. His hands ventured under my shirt. The warm, rough skin of his palms ran up and down my sides and on my thigh, I felt him growing. On the TV, the reporter was saying the guy who was shot, just on his way home from school, was going to live. Under us, Mr. Rino was eating with an urn, and below him, Mrs. Michele was getting too involved with a game show. The world under us was a mess. Places changing, people forgetting, getting shot coming home from school. The world was just a mess. People could try. Abe and his little Guidians group, they can all try to change the world, but it wasnt going to happen. They wont be able to stop everything or fix everything. One kid didnt mean the world. Sure, they could stop Mitch or Tristan from becoming a repeater but they couldnt fix everything.

And I wasnt about to waste my time trying. Suddenly, I heard a door being thrown back, hitting against the wall. I felt Rick jump slightly but he never topped massaging his rough, slightly chapped lips on mine. For the love ofget a room! Now, after Evan had shouted at us, Rick broke away, his hair falling over his eyebrows as he looked up. Evan just shook his head, making a face. Seriously, I heard him mutter. I guess asking your roommate to get a room while he makes out with an ex-con is a reasonable suggestion, but at the same time, it wasnt. Rick and Evan shared a one room apartment. Rick slept on the couch. So yeah, we did get a room. Ricks. Rick rolled his eyes. I noticed his knees on either side of my hips. As Evan plopped down on a chair, switching the channels, Rick reluctantly moved himself off of me and sat by my feet. I was still lying down. After a minute of watching TV, someone quickly rapped their knuckles on the door. Evan glanced at the door. I couldve sworn I told them to go to the fire escape, he muttered, and as he stood, he looked at me. Get out. Rick held his hands in the air. Cmon, shes seen this all before. That was before she was an ex-con! Evan hissed, like I wasnt there, lying on his couch with my feet by Ricks thighs. Cops check up on those kinds of things. There was another knock, this time louder and more urgent. Evan just looked at him. Bros before hoes, he said finally after a minute of silence, and more urgent knocking. In this case, bros was code word for drugs before hoes, which doesnt sound as good so I get why he didnt change it but still. Rick sighed, and then he looked at me. He shrugged helplessly. Beat it, Evan told me.

I rolled my eyes, swinging my legs off the couch. Whatever, I replied; taking my route back to Evans bedroom and escaping out the window, purposely knocking over one of Evans Lego creations to the ground, where it crumbled. Would most people be upset after being called a ho and kicked out of their flings apartment so he could sell some pot? Maybe. Not me, though. It wasnt the first time Evan called me a ho, probably wont be the last. I could deal with being called a lot of things, ho was no exception. Whore was nothing but a Tuesday, you name it and I could live with it. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Well, there was one name I dont ever want to hear someone call me. Even if it were true, I still dont want to hear it being said out loud, where no one could take it back, out there forever. But the only reason someone could call me that is because they knew how much I hated it. How much Id lose it if I ever heard it. I could handle ho. Attacker was something I couldnt. Chapter Seven I watched Jack talking to an old lady purchasing a book by Beverly Lewis from one of the chairs by a bookshelf, and he waslaughing. And then he tapped on her book, smiled, and then she was off, grinning. I narrowed my eyes. Since when did Jack get old lady charm? Jack never had a touch with older women. Hed get flustered before he would start blurting out random, inappropriate things that made them cringe and search for an excuse to run in the other direction. He certainly never made them freaking grin. Jack noticed me watching him. He stared at me for a second, and then he said, exasperated already, What? I shrugged and went back to my Teen Vogue magazine. Nothing, I said in a sing-song voice.

I was waiting for a ride to the community center, where Abe would then drive me and Elsie to the Roberts. I could just kill my probation officer for taking away my driving privileges. Jack is still staring. Now I looked up, scowling. What? I asked, irritated even though I wasnt very invested in the article about a new Twilight movie or how girls all over the globe are sobbing over the end of Harry Potter. He sighed, shaking his head. Nothing, he grumbled, and then he looked at the big, grandfather clock by the reading area. Whens your thing again? My thing, I said through clenched teeth, my fingers beginning to wrinkle the pages of Teen Vogue, is at two. He just nodded. I heard the swooshing sound of someone struggling to open the front door and a rush of humidity hits me. It was so hot outside it wasnt even funny. People out there had sweat stains the size of small melons under their pits. I glanced over the top of my Teen Vogue and I saw Scarlett walking up to Jack, smiling. Hey, she said, and then he nodded toward me, the little sister. She waved at me. Hey, Silver. She gave me the nickname last night when we were eating dinner. I didnt mind it, not that I would say this though. Hey, I said back. She smiled before she looked at Jack, propping her elbows up on the counter. Soooo, she said, and I prepared myself for the sexual innuendo, do you think you could get me a discount on Sarah Dessens new book? My head shot up like she suddenly pulled out a gun and shot him, which wouldve been less surprising by the way. What? She glanced at me. I asked if I could get a discount? she asked slowly, glancing at Jack out of the corner of her eye. Did I say something . . . ? You read Sarah Dessen? In the back of my mind, I vaguely remembered Jack telling me that they met as she was buying one of her books. Scarlett nodded. Of course, she told me, even cracking a smile. No one writes YA like Sarah does. Jack pointed to Scarlett. She likes her so much that she spends her dinner money on her books, he said and she smiled sheepishly, which I still say is crazy by the way.

Sarahs books are worth it, I told him. See? Scarlett gestured to me and looked pointedly at Jack. Silver understands. Jack rolled his eyes playfully, nudging her with his elbow. Must be a girl thing, he said. Id choose pizza over . . . Sarah, I filled in. He nodded at me. Right, he said. Thanks. Have you read her new book? What Happened to Goodbye? Scarlett asked, hopping over to the reading area where I was sitting. It just came out last month. Shaking my head, I closed Teen Vogue. No, I told her and she nodded. I just got out of juvie, like, a week ago so. . . I shrugged. She laughed, taking the seat beside me. Yeah, I havent read it either yet, she said, gesturing over to Jack. Im waiting on him to give me a discount so . . . I smiled before I realized what I was doing. Just ask him about the time he went to prom and almost threw up on his date, and hell give the book for free. Scarlett laughed and turned her head in Jacks direction, smiling at his blush. Jack, what about the time you. . . He grimaced. Youll get your book at a discount, he told her and she grinned, yanking her fist in victory. Jack smiled at her. The Dessen books are over there, just look for the poster of a worm sticking out of an apple, reading a book. Thank you, baby! She popped up from her chair, looking down at me. Do you want to come along? I shook my head. Nah. She shrugged before she turned and smiled at Jack. Thanks again, she said, kissing his cheek before she practically flew away in search of a poster of a worm. When I looked at Jack, he was still watching her buzz between aisles, mumbling under her breath, and he was smiling. You look like a creep, I told him, and he glanced at me. Stop it before someone calls the cops on you for looking like youre about to snatch an unsuspecting college student. He frowned at me. You know, he said in a voice that made him sound more like he was in his thirties instead of twenty-two, not everything in the world is criminal.

You working in a bookstore is. Jack ran his hand through his hair, the classic male sign of frustration. Its a bookstore, Silvia, he groaned. Not the mafia. I could understand you working for the mafia! I said to him, watching as he rolled his eyes at me. Id be proud of you if you worked for the mafia, but a bookstore? Seriously! He let out a breath. Its not my career. He paused when a woman came up to him and bought a self-help book, giving us odd looks all the while. After she left, in a much calmer voice, he said, Its just a job so I can pay for college. I blinked. Jack . . . in college? The same Jack I thought was destined to hop from fast food franchise to fast food franchise the rest of his life . . . is in college? Youre in college? I asked meekly. He nodded proudly. Yeah, I am, he said, cracking a smile. Im studying to become a lawyer. I couldnt imagine the Jack who used to sneak out of the house at nights to attend parties and deflower girls could ever become a lawyer. He probably just started, like, a couple of weeks ago and thought he can tough it out. So, I said curtly, reopening my magazine out on my lap, staring at a picture of some girl saying that a diet changed her life, how long have you been studying? There was a pause. Eighteen months, I guess. I looked up, my eyes exploding. Youve been studying to become a lawyer, in college, while working at a bookstore, for eighteenmonths? Maybe he meant days. Eighteen days sounded more like Jack. He nodded, like this was the most normal thing in the history of things. Yeah, eighteen months, he said, wiping off the counter. Well, Ive been working here for five months, but whatever. Im still processing the thought of my brother, the same brother who was The Champion of beer bong, in college becoming a lawyer when I heard the swooshing sound again. Uh oh, I heard Jack murmur to me, and I glanced in his direction. Peyton and Erin. My eyebrows furrowed as I looked at the door.

Sure enough, Peyton and Erin were walking into Bookends, sharing a nonfat mocha. Even though it was nonfat, they still couldnt bring themselves to finish it on their own without weeping. OMG! Erin called out, sliding her sunglasses down her nose so I could see her big, Bambi brown eyes. Its Via! Jack flinched at the counter. I nodded. I was sure I seemed a little star struck right now, but you couldnt blame me. Erin and Peyton hated books, like, well, like Jack used to. What are you doing here? Erin glanced at Peyton, who was sucking down their mocha faster than their diet plans would approve of. Uh, she said, taking off her sunglasses all together. Were picking up the latest OMG Moment. OMG Moment was a magazine that Erin and Peyton read more than the Bible. They were addicted to it, and the latest OMG Moments. Peyton looked at Jack. Is it here? Jack nodded towards the magazine shelf by the register. Yeah, over there, he said and then he looked at me, like he was trying to ask me something with his eyes. I rolled my own and turned back at Erin and Peyton. I could make an effort here. I could try not to seem so much like an ex-con but more like Silvia Brendor who loved gossip as much as they did, drank shared nonfat mochas, and wrote on the bathroom stalls in Madison. I could do this. I could be their Silvia, Via, or whatever. Just to fit in somewhere again. I certainly didnt belong in this group with Abe and the other weirdoes with piercings and sob stories that led them to the horridcrimes they committed. I wasnt that girl. I was the girl who gossiped about those weirdoes and how weird they were, calling them freaks, and writing their names in stalls. So, do you have any plans for the weekend? I asked them. Peyton stopped in mid-slurp. What? I nodded, ignoring the growing feeling that this wasnt going the way I wanted. Yeah, you know the weekend? I said, and they glanced at each other. It comes in two days?

Erin looked at Peyton, like saying should we tell her or make a run for it? Peyton shrugged. This is how we acted when freaks tried to talk to us. I didnt want to be one of those freaks. Were going to a party, Peyton blurted out. Erin looked tempted to hit her with the magazine she picked up from the shelf. Tonight, though. Not this weekend. I blinked. Cool. Not really, Peyton said before she sipped more mocha. Its Tonya Winters party so its gonna suck, obviously. Nodding, I agreed. Yeah, it probably will, I told them, even though I had no idea who Tonya Winters is and why her party would suck, obviously. They looked at each other, telepathically having a conversation about me. Erin twisted her lips. You can come if you want, she said, fiddling with her sunglasses. Were going at nine. Okay. After they left, I felt Jacks eyes on me. What? I asked, narrowing my eyes at him. He just shook his head before he glanced at the clock. He threw down the cloth he was using to clean the counter. We better go. . I hesitated before I got out of his Jacks car. He just sat there, staring out the windshield while the car was idling in the parking lot of the community center. Are you mad or something? I asked just as I spotted Abe walking out of the community center and then as he noticed Jacks car. My window was rolled down, so Im sure he saw me too. He pursed out his lips. Yup, he said. Are you sure?

Jack sighed, cutting the engine and yanking his keys. Youre not seriously going to that party, are you? he asked, turning to face me. I mean, for Petes sake, Silvia, You just got out of juvie! I raised an eyebrow. For Petes sake? I questioned. He opened his mouth, and then clamped it shut. After a moment, he finally said, You know what? Go to the party. Get arrested again for all I care. He glanced at Abe over my shoulder. Now get out of my car. Hes waiting for you. I looked out the window and sure enough, Abe Ronrock was leaning against his blue truck, arms crossed, waiting for me. I rolled my eyes in return. Whatever, I told him. After I got out of the car and walked towards his blue truck, which matches his eyes now that I think of it, Abe asked, Everything alright? Ignoring this, I frowned. Wheres Elsie? He pushed off the hood of his truck. Were picking her up on the way there, he said, walking to the drivers door. Get in. I paused. This was some kind of trap to get me alone, take advantage of me, and beat me to death with a shovel in the middle of nowhere. Its possible that Abe had his own revenge plot going on. Abe stopped as he was getting into the truck, one leg in, one leg out. Are you coming or what? he asked as he proceeded to climb into the truck. He glanced out the window when he was in. Or what, I replied sarcastically. Hes going to kill me to get back at me for burning his arm, I just know it. Its a long walk, he warned. And if you dont show up, itll get around to your parole officer. I narrowed my eyes. I know that, I told him and he rolled his eyes, leaning back in his seat. A second later, I heard him switching on the radio and Lifehouse started to play. You like Lifehouse? I asked, walking a little closer to the truck. I was thinking in the back of my mind that in the bed of the truck was a shovel or a shotgun with my name on it. Abe shrugged. Sure. Whats not to like?

When I continued to hesitate, Abe swung his door back open and turned in his seat, his hairy legs hanging out the side. Listen, he said to me, either you get in or I leave without you. Choose. Id rather I not go at all, I informed him, picking at my chipping nail polish. Well, yeah, me neither, he said back, and a flash of Kel and her perky boobs, low-cut red tops, and jean underwear she called shorts popped in my mind. But we dont have a choice, so get inalready. I crossed my arms. If you dont want to go so much Abe raised an eyebrowthen why are you the one driving me? Why would I even be going to your exs anyway? Its ridiculous. Because, Abe said, staring up at the sky briefly as if saying God, help me, volunteering isnt about you or what you want. Its about doing something for someone else. I considered this. Someone else like your ex, I quipped. Abe puffed out a breath. You know what? he asked. He swung his legs back into the truck. Walk. Walk all seven miles to the Roberts on your own. Enjoy. Youre bound to burn a lot of calories. I scrunched my eyebrows. Was that his way of telling me Im fat? You know what? I shot back, watching as his eyebrow rose once again. He was already starting the engine. I will walk and I willburn lots of calories, thank you. I wanted to be in a size three anyway. Go right ahead, Silvia, he muttered before pulling out of the community centers parking lot, dirt even beginning to cloud as he drove out of sight. I stared at the light blue truck fading from my sight. He actuallyleft me here, forcing me to walk all seven miles to the Roberts and be on time. Douchebag. Ive maybe walked a mile or so before I saw a car coming toward me. I thought about holding out my thumb or showing some leg in hopes that I can hitchhike but when I see that its not just any car, but a light blue truck, Im tempted to give a different hand gesture. Your late, you know, Abe told me, driving alongside me and he tapped on the clock in his truck. By ten minutes.

I kept walking, keeping my gaze forward. Sorry, but my ride abandoned me after he called me fat and forced me to walk. I didnt call you He sighed, shaking his head abruptly. Will you just get in? Whats the worst that can happen? You take me out to the middle of nowhere, kill me, and leave my body for the vultures. He laughed. He actually laughed at me. Trust me, Abe said, like I actually should, Im not going to kill you in the middle of nowhere. Fine then, I said while he reached across to the door handle of the passenger seat. Youll kill me publically like an assignation. Silvia, he said, or maybe he growled it, just get in the freaking car already. Im late too, you know. So then go, I told him. I was determined not to get in the truck with him, eve n if meant I had to walk until midnight. He didnt say anything for a moment, continuing to drive beside me, causing a driver to honk and cut him off but Abe didnt care, he just kept driving. Will you go away? I asked. Not until you get in the car, he retorted stubbornly, like a child refusing to eat the food his parents were encouraging him to try. But that would mean getting closer to you, I explained. And thats not what I want. Calories, remember? He scoffed. Youre impossible, you know that? he asked, shaking his head. Not to mention youll probably have a heat stroke. I admitted, the sweat stains and trickles of liquid dripping down my face werent exactly attractive but I was going to get sweaty at the Roberts anyway. Silvia, please? Something in his tone changed. It wasnt sarcastic and dry anymore, it was . . . sugarcoated. Will you please get in? No, I told him flatly. His truck tires still creaked behind me as he replied, Fine. I tried hard not to grin. He sounded so frustrated that I knew it wouldnt be too long before hed cave in and just drive away, leaving me to walk alone to the Roberts. Or die of heat exhaustion, whichever came first.

Five minutes later, he was still following me. That wasnt even the worst of it. He seemed content now. The frustration in his voice is gone and now his arm was hanging out the window and he even hummed a couple of times. All he needed now was a grain of wheat in his mouth. And just when Im starting to think that Im lost, Abe honked the horn. His horn is so loud, high pitched, and not to mention just completely unexpected, that my heart started to pound hard against my ribs and echoing in my ears as I shrieked. It was an embarrassingly loud shriek that sounds way too girly to come from me, and I whirled around to face the demon honking his horn for all to hear. Abe, who had stopped driving and was now idling in the middle of the road, was leaning back in his seat, his torso slipping under the wheel as he laughed. I wasnt as mad about the horn as I was about his laugh. His raspy, cough laugh was the only thing you could hear besides my loud, furious breathing as I burned two little holes in Abes face with my eyes. Not that he cared because he kept on laughing, like this was the funniest thing ever. Ha, ha! I shouted over his laugh, storming over to his window. Very funny! You got me! Good job, Abraham! I huffed and stomped back to my walk, pretending to be stepping on Abe Ronrock the whole time. The laughing came to such a quick stop that I thought he died. Actually, I kind of hoped for it too. Maybe suddenly he and his truck just went poof! No more Abe. But within a minute, the truck started following me again but faster this time. He was actually close enough to me that he and I were face to face if I looked, which I didnt. Did you call me Abraham? he asked, confused and dark eyebrows furrowed. I let out a breath through my nostrils. Thats your name, right? I asked, crossing my arms over my small frame. Under my flip-flops, I stepped on a rock and then I started to fumble. The sharp pressure of it was so sudden that it knocked me off balance for a second Tipping to the side, towards Abes truck, I held out my arm to brace myself and my palm pressed against hot metal. My fingers, however, were on the inside the truck, touching Abes arm. The tips of my fingers were touching the rough, scarred flesh of his arm and it nearly made me stumble more. The truck came to a stop.

When I got my footing, I looked up at Abe. He was staring at my red fingernails on his arm. He didnt look outraged or ashamed, he just looked. . . Abe-ish, you know? Black hair was covering his eyes so I didnt know if there was a storm brewing in his blue eyes. I took back my hand, stuffing it in my faded jeans and then I started walking again, looking straight ahead. He hesitated before he started following me again. Are you sure? Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his truck moving alongside me again, Abe leaning closely to the window. You can pay me if that makes you feel better. You know what you are, Abe? I asked, inhaling so sharply that the fresh air stung my lungs a little. A snitch, thats what you are. I dont want your help. That knocked him the pedestal he was standing on. I can even take five steps before I heard him moving again. Behind me, he pulled the truck over, and then I heard a door slamming. A second later, his hand snatched my wrist and he turned me around, colliding me into his hard chest. My hand is under my boobs, making sure theres at least a little distance between us both, and my fingers are touching his chest. I can easily feel the ripples of his chest through his shirt. Whats your problem? I tried to wriggle my wrist out of his hand but hes holding on so tightly that I think my fingers are about to turn blue. I dont have a problem, he said, releasing my wrist. He ran his hand through his black hair, strands falling over his forehead. Get over yours. With that, Abe walked back over to his truck and yanked open the door so quickly that I thought hed tear off its hinges, like he had superhuman strength. For whatever reason, I couldnt let him get the last word. I stormed over to the truck as he started back up it and I tore the door open, but it felt weak in comparison to Abes. I dont have a problem, I told him. He glanced skeptically at me. You dont? he asked and I nodded. There were traces of a smirk on his face as he went back on the road. Yeah, okay. I dont, I said again. But Im sorry if I dont trust you. After all, all you did was rat me out to the cops. Abe didnt say anything for a minute.

He looked at the clock. Youre late, he told me, in a voice that sounded more authoritative than before. His blue eyes flickered at me. Stop pulling dramatic stunts like this. Why? Are you going to tell me parole officer? I pushed. He shrugged. Well, that does seem like such a snitch thing to do, doesnt it? Abe said, almost coldly, almost like he was hurt. I relaxed into the seats of the truck. If he thought this was crap, just wait until I got him working on his exs yard, watching every guy she goes out come and go, watching the love of his life move on without him, while he pulled the stomps out of her yard. Just wait, Abe. Ill ruin your summer yet. Chapter Eight When we picked up Elsie, the conversation went cold as soon as she opened the door then forced me farther down the seat, closer to Abe, and then she squished next to me. To my left was Elsie, a girl with blonde hair pulled into a ponytail, in jeans and a gray Tshirt. And to my right was Abe, a guy who smelled like shampoo and Degree Mens deodorant. Half way to the Roberts, Abe squirmed in his seat. Move your elbow, he grumbled, shifting his weight. He winced when I dug my elbow deeper into his ribs, once again feeling the washboard he had hidden under his shirt. There was no way that they were actually his abs. When he came to a stop, Elsies hand scrambled for the seatbelt. She was so small that she needed jump down from the truck. I looked at the yard, slightly disappointed. I was hoping that Kel would be on the porch swing with her new, hotter boyfriend that had bigger biceps than Abe, if thats even possible but as someone who wanted him to have a painful death, I had to believe it was. I guess you avoided seeing your ex after all. Sighing, I starting wriggling my body away from his, my foot slipping out of my flip-flop in the process. Abe reached down and grabbed my sandal before I could. It wasnt fair because it was right next to his foot. He held it out and when I reached for it, he moved my shoe. I rolled my eyes, leaning across the seat to grab my purple flip-flop but he held it further away. Abe, I said, glaring. Silvia, he mocked, rolling his own blue eyes at me. He handed me my shoe, watching me as I dropped it to the mat and slid my foot inside. I need your number.

I scrunched my nose. What? He hesitated, running his fingers over the wheel. I need your number, he said again, his face growing red. He was avoiding looking at me too. Youre not my type, I told him flatly before I started sliding for the door again. I didnt get very far because he grabbed my elbow and tugged slightly. Abe sighed through his nose. We need your number in case you have to contact us. I thought about this for a moment. I didnt know why he would need, let alone want, to contact me but then again, there was Norman. No. Silvia, he said, his authoritative voice back. It was like a switch with him. Dont make this difficult. Im already late by he glanced at the clock and sighed heavilytwenty minutes. You dont need my number, I retorted. Name one reason why you would need to contact me? He thought for a moment. In case theres a cancellation in meetings, he said, looking up like the reasons were written on the ceiling, there are lots of options. . . I dont know. But you can only think of one, I said, staring blankly at him. He looked exasperated. You asked me to only name one. I think having my number has nothing to do with Guidians, I told him, one leg dangling down the side of the truck, almost touching the ground. I think you want someone to have phone sex with. His deep tanned cheeks got even redder. He rubbed his hand over his face to try to cover it up. You did not just say that, he groaned, titling his head back, eyes closed and long lashes casting a shadow down his face. I smiled. I did, I said and he groaned again. It was a low, deep sound and it made me wonder. Will you just tell me your number already, he said, or more like mumbled. His color was still a deep red and he hadnt looked at me once. I believe I already said no. His chest heaved with a breath. Would you tell Norman? I rolled my eyes. See ya, Abe, I said, hopping off the truck.

I heard him sigh one last time, but it was followed by him pulling the passenger door shut then him starting the truck up again. I waved mockingly at him as he went to go clean up after dirty, smelly males on their way for a swim. That made me feel even better. When I glanced at the porch, the screen door slammed open and shut. I hadnt had the pleasure of meeting my boss yet, Mrs. Roberts, so I waited while she made her way down the steps toward me. Are you Silvia and Elsie? she asked, glancing between me and Elsie, who had rolled up her sleeves and was trading her converses for a pair of work boots. From the Guidians program? I looked at Elsie, but she didnt say anything and tied up her laces instead. Yeah, I said. Sighing, I kicked off my flip-flops. Thats us, at your service. I mocked a solute but judging from her expression, she didnt find it amusing. She paused briefly. Im Waverly Roberts. And with hands on her hips, she added, And this is my yard. Id appreciate it if you didnt destroy it with your shovels. Yes, maam. Elsies gray eyes flickered over to me, just a tiny bit wider than they normally were. I bet anyone would be surprised if I said sir or maam, but I knew the type. Buttering them up would only help me. Mrs. Roberts didnt miss a beat, like this was what she expected from me. Have you finished pulling all the stumps yet? I shook my head. We have a couple more to yank out, I said, tying up my own laces. We might be done in a day or two, stump wise anyway. She nodded, looking around her yard, squinting in the sun. I have a few errands to run, she said, watching me carefully. If you need anything, my daughter Kel is in the house. Knock loud, she has a cellphone. Who doesnt? Sure, After Mrs. Roberts left, Elsie turned to me, blonde, nearly invisible brows furrowed. Did you call her maam?? No, I said flatly. I called her something that sounded like maam. What do you think? I glanced at the other two guys we worked with, volunteers. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can leave.

When I was hooking up one of the stumps to the CAT truck, Kel emerged from the house. I tried holding in a laugh when she squinted at the sunlight, like it was foreign to her. Her tan was probably a spray. I remembered when shed come bouncing out of one of her classes every day at ten a.m., and I meant literally bouncing. Her boobs are like beanbags. Guess whose locker was right by the class that had flying boobs come out at ten a.m.? Yours truly, obviously. Why would I say this otherwise? I never spoke directly to the beanbag boob Kel. She was a cheerleader which meant she was also popular. She was one of Erins friends, or thats what Kel thought anyway. The second she decided to hang out with Abe, Erins mouth couldnt stop trashing her. Id be eating my salad at lunch and then suddenly, Erin would plop down in the seat across from me, already ranting about how stuck up and what a loser Kel was. And Id silently wish that Peyton shared the same lunch period as us. But I badmouthed Kel anyway. I said that her cheerleader uniforms made her butt look fat and that her lip gloss was soooonot her shade but I didnt see the big deal about her hanging out with him. Last I heard they were just friends. They shared lunch outside together by a big oak tree and he didnt push her about her eat-almost-nothing diet that often and she never made fun of Abes raspy laugh. They were perfect for each other. So Im not surprised that they went out. Honestly, you could tell me that they were engaged and had a dimpled, blonde, big boob kid on the way and I wouldnt have even blinked. What did get me blinking is that they broke up, two months before I came home. Id like to think that it was because Abe sucked in bed, but every time I thought that, a nagging voice in my head said yeah, with that body Ha, ha, no. Stellas opinion on their breakup echoed in my head again. Personally, Im not sure how I would feel if it was because I was leaving prison. Probably flattered that I destroyed the relationship between him and the love of his life, destining him to a life of loneliness. But if that is true, then it raises a new question: why would Abe end his relationship because of me? And more importantly: if my revenge works and Abe ends up at the Roberts house, doing their yard work, am I just helping them get back together instead of making Abes life even more miserable?

I could just imagine the outcome. And we have Silvia Brendor to thank for this, Abe would say, close to crying all over the wedding cake, for getting revenge and sending me to work on my sweet Kels yard. Not the picture I wanted to paint. This was more my style. And we have Silvia Brendor to thank for this, the pastor would say, holding a bible over Abes coffin, for getting revenge and sending Abe to work on Kels yard, killing him with heartbreak. Thats more like it. Silvia. I felt someone nudge me and Elsie was standing there. Abes here. Were done for the day. Speaking of the dead, heartbroken devil himself. Okay, I said, watching as she walked off, taking off her work gloves and giving a small wave to Abe, who was leaning against the hood of his truck. He waved back and then he looked over to me, cocking his head to the side with black curls falling over his forehead. Scowling and yanking off my gloves, I went over to my flip flops and kicked off my work boots. Those things were so heavy and they made my feet sweat, I hated them. The color sucked too. When I looked up, Abe was staring at me. What? I asked, holding up my hands. I tossed aside my work gloves. He shrugged nonchalantly. Nothing. Abe changed after he dropped us off. Black swimming trunks had replaced his cargo shorts and he was wearing a gray hoodie, hands stuffed in the pocket. His hair was dripping on his shoulders. I thought you just cleaned out the locker rooms, I said, nodding to his wet hair. I wiped my forearm over my forehead, probably messing up my hair if the heat hadnt already done that. He reached up to touch his hair. After everyone leaves, we can go in the pool for a few minutes, he explained. I eyed his wet hair again. Oh. I never understood people who liked the water, or just swam in it for exercise or to cool off. Didnt they know that people drowned every day?

Elsie walked up to us. Im ready to go if you are, she said, a rubber band in between her teeth as she gathered her hair. Abe took her work boots, dropping them in the back, and then he did the same with mine. He raised an eyebrow at me. Are you ready? More than, I replied sharply, pulling open the door and gesturing for Elsie to go in first. There was no way Id be smashed up against Abe and his abs again. . Hey, Jack said when I emerged from the basement. He was making a sandwich and licking the peanut butter off his thumb. He held up his peanut buttered covered knife. Want a sandwich? I shook my head while Jack eyed me, his smile slowly turning into a frown. I was wearing my gray sleeveless sweater with a black belt around my waist, the one with the huge silver buckle. The rest of my attire included my favorite dark skinny jeans and my black boots. His eyes seemed to be stuck on my silver buckle. When he finally looked up at me, raising an eyebrow, he asked, Going somewhere? I heard Scarlett was coming over so I hoped whatever they were doing tonight would help me avoid this conversation. Im going to that party with Erin and Peyton, I told him. Sighing, he set down the knife on a cutting board. Silvia, he started but he stopped when Scarlett came into the kitchen, smiling. Hey, she grinned, waving at me then noticing my outfit. Ooh, nice outfit. I like. . . Her smile faded, her eyebrows furrowing slightly. I turned around, catching Jack shake his head at her. I offered Scarlett a tight smile. Thanks, I said, walking over to the fridge and taking out a water bottle. There was a pause as I sipped my water, leaving a lip gloss circle around the top of the bottle. Finally, Scarlett broke the silence. Is something going on? Jack nodded at me. Shes going out to a party, he explained, like I was going to hang out with Charles Manson. Silvia, you shouldnt go. You cant drink; what are you even going to do there? I took another sip. Have fun with my friends.

Oh, give me a break, Jack muttered, shaking his head. They were never your friends! They just hung out with you because you were popular. Youre not popular anymore! I knew that. I wasnt stupid. I knew that the second my popularity dropped, Erin and Peytons names would be suddenly erased from my Facebook. But still, I had to make an effort to stop that from happening. Twisting the cap on my bottle, I said, I might see Rick there. The drug dealer Rick?! Jack ran his hand over his face, groaning loudly. Jack didnt lose his temper easily but when he did, he had a hard time keeping control of it. Hes worse! He could be my soul-mate. I didnt believe this myself. Even if there were soul-mates out there, then there wouldnt one for me. But still, I had to get Jack off my back. Jack raised his eyebrows. A druggie soul-mate? he asked sarcastically. I shrugged. Its happened before. Scarlett stepped in between us. Okay, this is totally not my place, she said as Jack groaned again, so she continued louder, but Ireally hate it when people fight so then Jack gestured to me. Shes dressing up for a drug dealer, Scarlett! he almost shouted. There needs to be a fight! He looked at me. Was there something you liked about that prison?! Youre overreacting! I said back over Scarlett shoulder. She was trying to separate us. Alright! Enough! For a second, I almost mistook the female voice for Jacks. But it was Scarlett standing in between us, yelling at us both. Both of you! She looked between us. Across the kitchen, I saw Jack looking as surprised as I felt. Before you make me send you guys to the corner! Jack huffed, glaring at me and walking out of the room, or should I say stomping. A second later, I heard the TV being loudly switched on and the volume turning to an ear splitting level. Beside me, Scarlett out a breath through her nose. Sorry, she mumbled. I hate it when people fight. I waved her off. I was impressed. She raised her eyebrows. Really?

None of Jacks girlfriends have threatened to send him to the corner, I said. She smiled. I heard a car honk outside in the driveway. I glanced at the door, but then looked back at Scarlett. I have to go. I was grabbing my coat when she grabbed my arm. Jacks right, she said softly. You shouldnt go to that party. If those girls are really your friends, theyd be telling you the same thing. The car honked again. I shook my arm away. Theyre waiting for me. Silver, she said but it was too late. I was already heading for the door and on my way. Jack and her would have to realize that this was my life, and I was living it. I wasnt going to be Jack and forgo it all for a relationship, college, and a job at a bookstore. When I stepped outside, Erins red sports car was in the driveway and the headlights shining on the garage door. In the back cigarette smoke was seeping through a crack in the window. Come on! Peyton poked her head out the window. While I made my way towards the back, I noted that it looked like she got highlights since I last saw her. Hey, I said, crawling inside and shutting the door behind me. Erin and Peyton were sitting in the front seats (nothing unusual. Even in high school, they never traded seats with me) and a guy was smoking a cigarette next to me. He nodded at me, his lips forming an O and smoke filling my direction. Sup, he said to me. His voice was husky. Hey, I said, turning to Erin and Peyton. Whos he? Youd think that the guy smoking a cig would be a little offended, but no. He just took another drag and smiled sheepishly at Peyton. Peyton turned in her seat. This, she said, gesturing to him and he mocked a solute with his cigarette, is Rex. Hes in college, for ayear. I faked a look of surprise and envy for Peytons sake, but in reality, I thought so what? They would start college this fall. College boys shouldnt be that amazing now, but thats just me. Oh really? I turned to Rex. He smiled proudly, nodding. Thats really something, huh?

Rex nodded again. Yeah, it is, he said. I was starting to notice that his voice wasnt that husky. More like he had a bad cold. I still dig high school girls though. I almost cringed at the use of the word dig. And I nearly pointed out that we were not high school girls, not since last May anyway but pointing that out wouldnt get me into Peyton and Erins good graces. So, Erin said from up front, her eyes flickering over to me through the rearview mirror. Are you meeting Rick there or . . .? Shrugging, I purposely kept my hands away from my phone in my pocket. I dont know, I told her. If he shows up, he shows up. Are you guys back together? Peyton asked me. I looked out the window, the party slowly coming into view. Not yet, I said slowly. But soon. This chapter is dedicated to everyone who died ten years ago. Alright, so there are a few things I need to say. One, Blushes Scarlett has a lovely romance awards going on and I think you should check it out because awards are the best! :) Two, an old novel from my previous account dantana is up on Wattpad if you care to give it a read. Aside from this story, it's the one I'm most proud of. And three, I'll have a short story out soon if you care to read it! :) Okay, enough of boring me. Take it away, Silvia. . . Chapter Nine Sweet, Rex said when Erin found a free space to park her car in the yard. Thanks for the ride. While he was scrambling to get out, Peyton turned in her seat, smiling. Anytime, Rex, she said sweetly. He nodded to her, tossing his cigarette butt on the grass, stubbing it, and walking off. Peyton was practically breaming, sighing wistfully. Isnt he just . . . you know? I looked at the smushed cigarette butt by the toe of my boot. Yeah, I grumbled, rolling my eyes. Peytons in love with him, Erin filled me in as she hopped out of the drivers seat. She popped some gum in her mouth. He wants something casual . . . with a D-cup. I looked over at Peyton, whose face had fallen. Im only a C, she told me sadly. Oh.

Yeah, Erin said, hitching her purse up her shoulder and carefully walking through the grass in her three inch heels. So shes screwed until she gets implants. Peyton pouted her shiny, red lips. My dad wont pay for them, she moaned. She rolled her eyes like all dads paid for their daughters implants. He basically said natural is the way to go. She frowned in disgust. My dad is such a loser. I almost flinched when Erin popped her gum. I hated that sound. Hes a moron, she said shaking her blonde hair. When I turned to Peyton, I swear her eyes were getting glassy. Doesnt he want to be happy? she asked. She was huffing breaths in and out when she looked up at the sky. Erin reached over me to rub her forearm. Itll be okay, sweetie, she said. You can pay for your own implants. Isnt that why you got that job at Good Greens? Peyton nodded, touching a thumb to each eye. See? Erin smiled. Everything will work out with you and Rex! Hell wait. But what if he finds an E-cup or a bigger D-cup while Im working at Good Greens, asking people if they want paper or plastic?! Erin shrugged. Then you steal him back, she replied breezily. Peyton nodded quickly. Yeah, yeah, youre right, she said, smiling tightly. Peyton turned to me. Havent you ever been unhappy with your breasts? I wouldnt be, a guy passing by us said. With his hands, he made a boob-honking gesture and laughed. After flipping him off, I turned to Peyton. Im a C too, I told her and she glanced down at my breasts. Big boobs mean youre a hooker or a striper. She looked down at her own chest. They do? Totally, I said, nodding. You know, there was this woman who had N-cups. Seriously. I saw it on Google. Her brown eyes went wide. N-cups? she asked meekly. I held my hands far out from my chest. She couldnt even get out of bed. Wow. When someone bumped his shoulder into mine in passing, I whirled around to face the back of the guy who had the nerve, but my eyes wandered past him and found Rick.

Leaning against the garage, he smoked with one hand and held a red plastic cup, probably filled with beer, in the other. His black hoodie was pulled over his head and it covered his eyes, which meant he couldnt see me. I felt a strong urge to change that. See ya, I said to Erin and Peyton over the thumping music. They nodded weakly. They were paying more attention to the guy ripping his shirt over his head, and then getting trapped inside. As I walked toward Rick, I could the shirtless wonder yelling, Yo, guys! Im stuck! But judging from the deep laughter following this, his friends didnt give a crap. Rick took a drag, then a drink, and then another drag. It was like a little system he had going on. It wasnt until I was close enough to inhale the smoke coming from his cigarette that he saw me there. Hey, he said, pausing slowly. He was wasted, stumbling a slightly on his feet even though he hadnt moved. I didnt know you were coming. He held out his cig to me. I shook my head. It was a last minute sort of thing. So I edited the truth a little. I didnt know Id be coming this morning. Are you having a good time? He pursed out of his lips with a shrug. I guess, he said, swirling his beer around. He held it up. Beers good. You should get one. Rick was not the type to get girls drinks. Not if he knew them anyway. Maybe I will, I said, walking around him. I wrapped my hand around the warm doorknob of the garage door. I smiled at Rick before I walked in, heels clicking. Just like I thought, Rick didnt hesitate to follow me in here, shutting the door behind him. Then I felt his rough hands under my sweater, caressing my skin, and pressing his sweaty neck into my shoulder as his moist lips touched my ear. With my eyes closed, I turned around. My butt was knocked against a car, a side mirror pressing hard into my back. Rick pulled his hands out of my shirt and slid them into my hair, forcefully crashing his lips on mine. Dull pain shot through my upper jaw. Ow, I mumbled while I pulled away. My hand was touching my mouth, the pain beginning to dull slowly. Rick blinked down at my lips. What? His mouth knocked painfully into my teeth.

Nothing, I said, and I told myself that this happens with steamy make-out sessions. Come on, I commanded, pulling his lips back down to me. He nibbled on my lip. While I ran my fingers down his chest, I tasted the cigarettes and beer. It was like familiar nectar to me. Here. Rick pulled back suddenly, holding out his plastic cup, and a drop of beer sloshed out of the rim. Itll make this a lot better. I never said this, but I liked sex better sober. I liked remembering my nights with Rick and just remembering Rick in general. If any night of ours needed a beer, it would be the first night. My first time wasnt magically in any way. Rick isnt the kind of guy you want for the first time. Now, I find him wild but to a younger, virgin me, he was rough and he didnt wait for me. It hurt more than he said it would. In the back of his car, in the Madison High parking lot, Rick told me it would barely hurt. Id just be a little sore tomorrow, but that was all, he said. Never once did it occur to me not to the trust the horny guy without a hymen. I was sore before we even finished. My heart was beating fast while the pain went from dull to sharp in seconds. My eyes just stung a little at first but when he moved, I started crying. It wasnt a moment I was proud of. Rick got frustrated because he thought it meant it wasnt any good, and he told me a virgin wouldnt know what was good. I tried to say it just hurt a lot, but he wasnt exactly in the mood for listening. But now, as someone who didnt cry after sex anymore, I took the drink and downed it. Thanks, baby, I said. I wasnt a star at handling my liquor. I got a little tipsy and a little giggly, but I was good. It definitely wasnt enough to stop me from walking a straight line or something. Just as Rick pushed me flat against the hood of the car with my arms above my head and Rick started to roll up my shirt and exposed my stomach, lights flashed through the windows of the garage door. They were familiar. They stopped my heart and then my skin turned to ice. What? Rick said. He titled his head down to look at me. The door pushed open, slamming against the wall with a thud, and the light were switched on. We squinted in the brightness and looked at the door. Officer Chester Ronrock stood there, raising his blonde brow to us both.

Hello, Rick and Silvia, he said, then gesturing for us to follow him out. How about we get out of the Winters garage? Frowning, I rolled down my shirt while Rick straightened. He walked out first and when I followed him, I felt Chesters eyes on me. In the driveway were two police cars. Two other officers were handcuffing Tonya Winters and Wayne Fitzpatrick, who was smoking a joint when I went into the garage with Rick. And leaning against one of the police squad cars was Abe. Wearing a black short-sleeve shirt with the same cargo shorts from before and arms crossed over his chest, he squinted at us as we filed out of the garage and then smirked, shaking his head. He was lucky that his cop brother was standing next to me. So, Chester said, crossing his arms just like Abe and stared at the us both as if wed been caught passing notes, What where you doing in the garage over there? Besides getting it on. Rick shuffled his feet, sighing through his nose. It was private, I muttered, wishing that Abe would stop staring at us. He looked like a lion stalking out his prey. Chester considered this. Private, he repeated, almost nodding. He glanced over our shoulders to Abe, frowning. He turned back to us. Have either of you been drinking? Ricks head couldnt have moved faster. No way, man, he said, ironically nearly stumbling from shaking his head. He seemed suspicious of this, but he didnt say anything as his eyes flickered towards me. Have you? I wondered what the odds were of him smelling the third of a cup of beer I had on my breath. I sighed, looking away. I had a cup, I mumbled. Of what? Rick was glaring at me. Im sure if Chester wasnt here, hed be yelling at me for telling him that. Beer, I grumbled. Your underage, Silvia, Chester informed me. Yes sir.

