Copyright 2011 by Fisher Amelie All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of Fisher Amelie. Fisher Amelie www.fisheramelie.com www.theleavingseries.com First Edition: April 201 The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. Printed in the United States of America

For Caroline, For caring. And not because you had to, because you wanted to. For Joan E., Who taught me, through example, that I am better than no one, yet oh so very important. Rest in Peace.

The Leaving Series
What if I told you I knew of a very sad story? Sad because of the happiness that once enveloped the lovers in the story. Sad because of the head reeling, heart battering, lung choking, unparalleled euphoria between the shared hearts it was about. Would you stick around to hear it told? And if you knew this narrative was the saddest one you would ever hear? Would you still? Start this, the first book of their history, and guard your heart from grief my friend, for you have quite the journey ahead of you and like so many others, you may not survive the path as I barely lived to tell the tale. But, if you insist. Go on. Turn the page then.

The Understorey
Book One

Prologue
Please, Not Her
It was a handgun. Black and sleek and screamed the word finite. The butt of it dripped silky red drops of her still living blood on the stone at his feet. Each drip was a dagger to my heart. Each splash to the ground ricocheted in my ears. Another drop and I’d be deaf, deaf to the world that was crashing down around me. My very own, very exclusive Armageddon. In the short time that I’d loved her, I knew somehow it wouldn’t last. I cheerfully ignored the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. The feeling that let me know I didn’t deserve her and I would never get to keep her. There was nothing in my character that would have ever justified my getting to love someone so wholly better than myself. Yet, it still did not seem fair. I wanted more. I needed more, in fact. Even so, I was not at all bitter. I was forced to admit, that although I knew I’d be starved of her for the rest of my life and that that life would go to pieces when she left, it didn’t make me any less grateful. For the short time we did have, I was acutely aware I did nothing to deserve what had been given to me in the first place. Because of her, because of Jules, no soul could have been happier than the soul that resided in my body and I was thankful, truly thankful. In that moment, I was living a nightmare and I watched as he raised his gun and laid it flush against her temple. I readied myself for the inevitable. The inevitable everythings. Inevitable loss. Inevitable battle. Inevitable

death.

Don’t worry Jules, I thought, I’ll be with you again and from the looks of it, probably very soon.

She had the best laugh her side of the Mississippi and was the most adventurous girl I’d ever known. You even ask your little sister if she hid them because you wouldn’t put anything past the ten year old. Her skin was soft and sweet and matched her honeysuckle-orange scent absolutely. long and full of large loose curls and eyes as green as the moss that laid sleepily on our creek bed. was remarkable. I could not have loved her anymore deeply. It could bend and stretch to fit every single person she’d ever met.Chapter One The Riot And The Fret Ever been in a hurry and can’t find your keys? Frazzled. as I called her. making sure you didn’t leave them in the lock earlier. She and I were predetermined. resigned to your inescapable fate. was that her heart was made of the most curious fabric. You check the freezer because apparently that’s where everybody leaves them. cool and pristine without the slightest hint of selfishness. An untarnished heart. you realize they’ve been in your hand the entire time. tall and slender with dark black hair. What made Jules extraordinary though. It had been designed and without her . I’ve been looking for that hypothetical key my entire life it seems and that key’s name just happens to be Julia Jacobs. you check the door. You’ve checked every conceivable place you could possibly think of and they are nowhere to be found and once you’ve given up completely. Jules.

just a second Jesse. my little sister Maddy and I but I’d see her on Main along with all the other Bramwell kids. On others. I was spiraling out of control. Kitt’s Geometry class when I saw Jules for the first time that day. moving to lean against the tiled wall. when our eyes met. Jules and I saw each other practically every day growing up with barely a thought invested in the other. “What?” I said. and grew even further apart as we approached high school. we’d ride our bikes down by the creek to catch tadpoles. deeper and deeper into the kind of blackness that not any one person can return from sane. or ever really. always tied us as one. illuminating the invisible line that had clearly.gravitational pull. not able to tear my eyes away from Jules. with only the occasional smile in the hallways. Until. because this time she wasn’t Julia Jacobs. This time. I would throw dirt at her and she would retaliate with a punch to the gut.” . the first day of classes our senior year. we were just another warm body roaming the hallways. I was mucking around with my best friend Jesse Thomas outside Mrs. we had long forgotten about one another. “What’s wrong with you dude?” Asked Jesse. she was Julia Jacobs and a clash of feverish tension grew amongst us. Ironically. when something extraordinary happened. that is. Most days. now. Needless to say. “Ju. She lived across town from my parents. A sightless lightning bolt stuck us to one another forever. to each other. In junior high.

and the rest of this stupid town. looked at me and back at Julia.” “Are you sure?” He joked.” “Whatever Elliott. Besides. Nothing you can say excuses the fact that she’s a freak.” “What the hell are you talking about Jesse? Why is she a freak?” He was starting to infuriate me. shifting his weight against the wall. “Yeah. Say whatever you want if it makes you feel better. “I think you think she’s hot and probably cool too. you know you could never get her. Do you know who that is?” He scoffed. She doesn’t act like that. She’s just different is all and you. she has a nice body. You’ve built a rep in this school and the good girls go running the other direction when they see you coming.” “You’re wrong dude. did it ever occur to you that maybe I like different?” I paused. Jules was mine to get infuriated for. but you’re afraid of what others would think. She always has those ridiculous buttons of bands no one has ever heard of on her bag like she’s so much more cultured than us. In case you haven’t heard. Julia Jacobs is a freak man. Plus. but seriously dude she looks like a freakin’ gypsy and crap. “I’m not so sure you do. A scowl of disapproval grew evident across his face.He turned to face Julia. “Okay. Apparently. not waiting for his answer. “You know what I think?” I asked. a grin of realization growing on my face. don’t understand her. so I admit. Just look at the way she dresses. She’s always wearing those torn up jeans and her fingernails are always . She acts like she has nothing in common with the rest of us when she comes from the same small town we all do. “What are you doing Gray? I know you’re not looking at that.

The sensation of it brought back the memory of when I used to play with my dad’s old tape measure. Jesse’s own recognition of her was my only proof.” I was barely listening to him now. a violent action with tidy results. Huh. “You’re insane!” He continued. perking up. Suddenly. Why don’t you wait and see who got hot over the summer? What about Taylor Williams?” He asked. “Julia Jacobs. She jingles. She appeared ethereal yet overpowered me with a very non-fictional smack to the chest. Everywhere she goes.” When I didn’t give in to his peer pressure he threw up his hands. the tape would fly furiously in my direction. I didn’t even know if she was real or not. “Go ahead and ogle the freak. The something. “We both know she wants you. I stood as still as a statue while she gently brushed past me. but prepare I did. I hunched my torso in preparation for something. She’s just weird. Every inch that Julia grew closer to me felt like being in the presence of Aphrodite herself. her eyes wide and in sync with mine. I knew not. With Jesse tugging at my shirt trying to distract me. you can hear her coming.dark as night. I remember everything about that moment . I’d take a deep breath then press its release. I remember locking its little mechanism and stretching out the metal tape as far as it could go. would wrap neatly into its little square encasement. And she was mesmerizing. The expectation weighed heavily on my shoulders. instead. I’m just sayin’ is all. Jeez! Elliott! You could have any girl here and that’s who you eye on the first day?” He snorted a laugh. It made me cringe as I half expected it to slice me but.

She had on black flip-flops and her toenails were painted the same dark cherry that was on her fingernails. on a chain. Mrs. She wore a white tank with something printed on the front. Her eyes caught up with mine and if I hadn’t been paying attention I would have missed the slight hiccup in her steps. Across her chest laid the weathered canvas strap of her army-green messenger book bag with the myriad of tiny metal buttons of obscure little bands’ names that Jesse had been talking about.down to the length of the tears in her favorite pair of faded blue jeans. The old Jules I’d grown up with my whole life seemed the caterpillar before this butterfly. never really seen me before and while her eyes burrowed through me. she wore one of the many belly dancing belts she owned and the coins that fringed the layered garment danced against her legs. too. I did not know this Julia Jacobs. I wanted to touch the ones above her elbow just to feel the muscle pressed firmly against them. I was such a coward. at least ten on each arm and climbed the length of each. Both of her arms were covered in assorted bracelets. It was green with flecks of gold and swayed to and fro with each one of her steps. Not that I would have told Jesse this. causing her to scatter the worksheets she had just printed onto the floor at her feet . She was a stranger to me. On her waist. Around her neck. Her long hair was dark as night and the morning sun streaming through the doors veined shiny shades of white in its sheen. proving her reaction matched mine. but ironically I knew at least half the bands on her bag. Kitt. was the first guitar pick she had ever learned to play on. but all I could make out was the word ‘Future’ because her hair laid upon the rest. She looked at me as if she had. she ran straight into our geometry teacher.

though. Right. “Thanks for the compliment. knowing how impolite she had been and trying to remedy how obviously uncomfortable that had made her. round woman with short brown hair. and she was Jules’ mom’s best friend. holding out my hand. Kitt while I stood dumb and disabled by her unconscious yet incredible assault on my senses. She was a suspicious woman but. Jules. “Huh?” She asked. perfectly framing her face. When she stood. She may not have trusted everyone but she always gave them the benefit of the doubt. The Future Cast. Kitt bent to pick up her papers. Her hair tossed around her as she fell flat to the tile floor. Kitt. . Yikes. I mouthed. a sharp ping resonating in my chest. “Yeah. I bent over her. by far.” She refused my hand. “You should do shampoo commercials.” teasing her by pronouncing each word with perfect clarity. she didn’t need my help. but keeping her eyes with mine. you should do shampoo commercials.and breaking our trance for the moment. the nicest teacher in the entire school. I flinched when Jules went to help her but accidentally stepped on a sheet and went tumbling onto her back. Oh. confused. reading her shirt. She bent to help Mrs. They were literally my favorite band. Her wardrobe was at least thirty years old and you could hear her coming from a mile away by the swish. She was a short.” I teased. swish of the friction between her panty-hosed legs.” she contritely conceded. Apparently. “I said. swish. her honeysuckle-orange scent drenched my senses and I nearly fell over Mrs. Mrs.

spreading a tangled mesh of lit pressure that briefly painted the walls around us. electric shock raced through us and we yanked our hands away.. Kitt sang. It lasted only a second yet permanently altered me.. Little did I know the literal and figurative cataclysmic results of such a touch. Kitt to avoid anymore suspicion.” “Oh darlin’. When all the worksheets were gathered. Jules apologized. Jules’ voice woke me from my catatonic state. Kitt had to clear her throat to ask us if we would mind sitting in our own desks. We were dumbstruck by the physical reaction of our very physical touch and bewildered beyond belief at the lack of reaction from our classmates. If Jules’ thoughts had been . We chose desks next to one another. the anxiety eroding from our chests with each second that passed.Scrambling. Our touch sent a warm blaze of sparkling flash from our connected fingertips. Something huge and very unexplainable had definitely just happened.. I threw myself down onto the floor next to both women and helped them with the spill.” Mrs. We stayed knelt on the floor just staring at one another like idiots. What were we supposed to do though? Ask everyone why their lack of response was about as dull as watching bread bake? The entire class was already seated and Mrs. it’s no big deal. purposefully reaching for the same paper Jules was in order to graze her hand. A potent... Jules and I straightened our backs but settled softly into our own bodies once our eyes met again. but kept our gazes toward Mrs. Kitt! I wasn’t paying attention and. I playfully slapped the back of my buddy Matthew Tanen’s head as I walked by.. That was the rest of the class’ cue to laugh hysterically.. “I’m so sorry Mrs.

I gathered all of my things and waited for Jules to gather hers. five of the cheerleaders.anything like mine. Conversations erupted around me but I was in my own world. Jules sat on her own. rapid bounce in her right knee exposed her true feelings. darkening the hall. . She looked relaxed but I knew it had to be an act. stop running will ya’?” “Why?” “Because it’s hard to run and talk. “Jules!” “My name isn’t Jules.” “Well. but to my surprise she bolted for the door instead. you see. never allowing my stare to stray far from Jules. I pulled my hand away in a slight daze and watched as she fled toward the lunchroom.” she said over her shoulder. I walked into the cafeteria. including Taylor Williams. I don’t want to talk. When class was over. nodding to those who said hello. I sat next to Jesse and the other varsity seniors on the football team. assuming she and I were going to talk. only jagged shards of electricity illuminating our faces. shared the line of tables we all sat at but I did my best to ignore them. Her legs rested on the chair next to her and she was reading a book. A tiny. It’s Julia. I guess that means I can run all I want. The lightning bolt cracked and whipped its way around us. To my dread. “Julia. picking up her pace. I chased after her in the hallway. Crap.” “Wait a minute!” I pulled her body short by grabbing her arm. she had to have been scared out of her mind.

Are you sure about that? No. Whatever that was in the hallway and classroom definitely meant something...I really. I sighed out loud. Did you see how quickly she ran away from you though? She genuinely can’t stand you man. Stupid...Wait. Wait just a gosh darn minute! What is wrong with you dummy? Why do you need her not to hate you? Why should you care?. wait.. Why now?... Can you blame her? You never bothered talking to her before. Yeah. frightened is all. she’s just scared... What can I do to get her not to hate me? How can I get her to stop detesting me and start listening to me? How should I approach her? Jules looked up and caught me staring. Be honest with yourself. That’s what it is. Maybe she’s concerned about what it means. our shared zap. not anxiety.... wait.... shaken up. Jules shakes her head. She shifted her chair so her back would face me. It feels natural... She hates you. I smiled crookedly and raised a weary hand but she rolled her eyes at me and returned to her book. She sighed and sat up straight. she hates you dude.... She leaned her elbow on the table beside her and started looping a strand of hair through her finger.Anxiety. Every chance she got she pushed you away.Yeah. you’re not really that alarmed by it. It’s an amazing thing. It’s got nothing to do with you personally. .. really need to talk to her. I don’t care! She doesn’t want to talk to me? I don’t want to talk to her! I folded my arms in resolution.. I need her not to hate me... Her hair slid across the top of the chair and fell across her lovely back.. Wait a minute.

two.. wrapping his knuckles on my head. “Dude? Where are you?” Jesse asked. I gotta’ go. you’re not. “Uh..” I said. Mainly. I pounced through the double doors. I chickened out. the left. peering down the center hall.” “What? What’s up with you!” He shouted as I escaped the cafeteria. What is up with you?” “Nothing. “No. He was really starting to annoy me lately. turning my stare back to where Jules sat.. Until tomorrow Julia Jacobs... I would have given anything to know what she was thinking. She wasn’t there and I got up in a panic. I tossed my head back from his reach and looked his way. and then the right. My shoulders slumped at the loss. see you later. Maybe I was spending too much time with him.” I said. I wanted to see her so badly that I was seriously considering ditching third period of the second day of school just to search for her. I decided against it though. one. The difference between medicine and poison is in the dose right? “I’m here.I confirmed it was all an act when I took note that she hadn’t turned a page in ten minutes. She was gone. The following day I found out that I shared neither my first nor second class with Jules. I readied myself for the rebuff I’d get when I walked over to her in three. No sense in getting detention unless Jules was going to be there right? I compromised with reason and decided that right after lunch I would convince Millie in the office to let me look at Jules’ .

“I love that book. Very. obviously reaching. She had a sack of carrots on her lap and her feet. sort of unashamed. I loved that book. or maybe you did. You’re a . rested on the chair beside her. That’s what it was. She was brazen. She had her nose buried in yet another book. No more. I’m nervous. Boy. When I got closer I noticed it was George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. was she exasperating to me. Texas A&M did that study a few years ago. huh?” I asked.” I said. She didn’t even look at me. I’m sweating. I got a small kick out of the fact that it was how she liked to sit. let alone respond. “Carrots. bribe her if I had to. “No? Well a few years ago they developed a carrot that helps people absorb forty one percent more calcium than when they consume a regular carrot. I thought. Look at me. That’s it.schedule. laughing nervously. I walked into the cafeteria resigned to my plan but those plans promptly fizzled once I saw Jules sitting at her table all by herself again. I wordlessly demanded. I’m not sure. I walked to her table and sat in the chair across from her. I’ve heard. swallowing hard. I wiped sweat from my forehead and felt my longish hair stick to it. Oh no.” I said. “Those are good for the eyes. It’s certainly something a braniac should find interesting. very nervous. I see they’ve done wonders for your teeth too. it was going to be like that. “I certainly found that interesting. Did you hear about it?” She didn’t respond. Interesting right? Genetically altered vegetables?” No reply. So. once again. “You may not. She rolled her eyes.

so. “it’s obviously done wonders for your teeth. so I assume. digging my embarrassment hole deeper. “You could mistake them for a horse’s.” I drummed my fingertips on the table. Your hair doesn’t seem to take on that much humidity. .” I was drowning. “As I was saying.braniac. your teeth are big and a pretty white.” Nice. Good thing. I’ve never seen it frizz anyway. “I’m sorry. I carried my fingers through my hair and down the nape to remove any evidence of my impending social death. “Yeah. Stop talking! I commanded myself. very nice. I resorted to inadvertent insults. I think.” She stopped her reading and scanned my eyes. that wasn’t so bad. Hell. Not that I claim to be a braniac or anything.” I continued. it was so deep I could bury myself in it.” I said digging my grave further than needed. might as well go for gold here. “I heard they collaborated with Baylor’s College of Medicine in Houston.” Nothing. I was only trying to point out how large they were. Supposedly the humidity is heck on girls’ hair. “Houston’s a pretty crazy town or so I’ve heard. No sense in letting her see the physical evidence as well as the emotional proof that I was drowning. I was beginning to think the book was attached to her nose. I nervously laughed. too. I’m of pretty average intelligence. When I was nervous. right? I mean. “Yeah. Sweat was dripping down my neck. She looked at me but turned her focus back on her book.” See. I didn’t mean to compare your teeth to a horse’s. She didn’t. you’re always reading. I wanted to be buried.

That is, I mean to say, that they are larger than most people’s. But! Perfectly proportionate to your face. Your face isn’t huge or anything! Your face seems pretty average in its proportions. Yes, very well proportioned.” I sighed deeply. “What I meant to say is that you have very beautiful teeth.”

And, scene. Very good job Mr. Gray. Your audience has accepted you for the idiot that you are. Look forward to being typecast as the bumbling fool from this point on.
My throat was dryer than a bone. I yanked my bottled water from my bag and downed half of it. She refused to even look at me. “Jules,” I said, catching my breath. “Julia,” she corrected me. “Julia, obviously I’m an idiot. All I want to do is talk to you. It’s extremely hard for me to talk to you.” “Then you should stop.” “But I can’t.” “But you should.” She sat up and sighed loudly, collected her belongings and left the cafeteria. I sat back in my chair. I had no idea what had just happened. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Nothing came out how I’d planned them. I couldn’t stop vomiting the worst conversation I had ever had. I didn’t understand. I never had trouble talking to girls, ever. Granted, I never shared a literal lightning bolt with one of them or was ever really interested in one but, just the same, I never had trouble speaking with them. I knew Jules was going to be trouble. She was going to give me the fight of my life but I decided right then and there that I was not going to give up. The next time I saw her, I knew exactly how I was going to

talk to her. Third period I had band and it gave me a chance to calm down a little bit, for which I was grateful and allowed me to go to my last class of the day, chemistry, a little bit more relaxed until I walked through the door to the classroom. I was immediately crushed with borderline hysteria. I gulped a breath and slid past Julia who sat at a lab table in the center of class. I chose a table in the very back and sat with Sawyer Tuttle, whom everyone just called Tut. He nodded a hello and I nodded back. I set all my stuff down and just watched her. She reached for her bag on the ground and her hair gracefully slid across her shoulders and back as she pulled it onto the table. She opened the bag’s flap and felt around inside for her notebook and pen and pencil. She closed the flap and laid the bag back onto the floor but as she let the bag slide off her arm and fall to the linoleum she glanced behind her to see if I was watching. I smiled and she quickly turned her head back to the front of the classroom. She looked. That was enough for me. That’s when I noticed Sawyer Tuttle. His eyes followed her every movement. His fists tightened when she tossed her hair behind her shoulders and I had the overpowering desire to clobber his face. I searched for a reason to justify such a violent reaction but there was none. Damn. He wasn’t doing anything repulsive. In fact, I was probably the only person in the room who even noticed him watching her; he was so subtle about it. Still, it felt as if he was asking me to hit him and it was bothering me that I didn’t know why. I had no claim on Jules. She wasn’t mine to get in fights over but I still wanted to and had to busy my hands in order to distract myself. Yep,

Sawyer Tuttle was officially on my enemies list and for motives I couldn’t comprehend. I was in trouble. I officially knew what we shared as far as our schedules were concerned. On A days, Jules and I had second and third period together. On B days, we only had fourth period Chemistry together, but we shared lunches on both days, which put some color back into the way I felt about spending time away from a girl who essentially acted as if I were made of acid. I felt like a bonded animal. It was comical. Despite her apparent hatred of me, time away from Jules seemed such an uncomfortable idea. I felt slightly queasy at the prospect because I had this confusing and overwhelming urge to protect Jules and couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt that way. Jules was not exactly the kind of girl who needed defending. She was spirited, feisty. I passed her house dozens of times that first week on the way to and from school, and sometimes not even then, looking for her teal Karmann Ghia, hoping, no, desperate to know if she was at home. Just knowing where she was gave me a sense of peace and appeased the unwanted and definitely inexplicable ache I felt for her. Each class, we sat near to one another and each class I promised myself I would talk to her only to lose my nerve every single time I attempted to open my mouth. Whenever I was near her she made my palms sweat. More than the two hours of practice I had every day baking in the sun. Football practice was sort of a numb distraction from the things I needed to forget about. At least for the little while that I needed to forget. I especially enjoyed it during the weeks I struggled with who the new Jules was supposed to be to me. Honestly though, football was at the bottom of the list of things I wanted to do, especially after

seeing Jules outside Mrs. Kitt’s class that first day of school. I was our high school’s quarterback, letter jacket and all, moonlighting as an academic obsessed with science. Looking back, I don’t know why I kept that fact a secret. My teachers certainly knew but I had made it very clear that I wanted no one else to know. I was afraid of the backlash I’d get from the team. I should have been proud of the fact that I was phenomenal at it right? Right. I should have been. But you didn’t have my father and you didn’t know Bramwell, West Virginia. Don’t get me wrong, I mean, my dad, Mark, wa s awesome. Awesome but also an out of shape exfootball star who hurt his knee senior year and wasn’t able to play college. He had been banking on that to get him out of Bramwell, but eventually accepted his fate as a potential lifelong resident and settled down with my mom, Shelby. Once they had me and my little sister Maddy, they were stuck here for good. That’s why he was obsessed with me playing and playing well. He wanted me to have a life outside of Bramwell and its coal mines. My mom, on the other hand, didn’t care if I made Bramwell my home or not, as long as I was happy. All her family came to live in Bramwell when they caravanned as one huge group from Oklahoma about thirty years before. Bramwell was a step up in society to her, since it had been one of the wealthiest towns in America at the turn of the century. Though the wealthiest in America no longer had a place in our sleepy little town, their homes remained and that’s where the very few of the wealthy-enough residing in Bramwell lived, including Jules’ family. Her mother and father were both big wigs at the coal mines my dad

happened to work at. They had a flare for luxury, especially Jules’ mother. I remember Jules coming to school in elementary and junior high in the most hideous designer clothing I’d ever seen. It wasn’t until she reached high school and her mom couldn’t dress her anymore that Jules became her own girl and probably much to her mother’s dismay. My mom had always been a simple woman, never really needing much. The one thing my mom and pop did have going on for one another was the deepest of loves. Deeper than any of the other parents I came across in Bramwell. My dad was always really kind to my mom. Once a week, he’d pick wildflowers off Main and put them in this little ceramic pitcher she kept on the table. Two summers ago, he got really sick and had to stay in bed for a week. He made me pick the flowers for her because he knew she was expecting them. As I got older, I took serious notice of the way my mother and father looked at one another and knew it was something I had to have for myself. I learned early on through their example that I needed to find my hypothetical key in order to feel as happy as they did. Needless to say, I was in a hurry to love someone the way my father loved my mother. Nothing looked as comforting or as fun as that. It never even crossed my mind that my key was someone I would have known my entire life. I always thought I’d meet her in college or something, funny how life bites you like that. Jules definitely had a profound effect on me throughout those first few weeks. My life was filled with unbelievable anxiety every moment that I was awake. I did everything within my power but could not get her off my mind. I tried

desperately to forget her. Every night, after dinner, I would get in my truck and tell myself to drive. Somewhere. Anywhere. Except to wherever Jules may be. That was my only rule. I forbade myself to look for Jules, convinced that I needed to break my dependence on knowing where she was, as if I could do that, but of course, every night, I meandered throughout town trying to tell myself that I wasn’t out driving to see if Jules was at Thatcher’s, or at one of the shops off Main in Bramwell’s business district, or at her home, The Perry House, on Brick that turned into Main. I never had trouble with schoolwork before Jules either, but she distracted me so often, even in the classes we didn’t share, that I would get home and have to try and teach myself everything I missed in class because the lessons behind the homework were never absorbed. I found myself wondering where she was, what she was doing, what she was wearing, how her hair looked, how she smelled, and what book she’d be reading at lunch the next day. And the weekends? The weekends were pure torture. The Friday night of the second agonizing week, I left town and drove two hours to Charleston to get my mind off her. I went to an obscure little book store and actually wandered into the self-help section. I absently trailed my fingers along the titles praying there would be one that read ‘You’re insane Elliott Gray. Stop obsessing about Julia Jacobs’ or ‘She’s just a normal girl dummy. An abnormally beautiful and intelligent girl who just happens to share literal electricity with you but that’s nothing to get so worked up about’. Can you believe it? There wasn’t, but there was one ironically entitled ‘Getting over the one you’re obsessed with’. I laughed out loud, got a few shushes, and almost picked it up but stopped myself. I do need help, I thought to

myself, but not this kind. Professional help. I began to pick my way through the aisles heading toward the Fantasy section. I was still waiting on Stefanie Conrad’s new novel to come out and wondered if it was there. I took a right into the section and my heart nearly stopped cold where I stood. Jules was there. Reading from a book and had absolutely no idea that I was looking at her. I began to panic and my stomach tied into knots that would rival any sailor’s. I escaped the aisle without detection and found solace one row over. I knelt down, cursing my ridiculous height, and ran my fingers through my hair trying to think. Gotta’ get out of here , I thought. Can’t let her catch

you. She’ll skin you alive and you’ll ruin any chance of talking to her again.
I shot up, kept my head buried in my neck and headed straight for the door. I could not have gotten out fast enough. I was confused, agitated. I leaned against the door of my truck and dug my hand into my pocket to find my keys. No! No! No! No! No! I left them inside the jacket I had strung over a reading chair inside. If my keys hadn’t been inside that store I would have said goodbye to one of my nicest jackets, that’s how eager I was to get out of there. I thought about waiting for her to leave but didn’t want to risk being the real life example of the predator inside that stalker book if she saw me camped out in my truck or at a nearby shop. Plus, she knew my truck. If she hadn’t seen it coming in she would definitely spot it coming out being that it was right in front of the entrance. I hated the idea of her thinking I was watching her. Why should I care now, right? When I’ve been watching at school and searching the town for her? Because, technically, back at home I was watching for her not at her. Yup, I had to go

back in. I gave myself a little pep talk and strolled back into the store convinced she’d probably never even see me as long as I was quick. I opened the door and the little bell attached to the handle, rang. All eyes shot toward me but returned to their own business, except for one pair. Jules’ pair. She was in the checkout line purchasing her book. My face went flush and I tripped over a chair. Her eyebrows pinched in confusion then seethed with anger. She thinks I’m following her. Damn it! Why did I

have to pick this store? Of all stores? Why did I have to leave my keys in that stupid jacket in this stupid store?
I picked up the coat with a yank and headed back out toward my truck without giving her a second glance and shoved the store’s door open with all my might. I had never been so angry with myself in my entire life. I wish I had stayed home and played board games with my mom and pop or called Jesse and see if he wasn’t with a girl that night but I didn’t. Instead, I had daftly removed any sort of minuscule chance of making something real with the one girl I couldn’t stop thinking about. The drive home gave me the opportunity to analyze what had happened over and over in my mind and by the time I had arrived, according to my calculations, the atom bomb might as well have detonated inside that store. I demolished any hope of a future with Julia Jacobs. I stormed off to my room, ignoring my parents’ stares. I slammed the door behind me and kicked on my stereo before toppling onto the bed and laid there staring at the plastered ceiling until I noticed I still had that insipid jacket on. I sprang off my bed, tore off the jacket and threw it across the room and sank back onto the bed with enough force that my hair landed in my face. I brushed it over my

“Sweetheart. I peeked underneath my arm and smiled at her as she folded her hands across her stomach.” she laughed. It’s not school. spill. I’m having trouble imagining my six foot four mammoth of a son would have a problem with anyone. Come Monday.” I muttered beneath the crook of the arm draped over my face. I’m gonna’ fix it. “Elliott? Honey. I’m going to fix it. I was tellin’. It’s okay. There isn’t. she kept on. We both laughed. poking me in the ribs.” She tapped me on the leg before lifting .” I remained quiet. When I didn’t say anything. Is it school?” “No.head when I heard a knock at the door and laid my arm across my eyes.” “No.” “Well good son. that’s okay. “You’ve been mopin’ around here for the past few weeks darlin’ and I wanna’ know why. Seriously. You’re really starting to worry me. mama. “Can I come in baby?” “Sure mom. “No. are you okay?” My mom sang in her deep southern accent. come hell or high water. No matter how angry I was at myself I could never take it out on the one person who knew me the best.” “Hmm. “Well does your mama need to call his mama?” She teased. There’s something wrong.” I didn’t budge. It’s a student at school.” “I wasn’t askin’ Elliott. So. She walked into the room and I could hear her little footsteps stride across the wood floor before she lay on the bed next to me. “Yes mama. mama.

. That’s the rule.herself off the bed. you never throw the first punch boy. Oh.” I was beginning to scare myself. and Elliott? Remember.” “It won’t come to that mom. it’s time for dinner. Trust me. “Come on. It was time to do something about my obsession. Just a reminder.

.” I knelt down and began gathering the loose worksheets. “I said. “Yeah. “Huh?” I intelligently ask. remedied that little issue. Kitt was cleaning up a mess that I helped make. by herself. even if it is Elliott Gray.. Elliott Gray helps me but I don’t think he’s paying attention to his task because he’s just pooling them into a disheveled pile at his knees. I never lose control. “I’m so sorry Mrs.” There.Chapter Two With Everything I Have These were the days that changed my heart. Kitt! I wasn’t paying attention and..” I say. Right. refusing his hand.. I remember that Mrs. He’s speaking to me but I’m too mortified by the fact that I’ve run into my mom’s best friend and my math teacher. Suddenly..” he teases. holding out his hand. I’m better than that. Elliott Gray was hovering above me. to listen.. then slipped on the worksheets she was carrying. hoping not to catch his unbelievably blue eyes because I’ll . That was rude.. Dang it. He is affecting me and I never asked him to do this. I remember it all so vividly. though. Not to mention the fact that there is some freaky things happening between the two of us that I just can’t seem to put my finger on. Jules. you should do shampoo commercials. I hate being impolite. I avoid eye contact. “Thanks for the compliment. I’m losing control.

Ha! I try not to remember how badly he broke my heart all those years ago. I silently plea. The blazing electricity dances around our bodies and climbs the walls around us. I peer over my shoulder and notice the entire class is trying to read our silent expressions. He’s well-liked and you’re. I’m scared out of my mind. well. You don’t like him Julia Jacobs. I yank my hand from his and the anxiety I was feeling fills my chest again but with it brought a new sensation. This is Elliott Gray. I even went so far as to ask mom to make a doctor’s appointment for me. Tell me it’s nothing. It’s a pathetic thing to admit but I can’t lie to myself no matter how badly I want to. breaking your heart. stupidly much later. Kitt asks us to return to our seats. He denied your existence in junior high. that’s how painful it was. I just know I’d end up smiling like the dope I am if those eyes met mine. Later. I never fully recovered by the way. I reach for a worksheet but Elliott’s hands sweep toward mine so quickly I don’t have time to pull away. a sparkling flash of warmth instantly relaxes me. I shudder to think. Explain. My eyes begin to droop in sleep. She didn't.betray myself if I do that. You haven’t suddenly developed a crush on your childhood friend. fear. hated by almost everyone here. When our fingers brush. I begin to open my mouth to ask him what happened but instead Mrs. I know he’s going to want to talk to me after class but . That would have been embarrassing. When we stand. We sit and stare at one another. the class shouts in laughs and taunts. He used to shove tadpoles down your shirt when you were little. I realized that the blinding pain that resided in my chest at the time was caused by his absence.

Curiosity killed the cat Julia. I hope and pray that he will not approach me while at lunch. is a dangerous. and that to me. I go to the table in the corner that I camped out alone at all of the year prior. “I guess that means I can run all I want. you see. He pulls my body short by grabbing my arm. “Jules!” He yells. He yanks back his hand and I flee for the lunchroom. It’s Julia. I don’t want to talk. The lightning from earlier is definitely not a coincidence. I want him to say something like. I’m denying my instincts with everything I have because if I didn’t. stop running will ya’?” “Why?” I ask. “Because it’s hard to run and talk?” Not the answer I’m looking for. “Julia. I gather my books and haul towards the door. I whip out my old friend George Orwell and desperately try to escape into Big . “My name isn’t Jules.” I yell back. I’d have grabbed Elliott’s hands the second I saw him standing with Jesse Thomas and wrapped my own inside them. I cannot let him near me. When the bell rings. but I push down the guilt. ‘because I’m scared and not sure what do to’ or ‘I need you to forgive me our past and move forward with me into what seems like an obvious future together’. “Wait a minute!” He says. curious to hear his response. to decipher what our heated physical reaction is. I need some time to decide what to do.” I say. He chases me.” I know this is rude. dangerous idea.I cannot let this happen. refusing to let go ever. What? Too much? “Well. sit down and use my feet to pull a nearby chair closer to my body before reclining them on top of the seat.

like. I’m sure. There’s a double advantage to my reaction. I was actually friends with many of the cheerleaders including Taylor but then I got ‘weird’. an undeniably adorable thing and waves. I think. I feel a sudden suspicious heat . When we were younger.k. I’m not strong enough to survive another heartbreak. No doubt Taylor will make me pay for that later. I hold my breath in anticipation. I feel eyes on the back of my head and turn towards Elliott’s table. let me tell ya’.a. a serious attempt to hide my genuine facial expressions. He sits with the rest of the football crowd that shares a table with the asinine cheerleaders. a. She’s heard about my little encounter with Elliott no doubt and now I’ve begun the year doubly hated by her. I cannot let him see how badly I want him to talk to me. I release my breath but my heart continues to pound. according to them and they were no longer interested in tainting their reputation with association. I peek at their table and Taylor Williams. head cheerleader. glares me down. He’s staring. From the corner of my eye. They’re all a really classy bunch. the ringleader of the dumb squad. He smiles crookedly. I shift so the back of my chair faces him to send a clear message and sink my nose further into my book. maybe Taylor won’t take Elliott’s behavior out on me kind of advantage.Brother’s world. quote-unquote. every muscle contracted. It would only lead to heartache. I want to jump up and lead Elliott away from the cafeteria but ignore this impulsive need and instead roll my eyes at him. I lay my elbow on the table and absently loop a strand of hair through my fingers. my body wound tight. I see Elliott enter the cafeteria.

I have to stop these involuntary answers or I’m certain I will lose my heart. I can almost feel the disappointment roll off his shoulders before he retreats back to the cafeteria.creep from the middle of my chest and out towards my arms. That night. panting from the exertion. in myself for letting him down. My father. I breathe one in. I love her but she is stifling. I sit at my dining room table with my parents for dinner. I sit up straight at the comprehension of it and sigh in disappointment. strangely. It’s my mother’s doing. Ever. Perfect. I’m scared of these automatic responses toward him. makes life more than tolerable. Elliott’s disappointment smells and tastes alkaline. . She’s a lovely woman but incredibly particular when it comes to traditions and daughterly expectations. disappointment. ethereal jumbles of invisible smoke that toss and tumble against the linoleum. I must get away from him. I run. I peer down at the floor and see his pain roll past me. I don’t know how I know this but I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve offended him. To protect it means I will never hurt again. I find a tile pillar and take refuge behind it. holding a breath in my already burning lungs. like putting my tongue to the end of a battery. My heart is the one thing I am determined to safeguard. I run and run and burst through the double doors. I feel an overwhelming compulsion to flee. I stand and gather my belongings. It makes me exceedingly uncomfortable. I think. I think. He’s mad at me. Acid bubbles in my stomach. I glance his direction and notice that he’s distracted by Jesse Thomas. I hear him toss open the double doors and still. The crushing formality of the entire process is exhausting. through my stomach and then my legs. on the other hand.

I can't decide if revealing the whole shebang is exactly within the parameters of what they would consider sane. besides the obvious taunting and teasing and hair pulling. alert. No. so I tone down everything that actually happened.” my mom says.” I begin. “Elliott Gray. “No.” my dad chuckles. “just try the best you can to explain my love. “Sorry.He is sweet and loving and oh so very funny. Overprotective? Yes. I will not sit by idly while he makes a fool of you again.” “You’re lying. “Okay.” I remove my elbows from the table.” I tease. I can't complain though. What I meant.” His eyes brighten and he sits back up. but before I can continue my mother sucks in a quick breath. “How was your day today darling?” My mother asks.” my dad cleverly catches on. “Of course. of course. “Elbows. I smile. before quietly correcting my behavior.” I breathe deeply. “Okay. I mean. “Did something happen? Did someone hurt you?” He insists.” . It was fine mom. uneventful.” he says. Spill. “nothing like that. Sorry. “I’m too frightened to speak of it honestly. They love me. is that I’m not exactly sure what happened today. You cannot befriend him. so something did happen today. “Alright kid. I hesitate. leaning into the back of his chair. No one knows me like my pop. that was a bit dramatic.” My dad settles down and my mom lets out the breath she was holding. “No darling.” I laugh.

that’s just hormones. that I am especially attuned to him.” At school. “I don’t know. in that case. I barely whisper the rest. Never like this. I stride down the main hall and catch him lingering near the main lobby. I feel things around him that I know are abnormal and I know he feels them as well.“But mom. “Well. continue. I never said I would befriend him again. “Oh Julia. “Never like this dad. They wouldn't believe the details anyway.” I agree.” “Exactly.” I pause. In fact. “Okay. I took a back entrance hoping he would do just that.” “No one could be that dense. I arrive at the last possible minute to avoid him. “boys are clueless when it comes to those things.” My mother breathes easily. hating to admit it out loud.” I sneak a grin at my dad.” my dad laughs. “He doesn’t know it’s because of him. My dad laughs.” my mother says. he doesn’t know the reason I’ve been isolated by my classmates. Besides. the easiest way I can explain it is that whenever I am in the presence of Elliott I become acutely aware of myself as well as him. I somehow know he’ll be looking for me and want to avoid him even at the risk of being late.” I'm deliberately vague. You’re attracted to one another! Have you never been attracted to someone before?” I don’t blush at this as normal girls would probably do. I can almost guarantee you I will not. My family is strangely open about such subjects. I run to my . “I’m one hundred percent positive that he is completely unaware.

in say.locker for the pencil case I left on accident the day before only to come upon the strangest thing. oddly shaped flowers. I wasn’t waiting on someone. I grab the seat next to him and throw my satchel on the ground at my feet. every nook and cranny was covered. No way. The entire front of my locker is a giant painting of intricate flowers but flowers you’ve never seen before. you’ve always been Sawyer. No way. but I don’t know how to interpret this. I arrive unnoticed.” He frowns. I don’t know. “Waiting on someone?” Sawyer asks. “Huh? Me? No. black flowers. No.” “I do? I mean. Only flowers you would find. To me. I am. but not in sadness. . I’m a bit taken back by it and cannot understand for the life of me who would have done this. “Hey Julia. “How come you never call me Tut? Like everybody else?” “That's a strange question to ask all of a sudden. Striped flowers. Plus. in contemplation. flowers that don’t exist in nature. to make sure he isn’t in this class.” he says. when do I do anything that everybody else around here does?” “Hmm. except by Sawyer Tuttle. Why?” “Just asking. maybe because you never looked like much of a ‘Tut’. “Hey Sawyer. It was as if they knew everything I would have liked and filled it all in. You keep staring at the door. I don’t take the trouble to ask either. a Tim Burton film. I’m anxious for the bell to ring.” he says. I wish I could stay there and admire the workmanship but I don’t have time and am forced to slip into my French class with only three minutes to spare. My mind is occupied elsewhere.

slightly distracted by the fact that Elliott hasn’t entered the door yet. Huh. I didn’t really do all that much.” “I don’t know. I ignore the sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach.S. You could have come over you know? Maybe we should have gone wakeboarding on the lake again. You don’t want him Julia. I don’t mention the other thing that happened over the summer. I guess we didn't talk all that much did we?” I answer.” he teasingly sings.” “Really? It must have been a lame summer then. I lazily stroll through the cafeteria doors darting my eyes at the football table.” he laughs. History either and I try to swallow down the insaneness that is my wanting to know where he is all the time. At least you got up on your board. I might have improved with time. “So.more like hoping someone doesn’t walk through the door. did you have a fun summer?” “Uh yeah.” “Yeah. I’ve discovered this insatiable appetite for the knowledge of his whereabouts. “Actually. only took me what? Like fifty times?” We both laugh again but it’s drowned out by the tardy bell.” We both laugh. Why am I expecting him to enter the door? “I did. You can’t want him. Honestly? The boat trip our families made together at the beginning of the summer was the most exhilarating part of the entire thing. the fluke. Elliott isn’t in second period U. you weren’t half bad. He wasn’t there. Get my drift?” “Yeah. It’s understood that we don’t talk about that thing. At lunch. I scold myself . I bury these feelings. Only temporary. I mean. I delude myself into thinking it’s only a temporary effect of the electricity. “Kind of.

I didn’t exist. not that I’m not used to that or anything. No sense in making the black sheep any blacker. Elliott doesn’t know this. he ignored me. listening to music. The next day. she would just flip out on this town and that wouldn’t be good for anyone. The only other person who will even talk to me in this town.for not feeling relief. One day. She must be busy. again. especially me. I miss her so much. or any of the noise they liked to call ‘music’ but the kicker was when Taylor Williams developed her never ending crush . Wait. I admit. My mom blames him and everything but there are a few details that I’ve purposely left out. It broke my heart. I had no interest in cheering. I find myself alone at home a lot. then nothing. is Sawyer Tuttle and even that’s on rare occasions. The truth is. These friendships of convenience were short lived because the girls found my personality ‘disconcerting’. the color pink. we were riding our bikes to the creek. reading. I sit at my table alone. it becomes clear. My best friend is my cousin Caroline but she’s traveling across the country with her dance troupe and I haven’t talked to her in over a week which is sort of rare. read on. It’s hard not having her near. laughing. I became sort of an introvert at first as a result of the slight and it’s also why my mom thinks I stayed that way but in reality I stayed that way because I needed somewhere to sit at lunch and was forced to associate with the cheerleaders I was sort of friends with at the time. She visits often but only in between gigs. Elliott started ignoring me in junior high. If I told her the whole story. but the reason I’m as alone in this town as I am is indirectly because of him. For whatever reason that was. He was my best friend. besides the adults.

You know. well. like I said. I was that reason. myself. prop my feet on the chair next to me and start reading about Big Brother again. alone.” I glance with only my eyes and almost hyperventilate. “I love that book. Apparently. It’s Elliott and he looks unbelievably sweet with his bulky black glasses and chin length black hair. Elliott’s dumping of me was her cue to do the same. Long story short. I set my sack of carrots on my lap. an extremely rare side of him. they are the reason I decided that the only one I could count on was. I sit at my table. It is the reason I’m a loner. She tried her darndest but he wasn’t noticing her and that meant there had to be a reason why. A stinging. Reading is literally my favorite thing to do in the entire world. He wasn’t even nervous that time in sixth grade when we almost slipped off the edge of the deep crevice by the old waterfalls and nearly went toppling to our deaths. It sounds lame but man. buzzing sensation starts to creep into my chest and suddenly I hear. I may have even survived my complete lack of identifying within this social circle had I never been friends with Elliott in the first place because when Taylor found out that Elliott ‘dumped’ me as his friend she felt guilty by association. If I was being honest. I’d have to admit that I didn’t try very hard to make friends but then again they didn’t make it easy either.obsession on Elliott Gray. That meant I was the contaminant that needed flushing. He’s nervous. Only a handful of times had I ever seen him get nervous. according to Taylor. sometimes I like being alone. almost. He caught me and pulled me into his . I almost forget about Elliott. a show of solidarity and obviously after that Elliott fell madly in love with her right? Anyway.

“Those are good for the eyes. I roll my eyes to prevent myself from giggling. Not that I claim to be a braniac or anything. I’ve heard. so I assumed. so. Did you hear about it?” I don’t respond. You’re a braniac. Supposedly the humidity is heck on girls’ hair. I heard they collaborated with Baylor’s College of Medicine in Houston. Your hair doesn’t seem to take on that much humidity. “Carrots. “Yeah. “You may not. It’s certainly something a braniac should find interesting. I feel like bursting out laughing he's so adorable. right? I mean.arms. now.” . or maybe you did. consoling me. I’m not sure. He looked like he was barely bothered but now. throw a life preserver his way and all but I’m enjoying this sweaty version of Elliott way too much. I’m not gonna’ make it. Interesting right? Genetically altered vegetables?” Oh my gosh. Texas A&M did that study a few years ago. I’m of pretty average intelligence. he was fidgety and a light sheen had formed across his face. “No? Well a few years ago they developed a carrot that helps people absorb forty one percent more calcium than when they consume a regular carrot. He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and his long bangs stick to the side of his face. He’s reaching. I realize I should save him. “I certainly found that interesting. I’ve never seen it frizz anyway. huh?” He asks. Houston’s a pretty crazy town or so I’ve heard.” he chuckles nervously. you’re always reading. I see they’ve done wonders for your teeth too. I was hysterical. He continues. The cutest sound I’ve ever heard. I think.

” I say. I mean to say.” I wonder what he’ll say next. I have to look back down at my book to keep my composure. If you could only see the look on the poor sap’s face. Elliott always made inadvertent insults the few times he got nervous. Right when I worked up the nerve to turn to him and open my mouth. baffled.He drums his fingertips on the table. A natural beat. I was only trying to point out how large they were. I didn’t mean to compare your teeth to a horse’s. But! Perfectly proportionate to your face. “Yeah.” There it was.” He sighs. All I want to do is talk to you.” “Then you should stop. Yes. Please don’t stop. that they are larger than most people’s.” I sit there. “Julia. “As I was saying.” he pants. “Julia. your teeth are big and a pretty white. he turns to his backpack and removes a bottle of water. something I’m sure he did absently. Here it comes. drinking half its contents. “I’m sorry. very well proportioned. He was a sight to be seen. Your face isn't huge or anything! Your face seems pretty average in its proportions. not even sure I really said it. I look up and study his expression. “You could mistake them for a horse’s. . face pale as death. unsure of what I should say. It’s extremely hard for me to talk to you. “What I meant to say is that you have very beautiful teeth. but definitely showcased that he was a learned drummer. All the blood drained into his neck.” I say. it’s obviously done wonders for your teeth.” He takes a deep breath. That is. I almost run out of the cafeteria in a burst of laughter. obviously I’m an idiot. “Jules. neck red as beets.

” I say. I force myself to try and feel relief but it just wouldn’t come. I know this. Kitt’s. I bite my tongue to prevent myself from taking it back. I won’t be able to recover. collecting my belongings as I head toward the double doors. I decide the back is too far away but the front is definitely too close for comfort. a clear cut .” “But you should. I really am a glutton for punishment. It truly is better to have never loved Elliott at all than to have loved him and lost him. I’m obviously a glutton for punishment but I’m not suicidal. My heart tingles at the very sight of it. Chemistry is not my forte’. I’m convinced the only class we share was Mrs. By fourth period Chemistry. I’m certain that if I ever gave my heart to Elliott Gray and he brutalized it? It’d die. It’s just not worth the risk. I sit up and sigh. Trust me. I am awestruck. I stop by my locker one more time just to gape at the sheer beauty of it.“But I can’t. I feel a tingling in the center of my chest. simple as that. I know if I give into it I’ll fall so hard for him that when he eventually tires of the novelty he thinks I am. I run my fingers along the leaves and stems before admiring all the unique petals. The literal spark between us is too powerful a thing to give into. I have to leave. I did like that there were practically no other seniors in the class although they all did seem to be aware that I was ‘off limits’. I pick the lab table smack dab in the middle of class. Third period Economics held no interest for me. I tasted a glimpse of what it could do. I’m upset with myself for even considering for a moment that I should trust him again. It’s not at all surprising that popular Taylor’s poison seeped into the grades below.

I lay in bed. He slides past my table and I avoid eye contact. oh. He walks into the classroom and I take a sharp intake of breath. He smiles at me. A single touch has sealed my fate. I’m bewildered by these inherent reactions to him. I actually look forward to seeing him. He’s looking for me and I’m troubled by the fact that I’m not as upset about this as I should be. I reach for my bag on the linoleum and pull it onto the lab table. I’ve already begun to ache for Elliott. In fact. Elliott seems to be there.sign that he’s near. I open the flap and feel around for my notebook. He is out and about way more than I’d ever seen him out before. Elliott winces but I'm not sure why. I feel addicted to his touch. The very few times I’m certain he can’t see me provides the window I am looking for to observe him. By just how much as he truly changed or has he stayed the same? There’s no denying it now. Ugh. Uh. I fix my direction at the blackboard and chide myself for being so careless. He joins Sawyer at the lab table behind me. The few weeks of playing cat and mouse has a . pens and pencils. Everywhere I go in town. I close the flap and place the bag back onto the floor but I can’t control myself and I sneak a peek over my shoulder in his direction. grasping at my heart. I bite down on my lower lip to control its trembling anticipation. praying that the ache will dull but it never does. biting my lip a little too hard and tasting blood. I realize now that I should have made Sawyer come sit next to me so I wouldn’t be alone with Elliott’s eyes piercing the back of my head.

“Uh.” I sigh. like. “What’s up with you?” This is why I like Sawyer. “She should just invest in a fruit of the month club. Careful to avoid the main streets Elliott often travels. He doesn’t even bother asking why I’m crawling in the grocery store parking lot. My head hits something hard and I glance up. What’s up?” “Nothing. I crouch down and practically crawl towards the entrance. gesturing toward the entrance. My life is filled with unbelievable anxiety every moment I am awake. I toss an extra glance Elliott’s way and discover he’s talking to a woman at the door. shall we?” He asks. “Just getting a bell pepper for me ma’. . his back toward me. Skip the produce section altogether. “Right. I duck down like an idiot only to realize that my car is in no way inconspicuous. You?” “Similar errands but I need a lemon. Anyway. three times a week?” I peek Elliott’s direction. It’s Tiffany blue and older than ninety-nine percent of the cars in the lot. Sawyer. I peek above the top of my Karmann Ghia and spot Elliott getting out of his truck. Julia?” I shoot to my feet after Elliott passes us and watch him head toward the entrance.profound effect on me.” I eye Sawyer carefully. I arrive at the store and lock my car. “Doesn’t your mom make lemon chicken.” “Ahh. “Uh. hey Sawyer. just have it delivered already. The Tuesday of the second week of our careful dance my mom sends me to the store to pick up a bell pepper.” He laughs. watching his feet underneath the cars as he passes. I do everything in my power to get him off my mind but fail. “the curse of the driving teen.

The. The woman adjusts the baby more securely on her hip. “He’s six months. see you around. I turn my ear toward Elliott.” the woman says. I’ve never seen her around before and jealousy creeps up my neck and into my face.” he says and heads inside. “I’m so sorry to hear that. When Sawyer passes through the automatic doors.and I’m not sure what I need to do because he just left us. “. I knew there was something about the little guy I liked.. forcing myself to calm down.” “No way! That’s my grandfather’s name. he and Elliott nod at one another. He’s been talking to the young woman for some time now and I’m curious as to why. enamored of Elliott. reaching for her baby’s face and dragging a finger down its cheek. but continues on.” . I need to get something from my car. uh. Rosenfeld’s cart creeks by at an alarmingly slow rate. I check myself. He doesn’t see me. Yeah. See you around?” “Okay.. The baby giggles through a toothless grin.. actually..” “What’s his name?” “Samuel. I strain to listen when my neighbor Mr. He shakes his head. How old is your son?” Elliott asks. I spastically wave him on. I walk hurriedly toward a pillar near where Elliott is standing and crouch behind it. I peer over my shoulder at him. “Miss Julia? Is that you?” I scrunch up my face and bury my head in my shoulders. infecting my thoughts. That breaks my heart..“Uh. I admit. which is good because. rest of my list.. I am absolutely terrible at being inconspicuous. muttering ‘she’s looney’ and something along the lines of ‘probably forgot her pill’.

." “Karen. I know.. “ I’m sure he doesn’t but I just want to make sure.” “.” Elliott continues. what does Samuel like to eat Karen?” “Oatmeal.. Karen laughs. Maybe another second wouldn't hurt. how about these? I remember when my little sister was about Samuel’s age she couldn’t get enough of these. that I won’t risk the possibility of further humiliation. How about we take a trip down the baby aisle together?” “Oh thank you...” “I understand.. I am so embarrassed. Thank you.” . headed toward the baby aisle.” she says. “So. I’d be honored to help you guys out. I am firm in my decision.” “Elliott. “I believe I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve for Samuel here. I decide that this will be the extent of my eavesdropping... I’m insane grandma. I’ve never had to do anything like this before but I’m desperate. Truly.” “. it would make my day.Elliott.” I hear box after box toss into a cart. “Well.” Both Elliott and Karen.The woman laughs but loses the happiness just as quickly as it came.. with Samuel in tow. It’s either this or head to the nearest soup kitchen but I don’t have a car and I don’t want to expose Samuel to the elements.Only a great mom would brave asking a stranger for help. A little old lady rushed past me in her cart.. He loves banana oatmeal. “He doesn’t need that much.. Alright... I crept one aisle over and listened to their progress.. eyeing me strangely.

Even as vulnerable as she has made herself. never taking advantage of her like some men would or treating her like she’s incapable of taking care of herself or her baby. To him. “Alright.” “You’re denying me a glimpse of what this will be like in my future.” She sniffs. I can figure it out on my own. you’re a sap Julia Jacobs.” Karen’s shaky voice says.” Karen says. he’s just doing it. Gonna’ deny me that?” He teases.” “I believe you.” he says. she’s just a woman down on her luck at the moment. her voice teetering on a sob. I bring my hands to my face and feel something wet on my finger tips. “that’s enough. Oh great. then sniffs. I remember thinking how thoughtful it was for him to want to give her back her dignity and how that small gesture wasn’t lost on me. Follow me. I hear Elliott give her some space.” “Don’t mention it. After a few seconds. “Thank you. You’ve done more than enough. He’s not even asking if she needs it. “He’s in a size three now. So. “Elliott. Elliott still treated her with respect. “It’s fun Karen.” she says. do you think we have everything?” “I think he’ll be able to eat for a month.” .” he laughs. “Indulge me though. “What size diaper is he in Karen?” I hear him raise his voice so she can hear him.“Okay.” I hear a box slide underneath the cart. “Alright. what about you? What will you eat?” “I’m fine. You’ve done more than enough. She laughs. I hear him pile things inside. well.

I hear his cart rumbling down the aisle and I haul my ridiculous feet to the end cap opposite the direction they’re traveling. I find myself drawn to Elliott then. and what Samuel’s habits and talents are. As far as he’s concerned. When they head towards the checkout counter I follow closely and lean near the end cap to listen in. Perhaps I’d do just that with a kiss. I would let him know just what I think of what he’s doing. but he also gets her a few staples like milk and eggs. where she works. how smart he seems to be. When he passes my aisle. drawing me closer and closer to him.” I hear from behind me.. and what an amazing disposition he possesses. This is genuinely who he is. Grandma is plainly gawking at me now. as curious as the rest of the store’s patrons . I jump and shriek.. “Boo. He gets her all sorts of non-perishables. I almost trip over myself racing to the other side. They talk about her life at home. trying to eavesdrop yet again.. If I could. Everyone’s eyes turn my way. It clamors in that instant and I begin to daydream what it would be like to run my fingers through his hair and hold his face in my hands. What would that be li. Smart. I realize that I’m seeing Elliott at his best and the ironic part is that he isn’t even doing this in show. I shrug my shoulders and lean down to get a better grip on their friendly conversation while I trail him all around the market. no one knows what he’s doing and that melts away one of the protective layers I’ve so carefully built around my heart. I can’t see Elliott but I’m more than positive he and Karen are looking our direction. Elliott comments on what a well behaved baby he is. I think. like a string connects our hearts and that string is coiling tighter and tighter.

I hit Sawyer. huh.” “Oh. let me see it. is that why you were dragging your knuckles on the ground outside?” I hit him once more and start laughing again. “Uh. Hanging on the end cap like an overgrown monkey. I’m just a big buffoon.” “Seriously Sawyer.” He raises another eyebrow.” I sigh in frustration and slump down in defeat.” “Where’s your bell pepper?” He asks studying my empty hands. “What the heck are you doing?” I start laughing with him. Nothing. I haven’t gotten it yet. Stop. there’s no list. “In my pocket. “The same someone you were trying to avoid in French?” I don’t answer. . “Nothing. Agreed?” “Alright but it’ll cost ya’.” I say. yeah. “Where’s your list?” I square my shoulders.” I say. alright. “Alright.” “Alright. trying to peek over my shoulder at the checkout lines.” “My early man poses are just between you and me. “Nothing. Put it on my tab. “What are you looking at?” He asks. “Uh. shoving my hands in the back pockets of my jeans. holding his gut in laughter.are.” “Yeah. pushing him towards Dairy. “Sawyer!” I whisper yell. “Julia!” He mocks.” He raises an eyebrow. I was trying to avoid someone. “Okay.

Oh my goodness. The wind picked up his hair and dragged it across his perfect face. or playing around. hurt. chill Julia. “Shut up. He ran both his hands through his hair to control it and the muscles . Now scoot. Oh my goodness. What is he doing? Does he even know Ezra? I pause. just thought you should be aware of the rules of avoidance because I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong. I lean into the window. My God he is a fine specimen. I hit the floor like a soldier and belly crawl to the window. noticing Elliott in all his glory. You’ve had your fun.“You do know that to avoid someone you must steer away from them right? Following them around is clearly not avoiding them. Hooah! He wore a pair of faded jeans and a long sleeved black t-shirt with the sleeves pushed up. The next day. It’ll cost ya’ indeed! See you tomorrow stalker.” “He? Well. I spot Elliott on my street after school.” “Bye Tut. While passing my living room window I am pulled back into my previous step. He’ll hear you. Wait. “Sawyer!” I grit through teeth and push him further away from Elliott. peeling two blades of the shutter open.” He frowns but I can’t tell if he’s angry.” “Okay. Elliott Gray is standing in Ezra Colston’s yard just staring in my direction. Her dish will be ruined now. Yikes. Either way I don’t have time for it because I’ve been gone half an hour for a simple bell pepper and my mom is going to flip when I walk through the door. Oh my goodness.” “See you around Julia Jacobs!” He yells as loud as he can. well.

Hypocrite. Ezra Colston got into an auto accident his senior year and broke his back. though I'd never say it out loud. She loves him. Ezra points my direction and Elliott drags his hand back down which sends a secret thrill through me. He can’t live on his own right now because of it and is forced to bide his time at home until then. Elliott turned toward the Colston's front door. But she’s stupid and won’t take a chance. Hmm. They stand on his porch and joke and laugh for what seems like forever. too scared to let him make the first move. Jeez.in his forearms flexed. He attends classes at the local community college and plans on transferring to university as soon as his lengthy rehabilitation is over. Ezra starts laughing and Elliott jokingly wheels Ezra’s chair into the house. Dunce. Ezra was sort of left on his own. He loves her. What? Who said that? I visit Ezra once a week but he’s never mentioned Elliott to me. Ezra was sort of lonely I think. He barely finished high school and has been confined to a wheel chair for the past two years. I still suspect that Elliott is using Ezra for information despite their obvious friendship and decide to . but then last year nineteen year old Delphine moved across the street and now I’m not so sure he regrets living at home. sending me into a frenzy. Get a grip Julia. I start to think he’s using Ezra as an excuse to see me but when Ezra opens his door Elliott hugs him and they do this secret handshake thing that makes me think otherwise. At first. His friends used to come around a lot but when they all went their separate ways to college. You surprise me Elliott Gray.