Chester considered this for a moment, and then he took ahold of my arm. Come with me, Silvia, he said and he led me away from Rick. In my ear, he whispered, You should really stay out of trouble, Via. I almost stumbled myself when he called me by my high school nickname. He pulled me toward the police car Abe was standing by. As we got closer, he pushed off the hood, arms uncrossing, and an eyebrow just slightly rose at me before he turned to his brother. Chester handcuffed me and walked over to the back doors, pulling them open. Abe followed him. From where I was standing, I couldnt hear what they were saying, plus they were whispering, but Chester didnt look pleased. After a minute, he scowled and then walked over to me. Youre free to go, he muttered, unlocking my hands but not without shooting me look. It was a warning. Behind him, Abe was watching us carefully. I rubbed my wrists. So, youre just letting me go? I asked cautiously, like one of them could turn into a snake and strike me. Youre not going to tell my parole officer? Chester let out a sharp sigh through his nose. No, he replied shortly, briefly glancing at Abe. But I will if something like this happens again. For a second, I thought he was saying this more to Abe than me. Chester walked off, handling his handcuffs like he couldnt wait to slap them on the wrist of a juvenile delinquent. I looked at Abe. What did you do? I asked. Abe pressed the car door shut with his foot. I saved your butt, he replied. He said this nonchalantly, but not cockily. Youre welcome. I paused. Why? Abe paused now. He took the time to lean against the drivers side door and slowly slid his hands into the pockets of his cargo shorts. Because Im youre. . . He seemed frustrated to say the cheesy name. Guidian? I asked, smirking a little. He sighed. Yes, he said shortly. He glanced at me; his blue eyes were dark in the night. We offer get out of jail free cards every now and then.

Seriously? Yeah. I cant count how many times I got Mitch out of trouble for having fake IDs or talked to security guards about Tristans shoplifting. I thought about this for a moment. So, you let the people in your group to just . . . get away with anything? That made me angry. If he could let Mitch out of trouble for fake IDs or Tristan for shoplifting, then why couldnt he have just kept his mouth shut about my dads boat? Abe shook his head quickly. No, its not like that, he corrected loudly. We dont expect everyone in the group to suddenly be perfect when they join. Theyll have relapses. We know that. So then why do you let them get away with it? Wont that just teach them that big ol Abe and Norman will clean up their mess for them? They dont get away with it! A girl, with long blonde hair with pink ends, glanced at Abe, rolling her eyes and muttering something under her breath. He sighed, his chest caving. We deal with it, he said, calm now. We find a way to increase their community work or make them volunteer somewhere. If they refuse, then we leave it up to the police. My eyes grew wide. I have to work more at the Roberts?! Abe shrugged. Maybe. He kicked a pebble with the toe of his flip-flop. Or . . . we could find you another place to volunteer. Maybe you could. . . I waited for him to say something like the soup kitchen or some hospital with dying kids or something. . . . Maybe you could volunteer at the nursing home with Alzheimers patients, he said, almost quietly. Something in me began to burn, hot and strong. I think Chester said I could go, I shot back angrily, turning around and running straight into a guys hard chest. I didnt bother looking at his face as I stormed off. Silvia! Abe called out. I didnt look to see if he was following me or not, and I frankly didnt care.

He might have thought that what he said would strike a pocket of kindness in me but instead, he poured fuel to a flaming fire. I had no interest in watching old people forget their names, their families, everything and knowing my family is in for the same fate. I tapped on the shoulder of a random police man. Can I have a ride home? I asked. The officer looked me over, and then nodded. In a minute. I looked over my shoulder as I waited. Abe was nowhere in sight. . Even though the officer agreed not to use his lights when he drove me home, I still felt like I was taking a big chance coming home in a squad car. And as he pulled in my driveway, I saw a ripple in the curtains. If it were Jack or Dad, I was screwed. Even if I told them I wasnt that drunk and I didnt do anything wrong (except maybe underage drinking but everyone there was so its not that important anyway), theyd still throw the book at me. When I opened the door, the house was dark. I was desperately hoping that the ripple was just the cat. I was confident that he wouldnt say anything. I heard someone shifting on the couch and then the lamp on the end table flicked on. The cat definitely didnt do that. Scarlett sat there, her head turned so she could watch the police officer leave. Jacks head was resting in her lap, fast asleep. She looked at me when the officer drove out of the driveway. I wasnt arrested, I said before she had a chance to ask or wake up Jack. He just drove me home. From the party? She was whispering as she gently lifted Jacks head up from her lap and stood up and tiptoed over to me. What were the police doing at the party?! I shrugged. I didnt ask, I mumbled, walking over to the fridge and grabbing a yogurt cup. I couldnt remember if I ate dinner tonight or not. Scarlett leaned in and sniffed. I raised an eyebrow at her. Have you been drinking? she asked, and then shook her head. Silver, youre on probation! I nodded. Yeah, yeah, I know. Where was all the yogurt? I glanced at her. Did you eat the rest of the yogurt?

She seemed at a loss for words, but only for a moment. You cant be drinking, she hissed. She looked over her shoulder when Jack stirred on the couch. What if your probation officer finds out? You might go back to jail. Its fine, I told her. I looked at Jack on the couch; his shirt was rolled up just a little. I squinted. Does Jack have abs? Scarlett frowned, turning around. Her lips turned up in a small smile as she stared him. Yeah, she murmured. Hes getting a little addicted to working out. Jack had never been in bad shape, but he didnt have abs, not until now anyway. It used to be a sore spot for him. I guess he finally took my advice and did something about his nonwashboard chest. You cant tell Jack, I said. Her faint smile fell. But . . . she looked at Jack and then me, biting her lip. You dont want me to tell him because you want to be the one to tell him, right? Even she didnt believe that. No, I said, spotting a yogurt cup behind a jar of pickles. If he finds out, hes just going to go insane and turn into a freaking watch dog. Dont tell him. I cant keep secrets from him! It looked like she was starting to panic. Im a terrible liar. My mom says Im an open book. Thats because moms have heard all their kids lies. Starting with No, mom. I didnt shove my peas under my plate. Scarletts mouth was open, but she didnt say anything. Finally, she let out a big whoosh of air and sighed. She caved, I could tell. Thatta girl, I said to her, nudging her with my elbow as I tore open the yogurt cup. When she still looked miserable, I said, Trust me. Jack is dense. It wont be that hard. Scarlett shook her head. Its not that, she said. I just dont like lying to people, especially if Im in a relationship with them. I spooned the yogurt in my mouth. If youre in a relationship, then theres bound to be lying, I told her, swallowing. Might as well start now. She was still unconvinced.

Look, I said, tossing my cup in the trash can. If he finds out, hes going to be mad at me for drinking to begin with and for telling you not to tell him. Hes not going to be mad at you. I still dont want to lie to him. I shrugged. Sorry. Scarlett sighed heavily. I better get brownie points for this, Silver. Chapter Ten . Hey! Mitch called out while I walked through the community center doors, the room humid as always. Its Silvia, our sullen former Juvie resident! Shut up, Mitch. When I pulled out my chair, it squealed against the floor in protest. Mitchs hand flung to his chest. Ouch, he said. He frowned, innocently staring at me with his brown eyes. That really hurts. Why dont you just hit me while youre at it? I raised my hand just above my head. Okay! Mitch cried, almost sliding out of his chair. Huffing, he readjusted his position when I dropped my arm. Jeez. I was only joking, you know. I shrugged. That doesnt matter to me, I said. Ive wanted to hit you since the day I met you. Mitch went on, something about how hitting was considered not nice, but I stopped paying attention the second Abe walked in. Once again, he had that stupid man-purse of his. Did he realize how gay that makes him look? Oh well. Maybe it was him who broke up with Kel, after he realized he was playing for the wrong team. If I hadnt already carried out with my revenge, then maybe Id spread the rumor that he was in the closet. Early this morning, using the bus, I smashed the windows of a random car in a parking lot and then left a tip for the police that Abe did it. Now all I needed to do was hide the bat in his truck and hell be working for Kel by the end of the week. When he noticed me staring at him, he eyed me carefully briefly before turning away. I held up my hand.

Mitch flinched beside me. Stop doing that! he exclaimed, and then looked pleadingly at Abe. Make her stop doing that! Can I go outside for a minute? I asked, ignoring Abe all together and keeping my eyes on Norman. I could get the water bottles if you want? Abe looked suspicious, as did Norman. For a second, I thought I might have said I had X-ray vision instead. You want to . . . help, Abe stated flatly. If you want to, Norman replied and then Abe snapped his head in his direction. Smart boy, that Abe. Thanks. I wasnt sure Id be able to resist smirking when I passed them. Norman went back to doing whatever he was doing (probably arguing with Stella to give up her phone) while Abe never took his eyes off me. His bright baby blues narrowed into tiny slits. After I walked out of the community center, I looked over my shoulder just to make sure Abe wasnt pulling a stalker move on me. Fortunately, his back was turned with his built arms crossed. Now, when I was in the clear, I smirked. I gave the passenger door to Abes truck a small tug. For someone dealing with juvenile delinquents, he was stupid enough to leave his door unlocked so people like me to ruin his summer and possibly his life. I grabbed the bat from the tree I hid it by and then slid it under his passenger seat with the tip showing so someone could see it from the outside. Then I grabbed the water bottles from Normans car. Mission accomplished in less than three minutes. Abe held the door for me but not without eyeing me strangely. I wasnt worried if he saw the bat. He wouldve said something if he had. Are you feeling okay? he asked while I passed him, and then knocking the edge of the case into his ribs. He sucked in a breath, leaning over just slightly. I smiled as he rubbed his ribs. You can set those down over there, Norman told me, staring Stella down and holding out his hand for her phone When I dropped the heavy case of water bottles on the table with a thud, Abe was standing beside me. Look, he murmured quietly, his breath on my skin. I didnt mean to

He paused when the doors opened again. I wasnt looking at the officers standing in the doorway, but at Abes face. His face went blank and then he looked at me, as if he knew. Abraham Ronrock? one of the officers called out, glancing around the room. Yeah? He didnt look at them, but at me. He didnt say anything to me, but his eyes were asking me what did you do? An officer wrapped a giant hand around Abes arm. Come with us, son, he said and he began to lead him away toward the door. Abe stumbled at first, as if deciding to resist or not. Or maybe he hadnt caught up with what was happening. While they tugged him away Abe looked over his shoulder to me, like I could explain what was happening. The funny thing was: I could. They stopped at the door, and started to explain what was happening. They spoke quietly for a moment with Norman watching them, and then Abe looked at me again, outrage replacing his confused expression. When he swore at me, I smiled and waved. Then a second later, the police officers led him out of the community center. . Hey. Groggily climbing up the stairs, I smacked my toes against the top step and then swore under my breath. Ouch. Jack smirked, watching me limp into the kitchen, closing the door behind me. Hey, sleepyhead, he said, after popping a chip in his mouth. Did you hear that Abe Ronrock was arrested yesterday? I feigned a surprised expression. Really? I asked, gasping and shaking my head. Abe? But he was such a good kid. Scarlett, sitting up on the counter, chuckled. Yeah, he supposedly smashed old man Prestons windows with a bat. That was old man Prestons car? Score. Not only was he a crappy and crabby geography teacher, he was also a pain. All of his students either feared him or egged his house on Halloween. He was a sucky teacher, I said.

True, Scarlett, while slipping off the counter, agreed. Theyre letting him off easy because his family is cop city, but hes being put in his own group. I raised an eyebrow. Oh really? Yup. His dad wants this whole thing nipped in the bud so Abe can become a police officer like him and his brother. Jack nodded, turning to me. Apparently, smashing old man Prestons windows isnt a very good start to that. Hmm. Poor, poor Abe, I mumbled. I was lying through my teeth. I couldnt be more pleased that Abe was in his own group. Phase one was completed before breakfast. Now I needed to convince Norman to make Abe work for his ex. Oh, I almost forgot! Scarlett reached down and grabbed a plastic bag, then handed it to me. We got it when we went to see my parents last week but I keep forgetting to bring it by! I cautiously opened the bag. I wasnt hundred percent sure that Scarlett wasnt the pranking type. Perhaps Jack told her that Jack in the Boxes scared the crap out of me. But instead of a Jack in the Box, inside the bag was a black T-shirt with Zane Ryan with his band The Daze. In white marker, under their feet, read: Hey, Silver. I truly appreciate you. Love, Zane Ryan and The Daze. You know The Daze?! My head shot up to Scarlett, who was beaming. You said you were going to see your parents. We did. Jack smiled, Scarlett sitting on his lap and stealing a chip. Shes from Bay View, remember? Thats Zane Ryans hometown. We saw him there, she said, smiling and nonchalant. I wondered how many celebrities were walking around Bay View to be that nonchalant about seeing Zane freaking Ryan. Jack said you were a fan so we got you a shirt. I chewed on my lip and glanced down at the shirt in my hands. Thanks. The only one of Jacks girlfriends to get me anything was Cynthia. I still wear the L.E.I. jeans. When I looked at them, she was still sitting in his lip and he quickly pressed a kiss to her nose. Maybe she wasnt going anywhere after all.

. I was sitting in The Circle of Doom when Abe and his dad walked in the next day. Abe was shooting me daggers while his dad led him away into another room, Norman following behind them. When they came out five minutes later, Officer Ronrock was saying something to Norman and he was nodding along. And even though Abe kept his head down, hands stuffed in his hoodie, I could tell he was ready to strangle someoneme. Since I last saw Ken Ronrockat my trialhis blonde hair had started to turn silver at the sides, still styled in the same buzz cut. His jaw was still stiff, maybe from seeing all the grim effects of his job. His brown eyes hadnt changed either, along with the fact he and his son looked nothing alike. I wondered if Abe ever thought about just how different they looked. And although I doubted it, itd be interesting to find out that his mom had an affair with a tanned, dark haired man nine months before Abes birthday in November. Abe glanced up from the floor to me, glaring. I wondered he figured it all out, that I framed him. It might have even been when they were leading him out of the community center. But I doubt he knew why though. So he and his ex could be reunited. At one point, Norman placed his hand on Abes shoulder and he turned to him. Norman said something and Abe just grunted in reply. Then he walked over, plopping himself in a chair beside me. Was daddy pleased? I watched Ken Ronrock say one last thing to Norman before then walking outside to his squad car sitting in the parking lot. He shot me a look. What do you think? he muttered. He wasnt sitting like he usual did. Now he was slouching, like he was actually a rebel. Im surprised you didnt tell him. What was the point in hiding it? I could tell by the dirty looks he was sending me that he knew. I did! Abe sighed, slouching farther. He didnt believe me and said I was acting out because you were back. Smirking, I said, And now here you are . . . in your own group. Do you just get off at being a criminal or something? he grumbled. No, I replied, and then pointed to him with my pen. This, you being miserable, gets me off.

Alright, everyone! Norman was clapping his hands together. Maybe it was a signal for everyone to stop staring at Abe. Does everyone have their bonfire sheet yet? Just as he said this, a green sheet with a black silhouette of a fire in the center fell on my lap. Written above the fire was, in bold captions, were having a bonfire! I turned to Stella, on my left. I sure wasnt about to give Abe the satisfaction of asking him. Bonfire sheet? Even though I hadnt asked him, he still answered. Were Abe cleared his throat. Theyre doing a bonfire this weekend. Its supposed to be an opening experience. Stella shrugged. What he said. And with that, she resumed texting. When Norman was confident everyone had received a sheet, he said, And, well, we have a new . . . member today! And as you can see, you all know him. Everyone stared at Abe. Slouching farther into his seat, Abe ducked his heads and black hair hung over his eyes to spare him the shame. I raised my hand. I say Abe should have to help out more. He was already helping before he became a criminal. This obviously proves that he needs to do more. Im going to kill you, Abe mumbled almost inaudibly to me. Well, serves him right for saving me to begin with. Norman was trying to wave me off. Yes, well, Ill consider what Yeah! Mitch interrupted, nodding. We all had to take on a responsibility when we got in trouble. So should Abe! Tristan frowned. But hes Abe . . . For some reason, she seemed confuse. Hes a goody two shoes. He never even had detention before! Mitch gaped at him. You never got detention before?! Yes, he did. Abe got detention once when he and Kale Armstrong got into a fight. The story goes that Kale said something about a girl Abe liked and on the way out of the locker room Abe gave him a small shove, which Kale responded with a punch to Abes jaw. They got detention for a week.

Norman motioned for us to quiet down. I understand what you all are saying, he said and then he glanced at Abe, but theres simply nothing for him to do. It wouldnt be fair to recruit someone for another duty without justification. But he smashed old man Prestons windows! Mitch argued. Norman withheld a sigh. But if I gave Abe another duty, he would need someone else to accompany to make sure the work got done. He could help us out at the Roberts, I offered. Elsie and I are too small to be very affective. I snuck a glance at Abe. His usual tan, honey colored skin was drained from his face, leaving a ghost-like paleness in its place. Norman was wavering. I dont know. . . I looked at Elsie, urging her with my eyes to say something like, I dont know, we needed more muscle, and holy crap, did Abe have it. She sighed before mumbling softly, He would be helpful at the Roberts. The guys there just drink coffee and make boob jokes. Norman looked apologetically at Abe. Im sorry, Abe, he sighed. Abe just nodded, still looking at the floor. He was screwed and he knew it. Youll start immediately. From now on, you and Mitch will help at the pool in the mornings and youll spend your afternoons at the Roberts. Another nod, but once again, Abe was silent. After a few more minutes, Norman let us go and warned us that tomorrows forecast had rain storms so if we were outside, be prepared. Or he said something like that; I was a little occupied watching Abe. While Stella left The Circle of Doom quickly, pulling her hood over her hair before blindly walking out the door, Mitch and Tristan stood by the doors, talking and smiling. When I turned to Abe, he was watching me in an unobvious way. His head was still partially ducked, but through a small gap in his hair, I could see his blue eyes on me. He glanced down at my shirt, the one Scarlett gave me. You met Zane Ryan? I blinked, twice. I had kind of been hoping for an outraged outburst. My brothers girlfriend knows him or something, I said. They got it for me last week. Abe nodded just barely and then he stood up.

As he started to walk away, I said, Youre not even angry at me? Youre working for your exgirlfriend, because of me, and all you can say is you met Zane Ryan? He let out a breath sharply through his nose, pausing. Did you want me to say something else? he asked. My eyebrows furrowed. So . . . youre, like, not even mad at me? Of course I am! He glanced around, realizing his volume. And then he sighed and continued, What is arguing with you going to change? Its not going to make people believe me. Itll make you feel better, I offered, but I hoped hed fight me so Icould feel better. I liked seeing Abe frustrated. It felt like using a super power. He closed his eyes briefly. No, he said slowly. That would makeyou feel better. And seeing you working on Kels yard will make me feel even better. Clenching his jaw, he turned around and stormed out of the community center. Through the windows, I could see him yanking the door to his blue truck. He swore loudly when he realized he hadnt unlocked it. I guess he learned his lesson about locking his doors. My apologies for the delay! Revising quickly was never my strong suit :P And thanks so much to Blushes Scarlett for letting me bring in some of her awesome characters! Chapter Eleven . Today theres no Guidians meeting so Abe was picking me up, at my house. I looked out the window in the kitchen. Theres still no pale blue truck impatiently waiting in the driveway. For once, I was actually looking forward to melting under the hot sun. Hey, Silver! Scarlett, jogging down the stairs with Jack following close behind her, held a laptop. Say hello to my friend Toby! Scarlett had been spending a lot of time at our house and every once and a while, usually when Jack least expected it, the famous Toby would call or text her. Jack was getting a little jealous, I could tell. She turned the laptop to face me, revealing a guy (maybe a bit older than me and unbelievably good looking) sitting in front of the camera, dressed like he was at work, sipping from a cup that read Lola's Coffee.

Hello, Toby said, and he waved. You must be Silver. I nodded, smiling. Id smile for anyone that attractive. And you must be Toby, I said, noticing in the small box in the corner of the screen that my ponytail was a mess, the guy with girl problems. He blushed slightly. Girl problems, he mumbled, his green eyes leaving the screen and traveling to the wall in front of him. He sighed before looking back at the screen. Yes, I guess I am. Hes in a physical relationship with her now, Scarlett explained while I redid my ponytail. Then she turned the laptop to face her. Which I still think is a bad idea by the way. Toby opened his mouth but a polished hand on his shoulder stopped him. He glanced up as a blonde with blue eyes poked her head down. Whos this? He gestured to the screen. This is Scarlett and Silvia, he said, seeming thankful that the conversation was off his girl problems. Oh. Hello! The blonde waved happily, nearly smacking her hand to Tobys cheek. How are you all doing? Ooh, I love your jacket! I glanced at my leather jacket. Thanks, I said. Lyss! Come on, its a Skype party! The blonde waved another girl over. This one had dark hair, gigantic boobs, and she was cleaning her glasses, squinting at the computer. Who are you talking to? she asked Toby, holding her glasses up to the light before placing them back on her face. Scarlett and Silvia, the blonde filled in. Toby gestured to both of the girls. This is Annie, he said, nodding to the blonde who grinned and then he nodded to the other girl, the one with the glasses, and this is Alyssa. Hey, Alyssa said. She waved too, but hers lacked the enthusiasm that Annies had. Theyre mad at each other, Scarlett whispered to me, rolling her eyes. I have a reason to be mad, Alyssa quipped, crossing her arms. Toby glanced at her, and he sighed again. I wondered if he was being put in between the two of them. Do we have any bread? Jack asked. Annie huffed. I still think I did the right thing! she said to her, which Alyssa ignored and pointed her glasses back up her nose. Whats the worst that can happen anyway?! Toby sighed loudly, glancing up at the sky.

Before Alyssa replied, but not before she shot a glare at Annie, the doorbell rang. Ill get it! Jack jumped up from his seat and he waved at Toby. See you soon, Toby. Toby nodded, glancing between the two girls on either side of him. Neither one of them had continued the argument but I could tell they were trying their best not to lash out. Silvia? Jack stood there, holding the door open and Abe was standing there, shifting his weight. The gray shirt he wore seemed to make him look even tanner. Abes here. Okay, I said. I glanced around for my boots but there werent close by. I looked at Scarlett. Have you seen my boots? She shook her head. Abe sighed, running a hand through his hair. Should I go wait in the car? he asked. No! Scarlett, setting the laptop down wobbly before rushing over and pulling Abe inside and shutting the door. Its too hot for that. I shot her a look. I didnt want him in my house. She shrugged sheepishly and gestured to the laptop. Annie and Alyssa had disappeared. Say hi to Toby! Hey, Abe said. Toby smiled. Hey, Abe. I looked in the hallway. After poking my head in, I went back to the kitchen. Abe was watching me. What? I asked, annoyed. He sighed. Just find your shoes, okay? he muttered. Im trying, I said through my teeth. I headed into the living room. Why dont you help me so we can go meet your ex faster?! When I came back into the kitchen, boot-less, Abe was glaring. Im waiting in the truck, he grumbled, turning around. Abe, its too hot out there! Scarlett said, reaching for his arm and she pulled him into a barstool. She pushed the laptop towards him. Here, talk to Toby. You both have girl problems. Toby smiled at him. Do you have any advice? Abe glanced at me for a second then he looked back at the laptop. Whats going on?

I took that opportunity to go and look for my shoes. Its not like I needed girl advice anyway. I needed advice on how to make Abe even more miserable, if possible, but I didnt need any for the girl department. I went through the kitchen so I could head to the basement. In passing, I heard Abe saying, You should end it. Someones going to get hurt, and it sounds like its going to be you. As I went down the stairs I heard Scarlett, Your turn, Lincoln! Vaguely, I heard Abe reply, Who? I have to admit, I strained my ears to hear what the little snitch was saying about me but to no avail. I couldnt hear what they were saying, which made finding my work boots seem less victorious. When I came back up the stairs, boots in hand, Toby was saying, I say, go for it. Go for what? I asked, dropping my boots on the ground and slipping my bare feet inside. Abe cleared his throat, rubbing the back of his neck. Nothing, he mumbled, glancing at my feet. You might want to put on socks. I sighed loudly, staring up at the ceiling. Ill get them, Jack said, walking around me and jogging down the stairs. I looked at Toby on the screen. He smiled at me. I raised my eyebrow. I wish I had super earing so I wouldve heard what Abe said to him. Probably something like I never didnt anything wrong to her and she burns my freaking arm off! When I looked at Abe, he was blushing slightly and looking at the floor. Scarlett seemed almost pleased with herself. Did I miss something? I asked. No, they all said at once. Sighing, I poked my head down the stairs to the basement. Have you found my socks yet?! There was a pause and I heard some rustling and I instantly regretted letting Jack go down there. Why do you have so many red bras?! he shouted back up. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the color of Abes face turn to the color of my favorite bra. I have a hot pink one if you like that one better, I offered, smirking.

Abe stood up from the chair and he called down the stairs, Forget the socks! He turned to me. Were leaving, now. And then he turned to laptop. Thanks, Toby but I dont think I will. After that, Abe pulled open the door and walked out to the truck, leaving the door open. I turned to Toby and Scarlett. What did he say? I asked as Jack came back up the stairs, holding a pair of blue socks in hand. Scarlett smiled, shaking her head. Toby did the same. He swore me to secrecy, he chuckled. Abe honked impatiently in the driveway. Huffing, I said to them all, Bye. I pointed to Jack. Im going to make you tell him what he said. Scarlett smiled sheepishly. I covered his ears, she said. Jack isnt very good at keeping a secret and I was a little afraid of the measures youd take to get it out of him. Sighing, I wondered if Scarlett was as bad at keeping a secret as he was. I was going to find out eventually. . Abe was deathly quiet most of the drive to Elsies house although there were times hed glance at me then clear his throat, but that would be it and it was back to silence. After ten minutes of this behavior, I had enough. What did you say to Toby about me? I exploded, like a Coke bottle after piling in Mentos, and what did he mean by go for it? Through his nose, he let out a breath. Nothing, he said, glancing at me out of the corner of his blue eyes. Just forget about it, okay? Of course, that was easier said than done. I shifted around in the passenger seat. The seats were well worn and practically absorbed me, and that didnt do much for my self-esteem about my weight. The seats I was used to sitting in were never this worn. They always felt very firm. I spotted a black velvet box on his dashboard. Hmmm. I reached for it. Planning something, Abraham? I asked, wagging the box in the air.

He glanced at it, a slow blush creeping up on his cheeks. Its not mine, he told me. Put it back. Chester will kill me if I lose it again. Reluctantly, I placed it back on the dashboard. Chesters getting married? He nodded, coming to a stop at a red light. Yeah, in September, he said, and then he looked at me. You remember Rebecca Bradley? A girl with light brown hair and freckles popped into my mind. She wore sweaters practically all year long last I heard, but that was a while ago. Like a juvie sentence long ago. Yeah? Thats the bride. My eyes grew wide. No way, I said, shaking my head. Theyre total opposites and didnt Chester call her a nerd to her face every day all throughout high school? He nodded. Well, he was around when someone tried to snatch her purse, and theyve been going out ever since. I still had a hard time believing this. No way. Youre totally making that up. I am not. I waited for him to crack, and say something like okay; Im going to beg Kel to take me back by asking her to marry me but nothing. Seriously? Abe nodded, glancing at me. Seriously. Wow. Theyre having a baby too, he added, and he glanced at me again. In December, which is why their wedding is three months. Shes worried about looking fat. I tried to picture Chester, the Madison heartthrob of a few mere years ago, a married father. I cant picture that. Abe smiled a little. Me neither. A second later, he pulled into Elsies driveway and honked the horn. Funny, he actually rang the doorbell at my house. After a minute of waiting for Elsie in silence, I asked, Are you sure you dont want to tell me what you said to Toby? Uh-huh. He waited a second and then honked once more, pressing down three seconds longer than he had a minute ago.

I guess I needed to rely on Scarlett now. The passenger door opened. Move over, Elsie said dryly, holding the door open and wearing a green tank top and cargo shorts. Instead of doing what she demanded, I scooted down the seats and then jumped out. You sit next to him, I said, and I proceeded to put on my socks. Still in the truck, Abe rolled his eyes. Also rolling her eyes, she climbed into the cab of the truck. Halfway in, she slipped and Abe had to snatch her forearm to yank her in, and I followed in after her. As Abe drove the last five minutes to the Roberts home, I wondered what he could be thinking. Oh crap, Im about to meet my ex again or was it Im going to kill Silvia with my shovel and make it look like an accident? Or maybe it could be I wonder if she still wants me. . . Knowing Abe, I wouldnt be surprised if it were all three. So, I said, reaching over and turning on the radio, are you excited? On the other side of the cab, Abe shot me a quick look before turning his eyes back to the road, his chest heaving. Elsie, however, was totally clueless to what I meant. Excited for what? she asked, looking at me. Abe rolled down his window, blasting cool, windy air into the cab. Probably his way of saying shut up. Smiling slightly, I told her, Abes going to meet his ex today. Kels her name right, Abe? Im sure Abe wouldve ignored me if Elsie hadnt turned to look at him, her blonde eyebrow just barely rising. He sighed heavily. Yeah. I kind of hoped Elsie would help me rub some salt in his wounds, but instead all she did was shrugged. She wasnt interested in the World War III going on between Abe and me. The floor of the truck began to shake when Abe pulled into the Roberts gravel driveway. Their place was certainly well off enough to pave their freaking driveway to stop people from cracking their skull open driving in. My side of the truck tipped briefly but it was sudden often for my head to bang hard against the window and then start to pulsate.

Abe glanced over as I rubbed my head through my black hair and while he parked, he smirked lightly. Its not funny, I informed him, frowning. He feigned an innocent expression. I didnt say it was, he replied but then he chuckled, hopping down from the cab and holding his arm out for Elsie. After she hopped down, Abe looked at me, raising an eyebrow. He held out his hand, a gentlemans gesture but to me, it seemed like a way to mock me. So rolling my eyes and hopping down on my own on the other side, I slammed the door so I didnt have to hear Abe chuckle, laugh, or quip about my stubbornness. The screen door on the porch, by the swing and a wicker table that had a glass of ice tea on top, creaked as Mrs. Roberts walked through, not failing to spot Abe. Abe? she asked, squinting as if his presence was just a fault in her vision. He ducked his head just slightly. Oh, this was perfect. Hey, he mumbled. Mrs. Roberts crossed her arms over her blue blouse. Why are you here? She glanced at me and Elsie. I thought you organized these things. Abe cleared his throat uncomfortably. I did. Well, what happened then? I wasnt sure what Abe would say so I jumped in, just in case he was planning on saying something like I was framed but no one believes me. He broke a couple of windows. When she didnt say anything, I added quickly, On a car. Mrs. Roberts glanced at me briefly. So, youre going to be working here now? Yeah. Abe was almost squirming at everything she asked him, it was that perfect. She pursed out her ruby red lips. Okay then, she said before she turned to us. Have you finished with the stomps yet? Elsie nodded. Then Elsie, you start on the flower beds. She looked uncertainly at Abe for a second before continuing, Abe, Id appreciate it if you worked on the stone path. He nodded. And what about me? I asked.

I have another thing in mind for you, Silvia. Just she said this, the screen door creaked open again and Kel, texting once again, stepped outside. Kelly, Mrs. Roberts said, nodding towards Abe, who was having a staring contest with a rock, and Kel glanced up. Look whos here. Kel blinked before she noticed Abe standing there. I wondered how exactly someone could miss him. Oh, she said slowly. Um. Hey . . . Abe. Hey, Kel, he said. His blue eyes flickered quickly toward me, full on blazing How have you been? She paused. Fine. Good, he mumbled almost inaudibly. Abe just barely looked at Mrs. Roberts. Uh, Im going to go work on that stone path. Bye Abe, Kel said, her phone lying limply in her hand. He stopped to glance at her. Then he just nodded, reaching up to rub his neck again. Yeah, he mumbled before he went out back, out of sight. Kels blonde hair flew when she turned to face her mom. Whatshe doing here? she hissed. Mrs. Roberts waved her off. Well discuss this later, she said quietly. Elsie, the flower gardens? Okay, Elsie replied just as Kel said, No, I want to know what hes Kelly, she shot back impatiently. Well talk about this later. Dont you have to meet Barry, or Larry, or Carey, Mom. His name is Carey. Mrs. Roberts sighed. I dont care what his name is, she said while Kel rolled her eyes. Silvia, Ill be with you in a moment. Alright, I said. Mom, Kel huffed. Mrs. Roberts closed her eyes briefly. Kel, Im losing my patience here. Oh, and Im just peachy when I see my ex-boyfriend doing our yard? Kel shook her head, rolling her eyes. Then she saw me. And her! Whats she doing here?! Thats Silvia. Mrs. Roberts rubbed her temple warily. Shes also working on our yard.

Kels perfectly lip glossed mouth dropped open. Shes the one who gave Abe that big, ugly scar on his arm! She was sneering at me now. Im not interested, Mrs. Roberts said slowly, as long as the yard gets done right. Shell probably set fire to the whole house! My head snapped up, and I could feel something burning in my chest. Was it just something about me? Something that screamedIm going to burn down the entire town. Enough. Kelly, be quiet. Kel, rolling her eyes, stepped off the porch. Fine but when the house is all burned down, I wont say I told you so. After that, everything meshed together in one big blur. One second, Kel was walking and opening the door to her car and the next, shes leaning forward, her cellphone on the ground, and shes clutching at her nose and Im being pulled back by someone stronger than I am. She hit me! Kel shrieked, glancing between me and her mother as bright red blood streamed from her nose. That freak! I opened my mouth but someone pushing me into the bed of the truck stopped me from saying anything. And then Im sitting down, my legs sprawled out, and someone else climbed in after me. Sucking in a breath, I pulled my legs closer to me. I guess Im in trouble now, arent I? I asked as he just sat there, watching me. He just shook his head at me. Why did you do that? I hesitated. She said something I didnt like. And your logical solvation to the problem was to hit her in the nose? I nodded. Pretty much. Abe shook his head once more. You cant just hit people when they say things you dont like, Silvia, he lectured. The world doesnt work like that. I rolled my eyes. Oh, like it bothered you. I gestured behind us, where Kel was sitting on the porch swing, holding her injured nose. Shes your ex. Tell me you havent thought of teaching her a lesson. Not by hitting her nose. I wouldve liked it better if he at least hesitated.

Thats why youre a lousy teacher, I said back and he rolled his eyes. If it works for dogs then it should work for humans too. Sighing through his nose, Abe shifted his position from crouching to actually sitting in front of me. What did she say that you didnt like? I rolled my eyes now. Like you care. I rubbed my hand, which still throbbed a little from knocking it into Kels perfect little nose. Ill humor you. Scoffing, I replied, No. Come on, he pushed. Im interested now. I looked from my hand to his face. She said Ill probably set fire to their house because thats just what I do, apparently. I scratched a bit of blood off my palm. Set fires. Abe hesitated before answering. She never was very sensitive. Neither am I, I shot back quickly, and then I glanced down at my hand again. I dont care about what she said. Yes you do, he said. He was leaning against the wall of the trucks bed, squinting up at the sky, his eyes sparkling like the ocean. Thats why you hit her. I hit her because I dont like her, I corrected. No, he said, like I slow. You hit her because of what she said. I huffed out a breath through my nose. It didnt matter to me. They only knew the sides of the story they read in papers and saw in give minute segments on the news. They never asked meanything. I ran my thumb over my palm, her blood just starting to dry. There was a sigh. You wanna know the most embarrassing thing she did to me? I had to admit, my interest perked up a bit. Yes, I answered. He rubbed the back of his neck. Me and her were at this party once, he started. And she was wearing a white dress even though I told her, twice, that it wasnt a dress kind of party. I nodded, thinking thats the embarrassing part? Well, she was sitting on my lap and she said she wasnt feeling good. He made a face. And she got up to use the bathroom and when she did, there was, uh. . .

I gestured for him to go on. . . . a big bloodstain on my shorts, he finished. I laughed. She Started her period on me, he filled in, nodding. As I laughed, he continued, And then she got mad at me. I raised my eyebrows. She got mad at you because she started her period on you? Abe shook his head. No, she got mad at me because I didnt tell her and save her from the embarrassment guys gave her on the way to the bathroom. I laughed again, shaking my head. All the way home, she was going on about how her friends boyfriends wouldve told their girlfriends that they started their periods all over their dress, why couldnt I? He rolled his eyes. Did she pay you back for the shorts? He shook his head. No, he said. Instead, she made me pay for tampons and Midol. I smiled. Hey, can I sit on you in about two weeks? Abe laughed, shoving me lightly with his leg. No.

Chapter Twelve Mrs. Roberts was standing by her daughter with her arms crossed and eyes narrowed when Abe and I approached her. Kel, sitting on the porch step and an ice pack covering the center of her face, glared unblinkingly at me. But back to Mrs. Roberts, who drummed her fingers along her elbow. Has this been dealt with? she asked, her gaze flickering between us. I nodded as Abe confirmed, Yes, maam. Alright then, she said easily and uncrossing her arms, as if I hadnt just punched her daughters nose job five minutes ago. Lets get a move on. Wait! In a flash, Kel was standing up, yanking the ice pack off her face. Youre just letting her off the hook?! She just friggin punched me! Mrs. Roberts stared blankly at her for a moment. Its been dealt with, she replied simply.

But look at my nose! She pointed her manicured nail to her bloodied nose. Look at it! She probably broke it! Honey, if she broke it, youd know. Mrs. Roberts then turned to me. Ill be ready to go in a moment. I hesitated before asking, Go? She nodded. Yes, go. She walked back inside the house and Kel, sending one last glare in my direction, followed in after her, shouting about how nasal her voice sounded. Abe crossed his arms. I almost forgot he was even there. Are you going to keep punching people? he asked, cocking his head slightly to the side. I gave him a look. If I want to, I told him with a shrug. For a second, I swear I almost saw him smile. Dont you ever learn? Just because you told me how she ruined your shorts doesnt mean Im going to just be nice, okay? You dont have to be nice. When I raised my eyebrow, he nodded. Yup. You just cant punch people. I rolled my eyes. Whatever. The screen door creaked open and Mrs. Roberts walked out, holding her purse and a key ring in her hand. I noticed her manicure matched Kels, minus the blood. Follow me, she said, not bothering to stop. She pulled open the door to a hummer, gracefully climbing inside, and then waiting for me to do the same. I hesitated before I opened the passenger door and hoisted myself inside. It all smelled like my dads cars: brand new. But unlike my dads cars, a picture of Mrs. Roberts family was taped to the dashboard. She put on large black sunglasses. Were heading to an Amish farm a few towns over. They have the best plants. All I heard was Amish. An Amish farm? Dont sound so appalled. Hasnt your family ever told you thats rude? she asked. The Amish brands are just as good, if not better, than those you get at Wal-Mart. Cheaper too. I tried to picture any one in my family at an Amish farm, not cringing or frowning or just looking completely disgusted with their way of life.

I doubt that, I concluded after a minute. Thats because you dont know any better. I looked at her when she came to a stoplight and she turned to face me as well. Once you get a taste of Amish living, youll never be the same. I doubted that too. I folded my arms. So why arent you Amish then? She laughed lightly, shaking her head. Because I have to check my email on a regular basis or else I become a fidgety mess. Besides, my family would sooner die than give up their . . . whatevers. Cellphones? I was sure behind her sunglasses she was rolling her eyes at me. Cellphones, television, computer, Wii systems, she sighed heavily, shaking her head. The list goes on. I admit, there are times I wondered if people actually had their phone surgically attached to their ear, but trying to imagine a world without them was. . . impossible, not to mention completely dull and boring. Ten minutes later, she pulled into a long, bumpy driveway that reminded me of her own. Trees blocked the view of the house but the farther she drove down the drive the more a country home came into view. The house was wide and white, and the porch wrapped around the entire house, and on it were swings, wicker furniture, and a screen door with green paint flacking off the frame. It was like Mrs. Roberts house thirty years ago. Hello. A woman wearing a white bonnet and a gray dress with a white apron approached us, smiling. The only modern thing about her seemed to be her hiking boots. Here for more groceries, Waverly? Mrs. Roberts smiled. Yes, and some plants, she said, taking off her driving gloves and walking into a small, make-shift store that looked like it was originally a garage. The woman nodded and looked at me. And are you the famous Kelly? She grinned, her smile reaching her brown eyes. I shook my head as Mrs. Roberts explained, This is Silvia. Shes working on my yard. I decided to show her the ropes when it comes to flowers. The woman threw her head back and laughed. Well, you know where the greenhouse is. That was Regina, Mrs. Roberts said after she walked away, now examining a clear container of nuts. She and her family own this store.

I just nodded, glancing around. The food was stacked on shelves in clear containers and packages with a white, typed up sticker on each of them. The prices, from what I saw, were at least a dollar lower than what I would see at Good Greens. You may think that this is crazy, Mrs. Roberts said as I eyed the containers, but the Amish are more content than we will ever be. I seriously doubt that, I mumbled, looking at a bag of homemade cheese curls. Really? She nodded to Regina, kneeling to pet a goat, still smiling. She looks happier than my family does. I shrugged. Anyone looks happy petting a goat. Its all fake. I glanced at her, running her fingers over the goats brown fur. Everyones miserable, even Amish people. You sound sure of that, Mrs. Roberts commented, raising an eyebrow and grabbing a bag of biscuit mix off a shelf. I nodded. I am. Life is miserable, no matter what. Being Amish is just a way of pretending that everything isnt all going downhill. . Hey. Your dad wanted me to tell you that your. . . Scarlett stopped midsentence when she saw my reflection in the mirror. Did you get your nose pierced? Yup. I looked over my shoulder at her. She was standing on the stairs. What did my dad want you to tell me? Oh. She shook her head briefly. He said that your Guidians campfire thing was tonight and that you better ready. I looked back at the mirror. I was wearing a faded black shirt and a pair of worn out jeans, and I looked ready to me. Done, I said. Scarlett scrunched up her nose, stepping off the stairs. Isnt Abe going to be there? Its his group and now hes in it. All thanks to me. So yeah, he is. Then youll need to wear something better than that! She scurried over to my closet (ignoring the look I was giving her that said my outfit was fine as it was) and held up a short, white top. This will look great on you! I looked skeptically at it as Scarlett tossed it onto my bed. For a campfire? Scarlett glanced at me, nodding quickly. Yup! she said, popping the P.

Then she pulled out a pair of skinny jeans and my favorite flip flops, which were the things I didnt feel like putting up a fight about wearing. I dont know. . . I said, holding the shirt against my chest. It wasnt that I thought I wouldnt look good, because I knew I would, but why waste it on Abe and a stupid fire with marshmallows? Youll look awesome, Silver! Scarlett told me. Go try it on! I sighed one last time before going into the bathroom. When I came out, Scarlett squealed, grinning. You look amazing! I did, but I still was unsure about looking my hottest for Abe Ronrock and his band of delinquents. And when you get there, be nice to Abe, Scarlett went on, smiling reassuringly at me as I still stared at my reflection, turning to the side. Hes a really nice guy. Hes a snitch, I corrected. No. He just has . . . She thought for a moment. When I started to think that she realized that he was in fact a snitch, she said, . . . morals. I raised an eyebrow. Morals? She exhaled slowly. His familys blood isnt red, its blue, she said. He was brought up with . . . Morals? Scarlett nodded. Yes. Morals. I just rolled my eyes. Morals, family, blue blood, whatever. None of that mattered to me; all I cared to know was that Abe was a snitch. Thats all. No embarrassing confession about Aunt Flo was going to change that. So when you get there, just be nice and friendly! She grinned now, trying hard to convince me. Dont be so mean to him! Things havent been very easy for him either. I scoffed. Right. They havent! Scarlett huffed slightly. Did you know his girlfriend broke up with him because of what happened? Shrugging, I said, I had an idea but he never said anything.

Why would he? Scarlett collapsed on my bed, watching as I applied my lip gloss. Dont ask. Why would he tell the reason his girlfriend broke up with him that his girlfriend broke up with him? Twisting the tube on my lip gloss, I shrugged again. So . . . be nice! I turned around, raising an eyebrow. She paused. Youre right, she said and I thought she was about to say that I should stab him to death with a marshmallow stick. You cant be trusted. Ill come along. I laughed. Its a Guidians thing, Scarlett. Yeah, I know. She grinned now, jumping up from the bed. I wanted to see what you guys do there anyway. Maybe Ill commit some awful crime to get in permanently. I was about to tell her that Guidians is boring and isnt worth it but she off and bouncing up the stairs, shouting, Jack! Were going to a campfire! I laughed when I heard his reply, Were what? So thats how I ended up in Jacks car, in the backseat of course, while Scarlett was beaming at the idea of going to Guidians. Scarlett was the one to call Abe to tell him not to bother picking me up. Tell me why were doing this again? Jack asked warily. I think I heard that he had plans with his X-box tonight but Scarlett talked him into with, Im going to be sick, love. Because I need to make sure Silver here is nice to Lincoln, she said, turning in her seat to glance at me. Which she will be. Now. Dont hold your breath, I said. She just rolled her eyes at me. Is she incapable of playing nice? she asked Jack. When he came to a stoplight, Jack glanced at me. I dont know, he answered slowly. I think I heard her call someone a freak once. Instead, she usually says Ha, ha! I interjected, rolling my eyes and sinking deeper into the seats. Silvias a big, mean ol bully who has it out to get snitches like Abe Ronrock, happy now? They laughed at me. When Jack pulled up to the area by the lake where the campfire is supposed to be, Scarlett turned and grinned at me. Remember, be nice!

I raised my eyebrows. Even with the grinning, she was skeptical, I could tell. After I hopped out the back, I saw Norman and Mitch getting into it about jumping in the lake. Norman strictly advised against it while Mitch thought the water would do people good. For once, I was on Normans side. The water didnt do anyone any good. Just ask all the people who drowned in it. Silvia! Norman exclaimed after telling Mitch the discussion was closed. He grinned at us all, glancing between Scarlett and Jack. I wasnt sure youd show up! Prison threats have that affect, I mumbled. He just smiled, ignoring that. And who are you guys? he asked, holding his hand out to Jack and then Scarlett, the smile never leaving his face. Jack, my brother said to him, smiling sheepishly before he gestured to Scarlett. And this is my girlfriend, Scarlett. Hes my brother, I explained when Norman still looked a little confused. They came to make sure I was nice. Normal let out a laugh. We havent that much trouble with her yet, he told them like a teacher on parents night. I couldnt decide if he was lying or if Abe hadnt mentioned he caught me drinking and hanging out with a drug dealer a few nights ago. Suddenly, Scarlett waved her arm and called out, Oh, hey! Lincoln! I guess he got used to the nickname because Abes curly black head perked up from staring at the lake to us. His eyes only stayed on Scarlett for a second before they flickered over to me. Hey, he said, walking toward us. He was actually smiling now, lightly. It was so light that his dimples just barely showed on his cheeks. I didnt know you guys were coming. Last moment kind of thing, Scarlett said. He nodded, and his blue eyes glanced at me again. It didnt take me long to realize he was checking me out. His eyes traveled down my body but they kept shyly coming back to my shirt and the exposed skin around my waist. Abe looked away. So, are you guys staying? They nodded.

He showed them were they could put their lawn chairs and said the bathroom was up the trail a bit. He didnt really say any of this to me, but I think he knew I was listening anyway. I looked at the fire. Not to sound like a person who set an entire boat on fire or anything, but it was a really sad little thing. Itll get bigger, Abe said, as if he could read my mind. He nodded up the trail. Stellas getting some sticks, or checking her messages in a place with service. I glanced at the long, curvy trail. My guess is the latter. Nodding, he tore open a package of marshmallows with one flying out of the bag and on the ground. Sighing, he tossed it in the fire. I looked back at the fire. Youre not going to get any smores out of that. He thought for a second. Not now, but maybe later, he said. Besides, I like marshmallows. He popped one in his mouth to prove it. I rolled my eyes. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Scarlett watching us eagerly like a soap opera. I just smirked and she wrinkled her nose, gesturing for me to keep talking to him. Still chewing, Abe eyed Scarlett suspiciously. When he swallowed, he asked, Why is she watching us? The answer was obvious, at least to me anyway. She wanted us to . . . be nice. She wants us to be nice, I filled in. His black brows furrowed. What does that mean? He looked at Scarlett, as if expecting her to answer even though she was too far to hear us. You know, I said. He looked at me, still confused. I sighed. You know? Be . . . nice? More blank staring. Be nice? I rolled my eyes with a groan. Be niiiiice. I knew he got it when his cheeks suddenly went red and his gaze snapped on Scarlett. She actually said that? he asked. I nodded. A second later he walked over to her, and I saw him gesture subtly to me with his finger. Scarlett was explaining but I knew that Abe was barely listening as he ran his hand over his face and plopped into a yawn chair next to her.

I couldnt tell what she was saying, but I read his lips at one point, saying that wont happen. Hey, Silvia! A hand with black rubber bracelets on the wrist grabbed me and dragged me away, toward Norman. Tell him. Tell him that swimming is a good idea! I glanced between him and Norman. Normans arms were crossed and it looked like he was getting tired of Mitch pushing the issue. Im siding with Norman, I said finally when they both wouldnt stop looking at me, and Norman smiled. I knew I liked you, he said, sneaking a piece of Hersheys chocolate from the table. There. Swimming is out of the question. Sitting next to Jack, Tristan piped up, Besides! No one brought their suits! Mitch did not think this was a reason not to be swimming. So then well skinny-dip! He looked to Abe (who looked a little pale) for support. Cmon, Abe, help me out here! Im not skinny dipping, he said. His fingers were tiredly rubbing his forehead. I had no intentions of getting anywhere near the water, but I couldnt resist giving Abe a jab. I bet youd look awfully pretty in your birthday suit. I think he may have grunted, maybe snorted even. But it wasnt like he had anything to be ashamed of anything, as much as I wished he had a freckled pale chest or jiggly thighs. Alright, alright, Norman said, waving his hand. This isnt going to be any swimming, skinny dipping, or birthday suit exposing of any kind. Now, who wants a smore? Scarlett walked up to me as Mitch grumbled about swimming and Abe told him to drop it. I dont think that would be considered as nice, missy, she said, but with a teasing smile. I shrugged. I just cant help it. She sighed, chuckling, and shaking her head. How are things ever going to progress when youre always so mean to him? Progress to what? Now, I snuck a chocolate and popped it in my mouth. All I want to make him miserable. Are you sure? She raised an eyebrow, glancing over at Abe. His color looked a little better now, and he was even smiling. Im just saying. I looked at Abe, then her. Hmm, cute. But really, I said, walking over and taking the seat next to him, I dont think so. Im just saying.

Chapter Thirteen I could sleep out here, I really could. Mitch laid out on the ground, his arms crossed under his head, looking up at the stars. Seriously, this view is mind-blowing. Tristan nudged him with her toe. You mean the view from the ground? He frowned, making Tristan laugh. Im serious! he said defensively, uncrossing his arms and shooting up in the sitting position, legs still sprawled out. Come here and Ill show you. Think of your hair, Stella mumbled, but like always she was paying more attention to her phone than the person she was talking to. Tristan thought for a minute before plopping down on the ground beside Mitch and turning her face to look at the sky. All I see are stars, she said flatly after a moment. All you see?! Mitch gapped at her, looking horrified as he gestured up, toward the sky. Thats what youre supposed to see! Thats the mind-blowing part! She shrugged. They just look like stars to me. You know nothing. And with that, Mitch turned back to the stars. His face lit up as he exclaimed, pointing to a cluster of stars, Look! Theres the big dipper! Norman glanced up. Are you sure thats not the little dipper? Mitch was back to looking horrified again. Yes, Im sure! Look at its shape! Thats the big dipper alright! Hey, man, Jack said to Norman, pointing to the fire, your smore is burning. What? Norman pulled his stick out of the fire and then sighed at the little fireball, also known as his marshmallow, before turning to Abe. Abe? He shook his head. No thanks. Please? He sighed. Why cant you just throw it somewhere? Because that would be littering. Please? He held the stick a little closer to Abe. Youre the only one who likes the burnt ones. I looked at Abe in disbelief. You like the burnt marshmallows. Shrugging, he reached out and took the stick from Norman. Yeah, so?

The burnt ones taste awful, I said flatly, although I shouldnt have to say this. It was just a well-known fact. How can you eat those? Same way anyone eats something, he said, carefully placing the marshmallow on a gram cracker, licking the marshmallow residue off his thumbs. I put it in my mouth, and then I chew. Shall I go on? I rolled my eyes. Thats disgusting. He stared at me while he took a bite. Tastes just fine to me, he said, smiling. Now, lets see if I get this right this time, Norman mumbled while putting a marshmallow on the stick again and placing it by some ashes. While my marshmallow cooks, why dont we get started? One of our temporary newbies, you care to go first? As Scarlett spoke up, something about kicking over a port-a-potty, I turned to look out at the lake. The moon floated like a white leaf on the surface, randomly rippling as the water sparkled. Everyone thinks I hate the water, just for no reason. But there is a reason, and its because Im afraid of what it can take and never give back. I hate it because its the only thing Ive ever been afraid of. And thats my story, Scarlett said, breaking through my thoughts, and I promise, I will never, ever knock over a port-a-potty again. Frowning, I nudged Abe. What is she talking about? Just so subtly, he whispered back, She knocked over a port-a-potty a while ago and really, really regrets it now. Oh. Norman smiled at her and then he looked at Abe. Abe? Would you like to go next? I expected a glance, maybe a glare, on Abes part toward me but he never looked in my direction. Instead, he stuffed his hands into his pockets, kicking a small pebble into the fire. Abe? He looked up. Yeah? Would you like to go next? Norman said again, like he was slow, and then he waited for his response. Abe was quiet for a minute. Not really, he mumbled.

A flicker of annoyance crossed Normans face. He paused, rubbing a wary hand over his face as he said, Abe . . . But Abe still didnt say anything, just stared at the ground. I was sure he wouldve jumped at the chance to say that it was actually me who broke the car windows and framed him for it. Abe stayed silent. After a minute, Norman shook his head, giving up, and turned to Mitch, asking him the same question. I looked at Abe. That was strange. When he glanced at me, his hair fell over his eyes. He shook it away. What was? You being quiet. He raised an eyebrow. I mean, you being quiet when it comes to telling the truth. I thought you wouldve jumped at the chance to deny it. Maybe I broke some other cars windows. I smirked. Youre not the type, I said. He didnt say anything for a long time, with Mitch explaining the pot and underwear story in the background, and then he shrugged. No one believes me anyway so whats the point? I dont know. He nodded. Exactly, he muttered. In the sandy dirt, using his flip-flop, he dug a small hole with the toe. While he stared at the ground, I took the moment to really look at him. His black hair was getting longer, even though it was nowhere near winter, and I noticed he had a dark freckle near his eyebrow. His tan looked even deeper at night. He caught me looking at him. What? I turned away. Nothing, I said, hearing his lawn chair squeak in protest when he slumped against it. Silvia? When I glanced up, Norman was looking at me. Its your turn. It seemed like he lost the politeness after Abes silent protest. I had never been shy about what I had done. I wouldve made a patch for it like it was something accomplished in boy scouts. But now when everyone was staring at me, I froze up.

I didnt have some tearful backstory to explain why I burned down his boat or why I hated the water. Did they think that because it scares me was a good enough reason to set fire to a boat? Abe nudged my ribs. I just sat there. Across the campfire, Jack was gesturing for me to say something, anything really. Maybe he was using this campfire to finally know himself. Then I blinked. I dont know why I did it, I said, shrugging. I just did. I couldnt tell if this fazed Norman or if he expected it. You just did it, he repeated slowly. You didnt think about it. Not even a little? I shook my head. That night, specifically when I lifted the lid of that lighter, it was just a photograph out of focus. All I remembered was making out with Rick, spilling the beer, and then the next I knew Abe was pulling me out. I dont see how someone could do something that drastic on heat of the moment. You must have had a reason. Well, I didnt. Clearing my throat, I sat back in my seat. Can we just hear about why Elsie punched a girl or why Tristan shoplifts already? I dont shoplift! Tristan exclaimed, gaping at me. Abe, frowning skeptically, raised an eyebrow at her. That look was all it took to crack her. Well, I may have snagged a little item every now and then, she added quickly. Three fuzzy monkey key-chains, one iTunes gift card, two lip glosses, Abe listed off, counting them off on his fingers, two curling irons, four zit creams, and not three, not four, but fiveboxes of tampons. I couldnt decide who looked more embarrassed. Tristan for being exposed as a tampon stealer or Abe for having to say it out loud. You stole three fuzzy monkey key-chains? Mitch piped up from the ground. Wow. They were really, really adorable! she said defensively, crossing her pale, freckled arms over her chest. At least my mom didnt find pot in my underwear drawer.

Like lightening, Mitchs head shot up off the ground so fast it made Scarlett jump. Sure! Let that live forever! he exclaimed. There were small leaves tangled into his dark hair. Answer me this, she said, tapping a finger to her chin, does mommy still buy your underwear or have you learned your lesson? Norman sighed loudly. Oh look, my marshmallow is burning. Before Norman could ask, Abe shook his head. No, he told him. I nudged Abe while Norman tried to break the fight up between Tristan and Mitch. Would you call this night a Guidian success? Seriously? He scoffed, nodding toward Mitch starting to take off his pants to prove something. And once again, he said, No. . After climbing the fire escape up to Ricks apartment, I tapped on the window sill. They locked it, and I spotted Evans bare foot hanging off the bed while the rest of him was hidden under a blue comforter. The blue bulge under the blanket didnt move. Sighing, I gave my fist a good, fast pound on the window and, as if on cue, the foot jumped in the air and the bulge grew into a hump, and then Evan was blinking at me. He swore once, like always, and I saw his lips saying what are you doing here? I shook my head, gesturing for him to open the door and mouthing to hurry up. It wasnt like he cared why I was here anyway. Slowly and groggily, he rose from the bed, rubbing his eyes and swearing again, loud enough for me to hear through the window. In black sweats and a white tank, he pulled open the window and then, instead of moving out of the way, leaned in, resting his elbows on the sill. What are you doing here? I blinked. Twice. Why do you even ask that anymore? You know the answer, I said. At least I thought the answer was pretty obvious. Look. We dont need ex-cons hanging around here. Its bad for business. So if drug addicted customer of yours sees an ex-con hanging around your apartment, they suddenly dont need a fix anymore? He sighed, backing from the window and rubbing one side of his face with his hand. Whatever.

While he crawled back onto his bed, I slipped in through the window. Lego towers covered the floor plus any available space on a desk or a bedside table. Multicolored little creations taking up space as Rick referred to them. I spotted him on the couch. I wasnt sure he ever got off it except when Evan made him deal. Both of them were night owls but Rick did better in mornings, or so Evan protest. Hey, I said, walking into the room but he kept his eyes on the TV, never glancing my way. I said hey. Even when I sat down beside him, he was quiet and I realized he was ignoring me. I wasnt sure if he was still mad about me admitting to drinking the beer. It was only a cup after all, and its not like I said it was actually his beer. I nudged him with my elbow. Are you just going to keep ignoring me? It was then that he finally looked at me. He didnt say anything at first, just stared (possibly glaring) at me for what seemed like forever. What? It was like before was the quiet before the explosion, and now he just went off. You told a cop we were drinking! he suddenly shouted. How could you be that stupid, Via?! Were not twenty-one. We couldve gotten busted! Alright, I said, then rolling my eyes and settling into the couch. But we werent, okay? Besides, it was Chester. Cmon. And Chester, he said, glaring, is a friggin cop! I shook my head. He wouldnt have arrested us okay, Rick? You dont know that, he replied sourly, rolling his eyes. Whatever. I looked at the TV, the reporters hair blowing around her face in the wind, reporting something new that was wrong with the world. Whats going on? He said nothing, instead taking a swig of his beer. I exhaled, loudly. Rick, I said. Some girl got grabbed off campus, he mumbled, then tipped his bottle upright, pouring the rest of his beer down his throat, closing his eyes. Tough life.

He swallowed. Right. We sat there for another moment, just staring at the TV. Then, I nodded to his empty bottle and asked, Can I have one? He leaned his head back, sighing. Sure. When I was walking into the kitchen, just about to open the fridge, I heard him call out, Are you going to tell Chester about it? Chapter Fourteen Hey. Scarlett hopped on my bed, perching herself on her knees and cocking her head to the side. Want to go shopping? Blinking, I repeated, Shopping. She nodded. Uh huh, shopping, she grinned, and then she pulled a silver credit card out from her pocket. Look what Jack gave me this morning. He gave you that? Dad gave us both silver cards, saying they were for emergencies. I never really used mine but I didnt think a bag of Doritos counted as an emergency but at least it was better than Jacks beer, party hats, and taco shells. Mmm hmm, she murmured, staring dreamily at it. He thought I should do something with you since, you know, you dont have any friends. I have friends, I said, but I knew I didnt. Not really, anyway. Erin and Peyton werent returning my calls, just like we used to do with the wannabes who wanted to join us. I didnt want to be that wannabe. I missed having someone to hang out more than I ever through I would. In high school, I had them. In juvie, I had Brooke and my cellmate before that, but now. Now I was alone. Well, almost. Jack said Peyton and Erin dont count, Scarlett informed me. I shook my head. Maybe some other time, I told her, then I started to read the pamphlet Norman gave me last night before I left. There was a firework show in two days for the Fourth of July, with Abe and the delinquents. Please? Scarlett repositioned herself, brushing back hair that flew in her face. We can go shopping, buy a bunch of new clothes, and then we could meet Jack for dinner!

I dont know, I said, although I really didnt have anything else to do. Just sit around, try to avoid bumping into Mom and Dad, and end up texting Rick to see if he wants to hook up or something. Scarlett nudged me, smiling with puppy eyes at me. Itll be so much! She waved the credit card in the air. And we wont have to spend a penny. I looked at the card, sliver and shining, sighing. Okay, I caved in, tossing my pamphlet aside. . This would look great on you. Scarlett held up a baby blue tank top in one hand and a white cardigan in the other. And it even matches Abes eyes. All the more reason to put it back, I said, taking out a black sweater that didnt match anything of Abes. Except for maybe his hair but my hair was black too so whatever. I like this one. She wrinkled her nose. Dont you already have something like that? Three somethings, which obviously means I like the black sweater style. Not the blue, itllmatch-Abes-eyes tank top style. Smiling softly, she shrugged, placing it back on the rack. I just thought itd look great on you, she said. I sighed as I watched her fondle the tank top, rubbing the fabric in between her fingers. Fine, I told her. Get it. Just dont say it matches Abes eyes again, okay? She grinned, handing me the tank top and then the cardigan. Deal! After that, I pretty much gave up on the black sweaters and the gray T-shirts and let Scarlett pick out all the clothes for me. She had a pretty good sense in fashion but whenever Id try on what shed give me, I couldnt help but think she was trying to spark someones attention with my outfits. I was just pulling off a red sleeveless shirt with brown jewels or something at the top when something black flew over the rim of the door. Finally, something black. Here. Try this on. Okay. I slid it down from the door, unfolding it, and I held it up. Oh no. She didnt.

No! I said, shaking my head. Im not wearing a dress, ever. I tossed it over the door. Aw, cmon. Its even black, your favorite color! There was a pause. There are no frills either or puffy sleeves or anything like that. Its just a pretty, black dress! Its still a dress, I told her. Frills or not. What if someone died tomorrow and you had to go to their funeral, she said. You wouldnt have a nice black dress to wear. Jeans will do fine. Now put it back. Cmon, please! The dress, still hanging over the door, slipped over and onto the ground by my feet. Just try it on, okay? Then well talk about buying it. I didnt say anything. Ill. . . She considered for a moment, then, . . . . buy you a coffee? Sighing, I picked up the dress. Just looking at it, I cringed and wrinkled my nose. And a muffin. Coffee and a muffin. Can I use Jacks credit card or do I have to pay for it myself? I shrugged even though she was on the other side of the door. You can use Jacks, I guess. While I was doing up the zipper, my phone vibrated in the pocket of my jeans, which were lying on the floor by my shoes. It was Rick. Hey. Hey, I replied, struggling to do up the top of the zipper. I thought about calling Scarlett to help me, but I decided against it. Whats up? He cleared his throat. Well, someone snatched a pregnant womans purse. In the background, I heard the afternoon reporter on the TV. Yeah? Mmm hmm. There was a soft click. He probably turned off the TV. Wanna hang out tonight? I looked at the door, where Scarlett was probably waiting behind it to see me in a black dress. Something I didnt want anyone to see me in, even when Im a corpse. Maybe, I finally said. Hang out doing what?

Do you remember Autumn and Chip? I sort of remembered the girl with the long black hair who got really giggly when she was high and the guy who insisted his name was Chip when we all knew it was Lloyd. Yeah. What about them? Were getting together tonight in the woods, Rick told me. You remember the place, right? Uh huh. They were asking about you so we said youd be there tonight. I paused just as I zipped the dress all the way. You didnt ask me, I said. Im on parole, you know that. I cant be caught doing that crap. He scoffed, probably rolling his eyes. Who goes in the woods, Via? I was quiet. So, are you in or out? Scarlett knocked on the door. Silver? she asked. Are you almost ready? I want to see how it looks on you! Who was that? I ignored that. Im in, I murmured before flipping my phone shut and dropping it on the floor. Just a minute. . This, I said, clarifying and nodding toward it, is where Jack told you to meet him? Standing in front of me was a posh restaurant with a golden light glowing through the windows and onto the pavement. Inside, I could see a girl in a dark green apron (matching the curtains) walking by the window. I couldnt picture Jack liking, let alone going to, a place like this. Dad, probably, but not Jack. Beside me, Scarlett nodded. Yeah, she said, eyeing the restaurant over. Looks nice, doesnt it? I shrugged.

Well, lets go in. She began to tug me by the arm before leading me inside. The second we stepped in, I smelled bread and, oddly enough, felt a draft. Theyre with me. I turned around and saw Jack flagging us over, smiling. The waitress, flushed face and all, just nodded before she ran off to stop a toddler from dipping his hand into the mop bucket. Hey, Scarlett greeted sweetly, leaning in to kiss Jack briskly on the lips. He smiled, but then he noticed the bags around our wrists. Exactly how much did you spend? he asked, peeking inside one of the bags. Scarlett froze up for a moment then slid easily into her chair. Notthat much, she said. I raised an eyebrow. She sighed. Okay, it was a little more than you probably wanted, she said but then quickly added before Jack could speak, but I got Silvia to buy a dress. He opened his mouth, paused, and then looked at me. You, he said, his face slowly relaxing into a cocky smile, got a dress? I rolled my eyes. Its for funeral. A funeral? I nodded. Yup, I said and he raised an eyebrow. Yours. When I looked at the menu, after Jack poked his tongue out at me, I realized that I couldnt even pronounce what was on the menu, let alone eat it. Why couldnt you have picked a normal restaurant, I muttered. Jack frowned. This is the best restaurant in Shiloh. I wouldve rather gone to Papas Big Bowl or ran through the Burger King driveway than sit here eating whatever the menu has listed under salads. This place sounds great, Scarlett said, smiling. Are you sure its not too expensive though? He nodded like this was a stupid question. Oh yeah. Dad can pay for anything, he said. I looked at the clock. I texted Rick that Id be ready in two hours. I think, if I told them to skip desert because I saw the calorie content, I could head back and get ready without Rick ranting about it later. So, Silvia, Jack said, grabbing my attention, smiling at me. What do you want?

. Was it tough getting out? Rick glanced over at me while he drove, the engine still sputtering a little whenever hed hit the break. Nah. It definitely wasnt hard. Mom was asleep, Dad was at work, and Jack and Scarlett were making out on the couch while Superman played with a fresh bowl of popcorn on the table. No one saw me sneaking out to a car parked a block away. He glanced at me again. No one saw you? Nodding, I answered, No one. When he still looked skeptical, I sighed. Why are you so paranoid? You were never like this before. And you werent an ex-con before, he replied. Everyone thought you were so innocent. He smirked. Man, were they wrong. I didnt say anything. Cmon, Via, he said and he nudged me with his knuckles like I was one of his buddies. You were no angel, you gotta admit that. I know that, I grumbled. Then why are you so quiet? Because I feel like it, I snapped. After a moment when neither one of us said anything, I leaned my forehead against the mirror. I bet Rick was rolling his eyes and blaming this all on PMS, like he usually did, as if it were the reason girls did anything. Even if I told him I wasnt PMSing, hed still say I was. Beside me, there was a sigh. Look, Via, he said with an edge to his voice, lets just have a good time, okay? Forget about all this PMS crap. I told you so. I turned to say that tell him that I wasnt PMSing and that PMS isnt an excuse for everything when he smiled. It was the same smile he gave me on the dock two years ago. The Rick Smile. Okay, I sighed. It has powers that smile.

Rick pulled into a parking lot by the woods a minute later and beside the car was the path into the woods, a big green wooden sign saying Shiloh Woods! Filled with adventure! and under that, written in permanent marker was in your moms pantsand a bunch of girly autographs of no one important. Come on, Rick said, giving the door an extra big shove. He said earlier that the car was on the fritz, and I guess that also included the doors too. When I got out, Ricks hands were stuffed into his pockets and he was already walking up the path. He never did wait for me, not really anyway. Only when he thought hed have a chance to get in my pants. Wed go in only so far then wed abandon the path and cut into the woods. After a few steps, wed find the red, empty lone picnic table that in the summer wed have to knock out the small bees nests under the seats. When we found the table, Chip was sitting on the top of the picnic table, wearing a yellow plaid shirt and black jeans. His legs were flailing around, and then he saw me. Via! Chip screamed, waving around his joint, and then bursting into giggles. Even though he was sitting, he was struggling with his balance. Youre alive! No, Im a ghost, I said flatly, and he tipped his head back, letting out a giant laugh. Chip then nudged Autumn, who held her own joint. It must have been her first because she wasnt giggling yet. Look, he said, pointing to me, shes aliiive. She looked up, tipped her head to the side, and broke out into a grin. Oh hey! She used her joint to point at me. You are alive! We thought you were dead! You were talking to Erin and Peyton. Talk to them? Snorting, she wrinkled her nose. Id rather join you in Deadville. Thats when Autumn burst into giggles. Yup, the joint was kicking in now. Well, Im not dead, I pointed out while she nodded, looking thoughtful. Well, not yet anyway. Thats right. Evan startled me. I hadnt seen him in the dark, smoking, and leaning against a tree trunk. I heard the cops have it out for you. Raising my eyebrows, I replied, Really. Nodding, he puffed out white smoke. Yeah, he said, those Ronrock cops or something. Theyre keeping an eye on you.

Ronrock, Ronrock, Ronrock, Autumn said slowly before her face lit up. Wait! Isnt Ronrock the name of the kid you, like, blew up or something? I didnt blow him up, I said defensively, but yeah. Abe, Abe Ronrock. Abe, she giggled. Abe the babe. Shaking my head, I told her, Hes a snitch. But hes hot and if hes hot, who cares, right?! Volume, Autumn, Evan warned, eyes close, exhaling slowly. Sometimes, I think Evan enjoyed his joints a little too much. She clapped a hand over her mouth. Sorry, she giggled out, probably grinning under her hand. I didnt see Rick lighting a joint, only when he sucked it in then he looked at me. He held it out to me, eyebrows raised. Yeah, Via! Chip exclaimed, nodding and laughing. Take it! Feel the buzzzzzzzz! As I looked it, I could just hear Scarlett and Jack scolding me, telling me to turn it down and ask for a ride home. Be a good girl. Dont get in trouble. Without another thought, I took it from him and brought it to my lips. Sort of in honor of what happens in this chapter, I have a special surprise for you! It's my annual Booksie's Best Kiss Awards! I'd love it if you voted! :) Chapter Fifteen Rick leaned in, chuckling as he slopped his tongue onto my neck. I had no idea why though, all I knew was that it was hilarious and that Rick wouldve made a much better Edward than that Robert guy. You know, you two should, like, Chip said, giggling, and his eyes were glassy, get married. Yeah! Get married or-or something. You want me to marry him? I asked, pointing at Rick No way am I marrying Rock. I mean, Rick. Rick burst out laughing, his body shriveling up into the fetal position the picnic table with his head in my lap. You, he said, gasping for air, you dont know my name! Frowning, I said, Nooo. I know your name. Its Rock. I mean, Rick.

You did it again! Autumn giggled before accidentally dropping her joint on the ground. Noooooooo!she was still laughingmy joint! Y-you dropped your joint. Evan held the rolling papers away from her. No more for you. You dont love them like we do. No, I do! Autumn shrieked, reaching out to grab them but fell off the table instead. I loooove them! Papers, I looove you! You said you loved papers, I said, smirking. Autumn was still reaching out for them when a bright light flashed over us. I heard a thump, and then an Ow! and something crunching, a twig maybe but I was sure it was someones bones for some reason. Then someone, who wasnt stoned, cleared their throat. Well, it looks like you all are having a good time. Rick turned his head, groaned, and dropped his head into my chest. Not you again. But then he licked my boob so I guess he wasnt that upset about it. Chester shun his flashlight on all everyones face with the light flickering the longest on my face. Having fun, Via? I hiccupped and it made me giggle. Um, I said, blinking, Yeah? Good. He turned the light off. Because youre coming with me. Youre in violation of your parole. I swayed. Youre in violation of your parole, I said then I started to laugh. Man, I was so funny. When the other police car comes to take care of your, he said, pausing to glance at them, friends, Im taking you to the station. I froze. I didnt feel like giggling anymore. Im going b-back to jail? I thought he was going to say something like yes, youre going to jail and youll never, ever get out because Ill swallow the key. But he just sighed instead. Well see, now come with me. He reached out and took ahold of my elbow and started to lead me out of the woods, keeping me steady every time I stumbled, which was every other step. After a while, he got tired of this and picked me up, like I was nothing. He didnt grunt or anything. I wondered if he was as strong as his brother.

So, I said in a sing song voice, do you always carry your . . . I couldnt think of the word. . . . whatevers to the police car? He shook his head. Nope. Well, now I felt special. To be in the arms of the Madison high heartthrob, knowing that he doesnt do this with all of his . . . whatevers. That stupid little word was outsmarting me. Oh, I get it know, I said, playing with one of his pins or whatever on his chest. Why were words so hard? You liiike me! Chester looked at me warily. No. I dont, he replied stoically. Dont be gentle, Chester. Give it to the stoned girl straight who just happens to be in your arms by the way. Oh, I said. Well, I dont like you either. You keep arresting me. He sighed just as his black and white police car, parked by the road, came into view. Im not arresting you, he said, and then he opened one of the doors. I blinked. Wait . . . what? Exhaling loudly, he placed me down then steadying me when I almost fell, once again. Im not arresting you, he repeated, giving me a nudge into the backseat. Why not? Instead of answering me, he shut the door. I watched him through the windows as he went around the car, pulling open his own door, and climbing inside. Why arent you arresting me? I asked again when he was inside. He glanced at me with the rearview mirror. Because my brother wouldnt like it if I did. Vaguely, in a blurry, fuzzy memory, I remembered Abe talking him out of arresting me before, at that party. Why? He thinks he can change you. Im not sure if it was how he said this or the way he looked at me while he did, but it rattled me, and I looked away. After a long quiet pause, I finally asked, Change me how?

There was a sigh, with another pause, a shorter one this time. Ask him yourself, he told me. When the other police car came, Chester said, Stay here, before getting out of the car and heading over to the officers getting out. He smiled at them then pointed to the woods, talking the entire time. At one point, he nodded at me and I saw him say Ill take care of her. A minute later, he came back to the car and when he was inside he turned to look at me and said, Can I assume you dont want to go home stoned? I nodded, slowly. Okay then. He started up the car and pulled away from the curb, his headlights being the only light on the road. I expected him to tell me where we were going now, but he said nothing. So finally, I broke the silence. Where are we going? He glanced at me. Youll see. . When I woke up, I was lying on a dark green couch, my legs hanging off the side, and wearing a blue hoodie with NYSPstamped on it and small, white shorts. I felt a little hazy and I didnt remember following Rick home or anyone home for that matter. And anyway, his couch isnt green and he doesnt have a NYSP hoodie either. What does NYSP even stand for anyway? While I sat up, blinking and untangling myself from a brown blanket wrapped around my legs, I really thought about what NYSP could stand for. Then it hit me. New York State Police. Hello. Startled, I noticed the woman in front of me. She had dirty blonde hair and green eyes, wearing a plain shirt and some worn out jeans, and there was a ring on her finger. My best guess was that it was Rebecca, Chesters fiance. Uh, hey. I took look around the living room. It all looked like it was bought on a police mans salary and family photos decorated the entire room. What am I doing here? You said you didnt want to go home, she said, reaching over and grabbing a water bottle then handing it to me, so Chester brought you here.

I looked around again. So, this is Chesters place? Rebecca nodded, taking a seat across from me. Hes working right now. He also wanted me to tell you that hes out of Get out of Jail free cards. Thats what he said the last time. I sipped some of the water. She smiled. Chesters a big old softie, he just wont admit it, she said then looking over at one of the pictures on the wall, one of Chester. He was smiling, holding a football in his hand. I was about to ask why Chester acted like a big old softie for me but not the rest troublemakers in Shiloh when the door opened. Someone with broad shoulders that I nearly recognized stepped in, holding a grocery bag. Hey, Rebecca, he said, shutting the door behind him. Then, just as he was about to say something else, he saw me, sitting on the couch in Chesters hoodie. Uh. . . Silvia? Thats your name? Rebecca looked genuinely surprised. Chester kept calling you Via. I glanced between them both. Via was my high school nickname, I explained. Its kind of stuck for some people. Oh. Abe looked at me, his eyes briefly flickering over to Rebecca. What are you doing here? he asked, brow furrowed, and he slowly put the bag down on the counter. You live here? He blinked. No, he said. I come over sometimes, but why are you here? For some reason, I didnt want Abe to know that I was stoned last night, or that I was stoned with Rick last night. She got locked out of her house, Rebecca told him, smiling. It was too late to call a locksmith so she stayed here for the night. She stood up then. Well, I better go shower. As she headed off into the hallway, I swear for a second I thought I saw her wink at me. When I looked back at Abe, he was staring at my clothes. Or should I say his brothers clothes. Um, he said, rubbing the back of his neck. Why are you in Chesters clothes? I glanced down at the hoodie. I couldnt sleep in my other clothes, I said with a shrug. I assumed thats what happened anyway. Either that or my clothes reeked of weed. So he let me wear these.

Oh. He walked into the kitchen, opening the fridge. Then he glanced at me. You hungry? I blinked. What? I am, he said, reaching in and taking out a carton of eggs. I can make you an egg. If you want. He was already getting out a frying pan and placing it on the stove. I think if he was going to poison me, he wouldve done it already anyway. Okay, I said hesitatingly. I watched while he got out a bowl and then cracking an egg over it and whisking it with a fork. Thanks. Nodding, he glanced at me. He sort of smiled at me before he turned his attention back to the eggs. Scrambled, fried, over easy . . . what do you want? Scrambled, I replied automatically. Smart girl. He poured the gold mixture into the frying pan, sizzling as he pushed it around the pan. I make the best scrambled eggs in Shiloh. I stood up from the couch, stepping into the kitchen. Thats rather cocky behavior, dont you think? Abe glanced at me. You can be cocky when youre this good at something, he told me. Hey, can you grab a plate? Theyre in that cupboard over there. Okay, I said. I could still hear the sizzling while I grabbed a plate. But then I paused and grabbed another. When I stepped back over to the oven, he placed the scrambled eggs on one of the plates. There, he said with a smile. The best scrambled eggs in all of Shiloh. Youre too cocky, I said but I was fighting off a smile. I took a seat on one of the chairs. Theyre probably not even that good. Ha! He turned his head, looking teasingly incredulous. I think not. Try it, and youll see. I made a face. Okay, but theyre not going to be as good as. . . I stopped when I took a bite out of the eggs and Abe grinned in victory. I knew it, he said, turning back to face the stove. I didnt want to admit, especially not to Abe, but they weredelicious. Which felt just unacceptable when Abe was the chief.

Actually, I said, lying, they taste awful. Im not taking another bite. I put my place on the coffee table to prove it, but my brain was screaming what is wrong with you?! when I did. He faked a laugh. Yeah, yeah, yeah, shut up and eat. You know you love them. The sad bit was that he was right. After his eggs finished, he sat down in the chair next to me, and laughed when he saw my plate. Taste awful, huh? I nodded, but ironically took another bite. Im telling you, theyre going to make me sick any moment now, I told him, and he shook his head. Hmm, he said, taking a bite. They taste fine to me. Youre used to them. Youre probably immune or something. Still chewing, he smiled. After he swallowed, he said, You just cant admit that he poked me with his forkIm good at something. I didnt say anything; instead I just looked at him. His eyes looked so different suddenly. The bright blue I was used to was hostile and guarded, but not this blue. It was friendly and opening. And suddenly everything about him was different. I watched as his eyes flickered away from mine. They dropped . . . they dropped down to my lips. Tentatively, he reached out but then he hesitated. A second later, I felt the warmth of his thumb over my bottom lip and his fingertips brushing over my jaw. And then he leaned in. He stopped halfway, bringing his bright eyes to look at mine. He held it like this for a moment and then he closed the distance. The only thing I could think at first was how different this was from Rick. Rick was fast, confident, and a little rough. But Abe . . . he was different in a way I didnt expect. He was slow, careful, and gentle. It felt so odd but at the same time right. There wasnt any tongue, and our lips barely moved, but it was perfect somehow anyway. It seemed almost like a start or like he was testing the waters. His lips were so much softer than I expected theyd be. Then a door opened. Okay, Rebecca said just as we pulled away from each other. I can drive you home now, Silvia, if youd like. I almost wanted to say no.

Um, sure, I said. I tried to just only look at her, but my eyes flickered over at him. He was a little red and staring at his plate, pushing the eggs around. Was he disappointed? She smiled. Your clothes are being washed right now, she said, nearly apologetically, so Ill have Abe or Chester take them over to you soon, okay? Okay, I said. Abe lifted his head up slightly. Ill bring them to the fireworks tomorrow, he told me, glancing through his hair. Okay? For that moment, for that second, it felt like that question was about something else. Not about clothes or anything like that but about something else. Something that mattered more. Was what I did okay? I felt like that was really what he wanted to ask me. I nodded. Okay. As I stood up, I hoped he didnt get what I meant, but the side that hoped he actually did was bigger and brighter than that side, the darker side that wanted Abe to suffer. It was beginning to disappear. The light was beginning to drown out the darkness surrounding his name. He smiled a little. Okay. Hey, Santa's Helpers :) I just wanted to thank you all for the lovely comments on the last chapter! They were all long and lovely, and made my day. I hope you like this chapter as much as that one! :) Chapter Sixteen Out in the driveway, a horn honked impatiently. Cmon! Jack shouted out the window of his Audi, annoyed. Were going to be late! When he says we, what he really means is that hell be late for work. As I watched Scarlett slipped on her flip-flops, I asked for what had to be the millionth time, Are you sure you want to come? Its really just Mitch ranting and Tristan yelling. Seriously, has she never realized she could, um, I dont know, talk at a lower volume?

Scarlett nodded, grinning. Yeah, Im sure, she said again, probably for the millionth time too. Itll be fun! Thats not the words Id choose. She smiled just as the horn honked again, more urgently this time. Cmon, Jacks going crazy out there, she said. When we got there, late as Jack predicted and proclaimed while he pulled in, almost everyone was there, except for Elsie but who knew what was up with that girl. Hello, Scarlett. Norman smiled as he walked up to us. Are you dropping her off today? I couldve sworn I saw Jack in the parking lot. I hated how they talked about dropping me off like I was a preteen or something. Getting my license back couldnt come sooner enough. Thats because he was in the parking lot, she said. I want to join Guidians. You can use the Port-a-potty story as a reason why. Norman blinked, twice. You want to join Guidians? According to Abe, most of the other kids joined like I did. The police either forced them into or else pay a fine or their parents made them. She nodded, a big smile on her face. Yup. Norman grinned. Okay then! he said. Well figure a reasonability for you soon, okay? Okay. After he stepped away, Scarlett leaned in close, whispering, Whats a reasonability? Its kind of like community service around here. I glanced around. It didnt take me long to spot Tristan. She was rambling on, as always, waving her arms around in dangerous gestures (Mitch nearly got slapped in the face), completely oblivious that Stella wasnt paying any attention to her. Scarlett nudged me, watching her. Doesnt she know that the girl with the phone isnt listening? I shrugged. Maybe. I dont think she cares either way. I scanned the rest of the area. Mitch was sucking on a red, white, and blue Popsicle, sitting with his legs spread apart, smiling. He actually looked like he was paying attention to Tristan. Just maybe not for her story, though. And when I saw Abe, all the thoughts about popsicles and Mitchs possible crush came to a crashing stop. Like when a car slams on the brakes, and then everything goes blank.