I dash out the front door and march up Ezra’s porch. that is hilarious.wait him out but I fall asleep on my mom’s stiff sofa instead. I stuff my face much to the dismay of my mother and run back to the window to see Elliott’s truck gone. “What are you doing sweetheart?” “I’m on a stake out. Huh. You’re all flustered and red in the face. Boy. but we'd do anything for each other. comfortable with my idiosyncrasies. a small smile twists up the side of his mouth. Looks like you’re ready to huff and puff and blow my house down. He’s cool.” “Ezra Colston! What are you talking about?” “Go home. I decide I’m going to go to Ezra’s after dinner only if Elliott’s out of there. Immediately. I pound on the frame of the screen door. he annoys me. look in the mirror Julia. I gaze out the window and Elliott’s truck is still there. Why? You like him?” An eyebrow raised. You’re smitten with Elliott Gray. We hang out and stuff.” “Oh.” he says. Yes! And no? Get it together Julia. My dad wakes me for dinner. I annoy him. okay. I’m on the defensive. “Why was Elliott Gray at your house all afternoon?” “Because he’s my friend.” he says. “How come I’ve never seen him here before?” “Maybe because you’re blind? I don’t know. “Ezra! Open up Ez!” “What the bloody heck are you doing creature?” Ezra’s like the brother I never had. He comes here like twice a week Julia. Never thought I’d see the day that Julia Jacobs was a smitten kitten! Kind of always pegged you for a panther myself but heck I’ve been wrong . “No!” “Doesn’t appear that way to me girly.

I am a smitten kitten. No more obsessing. and parents I’ve had enough. Can makeup fix this? Thursday proves rather difficult at school.” Doing a fantastic job of defending myself? “Alright Julia. Darn.before.” he says closing the door. homework. I greedily finger the display piles and run my palms over the covers. whatever you say.. school. Okay. If I were wealthy.. I stop in the foyer and glance in the mirror. I’m glad to have the week over with and plan a visit to Koan’s. I’d swim in a pile of books.I’m. He’s right. The earthy smell of paper permeates the air around me and I close my eyes for just a moment enjoying the temporary escape. No more Elliott.. Friday rolls around and to be perfectly honest. Koan’s is amazing. that’s sort of a stupid thing to say about a bookstore but let’s just say it’s off the beaten path. Only the hippest cats in town know about it. my favorite indie book store in Charleston.. Between avoiding Elliott. avoiding Sawyer.. I wouldn’t even . listening to Ezra taunt me about how Elliott and I are sitting in a supposed tree. I head in and inhale the sharp smells of fresh ink. a little mini-vacay from my impossible life. I want to load up on books and camp in my room until school starts back up the following Monday. I was exhausted.. Now that Sawyer is on to me he’s paying very close attention to everything I do.” “I am not! I am not as you say a smitten kitten! I’m.. wanting to find Elliott. I heard him chuckling through it and marched myself back over to my parents’ home. wanting Elliott to find me.

” I wink. I almost pick it up but meander over to the Fantasy section instead.” “Chuck. My head picks up when I hear the jingle of the door. Nothing like them in the entire world. but there was one ironically titled ‘Getting over the one you’re obsessed with’. that’s not necessarily true but you get what I mean. I . It’s gonna’ be a good day. I laugh out loud and get a few shushes. I take the book I’m reading over to the checkout line when Chuck waves me over with Stefanie’s new book in hand. His name isn’t really Chuck. They truly are like nothing in the entire world. Someone just left. There wasn’t. books that is. My heart tingles slightly but I shrug it off. I pick up a random book and start reading the first chapter. I saved you a copy.mind the paper cuts. praying there would be one that read ‘You’re insane Julia Jacobs. feigning a light head. “Snoop around.” I said. “What’s new Chuck?” “Not much. I just call him that because he’s got these kick-butt bright red Converse he always wears. Stop obsessing about Elliott Gray’ or ‘He’s just a normal boy dummy. got the new Stefanie Conrad in. the cashier waves at me. you know the way to this girl’s heart. I’ll get it for you when I get rid of this line. I absently trail my fingers along the titles. not paper cuts. I hum a little ditty under my breath and scan the titles of each aisle while I wait for Chuck. I wonder into the self-help section and almost trip over myself. I’m surrounded by university students and a few professor-types. a surprisingly kind and sweet boy who just happens to share literal electricity with you but that’s nothing to get so worked up about’. Chuck.

I look up and suck in a breath. I’m gonna’ go to Sadie’s shop then. I fight the urge to pull her hair. trying to figure out if he’s been near me that entire time. I lock eyes with him. resign myself to doing something outside. Probably a good thing. He yanks his coat from a chair and storms toward the door without so much as a second glance. My heart tingles yet again. He may be the sweetest boy I’ve ever met but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to break my heart. I sit up. My heart aches for him. cries for him. I remind myself. not distracting me the way I wanted them to. and toss my book onto the counter.” Schnitzel is a nickname he gave me at two. if he was the reason my chest ached. Saturday proves to be harder to sit through than I thought. Elliott trips over a chair. The books are just not doing it for me. He’s gone. Elliott. Why so violent? That’s not like me. See if there’s anything good on the shelves . That infuriates me. “Pop? Want to walk into town with me?” “I would schnitzel but I’m swamped. I push my books from my lap and onto the bed and head to my dad's study. “Be right back Chuck. I promise myself that I am not getting out to search for Elliott today but even I know that’s a lie. My eyes widen then narrow. I return to the store and make my purchases.” I say. Take a look around.stand there waiting for my turn when I hear the door jingle again. I need to get over this obsession. “No prob Bob. Violent. I chase after him but I’m too late. His face and neck turn a brilliant red and I feel so sorry for him. The girl in front of me laughs.

I gasp. I love Sadie. darlin’.” “Yeah.” I head in the direction of her voice and stop sharply in front of a wicked dark orange velveteen floor length fitted jacket.” I've been dismissed. I bet it was more like she refused to wait and ended up alone anyway. “Had to pry it out of some young girl’s hands last week. Tragic.” “Alright. I think I remember something about her being in love with a boy from town and when he left town for college he promised to return for her but never did. I pick it up and toss it over my shoulders in front of the mirror she has close to the front of the shop. She's too independent and strong in her self-worth. You beat my estimated date by three days. never been married. She never brought it up and I never asked.” Sadie holds this delusional notion that since I am quirky the way she was in high school and she was popular . Everyone has their secrets. “I was wondering when you were going to pick that up.” Sadie appears from behind a rack. “Sadie?” Sadie is in her early thirties. It is the cutest thing ever and it fits me like it was tailored for me.” “You know your mother hates it when you shop at the thrift store. but it’s the only place I can find pre-loved jeans the way I like them loved.today. Had a little bet going on with myself. “No doubt I’m buying this today. though I can't see why. have fun. She’s a kindred spirit. I’m back here. I walk to Sadie’s and open her door. I can't see this in Sadie though. “Yes.” She laughs. probably one of those Bluefield girls trying to be you.

You numb skull.” “No. “Sure Sadie. it’s not.” “I am not! Why does everyone keep saying that?” “I can just tell.” “Where?” “The grocery store. You’re smitten with Elliott Gray. Did I just admit to being smitten with Elliott Gray? To Sadie? Out loud? “Yes.” “Nonsense.” .” “Hmmm.” I whisper. “Who?” She teases.” “Sadie. just curious to know if you knew them or not. My heart begins to ache. It’s true.” I follow Sadie.therefore it is safe to assume that I am popular as well. so I’ll enlighten you. nothing. Sadie. Now come over here. always had a feeling about you two kids.” “Well? What about them?” “Oh. I change the subject. “I saw him yesterday. Sadie. Apparently you haven’t heard.” “Ohhh. The name Julia Jacobs is synonymous with ‘Bluefield Pariah’. “Do you know the Gray family Sadie?” Awesome subject change Julia. He did something extraordinary. “You know who Sadie! Sheesh. “Mark and Shelby? Wasn’t their boy Elliott your best friend growing up?” That hit too close to home. it is. I see.” I say. I have some awesome new jeans that just came in. This is good Julia. “Yeah.” she says.

people watching and chatting with Sadie about nothing in particular. Wait! Someone’s coming!” “Isn’t that Robyn Larson?” I accidentally growl through gritted teeth. He walks over to the newly renovated old fashioned train station and sits on the bench just outside it. I jump up and crouch behind the settee. affecting me again.” Sadie crouches down beside me.” I grab her sleeve and pull. I stick around Sadie’s shop for about an hour.” “I know. Robyn Larson is an incredibly sweet girl but she’s rather popular with the boys at school. He was always such a generous boy.” “She was with her baby and he bought them food and supplies to last them awhile.” I swallow. har.” “That’s incredibly sweet Julia.” I admit quietly. Oops. har. I’ve never seen anything like it. I lounge on the dark purple settee she has in her window.” “I’m not surprised. my head just above the tufted back. There he goes. I tried once our sophomore year to get her to be my friend.” A lump forms in my throat. get her to realize she was something worth waiting for but it wasn’t happening. What are you up to now Elliott gray? “What are you doing Julia?” “Shh. “and he did it while keeping her dignity intact. thought it would help her self-esteem a little. “He’s just sitting there. That’s when I see him. She . get down. Sadie laughs.“What? Did he use paper instead of plastic?” “Hardy. “What’s he doing?” She asks. “I’m spying on Elliott Gray. “He helped a woman in need.

“I don’t know.” “I thought it was.” . I don’t want him. playing along.” “Where would be the fun in that?” We all stand up and Sadie tucks herself behind her counter. “Must be setting next to the four inch incisors that came with that growl.” “Awesome.” “Mind forwarding those to me? I’d rather avoid these little moments if I could. Why didn’t I bring my spy equipment with me today?” “You left them at home again?” She snaps her middle finger and thumb. “What do you suppose they’re talking about?” Sadie asks. I tried. “Are you destined to interrupt every embarrassing moment I have?” “Looks like it. at least. because everyone growls. “What are you doing Julia? You have to tell me now.” Elliott and Robyn sit for at least half an hour before going their separate ways. with the largest smile on his face. Sadie and I stay camped out on the floor even after Elliott turns the corner at Thatcher’s.” “Funny. “Alright. Don’t ask again.” “I can’t Sawyer. “What are we looking at?” He asks. What? Do you get memos or something?” “Possibly.” Sawyer sighs. please? I just can’t. when I finally take notice of him. “I don’t like him. neither of us heard the bell ring earlier because I look to my left and Sawyer is crouched beside me.knew what she wanted. “Oh yeah. Apparently. It’s a natural part of everyday conversation right?” I have no witty retort for that.” I say bluntly.

like.” I agree. “Do you know Robyn Larson?” His eyes grow huge. “Oh. I mean just. “I don’t mean to gossip but I heard she might be pregnant.. Sawyer peers out the colorful glass windows. at church. That’s an inappropriate question. I don’t think you’d know the father.” “It doesn’t matter.who the daddy is?” “Julia!” Sadie says. I think she just forgets to show herself the same kindness.well. “So? Sawyer?” “Julia?” He grins. Sunday..” “Extremely. “Walk home with me?” Sawyer asks. “I’m sorry.” Sadie’s eyes beat Sawyer’s earlier expression. .” I say. do you know anything about her?” “Uh. She’s kind to everyone. choking on the water she was attempting to drink. throwing his shoulder the direction of the door. I really like her. I heard it’s. “I don’t mean know Robyn Larson.. Sad.” “Yeah.” He scrubs the back of his neck.Out of nowhere an uncomfortable silence creeps in and I’m not sure which direction it flew in from because I could have sworn I blocked all those exits when I was around Sawyer Tuttle.” “Oh dear. “Do you know who the. I heard it’s some boy from Charleston’s baby. my family sits two rows behind Elliott Gray’s family and I find myself wondering what he was doing yesterday with Robyn Larson. well. despite her unfortunate reputation...

“Sorry. Robyn catches me with a giggle.” I laugh. I’m out of practice.” “I’m sorry I didn’t give you the chance you deserved. most Sundays. His blue eyes pierce through me and I almost topple over in my chair. it kind of wasn’t. I mentioned that you tried to help me once and he told me you were exactly the kind of girl I should be friends with and I couldn’t agree more. friends?” She asks. They’re all proving to be too much with his longing looks stacked on top. “You okay?” I asked and pushed my shoulder into hers.” I say and squeeze her hand. “Remember last year when you tried to be my friend?” She jumps in. “Hi.He repeatedly shoots glances over his shoulder at me. His tall form is highlighted from behind by the sun.” she says.” “It’s not. a friend in need is a friend indeed. “I’m glad because I’m going to need one.” “No. the families meet at Babe’s restaurant in Roanoke. I train my eyes to focus on the light fixture hanging from the rafter above his head.” I clear my throat.” I shake my head. holding out her hand. We all pile into the overstuffed room and talk and laugh. . So. the chest tingles. “It’s cool. “yeah. casting a glow around his body. After the service. the heart aches.” I say back.” she says through fought tears.” “Well. I wish so badly for him to ignore me. “Friends. “Hi. The body shivers. “Uh. that was lame. I sit down and surprisingly Robyn Larson sits directly beside me just as Elliott Gray walks through the door. Yesterday I had a chat with a good friend of mine and he sort of helped me sort through a lot of things I’ve been going through lately.

It just felt like what I needed to do. for me.” She smiled. I suppose. I fell in love with a boy who I later found out was mature enough to have sex but not to have a baby. “What happened Robyn?” “I was ready to have the baby.” She grinned and brought a tissue to her nose.” “Was?” “Yeah. truly happy Julia. it’s a long story but the gist of it is this.” I’m surprised by this. I will be. “Anyway.” . well. It wasn’t the snotty nosed kid’s fault. ya’ know?” She said through tears. I was really happy. “I suppose you may have heard a rumor or two about me?” “What? That you’re extraordinarily kind?” I tease.” She wiped more tears away. He helped show me that making the hardest decision of my life could also be about giving the greatest gift of my life. “Well. No regrets.” My half smile fell from my face. even went with me to the adoption agency and everything. anyway. “I planned on giving it up for adoption.” she continued.“Yeah. “I was about three months along when I miscarried. She laughed. “You’re kind of a bad ass you know that?” “I felt like one. “The friend I told you about earlier encouraged me to give it up when I was struggling with what to do. Well. it was true. I mean. My choice was to fix the mess I had made and the only way I could really be okay with that was by giving it up. “Maybe you caught wind of the one that said something along the lines of ‘Robyn Larson is pregnant’?” “I may have heard that from a little birdie.” she cleared her throat.

Just wait a little while.” Robyn says. I have to admit. peering in Elliott’s direction. Do you know that?” “Not as amazing as you from what he says. I’m so. “Yeah. “So. “You still can you know. I glance back at Robyn. “Give your children what your mom couldn’t. “Elliott Gray tells me you like to paint.” she jokes. by the end of it. "You are amazing. I’m the way I am because that’s the way she is. ‘Did you know Julia has painted since she was seven?’ or ‘Did you know that Julia has her own studio?’. ya’ know?” I nodded before prodding her shoulder with mine. She laughed and pushed her bangs from her forehead.“Oh Robyn. says you’re really talented. he’s the one who asked me to paint your locker for you. I’ve never been as clearheaded in my life as I am right now. “Trust me. that was you?" I friend-hit her. I see Robyn’s friend smiling at the two of us.” “He.He told you that?” Elliott looks away like he knew we were talking about him.” I winked encouragingly. clearheaded Robyn. now you have a somewhat clearheaded friend to take the journey with you.” “I am too.” “Well. so sorry.” “What?” She asked. Honestly.” We both grin at our feet but when I look up.” “What! Robyn.. His blue eyes freeze with mine and my breath catches in my throat.. I .” “He said that?” “Yeah.. it felt so good to think I could give my child what my mom never could. “He rambled on and on while I did it.

We were up there pretty early Tuesday morning just to get it done by the time you came in. covering my mouth with my hand.” She laughed.was ready to pull out my hair as well as his. He really capitalized on that too. The Principal wanted Taylor to clean it up but Elliott asked for permission to cover it instead and since they pretty much do whatever their star quarterback wants. One thing was for sure.” I swallow the sob building in my throat. he’s told me that he’s desperate to talk to you but that you won’t even look at him. “Elliott got you to paint my locker for me?” “Seriously. “Just hear what he has to say. She waved and I smiled back. “That’s where I came in. I’m not sure what’s going on but will you do me a favor. Elliott Gray was not who I thought he was. “Because Taylor Williams is an obnoxious brat and wrote some pretty nasty stuff on the front of your locker after school on Monday. “And he’d kill me for telling you this but do you want to know why?” “Why?” I ask hesitantly.” she clears her throat. Listen.” “No. now that we’re friends and all?” “What’s that?” I laughed. “He dragged her snooty butt to the Principal's office. she let him.” I gasped. “He did that? For me?” “He did. Elliott caught her doing it.” My grin fell before turning my gaze to Elliott. Robyn got up to leave. And with that. .” We both laughed. unsure of what to think or even what to feel. He wanted to make sure you didn’t know about it.

.Which was all the more reason to fear him.

dude. I stepped from my truck and slammed its door. “Why? You thinkin’ about tackling that?” “What the hell does that mean?” I asked seriously. I was popular but for a singular purpose. . Elliott.” He knew I wasn’t going to play along.Chapter Three Restraint. “Jake! Hey Jake!” “Hey. “Nothing. Everybody knows Julia. They share a one track mind. No wonder Jesse likes that guy so much. I’m ready. The slam rang through the air and I caught the attention of Jake Sotheby. do you know Julia Jacobs?” “Yeah. See you at practice. Why?” Hot but weird. Hey. I drove to school kind of early but not so early that there wouldn’t be kids in the lots. Does she park in our lot?” I knew she was in the other lot but I asked a general question to fish for something more specific. Maybe I would be throwing the first punch.” He smiled. She has the spot across from Casey Wuthers. “No dude. What’s up? You ready for Friday’s game?” That was all anybody thought I was good for and all they ever wanted to talk to me about. nothin’. She’s in Lot A. She’s hot but really weird. “Oh. “Yeah. Jerk. You Are A New Enemy Of Mine That Monday.

I figured if I saw her early enough. I searched around but Jesse was running late. . I often caught her eyes on mine like they were that day in Chemistry but she would always make herself appear distracted immediately after. and Casey Wuthers’ car was there but she wasn’t. I cut through the school toward Jules’ lot. anyone that I may have even had the slightest acquaintance with. The ironic part is I knew she searched for me too. That’s what killed me the most. It confused the heck out of me.So. providing me with an involuntary plan C. I was close enough that words came out of their own accord. Well. seconds from collapsing. I had about a million things I wanted to say to her. I could be as relaxed as possible by the time we had class together. One more glimpse to add to the millions I had already stolen but this time I needed to see her so it would give me the courage to do what I needed to later that day. Honestly. for my sanity’s sake. plan A was finding Jesse because he parked in the same lot and plan B was ‘running’ into Casey Wuthers. She cracked me up. crud. Her car was there. a girl I barely knew but was cool enough with that I could still approach her without it being weird. Her pretend frostiness was just another thing I liked about her. all I wanted was a glimpse of Jules. “Jules?” I confidently asked. While searching for someone else. The first time I would see her each day would send me hurdling into an anxiety attack. I caught Jules walking through the parking lot toward me and for reasons beyond my control I found my feet carrying me forward. I think she got a small kick out of torturing me but that was okay. I was never in control enough to do anything like that. as usual. She was feisty. I needed them off my chest. whether she would respond or not didn’t matter.

casually leaning my shoulder against the locker next to hers.She didn’t respond. I can’t sleep. I recovered from the fragrant punch and when I caught up with her dug my hands into my pockets to keep from seizing her in my arms. you’ve polluted my thoughts. tossed open the school’s double doors and raced into the hall. “Seeing that you won’t talk to me. followed suit. and every time we’ve seen each other since? I’m dying here. I wound my way around the other students in the crowded hall.” I sighed. “Jules. Kitt’s class. I kept my hands in my pockets for safekeeping. Though she didn’t confirm it with that pouty bottom lip. I had gotten her attention. She walked right past me and I. angry and mouth agape. She stopped at her locker and began to spin its dial. can I talk to you?” Goosebumps rose on the flesh of her neck. wide eyed. When the doors opened. against my better judgment. Before I could reach her she was already through the doors. I had definitely caught her attention. leaned over her shoulder and spoke closely into her ear. Alright. “Jules.” She turned. “I can’t eat. I dream about you all day. I want to know what we’re going to do about what happened in the hall outside Mrs. I picked up my pace. Just the . just in case. “Julia?” I nearly shouted. the air spilling in from the outside tossed her hair about her face and carried that honeysuckle-orange scent rolling towards me.” I pulled my hands from my pockets and ran them through my hair but put them back. The last thing I wanted was an electric shock to spook her away from me again. and inside her class. I guess I’ll talk to you. two can play at this game. Against my will.

“I just remembered. I almost melted into a puddle onto the floor. “I know you’re feeling the same things. She turned back to her locker. There were deeper meanings behind everything she did. Kitt’s class felt like the longest trip of my life. You can’t hide it. Jules was beginning to infect my brain and the only antidote I could think to alleviate the pain was more Jules.” “You do not. I don’t need anything from my locker.” Her fingers dropped from the dial. her hair brushing my arm as she stalked away. Can’t tell you how I knew it. My legs felt heavy with anticipation knowing the fight . You’ve restarted the combination to your locker seven times Jules. the little she had said. She turned and walked off. “See you second period!” I yelled. avoided the touch that she was obviously denying existed.” I amended with a smile.” she finally spoke. “I can tell I affect you Jules.effect I wanted. I went to first period alone with my own thoughts and a smile that caught the attention of every girl I walked by. “I know I do. She was scared. she raised her head and stared straight ahead. very satisfied at the seemingly meaningless conversation. she didn’t wear the emotion at all but she was scared and I had plans to change that. and the way her body avoided mine. And her voice was like velvet. Even her hair bit with the literal electricity we shared.” I continued. She rolled her eyes.” she said stoically. “I never said I didn’t like it. I knew the truth though. Walking to Mrs.

Thanks to the supernatural phenomenon that was our electricity. Smooth. I wasn’t going to let her make me feel like I purposely did it and that was that. It was an understood knowledge that welled inside my chest and I was never so grateful for anything before in my life. very smooth. except for Jules. I stood outside the door to Mrs. Kitt’s class and took a deep breath before swinging it open. I choked and coughed on the deep breath I took when I saw her face and the whole class lifted their head noticing me briefly. I sat next to her and began to lean in but before I could say anything. It told me what I wanted to know. I could think of no plan of action during first period and ultimately decided to go with my gut. I hesitated slightly because unplanned conversations with Jules had proved disastrous before. Mrs. She glanced from the corner of her eye and the nerves that tingled in her stomach tingled in mine. mom. but winging it at her locker didn’t turn out so badly so I went with my instinct.e. and the donated paper covers from Justin Weber’s Auto Body Shop and asked us to wrap them. i. I was privy to everything Jules felt. something about the printers making a mistake. I didn’t care if she believed me or not. Metaphorical punches. Kitt had started passing out our seriously delayed textbooks. I had no clue what I was going to say to her.that Jules was probably going to put up. On the front was . but I was ready. I could feel it without even touching her which explained the butterflies we shared in that moment. Metaphorical. They were so stupid looking. If the feeling was powerful enough. the teeth debacle. Either way. I had a good feeling she’d bring up the bookstore and I had at least planned on being honest there.

On the hood laid Kitty. She pressed the side of her thumb’s knuckle across the crease to make sure it took. When she was done. knowing full well I felt the slice. total denial. The shared pain was sharp and intense and made me jump when she did. but for a very different reason. “She’ll be back.” she said. bracing myself for the long fight it was going to take to erase whatever idea she had of who I was and what I wanted her to be to me. Jules was the only one who wrapped her book inside out so the paper would be blank and she could draw on it later. Her thin fingers carefully measured the folds and creased them attentively. She did this for all four sides of the cover but on the fourth crease accidentally gave herself a paper cut.obviously an older picture of Justin Weber because he was easily twenty pounds lighter in the picture than he was in real life. I took out my pen and wrote on the top of the cover in very small letters. Poor guy. We’ll treat you right. . Kitty was Justin’s ex-girlfriend from Charleston who left him for a ‘big city’ man but he just wouldn’t let her go. I threw a dorky smile her way. in a fitted jumpsuit with Justin’s logo on the front. thank you. She looked over at me briefly. “Yes.’ Jules had already begun to wrap her book. “Are you okay?” I asked.” he’d always say. He was standing in front of his auto body shop and there was a rented sports car between himself and his garage. ‘Come to Justin’s. breathing heavily from the realization rather than the laceration. On the top in big letters it read. and copied her. The throb subsided when she brought her knuckle to her tongue to soothe the ache. She turned back to her task.

Class is about to start. I am right. Boy. you must think the world revolves around you. I’ve noticed I’m the only one who calls you that. I don’t have time for your games. Elliott. I’ve noticed you watching me. I wrote and shoved the cover into her face. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Right. About your following me to Koan’s? I DID NOT follow you to Koan’s. . Are we ever going to talk about what happened the first day of school? She hesitated. How many times do I have to tell you? I know that but I like Jules. What do you want Elliott? Can we talk? About what? You know what. My name is Julia. but at last answered me. Whew. Jules. Elliott. She wasn’t expecting that answer and I could see when her eyes widened then quickly narrowed that she wasn’t exactly adverse to the idea. not Jules. It makes me a part of you that only we share. How would you even know that Jules? If you weren’t watching me as well? It’s Julia. Exactly.Hi. It was a coincidence. She turned to her own notebook. I do not! Don’t try to make me appear as if I’m imagining things.

I looked at her. There’s no denying that baby girl. huh? You’ve never struck me as the type who read into stereotypes Jules. She reached out her hand to yank the pen from mine in retaliation. I didn’t know you were such a snob. I cannot deny that. What about the first day of school. huh? Did I act like a snob then? It seems to me that you’re the one who’s the snob. Everyone around us were completely unaware of the netted lightning bolt that stuck us stiff to our seats and quieted us from its silently deafening effects.What’s your motivation? I have to have a motivation to talk to you? Boys like you always have a motivation. Am I really that bad? It’s not that. You’re literally breaking my heart Jules. With trembling hands I wrote. confused. It’s just. even if I wanted to. I don’t trust you. We pulled away as if they were hands held to a stove. You’re right. I’ve gotten the cold shoulder from you for the past three weeks. I’m the snob? Spare me. You see me coming and you run the other direction. Do you? What? Want to deny it? Kind of. Why? . You’ve avoided me like the plague. Her finger grazed mine and the contact struck a sparkled heat between us. Boys like me.

This brings me to my next question. Jules. I was an idiot and afraid of girls. What’s happening to us? I don’t know. I have to admit. Oh. I should have just come out and asked you. I was your friend. . but I was only doing that to protect myself from the way you were acting. why? Because. I admit. I wasn’t some girl Elliott. Again. I’m sorry. it seemed like you wanted nothing to do with me so I stopped talking to you. Okay.How do I know you’re the same Elliott Gray who would play with me on the rock bridge as kids? You seemed to have changed when we entered eighth grade. Your guess is as good as mine. I did act as if I wanted nothing to do with you. if we hadn’t grown apart maybe we never would have found our ‘thing’ and I kind of like our ‘thing’. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Only one day had passed since last we saw one another. whom I may have never noticed had we not grown up without each other. Growing apart meant that we became the people we are today and you seem to be an amazing someone. but you ignored me as if we hardly knew each other at all. I’m kind of glad we ignored each other. Our ‘thing’ may have gotten lost in the friendship. Ask me why Jules. It was all so awkward that first day and I didn’t know what I had done. It seemed as if overnight we just stopped being friends. But. Maybe I was the snob. I’m sorry. I’m sorry too. Honestly. really. That was mean.

I turned over my book and weren’t able to talk or write for the rest of the class. What’s so funny? You. She knew what was happening. On our way to lunch. so I don’t look like a fool again. Jules and I walked side by side. You’ve somethin’ better to do? When she didn’t answer. She put the back of her index finger up to her mouth and quietly laughed at me. Then why’d you ask? I just wanted to confirm that you knew too. You’ve got me pegged pretty well Jacobs. Why? Because even with our ‘thing’. our powerful. I know what happened to us. I didn’t want to unnerve her so I stayed pretty quiet. She had been watching us and was headed our way. we’ve just gotten started.She swallowed hard. This town still has a slight hold on you. I know. I think. Jules was definitely lowering her defenses and I was making plans to disarm her completely by the end of the week. I do an incredible job of looking foolish in front of you without even realizing it until it’s too late. She was laughing. All it took was an incredibly frightening ‘thing’. I looked at her and she nodded toward the front of the classroom. your ego is afraid of rejection Elliott Gray. I clumsily gave her the impression that I . It was Mrs. When I didn’t say anything. Kitt. powerful ‘thing’. What should we do about it then? Talk after class? And why not now? As far as I’m concerned. You’re funny. Progress.

If you must know. “So. placing her elbow on the table and leaning her body toward me.was no longer interested in talking.” she said. Now come on. I didn’t know about the girls. Julia Jacobs. You’re nosy. “Why don’t you just throw out whatever preconceived notions you hold of who you think I am and consider me a blank slate. I didn’t think you’d want to be seen eating lunch with the ‘freak’ of Bluefield High. I just got you to start talking to me. Honest.” she said and started walking quickly toward her usual table.” I grabbed her hand and the surge permeated my skin and gave me the most luxurious calm pulsing through my arm and torso. She was being sarcastic. why do you sit here day after day by yourself? Don’t you have any friends at Bluefield?” “Yikes. It’ll be easier to talk if we’re alone. I don’t think so Jules.” I said. I don’t listen to anything anyone says about others around here.” .” “I’m sorry. “Uh. We sat down and she stared at the wall away from me. “You sure do make a lot of assumptions about me. I jogged to catch up with her. “none of the girls here like me because of Taylor Williams’ noxious gossip and none of the boys like me because they’re afraid of me. “Is there a freak here? Point them out to me? I’ve never seen one up close before. Where do you think you’re going?” “Well. let’s sit at your table. She knew that was her reputation and probably reveled in it.” She rolled her eyes.” she laughed. Gossip just doesn’t appeal to me. “See you third period.

I didn’t care.” “Are you surprised? You sulk around here..” “Because you’re sitting at this table while your friends whisper and stare. I only . I can see why they’d be afraid of you. Still. She reclined again in her seat and brought her legs to the chair next to her “There are lots of things you might find refreshing about me.” She slid her hands down her waist. I know you listen to all the same music I do. or whatever their definition of a freak is.. since you’re the king of their football team they look right past it. Yet. here you are...refreshing...” She had hit the nail on the head...” “As far as the boys are concerned. Pay little to no attention to anyone and sneer at the ones who even attempt to talk to you. You think I enjoy having to be ‘put up’ with? What would you know about it anyway? You’re just as much of a freak. “If you cared so much. I know that you secretly think my clothing is kind of cool. You’re perfectly aware of the trouble I’m going to cause you by being here right now..” “You don’t know what you’re talking about..” she mused.” She threw her eyes in the direction of the team table.” “Ha! That was rude..“I find that.. “I have a pretty good feeling that you can’t stand most of your lemming friends and I’m also willing to bet you don’t really care what they think...” “I’ll be the judge of that. It’s a matter of self preservation. as I am. you wouldn’t be here at all.” “Oh yeah? And what makes you think I don’t care what they think? They are my friends after all.. her eyes brightened.

You’ve never bothered to find out if I was the same Elliott or not. selfishly I admit. if you’ll excuse me. my. However difficult it was to keep up the false pretense of our town’s expectations of me. I knew too well. You’re too afraid of losing the security of your popularity that you’d rather not risk being unique and possibly opening yourself up to new and amazing things. I chose the former because it seemed easier. “Who do you think you are passing a judgment like that on me? You don’t know me.cared. I kept my hand on her arm to help drive the point home. I wasn’t about to give her the last word. My. You’re too afraid to be yourself and that’s just pathetic to me. She looked at me with shocked eyes as the electricity clung and snapped against the lockers around us.” She gathered her bag and made her way toward the door leaving me stunned by the sudden turn of events. You don’t like to be judged by your appearance or actions and yet look at the massive contradiction that is you judging me by mine! I was trying to get to know you again Jules. I wanted to know more about you and not because I had ulterior motives but because I was sincerely interested in you. “Truthfully Elliott Gray? I’m confident you’re as sick of this place as I am but you just quite haven’t figured out how to let it go. You should know . my! Who does Julia Jacobs thinks she is? I immediately stood to chase after her. Now. for my ownreputation because I was a teenager and hopelessly shallow in the matters of position within the young community. Outside of the cafeteria I caught her arm and pressed her back against a locker. as Jules did. the load of being the town’s black sheep.

“should be proof enough. “and I’m sorry if I ever gave you the impression that I was anything like the idiots just beyond those doors..” She grabbed my hand and took a pen from the inside pocket of her bag. were an indication of the things to come. to me... I had forgotten about that. We slid to the linoleum floor in unison... Growing up we were always aware that we’d have to plan our parties around the other until. “If this were a movie. I. “So.” I said. “So?” I asked. that is.. but.” “Well. Here. what’s your favorite color? Things like that. Also. We ate and passed back and forth simple questions like. You’re right. It didn’t seem that significant then but . “But we still have like twenty minutes of lunch together? And third period next?” I moved next to Jules at the lockers.” “Alright.this.” She smiled and sniffed. running my fingers through my hair. good.” “Seriously? That would be really nice.I’m sorry Elliott. We had things in common that didn’t really matter much on paper but.” I said.. I did judge you unfairly. This” I said gesturing with my free hand around us. this would be where we break away from one another and the gooey music would be cued. I think that maybe you should call me tonight. Jules no longer threw them.” I let go of her arm and we both relaxed from the release of the lit tension. we shared birthdays. “I’m. She stared seriously into my eyes. She wrote her number on my palm then looked up at me and smiled before releasing our grip.

“Hello? Jacobs’ residence. so my mom thought nothing of it. Three rings. I borrowed it all the time to talk privately in my room because Maddy had a tendency to get on the other line and eavesdrop. Without even skin contact. . uh. 29th. Her dad answered. I wondered what it meant. food.” There was a ruffling sound and a chair scooting backward. “Thank you! I hereby retract calling your love for ‘Tiny Dancer’ lame!” She yelled the last part then laughed. “Just a sec. much.” The silent wait was torturous. May I speak with Jule. Jacobs? This is Elliott Gray. books and when they bell rang. I picked up the phone and ran up the creaky kitchen wooden stairs to my room.intimidated me now. That night.” she said and laid her hand over the receiver before continuing. please? I’m beggin’ you.” She didn’t correct her name. we headed for third period.” “Jules. We talked music. My heart swelled.” “Hello? Mr. “Can you talk?” I asked. Julia please?” “Just a moment. much too soon. I asked my mom if I could borrow her cell. movies. leap year. I could tell her heart was lighter and that mine beat in rhythm with hers. My hand shook as I nervously dialed the number written on my hand. “Pop. “Hello?” “Hello? Just hello?” “Hi Elliott. My bouncing knee would have kept time with a hummingbird’s wings. Feel like adding weirder to the already weird? Our birth date was February.

We’d have to marry first..Uh.” “Come on! I’ve got to know now. especially not to you.” I laughed. “Um? You hesitated.” I said. Besides... just yet. What was a I thinking?. no.” “We wouldn’t have to change names. would you tell?” “Nope. “Why would that be gross? My actual mother doesn’t feel that way. So. but if I let him know that. then have children who also happen to be my siblings.” “Nah. you brought it up Freud. I have nothing to tell. Are you afraid to tell me?” “Well. “You’re right.” “Um. especially after ‘Almost Famous’. I’ve got one but I’d never tell it.” “You’re funny Jules. I don’t think she does.” “Hardy. did you get all your homework done?” “What are you my mother?” I teased.” “Because that would mean we’d have to change your name to Oedipus and mine to Jocasta. It’s not true. both of us laughing.. by the way. anyway. “How about we start over by you telling me something about yourself that no one else knows. “Um. everyone has secrets. That would be gross. Serious change of subject por favor?” “Hey.“Okay Gray. he’d never let me live it down. har. Those names are hideous. At least..” “Yup. har. Would it help if I told you one about me first? Then.” . this conversation has taken a turn down ‘I never thought I’d talk about something like this’ lane.” she said. that would be gross.” I said. I love that song.

” “Okay. can you? What would be my motivation to keep quiet?” “Gray. if you had said something like. Not after a revealing bit of information like that. alright.“Oh come on Jules! Now that you’ve piqued my interest you’re just going to leave me dangling on your hook? That’s some cruel bait there Jules. scouts honor.” “Alright. “Okay. I could . Please Jules!” “No sir. There’s no way I’m gonna’ tell mine now! Especially since you used a word like ‘druthers’. fine but if you so much as think of letting it pass your own lips.” I sighed loudly. How could I possibly follow the scandal that is nineteen seventies era British television? Gimme’ a break!” She laughed.” “Oh come on Jules! I just can’t think of anything juicy right now. “I mean.” I waited. Well. that would have been something. Now.” “If I’m already on my death bed you can’t very well threaten me with death. You can’t see it but I’m crossing my heart and hoping to die. if I had my druthers I’d rather stay home on Friday nights and watch seventies era BBC comedies. trying to think. You’ve got to go first!” She said laughing.” Complete silence. even on your death bed. No way. “No. “Are you kidding me? That’s your big secret? My God Elliott! That’s almost boasting. alright. baby. you’re a dead man Gray. ‘On Friday nights I’d rather lounge around and watch old BBC reruns on PBS while I switch the heads on my sister’s Barbie dolls. “Alright.” “Good.

So..” Not a creature was stirring. I would just humiliate myself now. Let me think. Whew! I’ve got to tell you my secret just to explain to you what a secret truly is. “‘but I’m a super nice person who likes to spend time with old people. Okay. I remember. don’t tell anyone but once a month.” I continued.. “Oh.” “Switch the heads on my sister’s Barbie dolls?” She laughed.” “Oh..” she mocked. hold on.” I shifted . right.” I chuckled. I think I’ve got one.” I laughed. I volunteer at Shady Pine’s retirement community and play cards and games with the older residents who don’t have much family. Well. “Anyway. over the summer I drove Carmen to the creek.” I think I heard a pin drop. The shallow pool?” “Yeah.Tee hee!’ My God Gray! Just sit tight. “over the summer I drove Carmen down to.have worked with that but no... it was July and it was getting kind of hot and I was dying to jump in but didn’t want to get my clothes wet.. “What is wrong with you?” I asked. “Alright... not even a mouse. Carmen is my Karmann Ghia. “I have to admit it’s one of my favorite things to do.” she sighed. I got out and trekked the little quarter mile to the creek and enjoyed the beautiful nature of it all... Remember it?” “Yeah.” “Who’s Carmen?” I interrupted.. “Anyway... Okay. “Alright. near the rock bridge. “Seriously Gray? Seriously! ‘Don’t tell anyone’.Okay. that we used to fish for tadpoles in.

meaning the back . I put on my flip flops and walked back to Carmen in my underwear. “How did you drive through town without people noticing?” “Well. I was having a marvelous time just swimming and enjoying the cool water but when I got out and started for the stump where my clothes were. it is in the middle of nowhere and you and I are the only two people in the world that I knew of who had any idea where it was so I took off my cut-off’s and my tank top and left them with my flip flops on that tree stump that got hit by lightning when we were kids at the edge of the creek.” My Uncle Danny was the town’s sheriff. so I made it home right? My parents weren’t there and I had no way of calling for help. “So.” “What’d you do?” I said. I only had one key and it was for the front door. so I dove in. that’s hilarious. I started to worry that someone had seen me and I kind of began to panic until I remembered that I had left half a candy bar in my shorts’ pocket. go figure. they weren’t there. swallowing hard. when I got back to the car I remembered I had an old hand towel from my Tribal dance class in the back so I draped it over my chest and practically sped through town. Plus. practically sped because I didn’t want to risk embarrassing myself or your Uncle Danny. That’s when I noticed the raccoon tracks trailing away from the scene of its crime.” “Well then came the hard part. I mean. I s a y. I looked around to ensure that no one was there. Anyway.uncomfortably in my computer chair. “The only thing I could do.” I laughed so hard.” “The hard part?” “Yeah. “Oh my gosh.

“You torture Sawyer Tuttle. “You know. Plus.” “No I don’t! I’ve barely said a word to him since. I couldn’t blame him but that didn’t change the fact that I still wanted to bash his face in. Well. I winked at him and finally opened the door. Sawyer comes sauntering around to the front of his house from the side and catches me in all of my underwear glory. Well. “I know him.” No wonder Tut stared at Jules the way he did. “Yes. I’m pretty sure that’s all he ever thinks about when he’s around you.” She took a deep breath. Well. our secret. the kid just stared with his mouth open. I sit next to him in class.wasn’t an option. you know.”Do you know him? He’s in our Chemistry class.” “Yeah. It counts. Sawyer Tuttle. I parked the car as close to the house as possible to avoid exposure and studied the neighborhood for a second. Just then.” . He’s seen you in your underwear. So. Trust me. anyway.” I laughed.” I threw in.” “And mine. mine.” “Oh. I didn’t notice anyone or anything so I rushed out and bolted up my porch to the front door. Sawyer knew. there was no sense in hiding because he’d already seen everything.” She paused. Sawyer’s and that naughty raccoon’s secret. I said something that no one else knew. “And that’s my secret.” We both laughed. like a deer in headlights. my neighbor. mine and Sawyer’s secret. I even wave to him now and again so he knows I’m not angry at him.” “Whoa buddy! It counts. He didn’t even bother turning around.” “Even making eye contact with him is torturing him Jules.

All it took was a simple phone call. I stopped all movement before I answered. “nothin’.Julia lately . the best thing for you to do is wear a large bulky jacket to Chemistry. “Wait. Tut. I saw Jules at lunch and we picked up where our two hour phone conversation left off. We were picking lab partners for the rest of the year that day and at lunch she agreed to be mine. before the band started practicing. No.” “Well. Poor Tut. I had forgotten what great partners in crime we had once been and definitely felt closer to her again.” More laughing.. “Okay.” I said. Poor. you’ve got something going on lately and you’re not telling me. It was like time had never passed us by. crap. We reminded ourselves of all the little things we did together growing up.” “Trust me baby doll.” He didn’t buy it. I’ve been talking to Jules.” I said.” “I really don’t. can’t wait to punch him in the face. what’s going on with you?” Jesse asked during third period. He pointed to my bouncing knee and the drumsticks nervously twirling in my hands. I could almost hear it click in her head. Seriously? It was so long ago. “Dude. He remembers. clearing my throat. sitting up. you can’t say a word to anyone about this. I freaked out a little bit while waiting until the end of the day to see her during fourth period Chemistry.“No!” She said. Should I say something to him?” “No. I’m sure he barely remembers it. “but listen. “not unless you want him to keep obsessing about you. “Oh.” I laughed.” “Seriously.. The next day.

” “Elliott.” “Awww man! Elliott!” All heads turned our way. you can’t go out with Julia Jacobs. like Jules’ hair and skin. I had better things to think about.” I tried to pass off what Jesse said but it really rubbed me the wrong way. Belkin’s Chemistry class. to .” He got unusually serious for a moment and his face and voice grew menacing. “You’d be smart to stay away from her Elliott. My hair even stuck to the back of my neck. I really got into whatever it was I was playing because when she strolled in Tut had to shove at one of my elbows. I threw my book bag onto my shoulder. I decided to ignore it. causing me to drop one of my sticks. “Shhhhh! Keep your voice down. Class is about to start. I was so sticky with sweat. darn it. stuck my sticks in the back pockets of my jeans and hauled over to Mr. That’s enough ordering me around.and she’s skittish.” he whispered. After rocking it out for an hour and a half. It wasn’t so much what he said. I say little. you’d be the smartest person in the world to stay away from her. Trust me. but the guy was at least six foot two with a broad chest that could probably take a few punches. “I can do whatever I want Jesse. I don’t want to scare her off. Jules wasn’t there yet so I took my sticks out of the back of my jeans to play with on the lab table while I waited for her to walk in.” “Whatever Jesse. I sat at the lab table in the back with my little friend Sawyer Tuttle. but how he said it that gave me the willies. I thought about changing my sweaty t-shirt but was too excited to see Jules.

Belkin asks me who my lab partner will be I’ll be sure to say your name. No one wanted anything to do with her but they could not disagree that she was the most beautiful girl in that school. breathing in the scent of her hair.” Mr. “Sit down Mr. I leaned into her ear. Gray. she was the most beautiful girl in the entire world. really. Belkin said beneath his reading glasses. that all or any of the guys noticed her. I just stared into her eyes with a huge grin on my face. When Mr. leaving the stick on the floor.” She smiled and lightly tapped me twice on the face sending a short burst of sparks cascading from my cheek. I knew. wide and in disbelief. eyed Tut like a dog eyes a piece of meat and walked right up to Jules.get my attention that she was there and not because he thought Jules and I were talking. Placing my hand at the small of her back. despite our history he’s still one of the few here who treats me nicely. It kind of infuriated me that Sawyer Tuttle noticed her. for my own good. They all knew. “You haven’t changed your mind have you?” I whispered. “No. It was because she was drop dead and that didn’t escape even one of the guys’ attention in that room. I don’t know what got into me but I stood up. She was original. Hell. Original and too smart. Elliott. Now sit down and stop being mean to Sawyer. my Jules. I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a clue that Jules and I were talking. . It infuriated me even more that Tut thought I’d want to be one to delve into whatever private thoughts he was having about her. I walked back to my seat and Tut’s mouth matched his eyes.

” Have to figure out how to differentiate the sensations. I told myself. if the feeling’s strong enough. Mr. I joined Jules at her table and she shot a look of disapproval my way. She touched my arm. I can feel everything that you feel without touching you.” I said. When he got to Jules. Mr. Belkin?” “Who is to be your lab partner?” “Elliott Gray. he went down the line of lab tables and asked each student who they’d like their lab partner to be. “Julia Jacobs?” “Yes. knowing well what I’d done but not caring. “You forget Elliott Gray. “No.” He relaxed in his stool. crossed my arms and winked at Tut.“Are you going out with Julia Jacobs?” He asked bluntly. When he finished pairing everyone up. I just stared ahead. Belkin. Belkin began taking roll. I straightened up in my stool. “I can tell you’re sorry. so I’ll drop . “the anger I felt for Tut you must have been feeling toward me and I couldn’t tell the difference.” “Oh. Mr. When he was done. “What’s up with you?” I asked.” I gloated. He smiled the most insincere smile I’d ever seen and I could almost hear the curses in his head. Tut got stuck with Robby Banden. embarrassed. The bell rang and Mr. sucker. “Not yet. Belkin explained the lab we were doing that day and gave us a few minutes to prep. anyway” I threw out so his body language could grow back the tension I wanted it to be at.” “See ya’ around Tut.

” she said. Just don’t let it bother you. I thought. “Though I don’t deserve it.” I said.” “Julia Jacobs!” I shouted in a whisper. this is going to work out really well.” Wow. “I don’t like cruelty.” “What if I brushed your hair from your shoulder? Do you think that would anger him more?” I brushed a long strand of hair off her shoulder and stared deeply into her eyes.” she said. Butterflies rustled in my stomach. had you not thought that my touching you might help Tut get over you?” I let the back of my index finger trail tiny zaps down her jaw . God! Why do you have to be such a firework?” “That’s an incredibly astute question. You don’t think I feel it for you when any one of these girls here looks at you? It’s only natural.” “I’d have chosen you even if you had clobbered him onto the ground. I peered back over my shoulder at Tut.” she continued.” “But Jules.” she said. “It doesn’t feel like you don’t like my brand of cruelty.” She let a smile slip through. I’m interested in you and you alone. “I believe you’ve just stolen my heart. eyeing me slyfully. “not at the expense of others. “I don’t deny that I like it when you touch me.it. It’s just jealousy Elliott. Why do you think that is Jules?” “Elliott. “But. “I’m glad you chose me today. “Tut seems to be kind of mad himself. trying really hard not to look back at Tut.

“In this class. as much fun as that would be. I’ve had little to no control of some of the smallest emotions.” We both smiled flirtatiously then focused on the task at hand with only the occasional teasing remark. I hesitated for the first minute but eventually grabbed her hand in mine. The five minute walk was inspiring. suddenly ashamed of my cruel behavior.” “I understand. For instance. together. It was the happiness we felt. The good kind. I could feel in my gut that she wanted me to ask myself over to her house but I didn’t give myself the opportunity. “we have work to do.” “You make me feel like I’m falling Gray. Something Jules never .” she said. a pyrotechnic shower of light and heat cascaded over our heads before spilling onto the concrete. “You make me feel like I’m flying Jules. Just so they’ll know that I belong to you and you belong to me.” she said grabbing my face and turning it toward our solution filled flask. I needed to drag out the week so she’d feel obligated to come to my football game Friday. “It makes me want to kiss you in front of everyone in here.” “Well. and it reflected in the sparkled bits of electricity that fell at our feet. Images of students slurred around us. It was beautiful and I knew exactly what it was.” I said. to say the least. The ‘tip of the roller coaster before it plummets’ kind. When Chemistry was over. She grabbed my hand and put it onto the lab table. this jealousy I feel over Tut?” I leaned into her ear. but we were the only ones that mattered. “You know Jules? You do strange things to me. The instant our hands connected.line. I walked her to her car. you will not encourage Sawyer’s hurt.

stirring .” I shouted as I ran off. visible to only myself. “Bye Jules! See you tomorrow.” she said quietly. “Bye. startling my mother. I smoothly dodged around the crowded hallway of students and objects.” I said sheepishly. I got home a little sooner than I usually did. I ran as fast as I could to my truck in the other lot. cautiously closing the door behind me. one hand on her hip. I was a fool and loved every minute of it. belting each word. The drive home felt bittersweet.did. like I had sat in an emotionless body until I saw Jules that first day of school. The electricity was fading without Jules around. I let the light permeate the wind around me. dusting them with glimmering powdery dust. I never felt alive as I did in that moment. I was determined to take her to Thatcher’s and that was going to be a task in and of itself. “Elliott! What’s gotten into you son?” “Sorry mama. dropping shiny sparks of magnetic tensions and watched as they fizzled at the ground. “I had a really good day at school today. but willed myself away. I peeled my hand away from the pleasant thrumming. Also. leaving ribboned trails of Jules’ and my shared electricity behind me. Fireworks shot from my chest and hands. I drove home to The Future Cast’s ‘Lovers March’ and blared the song out open windows. confused and waving her beautiful hand my way. raising effervescent fingers to the air. and burst through our kitchen door. ran up the hill to the house.” “Oh really? Fix that little problem?” She stood at the stove. seriously thought about grabbing her hand again. the next day. Emotions pre-Jules barely registered in my thoughts.

” she laughed.” “Okay baby!” “What’s his problem?” I heard Maddy ask on my way up. The phone rang a couple of times before Jules answered.” “Well.something in a pot. “Because I don’t want to bug you Jules. child.” I heard my mom answer as I shut my door behind me.” “Really?” I asked surprised. How did you?” “Because I just knew. I looked down at my mom’s cell phone in my hand. I don’t know what’s gotten into you but I like it. I’ve decided that you’re worth dropping my defenses for.” “Why did you just run off earlier?” She asked. Consider yourself lucky because I’ve never . Maddy bothered me incessantly about teaching it to her but my dad said it was good for her not to know for fear a seventeen year old version of Maddy would use it for dubious purposes.” “Hey Jules. I purposely took my ‘non-squeak’ path. “He’s just happy. You should try it sometime. “Yes ma’am.” I said. kissing her cheek and grabbing an apple before heading up the creaky stairs to my room. “Got a lot of homework ma’. carefully choosing the random spots on the random steps that avoided sound.” “Oh. It took me years to figure out the combination and I got a kick out of knowing it by heart. “Sometimes I don’t mind being bugged.” “Cool. Just call me for dinner. as I called it. “What a complete one eighty you’ve done on me from the beginning of the week Jacobs. “Hello Elliott Gray.

see you tomorrow.” I hung up the phone and swiveled my chair toward my bedroom door.. I didn’t forget what I was going to ask her. I finished my homework.Oh. I didn’t. even played with Maddy before I forced my tired feet up the stairs and plunged into my sheets. “Bye Jules. That’s okay. I gotta’ go. but not because you’ve dropped your defenses. “A very good ..” I understated.. “Jules.” “I know.” After another two hour conversation of talking about absolutely nothing yet everything that seemed important I had to let her go...” “Why didn’t you answer me then?” “Because I was waiting for you to say whatever it was you were going to say.” “Alright. Smiling at how things can change so quickly in such a short period of time.” “I consider myself very lucky babe. “Today was a good day... I left my room and headed down the back stairwell to the kitchen to put my mom’s phone back on her charger. She hung up.” We both laughed..” “Bye Elliott.” “Bye Jules.” “Bye forgetful.” “No. I just decided it’d be better if it waited until the next day. We’ve got tomorrow... me too..So?” “I forgot now. except for maybe Sawyer. ate dinner.done that for anyone at Bluefield. talked and laughed with my parents. Jules?” I waited for a while but no answer.. “Shoot.

“Please say yes. Mrs. I nervously walked two paces behind Jules toward the door.” I pleaded with a smile. but in that moment I about said ‘screw it’. When class was finally over.” “Yeah. she hesitated.” she laughed. “Stupid town and their stupid gossip. we were barely able to speak during second period because Mrs. Jacobs’ best friend.” . She stopped short and I took a step back to join her. You’ve just been saved Julia Jacobs. but when I was close to dropping my bag and books and sweeping her into my arms to kiss her. eyeing us gingerly. I could feel her warm breath on my neck when she leaned in to my ear and shuddered at the tingle it gave me. but I might. “Wanna’ sit with me and Jesse and the rest of the team? A change of pace?” I asked.” Jules whispered under her breath to me once we reached the end of the hall.” The next day. Enough said. For a long time. “Why not? They don’t bite. As the daily custom now. “Let’s go to Thatcher’s after school. She never knew it. Kitt was watching us very closely now and we tried to act as inconspicuously as possible.” she leaned in and whispered back. “You going to lunch kids?” she asked. We walked to lunch and entered the cafeteria doors. Kitt was on to us. I know she’s just itchin’ to call my mom. Mrs. Kitt walked by. “Okay. avoid prying eyes. Don’t make me beg you Jules. Mrs.day.” I said joining her side. “Absolutely not. all eyes shot our way.

Come on.” “I don’t think so Jules. It also got all over me but when I got up from my stool. but if you really want me to. I had spent over thirty hours on that painting. I started to confront her but Mr. She was foul.” she finger quoted. “Don’t you remember that awful fight we got in to last year in art class?” She asked in disbelief. Whenever Taylor’s name was brought up around me I’d phase out. Over the summer. Stewart stopped me and sent me to the Principal's office. then I will. “Well Taylor accidentally. You’re imagining things. I knew how awful Taylor Williams could be. “poured an entire can of blue paint on the piece I was working on for my final project.” . I’m not. She constantly gossiped.” “What did she do?” I asked. she started to apologize.” “No. A true sociopath. but the cheerleaders won’t. I thought it was an accident until I saw her wink at me behind Mr. the guys would probably be polite. They hate my guts. Just pay attention to how Taylor Williams and her comrades act toward me. finally feeling safe enough about us to pry. So. but don’t say I didn’t warn you. of course. she called me like fifty times to see if I wanted to go to the movies but I was about as interested in that as a cat is in his bath. was cruel to people who she thought were beneath her and was about as intelligent as the lemming she so eloquently emulated. that’s when I snapped. I almost got suspended because of her. Stewart’s back and all her little followers started laughing at me. uninterested.” I honestly said. “No. dripping in paint.“Oh whatever Jules. You might like them.” “Yeah.

” “Does it feel like I have ulterior motives?” “No. “Come on Jules. We dragged two chairs together and sat at the end cap. When David was finished they . at first. pretty aloof.” “You can take an interest in her well being. Taylor and her idiot followers began to roll their eyes before we even sat down and immediately all five bent in to talk about us. our tight end. I only suggested it because I was afraid for Taylor Williams. away from the girls. I’m just not at all eager to spend the first few days I’m getting to know you again under adult supervision. I’d forever be known as that jerk who punched a girl. come on!” I dragged her to the three rectangular tables pushed together and ten of the guys from the team made room for us. but if you gave her a black eye. do you?” “Jealous?” “Absolutely not. Don’t tell me any more stories of her being mean to you. I have absolutely no interest in her well being whatsoever. engrossed in a story of how David. Maybe you do have ulterior motives. possibly suspension.” “I’m not afraid. How about this? Let’s just stay at the far end of the table with the guys.” “Your hand tells me otherwise.” She yanked her hand away. It makes my blood boil. spent the summer on the coast of North Carolina with his aunt and all the girls that inhabited the beach there. The guys were.” “Really? Hmm. then she’d attack you in retaliation and then I’d have to punch a girl for attacking you.” “Of course you’re not Jules.” “Then.“Jules. Plus. we’d both get detention. I had no idea.

” I playfully joked back..all sat back in their seats and finally took note of us.” I said. My mouth fell slack and I felt the heat starting to creep into my cheeks. I couldn’t believe she said that. Okay.not yet. Another “Ohhhhh!” leaked out of the guys. except Jesse. “I’ve got pictures.” said David. I didn’t think she was even listening. unlike the ones you probably just made up from the summer at your aunt’s. his hands up as if surrendering.” “Ohhhhh!” All the guys chimed at once. The guys barely noticed her. “You got just burned Gray!” I barely heard Kyle say. “Gray’s got himself a lunch date. only to me. Really. Taylor shot up and ran toward the exit. including us. “How could I not?” She replied.” he pointed to all the guys at the table.” I said. smiling at her.” They all laughed. “Well looky here Greg. Nice of you to finally join us Gray. Just wait!” “Oh. “I think we offended Taylor. “At least. they took note of Jules.” “Don’t worry about it.. we’re not together. “Shut up David. “Uh oh.” said Jules unexpectedly. who just shook his head. slapping Greg on the shoulder. “Okay.... tired of her drama.” whispered Jules. her cronies in tow. Elliott!” Said David.. I can’t wait to see you all fall to your knees at the hotness that was those girls.. but her quick dramatic exit was all the proof I needed. Just wait until tomorrow. “Everyone knows Taylor . “Obviously your love life is something we’re not allowed to talk about and you. and began talking about David’s summer of girls again. “at least she’s a real person. She smiled back and everyone started laughing.

but more sad than anything else. “Hey.” “It might help that we used to go fishing for tadpoles as kids on the creek and play king of the mountain on the giant rock bridge. Jules became serious. She only thinks she’s in love with me.” “And what’s that?” “Her ticket to prom queen.” “You give her more credit than I do Jules. “You said you’d come Jules. “You’re wrong. walking to our class. “Shallow right?” I asked.” Jules took a spoonful from her pudding cup.” I said. Jules still thought she was salvageable. I was impressed with Jules at that moment.” “Oh. I don’t think that’s it. “meet me at my truck after school? I’m in lot B.Williams is in love with you. It’s easy. “I think it’s because we think alike.” . Imagine if she spent as much time and energy as she wastes on the unimportant doing something that could improve her mind. natural.” “No!” I said emphatically. “A bit.” “Okaaaay. She just wants what she thinks I am. She could be extraordinary if she wanted to be.” The bell rang after third period. “I like talking to you Jules.” I said.” she sang.” said Jules. The bell rang and I picked up Jules’ bag for her and carried it to class.” “No. Even with the cruelty Taylor threw her way. She bit her lower lip to keep from laughing. I added gracious to the never ending list of amazing things I thought about her.

Although it only had four hundred and fourteen people in residence that wasn’t what made it the smallest town. in reality. . Jules and I lived in the city of Bramwell. She had both her hands in the front pockets of her jeans. She was the most beautiful girl in the entire world. Gertie manned the desk and Gus delivered.“I know. one to man the desk. Gus and Gertie. Thatcher’s. and the other to deliver. I hauled out to my truck and the sight of her stopped me in my tracks. run by two employees. what made it the smallest was the overwhelming invasion of privacy from the entire population. Their second job. the second it was done someone was calling your mama or your dad and by the time you got home your punishment was waiting for you. I’ll be there. You’re killing me Jules . a depot for the steam train. No. I’m sure. accentuating how feminine she truly was. It was a sleepy little town with one market. fifteen minutes southeast of the city of Bluefield where we all went to high school. that’s where people went to get wind of any scandals or rumors floating about town. as the town gossips. If you did something naughty. They were compensated in other ways. her bag already in the back. owned two jobs. But Gus and Gertie. resided on Main in Bramwell’s business district. ironically in its smallest town. It was like we had three hundred mothers and fathers keeping track. along with many other little businesses. and since their side business was to know everyone else's. at least not in the traditional sense. She leaned her back against the passenger side door. a married couple. in the beautiful state of West Virginia. Ugh. they weren’t paid for. I clutched at my heart.” When school let out. Her hair blew in the wind and her shirt clung to her figure. and one little post office.

While the other girls were painting their . right next to shopping at the market and paying the water bill and it wasn’t surprising at all to see through the window that afternoon all the little housewives huddled around Gertie’s desk. she might stick around this time. I knew this because I’d get a full on angry report from Jesse later. It didn’t help much that Julia wasn’t your typical Bramwell resident. They sat at the edge of their seats all summer waiting for the first season’s game. I felt confident that if I asked her about our lightning bolt. Living vicariously through their football playing and cheerleading offspring but there was only one diner in the whole damn town and it was a school night so we weren’t allowed to stay out late and I definitely wasn’t going to wait until the weekend to take her out since Friday night was the game and Saturday was too far away. the subject wasn’t exactly school appropriate because people were really good at eavesdropping on us. Bramwell was the kind of town where the parents had nothing to do but become obsessed with their own children. on what Taylor thought of things we did or didn’t say to each other.People stopped by there like gossiping was on their ‘to do’ list. Granted. or patient. right? You see. chattering and wide eyed. No one could pry into your fledgling relationship if they didn’t know about it. So basically. Our town was obsessed with our high school’s football team. There were a few more wives than usual on account it was the day before our first game and apparently there were things that needed to be talked about. We’d been avoiding the matter entirely. If I had been smart. you can see I didn’t really have a choice. I would have done what the few kids in our town who were actually dating each other knew to do and that was to go to Charleston.

but this time. brighter. paralyzed. When her hand cupped with mine. and I didn’t. she was considered the moody and pensive outcast. I took her hand and the cindery flash shot up both our arms. at least that’s what she called them. For this. It was starting to stifle inside the cab. As we drove.nails and practicing their hurkeys. I let go and she looked at me. it was no longer . but she didn’t care. I was more scared of what the lightning bolt actually meant as opposed to the bolt itself. she caught it and I could see all the muscles in her body relax at once as she took the same hand I had previously offered yet again. I followed a bead of sweat dripping down Jules’ neck. Personally. there it was. I think it may have been the anticipation of the conversation about our grossly intense lightning bolt that unsettled us or maybe it was because we weren’t officially dating and I didn’t know how Jules felt about that after today’s denial of it at lunch. It was warmer. When I smiled. I could handle Jules’ denial of me. that same shocking voltage. so we rolled down the windows and I stared as her long hair lifted and dove with the breath of the wind. That was a piece of cake in comparison. Julia was painting a canvas and practicing her guitar. While we drove to Thatcher’s. Smiles were the only form of communication we held and if my dashboard had been a confessional. it would have known we were promised to be thick as thieves. Thatcher’s seemed pretty busy. I hopped out and ran to the other side of the truck to open her door for her. we stayed perfectly quiet the ride there. It was an unusually warm day in September and my truck had no air conditioning. I loved this about her because she had the guts to stand out amongst the ‘cookie cutters’.

It continued through our shoulders and necks. I felt it in my ears. He eyed us carefully. I nodded once and began to lead her toward the door. She slid in and I clumsily tumbled in opposite her. tossing our menus aside.” I teased over my shoulder. We knew the menu. “The usual. not wanting to let go.” “Yes sir. Truthfully. The spirited force ignited the muscles in our fingers. at the time. hands. We stood with our hands locked for at least five minutes. We walked into Thatcher’s and as I had previously guessed. “Keep your gum out from underneath my table. “I blame it on this fickle southern weather.” we both said in unison.alarming. He acted quite annoyed for it being such a winning sales day. It made us feel volumes more comfortable in choosing a somewhat private booth. Its bitter alkaline smacked of one of the best flavors that had ever passed my lips. As a matter of fact. enjoying the current. he was such a grumpy old man but we loved the old crab anyway. . ever. it wasn’t the students we worried about gossiping.” said Jules with a wink and a salute. There was nothing surprising about that. eyes and even tasted it on my tongue. We could handle them.” she giggled. it was the adults but because we were under the protective mask of pre-game day students we picked the dark unwanted booth way back in the corner without difficulty. because I had yet to kiss Jules. Thatcher came up and took our orders. a bunch of students were already there. “Bizarre. and arms. “What do you want?” he barked.

“Outside Mrs. “Me too. “We’re not even chewin’ gum. She fiddled with a long curl. when I feel it. “Exactly. “The lightning bolt. He’s so kooky. She sighed and bit her bottom lip crookedly. twisting it in her fingers while her elbow rested on the table. trying to lighten the mood. I actually think I made her a little uncomfortable. “I know. “Yes Elliott?” I loved the way she said my name. swallowing the thrill her words gave me.” she guessed. I was too afraid to say anything else. Frankly. She was breathtaking.” I said with a shrug.” We laughed but it got uncomfortably quiet and Jules pretended to stare out the window at a street she could probably navigate in her sleep. “Have .Thatcher turned and mumbled something under his breath.” she said. I couldn’t help but stare too. Kitt’s class. the feeling thrilled me and scared me to death. that first day and every time after that. Her mouth distracted me and for a moment made me forget what I intended to ask her.” was all I could reply. The sun shone through Thatcher’s windows and it brought bits of gold out in her green eyes. “Hey. I felt a tiny jolt to my stomach. I can even feel a tingle underneath my fingernails. trying to think of something else to say. “Jules?” I asked.” she smirked. She caught me glaring and I failed to play it off. A wide grin began to spread across her face. but at her. the hair stands on the back of my neck. She turned her stare from out the window and her eyes met mine.” was all I could rally up.

“We were once. Forget lunch. beaming. You’re well liked at school. “I’m only kidding. and from what I’ve heard your phenomenal. together. We aren’t friends but that’s going to change. Forget parameters. You’re nothing like I’d thought you’d be. You’re the starting quarterback. “Elliott Gray. “Already we’ve got an inside joke? Don’t you think that’s a big step? Aren’t inside jokes for people with labels? We’re not even friends. but you don’t seem to be bothered to even talk about it. I thought to myself.” I had only said that because of what she had said at lunch. She looked pleased." she said. it can be our own private joke. How you appear to others is not what I see in your heart. “We aren’t?” She asked pleadingly. “No Jules. “It suddenly doesn’t sound as romantic as I meant it to sound but it would explain the lightning bolt feeling. “If that’s okay with you?” I amended. I’ve never met anyone like you. You’re an . because we’re going to start dating. I could tell she was shocked and frightfully pleased that I even got the reference.you ever read Plato’s Symposium?” I chuckled on the inside." I teased. but still. “What are you trying to say?” I asked. I had forgotten how to be a man. but I couldn’t tell for sure. but you don’t seem to care. a hermaphrodite?” She laughed wildly. I didn’t know what I was doing.” A little too forceful. Tell her what you want.” “You’re ridiculous.

“Let me try something. and again. clearing my throat.” At that moment. The wind carried itself throughout the diner. it’s fun and all. “It’s unfathomable. isn’t it?" She asked. A hot heat built between our palms and our breathing got heavier and deeper as the charge trembled through us. I forgot what we had been talking about. snatched her hand. “What is it?” She asked bluntly. “That’s an amazing feeling. It assaulted me. I like playing. It was hot so we let it cool for a moment or maybe we were just too excited to eat. She reached out her hand. and dragged her from that booth. Don’t get me wrong. her palm facing me and waited for mine.” I said. . but I can tell you this. Thatcher’s door opened up and let a tiny gust of wind in.enigma. I reached up my own hand and met it with hers. I didn’t know what I was going to do then. Asking the very question I had wanted answered since day one. if the food hadn’t come to free me from the thought I would have seized her with everything I had in front of Thatcher and the whole inane town. but he wants me to play college and frankly I haven’t figured out a way to break it to him that I won’t be doing that. The voltaic strike punched through us but neither of us pulled away. It tasted of honeysuckle and citrus and it was intoxicating. caught Julia’s perfume and sent it through my nostrils.” “Oh that.” she said. Thatcher tossed everything down and slumped away. “I do that for my pop. darkening the diner around our booth. I had to pull my hand away just to keep my sanity about me. I almost shot up.” I said. I mean.

I would die to see Shakespeare’s Globe. probably hours before. “Ah. when in fact. It’s ours and that’s all that concerns me. “You don’t?” “Nope. I’m starting to think I don’t care. I sort of like that it’s beyond our comprehension. Peppers a piece.” I realized. “If I can afford to go. I don’t want to have to find an explanation for it.” she accused. Such a pity Puritan law was. or at least the tribute to his Globe.” “For apparently hating the subject so much. you seem to know a lot about its history.” That surprised even me. Cray’s English class?” “I hope so. Also.” “Me too.” She smiled. We drank about seven Dr. “So. just to have an excuse to talk. I am truly only interested in history itself. “It doesn’t matter to me. I decided to drive Julia to her house down the street because I didn’t feel right having her drive her own car from the school at nine o’clock at night by herself. We hadn’t even noticed that everyone else had left. you mistake my knowledge for interest in the history of literature. until Thatcher’s closed. you think you’re going to London for spring break this year? With Mr. We ate our food and pushed our plates to the side. I had an ulterior motive. Her dad would have killed me.“I’m not sure and to be honest with you. I wanted to be with her as long as possible the next day and I promised to pick her up for school the next morning.” “Curiouser and curiouser. like it’s not meant to be defined. He had to kick us out.” she teased.” “Is that so? I think that you pretend that you are not .

assuming it was going to be a joint effort. I believe you like the subject and are probably superlative at it.” I teased.” I leaned in really close to her face.” I threw a devious smile her direction. let’s see.” I continued. if you are comfortable don’t hesitate to tell me. I wonder if it’s too late to register. desperately bit at her bottom lip to keep from giving me the smile I was asking for and shaking her head in mock disapproval. “Well. They make my face appear yellow and that would just throw off the whole aesthetics. “I mean.” I pulled up to her house and put the truck in park. How comfortable would you feel getting naked in front of a multitude of strangers and posing with a bowl of fruit?” “I think I’d do alright actually. “If you’re not into nude art I’ve got something else for you that you may go for. hitting my arm. “My Uncle Danny said the county is looking for someone to canvas the major . It’s different. I’m sure he’d be a very willing student. just not as much as your sciences. “I hear they’re looking for nude models at the community college in Charleston. briefly igniting our light. but only if they removed the pears.” said Jules. “I would never do anything like that. “And you miss Jacobs? Would you feel comfortable? Maybe we can invite Sawyer Tuttle. Maybe they’ll throw in a little Fawlty Towers. “You know?” I put my finger to my chin. ever!” “It would be for art Jules. “Come to think of it. But I can see that you’re not that kind of girl. “What can we do to afford it?” I asked. make a secret keeper out of you yet.interested Elliott.” “Elliott!” She finally laughed. I’ve been meaning to take up sculpting.” She couldn’t say anything.

but I could tell from my mom’s facial expression that he was spilling the beans and I was trying to come up with the answers to the questions that were about to barrel my way.” When I got home. my mom was livid but my dad was too interested in what happened at practice that morning to let my mom rant anymore about the no good I was probably up to. hushed himself and waited for her to turn around. How does getting in my truck with me and perusing for smelly deer sound?” “That’s disgusting. something I hadn’t expected. Plus.” “To say the very least. “Shelby?” He finally asked. “Wow Elliott. she was diligent. She turned around and smiled. my mom checked my story and called Thatcher. While my dad asked me about my day. Is that a real job?” “Of course it is Jules.” We smiled at each other. I told her she could check with Thatcher. I must say. it’s just unsightly. Then she paused and looked at me strangely. My dad realized how quiet she was. He was a no nonsense kind of guy. . I tried to keep up with my dad’s questions but couldn’t help but try to eavesdrop on my mom’s conversation with Thatcher.highways for dead animal carcasses. If that woman was anything. Jules. Thatcher was usually pretty good at keeping the gossip to a minimum. I’m a little affected by you. What do you think happens to all those animals? We have to prevent diseases you know. My mom finally clicked the phone quietly on its receiver and stood staring at the wall. I let her know I was at Thatcher’s with some kids from school from the time I had left until just before I got home.

she is not strange. He turned to me with the most serious pout on his face. she’s extraordinary. Now.” “He’s turning into a man Shelby!” My dad said.” I said surprisingly defensive. Why her baby?” “Mom. hush Mark. it’s because he’s a natural. calm down sweetheart.” she said. You don’t want to start dating now. our boy was on a date. She is lovely. Boy. He’s a smart kid. you’re going to have to invite the Jacobs to dinner. that’s because we’ve kept girls out of his life. Listen to me. Julia Jacobs huh? I know her mama is not gonna’ like that. Elliott. He needs to focus more than ever right now. You need to keep your grades up son. as she sat down next to me.“Mark.” she winked in his direction. so it was you and I who kept girls out of this male teenager’s line of sight? My God Mark! We should sell our secret." she said folding her arms and leaning against the counter.” he said. “Julia Jacobs? Strange. “Oh. all the while smiling and staring at me. “So.” he said. Boy. The season’s just starting. “I’ve never seen you do more than look at a girl.” my mom said in my defense. “I’m sorry baby. “Oh. are you protective of her already!” She laughed. her daddy won’t either. Now. She’s just different from the girls around here is all. We’d make millions. “Now. “I know Shelby. In fact. his voice teetering on hysteria. I didn’t mean it that way. . The desperation seeped from his pours. Mark. “If he’s done well in school.” she said over her shoulder. I only meant that it was strange to see you take a sudden interest is all. The boy’s never made anything lower than an A his entire life.

” I continued. my eyes reflecting the experience. I couldn’t explain it to you fully.slapping me on the shoulder. but something happened. “Her eyes met mine and it made the weight of my body feel burdensome. And she didn’t. “Mom? Do you? I mean. Not even if I tried. I touched her hand in class and my hand felt like it was on fire.” She laughed.” she looked at me strangely. Your daddy and I had our own little way of knowing who we were to one another that only we could distinguish. I was messin’ around before class in the hall with Jesse Thomas when I saw her floatin’ down the hallway as if on some sort of revolving belt. have you ever felt anything like that before? Is it normal?” She thought about it for a moment. I guess he felt satisfied that I wouldn’t let my grades slip and mess up my football career. I’m too afraid to even talk about it for fear you’ll think me insane. “I don’t judge. “Well.” . or even read of anything like that before. I can’t say that I have.” I paused apprehensively. honey. heard. I half expected ‘Dream Weaver’ to belt from the ceiling speakers. seen.” I left out the fireworks and the ESP. I didn’t even see her feet move mom. You know that. I never so much as glanced at Jules before the first day of school. She scared me to death during dinner when she admitted to feeling the same thing. “I can’t explain it actually. “but everyone feels attraction differently. “Aren’t ya’ boy?” He seemed proud. “No son. My mom didn’t judge but she wouldn’t be above committing me.” I said. I think. “I swear I’ve never felt. like a bad eighties movie. “But in all seriousness.” said my mom earnestly. It was as if she had read my mind.

Well. “You treat her as a lady. very much. “Well. just as he is now. but before she left.m. She answered and her voice impressed on me like freshly baked bread. I woke an hour earlier than usual and rang Julia to let her know to anticipate me at seven-thirty. “He’s lyin’ through his teeth Elliott. “I love you Elliott. along with my dad.” She pointed at me. Then she strolled down the hallway through the living room on her light feet to the master bedroom. You handle her with kid gloves young man.” I nodded. we fell in love just like everyone else.My dad. She turned right before opening her door.. Sounds to me like it was just the hormones. you go to bed sweetheart and we’ll talk more tomorrow.” “Yes. always. an hour before school.” She stood and kissed the top of my head. ma’am. whom we thought wasn’t listening. You hungry? Oh! What am I sayin’? You just ate. .” he playfully answered.” She turned with a smile and opened the door to her bedroom. Remember the rules darlin’. warm and soft. poured himself a cup of coffee in the corner of the kitchen and chimed in. declared. she’s precious. “Is she the student you were having trouble with baby?” “She was. I knew it wouldn’t wake her mom or her dad as they would have been at work at six a. it sounds to me like it was quite a day for you. “Don’t listen to her son.” He walked out of the room smiling without a peep of disagreement. He knew she was right. That man was a fool for me then.

” .” she said.” she said flirtatiously. she was buckling her seat belt. half asleep. “I’m calling this early because I don’t know how much time girls need to get ready and wanted to cover all my bases. I took her backpack from her and guided her to the other side of the truck. Since you like surprises so much. whether it was with me or at me I’m not sure. I took a backward way to throw her off but once we got close. consider yourself ambushed. and told me not to be late. Whatcha’ got planned?” “I thought we’d watch the sun rise. “Miss Jacobs? It’s Elliott. When I stepped in. “We have an hour and half before school starts. “Our creek.” The corners of her mouth gradually turned up as my truck chased the road.” I told her. She had gumption and I loved that.” She laughed. in the bed. My headlights shone brightly onto her home and I watched as she locked her door. which was my plan. I showed up at her house at six fifty-five on the dot. “You may expect me at seven-thirty this morning.” she laughed.” “I know who it is. I left the truck running and ran up her porch. trying to hide my smile. opened the passenger door for her and threw her bag. with mine. she knew. “Hi.“Hello?” she said.” I detached all formality and almost whispered the rest. “That’s a perfectly respectable thing to do Elliott Gray.” I said. and agreed to be ready by seven o’clock. “Very clever Elliott. “Hi. The sun hadn’t even shown.” “I know. but I’m keeping the location a secret.

written in tiny letters were the songs and their artists in the order that they played. The words sang through my head and settled softly in my heart. Did I mention Jules is an amazing artist and painter? The first song began to play and I slammed the truck to an abrupt stop. “It’s mine as well. let alone more than one person in some random little town in West Virginia. we worked the quarter mile through the brush and sat on the large rock . my throat became dry and I swallowed hard. It’s a mixed CD of all my favorite songs. really.” There was no use on dwelling on it any more than that. We’d gotten used to the unusual by then.She removed a CD from a plastic case and twisted it in her fingers before popping it in.” When she’d said that. I reminded myself that I needed to call them up later and earnestly thank them for the gift again. “That’s my favorite song. I pressed the accelerator gently so as not to startle her more than I had and when we arrived at the creek bed. She grabbed the dashboard and looked over at me. On the parchment. I really liked the idea of her thinking of me when I wasn’t around. The only thing new in my truck was the stereo my Uncle Danny and Aunt Becky had bought me for Christmas the year before.” I said. “What?” She asked. It was an obscure English band that the British had barely heard of. I made it for you after you dropped me off last night. a small one. Jules had drawn on the CD case an intricate illustration of an antique typewriter with a piece of parchment in its platen. “A gift.

I’m a little shocked.bridge we used to play a lot on as kids.” I cleared my throat. I ordered myself to wrap my arm around her but it laid feebly by my side. I painfully hoped that the beating of the water against the rocks was loud enough that my heart wouldn’t betray how vulnerable and intimidated I truly felt. “I have dreams of becoming a physician.” . The greenest. finally whirling together and funneling its way back to its tamer companion. wet moss surrounded the stone. nervous. as if someone had laid a soft blanket on the flat of it but the wind grabbed hold and blew it to the sides. The quilted moss hugged the rock tightly. Smooth and soft from thousands of years worth of water carving out its intricate form. Above. of donating my time to countries where medical attention is needed most. hovered the thickest canopy of green trees and foliage that camouflaged the sky leaving a gap just wide enough for the sun to appear. I have to say. “Okay. I hadn’t been there in years and I didn’t remember it being so magnificent. The only other thing audible to me was the obnoxious static of my own heart beating from my chest. foolishly trying to avoid getting wet. tears splashing into each other.” “Wow Elliott. Its trilling stream wept down the rock bed. “Elliott?” she asked. She sat close to me and stared into the water below.” I laughed a little. It smelled sweet and clean and earthy. it sat as a natural bridge between both sides of the creek bank. “Yeah Jules?” “Tell me something interesting. Water trickled down the cascading hill of rocky matter underneath it and joined the main body of water several feet below.

We took in the bits of lilac. and crimson glittering above the treetops.” “You’re starting to get a little too confident for my taste. I never gave you a second thought until that first day so you can get over yourself!” I laughed. etc. I see it in your eyes. I grabbed her hand and we watched the sun rise in silence. If you could. etc. “Trust me Elliott Gray. Jules pressed her shoulder into mine .“I know.” “I can see that now. pink. she protested.” If you don’t. I know the truth. She began to protest but I jabbed my shoulder into hers and she accepted my non-verbal apology with a smirk. not just a second thought. Well.” She couldn’t help but laugh.” “I didn’t mean it that way Elliott. It’s just. accept for the static bits of electricity entangling themselves around the face of the rock beneath us but we were getting awfully used to the sight of that. I will. I’m not gonna’ lie.” she dug folded hands between her outstretched knees. “Is that so? Had you been watching me Julia Jacobs?” “No.” she blushed. that is.. “I’m smarter than I look Jules. “I. you’d rush me this second and plant a kiss on my face and you know it. I’m a little shocked myself actually.” “That’s because I’m bored half the time.” “I knew it! You think I’m hot!” Emphatically. but became more serious.” I smiled. I thought. You are sort of attractive. I mean. “Yeah. A third. “You were sort of hard to miss.” “Whatever Jules. well. I just assumed you were turning in blanks. You were always turning in your tests in half the time of the rest of the class. then a fourth. I never once saw you participate in class last year.

” I was only half-joking. how we were going to rationalize it. In fact.and an intense stirring current thrummed through my torso. “It’s so beautiful don’t you think Elliott?” She asked. resort to accidental insults when I’m nervous. The flush started to seep up my neck and into my face.” I said. The only thought spinning through my head was how I was going to find a way to spend every waking minute with her and then. I held it in as long as I could. staring at the nature around her. I lay back on the stone and laughed. “I. uh.” . it goes really well with the blush you’re wearing right now. I moved my hands and looked up at a smiling Jules.” she concurred. “I can’t believe you just said that.” she laughed.” “Oh my gosh. “you should know that I love cheese.” she laughed. “I’ve noticed. “What? Read a book of bad romantic one liners before you came out this morning?” “It was bad.” “I don’t want to admit it.” We both laughed. as cheesy as it was. “Not as beautiful as you are Jules. but I almost died laughing when I got to my car after school. I guess. That is so embarrassing. it doesn’t make it any less true.” She threw her shoulder deeper into mine. if you haven’t noticed. She sighed deeply from content and my chest rose and fell in harmony with hers. “Really? You think so? I’m really bad at this. I admit. but as cheesy as it was Jules. “What was that about my teeth being mistaken for a horse’s?” I buried my cherry red face in my hands and groaned. “Well.

a little too hard?” I rubbed the back of my neck trying to distribute the blood but she wasn’t fooled. I could barely concentrate.” she cleared her throat.Perhaps.” Yes. Personally. I’m loathe to confess it but I was incredibly charmed by you that day.” “Thanks Jules. When I start to date someone. Jules. because that’s what I deserve and so do you. “Please Jules! Don’t remind me!” “It’s okay. I covered my face in humiliation. You know? I’ve never dated anyone like you. “It’s not possible to try too hard Elliott... She traced the outlines of my palm and fingers.” “Neither will I. It was Friday and just happened to be my first game of the season. I’m trying really hard.” She laughed until she fell onto the stone next to me. I’ve never dated anyone really.. The next day. It tickled...” “I will never stop trying hard Jules. I was . She grabbed my hand and laid it in her lap. but not on my hand. I could feel it rising into my throat and messing with my head. I picked Jules up for school. “they need to be as fervently interested in me as I am in them.” “Here comes the sun. my sun had definitely arrived.“Nah. Truth is. Truth is. this time in my stomach. Never. not as embarrassing as your genetically altered vegetable comment. every girl deserves someone who tries hard. I wouldn’t take anything less. I couldn’t spend time with anyone unless they did.

” I grabbed her bag for her and threw it into the bed of the truck along with mine. She was a firecracker.” she said.” Well come out with half of it. I just don’t want to ruffle any feathers. “Good morning sweetheart. “So. hopeful yet skeptical. there’s no need baby. uh. do you mean Taylor Williams? And Marisa Hartford?” “And Jesse Thomas doesn’t seem to be that fond of me either. locking her front door. Let’s take this one step at a time. literally and figuratively.” She kept her smile wide and her green eyes on mine.” “So you’ll be there?” I asked. She turned her head toward me and smiled. On our way to school. “Well. “I would love nothing more than to watch you play. then helped her into the cab. shall we?” “By people. today’s my first game. If you lost this .” “Jules! Come on! Please?” I begged anyway. knowing full well that Jules didn’t do anything she didn’t want to. but I have a feeling that showing people at school who we are to each other today will cause enough of a brouhaha. “Good morning dear. at least. are you gonna’ make me beg Jules?” “No. I couldn’t have imagined her not being there now that we were together and I was quickly becoming aware of whom she really was to me. I decided to just come out with it. She laughed out loud. She had her right elbow rested on the car door and was running her fingers through a large curl.nervous about asking Jules to come to my game. “I didn’t quite say that Elliott. “I know.

Honestly. Football is like a religion here baby and I’m not too keen on being the only one labeled sacrilegious. I’ll be cheering. I take that as one of the highest compliments. “it’s the only room in the house with a television. they’d all be screaming ‘Yoko’ my direction until we graduated. “Thank you sweetheart. I can’t nor do I want to make you.” That was a lie.” I was surprised by the way Jules viewed her mother. that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard but listen. for you from our kitchen table at home. I assumed that you were nothing like her. I knew for sure right then. “Ready Freddy.” “The kitchen table?” I asked. I pulled into Lot B and the parking lot was packed. I would have. your mom is hilarious!” “I know.” “Thank you Elliott. although I’d love it if you came. they’ll all find out that their starting quarterback’s miss is the last one they would have expected. I truly should never judge a book by its cover.” “Oh my gosh.game. If I could have made her. Don’t worry.” “Jules.” she laughed. I guess I assumed wrong. the truth of the . but that’s okay with me because. Eventually. Old reliable local channel nineteen. I really look forward to getting to know her better then. “I didn’t know that Jules. she seems really harsh around the edges but deep down she is extremely kind and by far is one of the most intelligent women I know. “You ready for this?” I asked. “Yeah. no pun intended. puzzled. The way you describe her makes me think you’re a lot like her.” That took me utterly by surprise.

. “What’s stopping you?” Her sarcastic stare burrowed through me. You’re an example of examples babe. at least a hundred eyes were staring in our direction and those hundred eyes were grabbing the attention of a hundred more.. I .” I said. collected myself as best I could and coolly strolled to her side of the truck and opened her door for her. wrapping my hand over hers. “It’s what makes you stronger than every girl in this school Jules. less nerve racking. I grabbed our bags.. “Hypocrisy. This feeling that emanated through me from her forced me to stop about a hundred feet from the doors.” “I could kiss you Elliott Gray.but. I turned to face her.. I’m pretty sure you already knew that about me. By the time the handle had clicked. a bit starry eyed. whether it will be now or later in life. I thought. We should have come earlier.” she admitted.” “Jules!” I got out. so much for discrete. they’ll be stronger because of your exuberance for life and independence from peer pressure. I have never felt happier than I do when my hand rests inside yours. remember? You’re just going to have to wait. I couldn’t take another step without looking into her eyes. Can’t give into the pressures of society. I’m happy to be myself and I make no excuses. When their minds are ready. Great. I turned to face Jules. never breaking my grip on Jules’ hand and began to walk toward the double doors. You’re amazing Jules. I took her hand and helped her out of the truck.” “I did.. Who knows how many girls look at you and are influenced.matter is. You pioneer the self esteem cause in this little high school..

something new. though it definitely was supernatural. something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. And I was hers.” I lied. It was the first time I was happy to be six foot four. Jules looked like a Barbie doll next to me. “What was that all about Casanova?” “Courage. I also knew every guy around me was probably wondering how the heck I got her. She looked at me strangely when I brushed her hair over her shoulders and trailed my finger down her jaw line. I towered over Jules. I was curious to know where it had come from and why. I let her warmth rush over me and let the beat of my own heart resonate with the extra life she gave to me. the pair of us.was too hungry for her gaze. I knew it wasn’t from our shared supernatural current. just not associated with our unique gifts. We were a pretty visible distraction. It touched the tips of my toes and fingers and swirled through my head. a seriously original and unique Barbie doll. I placed my arm around Jules’ shoulder to send a clear message to those wondering what was going on between us and started walking once more. Everyone looking at Jules gave me the feeling that many. Okay. something I hadn’t felt on that first day. many girls wanted to copy her but were too chicken to do so. scratch that. Her rockerVictorian style was exclusively hers. I hoped. It was something different. for definitely all the same reasons. I guessed about five foot eight. always. a message clear enough that people would accept it immediately and move on. Well. We . Jules was mine. Needed courage. The only thing Barbie doll-like about Jules was her insanely long legs and crazy long hair. It was sort of nice to be slightly feared for my size. mine for me to care for. everything else was Jules’. It was a peculiar feeling. despite the fact that she was also tall.

I wore a wool cap from ten years ago over hair that should have been cut two months before. I wore a wrinkled button up sweater over an old Led Zeppelin t-shirt that used to belong to my dad in the seventies. Suddenly.” she said. Jules wore these jeans that made her legs look like they went for miles. I didn’t have time to shave that morning and was looking pretty scruffy. dark red floor length sweater jacket over a white tank. I wore a faded pair of jeans that I had put in the dryer the night before and forgot about so they were wrinkled as heck. You don’t even try and yet . I know what I look like. Jules wore shin length brown leather moccasins over her jeans and I wore boots that were so heavy even a biker wouldn’t wear them. “Stop stressing babe.” “You’re really that clueless? Elliott. I felt very self-conscious. She was amazing and I was a massive mess. Jules wore a thin. but I’m no fool. “Thank you sweetheart. I looked like a lumberjack in comparison. very feminine light knit beret over her freshly washed curled hair.were both some of the tallest in our class and it just added an extra red circle to the target we were both already carrying. Jules was also breathtakingly beautiful. Her skin was flawless and pale as porcelain. Plus. We were night and day. my contacts were bothering me that morning so I had to wear my black rimmed ‘Buddy Holly’ glasses. every girl here falls over for your casual sexiness. My hair reached just below my chin now and the cap kept it out of my eyes. You look hot. I was night and she was day. It was a bit chilly that morning so Jules wore an olive green. reading the way I felt through our touch.

” Jules said in response.” I could feel her stomach tighten in anxiety through our shared touch when he approached.” she said. Hill’s art class and stood . “Hey Jesse.” “No way. “I know you’re stressing about your glasses too because you keep messing with them but your geek magnetism just makes you all the more appealing. “I know.” I said casually. I’m starting to be able to hone specific feelings to specific thoughts now. “And if you run your fingers through that hair of yours one more time. No more please.you possess this Johhny Depp ‘I’m a mess yet drool worthy hotness. It’s kind of awesome.” I laughed. I swear you could hypnotize with those eyes.” We reached Jules’ door to Mrs. “You felt that?” I asked.” “This is a really uncomfortable subject for me. not to mention the eyes underneath the glasses! Your eyes are like the brightest blue I’ve ever seen in my life. “I meant for me doofus. “Here comes Jesse.” she giggled. You’re the least vain person I know. which made me remove my cap and run my fingers through my hair out of nervousness.” he said with a nod but as he walked by he scoffed a condescending snort. What a jerk. You kinda’ suck. “Yeah. totally forgetting Jesse Thomas.” “Uh. I squeezed her hand to relieve some of the tension. oh.” “I’ll say. I love my curling iron and makeup. I think I’m going to hit the wall. “Hey. Let’s change it or I’ll require a bonfire of the vanities or something.” She exhaled sharply then looked at me.

“Okay. “Okay. you can start to associate. her head resting against the tile and I leaned my shoulder on the bit of wall right next to her and folded my arms into each other. Ready?” “‘kay. Jules had her back to the wall.just beside it for a few minutes talking. I’m thinking about my little art studio at the house . let me try an easier one. Silence was not uncomfortable for Jules and I. Try not to share the feeling. Her eyes were the most beautiful green I’d ever seen. “I know it’s hard but just try to figure out the way it tastes and feels first.” She laughed.” “Okay. “Let me be the one to touch. That way.” She placed her hand back onto my throat and closed her eyes. She stared back. “Okay. smiling from our eye contact. I stared at her for a moment. “Teach me how to hone down specific feelings Jules. I’m staring at your lips and that makes me feel a need to kiss you.” I had an overwhelming want to press my lips to hers and involuntarily leaned forward but she backed away. I think you’ll be able to concentrate better on what I’m feeling. I think that would be a good place for us to practice.” she said softly. Here.” She repositioned herself and turned her body towards me leaving a shoulder to rest against the tile wall. “There are lots of nerve endings in the neck. “No. no.” I said. I’m going to think of specific things that I know will trigger certain responses in me but I’ll tell you each thing I’m feeling as it comes to me. We spoke volumes in that silence. She raised her hand and placed it around my throat.” I reached my hand for her face but she shooed it away.

. “Is that what it tastes like to you?” I asked.. “Wait... “This is so weird.” I said. walked past us with a look of disgust on her face before going into the classroom.” “Happy. “I like this game. I went with my instincts..” I picked up her hand and placed it back around my throat. I pushed her back into the tiled wall and pinned both of my arms beside her to keep her from fleeing.. now I’m thinking. let’s do another. “No. then let her hand slide to the back of my neck. confused. She smiled. “Okay. .” “Oh Jules..with a twinge of guilt?” I said. I felt it.” I said.. “You’re feeling very happy and inspired. don’t be silly. It was a gut reaction and you immediately corrected yourself. your happiness tastes like pumpkin pie.. “What was that?” She turned her head away and clenched her hands into fists. “You’re feeling smug.” “Right! What did it taste like? “Like chocolate and wine?” We both laughed. “That was embarrassing.. almost laughing..” She smiled. who shared first period with Jules. I don’t even know how I know that it was happiness. let’s try another..and that makes me feel.” I said. stared at me for a moment.” She pulled her hand away at lightning speed. Now. Jules let her hand drop to her side and her cheeks burned a bright red..” Just then Taylor Williams.” “Okay.

“You know. a bug to get out of your system. I find it so hilarious that you’re suddenly so interested in my dating. too quick to catch. Why are you so hell bent on my dating Taylor Williams anyway? If you like her so much why don’t you date her?:” .” she said. “Hey.” I said. I waved at her inside the classroom and went to History with Coach Miles. you aren’t even this picky for yourself. last time I checked. “Jesse. See you next period. “I think that’s enough for one day.” My blood was beginning to boil. “Hey. I guess I’m just hoping is all. It’s also fascinating that you are equally as interested in who I date. jeez Gray! She’s freakin’ Julia Jacobs. Your opinions are comical because.” “What? Why would you say that? Do I look like the ‘tiny distraction’ type to you? Where in my past behavior have I ever given you reason to think that about me?” “I don’t know Gray. distracted. You’ve been an excellent student.” She ducked underneath my arm. “Care to explain why your arm was around Julia Jacobs back there in the hallway?” “Huh?” He crossed his arms smugly around his torso. “Please tell me she’s nothing more than a tiny distraction right now. The bell is about to ring. breathing deeply. I loved that because it was going to give me time to think about the emotion Jules was trying to hide from me. She should be a stepping stone on your way to Taylor Williams. It was a game day and he usually just played a movie. You have no idea what you’re doing do you? I mean.” he said sarcastically. I was still racking my brain trying to figure it out when I sat at my desk next to Jesse.

She loves me.” he amended and waved me off..” he said through clenched teeth.. “Yeah.. It was a warm feeling that turned blazing hot.. yeah. So annoying. just thinking...” “Fine. I wrapped my ankles around the legs of my desk and tipped my chair back. I haven’t even taken her on a proper date yet! Haven’t even kissed her! Yet. I wrapped my fingers around the back of my head and stared at the ceiling. Must have her do that again. Then she slid her hand to the back of my neck. Let’s see. That was awesome. barely listening. The fuming seemed to subside and he leaned back in his desk.. I definitely felt distraction.” “Yeah. and I enjoy yippy so much. If I didn’t know any better I. coach said he won’t be putting Farley in after all. she loves me! My breath trapped in my throat and I almost began to . So. Too bad he’s so loyal. I’ve never said a word about the girls you date and I’d appreciate the same courtesy dude.“She’s too yippy for me.. “Oh. I thought. Coach started the movie and Jesse finally shut his blubber mouth. are you excited about the game tonight?” I asked. It won’t last. “You’ll see though. Farley said he could play with no problem but coach doesn’t want to risk it the first game..I let my chair fall hard back to the ground in sudden realization. desperate to change the subject. She’s in love with me.” Whew. Can you believe it? Doc says his knee doesn’t look one hundred percent. What in the world was that? She was so quick to pull away. right? Give me a break. Tasted like what I would think my mom’s Egyptian Cotton candle would taste like. I swallowed hard.

It was something that needed to be touched.hyperventilate. I do. . gorgeously. The taste of it was remarkably similar to greatness. Shock. Thump. She’s the Julia Jacobs who helped me fix the flat in my bike’s tire so I wouldn’t get in trouble for riding near the construction site I was forbidden to go near off Main. She’s the Julia Jacobs who used to sing ‘American Pie’ at the top of her lungs with me at the pool in seventh grade and made me laugh so hard grape soda went up my nose. It was beyond words. thump. She’s the Julia Jacobs who forced me to suffer my mother’s wrath by arriving late to dinner one summer night of our fifth grade year because I had to help her rescue the feral kittens underneath Mr. a feeling only my fingers could touch. doubling. heard. My heart inflated like a balloon. I planted my hands on the desk in front of me to anchor myself from falling over from the sheer shock of it. so I’ve known her my whole life and all but do I really know know her? I thought about it for a moment. and astonishingly in love with me. thump. like a massive kick drum. It sang to me and was the sweetest melody that had ever touched my ears. yeah. Yes. tasted to grasp its full meaning and I knew. it beat greatness. and a song only I was meant to hear. That girl was colorfully. Shock and happiness? Why doesn’t this scare me? Shouldn’t I feel like running the opposite direction from her or something? I mean. That’s exactly what it was. impossible to put into words. It was a flavor only I could taste and smell. to a bloody pulp. Westburg’s wood porch. No. I felt it. She’s the Julia Jacobs who would weave fantastic tales of adventure over a gleaming flashlight when we used to camp by the creek. I knew that it was mine only. tripling in size with each beat when she revealed it to me. brilliantly. smelled.

I suppressed the feeling as much as possible so she couldn’t read any radiations of it either. She kept her nose buried but her eyes began to look for mine. “I said. “Hey Jules?” I said seriously. her eyes resettling on the wrong page.” She tried to act as casual as possible but even without our gift I could see through her cool facade. I think I figured out the theme I am going to write about for Mrs.” I said. “Hmm?” Her voice cracked. and paused for a really long time. “Hi darlin’. Kitt’s book report due next month. Now that I knew what the love she held for me tasted like it was suddenly easy to recognize my own distinct flavor I had for her and boy was it ever the dominant current. I know she must have felt it as well. “I think I’ve got a theme too. a choir of angels sounded. “Hey Jules. I couldn’t let her touch me or look into my eyes or I’d give it away. turning my body toward hers. It dawned on me. I had sent it streaming through my fingers to hers every single time I’d touched her.” “Oh. letting her sweat it out. her head buried in ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.Unexpectedly. when I finally sat next to her in English. resting my elbows on the desk and chair.” I said calmly. She probably knew it too. “Yes Elliott?” She said. I was a fool. “I think I figured it out. an unbelievably happy fool. She was worried. What are you going to write about?” .” she swallowed hard. She must have gotten a private kick out of my revealing more than I had intended. It was a feeling I sincerely shared.

Mrs. In French. I tore a sheet of paper out of my notepad. you’ll be there tonight’ and folded it into quarters. furrowing her eyebrows. “I was thinking the Kanawha Library in Charleston to work on our paper and if it’s not too late maybe dinner?” “That sounds perfect actually. Don’t you think?” “Okay?” She said. I wasn’t sure if she’d get it but I had never hoped for something so much. I guess. I met her at her locker and while she piled books into her bag I snuck the note in its front pocket. I can’t say. After school. I grabbed Jules’ hand and revealed a little secret of my own but didn’t let on that I knew that she knew.“Oh no. Kitt saved me from revealing too much when she began class. I had come up with a plan to get her to come to the game. I wouldn’t feel right showing it to you. When . wrote ‘If you loved me. “What do you say I take you on a proper date tomorrow Jules?” “Sh.” She swallowed hard from the reveal.” The rest of the school day was pretty much a waiting game until I saw her again. sure babe. “You don’t have to. As we walked to lunch. It’s too soon to reveal such intimate things to one another. suspicious.” She raised her beautiful nose from George Orwell and turned her body toward mine. but kept her mouth shut.” “It’s a date then. “Where?” She asked. “Why are you acting so weird?” She asked.

The team was required to be at the stadium an hour before the game but I got there five minutes late because the traffic was already horrible getting into the stadium parking lot. staring in my direction. I grabbed her velvety hand and we walked side by side. I drove away with her standing bewildered at the door. narrowing my stare on Jesse. At first. “Hmm. No pressure Elliott…. I walked into our locker room and saw all my gear piled into a locker with my name printed on a piece of paper tacked to a broken . All three were gathered around Taylor’s open driver’s side door talking and laughing. hoping she would check her bag before seven o’clock because that’s when the game started. On all accounts.” Jules said. I thought it might be nothing but when we passed by and I waved at Jesse each became quiet and went their separate ways. It looked like at least two thousand people from the nearby towns decided to make the game their Friday night. I squeezed the air from her lungs and lifted her feet from the porch. I left her as breathless as if I had kissed her.she seemed to have gotten everything she needed. laughing and joking ignoring every prying eye that shot our direction. I got into my truck and turned the key. Marisa Hartford. her keys still in hand and her hair mussed about her face. It wasn’t a little hug either. I opened the double doors that led to the parking lot and I noticed from the corner of my eye an out of place group that lingered near Taylor Williams’ car. Jesse nodded his hello.” was all I could reply. Taylor Williams. “That was weird. I drove Jules home and walked her to her door before hugging her goodbye. and Jesse Thomas. It was a big bear of a hug.

That was only a fleeting thought. Ohhh. It never works. I eventually caught my parents’ eyes on the fifth row toward the middle and we waved to each other. My subconscious casting shadows on the truth like a flock of birds trying to drown out the sun. The stands were filling up and there was still no sign of Jules. My dad deliberately and dramatically tucked his hands inside the pockets of his sweatshirt. “Thanks for showing up Gray. I searched row by row. I was starting to get pretty frustrated. Hi dad. and nothing. I especially didn’t want to think about how embarrassing it would be if she had found it and decided not to come.” “Well? Don’t just stand there like a bump on a log! Get your gear on!” Half an hour before the game we prayed as a team and were out on the field warming up. I have no excuse. I was starting to feel foolish. I’m sorry. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure of what I had felt earlier that day. Yup. I’m not gonna’ lie. you’re late!” “I know coach. “I’m sorry Coach. I see you there. If she hadn’t found the note it was going to be embarrassing picking her up for our library date the next day because I would have had a heck of a time trying to steal it back. There’s never enough . Hi mom. We only had five minutes before the game and I was beginning to give up on Jules coming.” “Lombardi time. I nodded. time after time. Yup. Gray! If you’re not fifteen minutes early. I’ll keep my hands warm dad.nameplate. I tossed the ball back and forth with the team manager. Sheesh.” Coach Miles said sarcastically.

“Well. gulping down my shock and dropping my hands to my side.birds to manage the cause. and met her waist but this time it was straight as corn silk. she definitely got my note. I knew I’d have to give into the catch twenty-two and just come out and ask her about it before we even traveled to Charleston the next day and I dreaded that conversation. When she saw Jules she laughed at me and shook her head but I barely noticed. too absorbed in Jules’ every step. as usual. I was only starting to refocus when I looked up and through the corner of my eye I saw tall a girl with long dark hair floating behind the bleachers. I threw on my iPod and started Muse’s ‘Map of the Problematique’. I needed a distraction or I was going to lose the game. My jaw went slack and from the corner of my eye I could see my mom following my stare. She wasn’t wearing anything close to what she had worn to school that day. I was wishing I had never put the stupid note in the bag in the first place. Her hair was down. It always pumped me up before a game. At the top of the ramp the wind caught it and blew it behind her. I tried to stop thinking about it. her bangs across her forehead instead of swept to the side. She had done her makeup a tad bit darker for the evening and her lips were a . She finally turned onto the ramp leading into the stands and boy did she ever prove to be the distraction I had asked for. It brought out the outline of her flawless face.” Butterflies ensued. “Oh my God!” I said out loud. It was working. She was walking across the cement underneath the bleachers and I could see her face through the gaps beneath the seats. I thought I was being so clever. the sun always finds the earth.

She blew me a kiss and my heart literally stopped beating. My family stood and I watched as she shook my dad’s hand and hugged both my mom and Maddy before squeezing past them to sit next to my sister. . I caught it. Once she sat. My dad gave me a wink. Please don’t embarrass me dad. Tut’s name was now on their twice. this outfit would erase them all. She wore her flat brown moccasins again that met the middle of her shins. I furrowed my brow and took note of all the boys who would be joining Sawyer Tuttle on my enemies list. It permanently altered my definition of sexy. and tucked it into a pretend pocket. Each step she took she passed by at least a dozen classmates. You’re in trouble Jacobs . She kept her hands at her side until she reached the bleachers but lifted them slightly to balance herself as she stepped onto the first bleacher raising her hemline slightly and making me forget where I was. to be goofy.dark red. If there were any doubts in any of the minds of the guys in the stands that she was drop dead. It left me wondering how anyone could dress so modestly yet be so astonishingly beautiful. stood and walked up the bleachers toward my parents. I thought and smiled back. You can close your mouth now Tut. She had a cashmere sweater dress on that covered almost every inch of her. She smiled and nodded. She laughed and I pointed toward my family a little to her right and up four rows. she slowly looked across the track separating the field from the bleachers and smiled a devilish smile. from the scoop neck that met her collarbone all the way down to her knees but hugged her body like it was painted on.

“Yoko!” I yelled at Jules. She bent to sit on her ankles.. When the game was over. well.. The drum line was doing their finest and it really revved up the team and crowd.. I was preparing myself for the win that came our team’s way. Her back was turned to me but when she heard my voice she turned and smiled before hopping down the stairs to meet me. “Are you?” I joked.. one knee resting on the concrete and wound her fingers through the fence over mine.“Done ogling Julia Jacobs?” The team manager asked me. “Thanks miss Jacobs! I’m really very glad you came tonight!” “Yeah. Our charge lit up the fence like a net of burning ember. “The exact same way!” I jumped onto the concrete barrier that separated the track from the stands and leaned my stomach against the . “You did well Gray!” She yelled over the drums.. that’s exactly what I did. It was time to get my head in the game and now that I had both of my own personal muses.I got your note!” She smiled letting it touch the corners of her bright eyes. He just smiled and passed the ball back to me... I readjusted mine to rest on top of hers and kept them gripped tightly... “Oh yeah? Huh! Thought we’d need to talk about it but I can feel it won’t be necessary!” “I don’t think it will Gray! I can tell you feel the same way!” I smiled. I ran off the field over to the fence near Jules and thread my fingers through the chain link. the crowd was on their feet and celebrating our first victory..

I picked Jules up for our study session at the library in Charleston at two o’clock. “Mr. I leaned into her ear. I was really nervous. “I love you Elliott Gray. I returned the pressure in kind. There would be a time for our first kiss and if I had anything to say about it that time would be very soon. “I love you Julia Jacobs. Jacobs” I said and offered my hand. My dad had always told me that was . I tugged on my t-shirt and wrinkled cardigan before bounding up the steps to her front door. We both closed our eyes but when I expected to feel her warm lips on mine. electrifying my face. She only laughed.” I felt her grin against my cheek. I rang the door bell and looked down at my feet while I waited. like the next day.” she whispered. Sorta’ added a pressure that hadn’t ever been there before. I pulled my face from hers and readied myself to kiss her. He took it and shook it with a firm squeeze. I knew her parents but never at a time that I found their daughter to be the most handsome woman I had ever known. She stood and we met face to face.fence. My blood pressure spiked to an unhealthy level when he signaled for me to step through the door. My eyes were tired from the game the night before and I was forced to wear my dark rimmed glasses again which made me incredibly self-conscious despite Jules’ earlier rants. I felt a million hands pull me from the fence and carry me off the field. instead. Should have cleaned my Converse. I thought right before her dad answered. I stared back at her and shrugged my shoulders with a crooked smile. I should really invest in an iron.

same as most of the homes in Bramwell but The Perry House. Sit down in here with me. The Jacobs’ home. It had all the original dark wood throughout. “Julia!” He yelled down the long hall next to the front door. I’m not going to lie. The house had to have been at least a hundred years old. “Elliott Gray is here!” He yelled up the staircase. The sitting room he led me into had a massive cast iron fireplace. For Jules’ mom . she scared me a little. He gestured to a little sitting room that faced the dark. I mentally took note. it was beautiful and matched the home perfectly but I would have felt stifled there. It reflected her mother’s personality to an exact point. same as mine. if you went back in time to the late eighteen hundreds to a moment where the first owners of our homes were still about their houses. I suspect it proved for a lot more comfortable childhood in comparison. Just to give you an idea. wide winding wood stairs. was one of the most well preserved. you’d see a silk clad woman with layers of heavy expensive fabric and a tightly brimmed hat piled high with feathers at Jule’s house .” he said. I assumed. “Come. She was menacing looking with her black hair and pale skin.the only way a man knew if a new acquaintance was a real man or not. Don’t get me wrong. I lived in a farmhouse from the same era but it was a lot more laid back in its architecture as well as my mother’s taste in furniture. Jules’ room . probably original as well. I wondered what it must have been like for Jules growing up around the Victorian furniture as uptight as was in that home. Jules looked just like her but somehow on Jules it looked fairy tale-like.

my mom made these for Mrs. something about broken pipes.. peeling open the lid. Jacobs.” I handed him the white cardboard box full of homemade cookies my mom had wrapped with a pale blue ribbon.” he grinned propping his feet up on a very expensive looking coffee table. Jules had jumped the tracks. I knew her mother well enough and I also knew Jules had not gotten that personality trait from her so I reasonably assumed she got it from her father and thus felt very comfortable sitting across from him at that moment. “Mr.” Jules interrupted from behind me. She said that it was impolite to show up to someone’s home you’ve been invited to without a gift. “Don’t tell Ann you saw me eating this in here. Definitely where Jules got her personality from. “These look incredible!” He took one out and began to eat. . “What are you yelling up the stairs for? Mom’s not here.” I said. Her father and mother were executives at the company who owned the coal mine my dad worked at and my father was only a miner.” he began. Refusing would have gotten me a slap to the neck. Jacobs. but Jules never acted as such. There was an emergency at the church.. We were from two different worlds. so to speak. I laughed. Not much had changed since that era because that was still the difference in social standing between Jules and myself. “So boy.and a simple cotton dressed woman with a white apron at mine. “Cross my heart.. I didn’t know a thing about any of that stuff and really didn’t care but I didn’t argue with my mom. “Wow!” He said.

you know where.” I said. I fiddled with my glasses and pulled at my sweater. “What?” I said.” “No problem pop. politely shook Mr. having no clue what Julia Jacobs wanted with me.” she said coolly. I told you this morning. I hopped in.” she reached up and pecked him on the cheek. Jacobs’ hand and led Jules to my truck. She was too radiant to bother with the likes of me. “You’re sweating Elliott Gray. I finally looked at Jules. She had her legs crossed and her right elbow on the window’s edge twisting a curl in her hand. He sat with his eyebrows creased. “Are you ready?” Jules asked. Jacobs and headed toward Main. “So. I took Jules’ bag from her. I opened the door for her and swung her bag into the bed.” he sighed. When we reached the end of her street I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. “Dad.I turned and saw a pair of long legs stride toward the sitting room. reaching my hand to my forehead. Whatever the punishment for staring too long at someone’s daughter was I didn’t want to find out because his eyes told me it might be penalty of death. “but if you’re going to be home past seven you need to call Julia. I had no intentions of disrespecting her father and after that held little to no eye contact with Jules to remedy how uncomfortable I had made him. I turned my head and faced Jules’ dad again.” “Okay. At that precise moment I felt very self-conscious. where are you going?” Her dad asked. wiping my sweaty hands on my jeans. waved to a glaring Mr. I gulped and started to panic. “Sure. . The Kanawha County Library in Charleston. Oops. I must have taken too long to turn back around.

It was fun to talk to someone who held legitimate interest and opinion in something that mattered to me and we traded banter for almost an hour on the subject. It’s a sweet stare. The heat was awesome actually. “You’re quite a match. “You’re somethin’ else miss Jacobs.” “You’re welcome ma’am. It makes me feel beautiful. I don’t think your dad was too happy with me when it took me forever to break my stare. “I like the way you stare at me. it got heated though. actually. my friend.” I said and tipped an imaginary hat her direction. we loved all of the same bands but differed in opinion when it got down to the nitty gritty of the inner workings of individual songs.” she leaned in close. Sparring with you sure does bring out the spirit in a girl.wiping away the perspiration. She was the most intellectually stimulating conversation I had ever had.” “He’ll survive. I put my truck in park and sighed with satisfaction. On our way to the library in Charleston. “Besides.” “It means a little more when you make me feel that way though. I opened . When we reached the library and parked in the garage across the street.” she said.” “That shouldn’t be a problem for you Jules. “I nearly hyperventilated from the very look of you.” I said trying to catch my breath. thank you. Ironically. We were both extremely opinionated when it came to music. You should feel that regardless. So. When the conversation turned toward music. Jules and I talked about anything and everything.” I got out and ran to the other side of the truck. “Need a towel?” She teased. “Yes.” I laughed.

the door for her and grabbed her hand. “This library is my Mecca. I stopped short. readying them for their inevitable workout the next day.” she barely whispered the last part. Jules and I smiled a lot. An hour had passed. That’s what I liked about Jules. “We have a supernatural gift that only we can see and benefit from Elliott. for weeks I’ve tried to pin it down. I grabbed her hand and we left a sparkled trail leading to a secluded table in the corner at the back of the library. that I found my cheeks actually hurt when I finally rested my head at the end of the day. “Join me?” “Yes. I would set up a tent in the back and read my life away.” whispered Jules. “You know. get an exact name for it. She thanked me and I grabbed our bags. I . I looked up and noticed we were absolutely alone. I would rub the muscles in them. It’s fascinating.” she said matter-of-factly. She was not afraid to tell me through words. “If I could.” she said looking up at me. sir. expressions. So much. We smiled at each other. We were unashamed about showing the way we felt on our faces.” “And awesome. I’m still trying to decipher its capabilities and parameters and all but it’s definitely our own exclusive gift. What a firework. I will. or our ability what she thought and how she felt. Jules looked behind us. I would. We walked up the giant steps of the large stone library and ducked through its majestic entrance. We sat at opposite ends of the table and poured our books onto its dark veneered surface.” I whispered back. Really awesome.

and their remnants misted to the table. chairs and floor beneath us like snow. equally as stunned as before. We sat up once more.” I whispered. “You’ll like it. “Yeah?” “Can I? Can I try something?” A sly smile spread across her face. I had an idea. “What?” “Lean towards me?” She did as I asked and I brought my cheek to hers.” She didn’t say anything but her breathing became as labored as mine.” I obeyed her and could barely control my laughter.” “Okay. “Jules?” Her head popped up. I felt her happiness and I know she felt mine. I felt her anticipation and I know she felt mine. I stopped. She stilled my head by grabbing my chin and tilting my face and she kissed my cheek softly. prepared for the coming sensation. “Keep your head very still. We sat upright. “You try it.interrupted her frenzied writing by placing my hand on hers. . “Do it again. “Okay.” she whispered. I softly kissed her cheek and the library lit up like the fourth of July. Fiery flowers burst like rockets from our table.” I happily agreed but when I leaned in and she closed her eyes. before whispering into her ear. exploded in the air above our heads. I felt her longing for more and I know she felt mine. lean into me then. The same spirited flames flew above our heads and filled our chests with its sonic boom. wide eyed and overwhelmed.

we repositioned ourselves and slowly intertwined our hands once more. “Stop. “Whenever I show you how I feel. We pulled away from the magnetic gravity that was . gathering at their feet pools of fervent. We looked into each other’s eyes and waited to steady our rapidly beating hearts for fear they’d burst before we’d get the chance to do what we’d waited so long for. almost toppling over with happiness.“Stand up. zealous flashes of shimmering flames climbed to the furthest point. Once we caught our breath and stopped laughing for at least a five second stretch. trailed like rain down the pitched ceiling and spilled down the walls. you react to the feeling and vice versa. We scooted our chairs behind us and carefully maneuvered around the corners of the table coming face to face and panting in expectation. Immediately.” she whispered. every spark. We both watched as my right hand link fingers with hers then again with the left. We closed our eyes and I placed my feverish mouth to hers. You’re driving me crazy!” “Okay. “Let’s start this place on nonexistent fire.” She sucked in an excited breath. savoring every touch and every feeling. We keep trading emotions up and up and up.” I said.” I teased. violent. “Stop intensifying how I feel inside. trying not to laugh. silvery liquid electricity before evaporating into nothing. It keeps magnifying. “Promise. We let go of our hold on one another and stepped back. nearly bursting with laughter.” I said. “Stop what?” I laughed.” “What do you mean?” I said. bubbling. I don’t know how much more I can withstand.

two. Well. Love you too. “Pop?” She said on her cell phone.” she said. huh.” “The best thing I’ve ever felt and tasted in my entire life. “Done. The only reason we had to stop was because I glanced at my watch to see how much time we had to practice.” “Cool.” she teased.” she winked my way. You wore me out Mr.. “That was. What do you think? Will they all be like that? How about one more for good measure?” I flirted. “let me hold your face with my hands.” she said with another wink. Yeah.” “Italian. three. huh.. where to? I’m starving. Is that okay? Uh...” we said in unison..our first kiss but kept our hands intertwined. Okay. “but Elliott wants to take me to a restaurant while we’re in Charleston. then laughed until we almost spilled onto the ground. Around eleven. who else. but before curfew and they waved me off. “Should you call your folks?” “No. “It’s Julia. ... She nodded and bit her bottom lip in a smile. Uh. “One. “This time.” She hung up and smiled at me. I know.” We did ‘one more for good measure’ six times.” I continued. I told them I’d be home late. We’ve finished studying.. huh. “What’s your favorite food Jules?” “On the count of three.Gray.” Jules finished with an intense twinkle in her bright green eyes. See you then. We patiently lingered while our insides came back into our own control. It was approaching seven o’clock and Jules needed to ring her dad to let him know I was taking her to dinner in Charleston and wouldn’t be home until eleven o’clock or so. “Exactly. Uh. dad.