As if he sensed me, he looked up. He was wearing a red T-shirt with those same cargo shorts he seemed to wear everywhere. And in his lap was a yellow Good Greens bag. When I looked back at his face, he smiled at me, waving a little. I felt another nudge but this time it almost knocked me over. As I stumbled slightly, I saw Abes smile quirk up just a bit. Go over there! Abe was sitting on a light blue blanket laid out on the grass. Except for Mitch sitting on the corner, he was alone. Unless you counted the Good Greens bag. I shook my head. We brought lawn chairs. Scarlett rolled her eyes. So? She gestured to Abe, giving me another nudge in his direction. Youd rather pick a lawn chair over Abe? Uh huh, I answered flatly. Maybe. Just . . . maybe. She shook her head. Nope, Im not going to let you, she said. Either you sit on that blanket with Abe or you sit on the ground. I looked at the ground. It looked pretty dry, but then I noticed a bug crawling across the blades, and when I looked at Abes blanket, I didnt see any ugly bugs crawling on it. Silver, she coaxed, more nudging. Go on. Just as she gave me another nudge, I lost my footing and stumbled a few steps ahead, closer to Abe and his blanket. While I got my balance, he looked up. Hey, he said. You came. I nodded, and then, hesitantly, I sat down. Yeah, I had to, I told him, and I brushed imaginary dirt off my knees. I needed my clothes back. Well, here you go. He took the Good Greens bag off his lap and placed it on mine. Rebecca apologizes if she didnt use enough fabric softener. The bag smelled like detergent. Uh, okay. After that we just sat there, with a bag in my lap and him swatting a mosquito from his ear.

His hand brushed against my shoulder once. It felt different this time. When hed touch me before, I felt nothing but now, it was sort of different. The feeling was light, almost nothing, but there. Definitely there. He must have noticed me staring at the spot he brushed because he said quickly, Sorry. I just looked at him. He kind of pointed at my shoulder. Sorry I, uh. . . He paused. I thought for a moment he might have been stammering. I got it, though. The bug, I mean. Oh. Think of something to say. Say something, anything. Good. Okay, maybe not anything. Yeah. He nodded, and then looked away. Because he was annoying. I bet. I never imagined swatting a bug could ever be so awkward. Abe looked over at Mitch, chewing his popsicle and then spewing out American Flag colored pieces across the grass when he laughed at something Tristan said. Do you want a popsicle? I blinked. What? He nodded to Mitchs Popsicle. Theyre selling popsicles at a shack down over there. I could grab you one if you want. I glanced at Scarlett, sitting next to Stella, and she grinned. I bet she loved this like an episode of Glee or something. You dont have to. I didnt see any shack nearby and I didnt really want one. I was more of an ice cream girl, anyway. Well, I want one so Id thought Id ask. Well, what am I supposed to say now? In that case, sure! I totally want a Popsicle now? Okay, I said, but I still dont really want one. Suit yourself. He stood up, swept his knees, and glanced at me. He smiled at me, kind of. Youre sure, though? I happen to know their awesome. I raised an eyebrow. Just like your scrambled eggs, huh?

He just barely blushed. Yup, he grinned. Seriously, it doesnt taste like they just came out of a box, their way better. Like heaven on a stick. Oh. Well, in that case, I said then paused dramatically, my answer is still no. He shrugged. Your loss. When he went for heaven on a stick, Scarlett rushed over to the blanket, rumpling it as she halted to a stop, eyes wide. Wheres he going? Her eyes snapped briefly on his disappearing figure before she got down on her knees. You didnt scare him off, did you? I grinned. Sorry. She groaned, rolling her eyes. Silver . . . ! Chuckling, I said, Relax. He just went to go get heaven on a stick. What on a stick? A popsicle, I explained flatly. Thats what he called this places popsicles. Heaven on a stick, his exact words. Oh. She glanced in the direction he left in. So, you didnt scare him off then? When I shook my head, a grin broke out on her face. Silver! Youre learning! Who knows, maybe youll even get a kiss goodnight if you keep it up. I forced myself to roll my eyes but scrambled eggs, a slow kiss, and a NYSP hoodie were flooding my brain. You just keep dreaming. Scarlett smiled proudly. I will. . I was lying on the blanket, arms resting above my head, staring up at the sky, and beside me, Abe was laying down too. Just as he came back with his Popsicle, the fireworks began. I was already lying down and, wordlessly, as if it was a habit, he did the same. When I glanced at him, I noticed a little river of melted rainbow heaven on his cheek. I pointed to it. Your drool is rainbow color. My what? He swiped his hand over his jaw and his mouth, then his cheeks. He rolled his eyes. Thats not drool. Its a bit of the popsicle. Riiight.

It was. You try eating a Popsicle neatly when youre lying down. He looked seriously at me. Its a challenge. I laughed. I bet it is. . . Thank you. . . . for someone like you, I finished, grinning. When I turned to look at him, a big smile on my face, his lips twitched and then he bumped me with his shoulder. Shut up, he said but there was the faintest hint of a chuckle to his voice. A firework exploded over our heads, bursting into millions and millions of tiny red and blue sparks in the dark sky. The sound echoed like a cannon. Every time one went off, Mitch would go Wow, look at that! just as Tristan would say something like, Ah! or Look, that one was huge! There was this one though. A bright and bold yellow one went off and Abe smiled a little, pointing. Did you see that one? I did. Like I said, it was bold and a bright yellow, but it was small compared to the rest of the fireworks. But still, I nodded. His arm hovered in the air for a moment, even after the firework had faded, replaced by a blue one (a much bigger blue one) then he dropped it on the gap between us on the blanket. And the side of his hand lightly, almost like a butterfly, touching mine. I looked at our hands. His hand was just lying there, sort of limp, next to mine. I turned away, looking back at the sky. While a red one exploded, I felt Abes eyes on me. Okay? he had said earlier, and right now, his look seemed to say the same thing. I left my hand there. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his lips twitch for a second before he looked back at the sky too. Twenty minutes later, when it was over, I didnt move. Instead I just continued laying there on someone elses blanket. Abe moved his hand and lifted his arms above his head, stretching. When I turned from the sky to him, he was sitting up and yawning, and I said, Ive never seen a fireworks show before. It was a stupid thing to say, even if it were true. I shouldve commented on how it was only midnight and he was yawning already or something, not that Ive never seen fireworks in person before.

He looked at me. You havent? I shook my head. My dad usually had some boat party going on or something, I said. Hes probably having one right now. You dont know? Nope. I sat up slowly and brought my knees close to my chest. I dont talk to him, and thats easy because hes never home. Abe was quiet for a moment. Instead, he pulled out a blade of grass out of the ground then twirled it in his fingers. Youre still mad at him, arent you? Im still mad at you. He rolled his eyes, dropping the blade on the blanket. A small piece of green in an ocean of blue, not unlike me and the change Shiloh had. You stopped trying to kill me, he noted. You cant be that mad anymore. I was until you kissed me after making depressing delicious scrambled eggs, I wanted to point out but that would give him something I didnt want him to have. I still am, I said and when he raised his eyebrows, I nodded, my plan is just taking some time. I need a missile and a pilot, and things like that. He laughed. Well, that would be epic. I nodded. Most epic death in Shiloh. He nodded at this, standing up and swiping his knees. Your corpse should be proud. I bet it will be. He stood there for a moment, on the grass, staring in my direction. And thats all he was doing, staring. What? I said finally after a minute. Abe kind of gestured to the blanket. Youre still on my blanket, and I have to go. Pause. I was wondering how to ask you to move. How about move? Okay. He crossed his arms, as if to make himself look more threatening. Why, I dont know with those huge biceps. Move. See? I stood up and walked over to the grass before watching him grabbed the blanket and simply toss it in the back of his truck. Was that so hard? He smiled almost. Easiest thing I ever did, he replied.

Someone tapped my shoulder. Abe turned his head a little, just enough to see who was behind me. Silver, Scarlett said, Jacks here. Okay. She smiled at me and then she looked over at Abe. See you at the pool tomorrow, Lincoln! Alright, he said, waving as she walked to Jacks car, winking at me before opening the passenger side door and sliding inside. I turned back to him. The pool? He shrugged. Its nothing, he said. Shes going to be with me and Mitch at the pool. Shes doing the girls locker room. Oh. I looked at the car again. Scarlett was just smiling at us while Jack pointed to an invisible watch on his wrist. Yeah, he said. For a minute, we both just stood there, silently. We both knew we shouldve been leaving, but neither one of us took that first step. Someone honked behind me. Jack, probably. I guess that means I should go, I said after a moment. He nodded. Yeah, and I have to pick up my little sister from her slumber party. Isnt it, like, twelve a.m. or something? For me, slumber parties didnt end until lunch the next day, sometimes even later. None of them ended at midnight. In fact, most of them hadnt even really started yet. Abe nodded, opening the door to his truck. Yeah, but she never goes through with it. Plays all the games, eats all the snacks, but the second its time to go to bed, shes inconsolable. Oh. I probably have a message on my phone to pick her up. He dug his phone out of his pocket, pushed a few buttons, and nodded. Yup. I could just picture it. A girl, looking a mixture of her older brothers, crying on a sleeping bag, and then Abe would come in, pick her up, and tell her next time shell do it and sleep over the entire night. I should probably go now, he said finally, before her friends mom takes her to ER or something. Yeah, I said, and as if on cue, Jack honked again. I should go before Jack leaves without me.

He glanced over at the car and waved again. So, uh, Ill see you around then, he said. Yup, I replied, taking a step back, then another, and another. So . . . bye. Bye. After that, I turned around and headed for Jacks car while the sound of Abe starting up the engine filled the silence. When I got inside, Jack said, Took you long enough. Hush! Scarlett gave his arm a light whack and then turned around as best as she could with her seatbelt on, grinning. So, what happened?! What do you mean what happened? Jack asked. You were there. No, not that. Im asking if Silver and Lincoln were . . . getting along. Getting along? There was a pause on Jacks part. It didnt look like they were fighting. She nodded slowly. Yes, but that doesnt mean they were . . . getting along, you know? Jack paused again, longer this time, and then, Wait! You mean . . .? She grinned, nodding. Yup, she confirmed before turning back to me. So, were you getting along or what? Them? Jack shook his head and flexed his hands on the wheel. Of all the people you decide to set up, you pick them? Seriously? Seriously, she replied. Now tell me! What happened?! I looked at her before shrugging and stretching my arms out. Nothing happened, I told her, sorry to disappoint you. But you were lying on the same blanket! You were what?! I shrugged once more. I dont know what to tell you. Nothing happened, even if we lied down on the same blanket. It was quiet for a moment after that, and then Jack asked, What goes on in those Guidians meetings?

Hey, so I started revising this chapter but I decided that I liked it better as it was so if it sucks, you know why ;) Chapter Seventeen Hey. Youre that Brendor girl, right? I turned around, expecting to see someone shocked that I was out of prison (or, guessing from previous reactions, alive) and then start to rant about what I did but instead, there was a guy. I scanned him over. He had light brown hair and dark brown eyes and wore a graphic Tshirt with black jeans, and giant shoes. Uh, I replied slowly, not completely sure where this was going anymore. Yeah? He smiled. Im Elliot. The guy, Elliot, held out his hand and tentatively, I took it as he continued, Your friends with Abe, right? People usually didnt bring up Abe around me, and on the rare occasions they did, they never started it off like that. Theyd go on about how I burnt his arm or something instead. And anyway, I didnt know what to say now. I didnt even know if we were friends or not. Um. . . Elliot, come on. Someone stepped out of a nearby aisle, turning in Elliots direction, then his eyes wandered over to me. Speak of the devil. Oh. He stood there, wearing the same cargo shorts and a black shirt with a bleach stain by the collar, and in his hand he held two bags of chips and shifted a bottle of Coke under his arm. Hey. I nodded. Hey. Aha, Elliot said, glancing at us both So you do know each other. Abe shot him a look and I frowned. Obviously we knew each other. How else does he think that Abe got that scar? Abe adjusted the Coke under his arm again. So, he said, uh, what are you doing here? I nodded over to Jack as he debated between buying Ultra Butter popcorn or Totally Butterific popcorn. Jacks shopping, I said, like this was an explanation, and to me it kind of was.

Jack always bought rotten fruit and the wrong brands or hed forget half the list or even the list itself, so its not hard to understand why I had to come along. Now Abe frowned. Guys cant shop without supervision? Well, they can, I admitted. I mean, there really wasnt anything stopping them. But it never goes well. They get the wrong thing or they cant find it Whoa, whoa, wait. Elliot held up his hands, brows furrowed. Guys have no trouble finding things in stores. Just as I opened my mouth to reply, someone behind them bellowed, the sound echoing off the aisles, I cant find the stupid Oreos! I nodded to the blonde stepping out of one of the aisles, scowling, and then glancing in the aisles beside him, grumbling about Oreos. See? Abe turned his head to the side, flashing me his profile, almost sighing, Patrick Seriously, man, Patrick interrupted, ignoring Abe while he continued looking through the aisles, groaning. Its like the Cookie Monster ripped through this place! Patrick he began again but he was cut off again. Where are the friggin cookies?! Now Abe did sigh. Patrick, did you Thats it, Patrick said, shaking his head and putting his hands on his hips, looking absolutely serious. Thats it. Were not just having Oreos. Abe paused, like he was testing to make sure he wasnt going to be interrupted again, and then he asked, Did you check the candy aisle? Patrick stared at him like he was insane. Why, he began, huffing, would cookies be in the candy aisle? Maybe because thats where they put the cookies, Elliot piped up. His face fell, glancing at the both. Youve got to be friggin kidding me. They shook their heads in unison. Nope, Abe replied. Theyre in the candy aisle. No, Patrick said, shaking his head, making a face. Thats insane. I mean, who puts cookies with candy? He glanced at me for the first time. What do you think? Its stupid, right? They all looked at me, waiting for my answer.

I cleared my throat. Actually, I said and Abe started to smile at me, I think Good Greens does put the cookies with the candy. Abe glanced at Patrick. I told you so. He sighed, looking up at the ceiling for a minute. Beside him, Elliot nudged him and said, Dont you have to get some Oreos . . . from the candy aisle. Patrick ignored this. Instead he looked at me, smiling. Hey, he said, reaching a hand up to brush back his hair. Im Patrick, and no, Im not crazy. Oreos, Elliot snickered, smirking. Dude, I will kill you, Patrick muttered under his breath. He looked at me again, and then he suddenly exclaimed, startling me, Wait! Are you Silvia?! Abe groaned. Not this again. I glanced at him, nodding. Yeah. Patrick grinned. Its about time we finally met you, he went on and Abe shook his head, tipping his head upward. Weve heard a lot about you. Oh really? I glanced at Abe, who was avoiding my gaze. Like what? Patrick, go get the Oreos, Abe told me. Patrick smiled, holding up his hands. Alright, alright, he said, slowly walking backward. Hey, you should come to our tournament. As he walked off, in search of that candy aisle, I turned to Abe and asked, What tournament? He shook his head. Its just a stupid thing we do, he explained. Elliot has this air hockey table in his basement and once a week, we have tournaments to see who the best is. I frowned. With three people? We have another player, he said. Shes just not here. Ah, I see. Elliot was bending down to admire the candy selection by the register. But Patricks right, he said, glancing up at me. You should come. We need a referee anyway. For . . . air hockey? This seemed a little crazy, if not ridiculous, to me. I mean, if it were basketball or something sure, but air hockey? Come on.

Air hockey is a serious sport. Rolling my eyes with a smirk, I nodded. Sure it is, I told them sarcastically. It is. Abe adjusted the Coke bottle again, this time almost dropping it. There are at least two injuries each week. It can get really dangerous. I watched as he struggling with the bottle some more before I took it from him. Are we still talking about air hockey? Yeah. He nodded and he held out his hand, spreading his fingers apart. See that? He pointed to an almost invisible mark on his index finger. I got that playing against Patrick and the puck got me. That puck is dangerous, Elliot piped up, still crouched down, holding a Hersheys bar in his hands. It got me in the lip once, needed stitches. Could it be, I said slowly, that its not the game but its the crazy guys who knock that puck around? No! I looked skeptically at them. Abe shifted his weight. Well, maybe a little but come on. He glanced over, spotting Patrick heading toward them, a package of Oreos tucked under his arm. Havent you ever played air hockey before? I pursed out my lips, watching as Patrick walked up, wagging the Oreos. Got them, he said, smiling. Youve never played air hockey, have you? Abe said, starting to smile. How does someone live to be eighteen and not play air hockey? I shrugged. I dont know. When Abe nodded for me to follow them to the counter, I trailed behind them, feeling the need to explain myself. Its just . . . air hockey wasnt something I considered important, you know? He shook his head. Nope, he replied, placing the chips on the counter, taking the Coke from me. Playing air hockey was practically the only thing I did as a kid. Really? Abe nodded. Uh huh. Sounds like a pretty sad childhood to me, I told him, watching as he got out a twenty from his pocket, the bill rumpled.

Not at all. He handed the money over to the cashier. All week long at school, I couldnt wait for Saturday so I could play air hockey all day and eat pizza. I smirked. Sounds healthy. He smiled a little. Hey, I always order green peppers on my pizza. Cringing, I replied, Ewww. Yuck. Abe laughed a little, grabbing the bags. By this point, I realized that Elliot and Patrick had left, and were now in the parking lot, seeming to be arguing over the front seat of Abes truck. He glanced at them through the window, pausing, and then he glanced at me. You could come if you wanted to, he said. But I cant promise that flying pucks wont come at you. I looked over his shoulder at Elliot and Patrick, still fighting and both of them with their hand on the door handle. It looks like youd have a full house. He glanced at them again, and rolled his eyes. Youd get it, he said. The front seat, I mean. If you wanted it. Well. . . I looked over at Jack, who at this point had noticed me talking to Abe. Jacks shopping and. . . Nodding, he smiled a little, saying, Okay. I get it. He turned around and took a few steps, then looked at me. See you tomorrow. Right, I said, nodding. See you tomorrow. I watched as he walked toward the doors, bags in hand and shaking his head at Elliot and Patrick, and I found myself calling out, Abe, wait! He turned around, half in the door and half out, raising his eyebrows at me. I was quiet for a minute while he opened the door wider for an old woman. And then I said, Maybe I will come. . So this is my basement, Elliot said, flicking on a light as I stepped off the stairs, revealing a large room with a striped couch and a small TV in one corner, and in the other was an air hockey table, its kind of a mess though. The walls were a light shade of a turquoise, and an American flag hung off one of the walls. The carpet was gray and worn, like it had been there for a really long time, and aside from the couch, a mini fridge, a beanbag, and a few metal chairs, there wasnt any furniture.

Oh, and the air hockey table. Elliot must have seen the look on my face because he said, I told you it was a bit of a mess. I shrugged. Its not that bad . . . sort of. You dont have to sugarcoat it, Abe told me, trying to shove the Coke bottle into the mini fridge. After a minute, he turned it sideways and laid on the bottom. He knows its not exactly homey. It doesnt have to be homey, Patrick said and the sound of the air hockey table coming life to filled the room, because this is enough for us. Abe just shook his head. I took another look around the basement. So . . . wheres this fourth player? Elliot shrugged. Who knows? He grabbed one of bags of chips and ripped it open, a chip falling onto the carpet. He sighed. She just got a new job so shes always late, if she shows up at all. You were the one who insisted she got one, Abe said, like he was reminding him. I know, I know, he replied, popping a chip into his mouth, chewing for a minute. I just didnt think shed be gone all the time. Uh, excuse me? Patrick, looking incredulous, gestured to the murmuring air hockey table. Arent we here to play air hockey, not talk about why Elliots girlfriend is always gone? Abe rolled his eyes, still crouched down by the mini fridge, and he looked at me. You want something to drink? He glanced inside. Theres, uh . . . lemonade. Just lemonade? Unless you want some Coke but yeah. Just Lemonade. I didnt really like lemonade much, not really anyway. No, Im good. Alright, now that weve got that settled, Patrick suddenly exclaimed, can we please play air hockey now?! Like we planned to before we brought her along?! Man, chill out, Elliot said then he held out the bag to him. Have a chip. After a while, it became impossible to have a conversation without Patrick wailing about air hockey so Elliot finally gave in and played. And Abe was right, there were injuries. Holy crap. Elliot winced, sucking on one of his knuckles, face red. That hurt.

Abe nudged me. We were both sitting on the striped couch, watching. I told you this was a dangerous game. Im not sure the puck flying at Elliots fingers counts as dangerous, I replied, pulling out a potato chip from the bag between us. Elliot turned around, staring at me. It counts, he said, and the rest of them nodded. You just wait. When you play, itll happen to you. I raised my eyebrows. When I play? Patrick nodded. Youre here, right? Im not playing. Why not? I shrugged. I didnt really feel like explaining why, and knowing how serious they take their tournaments it might be like offending someones religion or something. Just because. Patrick grinned. Chicken, he said, pointing to me with the puck and then proceeding to flap his arms like a chicken, shouting out, Bock, bock, bock! Elliot shook his head. Youre a dork. You should play, Abe said, turning to me. Even just to prove that it isnt a dangerous game. I can do that just by watching, I said, gesturing to them. Chicken! Patrick yelled again, his arm whooshing in a blur across the air hockey table, fending the puck away from his goal. Abe shrugged sheepishly. Okay . . . but youre missing out. Air hockeys great. Is that so? He nodded, sticking his hand inside the chip bag, sending me a flash of his scar, and all of a sudden I felt really hot. Besides we need another player. I didnt answer. Abe watched me for a moment, his expression starting to turn serious. Whats wrong? He said this so quietly, like a murmur, only I could hear. Then, the door above the stairs opened, rapid footsteps running down the stairs, and someone replied to what Abe first said, You dont anymore! Im here now!

His blue eyes just barely flickered away from me, but as soon as they were gone, they back again. They looked skeptical as I looked over his shoulder. Leaning over close to Elliots face, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek while he played, and he laughed, Baby, youre distracting me. She smiled. Sorry. Good luck. She turned around, smiling, and then when she saw me, that smile of hers just suddenly dropped. Silvia? I blinked, and then I nodded. Hey. . . Pamela. Chapter Eighteen For a moment, Pamela just look at me, like she couldnt believe that I was here, sitting on the couch, beside Abe. And then, just when it looked like she was going to say something, someone cried out, Ow! Jeez man! She turned her head, and over her shoulder I saw Patrick clutching his hand, practically spitting all over the air hockey table in pain as he breathed out, glaring lasers at Elliot. Elliot, the attacker, shifted his weight. Sorry, Patrick. He rubbed the back of his neck. I didnt know I hit it that hard. And thats what makes injuries, Abe said, standing up. Whatever part of him that thought something was wrong had left now. Want some ice? Patrick nodded, close to hyperventilating. Was that, like, revenge or something?! Elliot shrugged. Its the game, Patrick. Pain comes with the territory. Behind us, Abe tossed an ice pack over Elliots head to Patrick before sitting back down next to me, not realizing that I had barely taken my eyes away from Pamela. She cleared her throat, brushing a flyway hair behind her ear. Does this mean youre out? she asked Patrick. Elliot raised an eyebrow at him, who, after a second, nodded and then ambled over to the couch, plopping down on my other side. Im in then, she said, grabbing the paddle and resetting the score board, which was a scribbled number on dirty chalk board. I dont know, babe, Elliot said, sucking in a breath and crossing his arms, I dont think itd be right to beat my girlfriend at air hockey. Pamela rolled her eyes, a small smile cracking out on her face. Just hit the puck, Elliot.

I watched as they played. Pamela was pretty good, I guess, but Elliot would probably win, like he predicted. I was waiting for one of them to bash their fingers when Abe leaned over and mumbled, Your being quiet. I wasnt sure why, but this annoyed me. So? So, your never quiet, he explained, and I rolled my eyes. He nodded to the air hockey table, the puck a black blur hitting side to side. Do you want to play? I smirked. No. Come on. He gave me a little nudge with his shoulder, smiling. Just one game, okay? Ill even go easy on you, and let you get a point. A point? He shrugged. Maybe two. I almost laughed. I am not playing air hockey, I told him in the sternest voice I could but it didnt look like he took me seriously. Air hockey is stupid, and from what Ive seen today, painful. Abe rolled his eyes, sort of shaking his head. You are chicken, he told me, a light smile on his face as I shoved him. Shut up. . Silvia, Abe said, with the paddle in his hand, waiting as Elliot tried to find the puck, which he shot over Elliots shoulder into an unknown area by the couch, Ill take you home after this game, okay? I nodded just as Elliots head popped up behind the arm of the couch, the puck in between his fingers. Okay. As I waited while they played, I glanced over toward Pamela. She was crouching down, rummaging around in the mini fridge for something and guessing from the pile of Coca Colas and Lemonade by her feet, it wasnt one of those. As if she felt my gaze, she looked up then blushed slightly. Im looking for Sprite, she explained, and I heard the rummaging starting up again. I know theres got to be at least one in here somewhere. Oh. I just nodded, not really sure what else to do. Okay. He rattling inside the fridge continued and her brown eyes just barely glanced at me. So, uh, she said, more rattling, you know Abe.

That wasnt a question. I didnt know how to reply to this. It was obvious that I knew him. Where did all of his friends think he got that scar anyway? But then again, I wouldnt be surprised if they had the same attitude about Abes past like Timon and Pumbaa did with Simba. Yeah, I do, I told her, instead of pointing all this out. She didnt respond and just simply pulled her hand out of the fridge. I cant find the Sprite, she sighed after a moment. Maybe there isnt any. Pamela shrugged warily. I guess not. She gathered the Coca Colas and the Lemonade and placed them back in the fridge. So, why did you come . . . here? Patrick invited me, I said, gesturing to him. The pain in his finger stopped an hour ago, and now he was chewing on the ice from the bag. I ran into them at Good Greens. She frowned. Patrick invited you? I nodded. Yeah, I answered slowly, frowning myself now, why? She paused then shook her head as she stood up. Nothing, she said. What? Pamela sighed. Its just that, she replied, I didnt think thatPatrick would be the one to invite you. What do you mean? Can I ask you something? she asked hesitantly instead of answering me, standing next to the couch, drumming her polished finger on the top of a lemonade. It reminded me slightly of when she asked me if a guy ever touched me. Maybe thats why I hesitated too. Okay. She was quiet for a minute as she sat down next to me, and then asked in a low voice, Are you jerking around with Abe? I blinked. What? Pamela bit her lip, looking in her lap. I know its random, and kind of mean, but I just need to know if youre messing with him. She looked at him, sighing. Hes a really smart guy, Silvia, but . . . But what?

. . . he gets a little nave when it comes to you. She hesitated, as if waiting for my reaction before she went on. He wont see it coming if youre just screwing with him. I turned to look at Abe. Grinning, his arm zipped across the table and smashed the paddle against the puck. When it entered Elliots goal, he laughed, reaching over to rub his former score off with his fingers. Hes a nice guy, she said, bringing my attention back to her. And he really likes you . . . a lot and I dont want him to get hurt. I brushed my hair behind my ear. Well, you dont have to worry about that because nothing is happening between us, okay? She shrugged. Yeah, but, she replied, glancing at Abe and his victory grin, just because you guys arent together or anything now doesnt mean that someone still cant hurt. Well, no one will. Alright. I looked at her. She looked completely different from the girl on the road with her heels in her hand that night. Now her hair was brushed and pulled back into a ponytail, her make-up wasnt running down her face, and she just looked . . . different. There was just something different. So, you and Elliot, huh? I asked, just because. Maybe because I wanted to know when exactly everything changed for her. She nodded. Yup. I watched him, seeing that he was pouting, probably because Abe was winning. He seems nice, I said. Pamela smiled, nodding. He is. And then she looked at me. I met him at work last year. He was in the waiting room, waiting for his old girlfriend. I picked at my nail polish. She was talking about my old job. Anyway, he said I looked bored, she went on, and then he started making paper airplanes out of the magazines and aimed them at me to try and make me smile. Did it work? She nodded. Yeah, but then his girlfriend came out, like, ten seconds later. I snorted. Sounds like perfect timing.

Hmm. She glanced at Elliot and smiled again. He kept coming back though, with these stupid, corny things to try and make me laugh. One time he even put a Whoopee cushion on one of the chairs. And it was a winner too! Elliot suddenly exclaimed, grinning. They had finished playing and Abe was sliding on his shoes. That got a real good one out of her! She rolled her eyes. It also almost got me fired. Now Elliot rolled his eyes. Details, details, he said, yanking out the plug from the outlet. It still worked, and then I asked her out the next day. With a squirting flower bouquet, Pamela added to me. He laughed. It was Patricks idea. You ready to go? Abe was looking at me, kind of smiling, and something flopped around in my chest. I nodded slowly. Sure. . After Abe pulled into my driveway, he took the keys from the ignition, and for a second, I almost thought he wanted to come in. But then he smiled a little and said, Sorry Patrick dragged you into that. He thinks that everyone is as obsessed with air hockey as him. I shrugged, cocking my head to the side. It wasnt that bad, I replied and he raised an eyebrow. Nodding, I added, It was okay. Really? When I nodded once more, he pursed out his lips and considered this. Huh. What? I smirked, resting my head on the headrest. Did you think Id totally hate it or something? To my surprise, he didnt hesitate to agree. Oh yeah, he admitted and then laughed. I thought youd be asking me to take you home the whole time. But I didnt, I pointed out. True. He nodded slowly, pointing to me. You did not. I turned away and looked at my house. It was totally and utterly dark, not even the porch light (how weird is it that they kept thatbut not the porch itself) was on, and I let out a breath. I should probably go now, I told, grabbing the door handle to prove this. And you probably have to rescue your sister from a slumber party or something, right?

He smiled. No, not tonight. He ran the tips of his fingers over the wheel, his scar almost completely invisible. She said shes never going again. Ever. Really. Abe nodded. Yeah, but in a few days, her friend will ask her and say something like theres going to be brownies and then itll all start up again. I kind of smiled. I liked that, the idea of starting again. It could turn into a vicious cycle, especially with the promise of brownies, but youd still have to. Youd have to try again. Well, um, I said, and then I bit my lip, probably to stop myself from using the word um again, Ill see you around. He nodded. Yeah, okay. I looked at him one last time, taking in the black curls and bright blue eyes and his crescent moon dimples on either side of his smile, and pushed open the door, swinging one leg out and then another. When I was on the ground, I turned to him again. Abe smiled at me, and it suddenly dawned on me how weird that it was. That he would smile at me, of all people, especially after I gave something he could never give away. That red scar on his forearm. But even then, he still smiled at me, like it wasnt even there and like I wasnt the one who gave it to him. And for a moment, a moment of just looking at him and his smile and hair, I forgot about it too, and I smiled back. Chapter Nineteen I hope hell be okay, Scarlett said into her phone the next morning after handing Jack a muffin from Starbucks and a drink to me. It must be really tough on her. I frowned at Jack as he bit into his muffin, and he shrugged. Who is she talking to? I mouthed and he shrugged again, giving her shoulder a halfhearted massage. Well, Im glad youre okay, she finally said after a moment. Then she kind of smiled, but it was a little sad. Talk to you soon, okay? Bye. I watched for a moment as she hung up and placed her phone down on the counter. Who was that? I asked after a minute. She sighed. Toby, she replied and I saw out of the corner of my eye Jack trying not to sigh. He and a couple of his friends got into a bad car accident. Hes okay but one of his friends is in a coma now.

Oh. I looked at Jack, trying to signal for him to do something. Thats . . . uh . . . bad. She nodded, and she glanced at Jack. Then, after sighing, she turned back to with a smile. So, where were you yesterday? she inquired and I groaned. You left with Jack and you never came back! Jack pointed to her, chewing away at his muffin. She didnt believe you had friends either. Jack! She shot him a look, shaking her head. It wasnt that! I was just surprised, thats all! I thought we met all your friends. They werent really my friends, I mumbled, grabbing a small piece off Jacks muffin, ignoring the incredulous look he shot my way. I just hung out with them, thats all. Jack gave Scarlett a nudge as he opened the fridge. I bet they do drugs. I rolled my eyes. We werent doing drugs. So, who were they? Scarlett asked, taking a seat in one of the barstools, cocking her head innocently to the side, kind of like a puppy when youre holding a hamburger. Scarlett, I said. Come on! She grinned, reaching over and grabbing a banana from the fruit bowl. Just humor me, okay? I sighed through my nose, glancing down at the counter. It was Abe and his friends. Almost instantly, I heard the fridge door come to a slam and then Jack stood next to me, eyes wide. More stuff with Abe? he asked, shaking his head. What is he, everywhere? Jack, Scarlett scolded, swatting his stomach before turning back to me, eyes twinkling. So, you hung out with Lincolns friends? Did he make a move? Well, he asked her to hang out with his friends, Jack muttered. Isnt that enough of a move? No, she replied quickly before turning back to me. What happened?! I shrugged. Nothing, we just hung out at his friends house, I mumbled, uncomfortable with the spotlight all on me. It wasnt a big deal. Beside me, Jack grabbed his jacket, frowning. You just got out of juvie, he grumbled, slinging onto his shoulders and struggling to fit his arm through, you dont need to thinking about guys. We watched as he grabbed his keys on the counter and went out the door, giving it a pretty good slam, and then I looked at her. Whats his problem?

Hes a big brother, she reasoned. Hed probably be happy if you decided to become a nun or something. I snorted, rolling my eyes as I played with my coffee lid. Like that will ever happen, I mumbled. I didnt even know how nuns did it. Giving up guys, I mean. She shrugged sheepishly before her eyes began to twinkle the way they did when she wanted more details. So, nothing happened, at all?! Holding back a smirk, I shook my head. Ugh, you two! She groaned, shaking her head and dropping into the palm of her head. What is it with you both? I swear, its like pulling teeth just to get one of you to make a move already! Smiling just a little, remembering something I shouldnt have, I told her, Well, maybe some people just arent meant to be together. She glanced up at me. Face it, I continued, me and Abe are kind of like fire and water. She made a face and shook her head. No, you guys are perfect for each other! she exclaimed with a sigh. But somehow, the only people who cant see it is you and Abe. I remembered what Pamela said to me last night as she struggled to find a Sprite, about Abe liking me and how hed never see it coming if I decided to turn the tables on him. Maybe it was just me that couldnt see it. . Put on your coat, Jack told me as he came trumping down the stairs into my room as I laid on bed, reading over stupid Facebook status updates with Coldplay playing from my iPod. I just watched him with my eyebrow raised as he just stood there in front of my bed, as if he were waiting for me to obey his orders or something. Why? I asked drily after a moment. Because were going to see Nana, he said. I shook my head, turning my eyes back to my laptop. Go by yourself. I was reading Erins Facebook status, apparently she caught her brother preforming a solo while looking at her Alicia Keys poster, when Jack slammed down the screen of my laptop, saying, Now. And instantly, I was annoyed. What part of no dont you get? I grumbled, reaching to reopen my laptop but he pressed his hand down.

She was asking for you today, he said after a moment, and then in a softer voice, he added, she thinks you guys are at the beach again. I turned away, instead looking at my red walls with white Christmas lights hanging off the top. She keeps looking for you, he went on, trying to get me to meet his eyes but I wouldnt do it. Shes going nuts trying to find you. What do you want me to do? I snapped, my chest slowly beginning to feel like it was being squeezed. Play along? Pretend that Im ten years old and. . . . I shook my head. I wont do it. Jack crouched down to my eye level, bringing my head back when I turned away. Please, Silvia? he asked softly, almost pleading. Its Nana. This was all so easy for him to ask. Whenever she saw him, she instantly recognized him as Jack. Sure, sometimes shed say, Youre a fifth grader, what do you know? to him sometimes but she always knew it was him. She never remembered me, though. Dad used to say that Nana and I had something special. Hed joke it was our devilish ways or the same stormy like gray eyes that seemed to convey everything. But that something special was gone now. But despite this something special, Nana was always the hardest to please. Sometimes, I wondered if it were just me because she seemed to love everything Jack and my cousins did. But my accomplishments were always brushed off with her hand, like they were an annoying insect. Now, I just stared at Jack. She wont know who I am, I told him, and I heard him suck in a breath through his nose. You know that. You dont know that, he mumbled, but I could tell by the way he looked away as he said it that he knew it too. Please? He always had a soft spot for Nana, and that spot only got softer after her Alzheimers really set in. Jack could never stand it watching her, the sanest woman ever, going insane over something that happened years ago. Sighing, I mumbled nearly inaudibly, Okay. . Just be prepared, okay? Jack said as we walked closer to the living room, where I could just barely make out the sound of someone shouting. He paused, then added, Shes . . . kind of out of it.

I didnt have time to reply before I heard, Im telling you, shes here! Turning my head, I saw Nana, my Nana, waving her arms around frantically, dressed in a flannel nightgown, pushing away women in white scrubs, as my mother just clasped her hands, like she were praying or something, and just kept saying, Mom, shes not here. No! Nana pointed a wrinkled, pale finger at her before she turned away, desperately craning her head in all directions. She was just here! Silvia! Silvia! One of the nurses grabbed onto her frail arm. Elizabeth, she said in a calm voice but Nana kept trying to shrug her off, still shouting my name. Elizabeth, your granddaughter isnt here. She opened her mouth again, probably to snap at her or something, when her eyes landed on me, and then she pointed. See! she exclaimed, untangling herself from her and she came toward me. For a moment, Nana just looked at me, taking me in, head to toe, before she turned around and said in a composed but breathy voice, I told you I wasnt crazy. I just blinked at she turned back to me, brushing my black hair behind my ear. Dont run off like, Silvia! she scolded now, shaking her head. The waters dangerous, dont you know that? Slowly, I nodded. I know. My mom stepped toward us, smiling softly and slowly unclasping her hands. See, Mom? she asked softly. Silvias right here. Shes fine. I know that, she quipped, turning her head. Im not blind either, you know. Mom didnt say anything. Nana turned back to me. Theyre always trying to pin labels on me, she said, then clucking her tongue, shooting them all looks. Theyre just hoping Ill die faster so they can get their hands on my will. Mother, Mom said, shaking her head and rubbing her temple. Thats not what this is at all. Thats the only thing old people are good for. Nana walked wobbly to one of the couches, shaking off one of the hands of the nurses who tried to help her. Dying and handing over money. Mom looked warily as she said, You know thats not true. Bite your tongue, Nana scolded, frowning. I taught you better than lying, especially to your old, dying mother.

Youre not dying! Mom collapsed into one of the chairs, running her hands through her hair and sighing. I bet your planning what all youre going to do with the money. Nana snickered evilly, turning to me. Just watch, I die and I dont give them a cent. I glanced at Jack, but he looked so normal. Granted, Nana acted like this a lot, even when she was lucid, but it seemed different now. I always smirked whenever Nana quipped about her will but now I felt uncomfortable. I knew it was Nana. She was here. Sure, she thought it was 2003 but she was still here, acting like herself, ranting about her death and money. But it wasnt her. It was like she was stuck in time, but she had to pull us all down with her into this reality. In the movies, there was something to bring them back to reality, the real one, but not here. She was stuck like this, forever. I glanced at my mother, then Jack. Already, they forgot simple things like phone numbers and dentist appointments, and it seemed like we were all just waiting for one of them to forget the way home. I remembered when my mother refused the gene testing. Not just on her, but for me and Jack too. I didnt think much of it until I heard my dad telling her in their bedroom, We cant just not know, Valerie. We cant live like that. I was just fourteen, standing in the bathroom, and slowly, I reached over to turn off the faucet and it all went silent, until I heard her respond. No, what we cant live like is if . . . The words stopped there and once again, it was quiet. All I could hear was my breathing then, I dont want to know. Well, what about the kids? Dad said this louder than before, and I heard him take a couple of breaths, as if he were trying to calm himself down. If we know, and they find a cure or anything, then it wouldnt be too late for them. I heard my mother pacing, probably around the foot of the bed. Or well just scare them into believing that theyll end up drooling in diapers for no good reason. You cant just make this decision for them for your own reasons, Val. What I heard next came in whispered yelling. You keep expecting some kind of miracle out of this! There were a few deep breaths. There isnt a miracle here, Russell! If one, or even both of them, has it then were just robbing them of their lives!

It was quiet after this. Maybe my dad was giving in or just too tired to continue the argument, and when I reached to turn the faucet back on, my mother said softly, This is for the best. Taking in a breath, I turned to Jack, mumbling, Lets go. I turned around and started walking away while Jack just turned around and in one of the windows, I saw his reflection consisting of a frown and furrowed brow. Wait, he said but he didnt try to stop me. Silvia, we just got here. Dont let her go near the water! Nana shouted, turning her head to glance at me, the wrinkled, flabby skin stretching on her neck. Stay away from that water or Im cutting you out of the will too! In the window, I saw my mother jogging toward me and she turned me around by my arm, her eyes pleading into my mine. Dont go just yet, she murmured. Come stay. Talk with Nana! I glanced at Nana, eyeing the medication the nurses were trying to give her. Youre trying to poison me, arent you? she asked. Mom, thats not Nana, I mumbled. Its Nanas ghost or something, but its . . . its not Nana. Her face fell for a moment before she forced on a smile, giving me an extra squeeze around my arm. Its still Nana, sweetie, she said, brushing my hair behind my ear. She still loves you. She asks about you all the time. I shook my head. Only when its about the beach, I told her, shaking free from her grip, and she sighed, suddenly looking older. In a few minutes, shes going to tell me to stay away from her husband or that Im trying to kill her. See? I vaguely heard Nana say. Shes trying to kill me too. Im not going to pretend shes there when shes not. I stepped away and turned around, heading for the door. When I walked out, it was pouring rain and I glanced behind me. Mom was still staring at me. I turned away. . As Jack drove me home, he drummed his fingers along the steering wheel, pursing his lips together into a thin line. Softly, Nickelback played from the speakers and raindrops pinged off the windshield before the windshield wipers would come and splash them away.

You can just say it, you know, I finally said after a moment of silence, and drumming, Nickelback, and pinging. Somehow, Jacks lips managed to get even thinner. Why do you have to act like this? he muttered quietly a minute later. I shrugged. Its just the way I am, I guess. But its Nana. He turned to me, looking disappointed before he turned back to the road. Did you know she looks for you every week? Sometimes even more. Jack, dont. Every week. He exhaled, shaking his head. Every week, she goes all around that freaking hospice looking for you. And when she cant find you, its even worse. What are we supposed to tell her? I looked out the window, rain trickling down it like tears. I dont know. You know, its not there Nana isnt there, Jack went on, glancing at me again. Its that youre not. Youre not there, not her. What am I supposed to do?! I finally yelled, turning to him but he barely looked surprised or shocked at all. Do you want me to pretend Im ten again? Should I flail my arms around and shout for help? Jack just shook his head, his chest heaving with his breaths. You dont understand. What dont I understand? What its like to care about someone else! Unlike before when the roles were reversed, I was stunned by his volume. You justyou dont know what its like to care about anyone else. All that matters is you, and thats it. I said nothing, and turned back to the window, shaking my head. Because if you did know, you wouldnt have just walked out of there like that and youd The rest of Jacks sentence died in his throat as the car sputtered to a stop in the middle of the road in the pouring rain while in the distance, the spotlight turned green but then was instantly blurred by the rain. As the rain tumbled down on the roof, Jack let out a sigh through his nose. Just call Triple A or something, I told him after a minute. He pulled out his cellphone, and then swore under his breath, slipping it back into his pocket. My phones dead.