I just stared as she bit her bottom lip. “Just follow Capitol to Smith Street.” she breathed deeply. . very. Fazio’s is on your right. take a left. You’re so fun. She sucked in a breath and kissed me back fiercely only to force ourselves to pull away when it started to get beyond our control. Yeah. A low hum from the bottom of her throat escaped her lips and sent me spiraling out of control. “Comfortable miss Jacobs?” “Yes.” she said. “No.” I leaned my forehead against hers and closed my eyes. “Stop doing what?” She exhaled with feeling.” he said pointing in the direction of Fazio’s. “Excuse me?” I asked a local walking by. I grabbed her face without thinking and kissed her mouth so severely it pinned her to the seat.” “Where to eat?” She asked.” I breathed deeply. Fazio’s on Bullitt. “You have to stop doing that.” I thanked him and dragged Jules to the truck. I moved my face close to hers and our breaths washed warmly against each other’s cheeks. clasping her hands together. Right on Court. I kept my hand on hers and caught my breathe when I felt things I’d never thought I could share with someone let alone feel.“You’re so fun. It’s about five minutes northeast from here. Honeysuckle and orange swam through my head. only our spark to help guide our movements. “The best place to get Italian?” “Oh. tight on Bullitt. Blackness surrounded us. I threw her into the passenger seat and playfully leaned over her to put her seat belt on for her and kept my face close to hers. left on Piedmont. “Oh my God Jules.

I took three deep breaths trying to cleanse Jules’ intoxicating high from my brain. My knuckles turned white from the selfinduced deprivation of trying to fight the bubbling need to grab her. desperate to get my fill of her. Sit tight.“Oh Lord. Eventually. I forced myself from her. “Yes love?” I tried to stabilize my breathing. I grabbed her face once more.” “Why?” “All I’m going to be able to think about is kissing you from this moment on. “Jules?” I swallowed. “I’ll be right back. Jules.” she grinned. Addicted.” I paused and smiled. showing every tooth. I had taken my first hit of Jules only a few hours before and had already swiftly become a junkie. I knew if I did it that I'd just end up attacking Jules.” She giggled. she had to remind me of our plans. right?” “Not right now. I’m scared. I got into the truck.” I dragged my hand over my mouth and down my chin. you’re not. placing both my hands on the steering wheel. “We’re in trouble. and walked over to the driver’s side. My keys were in the pocket of my jeans but I was too afraid to remove my hand from its grip to retrieve them. “I’m serious Jules.” “Okay? You alright?” .” “No. shut her door. I’m in the worst trouble of my life right now. “Not right now though. I placed one hand on the roof to steady myself and let the other lie still on the handle of the door. We’ll be able to restrain ourselves. buckled myself in and stared straight ahead.

otherwise she never would have done it. purposely averting my eyes. “Okay. “I said. She was just as hungry for me as I was for her. She bit her bottom lip and I knew then that she had no idea how that tortured me. I needed to take charge before all heck broke loose. I think I need to let go of you Elliott.” “It doesn’t help that I’m touching you. “I can’t. Breathe. I made sure not to look in Jules’ direction. I told myself.“I will be. No eye contact.” she said and rushed over to me.” she gulped. I held two fingers up to stay her at the front of the truck.” “We’re going to need a plan Jules. Tight. Stay there. I grabbed her face and brought it close to mine. “We are in trouble aren’t we?” “Heaps. And I’ll do the same. peeling my hands from the wheel and stepping from the cab. I think it will help being somewhere other people are. I closed the door and walked a few feet away and started to pace.” “Why?” I looked up at her and caught her gaze. I heard Jules get out and close her door.” I released her but our natural pull was an agonizing thing to fight. We’ll go to dinner and take it easy.” “I can’t.” “I know. “Gosh damn it Jules!” She jumped. I inhaled a painful breath. Just breathe. “I’m kind of panicking here. . get in the car. Think we can we can survive the drive?” She nodded then crookedly bit her bottom lip. Strap yourself in. “Please Jules.

I unbuckled my belt. and attacked her again. I began to whisper in her ear but the car behind us honked their horn that the light had turned green and I was forced back into my seat. I glanced at the clock on my dash. started the truck and immediately put it into drive. I’m sorry but you have to stop biting your bottom lip. “Oh no! Look at the time Jules!” “Well. Just get in the truck. “Sorry. My dad would be pissed if we were late. only to be restrained harshly by my seat belt. reaching for her. .” She looked at me and I tried my damnedest not to look her way but just could not resist. deflecting my gaze.” I said.” I sighed deeply when we had to stop at a red light. threw it in park.” I said.” she said sheepishly. frantically brushing my lips over hers. put on my seat belt like that was somehow going to keep me from attacking Jules again. “Shit. laughing nervously.” I said. I took my keys out and hopped in the cab.” “Oh my God. We can’t risk possible traffic.” she burst out laughing. crap. I struggled and fought myself to put my seat belt back on all while keeping my burrowing gaze on Jules. “Jules!” I yelled. “I gotta’ get you out of this truck. “I gotta’ get out of this truck. She unknowingly bit her bottom lip out of habit. No dinner then. “It’s a habit. I buried my face in her neck and breathed in her inviting perfume. You have no idea what that does to me!” “Sorry.“I’m sorry. I put the truck in drive and didn’t break my stare until the last possible second.

“we have to change the subject or I will very soon need to pull over and neither of us wants that.” I offered. .“Maybe it’s because it’s so new. It magnifies everything tenfold. “You know too. Kitt has been informing on us. “Jules! Don’t tempt me! God!” “Sorry.” “I’m all ears love. That did it.” she realized.. It’s always going to feel like this Elliott.. “But for right now... “We’re going to figure out a way that this won’t dominate our entire lives.. Oh hell.” I said..okay. “How do you know?” I asked.” I laughed and drug my hand over my mouth. “I’ve got a topic for you. but I do. That’s not it. “talking music just riles us up.” “That’s no good. I’m seriously considering bringing Maddy with us everywhere we go.” “Mrs.. I felt that you knew. It’s the voltage.” “You’re right.” “What are we going to do Elliott?” Her voice slightly panicked.” Jules brushed her bangs from her forehead and kept her hands there trying to get as much air as possible to her face. genuinely shocked.” “I kind of do..” We both laughed hysterically.” “Why?” “Because our first kiss was at the library where we were writing our papers..” she whispered under her breath...” “What?” I asked.where did we leave off earlier.. How about our papers? Let’s talk about that. “No.

I slid my hand over the soft skin of her foot and pinched her delicate ankle bone between my forefinger and thumb and the spark flared even more. I placed my right hand on her ankles and we enjoyed the purring heat. and rested them on my lap. ‘inappropriate’. including Sawyer.“Yup.” I said. Jules got comfortable and removed her shoes. I ran circles with my thumb across the top of her foot and when she started to get drowsy I let her fall asleep. and I quote. I told her firmly that Sawyer could no longer be a friend of hers and she firmly told me to mind my own business. I dragged the pad of my thumb along the arch of her foot and was rewarded with a sharp intake of a sleepy breath.” “And?” “They believe me.” “What the hell! We are not inappropriate!” “I know and that’s exactly what I told my mom and dad. Apparently she reports to my mom how we act during class and at school.” I exhaled slowly. She had her legs . eventually. never taking my hand from her leg. we talked for over an hour about anything that would keep us from clawing at each other. I resisted the urge to pull over at least fifteen times the first hour but. She told my mom that she thinks we’re. I wasn’t going to press it again until it became a problem. From there. we both calmed down enough to distract ourselves with lots more talking and lots more laughing. I wouldn’t put it past her if she has spies everywhere. “Well. That tickled me and my laugh almost woke her but she settled once more against the seat. good. stretched her painted feet across our shared seat.

I hadn’t seen it before because it was hidden beneath her other foot but the ring was connected to a chain. I turned the radio on and Matt & Kim’s ‘Daylight’ came on. I grabbed my flashlight from my glove box and we crunched in silence through the brush to our little spot. I woke her when we were close to home and we both decided the rock bridge was the perfect spot to waste the time. I glimpsed her direction. With ten minutes to spare I gathered up the courage to grab her face and we shared three sweet. controlled kisses before I decided it was time to go back. I focused on the road ahead of me. We arrived in Bramwell with half an hour to spare and there was no way I was going to drop her off early if I didn’t have to. You’re gonna’ be the death of me. I lifted her onto its face and we laid side by side pointing out constellations. wishing we were kissing instead.crossed and while massaging the foot in my hand I noticed the foot underneath it had a toe ring around the middle toe. It did very funny things to my chest and stomach. I dropped her foot to regain control of myself. thoughtful. It was extremely attractive on her. To distract myself. I followed the chain with my finger and had to peel back a little of the cuff of her jean to reveal the ankle bracelet it was connected to. I uncrossed them and re-crossed them with the toe ring foot on top this time. . dragging my hand over my mouth yet again. They matched mine perfectly and the ones that didn’t quickly became mine. I smiled. But who would have thought death could be this sweet? When I felt in control of myself again I laid my hand on her knee and got the surprise of my life when I felt her dreams.

. She turned her back toward her dad and held out her hand for it. “What time is your curfew?” She asked. “but it won’t be tonight because I’ve already spent nine hours with you.” I said and walked the few feet back to my truck to grab Jules’ bag from the bed. I grabbed her hand and we inched slowly to her front porch. but that’s over ten hours away and I’m afraid I’ll have withdrawals.m. She protested when I held out my hand to go but I didn’t want to disrespect her father and insisted I take her back. Darn. We rode in blissful silence. We trudged our way through the sticky. “Hello Elliott. “Hi. She squeezed my hand when she took it from me and winked.” I laughed. on the weekends. Mr. but heard the creak of her front door as it began to swing open forcing me to let go of Jules’ waist. “that’s okay.” I said. When we got into the truck she slid in close to me and I draped my hand over her shoulder. “One more for the road then?” We smiled and I drew her near to my body. I’ll see you in church tomorrow morning right?” “Yeah. Jacobs. It kept us very warm.” “Of course. “Two a. My dad would never go for it.” she taunted. It was her dad.We discovered a third very convenient use for our gift. “Mine too.” she said.” “Oh. “Darn.” I said. I parked in front of The Perry House and jumped out to open Jules’ door. thank you for bringing Jules home on time.” Jules whispered my unspoken thought. brisk air back to my truck but felt perfectly warm as we held hands. despite the chill growing in the air.

“Dad! Stop it!” Jules’ voiced trailed off before the door closed. glancing up at me. I turned toward my truck and felt Jules’ eyes return to her father’s. . “did you have fun?” “I did. “Hey son. I don’t have a problem with it.“See you at church tomorrow. from kissing I assume.” was all I could say. “I did. They were definitely raw but I didn’t know that was visible to the world. “Your lips son. wishing we could sit on her porch and talk and kiss until the sun rose.” “I can tell. thank you for asking pop. My truck bit at the popping gravel driveway as I parked it just outside the barn. “Yeah. The door squeaked open before I slammed it shut.” I said. I shook my head and laughed as I shoved the keys into the ignition and drove the two miles to my parents' farmhouse.” I said. I could hear every word. dad.” he laughed.” “Did you kiss ‘em?” He teased. “As long as it’s just kissing. not wanting to leave. When I got home my dad was in the red barn refinishing some old doors he found in a nearby junkyard to replace two of the interior doors of the house. I really did.” he said. “Did you have fun?” He asked her as I counted the sounds of each step she took up her porch. their swollen.” I pressed my lips together before lifting a finger to feel them. well. “Hey dad.” she said. “What? What’s that supposed to mean?” My eyes wide as saucers. “See ya’. pulling my fingers through my hair.

probably not as much as I should have but enough. “Get any homework at all done?” “Yes sir. I had the most fun day of my life today. You are a such mystery to me!” I fought the smile trying to escape my lips and peered .” “Good. Julia Jacobs is an incredible girl. I wouldn’t have done anything to Jules that I wouldn’t want done to my own daughter.” If I had revealed why I so adamantly agreed with him. I’m in pretty good shape.” “Land alive! I don’t believe I would have ever heard anything like that come from your mouth Elliott Gray. Now get.” I said and began to walk the kitchen stairs to my room. Tell me. sanding off some old red paint. When I entered through the kitchen.” he said. he wouldn’t have believed me.You just make sure it’s only that.” “Okay dad. peeling potatoes for Sunday’s potato salad. my mom was at her huge ceramic farm sink. Need any help?” “Nope. Your mama’s been waiting all day to talk to you.” I walked up the little hill my house sat on top of and thought of how Jules was safely becoming a permanent fixture in my life. “Hey mama. Jules was precious to me. “Wait Elliott. How did it go baby?” “It went extremely well mom. Keep your hands in your pockets if you have to. Good. When she saw me she threw down her peeler and wiped her hands on a blue and white dishtowel. The paper’s not due for two weeks yet. “Well you better get yourself into that house son. You hear me?” “Yes sir.

Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’ began to play and while Beth Gibbons soothed the edges of my live-wire heart. too happy to move anymore.down at the step my feet were resting on.” “He did? How did he do that?” “Never mind. I replayed everything that had happened that day and smiled . “It’s not exactly something you go around boasting about mom! Plus.” “Eww!” Maddy said.” “Okay son. I didn’t tell dad. “Dad must have told her. jumping off the counter.” “Okay mom. What are you doing out of bed young lady?” When Maddy ignored her. “He went on a date with Julia Jacobs today and is bein’ stingy with the details.” “Who is?” Said Maddy as she rounded the corner and pulled herself onto the counter beside my mom.” I laughed. she went on.” I said. He guessed. “That’s what you’re talking about? I’m out of here. “Your brother is. “So? You gonna’ make me pry every detail from you? For heaven’s sake Elliott! You are just like your daddy. Who wants to hear about Elliott sucking face with Julia Jacobs!” Maddy ran up the kitchen stairs and down the hall to her room. closing her door behind her. I’ll be in my room. I leaned over and grabbed my remote from my nightstand to turn on my stereo. “So you’ll tell your daddy but not your mama?” She teased. I’ll just get the details from your daddy then. I closed my bedroom door behind me and fell onto my bed. I brought my stare up from my feet and saw my mom laughing. I turned around and sat down on the third step while she went back to peeling.

I kept glancing over my shoulder. The next day my mom knocked on my door to wake me for church. again. and strolled down the center aisle of the nave toward me. Mornings weren’t exactly my favorite part of the day. No sooner had I thought this did she walk in. on her own. She wore pristine white gloves that barely reached the bottom of her wrist where they buttoned with little pearls. Julia Jacobs was going to be my future and I was going to be hers. I found myself really alert. The only thing missing to complete the . Damn if Jules wasn’t going to be a very big part of my life. She was breathtaking. ate breakfast. She wore a dress that looked to be straight out of a Grace Kelly movie. “Save us a pew!” My dad yelled. She was so charming. I showered. that I was going on ahead of them. I was tired of waiting on my parents and Maddy so I yelled at the kitchen door to let everyone know I’d meet them there.at every torturous detail. I sat inside the almost empty church alone. I sort of had hoped Jules would have shown up a little earlier so I could get looking at her out of my system and could concentrate. Her bangs swept to one side of her forehead and her long curled hair fell at points at her waist. “Okay!” I was out the door and in my truck in less than ten seconds and at the church in less than five minutes. readied myself quickly and was ready to leave in less than half an hour. more alert than I was used to being on a weekend morning. but knowing I’d be able to hold Jules’ hand in a little over an hour made it more than tolerable. green and white striped. and I didn’t think I was ever going to get used to the way she looked.

“I’ll see you afterwards.” she smiled and it touched her eyes. puzzled..” . trying to talk about anything but the blindingly obvious fact that she was too gorgeous for words.” “No. trying not to stare.I. well you’re making me feel the same thing. I drove my own car so I could see you. when she sat next to me. Gray. I shook my head to regain control. A deadly combination..Uhh” I stuttered..” I gulped.” the church doors opened and she spun around. “You look nice. Want to eat lunch at the rock bridge?” “Don’t want to eat lunch at Babe’s with the rest of the parish?” I asked. “Think you could stifle what you’re feeling?” I swallowed and dropped her hand.. The bell of her dress fanned around her when she sat and blew her heavenly scent my direction.” “Thank you dear. “dazzling. “Uh.” Beautiful and eager to see me.” she said turning back around.” I said.” she said with a wink.. “You look.. “Me too.look was her hand anchoring a wide brimmed hat to her head and maybe her eyes squinting in the sun. I. “Not today. it’s just.I. “Oh.. “They’re on their way. I’d prefer a picnic in the forest Mr. “I’m glad you did. “Hi Elliott.” “Where are your parents?” I asked.” I grabbed her gloved hand and the piece of cloth separating our skin did nothing to stifle the sudden lightning bolt billowing over the pews surrounding us. my mom and dad are here. “That’s embarrassing.

” I said but as she began to walk away. Just looking at her. Jules gaped at me. I swung my jacket over the seat. I called her back to me. You love it.” “No.” I said with a wink. leaning into the pew. “That’s so? You should probably get your own soundtrack then. After church. “Oh. whatever. that’s much better. There’s a difference. I can see the twinkle in your eye from here. I watched as she joined her family wishing I could sit next to her as well but satisfied just to be in the same room with her. I knew that Julia Jacobs was definitely my past. When I parked. Turns out. Jules?” “Yes babe?” She asked. untying my shoes and throwing on the extra pair of Converse I kept in the cab of my truck.” “You’re a flirt Gray. I got out and immediately started loosening my tie. “What?” I asked.” I said. she had a basket already packed.“Sounds perfect.” . I drove the winding path to the dirt patch free of trees on the side of the road nearest our rock bridge. “Pray for me. “Ahh.” I joked. I’m going to marry that girl one day.” “Oh. my present. and rolled up my sleeves. untucked my shirt. and very much my future. “So quick to undress around me Gray? You should probably check yourself before you wreck yourself. She rolled her eyes at me and shook her head but couldn’t hide her smile. I’m a tease. I hopped in my truck and followed Jules home. She laughed out loud. hunched over.

“I have one. one eye closed and my nose bunched. “Please let me carry you Jules.” “No. I know they leave their bottles laying around. cluttering against one another with each step I took. Jesse and his friends always drink out here. “It was just a small stick Elliott. sweets. “Uh. You’re so stubborn. can you feel anything else?” I asked. I consider your Sunday attire a lucky break on my part. She had taken off her heels and I worried she might hurt herself. I got it.” I handed the basket to her and scooped her into my arms. I’ve got it. It’s not even a quarter mile away.” I had Jules walk ahead of me so I could make sure she was always steady on her feet. . There’s no need to carry me. Even as a kid you were always so stubborn. She held the little basket in her lap with her right hand and her heels dangled from her left. “Ready?” “Yup.” “I know.” “No.” I grimaced. I’m afraid you’ll step on a piece of glass or something. I’d want to do this even if you were wearing hiking boots. She took three additional steps before she gasped and grabbed at her foot. I can feel it.” “Give me a break Jules. really.” she laughed. already knowing her answer.” “Shut up.” “Please Jules. “See Jules! That’s it.” she insisted.” “Oh yeah? What song?” “‘Peanut Butter Jelly Time.

“That doesn’t help the cause princess. awkwardness. soaking it in the chill spring before wringing it out. “Should have just let me carry you love. I let her legs go but clutched onto her waist not letting her feet touch the ground.” I carried her in silence and we traded feelings back and forth. “Ssssttt. then love again.” she winced. love. Quite the ego boost. “Finally a use for this ridiculous thing. embarrassment. more attraction. heat.” she blushed. yeah. back to attraction.” I lifted each foot by the ankle and wiped the dirt from the bottom of her feet.“Uh. I laughed before soaking the handkerchief once more . that’s cold. “Besides. First attraction.” I laughed. but I didn’t care. When we reached the bridge. she unknowingly bit at her lower lip to keep from laughing and I didn’t bother correcting it. It’s a shame. God. “Stay there. nuzzling her face in my neck.” “I like it as well.” she said over my shoulder while holding onto my back. I grinned like the overeager idiot that I was. I took the handkerchief that my mom always insists I bring to church out of my pocket and bent toward the water.” “And miss this? Never. If I had a camera you’d be immortalized right now. you can stop blushing now. I kept my face next to hers and grabbed the basket to set on top of the natural rock bridge before lifting her up to sit on the surface next to it. Never had such delicious blackmailing material before. I like feeling attracted to you and I like you knowing that I am. it’s only natural Jules. All the while.” I said.

“This is what you get when you don’t cooperate with me. I pulled her tightly into my chest.” I teased. “They’re clean enough! They’re clean enough!” She fell back onto the rock and held her laughing stomach. No questions asked. “You’re so much shorter without your heels on.” “What is it?” She desperately pleaded through chuckles. I buried my face into the skin just above the shoulder and blew against her neck. I promise. keeping my hands on her hips. .” “No way!” I continued my torturous ways. You’re the only anomaly here.” “Good. though not all that unusual.” I swung her legs over the rock and lifted myself next to her. okay!” She giggled. “I promise. “I’ll stop if you agree to a condition.” “Six foot four is an anomaly? What are you trying to say Jules? I’m abnormal?” “In more ways than one Elliott Gray. “Okay! Okay!” She pleaded.” “No. I can see the part on the top of your head. You must let me. “I’m five foot eight Elliott. “Stop! Stop!” “Take it back.” “Okay. pinning her arms to her sides. That’s actually tall for my sex.” she laughed. “That tickles!” She started wriggling her feet but I clutched harder at her ankle to keep her still.and wringing it out to continue wiping the dirt from her already clean feet. I stopped only to state. “When I want to carry you.” she teased. I stood up and helped her to her feet.

” she exhaled hard. “Take it back Jules.” She strained her neck to look up at me. She may not even be there. You forget. “I’ll take care of you Jules. “No way Elliott.” She pushed away. she’ll probably be there but come on! The whole team will be there as well. No way will I be going anywhere Taylor Williams or her cronies will be. I take it back! I take it back!” She laughed hysterically. “I’m a big girl Elliott. trying to catch her breath.” She gave me a disbelieving. Just stop. I’ll let you go only if you agree to go with me to Matthew Tanen’s party on Saturday night. How dare you even ask me that? You know how I feel about them and their cruelty. I don’t need anyone to take care of me. “Anything?” “Anything. and laugh at everyone making fools of themselves. sarcastic look.” I threatened to do it again by inching closer. “Eww. We’ll pick a corner of the house.” “No.I blew harder.” I softened my tone and edged closer to her. I’ve made it my entire life being ridiculed by Taylor. “Okay. We can avoid Taylor like the plague that she is. I think I can survive my senior year without any assistance. I pulled away. I can feel your saliva on my neck.” she laughed again. I blew even harder. It’ll be fun. “No! No! Not again! Please! I’ll do anything!” I raised an eyebrow. You know I will. Her eyebrows pinched together. “Alright. no longer being playful.” “Taylor Williams? Who the hell cares about Taylor Williams! It’s not even her party. “Okay. camp there.” .

” The sun lit the natural red highlights in her hair..” . I’m being serious with you Jules.” She smiled up at me.” She pointed a finger at my face. “Oh Rhett. har. “Wait.. “But if Taylor so much as breathes in my direction.” “Deal! And Jules?” “Hmm?” “I would never let you go anywhere without me. with or without you. I’m outta’ there. I was trying to get you to see that they’re not all that bad. and wait.” “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to at least make an appearance. the electricity seemed to have calmed us both down. He keeps us all in stitches. everyone piles into Matthew’s parents’ lake house for fun.” I exhaled gruffly. “I’m sorry Jules. I’m protective over the girls I’m in love with. looking away. “Yes! I know you’ll have fun babe. Matthew is so hilarious. gazed toward the sky and with a southern drawl said.” she said. “How did this turn so quickly?” “I don’t know.” she chided. “My God Jules. It’s actually a blast. You take the cake buttercup. I have never in my life seen a woman as gorgeous as you. You’re beautiful. The laughing had made her cheeks flush and the fighting had made her eyes bright. She placed the back of her gloved hand against her forehead. You know what I meant. har... Every part of her was just so alive. stunning me speechless. you’re sweepin’ me off ma’ feet!” “Hardy. After a few seconds.” “The girls? Plural? Nice. I just wanted you to come is all.” she admitted. wait. After the game.“I know you don’t Jules but I’ll do it anyway because it’s my job.

” I said. “Come here. The rock bridge is like the perfect dance floor. “I have something I want to listen to with you. I didn’t get a chance to ask because she said she had a surprise for me. “Part one of ‘Those Thieving Birds’. “Diorama. She had lots of awesome food in there and I wondered if she had made it herself. I studied her face for a moment then drug the tip of my thumb over her bottom lip before gathering her in my arms and kissing her .” she said and patted the bit of stone next to her. “Ta daa!” She said and pulled a little portable mp3 player out. I’d let you carry me anywhere. happy and out of breath. I reclined back onto an elbow and watched her dance around while belting out every single word. I got up and laid next to her.” She turned it on and fiddled with it until I heard Silverchair’s ‘Without You’ come on.” Jules sat on the back of her heels and opened the basket beneath her. “I thought we could listen to music and dance and be silly. “It makes me want to cry it’s so beautiful. The melody does insane things to my heart and I want to see what it feels like while you hold me. She nodded and threw a flirtatious smile my way. When the song was over she collapsed on the stone. you’re adorable. It started and I recognized another one of Silverchair’s songs.” I turned to my side and hovered over her.“Oh Gray. so many points for that one.” She got up and flipped it to another song. I was mesmerized. Just for that. “God. She just laughed and tried to catch her breath.” I said.” she said.

Right . “Gonna’ frisk me officer?” She asked sarcastically. “For what?” “For stealin’ my heart. for the sentencing. Gray.” After Saturday’s game. She moved closer to me and clutched the hem of my t-shirt.” She kissed me deeper in response. “You are hereby ordered to kiss me. I’m the law and the order in this town and as your judge I find you guilty as well. “Gray!” Jules called from behind me. I spun around to find her.” I tapped my chin. How do you plead?” “Guilty.” she whispered.” I said to the stranger who patted me on the back. I felt like I was getting my second wind knowing Jules and I would be going to Tanen’s.” “Thanks. Now.” I joked with a crooked smile.” “Good game. Elliott. “Good game. as tired as I was. Very guilty.” “I know. I planned on introducing the team to how fun Jules really was. love?” “I am so in love with you. “Are you carrying?” “Hell yeah I am.” “Those are capital offenses Jules.” “Well. “No one could love me as much as you love me. “Hey Jules?” “Yes. “Stop! You’re under arrest!” I teased. A massive crush on this burdened heart.softly. “Nor could anyone love me as much as you do Jules.” “Thanks mister Dorvey.

The windows were well lit.” she teased. I hope to influence you severely.” “You’re a flirt Gray and oh yeah. Time for Matthew’s party. “We’re here.” I said finally turning into the entrance of the long driveway. You’re a bad influence on me. Also. Matthew’s parents' lake house cabin was on an isolated strip of land on the east side of Bramwell Lake.” I pointed to my cheek.” “Cheese can be fun sometimes and yes.” I winked. skeptical. She went in but at the last second I turned and caught her mouth with mine. except for the part where I lost my head and attacked her. I promise you. You ready to go?” “I’m more than ready.” she said.” We passed car after car on our way to the cabin. “You’re a clever minx Jules. cheesy as hell.” “Oh Jules. I helped her into the cab and put her seat belt on for her like I did on our library date. I walked Jules to my truck and threw my pads in the back. look at all the cars. I can’t believe I went along with that.here. We had to circle half the lake to get to it. a stark contrast against the dark forest. I’m eager to get this over with. We rounded a bend of drive and skirted a thick grove of trees before coming upon the little house on top of Bramwell Lake. the Tanen’s cabin was the only one for miles. “Can you see the lit windows through the trees? I can actually hear all the people.” “Okaaaay.” “Must have heard I was coming. “That’s exactly why. It’s going to be fun. . “Dang.

I strolled in front of the truck. how scared should I be?” She asked. one eyebrow raised. I opened the door to a living room so full of kids there . “Look at the water Jules. calming us. I get the impression that they love it. They’ll be by in about an hour to check on things and to ‘make sure’ there’s no alcohol but the team knows their drill and usually wait until they’re gone to bring out the illegal stuff anyway. be honest with me Gray.” I dragged her behind me up the deck.” She stood by my side and gazed out over the mirrored lake. second nature to us now. Do Matthew’s parents really go for this?” “Yeah. Not a breeze in sight.” She laughed nervously. “Very beautiful. probably thinking that kids will be kids and all that or maybe it’s an ‘out of sight out of mind’ kind of thing. Our shared current. Come on. “Ummmm. Peaceful.“Kids are spilling out of every crevice imaginable. I know they just turn a blind eye on it. The calm before a storm?” she asked. The wood clamored beneath our boots.” “I’ve never seen it stilled like this. permeated through our bodies and lit little labyrinths of light out from the soles of our feet.” “A bit eerie.” “On a scale of one to ten. scooting her body closer to mine. opened her door for her and took her hand.Jules ducked her head close to the windshield for a better view and let out a low whistle. “You’re just being paranoid Jules. She tried to walk toward the house but I wouldn’t let her break the hold I had on her hand. I parked on the grass close to the lake’s shore. about a fifteen.

Are you okay here for a second?” “Sure.” She nodded.was barely enough room to walk. She told me to keep it on me and I forgot it. I leaned in close to Jules’ ear... The music was so loud I could barely hear anyone around us.and no one wants you hear anyway Julia. “I’m gonna’ run out to the truck for my mom’s cell. I decided to exit the back and loop around to the front to avoid climbing over people. I need to take a leak first though. “Stay close. Jules’ heart immediately tensed up when she saw Taylor and I felt just how nervous the girl made her.” Taylor Williams gestured at the room. I glanced a last look at my Jules. “Want some water or anything?” “I’m cool. She winked in her usual confident way and I ran to the bathroom. her words dripping with venom. This is a crowd you don’t belong in leech. I wound her through the small passageway of kids from school to a corner of the room and sat her on top of one of Matthew’s Peavey subwoofers.” “I know it.. Jules was still perched on top of the speaker I sat her upon. I leaned in next to her and spoke closely at her ear. .. making my stomach twist. leaving her dazed before meandering my way through the crowd. I hurried inside to see what was going on and caught the tail end of an insult aimed directly at my Jules...” she said. I got the cell and bounded up the deck but before I had even swung open the screen door I heard a collective “ohhhhh” come from inside the house.. Be right back. If we get separated meet me outside on the deck. “.” I kissed her roughly.. I had to wait for three people before my turn but finally got inside.

swaying slightly. this was the one thing I told Jules I would protect her from and I’d failed miserably. spun my way and the silence was deafening. Apparently. my voice booming against the walls.giving Taylor a height advantage that allowed her to speak down to Jules literally and figuratively. I scanned their faces but they refused to make eye contact with me and I realized that Taylor was staring each down in silent threat. including Taylor’s. It was strong enough of a sensation that it permeated the room and made my stomach roil. I was taller and bigger which told me he had to . No one wants you here!” Jules’ expression was cool. I felt sick. Above all. Leading the lemmings. cool as a cucumber. she was a proponent of the theory that any attention was good attention. Although the fool was tall and big. “Enough!” I shouted. which is why you should just leave Julia. The date she had brought from a local community college took a shot of liquid courage and stood by her side. Her face didn’t betray a hint of hurt but I felt it. I climbed over people to get to Jules and yanked her to my side. She was leaning back on her hands. “She speaks for everyone?” I asked the room. Had to give Jules credit where credit was due. Taylor leaned over her. “Enough Taylor!” A sick glint of shimmer fluttered across her eyes when I said her name and the corners of her mouth twitched. “I don’t know what you did to poison our Elliott but once we figure out how to remove your cancerous claws we’ll steal him back. I turned my attention back to Taylor. You just don’t fit in. All heads.

We’re leaving Craig. catching one of her necklaces and dragging her backward. I’m willing to drop this shit. He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes. her drunk date grabbed at Jules. I guess I was mistaken.” I stared in seething anger at my boots. pressing his shoulder back and correcting his posture. for now. I needed to get Julia out of there. listening to drunk Craig hit on my Jules in front of Taylor.” I drug my heavy stare onto Jesse. the truth to Taylor’s outburst. especially you Jesse.” “I’ve been wanting to talk to her since she got here.” he slurred. I can see that you’re also slightly inebriated so I’ll leave you to your date.” I said. barely able to keep himself up. obviously she didn’t care to talk with you. “I want to talk to that girl. She keeps ignoring me.” He started leaning into Jules’ face. “Well Taylor. We both ignored her. I grabbed Jules’ hand and began to squeeze my way to the door but when we walked past Taylor. Craig was .” I couldn’t believe the direction this conversation had taken. None of my friends would have allowed Julia to be ostracized like this. I caught her and straightened her up. As for the rest of you. Little did I know his real motivation. “What are you doing Craig?” Taylor whispered.have been drunk when he eyed me like he was craving a fight. “Take the hint. Ahhh. “I thought you were my friends. The rest of the crowd stood dumbstruck. “Well. “Can’t. “What the hell is your problem?” I asked the jerk.

He’s drunk. punching the guy square in the jaw. waiting in the wings for just such an occasion to grace us with their presence. I’m not sure where you’re from but here we don’t treat or talk to ladies like that. I raised my fist again. “Listen. . “See bro. it was painful but not as painful as the fact that Jesse just stood and watched without so much as a twitching thumb in interest of helping me. I thought it was over and straightened up but out of nowhere came three friends of his I didn’t know he had with him. “Nobody walks away from me. especially a four. Let me tell you. Just walk away. I charged at him and wound my arm behind my head.oblivious to what had been going on. taking Jules’ waist. As you can see. Come on sweetheart.” He practically begged for me to sock him in his weak chin. We started to walk away again but this time he grabbed her so harshly around her shoulders it nearly knocked her to the ground.” he said eyeing Jules. too enamored with Jules to pay attention to the fight between her and Taylor or too drunk to care. “you’re under the impression that I care how she feels. I told myself.” I scoffed. Two immediately grabbed and held my arms while a third began punching me in the gut and face. we’ve already got a foot out the door.” he continued. He went down with the one punch like a sack of potatoes. preparing myself to block the return hit. So why don’t you just walk away now. It came crashing down with all the strength I had. That’s when I snapped.” I said. but it never came. “You’re a joke dude.

” I insisted. “You’re bleeding. turning to Matthew. “Thank you but I . “Ha. I looked over at Jules mid punch and saw the terror on her face. really.” “No. “I need to take Jules home. I knew she felt the nausea.” Matthew said. she sprung her leg back and delivered a knee to my attacker’s groin. No. “It’s but a flesh wound. “Come on. ha.” I said. I felt that she had and it was the first time I hated our shared connection. Taking matters into her own hands. out of breath.” Her hand shook when she brought it to my face and tenderly brushed a lock of hair stuck to a bloody cheek. She felt every single punch that landed and her face twisted in pain. No one listened. She rose above it and started to grab at the one who was punching me and pleaded with tears in her eyes for Jesse to help me. hell?” I asked him.” He grabbed my arm. “What the hell happened in here?” James asked me.” I teased. thanks.“What. She ran out the front door and we heard them struggling to get to Taylor’s car. unable to disguise the terror in her voice. “I’ll help you to the bathroom. Get you cleaned up. “Get them the hell out of here Taylor!” Matthew said. “I’m fine.” “It’s okay Elliott. trying to stand up straight. They grabbed the three goons and Craig on the floor and started hauling them toward the door. Let’s just clean off the blood and see what damage there is. “We were gone two seconds and you get into a fight Elliott? Why didn’t you wait for us?” He joked.” I sighed. “It’s okay. the. between punches. trying to lighten the mood. This stopped him before he could hit again and gave Matthew Tanen enough time to come through the back door with James Cappelli to discover me getting beat.” she said.

I ran my fingers up and down her back. “Jules.” .. Thanks for helping me out man. At times. She wiped the tears from her eyes but she wasn’t fooling me. I complied only because I knew she wouldn’t take no for an answer. So. She helped me inside and took me to the over sized bathroom attached to her bedroom. referring to the guy she kicked... only wanting to be the comforter. obviously not wanting to be comforted. I wanted to touch her so I could see what she was feeling but was afraid of what I’d find out. “Cool. The drive home was exceedingly quiet.would prefer it if we just left. I’ve been in a lot worse scraps than this.” They both nodded and helped me to my truck.. trying to make the situation lighter. Trust me. I thought she looked angry but she also looked to be on the verge of tears. “They’re in New York City for the weekend.” I turned to James. Her eyes were still glassy trying to hold them back. Jules ordered me into the passenger seat.” I teased. We arrived at her parents’ house just after one-thirty in the morning but they weren’t home. It’s their anniversary. “Where are your parental units?” I asked. This is nothing babe. Tears began to flow and she buried her face into my chest..” She signaled that she wanted me to sit on top of the counter so she could tend to me and I obeyed. refusing to let me drive. The expression on her face was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It didn’t work.. She was trying to be brave. She pulled away quickly.I can’t believe you almost floored that guy. “Thanks.

” She nodded. well.” she said.” “Me. my God Elliott! Look at what they did to your face! Taylor’s right. Revered even. swallowing them.” I said standing up in front of the bathroom mirror. tell me what’s wrong. “Babe. When I was blood free she had me lay back in a chair in her living room and then went to the kitchen sink to wash as much blood as possible from my t-shirt.” I said.She didn’t say anything but tried to smile. Tears began to well once more. I mean. You were well liked before we started dating. “Yikes. “Are you okay over there? Comfortable?” “Uh. “You’re awfully quiet over there Jules.” she said.” She pulled an aspirin bottle from a cabinet. I don’t belong in your . She helped me remove my shirt and I twisted in pain from having to contort my sides and chest. “I can fix that. I grimaced as she took a damp rag to the blood on my face and neck. She grabbed three washcloths from a drawer and waited for the water to get warm before soaking them and wringing them out. opened the bottle. The bruises had already started to show which made her gasp. Jules my sides are really sore and it’s hard to get comfortable. handing me the bottle and little pills. What are you thinking about?” “Nothing. I’m what’s wrong. Remember that two hundred and fifty pound lineman that Reggie couldn’t block me from? This isn’t much worse than that. Several minutes passed in silence. I come into your life and all hell breaks loose. removed two and grabbed a bottle of water. “Here babe. “Oh well.” I said. “Thanks sweetheart.

group. She flipped on her iPod’s docking station and Zero 7’s ‘Destiny’ started playing. they aren’t worthy of our time. You’re the best Elliott and you deserve the same but I at least want to earn the chance to always be by your side.” she said absently. I was just another lemming ready to drop off the cliff. you know? I was being . You are the best for me. and you will always be at my side not because you’ve earned that right to be.” “I’m not too beautiful for you.” she said. I would have found myself stuck in a rut going nowhere fast. Before I met you. “I felt you were in pain and couldn’t take it anymore. You’re too beautiful for me Jules. I’m bad news for you. You’re too good for them and I was just stupid enough to think they could mesh with you but they can’t. I’m the one responsible for your current condition!” I fought the pain and dragged Jules onto my lap. She sat in my lap and gently dabbed at the knots on my face and it soothed them immediately. It’s where we belong.” “That’s where you’re wrong Jules. but because that’s how it’s supposed to be. I have a feeling I’ll be fending goons off of you for a long time. the very. Except for a very very few.” I kissed her forehead softly and smiled at her. kissing my cheek. “You’re right. “Stop! Just stop it Jules! You’re being ridiculous. “And you’re right you could never belong in that group! Because the truth of it is. No one could be. “I’ll be right back. that’s absurd. If you hadn’t come along to wake me up. I heard her rummaging around the kitchen for a moment and she came back with some ice wrapped in a hand towel. they don’t belong around you. And as far as the drunk goes? I’ll just have to get used to that.

” I said. “but please don’t. You would die for me. . her face tight with pain.” “What did they see?” I asked quietly. “It is to me. “Oh whatever. I pulled her into my chest. “You’re wonderful. I saw it in your eyes Elliott. Elliott. “I only did what I had to do.” “No. The whole damn room could see it. We do belong together. I would die for you. I felt a knot in her stomach. Yes.” she said. “I could see what you were doing for me Elliott. kissing her with rigid lips. wouldn’t you?” She asked bluntly. This is not a big deal. “That you would risk your life for me. “Jules. so thick I could barely understand her.ridiculous. “For what?” “For saving me.” she whispered.” “I know you would. you did what you wanted to do.” she said thickly. “Thank you. trying to channel all the passion I felt for her in them instead of taking it out on the rest of her. a tear in her eye.” she said. by the way.” I grabbed her wrist and stopped her from dabbing.” She leaned in to my lips and kissed them as deeply as she could without causing me pain. before I could say anything else.” she corrected me. For protecting me.” She felt where I needed relief the most and would keep the ice there until I needed it elsewhere. with a teary smile. I would kill tigers for you. The unbelievable love I felt from her was overpowering and made me forget the hurt.

before slipping into a deep rest. “Well. A few cuts and bruises but I think I’ll survive.” “Huh?” “The phone’s ringing Jules.” “Basically. ignoring her sarcasm.” I conveniently left out the part where she fell asleep in my lap. “And?” . Wake up babe. I tapped Jules’ shoulder.” “Oh.When the kiss came to an all too short end she laid her head on my chest and we drifted off to sleep. Before I closed my eyes I could have sworn Jules had spoken but she was asleep. I didn’t find that to be particularly relevant to the story.. I woke startled at five in the morning to the sound of the phone ringing. “Hello?” “What are you doing Elliott? Do you know what time it is?” She asked. it’s a long story.” I dragged my hand over my mouth and tried hard not to panic. you think you’ll survive huh?” “Yeah.” She handed me the phone. he is.” “Are you okay?” “I think so. mom. I simply heard.okay.” I continued.. “It’s your mom and she wants to talk to you. “I was covered in blood and could barely walk so Jules brought me here to clean me up. I fell asleep on a chair in her living room. “Shit.” “I’m listening. our electricity warming us through and making us too tired to remember that it wasn’t allowed.” “Crap.. yes ma’am. I got into a fist fight at Matthew Tanen’s party and got hurt. Jules..” She stood and ran to answer it. “Hello? Yes. I. sleep well tonight.

” “Oh my God Mark! Look at his face!” “I look that bad.” “Did you call Danny?” My mom asked.” I hung up the phone. still in their pajamas.” She bit her bottom lip. “Who did this Elliott?” My dad asked. my dad not far behind. “Okay. I didn’t have time to. We had a heck of a night. huh? You should see the other guys. “Mom?” “I’m in my bedroom. “Oh my God!” My mom screamed and ran over to me. “Couple of college kids. I walked in to see both of my parents up with their backs against their headboard.” she yelled. ma’am. He scowled when he saw the knuckles on my right hand. “No. I walked in my back door four minutes later.” I teased. inspecting my throwing arm. “Jules?” “Yeah?” “I’m in deep.” She sighed.” . at all. well I’ll be up and waiting when you walk in our door in about five minutes. barely a scratch on ‘em. “What happened to you son?” “I told you I’d gotten into a fight. from Charleston I assume. I needed to get Jules out of there. When they saw me I didn’t get the reaction I was expecting. I rubbed the back of my neck to redistribute the pooling blood I know that had to be painting my face red and leaned my sore shoulder against the jamb. Understood?” “Yes.“And that’s all.

” my dad said. “Okay.“Sit down. “To what do we owe the pleasure young lady?” My mom asked dryly. “Mark!” I almost laughed.” a bubbly Jules said. or Mrs. Jacobs. I’d love to. but I can’t. Uh. while everyone readied for church.” “Why?” “Because they punched the crap out of my ribs and it hurts to sit. The next morning.” I said. “Hi Julia. “Well. get him water. “Are they broken?” She asked. theirs or mine. I could barely squawk out Mr. let’s just get you upstairs.” “Well. that quells any suspicions I had about you and the Jacobs girl. “No. “and we’ll help you lie down. I just laid there wishing I could join them when we heard a knock on the back door. She called them by their first names with ease.” my dad said. well.” my mom commanded. things like that. just bruised.” she said. oh. I’d had a broken rib before.” They both helped me take a stair at a time and once I reached the top I exhaled and promised myself that I’d never let someone hit me in the ribs again. “I thought maybe I’d take care of Elliott while you were at church. My parents helped me lie down and my mom promised me a long talk the next morning after church. “Hi Mark. You know.” My mom . Death before anyone punches me there again.

” Jules bounded up the stairs and burst through the door. We held back laughter and I almost snorted trying to keep it in. “Look at me. “Oh my God. I’m going to a later service. “Also. both of you. seriously?” “Well. She closed the door and we heard her mutter something about her being a fool and something about grandchildren. that one.” I conceded. for one. Suddenly. “Julia. absolutely no unnecessary touching. What the heck could we even do?” She thought for a moment and her face softened.” “I don’t think that would be necessary Julia. “Mom. Agreed?” “Agreed.” We stared and I could tell she wanted to laugh at the both of us but she kept her composure. Elliott. “Yes Shelby?” Still so familiar. tossing herself next to me.” my mom said to Jules. “Julia cannot be on your bed. “Mom!” I yelled. “Come on up girl. “but look at me. The feeling reached me and was so strong it made my heart ache for her. No propriety. “Wait here. I’m not so comfortable with you and Elliott being alone. “I’m not skipping out. disappointed.didn’t respond. Elliott.” she called over her shoulder.” Jules slipped off the bed and knelt on the floor next to me. Can you blame me?” “I guess not. My mom frowned.” “Oh. turning her eyes on . so she added. She climbed the steps and entered my room.” Jules said.” Jules said.” we said in unison. holding my side.

” “After calming down last night. crap if I had to be honest. not at all. ah. actually. a twinkle in her eye. I mean.” She stood and pecked me on the lips. That wasn’t ‘necessary’. Growing up. Sexy.” “Who said you had to be honest?” She thought about it for a second before saying.” I said. In that case then. “What?” “You look like.me. you look like a sexy beast!” She amended. ah miss Jacobs. That’s my hand sweetheart. “I’m not ungrateful that you came to my rescue. well. I started thinking about you on your white horse and everything and I gotta’ say. .” “See?” She laughed. distracted. commanding a room. but I’m a little surprised. throwing that punch.” “Yeah it was. I found you extraordinarily attractive when you came to my rescue. the taking charge. “Yeah.” “Well.” “Sorry.” she said and threw a deck of cards on the bed next to me. “Always. My jack beats your eight. “So. “I know I do baby. “No one. She sat and shuffled like a regular Vegas dealer then split the deck in half for a very grown up game of War. She rolled my computer chair over the wood floor and wedged it as close to me as possible. “Ah. can I confess something to you?” She eyed me flirtatiously. And your Monty Python reference? Icing on the cake. laying down a card. “I brought cards.” she said. nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

and after her parents got in from New York. ‘I’m a lover. babe? What’s up?” “Oh.” . Well. I don’t know. Kitt’s daughter apparently and as you probably now suspect. “What happened?” “Well. after Jules went home. I’ve never understood the phrase. surprising her. couldn’t wait to mention our little indiscretion to Mrs. Georgia Kitt spread it around like wildfire. “Uh. a regular Ouiser Boudreaux.” “I’ll kill her. Have you talked to Maddy today?” Her voice trickled sarcasm. not a fighter’. “Elliott?” She asked. I guess Maddy’s been quite the chatterbox. “Did she happen to mention to you anything that might have happened at church today?” I swallowed hard. after a lecture from both my parents. Kitt?” “Oh yeah and guess what else Elliott?” “What?” “The old Kittster called my mom. touché. yeah. Would you like to take a guess as to her first stop?” “Mrs. also you do the ‘loving’ part so extraordinarily well. Jules called me. “You know.” That night. “Touché baby. If you’re passionate in love why would you not equally be as passionate enough to fight for it?” Her mouth fell wide open.” I laughed.you were so patient.” I cleared my throat and grabbed her wrist tightly. I just always kind of pegged you for the ‘lover not a fighter’ sort. “Yeah.

a year?” She laughed and hung up.” “Julia!” I heard in the background. I don’t know. ignoring the searing pain in my lungs. See you in.“Yeah? Send my condolences to your mama. “Maddy!” I screamed. . “Gotta’ go sweetheart.

. My mom gasped every time I showed her one. We decided that to afford the trip we would each make something and sell the goods online. that she was old enough not to rely on her parents for such things. Jules never asked them for the money. so I figured they were alright. Every year. Jules noticed this ridiculously stupid bird house I had made my mom for mother’s day the previous year and insisted that would be perfect. like me. She assumed. and we didn’t care what people thought. so we sailed through the tribulation with the greatest ease.Chapter Four Anti-Heists and Confusions We started school that Monday with a slightly tainted reputation thanks to Maddy but Jules and I knew the truth. I wouldn’t do anything to Jules that would make her anything less than the pristine girl she was. This is something both Jules and I had wanted to do even before we ‘met’ each other. take a trip to London over spring break with Mr. We had thrown ideas back and forth throughout the weeks about how we would pay for it. I finished around thirty of those stupid birdhouses and even had time to add tiny wood details. except the part where Jules was grounded for two weeks. Cray. So. She was going to paint canvases. Though Jules’ parents probably could have afforded to fund the entire trip and then some. over the two weeks she was under house arrest. the seniors taking AP English.

Side note. which was very apparent. through that. At first. We even went out and bought the suitcases early to get ourselves really excited. We didn’t have any luck for the first few weeks but when Jules was no longer grounded and we were able to scheme together. We were set and all that . Jules’ paintings moved like hotcakes. Jules found this vintage steam trunk at an antique shop that she. All the money we made we put into an interest bearing savings and slowly but surely after a couple of weeks had earned enough for both of our trips and a little spending cash a piece. girls are funny. Finally. it was easier to sell the birdhouses because they weren’t as expensive as the paintings. After every one she dropped off.Because Maddy felt like crap for snitching. after the first sale. we had a couple of bites. So I replaced the hinges. She would always send Maddy back with Polaroids of the paintings she’d completed and every single time I saw a new one I would almost fall over. we had much better results. and I quote. she promised to be our go between since Jules’ mom and dad refused to let me get anywhere near Jules during her imprisonment. Jules had an idea to post them on this website where creatives can market their stuff. We even had a few extra dollars to invest in a couple of pairs of clothing for the trip and we agreed that we would each get a new suitcase. and oiled the leather and made it travel worthy. I sent Maddy to Jules’ house with them to have them painted. The girl had talent. Word of mouth had to have been the key factor there because we were doing little to no marketing. ‘had to have’. When we had plenty of items in stock we started placing them online. Jules would call me and rant and rave. but eventually.

In fact. There was about twenty feet between the field and the stands. That night. It would creak each time a player sat down or got up. she acted really pleased with it and that warmed my heart. She was good to my parents. She would have never worn those on her own. probably talking to my mom. She usually sat as close to me as she could get. We had a couple of minutes while each team readied themselves for the game. I closed my eyes and searched all the sounds around me for Jules’ voice. I prayed really hard that it would be a fairly safe game for me because I was still pretty sore in the ribs from the fight at Tanen’s. I tried to turn my attention toward the game and focused on my feet. The first game Jules could attend after she was grounded happened to be our homecoming game. I could hear the faint rumble of the opposing team’s fans. I could hear her shouting for me as we streamed onto the field between a line of cheerleaders and the drill team and that revved my adrenaline. separated by the newly painted running track but I searched anyway.was left to do was wait for spring break. She thought them gaudy. Julia sat in the stands with the most obnoxious mum my mom could have possibly made. but I knew I could find her voice even amongst the thousands of people in the stands so I scanned with my ears. I sat on the sidelines on the metal bench. but when my mom brought it out to her while we were watching television in my living room with my dad and Maddy. She loved them as if they were her own. my back to Jules and my family. That was okay because we had lots to stay busy with. . She had stopped shouting for me. I’m pretty sure she inwardly gasped when she saw it.

It felt nice against the chill in the air. “So have you thought about college at all?” I heard my mom ask Jules.” The sarcasm in her voice cracked me up.” Jules said. “That’s where Elliott wants to go. but Jules . I heard the metallic hum of the streaming mesh of field lights beating down on my back. I heard the stretching of my fingers against the plastic of my helmet. I heard Coaches Miles and Sanders arguing about a few plays. I have Shelby. something about hitting up Babe’s after the game.Bramwell and all the magnet towns that surrounded Bluefield High were in attendance that day. I searched until I found my mom’s voice and sitting right next to it was the most gorgeous sound in the entire world. I heard some of the guys around me and their conversations between each other. Their heat produced small beads of sweat on the back of my neck. eager for the only real entertainment that was available in the area besides Charleston.” my mom said. I let the waxy tension escape from underneath its papery sheath and sighed at the peace it gave me. “Yes. I shoved all of these noises to the back of my head as well and searched the stands behind me. “What a coincidence. I could also hear the cheerleaders’ voices shout in unison. Taylor’s voice was more apparent than the others because its shrill tone grated on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. I quickly shoved them out of my head along with the crowd. I heard my cleat shudder back and forth out of nervousness across the grass. It’s melody steadily allayed all the anxiety I had felt about the game and it melted them away like a crayon left in the hot summer sun. I’m thinking Penn.

Besides. I’m sure since we would have totally different majors we would never even see each other if it could be helped. “Shelby. I wasn’t trying to be smart. I could just imagine my mom crossing her arms. “Shelby. “What do you and Elliott plan on doing if y’all break up at Penn?” My mom asked. but we were young and we made admittedly made a mistake. I’m sorry.” Jules said. She was just disappointed in her as well as myself was all and thought that we weren’t the best decision makers when it came to making the important ones together. Do I look like the type of girl who follows a man around? I’ve wanted to go to Penn my entire life. She may have been right. “I’m sure it does.” my mom said dryly. Jules wasn’t one to be messed with. But my mom interrupted.” Jules said. it has an excellent English program. I know you think that Elliott and I are co-dependent and I have to admit that you think correctly and I really can’t think of any . Jules realized the disrespect and tried to atone for it. It’s just. you know me better than that.” “Penn is a big school. my mom still loved Jules like a daughter. She was still pretty sore about us falling asleep at Jules’ and that slightly changed her opinion of Jules. but if she wasn’t careful my mama was going to slap the sass out of her mouth. Don’t get me wrong. This was my mom’s way of ‘helping us grow up’ she would tell me.ignored it.” Jules said without skipping a beat. I’m sure Jules saw my shoulders shake with laughter. “We would never. trying to appease my mom. “Never say never.

I can promise you that Elliott is going to be the best student that ever came out of Penn. I do think that but you assume that I don’t also see how he looks at you. even with me there. Coach Miles slapped me on the shoulder.” That was a little dramatic. I want to see the two of you get out of this town and its rut and make something of yourselves. because it’s our destiny. I’d never heard her say the words. that you both get the education you deserve. He has big plans and the day I saw him standing still in that hallway outside Mrs. but that was Jules and I loved that about her. and began to go over the first play. no. jarring my eyes open.” That killed me. I just want to make sure that he gets the education. That boy is head over heels in love with you and there is no doubt in my mind that one day you’ll become my daughter officially some day.” “Thanks Shelby and I hope you know I mean no disrespect. We’ll link them together and I know it will balance. “You’re right Jules. I ran onto the field and glanced back at my mom and Jules.other way then to just let you think it. Though it was sort of implied and felt. My dad was standing next to my mom and Maddy next to him. I could see the whites of Jules’ knuckles and felt a little sorry . At least until enough time passes that you recognize that we found our soul mates a little earlier than most. I’ll make sure of that. I wanted to jump into the stands and kiss her face. She’d never admitted that out loud before. I could tell the game was about to start because they got really quiet and Jules’ anxiety for my safety seared into the back of my head. Kitt’s class was the day that his plans became mine and mine became his.

forty-five yards to the end zone and it was up to me to close the game for good. this may as well have been the first play of the game. We won the coin toss and we all got into position.” He turned to everyone in the huddle. we had possession and were tied. We planned on mixing things up. our top wide receiver. I was looking forward to the game. They just knew I was going to throw to Jesse. not the last. I could feel the stiffness in the crowd. “Greenbacks!” and we went screaming back onto the field. She worried about me needlessly though. with seven seconds left in the game. The pressure was on. like she anticipated the worst. My coach called his final time-out and we ran in. I’d be perfectly warm from running up and down the field and I had to admit. “Listen Gray! No overtime boy. The sweat dripped down the defensive linemen like they had poured water over the top of their head. not severely anyway. During the fourth quarter. Everyone was perched at the edge of their bleacher waiting to see if I was the clutch player they needed. It was third down. I could see the breaths of my team and opponents swirl in the chill night air. “Y’all with me?” He screamed. I had the uncanny ability to stay calm under pressure though and to me. I never got hurt. Everyone hollered in agreement. . It was the perfect weather to play. It was a heck of a game and both teams fought tooth and nail. I felt the bite of the wintery season on my exposed calves and arms and face. In a few minutes. We lined up. She always had that same look in her eyes when I played.for her. I’m in the mood to celebrate now and I don’t feel like waiting. but we had someone special hiding under the pretense of defensive left tackle.

Her stride widened with every . I’m a terrible actor. That enraged him and like a fool. he had already elbowed me hard in the face and my nose was bleeding everywhere. Cappelli was what you would call an enigma. James Cappelli. So. but could run faster than a speeding bullet. How I fooled them I’m not sure. goofy looking. The defensive end who was supposed to be covering Cappelli decided to lunge toward Jesse to see if he could get some of the glory. I turned my head and saw Jules’ tiny frame come hurdling from the stands and she was out for some blood of her own. and we were saving him for just such an occasion. I started to laugh hysterically. giving them the old dog and pony show. I could hear the refs blow their whistles but it didn’t help me one bit. I felt a little dizzy and all I could hear was booing from my side of the stands. He was a big boy. two hundred pounds of pure muscle. but when the play began I slyly threw Cappelli the ball. when Matthew Tanen snapped the ball I eyed Jesse carefully. probably two hundred and fifty pounds. tiny bits of dust spit from underneath the soles of her Converse. He blasted down the field like a flash of light and when he stepped foot into the end zone. He had a brief look on his face like I had it coming and he was going to give it to me and out of nowhere charged and tackled me to the ground. but instead might as well have been caught with his finger up his nose. The guy was large. I saw the balls of her feet recoil off the edge of the track. Ol’ Reliable. the opposing team were still scratching their heads.We gave the opposing team the impression that our tight end was injured and we were using the tackle as a stand in of sorts.

The kinds of things Jules had never thought. for the boy. even with the reddish fury that resided in her usually calm green eyes. his heavy body slumping to the grass. tilted her head toward him and began to quietly threaten through her teeth. I had the strongest inclination to bring myself onto my side and rest my head on my hand just to get a better view of her but I knew that might deter her from whatever she had planned and I wasn’t going to miss that for anything in the world. She fought uselessly to get back to the idiot. let alone said aloud. kept her back straight as an arrow. The referee knew that would have dire consequences. That must have given her some sense that I was alright so she turned her attention to my pathetic antagonist and reached her hands for the back of his shoulder pads and before anyone could react she yanked him to the ground. too bad he didn’t know that. She deftly maneuvered around his grounded girth and placed her foot onto his chest plate. She kept her hands calmly at her side. her hair a blur behind her head She was graceful. and pulled her off of him. He more than likely dropped out of sheer surprise. I’m guessing she had more to say. He started to push her foot off his chest and began to call her bluff. Her clothes clung to her feminine frame with the force of the wind.step she took as she sprinted across the field. the backs of her forearms brushing against her shirt. When she reached us. She pointed in the boy’s direction and . she hovered over me and I smiled to reassure her. but when it came to the important things everyone knew not to cross her. If she were anything but human. She had the patience and virtues of a saint. She swung her hands back and forth smoothly. she would have been a gazelle.

silently stared her warning. It was so powerful that it peeled around him and began to wash over all the boys on the field. She scared the living daylights out of us, but I had never wanted to kiss her more. When she reached the edge of the field the referee set her down and she hopped the fence in response to something he said but turned our direction once more. She straightened her hair and clothing, turned toward the direction of my truck and attractively sauntered until she was out of sight. I was laughing so hard by then I couldn’t even stand up. Soon, the stands joined me, forgetting our amazing last minute victory. I finally regained enough control to trot toward the sidelines and because my nose was bleeding, I handed Coach my helmet and with an approving wink fled the field toward Jules. I heard applause but I knew it was for her only. The intensity in that girl’s heart. I jogged across the parking lot, removing my jersey and shoulder pads, leaving my plain white t-shirt, to a sedately lounging Jules scattered across my hood, her back to my windshield, one hand behind her head, the other twirling the end of a lock of her long hair. I threw my pads and jersey to the gravel and stopped a few feet short of the truck. “Come here,” I said with a smile. She melted off the hood of the truck and carelessly strode my way. Her hips had a bit more swing than usual. She stood about a foot in front of me, her head high with confidence and shrugged her shoulders, a slight grin pulled at the right corner of her mouth. “Well, well miss Jacobs. Care to explain yourself?” I teased.