I paused. I dont have my phone. Jack nodded slowly, his lips turning back into that thin line again. Just great, he grumbled. Just great. This chapter is dedicated to ever amazing Blushes Scarlett :) She made the most amazing trailer ever for this story and it's on my profile if you want to watch it. This, personally, is my favorite chapter so far and I hope you'll see why soon. Chapter Twenty-One For a couple of moments, we sat there silently, with only the only sounds being raindrops hitting the roof or windshield and our soft breathing. Sometimes, someone would honk their horn behind us before their tires would splash puddles at us while it cut us off. I looked at Jack. Whats wrong with it? He tapped one of the gages in front of him. I forgot, he said slowly, sucking in breath, to fill the tank. I blinked, following his finger to the age where the hand was lying in a completely straight line to the E. So, now what? We just sit, I guess. And as Jack did that, I turned my head toward the window. We were in a neighborhood, one I almost could recognize but not completely. The houses on either side of us had play sets darted across the lawn and bicycles laid carelessly by the edges of the driveways. Most of the houses were green or white, a light, fading yellow one every here and there, and every one of them had a porch, sometimes with a porch swing beside the screen door in front of regular door, or even a toy or two on top of one of the steps. I observed when one of the houses, a green one, door opened and a figure, holding a black trash bag in one hand and using the other to tug his hoodie even farther down his face, ran to the curb with water splashing under his shoes. After he dropped the bag near the mailbox, his head turned in our direction, probably noticing that we were just idling in the road, no Stop sign or light or anything like that in sight. I couldnt make out his face because of the hoodie, but I could tell that he was built. He wore a blue hoodie, the color darkening thanks to the droplets falling on his shoulders, and cargo shorts. I frowned, squinting at the shorts.

Those cargo shorts were familiar with their worn out hems, and unlike the neighborhood, I could definitely place where Ive seen them before. Hanging from Abe Ronrocks hips practically every time I saw him. Without a word, I pushed open the passenger door, rain and wind immediately hitting my face as I closed the door, hearing Jacks muffled voice asking me, What are you doing? The figure, Abe, just stood there, his arm still covering a good portion of his face and then he dropped it, revealing most of his face along with a pair of furrowed eyebrows. Silvia? I heard him call out through the rain as the driver side door opened as well, and then slammed shut. As Abe came closer, I heard Jack muttering into the rain, Of course. When Abe reached us, he glanced at us both, like he was taking us in and he asked, more to Jack than me, Why is your car in the middle of the road? Jack let out a breath, throwing off raindrops surrounding his face. Ran out of gas, he explained simply, glancing at the car, dead, in the middle of the road. What are you doing here? I asked. Abe frowned for a second I live here, he explained slowly, like I were slow or something. No, you dont. Abe glanced at the house behind him, and I noticed all the plastic slides and playhouses scattered across the yard, most of them turned or knocked over. Well gee, where have I been living then? Before I had a chance to reply, or more likely retort, Jack asked, Can we use your phone? Mines dead. He gestured to the house. Go ahead. Thanks. As we walked up the driveway, my flip flops beginning to squish like a sponge from the rain, I caught Abe glancing at me. What? I asked just as we reached the stairs. I stood there, still, as Jack went up, the stairs creaking as he did, and he waited for Abe. Youre shaking, he explained, pausing for a second before he bounded up the stairs too, following Jack, and he began to open the door, stifled sighed, and then told us, You guys have to wipe your feet.

We both looked at each other, pausing. Uh, what? Jack said after a moment. Abe kind of grimaced. My moms really anal about it. She starts freaking out and Mr. Clean-ing the entire place, he explained. Its just easier to wipe your feet. I glanced at Jack, and he shrugged, swiping his feet one at a time against the mat before he stepped into the house, and I did the same, and then waiting until Abe was finished too. She even makes you do it, huh? He snorted, rolling his eyes. Shed make Obama do it. Jack turned around, standing beside an island in the middle of the kitchen with a basket of fruit on top. So, Im just going to use your phone, okay? Abe nodded to a doorway in front of him. Theres one in the living room, he said, pulling the hood off his head, revealing a mess of black curls matted together. After he left, I pointed to his hair with a little smirk, telling him You look like you have bedhead. He frowned. What? I shook my head. No, its okay. It kind of makes you look like Darren Criss without the gel and bushy eyebrows. Who? He reached a hand to his hair and ran his hand through his hair, shaking it loose as he stepped toward a stainless steel fridge. You want something to drink? I shook my head, taking in my surroundings. The tiles below my feet were black and shiny, the walls were navy with dark cupboards stuck to them, and the counters were all grayish marble. So this is where the famous scrambled eggs were first made, I noted. Abe glanced at me, lifting a water bottle to his lips. Yeah, I guess, he replied with a shrug, glancing around. I took a step forward but dirty water squeezed out of my flip-flop when I did. I pulled my foot up and a small drop fell into the puddle. I hope your moms not around, I told him. He shook his head, reaching into a drawer, pulling out a brown cloth, and bending down to swipe up the water. Shes at work, he replied and then he glanced at my flip-flops. You might as well just take those off.

I paused for a moment, kind of wondering if this were a trap, before slipping off my flipflops and placing them on the mat, glancing at him. So, what were you doing out at ten Oclock at night? he asked, tossing the cloth aside. He might have known about my familys history with Alzheimers but I still didnt want to tell him where we had been. Maybe because hed feel sorry for me or because Alzheimers was just something I didnt want to talk about with him. We were just hanging around, I mumbled, my bare feet padding against the floor as I climbed into one of the barstools. Why are you up? Dont you have an early bedtime? Abe smiled briefly, almost like a flash, but then it faded and he started doing something with hands, frowning. It kind of looked like he lost control of his hands at first but then it looked like he knew what he was doing. I glanced over my shoulder and I saw a little girl standing there, in her pajamas, using the same gestures as Abe. I never felt so slow before. Abe was using sign language. I look at Abe, and he was shaking his head, not at me, but at her. When he saw me watching, he gestured to me and she stared at me. After a moment of her just standing there, staring at us, Abe told her, Go to bed. She shook her head, signing something else but Abe wasnt listening, or watching I guess, instead shaking his head and repeating again, Go to bed. She huffed and turned around, purposely stomping her feet loudly against the floor, and then looked over her shoulder, maybe checking to see if he changed his mind but he nodded, as if sayingkeep going, and she turned on her heel and stormed up the stairs. Let me guess, I said after a moment, and he glanced at me. Shes the sister who cant handle sleepovers? He nodded. That was Lani, he explained, leaning against the island, facing me. She likes to make up stories about monsters to stay up later. Really. We figured it out about the fifth time in a row she said there was an octopus snake or something under her bed. He rolled his eyes. She still tries to play it every once and a while.

I glanced behind me where she was standing before. Is she deaf? I asked, then instantly regretted it. Who knew if this was a sensitive issue with him or not. She cant talk, he explained, shaking his head. We dont have to use sign language but she feels like people are listening better if they use it too. I leaned my chin on my knuckles, cocking my head to the side. Do you know a lot of signs? He smiled softly, nodding. I know a few. So, it turns out a tow truck isnt available until morning, Jack said as he came into the room. I turned away from Abe and he did the same, glancing at Jack, who sighed. I hate doing this but can Abe shook his head. I cant take you home, he replied before Jack could even finish. My moms car is busted so she took mine to work. Im just as stuck here as you are. I spun around in the barstool using my toes. Just call one of your friends or Scarlett or something. Jack shook his head. Scarlett has class in the morning, shes probably already asleep. For a moment, no one said anything. I didnt move off the barstool and Jack didnt step away and neither did Abe. Then, after a few brutal moments of silence, You guys can stay here if you want. I glanced at him, raising an eyebrow slightly. Something perverted popped into my mind when he said that. No, thats okay, Jack said, shaking his head but still, he didnt exactly move toward the door either. Ill just one of my friends or something. Abe raised his eyebrows, doubting this. Jack let out a breath through his nose. Thanks, he said and then glanced at me as if this were my fault. Well, it wasnt because we wouldnt be here if he had just remembered to fill his tank. . So, this is your room. I looked around, and surprisingly, it actually looked like a guy lived here. I guess I expected a neatly made bed, a clean floor, with a poster-free wall. But I was wrong. The brown blanket was rumbled and pushed off near the foot of the bed and the vague imprint of a body was in the wrinkles of the sheets, and a pillow fell slightly off the bed.

On the floor, crumbled up pieces of paper gathered around the bed and desk, plus a few stray shirts and even lonely socks were laid on the floor. On his desk, old textbooks and notebooks were stacked on top of each other, like how little kids played with blocks to make towers, and pens were scattered everywhere. The walls were beige and at least three posters were on every wall but they werent of girls, sports, cars, or anything I could understand a guy having on his wall. They were all science posters. One was of different kinds of fish, ranging from eel like fish to a hammerhead shark. Another one looked to be about the core of the earth, and another was of the human skeleton. The rest were about earthquakes and volcanos and things like that. I glanced at Abe, and the light wasnt on, I could sense the blushing in his cheeks. So, you were a geek in science, huh? I asked, continuing to take in all of the posters. To be honest, science was the last thing Id expect to find on your walls. Abe flicked on a light, giving the room even more detail than before. How come? I shrugged. I guess I just never thought about it, I replied honestly, glancing at him. I shouldnt be that surprised, though. It kind of suits you. Yeah? I looked at him, and then nodded slowly. Yeah. He held this look for a moment before he turned and gestured to the bed. So, you can sleep here, he said, clearing his throat. Id change the sheets or something but I have no idea where they are. I shrugged, stepping away from the posters. Its fine. Jack got the short end of the straw since right now he was lying on the couch, curled up with a fuzzy orange blanket with washed stains on it and a throw pillow. And I had Abes bedroom. Where are you sleeping? I wondered out loud, turning to look at him. In my parents room, I guess, he replied, sneaking a look at me, running a hand through his hair. Theyre at work so. . . He shrugged. I nodded, nibbling on my lip as we just stood there. I guess Ill go now, he said after a moment and then he offered me a tight smile, turned around, and took a couple of steps toward the door.

I nodded again, stupidly, and watched as he stepped toward the door, his hand snaking around the knob and pulling the door shut. I didnt realize until after I heard the muffled sound of his footsteps heading down the hallway that I didnt want him to leave. But there was nothing I could do now and I began to take off my jeans. With one leg out and the other still encased in denim, I heard a light, almost inaudible knock, before the door opened. I whirled around as the door knob hit the wall, and I stumbled with my leg half out of my jeans, falling against the bed, and staring in disbelief at Abes little sister. She stared at me, her eyes probably even wider than mine, her mouth forming a little O, and she pointed to my red underwear before she started to sign something. I dont know what youre saying, I told her, snapping it, as I struggled to put my jeans back on but ended up slumping closer to the floor. Go back to bed or something! She, Lani, just stared at me, her lips twitching. She was probably at that age where seeing underwear was funny. I shot her a look. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I see England, I see France, and that crap, I snapped, rolling my eyes. Didnt your brother tell you to go sleep?! The lip twitching turned into a silent snicker. Lani, what are you doing Oh, come on. Abe came into full view at the doorway, frowning, and then he looked at me. For a second, he just kind of stared at me, maybe even a little intrigued, but then I fell onto the floor with a thud, and he turned back to Lani. Lani, go back to bed, he told her, ushering her away but even when he did, she watched me like a stalker or something. I tried to pull myself up but I was tangled in my jeans, and actually flustered, but, before I knew it, a strong, tan hand wrapped around my wrist and a matching hand was on my waist, pulling me up. For a minute, I let myself lean against him, my chest touching his, and heat radiated from both of his hands, burning my skin, and I looked up. There was a slight blush to his cheeks, but he met my eyes. Those bright blue intoxicating eyes stared into my gray eyes, and it was like his gaze sent jolts with it and my heart began fluttering around in my chest like a butterfly.

And then, I wrapped my hand around the back of his neck, bringing him down to me, and pressed my lips firmly onto his. For a moment, he didnt respond, as if he couldnt believe I was actually doing this, and to be honest, neither could I, but before long, his hand released my wrist and traveled up to my face, cupping it, the tips of his fingers touching my hair. My hand played with his black curls and he took a step backward, bringing me with him, and he closed the door with his foot, and his hand squeezed lightly around my waist, and my free hand ran down his clothed chest, which seemed unacceptable to me. He took a step forward, but I nearly fell again, thanks to the jeans wrapped around my ankles. Without ever taking his lips away from mine, his hand slithered from my waist to my bare thigh, and I lifted my leg. He slowly ran his hand down my leg, pulling the jeans off. We pulled away, just for a moment, just to breathe, and he sort of smiled at me before my back hit a wall, and our lips were crushed together again. I was a little stunned for a second, but then immediately satisfied, and tugged at the ends of his hair. I ran my fingers down his body, feeling the bulky muscles in his arms and the ripples under his shirt starting at his chest and going down to his stomach. And, grazing my fingers along the hem of his boxers, I began to pull up his shirt. For a moment, I expected him to freak out when he pulled away, but instead he helped me pull him out it, and I brought him back. His hands trailed down my body to my waist, where he snaked them up my shirt. He held onto my ribs, making little circles on my stomach with his thumbs, and it lifted my shirt up a bit. Gasping, I pulled back and asked, Do you want it off? For a second, he just looked at me then his hands gripped around the hem and he pulled it over my head, and I chuckled, clinging to him as he tossed it aside. He led me over to the bed, pressing me down gently, and hovering over me. His arms were on either side of me, supporting his body, and his head was leaning down, pressing kisses into my neck. I ran my fingers along his bareback, possibly leaving long pink scratches, but he didnt seem to care as he went further down my body to my chest. My eyelids fluttered closed, and I let out a breath. I tried to imagine when it was like this with Rick, because it had to be at some point, but my mind drew a blank. But now wasnt a time to be thinking of Rick anyway.

As his lips reached the top of my stomach, he glanced up at me, the scruff on his chin scratching my skin, and he reached a hand up to brush my hair behind my ear. Come on, I whispered, my own hand touching his hair and running my fingers through it. Silvia, he murmured huskily, almost breathlessly, and it made me smile a little. I stole his breath. Maybe we shouldnt do this. Frowning, I hoisted myself up and Abe flopped onto his side, his head near my hip, holding onto my thigh, staring up at me. Why not? I asked. Dont you want to sleep with me? Yeah but. . . He sighed, hoisting himself up too so we met each others eyes, running a hand through his hair, but still, he kept his hand on my thigh. My sisters in the next room and your brother is I leaned forward, pressing another kiss to his lips. Not going to hear a thing, I finished for him. Silvia, he moaned onto my lips but still, he pulled away. You dont even like me. Sighing, I dropped my head down onto the pillows. Why are you even saying all this? I asked, partly because I was too afraid to deny it, staring at the ceiling. Come on, Abe, lets just do this. For a moment, I thought he was going to come back to me, bring his soft lips back on mine, and then hopefully unbutton his jeans, and instead, he shook his head, took his hand off my thigh, and got off the bed. You might do this kind of thing, he said, bending to grab his shirt and standing back up to look me in the eye, but I dont. I watched, unsure of what was happening, as he opened the door, and without taking a single look at me, walked out the room and quietly shut the door behind him. Chapter Twenty-One When his blue truck pulled into the driveway the next day, there was only an impatient honk. Unusually, he stepped out, sometimes waiting as he leaned against the hood or even sometimes coming to the door. Obviously not today. And that was fine with me because if he did come to the door, I wouldnt have opened it anyway. Reluctantly, and slowly just to make him mad, I went outside into the boiling heat and toward his humming truck. Inside, he drummed his fingers on the dashboard, his other hand supporting his head as he waited.

When I opened the door, he didnt even glance at me but began to pull out of the driveway before I even closed the door instead. As he drove there, he let out a long breath, his hand still supporting his temple, and I glanced at him. It was good if he felt awkward or pained or something, its what I wanted. It wasnt fair for me, having so many people tell me that he liked me and then he rejected me. So, yeah, I liked that he looked like he had a headache. I liked it even better when I was the cause of it. . Hows the garden coming? I glanced up, wiping my sweaty arm across my sweaty forehead, probably smudging dirt all over me. Fine, I guess, I told her with a shrug. I wasnt an expert on gardens or flowers or anything. Mrs. Roberts narrowed her eyes slightly. You guess? she repeated drily, shaking her head. Whats this months flower? A . . . tulip? I offered warily. She shook her head again, making a clucking noise with her tongue. Its a water lily, she told me and I shrugged. Its not like it had anything to do with digging up dirt. Do you know anything about flowers? They die without bees, I replied drily. She stifled a sigh. How can I expect that you can make a decent flower garden if you think Julys flower is a tulip? Its a flower garden! I said, exasperated, motioning to it. All Im doing is digging up dirt! Tell me how I can screw that up? Well, for one, you could pull out my tulip bulbs, she replied. You know, not Julys flower. I closed my eyes for just a second, imagining a place without guys that led you on and then decided not to sleep with you, and without women freaking out over flowers, and I opened my eyes. I was still stuck in the same crap as usual.

I wont pull out your tulip bulbs, I told her, letting out a breath. They look like little onions right? my fingers skimmed through the dirt, grazing rocks and clumps of dirt, but no little onions. No tulip bulbs. For a minute, she just stared at me, like either I was insane or right, if that was even possible. Then, with her eyes narrowed, she told me, Make sure it stays that way then. I nodded, rolling my eyes when she had walked away. I ran my hands through the dirt, feeling for a tulip bulb, and looked up. Abe was bending down to place down a wheelbarrow with his back turned to me a few feet away, and he was shirtless. From a random persons perspective who hadnt traced those abs just last night, I couldnt blame him. It over a hundred degrees with no breeze, and the sun was glaring down at us. So, I got it. But as someone who had run her fingers down from his shoulders, over the abs and belly button, down to his hem of his boxers, I couldnt really think straight. Sweat gleamed down his back, making the tan skin sparkle under the sun, and his shoulder blades poked out of his skin as I vaguely heard the thud of the wheelbarrow hitting the ground. Today, he didnt wear his cargo shorts but jeans instead. At first, I thought he was stupid since it was so hot, but I cant really imagine him looking this hot shirtless in cargo shorts. The jerk probably had this all planned out. His jeans hung off his hips, the hem of his gray boxers poking out when he was bent over and it disappeared as he stood up, leaving only a sliver of gray now. His shoulder blade sunk back under his skin as he reached his arm up and ran it over his forehead. And then, without warning, he turned around. If he were anyone else, I wouldve anticipated him to start smirking at me gazing at his shirtless body or make some infuriating comment about this. Maybe both. But this was Abe, and Abe didnt do that. Blue eyes squinting in the sun, he cocked his head to the side, like he couldnt quite figure out why I was staring at him, and then, he waved at me. I wasnt sure if he was trying to make me forgive him or something, but I snapped my eyes off the tanned skin and abs and brought them back to the dirt. .

When I walked up to the truck, my arms crossed over my chest, Abe was leaning over, pouring a water bottle down his head. He must have seen my shoes because he glanced up. Hey, he said. He was wearing a shirt now, although his shirt was drenched in sweat and he probably smelled, and I bet I did too. But still, with his shirt on, I had more control over myself and didnt respond. Abe straightened, flicking his hair momentarily, before meeting my blank stare, something in his shoulders seeming to sag. How long are you going to stay mad at me, Silvia? I shrugged nonchalantly. I dont know, I replied but he didnt look very satisfied with that answer. For as long as I want to. Come on, he said and I shrugged again. I didnt mean to hurt you or anything. You didnt hurt me. It made me angry that he assumed him rejecting me was hurtful, like I was begging for it or something. Then why are you still angry at me? He just stared at me, like he was waiting or even hoping for me to say something, and then he sighed. I didnt say I didnt like you. I just didnt think it was . . . This annoyed me. A good time? I asked, raising my eyebrows. I was practically naked, in your room, and you werent wearing a shirt. Hows that not a good time? Abe shrugged, glancing away. Ive liked you for a while, and I never knew if you felt the same way, and then you want me to sleep with you. I was narrowing my eyes. What are you trying to say? What Im saying is that even now, Im still not sure if you like me or not, he told me, without blushing or stammering, and actually meeting my eyes. I looked away but I could still feel his eyes. How am I supposed to know the answer? I finally asked, exasperated. I didnt like you. He didnt say anything at first, just looking at the ground for a moment before bringing his eyes up to me. Why did you use past tense? I shrugged again, telling him, Because I dont know anymore. We stared at each other after that, my heart beating strange pattern in my chest, our eyes locked into each other. Then he pushed off the truck, stepping toward me, and he touched a hand to my face.

The kiss was short, almost too short, but as it happened it felt like it went on for minutes. His tongue didnt beg for entrance and our lips didnt get meshed together like before. His lips simply pressed onto mine. And when he pulled back, he looked at me, his cheeks a dull pink. Figure it out, he told me and then he stepped away walked back to his truck, pulling open the drivers side door before climbing inside. . Evans room was empty when I slipped into the apartment. The bed was unmade, like usual, and Lego crowed the floor, leaving only small spaces of the carpet actually visible. And, like always, it was dark, except for the TV glowing in the living room. After making my way through Evans minefield, I crept into the living room. Evan was nowhere in sight but I could see Rick sitting on the couch, watching the news. What happened? I asked, and Rick turned to glance at me, not surprised at all. Liquor store robbery, he replied drily as I stepped closer toward the couch, and he put his beer down on the seat beside him. You missed it. Your boyfriend was on TV. Really. I stepped forward, snatching his beer, escaping Ricks hand reaching for it, and I tossed it aside on a chair, beer spilling onto the fabric, and I sat down. Rick looked at the chair then at me. We paid fifty bucks for that chair, he told me. You mean fifty bucks of drug money, I corrected and he rolled his eyes at me, turning back to the TV. And besides, you dont care about a freaking chair. Rick didnt reply. Is this about Chester again? I groaned, sighing. How was I supposed to know that hed be there, Rick? And if I somehow did, dont you think that maybe I wouldnt have gone? Unless he has you working like some kind of uncover rookie or something, he replied, watching as I shook my head. Every time weve done something, that cop shows up. I stared at him. And you dont think that maybe its not me, I said, but that maybe its because every time I do something withyou, were doing something illegal? Rick wasnt hearing it. You know, I was completely under the radar until you he jabbed the remote at mecame back. And now Ive been arrested twice! Cops are probably staking this place out now! Rick, everyone knows you sell drugs, I told him. Everyone who went to Madison anyway.

But not the freaking cops! A vain began to pop in his forehead as he exhaled angrily. And now youre hanging out with that Ronrock guy. He might as well be a cop! I felt a small twinge of defensiveness in my chest. Hes not a cop yet, Rick. Calm down. No, he told me, almost shouting out the word. I blinked then raised my eyebrows. Its either us or them. What he said reminded me of what Abe said that afternoon after he kissed me. Everyone wanted me to figure out where I stood, where I was, as if I already knew the answer. Rick was my constant. I couldnt remember when I couldnt sleep with him or make out or just talk about the news. He was the only thing in Shiloh that hadnt changed since I left. But Abe was there. His shy smile flashed in my mind along with those blue eyes. He changed when I left, or maybe he hadnt and I never noticed. He wanted more than Rick, much more. He wanted me. Rick just wanted my vagina. So? Rick asked after a moment, watching me. Whats it going to be? I stared at him for a moment as he waited, and, holding in a sigh, I stood up from the couch, hearing him snort behind me as I stepped away. I wasnt choosing Abe. I just wasnt choosing Rick. Behind me, Rick shook his head, leaning forward to grab one of the unopened beers on the worn out coffee table. Youre not like him, Via. Stopping, I turned around, frowning. What? Abe, he replied, lifting the bottle to his beer, the beer swirling down the glass and into his mouth, and he looked at me. Youre acting like this because you have a thing for him. It made me angry that everyone assumed that just because Abe liked me that it meant I liked him back, it was even worse when Rick was the one implying it. No, I told him, Im not. His chapped lips formed an amused smirk, glancing at me. Yeah, you are, he replied gruffly. And thats okay, because it wont last. For the past three weeks, people have told me Abe liked me, that I should like him back, and that we were meant for each other, but no one said we wouldnt work.

He looked at me, his lips twitching. Youre not one of them, Via, he told me. Youre one of us. Im a drug dealer? He rolled his eyes. Youre an ex-con. And his dads a cop, and his brother, and even his freaking grandfather! Laughing, Rick leaned back into the couch and shook his head. Itll never work, Via, and you know it. I shook my head, glaring at his nonchalant figure sitting on the couch. No, I dont, I told him angrily, and neither do you. You just watch. In a few weeks, youll be crawling back here. I just stared at him before turning away and storming into Evans bedroom. I never liked it when people told me that Abe and I were perfect for each other, that it was just destined that wed eventually get together. But it wasnt until now that I realized I hated it even more when people said we didnt have a chance. . When I stepped into the house, tired and the dull feeling of anger still lingered in my head, Scarlett was sitting on a barstool by the island, smiling as I walked in. I offered a weak smile back. Hey, Scar, I mumbled as I walked past her toward the basement door. I just wanted to fall on my bed and maybe die there. Wait, Silver. Scarlett swirled around in the barstool, head cocked to the side. What do you think of having dinner with me and Jack tomorrow? I rubbed my eye with the heel of my hand. Okay, I said, exhaling, and I looked at her. Its not going to be a big thing though, right? Her lips twitched a little, and her smile grew a little bigger. Nope, its a totally small dinner, she confirmed. I eyed the little twinkle in her eyes and frowned, but I was too tired and frustrated to question her then. Maybe in the morning but now I just wanted to sleep. Okay, I said, turning to the door and pulling it open and as I stared down the stairs, I realized just how sick I was of sleeping in the basement. Silver? I glanced at her, and I raised my eyebrow. Yeah?

She gestured to her own face, and I thought for a moment she was going to ask me if she had a pimple or something. Are you okay? A million people flew through my mind, their faces blurred with others, and their expressions constantly changing. But I nodded anyway and offered another tired, halfhearted smile. Uh huh. Chapter Twenty-Two Why do I have to look nice again? I asked and Scarlett just smiled at me, nudging the black dress toward me. You told me this was a small thing, remember? She laughed. You have to look nice even for the small things, Silver, she told me. When I wouldnt take the dress, she rolled her eyes and tossed it on the bed. Youll look amazing. I stared at the offending dress. I wore skinny jeans and black shirts, maybe a denim mini skirt from time to time, but not black dresses. That was just out. I heard her sigh. Fine, you dont have to wear the dress, she conceded and I exhaled, falling on my bed. But at least dont dress casual, okay? Where is this place? I asked the ceiling, glancing at her. Why is it so special that theres a freaking dress code? Scarletts head popped up above me, smiling sweetly. Please? she asked, cocking her head to the side. I groaned and she giggled, like she knew this was me surrendering and it was. Fine, I told her reluctantly, sighing. Fine, Ill look nice, but Im not paying for dinner. She shook her head, bounding up the stairs. No, trust me. You wont have to pay a cent! As the steps creaked with her excited footsteps, I hoisted myself to watch her leave, catching a glimpse of her hair before the door closed, and I shook my head, a light smile on my face as I flopped back down on the bed. . Okay, Silver, were going now! Scarlett called out the stairs before the door shut again, her voice echoing down the stairwell. I glanced at the door before glancing at the mirror one last time. I looked pretty good for dinner with my brother and his girlfriend in a red halter top and black shorts that covered only half my thigh. I liked it anyway.

I figured that this dinner idea was Scarletts idea of trying to get me and Jack to make up. We barely talked to each other after going to see Nana, and whether Jack told her about it or not, she was beginning to pick up on it. When I went up the stairs and opened the door, I smelled candles and tomato sauce, and maybe even pollen. I frowned, closed the door, and glanced around. With the door to the dining room open, I could see it was dimly lit with flickering from the candles and vases filled with flowers were the centerpiece on the middle of the table, and two plates plus napkins, silverware, and glasses were set up. Scarlett? I said, stepping toward the dining room, turning my head to look for her. Scarlett, whats going on? When there wasnt an answer, I started to freak out. Maybe some crazy killer came into the house, murdered Jack and Scarlett, and then set up some kind of date or something all within a minute. It was kind of in an episode of Criminal Minds so it was possible. It didnt help when there was knock on the door, sounding like a gunshot, and I whirled around, my heart pounding my chest, imaging a guy in a black mask holding a knife, waiting for someone to answer. Oh, hey, there you are, Scarlett said, dashing into the room and I calmed down a little, but then I glanced at the dining room. Hang on a sec, okay? I watched as she opened the door, smiling, and revealing Abe, hands shoved in his pockets, glancing around the dark yard before he turned to the door. It didnt take him look to spot me. Or the dining room. I kind of wanted to run to the door and shut it before he got any ideas but then Scarlett was yanking him in by the arm, grinning and talking about something, but I wasnt listening. His expression confused me. Part of him looked like I probably did, which was total confusion, and then there was a slightly raised eyebrow at me. I could feel that he was asking me if the dining room was a sign that I decided how I felt about him. I turned around, suddenly seeing pasta on the plates on the table, and as Scarlett dragged in Abe, I felt two hands grabbing me and before I knew it, I was in the dining room and the door was closing. As it clicked shut and they locked it, I heard the floor creaking and I turned around, and Abe was standing there, shifting his weight, and staring at me.

What just happened? I asked him and he shrugged, staring at the table with a frown. Why are you even here anyway? He glanced at me. Scarlett called me, he replied, She said she needed help with her summer studies. But shes in college, I told him and he glanced at me again. Shes older than you are. He frowned again, this time at me. Only by a year, he retorted, slumping against a wall, crossing his arms, and looking me over. Stop that, I said. Stop what? I rolled my eyes. Looking at me, I told him, and he rolled his eyes, turning away. You cant look if you dont want to touch. Even with the bad lighting, I could see his cheeks change color, and he cleared his throat. Why did she lock us in here? Because you two need to sort everything out and stop hating each other all the time! a muffled and female voice said through the door and I smirked, shaking my head. You can come out only if you two are together or if one of you is dying. I turned to the door. Abes choking on the garlic bread. Abe shot me a look, calling out, Silvias being strangled by the spaghetti. I bet she was shaking her head at us. Its that kind of attitude that will keep you both in there, she told us. Your dinners getting cold, by the way! It was silent after that, and then I heard Abe repeat, Abes choking on the garlic bread? I turned to him, arms crossed and scowling. Silvias being strangled by the spaghetti? I shot back, and he rolled his eyes. Youre the one who said I was dying first, he pointed out and then it was my turn to roll my eyes. Why couldnt you be the dying one? At least my excuse was plausible! I told him, watching as he scoffed. No, no, no, it was! People can choke on garlic bread but whoever was strangled by freaking spaghetti?! He shot me a look. My uncle Caleb. I narrowed my eyes. You dont have an Uncle Caleb, I said. Well, not anymore because he was strangled by his spaghetti.

I shook my head and looked at the door, willing it open or explode or something. Scarlett meant well, but she just couldnt understand. Her relationship with Jack was smooth. Easy, there was nothing stopping their relationship from being. Mine with Abe would never stand a chance. After all, look at us. Rick was right, and it wasnt the first time he was either. I didnt belong with him. I never did anything worthy of being there, with him, where he was. And he never did anything to sink down below to where I was. I heard Abe stepping toward the table and taking out a chair, the legs scraping against the floor, and I turned to catch him sitting down, grabbing a fork. What are you doing? I asked. He glanced at me. Eating, he replied nonchalantly, taking a slice of garlic bread and biting into it. Its pretty good, actually. It was then that I realized classical, romantic music was playing from a small black radio. How can you eat that now? Abe hesitated, considering his answer, and chewing. Well, shes not going to let us out, he pointed out. Im not breaking down the door and Im hungry, so Im eating. I stared at him as he stared at me, taking another bite out of the garlic bread, and raising his eyebrows, like he was daring me to join him. And after a minute, I did. I would never admit this to anyone, not even Scarlett because then she might try this again but with my dad or Jack, minus the romantic music, but the food smelled good and I told myself that was the reason I sat down and started spooning it onto my plate. He smiled at me slightly, still chewing, and he pointed to the garlic bread. Try the garlic bread, he told me. Shaking my head, I twirled my spaghetti on my plate. No, Im only eating the pasta or else shell know I fell for her trick, I said. With a chuckle, he took another slice of bread and held it out to me. Come on, he said, cocking his head to the side. Just try it. I hesitated but then leaned forward and taking a small bite out of the bread. Then I realized how that would look to someone who didnt know any better and I pulled back, shrugging. Its okay, I lied, looking at my plate, filled with noodles, sauce, and small flakes of parmesan cheese, instead of him. But theres too much garlic.

I expected him to disagree with me but he was quiet. When I glanced up, he was staring at me, differently than before. More tender than that and it made me uncomfortable, and a little anxious too. Youre not still mad at me, are you? I shook my head because I wasnt. Not really anyway, not anymore. Because I didntI mean, when I left, it wasnt because you were His head dropped for a second with a sigh, probably to cover up his blush. It wasnt that you werent. . . Sexy? I offered. Thats not what I meant, he told me, and I just shrugged, pushing my pasta around on my plate. Look, I never meant come off as someone who . . . I glanced at him, only hearing my fork scraping against the plate. . . . who didnt want to be with you, he finally finished, and looked at me. But how was I supposed to know if you felt the same way? And finding out the definite answer after you sleep with someone isnt exactly great. I thought of Kel then for some reason. I knew they slept together, I could just tell from the way he was that night at his house. He was experienced, probably with her body. But I wondered if they broke up because of something like that. Finding out the definite answer, after you sleep with someone. I didnt look at him for a long time, almost like forever, and then there was a small knock on the door and it peeked open, Scarletts head popping in. Do you guys need anything? Sparkling cider? Extra napkins? I turned away and looked at up. Sparkling cider? I asked. Your both underage, she explained. She looked pretty satisfied that we were sitting down, together, at least appearing to be civil. So you dont need anything? Shaking our heads, we replied, in unison, No. I looked at him, almost hoping for a shy smile, but instead he looked away, and so did I. After she left, I watched him as he pushed around the pasta, poking at a meatball, and then just simply dropping the fork on the side of the plate with a clink. I thought you were hungry, I said. Not anymore.

After a second, I said, Abe, nothing between us would ever last. Were too different. I mean, you want to be a cop and look at me! Ill probably be in jail before Christmas. How do you know that? he mumbled, staring at me so intently that it jolted something from my chest right down to my toes. I turned away to the flickering candle, wax in the shape of a teardrop sliding down the side. We wont last, I said, the candles making shadows on his face. We just wont. Im not asking for forever here, Silvia, he laughed, almost nervously, almost amused. Im asking for a shot. I reached out and plucked a petal from one of the flowers, running my thumb over its smooth surface, and then glanced up at him. Now, he reached over, taking one of the smaller flowers from the vase and carefully placing it behind my ear, smiling lightly at me. Im asking for now. Now, I repeated slowly. Now, he said back. I looked at him, his blue eyes and black curly hair, the just barely visible dimples, and I felt something under the table. Someone nudging me. Then I saw his teasing grin as I felt another poke at my ankle. And I called for Scarlett to let us out. (Hey, guys. So I posted character pictures for my next novel,Mandy, Mandy. It'd mean a lot if you could check them out. Also, the characters Toby and Rylee who are mentioned to pay a visit to the dysfunctional town known as Shiloh are from Blushes Scarlett's novel Playing with Fire. And guess what I did since I last posted? I FINISHED RUINING HIS SUMMER. I think some of you *cough, Marissa, cough* will be happy because I changed how I was going to end things a little differently and, well, now Chester lives.) Chapter Twenty-Three So, guess whos coming to visit next week? I stared at Scarlett, my eyebrows half-raised, and pausing from peeling my orange, watching as she skipped over to the fridge. Who? She smiled, grabbing herself her own orange. Toby, she replied.

Really, I said. And Jacks just. . . I shrugged, struggling for the word. Okay with that? Doesnt he have a thing against Toby? She shook her head, laughing a little. Oh no, she told me, sticking her thumb into the orange. He just gets super jealous but hes okay with it hes coming with his girlfriend. Now it all made sense. Ah, I said, restarting to peel my orange. So hell lay off you now because he has his own girl? Scarlett rolled her eyes. Heres the part that youll care about though, she said, Jackno wants to do something special with me the night they come so I was wondering if you and Lincoln could take them out to do something fun! A double date maybe! I cringed, dropping my orange. Ew, Scarlett! I shouted and her eyes practically exploded. Dont say stuff like that. I dont want to know about your sex life with my brother. No, not that! She rolled her eyes, shaking her head. He wants to take me out on a special date to a fancy restaurant but he wants it to be just the two of us. Because he wants to have sex with you, I told her. She ignored that. Can you please just take them out for a night? she pleaded, cocking her head to the side. You and Rylee will have so much in common, and Toby and Lincoln too! Itll be fun, youll see. I sighed, and she took that as a sign that I gave in because next I knew I was being attacked with a hug. Thank you! "Toby better be as hot in reality as he was on a computer." . Normally, when I go to Guidians, I feel like I practically have to drag my own feet to the doors and then to the boiling hot metal chair next to a boy with a scar that I gave him. Today, I dont feel like I have to drag myself that much. Dont get me wrong, I still hate going there and I could kill Abe or Norman or whoever decided to form the pathetic group, but now, I didnt cross my arms as I made my way to the chair. Across the room, Tristan was talking about some amazing deals she got yesterday at So Fetch, and Mitch was nodding along, as if he were paying attention. And while, she couldnt tell the difference, I could see by his sagged, bored face and wandering eyes that he barely cared.

I hadnt known Mitch for that long, but I didnt think he was the kind of guy who just let girls rant on about feminine crap. But then I remembered how he looked at her on the fourth of July. The room was quiet in a way. There werent any loud noises but you could hear the old fan humming as it tried to cool us down, and failed, and then there was the sound of Stella pressing down on her keys, texting, and Tristan talking about a tank top. The door was open, a rock keeping it in place, but I thought it only made the room more humid and outside, you could hear the hiss of a heat wave. And, I may have noticed this all, what I noticed most was that Abe wasnt there. Norman was grabbing the carton of water bottles from his car outside, and Elsie sat on my other side with a look on her face that was probably like mine at the beginning of the summer. Disinterested and stubborn. But Abe still wasnt there. Beside me, the chair that he usually slouched in was empty, and I kind of hoped that it would burn his partially bare thighs when he sat down. We might have been together now, but that didnt change the fact that his expression would be priceless if he sat down on a hot chair. Besides, it was his own fault for being late anyway. But then I heard the sound of a rushing truck pulling into the parking lot, and I didnt care if his chair was hot or not. If I were going to suffer through this, he would have to too. Soon, I heard him jogging on the sidewalk, his flip-flops slapping on the ground before he came to a stop in front of the open door, and he glanced around, his eyes finding me. We didnt define what we had. As far as I knew, Abe didnt have a Facebook but the relationship status on my Facebook didnt change since that night and I didnt call him my boyfriend and he didnt call me his girlfriend. We hadnt texted each other good morning or goodnight, and we didnt call each other either, or exchanged sexy emails. But we werent that kind of nauseating couple. I liked what we were. When he left that night, it was like he couldnt decide if he should do something sweet or not. We stood in the driveway, by his blue truck, probably being spied on from Scarlett from the kitchen, and he shifted his weight. So, this was . . . fun, he said finally, forcing a smile, and I nodded, forcing one of my own. The food was good, too. I nodded again, glancing at the flickering white curtain in the window. Yeah, Scarletts a pretty good cook, I told me. I think shes the only reason Jack isnt a fast-food junkie.

He laughed a little. This was a little less forced. Well, it was good, he said again. This time I didnt nod back, but just kind of shifted my weight as crickets chirped in the grass, the gravel crackling as I did. We both werent sure what to do now. You know, this doesnt have to be defined or anything, I told me, and he raised his eyebrows. I mean, we can just . . . do what feels natural. He paused, considering something. You mean be casual? Relief soared through my body because he got it. Yes! I said, gesturing to him and he smiled, and I did too. We dont have to be sickening or anything. We can just be casual for now. Abe didnt say anything at first, something new in his blue eyes after I said for now. Yeah, he said, smiling a little more now, and he nodded, Because those couples are terrible. I nodded. I know, its like they so codependent, I replied, and once again, he nodded. All they ever do is kiss and hold hands and talk about the future. Its gross, he laughed, and then he pulled out his keys, and his scar blurred past my eyes, and something sank. But we wont be gross. Like the scar, the words sounded blurred together. It even took me a couple of seconds to realize what they meant. I looked up, blinking, and then nodded slowly. Yeah, I replied, my tone just above a mumble and he smiled. Were not gross. He smiled at me, his keys jiggling in his hand, and he pressed a small kiss to my cheek, which definitely wasnt gross. Ill see you later, okay? he said, turning away already to push his key into the lock, but glancing at me. Nodding, I told him, Yup. Now, Abe made his way toward me, a very light smile on his face that was more in his eyes than his lips, and then took his seat beside me, and that was it. Nothing overwhelming or forced, just easy. Okay, okay, Im here! Norman sang as he walked into the community center backwards, carrying the water bottles, and he turned around, promptly dropping them onto a fold-out table. Alright, lets get going. I glanced at Mitch, who wasnt listening to Tristan anymore but playing with the black elastics around his wrist before flinging one at Stella and choking on his laugh. Then I shrugged Abe.

Good luck, I told him just as a black rubber band hit my shin. He glanced at the black band on the floor by our feet and then he looked at Elsie, just staring off into space. Yeah, you too, he muttered before he stood up and made his way toward Mitch. While I turned to face her, I vaguely heard Abe snap, Mitch, cut that out. I looked at Elsie, but then I didnt know what else to do. So then, after a moment of waiting for her to say something, which she didnt, I said, So, talk about your feelings. She glanced at me, an eyebrow poised. Yeah, I knew I wouldnt exactly be the next Sigmund Freud or anything but for now, I was placed in this position of playing her therapist. And, obviously, I wasnt suited for it. You know, I said, glancing at the clock, catching a flash of Abe staring blankly at Mitch while he carried on about something, the sooner you talk, the sooner both of us can go home. She looked skeptically at me. Thats not how it works, she mumbled, nodding to Norman. Everyone leaves at four, no matter what, remember? Well, I was hoping you didnt. Pursing out my lips, I looked out at the rest of the room. In the corner I saw Norman and Scarlett together, talking, and I kind tried to hide a smirk. I felt bad for her, I did. I mean, its practically labeling yourself as a teachers pet, but whatever. She didnt seem to mind. Beside me, Elsie picked at her bracelets, and like Mitchs rubber bands, they were black. Have you ever just. . . she started and then I looked at her, surprised that she wasnt even talking. . . . really didnt like someone? A list as long as my arm ran through my mind. Yeah, I replied. Everyone does. Did you ever just want to make them shut up? She looked up at me, and then shrugged, turning away again. And somehow you think you can do that with your fist? I shrugged. It is a pretty effective way to shut someone up. She bit her cheek but not before I saw a glimpse of a smile. Arent you supposed to be telling me its never right to hit anyone? I stifled a snort. Whats the point in that? She shrugged. Maybe because its not right? Well, then you already know that, I told her, gesturing to her. I dont have to say it now.