“It was impulsive,” she said, her face slightly blushing. She gritted her teeth to prevent the obvious grin. “Oh, yeah, impulsive,” I winked at her. “I have to say, I’ve never seen that side of you before. It was tremendously sexy.” “Shut up Gray!” Her face became an instant shade of deep pink. “Yeah Jules! Especially when you stepped on his chest plate like that,” I closed my eyes and pursed my lips in satisfaction. “Very Joan of Arc of you,” I continued, “charging in like that, by the way. All that was missing were your brave soldiers. I have a feeling, if the referees hadn’t torn you off him, you would have gotten those soon enough.” “You must think you’re so hilarious Gray.” She bit her lip trying to keep the smile from her face, but she was failing. The corners of her mouth turned up and they were too strong for her teeth to contain. Finally, she burst into laughter and I followed suit. “I’m so embarrassed,” she said. “I have no idea what your mom thinks of me now. She’s already on edge about me as it is. My dad is going to kill me and I have the distinct feeling I’ll be receiving the ‘lady like’ convo from my own mom as soon as we get a moment alone.” “You were so cute Jules I almost kissed your face in front of God and everyone.” “I’m glad you restrained yourself. At least one of us did. I couldn’t help myself,” she said. “It was like I had no awareness of the people around me. All I know is I saw you bleeding and that ridiculous pinhead was responsible for it. I immediately ran to your side but when you smiled at me all I could feel was this rage inside me as I saw the blood stain your face. Suddenly, it was my job to do something about it,

so I did. It was instinctual.” “Imagine how you felt, babe, quadruple it and that’s how I felt about what happened at Tanen’s. Come on, before everyone bombards you here under these scorching lights,” I said, grabbing her hand, scooping up my pads and jersey and leading her to the passenger side of my truck. Everyone from our side of town decided to switch things up a bit and piled into Babe’s restaurant in Bluefield. Jules and I got there a little earlier, for obvious reasons, and we sat at a long table with a million chairs. Eventually our fellow Greenbacks, the ones I considered loyal anyway, came streaming in and one by one they began to tease Jules. She blushed in horror but finally things settled down. It was crazy busy and it was beginning to look like it would turn into a really fun night. Jesse came and sat at our table with us and Greg and four other guys and two random girls who arrived before him. “Hey Elliott,” Jesse said, totally disregarding Jules. “What do you think? Huh?” He asked pointing to the new tattoo on his neck. “What’s up Jesse?” I said, throwing a subtle nod toward Jules. “Hey Julia”, he said sweetly, eyeing her strangely. She ignored him and enthusiastically greeted him like she did with everyone, sweet and sunnily. Jesse was icy cold to Jules but had recently ceased being outright mean to her. I didn’t quite get Jesse. I was starting to believe something was seriously wrong with him. His behavior was so erratic. “So?” He asked again. “Oh, I wondered why you had a bandage on your neck during the game. Is that why you skipped school today?”

“Hell yeah it is! Don’t say anything to my mom, though, she doesn’t know.” “How the heck are you gonna’ keep something like that away from your mom dude?” I asked in disbelief. “Wear turtlenecks?” The entire table laughed. “No,” he said disdainfully. “I’ll break it to her eventually man, just not right now. I’m not doing so hot in my classes and I don’t want to give her extra fuel. Know what I’m sayin’?” It pissed him off that I called him out like that. Not even a buttoned up shirt with a tie could cover the thing it was so graphic and it practically reached his chin but I’m betting that Jesse wasn’t on the fast track to becoming a CPA so it didn’t bother me if it didn’t bother him, to each their own. “I do,” I said trying not to appear judgmental. Jesse was always really sensitive about the things that made him look badly and he didn’t respond well when you ‘put his neck on the chopping block’, as he’d say, so I learned to just keep my mouth shut, most of the time. “So Julia,” Jesse said, turning toward Jules. He kept an eye on me but eventually turned his focus on Jules. I almost fell over in my chair. I couldn’t believe he was talking to her and by his own volition. “Yes, Jesse?” She asked, wide eyed. He leaned in to Jules, causing her to lean back a bit uncomfortably, and rested his forearm on the back of her chair. I threw him the dirtiest look but he ignored me. “I was thinking, since you and my boy here seem to be such a sure thing, that you and I should get to know one another better.” “Okay?”

“Yeah, maybe I could take you to a movie sometime and we can shoot the shit.” “Wait a minute,” I said. I did not like where this was going. “I’d be coming too right?” “Nope,” Jesse said, never breaking his gaze on Jules. I opened my mouth to object but Jules silenced me with a smile. “Uh, no, it’s okay Elliott. Jesse, I think that’s a wonderful idea. I think you and I started out on the wrong foot.” “Over my dead body,” I said. “That can be arranged,” he smiled. “Come on Jesse. You can’t take my girl out. Isn’t that like a rule or something?” “What? You don’t trust me?” He asked, doe eyed. “Nope.” Jesse laughed darkly toward the tile on the floor before raising his head to speak. “It’s okay, Elliott. I would never do anything to Jules.” He smoothly mumbled something into a cough but I didn’t catch it. “Well, that may be true,” I said, skeptical, “but I’m not comfortable with it.” Jules laughed roughly. The table got eerily quiet as Jesse and I stared each other down. I’m not sure what had gotten into Jesse lately. I was starting to seriously wonder about his current state of mental health. For the past few weeks, I’d catch him staring at Jules but not in such a way that made me think he wanted her, at least not in the way most teenage boys wanted her. No, he looked at her with possessiveness and always a strange, dark look. “Cappelli, you rock my world dude!” Greg suddenly said

to the table, probably trying to break the unexpected tension that emanated from Jesse. The conversation took off at a hundred miles per hour, none of us remembering the outcome of the game until that moment. Everyone told the same story in their own words mentioning things they noticed or didn’t notice, all agreeing, except an eerily quiet Jesse, that Jules was hilarious. On our way home, Jules sat with her forehead against her window. We were both pretty tired and didn’t talk for a minute or two. I could tell that Jules had something on her mind from the pinch in her forehead, so I asked for her thoughts. “What are you thinkin’ about babe?” “About Jesse,” she said sadly. “What about him?” I shifted in annoyance. He was the last thing I wanted her thinking about. I was hoping she’d let the movie idea go. “For a long time I thought Jesse felt that I would steal his time with you from him, but after all the effort I’ve made to make sure he was always included, he still always acts so coldly towards me. That’s why I was sort of surprised he made such an effort to want to get to know me. No, I was flabbergasted.” “I know what you mean. Jules,” I paused, “I don’t particularly like the way he gets to know girls and I don’t have a good feeling about his movie invite. God, he was acting so weird tonight.” “Yeah, he is sort of strange, but I think that I should do it anyway.” “I don’t think so Jules! Do you have any sense of self preservation? It’s one thing to hang out with him with me but I’ve not been able to get a grasp on him lately. He’s changing.”

“Elliott, you said yourself that I should get to know him better.” “Yeah, around me!” I repeated. “Well, maybe he feels like he can’t be himself without you around. You are pretty intimidating.” “No! No way!” “Come on Elliott! He won’t try anything. He knows that I’d tell you if he did anything weird.” I let out a deep breath. “Fine.” Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen? “But let me just go on record as saying that I don’t like this at all.” That Saturday night, I sat at Jules’ house waiting for another dude to take her to a movie. I felt like a complete and utter tool. “This is just too weird Jules. My gut is telling me this is a bad idea.” “Oh, Elliott. We’ve already been through all of this. It’ll be fine. I promise you. He’s making an effort.” “Yeah, but what kind of effort?” I heard the roar of Jesse’s engine come to a halt. “He’s here.” The door bell rang. “Wanna’ get that?” She asked, applying lipstick in her vanity mirror. “What are you doing that for Jules! You don’t need to impress Jesse!” “Elliott! What is wrong with you?” She laughed. “Go answer the door. My parents aren’t here and I’m not finished getting ready.” I hesitated but got the door anyway. Jesse was on the other side with something in his hand. I didn’t even greet

him. He knew that I didn’t like this one bit. “What’s that?” I asked. “None of your business Gray.” He smiled, sticking whatever it was in his back pocket. “Come on buddy! Relax! It’s me!” “Exactly!” I snapped. Maybe, I am being a bit

overprotective. This is Jesse. I’ve known him since I was a baby! So what if he’s been acting strangely lately. I know he’d never step over my line.
I led him to the sitting room. “Sit,” I barked and he sat, lounging his arms across the top of the sofa, peering about the room before letting out a low whistle. “Damn, Elliott. You bagged a wealthy one didn’t you?” “Yeah, that’s it Thomas. I ‘bagged’ Jules because somehow this is all going to be mine right?” I gestured to the room. I leaned against the banister, the wood creaking beneath my weight, as I crossed my arms over my chest. “God you’re testy. Something botherin’ you man?” “Why are you doing this Jesse? The truth.” “Dude, you’ve got to relax!” He sat quiet and narrowed his eyes. “Is this about Tanen’s party? Because I apologized for that already! I’m sorry! How many more times can I say it?” “This isn’t about Tanen’s party and you know it.” “ I’m just taking her to a film Elliott. We’ll talk. I’ll get to know her. I’m doing this for you remember? Then, I’ll bring her right back here. No harm. No foul.” “No! I mean, no,” I added quietly, “You can bring her back to my place afterwards.” I smiled.

“Don’t piss me off Jesse. He didn’t even flinch. “I don’t feel the necessity to tell you how much I love her Jesse and that if you let one strand of hair on her head get harmed that we’ll have serious problems.. “That was.. isn’t it Elliott?” “Very. Jesse stood up next to me and elbowed me. Wow.” she said with a laugh.“Okay. I wanted to have been the one who thought to give that to her. I could have hit him. “Hi Jesse!” Jules said. You know? For Elliott’s sake. the corners of his mouth turning up..” I gritted through my teeth. “Hi beautiful.” he said. “This is serious for you. He left my side and grabbed Jules to hug her.” Jerk.” He pulled a little book from the back of his jeans pocket and handed it to her. She was a vision in dark red.unexpected..” I walked across the room and stood over him. “Here.” I snorted. Her eyes shot wide.” he responded. I figure I’d make a concerted effort. I really could have hit him. She took it and read the title. I kept my arms crossed. Dark red with dark hair.” He eyed me carefully. “Well. He rolled his eyes at me.” “If it wasn’t necessary. “The Complete Collection of Poems by Edgar Allen Poe! How did you know I wanted this?” “I remember you mentioning it at lunch two weeks ago. . “I got you something. then why did you even bother to tell me?” I stared him down but turned toward the hallway when I heard Jules’ padding down the corridor.

“Oh. You ready?” “Yup. no. rugged features. Jesse was the one the girls made a beeline for with his pretty boy features and trendy clothing. I’m tall. or anywhere in public really. Thank you. naturally I may be a little self-conscious about this whole thing. I grabbed her. it was he who couldn’t be trusted. “No problem. but the electricity sizzling between us made her forget where she was and she kissed me back..This is so thoughtful. She removed her hands from her back pockets and wound them tightly . a bit of baby fat on my face. big. not that I couldn’t trust Jules. I wash with bar soap and if someone dared to come at me with an emery board I’d tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine. Before Jules. if we were at a party.” she said. She resisted at first. “Bye sweetheart. Insanely jealous because I knew how things went down when girls were with Jesse.. bent her backwards and kissed her like Jesse wasn’t even in the room.. I have hard. I was jealous. I’ve never even seen moisturizer. It does funny things to me because I’m ninety-nine percent sure I think I go a little out of my head. turning her eyes onto mine. You’re not getting away that easily.” She stuck her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. I am by no means a ‘pretty boy’. clouds your judgment and makes you crazier than you ever thought possible. So. I don’t wear any kind of hair product. Oh. broad.Jealousy is one of those things that seem to take you over... I only wear cologne because Jules seems to like it. yet lean. really kissed me back.” Jules said. well.. Green doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’ll admit. except for.

“Yeah. She didn’t want to leave without me. always thought of myself as a progressive kind of guy. I brought her back up for air and set her on her feet again before she was ready for me to stop. She was always cooking or baking something. you know how Jesse isn’t the biggest fan of Jules?” “Yeah?” “Well. I slapped her on the rear. I opened the screen door to the kitchen and heard my mom cooking or baking.” I said. It was a little reminder for Jesse. I readily admit it. why don’t you call up Jesse? See what he’s up to. They left with Jules glancing over her shoulder at me. “Hi baby!” She said. “Hey. just in case he got any ideas. Never saw that coming either. nothing. I slumped into a kitchen table chair. “Have a good time Jules. I could see it and I couldn’t have been happier about that.” “That’s who she’s at the movies with!” I almost yelled. When I got home.” “Well. her left hand rubbing my hand print. Guess not. confused.” “Elliott!” She said. I needed him to know the deal and I think that it worked because man did he look surprised when I finally locked eyes with him. “What’s wrong with you?” “Oh. What can I say? I’m a possessive Neanderthal. I just hoped that kiss would last her until he dropped her off at ten that night. red faced. Jules is out to a movie. I guess I pressed him often enough to make an . I really loved that she melted for me in front of Jesse.bound around my neck. unenthusiastically. “What?” She asked.

” she said.” I said as coolly as possible given my extreme unexplainable rage. I could hear them laughing and my God did that irritate me.” “Oh baby. what’s the word. “Cost you to keep me quiet. He’s been your best friend since you were knee high in diapers and besides. I know he isn’t the type of guy you would normally want your girlfriend to spend time with. “Thanks mama. I know he’s a ‘whatever the word is for what he is’ and it’s made you feel uncomfortable at times but you can trust Jesse honey. whatever he is. “What ya’ makin’ here?” Jesse brought Jules to my house at ten fifteen and I nearly burst from the kitchen door when I heard them pull through the gravel. you’re so silly! I know that Jesse is a. pretending that I wasn’t waiting for Jules. “Well. What the heck does that mean? Jules opened the screen door and peeked her head inside.” I kissed her forehead. ladies man?” I snorted. I had stayed in the kitchen with my mom the entire time they’d been out. even if you couldn’t trust him.” I heard Jesse tease.effort with her that he actually took me seriously and now I’m regretting that I ever did. without any other explanation.” I softened a little bit. “Hi Shelby!” My mom tugged her into the kitchen and kissed her cheek and hugged her tightly as if she didn’t just see her the day . “You’re late. “So we are. you can trust Jules.

Want some? It’s almost done baking. Jules came and sat on my knee. you know. “I got a tattoo.” . examining it from all sides. “Feel like explaining your kiss to me? Or maybe the slap on my bum?” “No. “What is that foolish thing on your neck Jesse Thomas!” She gasped. I do!” I sat in my chair and bristled while my mom showed Jesse some new kitchen contraption that he could probably have cared less about. I’m baking. Blueberry. She grabbed his chin and turned his head this way. trying very hard not to smile. then that way.” she whispered in my ear.” he said in his best Eddie Haskell voice.before... “What are you cooking there?” He asked her. “Come in here Jesse boy!” She laughed and hugged him fiercely.” “Heck yeah. “It felt like the right thing to do.”. “Hi. desperate to change the subject. “Hmm. “Hi. He rubbed the back of his neck.” I said.” she lied.. That’s all. sheepishly. defiantly. “Does your mama know about that?” I sat up a little. exposing his tattoo. “Well. I’ve got vanilla ice cream to go with it. “Hi Shelby. “I’m not cooking baby. “I’ve missed you boy!” She said. You don’t like it?” He asked. She sobered. “Why haven’t you been to church lately?” He shifted from foot to foot. A pie. “Land alive!” My mom said forgetting her question..” I said.. I guess it ain’t that bad. bringing her fists to her hips.

Eventually I caved. “Just tell me already!” “Tell you what Elliott?” “Don’t play coy with me Julia Jacobs! My patience are at an all time thin.” “You’re incorrigible.” “Okay. Don’t be such a stranger!” He nodded then turned to Jules.” Jesse said suddenly. tossing her head toward me. I’m too old to tag along with y’all.” . We should do it again sometime.” she laughed. What can I say? I’m a weak man. “Well.” my mom chimed in. I couldn’t possibly. my pride in the way. but that’s not the one I’m most interested in.” “Oh. a weak.” she said. I’ve got a friend I’d told I’d meet and I don’t want to keep them waiting. son. hmm. did you?” “Didn’t you catch the main feeling?” “Yeah.” “Of course. “Julia. “Not staying for pie?” My mom asked. I’m gonna’ head out. It was good to see you.” She kissed my neck softly and let me know what she was thinking. it was fun. I drove Jules home that night and could no longer postpone my curiosity. “but next time I think we should bring a certain someone with us. hopelessly in love. I wanted her to volunteer the information but she refused my game. “Liked it.“Mmm. Neanderthal apparently. jealous. Disappointed with a twinge of satisfaction. “Nah. She knew I wanted to know how the ‘date’ went but she also knew I didn’t want to ask about it first. if you have to.

“It gives a girl encouragement to see her man squirm at the end of her hook.” . Which I resent by the way! What kind of girl do you take me for!” I grabbed her hand. and some with awe.“Man. “I’m serious. because she just smiled at me. okay. The following Monday.” She laughed. deciding I didn’t need to kill Jesse after all. at school. and then he took me to your house! It wasn’t quite the debauchery you were expecting. I’ve never seen you so jealous before Elliott. Funnily enough. even Taylor Williams decided it was a good idea to leave Jules alone for awhile and Jules said she lived peacefully without Taylor’s cruelness for at least two days. “He is an incredible kisser though. It makes quite the impact.” she teased.” “How good?” “My God Elliott! We saw a film. “Jules!” “I’m only joking! Jeez.” Jules said. we got all kinds of reactions to Jules defensive action on the football field. Green is a good color on you. some with humor. lighten up! Will ya’?” I kissed her hand. “He was the perfect gentleman and we had a surprisingly good time.” That was enough of an apology. we talked about you. some of disgust. “I think I might have scared Taylor. laughing.” I shot her a look of disbelief. I guess.” “Stop toying with me!” “Okay. “That’s a record. “I’m just a big fool Jules.” she said.

You wouldn’t believe how unenthusiastic people can be about a trip of a lifetime when they find out it’s with sixty eighteen year olds. not because of Friday’s game. I promised myself I’d never have to see something like that again and not at least try to do something about it.“Yeah. It was an exceptionally exciting day.” “Very funny. but because Mr.” “Well thanks Jules. Listen.” she joked. after the knot it made in my stomach. . but next time a two hundred and fifty pound lineman socks me one.” she replied. We both chuckled as we walked to AP English together. Jules was all giddy as she sat in her seat and I couldn’t help but be affected by her happiness.” said Jules. it might be best your skinny butt stays out of it. It’s taken me a bit longer than it would normally this year because we were short two adult chaperons and we finally found two volunteers. I’m not proud of myself but after enduring the fight at Tanen’s. “Takes one to know one. I think so too. “You’re an idiot. “I feel like a million bucks Elliott. facing the ceiling. staring at me through ornery eyes.” We all laughed. “Who knew you were a lion masquerading as a mouse.” I agreed.” “Try and stop me. That evening Jules and I sat sprawled out on my living room floor in front of the television sifting through the packet and reading its fine print. She dramatically rolled over the papers spread out on the floor and I laughed at her. Cray would be handing out our packets for our trip to London.” I joked. “I’ve got the packets you’ve all been waiting for.

mashed potatoes. “Arlene Chambers got laid off today. She whispered. “Mom.” I said. She frantically laughed and tried to squirm away.” I pinned her shoulders to the ground and kissed her neck aggressively. I leaned over her beautiful face and kissed her lightly. Everyone agreed in silence. We preferred homey and overcrowded. There was more room in the dining room but we never ate there.” said Jules. yeah. red as a lobster. Too stuffy. “Next time.” but paused. “Yeah. For some reason she loved Maddy even though she was such a brat to her. Jules ignored it. “Hush your mouth Maddy Gray unless you’re interested in going to bed hungry. All five of us squeezed around our little kitchen table and only Maddy complained. I sank my teeth into it and let its salty goodness slide down my throat.” I said. “despite your being an idiot. their mouths full to the brim.” All three of us howled with laughter. “I love you. My mom made fried chicken. corn on the cob. and rolls with cinnamon butter. We just didn’t want to offend her. I’ll make a shuffling noise with my feet.” my mom said.” my dad threatened. We knew she wasn’t stupid. My dad got home thirty minutes later and my mom asked if Jules wanted to stay for dinner. We prayed over the meal and dug in. My mom came in and cleared her throat. The chicken was hot. sorry mom.We grinned at each other. I guess. “Sorry Shelby.” my dad said somberly. “Oops. . juicy and crispy. this meal is incredible.

five. knowing I wouldn’t be able to speak. “Yes. The next day. “Wait a minute Jules!” I said stopping abruptly.” I sighed heavily and Jules rubbed my back in sympathy.” she smiled at me. Trust Bank sent them letters threatening foreclosure. The table got really quiet and none of us continued to eat. After a minute of silence. . blonde teller. What are they gonna’ do Mark? Arlene was just telling me the other day that because of Bob’s layoff they were several months behind in their mortgage.” “Don’t they have four kids?” My dad asked pensively. “Maybe we can think of another way to help them.” I knew she was right too.” my mom said with tears in her eyes. Jules rapped my foot with hers. “No. She held my hand while we stood in line and waited for the teller to call us to her station. Mark. “That can’t be. “May I help you?” Asked the short. after school. Jules and I climbed into my truck and headed to Trust Bank in Charleston because the last thing we needed were people knowing what we were doing. She said she’d need five thousand dollars to get them out of their hole and she didn’t know how she was going to do it because her wages alone were barely putting food on the table.” “No sweetheart. “there’s no other way.” said Jules.The rest of us continued eating accept for my mom. but I had to try. including Maddy. I knew what she was thinking because I was thinking the same thing myself. My heart sunk to the pit of my stomach. We slumped out of my truck and dragged our feet toward the front doors. setting down her cob. “What?” She asked. They let Bob go just six months ago. “We’d like to make a withdrawal from our joint savings.

“But thank you. “I’ve never seen your license before. “Well. let’s see what I can do. “Do me a favor.” “Oh hush!” Jules said embarrassed.” We heard the clacking of computer keys. I think so.” asked the teller. “Do you know the account holder’s name?” “Yes.” said Jules eyeing me.? And do you know your account number?” She asked with a smile. handed over her driver’s license and wrote down the account number on a withdrawal slip. “Well.“May I see your I.” “Oh.” whispered the teller.D. The woman notated the license in her system and handed it back to Jules. “Whoa!” I said. “And their address?” “Yes.” Jules took out her wallet. “Their names are Robert and Arlene Chambers. “and fill in the amount you’d like to withdraw.” said Jules.” Jules bit her lip crookedly. her face squished. her eyes hopeful.” she said.” We all sat in silence for a minute.D. almost sending me into a frenzy.” The teller pursed her lips trying not to appear amused by my comment and exchanged a glance with my Jules. perking up and grabbing her I. “that’s the thing. “I’m afraid I can’t give information like that out. You see. “Of course.” said the teller. Jules rolled her eyes with a grin and shrugged her shoulders. You’re very photogenic Jules. The teller looked up. . we’re trying to help out a friend and we need to know what they owe in missed mortgage payments.

but I figure. I mean London’s out anyway.” “Deal. Her eyes lit up like fireworks in July. “And the next two months as well. We promised ourselves that we would do it someday and that someday should be soon. “We’d like to pay for four months. “Might as well do some real good.” “Okay. Jules looked at me with surprise. “I’ll give you the dollar amount owed on the loan each month and you tell me how many months you’d like to pay.” said the teller perching closer to us from her chair and speaking under her breath. Jules kissed me on the cheek.” I chimed in. you came all the way from Bramwell and that means you’re looking for anonymity. “it’s 587 Sycamore.” she repeated. We ended up withdrawing most of the money and decided to leave the rest for a rainy day.” I said. She agreed and waved at us as we walked away from our painful good deed. When we arrived at my house we had almost .” Jules and I leaned closer. “I could get into tremendous trouble for doing this.“Uh. “And for the next two. The teller wrote down a figure on a small post-it. Jules and I borrowed her little hand calculator and did some figuring. So.” she’d said. The pain seemed to dissipate as we got closer and closer to home and also as we came to terms with missing out on London.” I said. The teller made the payments in cash so they’d never know who made them and we asked the teller to have her manager ring the Chambers’ home and let them know to disregard those letters.” said Jules. yeah. Bramwell. I’ll strike you a deal.

You’ve a valid point. y’all are only needin’ a small deposit right now. “Guess what Elliott?” She continued. turns out. Right Jules?” I said turning to Jules.Right. Uh oh. it doesn’t really matter because Jules and I were talking about it. We slammed both the doors of my truck closed and a few seconds later my mom opened the screen door and leaned against the jamb.” I said. Actually. “Hey Elliott?” She asked across the little hill.” she laughed. the proverbial tea towel tossed over her shoulder. well. What’s up?” I said. “Maybe.” “Okay. “maybe not. “I was just thinkin’. . I guess we underestimated the cost.forgotten about it and were bickering in good fun back and forth about who was more annoying. “Oh. I thought. I bet you could earn enough by the time the last payment is due. ma. pop singers or those people who pretend you can’t see into their cars when picking their nose. She was a terrible liar. Aw crap. clamping my hand in Jules’ and leading her up. Actually. “Not sure.” said Jules nervously.” I said. “Hey ma.” she said in reply. Jules and I don’t have enough money to go after all.” “Is that right?” My mom asked suspiciously. “R. okay. “at least when they pick their noses it’s not hurting anyone. I concede. and we’ve decided that we’re not interested in going after all. When is the deposit for your trip due?” She asked. “No way.

“I just got off the phone with Arlene Chambers and can you believe it? Some bank manager in Charleston called her up and told her that her mortgage was not only paid to date but that the next two payments were also covered and that they didn’t owe a dime until January. “I hope that it helps them.” I said. changing the subject. me too. I sat back up and pulled her closely to me.” she said. son.” We tried to walk past her into the kitchen but she stopped us at the door. her eyebrows pinched together. I think it will.” she shook her head. “You don’t think your dad heard that do you?” I asked. It stung sweetly. That night. wiping a tear away from her face with my thumb. her bottom lip in a pout.” “That’s fantastic news mom.“What?” I asked. “your parents are probably asleep.” “You know. “No.” “Oh.” I began coyly. “No. “I think it will son.” I said. My face was right next to hers and I could smell her perfume. when I took Jules home we sat in her driveway but before I would let her leave I grabbed her door and slammed it shut. “I know. hugged us firmly and kissed us each on the cheek.” We both smiled at my mom and walked straight into the living room. “Feelin’ sentimental mom?” I asked. “I’m glad we did it.” “Your point?” . I’m just choppin’ a few onions. tears streaming down her face.

but there are things it can lead to that aren’t exactly good for us. There’s always something so romantic about the winter.” she smiled.” I protested. warm chocolate drinks.” she laughed. the added bonus that every touch from Jules included a shivering electric shudder through my spine. thinking. “No argument there. She sat for a few seconds. for me.” “What are you suggesting we do?” She asked flirtatiously. “what am I going to do with you? You know one good thing doesn’t cancel out one naughty thing right?” “Wait a minute! There’s nothing naughty about making out. there isn’t. “and we aren’t exactly the suppressing type. The chill in the air forces you closer to one another and what can be an already satisfying touch always feels extraordinary when it’s cold outside but there was also. if you wanted to. as a reward for doing such a good thing today we could make out?” “Elliott. “I don’t know. The clean snow.” she replied. warmer than the heater blowing through my vents. Winter also brought with it the most enticing smells as well. We did that night I fell asleep on your living room chair. She felt so warm to me.” I basically pleaded. the satisfying punch of the woodsy billowing smoke from everyone's . “No. We were at each other before you could blink an eye.“And you’ve got half an hour before curfew right?” “Again. we could hang in the cab of the truck for awhile before you go in.” “I think we can control ourselves for a few minutes Jules. “I just thought that maybe. maybe. your point?” She asked cautiously.

I continued across her collarbone to the bottom of her neck. She let her hair fall behind her and I brushed my lips along her neck until they reached the hollow beneath her ear. I ran my hand down her hip and thigh and cupped my hand around the back of her knee.” I said and dragged both my hands through my hair. pressing my left hand against the cold glass. ravaging every nerve that I had. Tiny. I continued until I reached her chin and kept going until my lips met hers. kissing up her throat and paused when I heard her swallowing hard. When I began to kiss her. but this time I . I pulled her knee up and around me as I pressed her against the window on her side of the car. besides Jules’ fragrance that is. The smoke was always my personal favorite. I sat back up and scooted myself away from her. She rested the back of her head against the cold passenger window and attempted to straighten out her hair but I could tell she was thinking of something. I propelled my body into hers. insignificant kisses that spread a shiver across her skin. “Wow. She quickly sprang for me and grabbed the collar of my shirt. The cold shocked me back into reality. She slammed her mouth against mine and the electricity hammered its way through my body. I pressed my fingers into the small of her back and culled her into my body.chimneys. Her chest huffed with each winded breath. “Stop. “Don’t stop. “Stop?” I asked quietly. firing off each one with tumultuous effectiveness. She crushed her lips into mine with the same severity as before.” she barely whispered. I could feel her breath warm against my mouth. I repeatedly kissed her there.” she corrected.

“I’m sorry. “No. She scrambled quickly to retrieve her bag.” “Please Elliott. startled.” “Jules!” I yelled. “What are you doing Jules?” I asked desperately. Jules was dramatic but she had never been unreasonable. When she found them she slid the key in the door and turned it.” she said pushing herself against me. “Yes. the tears still coming. licked her lips and wiped her mouth with her thumb and index finger. Her hands trembled as she searched in the dark for her keys in the front pocket of her bag. “I’m going to bed. She sank into her seat. her elbow resting on the door staring out of the window. “What does it look like I’m doing?” She bellowed. so I had to have . She ran her fingers through her hair and bit her thumb. pulling at her bottom lip. “No Jules. so quickly. She walked in and left me standing on the porch without a word. without a second glance.” “What happened? I don’t understand.” I said. I jumped out of the truck and followed her up the porch steps to the front door. I kept trying to guess what I had done that so terribly offended her.resisted.” was all I could muster up. racking my brain for an answer to the question of how this had turned so badly. Her eyes popped open. The tears flowed more steadily and she opened her door without a word.” I said grabbing her shoulders. The whole way home. I could see her reflection in the frosted glass and her eyes began to wet with tears.

” I said. The next morning.done something pretty awful.” he said. G’night. what do you want?” I asked impatiently. He didn’t know Jules though.” I tumbled into bed still wondering if it was the rejection but decided I needed some sleep and that maybe after a night’s rest Jules would come to her senses and talk to me. Either I plainly wore my emotions on my face or it was a mother’s intuition. “I’m going to bed. you better get used to that.” I said. Just want to know where the fire is?” “I pissed off Jules somehow and she left for school without me. “I think I really offended her though. I went around back and Jules’ car wasn’t there. I parked my truck and turned off the lights. We’d never had so much as a cross word since the day we got together. looking for advice. I went to The Perry House and knocked on the door but no one answered. Dang it! Danny! I said glancing in my rear view. “Nothing. Women are funny like that. I ran to my truck once I was ready for school. not seriously anyway. “Nothin’ Elliott. even from my ‘clueless . I slid out of my truck and bounded up the steps to the kitchen. Danny was my mom’s youngest brother. “What’s wrong son?” My mom asked immediately. my mother and father were at the kitchen table. When I walked in. or maybe it was a little of both but she could tell something was up. It’s not just a girl thing.” I offered as an excuse. She’s already left for school? I raced down the road to Bluefield and saw flashing lights behind me. She wasn’t the type. “Boy. “Danny. He started chuckling and slapped me on the shoulder.

go fix it son but it’s better you get there in one piece. After second period.” he said intelligently. “Mention what?” He said with a wink while walking back to his cruiser. I paid little to no attention in Economics or Algebra.” “Well. I sat back down and zoned out again.” “Alright.about women Uncle Danny. I only faintly remember Mr. “I have an idea Danny. “Okay. I was going to have to wait until lunch to see her. “Well. I apologized and handed it in. You hear me boy? Slow down!” He demanded in his best sheriff’s voice. How he married my lovely aunt Becky I will never know. Please?” I pleaded. I was okay with having to teach myself the lesson later from my book. When I finally got to school. I had to drive to the other side of campus to my lot and was almost late for my first class. Thanks Danny. Damn it Jules! What is going on? I sat . if you really did. then you should have a pretty good idea what happened that made her that way. I will. bye Elliott.” “Wait! Uncle Danny?” “Yes Elliott?” “Don’t mention this to my mom. I drove around Lot A. I walked into the lunch room and Jules wasn’t there. I started back toward Bluefield. where Jules’ car would be and saw it parked toward the front. this time at a snail’s pace. Cook calling on me in Algebra and asking me if I’d forgotten to turn in my homework. He had counted one short and called out everybody’s names on the headings to take attendance and find out who skipped out. the parking lots were pretty full.

Jules is the love of my life.” “No kidding. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be friends with him anymore. if a girl wants to keep going.” I said. sort of heavy pretty quickly and I stopped but she didn’t want to.down next to Jesse. “Go on.” I sighed. You were making out with the girl and she wanted to keep going and you yelled at her to stop? And you think you offended her? Elliott. “Yeah” “Tell me what set it off. You don’t find the ‘love of your life’ in high . “And things got. well.” he said. “Do you want to know or not?” I asked with little patience for his stupidity.” “You’re a jackass. “I pissed her off. not to mention his strange new behavior spilling out of the woodwork. Elliott. She’s avoiding me. I regretted his getting to know Jules more because.” He sneered. “Because. no offense.” I said. I kind of yelled at her to stop and I think it hurt her feelings. The problem is that I don’t even know what I did. “Well. His eyes lit up. I was still slightly bitter about Jesse’s date with Jules. but you’re a moron. “Where’s Julia?” He asked. that’s her problem. not yours. “Really?” Too interested. “Don’t you get it? Jules isn’t some chick dude.” “Why’s that?” I asked defensively. Maybe he might help. ironically. we were making out in my truck in front of her house.” “Please.

” he joked. okay Elliott. it’s also about yours. . Is it worth it?” “God. you’re a nerd. If you’re not careful you’re going to make yourself miserable for the rest of your life. That’s a torturous fate my friend and all for what? For sex with some girl who let you? It’s not just about her future. Plus. when you’re married you’ll have all the time in the world for that. you’ll still be miserable because you’ll have to share custody with a kid you feel belongs one hundred percent to you. Would you want to compromise her by messing it up with a stupid thing like sex? Dude. but I did. Say. “what if you do know the girl well and she is the girl you want to marry.school. you have sex with some girl you barely know and she gets pregnant. I’ve got something with Jules that I don’t think even thirty year olds can find. a few years without it is not going to kill you.” “Okay. “I’m not kidding Jesse. what kind of attitude is that dude? You’re trying to tell me that if a girl wants to keep going in that moment that it’s her problem and not yours? You’re just as responsible for her as she is for herself Jesse. Where are your morals dude?” “Morals.” I continued. schmorals. You’ve made your point but I don’t think you’ve converted me to your celibate lifestyle there. brushing me off. it makes you both that much stronger.” he said mockingly. Grow up. “Think about it this way. you marry this girl and she’s turns out to be awful because you married someone you don’t know.” “Also. That’s the kind of blasé attitude that allows you to punish yourself in cruel ways. you don’t marry that girl.” “Maybe you won’t. if she turns out to be a psycho. Say. You’ll be miserable and so will your kid. In fact.

. In fact. it makes you just the opposite. “You think that just because I keep from doing that crap. I heard Jesse yell loudly. it means that I’m naive. “I’m sorry to hear that you and the Jacobs girl broke up.” I stormed off with Jesse’s mouth gaping open. People eventually started streaming into class after lunch.” she said. I would join them when I had some down time during the games. Just because you have sex doesn’t make you older. Taylor flitted to my side. It was awesome because I didn’t have to play during the games and wear their ridiculous uniforms because I was the quarterback. a cruddy grin on her face.” she said. I had joined percussion freshman year and worked my way up to varsity band last year. They all played flute. I’m not stupid. Her followers couldn’t even pick a different instrument. “I’m still sorry to hear it Elliott. Taylor Williams and her little creepy crew came in. Every now and then. “Go away Taylor!” I yelled. but I wasn’t required to or anything. The whole cafeteria caught the end of our conversation and I felt eyes burn into the back of my neck as I headed out the double doors.“Don’t insult me Jesse Thomas. I was so ticked off. or even more mature. I went to the band room and practiced my drums.” I said as I tapped my drumsticks over a snare drum. “Jules broke up with him!” I didn’t even bother correcting him. You’re juvenile. I had the best of both worlds. You can be innocent and simultaneously not be naive dude. standing up. raising my voice.” I said. stupid and below capacity. smarter. “Go away Taylor.

Taylor tried to sit next to me on the hood but I put my hand up.She sat back down in her seat and she and her little posse started whispering and laughing. Class began and it took my mind off things. After class. “Don’t even think about it Taylor. “Go away. I turned my head and saw twenty pairs of eyes focused in our direction. Over her shoulder she threw out. “Jules.” I said. “I’ll meet you at your truck. “Well. I wanted to act as neutral as possible with her. “Not at all.” she said glancing at Marisa. Marisa told me that she thought you might want someone to talk to.” I said. I fixed my stool and didn’t say another word until the end of class. Just let me get my car.” I said. She darted out as quickly as possible toward her car.” I felt a little better that she sounded so reasonable. I rushed to Chemistry and sighed when I saw Jules sitting at our lab table.” I said. “Feelin’ lonely?” Taylor asked. “We can’t talk about it just now Elliott. after that little speech today.” she said.” “Sure she did. I sat on the hood of my truck waiting for her to come around.” “So grumpy Elliott. I saw Taylor and Marisa walking my direction and prayed they would walk right past me.” . There was something soothing about playing the drums. Music always did that for me. I wonder why. I plopped beside her and turned my stool her direction. Taylor was exactly the kind of girl that mistook negative attention for good. “Go away Taylor.

Jules had already worked her way to her car and was in the driver’s seat. “Taylor and Marisa were just leaving. “Is that true Elliott?” Jules asked. “What’s going on?” Jules asked tucking her hands in the back of her jean’s pockets. “No.” When I turned back around. probably trying to restrain herself.” “Favors?” Jules asked fully comprehending.She stopped and stood a few inches beside me legs.” I said. you told Jesse Thomas that I don’t do you any favors?” “He told the whole lunch room. She slammed the door shut and started the engine. By the time I . Jules came driving around and parked in the empty space beside me.” “Yes.” I said. then how would Taylor get wind of something like that?” I started to explain again but turned toward the harpies instead. “After Elliott’s little speech to Jesse Thomas today at lunch I thought that since you weren’t doing him any favors that I might be able to help. “Nothing. pain flashing across her face. She got out of her car and Taylor and Marisa stood firmly together. her brows pinched. jumping off the hood.” said Taylor. Elliott.” said Taylor. “Do you mind? This is a private conversation. “So.” “Assistance?” Jules asked. “not exactly”.” Taylor interrupted. “Well if it’s not true. “Yeah. She rested her arm on the hood and let her hand inch closer to my knee. “What are you doing Taylor?” I asked. “I just came over to offer Elliott some assistance. glancing over my shoulder.

got to her she had started to drive off. I drove toward the creek and felt ill to my stomach. I went to Jules’ house first but she wasn’t there and no one answered the door. “You’re a horrible person Taylor Williams. please babe. her hands folded into herself. I peeked into Thatcher’s then Sadie’s windows but she was nowhere to be found. She closed her eyes and breathed in the crisp air. She . She turned my way. I was hoping that she wouldn’t have gone to the rock bridge but was pretty certain that was the first place I should have gone.” I finally made it up the flat marble of the rock bridge. There’s been a misunderstanding sweetheart. I pounded my fist on the driver’s side window but she raised her hand and closed her eyes. “Jules!” I yelled a few feet away. Her salty tears had a youthful affect on her. her eyes were swollen from crying. It was a dangerous place to go by yourself.” As I drove off. I trekked through the forest to our little secluded spot and saw her standing there on the edge of the bridge. when she opened them I saw the tears. Her eyes were brighter as well as her cheeks and her throat looked flush with life. I hoped it helped her see Taylor’s deceitfulness and maybe change the direction her life was heading toward.” I said before turning to Marisa. I’d seen other girls cry before and the result was never something that attractive. I stopped by my house and my mom said that Jules never came by. Please let me explain. her hair flurried with the changing wind. “and if you’re not careful Marisa you could become one too. Taylor’s expression was one of smugness but Marisa looked genuinely concerned. “Oh Jules. I let her drive off and ran back to my truck.

Plus. I wrapped my jacket around her body and kissed the top of her head. I stood and let him know what I thought of him and the cafeteria caught the latter end and it spiraled out of control from there. that I am just as responsible for you as you are for yourself. “He got really defensive and condescendingly brushed me off. her voice cracked from crying. I warmed them by bringing her body in closer for a hug. wiping her eyes as dry as she could get them. I basically took it out on Jesse at lunch. That’s why Taylor was out there. I had tried to pick you up for school but you had gone so that just increased the irritation I had for myself and at lunch you weren’t there and that just sent me over the edge. I know I should have chosen a more private venue for the conversation.stared into the creek below. Please don’t let her do that to us Jules. listen. I wanted him to know how it’s supposed to be and that the way he is acting is self-destructive. “but I was discrete about it! I told him what you meant to me. . “Yes Elliott?” She asked. “Jules. I took her hands in mine and they were freezing. she was trying to take advantage of a weak moment. I was really upset with what happened last night and wanted so desperately to speak with you about it. “I was trying to talk to Jesse about how upset I was so I told him what happened. our topic wasn’t the one Taylor gave you the impression it was.” I watched a tear fall down her cheek. I was wearing a t-shirt with a button up flannel over it so I took her hands and put them inside my open shirt and onto my back. The sun was starting to set and I cursed myself for forgetting my flashlight. “Jules?” I asked after a moment.” Jules turned toward me. She stood quietly waiting for me to speak.

.. The only way I could do that was by getting out of there. . I know I was too sensitive about it but I was so exposed and I felt like I needed to guard myself again. I meant that it’s stupid to ever think that I’d never want you! Do you have any clue how difficult it was to stop myself? I have never wanted anything so badly in my entire life like I want you but I would never compromise you for it. It’s just..” I said laughing..Jules?” “Hmm?” “It will be the best times ever. Our time will come and.. I felt slighted and unattractive. not that what you did was wrong or anything. She resisted but I forced her to.“Why did you leave me last night?” “Because. I brought it up to my mouth and kissed her profoundly.. Our shared galvanized current made us forget the cold night air.. “I was so vulnerable and I felt like I’d been scolded like a child. pulling away. I want you forever Jules and waiting a little while isn’t a big deal to me.. She sighed. It’s my duty to protect you.. “Because I was ashamed and so embarrassed. The rejection damaged my heart a little.” “Oh my God Jules! That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.. She pulled away and gave me the dirtiest look I’d ever seen her give. there is nothing more humiliating than being rejected.” she said. I grabbed her and put her back as she had been. “Because why?” I prodded.” She hugged me closely and I grabbed her chin. even sometimes from yourself. and especially from me. especially when you put yourself out there like that. “Jules. like you didn’t want me. “You’ve done it again!” She said.

I noticed how dark it was. “Wouldn’t it be nice. “What? If we were older?” She smiled.When I came up to breathe.” I sighed at the moon. .

He nodded..” I said..” I said trying to pacify any anxiety. avoiding eye contact.. I kissed her at the door to her Art class and as it closed behind her I caught a glimpse of a disappointed Taylor. “Let’s go to the rock bridge again tonight. There’s something I need to talk to you about. only that I shouldn’t have done it in such a public manner. he cut me off.” she laughed. “Whatever you say. History class with Coach Miles. “Listen. but not bad serious. He said it so matter-a-factly. “Elliott. staring toward a depressing vinyl tile.”A small smile curved at his lips.. so ‘can you . “Uh oh. dude.” But before I could finish. “Hey Jesse. It’s not that I didn’t mean what I had said during lunch.Chapter Five The Dream of the Ruthless Ideal The next day. so blasé. his eyes still plastered to the floor. “It’s serious. I.” I began.. I was glad I had history first because Jesse was in that class and I needed to apologize.” I said softly.S. “I want to apologize for blowing up on you yesterday.” she fretted. I need you to break up with Julia Jacobs. I shook my head and rolled my eyes while I walked to my U. at school. Jules and I walked through the halls hand in hand as always and squashed all the rumors Taylor Williams had worked so hard to start.

“Crystal.” “You’ve decided that you want her? And you expect me t o give her to you?” The ridiculousness of it was mind boggling to me..believe this weather we’re having? Isn’t it a doozy?’. “What?” I asked. still trying to feel out the situation.. He only ignored me. that he was one hundred percent serious.” “And if I said no?” I laughed nervously. Is that clearer?” His tone was soft and unnerving. Come on. more concerned with his mental health.” I said through gritted teeth. “I need you and Julia to no longer be together.” a stone faced Jesse said. “Let’s just say. told me he wasn’t joking.drastic.” “Well.” He snorted.” I breathed. are you insane?” That wasn’t rhetoric. .. I thought he was joking at first.. “You won’t say no.” “I’m not playing. Jesse. It was so ludicrous that I foolishly didn’t even feel that threatened. if you don’t. you’ll force me to do something. You must break up with her.” “Be careful. “Jesse.” “I must?” “Must. I decided that I want her and I think you should give her to me. “Stop playing Jesse.. I was sincerely concerned. I hardly recognized it. I even began to laugh a little but the narrow eyed expression he burrowed through me gave me a tiny prickling sensation in my stomach and told me just how wrong I was to assume so. “I am genuine. “After you so carelessly let me take her out. I’m saying no.

He had bowed his head and apologized and I was naive enough to think that I had gotten through to him. These past few weeks. It was official. Granted. “I’m going to get her from you. The final version. The first time. In retrospect. I like her legs.” “I’ve only begun to frighten you Gray. The puzzle pieces were fitting together and I could . This robotic. I could see in his cold.” “Think you can frighten me into submission? You couldn’t be more off the mark. she’s sort of chatty but I’m sure I could remedy that.“Yes. he made an excuse and I shrugged it off but the second time there was no mistaking what he was doing and I had proceeded to scream and yell and explain until I was blue in the face how cruel it was. I’m so bored. I would kill for her. my first clue should have been when I caught him as kids on two separate occasions trying to mutilate live animals. psychotic version of Jesse that sputtered out this dribble was in fact the new Jesse. yet another red flag. “I feel challenged and to be honest with you I need a challenge. he was insane.” The ego. that it was just a phase because I hadn’t caught him doing anything else since. Then there was the way he treated women. but I could no longer deny that my best friend was insane. “She has absolutely no interest in me at all and I’ve never run across that before. one way or another.” That was very true.” He chuckled. I would even kill you. dead eyes that he had snapped and that it had been a long time coming.” “Get over yourself Jesse. despite the fact we used to play together as babes. I had very strong suspicions but was in total and utter denial.” He laughed.

” He tipped his head toward the ground and shook it. Remove her from your thoughts Jesse.” .” Go ahead Gray. “Psychotic. Don’t underestimate me. You’ve only begun to frighten me. “Jesse are you psychotic?” “I wouldn’t say such a word if I were you.” “Choose your words wisely Gray. That is the kindest warning you will get from me. He appeared extremely pleased with the direction our conversation was going.” “Why? Does that accusation hit too close to home for you? I can see it in your eyes Jesse. I dare you. How could I have not seen it before?” “Say that word one more time Gray.no longer make excuses for him. I repeated it to myself so I could fully absorb it.” I said. then I’ll just take her and I’m betting you’re not going to like what I plan to do with her if it comes to that. surprisingly even for the explosion coursing through me.” He lifted his face and his expression shocked the hell out of me. Provoke the deranged psychopath. “If you refuse to let me have her. I knew now that somewhere in this world there was probably a hidden pile of cruelty that he was responsible for and I wondered where the hell it was and I hoped to God it was only animals. “and I will tear you limb from limb. It was paralyzing. like I was saying all the right lines.” “Suit yourself but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” “God but did I warn you.” Rage.” “You are aren’t you? You’re a bona fide psychotic. “Touch a hair on her head.

He crashed into me with pathetic force. waiting for our scrap to die out or for Coach Miles to enter and intervene. I heard the huff of his breath break short. straightened himself. He stuttered backward into Katie Shannon and she shoved him off of her body and ran toward the door where the rest of the class hovered. He swung his right fist toward my temple and I blocked it with the back of my left forearm. and rubber banded his right elbow behind his back. I yanked my hands from my pocket and stood up. The blood and spit spilled from his lips and I watched as it splattered across the same vinyl tile he had so closely been studying just a minute before.He slowly slid his eyes closed and took two deep breaths. He attacked again. He let go of me. He regained his balance and the hate emanated from his eyes. forming a tight fist. but I didn’t even give him the chance to get near before kicking my right leg in front of me and striking the middle of his chest. I shoved my chair behind me with my right foot and steadied myself for the next blow. It was as if I could see into the depths of his wicked heart and it sent chills down my spine. He hurled himself at me and I began my second fight for that year. He groaned in pain. I held out my hand and told him to back off but he sprinted toward me with unspeakable rage billowing from his stare. I swung with my right hand swiftly under his pitiful chin and knocked his head back. or maybe it just seemed that way because the adrenaline streaming through my veins might as well have made me a brick wall. Great. I’ve never seen eyes that looked like that. his hands brushed against my knee . His body listlessly curled around my foot.

I leaned against the cold tiled wall with my arms folded. What started it?” “He’s insane. I had never looked forward to Mrs.” he said. “but what I wanna’ know is why. It probably was more unsettling to him that we had a game Friday and he didn’t want two of his players at odds.” “Am I in trouble?” I asked. It’s a misunderstanding and I think we’ll be okay soon.” I almost said for Friday’s game instead of soon but caught myself. not truly caring if I was or not. confused. honestly. He would have seen right through that as my way of only appeasing him. “No.” I said. “Elliott. I thought Jesse was your best friend?” He asked. Really Coach. “Nothing.in reaction to the force and he stumbled drunkenly over several desks rolling onto the floor just as Coach entered the room. so I lied. but first. “The kids in class told me you were just defending yourself Elliott. I want you to explain to me what happened. Kitt’s class so much in my life. since every one’s stories check out you’re free to go back to class with me. I sat in History following the sluggish tick of the second hand . I didn’t feel like explaining something to him that he would just shrug off anyway. I guess it was an acceptable enough answer for him because he started down the hall toward his classroom and I followed. When Coach Miles came out he grabbed my arm and tugged me into the hallway. *** I sat in the Principal's office and could see the idiot across the lobby laying unconscious still in the nurse’s office on her pleather padded bench.

I wondered if they would believe me. not caring one bit about the pairs of eyes staring right at her. I realized. he had said. I grabbed my bag and jacket and rocketed from my desk into the hall. I had never had anything worth losing before. Its shrill tone marked the end of a euphoric existence with Jules and the beginning of an uncertainty. “Jules!” I called when I caught a glimpse of her across the hall. collecting my thoughts. I thought about how I was going to handle Jesse and wondered if I was overreacting. I sat in the cab. I was scared and I never get scared because. I’ve only begun to frighten you. . shivering from the cold. He’s not the same Jesse anymore. temporarily melting away the fear of my morning from my mind. My thoughts turned back to the disastrous turn of events. I still hadn’t decided what I was going to do when the bell rang.paying absolutely no attention to the lesson. wrapping my jacket closer to my body. but mostly I wondered how I was going to keep Jesse away from Jules. My hands shook at my sides. She was blissfully unaware of how effective it was. She smiled and did this little funny dancing jig to make me laugh. It startled me because it meant something to me that it had never meant before. Acid from my stomach began to creep into my throat. Stop trying to find an excuse for him. Coach started to protest but I had already started for my truck and wasn’t about to turn back. It startled me from my dark thoughts. I wondered if I was going to tell anyone about our conversation. I couldn’t sit there any longer.

we ignored her. “Well. We moved to the tile wall behind Mrs.” We both laughed. and let it set there to get warm against my body. “Well. I knew I had to tell Jules what had happened but I would have paid an exorbitant amount of money in that moment not to. asking the very question that usually deserved a mundane answer. World War III could be clamoring around us and she’d be asking me if I remembered to write down the name of that obscure Indie film we had wanted to see.” she said. “Exactly. Uh oh. hoping I wouldn’t give it away.” I said. She snuck her left hand into my right jacket pocket. “Taylor Williams. “Gross.” she said. kissing her neck. “Uh oh. reigning in my feelings of fear just enough not to tip her off. scrunching her nose.“Hi. Of course. as she always did.” she said. Jules and my world was an amazing one. Kitt’s door to let traffic through. “Hi sweetheart. My heart was beating at a million miles an hour. “What happened?” I asked.” she flirted. How was History?” She asked innocently.” said Taylor behind us. Her hands were always frozen. repeating my previously unspoken .” I sang. rolling her eyes and shrugging past us to her next class. I breathed deeply to regulate. “What happened in Art today?” I asked. avoiding the inevitable. “Not much.” “Enough said. I dipped to get her to remove her hand so I didn’t reveal anything through touch but she thought nothing of it.

her bottom lip began to quiver.comment. Everything. “Spill. Just not now. what if I asked you to run away with me? Right now. “Elliott?” “Yes honey?” “I can read you from here you know? You’re nervous and that’s making me exceedingly nervous. Besides. “At lunch. No sense in worrying her at school “What?!” She almost screamed. . “but at lunch.” On our way to lunch we walked slowly behind the rest of the class. “Are you sure you can’t tell me now?” I shook my head and we drifted into class.” she said pointing her finger at me.” “I’d say you were avoiding telling me what happened this morning. “Jules.” I nodded. This very second. I tried to make it sound like it was not a big thing. “Jesse Thomas and I got into a fist fight.” She paused. “Shhh.” “Okay. I’m just glad to have you next to me. placing my forefinger to my lips. Heads whirled our way. class is about to start. Let me gather myself.” she said as soon as we reached the threshold of the door. They would find out soon enough but I wasn’t going to be the one to tell them. swiftly removing it before I bombarded her with my fear.” I stopped her and grabbed her arm. “I don’t want to talk about it now.” I said. I promise.” Guess what else baby? He’s also a psychopath.

“Jesse Thomas told me that I needed to break up with you and that I needed to give you to him. “Is there any way we can fix it?” She asked. “ I wasn’t sure at first. “now don’t get mad. I got the distinct impression that Jesse didn’t feel the need to divulge his reasoning at all. steadying myself to blurt it out. he must like me. I would.” I let out a deep breath. “Alright. Assumptions are dangerous things. . but he kept staring at my legs.” I said. Hmm. He must be suffering and all on account of me. No sense in worrying her anymore than needed.” That was the truth. “If you could look me straight in the eyes and say it was absolutely necessary.” “Why?” “Well.” she hesitated. “That’s really sad.” Must teach Jules not to assume anything ever again. “So. “As in. I trust you.” Alright.” She thought seriously for a moment.“Would you do it? If I asked you to? Would you do it without explanation?” She sighed.” “Why?” “I don’t know.” “What Jules?” I asked seriously. it sort of confirms a suspicion of mine. I didn’t actually know why but do the insane need to justify their reasons to anyone? Their reasons are their own. Yes. I decided to tell her the bare minimum. that makes me feel terrible. genuinely wondering if she could help him. that was good to know. but at the movies. he wants to be with me?” “Yes.

what time do you go to bed? Do you wear pajamas or sleep in your underwear? How far have you gone with Elliott? I think we can safely assume he knows that now after yesterday’s blow up. but I’m thinking it would just be cruel. did he do or say anything else that was strange?” “Uh. “No wonder he gave me such a horrible time. I will never allow you near him again.” Not to mention incredibly dangerous. “I don’t think so Jules. No. He was lashing out. “Uh. Julia Jacobs. Like. ‘that was out of left field!’ I asked . I said. “What?” I gulped. like maybe I was overreacting or something.” “What? Oh my God!” “Yeah.” I cleared my throat. I had decided to let her assume whatever she wanted though. for her sake.” She shivered.” There she went assuming again.” she said. but not because she was cold. but I just assumed he was being his usual kooky self. “He kept asking me all these extremely personal questions. not his. kind of. yeah. “He asked me if I knew what scarification was. of course. Lashing out. I know.For now. That makes sense. “What happened?” I held my breath. but then he asked me something that made my hair stand on end. The last thing a guy wants when he’s trying to get over somebody is that somebody helping him try to get over them. He asked me if I thought I was going to marry you and I started to think maybe his line of questioning wasn’t all that strange. “On your date. It’s sweet of you to want it. She nodded in agreement.

” she said. That night. with her and myself. I’m sorry I didn’t mention it to you. knowing full well it was not going to blow over. “The theater was full so we were forced to sit in the only two seats available toward the side. Better start figuring out where we’re going to live when we have to flee. we sat on our rock bridge with a fleece . I think you’re overreacting. I thought.” “Jules! That’s not kooky! It’s creepy!” “I’m starting to think you’re right. This new piece of information made me more afraid than I’d ever felt before. “Calm down.him why he wanted to know but he evaded it. holding doors. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. No. “Maybe. you know. I didn’t want to worry you. that was the end of that conversation. things like that. after that. I thought about ringing you on my cell at that point but he did this complete one-eighty on me and started acting like the perfect gentleman again. So. How do you legally change your name anyway without others finding out who and where you are? Could we even get our diplomas and make it to university without anyone’s help? For then. Don’t touch me. I figured he was just kooky or socially inept.” she hoped. Sheesh.” I said. “Maybe this whole thing will blow over. I’m not.” “Starting? Jeez Jules! You’re gonna’ be the death of me.” I thought I was going to have a heart attack. My seat had a piece of gum stuck to it and he laid down his leather jacket so I wouldn’t ruin my jeans.

.” God.. what’s up?” “I actually want to talk seriously about our future.” she concurred. I know it was sort of anti-climactic and all that but we felt it in our guts that we would someday be married to one another anyway. she was cute. I’m being serious. I know it’s premature. I want to know how long you’d like to wait before we’re married. I knew it. She knew it. “I know. “I love you Jules.” and today’s insaneness. “Wow.” “I love you too Elliott. “What’s to talk about? You’re my future and I feel confident in saying that I’m yours.” About something so dear to me that not even what happened with Jesse Thomas today could keep me from talking to you about it. “I know. She stole my eyes away from the starry night and I gazed upon her radiant face. but I was thinking about it the other day. you’re a punk.” she shrugged her shoulders. We sat cozily side by side and stared into the stars. Mostly today’s insaneness. “Elliott!” She laughed.. It had taken me practically the whole day to calm down.blanket underneath us as well as one to cover us..” “I mean the technicalities babe..” I just came right out and said it because it felt natural and after the day I had with Jesse I was at my wit’s end. .. “So. Then there is the night we almost lost it and. “Well.” she said turning to face me.” “Jules. “I thought you were going to say something like ‘Are you okay with never seeing me for the next seven years since I’ll be knee deep in cadavers’.” I said.

I surprised myself with that one. I always tried to restrain my hands one way or another when I was near her.“You mean the night that I almost lost it. Anyway.” I almost jumped out of my skin from excitement at the prospect of having children with her. No. She scooted closer to me and continued. Can we compromise?” I . that’s why.” “No. laying with my hands behind my head. “I am actually hyperventilating at the very idea of it because it sounds so tempting. high school Jules. but I don’t want to wait another ten years Jules.” If we can even go to Philadelphia now. while I was in bed that night. She patted the spot next to her and I followed suit. I was thinking that I might want to get married as soon as we graduate. we both almost lost it. “No. “You want to wait? I can handle that. I wanted to go to Philadelphia and actually be there with you.” “Oh who cares if it is! Are we or are we not from Bramwell anyway? Besides. Listen.” she laid on her back and turned onto her side. “Oh my gosh Elliott. but I think that it would be the death of our careers.” “No way Elliott!” “Why not?” “Because that would be too Bramwell-like of us.” “College?” She asked. I can just imagine getting pregnant while we’re in school and then I’d have to quit to take care of our baby and then you’d never see us for years because you’d be becoming a physician Elliott! You won’t have time for anything else. We’re just going to have to wait.