Elsie looked at me, her expression a mix of blank and incredulousness. Youre a crappy shrink, she told me. I nodded nonchalantly. I know that. I watched for a moment as she kicked out her legs, pursing out her lips for a second, and then let out a sigh. She was putting pictures of me online, she mumbled after a moment. Blinking, I turned to her again. Yeah? She nodded slowly. They werent just pictures though, she added quickly, staring at me. They were pictures of me . . . in the bathroom. And everyone saw them. I almost smirked, but then caught myself. Well, thats a part of high school, I guess. She glanced at me. I didnt make it very far, you know. Somehow, I expected a different reply. I looked around. Anyone else, even Stella, was better suited for something like this. I almost even waved down Scarlett to come deal with her and Id hang out with Norman. But then, I just sighed and slumped in my chair. When I turned to her, she wasnt looking at me anymore. Look, Im not saying what happened to you wasnt wrong, I told her, and she glanced at me. But if youre looking for someone to throw you a pity party, then youre out of luck. She smirked. Really, she replied flatly and I nodded. You dealt with it on your own when you hit that cheerleader. I turned away from her and took in deep breath. You stopped being a victim after that. When did you stop being a victim? I looked at her, startled by this. It knocked the breath out of me for a moment and then I just shook my head. Havent you heard the story? She shook her head. I wasnt the victim, I told her, glancing at Abe, his scar blurring in front of me as he scribbled down what Mitch was telling him. I was the attacker. After that, we stopped talking. . Hey! I heard the sounds of his footsteps following after me, and then I felt his hand wrap around my forearm, forcing me to a stop. Why are you in such a hurry?

I turned around, letting out a deep breath through my nose as I meet his eyes with a shrug. I dont know, I told him, but it wasnt exactly true. After Elsie asked me about me being the victim in this whole mess, and I said no, everything just seemed to go by so slow. All I could think about was the scar on his arm, the same one he used to grab me now, and suddenly, I was hot and my breathing became shallow. And I just had to leave. Now, he looked at me with the same look he gave me at Elliots house just before Pamela came down the stairs, and it only made it worse. He looked around the parking lot. Jacks not here yet, he told me, and I just nodded, but it didnt really matter to me. Id walk if I had to and I think he knew this because he added, Let me drive you back, okay? I pulled my arm out of his arm, his fingers running down my arm. No, its fine, I told him. Ill just wait for Jack or something. Abe didnt say anything at first, just kind of opened his mouth and then closed. But then Did I do something or . . . what happened? There were a million answers to that, pretty much like every other question. There really never is just one answer. What happened was I went into a boat, with Rick, and Abe followed me, and I started a fire and now hes marked for life. What happened was we were together now when we shouldnt have been. Nothing, I replied, because lying is always easier than telling the truth, and most of the time, its easier to hear a lie than the truth. Im just tired. He blinked, and he probably didnt believe me, but he didnt push it. He probably thought this had to do with my parents, or Jack maybe, or even Nana. But he had no idea it was about him. Okay, he said slowly and kind of softly. Are you sure youre okay? I nodded. Yeah, I said, forcing a smile and a step forward, pressing a small kiss on his lips. Im fine. The easy thing about lying is that most of the time, people dont want to hear the truth, so they dont push you. Whether theyll admit it or not, theyre just as afraid of hearing it out loud as you are. And Abe didnt push me.

Thanks so much to Blushes Scarlett who suggested The Clash and for letting me use her fabulous characters :) Chapter Twenty-Four I felt someone splash at my feet. Rolling my eyes and glancing up from my book, I shot Abe a look. Why did you do that? I asked, swiping my feet on the towel under me. Abe, somehow, looked younger as he swam in our pool. His hair was wet and stuck to his forehead, and he kept swimming over to deep end, hoisting himself up only so far with his forearms and cocking his head to the side like a little kid. Because you have this big, awesome pool and your tanning, he replied drily, gesturing to me before letting his arms go and dropping back into the water with a giant splash. I waited until he surfaced and said, Im not tanning. I just dont want to swim. He raised a skeptic eyebrow at me as he swam toward a basketball bobbing in the water. And yet, youre in your bikini, he said. In all honesty, I wore it to see what his reaction would be. Sure, he saw me in my bra and underwear before, but I was a little too caught making out with him to tell if he liked it or not. Im not sure I got the reaction I was hoping for, though. He glanced at me, then over my body, but he got over it and jumped in the pool and started bugging me about joining him. I guess thats what happens when your girlfriend steps out in a bikini. Why gawk at something you own? Or at least thats what I thought until I kept catching him glancing at me. I look hot in my bikini, I said in my defensive, which wasnt really a lie. Personally, I did think I looked hot in my red bikini. He nodded sheepishly as he raised his arms, the ball poised in his hands before tossing at the basket where it bounced off the rim and onto the boiling hot beige concrete. It reminded of the first time I saw this summer, throwing a crumbled piece of paper into the trash and missing. Groaning, he started to float on his back. You could still get in, you know? he told the clouds. It didnt matter if he wasnt looking at me, I still shook my head. Nope, I said again, and he glanced at me. I told you, I dont like swimming.

He looked at me like this was ridiculous. Who doesnt like swimming? he asked, turning himself upright and swimming toward the deep end again. Its a hundred degrees outside! That doesnt mean I want to swim, I said, trying to go back to reading my book but the sound of the water was distracting me, plus Abe was staring at me. Im not swimming! Shaking his head, he sighed just as the door to the house opened and Scarlett stepped out, wearing a white tank top and black shorts she borrowed from me, grinning. Guess whos here! She pushed open the door further and out stepped the hottie from the computer and a girl who I assumed was Rylee followed after him, in pajamas. Its Toby and Rylee! I blinked, lowering my sunglasses but that just sent white glares over their faces. But still, I waved and placed my book down on the ground as I heard splashing while Abe hoisted himself up out of the pool from the dead end. He was a show off in denial. I cocked my head to the side as I looked them over in their pajamas. It had been in the middle of the afternoon, and they both kind of flushed at their outfits but then again, at least they were clothed. I was in a bikini, showing off my bare legs, stomach, and my cleavage while Abe just wore his trunks, exposing his chest and stomach, and a happy trail. Hey, I said as I stepped toward them and they smiled at me and I noticed Toby had his arm wrapped around her waist. So I take you got over your girl problems. Tobys skin kind of flushed and Rylee turned to him, her eyebrows raised curiously. What girl problems? she asked just as Abe stepped toward us, dripping wet, and wiping his head in a towel. I watched for a moment as Toby cleared his throat, either trying to figure out a way to tell her something or find a way to lie himself out of it, but then Abe held out his hand. Hey, Toby, he said with a smile, and I almost smirked at hisheroics but then I noticed that his scar was facing me. And then he looked at Rylee. Rylee, right? She nodded as her eyes scanned over his body, surprisingly not lingering that long over his scar, but the same cant be said of his chest, and she smiled. Looks like you work out, she said. I glanced at Toby and he did the same, and we were both frowning in confusion and looked at her, but I was a little amused, especially because of how Abe reacted. At first, he didnt really get it, but then he looked down at his chest, blushed, and cleared his throat. Uh, yeah, he said, and he glanced at me, like he was worried about how Id react.

I just smiled at him, biting on my lip to stop from laughing at his tomato red cheeks. Um, Im going to go . . . put clothes on, Abe said, and I let out a small laugh as he padded past us, leaving wet barefoot footsteps on the concrete. I turned to Rylee. You know, I havent been able to make him blush like that in a while. I gave her a small nudge. Thanks for that. Youre welcome? she said, possibly a little surprised that I was so nonchalant, but then she smiled, like she got it. So, are you and him together? I glanced at the door where the wet footprints led. You mean Abe? I asked, and I had to stop myself from saying no. It was kind of like a habit. Saying youre not single after being that way for so long. Yeah, we are. I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around my chest, just because I realized that my creepy neighbor was out. He was so old and his skin was almost purple, and whenever he saw my body, he started drooling until his caretaker brought him back inside. You guys look cute together, she said, smiling at me and I shrugged. I thought we looked too similar and too different at the same time. He was tan and I was pale, no amount of hours in the sun would change that, but we both had black hair. Plus he was a head taller than me. Her and Toby, however, seemed to kind of fit. When I first pictured Rylee, I thought of some tall blonde with giant boobs. But instead, she had longish auburn hair and a pale face, like mine, and eyes that made me a little jealous. I never wouldve thought theyd go together until I actually saw them standing next to each other, his arm around her waist, and they looked. . . as close as perfect came. I nodded to their pajamas. Laundry day? I asked drily, glancing at my purple neighbor. He spotted Rylee. Toby shook his head. We overslept, he replied and I nodded, grabbing a spare towel and tossing it at Rylee. She held it in her hands, frowning. Whats this for? My neighbor is drooling at your body, I told her nonchalantly, and they whirled around fast enough to just catch him slowly turning his head away. Hes kind of a perv. Rylee slowly, glancing at my neighbor, draped the towel over her shoulders. Thanks, she said, just as slowly. How old is he? I shrugged. Who cares? I looked over their shoulder at him, and he narrowed his eyes at me. I flashed him the finger. Some protective parent will kill him if his smoking doesnt.

Then, I saw Abe stepping back outside. He was still barefoot, but now he wore jeans and a white T-shirt that clung to some parts of his body that were still wet, a few droplets on his shoulders from his hair, and when he saw me, he smiled. I smiled too and Rylee glanced over Tobys shoulder, and then she looked at me with a small smile. Maybe she got that too. Hey, are you guys hungry? he asked as he walked around them and over to me, and he glanced at me. I know a restaurant we could go to if you wanted. I raised my eyebrows at him, and he smiled teasingly at me. I told him that Jack wanted to take Scarlett out tonight, and he said he had something planned for us all tonight, but he wouldnt tell me what it was. I guess this was a piece. Toby nodded and then looked at Rylee, as if asking if she was okay with it and she nodded. Sure. . I wasnt sure if it was spending time with Toby and Rylee but while we were eating at the restaurant he took us to, Abe reached under the table and placed his large palm over my small knee. At first, I was kind of surprised. We were together, but aside from kissing, we didnt really touch each other affectionately. My fork was poised in the air, bringing my salad to my lips, and I paused at the sensation. For a second, I felt Abes eyes flicker over to me, almost nervously. This, however, didnt surprise me but it still amused me how even after that night Scarlett stuck in the same room with pasta, he still got nervous around me. It was cute, quirky, and a little terrifying all at once. But then that second past and I flashed him a small smile, just to show that I was fine, with this, with him, with everything. He brought us to an incredibly small restaurant just a little bit out of town. All of the tables were bunched closely together, whenever people tried to stand, their chair would bump someone else at another table. The walls were red with oak halfway up the wall and black and white tiles covered the floor. There werent any lights except for white Christmas lights hanging off the top of the walls and electric candles on the tables beside the pretzels. As I lifted my fork to my mouth, I glanced at Rylee. I didnt know much about her, except for that at first everyone thought Toby was too good for her, but I felt like there was something about her I related to. I just didnt know what.

Maybe it was because if a lot of people knew about me and Abe, theyd say the same thing about me. So, how long have you been together? I asked, practically blurting out the words, too fast and too soon. I just didnt know what to say. I never had perfect social skills, and it never really mattered until Abes hand touched me. They glanced at each other, a small smile on their faces, probably choosing to ignore my outburst. Two months, Rylee replied. How about you two? Toby asked, glancing at us. And we glanced at each other. Our answer would sound so stupid, I could just feel it. Five days, I answered, feeling like one of those cheerleaders who acted like a week long relationship practically was, like, forever. I kind of expected a hidden judgmental look but instead they just smiled warmly. I guess you took my advice after all, Toby said to Abe, and I raised my eyebrow, turning to him. At first, I think Abe was hoping I missed it and bit his French fry, but then, after sensing my gaze on him, glanced at me, his cheeks a slight pinkish color. You never did tell what he said to you, I told him, nodding at Toby and Abe bit his cheek, sucking in a breath through his nose. I gave him a small nudge. Come on, it doesnt really matter now. Abe raked his free hand through his hair. Silvia, he started in that same tone he used when he got embarrassed but then he stopped, and sighed again. You know, I heard from across the table, and I glanced at them, and Toby had the same look on his face too. You didnt explain your girl problems either. Toby and Abe glanced at each other, similar looks on their faces, but Toby broke first. When we first met, I was kind of afraid of how much I liked you and I didnt really know what to do. Abe glanced at me. Like you said, it doesnt matter now. Abe, I said seriously. He sighed again, and stared at his plate. I liked you and you, well, wanted to kill me, he said, and then shyly glanced at me, spotting my curious expression. He said that I should go for it. Even though you thought I wanted to kill you? He cleared his throat, scratching his neck. It was a little more complicated than that, he replied, but yeah, basically.

I glanced at Rylee, smiling sweetly at Toby. I love your sweetness, Toby, she said, and he looked at her. And I love you too. As they leaned in for the kiss, Abe and I glanced at each other. We werent there yet. For us, the L-word was forbidden, off limits. I doubt we were ready to kiss in public either. But still, I murmured, You liked me even then? Abe kind of smirked, like this was ironic or funny. Like there was something I didnt know. You have no idea, he mumbled. . Where are we going? I asked as Abe led us somewhere, holding onto me guiding me out of the way of objects, but my shoulder somehow always seemed to collide with Rylees. Abe chuckled behind me, the sound rumbling against my back. He must have been close to me. Its a surprise. I hate surprises, I told him, and again, Abe just laughed at me, hardly bothered. After we ate, Abe insisted that he and Toby blindfold me and Rylee to maintain the surprise. I didnt think it was fair, and said I felt like it was a sexist decision to only blind the girls. Abe just simply shrugged at this point earlier. Well, theres no way Im leading three of you down there, he told. Toby will just have to act surprised. I agree with Silver, Rylee said, already using to Scarletts nickname for me, and I felt her hand graze my arm as we continued to walk blindly down wherever we were. I heard Tobys voice say back to her, I know where were going and I think youll like it, Ry. Its perfect, Abe said, but Im not sure to whom. And then, suddenly, I was stopped and I stumbled forward. Vaguely, I heard Abe say, Oops, sorry. Unfamiliar hands steadied me and I assumed it was Toby and he said to both of us, Just dont move okay, girls? and then, quietly, he said, Are you sure about this? See? I said, stumbling again but this time using the wall to steady myself. Even Toby doesnt want to do this! Silvia, be quiet, Abe told me, and I rolled my eyes. Or I wouldve, had I not been blindfolded, and he added to Toby, Yeah, no ones going to notice or anything. I heard Rylee beginning to stumble too, and it stopped. I bet Toby caught her. What exactly are you doing? she asked. I heard the sound of something clicking, and Abe telling her, Youll see in a second.

Then I felt a whoosh of thick air hit me, the smell of chlorine filled my nostrils, and a door hitting against bricks. The next thing I knew, I was being gently pushed forward by familiar hands on my waist, and my breath caught in my throat. I could hear the water lurking, just waiting for another chance. Feeling the color drain from my face, the blindfold was untied and the first thing I saw was water. A large entire pool of it, actually. Where are we? I asked, even though I didnt need to. I already knew where we were. As I glanced around, I saw the mens locker room where Abe spent half his week, cleaning it of soggy towels and forgotten socks. Abe smiled at me. Were at the community pool, he explained, gesturing to it, the pool. We have it all to ourselves. I blinked. The water was still and unmoving, like a lion stalking its prey before going for the kill. I turned to Rylee and Toby, and they seemed pretty enthusiastic about it, and I glanced at Abe, seeing the same enthusiasm in his face. For the smallest second, I tried to understand what about it they liked so much. The risk, maybe? The risk of being in something so dangerous and making it out. But even then, as someone who lived for risk, I couldnt understand. Now, you see why I wanted you to bring your bathing suits, Abe said to Toby, and he nodded, smiling, and he turned out at the water again. I hadnt noticed until now that he held a plastic bag in his hand, probably with their suits in it. And then I realized how real it was that I could go back into the water. I didnt bring my suit, I blurted out to Abe, turning to him, and he glanced down at me. Suddenly, I felt so small in comparison to him. I didnt bring mine. He looked oddly at me for a moment. I know, he said, and he reached into his back pocket, pulling out his own plastic bag. I brought it. And he grinned. Im not always very prepared but I at least remembered this. I stared at the bag. I could see my bikini, the black one, tangled together with his red trunks, and tried my best to nod as he handed it to me. The water mocked me inside the tile pool in front of me. It was winning and it knew it. Feeling eyes on me, I turned my head and saw Toby and Rylee looking at me. They looked at me like most people didnt. A lot of people judged me, probably because they knew my past. I wasnt sure if Toby and Rylee knew or not, but still, that look almost seemed more unsettling than the judgmental ones.

At that moment, I was sure they sensed my bravado. So, I clutched the swimsuit, smiling as hard as I could, even though it physically hurt, and said, Lets swim. (Hey, so I just posted the first chapter of my new novel, Trapped in Forever, and it'd mean so much if you checked it out :) But thank you either way and I hope you enjoy the rest of Silvia Brendor's summer!) Chapter Twenty-Five I stepped out of one of the bathroom stalls and looked at myself in the murky, dirty mirror in front of me. I wore a bikini hundreds of times, and that was just this summer, but I had never actually swam in one. The last time I swam I was still wearing one pieces. Sometime, as I was immersed in my image, Rylee had padded barefoot over to me. She changed by the lockers, and my eyes flickered over to her. I was terrified, my forehead starting to clam up, and somehow, I was still a little jealous. In her own bikini, her body looked perfect. Mine was too curvy for me but hers was what I envied one day having when I was in middle school, but then I noticed scars on that perfect, envious body. Our eyes met briefly. It was the closest I ever came to someone getting me, and I turned away. I wont ask if you dont, I told her quietly. For a moment, she didnt say anything but then she nodded. She knew what I was talking about, we both did. When we stepped out the bathroom, Toby and Abe had already put on their trunks and Abe looked to be on the verge of doing a cannonball. And then they noticed us. I saw Tobys eyes sweep over Rylee, only glancing kind of awkwardly at me, and that was fine, but I looked at his abs anyway. And then I looked at Abe and he smiled at me. Forcing a smile on my face, I walked over to him, nearly dragging my feet closer to the water and to him. My heart pounded in my chest and then echoed through my bones up to my ears, practically strangling me. Hey, he said to me and before I knew it, he had snaked his own arm around me and pulled me over to him. I barely had time to react before I felt his soft, warm lips on mine. If there were any moment to just let it all go, the water, the scar, my parents, Nana, it be right now as our lips touched. But if anything, it just made me cling to it all even more.

When we pulled back, he smiled at me for a moment but then it all melted off his face. Whats wrong? he asked quietly, brushing my hair behind my ear and I wondered if he could feel my heart beating because I swore, I could. I shook my head, forcing an even bigger and more painful grin on my face. Nothing, I told him, my voice just barely cracking, and I cleaned my throat, gesturing to the water. So, uh, are you going to jump or . . . what? Abe stared at me for a moment as Toby and Rylee walked toward us. But like I said, the easy thing about lying is that people dont want to hear the truth. They just dont. Okay, he finally said, a whoosh of air leaving his chest through his lips and he smiled, but he forced that too. Then he took a couple steps back and ran straight into the water. Something clenched in my arm as he did and I had to fight back the urge to grab whatever part of him I could to stop him from touching the water, but then he was gone. The water had swallowed him whole. I peered over the edge, my heart pounding, as bubbles fizzed to the top but not Abe, and then his body shot up from the water, grinning, and he looked at us, and they followed him in with their own cannonballs and jumps. Everyone but me. . I stood up the stairs in the shallow end, making it look like I was just about to get in without actually having to have my feet touch the water. Every now and then, sometimes on Tobys shoulders or swimming with her own legs, Rylee would glance over to me. If it were anyone else, Id pretend to smile or do something to make it look like nothing was wrong, but I didnt with her. I didnt know why, I just didnt feel like faking it. Come on, Silvia! I suddenly heard boom and echo in the pool area, and I looked over at the deep end. Abe was looking at me, bobbing up and down in the water, grinning, and he motioned for me. Its fun. It didnt look like fun to me. Sure, they were laughing and playing dumb games that I wasnt paying attention to. But it wouldnt like fun soon enough. I will, I called back, the words echoing through the bleachers and tiles. They almost haunted me as much as the water did. It was quiet, and then I heard, Please? I looked at him, those big ocean blue eyes, and that lazy but hopeful half-smile. Suddenly, I thought that if I didnt do it, meet him halfway, itll all disappear. So reluctantly, I dipped one foot into the water and my stomach clenched.

The water only grazed my toes but still, I felt like Id die. Like the water would suddenly swirl around me and grab onto my ankle and drag me down to it. But Abe wanted me there. Maybe hanging out with Toby and Rylee was making him wish what we were doing what wasnt as casual as we were making it. I couldnt count how many times she had been on his shoulders or how many times theyd splash each other playfully. Like the nerves wouldnt connect with my brain, my foot moved sluggishly to the next step. By now the water was up to my ankle. My hand was shaking by my side and on the railing, and I almost pulled back. But then I saw him waiting for me, in the water, waving me closer. I couldnt give Abe a lot. I probably couldnt give him anything he deserved, or even what he wanted. I couldnt take away his scar, or what happened that night, or whatever happened to him after that night. But the least I could do was meet him there. To just get in the freaking water. So I went further. But something changed. It wasnt just shaking, or clenching, or my breathing going shallow, it was flashes. Flashes of memories I had done a fine job of forgetting about until now. The water was only halfway up my shin when I remembered it swallowing me, over my head and eyes, all I could see was water swirling and dark rocks, and sometimes even my hand reaching out for something, anything, just to grasp onto. I couldnt take it any longer. It all happened in blur, so fast and somehow so painfully slow at the same time. I yanked my feet out of the water like it stung me or something, and the back of my legs hit the step behind me and I stumbled, clutching onto the railing like my life depended on it. And to me, it did. I knew they were looking at me, watching as the water splashed and fizzed as I scrambled out of the pool, slipping, and before I knew it, I was running. Away from them, away from Abe, away from the water, to hide in the locker room. Silvia?! His voice echoed through the tiled, quiet room as my feet slapped against the wet floor, and I jammed my knee into a silver bleacher but I didnt care, I had to go. My body burst through the door, painfully, and when I saw the room, where I was alone, without the water, I sucked in a breath. It hurt, the dull air stung my lungs, and my hearts beating felt so unusual and so terrifying, like it forgot how to beat.

My hands shook at my sides, and in the mirrors, I saw my body shaking, my shoulders vibrating and my knees wobbling. I closed my eyes and slumped my body against the cool titles, sliding down to the floor. Outside, Abe would be hoisting himself out of the pool with his large biceps and making his way toward the locker room, or not. Maybe he was still there, bobbing in the water, unsure of what just happened. Suddenly, I wished I were anywhere else. Anywhere but here. As far away as I could go, even if I had to run each mile myself, on my own legs, Id do it. I pictured it even. Just standing up from the floor of the girls locker room and just walking out until I broke into a run, leaving everything behind me. Like the run could wash things off me that nothing else could, and Id be free. But I wasnt free, I was chained, and I realized that when the door swung open and I heard someone step into the room. I didnt open my eyes. I couldnt look at him, not now. It was all too real right now, too much to take, and seeing those blue eyes looking the way they would, itd be too much. Silver? At the sound of the voice, I opened my eyes. Rylee stood there, alone, looking at me, and somehow, I thought it was even worse than how Abe would look at me. I cleared my throat. I didnt think I could speak. What are you doing here? I asked slowly, looking her over with my eyes, just so I wouldnt have to look at her face. Abe, she replied, and I turned away, wanted to see if youre okay. I told him Id do it. Hes freaking out, you know. I glanced at her. Yeah? She nodded, taking a few steps closer to me before she slid down beside me. Hes wondering if he should call Scarlett or something, she told me. Hes really worried about you. I couldnt reply to that. I didnt have anything to say besides that he shouldnt. Not because I wasnt messed up, because I was, but because I wasnt worth it. Instead I stared at my fingers. The nail polish on one was begging to chip, and I picked at it. Is this the part where you ask why I freaked out and looked like a lunatic? She shook her head. You didnt look like a lunatic. Scoffing, I looked at her skeptically. I tripped on the stairs and ran out of there like a lunatic, I told her.

She didnt say anything at first, just simply glanced at my fingernails. Do you want to talk about it? I turned to her, paused, and then said, No. I looked down at her scars, faded pink lines on her pale skin. Do you want to talk about those? Absentmindedly, she touched one of the tails of the scars and whispered, No. I nodded, letting out a sigh and stretching out my legs. I shouldve shaved my legs today, I said, running my hand down my shin, feeling light pricks poking at my hand. Rylee laughed a little. I turned to her, relaxing back against the wall. So, how did you and Toby meet? She smiled, looking out at the wall, like she was remembering something great. I was in a coffee shop with my friend and he bumped into me and spilled his coffee all over me. Smirking, I said, Ouch. She nodded. He loaned me his cardigan. And let me guess, I said, because it this was usually all those kinds of stories went, you looked into each others eyes and fell instantly in love. Rylee laughed. Oh no, she told me, still laughing. The next time I saw him, he practically tackled me. I didnt even like him for a long time. She looked down at her nails now, her skin flushing. And then we started sleeping together. I raised my eyebrows. Hmm? She nodded. But something happened a while ago and it made me realize just how I needed him and loved him, she told me and smiled. How about you and Abe? I laughed, rolling my eyes and glancing up at the ceiling. The first time I ever met Abe, he caught me making out with someone on a school trip, I told her and she raised her eyebrows. The next I saw him I was setting fire to a boat. At first, I laughed when I said it but the sound died in my throat as I finished the sentence. I glanced at her, waiting for her eyes to dilate or something. Thats how he got that scar on his arm, you know. He was trying to save me. I was wondering about that, she murmured and I nodded, pursing out my lips. It doesnt look like it matters to him anymore. I stared at her.

It actually looks more like you matter more than what you did, she said, and I raised an eyebrow, unsure. Just then, as if on cue, there was a soft knock on the door. Silvia? I heard him ask, his voice low and concerned. I let out a deep breath. Silvia, are you okay? Rylee glanced at the door and then smiled lightly at me just as the door peeked open a bit, revealing a blue eye behind it before it was pushed open further. She stood up then, and I started to get up too as she left, and Abe stood there for a minute, not knowing what to say or even if he should say something at all. Then, he asked, Are you okay? I nodded, rising to my feet and I smiled, for real this time. Yeah, Im okay, I told him, walking toward him, watching his skeptical face. Im fine. He reached hand up to my face, brushing back my hair behind my ear and holding it there, letting out a sigh. Listen, we can go if Shaking my head, I told him, No. I fumbled my hand through his side until I found his other hand and gave it a squeeze. That wouldnt really be fair. He sort of smiled, squeezing my hand back. Since when did you care about being fair? I rolled my eyes. Shut up, I said to him and I pressed a hand to his chest, standing on tiptoes and bringing his lips to mine. They were warm and wet, and kind of tasted like chlorine. We held it like this, like a perfect picture, and we pulled back. We should probably go back out there, he said and I nodded reluctantly, feeling his hand drop from my face but still holding onto my hand. When we stepped out, Toby and Rylee were both out of the water, sitting on the silver bleachers, Rylee in Tobys lap, and they looked at us. Is everything alright? Toby asked. Abe glanced briefly at me and nodded. Yeah. . I sat on the bleachers, watching as they played volley ball without a net, I guess. Toby and Rylee were on a team against Abe, who was insistent that his skills were more than enough to beat them. To be fair, he wasnt doing a bad job for someone on a one against two team, but he was losing. And whenever someone would point that out to him, hed simply reply cockily, Ill catch up!

At one point, it was only Toby and Rylee in the pool, with her blowing water out of a Styrofoam noodle at his face, laughing at his wet expression before hed try to catch her. Before I even had a chance to wonder where Abe went, I heard the bleachers creak and felt someone slip in behind me. I glanced at my sides, seeing two wet, hairy knees on either side, and I looked up, the top of my head colliding with Abes jaw, and he grunted, giving me a look. Sorry, I mumbled, sort of smirking, and he rubbed the spot. What are you doing here? He wrapped his arms around my waist, leaning his chin down on my shoulder. You look lonely. I snorted. Im never lonely. Abe didnt reply, instead, he just held my waist tighter as we watched them play together in the water, Rylees giggle ringing out in the room. You should go with them, I said to him, but I didnt want him to leave either. He gave my cheek a small peck while he traced small circles on my skin near my hip with his hand. I like where I am, he told me quietly, and I leaned back. Me too. . Hey. I jumped, dropping my apple onto the ground and I slammed the fridge door shut, and Toby stared at me with wide eyes, already have taken a few steps back, and I just stared at him. Where, I asked, letting out a breath and closing my eyes, did you come from? He motioned to the door, and I remembered someone opening it when I stuck my head in the fridge. Scarlett let us in, he explained and then he bent down, picking up my apple, and held it out to me. Here you go. Slowly, I took the fruit from him, eyeing the bruise on the skin, and said, Us? Toby nodded. Rylees in the bathroom, he told me and I just nodded, walking over to the drawers and taking out a knife to cut out the core. I didnt mean you scare you. You didnt scare me, I told him, choosing to ignore the skeptical look that crossed his face. You just surprised me. I wasnt expecting anyone to . . . show up. Scarlett walked through the doorway, and I glanced up, and her eyes concentrated horrifyingly on the knife in my hand. Silver, be careful! she said. Youll cut yourself.

I looked down at the apple. I looked to be doing pretty okay to me. No, I wont, I said and she shook her head at my stubbornness. You too stubborn for your own good, Silver, she said with a chuckle, opening the fridge and reaching in and grabbing an apple, glancing at Toby. Do you want one? Just as he was about to shake his head, I told him, You might as well take one. No one really eats them but me and Scar. Okay then. She handed it to him. Just dont get out the core with a knife, okay, Tobs? I rolled my eyes, yanking out the juicy core and wagging it in the air with a cocky grin. Well, look what I just did with a knife, I said. Took out an apple core? Rylee chimed in as she walked into the kitchen, instantly walking over to Toby and sitting in one of the barstools beside him. With a knife, I told her and she just raised her eyebrows at Toby. Its a big deal, apparently. Scarlett turned to me. You couldve cut yourself and then Id have to take you to the hospital! Well, now you dont have to and the core in my apple is gone. Toby chuckled, using his own knife to cut out slices, not the core, and he handed one to Rylee. Do you guys have a Guardians meeting today? Guidians, I corrected. And yeah, in half an hour. He nodded, taking a bite out of a slice when Scarlett suddenly said, You two should come! They both stared at her, glancing at each other briefly. What? Rylee asked. I shook my head. You dont want to, I told them, and they glanced at me. Its boring and everyone there is like a reject off the cast of Glee. Theyre all screwed up. Silver, Scarlett scolded. She liked some of the kids there, apparently. What? Its true. She shook her head at me, turning back to them. Dont listen to her, she said, and I almost smiled. Guidians is . . . really interesting! Everyone always has great stories. Yeah, ask Mitch about moms buying your underwear, I told them, smirking. That will definitely be interesting.

Its perfect! Scarlett said, ignoring me, and she grinned widely at Toby and Rylee. Me and Silver are both going, so is Abe, and Jackno has to work so it all works out! Toby glanced at Rylee, raising his eyebrows. What do you think? he asked. Do you want to go? After a moment, where she glanced at me and Scarlett, she finally nodded and said, Sure, it sounds . . . interesting. I laughed, bringing an apple slice to my mouth. If listening to juvenile delinquents rant about why theyre so screwed up, I said, is interesting then yeah. Youre in for a whole lot of interesting. Chapter Twenty-Seven Seriously, I said to them as we walked through the maze of cars in the parking lot toward the run down community center, its torture. Escape while you can. They shook their heads, their hands intertwined together by their hips. I bet it isnt that bad, Toby said, turning to me. No, its even worse. But I rolled my eyes, grabbed the door and held it open for Scarlett, Toby, and Rylee. But dont say I didnt warn you. The second we stepped in, I was reminded of the crappy air conditioning and the humidity. I looked at Toby and Rylee. Theyd be sweating in no time, without a doubt. A second later, I heard the light clicks of Stella texting and the long hum of the giant air conditioner. But the one familiar thing I didnt hear was Tristan talking. Its quiet, I whispered to Scarlett and she glanced at me. Do you think Tristan died? She shot me a look, but didnt deny that Tristan was, well, talkative. Silver, she said, shaking her head but then gasped and her eyes widened into well round circles. I frowned. What? When she didnt answer, just stared ahead, I looked at Toby and Rylee but they looked just like her. Well, kind of, anyway. Toby looked uncomfortable and Rylee just looked kind of amused, and I turned around. Oh. Come. On, I groaned. Mitch and Tristan gasped as they broke apart, and they stared at us with big, wide eyes. What are you doing here?! Tristan shrieked, scrambling off Mitchs body. Its two Oclock, I replied like it was an excuse, and it was actually. Guidians always started at two Oclock. But, um, heres a question: why arent you wearing a shirt?

Tristan looked down at her chest, sucked in a breath, and started glancing around in what I guessed to be a frantic search for her shirt, crossing her arms over her torso. I looked at Mitch, sitting in a chair, being straddled by a topless Tristan before we walked in with the buckle and zipper on his jeans undone. Oh, crap. He fuddled with the zipper, cursing under his breath as it first caught. Thats when he noticed Toby and Rylee. Oh, hey. His skin flushed a pinkish color. Tristans back was turned to us and when she bent down, she exposed a thin line of pearls poking out of her pale, freckled skin. I cant find my shirt, she wailed, almost hyperventilating, and she stood up, panicked. Um, is this it? I looked over my shoulder to see Toby holding up a light blue garment with his pinkie finger, looking absolutely tortured and I bit back a smile. Relieved, she gasped, Yes, it is! But then, she did something that I dont think any of us expected her to do. Biting her lip, she stared at the shirt and then, suddenly, she burst into tears. For a moment, we just stared at her as the sound of shaky breathing and sobbing echoed through the room. Even Stella glanced up from her phone before rolling her eyes and returning her attention where it belonged, her phone. Rylee leaned closer to me, never once taking her eyes off Tristans head buried in her hands and her shaking shoulders, and she asked, Does this normally happen? They all looked at me, even Mitch, and, slowly, I shook my head. Nope. Someone should do something, Scarlett whispered, like the volume of her voice would only further this outburst and maybe it would. Hug her, maybe. So do it, I told her, nudging her closer to Tristan. Scarlett stared at me with wide eyes. Shes not wearing a shirt, she pointed out and when the sobbing got louder, she shifted her weight. Toby? Tobys eyes immediately flashed over to Scarlett before he reached up to rub the back of his neck. I dont even know her. But your nice, I said, and he glanced at me, raising his eyebrows as if to suggest I should be the one to do something. I cant do it! I just make things worse. Hey, you. Rylee pointed over to Mitch, and then nodded to Tristan, shooting him a pointed look. You did this . . . come take care of her.

I swear, Mitchs eyes almost exploded. I didnt do that! he cried, gesturing to Tristan, but he stood up anyway. I dont know what to do. Just give her a hug, Toby replied, and we all glanced at me. I turned away, hiding a small smile. The guy was cute, not that Id point it out. Mitch stepped tentatively toward Tristan, biting his lip before he touched her bare shoulder. There wasnt even a second before she turned into his body, clutching his shirt, and he looked at us, as if asking if this was what was supposed to happen. Scarlett nodded reassuringly at him, smiling softly as Mitch took this, closed his eyes, and held her a little closer. He looked less like the hectic teenager now, more like a man instead, melting the rest away. I was watching them as a hand touched my hip and when I looked up, I met the bright blue eyes looking suspiciously at Tristan and Mitch. She was crying, I explained and he glanced at me. Hes comforting her. Hmm. His brow was still furrowed as he turned to Toby and Rylee, who had gotten a little cozier since watching Tristan and Mitch. I didnt know you guys were coming. Rylee smiled sweetly at Toby before saying, It was a bit of a last minute thing. I warned them against it, I informed him, and I bet he was rolling his eyes. They wouldnt listen. She makes it out to be a lot worse than it is. Now I rolled my eyes, shaking my head. But a second later, I felt his lips touch my hair and I leaned deeper into his chest. . We should all go to Mandys Place tonight. For a moment, I was quiet and still, like a deer in headlights or something, and slowly, I glanced at Toby, probably like he had lost his mind or something. Mandys Place was new but already a Shiloh hotspot, if a town this small could have one. Already it had a trademark, and it wasnt the food or the ripped bartenders, or even the lowcut waitressing outfits. It was the freaking karaoke machine they had in the left corner, next to the booths and a respectably distance away from drunks on a stool, pouring their hearts out to ripped bartenders. Before I even had a chance to respond, or should I say deject, a smile broke out on Scarletts face. Oh, Ill have to ask Jack! That would be fun!

I gave her the same look I gave Toby. But it didnt do much since Scarlett was kind of into those things. I wouldnt be that surprised if I found her singing into the microphone to a Plain White Ts song. My eyebrows sparked just a little, I glanced at all their faces, a blend of people seeming okay with this, with karaoke. I have something to do tonight. It wasnt a total lie, really. I bet I could find something I had been putting off for something like this, like redoing my toenails or cleaning out my closet. Really anything would work to get me out of going to Mandys Place. Abe stood behind me, his arms encircled around me, and a snort rumbled in his chest against my back. Like what? he probed. Yeah, Silvia, come on! Scarlett said, just beaming at the idea of karaoke, or maybe it was the bartenders. Itll be fun! I tried to imagine what itd be like. A bunch of people in their thirties or mid-twenties, totally lost, so lost they decide to sing horribly into a microphone to a section of booths where kids scribbled on placemats. Turning to Rylee, I shot her a look. I mean, if anyone wouldnt want to go, it had to be her. But, with her hands placed firmly on her hips, she mouthed If I have to go, you have to go. While I wasnt sure about that, I glanced at Scarlett and how she just beamed and then at the mischievous look in Tobys eye. And I sighed. I guess I could possibly g I was interrupted by Scarlett letting out a happy, chirpy squeal and I couldnt resist rolling my eyes. I think I warned her about those feminine noises before. You guys! Lets go buy dresses! She grinned, glancing at both of us, not at all dejected by our wary expressions. I heard this new place is really club formal. Rylee shot me another look, mouthing once again, I go, you go. Reluctantly, I sighed, slumping against Abes chest as he came to a stop in the parking lot and nodded slowly, and then I heard another squeal. With Toby and Rylee kissing goodbye and Scarlett darting to the idling car where Jack rolled down the window and smiled at her, I turned my head up to look at Abe. Im going to die, I said, feeling a chuckle rumble through him. Im going to die in a dress at Mandys Place as someone sings karaoke. His chin rested on the top of my head. Anythings better than a gutter, right? I shook my head. No.

I bet he smiled at this, Im not sure why though. Those little quips of mine that made others roll their eyes or something along those lines, made him smile. It wont be so bad. Easy for you, I retorted, and I could feel his chin slid on my head, looking down skeptically at me. You and Toby are going back to Chester to play Guitar Hero. I heard him let out a breath through his nose. Well, wheres theres Chester theres Rebecca, he said. Rebecca, apparently, had been giving Chester and Abe grief, apparently due to what Abe called an estrogen overdose. Last week, when they left out a greasy pizza box, she burst into tears and demanded that they picked up after themselves because, and I quote, Not their maid. Is she going to make you wear a dress? I asked. He scoffed. I hope not. Well then, I said, turning around to face him, his arms still around me, the warmth of his body seeping right through my shirt, I dont think it can even compare to what Im about to go through. Abe laughed. You make it sound like theyre sending you off to war or something. To be honest, Id rather do that than this, I told him, sighing, and then plopped my head into his chest, which actually hurt. Cant you save me? I felt his lips graze my hair and I closed my eyes, his scent sinking into my nose. I could never place what exactly he smelled like, unless we just finished at the Roberts, then it was sweat. But the rest of the time, it seemed like a mystery of deodorant, detergent, and fresh air, if that was even a smell. Youll find something nice at the store with Scarlett and then youll fight about buying it and then youll wear it tonight, he said softly and quietly, like it was secret, only for me. And then well go out for dinner and pretend to like everyones singing. I looked up at him. You know, when you say it like that, I said and he cocked his head to the side, waiting way too eagerly for this, it still sounds awful. Abe smiled at me, brushing my hair behind my ear. Youll live, he murmured, pressing a quick to my forehead before telling me, Ill see you later. I turned as his arms loosened around me before they were completely gone and he walked over to his truck, where Toby waited patiently, glancing politely anywhere else but at us. And then I turned around and started toward Jacks car. .

Rylee pushed me forward, away from the mirror which, apparently, did no good for me and my leg hit the first step. Come on, the guys are waiting for us. But I still wasnt convinced and felt the need just to look at myself one last time, just to make sure there werent any clumps in my lashes or that my hips didnt look enormous in this dress. But I was already being pushed up the stairs. I dont want to wear this, I complained, probably for the thousandth time. At first, they tried complimenting me but now they simply rolled their eyes and pushed me forward. I look like a hooker. You said that already, Rylee reminded me and I pulled free from her grip, deciding that I could walk up the stairs on my own. You look fine. I dont want to look fine, I said, turning to look at Rylee following behind me, holding to the railing with one hand and the other waiting, probably to swat me up the stairs. I want to look Before I could finish, I stumbled into the kitchen and the first thing I saw was a tucked shirt. I followed it up to Tobys face, his eyes locked on the girl behind me, and then I found Abe. He was standing, standing so I could see his profile, stopping in midsentence from talking with Toby, and he glanced at me. Instead of the cargo shorts Id grow used to, the ones I started to bug him about, he wore black pants and a black button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, making his sun kissed even more evident. And I felt naked in my black and gray dress with suede ankle boots. For a moment he was quiet, and at any moment, I expected his lips to form the one word I was thinking. Hooker. But then, Wow came out instead. I stared at him, almost thinking that my cheeks were starting to flame and I sucked in a small breath as Toby said beside me, looking at Rylee, Wow is dead on. He pulled her close to him, and I watched as they murmured soft words, her arms looping around his neck, and I glanced at Abe. He smiled softly at me, sort of cocking his head to the side, and I told him, It looks really bad, doesnt it? Abe shook his head, his eyes grazing me over before finally meeting mine. It doesnt look bad at all, he told me, and for one second, maybe not even that long or maybe even longer, I believed him.