I let up and she caught her breath. “Stop!” She finally shouted. She knew I’d go into torturing her for awhile until I was tired and we’d start the whole process over again. It made me wonder if that was her own restraint device as well.offered. “Aww. Like. “Like. “Oh yes! You will deal with that! I am Elliott! King of compromises! And you. I’m sorry love. I caught a ‘please’ every now and then but ignored it.” I grabbed her little frame and squished her body with mine. not able to speak. still laughing. “You’re such a jerk!” She shouted. I guess she deciphered that the risk outweighed the reward and couldn’t help herself. “Why do you keep doing this to yourself Jules?” Again. . “Like what?” She asked. My hands escaped.” she said with a smile. When I was done teasing her I laid beside her once more and bound my hands again.” She thought for a really long time. “I think I can deal with that. ‘sweat started to line my forehead’ kind of time. Julia Jacobs! You may be my court jester! Now dance for me!” I continued to tickle her until she could barely breathe let alone speak she was laughing so hard. can we at least get married after we’ve earned our bachelors? I don’t think I can wait any longer than that. turning onto her back and tucking her hands behind her head as well. I grabbed her and began to tickle her knee. She grabbed the blanket and wrapped the both of us with it and we stared at the stars again. I knew she wanted to retaliate but could see her rethinking her strategy.

It never hurts to ask Elliott.” “Shows how much you know.” I said with certainty. I kissed Jules goodbye at her door and ran back to my truck. Maybe you could convince your parents it would be a good idea. her right eyebrow raised. I was a pretty well behaved kid and although I had very serious doubts I decided it wouldn't hurt.“You know something?” She asked. “That’s a sneaky look if I do say so myself.” I said. It sucks. with my parents and our whole extended family crammed into the house they’d have to know we’d respect the proper boundaries. I already cleared it with the parentals. watching television. “will you help me with this math problem?” . What do you think?” “I think it would be awesome.” Maddy said.” “What if it didn’t have to suck?” She asked. but I very seriously doubt my mom would say yes. two major hurdles are a little out of our league.” “Seriously. wrapped in each other’s arms. I decided I’d ask my mom that night if it’d be okay so I could surprise Jules with the good news. “and I am pretty secure in the knowledge that your parents would also object. The worst they could say is no. Maddy sprawled on the floor doing homework. “Elliott.” She was right. Told you they were in love. When I strolled into our living room both my mom and dad were sitting on the couch together. “What?” “Thanksgiving is coming up and as you know my family is going to my aunt’s house in Mauch Chunk. the next morning. So. hopefully. You’re good to go baby. “I’m kind of getting my hopes up now.” “I know.

” she deliberated. We’d be chaperoned well and her parents are comfortable with it. “Jules’ family is going to her aunt’s house in Mauch Chunk for Thanksgiving and they’ve invited me along. “Oh let him go Shelby. if you say so. It got really quiet and I decided Thanksgiving with Jules was the perfect topic to break the silence.” my dad said hoping we’d shut up so he could catch the end of his program. Are you . “I don’t think so Elliott. “Well. “Yeah son?” My dad said.” I said. What do y’all think? Can I go?” I made eye contact with my mom so she knew I wasn’t planning anything devious. “I’ll call her mama in the morning and get the details. she discovered she had done almost every problem incorrectly and I could tell she had wished she had never asked me for my help.” “Okay. she is almost seven years younger than I am. disappointed. “Mom? Dad?” I reluctantly said.” Please say yes. “but if it makes you feel any better.” my mom said. When I was done re-teaching her the lesson her teacher should have taught her in the first place. As long as it will be as well chaperoned as you claim it will be I don’t have a problem with it.“Sure.” I plopped myself on the plaid chair next to her and grabbed her book. She threw herself in a huff back onto the floor and vigorously erased her entire worksheet. “Hmm. her entire family will be there.” I figured it out quickly. including her extended family. “Which one is it?” “Number thirty-four.

“Y’all are stupid.” my dad said. I bounded up the smallish incline to the bottom of the steps of the covered porch just as she was locking the door. I bounded up the stairs to my room and went to sleep happily dreaming of turkeys. “I would never let my boy do something like that. The next morning I was really excited to pick Jules up for school.” Maddy said with audacity. “Maddy check your tone before you find yourself grounded the entire Thanksgiving break. Where would we be without her?” I couldn’t see it but I’m sure my mom had a look of disgust on her face and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of it. You asked and they said yes!” . eyes still focused on her worksheet. I left the room so I wouldn’t have to witness the disrespect smacked out of her knowing I would hear it through the walls as it was.” All three of us stared at the pre-teen lounging in all her false glory. “I can feel it in your chest Elliott Gray. I’d call her the day of and I crossed my heart that I would. “What are you talking about?” I said. That made her more comfortable. if I went. She made me promise that.” I got up and kissed her forehead. “Maddy giving us advice! We’re so lucky to have birthed her and raised her to be more intelligent than us.okay with being away from the family on such a holiday?” “I’ll miss you very much mom. Wouldn’t you agree Mark?” “You’re right Shelby. “You didn’t!” She squealed with delight when she turned around and met my eyes. When I got there. “Imagine that Mark!” My mom said.

It was handy. I had to admit she was pretty good at it. I was pretty little and don’t remember much. I saw her sitting at our usual table but didn’t see what I had imagined all . most of the time.” “Whoa! We just got stow away privileges and you already want to rock the boat? Any minute now we could capsize and never make our destination.” she sagged with a sigh. cap’n!” I said with a salute. “I’ve been there before Jules. She dropped her bag on the wood porch with a loud thud and she leaped into my arms from the top step in excitement. you’ll remember this trip. Granted.” she flirted.” “Oh. to provide diverse choices that would suit any mood. I had a feeling I’d never be able to surprise her again though. She said there was an art to choosing the correct songs. That day was a B day and I’d only have fourth period Chemistry with her. “Let’s get to school. The hours ticked by so slowly but I absorbed the little information I didn’t already know in Economics and Algebra and ran to the cafeteria to see my Jules. “Should we ditch today and stay here?” She asked.” “Aye. “We only have a week!” Jules took forever to pick out music. “I bet we could get a lot more done if we did.” she said.” she said.” I teased. I didn’t get to see her that morning but at least we got to eat lunch together and I was able to finish the day with her. “We’re going to have to start picking out our road trip music starting today. “I bet I will. but I have been there. gesturing excitedly with her hands.” “You’re right. “You’re gonna’ love Mauch Chunk. aye.

I stared out across the cafeteria. . Both people made sense as its author but Jesse was the outright psycho. Jules stroked my arm to calm me down but it wasn’t helping. Watch yourself. They were a sign of pain in Jules and that was unacceptable to me. I instantly ran to her and pleaded to know what was wrong. I think you know what I mean. I hadn’t thought of that but I guess I could see how it could also make sense. I began to stand but she pulled me back to my chair. They knew how much I hated them. I guess they had unconsciously been waiting for me. a folded piece of notebook paper torn from a binder. I needed to find Jesse and immediately. Jesse was the only one who could have done it. with trembling hands. She had her arms folded across her stomach as if in pain and a look of panic strewn about her perfect face. She tried to speak but couldn’t and instead just handed me. you’ve got something that I want and I’m determined to make it mine. not to mention the unveiled threats. Have you considered that it might be from Taylor?” She asked. “Damn it!” I said a little too loudly. I crumpled it up but the frustration didn’t subside as I’d hoped. “Jules! What happened?” The tears were just beginning to flow.” I said as calmly as I possibly could. I could tell that she was scared because her fingers shook and she was nearly screaming it through our touch. babe. It was a printed note and read.morning. My hands tremored and the paper shook furiously in my hands. “No. in my book. “I’m going to find Jesse. please. Julia. not that Jules knew about those.

“This better not make me want to kill someone. Now.” “Yeah?” “Well.” she offered begrudgingly. picking up where she left off. “Why would you think otherwise Jules?” “Because I know something you don’t.” she said. Go figure.” her lower lip trembled. No one could have had access to it unless. Of course.. right?” I asked her. when I was hauled down there after my fight with Jesse it was the shortest walk ever but now it was a million miles away. “And it would have had to have been while you had been sleeping?” “Yes.. “Just tell me Jules. “Never mind then. “unless they had been in your house?” “Yes.” She stopped.” I grabbed her hand and our stuff and the note and practically dragged her down the hallway.” I said. “We have to take this to the Principal. “Unless. “No. I burst into secretary Millie’s office and demanded I .“You know it’s going to be okay. I found it in my messenger bag this morning in class. it was early.. “Well.. No one was around... My messenger bag hadn’t been any place but in my room and your truck since last night and the note definitely wasn’t in there after school because I would have seen it when getting out my books to do my homework after dinner... Principal Rudolph’s office had never seemed so far before.” I said honestly...” I clipped.” she squeaked..” I shuddered.

” Millie said. It soothed us both to experience the exchange and was quite addicting. I grabbed Jules’ hand. I wasn’t taking any chances. so to speak. since Taylor didn’t share this lunch with us and Jesse was gone. She audibly sighed in relief and that cleared my head a little. I was incredibly shocked at the brazenness of the culprit breaking . Jules stood beside me. her head buried in paperwork. It was a bit of a ruse. I craved it at night especially. We discovered we could control the dosage. She didn’t want to eat and I didn’t blame her. confident. stronger than anyone I knew. She was a strong girl.speak with Principal Rudolph. It was when we were away from each other the longest and I found myself waking earlier and earlier each day just so I could touch her as quickly as possible to mollify the necessity for it. I blasted a concentrated amount of feeling through her throat and the heat relaxed her at once. I was too preoccupied with her suffering to start analyzing the note and deciphering its real meaning. We sat at our table and agreed that we should act like the note we had found didn’t bother us in case someone was watching and by someone we meant one of Taylor’s cronies. but had to be careful because releasing too much made us sleepy as heck. Without waiting for her response. “Principal Rudolph is out today kids. but this was beyond the both of us. The electricity that flowed between us was as powerful as a river’s. leaned into her neck and breathed into her ear that I loved her. She was frightened and it was something only I could sense. It was too unbelievable to imagine. I dragged Jules back to the cafeteria. “Will you tell her that we stopped by?” I asked.

“You’re gonna’ have to break ‘em off with a stick Elliott!” “That’s actually kind of why we’re here Danny. I studied my fingers desperate for an additional clue. every time I see you. I’m guessing he saw us through the window. I think so.” he said before turning to me.” I said. His eyes turned serious. I mean Jesse.” I said. Uncle Danny was no longer there. I had the note in the back pocket of my jeans and could feel the searing heat of its intentions blistering down the back of my leg. “Well Jules. Jules. I mean what’s the harm in it really? My uncle is bored at the station anyway.into her house.” I said. it would have been beyond anything I thought he could do. “Well. “Hey son!” He called out. you just get prettier and prettier. I say culprit. furrowing his brow. “I think I’m gonna’ call my Uncle Danny. I kept Jules’ hand in mine for comfort and when we arrived my Uncle Danny came rushing out of the door. “What’s goin’ on?” He asked. I pulled my jacket closer to my body to keep the winter air from chilling me any further than my daunted bones already ached. closing the creaky driver’s side door. As I held her hand. “Hey Danny!” I said.” After school. He’s the only one I know who would do something so monumentally dangerous for his health. this will give him something to do. We were now speaking to officer Danny. pulling the flaming note from my pocket and . A week ago. Jules and I rode in silence to Danny’s station. As we rode. “You think it’s serious enough that we’d have to involve the police?” “Yeah.

” I said reluctantly. Who are these people giving you trouble Elliott?” He looked at me suspiciously but decided I wasn’t the type he’d easily associate with trouble. “Jules found this note in her messenger bag this morning. It could have been any of the kids at school. then looked at us in silence.” “Well.” “Wait. now.” He sat for awhile and deliberated what his next steps would be. I continued.” I corrected. You said it was in her messenger bag. unfortunately we’ve run into a few issues with some people at school so we know it’s not a joke.” Jules laughed . it’s not something we’d have wanted to involve the police in but we think the person who put it there had broken into Jules’ bedroom to do it.” He unfolded the note and read its words. Jesse Thomas. Also.handing it to him. Wait. I thought it had to have been put into the pack this morning but Jules said the messenger bag hadn’t been near anyone at all that morning except herself and myself. “Uh. “And basically. We’re just not sure which one. that it hadn’t been in there last night when she was doing her homework and when she found it this morning she knew the only way it could have gotten there was some time while she was sleeping. “Jesse Thomas? Your best friend Jesse Thomas?” “Ex-best friend. “Chances are it’s just mean teenager crap but I’ll follow up on it either way. I better call Principal Rudolph at her home and just fill her in. “But it could also be Taylor Williams. This could very easily be a joke. She hates me too.

around us. The heat from the engine was a comfort. We remained silent. She was reading me.” Jules and I heaved ourselves onto the hood of my truck. I tried extremely hard not to imagine Jesse sneaking into Jules’ room. I looked up and saw my Uncle Danny hanging up the phone. I fought past that and could smell dark smoke. maybe warmer.” he said shaking his head. They always started burning old wood from the prior winter seasons first and I could smell the burning of dormant kindling. I don’t think we wanted to hear the conversation he was having either. slithering his way around.0 might be a little harder to decipher.nervously. Jules squeezed my hand tightly into hers to ease my restlessness. I also tried not to think about all the different ways I’d kill him when I found out for sure that it was him. “Okay. It was freezing but neither of us made an attempt to go inside because our contact kept us a balmy ninety-eight point six. most likely from a couple miles ahead of us at the Miller’s house. I did think about avoiding him altogether and skipping school but I had to see for myself the way he acted around me. I made sure she sat closely so our skin would stay in contact and it’d keep me calm. I took a deep breath through my nose and nearly drowned from the heavenly delirium that was Jules’ perfume. I knew him well enough to recognize when he was acting shady. He swung his coat over his shoulders and stomped his heavy boots across the old wood floor of the station and . “I’ll be right back. I tried not to think about what I was going to say to him at school the next day as well. It worked. I closed my eyes and let the sleepy current soften my rigid torso. rubbing chin stubble between his thumb and forefinger. keeping a conversation within ourselves. going through her stuff. though Jesse 2.

again. We rounded the corner and saw one of the most painfully terrifying things I’d ever seen. When we arrived. barely visible in the snow leading from the brush to the side of the house and back. Danny walked us around Jules’ house and asked her where her window was. but we never thought it could come to this. Two sets of old foot prints. We knew Jesse and Taylor and either one of them was capable of jumping the line of rationality. we’d seen it with our own eyes. She promised to keep an eye on things. His kind words did nothing to alleviate my fears and I was positive it didn’t help Jules either.out onto the little covered porch. “I’ve let the Principal know. or both. Jules and I jumped into my truck and followed Danny to the Jacobs’ house. The prints were so faded I had no idea how large they actually were and therefore unable to figure out whether it was Taylor’s or Jesse’s prints.” He paused and stared at our distressed faces. “I’m sure it’s not a big deal kids. My money was still on Jesse though.” he said. one right next to the other. Did Jesse come to the window twice or once with an accomplice? Against the wall laid two cinder blocks. the longer sides parallel with the side of the . “I see no signs of entry here. I’ve decide it’d be a good idea if we took a ride over to the Jacobs’ residence and search around the property for any signs of forced entry. as quiet as before. She pointed at the windows that belonged to her room and Danny moved in closely to the one at the back of the house.” Danny came close and patted me on the shoulder. I’m just taking the necessary precautions. let’s check the other window at the side of the house.

whoever it was that actually entered couldn’t have been that tall. There’s something else that’s bothering me. When we looked closely at the window the paint had been freshly scratched where the intruder had pried open the bottom of the ancient window..house. “Or they’re insane. but nobody but myself and your family would know something like that. “Well.. “I’m an extremely heavy sleeper..” Jules said.” He pointed at the blocks against the house. probably with a crowbar from the width of the scratch.. “I’m going to call Julia’s parents and let them know what’s going on. “She’s insane. I’m sort of flabbergasted as to how Julia didn’t hear the wood of the window cracking or the intruder?” Jules blushed slightly and scrunched her nose. “Well. “Ahhh.” He left us there staring at the creepiness that was the intruder’s handiwork. her voice shaking. Taylor then? “Okay..” she admitted. Maybe they can stop by a home improvement store and get some additional locking mechanisms for the windows. I watched Jules start to lose it a little bit so I grabbed her and held her steadily against my side.” said Danny. Be right back.” “What’s that?” Jules asked.... who would risk getting caught boldly waltzing into your room at night? They must have known that you were a heavy sleeper.” he said. These windows aren’t very far from the ground.” Danny said. They needed cinder blocks to see or get inside. “What is?” I asked.unless you’ve told someone . “Well. “Strange.

” were all the words I could rally up.” she trembled. It’s why I’ve kept a lot of weird things he’s done from you. “This whole thing is going to be squashed tomorrow and I’m going to be the one who does it!” she exclaimed. “He’s crazy! The both are!” I said. in front of Jesse. “I thought he was just messing with me. trying to get a rise out of me as usual. So it was a joint effort. but couldn’t. “we were all hanging out at Thatcher’s. That’s why I kept it from you. “You can’t Jules!” “Why?” “Because we need to ignore this behavior. keeping her eyes steady with mine. her eyebrows furrowing at the last bit. I’d always felt you were kind of harsh on him about me and the few times I would let you in on the stupid things he’d say to me. you’d scold him and he would just take it out on me later. he poked me in the ribs and told me that if I wasn’t careful he’d come in while I was asleep and rearrange my furniture. “Don’t you remember?” She asked. In the past. with each other. When we came back to school after Tanen’s party fiasco. “We did.” “It’s okay Jules. you were talking about the night and broke off to tease me about that fact that I could sleep through a hurricane. When Jesse thought you weren’t looking. and pretend like we have barely taken notice . like he got some sort of sick pleasure out of scaring me. whatever their motives are. Later. I gritted my teeth and tried to hold back what I was thinking.else? Do you remember talking about it at school with anyone?” The blood drained from her face and she nodded.

. I felt an uncontrollable rage to hurt Jesse. They wanted to take Jules out of the school immediately but Danny had talked them into taking it easy and waiting to see how things turned out..” My Uncle Danny came back around and let us know that Jules’ parents didn’t take things well.. We reached the Friday before Thanksgiving break without incident and Jules and I felt a lot better about the note by then. I wasn’t one hundred percent certain Taylor was involved or not.of them or their note. I’d probably put all my chips on the both of them.but if things take even the slightest turn for the worse.. I witnessed Jesse and Taylor squirm a little bit at the sight of it. but this time it didn’t give me the satisfaction that it normally did. I sort of liked that bit. which was already borderline obscene. Jules held on tightly to me every second she could. at least.” “So from here on we just pretend they haven’t scared the crap out of us?” “Yes.... if you think that’s best. I’m taking charge.” “Alright Elliott.” I said. not really certain if that was the best route to take. If Jules felt more comfortable touching me. They reluctantly agreed and the next day we returned to school and acted as unbothered as we possibly could. We figured it was just a onetime thing since ..” “And I’ll be right there beside you. well both of them really. albeit slightly more touchy-feely than usual. I studied her reaction to see if it still fell under her normal crazy self but couldn’t tell. If I was a betting man though.. but luckily for them. for now. that suited me just fine. “I think it’s the best thing to do. Jules was the deterrent. said that it made her feel safer.

“About Mauch Chunk. “So I talked to Danny last night. My mom especially didn’t believe it was Jesse. if you catch my drift.” She laughed. Golly baby! What else? You’ve been counting down the hours and minutes to this trip since day one. “Oh yeah?” “Yeah. I’ve found that when I did help things along. He did a spot on impression of Eddie Haskell with her. . It melted away all the anxiety resting in my chest. the shock would lose its potency and water down the needed reaction. he thought like we did. my mind still occupied by the idiots. I didn’t argue with any of them. It sang through the house like a clear bell and touched every heart within a hundred foot radius. there would be no need to taint any smallish reputation of being decent they still had.” They didn’t want to point fingers at Jesse and Taylor. despite the fact that it hung by a thread. I knew the truth and thought that as long as they were quiet.” she said. “I hope you’re right. Their razor sharp indecencies would cut those on their own. its staff and the police knew the details. I’ve found it’s always better for people to discover things like that without my help.” I said. We felt confident that Jesse would stifle any plans for future pranks. That whoever did this thing is done. Her happiness was always so contagious. Elliott. Early the next morning. I sat around my kitchen table and chatted with my mom while I waited for Jules’ parents to pick me up. “Are you excited sweetheart?” “Huh? About what?” I asked.the entire school.

quite awhile.” “I’m going to miss you mom. relax. I grabbed my satchel and headed toward the door. “Yes. It won’t be the same without you here. “No mom.” I winked. although she doesn’t deserve it.“Of course I am! It will give me a little glimpse into college life and it better be good because I’m gonna’ be there for awhile. for whatever you need it for.” Apparently. “Thanks mom.” There was a knock at the door and I jumped out of my seat to answer but before I could leave the kitchen my mom hugged me and slipped something in my hand. I meant over Thanksgiving. drugs.” She reached way up to my head and brought my forehead to her lips.” “Oh. .” “I will too son. mom. Tell dad I love him and Maddy too. rock’n’roll. boy. you are. That’s life. but sooner or later a mother has to let her boy contribute to the world in the way they were destined to. not in her usually playful mood. “Hush. What are the plans for her aunt’s house?” “Well. you know. sex.” she cleared her throat. I was just teasing. “Jeez.” The gleam in her eye flickered for a moment and she sighed.” I laughed.” “Keep that tongue wagging and you’ll find yourself sitting across from your aunt Becky instead of Jules at dinner young man. Debauchery. “yeah. I’ll miss you loads son.” “For the drugs?” I teased. “Here’s some extra cash son.

She was wearing something new.” I winked. And our awesome travel music. “Excited son?” Mr. She wore a grey thermal top and faded distressed blue jeans. Something about going away with Jules got me into such a cheeky mood. It didn’t help that she looked so incredible. light .” “I think that will get us through. I thought. She wore this hat that made her literally look like the cutest girl I’ve ever seen in my life. “ that we didn’t get to finish putting together. “I brought our huge fleece blanket for the car ride there. and Mrs. “Hi Elliott!” They said in unison. I’d have ravished the hollow of her neck. Jacobs asked. “Very. a necklace. We crunched our way through the snow and tumbled into Jules’ parents’ car. she had all this silvery jewelry on. She reached across me and grabbed my seat belt. My mom waved at the Jacobs and they waved back.When I opened it.” I said and stared at Jules with a grin that touched both my eyes. touching her arm.” she frowned. there stood a shivering Jules with the rosiest cheeks and. If her parents hadn’t been there with us. She killed me. “Hi Mr. This game we got going on I like. It was striped. She called it her pom-pom beanie. boy. I pulled at one of the ear flaps and asked her what it was. When she clicked it into its buckle. Typical of Jules. We’ve got at least fifty songs on here though. Jacobs!” I said. She nodded. tons of bracelets. something she must have bought in Charleston when she went with her mom to pick a few things up for their trip. did she look stunning. she winked at me.

I gathered her pencils and folded her sketch pad and placed them all into her messenger bag. Parents. She spread the fleece over our laps and I almost burst into laughter when I saw her dad count to four. She was so beautiful. especially in front of her dad. Her long raven hair hung in soft curls around her shoulders and reached the middle of her back.grey and black. assuming he was counting hands. She was sort of a prude that way. either way what I said wasn’t that bad. Once. What a goof.” I said. I hadn’t even finished chapter four when I caught Jules drifting to sleep. just a little too intimate for Jules to feel comfortable around her parents. She had her sketch pad and I brought a book. She sat up from retrieving the iPod from her bag and her cheeks burned pink once more and I’m guessing it wasn’t from the chill air. She started to play our list and we both took out our ‘time passers’ as she called them. “Thank you Elliott. “You look so pretty Jules.” she said. I could tell her dad didn’t care as long as we were being respectful but Jules was careful and I could appreciate that. and had braided ear flaps with tassels that reached to the bottom of her ribcage. a chunky knit. Neither caught my comment or maybe they just acted as if they didn’t. I couldn’t help myself. . We both glanced into the rear-view to catch her dad’s reaction and much to our surprise he was deep into his own conversation with Jules’ mom. I tried to link pinkies with her at their house while waiting to leave for her mom’s birthday dinner and Jules looked at me like I’d assaulted her. She plugged the ear buds into the iPod and handed me the left bud and I placed it into my ear and she did the same with the right.

She’d written ‘Mrs.When I tucked the pad into place I’d caught a glimpse at one of the pages in the back and nearly lost it. I didn’t mean to wake you honey. Twenty questions isn’t much fun when both partners can guess whom the other is thinking in three or less questions.” said Jules. not that I didn’t mind it though. Eventually I dozed off myself and woke with my book at my feet. I wanted her to think of herself as my wife. When I sat back up. “We’ve been asleep for three hours?” I asked. I reached down for the book and it woke her. “It’s okay. My name is Julia. And deal? You’re going down!” I got out my deck of cards and we played for another two hours. I glanced to my left and saw Jules still asleep. “War?” I asked. I accidentally bumped her knee and she briefly woke and repositioned herself onto my shoulder. “What time is it dad?” “Nine. We couldn’t talk either. not Jules. There was absolutely no other place I wanted to be other than in that car at that very moment. Elliott. my right eyebrow raised. “I’m sorry Jules. We stayed quiet for a few minutes when Jules suggested tictac-toe.” she said stretching. I was about to wake up anyway.” he said. Elliott Gray’ all over it. at least not about the things we wanted to talk about. She cracked me up. I wrapped my left arm around her and read my book with the right. “Deal. She got tired of winning so we decided to play twenty questions. Five hours down. How many times do I have to tell you? . “Six more to go. she wrote. She pulled out her sketch pad but instead of drawing the graph.” I said.

you can’t say things like that when you look like you do right now. YOU are Elliott. I’m certain of it. I’ve noticed I’m the only one who calls you that. I promise. Seriously. Me too. Besides. I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. I’ve been dying to kiss you since Harrisonburg. yet again. I know that but I like Jules. Alright. No one can keep a promise like that babe. I am most glad to be getting away from THEM. alright. It makes me a part of you that only we share. I wrote. Not one hair on your head will they touch. They’re done. Elliott! Your thoughts are always so violent I’m violent? Does a certain football game mean anything to you? She giggled under her breath. Seriously. It’s not fair. I just wanted to confirm that you knew too. She sighed aloud and I decided to change the subject. I’m being honest Jules. I know what happened. You gonna’ do something about it? Stop torturing me Jules.I laughed at the memory and took the pen from her. . changing the subject. You’re so freaking cute Jules. Be realistic. ever. so I don’t look like a fool. Jesse will get a shovel to the face if he so much as breathes on you. I’m glad to be getting out of Bramwell. Seriously though. We both laughed.

You look incredibly beautiful. Something told me it wouldn’t be a comfortable vacation for him. get your head out of the gutter. I’m not trying to be saucy with you. Whoa Jules! Now your dad is going to think we’re messing around! Shut up Elliott! More laughing. it didn’t faze me in the slightest. I mean it. Seriously though Jules. Stop. We both looked up and saw her dad’s eyes refocus from the rear-view back onto the road. My memaw Joan E is an excellent cook. I was comforted to know that while . Oh Elliott.So. Thanks sweetheart. Jules broke her most stringent rule. You’re an amazing cook. can your family cook? ‘Cause I’m a growing boy you know? I need the calories. Poor guy. leaned in and pecked me on the cheek. you’re making me blush and that will make my dad want to read what we’ve been writing. I promised myself I’d try to make it easier on him. but who’s all going to be there? I’d already met many of Jules’ family members from previous visits from them to Bramwell but there were a few I’d be meeting for the first time and although this would have scared a lot of guys my age and even older. to behave just a little more responsibly to ease his anxiety. I can’t believe I haven’t asked you this yet. She taught me everything she knows. Did she? I’ll have to thank her then. So. your outfit looks so nice on you. I am forever indebted to her for that. I guess that was all I was going to get.

” I whispered. They’re awesome. Many aunts and uncles. Just stick close to me and you’ll be okay.we would be living in Philadelphia she’d have some family nearby. We finally got back onto the road and arrived in Mauch Chunk in record time. “Ow! Dad!” “Oops! Sorry kids!” he said with a slight smirk. Jules’ dad said in a huff and slightly jerked the wheel toward the nearest exit. We stopped at a gas station in Greencastle and ate lunch at a little burger joint named Billy Miner’s. “This isn’t your grandmother’s den.” . I want this trip to go as smoothly as possible. I’m most excited for you to meet my aunt Isabel. “No wonder everyone comes here. he must have been where Jules got it. I promised myself I’d go back again. but they love to tease. When Jules dragged me through the door I was overwhelmed by the amount of people despite the home being one of the largest I’d ever ever stepped foot in. most you’ve never met before. We bumped heads. I want to be invited to future visits. I’m looking forward to meeting all of them. I threw a sneaky grin her way and we both laughed quietly. They had some of the best burgers I’d ever eaten in my entire life. you’ll love her. Got any suggestions? Be wary of some of my cousins. A lot of my cousins will be there. “I need gas”. He was ornery. It was an amazing town and every person we’d met there treated us as if we were family. Oh that should be no problem whatsoever. My cousin Lizzy is the best.

“Uhhh.” Jules hesitated. As we toured her home. She was smart and cool and had a young heart.” She pointed to an entire wall in her living room and it was very apparent that it was Jules’ handiwork. “Thank you Isabel.” Neither one of our families. “something came up and we had to use the money for a family emergency. “no.” Isabel said.” Isabel said smiling. Isabel was her mom’s sister.” she said. unfortunately we didn’t make quite enough. “They were sent to an office in downtown Philadelphia and I never put two and two together. not wanting to pry any further. “They’re all local. I also noticed something else. Four of the maybe fifteen paintings hanging on the walls were the ones we had sold online to fund our trip to London. We were at Jules’ aunt Isabel’s house.” I interrupted. but a family emergency all the same. Seeing so many pieces together made me appreciate the incredible talent that Jules possessed. besides.” Jules’ aunt Isabel was an attorney and must have had them delivered to her law office.I finally got where Jules’ eccentricities came from. So are you guys ready for London?” She asked.” Jules said with gratitude. “that’s impossible!” “Well.” “What?” Isabel asked. shocked. I found so many interesting art pieces hanging everywhere on her walls. “I got these online. I get the most generous compliments from the guests who see them. “except these. “Oh.” said Jules. “You’re mom told me what you two were doing and I couldn’t resist. “Shall we . “I should have guessed. I pointed to them and Jules just nodded.

head toward the kitchen? I can hear everyone buzzing around in there.” We started toward the kitchen and Jules grabbed my hand. She apparently felt comfortable enough to do that and I wasn’t going to pitch a fit so I wove my fingers with hers and brought the top of her hand to my lips and kissed it. I didn’t let go of her hand once while being introduced to the cousins I had been so fairly warned about. Jules was right, Lizzy was the thoroughly cool one. Then Jules led me to a spunky, elderly lady with the whitest hair. “You must be memaw Joan E.?” I asked. “No, fool, I’m Julia’s aunt. How old do you think I am?” She asked, her eyes wide. I turned bright red and my eyes nearly popped from my head. “I...I....I,” I stuttered. “I’m just pullin’ your chain son!” She laughed a hearty laugh. “Come here!” She planted a large kiss on my face and tapped my cheek lightly with her palm. I laughed along with her and Jules. “You pass boy.” Then she walked off. “And that was memaw Joan E.,” Jules said. “Great isn’t she?” She beamed. “Very Jules.” “Are you going to see Caroline, Julia?” Isabel asked us from the sink. “Is she in town?” Jules asked excitedly. “She is and I believe they’re playing tonight at Antone’s.” Jules walked the length of the kitchen and we sat in the corner window seat together. The entire kitchen was full to the brim of her chattering family. Yes, quite an impossible

size of such incredibly interesting people. Why Jules’ mother decided to live in Bramwell with Jules’ dad I’m not sure, being that she was from Philadelphia and all, maybe she preferred a quieter life. I’m sort of glad she did though, whatever the reason. Jules’ grandfather, Benjamin, was a physician. I picked his brain for quite some time and he actually said to me, “You want to become a physician? You must be insane.” He was joking but I couldn’t help but feel a small sting of truth in his words. Although, he did reveal that it was a profession made for him and that made me feel whole lot better since I’d felt that same way for years. Ben was one of the smartest men I’d ever met. Her aunt as I mentioned before was an attorney. Her grandmother was an author of a children’s series about a little bird named Charlie. Her cousin Richard was a pilot of drones for the Army and his wife devoted her life to helping children with Autism. Another cousin of hers, Sylvia, currently lived in D.C. helping homeless and destitute families. Her cousin Caroline traveled the country with her tribal dance group. The rest of her family was in finance, basically, a family of abnormally large brains. Interesting people, very interesting. Seeing Jules with her family, in her element, was fascinating. She was brighter, even more energetic and inspired. Caroline’s in town?” I asked. Caroline was her older cousin. She’s the one who got Jules into tribal belly dancing. “Yeah,” she said, “my mom told me she was thinking of booking a gig here in Mauch Chunk so she could be with the fam for the holiday.” Then to everyone she said, “Should we all go? Make it a

huge family affair? Caroline would love that!” Everyone agreed and all consented to leave for her show at nine that night. Jules’ mom and dad volunteered to watch everyone’s children because they felt drained from the car ride. I think it was further proof that they preferred a quieter life. We had several hours to kill so Jules’ aunt Isabel showed me to the room I’d be sharing with the other boys of the house. It was a game room they just added a bunch of cots to. She gave me the cot between the pool table and the wall. It was slightly secluded and I appreciated the privacy it provided me. She showed me the massive bathroom where I could shower and ready myself in the morning. The house was so big that if Jules hadn’t been with me almost the entire time I would have gotten lost for sure. Isabel instructed Jules to show me the rest of the house and headed back downstairs to see to dinner. “I’m in desperate need of a shower,” I pleaded. “Me too,” she said. “Meet you back here in an hour? I want to wash my hair again and curl it.” “No prob Bob.” I grabbed my bag and closed the bathroom door behind me. I tossed it onto the marble tile and turned the shower on. I sat at the edge of the sink while the water warmed. It was an incredible room. Cream marble from floor to ceiling cut into large subway tiles. The toilet actually had an electronic keypad next to it and I wasn’t about to mess with it for fear it’d set the whole house on fire, as that was my luck. I kicked off my heavy, large boots. Jules always kidded me that their weight is what kept me grounded. I undressed and tossed my jeans, boxers and weathered thermal to the ground. I could tell the water

was plenty warm now because the steam billowed out from the top of the massive glass doors and touched the immense mirror above the double sinks. I suddenly realized that the faucets actually came from out of the mirror. I glanced around me and there were, previously beyond my notice, Jack and Jill doors and they hadn’t been locked. That would have majorly sucked, I thought, locking both the doors before someone came screaming in, embarrassing us both. I slid open the wide glass door to the shower and stepped in. The water was the perfect temperature. I let it wet my hair and face and stood underneath its warmth. It cascaded over my head and shoulders and down my back, I could feel it splash at my feet, and it quelled my screaming muscles. Nine hours in a car will do that to you, especially when you’ve been hit pretty hard just a few days before at a football game. I’m a tall guy and stout enough to take a few hits but I’m a quarterback, not a lineman and sometimes being hit by a three hundred pound boy just wouldn’t sit well in my bones or muscles. The water heated me through and I realized I’d probably been in there for quite some time. I washed quickly, shampooed, and rinsed. I opened the door and the steam had made the room almost invisible. I stepped on the marble expecting it to be freezing but it was quite the opposite. The floor was heated. What kind of place is this? I asked myself. I had forgotten to set a towel on the railing of the shower and the bath mat was too far away. I had to walk across the floor to the mat and then try to reach for a towel without dripping all over her nice floor or worse, slipping and hitting my head on something.

Egad! I can just imagine some random relative having to come in here and find me sprawled over the tile.
I jumped and hit my target but my legs were sore from all the extra running around at Friday’s game and I winced in pain. What I wouldn’t have given to be married to Jules. I’d have her massage all the kinks out. I could just as well have her do it now over my jeans but that would have been an invitation for disaster, stupid teenage hormones. I couldn’t wait for those to subside. Though, there was one sensation I hoped would never diminish. Every time I would see her, even after only a five minute absence, my heart would beat an unhealthy rhythm and I loved it. Oh, and of course our electricity, but I knew that wasn’t going anywhere. I reached for the towel and dried myself off, then the floor where I’d dripped and then threw the towel in the laundry chute. Are laundry chutes something people actually use? I wondered if I had just sent my used towel into some random open alcove in the kitchen in front of everyone. I paused and waited for the impending uproarious laughter but there came none. Huh. They must

actually use the laundry chute here. Why do I keep questioning myself? And imagining the worst? Why am I being such an idiot? Am I nervous? I rarely got nervous, so
the feeling was strange to me. I chucked it up to meeting so many of her relatives in one sitting. I wanted so badly for them to love me the way my family loved Jules. It was easy to love Jules. She was delightful, kind, perfectly social and funny as hell, not to mention drop dead gorgeous. I sighed at the very thought of her. I dressed. I pulled on a pair of torn jeans I had brought on a whim and an old grey jersey knit shirt with long sleeves. I pushed the

sleeves so they met midway up my forearm. I wore a black vest over the knit and threw my boots back on. I stood at the mirror and shrugged my shoulders. I looked like a hobo but I never much cared for what I looked like so it was of no concern to me. Jules seemed to like me and that was all I cared about. I tossed on my wool cap and tucked my hair behind my ears. My hair was starting to get a little too long. I usually kept it at my chin but it had grown an inch or two below it now and I looked like a mess. The very sight of myself made me laugh almost uncontrollably. Just then, I heard a knock at the door. I tossed all of my stuff into my bag and answered it. There was still a little steam left in the room and it emptied itself around a desperately striking Jules, as if she were in one of my dreams. When the steam dissipated, I caught my lost breath and choked. “Jules, you’re killing me.” She spun around so I could get a better look. “Uh, I’m gonna’ die trying to fend off the Mauch Chunkites.” “Thanks, but don’t. I’d rather you live. I like you alive, it suits you.” “Feeling’s mutual,” I joked. She grabbed my hand and that familiar jolt coursed through my body soothing every aching muscle I had previously complained about. “Wait,” I said, “I’ve gotta’ put my bag on my cot.” I tossed my bag onto the cot and she grabbed my hand once more. “Okay, for the rest of the tour. I’ll start down the hall, in their home theater.” “Seriously?” My mouth fell open widely.

“Yeah,” she laughed. “Any chance we could live here while attending Penn? Just askin’.” “Not a chance,” she winked. “We need to experience dorm life. Apparently, ‘it’s awesome’. Although I doubt that seriously, seeming as my source is an unreliable one.” She motioned toward the open room below us and I realized she meant her older teasing cousins. She led me into the theater and paraded me around the seats and up to the screen. It reminded me of a miniature version of the theater in Charleston. “Wow,” I said, practically speechless. “Tomorrow we’re all going to watch The Princess Bride after lunch. Isabel’s breaking out the popcorn machine.” She pointed at the little red machine in the far corner next to a brightly painted faux box office. “I’m seriously reconsidering the physician route. Maybe I’d do well as a lawyer.” I teased. “I don’t think so Elliott. This would be a little too much for us. I imagine us in a needy country somewhere, living in squalor conditions but we’ll be the happiest and most in love people in the world.” She paused, and inched closer to me, fiddling with the hem of my knit with her fingers. “You’d have two jobs there, you know. Are you okay with that?” She teased. “Two jobs?” I asked. “Yeah, fixing the beautiful children by day and making love to your wife by night.” She eyed me at the last bit. I smacked my palm to my forehead and shook my head. “I’m not going to become a physician Jules.” “Why?” She asked, confused. “Because I’m never going to make it out of here alive if

you keep talking like that.” “No, you can’t. I like you alive, remember?” She paused, “I’m sorry, but you look like an irresistible hobo. I can’t help myself.” “That’s what I thought! Not the irresistible part, of course, but the hobo part.” She dismissed me with her hand, “You’re so handsome Elliott and you don’t even have to try! That’s kind of annoying actually.” “Oh whatever Jules!” I turned and looked at the door. “Guess what?” “What?” “I’ve gotta’ get out of here.” “Why?” “It should be obvious. Me with you alone equals bad things.” “Oh,” she blushed. We headed out the door and she completed the rest of the tour. Her aunt’s home was hands down one of the most creatively beautiful homes I’d ever seen. After the tour, we trudged down the stairs and met everyone in the massive kitchen. We still had a couple of hours to kill before we left for Caroline’s gig so all the older kids decided to watch a movie. “Back to the scene of the crime,” I nudged quietly. We both laughed and sat together at the back of the five rows of seats and everyone else piled in around us, knee deep in their own conversations. “What are we watching?” I asked Jules. “Not sure. My Uncle Rocky’s picking the film. He’s got pretty great taste in films.” The lights dimmed and I heard the familiar ticking of the film before it shot onto to the oversized screen in front of

We all marched into Antone’s with amazed eyes. I saw why she was the real reason people came. The audience erupted into shouts and applause. “before we have to leave. One of their songs played softly to rev the crowd up.” I met Jules in the foyer five minutes later and we all piled into various cars. “Julia. “I’m going to freshen up.” Jules said. “Oh. They looked alike.us. I dozed off breathing in the scent of her shampoo.” Jules said.” “Okay. Her dancing was phenomenal and I saw so much of Jules in her it was shocking. . what time is it?” “Quarter ‘til dear. Jules rustled beneath my arms. unaware where she was. “That’s all Caroline. The band came out first and began to play a low beat and then Caroline joined the stage. The venue was dark and smelled of incense. I guess she was the reason people came.” I said.” I barely heard. When the movie was over. Then. danced alike and even made similar facial expressions. Jules and I rested our feet on the seats in front of us but neither of us made it past the opening credits. “Yeah?” She asked. honey. We fell asleep with my arm around Jules and her head on my shoulder. apparently the other kids just let us get some sleep and Jules’ mom didn’t wake us until everyone was ready to leave.” Jules shook me awake and I sat up. We both stretched in our seats and stood up.” I said. “This is really exciting. “It’s obvious that you’re family.

everyone stuck around and waited for Caroline but she sent word that she was helping the guys do their thing and she would meet us at Isabel’s the next morning. and percussion. The best part of the evening was when Caroline pulled Jules up onto the stage and made her dance something they both knew together. it was everything I had imagined being a newlywed with Jules would be. and it always began in the morning. “Absolutely not! You looked so good up there! You looked like you belonged there! I’m so impressed Jules!” I screamed over the music. We were on our honeymoon. “How did I look? Stupid?” She laughed. I was really looking forward to bed and at the first opportunity. I’d say it was a fantastic evening. “I’m sorry your parents missed that. I fell into my cot and dreamed. We all left in such an uplifted mood and everyone wouldn’t stop gushing about Jules’ involvement. We were always eating at a table . The dream of the ruthless ideal.“Seriously? What a compliment! Thanks babe!” The music was a mixture of Egyptian and Middle Eastern and was full of experimental beats. Jules looked so amazing up there. I wish I had remembered to bring a camera. viola. At the end of their song I lifted Jules by the waist off the stage and guided a breathless Jules back to her family. the music and the dancing. the dream that would forever fill my nights. The dream haunted me even after Jules left me. After the concert.” I said. Basically. “Thanks darlin’!” She spoke into my ear and kissed my cheek. She was a natural. All in all. only the location would change. I guess a couple of them didn’t even know she was into Tribal. It was hypnotic. for the first time.

The first few days. you name it. It was six in the morning but I hopped up from my cot anyway. We kept our feet in constant contact and even in the dream I could feel the deeply steamed flux of electricity. I woke hyperventilating. I sat at a breakfast table chair. Surprisingly.” she . The kitchen had massive rolling doors that opened to the outside patio and I opened them to breathe in the cool air. It made me wake with an unquenchable thirst for Jules. I kissed her severely. We were both together and only slightly distracted from one another. Every glance. It was euphoric. didn’t bother shaving. I thought it was because I was becoming claustrophobic from being wedged in between the wall and the billiard’s table but I would find out eventually that it was a physical reaction to the dream. We stayed quiet. brushed my teeth. I’d be drinking coffee or tea and she was always reading. totally not expecting her to have met me so early. That first morning.inside of our room overlooking mountains. desert. each sigh of breath meant something profound. neither one speaking a word. every flirtatious smile. the ocean. dressed and waited downstairs by myself for Jules to come down. “I hoped you would have been down here. snow. Each time. showered. I bounded to greet her with the largest smile. I need to see Jules. I held her at her waist and brought her delicate face to mine. but speaking volumes in the way we looked at and touched each other. I sat her back down and kept my hand at her waist because I felt she had lost her footing from the kiss. Every morning I woke slightly earlier than usual so I could revel in it as long as possible before the feeling wore off. staring from underneath the open door when I saw her descend the industrial staircase. she was not five minutes behind me.

I was passionately in love with Jules and I could see in her eyes and feel through her touch that she was too. I held on to her for a very long time. “We can’t my love. “Mine too. “You did?” I asked quietly. “I had a dream about us.” I said. Every now and then I would softly kiss her chin. “Amazing.” “What was yours about?” She asked. We’ll need to wait just a little bit longer. “And I with you. forehead. “Amazing. “I don’t think I can wait to belong to you any longer.” I stared at her in disbelief.” I said. I cupped her face in my hands and stared into her eyes. I just hadn’t expected this was all. I don’t know. “So did I. my love. Please marry me after graduation Jules?” Desperate. I had gotten used to things being unusual between us. “I’m so in love with you Jules.whispered.” she answered. She told me all about her dream.” Why I was surprised by this. What is four years in the scheme of things?” “But why?” “Because I promised your mother you’d become the .” I repeated. It was almost identical to mine but with a slight twist. cheek. She brought her lips to my ear.” I said. She said she kept trying to talk to me but I wouldn’t answer her and all she was able to do was touch me and smile at me. or lips. “Our honeymoon.

” “No.” she promised and sweetly kissed my cheek.” She placed both her hands on my forearms and reached to lean closely into my ear. there is nothing more romantic. “Elliott.” I kissed her again. It naturally molds you into the person that you are meant to be.” We let go of one another at the sound of Jules’ father .” “Then. “I’m afraid I’ve botched any chance of a romantic proposal.” she sang. Waiting is one of the variables of our fated formula. “Eventually. I like to keep my promises. “What could be more romantic than a man so desperate to marry you he would ask a thousand times? No. this time more melodiously. both. It’s tragic.” “You’re a clever girl Jules.” I admitted. Many who suffer the pains of instant gratification suffer their characters because of it and never get to discover all that they could be.” I taunted. Waiting is one of those things that test your character dear and I have a feeling that eventually we’ll be two of the most satiated characters that ever walked God’s earth. I looked on her gratefully. not clever. “we can do this. I feel it in my bones. Elliott. truthful. “That’s not true. you and I were meant to wait. “And its results? Will be astounding.” “Oh. mom can just mind her own business!” I said roughly.man you wanted to be and I wouldn’t hinder that for anything in the world.” she said. “One of the greatest thing about character is its peculiar after effect. “Eventually. We can wait and we will be all the more in love because of it.

I mean. Jules.” Everyone got really quiet. except Jules father. are you worried about me?” I cracked. She made these miniature quiches with the most delectable insides known to man.” he joked. “Here babe.coming down the staircase. I felt the color drain from my own face and travel over to Jules’ red hot cheeks. That was okay with me. I glanced at Jules and she smiled back. . technically I was being accused of being a prude. “It’s too chilly for the door to be open. His eyes became large. everyone burst into laughter. on a whim. “You two aren’t just getting in are you?” “No Mr. “Oh. Jules and I were just the earliest risers this morning. I never would have considered myself a ‘quiche’ kind of guy but I ate my share and three other’s worth of the darn things. Jacobs.” he said shuffling in his slippers and bathrobe to an empty coffee pot. “A little.” she said. If I wasn’t already aware of your intimidating self control I’d think you’d had none. fresh fruit. “What in the heck are you two doing up?” He asked. The kitchen began to heat up with warm bodies and Joan E’s cooking.” I said. reading too much into what she had just said. That was probably her antidote to all the cholesterol I had just ingested. will ya’ Elliott?” I rolled the door down and locked the chain. but I could live with that. We rode with everyone else last night. “Jules. had just labeled herself the opposite. “Didn’t either of you make coffee?” We both shook our heads. Close that for me. Jules. All. made a yogurt parfait with low fat yogurt. Suddenly. and honey baked granola. “I was just witness to the feast you treated yourself to. on the other hand.” she said handing me a bowl. “That’s unAmerican.

I’m guessing one of the sarcastic cousins.” Everyone started to agree and assured us they meant no harm when Caroline came to our rescue and diverted the attention from us. shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes. I burn a lot of calories running up and down the field. Another burst of laughter. She smiled.I jumped in trying to save her. “Whew!” I aimed at Jules. okay. You’re light years above people twice your age and I’m waiting for the amazing thing that will inescapably come of you both. “Let’s take a walk together. but this time it was my cheeks that got their color back and then some. “They’re two very good kids and we don’t want to weaken their beliefs by letting them think what they’re doing is too old fashioned. “What an excellent idea. “Never been so happy to see Caroline. “Well. I let go of her hand and we both sighed in relief. “That’s right Julia and Elliott.” he said. My little instant anxiety relief flickered through my arms and I got a double dose in my fluttering heart as it coasted to an easy rhythm.” Jules’ aunt Isabel chimed in to back up Jules’ dad. I reached over the counter top and grabbed her hand.” .” I offered. I need to get out of here. “Okay. I do work out a lot with the team. Everyone calm down. Jules’ dad intervened and surprisingly came to our defenses.” “And not to mention it relieves frustration.” someone said under their breath.” she murmured. I can take it.

Afterwards. constant as ever. Jules and I picked the darkest area in the far right corner. Her aunt made this really indulgent salad with homemade dressing and I stuck to that to please Jules after this morning’s disaster. “you win. Jules was asked to send a painting. Jules and I laughed for five minutes. We stopped into a little novelty store where we bought a little flip book of a woman from the twenties wearing a bathing suit that went to her knees. Then we stopped at a little organic coffee house and had a small cup of coffee and chatted for at least an hour. though it felt like five minutes. Not one to be shown up. We walked around her aunt’s neighborhood at first and found a main street that lead us onto a charming street chock full of creative little businesses. We left the gallery and began walking back toward Jules’ aunt’s home.” When we finally got back to the house. Invariably. We caught an older couple laughing at us and Jules bowed. I grabbed my neck and dramatically wavered until I fell onto a nearby park bench. it was time for lunch. she did a little dance. Everyone piled into the theater room afterwards and there were so many of her family members there weren’t enough seats so the older kids sprawled out on to the floor in front of the screen with pillows and blankets. . it was hilarious. “Come on.We mentioned what we were doing to Jules’ mom and headed out the door. put her fist up to her mouth and pretended to blow an imaginary dart at me. We passed a window full of wedding dresses and I jokingly nudged Jules’ ribs.” I said dragging her back toward the main street. we stopped at a local art gallery and Jules gushed over all of the art with the curator. When you flipped the book. She rolled her eyes at me.

Honestly. “I’m not cold. I’m certain of it. “Let’s talk then. you see this is why I should have just knocked Jesse out at school the next day. what do you want to do about it?” I asked.” “Oh Jules.Before the film started Jules jumped up to use the restroom and when she came back she said she couldn’t see where I was.” I said.” she said. “Well. After all the heat that’s been put on those two we’re not going to hear a peep from them.” “What’s on your mind?” “I’ve a sinking feeling we haven’t seen the last of Taylor or Jesse. Jules. we could approach them. now. “We’re invisible over here. I’d rather take the offensive. I’ve been meaning to bring this up to you but didn’t know when a good time would be.” She shuddered as if she was cold. Jules. “I’m scared.” “I don’t know Elliott.” “No!” She said too loudly then brought her voice back down to a whisper. “Good thinkin’. that would be inconceivable!” I joked. “that would have made it worse.” “Well. That would have taught him. “Jules.” she suggested. That kind of stuff just adds fuel to their already blazing fire. “No. I brought the flannel blanket up to her waist for her. .” she said.” I sighed. Anyone who would go so far as to break into another’s home is seriously deranged and I don’t think a little thing like a pep talk from the Principal or the local sheriff is going to derail them. I know you said that we should wait and see if anything comes about but I’m just not comfortable waiting for something bad to happen.

” “If an A day is before a B day and Wednesday is a B day and since we’re off Monday and Tuesday we’d have to wait until Thursday?!” She asked mockingly. so give it up. “Shut up!” I laughed.” she jested.” she said along with the film. “And a ‘you better check yourself. “We can approach them but it would have to be at lunch on an A day and we don’t have an A day until the Thursday we come back because we’re off Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday is a B day.” she breathed. but what should we say?” She asked. “Nice.” We both laughed loudly but it was at a part of the film that was conveniently funny for all and we recovered nicely.” she admitted. your dad’s right there Jules!” “Oh yeah. “How about we close with a ‘your mama’s so fat’?” .” “Add a ‘get your own life’ in there too!” “Shut up!” I chuckled.” I said and we silently high-fived. You’re so distracting. I forget sometimes. “Okay.“You keep using that word. “Well.” she said and went in for a kiss. uhh. You don’t realize what I go through. I think we should just tell them that they don’t scare us and they don’t have a chance in hell in breaking us up. “You’re the one who wanted to talk about this. “Alright Elliott. Shhh. I paused and tried not to smile. “Uh. I pulled back. so we’ll approach them Thursday. “So are you. Back to the subject.” I said. “I don’t realize?” I almost shouted. uh. okay. I don’t think it means what you think it means. “You’re so cute. before you wreck yourself’.

” “What is wrong with you?” She laughed. We started laughing so loudly we decided to hide out in the kitchen.” “What are you talking about?” She said.” “Are we done?” I asked.” We laughed pretty hard. If we were already happy it just magnified the feeling. let’s watch the film and annoy everyone by reciting every line. or sad. that’s right.“Yes. mysteries. “How do you even know the names of those flowers? That’s it. classic. . They’re kids are going to be named something stupid like Princesses Alstroemeria and Delphinium.” “Alright. and that is all. I forbid your reading to reach such subjects that allow me to immediately ask for your man card. “Shhhh!” Everyone said in unison. really anything manly. “Yes. The current was only soothing if we were anxious.” she said. “You’re Wesley and I’ll be Princess Buttercup.” I said. I grabbed Jules’ hand but that didn’t help. we’re in too playful a mood to do this. scared. “He’s The Dread Pirate Roberts!” “Ohhhh. Your reading shall be limited to the sciences. We ran and sat at the top of the stairs trying to catch our breath from our stupid banter.” “Such an awesome name. That sent us into a frenzy and we had to flee the theater in fear we’d be flogged. Classic. They’re doomed. We realized that memaw Joan E was in there cooking up a storm so we found a retreat inside Isabel’s and Rocky’s garage. “It’s so funny that they had a somewhat normal name coupled with such a cutesy one.

” I said. The next day was Thanksgiving and while the dinner was being prepared all the young cousins spent the day in the game room. “You kids.” She leaned in for a kiss and this time I gave it to her. “Look at all these cars!” “Nice huh?” “Uh. The music Elliott! The music! That’s the best part! Imagine all the live music! Mwua ha ha ha ha!” She dribbled her fingers together.” I could barely speak. “But ma’? What about Elliott?” She asked. Jules and I had begun a game of darts before her mom came up looking for her. yup. “Mwua ha ha ha ha!” I joined in with her. deep concern . “Dude. “That’s one of the things I love about you. “That wasn’t even funny. He never quite warmed up to me on account of the night I accidentally spent with Jules. but I think this week convinced him of my intentions toward Jules and that made me very happy. We burst out into laughter again. You’re a well enough cook to make a difference in the work this year. all the women want to talk to you.” She became serious.” More laughing. “I think we’re going to love Philadelphia. I think so too.“Wow!” I shouted.” he tossed up his hands. I was confident that Jules’ dad officially liked me. “Come on Julia. “I know.” she said. You’re so much fun and for no reason at all. That’s when Jules’ dad entered the garage to check on us and caught us acting like fools. It is such a fun city. after we put up all the cots of course.

I shooed her away and smiled.in her eyes. smiling at me.” said memaw Joan E. I chose a chair near the kitchen but not too near so as I didn’t appear to be eavesdropping.” said Jules.” I said. I didn’t get to hear the beginning and by the sounds of what I had stepped into. “It’s awfully young to feel so certain. “Don’t do that. so to speak. she certainly is confident. Of that. “Yes ma’am. I am unwavering on the subject. The entire kitchen was quiet until Jules interrupted the silence. “I want to catch up on some reading anyway.” she said. “Go on Jules. it would have been so pleasurable to hear.” “Okay.” she mouthed. “He’ll be alright sugar.” Jules said with confidence. I see what you so passionately proclaim. “And you plan on marrying him Julia?” A random aunt asked. “My . I liked her. “I see it in you child. but much to their disappointment I’m sure. I’m sure.” “Well. Unfortunately.” an aunt said.” she said and began to follow her mom down the stair case. She peered up through the bars and I puckered my bottom lip. I grabbed my book from my bag and went downstairs to the sitting area.” Good old memaw Joan E. The entire downstairs was one large industrial looking space with concrete floors but rugs everywhere. I could hear everything they were saying as clear as a bell. I also see it in him too.” “Let me ask the entire room a question. “People change as they grow older and mature Julia. “I have never been so sure of anything in my entire life.

but there is a first time for everything.” You’ve decided to wait until we graduate university. I felt as if I was intruding. but I won’t try to change anyone’s minds. in this case. Time. “Yes dear.” “Whoo! I like your spunk Julia!” Said memaw Joan E. “as long as they plan on waiting. Whew.” “I have no doubts. It will show you our devotion. It was so ungentlemanly of me to be listening to this. All the women settled from the subject onto the next and I could feel the tension release from Jules’ body. is on our side. “But you forget. I awoke to the voice of an angel. “Who knows. I continued reading and eventually dozed off. What? Jules.” said the same doubting aunt to the room. she could change her mind or he could. my book in my lap. I felt the urge to stand up and leave but my body might as well have been made of lead. have I ever been hasty? Don’t I bide my time? Aren’t I careful when I make big decisions?” No one answered. we’re not looking to get married right out of high school.” Jules said. We both have big college plans and we don’t want my getting pregnant to hinder them. Suddenly. saved my place and sat next to me on the .entire life. Jules had gathered my book. We’ve decided to wait until we graduate university. what are saying? “But. That was a good sign.” Jules’ mom said. I have made my choice and I am confident that he has as well.” she continued. “You’re right mama.

Repeat after me. that my dear. After dinner. “I.” “No. “No. It was a lively evening that lasted well into the early morning hours.” she said.” “Repeat after me. Elliott Gray. “Uh.” I said. enjoyed the food and one another’s company. Volume One’? Now. stop. “‘The Writings of Abraham Lincoln. She spoke softly into my groggy ear. No one will think any less of you unless you’re an ass about it. “Come on! Am super fantastic. stop. Elliott Gray. I’m terrible at charades. I hate false modesty.” she blew in my ear. Isabel suggested charades and we all agreed.” I said.” She waited for me to stop and I did.” I gave in. “Am super fantastic. “Just admit when you’re good at something. “Dinner’s ready.” I kept my hazy eyes closed but I could assemble a half smile for her wit’s sake. “Am super fantastic.” “I’m not saying that.” I sighed.” I said. everyone lounged in the living room as we all decided if we should play a game or not. I became so familiar with each family member that they harassed me as one of their own and I loved it.” .” I said leaning into Jules. I was awake.” she said. After grace. “No. you’re not.loveseat. “At kissing Jules. everyone sat. is manly reading. “I.