. I cringed, shooting whoever was singing Party in the USA a death look. But she ignored it and kept singing, waving her free hand over her head as she belted out the words, So I put my hands up! No one else but her put her hands up. My head dropped into Abes shoulder. You should call your dad to arrest her, I told him, and he glanced down at me. She has to be doing something illegal. When another woman started singing, a Selena Gomez song of course, with her hands up in the air, I glanced at Rylee. I found her expressions at some of these idiots amusing. Eyebrows furrowed, frowning, and always turning to Toby to see his reaction. But this time, she wasnt watching horrifyingly at the woman, practically sobbing over Round and Round and giving a guy in the back a pointed look, she stared at an empty chair. Wheres Toby? I asked her. She started to shrug but then suddenly she froze, and I turned. There, stepping up to the karaoke machine, was Toby, reaching out to take the microphone from her. If I hadnt been confused, amused, and a little horrified myself, I wouldve cheered. Hey guys, he said into the microphone, his voice echoing off the speakers and I swear, every single girl within five miles perked up. I know everyone is having fun but this is more serious. This is for my girlfriend, Rylee. Apparently the interest in Toby suddenly vanished and it was replaced by adoration. There was a loud chorus of aww through the booths, and some guys shooting him a look for stealing their girls attention. But, I didnt aww and neither did Rylee. I felt Abe poke me and he whispered, You both look really alike right now. Huh? I glanced at her. She had auburn hair and big, nice eyes. The only similarity I could see was pale skin. What do you mean? You both look horrified, he clarified. The music began to pour of the speakers now as the lyrics flooded through the screen and there he was, singing to a Parachute song, staring right at Rylee. Toby can sing? I asked, glancing at Rylee, whose eyes flickered over to me just barely before they flashed back to Toby.

Scarlett nodded for her, leaning forward to look at me. Yeah, he was in choir in elementary school and in middle school. I guess he quit in high school because people were making fun of him. I nodded barely before looking back at him, just as he began to finish and then Scarlett jumped up as the song ended, cheering. He smiled at her for a second and then made his way over to us. Hey . . . how did you like it? I never saw a person grin as much as she did then. I loved it, Toby. I turned away after that as they leaned and kissed, walking away shortly after that. I didnt know where they were going, and I wasnt sure I wanted to know either. Although, the thought of calling out that there were condoms in both bathrooms occurred to me. Wasnt that so cute? Scarlett asked, leaning over Rylees empty chair and she grinned. Maybe Ill convince Jackno sing a solo before the night is done. . I leaned against the bricks, the glowing lights from the sign Mandys Place casting pink shadows down my face. Inside was getting rowdy, the karaoke getting worse, and I felt like all I was breathing in was sweat. Closing my eyes, I remembered Toby and Rylees faces are they walked off, the smile on her face after he sang that song to her, and how proud and bashful he looked to sing it to her. I didnt know the details to their story but I bet it was easy. Nothing stopped things from going smooth and free, singing cheesy songs in public and taking trips to New York. Letting out a breath, I wondered if things could ever get like that for us, Abe and me. But the second I thought about it, I knew the answer. The ride would never be smooth. Itd be full of bumps and ditches, little things trying to break us down. We were fooling with ourselves now. One day, things would change, just like everything else. And we wouldnt be able to get this back. Wed fall apart, like crumbled clay, into tiny pieces. Because I was me, an ex-con and he was him, the boy whos blood ran blue. With my eyes closed, I heard the door push open and a rush of sweat, beer, and muggy air hit me and I glanced over. He smiled, hands stuck in his pockets, and he leaned against the brick wall. Jack and Scarlett are singing a duet, he told me.

I smirked, lightly shaking my head. I knew that would happen sooner or later, I said and he nodded slowly. I guess that only leaves us. Immediately, I shook my head, whipping my head toward him. No, I said quickly, maybe too quickly guessing from the look on his face, and I eased back against the wall. We dont have to do that. You sure? He nodded the door, staring at me. Theyve got a lot of songs, you know. I nodded slowly. Yeah, I bet they do, I agreed. But we dont. . . I sighed, kicking a pebble with the toe of my boot. . . . we dont have to be like that. Like what? You know. I looked at him but he only raised his eyebrows, and I sighed. Really romantic. Were new to this and we dont have to sing our feelings. He nodded slowly, maybe agreeing, maybe giving in. I couldnt tell. Yeah, he said after a moment. But then a sly grin slide across his face. What song would you choose? I shot him a look. Abe. Im being serious here, he told me, ignoring me roll my eyes. You know what song Id pick? You and Me, its by Lifehouse. I turned to him, my eyebrows just slightly raised as I said, Sounds like a mushy song. He nodded. Oh, it is, he informed but then quickly added, But Im a mushy kind of a guy, you know. I let out a laugh, or maybe it was a loud scoff. I wasnt sure. Sure, I said to him. So what would your song be? The light mood was gone and I shot him another look. Im not doing this, Abe. Come on. I told you what song Id do. Sighing, I turned to him. His head was cocked to the side, resting against the bricks, and his blue eyes twinkled with pink thanks to the sign above our heads. Tapes by Alanis Morissette, I told him flatly before pushing off the bricks and stepping toward the truck, grabbing one of the handles and turning to him. Can we go now?

He stared at him for a moment. Like he was deciding whether or not I was being honest about the song, but eventually, he nodded and took out the keys before shouting to everyone else that we were leaving. Chapter Twenty-Eight Well miss you! Scarlett said, clinging onto Toby as a plane soared over our heads, the sound vibrating under our feet. Well visit you next time, okay? Toby nodded, smiling at her before they pulled back, watching as Scarlett wrapped her arms around Rylee next. He glanced at me and smiled, giving me a small wave. It was nice to meet you, Silvia. I nodded, giving him a small nudge with my elbow. Sure, I told him. Abe held out his hand, his other one stuffed into his pocket. See you around, Toby, he told in that manly sort of goodbye. Rylee turned to Abe, smiled, and cocked her head to the side. Keep up the working out, okay? she said to him. I guess Abe had gotten used to this because he rolled his eyes without a blush. Goodbye, Rylee. She turned to me next. Scarlett already gave me your number, twice, she said with a light chuckle to her voice as she glanced at her, who smiled in return. It was great meeting you, Silver. I shrugged, sort of smiling. Yeah, you too. After final goodbyes, one last hugs, and even a kiss on the cheek, Toby and Rylee walked away from the doors, waving goodbye, as they walked toward the terminal. Call me when you get home! Scarlett called out, her hand cupping her mouth. Bye! After they walked so far that we lost sight of them, going from little dark figures to absolutely nothing, Scarlett sighed and turned to us. Im going to miss them. Youll see them again at Thanksgiving, I told her as we turned around to the doors. She nodded, considering this. But its the almost August, she said, glancing at us. That seems really far away. Video chat, Abe offered, holding open the door as we stepped through. She considered this too. Yeah, I guess, she agreed.

I glanced at her, shrugged, and held open the door to Abes truck, pulling up the passenger seat for her to crawl through. There are a million communication devices in the world, Scarlett, I said to her, youll find a way to keep in touch with them like their still here. Scarlett glanced at me, settling into the backseat. Well, I least I have you guys and Jackno, she told us, and I glanced at Abe. He glanced at me, a light, lazy smile on his face as he stuck his keys into the ignition. ... So, I have something to ask you. I wrinkled my nose and glanced down at the head in my lap, playing with my fingers and running his own fingertips across my black polished nails. Like what? His eyes flickered from my hand to my face in a quick flash. Chesters getting married this Saturday, he said, like this was some sort of explanation or something. Yeah? I ran my free hand through his dark curls, still a little damp from showering. He nodded slowly, dropping my hand and it landed by his side. They sent out the invitations in May, he went on, and I nodded. And me and Kel were still together then he cleared his throatso I checked plus one. My hand tensed when he mentioned Kel and then I completely took it out of his hair when he told me about him checking plus one. What are you saying? What Im saying is, Abe said, hoisting himself up on his elbows, turning his head to me, I need a date. I pursed out my lips, letting out a breath through my nose. Yeah? He nodded again. And since me and you are together now, youre my first choice. I bit back a laugh. And whos your second choice? He shrugged, flopping back down into my lap. I was thinking Pamela maybe, he replied. I shifted my weight under him. Or Elliot, I guess but that would be weird. Would I need to dress up? Why do you have such a problem with dressing up? he asked, staring straight into my eyes before turning away. You look great when you do. I shrugged, brushing back his hair. Im just not that kind of girl. He glanced up at me and then said, You dont have to wear a dress if you dont want to.

Good. Just remember that it is a wedding. Fine. I looked down at my lap, his head not too far away from my bare knees. One arm stretched out, almost the length of my entire leg, down to my ankle, his fingers brushing against it and I blurted out, Why did you break up anyway? For a second, he just blinked, little confused lines forming on his forehead as he looked up at me. You and Kel, I mean, I clarified, waiting as he simply turned away, drawing little circles on my ankle. You guys went out for a long time, right? In my lap, slowly, he nodded. So how come you broke up? I wasnt sure why I was being so persistent about it. Abe never talked about Kel and until now I was more than fine with that. It seemed less real that way, until he told he checked plus one for her. He glanced up at me. Does it really matter anymore? he asked and then he sat up, off of me, and stood up. I watched as he walked, shirtless, over into the bathroom. I shrugged. No, I told him and he glanced at me as he bent down, grabbing the soggy towel and dropping it into the hamper. Im just curious. Why? Closing the lid on the hamper, he turned to me. You know how I feel about you. It isnt about me, I told him, perching myself under my legs, resting on my heels, staring at him. I just want to know why. Was it some ugly habit you had or something? No. Accidentally insulted her? I offered. He shook his head. Silvia, do we have to do this? Why dont you want to tell me? I smirked, cocking my head to the side. You can ask about why my failed relationships if you want. He shook his head again. I dont want to know, he told me and I rolled my eyes. Look, Kel and whatever guys you went out with before dont matter now. He took a couple steps forward, leaning against the doorframe. Their idiots. I laughed as he came closer, a small smile forming on his face. Really.

He nodded, crouching down so he was at my level, sitting on top of the bed, looking down at him. Really, he confirmed then he rose a little and met my lips. Because were smart, and attractive, and smartly attractive. I laughed on his lips, feeling his lips grin. Youre so weird. Whatever. He shot up then, wrapping me up in him and I felt my back hit the bed, and he hovered over me, head cocked to the side. Youre even weirder. Rolling my eyes, I wrapped my hand over his neck and took him down to my lips. ... Silver, you cant wear black to a wedding. I scowled at the white door, hangers overlapping with a rainbow selection of dresses over top. I thought you couldnt wear white to a wedding, I said. You cant wear either! I rolled my eyes, struggling to free myself out of the dress she threw in ten minutes ago. What dress are you on now? The blue one. I gave you that one ages ago! she said on the other side, exasperated. Cmon, the store closes in an hour, Silver. I managed to tug the dress off my waist, but then it was stuck around my thighs, and I sighed. Abe said I didnt need to wear a dress, I pointed out, again, for probably the millionth time. But he loves seeing you dressed up! I could hear hangers clinking against each other and scraping across the rack. I saw his face when we went out to Mandys Place. He thought you weregorgeousssss. I kicked off the dress and threw it over the top of the door, and I heard Oomph on the other side. So why cant I just wear thatdress then? Or the black one? Because you dont wear black to a wedding! I scoffed, grabbing the next hanger. This dress didnt look quite as tight as the blue one, but it was pink and I threw it over the top. No pink. I swear, I could hear her pupils rolling at me as she put the dress back. The next one was a short, light green dress with straps that looked like theyd be a pain to get into. Instead of two normal, slender straps, there were two, wide ones with one behind my neck and the other around my shoulders.

It made me look like a Tinkerbelle reject. I felt my hands around my back for the straps, wondering on exactly I was going to get this off me when a flash of blue flung over the top of the door, draping over it. Another dress. I pulled it off the door as I heard her still rummaging around for more. I was betting that she going to keep doing that until I finally gave in on one of the dresses shed tossed me. This one was short, about down to my knee, and strapless. The fabric felt smooth under my fingers as I pinched it together, rubbing it against my fingertips. And I slipped into it. So, how long have Chester and Rebecca been together? I tugged on the zipper. I dont know, I said, more to the reflection of myself, struggling to do up a dress, than to Scarlett. A couple of years or something, I guess. Toby mentioned them, she replied, her voice muffled, like she was moving around. When he was there at Chesters while we were shopping, I mean. He said they were a cute couple. Yeah, I guess. I stared at myself in the mirror or more likely a girl who sort of looked like me. Something was off, but not wrong. Just different. Same wavy, black hair, same snow white skin, same gray eyes, but something was different or new even. But I didnt know what. Shes pregnant, right? Scarlett asked, more hanger scraping. Rebecca, that is. Toby mention that too? She laughed. He did kind of tell me how she almost cried at the mess they made with the controllers. Instead of replying, I wrapped my hand around the door handle. I wanted to step out and hide all at once. But before I knew it, the door was being pushed open and my feet were pulling me forward, out of the dressing room. Her mouth was open, like she was getting ready to say something, when I stepped out and then it just hung there. I glanced away and tugged at the sides, sighing. It looks terrible, doesnt it? She shook her head slowly, clamping her mouth closed. No, no. Silver, it looks great, she told me, her face slowly forming a smile as she looked me over. Blues your color, you know. I glanced at my body, frowned, and retorted, Black is more my color.

Scarlett rolled her eyes, shaking her head at me. All we need now is the perfect pair of shoes and youll win hearts all night, she said. Not that youll need to since you already have Lincoln. Who says I have to be a prude to be with Abe? I stepped back into the dressing room, pushing all the dresses off the top of the door and onto the ground on the other side of the door. Because thats what happens when youre in a relationship, she replied nonchalantly. You have to master looking sexy to your boyfriend and totally unappealing to everyone else at the same time. I snorted. You do not. Yup. Its called a serious relationship, Silver, and youre in one. Abe doesnt do that. I remembered him, walking shirtless up to Rylee, but that wasnt a time I really cared about since Rylee was all over Toby, and vice versa, and Abe was like a kid with pills. He didnt know what he was doing. Maybe next time he decides to take off his shirt at the Roberts Id care. Guys dont get the message, she replied and then, suddenly, squealed. I almost forgot to tell you! Guess what Jack told you? He has syphilis? There was a groan on the other side as I yanked on my jeans. No, Silver! she scolded and I shrugged, even though she couldnt see me. He told me loves me. I paused, my jeans halfway up my thighs, and glanced at the door. He what? He said he loves me. I threw on my shirt, grabbed my phone, and opened the door, frowning and she smiled. When you and Abe took Toby and Rylee out, Jack told me he loves me. He did? I said the words slowly, as if they didnt make sense, and they almost didnt. Scarlett nodded. He took me out to dinner, gave me a pair of earrings, and just said it. Right in front of the waiter too. I didnt say anything. Jack, well, he had so many girlfriends before. Most of them cant even be qualified to be called girlfriend. He never said that he loved any of them, not once. She must have sensed something because she said, Is something wrong? Slowly, I shook my head. No.

I dont think she believed me because she still had that skeptical look on her face. Are you sure? Yeah. I wasnt sure what to say now. No one ever really decided to let me in on personal kind of stuff like that, not even Erin or Peyton. Thats good, Scarlett. She cocked her head to the side, a mixed expression on her face but then it relaxed into a smile. Thank you, Silver. I nodded. Sure. ... It was dark when I pushed open the front door, crickets chirping behind me, and I heard all the air conditioners working as I walked in. With the So Fetch bag dangling in my fingers, I pushed the door closed with my foot. Everything was dark except for a glowing light up the stairs. Maybe Jack was showering or something. I dropped the bag into a barstool and shrugged off my coat. On the counter, my phone buzzed, jittering with a text. See you in a couple of days. I bit a small smile and replied back to him, Is there going to be strippers? There was a pause and I took the time to take out of kiwi and peel it. At the wedding? No, the bachelor party. Abe, Chester, and some of Chesters friends were all going to Atlantic City for his bachelor party and werent going to come back until the night before the wedding. Abe wasnt a groomsman but he was going anyway, apparently. Chesters friends set this up, not me. I smirked, rolling my eyes. Id like to see his face as a stripper stripped in front of him. See you soon. Yup. What are you doing? a groggy, tired voice asked me. Instantly, my phone slipped out of my hands and onto the floor, the battery popping out and skidding under the fridge. I glanced at it, just for a second, then I turned back to my mother. She stood there, in her fuzzy, purple bathrobe. Her face was flushed and her hair was a mess, like she slept on it or kept running her fingers through it. Maybe both. Without her make-up on, her skin looked stretched and tired. She looked stretched and tired.

Her arms were crossed, big and fuzzy in her robe, over her chest and she squinted in the light, deepening all the lines I was just beginning to notice forming on her face. I opened my mouth but I couldnt think of anything to say. Did you just get home? she asked, quietly. Her voice was cracking and soft, like she had been asleep. Its almost midnight. I . . . I blinked, clearing my throat. I was shopping with a friend. Something in her eyes pathetically twinkled. You have a new friend? she asked, almost hopefully, and she stepped closer. From that new group of yours? Guide or Guidians, I filled in, and she nodded, like she knew that. She didnt. No, I mean, shes in it butthats not how I met her. Mom frowned, just for a second, but then it relaxed into a tired, but pleased, smile. Thats great, she said, her voice a little clearer now and she sat down in one of the stools. Who is she? I paused. Scarlett, I said slowly, watching as she nodded. Jacks girlfriend. She smiled a little. Shes a nice girl. I nodded, my tongue moving around in my mouth but I couldnt think of anything else to say. I barely saw my mother since that night when I walked out of the hospice, away from her and Nana. Whats this? I watched, horrified and flinching, as my mother reached over and opened the So Fetch bag before examining the dress inside. Then she looked at me. Did you buy a dress? she asked, dipping her hands inside the bag then taking it out and holding it up. Its pretty. Jack, actually, paid for it, I mumbled and she glanced at me, furrowing her perfectly plucked eyebrows, and I blurted out, without thinking about it, its for a wedding. A wedding? I nodded slowly. Yeah, I told her, biting my lip. Chester Ronrock is getting married . . . this Saturday actually. As she took in that tidbit of information, I bent down to grab my phone and snaked my arm under the fridge, fighting off dust and hoping I didnt feel anything furry.

Chester Ronrock? she asked, above me, and even though I doubted she could see me, I nodded. I dont understand. Why would you go to his wedding? I paused, my fingers still searching for the smooth surface of my battery. His brother invited me. Just as I grazed the battery, she said, Abe Ronrock invited you to his brothers wedding this Saturday? I still dont get it. Why would you go? I pulled my arm out of from under the fridge, rising to a stand. Because, I said and then I hesitated. I thought of all the lies I could tell and all the reasons why lying would be better. Because why? I glanced at her then sighed. Because Abe and I are . . . I coughed, just to distract myself, just to give me another second, . . . going out. She blinked, her lips forming a shape but nothing came out. You dont have to say that its insane, I told her before she had the chance to. I know that, and he knows it too. At least, I thought he did. Its doomed, and stupid, and probably a bad idea I knew it! Now I blinked. What? She grinned. I knew it! she repeated, slapping her hand against the island. I knew you were seeing someone! I didnt know it was Abe Ronrock but I knew it was someone. How? She smiled, knowingly. A mother knows, she said then she got a thoughtful expression. You know, I think I see it. You and Abe, I mean. What? I frowned. You two were in the same daycare, she told me, resting her chin in her hand, and she laughed. You made that boy cry all the time, you know. You were always coming at him. I tried to picture it. Us, young and chubby, like that. Me coming at him and him crying at it all but it didnt fit. Not at all. He liked playing on his own, with a plastic toy train set, and youshe laughedit was like you made it your mission to keep stealing it from him. One time you even whacked him over the head with the caboose. I did?

She nodded slowly, smiling. Yeah, I can see it happening between you two, she replied. And hes a good boy too. I heard hes already a shoo-in for the police academy. I shrugged, sort of nodding. He never really talked about becoming a police officer, just like he never talked about Kel. But one thing we both never talked about was that one night. When scars happened. Chapter Twenty-Nine Where are you going? I paused, frozen with my heels in one hand and a clutch that Scarlett made me buy in the other. The door was just open, barely ajar, for me to smell the wet, freshly cut grass. The movers just left, so it was still gathered by the sides of the driveway. I turned around, slowly, and saw my dad. I barely saw my parents all summer and now, in August, two months after I came home, their popping up everywhere. His bag, full of golf clubs, was slung over his shoulder and he wore khakis and a black Tshirt, tucked in. His dark hair was combed back neatly, like always, and he was staring at me. Mom didnt tell you? I asked with an unexpected edge to my voice. He frowned. I havent seen your mother since Sunday. That didnt surprise me. He was gone, always, either working or golfing and Mom was always at that hospice, trying to make Nana remember things she never would. Where are you going? And then, as if he just noticed my attire, he looked me over in my blue, strapless dress with heels dangling off my fingers. Why are you dressed like that? I glanced at myself. Im going to a wedding. A wedding? The way he said made me angry, like it was so ridiculous that I was going to a wedding, even though it kind of was. But that wasnt the point. Whos? I shrugged, like it was no big deal whos wedding it was but in reality, it was a big deal. Chester Ronrocks. His frown deepened. Kens son? he asked. I just nodded, waiting for him to tell me everything wrong with that simple sentence, or not even the sentence, but the name itself.

Why would you go to Chester Ronrocks wedding? Slowly, he crossed his arms over his chest, dipping his head down a little, giving me a look I remembered seeing hundreds of times before. The most vivid memory being from my trail. With my eyes boring into his, I replied, I was invited. You were invited, he replied, flatly. I hated how he said it, like it was just flat out insane, even though I knew, deep down, that it was but that didnt mean I wanted to hear insanity drip through everyones voices. Yeah. There was a bitter edge to my voice, I liked it. I was. He pursed out his lips, glanced away, at the window beside him, sunlight soaking in and reflecting on his shoulder, and then turned back to me. He was about to say something, I could tell by the shape and form of his lips, and I knew exactly how he would say it and how it would feel. Hallow. And I turned away for the door. I have to go, I said, before he could say anything, anything about me with the Ronrocks. I dropped my heels on the floor, slipped my feet inside, and walked out the door. Silvia. I stopped, just for a second. Something in me, almost dared to hope that hed say something else. Something that reminded me of my old dad, the one who didnt press charges on me but woke me up early on Sunday mornings, totally ignorant to teenage weekend policies, for pancakes with rivers of maple syrup. But nothing came after that, just silence. I wasnt even sure if he was still there anymore. And after a second, exhaling, I stopped waiting and closed the door. ... The sun blinded me as I stepped out of the cab, only one within fifteen miles of Shiloh, and I held my hand over my eyes, almost like a salute or something. People were filtering into the church, dressed in bright, vivid colors and big, black sunglasses. One boy, maybe ten years old, in a tux stood by the door, struggling to hold it open as an older woman, with a walker and a younger man with a hand on her back, stepped in. Beside me, as I continued to stare at the church, the driver cleared their throat. Thirtyeight dollars and fifty cents. I glanced at him, squinting. Right from the second I saw him, he freaked me out. He was unshaven, orangey stubble poking out of his chin, and wore a dirty, smelly, greasy gray hat. Pervert was practically radiating off of him.

After I paid him, trying my hardest not to smell him, I started walking up to the church, my heels clicking against the paved road. Even from outside, you could hear an organ playing and it all suddenly hit me that I was actually going to Chesters wedding. The boy, small in his tux, held the door open a little further as I stepped up. He had blonde hair that reminded me of Chesters and his fathers but I quickly recognized the striking blue eyes he had as well. Inside the church was hot and stuffy, like any place in the summer without an air conditioner. It almost reminded me of Guidians when the crappy, ancient AC would be on the fritz. In the pews, people fanned themselves with the wedding pamphlets, flashes of light purple buzzing by their faces as they talked in hush tones. I just stood there for a moment, unsure of what I was supposed to be doing. The pews were filling up, people in suits and colorful dresses bunching close together. Near the doorframes to the sanctuary stood three men, one of them being Ken Ronrock, all smiling and shaking hands and leading women, arms linked, to pews with room but I held back, dodging out of other peoples way. Hey. I felt his breath, warm in my ear, and I turned around. Somehow, he managed to slip behind me, placing one hand on my arm. You came. I nodded slowly. I said I would, didnt I? He nodded, and I felt his hand slip under my arm and he began to lead me into the sanctuary. I kept my head down as we past his dad, just beginning to link arms with another woman. I wondered if anyone else there knew who I was or what I did and suddenly my skin felt hot and clammy. Abe, even though he wore a suit, still had a scar and they might all know that. Heres good. We stopped and Abe gestured for me to slide into the pew. As I did, my knee bonked into a pocket attached to the pew in front of us, with bibles and hymnals inside. A few women glanced at me before busying themselves with more fanning. As Abe sat down beside me, he handed me a pamphlet. Here, he said, his voice low and quiet, just like everyone elses. I opened it briefly, seeing a long schedule of events inside written in cursive. Whats this for? He smiled a little. Some people use them to know what happens next, he filled in, and he shifted his weight in the pew, but most people use them for fanning themselves in the summer. Ah. I turned a little to face him better and started flapping the pamphlet in his face. Feel better?

He smirked a little. Much. I turned back in my pew, and stared at the pamphlet in my hand. On the cover was what I guessed was an engagement photo of Chester and Rebecca. He had his arms wrapped around her, and she leaned back into his chest and they both looked at the camera. They stood in front of a dress and I could tell by her hair that there was a breeze when they took the picture. She was smiling, almost wistfully. Her head was turned to the camera, just slightly, almost like she was looking out in front of her instead. Chester was smiling too, something I wasnt used to seeing. Little crinkles formed around his eyes with his smile. You could see that he almost had the dimples his brother had, but not as deep. It felt strange to look at him, being that happy, with a girl. I pictured him more the officer, constantly stoic, constantly arresting me. He looked odd enough without his uniform, let alone with a smile. Beside me, Abe shifted again and I saw him reach up a hand to his tie. Hot? I asked and he nodded, rolling his eyes. I smiled, just for a second, before turning away. I was lucky, getting off in a strapless dress. When the weddings over, he said, adjusting his tie and tugging at his collar, this is coming off. I raised my eyebrows. Your entire outfit? He shot me a look before shaking his head, like I was hopeless. I probably was. No, he said, glancing around, maybe to make sure no one heard me, the tie and the jacket. I hate this. You wore it at the trial. The words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them or even think about them. And then suddenly, there was a new kind of humidity. The air around us felt thick and my hands started to get clammy. I saw, out of the corner of my eye, him blinking but he never said anything. I was grateful for that. I didnt want to hear what kind of response hed have. It was out there now, floating around like a ghost, breathing words into our ears. We had been doing a pretty good job of ignoring what had happened before, now that we were together, it was mandatory. But now I broke that. I released something I might not be able to cage again. ...

Here we are, Abe said, pulling his keys from the ignition. We werent in his old, rusty truck this time but a rented limo, with the wedding party laughing loudly in the back. This is where their having the reception. He had parked in the lot of a large, brick fire department that doubled as a cheap reception and wedding slash baby shower location. The doors to the garage were pulled open, revealing one fire engine and the space where I guessed another would be. A dog, a mutt, laid lazily by one of the large, black tires, belly up. Purple streamers were hung everywhere and the back door was already open, light flooding out and onto the gravel and grass by the door, a few shadows occasionally obstructing the glow. By that back door and light was a big, dark green trash can, already filling up with stained paper plates and used cups with colorful liquid rimmed around the bottom. I glanced at Abe, watching as he began to untie his tie, just like he said he would. He found out, after the wedding, that I was planning on taking a cab to the reception after hanging around the Coffee Bean while they took pictures, and told me that I was riding with them in the limo. I really dont want to, I said, earlier, as a photographer blinded the newly married couple with flash after flash. It would just be wrong. Not as wrong as you hanging around the Coffee Bean before paying another forty dollars for a ride, he replied, tucking in a loose thread on his suit. I shrugged, glancing away to Chester and Rebecca. They were by a tree again, one I recognized to be from the engagement photo on the pamphlet, his arms wrapped around her. Im not a part of the wedding party. He shrugged too, his hands into his pockets, crinkling the fabric. Neither am I. But your his brother, I said, shaking my head. It would just be weird. But come on, its a limo! He gestured to it, black and long in the parking lot, decorated with toilet paper, strung, empty cans, and lettering on the windows and doors. How many times are you ever going to get to ride in a limo? And somehow, in between the shots of the newlyweds alone with their arms wrapped around each other and the family group photos, he convinced me to ride with them. I heard a tap on the window beside me, and I realized that Abe had already gotten out. I could see, over his shoulder, that the train of Rebeccas train slipping into the back door. You coming? he asked, his voice muffled through the glass and I nodded. I reached to open the door but it was already pulling away from me. You open doors now, huh? I asked, his body, tall and lean, looming over me, head cocked to the side. Is there anything you dont do?

He shrugged as I stepped out then slammed the door. I dont do road trips. I made a face. You dont or you cant? Dont, he replied, falling into step with me as we walked toward the door. Inside, a loud chorus of cheers suddenly exploded, like fireworks. Too long, your car smells like fast food for weeks, the list goes on. Pursing out my lips, I raised my eyebrows. Huh, I said, and he glanced at me. I dont know how you come up with that because road trips are awesome. He laughed, throwing back his head. It wasnt the normal, rumbly, raspy laugh that I had gotten used to but a simple Ha!They are not. Yes, they are, I retorted, ignoring his eyes rolling at me. Me and my family used to take them all the time. New York to Washington, or to North Carolina. Really. He considered this, carefully, and then he glanced at me. I just cant picture that, Im sorry. You know, I thought youd be the kind of guy who loved road trips, I said, drawing out the words. Since you love air hockey, and popsicles, and stuff like that. Abe shrugged and our shoulders bumped together. They just never appealed to me, he said. At that point, we had reached the back door and the light now glowed on our faces. Inside, everyone clinked madly at the glasses, like apes with a stick against the bars of their cage, and Chester glanced at Rebecca, a barely visible, blonde eye poking up on his face. They leaned closer together as we stepped in, slowly and carefully, and I felt his fingers interlock with me. I glanced at it, just for a second, confused, but then I saw his family, two tables away, watching us. Chester and Rebecca leaned closer, teasing the crowd with their agonizingly slow pace toward each other. My skin felt hot, and sticky. I looked away from their table but I could still feel their eyes on me, burning similar holes to me like I did to him with their eyes, and it hit me, everything all at once, just how wrong this really was. Just as their lips almost touched, they pulled apart, like lightening. Everyone in the crowd groaned, loudly, and Chester smiled, leaning over the table toward the microphone in front of them, and said, Were not doing that clich bull, guys.

At the buffet, Abe came back with one plate, filled to the edges with two half-inch slices of roast beef, three salt boiled potatoes, asparagus, and some kind of gravy poured over all it with a glass of something orange and fizzy, probably Orange Crush. And he glanced at my plate. Thats all youre having? he asked as he sat down, almost spilling his drink on his knees. I looked down at my plate. There, and only was, one salt boiled potato, cut in half, peeled (the peels were resting on the side of the plate), and barely touched. Im not hungry, I offered lamely. He raised his eyebrows for a moment, glanced at my mauled potato, and asked, You want any roast beef or something? I shook my head. I hated beef or at least my mothers beef anyway. She was a terrible cook, but she tried, and wed all fake smiled when she asked how it was and then wed spit it into our napkins when she turned away. For a moment, Abe looked at his parents, across the table, as if me not eating had something to do with them, and it did. I felt like just eating in front of them would be doing something wrong, somehow. But Abe couldnt see it, or if he did, he ignored it. His parents wouldnt stop looking at me, even when someone would start the chain of linking glasses, trying to make them kiss anyway, they still stared at me, their eyes boring into me. With his mother sitting across from me, I could see that Abe looked like his mother while Chester was practically a replica of their father. She had the same black hair, straightened instead of his sometimes curly hair, and dimples, even though she never smiled once. But most of all, they had the same eyes. I turned away and poked at my potato. Now I could feel Abes eyes on me as he chewed but there something more unsettling about the way he looked at me compared to his parents. He looked concerned, worried. His parents had been sending me looks all night, hard and cold gazes, but that one concerned one gnawed at me, making my heart pound even more, and my hands were freezing. If I touched anything, itd turn to ice. Ill be back, I mumbled quickly, pushing away my plate as I pushed back the chair, the awful sound of it scraping against the floor drilling into my ears. He still watched me, chewing, as I walked away toward the bathrooms, heels clicking, and I swallowed. The music whirled around me, fast and upbeat and for the life of me, I couldnt make out the lyrics the singer was singing, as I counted the steps until I could make it somewhere safe, somewhere without the looks I was getting from Abe and his family. They were too much, too heavy on my shoulders, weighing me down.

I pushed through the door to the restroom, a floral scent flooding into my nostrils. Flowers and air fresheners everywhere, decorating the bathroom. Pink soaps stood by the sinks, little crusted bits of pink beside them. One of the faucets still ran, at full force, and it was the only sound in the restroom, like a crushing waterfall. Slipping out of my heels and resting my bare feet against the cold tiles of the floor, I walked over to the faucet and reached out. My hand grasped around the plastic knob tightly, twisting it shut as the water went from a waterfall, to moderate, to a drizzle, to nothing. I glanced up at the mirror. My shoulders were slumped and pale, along with my face. I looked so much like my mother now, minus the blonde hair and perfect lips. I was naturally pale but I never saw myself look so . . . lifeless until now. Turning away, I told myself that it simply was the bad lighting, not the truth. As I stared into the sink, the door began to creek out. I closed my eyes, hoping that somehow, if I didnt see anything here, if I could just squeeze hard enough, whoever it was couldnt see me. I heard thick heels hitting the tiles, coming toward me or the stalls. There was a brief pause, but then they started up again until they reached me. I opened my eyes just in time to see someone placing my heels on the counter in front of me. You dropped these, she said, without any tone or feeling to her voice. She stared at my reflection in the mirror. I turned away. I touched my hand to them, trying to tell myself to pick them up or something but my hand didnt follow directions. Sure. She still stared at me with those accusing blue eyes. They reminded me of how Abe used to look at me, how he still should. He really likes you. I swallowed. I know. Do you like him back? she asked. Or is this some kind of a scheme to get back at him for turning you into the police? I shook my head slowly, only once. It was all I felt like I could do. She pursed her lips together into one long, thin, red line. But you cant do it anymore, can you, she said. It wasnt a question. She was saying it, like a fact. Its too much for you. For the first time, my eyes flickered up to hers, in the mirror. I didnt want to say anything. Things were too real when they were said out loud. She nodded, glancing away. Be gentle, okay?

And then, she turned away, walked toward the door. Only when she reached it did she glance back at me but then, like I was nowhere, she pushed open the door and stepped out, leaving me alone. ... Silvia! I barely turned my head as I walked down the gravel road. My plan was to wait there for my cab that I called in the bathroom. What my plan didnt involve was Abe spotting me heading for the exit, not that this stopped me or anything. I wasnt running, just quickly walking, not even jogging but somehow, Abe had to run to keep up with me. I kept pretending that I didnt hear him calling out my name, or I ignored it. I wasnt sure what he thought as he ran toward me. Silvia, he said then swore loudly. I had heard him swear before but never this loudly or that frustrated before. I felt his fingers grasped around my wrist and I collided into his chest but the second I did, I tried to pull. Go back, Abe, I told him, almost coldly, and then I turned back around and started walking again. Silvia, stop, he said firmly. He didnt touch me this time but he followed me. What is your problem? Whats wrong? To me, that was such a stupid question. Us! I yelled, turning my head to catch a fleetingly glimpse of him before I turned away. He looked pale, even for him, and angry worried, all at once. Were whats wrong, Abe. How can you not see that? He stopped, for a moment, frowning, but then he started up again. What? he asked and I rolled my eyes just as he caught my wrist again, whirling me around. What are you talking about? This! I grabbed his head and pulled up his sleeve, revealing that ugly scar that followed me everywhere. I saw it everywhere. This is what Im talking about. Abe glanced at it. He shed his jacket a while ago, somewhere in between the toasts and the dancing. The scar? Something inside in me strangled around my body when he said it. I turned away, trying to fight off his hand but his grip was too strong for me. It even hurt a little. Silvia, I-I dont get it. Even though I turned away, he just couldnt stop trying to get me to meet his eyes. You never had a problem with the scar before. You never cared about

Its not about the scar, Abe! The fact that he couldnt get it, that he just couldnt see what was so wrong infuriated me. Its about what I did! Dont you get it?! Somehow, maybe I surprised him with my outburst or I became like the Hulk or something, I ripped my arm out of his hand and started walking away. You mean the fire? No, I said, sarcastically, I mean the part with me kissing Rick. Of course, I mean the fire! What did you think I meant?! He didnt follow me, just stood there. Everything angry in his face just seemed to melt away and he glanced away. Silvia, he said, close to murmured, and I shook my head. No! I shouted. Dont feel sorry for me. I dont, he replied, just as quietly, and I stopped, turning to face him. Its just thatyou never told me that you I shook my head. I felt so angry, at him, at my family, at me. Why do you even care? I shouted. Look what I did to you! You should want to kill me or put me in jail, for life, or something! Is that what you think this is?! he said, glancing down at his scar. That I look at every day and wish that you rot or something? He shook his head, like now he was angry too. Yeah, maybe for a while but I dont anymore. I dont look at it like that. Then like what? I got it while I was pulling you out, he said, sharply. It wasnt meant to sting, but it did. I think of it as a reminder of that. Not the surgeries, not the plastic surgeons, not the pain, not anything but that! I looked at it. It looked different in the dark, almost better, almost worse. His sleeve was rolled up and crinkled beside it, but my eyes start to sting. My throat gets tight and I cant breathe again, and he could see it. When he started to walk toward me, holding out that hand to me, murmuring, Silvia, I shook my head and flinched away from his hand. He knew it was over then. We both did. I dont think of it like that, I said finally. My voice was only a weak whisper, shaking, and I hated it but it was all I could do.

Our eyes locked for one second, one second that burned my eyes and made my stomach clench, and I tore my gaze away before he can see. I turned away and started walking again. The moon shined above me, casting glows on me, the stars twinkle, and its quiet. It was perfect. But it wasnt. Abe didnt follow me, and when I glanced over my shoulder, he was gone.

Jack slowed to a stop in the parking lot of the community center. The sun was just starting to go down, pink lining the bottom of the sky and gold glowing down over our heads, making the center almost look holy or angelic or something. Like a halo, maybe. The double wide glass doors were open, the doors being held back by dirty, grayish rocks. The air conditioner was already running, and I could hear its low but loud hum all the way from the passenger side of Jacks car. As I stared at the center, I heard the familiar sound of tires rolling into the parking lot. I glanced off to the side just as the window rolled down, letting in the evening summer breeze, and I see Abe pulling into the center. I forget that Jacks there, waiting for me to get out so he can go, but I cant help if I forget that hes there because hes barely talked to me since that night with Nana, and I watched as he parked. I never realized it until now but he always parked in the same spot. Not too close to the center but not too far, perfectly right in the middle. For a moment, he just sat there. He doesnt move to pull the keys out of the ignition or open the door. Then he leaned his head back and closed his eyes, just for a second, before letting out a breath and pushing open the door. It took him a minute to see the Benz but he barely glanced at it after he saw it. He turned his head, away, and started for the doors. Jack cleared his throat. I have to go to work. I glanced at him, but he wasnt looking at me. His fingers drummed impatiently against the wheel, and he seemed to be turning in every direction except mine. But I got out anyway. I stuffed my hands into my small jean pockets. They were so small that I had to cram in my knuckles and curled my fingers into a small fist. I could hear birds cawing as I walked, my flip flops slapping my heel then the ground.

Through the windows, I could see Tristan and Mitch, sitting next to each other. Her leg was stung over his thighs, and it looked like he was drawing little circles on her ankle with a smile. Her ankle fidgeted once, and it looked like she was giggling, and I saw him laugh, continuing. Across from them, Stella glanced up then rolled her eyes. This time, she didnt have her phone with her so I assumed Norman took it from her again. Her arms were crossed and she slouched, rumpling her shirt. Her dark hair was pulled into a ponytail and sunglasses hung from the neck of her shirt. Her legs were crossed, and she kept shaking her foot impatiently. Abe was sitting next to her this time. I didnt know why this bothered me because it shouldnt have. I made my decision two nights ago, on a road, as Chester and Rebecca had their first dance as husband and wife. Theres a picture of it in the paper. In the background, you could see the door, still open a little ajar, even though Abe had already stepped through. He leaned against the wall, hands shoved in his pockets like two little balls, and he had this look on his face. He was in the background so it was blurry. It was probably just me too, imagining something there that wasnt. He looked frustrated, and angry. And hurt. But I was sure I just imagined it there. It looked so weird now, him sitting next to Stella. Unlike before, when he was angry at me for busting windows and blaming him, he didnt slouch and he wasnt wearing a hoodie. He looked like he did when I first met him. Like I never came back at all. I never shouldve. When I walked through the opened doors, I didnt know what else to do but sit next to Tristan. She glanced at me, for a second, and then turned back to Mitch. She giggled and tried to pull her leg away from him again but he just laughed and held on even tighter. I glanced at Abe. He had his arms crossed over his chest, and he wasnt looking at me or them. I almost forgot! Suddenly, and quickly, Tristan pulled her shaved, pale leg away from Mitch and whirled around to look at me, grinning. I saw your grandmother today! At the hospice. As I blinked, something began to settle in my gut. A cold, stiff panic.