. he’s just a speed bump until I get to Philadelphia and find my real husband’. “At.” she conceded.” “I’m not super fantastic at that but I guess I’ll say it anyway.. heads or tails?” .. At matters of right and wrong.” she joked. “Of course.. doofus.” “Me too. “I’m not saying that. “And last but not least.. You know.“At kissing Jules.” I said. Jules. “At touching Jules.” “At matters of the mind. this half.” I repeated. “Julia. I’m pretty darn happy so I guess we’re doing something right.” “At bugging Jules.eavesdropping on old women cooking Thanksgiving dinner in their kitchen.. “At matters of the heart. I think we make it work so well because that’s what God wants of us. So. things like that.” “You knew I was doing that?” I asked coyly.. I was going to say something like.” I almost died laughing.” I said “Okay.” “And last but not least. “You’re too competent to be with such a goof. Consider yourself lucky. “Okay! This half of the room is on one team. “At matters of right and wrong..” I said..” she said. I almost thought about making it as miserable for you as possible but I would have freaked out my family if I had done that.” “At buggin’ Jules..at matters of the heart. on the other. I chuck it all up to Him. I’m intimidated on a daily basis by your intelligence.” I chuckled..” “At matters of the mind.” “Please.” said Isabel.

” Jules said.” She flipped the coin. “Tails. “We’ve got to get to bed. A few made gagging noises. “We’re shopping tomorrow. I could barely hold my head up but didn’t want to be the first to turn in.“Heads. shucks.” said Jules.” “Aw. remember?” The men groaned but the ladies cheered and with that. The game went on until two thirty in the morning. . “It’s okay Jules. Jules’ family was so fun as well and I didn’t want to miss out. okay! Head in the game ‘heads’!” Jules shouted.” I said. reading my body language. we all went to bed full and very content.” everyone mocked and burst into laughter. “It’s okay Jules. “Okay.

until that is. Though her involvement was minor. lacking in the .Chapter Six Hindsight’s Twenty-Twenty I am particularly practical when it comes to most things in my life. ammunition that the experts in their associated fields handled with kid gloves. Jules. She had theories that supported the idea that pushing A into B could possibly get you C. the intelligent gene skipped her generation as she was the only child and one of her family. I wouldn’t even give Marisa that much credit. Apparently. possessed a sixth sense about the grey area I knew nothing about. things are generally black and white. and even E and being the blockhead I was. If you push A into B you get C. That was. we returned from our trip to Mauch Chunk. Jesse Thomas. She was more of a minion of sorts. Marisa Hartford belonged to a family of equine veterinarians. her part held the most excruciating effects and unfortunately she was too stupid to realize how deeply she was implicated in the entire process. most decidedly by design on Jesse’s part. West Virginia. In my opinion. Taylor Williams. however. The day we left was a day of horrid goings on in Bramwell.D. never mind two hateful humans and their idiotic apprentice. in my opinion. basically a proponent of the laws of nature. I grossly underestimated this talent of hers. and a very desperate and empty Marisa Hartford crammed their tiny minds together and were plotting against Jules and I with adult size weaponry. knowing what I do about the Hartfords.

along with her family’s careful practice and procedures. Marisa. legally. They lived moderately and had no need or want for anything. Marisa worked two evenings a week. short of breaking the cabinet itself. she would answer phones and make appointments. I will give Marisa credit where credit is due though. Here. It is definitely a possibility that they are one of the wealthiest families in Bluefield. The Hartford family is a decent family. usually Friday and Saturday evenings. Those morals were lost on Marisa. but I’m getting ahead of myself. excluding Marisa. They don’t squander their profits like most families do and by far and away.fortitude to weigh the pros and cons of assisting in a highly dangerous and highly illegal crime. At the end of his work day. They are a family of morals. Marisa’s grandfather would take his lunch at the exact same hour each day and leave the keys to the metal and glass cabinet inside a locked drawer in his hundred year old desk. These seemingly harmless. to help out at her family’s equestrian practice. she had no idea what Taylor and Jesse were doing with the help she afforded them. She chose to help the imbeciles against her better judgment and for what do you ask? For further social rank in a high school she was less than a year from never seeing again. had absolutely no access to any of the medicines her grandfather or father kept on hand at their office. yet potent glass viles were kept under lock and key and regularly inventoried. he would place that key ring in a bowl on a table in his foyer. The key to this desk hung on a ring that he kept with him at all times. Every day. The good doctor felt safe in thinking there would be no way those viles could be stolen. but they are frugal. . if she wasn’t cheering.

“I’ll be back in an hour. “I’m gonna’ get the mail. stupid. Marisa hung her head back toward the house and opened the door. I’d already gotten the mail.” she apologized. Keep your cell phone on. She quietly went to her room and was back out in less than five seconds with the key in hand. Marisa Hartford snuck into the foyer when she knew no one would be around and stole the singular key that opened the desk to gain access to the keys to the cabinet that held the tiny viles she so hazardously required. telling her to meet him at her bedroom window.” “Oh. “No need.” he ordered and rushed to his Mustang parked a hundred feet away. “Don’t say my name. “Jesse?” She asked. She acted as though she was searching for something on the foyer table .” “Sorry. her only guide. Marisa received a text from Jesse Thomas thirty minutes later. I’ve already gotten it.” her mother said. She walked to the end of her hundred yard driveway.Two weeks prior to Thanksgiving break. the burning ember of a lit cigarette. “I told you Marisa. eventually weighing herself down enough that she would forget to eat by the week’s end.” she screamed to her mother in the kitchen. She handed him the key. but Marisa pretended not to hear. “I didn’t hear you.” Marisa lied. It was a stone heavy with shame and she would continue to add more and more.” Marisa felt a stone settle heavily in the pit of her stomach.

Who. She could have taken the key that night but she didn’t want to take the risk of owning that on a night she was acting strangely as it was. She took the key from Jesse and he barely acknowledged her. Marisa ‘volunteered’ to cover the desk every night that week and. and none would be the wiser. Marisa ‘volunteered’ to cover the reception desk at the clinic because she ‘needed money’. She repeated this process every single day during Thanksgiving break and by the end of the week. such low self esteem. in their right mind. while her grandfather ate. The next day at school. I felt sorry for Marisa when I learned of this information. and methodically extract an exact measured amount of the horse tranquilizer Ketamine through each individual wax vile stopper by syringe. lock the cabinet door. Marisa met Jesse outside of her car to pick up the key he had made.and made enough noise to distract the family from her true task. she had enough to heavily sedate a seventeen year old boy. Marisa’s mom checked up on her thoroughly. I’m guessing she saw a deficiency in her daughter and didn’t know how to compensate and Marisa knew this. She replaced the key back into the exact order she found it and walked into the kitchen acting as cheerfully as she could without arising suspicion. Jules and I arrived home from Mauch Chunk the following Saturday evening. about my size. she would place the cap on the syringe. rather late. return the keys to his desk. enough that it would eventually add up to the dosage Taylor and Jesse needed but too little an amount to cause suspicion to the naked eye. and I dreaded . would sink so low for further social gain? For any reason really? The week of Thanksgiving break. Then. In fact. she would steal away and remove the cabinet keys from his desk. You see.

I actually worried about what I was going to do when I reached Philadelphia and would be required to think. I had to admit.having to go to church early the next morning but considered that Jules would be just as tired as I was and we could lean on one another. I walked in. I definitely didn’t get enough sleep either.. grabbed Jules’ hand and guided her outside. A silent fight of wills and I’m pretty sure Jules was winning. Their parents are always making excuses for them. lots of time to take it easy. “I have no idea. Jules occupied my every thought. “What the. The only way I could get away with it then was because school was no challenge whatsoever. Jesse Thomas and Taylor Williams stared silently back at her. Basically.” “They never come to church. I reminded myself to remember that one later. I walked in and glanced to my left to see what she was staring at.. She had hung her jacket up earlier and didn’t have it so I gave her mine. at church. Jules was already in the youth hall when I walked in to greet her. I didn’t say a word to either of them. I noticed she was sitting on top of a table on her own and staring in the direction of the wall that was concealed by the door. The next day. literally and figuratively.” .. I thought that was a good point to bring up to Jules for the argument that we needed to marry as soon as possible. the football season was taking its toll on my body. I was excited because we still had Monday and Tuesday off and the school week was only going to be three days before the weekend came upon us again.?” I asked.

They were merely pawns in Jesse’s game. took a deep breath and stared down at him. “I want to make amends. They’re here to intimidate us. No. Who knows. they followed quickly.” “Okay.” He was a terrible liar. We walked back into the hallway and passed the doors to the youth hall quickly trying to avoid Taylor and Jesse but unfortunately forgot about the second entrance to the hall and once we passed it. “Where y’all going?” Asked Jesse. “Now. “Leave us be. Look at you. If they were coming here for innocent reasons than they would have approached me.” Jules said. I knew who the mastermind was.“I know why.” She nodded.” “Nope.” “Please Elliott? I’m really sorry about everything that happened. Jesse was the real tyrant. they might just be trying to mess with our heads and obviously it’s working. but Jesse.” Yeah. Jules. they could be coming for a better reason.” I said. let’s just get to the church and sit with our parents. Taylor was only mean and Marisa was only stupid. try to atone for what they had done. I knew who the evil one really was. right. apologized. they’re here for devious reasons. The one whom Jules was most afraid of. panicked. falsely hoping he would own up to .” he said. “No Elliott. I stopped. I miss our friendship.” “Wait a minute. “And what is the ‘everything’ that you’re sorry about Jesse?” I asked. “None of your business Jesse.

We sat in the children’s cry room and I grabbed Jules’ hand so the current could calm us both down and I could read her thoughts. you and Taylor. we joined our parents. “What misunderstanding?” “Our fight in History. I still held Jules’ shaking hand. “I’m sorry about the misunderstanding.” “I don’t understand Elliott! We’re just trying to make amends here!” His voice trailed off as we ran to the narthex.” he evaded. like all the families in Bramwell did after church. both our families. After all. what we did.” “Am I? He goaded. Very. What I want to know is if you’re sorry for the other things you’ve done. By then. though. He was lucky.breaking into Jules’ room. It took several minutes but it worked. as always. Jules and I had almost forgotten about Jesse and Taylor and were having an extraordinary time with a bunch of kids from school. We didn’t mention what had happened to anyone. I came within inches of his face and clinched my teeth. That was no misunderstanding.” “Nope. and soon after. We all chatted about our vacations. went to Babe’s to eat. it was a . “Get away from us Jesse. All in all. You’re the one who decided to break into Jules’ home and mess with us. who we saw. That’s what you should be sorry for. hindsight’s twenty twenty. After church. what we ate and we were asked a lot of questions about how Mauch Chunk was. We heard them laughing as they walked the other way. and stay away from us.” “What are you talking about?” “Don’t play coy with me. Do you have any idea how badly I wish to hurt you for doing that? You’re lucky we’re at church.

Everyone at our table respected us enough not to mention their names. and homemade warm cookies. of hot chocolate or coffee. the group had split into two. what was going on in Taylor’s and Jesse’s private world. the Jesse half and the Elliott half.” Marisa said snidely and left the table tipping her chair back. maybe you should ask her. Cappelli picked up her chair for her and turned to us.” That night Jules and I sat at our rock bridge and braved the chill night air. “I wanted to ask you something. “Maybe I will. “but I think I’m going to find out. “What was that all about?” He asked. “I’m not exactly sure.” I said. “Well.” I remembered.harmless conversation until Marisa Hartford.” “No. since you’re such fabulous friends with Taylor and you’re so curious. “Why?” Jules asked suspiciously. chimed in with.” she asked. It clanged to the floor.” Marisa lazily declared. Recently. it seemed. She packed a basket.” I said. I will not marry you after graduation. the most peculiar question.” . They knew how we felt about them. drank and talked. at the very least. who had been hiding at the end of the shared table. “Is there something in particular you wanted to know about?” “Nothing in particular. “Hey. so it came as a surprise that she would be so bold as to ask us in front of our half no less.” “But you haven’t even heard my reasoning yet!” “Okay. like she usually did. what I thought at the time was. We curled up underneath our blanket. “What were you two talking about with Jesse and Taylor outside the youth hall? It seemed to get pretty heated. That was my first real inkling that she might be in on. let’s hear it.

“We should wait. I turned my gaze on hers. I know so and I came up with the theory that my thirst for you could possibly be tamed if.. I’ve settled it. guessing her next sentence.” “It is. isn’t it?” “But. Anyway. At least then. I mean. We just can’t risk it.” I sighed. “I said. we were married. nothing. “Elliott. for both of us.. I could come home to you and when we said goodnight it wouldn’t mean a long walk home or a short drive. “Yeah. in fact. I actually have to work for my grades.” “That’s an incredibly convincing argument. “Really. we should Elliott.” “Don’t lump me in with you. It’ll wear with time. well.“Okay. you know when we go off to Philadelphia that I’m going to have to put my full attention on studying right?” “Right. perhaps.” “You don’t?” “No.. She placed her hand on mine and I dropped my mug.” “I don't think so Jules.” she said. We’ll marry in the summer. More coffee?” I reached for the thermos. technically that’s not really an issue now. you pretty much occupy ninety-nine percent of my thoughts and the other one percent is occupied with me trying to convince myself that I need to stop thinking about you constantly. that’s just a hormone thing babe. high school is so breezy. I let it slide a few feet in front of me but didn’t bother to retrieve it.” “Well. yeah.” she laughed. We can . I mean. “But.” she said. So?” “Well. right now. “Feels good to get that off my chest..

“I won’t give up.. she’s not intrinsically bad.but Taylor’s got a short leash on her. I wasn’t looking forward to the confrontation.” I repeated. “I’m pretty sure she knows whatever Jesse and Taylor are planning. suddenly aware of her again. “Today’s the day. and a choke collar to match.” Jules said.” Jules said.” I muttered under my breath as I reached for my dropped mug..wait and I promise it will be the best thing we’ve ever done. School crept up on us too quickly and Thursday came even more so. or Jesse would snap and start to fight me right then and there.. “If I could just get to her. we ate quickly and waited.. She just cannot think for herself. It’s frustrating because she’s so easily influenced. “What was Marisa’s deal on Sunday?” Jules asked. . At lunch.” Jules reasoned. If I could just get to her and explain to her what she needed to do instead of following that harpy around then I know I could change her mind.” “Yeah.. I knew that the confrontation would get either one of those ‘not ideal’ results but I wasn’t going to let him feel like I was passively going to endure his or Taylor’s insanity..” I sighed in defeat. She’s ruled too easily by her obsession with being popular. It could only go one of two ways and frankly neither felt that appetizing to me. “Today’s the day. Either Jesse and Taylor would ignore us completely and go on planning what they had been planning.” “Yeah.

“you don’t deserve it.” I spotted them.” I said. “Jesse. “Shut up.I winked at her.” I chortled.” she laughed. Jules was as cool as a cucumber. next time you even breathe in our direction and it rubs me the wrong way.” I teased. You won’t be staying long. I promised myself that I’d let her know that it was a nice touch. you must be joking.” she laughed.” I waved my hand for Jesse and Taylor to come to our table. although. ‘Airplane’ was on last night. They stopped.” I said.” I nodded toward the double doors. probably because I had my hand at the back of her chair and I was cupping the nape of her neck. “I’m stopping.” I leaned forward. “More like Fred and Wilma.” “Surely. You should have added ‘see’ to the end of that sentence. “What was that?” “Forgive me.” I casually sat back once more. “It’s early. don’t get comfortable. We lounged in our chairs as if we didn’t have a care in the world. clever little gangster. Jules yawned. I’m being cordial now because you’ve yet to do anything else. Taylor and Jesse sat opposite us at the round table we occupied by ourselves. “I promise you this. I’ve decided to look past your breaking into Jules’ room. my witty. I won’t be as . “Here comes Bonnie and Clyde. He didn’t respond. whispered something to each other and decided to join us. “I’m not joking and stop calling me Shirley. “Uh oh. slit my eyes and almost whispered.” she said. “I’ve called you over here to let you know that we aren’t going to take what you’ve done lying down. You would’ve been golden. “That was a little gangster of you Jules.

They didn’t talk to us. breathed in our direction. consider it said.” was all she could reply. “I have something I could say. That’s a good sign. or.” I said. got up and sat at their own table. I noticed the deathly quiet that had presided over the lunch room. I kept my left hand at her waist and held her hip bone between my thumb and index finger. “nothing to worry about sweetheart.” she joked back.” and bounded from the car at lightning speed. “Time to go. She apathetically shook her head that she had nothing to add and turned her gaze back toward the windows.” I said with confidence after school scraping the ice from my windshield. We both grabbed our bags and lazily tred toward the double doors. but I won’t. “Oh yeah? Well I have something in response to that so go right ahead. A week had passed and there was no sign of Taylor or Jesse except their literal presence and we barely took notice of that. look at us.” “I’ve almost forgotten about them. I don’t easily forget. You know that from experience. “I don’t think they’ll be an issue anymore. Jules?” I asked.” she winked.” “I have. knowing my exact thoughts. like I had warned. By this time. I swung her around by her waist and pinned her to the white blanket underneath her.” I whispered in Jules’ ear. . She tackled me to the ground and we fell into the snow. They took the hint.kind. “See Jules. “I really hope you’re right love.” I jested. turning her direction. When they closed behind us Jules looked up at me as if to ask what I thought. “Okay.

I understand. at least ten. that’s worth at least fifteen points. “Good answer! Five points. genuinely confused as to why we were on the ground. I mean. I thought about it and since it’s an open topic. “What topic are you choosing for your paper due next week?” I asked. this is nice nevertheless.” I said. That earned five points. “I’ll never get used to that. placing her hands over my heart on the word ‘we’. does the charge actually keep us warm? Or is it an illusion?” “Oh Elliott. pretending I wasn’t dying inside that her hands were touching my chest. The torridity boiled in our veins and we were both comfortable again.” “Okay.” she smiled. ten. it comes so naturally to you.” “Five points? Come on. I’ll take it. so I removed the glove from the other hand with my teeth and placed it on her warm neck.” “Thanks Elliott. I chose to write on the history of the word fate and its definitions.” “I forgot what we were doing. “I think it would weaken the strength of the paper. Her smile pushed into her eyes and made her nose wrinkle.” She winked. Don’t . You’re raking them in today. “Neither will I and I don’t want to for that matter.It was cold. are an illusion.” “Are you planning on citing specific examples?” I asked. extremely.” “I’m curious to know how long we could stay this way. “Me too. you think like a scientist. we.” “Oh Jules. but honestly? There is no way this.” I said. “Hmm.

Then. through the help of their own fate.” a strange voice said. It was easy. I liken it to the inflation of an air balloon. Slow. it’s an inevitability. take away from the faith we all should put in fate. tempered wave of warmth kept us more than comfortable. “Ahem. silvery trickle would pool at her neck and slide back onto the powdery quilt underneath us. she was easy to love. She told me once that winter smelled like Christmas to her and that was one of her favorite things to breathe in. I watched as Jules closed her eyes and breathed in the crisp. you and me? We’re too powerful an idea for anyone to fully comprehend. She was definitely easy to look at but most importantly.you think?” “How so?” “Think about it. Fate is not tangible. steady and blistering as it unfolds from its orderly frame and can barely stay contained within my body. cool air. It was the track coach. No. I couldn’t help but marvel at our gift.” She smiled her answer. Mrs. I jumped up and helped Jules to her feet. It has to be found on their own. She did something to my heart when she said things like that. It began to snow on top of us and I followed flake after exceptional flake float onto her lustrous skin and slowly melt into tiny droplets of light watery kisses. It’s real. but not tangible and I don’t want to put any names to it. people need to experience fate as an idea at first and open their minds to it on their own. Littlebrook. A shivering. The dissolved. I had just begun to press my lips to Jules’ when we were sadly interrupted. true life examples. I dug my hands into my jean’s . when not thoroughly understood by any one. I just stared at her. “Like us.

“No. Littlebrook!” Jules yelled out of the window with a wave. Littlebrook must have been in charge of locking the gate. We were going to the rock bridge tonight. I methodically used the side of my boot to clear a section for us to lay the heavy blanket onto. we ran inside to drop off her bag. surprised. It hadn’t even phased us.” I said. We rolled up our sleeves underneath the blanket to get an even more cogent punch of our electricity while holding hands.” At Jules’ house. We bundled ourselves together and drank everything in the thermos while laughing. I took the blanket from her. I handed her the blankets and jumped up before her to clear an area. It was four o’clock and all the cars had left the lot. I grabbed her hands and lifted her onto the sculpted rock. We had no homework and wanted to ‘get away’.” Jules said as we trudged our way to our little spot. She rolled up the manual window and it was practically frozen shut. as Jules always said.pocket and dragged the chain out for my watch. Mrs. we learned to bring one of those the hard way. spread it out and laid the other one on top along with the thermos.” Jules said. “Sorry Mrs. We rushed to the cab. Only lately was it that I’d especially found that holding . “Oops. “Nothing like a fresh blanket of snow. the inside of our forearms stuck to together like a heated magnet. When we arrived it looked like a post card.” she grinned. It was waterproof on one side. “Told you. “Are you?” “Nope. I had the blankets and she had the hot chocolate. “Are you cold?” She asked. The snow formed a perfect sheath over our marble.

We discovered that when we made out that it would buy us more time in between ‘hits’. “What do you say to suckin’ face with me?” “No. always searching for his next hit.” I hinted. It was becoming a problem for Jules too. “about graduation.” she teased. I felt like a junkie. we had to leave after that because we almost lost it laughter-wise. She reached her hand for mine and when I grabbed it we both let out an audible sigh. at the library she had gone into the fiction section and I into the non-fiction. Needless to say. We were shushed. “Well. The next level required to pacify our growing addiction was off limits. “Hey Jules. I was picking Jules up for school earlier and earlier and my mom ultimately put her foot down at five forty-five in the morning. even when she was joking. “Yeah?” She said with the biggest smile on her face. Yet another reason to convince Jules she should marry me over the summer. “Why not?” I still hated rejection. I was concerned though. . It was still just as potent. We were apart for only thirty minutes but I began to feel panicky and raced through the rows until I found her. Every day.” My heart skipped a beat and my mouth began to water. I clearly took no issue with this type of medicine and neither did Jules.Jules’ hand was starting to feel lacking.” she hesitated at the next part. I want to talk to you. but we found that we needed it more for longer periods of time to feel satisfied. reading every thought I just had. Once. You can only imagine what it was like in the morning time after a ten hour lapse. I never got the book I wanted. Well.

she was warming to the idea. go on. She grabbed my right hand and placed it on her right .” She laughed.“Is there anything in particular you’d like as a gift?” She asked.. catching me off guard. I promise.... “If you’re not careful. “Well.” she teased. Kitt’s class.” “Awww. “It’s beautiful. I want to give you an actual gift. no. “Then I give up. Absolutely not..” I said.” As a side note. har. Nothing in particular unless you’d like to gift your hand.” “A marriage is not a gift Elliott.” This was good. “Like you.. “There is something I’d like to get you though. one eyelid close..” She shook her head. I know you won’t agree to that.” “It is something I’ve been dying to give you since the day I met you outside Mrs.” If I could just get her to agree to wear it.. Something concrete. She thought she got me there but I had a trick up my sleeve. “Har. “No.” she conceded.” I continued. “Something real. She was close.No.” “You give up?” “Would you even tell me if I guessed it?” “Probably not. it’s smaller than a bread box. Laughing was a very good sign. I’ll stop asking.” “These are horrible clues. I have absolutely no idea what it could be. “Something real you say?” She asked suspiciously.” “Gimme’ a hint.

I fought so desperately to keep my feelings about my gift to myself. Her deft change of hand made all the difference and bought us both some time before our next craving. “You think you’re so clever.cheek. “What are you talking about Elliott Gray?” She smiled as she kissed my palm and brought her face closer to mine.” I said. literally. It was the perfect antidote. during Christmas break. When we did our homework and needed both of our hands. it still meant waking up in withdrawal and usually that retraction meant a maniacal appetite. Keeping up pretenses became difficult.. Well. she slid her hand along my forearm and a stinging prickle of heat followed each slight movement of her hand. we’d roll up our jeans and intertwine our legs.... there was one issue.. She was trying to emotionally pry it out of me. After our night on the rock bridge. We tried to wean ourselves off. I readied myself for an hour of kissing that would light up the rock bridge like an exploding star. “Three days until Christmas Jules! Are you excited . We held hands so often that she became my right hand and I became her left. I forgot about the gift completely... except.. I know.very happily. I had the best sleep of my life it seemed. There was no ravenous hunger for her as the previous nights. Tried and tried and tried but after three weeks. it was easy to get swept up into Jules. As she did this. Despite the fact that we could endure longer strands of time without touching. We became attached at the hip. Ridiculous. we threw up our hands together and accepted our fate.

I shrugged it off as absentmindedness. It’s my favorite time of year because it’s your favorite.” I asked.babe?” “Of course. so distant today. I pulled at the edge of my parents’ sofa and stared at the opposite wall avoiding Jules’ eyes. West Virginia because I was going to murder Jesse Thomas. but half-heartedly. for weeks.” She smiled.” she admitted. Are you?” “Of course.” she giggled uncomfortably. I felt the strongest urge to be anywhere else in the world other than in Bramwell. My back stiffened and the hair that laid on the back of my neck stood.” “Gone?” I asked trying to stay level headed. It’s my favorite time of year. “Well. The only reason I’m willing to do it now is because your Christmas present is gone. concerned. “What is bothering you? You’ve been so.” “That’s not exactly true. “Well. assuming I accidentally placed it there and never thought twice about it again until a few days later when I observed that the books on my top shelf had been switched with all . I knew where this was going and I could feel the blood begin to cook beneath my skin. I’ve been deliberating on whether I should tell you something Elliott. “I’ve been sleeping in my living room on the couch. “I noticed right after Thanksgiving that my perfume bottle was on the opposite end of my vanity from where I usually keep it.” “Why Jules? Are you still frightened? Taylor and Jesse haven’t bothered you once since that day. like a coward. I have to tell you but I wanted to wait until after Christmas.

“Go on. The next night. It was hanging by a larger scale noose taken from longer strips of my sheet but the most disturbing part was what was done to the painting. She didn’t have to tell me. or unnoticeable except. “Go on. I was going to kill him regardless and only because my Uncle Danny. a well adjusted. psycho with the world’s largest death wish. my hanger hooks looped the closet bar the opposite way I placed them. saw that it was gone and assumed it was gone for good. I’ve walked into my room in search of their newest installment. They’re usually harmless.” I insisted. or as harmless as you’d expect from two complete and utter psychos.” I said. even Jesse’s parents didn’t believe a word Jules and I had said about him. The . The night after that. “Every day. He was the perfect psycho. “When I bent in for a closer look I saw they had torn a strip from the end of my sheet and formed a noose with it. stupid. calming my tone so she would feel comfortable enough to continue.” “And what had they done last night?” I asked eerily calmly. “They stole the painting I had been working on for you for Christmas. I walked into my studio.” She shuddered. After I locked my front door to leave. my bed had been made and they had placed something on my pillow.” “What did he do?” My voice teetered on hysteria. for appearance’s sake.” She paused. until I left to see you today. She must have felt the thoughts because she waited too long to spill what he had done. I saw the painting. my parents. for last night’s.the books on the bottom shelf. “He drew one word in dripping red. She continued to hesitate. Jules’ parents.

Promise.silence was deafening.” I turned toward her and smiled. I ran for my truck and slid into the driver’s seat. I never would have left without kissing her had I not wanted to keep the explosion at a breaking point until I saw him and the thoughts to myself. “To take that painting down babe. I thought.” I spoke over my shoulder. you’ve been through enough don’t you think? I’ll be right back. I can’t let my parents see that Elliott. I was so on edge. I didn’t want Jules to touch me. “Where is this painting?” I asked. “He drew.” she said. camouflaging the house. If I need to. I could swing easily in this jacket. I didn’t want to calm down. They’d leave Bramwell over something like that. I stood up slowly and walked to the front door. I threw it in reverse and sped out of the gravel driveway next to the barn and onto the paved road.” I said then checked myself. “I mean. I was hoping you would get rid of it for me. “Where are you going Elliott?” Jules asked seriously. ‘YOU’. I turned back toward the door and pushed it open. “I’m coming with you. I wanted the rage.” she continued. “No. I couldn’t reach it.” I slammed my fists on the cushions and let the boiling blood rush over my body. “It’s still high in the tree in my front yard. . Dust billowed up. you’re not. I dug my hands in to the pockets and felt for the pocket knife I usually kept in it. I actually jumped. I turned the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life. I grabbed my keys from its hook and swung on my jacket with the wool lining.

Jesse answered the door and he didn’t look surprised. She gazed severely into my eyes trying to read my thoughts. I assumed. I stuck the knife back into my pocket. Blood began to trickle out of the corners of his mouth before he even hit the ground. I plunged my hands into jacket pocket and held my pocket knife with my right hand. She ran back to the house.” she mouthed. I pulled my right hand with the pocket knife in my fist out and braced myself for what would happen next but I couldn’t do it. at all. I ran up their walkway and pounded furiously on their door. She was at the door. I wasn’t even going to humor him. I pulled up to the Thomas house not three minutes later. “What happened?” She asked. I was back with Jules in less than ten minutes. His storm door creaked open and he stepped onto his porch. well.If Jules was watching from the door I couldn’t tell and that bothered me. her palm resting on the glass. “Well. to call my Uncle Danny but I didn’t care. with the most smug expression across his nauseating face. well. I kept the knife in my hand to add extra weight to the punch I planned instead and cocked my hand back. I stopped short on the road and waited for the dust to settle. To what do I owe the pleasure?” He asked sarcastically. Her horrified stare grilled into me like a sunburn and I very nearly turned around. tears streaming from . “No. deciding against murder for that day and steadily strolled back to my truck. Her eyes grew wide with realization. I would get there before he would. Look what the cat drug in. I swung and hit him with all the force I possibly could. She threw the door open and ran toward the road but I sped away from her before she could reach me.

I’m so sorry. What happened?” “I punched him. “Oh Jules.” “You punched him?” She asked.” “Oh? You planned on what? Killing him? That’s a dandy plan. Danny reached for his radio and kept a decided glare on me. “Did you call Danny when I left?” I asked. Killing him would mean slowly killing me Elliott. I began to carry her to the sofa when the doorbell rang. “Of course! I didn’t know what you were doing and I was trying to save you from yourself.” I grabbed Jules and brought her head to my chest. as did Jules.her face. “Had you thought about that? This is the first time you’ve ever been so selfish you forgot about me Elliott and I’m begging you to stop. Please forgive me love. I can see the bruise on your knuckles from here Elliott.” “Elliott!” “Jules. releasing all the pent up hurt and anger she felt toward the situation in one good cry. I imagine. “Just once and then he slumped to the wood floor of his porch with a satisfying thud.” She sobbed into my shirt. Really. skeptical. he’s lucky I didn’t do more. I opened the door and heard Danny’s radio on his hip asking if he’d found me. I froze. My heart is breaking. . I can just imagine visiting you in prison. a thick piece of glass holding us back.” I stood up and opened the door half expecting it to be Jesse. “Nothing really. I’d go insane.” “Nothing? I don’t believe that. I can barely handle a few hours without touching you as it is. almost wishing it to be Jesse because Danny on the other side of that door meant a trip to the police station.

He knows it’s something hard to prove and that’s why he did it I’m sure of it. I still have to take you to the station Elliott. . but this time we’ve got tangible evidence of his harassment. we know it. Thomas wants to press charges.” was all I could say.” “What?” He asked in disbelief. poor woman. “What the hell Elliott?” “You don’t understand Danny. She doesn’t know what has made you snap but now that it’s affecting her son she feels she has no other choice.“Great. She grabbed my hand and started to explain to Danny.” he spoke softly. Jesse has been breaking into my room at night and rearranging things and this morning he stole one of my paintings and hung it by a makeshift noose on a tree in my backyard. he rearranges things to scare Jules. She heard a noise and came out to find her son lying unconscious on her porch Elliott! And saw your truck skidding off. not this time.” “Well. I don’t understand. for your mama’s sake if nothing else.” “You’re right. “He was only trying to defend me Danny. She’s pretty broken up about the whole thing too. Regardless. honest.” “I hope you’re right.” I added. Jesse’s been breaking into her room. I can’t comprehend why you’ve chosen this boy to be your ongoing battering ram. pressing down the transmitter button on his radio. “Suspect apprehended. “That’s right Danny. since Jesse’s eighteen? Isn’t it up to him to press charges? I’m willing to bet that he won’t be.” “I can’t get you out of this one Elliott. Mrs. that’s not really any of her business is it.” Jules stood up from her sunken position and walked over to me.

You know that? You should stew about that for awhile.” He looked at me severely. Think about what that would do to your mom and dad. You might want the plexiglass between us. come on Elliott. I could taste the salt from her overflowing tears. “Can’t you take anything seriously?” “I take you seriously. Will you wait for me?” She fought the smile through her tears. I’m off to the clinker. I’ll be out in a couple of hours. I’m dangerous. “What? You’re not going to cuff me? I’m a violent criminal Danny. I piled into the passenger seat. but I delayed for a moment. Don’t worry. Maybe you should put me in the back. you need to stay here and explain things to Shelby when she gets here later and help to calm her down. I love you Jules.” he said to me before turning to Jules. “Alright. “Why didn’t you just report it Elliott?” “Honestly? I just found out about it myself today.” . it’ll look better if it appears you came willingly. “Hanging on the large Red Maple at the front of the house. you seem to have lost your mind so I’ll remind you how serious this is.” I pushed open the storm door and met Danny at his cruiser. “Julia. Jules was too frightened to let me know all that he had done because she was afraid of my reaction. Maybe we can get a print on it. You could lose your scholarship if he does press charges. “See you later Jules. I grabbed Jules and kissed her roughly.” “Elliott. where is this painting?” Danny asked.” Jules nodded and Danny left to his cruiser expecting me to follow suit.“Alright. We’ll swing by Julia’s house and remove the painting for evidence.” Jules said.

Always one step ahead. to be so cruel. Jules couldn’t get it down and she had to ask me to. on the verge of falling.” “And what if you’ve told the police and they don’t believe you?” “It’s not that I don’t believe you Elliott! It’s that I think you’ve pegged the wrong guy.” “But you do know us personally!” “I’m starting to think that I don’t really know you at all. She didn’t want it scaring her parents. “What would you have done if someone was harassing Aunt Becky?” “I’d call the police Elliott.” “Jesse’s been at the station since you hit him. “Because if I didn’t know you personally. isn’t he? “Where’s the painting Elliott?” “Jules isn’t lying. Jesse was your best friend. He couldn’t have done it Elliott. His record is spotless. . Get in the car!” He screamed.” “Do you?” He asked me seriously.“Rightfully so. dusted lightly with a recent blanket of snow.” We arrived at Jules’ house and I jumped out to see for myself what had scared my Jules so badly. I circled the tree and found no painting.” I sighed in obvious defeat. she didn’t have a choice. He must have gotten it. “But when he had hung the painting up.” Danny added. The red maple was surprisingly beautiful. “I know how this looks Danny.” I turned to face Danny. You should know he wouldn’t do that. I’d think that you and Jules were out to start trouble. It’s just not in his nature Elliott. She had to tell me everything.” “He’s an incredible deceiver. Its red leaves.

including my parents and Jules’. Jules sat on the hood of her own Karmann Ghia biting her already short nails. “You have to go search Taylor’s house!” She screamed through the glass at Danny. I’d need a warrant and the judge is not going to issue a warrant over something with no evidence to back it up. “Julia. she more than likely didn’t take it back to her house darlin’. When she saw us. and I’m not saying she did. I thought. Now. if Taylor did take the painting. Besides. The tiny one room police station had several people standing around it as we drove up. I shook my head and she immediately started to tremble. I can’t do that. Jules and I both knew what it meant to have the painting in Danny’s possession. go stand next to your mama. “It’s procedure. She came to the same conclusion as I did that Taylor had taken it.” I nodded in response.” Jules did as she was told. Jules must have called them. she jumped up and ran to my window. I saw Mrs. Thomas standing next to my mom and they were talking quietly. Danny stepped out from the driver’s side and came over to mine. Damn it! I punched the dashboard and then brought both my fists to my forehead. I’m sorry son. Danny told me to face her so he could cuff me since everyone was standing around waiting for me.He must have called Taylor. Danny removed me from the cruiser and I had to toss my head back to get the hair out of my eyes to see my poor . I didn’t need to look at her face to feel the tears of disappointment pouring down her face. She placed her palms on the glass.

Whether he pressed charges or not. She was warning me to stay as civil as possible. I said. it also meant he had something larger up his sleeve and he wanted the . or his angelic alter-ego. “Are you okay?” She asked. he looked the innocent. I did as I was told but kept a cold hard stare on Jesse. Instead.” “Your life is over Elliott. I can work something out if you wish. Sort of matches your head now. I glanced at each one of them but lingered with Jules before breaking my focus and catching Jesse Thomas.” Jules turned back and pleaded with her eyes. You should consider those once a day to even things out. I nearly jumped up but restrained myself with everything I had. This was working out so well for Jesse and it just infuriated me. He smiled an evil grin when he was sure no one was looking. Knowing this I said. Danny went outside to talk to our parents and Jules came in from the cold and knelt on the floor before sitting back on her ankles.” he said and winked at Jules when she turned around to glare at him.” my uncle said and pointed to an old wooden chair. She wrapped both her hands around the back of my knees and peered deep into my eyes. She knew the power lay entirely in his hands and this visibly terrified her.” she mouthed so Jesse couldn’t hear.family looking on at me in fear. smiling at me in fraudulent pity. “Sit down here Elliott. “I’m great. I’ll be out of here in no time at all and we can go back to our life. “Lip is lookin’ a little fat Jesse. “Don’t. but I knew if he didn’t. He intelligently didn’t say a word. Jesse leaned forward to eavesdrop.

it was. We waited patiently as the conversation became slightly elevated.” “Damn it dad! He’s lying! Why can’t you just believe me?” My dad slammed his hands on the desk beside him. for both of us. We were suddenly prepared for it to go any direction he wanted it to go. He’s a good boy. “Yes. “Oh yeah?” My dad said angrily. It was a win-win for him. Jules got up and sat in the chair next to mine. son.police as little aware of him as possible. We were ready. Jesse got up to talk with his parents. “You’re lucky that you’re free to go today. She reached her left hand behind me and wove her fingers through my imprisoned hands. then died down and ended with handshakes all around. Plus. stomping the snow from their boots. . The exact opposite of the catch twenty-two he very decidedly deserved. “I already knew that. That helped. These are my demands Elliott. “How could you be so confident of that. mine and my Uncle Danny.” Danny said. “Enough!” The entire room became deathly silent. a lot. it added to his Eddie Haskell-like intentions and he would look like the bigger man. huh? Is it because you knew he was a decent kid who’d forgive even the most heinous of grievances for a friend who basically abandoned him? Or maybe because he just wanted to put this all behind him and forget about it so you wouldn’t lose your scholarship?” “Is that what he told you?” I hollered.” I scoffed. you will not talk. My parents and Danny came back inside. look. “Jesse’s decided not to press charges. Do you know how close you came to ruining yourself? I know you think you’re justified in how you feel about Jesse but it’s got to end.

she has made. “Did you see any of the things that Jules claimed she saw?” It was her emphasis on the word claimed that made me feel uncomfortable. “I saw the note the first time they violated her security and that was enough to back up any claims. if you’ll excuse me. “Son. Elliott?” I grumbled in vexation. heavy with stress. Jules and I were in this alone and that was painfully evident. I didn’t say she did. shocked she was taking me seriously. I was so hurt that she didn’t trust me. “Jules doesn’t lie mom. I launched myself onto my bed and let the weight of my body sink into the mattress. “Elliott. I’ll be in my room. I’ll call your Principal in the morning and see about rearranging your schedule. you hear me? Or I’ll transfer you to Charleston so fast your head will spin.breathe around or near Jesse Thomas. I couldn’t hear it. That night I sat at my kitchen table with a handful of my hair in each hand.” I said. Are we in agreement?” I only needed to nod my head.” “It’s serious mom. as you say. I meant no disrespect but I was so hurt that she. I need to know just how far you think things have gone with the ‘unexplained’ occurrences. above anyone. My parents never told me I was grounded but I was . Now.” “Did you see it.” I said defending her. would think anything different than what I had told her.” If she had anything further to say.” “But you implied it. My mom asked that Jules not come over that night so she could talk to me.

whether I was or not. I was grateful it hadn’t really snowed for a couple of days. Each time I’d pass underneath one I saw my breath freeze in mid air. too dark for me to see but I followed the sparse streetlights and used them as a makeshift guide. I swung from the Oak by my window and landed on the frozen ground. He reveled in that sort of thing. Not to mention. I walked to Jules’ house because my missing truck would have given me away. I’m sure she was on edge as it was. I thought . she was probably sleeping in the living room. so I waited for the snores and tucked out of my window and onto the roof below. I braced myself to hear a rustling through the house but no one woke. I reached her house in twice the time it should have taken me but the cold made me move more slowly. I treaded lightly through the parts where the snow had melted and my tracks wouldn’t give me away when my dad left for work in the morning. She was so cute. I hadn’t even thought about how I was going to get in without scaring her half to death. I sighed in relief as I watched her sleeping. I wrapped my coat as closely to my body as possible. I wondered if I would make it there in one piece. I had to check on Jules though. The night was dark. I looped around the corner to her room in the back. She hadn’t yet reset it from the power outage last week. I hated that she was sleeping alone and tonight would be the perfect night for Jesse to terrorize her regardless if people’s guards were up. I pressed my face against the glass and saw her figure underneath the covers in the light of her blinking alarm clock.pretty sure leaving the house after my curfew was out of the question. My boots pierced the snow and the sound was deafening. I nearly froze from the bitter cold. It was critical that I protect her.

I crawled toward her bed and stared at her angelic face for a moment but she woke and sucked in a breath to yell. I didn’t hear any stirring in the room or across the house and then decided shut the window. They thought it was a one-time deal. “I couldn’t stand knowing you were here alone and that Jesse knew it. “What are you doing here Elliott?!” She panted.” “I wouldn’t have been able to sleep without knowing how you were.” She threw her hands around my neck and kissed my cheek. I pushed up her window easily. I plastered my palm to her mouth and that calmed her instantly. “I’m so grateful you came.about leaving and coming back every hour to check on her because the idea of waking her pained me. “My parents picked tonight of all nights to demand I start sleeping in my room again. I clumsily toppled onto her floor making a loud noise and lay frozen on the ground afraid I woke her parents. the old locking mechanism was worthless after being broken by Jesse and the new one had yet to be installed.” I fixed her alarm clock to display the correct time and set the timer for four thirty. I’m here to stay with you until I feel it’s safe enough to leave again. Jules gave me one of her pillows and a few extra . but standing in the cold brought me back to reality quickly and I decided to take a chance. must have been inherited. The electric shock gave me away and we both waited for either her mom or dad to come streaming into the room. I haven’t told them about the nightly break ins.” She hugged me more tightly. half an hour before my dad woke for work. but they were obviously as deep a sleeper as Jules was. I’m surprised I even fell asleep.

I thought of ‘Will you wear this ring?’ but that would mean it was only a piece of jewelry and not the commitment I wanted from her. I got really excited at the prospect of the question but she informed me of the limitations so that ruled out ‘Will you marry me?’ I tried to think of a question and could come up with no loop hole to her addendum.) So. I was starting to feel. Christmas Eve. that our Christmas gifts to each other this year would be a question we couldn’t say no to. She’s a traditional gal. thanks to Jesse. Surprisingly. I was so disappointed. I suppose not. you know?” I teased. Nyuck.blankets and made me a comfortable pallet on the floor. a ring would have to be at the bottom of my list unfortunately. I fell asleep quickly knowing I was near Jules and we both dreamed until the deafening pulse of her electric alarm clock woke us both. I kissed her on the neck my goodbye and she squeezed my hand. my parents none the wiser. I didn’t want to trick Jules into marriage. my parents hadn’t grounded me for hitting Jesse so I took Jules out to Charleston in the morning so we could finish our own shopping for our families. “I’m dying to know your question.” she said. Although. “I’m dying to ask you. “It wouldn’t be much of a Christmas gift then would it?” “No. since tangible gifts were out of the question. Nyuck. I had figured out what question I wanted to ask her . and a good one at that. I wasn’t above faking a pregnancy.” I sighed. I slipped out of the window and ran back to my own bed. “You could ask me now. She wouldn’t leave me hanging. for several years.” I said while we walked hand in hand. (Besides. we decided together. It was Jules’ idea. I did the same thing Christmas Eve.

my family woke at the crack of dawn with a squealing Maddy running up and down the hall giddy with excitement. When I tumbled out of bed.” I inwardly shuddered. “Elliott?” “Yes my love?” I asked warily. but it’s worth the risk. We know the truth and I’m afraid the truth is a chilling one. She was growing very thin. “You can’t stay in my room every night. This was affecting Jules’ health and her body wasn’t the only thing thinning.” she winked. On Christmas day. Maddy grabbed my hand and pulled me down the stairs toward the tree. Always a noble fir. My mother always made the most beautiful trees.” I said. My patience was running a close second. changing my tone. Eventually one of our parents will figure it out.” “Quiet Jules! I’m just trying to fill you out a little.” “Just what I need.” “I know Jules. I threw on a faded pair of grey sweatpants and I vaguely remember stumbling into the hallway. you’re looking much too thin these days and I think the anxiety’s to blame. chock full of a million homemade ornaments and a million strands of . “When Jules is upset. You know me so well. I had slept the night at Jules’ and had only gotten home a few minutes prior.” I kissed her protruding cheekbones. give her carbs. “I’m buying you a pretzel sweetheart. her jeans hung on her bones. I was still freezing from the walk. I couldn’t wait to ask her. always multicolored lights. “Come on. I refuse to let him get away with frightening you anymore regardless of what others think of him.while laying in bed the night before and I was so proud of it.

though she didn’t deserve them. not at all. even as a toddler. She got a crap load of clothes. Those darn thank you notes. Yeah. Mom would nod in satisfaction and wait to see the next gift. Maddy was an oddity in Bramwell. She was also the youngest child Jule’s family knew since all the kids were grown. she could be cute when she wanted to be. It was actually kind of funny to watch. and Jules’ family from Mauch Chunk and Philadelphia. She raked in the spoils and she was shameless about it. especially by Jules’ uncommonly generous family. I loved her dearly. My dad was practically asleep on the couch by the time Maddy . My mother drilled that into our heads since we could barely spell our own names. The tissue and paper danced through the air around her before hitting the ground and was complimented by her singing laughter. Along her ancient tree skirt were peppered boxes and bags. Most of the families here were established for over thirty years. She was certainly spoiled. Jules. She got them from me.cranberry and popcorn garland that she and Maddy would make after Thanksgiving. but because she was one of the only kids under the age of twelve here. My parents yawned on the sofa in their pajamas and I took the arm chair next to them and we watched Maddy swim in a sea of wrapping paper and tissue. a mother and daughter tradition. She wrote down who gave what on a piece of scrap paper for Maddy so she could write her thank you notes. She folded each outfit neatly on the coffee table after displaying it for mom to see. most with Maddy’s name on them. but I didn’t exactly want her to know that. She liked clothes. not because she was strange although she was. I didn’t blame her. Jules’ parents. She didn’t just get gifts from our parents either.

Then. “I think you might have obsessive compulsive disorder Maddy!” I teased.was done. So. of course. It was from my mom and dad. She immediately rummaged over the remaining gifts and handed us a gift a piece. Thanks mom. she threw away two pairs of shoes for her dolls by accident and never forgave herself for the carelessness of it. Boxers. . accept for family and my Jules. you’d open that one first. When she was all out of gifts she gathered all her newly gotten gains and placed them in the laundry basket my mom gave her to store her stuff in. It was tradition and boy was my family traditional in every sense of the word. Two years ago. or maybe it was the fact that everything in my life at the moment was inconsistent and chaotic. I laughed when I saw her meticulously crumpling the paper in such a way that it would reveal any needed hidden accessories. She knelt on the floor at the coffee table and ate the cookies we left for Santa. A result of having a scientifically inclined way of thinking. “Figures. something to ground me before I went insane. Maddy furrowed her eyebrows at me but for only a moment. My dad woke up long enough to join us in following the entertaining show. She’d known he didn’t exist for years now. “But it’s what I’ve been really wanting. it was Christmas morning after all and I wasn’t going to ruin her fun I could see that when her eyes softened.” my mom laughed. I neatly unwrapped my first gift. she grabbed all the trash on the floor being careful not to throw away anything of value. I didn’t mind though. I was looking for a constant. I liked consistency.

“It’s been really pleasant. hugging him. which was mainly a bunch of music. every now and then I’d lean forward in the pew and catch a peek at her smiling and staring through the corner of her eye. it’s not like we were awake or anything. God forbid they be distracted by worn out undergarments. “Thanks dad. When it was all said and done. badly. I’d gotten everything I asked for. “Thanks mom. I picked up the phone and dialed her number.” She threw a gift on my lap and I began to unfold the wrapping as neatly as before. I mean.” I said. if I get into a car accident and need to go to the hospital I won’t be embarrassed as mom always says because as we all know the last thing a paramedic needs to be worrying about is my old underwear. the entire church convened for a Christmas dinner and that was the little contact I had with her. Her dad answered.” she said. She didn’t like the way I unwrapped gifts. kissing her cheek. “Merry Christmas Mr.Thanks dad. Did you want to speak to Jules?” . Afterwards.Jacobs!” “Merry Christmas!” “How has your morning been so far?” I asked that out of politeness. During the night. Anyway. Later in the morning. I hadn’t really talked to Jules since the evening before at church and we were pretty involved with our own families. “Here. we just slept. I just wanted to talk to Jules. not that I wasn’t genuinely interested.” “Very funny Elliott. in the youth hall. Now.” I said. I was starting to get antsy. I decided that I’d call her and wish her family a happy Christmas and see how she was. Maddy was growing really impatient.

I love you Jules.Thank God he said that. “Yeah. “What sweetheart?” I insisted. I’ll let you go. “Yeah babe?” “Nothing.” I hung up the phone.” she said. “Tired love?” I asked. Happy Christmas. No big deal. thanks. Can you steal away then?” “I’ll try. I don’t know Jules. I’ll see if my mom will give me a couple of hours at two o’clock before we go to my grandma’s. I slept so badly last night even with you on the floor next to me.” “Oh! Well. I know your dad wants you to join them.” “Alright. “I’m so sorry babe.” said a sleepy Jules. Tell everyone from Pennsylvania I said Merry Christmas!” “Hello.” “I love you too Elliott. Give me a ring if you’re not able to and I’ll do the same if I can’t. Merry Christmas. Otherwise. “Umm.” she barely whispered the last part. see you at the rock bridge at two?” “See you then. Are we going to see each other later? I’d like to ask you my question. It was enough to tide me over until two and I could breathe a sigh of relief.” “Wait. There was something about that phone call that didn’t set easily with me.” she said. That’s what naps are for.” “It’s okay. “Not long.” I heard Jules’ dad say. “Sure. Maybe I was reading too much into the inflection of her voice but I was already on edge as it was and this kind of . It was the way she hesitated after she asked me to wait.

I would have been out here sooner. “If I’d known that Jules.” “Well! It’s time for our own gifts!” I climbed up onto our natural rock bridge and dragged Jules with me. She was making Maddy an orange smoothie. I decided to leave early and just hang out.” I grabbed her face and kissed her glossy lips. She had already set out our blanket. I thought.” I headed to my room and got dressed. “I called but no one answered. Just wait until two. The stone was dry.” she offered. helping my little sister put together some ridiculous Barbie house Jules’ Aunt Isabel had gotten her. “Hey ma’?” “Yes Elliott?” She asked. “Elliott?” Her voice trembled.” “Yes. we leave at five. We ate lunch at one and I piddled around until half an hour ‘til and just couldn’t sit around any longer. “Can I see Jules’ at two? Before we head out to grandma’s and granddad’s?” “Sure.stuff drove me insane. I don’t see why not. it must have been when mom was running the blender. Jesse wouldn’t dare step foot in or around her house with them awake. Thanks mom. ma’am.” “Ohhhhh. she’s with her family. “Oh. I climbed into our cocooned blanket and she squeezed in next to me.” “Mm. hmm. and wait for Jules but when I got there Jules apparently had been there since one. . Just make sure you’re back by four thirty. it hadn’t snowed since yesterday and the afternoon sun melted all the wet snow and dried it. enjoy the cool air.

and a wrapped square box. ‘From Elliott’.” “Jules. The only reason I’m telling you is because I can’t keep the knowledge of the things they do locked up inside anymore or I’ll go mental.” she took her messenger bag and removed the thermos. and when I went to put Carmen in reverse I noticed a wrapped package in the passenger seat.” I froze. throw it over there so I don’t have to look at it anymore.” “I’m glad you told me. “After church and dinner. “Actually. because it looked like it had been wrapped by a guy and I know you get your mom to wrap all of your gifts and second because we agreed on our question gift. In fact. I could see that it did. honey. some Christmas cookies.” “Where is it?” I demanded. I was too afraid. I don’t even want you to open it. after you walked me to my car and said goodbye.“Yes love?” “Yesterday I drove to the church on my own because we were running late from Charleston. “Here.” she said. “It read. The anxiety melted off her fair skin and some color was brought back into her paled cheeks.” “Yes?” I said. Did I tell you that?” “No. First of all.” “No you don’t actually. “I knew automatically that it wasn’t from you. Maybe we should take it to Danny and have him open it. I have to. Now. “I couldn’t open it. “Thank you Elliott. wondering where she was going with it. you could just throw it in the creek and be done with it for good.” I shook my head.” I suggested to make her feel better.” She grabbed the thermos and poured hot chocolate in two . I refuse to let him ruin our day. I got in and turned the key in the ignition.

I missed it. I was determined to fix it. Will you do this with me?” She stared at me strangely. “Oh Elliott! I can’t wait to ask you my question.” “Okay. “You’ve made me rethink my question now Elliott. “You’re turn. “Wow! Did you make these?” “I did. Grams just taught me the recipe this morning. but you first.mugs. excited for her question. she squealed in mock frustration. please. I feel like torturing you with a similarly .” She laughed like she hadn’t in a very long time.” she sighed. Thank you sweetheart. “Okay. “Jules. I promise I won’t ask why. Do you like them? They’re a Jacobs tradition.” “Like them? I’m thinking of stealing the one out of your hand. “You know we won’t make enough in time for the trip right?” “I know. but I promise. I would like you to help me sell my bird houses again and I don’t want you to ask me why.” I said. the money had to sit there and I couldn’t wait to begin saving. I can only imagine! I’m going to conjure up all sorts of strange things as your motivation. “And I can’t ask you why?” She asked. My motivations were my own.” she requested.” I took a bite.” I reluctantly put down my cookie and mug and dusted the gingerbread off my hands.” I felt incredibly empowered. “I’m dying to find out why you want to do this. I was happy to oblige. What a strange request. When I shook my head. “Cookie?” “Yes.

but. I laid her gently beside me on the blanket and covered us both up. I’m satisfied to say yes to any request since you’ve so selflessly agreed to mine. “but I’ve wanted it for months now.vague question.” “Well that was sweet. Though. “I’m embarrassed to say this too loudly or look into your face for that matter. It’s truly not very original. I kissed her lips softly and peeled her coat off of her shoulders.” she puckered her bottom lip.” I . how much time?” “Two and a half hours. seriously.” I sat up and readied myself. our connection made it feel like a warm summer’s day. “will you kiss me again. “That’s your question? It’s not even a yes or no question.” I teased.” “Okay.” she calculated in her head. “How much time do we have left before you have to leave?” She asked. My next move was the answer she was waiting for. “This isn’t just a Christmas present for you Jules.” she confessed. the way you did that night in your truck? For the next two hours and twenty-nine minutes? I promise we won’t take it far.” “Okay. Though the temperature outside was freezing.” My throat began to burn for her and my heart had already started to race.” “You can ask me what you’ve planned or you can ask me something off the cuff.” she whispered. I continued to kiss her and did the same with my own jacket. “it’ll have to do.” “I’m dying here Jules!” She grabbed both of my hands and leaned into my ear. “Hush. I guess I’ll ask my original question. “Okay.

we continued to lay side by side taking in the other’s face.lazily whispered.” “Does that mean I get another question? One that only benefits me?” She giggled.” . I didn’t have time to answer because her lips stopped mine. on purpose. This envelopment with Jules smothered all lingering agony from the wanting that had these past few weeks sat so stagnant in my heart. “Oh crap!” “What is it?” She asked. My query was a cleverly disguised ruse. I pulled my pocket watch out to see the time. The money was a down payment. nose. large curls ran throughout her long raven hair. I would have happily given her another question. trying to focus my words. I’m in deep. keeping my eyes closed. It was the reason I asked her my question. ten more questions. I had recently come to the realization that the thirst was intolerable. It was as if I had been wandering through the Sahara with a canteen brimming with water and only allowed myself to drink one tablespoon a day though my body suffered for gallons. It was to be for a wedding. you are so beautiful Jules. All I had to do was buy her the ring and convince her the timing was right. Hers was flawless. It had a dream like after-effect. slowly slurring her words together.” she said and kissed my forehead. “It’s five fifteen Jules. “Thanks you Elliott. “It definitely benefits me as well.” I declared. Not that hard right? When my mind and body felt as satisfied as I was going to allow it to be. The heat made me sleepy. if all of them had been like this. My family was supposed to leave for my grandma’s at five. Ours. rosy pink cheeks. then lips. blindingly beautiful fair skin. I scorched myself. “My God.

I was very careful to make sure that everyone was content and having a good time before I took Danny out to my parents’ car to show him Jesse’s gift. and sat around. played games. She was a sweetheart of a woman.” my mom admitted. I need your opinion on what we should do. ”You need a haircut son. every week but they greeted us with such fervor each time. We arrived at my grandma’s house to open arms. Why didn’t Jules say something? She’s such a troublemaker. ate. Granddad was in his lounger with the largest smile on his face. “What’s wrong with your hair?” Maddy asked. “Hey. Danny?” I asked. “Yeah Elliott? What’s up?” “I have something I want to show you.” She winked at me. “I kind of like it long like that. I pulled up to my house and thankfully they didn’t even notice I was late as they were running behind themselves. His hip hurt too badly to stand up for a hug so we all went to him. When she went left and I went right we both waved at the other.” my dad said taking packages out to the car. It was as if we were returning to them after a long absence.We gathered the blankets and I towed her behind me as I raced for my truck. I didn’t want people wondering. laughed. “What?” I ran to the hall mirror and ran my fingers through the disheveled mess that was my hair. I kissed her goodbye and followed her back into town. We opened gifts.” . We ate dinner at grandma’s and granddad's once a week. “I think Jules does too.

” He looked annoyed but got up anyway. Jules found it in the passenger seat of her locked car on Christmas Eve after church. “No.” Yes! I thought.” “Wow. He unlocked the door and stomped the extra snow off his boots before stepping onto the creaky wood floor.“Can’t it wait Elliott? It is Christmas. “Dang Danny. “What amazing self control.” Ha! You have no idea! “Yeah. “From Elliott. I thought it would be best to wait for you to look at it.” We rode to the station in absolute silence.” We both laughed and he lead me to a makeshift lab . My mother’s eyes followed me as I lead him to the car.” he read.” He laughed. he’s going down! But Jesse was no fool and there was potential for nothing to be found on it at all. Finally.” “I don’t think it should. “I’ll run in and tell mom that we’ll be right back.” “You didn’t open it?” He asked.” he said. I handed him the gift. “it also looks like one in the light. surprised. I opened the back passenger door and pulled out my bag. “Yeah.” He flipped the lights on.” I revealed. “Actually. “It’s not from me. this place is a regular haunted house in the dark. The tires crushed the piled snow against the railroad ties and his headlights produced foggy beams that traced along the red paint of the tiny shack that was the sheriff’s office. What should we do?” “I think you and I should take a quick ride to my office and dust it for fingerprints.

maybe three but he also knew that we had touched the box. He unscrewed the lid to a bottle full of light black powder and poured a small amount in the ramekin.” He grabbed a full black brush with incredibly fine bristles and a ceramic ramekin. .” “Yeah. “It’s better to under develop than to over develop the print. There’s white powder on the tape I used to lift the print.covered in dust. using a twisting motion to get all of the ridges of the print. He recognized two possible prints. That’s a rookie mistake. He took the brush. He spun a hinged desk lamp over the top of the box and flipped on the light. “Of course. Why would someone need to do that? To avoid prints right? I doubt we’ll find anyone’s prints.” He lightly brushed the top surface of the box. dipped it in the dust and shook off the excess. “ he said and walked me to the fingerprinting station. He took a piece of tape and lifted each individual print and marked each one. “Looks like they used latex gloves to assemble the box. at least on this side of the paper but I’m gonna’ print you to use as a cross reference anyway just to make sure. He removed a Sharpie from a container above his workstation and marked the edge with the number one.” “What does that prove?” “It proves that they handled it with gloves on. “Come here. you’re a regular CSI. not much of a need for it you know? It’s kind of nice to shake off the old cobwebs though. “Gosh Danny. “Been awhile?” I asked.” he laughed. He repeated the process for each side of the box.