She rolled her eyes, shaking her head, totally oblivious. Sorry, sorry. I know you guys call her Nana, she went on. But anyway, I saw her! Or, well, we saw her, Stella and me, I mean. I glanced at Stella, who just shrugged, no big deal. But if that were true, my palms wouldnt be sweaty and my pulse wouldnt be racing through every vain in my body. She was looking for you, Tristan continued as I sunk into the burning hot, metal chair and I knew what came next. She was talking about the water and the beach and she was Stop. My voice was loud and sharp. Even Abe, who hadnt looked in my direction once, stared at me. They were all looking at me. But I just couldnt hear about the beach, not today. Sorry, I just thought that you Well, I dont, I snapped shakily. I couldnt breathe and throat felt so dry. I was fighting to stop my chin from moving, and all I could hear was the ocean, lurking around us. And Nana. Nana screaming my name as the water swirled over my head, leaving me only to see small peaks of the sun and the water bubbling over my eyes. The lifeguards whistle. The water hitting against the rocks, sounding like thunder. Everything was coming back. All at once. I stood up, realizing that this was it. I pushed past the chairs, knocking one over and it fell to the ground with a crash, collapsing on itself. The door blurred in and out of focus as I walked toward it just as Norman stepped through, smiling until he saw my face but he never tried to stop me. I barely got outside before a strangled sound left my lips. I thought I sounded like something dying. I pressed my body against the wall and then it just happened. Everything since that day, building up inside me, got out. That day at the beach, Nana, the fire, my parents. It all came out in strangled sobs. Sliding down the front of the community center, I pressed my hand to my mouth to try and stop it but it wouldnt. It hurt. I kept gasping but I never got any air. I wasnt sure how long I had been there until a brown paper bag appeared, right in front of me. I pulled my hand away from my mouth and as soon as I did, another one of those terrible, dying noises came out.

Wh-wha I tried but I was too out of breath. I still couldnt breathe, gasping practically, and I stared up at him. I-I Its okay. He crouched down now, to my level, and slowly and tentatively like he wasnt sure what to expect, placed the paper bag around my lips. Slow down. Just breathe in and out. I blinked, another tear sliding down my cheek but I did. He did, breathing in and out in unison with me. After a minute, I felt his thumb graze down my cheek, wiping that one tear away. Are you okay now? Abe asked quietly, slowly pulling the bag away from my lips. I looked away from him. Yeah, I said hoarsely. He was still crouched there for a moment, just staring at me, but then he nodded and stood up. As he did, I finally looked up. I wanted to say something, so badly, to him but he was gone. Words I couldnt get out but I couldnt keep in anymore. Words I never really said to anyone before. But words I needed to say to him. ... It smelled the same here. Like old people, flowers, and chalky pills, and probably some air fresheners to cover up that smell but it only added to it. The nurses were everywhere, some of them looked like they were almost as old as me and some looked like at any moment, theyd be a patient. But they all had their hair up in a ponytail or a bun, and wore light green scrubs. I felt out of place as I walked in, wearing a black hoodie and jeans. My hands were stuffed in the hoodies pocket. I walked slowly and tentatively, like at any moment, Id turn around and run back to the door. In front of me was a receptionist desk where a nurse, with a pen behind her ear, wrote with another pen on a few papers with a phone cradled between her free ear and shoulder. Then she glanced at me. She blinked, frowned, still talking to the person on the other line, and then promptly hung up. Can I help you? she asked, glancing over me before focusing her gaze on my face. I swallowed, glancing around. A part of me just hoped to see her and point instead of having to say it out loud. Im, uh. . . I cleared my throat. She waited, almost impatiently.

Elizabeth Lane, I finally just said, hoping shed understand. Youre Elizabeth Lane? She frowned again, producing little wrinkles on her forehead, and she began to look over something on a computer beside. Thats odd. We have a I shook my head. No, Im not Elizabeth Lane. I sucked in a breath, glanced up at the ceiling, and sighed. Im Silvia Brendor, Im here to see her. She pursed her lips together, briefly, before glancing back at the computer. Shes in her room, she said, still looking at the screen. And what room would that be? She turned away from the computer to me. Twenty-five, she said, drawing it out like I was slow or something. Visiting hours end in half an hour. Be quick. ... When I stepped up to the door, I was suddenly beginning to realize what a mistake this would be. She wouldnt know who I was. She wasnt screaming about the beach, so I was no one. I had to be. I shifted my weight and the floor boards under my feet creaked, loudly. I waited, for a moment, and thought that maybe she was sleeping or too deaf and old to hear the creak but then I heard, Valerie, is that you? My heart began to pound, and I swore I could even hear it. But despite this, my hand wrapped around the knob and pushed it open just a little, a crack. Then a little more, and a little more, and a little more until it was totally open and I was face to face with Nana, pursing out her lips, frowning, and staring at me. She was sitting in a rocking chair, I recognized it from her summer home, but she was still. In her lap was one of her favorite books. Jane Eyre. Her contact case was on the side table beside her. She always had a thing against glasses. Who are you? she demanded, reaching over to the side table and fumbling her hand around for a moment before it found Pride and Prejudice, and chucked it at me. I yanked the door back, hearing a loud thump! before the book fell on the floor, open and face down. I pushed the door open a little. You dont know me? Would I throw one of my favorite books at you if I did? She clucked her tongue as I reached down, closed the book, and placed down on a chair by the door. Who are you? Its complicated, I explained.

She rolled her narrow, brown eyes. Its complicated, she mocked in a high pitched voice. So explain it. Its not that easy. I closed the door, feeling uncomfortable and relaxed at the same time. Nana was always like that, so it inspired more both feelings at the same time. Nana wasnt impressed with this answer. But it was the only one I knew how to give. I knew that telling her what she had would only confuse and upset her, which wouldnt help anyone. But she didnt know me, not even as a drowning ten year old. Im Brooklyn, I finally blurted out, using my old cellmates name. Im a friend of yours. No, youre not. Well, I am now, I snapped, shaking my head. Maybe snapping at the old, Alzheimers patient wasnt the best idea but oh well. She narrowed her eyes at me, closing Jane Eyre in her lap. She looked . . . like herself. Not like the woman afraid of everyone murdering her or the frantic grandmother searching for her daughter. She looked like herself. Like Nana. But at the same time, she wasnt. I uncrossed my arms, my fingers fidgeting at my sides. Can you just. . . I bit my lip, and glanced at her. Can you just remember me, okay? Try to remember me. Is this some kind of a joke? She laughed, humorlessly, shaking her head. I think if I knew you, Id remember you. Please. I inhaled, slowly, and blinked. My voice sounded so pathetic and weak. She didnt do anything, just stared at me. I. Dont. Know. You, she told me again. I hesitated but nothing happened. She gave me the same look. She still didnt know who I was. She never would. Not unless I was dying. Fine. I turned around and pulled open the door, slamming it shut.

It didnt matter. This only proved that I was right all along. Nana was dead. She had been for years. This was Nanas ghost, haunting us with old memories. But none of this helped as I walking down the hallway. I got that familiar lump in my throat and I crossed my arms again. None of this mattered. It didnt. I was down by the doors, ready to call my cab and go. Maybe not even home, maybe to a motel somewhere. Maybe in another town or city. A place where I wasnt an ex-con, or a boat burner, or someone who handed out scars. Silvia! I glanced over my shoulder to see a nurse, in her mid-twenties, running toward me. She skidded to a stop in front of me, panted as she held onto her knees, and then grinned. I stared at her, an eyebrow raised. Shes waiting for you, she said, letting it out with a puff of air. Youre her granddaughter, right? Silvia? I paused then nodded. Let me guess, I asked bitterly, pulling out my phone, shes at the beach and her ten year granddaughter is missing, right? She frowned. No, she said slowly. She just said you were just there to see her. I was about to press down the last digit to the cab company. I glanced at her. Shes lucid? And the nurse nodded.

I scooped some coffee grounds reared around the bottom of the Maxwell House coffee container, the smell of the crushed beans wafting up to my nostrils. It was overwhelming and so I turned my face away into my shoulder, burying my nose into my sweater, when the door opened. Jack looked tired, and drained, and his shirt was crinkled and creased around his chest and shoulders. His hair was tousled, but oily, and he had a five Oclock shadow, even though it was only ten in the morning. After I talked to Nana, actually being Nana, I called my mother and Jack. I guessed that Mom would be there until Nana went back to being paranoid and the lucidness faded. I guess I probably assumed Jack would stay there too.

Look at you, she said when I stepped into the open door, hesitantly, like Nana had gone back to thinking she was thirty or something. She gazed over me, curiously, and then met my eyes. You look like your father. I bit my lip and tugged at the ends of my sleeves. Yeah, youve, um, told me that before, I said. She nodded, slowly. You can see it better now, she explained, rising to stand. She cupped my chin with her wrinkled, cold hand. Youve got his eyes. They look better on you than they do him. I just stared at her. I felt like I should say something but nothing came out. His eyes freaked me out, she went on, releasing my chin and running her hand through my black hair. I mean, who has gray eyes? No one, I guess. I thought they made him creepy, she said, walking slowly over to her bed, pushing Pride and Prejudice away and she sat down, patting the spot beside her. But they make you special. Biting the inside of my cheek, I said, You dont normally say like that. She shrugged. Youre only lucid once. I kind of smiled but this wasnt what I wanted. Not really. I wanted Nana to tell me to stop slouching and that hoodies were a terrible fashion choice, or something like herself. Not that gray eyes made you special. So, what have I missed out on? she asked awkwardly after a moment, pursing out her lips. When I smirked, realizing just how big that question really was, without her even knowing, she frowned. What? Dont tell you have a kid or something. I shook my head. No, no kid. I kicked out my legs and pursed out my lips. Then I glanced at her. Just a criminal record. She frowned, slowly. A criminal record? I nodded. I burned a boat, I explained, waiting for her to gasp or slap me or something else dramatic. With a guy inside it and now . . . The rest just seemed to die. The Abe part of the story didnt seem to matter anymore. Or at least, it felt like it shouldnt. And now what?

The rest, somehow, just came out. Words tumbling out my lips that I couldnt even stop, not that I really tried. Throughout it all, Nanas expression never changed. She never smiled or frowned, her face kept that stoic look to it as she listened to this summers long, long story. And then, when I was done, she was quiet for a moment. That was the worst of it all. The silence after youve said things that you werent even sure you thought yourself. Then, Well, thats quite a tale. I nodded, tugging at my sleeves again. Yeah, I guess. So, wheres Abe now? she asked. When I glanced up, she raised her eyebrows, and I realized she was serious. I laughed, but the sound was forced and wrong. Like nails on a chalkboard. It doesnt matter where he is, I told her. Were done. Because youre feeling guilty? She laughed, throwing back her head and letting out a Ha! She shook her head as she stood up. Oh, Silvia. I watched as she walked across the room. I dont get it. Did you ever even tell the boy that you were sorry or did you do the typical thing of just ignoring it? She held out her hand, shaking her head. You dont have to answer that because I already know. You ignored it. This was more of the Nana I knew. We. . . I shifted my weight. We both ignored it. Only because you did, she pointed out, and I rolled my eyes. You never gave your relationship a real chance and you know it. I did, I shot back defensively. We were together for a couple of weeks, we went to a wedding, and then we broke up. I gave it a real shot. She laughed again, with a shrug. If you say so, she told me. But I say that if you did, you wouldve told that boy that you screwed up, apologize, or even just talk about that fire but no. Your Silvia Brendor, anything that you actually care about has to be ignored. Thats not true! I stood up, shaking my head, and heading for the door. You dont even know me! You havent been here for the last four years, remember? Silvia, Im your grandmother, she replied, and I just threw up my hands before I reached for the door. I was there when you were born. Just because I havent been lucid for a while doesnt mean I dont know you. Well, Im a fourteen year old anymore, I shot back. Im an ex-con, an attacker, the evil exgirlfriend. You cant tell me what I did and didnt do.

She shook her head. You think that you can either be perfect and horribly flawed. Thats not true, Silvia. People make mistakes but that doesnt mean they have to be bad people. I didnt reply, but I yanked open the door instead but she reached out and pressed her palm against, shutting it with a bam. You let that one mistake dictate your whole life, she told me, and I rolled my eyes but I also looked away. You thought, hmm, well, Ive been juvie so I must be a bad person so Im just going to act like one. You never gave him a chance because you never thought you were worth one. I glared at her, taking her hand off the door. Youre wrong. If I was you wouldnt be trying to leave. Despite this, Nana stepped away from the door, shrugging for a moment as she sat down in her chair. But you go. Its your life. Screw with it if you want to. I closed the door. Im not screwing with my life. You are so, she retorted. You walk around with this confidence like youre the most important person in the world and yet, you have less self-esteem than any of us. I shook my head, laughing because of how really it was. You know, screw you, Nana. You cant love anyone if you hate yourself, Silvia, she called out just I began to walk out the door but I didnt stop. The door slamming echoed through the hallway as I stormed away. I didnt sleep after that. Instead I tossed and turned, trying to think of reasons why Nana was wrong about me. But I just gave myself a headache, not any real reasons. The only one I could come up with was the one I told her, that she hadnt been there for the last four years. Things changed. But that was it. Now, Jack stood in front of me, running a hand through his unwashed hair as he let out a long, slow breath. Whoosh. Then he looked at me. She mentioned you told her to screw herself, he said after a moment, slowly. I shrugged and glanced away. I couldnt tell if that made him angry or just didnt have an impact on him at all. It wasnt until now that I realized that Jack, sometimes, had Dads expressionless face. He bit his lips then released them, just as painfully slow as his sentences. That sounds like something someone would say to Nana, he finally told me. It wasnt the best time, since shes lucid and all, but it. . .

I looked at him, unsure of where he was going with this. . . . it sounds like something would say to her. I reached down and grabbed the scoop again, almost full of crushed coffee beans, and dumped it into the coffee maker. Yeah, I guess. Jack stuck his hands into his pockets and leaned back on his heels. She likes Scarlett, he went on. I glanced up at him as the coffee maker gurgled. I showed her a picture and told her a bit about her and . . . yeah. She likes her. I nodded. Most people do. Yeah. He nodded again. For a moment, we just stared at each other before he turned away and started glancing around the kitchen. So, Moms going to stay there untilyou know. I thought so. Listen He stopped short and then sighed. Running a hand through his hair, he took a step forward. So you and Abe broke up, huh? For a moment, I forgot about that. Yeah, we did, I confirmed, hooking my thumbs around my belt loops on my jeans. Were just not right for each other, I guess. Scarletts going to flip, he told me and I nodded, smirking. She might just do something crazy like that dinner again. I shrugged, turning away to look at the coffee drizzling into the pot. She can try, I replied slowly. But somethings just cant be fixed . . . not by her anyway. I didnt think hed understand what I meant, because I wasnt even sure myself. But all I knew was that what I and Abe had was too damaged for dinners and dress shopping to fix. It probably couldnt be fixed period. Are you going to try? I glanced at him. He cleared his throat. To fix it, I mean, he clarified, and once again, I looked away. You could you know. Whatever happened . . . you could try to fix it. A dead, lifeless laugh bubbled up in me and slipped out my lips. Its not that simple. Its more complicated than that and you know it. I dont think it needs to be complicated. Jack shrugged. To meI never thought Abe cared about what you did. Just you. I burned him alive, Jack. People dont just get over that.

Maybe you do. He shrugged again and pulled up a barstool. You know why he was at that boat? The night you burned it. I glanced at Jack, watching as he raised an eyebrow. No. He eased himself around in the chair. When Abe came to pick you up for that Guidians crap the first time, he explained, when Scarlett was Skpying with Toby, and they talked about their girl problems. Abe already told me about that. Obviously not the whole thing because then youd know why he was on that boat. Then why? I snapped, growing steadily annoyed. Why was he on that boat? Jack cocked his head to the side ever so slightly as he told me slowly, He was there to ask you out. I rolled my eyes. He didnt even know me then, I told Jack, shaking my head. And besides, didnt Scarlett cover your ears for this conversation or something? He nodded sheepishly. I cant help it if shes not an expert at ear plugging. I rolled my eyes. He wasnt there to ask me out, Jack. Yes, he was. Jack crossed his arms and leaned back in the barstool, giving me a curious look. Can you give me any better reason why hed be in that boat looking for you? I didnt answer. I knew Jack had to be wrong, just like Nana, but I couldnt seem to give a reason why. But it was stupid. Abe didnt know me. He saw me make out with Michael and then hit my face with his locker, but that was it. Kel broke up with him because of you, too, you know. Jack, stop. I shook my head bitterly. Even if any of this is true, and its not, I dont care. None of thisI gestured to the entire kitchen, like that was thismatters anymore! Its over, dont you get that? Jack shrugged. Fine but Im just saying. . . Well, dont. I turned away from him and started walking for the door to the basement, my bedroom. Things, Abe, didnt matter anymore. It was over. And whether everyone believed it or not, I couldnt fix any of it.

You havent lived until youve had a Reeses Stix, I told Scarlett, reaching over and grabbing a King Size packet and holding it up. Its a requirement, not an option. Scarlett frowned, wrinkling her nose a little. But they only come in King Size. I shrugged, still holding onto it. Then well split it or something, I reasoned and when she still skeptical, I added, Theyre the best thing Reeses ever made. I dont know The door to the convince store, a couple feet away from us opened, and I glanced up as she went on but I lost all focus when Elliot and Abe walked in. Elliot was grinning and glancing over his shoulder at Abe, who smiled briefly in return as he turned his head to look at the newspaper vending machine and the array of medium size bags of chips. He wore a pair of ratty jeans, holes starting to form in the knees, and a black T-shirt with a bleach stain by the color. He turned his head again, curls swaying slightly, and then his eyes found mine. I could still hear Scarletts voice beside me but I couldnt register any of the words she was saying as our eyes locked into each other. His face fell a little when he saw me and I could feel my color draining. Elliot said something as he walked up to him, scanning over the chips with his eyes and pointing to Lays Bar-B-Que bag. Abe turned away then, mumbled something I couldnt make out, and glanced one last time at me. I didnt turn away though. I watched him, unable to look away, as he just nodded at everything Elliot said, running a hand through his hair. Then I felt a tug on my shoulder. Oh! Scarlett said and her face broke into a grin. She lifted her hand up, before I even knew what was happening, and waved. Hey, Lincoln! As Elliots head shot up and he looked behind himself, Abe smiled tightly and gave her a halfhearted wave back but his eyes flickered over to me again. This time, I couldnt meet them. Come on, Silver, Scarlett said, grabbing onto my arm and dragging me over to them, passed the small fridges with sodas and juices and aisles of pancake mix. Scarlett, wait. Theres something

Hey, Lincoln, she said when we skidded to a stop in front of me. My stomach twisted painfully, and I looked away. What a surprise seeing you here! He nodded, tensely. Yeah, he said, glancing at me but once again, I couldnt meet it. Something was burning inside me. I was surprised too. Scarlett, we should go pay, I told her, grabbing onto her upper arm and trying to pull her away. But she shook free and frowned at me. Whats wrong? she asked me and then glanced at Abe. Are you guys fighting or something? Instead of answering her, I looked at Abe. I bit my lip and turned head to stare at the fridges. Abe cleared his throat. Or something, he replied tentatively. You mean. . . She looked at me but I didnt meet her gaze. I turned away, crossing my arms and I walked away. I didnt expect this. I spent all this time saying to myself that he didnt matter anymore and for the most of it, I thought I had convinced myself. When I heard his name, it meant nothing. When I thought about him, or something he did, nothing. But seeing him here wasnt nothing at all. It was painful. I pulled open one of the fridge doors, the cool chilled air hitting me as I reached in and grabbed a random bottle. I thought it was chocolate milk or something. When I closed the door, Scarlett was standing beside me. Why didnt you tell me that you Lincoln broke up? The bottle cooled the skin on my hands. Because. . . I shrugged and glanced at him, arms crossed as Elliot paid. I dont know. Why did you guys break up? I shrugged again. Stuff, I guess, I mumbled, leaning against the fridge as Elliot took out a crumbled ten and smoothed it out over his chest. What stuff? she asked, glancing over her shoulder at him. I swallowed, pursing out my lips as I sucked in a deep breath. He looked at me. It doesnt matter anymore, I told her, pushing off the fridge door. Its over now. But why?

I closed my eyes as I walked toward the register, her following behind me. Abe and Elliot were walking away, and they never looked behind them. Because, Scarlett, I said, exasperated. She blinked, a little stunned. I sighed. Im sorry, its just. . . I ran my hand through my hair. I looked out the window at Elliot and Abe climbing into his truck. Just because, okay? She looked over at them too, catching a small flash of Abes scar, and just like that, she knew. Okay, she replied slowly. I nodded, glancing down at the Reeses Stix in my hand and forcing a smile. But really, you need to try one of these. ... I rested against the big, oak tree by the lake as the water lapped at the sand with small tuffs of grass a few feet away from my feet. I felt calm now, the water was far enough away, and the sun beamed down on my face through the small gaps in between the leaves above me. My legs looked like little parts of me glowed, or was, you know, missing. Out on the lake, on the three docks on the right side of the lake, was an older man, in his fifties maybe, wearing a classic fishing hat with hooks and flies attached to its beige fabric, walked on the boat, it swaying side to side as he did, as a young boy sat on the dock, dangling his legs over the side and watched, sipping a purple juice box. I took my hand off my thigh and placed it on the bushy, bright green grass, running it through my fingers and tugging at the ends. I always kind of thought of grass as the earths hair. Tugging on it only enforced that feeling. I heard the familiar sound of water breaking apart and splashing back down on itself as a boat zoomed across the lake. It seemed to bounce on the water, bobbing up and down, as it came toward one of the two docks in front of me. Squinting in the sun, it didnt take me long to recognize its operator. Standing on top, above the deck and below the sun, as he called it, he stood, wearing a baseball cap which shaded half of his face but I knew it was him anyway. The way he handled the wheel, like it was all the mattered, I could tell. I knew it was him. The boats engine got louder and louder as it came toward the dock, which bobbed on the water due to the movement. The boat finally slowed just when it came to reach the dock and he parked it, much like a car.

He didnt see me at first, just walked away and headed for the ladder. He, of course, only went halfway down before doing a juvenile jump down to the deck. Mom hated it when he did it, and I think that that was the reason he kept doing it. But it took its toll, I clearly saw, as he winced when his feet touched the ground. He rubbed his knees for a moment, let out a breath, and kept going. Would this stop him from jumping off the ladder like a teenage? No. It wasnt until he stepped onto the dock that he saw me, sitting there, legs outstretched and hands squeezing the grass. He blinked and squinted, but I knew he didnt need to. Not with that baseball cap, anyway. The old, worn out boards creaked as he walked on the dock, closer to me, and I wasnt completely sure if I wanted to get up and leave, now, before he could say anything, or if I wanted to tear him a new one. Hey, he called out, his voice echoing over to the other man and the little boy on the other side of the lake and they glanced up for a second. What are you doing here? To be honest, I didnt know why I was there. I hated the lake most days, especially in the summer with all the boats and everything, but today, I just felt like walking around. Then I broke into a run. Then I stopped here. So I shrugged. I just wanted to, I guess. The Dad I knew would love this, and would eat it up while he had the chance. Hed bring me up from the grass and insist on taking me out for a ride in his boat and then, when it was all over, hed take me out for ice cream and ask the usual question. So, do you have a boyfriend yet? He made that a running joke ever since he caught me kissing a boy on the cheek when I was five and hasnt let it go. Every time he saw me with a guy, he made a crack about it and every time he thought I was growing up too fast, he said that. But this Dad was different. This Dad didnt know how to talk to me or how to be the old Dad he used to be. This Dad probably wouldnt let me within ten feet of his boat. He took his hands and placed them in his pockets. Thats good, he said hesitantly and awkwardly. The lakes a good place to . . . I looked at him, the sun shining in my eyes and the wind blowing back my hair. . . . think, he finished carefully. I turned away, feeling a pang in my chest. I had hated him for such a long time, wishing that he and all his boats would burn, but it wasnt until now that I realized that even though I still couldnt believe him. . .

I missed him. I missed the early Sunday breakfasts that made me sick because of just how much junk food could be out all at once and the Dad Jokes. I missed him forcing family move night on us all, even though we just wanted to do our own thing. I missed the spontaneous baroques and burnt hot dogs that he said were Just a touch overdone. Suddenly, I was ready to forget everything. Id get in the freaking boat if thats what it took to get my old dad back. Id never say another word about his choice of old music. Id forget it all. But, like most things, when one person is ready to forget. The other one isnt ready to forgive. My dad pursed out his lips, turned his head, and looked away. Well . . . But there was as far as he got before he started walking away from me. I blinked, slowly, while, with his back turned to me, my dad walked away. Another lump formed tightly in my throat and every breath I took felt sharp. Then I walked away too. ... My arms were crossed over my chest as I walked on the old, dusty road. I wasnt going home or anywhere in particular but I felt like walking. Like somehow, if I walked far enough or just long enough, everything would somehow be right. But that didnt happen. My legs grew tired, and my shins and thighs ached, and I was pretty sure I was lost, but everything was still wrong. Plus, I realized just how stupid it was to count on a thing like walking to fix everything. When I took Ricks lighter near that beer, I never thought any of this would happen. I dont think I was thinking period but I never imagined this. I didnt think that anyone would get hurt, or that Id feel bad about it, or that my dad would change forever. I didnt think Id go to juvie or lose my job. I didnt think Id have to work on a yard every single week, sweating and dirty. I didnt think that starting that fire would lead me to ruin something that might have had a chance otherwise. As I walked, imagining different ways that night wouldve turned out (Rick wouldve foreseen what I was about to do and swipe the lighter from me and Abe would walk down the polished stairs, searching for me, and asked me out) when two headlights flashed on the road. I ignored them.

I waited for the car to pass by me as the engine hummed quietly behind me. In the woods beside me, I could hear crickets chirping and some scratching, which kind of freaked me out. But not as much as that the car seemed to be following me. After a moment of the car tailing behind me, slowly, I turned around suddenly. I was blinded by the headlights for a moment, covering my eyes with my forearm as the vehicle slowed to a stop entirely. The headlights were turned down and I, hesitantly, dropped my arm from my face. You have to be kidding me. Not again. Abe didnt look as surprised to see me as I was to see him, driving alone, on an old road, at night. But then again, I was walkingalone on an old road at night so who was I to judge. He stayed behind the wheel for a moment, just looking at me, before he reached over and pushed open the door. He was frowning or something, I couldnt quite tell, but his brow was furrowed. He stepped out of the truck then slammed the door closed but he didnt move. I sighed through my nose. Are you here to abduct me or something? If he wasnt frowning before, he definitely was now. What? he asked. I shook my head. Never mind. Forget it, I told him before I proceeded to start walking again even though my legs pleaded against it. But I couldnt stay here, not with him, so theyd have to deal with it. Wait, he said. I stopped, but I didnt turn around. Where are you going? Slowly, I turned my body to face him, sort of. My eyes were glancing between him and a sign of a black, leaping deer. I dont know, I answered honestly. Im just kind of . . . walking. Walking, he replied flatly, in the middle of the night. I rolled my eyes, just for a second, before I caught myself. Its only like ten or something, I pointed out with a shrug. Do you even know where you are? I paused. I wasnt that sure I wanted Abe to know that I had no clue where I was. Um, yeah, I said, watching as he raised his eyebrows skeptically. Of course I do. I was pretty sure he was amused or something because, even though it was pretty dark outside, I saw something creep onto his face. A smirk. Where are you then? I blinked, twice, and then shrugged. So I dont know where I am, I replied, shooting him a glare when he chuckled a little. Is it really a big deal?

Um, yeah? he retorted. It is. Whatever. I turned back around, and stuffed my hands in my pockets. I waited to hear him start back toward his truck and go on past me. But it never happened. Instead this did. Silvia, dont. . . He made a noise, a frustrated one. Come with me. Ill take you where you want to go. For a flicker of a second, I could almost imagine that. But not to some random town or gas station, but a real place. He could take me wherever I wanted to be. But thats not what he meant. Thats okay, Abe. Really. There a pause. Maybe he was shaking his head at me or already walking back to his truck. No, Silvia, youre not walking alone at night when you dont even know where you are, he said. Come with me. I went to refuse again but I turned my head to do it. I met his gaze, just for a second, and he smiled tentatively at me. So I stopped, something in me relaxed and something else tensed, and then, step by step, I walked closer to him.

The truck smelled like it always did. I know it was a weird thing to think but it was the first thing that came into my head as I wrapped my fingers around the handle and hoisted myself into the cab. I guess I figured that sometime since I last rode in it, the scent changed. I was still pulling myself up when Abe was already settling himself into the smooth, but cracked, leather seat. He glanced at me as he stuck the key into the ignition, and the next thing I knew my head bashed into the roof of the car. Wincing, I turned slightly to fall into the passenger seat, rubbing the top of my head. It throbbed and felt hot under my hair. Beside me, Abe stifled a chuckle. Its not funny, I told him, watching as he shrugged innocently and nodded at the open passenger door. As I was closing it, he was already pressing on the gas pedal. Everything inside the truck looked the same too. The crack in the rearview mirror, splitting and zigzagging across the glass, was still there and so was the tornado bobble head (or I guess bobble tornado.) A light green corner of a map was sticking out of the glove

compartment where I knew he kept a pair of sunglasses inside with teeth marks on one of the arms. When he drove, in the daylight, he always wore sunglasses, I remembered that. When it would start to cloud over or when he had to look behind himself, he took them out and bit one of the arms. I teased him for it. I thought it was stupid. And even though it was dark now, thats all I wanted him to do. Something that he usually did. So, do you want to tell me why you were just walking around in the dark? He glanced at me, briefly, before he turned back to the road. I kicked off my flip-flops and brought my knees up to my chest. Not really, I replied honestly. Might make you feel better, he said. With my chin resting on my bare, smooth knee, I glanced at him then turned away. I doubt it, I mumbled quietly. This time, he just looked at him. It was just a flicker, so I couldnt make out if he felt sorry for me or was finally happy that something with me was wrong. Like revenge, I guess. He mightve thought it had something to do with him, and I guess it did, but not completely. My life was screwed up in many more departments than the Abe Department. We drove in silence for a while after that. I wasnt even sure where he was going, and Im not sure he knew either. He just kept going straight ahead, never looking once at me either. I didnt know if this made me feel better or worse. I closed my eyes for a moment and let my knees go slack, resting against the cracked leather on the door, the cracks scratching my skin. Again, it was quiet then, all of a sudden, I heard Abe swear and then the truck jerked forward. My legs slipped off the passenger seat and I lurched forward until the seatbelt reached its limit and pulled me back. Abe swore again as he, also, fell back into his seat. I noticed he had a hand spread across his shirted chest as I turned to look out the windshield. A deers brown and white bushy tail bounced out of view and into the woods as the headlights gleamed onto the gray and otherwise dark street. I blinked, feeling a dull throb in my shoulder from the seatbelts tight grasp. It still clenched around my waist, so tight that I could barely move. Then I looked at Abe. His pupils, a small circle of black in a center of blue, were still wide. He looked a little pale, but that might have been the bad lightening in the truck. Then he looked back at me.

We held this, a tight and intense stare that made my heart begin to race and my breathing hitch, for a moment. And then that look made me do this. I miss my dad, I murmured. My heart started to beat even faster. Thats why I was just walking around. I miss my dad. He just looked at me. There was this look to him, a gentle but guarded one. It made me fidget in my seat and turn away, regretting that I ever said anything. I waited for the moment where he would tell me that I caused this, everything. That if I missed my dad, I shouldve thought about that before I started a fire. That I deserved to miss him. That everything wrong with me was my fault. That he didnt give a crap if I missed my dad. In his mind, that was little payment for what I did to him. But it never came. Instead, he glanced at the street then turned in his seat. He pressed down on the pedal and we were off again, to an unknown place. His silence was something I couldnt decide I was grateful for or ashamed of. I curled my knees up to my chest again. Something sunk deep into my chest, like a heavyweight, and it took me a minute to realize that I didnt just miss my dad anymore. I missed Abe too. My throat tightened around a newly formed lump. It squeezed me, tight, like a boa or something, and I felt something wet slide down my face. I wiped it away. He glanced at me. Instead of meeting this or saying anything, I turned away to look out the window. There must have been a thousand stars out there, all glittering down, and a full moon hung in the sky like a perfect, white Christmas ornament. And Abe turned away too. ...

Abe pulled into the parking lot of a small diner. In the windows, you could see heavyset truckers sitting alone in beanies and black jackets, sipping their coffee. When they lifted the mug up to their scratchy beards, you could see the grease caked under their nails. From what I could see, the walls were a darkish yellow with framed pictures of famous landmarks all over the country (Mt. Rushmore, Statue of Liberty, the Space Needle) and waitress wore outfits matching the walls with name tags over their chest with their hair done up. Outside, dead flowers laid over the pinkish pots by the doors and a sign, with a blinking letter S, glowed out the word Mos. On the door, hung crookedly, was the flip over OPEN sign with a happy face with a mustache on the O. I turned to Abe just as he unbuckled his seatbelt, click, and he nodded over to the diner. Come on, he said and then, he pushed open his door and closed it behind him. Before I even got out, he started to walk toward the diner, so I fumbled to unbuckle my seatbelt before climbing out of the truck. He glanced over his shoulder at me as my feet loudly landed on the group. I thought for a moment he almost smiled before he turned his head away and kept on going but I was sure it was something I imagined. Is this where you were going? I asked as I caught up with him, falling into step with him. When you saw me on the road? Abe glanced at me, just a flicker. Nope, he replied. I frowned as we kept walking. I looked at the restaurant then back at him. Then where were you going? By then we had reached the door and all he did was give me a small smile as he pulled open the door. Does it really matter now? he asked then he placed his hand on my back and led me inside. The second I stepped in, I heard old music. Like dusty, old music. From the seventies or eighties, maybe, but definitely old. I was pretty sure it was Elvis for a moment then I wasnt totally sure. The tables were small and square but clean with napkin holders supporting the desert menu. A waitress walked past us, slipping a pencil behind her ear, and smiled at us. Be with you in a minute, honey, she called over her shoulder just as she turned to the side and slipped through a swinging door where I could hear sizzling and clinking inside. I glanced at Abe, who was walking over to a booth by the window, right under the name painted on it, and he nodded to the seat in front of him.

I looked over my shoulder for a moment, catching the gazes of a few truckers, and realizing that besides the waitresses, I was the only girl there, before I hesitantly joined him in the booth, sliding in the rubbery, cracked seat. He glanced out the window to a nearly empty parking lot, showing me his profile. Then he turned to me. I fidgeted, watching the back of a waitress as she past us. Why did you bring me here? Abe reached over, and I thought for a moment he was going to touch me, but he grabbed the desert menu and opened it in front of him. This place has really good cake. I blinked. What? Cakes. He moved the napkin holders and spun the menu around to face me, pointing to a single, perfect piece of chocolate cake with what looked to be a chocolate glaze sliding down the side. Theyre really good. You brought me here because the cake is good, I replied, flatly, looking at the cake then him. He spun the menu around again. No, he answered, almost tentatively, and he met my eyes. I come here when Im . . . He shrugged. You know. I wasnt sure I did but I didnt ask him what exactly he meant. Hey, Im Robin. Im your waitress tonight. Suddenly, at the front of the table, was the waitress that past by us when we first came in, holding a small notebook and the pencil that was behind her ear before. What can I get you two? I didnt even have time to process the question before Abe told her, Two slices of the Chocolate Overdose. As she nodded, scribbling it down, before scurrying away behind the door again, I raised my eyebrows at him. The Chocolate Overdose? He shrugged. I didnt name it, he replied sheepishly. When I still looked skeptical, he added, Its amazing, I promise, okay? I glanced at its picture on the menu, held in a cringe at just how much chocolate was in that overdose, but I nodded, reluctantly albeit, but I did. As we waited, I took a good, long look around the rest of the diner. Behind Abe, a trucker was loudly slurping down his soup while another one spilled coffee over his table, cursed, and reached his greasy hand into the napkin dispenser, and took out half a dozen napkins and dropped them on the spilled drink. Did you try talking to him?

I turned away from the trucker to Abe. What? Your dad, he replied nonchalantly but somehow softly at the same time. Have you tried talking to him? Now I took out a napkin and began to tear little pieces of it off, starting with the corner. It wouldnt matter, I told the napkin, forcing a laugh. I think he was done with me the minute I set that fire. I felt a small, hollow pang at saying it out loud, in front of him, but it faded as I tore off another little piece of the napkin. You dont know that, he replied. I glanced up from the napkin, at him, then back down. You dont know my dad, I mumbled. Boats are . . . theyre his life. Its all he cares aboutis being out on the lake and just boating or whatever until it gets dark or something. He stared at me. Its like nothing else matters, I added quietly. Silvia he began but then the waitress was back, holding two white plates with yellow painted around the rims, both holding our chocolate overdose, with a smile. Okay, she said, placing one down in front of him and then the other in front of me. Here is your Chocolate Overdoses. Need anything else? Abe shook his head. No, thanks. After she left, I poked at the spongy, chocolate cake with my silver fork, getting chocolate drizzling on the side, and ignoring the look Abe gave me. I turned away, carefully placing my fork down on the side of the plate. On the wall across from us was a framed, glossy photo of the Lincoln Memorial where Abraham Lincoln sat, stoically, holding on to each arm of his chair, like he was ready to take on the world and whatever he could throw. I was named after him, you know. When I glanced at him, he nodded to the picture he caught me staring at. My dad has a thing for presidents, he explained. He thinks the name you give someone can influence who they are. I looked back at the picture, staring at President Lincoln small, stone face. You do act like him, I guess. He raised his eyebrows. Youre both honest. Brutally honest. He smiled a little. I guess. But I dont think Lincoln anything to do with it.

Then what did? My dad, he explained. I turned away, realizing exactly he was going with this. He told me about those Abe Lincoln stories practically every day. About him being a hero and everything, but I didnt care. I just wanted to be like my dad. I pushed away the heavy plate with my cake on it and started to slide out of the booth. Abe He reached over, before I could slip out, and took my hand, gently. And I stopped. If you really miss your dad then you have to tell him. Because hes not going to know until you say something. I blinked, glancing down at our hands and then his slipped away. And I realized what I had to do. I miss you, too, you know, I said, slowly, and quietly. And then I waited as Abe Lincoln watched us from across the room and truckers brought white mugs of coffee to their bearded lips and waitresses swept lose hairs behind their ears as they scribbled down orders. And Abe sat there, with a Chocolate Overdose placed in front of him, and as everything moved in fast blurs around us, we stayed still. Sinking in everything from this exact moment.

Abe frowned, looking at the floor under our feet in his truck. You know, I dont think road trips require, he said, reaching down and picking up a crushed McDonalds cup, that my truck turn into a dumpster. But junk food is a requirement for a road trip, I told him, using my feet to push the empty chip bags and candy wrapper aside. He shook his head, sadly, at the mess. Geez, he muttered, leaning over, his hand brushing against my leg as he grabbed a brown M&M packet. Arent girls supposed to be neat? Your one to talk, I retorted, watching as he rolled his eyes as he leaned back into his seat, shoving the packet into the already overflowing ashtray. Have you seen your bedroom? Or even this truck for that matter? No, I havent because your crap is covering the entire thing, he replied as he stuck the keys into the ignition and then smiled at me. Where are we going now?

I reached over to the glove compartment and pulled it open, an assortment of maps and guides falling onto my feet. As Abe sighed, mockingly, I rifled through them until I found the one map I wanted. My finger followed the trail we were going as the window beside me rolled down, letting in that early September chill that let you know that summer was coming to an end. Here, I said, and I leaned over to show him where my finger was pointing, at a cabin by the beach. There? Abe frowned and took the map from me. You want to go to there? Its going to be freezing, you know. I nodded, letting my arm fall out the window and brushing my fingers against the rusty blue paint of the truck. I know, I replied. He gave me one last of incredulousness and insanity but shrugged and placed the map in my lap. Alright then, he said and we pulled out of the parking lot of a gas station. I reached down below my seat until I found the lever and I slipped down almost to the point where I could only see Abes lap and hands as he drove and propped my feet up on the dashboard, closing my eyes. I was trying to convince Abe all the miraculous things about going on a road trip but he was being stubborn about it and had a lot of complaints about the places we were going (Do you see the gas prices here? or I think the sheets here have fleas or, my personal favorite, You know, its rained here so much that Im waiting for the animals to line up two by two.) but he never once suggested that we go home. In the fall, he was going to college to become a science teacher (as he put it, his family had enough cops in it) and me? Well, it was too late to go to college now so, starting next week I was going to work at Bookends. Jack quit last week and told me that he put in a good word for his boss. I had an interview two days later, and now, I have his old job. And Jacks happy too, because now hes working at The Iceberg, getting free ice cream cones and slushies. Scarlett couldnt be more thrilled. She said shes glad that now I actually have a job, leaving me less time to get into trouble, and that she still gets a discount on books, plus free slushies from The Iceberg. But there was something else that Scarlett was happier about then discounted books and free slushies. Abe reached over, eyes still on the road, and he grasped my hand, intertwining our fingers. He glanced at me for just a second, smiled, and turned back to the road. But wasnt the only thing that was different now.

Now I was seeing a therapist. I didnt want to at first, and my mother kept coming up to me with names of people who were supposedly the best in the business, but it wasnt until Abe found out about my phobia of water that I actually went. Im still not over it, not really. But I was getting closer, and now I waited for the day where I could walk into the ocean without freaking out or thinking that Id die. As Abe continued to drive with one hand, wearing the same sunglasses that I saw before, my phone buzzed in my pocket. He glanced at me for a moment then slipped his hand out of mine and I smiled as I took out my phone. New text flashed on my phone. The last time that had flashed on my phone, I got this message as me and Abe sat across from each other at breakfast two days ago, eating our double stacked blueberry pancakes with rivers of maple syrup and melting butter: I love you. Then I glanced up from my phone, my eyebrows raised, and he had that shy, but cocky, smile on his face. Later, as he hopped back into the truck (literally hopped) after buying another round of gas, he checked his phone to find the message I love you too on it. Now, I flipped open my phone and pressed the OK button and waited. As I waited, I glanced at Abe, wondering if this was another one of his declaration text messages and then this popped up. Silvia. I know sometimes it doesnt feel like and sometimes it doesnt look like it, but I love you more than any boat. And when you get back, invite that boy over and well have one of my famous baroques. Love, Dad. Absentmindedly, I smiled at the last word of the text message. Abe glanced over to me as he slowed to a stop at the red light. What is it? I held out my phone and showed him the message and watched as he lowered his sunglasses to read it over and his face relaxed into a smile as he looked at me. I smiled back as I closed my phone and slipped it back into my pocket. So, are road trips growing on you yet? He smiled, flashing me one of his dimples as he pressed on the gas pedal and started to drive past all the signs and the other cars turned into colored blobs, too slow to keep up. Nope, he replied. Thats alright, I said, leaning back and closing my eyes. Summers almost over anyway.