Though. because I already have them.” I realized. “Uhhh. I almost prefer yours. “Wait. with a massive grin on my face.” “No. okay.” he shook his head.” “Thanks?” “Yeah. “No.He fingerprinted each finger. It could very well be Taylor’s. He underestimated Jesse entirely. that’s not necessary. let’s move on. “Okay. Danny hadn’t handled the box with his own hands. no. “You seriously have to let that theory go. I was sort of averse to the idea of finding out but I was also dying to know. “Anyway.” “Elliott.” That statement made me shudder inside.” he said. “I can tell you’ve never done this before. The newbies are always awkward finger printers.” he laughed. “You’re going to need Jules’ prints too. “Why? She touched the box too. He didn’t have to tell me but Jules would have to later. I’m thinking more dangerous thoughts.” I said quickly abandoning the idea that he was going to tell me. no. he had used a handkerchief he always kept with him but never used.” “Shut up! You’re lying to me!” I said. I sort of wondered why he even owned it until I saw . “why don’t I need to call Jules down here?” He hesitated. It’s true there was proof of female fingerprints. Back the truck up here Danny! You have Jules’ prints? Why?” “None of your darn business Elliott!” That’s okay. Should I call her?” I was excited at the possibility of seeing her.

“Nope. I’m pretty nervous. dusting the cardboard box that held whatever it was that was inside but finding nothing. flipped through it and took a sheet of paper out that looked similar to the one he had just used to document my own fingerprints. He compared all of the signatures and found only mine and Jules’. “Danny? I think I should open it.” “I know son. I was pretty frightened to be honest with you and I actually felt like telling Danny to let me do it in case it was something that could harm him. He unwrapped the paper flipped it. Again. not ticking.” “This isn’t funny Danny. Jesse was more insane than even I gave him credit for.” .” He pulled off the tape that bound the lid and dusted it as well. finding absolutely nothing yet again. He put the rest of the folder back in the cabinet and locked it. He decided there was nothing on that side of the paper. He sat back down at the lab table and reached for a shelf above him.him take it out to the handle the box. I’ll open it. He went to a locked file cabinet and retrieved a folder. Wait.” “Nonsense.” he said. My eyes widened in fear. It’ll be okay. just in case. Jules’ file. “Time to open it. He pulled a small cardboard box out and opened it to reveal a stand magnifier.” he laid his ear against the package. “My God. repeated the entire process and found nothing. He peeled the lid back.

came back into focus. He had to be stopped. My immediate reaction was flight until I realized he would never stop looking. not when every fiber of my flesh wanted nothing else but to be with her. He would wait until our thoughts of him were a distant memory for us. If we had vanished. somewhere he could never find us. I peered at the horrifying message he was sending with dead eyes. Jesse was no longer the friend I remembered him to be. I suddenly wished I’d never told Danny. I cared about nothing else and no one could stop us. At first. I was frozen. I wish I had opened it on my own so the motive for the murder I was going to commit because of it wouldn’t become so apparent. striking when we least expected. somewhere far away. I cringed. a feature I wanted him to share with me soon. . to grab Jules and run with her. I wanted to scream out. In that instant. I knew he would try to find us and I was so scared to imagine him still out there waiting for his opportunity again. my only wish for the future. I wanted to run. now.Chapter Seven This is How I Win Danny was taken aback by what he saw. she became my only dream. That flaming box. somewhere only we know. A million thoughts streamed through my head. He stood up quickly with a gasp and nearly fell over his chair trying to distance himself from what was in the box. to tear what I saw into a billion pieces. my hands trembled where I stood and I couldn’t willingly move a muscle. when he thought we were comfortable. He hadn’t been for awhile.

I don’t know for sure but for the sake of argument. You don’t know what he’s capable of. it obviously took two people to do it Danny.” I accidentally said aloud. Breathing deeply to steady his calm. I could tell. bad things were going to happen to him. “Maybe he used a tripod Elliott. “Look. I just underestimated it. he said. The second photograph was Jules’ hanging painting. This is too advanced for him. . grabbing my shoulders. dripping in red paint. It was him. in the way his fingers grasped at the blade he held at my sleeping Jules’ throat. say I am starting to believe your theory. I stared into the small harmless cardboard box that contained them and noticed that the filling inside was torn canvas. in the way his eyes bore into mine through his dark ski mask. I knew it was him and if Danny couldn’t prove it.” “No.” I gained control of my neck and turned my head toward him. It showed the frame of Jules’ bedroom window.” I stared hard at the two photographs in front of me. The letters Y .“I have to kill him.” I scoffed. in the shape of his body. He pushed through a really dark line with me and was begging for a reaction. “it’s not. “You’re going to arrest Jesse immediately?” “Elliott! We haven’t found reason for him to want to do something like this. “I know you don’t mean that son! Elliott. Growing up I always knew he had a little bit of an evil streak. You’re wrong. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the photographs. I’m gonna’ get who did this.O.” I pointed to the picture hanging off the edge of the table. I have no evidence that he’s done anything. How do you explain that? Huh? Taylor must have taken the picture for him.U. I’m guessing he wouldn’t like what it was and I also guessed how much he underestimated me. “No!” Danny screamed. He’s a lunatic Danny.

Listen. Just let me lock all of this in the evidence room and I’ll call Julia’s parents and. It was Jules. They need to know. “Okay Elliott.. to make the wound disappear but this hug couldn’t make it all better. She could tell something was wrong. “Mom.” he said. I felt like I was seven again. “No!” I interrupted. He was trying to downplay it. like it was something that could happen to just about anyone. They’ll leave Bramwell if they hear of this.” On our way back to my grandma’s and granddad’s I could barely keep two thoughts in my head. and I’d skinned my knee and ran to my mom for her to make everything better. I knew that this was probably one of the sickest things he’d seen in Bramwell. My entire world was about to crumble on top of me and there was nothing I could do about it. I knew what the painting represented to Jesse. “Jules’ parents can’t know.” I knew what he was trying to do.. I walked into the house and everyone was cheery and happy and full of life.painting! It’s shredded in the box!” I was starting to feel nauseated. We’ve wasted enough time here... Think of the danger that Julia is in? Is it worth her life? This has spun so out of control. She ran up to me and hugged me and I hugged her back. It’s too serious to take the risk. It was just .” Danny looked on me with pity. “I can’t Elliott.. the.” was all I could mumble off my tongue.“Danny!” I yelled. I was reeling in physical pain.. “we need to get back to your grandma’s.. but I knew. trying to calm me down. “What?!” “The. He was going to kill Jules and soon.

” I said peeling her off of me.” “I know. “It’s okay everyone! Granddad? Can you put on some music?” My dad said before closing the door to the bedroom behind him. “Danny?” My mom asked. “Elliott?” She asked in slow motion.a reminder that nothing could fix the pain but a locked away or a dead Jesse. “Let’s go into mom’s room Shelby. The door opened and an exuberant Jules jumped in my arms. “Sure Shelby. “Elliott.” I said. let me tell them? In person?” I looked at my parents and they kindly agreed it would be the best plan. I didn’t really want Jesse dead I just wanted the monster that was doing this to die inside him and for him to be at least somewhat normal again. of course I will. but please. I need to talk to you. I listened as Danny revealed the details to my parents but I felt as if I were in a fog. “Wait. I knocked on her door with a deafening thud. We got to Jules’ house and I willed my heavy body up her mountainous front porch steps. I have to contact them.” Danny said. Everyone watched with solemn eyes as I nearly toppled over trying to get to my grandparent’s room. The words were barely audible. “Can you take him?” That was my mom’s way of making sure I was safe and that I wouldn’t take a much wanted detour to the Thomas house. I snapped back into reality when Danny mouthed the words ‘Julia’s parents’. I already told you. “I need to tell you .” he said. “Jules. They all buzzed around me in slow motion. I plopped at the edge of my grandparent’s bed and examined the fibers of the shag carpet beneath my feet.

” The tears began to fall softly down her cheeks. “I’ll pack tonight.” I’ll pack tonight. I reminded myself. “We’ll have to send her to Mauch Chunk with you Isabel.” The terror that was in her eyes was enough for me to die inside a million times over. This immediate medicine was going to be leaving me when I probably needed it most..” Jules’ dad finally said. “No. Jules held my hand and the weight of our predicament began to melt off. I could go with her. It began to beat irregularly.” Jules said calmly. “It’s only a matter of time. I could go with Jules.. “I’ll get you back here before you know it love. Three daggers into my thumping chest. His words panicked my heart. “It’s not permanent Julia.but your Jesse’s target.” her mom said. All their lovely family from Pennsylvania stood motionless. I’m sure Isabel wouldn’t mind. I felt empty and she hadn’t even left yet. aghast at what they’d heard.” she said to the room. I stood to support Jules while she relayed everything to her including everything that had happened before then.. but this was the price I would pay to keep her safe and I wanted nothing more than her safety. Her smile faded into sheer terror. I would have to wait until I could expose him for what he was and that would clear the . Her lips were shaking as she’d ask questions... Three words.. Jules’ mother had to be supported and taken to her couch.” “If you think this is best. “It’s just until we resolve whatever it is that’s going on here. I told myself. Could he follow me? Would he do that? Yes.” I whispered.something. He would.

Jacobs?” Danny said and began a private conversation. I hadn’t even had to dust for prints in over five years. He didn’t look hopeful. it was against the rules. that we would be married and shortly after . the better. In contrast though. We have nothing. “Hmm?” He asked.” I said. as she most likely was. She had thinned out so much lately and although Jesse was definitely to blame I couldn’t help but think she was also shedding her youth a little bit. I rested my shoulder against the jamb of the door and gazed upon her. “I’m gonna’ go to Charleston then. but under the circumstances no one would care. She was no longer a girl anymore. “Wouldn’t hurt to try. Everyone shifted uncomfortably in their own skin as they buzzed about the house getting themselves ready to leave earlier than they’d planned. confirming my suspicions. “What do you have in the way of video surveillance?” I asked not expecting much. The very one Jesse uses to invade her home and stared darkly through the hundred year old glass.” he said.” he said. I snuck into Jules’ room to visit while she packed. The sooner. I hoped I looked every bit the man I felt like right then because I knew. shrugging his shoulders. her neck and face no longer.path for Jules to come home. She was a young woman and that made me wonder if I had matured alongside her. She stood fearlessly at her window. her hips were a bit rounder. her bones had matured. of the invisible progression. just by looking at her. unaware. “Danny?” I asked my uncle under my breath. “Mr. When I walked into the room she was alone. “We’re one hundred and nineteen people in this tiny town Elliott.

You’re the very worst kind of addiction. “because there’s not a definite time frame. trying to appease me.” Though it will feel like it to me. “Oh Jules.” she said.” I lied. She turned her face toward mine and I could see the tears sink into her blouse. You know? It’s funny but the more I touch. I couldn’t help but be selfish sometimes. I sighed. and just be with you the greater my need for you is. . “It’s not forever Jules. “Of course babe.” I stopped because I knew I’d just end up begging her to stay if I continued. and kiss.” she said.” I laughed. I need a lot of you to tide me over. I couldn’t argue with her but I could at least try to make her feel better.” We knew that was impossible but we could try. speaking my thoughts aloud. “My dad said they’re leaving the day after tomorrow. We’re a catch twenty two. “It just feels like it might.” she said.” she said. I thought. “It’s gonna’ suck.” “Maybe. “This is stupid. but it’s beyond us right now Jules and it’s something we have to do. I’m damned if I do indulge myself in you and damned if I don’t. I changed the subject to save myself.graduation. “It will feel like it to me. big time. the most dangerous. It was pathetic trying to keep up appearances with a person who knew your every thought. having seen my reflection in the glass. I felt it in my rapidly matured bones.” I said and with two strides I had her in my arms. “Let’s spend the day tomorrow. just you and me and get our absolute fill of each other. early.

” We slowly walked our invisible path to our marble slab .” That was all I needed to hear and I was as good as out the door. It feels like ages. “So have I dear. knowing I would barely sleep a wink.“Would you go back? Change it? If you could?” “Not for anything. “I’ve missed you terribly. “Hi honey.” “I understand. like I thought they would. her skin was beginning to hollow on her even more now but her smile was still as warm as ever.” “When can she come back?” She asked. whether it was because she started to believe it was possible that Jesse was responsible or that she didn’t want to ruffle my feathers. I just have to prove it now. The phone rang then and it was Jules. I squeezed Jules’ hand and asked her to call me in the morning. I felt like I was waking from a dream. “When they figure out who is doing this?” “I know who’s doing it ma’.” she barely said.” she said softly. I shuffled into the kitchen glancing at the mess that was my hair in the hallway mirror. “let’s go to the rock bridge. “Hey mom. Hungry?” “Nope. “What are the Jacobs going to do Elliott?” “They’re sending Jules to Mauch Chunk. I picked Jules up from her house and her eyes looked so tired. “Come over.” she said and sat beside me. I’m not sure.” she smiled up at me. The next morning.” I said.” This time she didn’t argue with me.

we sat side by side intertwined. I promised that no one would get hurt. at least not by my hands. I jumped onto the face and turned to pull her up with me. In the end. For hours. “It’s ten o’clock babe. and as we laid skin to skin we drifted off until the moon woke me.” “Okaaaay.” We hurriedly walked to my truck. “ten. “Why didn’t I bring a flashlight? We need to just keep one . I tried to leave out as much detail as possible for her sake.” I laughed. tripping over roots and whipping ourselves in the head with leaves. but a goodbye nonetheless and made the decision to savor every last second. I think we should get you back home so they don’t worry.” “Grrrr. “Jules. I was dreading her departure but was hopeful that Jules would let the worry stop taking its toll on her. Eventually we fell asleep. I don’t want them to call Danny or anything. From little things like Maddy’s reactions to all the gifts to things like her concern that I not do anything drastic.” “Yeah. not opening her eyes.and were in absolutely no hurry.” I whispered. talking. I was so grateful that Jules hadn’t seen the package. at night. weeks really. Neither of us had slept well these past few days.” “We have to. “Yeah.” I said. It would have done nothing but worry her more and she was looking so frail these days. sliding my pocket watch back into my pocket. I had a sickening feeling that this was our goodbye.” “Oops. “What?” Her eyes popped open. albeit temporary. “Hmm?” She said.

“No. but seriously Jules. I should have kissed her until my lips were bleeding to get my fill of her.” “I know.” I laughed.” “I don’t think that’s wise Jules. I wasted so . weeks.” “Shut up. I wasn’t expecting that. The remainder of the trip was agonizing because I knew this would be the last time I would see her for days. re-memorized the lines of her face over and over and burned them into my memory even deeper than they already were.” “You’re cranky when you first wake. you can’t leave before New Year’s.in our bags. “Yeah. I didn’t even know when Jules was leaving because I didn’t ask. I should have drunk in the greens of her eyes. It wouldn’t be safe. My Aunt Isabel is taking me home with Rocky and the rest will follow after New Year’s.” she laughed. it’s the only time you’ll let me kiss you in front of your family and I get a secret thrill from it. It was a solemn ride to Jules’ house. They’re kind of useful. so many will be on the road tomorrow.” she choked. my mom isn’t comfortable with me being here any longer and it’s affecting her. maybe even months. “Besides. you can’t leave before New Year’s. I’ve decided. I will have not one but two flashlights on me at all times. The uncertainty was as painful as the separation itself. I wanted to kick myself for falling asleep.” she said. from now on. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning. riding my wavelength. “What? Tomorrow?” I asked in disbelief.” “I don’t have a choice Elliott. It hurt too much to think about.” She wasn’t buying it. especially since we do stupid things like this.

drag out astonishing hold you’d put on me Jules. “I had no idea the knockdown. instead we were unconscious and I felt a bubbling fear rise in my throat. If I’m going to do it. The best thing we can do is to have you stay but stay at my house. wherever they think you are. They know you’re safe with me. be reasonable babe.” I pressed my forehead against hers and gazed into her eyes. seeing you at reunions and joking about fishing with you as a kid then saying goodbye. When I opened my door. “You can’t go.” “Okay. I’ll get on my knees. then stay at my Uncle Danny’s and Aunt Becky’s.” I pleaded.much time. “Oh who cares! They can’t hear us anyway they’re all having fun in there. “I can’t be reasonable. you can tell by the rumbling. instead of letting her wait for me to get hers I slid her over my seat and brought her out of my door. “If you want.” I was thoroughly aware of the guilt trip I was laying on her. with me.” “Yeah.” “Elliott.” she peeked over the hood. I shut the door and pinned her against it. even when we were kids we were out of control but when time slipped away from us I had intended to be an acquaintance of yours. They have a spare room.” “Elliott. all my family is in there. It’s your fault I can’t live without you and it would be cruel for you to leave me now. . Please don’t do this. You know this is what they want right? They want us separating. I could have been with her. Prudence left my intentions for us the day I met you. I might as well really do it. no matter how long you’re gone. like my parents would go for that. You’d love it there.

I’ll compromise.” “Well. It was the deepest I’ve ever breathed my entire life and I felt the strangest confidence in that freedom. “Alright.” she laughed.I took one deep breath. I pressed my body into hers. “I literally couldn’t help myself. thread my fingers through her thick hair and held the back of her head against the window. “Alright. “No. I abandoned all control and did what I wanted. a huge grin on my face. I’ll stay. I pinned her to the driver’s side door and thoroughly pressed my lips into hers. She groaned and tried to push me off of her but eventually surrendered. The thought of your leaving was enough to make me lose my cool.” I said. I breathed her in and could hear the air fill my lungs.” “Sorry. “alright. you’ll marry me?” I asked. “because I’m . dropping my hold on her. gain control. with my free hand I put my thumb through the belt loop next to her left hip and pinched the bone between my fingers. I’ve held back with you out of respect but I want so badly for you to just agree to marry me already Jules! The minute we walk across that stage I want us to walk into the nearest courthouse because I love you Julia Jacobs! And!” I took two more deep breaths. as I kissed harder and deeper. despite the fear that her family was just inside.” she whispered breathless. I don’t think I would have been able to do it anyway.” she scolded playfully. “You know. especially after you’ve touched me like this. not with my insatiable need to be touched by you. a few walls away. “The hell with it!” I attacked her.

“Oh.. “It’s okay.” I said.” “We’ll marry sooner than later.” “No need to convince the already persuaded. “Eventually. I laughed.” “You know I need you to do more than just stay Jules.. ... just closer than Mauch Chunk. Pausing was good.” “Tomorrow. She’s staying and we’ve got to figure out a place for her to stay. I kissed her neck again and this made her eyes roll to the back of her head. “Or. I didn’t get enough of her to satisfy the greed but it was late and I caught a glimmer of light from the house where someone peeked through a closed curtain. only one arm in my coat... confused. not.” she complained.” I said.. I was thinking Danny’s. “I’m going to Jules’ house.” my mom interrupted.” “Eventually.” I woke late and hurriedly showered and dressed. “I’ll see you tomorrow.. I’ll run out of ways to convince you. “Where are you going son?” She asked me..” I jested. contemplating my offer.staying.” “But she already left this morning. She paused for a long time. She changed her mind..” she said. I needed to see Jules and arrange for her to be safe somewhere else. We only differ on the time frame. I knew my own powers of persuasion. we’ll marry Elliott. “Bye mom!” I yelled while swinging my coat over my shoulders.” I said resting my lips against the hollow beneath her ear. “They know you’re here. “What?” I said.

.. my coat still half on... “No... I know you and Danny will catch Jesse and Taylor soon and it will only be a matter of time before I’m gathered in your arms.” She handed me the letter and I retreated to my room. I probably would have done the same thing if I had a daughter going through that.” I sunk into the soft arm chair in defeat. Or am I?.... She thought it best not to wake you and left this letter for you.... right? Our plan for my staying didn’t sit well with my family.. I’ll only be nine hours away for the duration of the investigation but by all means take your time. because my dad is threatening to enroll me up here... That only gives you a week. Don’t feel hurried at all.” “You’re a good boy. but no pressure or anything..and try to do it before school starts back up.“Yeah. it doesn’t. It makes me feel worse... .. ha ha. They’re so worried and I don’t want to be the one who causes anyone pain.” I sighed in consolation. I was surprised you didn’t wake from that. but they feel it’s the safest thing.” “I’m sorry... I am. Yikes.. Does it make you feel better that she was bitterly sad to be leaving?” She joked..Yes.oh. I shouldn’t have said that. So you got my note.. but what’s the big deal? She’ll be back before you know it sugar. not bothering to even remove the jacket from my one arm. she came by but you were asleep.” “Yeah... “She was here and didn’t wake me?” “Her dad was honking his horn honey. “her dad must have forced her to go.just kidding. Elliott.. especially my dad. least of all you..

tshirts that have swum in your cologne. I was looking forward to the after Christmas sales just not the same way most others did. but not before I went to Charleston. I need love letters. Your Jules Her dad was threatening to enroll her in a Mauch Chunk high school? She may have been joking about catching them in the act before Christmas break ended but I was serious as a heart attack about confronting them as soon as possible. after earning our bachelor’s’ *wink. I thought about every single kiss I’d ever given Jules. I really hope it’s resolved quickly but I absolutely dread the danger it’s putting you in. wink* on all of my notebooks and wear your letter jacket to all the dances. . I promise in return to write ‘Mrs. I hate your being in Bramwell without me.” I’ll say when the boys ask for a dance and raise my palm... I have to know you’re safe. actually. You’ve probably had enough of 4 a.. Elliott Gray. now. I’ll say. So you HAVE to promise me you’ll be exceedingly careful. I knew them by heart because that’s exactly what they were. all that pathetic mushy stuff... Jules’ humor. I hopped in my truck not even bothering to see if I matched at all.. Until I can kiss you again. It makes me queasy at the thought of it. “I’m taken. always. I love you Elliott Gray. The ride to Charleston was deafeningly quiet and allowed so many sad thoughts to seep into my mind.Honestly.m. so with that. I need four times daily updates. MINIMUM.

I felt like I was no longer symmetrical.tiny slivers of my heart given to her. I was starting to feel overwhelmingly sad when I noticed something white on my floorboard. It must have fallen out of her pocket last night or maybe she did it on purpose. She ironed her handkerchiefs like a little old lady. two I planned on positioning in the trees outside Jules’ window. I settled for three night cameras. it’s just I didn’t have it and that felt horrible. I needed to focus on the task at hand but it was becoming increasingly hard for me to think straight. if she had done it on purpose. stumbling around. I even tripped on a rock I’d known had been next to my driveway since I was a baby. It was Jules’ handkerchief. laughing uncontrollably as I was with a handkerchief plastered to my nose. I’d have to tease her about it when I called her later. I picked it up and held it in my hand. I was starting to feel like a drunk. It smelled just like Jules. neatly folded and pressed. I walked into the massive electronic store in Charleston and thoughtfully walked the aisles looking for anything I’d think would help me catch them. Her perfume wafted into my nose. If there had been anyone else on the highway they would have pegged me a lunatic. completely off balance. it’s not that I wouldn’t have spent it. I could just imagine her own thought process. which made me laugh and almost cry at the same time. I was . Something caught my eye but it was over a thousand dollars and that just wasn’t feasible. her tiny embroidered initials in light green. I laughed out loud to no one. Jules had replaced my center of gravity with herself. She is clever like that. one pointing outside the shrubbery they seemed to always come out from.

Danny said that he hoped they used Taylor’s car for everything so they could subpoena the information to use as evidence. Danny was starting to warm up to the idea that it was Jesse and Taylor who might be responsible though he wasn’t singling them out and still considering all other possibilities. It worked out really well that way since I was hoping Jesse and Taylor would continue with their nightly visits. “Lunatics”. Before I arrived though. Williams. I was determined to get this separation over with. I felt weak. With my purchases in hand. I began my drive straight for Jules’ house. That was a lucky break. Danny found out that Taylor had a hidden GPS tracking device in her car so he could keep track of his out of control daughter. Another I planned on actually hiding inside her room. I didn’t want to waste any time. . It had only been a couple of hours that I’d been separated from Jules but it was already taking a serious toll on me. Nobody knew Jules had left town. I shuddered. It was only a matter of time until he saw exactly what I did. The cameras were of an ingenious nature. As far as her neighbors were concerned the only people seen leaving Jules’ home the past few days were her visiting relatives. came the lonely hour and a half car ride home and again the sense of sadness overwhelmed me. Through clever questioning while ‘shooting the breeze’ with Mr. I could hook all three to one hub and digitally record the video through the software that came with the cameras on to the laptop I planned on keeping hidden in their living room. Taylor’s dad.hoping to catch them putting on their masks in side those bushes and the other pointing directly at the window they favored.

even a bit of antiqued lace. Well.drained. I wished that it would snow soon and cover up all of my tracks and the cameras’ cords and I also wished that Mrs. The third. I’d be the walking dead. Her bed was a patchwork of dark. rich fabrics. silks and satins. I didn’t want to find out what several days of an untouchable Jules meant. Jacobs’ ladder. said thank you and walked over to the Jacobs’ house. I grabbed the third camera and walked into Jules’ room. Using Mr. Jules’ house was empty but her dad told me he left a key at the neighbor’s house. obviously waiting for me to explain myself. tonight if possible. I’d go get her myself. The . Stevenson looked at me strangely and I didn’t really feel like offering an explanation as she held the key a bit too long. I scaled the trees and directed the cameras toward the most ideal spots. Everything about it screamed Jules to me. That was awkward. I went to my truck and got the bags of my snooping loot. Mrs. I hoped for two things just then. The look of it knocked me breathless. I stapled the cords to the part of the tree that would be invisible at the angle Jesse and Taylor intrude from and ran them along the hidden parts of the grass through Jules’ back door. Stevenson would keep her mouth closed to everyone about what I was doing because I could see her nosey ass peeking through the window at me. bringing Jules home. I strung the cords to the cameras through the living room and sprawled them onto the wood floor. velvets. I took the key. It would be the most massive waste of time if she even told one person in Bramwell because that would mean it’d eventually be front page news and Jesse would shy away like a mouse in the walls. I hoped for three things really.

for their house that is. I told her it looked ridiculous but she said. Her wing back was in her reading corner. The wall opposite the window held her dark red vanity table. It would be easy to miss it because Jules’ room was wallpapered in a busy damask and the entire wall with the vanity and the door was peppered with gilded frames and monochromatic art. I pressed record and it instantly began to take in the images.” and when we set it in her corner she was right. I had begun downloading the software that came with the cameras an hour before and it was done. She had this really interesting wool crewel rug of a giant crustacean between the bed and her bookcase next to the chair in her reading corner. This was where I wanted to set the camera. I called them her own personal taste of the ‘Marrakesh Express’. I adjusted two of the cameras as needed and when I felt satisfied with everything I left their home knowing I had done everything I could have done. I could see all three cameras simultaneously. It also faced the window. “Trust me Elliott.bed frame was an antique as well. I ran the cord along her baseboard and out into the hallway continuing to the living room. I could hide it easily behind the large heavy mirror. She was always right. I remembered helping her recover the old fabric it was in with a loud colorful one. the headboard and the end board were a dark teal tufted silk framed with light green curved wood. I should have felt happy about it all but I . I hooked up the cords to the hub that had a usb attached and started the program. Above the chair she hung the horn of an old gramophone she had turned into a lamp herself and along the windows she hung floor to ceiling paneled cream curtains with teal embroidery she said she got online from a store in Morocco.

we entertain each other. He wanted to take away everything that was dear to me and I knew that if I didn’t catch him soon that he wouldn’t stop at Jules. That was the hardest part to swallow. He would move on to my family as well. to get to me. I felt ill. leave. or driving to friends’ houses I was setting up my own private surveillance system to catch my psychotic ex-best friend and Taylor the pathetic stalker in the act of harassing my girlfriend. When most teenagers were out goofing around on their Christmas Break. She’s so much fun to laugh with. He didn’t want me to die.” “I find that mighty sweet son but two hours is too long. I decided that he needed a taste of his own medicine and from what I heard Judge Henderson liked to double the dosage. going to the mall. It seemed as if there was no stopping it. perish. What if your grandma or Danny had called? We . He had doled out every kind of punishment the insane could hand out and up until now I had pretty much taken it lying down. “What could you possibly talk about for two hours? You guys spend every waking minute together. I couldn’t even offer up myself. What killed me the most is that I had no idea how to make it stop. It’s the most peculiar thing. I’m sorry. In fact. I knew why these things were happening. I would no longer do this.didn’t. Me. What’s left to say?” “Mom. That evening I called Jules and we chatted it up for close to two hours. Jesse was the cruelest kind of monster. He wanted me to suffer. I couldn’t believe all this was happening to us. At dinner my mom stared at me in disbelief.

” “Oh Elliott. I’ll shorten it up. No. I couldn’t wait to go to sleep. chest and heart from missing Jules so intensely and second. You know. reassuring me of all the things she felt. for several reasons.” “Why?” “Because if she were here. Sheesh. maybe before Jules comes home. because . mom. I really want it cut. “Your hair really is getting long. “No. mom. First. I’m thinkin’ about getting it cut soon.” “Oh no. as if you were made of stuff greater than all other men. they were such nerds. I am barely hanging on by a thread. she wouldn’t let me cut it. I’ve felt I’ve aged so much these past few weeks what with Jules being harassed and all. You’ve been given challenges no one should carry.” I said standing up. it makes me feel younger than what I really am. Maddy and dad were immersed in their own conversation about how to properly construct a homemade kite.” “Okay. I smiled at her and she took my hand in hers and squeezed it. sort of live it up. promise. because I was tired of the ache in my stomach. shaking my head.” “You may feel as much but I assure you that thread might as well be a steel cable for all the strength that is in your heart.” “You’re too practical mom.” I said.” “Good deal baby.” Only my mom and I laughed. “You might want to keep it as long as possible since you’ll need it short when you’re in the fields for hygienic purposes. my poor boy. Yours is the most resilient soul I’ve ever met. but I’ve noticed you do carry on and well.” “Thanks mom.” “Yeah.don’t have call waiting darlin’.” she said ruffling my hair. you are much stronger than you think. the slightest wind and my thread might break.

I was surprised at how well Mr. and Mrs. I climbed into bed. It was a place of firsts and I wanted it to be the place where Jules would first agree to marry me with no stipulations and I hoped it would be the place where we said I do. well. Being six foot four had its drawbacks sometimes. If it were my kid. our own heavenly fixed mark. my muscles felt sore and used like I’d just run flat out for miles. because it was our piece of earth. they were doing everything possible to catch Jesse and keep Jules safe. I slumped onto my back. “Jules is on the phone. about the happiest times on our rock bridge. The next morning. I jumped up and hopped into the shower. especially during the winter. I almost drifted back to sleep when my mom woke me by knocking on the door. I said to myself. was one of the most beautiful pieces of nature I’d ever laid eyes on. feet touching the cold wood floor and stared at my ceiling. The rock bridge. let’s just say I’d feel sorry for the maniac. but I knew it was only the yearning I felt for Jules. I suppose I couldn’t blame them.I was more than anxious to wake early and check the video for signs of the idiots. Do you want me to tell her you’ll . Jacobs kept their cool during this entire thing. Even if I traveled God’s entire earth I would never see a hundred pieces together as beautiful as our marble slab. I woke with my feet hanging from the edge of my bed. I let the hot water cascade down my back and held myself up by placing both of my hands on the tiled wall in front of me below the shower head. My tired body drifted off to sleep easily thinking of her and just as easily I shifted to dreaming about her. December twentyeighth. I needed to get a move on if I wanted to get Jules back by New Year’s Eve.

wet. Her aunt picked it up. I needed to talk to Jules but I also needed to get warm again. “Hello?” I panted. I’m feeling sick without you and I wanted to hear your voice. “Why?” “Because I was in the middle of my shower. “What?” I could just see the furrowing of her eyebrows.” I said standing in a massive puddle of water.call her back. she said she’d be . Call me when you’re done.” she screamed. as if it should have been obvious to me.” She laughed uncontrollably.” “Bye babe. “No way. I ran to the phone dripping water all the way. I quickly turned off the water and wrapped a towel around my waist. How many times is she gonna’ let it ring? I asked myself. I guess this short conversation will tide me over until I’m done. “Why didn’t you just call me back later?” She asked.” I slipped and slid all over the kitchen floor and ran back to the bathroom to finish my shower.” I laughed. When I was done I sprinted to my room and tried to dress as quickly as possible. I was freezing cold. I’m not a very patient person. the farmhouse never got warm enough. I even put my coat on before picking up the receiver again. “Elliott? How are you babe?” “Uh. my wet hair dripping down my neck and shoulders.” “Bye Elliott. Jules wasn’t there. “Finish your shower sweets.” “Okay. If you haven’t noticed. I had showered so fast I didn’t have time to get warm from the water. “No!” I shouted.

I did what I had to and slammed the door behind me. I thought. This was a lot easier than I thought it’d be. hello. I was a little frightened to go inside. I jumped up and decided to try Jules again.right back that she just ran to the store with one of her cousins. All three cameras worked and I could even see my truck in the view of the camera pointed in the direction of Jules’ window. I left the house in a hurry and nearly sped the short few miles from my house to Jules’. I felt like throwing up. I was afraid of what I might find. I stopped the current recording and saved the files permanently. I tried to calm myself down but it wasn’t working. until I watched each video.” I said slamming down the receiver. I started fast forwarding and stopped at three seventeen a. “Crap. . torture him. The rage was all consuming.m. “Jules?” I said inadvertently panicked. Don’t want Danny to pull me over. “Hello. I told her I’d call her back later that morning. I wanted to pin him down. I pulled into Jules’ driveway and parked the truck. I thought about what I’d do if I did catch the jerk on the video and we definitely needed to catch him on video as soon as possible because the rumor of Jules’ leaving for Mauch Chunk was bound to get out inevitably. There they were. I felt compelled to do things no sane person should think of. and murder him.” she cheerfully said. I found the laptop still running and still recording which was a good sign. this time she answered. I started with the one pointed toward her window inside her room since it was the least convoluted. in all their repulsive glory.

If you so much as look at Jesse our chances of catching him will be lost. but not out of humor. Elliott. but I would also lose the opportunity to protect Jules. I’m just. but.” “I’m counting on it. I checked the surveillance and saw them breaking in. “I’m not. Hey.” “What did they do?” She asked stoically. She was right. Jules?” “Yeah?” “I’m so in love with you. She sucked in a harsh breath. I was blinded by hate. “I’m not sure. ‘Goodbye Jules. Call me when you see the entire video. nervous. I would feel better..” “I won’t hold my breath.” That put everything into perspective. “That’s why I’m determined to get you back here by new year’s.” “And just as in love with me as I am with you. you won’t be able to protect me. to be perfectly honest.. “I will hold a kiss.” “Why are you so damn smart?” I asked. If I did hurt him. but you’ve got to tame the urge. you’re not. I never finished the video. You’re just in love with me and want to stop the problem that’s threatening me. It’s only natural. listen to me.. If you hurt him. Jules released that feeling from me.” “Okay...“What?” She pressed. I was close to becoming violent. I’ll see you in twenty to life’ violent.” “No. I’m an idiot.” .” I said in complete confidence.” I chuckled.intuitive.. uh.” “Alright. I couldn’t finish the video actually and I called you so you could stop me from doing something rash.. You’re right. but no longer. “I.” she paused. “I’m so sorry Jules. “Elliott.

especially not Danny. Finally. I’d have to do it on my own. I felt the rage again but remembered Jules’ words. like he was talking to someone but I couldn’t hear anything and I could have kicked myself for not thinking of microphones. He was signaling toward the living room. They knew the potential danger. He sat at the edge of the bed and looked toward the window. This wasn’t his usual routine. I needed to sleep here tonight. That warmed me on the inside. I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to do. He must be telling Taylor to check the living room windows to see if Jules was sleeping on the couch. I watched a masked Jesse climb through the window and check for Jules under her bed and closet. I think he was looking for information that could clue him in on why she wasn’t in her bed but what he did next surprised me.” “Bye. I was desperate to know why. I took a deep breath and pressed play. neither would mine.” “Bye. He was wondering where she was. Before I left Jules’ . But she wasn’t there.“As I am with you. He started rummaging through her things. Jules’ parents would have never agreed to it. probably sleeping in a down comforter. I knew something for sure though. something got to them but I started to realize that they were looking for her for a reason. or my Uncle Danny. She was a cool five hundred miles away from their insane asses. I knew if they came tonight that they’d know something was up and stop coming altogether and my efforts would have been for not.” I set the phone on its receiver and walked back over to the laptop with a surprisingly clear mind and calm body thanks to Jules.

Please. I ate dinner. I knew my boots would leave a trail through the snow and needed to find an alternate way around her home and I’d need to enter through the opposite side so my boot prints would not tip Jesse and Taylor off that someone else. I could barely see ten feet in front of me. I hung up the phone not entirely sure she wasn’t going to call Danny. was doing nothing to keep the cold from my ears. I begged myself. let this be the last time I have to do this. I . took some convincing. me. casually tried to have a conversation with Jules and then my mom and went to bed late. so to speak. My mom didn’t suspect a thing. I made sure to unlock one of the window’s in the living room so I could get in easily. It was still a risk I was willing to take because I knew it was my last chance to catch Jesse and stop this entire thing in its snowy and dangerous tracks. It was bitter weather. That night I readied myself for battle. blizzard like. I thought of Jules to pass the time and around one in the morning I slipped out my window just as I had a few nights before. Jules. so I looped far around the bit of forest by Jules’ home and approached from the back right portion of the house. the one that always kept me warm in the coldest weather. not sleeping. pulling my coat tightly into my chest and raising the collar to protect my neck. jumping their neighbor’s fence. on the other hand. My wool cap.house. might be there waiting. I’m an impeccable liar the rare times I have to do it but Jules knew me so well the charms of it escaped her. I reached the street and ran as fast as the cold would let me to Jules’ home. She told me she could hear something in my voice and I spent the entire conversation reassuring her I wasn’t going to do anything stupid. I laid in my bed.

I waited and waited. and entered Jules’ room. well. Great. I clumsily climbed through the window and landed with a thud on the living room floor. But it was quiet. I had taken out all her clothing and shelves and hid them underneath her bed. I almost jumped in excitement I was so happy. all this effort just to get shot by Mr. Jules really does sleep like the living dead. I’m glad I checked. This was my opportunity to expose him for who he . The last thing I’d want to happen would me be exposing Jesse for what he was and not get it on film. hoping Jules’ dad didn’t check the windows before they went to bed and miraculously it opened. I hid in Jules’ large armoire. I was in the room at least. I looked at the laptop and it was recording everything. At three forty-five I heard commotion outside. I knew. I waited. Then came the hard part. Then. I can hear them coming from a mile away. My heart raced into my ears. When the ice from my boots had melted into small puddles on the floor beneath them I knew it was okay to make a move. “Jeez. I heard the window slide open. I felt the thudding pulse of blood in my neck and almost vomited from the sheer anticipation. I thought. well tiptoed as much as a guy in boots could. I tiptoed. Mission accomplished. sort of. waited some more. he’d never suspect a thing. Eventually.needed to get through the living room window furthest from Jules’ room and was praying that it wouldn’t be too difficult or too loud so as not to wake her parents. Jacobs. I closed the window and laid there without a peep just in case. I took a deep breath before trying. there. When they seemed to be approaching. This was it.” I whispered to myself.

Jules’ bed was empty but he didn’t seem surprised. every second of it. urgent. I needed to expose his face as soon as possible to the camera. I left the door of the wardrobe cracked open and watched his every move through Jules’ vanity mirror. The adrenaline pumping through me would have produced a hit the equivalent of a Mack track going a hundred miles an hour. It was a riddle of a clash. We were both being extremely quiet. I. As much as either of us wanted to yell and throw the other into the wall we fought a restrained battle. I had to get the entire thing off if this was going to work. neither wanting to wake the Jacobs. more like he was just searching. a silent fight. What should have been exaggerated movements became minimal. I could hear Jesse breathing and I could see him squinting as if he were trying to see something that wasn’t there. raging and totally soundless. or anxious. I needed to catch him off guard and immediately so I didn’t waste any time. In a fraction of a second. because I wanted to keep the danger from them and he. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I’ll admit.truly was. The next? Beat the bloody crap out of him? It sounded like a plan to me. it wasn’t going as smoothly as I’d like it to. I got just enough of it off to expose the chin and mouth but he shrugged me off of him before I could remove it in its entirety. That was the first on my list of priorities. I hated it. He yanked the mask back onto his face and turned. his back toward the camera. so he couldn’t get caught. The next part took all of five seconds but it seemed like an eternity to me. He should have been dead weight on the floor by now but I just couldn’t risk waking the . I was on his back desperately trying to remove his ski mask. or angry.

I watched him stand up. “This is how I win.” he said and that was all I could remember before he stuck me with a four inch needle in the neck. He walked back and my eyes barely reached the six feet to his masked face. I still hadn’t exposed his face and things were quickly spiraling out of my control. He held the slightly upper hand only because I let him have it.Jacobs. . It was too dark to see what it was but it made me too dizzy to fight back. He pinned me to the ground and hit me brutally across the face with something hard within his reach. walk to the window and mumble something under his breath. He was catching the remnants and gaining the upper hand. A woke Gerry and Ann Jacobs could mean a hurt Gerry and Ann Jacobs and that was not worth it. This situation was my fault and I was finally starting to regret the risk of it.

Chapter Eight Rubber Ribbons and Jellied Arms When I woke. My jaw was so tender. I tried to remember what had happened during the struggle but was having difficulty. but somehow in incredible pain. Why can’t I move! I felt paralyzed and worried that Jesse may have broken my spine at the neck no less. but if that were true how was I able to feel everything? The tears were beginning to well up but I fought back. I tried to turn my head to see where I was but wasn’t able. I wondered if he was trying to kill me . and I realized that whatever Jesse had hit me with had actually broken it. I was freezing cold. I went to block the sun with my hands but couldn’t pick up either of my arms. I remained paralyzed. He’d drugged me. I started to panic. For several hours. too pained actually. All I could see was the blinding yellow rays of light that gave me an instant pounding headache. I did recognize a very large tree from the school parking lot and wondered what Jesse was up to in putting me here. the morning sun branded itself into my eyes. I wasn’t going to shed a single drop for the psycho. I was in excruciating pain and worse yet. I couldn’t move. I finally recalled a needle and couldn’t comprehend where Jesse had gotten something like that. My teeth had to have been chattering unconsciously for hours because even my teeth felt sore.

I could tell it was him because it was moving along at a snail’s pace and his windows must have been down because I heard his dispatcher spout some code. I heard him flip his cruiser into park and jump out. I tried yelling but found that I couldn’t. I’ll be right back. Searching for something he could do for me. I sighed in relief when I heard Danny’s police cruiser. the moisture from his breath froze in the air and billowed into tiny clouds above my face. His hands searched the air above my body. I couldn’t respond. “Can you move?” He asked and I furrowed my eyebrows in response. his eyes becoming moist. I heard Danny’s car screech to a halt despite his sluggish pace. desperate for a reply. I hadn’t tried using my voice before when analyzing what I was able to move on my body. “God! Elliott! Why didn’t you wait for me boy?” He asked. I managed a grunt but that was the best I could do. I tried moving my body again and again and eventually found I had regained the use of my toes. removing his coat and throwing it over my chest. A new panic rushed through me. . It was so cold. His boots clamored up the sidewalk and ran up to me. I could tell in his reaction that I didn’t look good. I waited an agonizing five minutes to be discovered. “Are you alright son?” He asked.” he said.and it just didn’t work. Everything about Danny’s eyes made me realize that Jesse had probably beaten me within an inch of my life and if felt that way too. only squint my eyes in terror. He was looking for me. It was difficult to see properly through a window when the temperature on the inside of your vehicle was almost thirty degrees higher than the temperature outside.

I called Jules. That’s usually how these things play out. “I wondered how she knew you would be here but I’m glad she suggested it. as if to ask him how. I checked the recording to see if I could get some sort of clue as to where they were taking you. I’d gone to the emergency room before after a hard hit. You surely would have frozen solid by the time I’d thought to check here.“You managed to pull off part of his . it’s gonna’ be one of those days? I hoped that I just looked worse than I really felt.” He shook his head at the idea before continuing on.” I wished he hadn’t done that. watching you struggle with him ripped my insides to shreds. I panicked that I’d never be able to find you. So. It almost always looked worse than it actually was. I squinted my eyes in response. Danny ran back to my side while we waited for the ambulance.” he continued. It was the last place I would have thought to check.The heat from his body stayed with the jacket and I wished I could tell him how much I had needed that. She’s on her way home Elliott. He ran to his cruiser and I heard him scream into the radio for an ambulance. I would have preferred she not find out anything until after the worse was over. I didn’t want her to worry. “We know it’s Jesse. I added my face to the things I was able to move and realized that I was starting to regain the use of the end of my extremities. “She told me to check the school. probably trying to distract me from the pain I was feeling.” he said. “I’ll tell you this. “When your mom called me bawling that you weren’t there I rushed to the Jacobs’ home and saw a bloody brick loosed from their home on Jules’ floor.

I at least knew that Jesse hadn’t gotten to her but I needed so much more.” he hesitated. It was enough to get a warrant son. “I’m also betting he knew you were going to be waiting in there to catch him.mask and I saw that stupid tattoo he had gotten weeks ago on his neck. I knew where Jesse was going.” He continued talking. The paramedics . Jules would know it too. It’s where he hid until the dust from the trouble he always caused settled. He definitely knew you had cameras in the room.” So that was what Taylor was checking on.” He leaned closer to my face with a grin. “He took your cameras. No. I needed to hear that she was as perfect as the day she had to flee Bramwell. The ambulance finally came around. I’m such an idiot. This morning Sam tried to arrest Jesse but. I knew him all too well. That’s where he went after he did anything that could land him in jail. He was going to his parents’ cabin in Blackwater Falls. but don’t worry! Sam will get him! “And Elliott? I’m sorry I didn’t believe you before. jabbering on and on in nervousness. and your laptop. thinking that he’d gotten rid of any evidence. that she was better. “He can’t be found. What a fool. trying to make me feel better but all I wanted was to hear that Jules was okay. I thought. It was very smart thinking on your part. “I bet you he’d never thought in a million years that that was how we’d catch him. I could tell he didn’t want to continue but I knew what he was about to say anyway. Jesse must have seen the camera and had her check the house for the main feed. I don’t think he realized you were feeding it to my computer offsite as well. She wasn’t looking for Jules.

I laid flat and as they rolled me past the school I noticed that Jesse had spray painted and vandalized the school. I was desperate for one of them to inspect my neck for a puncture wound but lost hope when they placed the neck brace around my throat. On the wall it read. trying to scream from the pain. not a small feat for a two hundred pound plus victim. One of the medics removed something from my arm and glanced at his fellow paramedic. then easily lifted me onto a gurney. when she needed to find a vein. It was what the nurse at my doctor’s office would use when taking blood. ‘Jesse Thomas is a psycho’ and ‘Jesse Thomas is going to die’. one that wouldn’t touch my broken jaw but would at least offer some sort of support in case my neck was broken. no doubt.tried to ask me questions. They removed the brace and used a much smaller one. For what reason? He injected whatever it was that did this to me in my neck? What if he gave me . For the longest time I sat in the ambulance wondering where I’d seen something like that before. But why? I screamed in my head. they slid me onto a backboard. let them know what he had done. On the count of three. This had an unexpected effect and I started choking on the air with each breath. in an attempt to frame me for the job. He held up a ribbon of rubber. I wanted to scream out. I had a distinct feeling that my fingerprints would be on all the paint cans. twice for no and I tried to answer as best I could but it was truly difficult when their questions seemed to lead in the wrong direction. He had mutilated all the plant life in his wake and broken several windows as well. They told me to blink once for yes.

“The syringe?” He asked. I heard machines beeping..me... I knew if she wasn’t there I couldn’t have been out for that long.. “What?” He asked. I heard the medics... My jaw was wired shut. furrowing his eyebrows and pitching his ear toward my lips. liquid dripping and the shallow breathing of my family. can you tell me what drugs you took?” He studied my confused expression. If you want to .tried. “Jesse. I knew it. you’ve had to have surgery on your jaw son. I took a deep breath and said the only thing I could possibly say... “Pain.” He nodded. It went well but your jaw had to be wired shut. It was so painful to speak and with every word.” I mumbled..” I managed to just barely slur out. I woke. Jules wasn’t there. I had never been in so much pain and could barely voice it. Then.” I finally muddled.something else? I thought.. “Kill. What was he doing? He was too smart to make so many mistakes. “What was in the syringe at the scene?” Syringe? I thought. “Son. I passed out so many times I lost count and every time I woke I wished I would black out again. “Elliott. eyes red from hours of crying.. “Elliott?” My mom said softly.. “Nothing.kill. this time with no pain. I pried my eyelids open and looked around. every roll of the tongue I fought back the bile rising in my throat.. I tried to speak but couldn’t. I lifted my arms and found that although they felt like jelly I could indeed lift them and that relieved some of my anxiety.

He didn’t need to say it. and looked over to my father.. If I hadn’t had been so weak from the drugs I know I could have broken through them... “She was here yesterday son. I’m just not sure how to tell you this but after she left the hospital yesterday I saw her to her car and told her to go straight to her house where her mom and dad were waiting because we still haven’t caught Jesse yet. nothing would have stopped me from getting to Jules but I could barely hold a pen let alone fight off two grown men.communicate with us you’ll need to write down what you want to say. All I could see were watery faces staring down on me in pity.” He paused for a long time. She brought over a pen and pad... I pointed to Julia’s name and waited. now Elliott.. I couldn’t hold them so she put the pen in my hand and held the pad steady for me while I wrote.well.. Jules? She hesitated. “Well. I could hear Maddy’s muffled sobs as she buried herself into my grandmother’s stomach.. My dad came up and squeezed my hand. I scrambled for the .. clearing her throat. She never made it home. I don’t know if I.” Yesterday?! I could tell he was leaving something out. I didn’t give him a chance to continue. My Uncle Danny helped my dad restrain me against the hospital bed. okay?” I squinted my eyes and nodded in agreement. I began ripping out anything attached to me and tried to sit up. long enough for me to feel the tears slide down my temples. right dad? Just say it! She never made it home! I screamed ‘no’ through wired teeth. I knew.. They waited until I calmed down.

She repeatedly refused me but I eventually convinced her that you wouldn’t be up for hours. He leaned in and focused on my eyes. How long? “Julia was here from the second she got into town until I had to order her several times to go home and get some sleep and something to eat. “Eight hours. I wasn’t interested in the back story.pen and paper and tried to write down everything I wanted to know. I didn’t complain until I saw the syringe in her hand. “Is there any place you can possibly think that he would have taken her? Anything you could give us would be helpful Elliott. She’s not here son. Only eight.. Why aren’t you looking for her? “We’ve searched everywhere Elliott. .” Danny said. Someone must have called for a nurse then. We’ve notified all the necessary authorities and they are all doing everything they can..” I underlined the words ‘how long’ and waited impatiently.” I nodded and wrote. before pausing.. Eight hours away from her being safe in my sight or enduring whatever hideous plan Jesse had for her. My mom helped me once more. Blackwater Falls. Eight hours. We found her car running on Main with the door open. I began to protest but it was no use.” Danny said. We think she’s alive because there was evidence of a struggle and it looks like he took her away in his car Elliott. I felt like vomiting but knew that wouldn’t have been an option with my jaw wired shut and shut my eyes for a moment instead to catch my breath. I couldn’t stop her and my dad and Uncle Danny had me by the arms... He’s taken her somewhere.

I fell asleep angry hoping the rage would burn the drugs faster so I could wake and tear out of the hospital with a vengeance. I immediately grabbed my chest. When I was positive there was nothing still attached. She inundated my thoughts and I woke to blood boiling when I realized where she was. I knew I had precious little time to get away because . only my dad was in the room with me. I frantically pulled the hospital gown from my body but found nothing there.As I drifted off to sleep. just below my left collarbone. Impulsively. I was grateful to the last person who had come and left the room because the door was cracked open an inch or so and I escaped without so much as a sound. I tossed everything on as quickly as I possibly could and crept from the room as quietly as possible. I heard a nurse tell someone to get some sleep before she closed their door and I waited for her footsteps to dim before I began removing anything that would have kept me tied to that insipid bed. I slipped from underneath the covers and grabbed the bag full of the clothes I came in. It was definitely late in the night because my dad was snoring steadily and I barely heard a peep outside my room. I opened my eyes and checked around the almost quiet room. I thought of nothing but Jules. Before I left. I had no idea the time but it looked late. All I could ever want in the entire world was being threatened and I was handicapped by the very thing Jesse tried to kill me with. I rubbed the area trying to remove the torment. It was an instant excruciating misery and throbbed terribly. I noticed the pen and paper and tossed it in my back pocket. I dreamt of Jules from the second my eyes closed to the second I woke.

I scribbled as legibly but as fast as I could. including Matthew Tanen. I took a closer look at everyone sleeping in the waiting room and figured Matt was my only chance because he was closest. people. I never expected. I turned the corner and was almost found out. I had no idea how I was going to get to my truck but I didn’t care. Matt was the kind of loyal friend that knew when to let things go when you wanted it dropped and he agreed without hesitation.” he said reluctantly. I was working down my list and wasn’t going to worry about everything at once. I’m calling in that favor. sleeping along several chairs. Matt. We ran toward the double doors and I had a fleeting thought towards the pain in my chest. “What the hell are you doing out here Gray?” He asked. One step at a time.my heart monitor stopped beeping and I could already hear the nurses’ speedy steps heading the direction of my room. I peered back around that same corner and saw someone. I need your help and I don’t want you to ask questions. My entire team. I kept telling myself. Several of my family members stirred but thankfully never woke and when I thought Matt had a grip on himself I pulled him toward a hidden hallway. Remember that time you said you owed me because I wouldn’t let you cheat off my paper in Chemistry and instead stayed with you all night and helped you study? “Yeeeesss. I quietly snuck up to him and pulled at his sleeve. He startled awake and I had to restrain his booming voice with my hand. That’s when it hit me. . I wrote. hard.

Oh my God! Julia! .

” I mumbled through tape. Jeez.Chapter Nine From The Other Side “Jules. “What was that?” He asked. who is this guy? “Psycho. cupping his ear. Peeking over the dash didn’t get me much but I knew the little information I could get might help Elliott find me if I could eventually get to a phone. when I could gather the strength. feigning he missed what I never said and laughing maniacally. We were heading northeast toward Blackwater Falls from the little I was able to see. My saliva and the heat from my breath softened the glue on the tape and was beginning to chafe the skin around my mouth. I nodded my head. I was hogtied and on my back and every few minutes. knuckles tight on the steering wheel. I don’t think he thought it would be an issue because I don’t think he planned on letting me live long enough to do anything about it and although that may have frightened me I refused to give up and refused to let him know how terrified I really was. I learned my lesson early on in this little abduction that if I didn’t answer promptly I paid dearly with a slap to the face. He never tried to stop me. I prayed like hell that we were going to his parents’ . not that I could talk anyway. barely acknowledging him. can you breathe alright?” He asked. I would strain to peek over the dash in attempt to get my bearings. with all the duct tape he had plastered to my mouth.

For foolish reasons. I was so close to home. not on the porch. ‘not in the driveway. much needed shut eye. actually inside the house’. never stopping anywhere. Mark couldn’t leave Maddy by herself because we were the only ones left after everyone else went to eat. right? Not when everyone and their dog was looking for him. I mean. there was no way Jesse would come back to Bramwell. I promised Mark and pinky swore Maddy to go straight home. It turned out to be the dopiest thing I could have ever thought to do. from the hospital where Elliott laid unconscious from his recent surgery for some. more like being forced home. . I was coming home. So Mark walked me out to Carmen and made me promise to ring him when I physically stepped foot inside The Perry House and locked the door behind me. I’ll admit it. I thought it best not to wake my dad and make him come escort me home because I thought if trouble arose that I would be able to drive away from the problem. especially when I was one of the ‘people’ whom he wanted. My clothes were soaked from the melted snow that soaked into my jeans and coat when he had dragged me by my hair from my car to his. sick of the disgusting hospital food.cabin because at least I could get warm there. People didn’t just ‘drive’ away from Jesse Thomas. I could smell it and had calmed down enough turn up The Dear Hunter’s ‘Mustard Gas’. Also. My feet were ice cold and I could barely feel my hands. never opening my door for any reason and to call once I reached home since Danny couldn’t escort me as he was on duty and called in to handle a domestic dispute somewhere in Bluefield.

. his face hardly visible through the blizzard swarming around us. crystallized ice preventing me from seeing anything. I just prayed to God mine would beat furiously enough to weather the foulness that more than likely laid in my immediate future. but there was a sheet of ice beneath me at least two inches thick and my tires lost any traction from the all too eager spinning. An awful sense of dread took over my body confirming I should have trusted my own instincts and stayed at the hospital. I threw Carmen into reverse. I suffered a building. I knew that Elliott would never be able to forgive himself if something happened to me and he hadn’t been there to stop it. I was a Jacobs after all and everyone knows that the Jacobs possess warrior hearts. out of the corner of my eye.. instant panic ran icy through my veins. At the sight of his Mustang. I’d driven in ice my . resting my right hand on the back of the passenger seat to brace myself as I looked out my foggy rear window. I spotted Jesse’s Mustang come from out of nowhere. Hurting me would hurt Elliott and there was no way in hell I was going to let that come to pass.” I sang as I crossed the intersection at Main where it turns into Brick and in that moment. so I could tell him myself. lazy pace. I slammed the gas and blindly attempted to steer the car a decent enough distance to throw it back into drive and get out of there.“Look to the sky. give my eyeteeth to stop it if I had to. My thoughts were consumed with the thoughts that the love of my life was unconscious. barely missing my front bumper. I inhaled sharply just as he stopped short in front of me. totally unable to come to my rescue. wretched hysteria while Jesse sauntered from his vehicle at a confident. on a hospital bed. That meant I was going to fight tooth and nail to make sure it didn’t happen.

I remembered watching television shows or reading articles about people involved in some form of tragedy or another. but I’d never been so grateful for his overprotective meddling than in that moment. ‘I just froze’. I can’t stand being coddled which Elliott had understandably done a lot of lately. I leaned over. for the first time ever. I remember throwing a fit. desperation oozing from every pore and effectively ending any chance of thinking soundly. I would shake my head back and forth as I read their stories. Obviously. The few occasions I’ve needed to. I just can’t get to the high octaves without it coming out in scratches. Growing up. I struggled to scream but I’m just not a screamer. they’d always say and I would chock up their lack of action or mere escape from death as someone who barely fit into the ‘survivors of the fittest’ category.entire life and knew the last thing I was supposed to do was press the gas like I did but I panicked. I heard and felt shattered glass spill down the side of the car and onto my lap. I think it’s because my voice is too deep. and before I knew it. I repeatedly tried to gain control of Carmen but she failed me. I humbly admit. I no longer judge those people so unfairly. thrusting my arm underneath the . Elliott forced me to keep a crowbar underneath my passenger seat. chiding them for their stupid mistakes with a click of my tongue for their seemingly nonexistent desire for self-preservation. Premature judgment. I swallowed that misconception that day followed by the bitter pill of regret mixed with a bit of my own blood. Glass scraped the side of my face and I brought my hands up to protect my eyes. I open my mouth but nothing ever comes out.

I felt around the floor board for it and caught the cold steel by the tip just as Jesse stretched through the newly shattered window.” . I tell you what to do Julia. “Get back here you bitch!” I still held the bar in my hand and turned around to face him. no. It wasn’t hard enough to break it but it was hard enough to stun him.passenger seat sweeping my hand back and forth for the steel bar. “Stay away from me Jesse!” “Oh. bringing his hurt arm protectively toward his chest. no. not the other way around. grabbed my hair to yank me back and I lost any grip I had. no. He bent over in pain and I used the time as a distraction to unbuckle myself and throw open the door. He raised his left arm and the bar met the bone of his forearm with a sickening thud. “This is not how things work. My face instantly numbed from the shocking chill. I begged my body not to react to the cold. his shoulders shaking from the effort. begged it to power through the cutting blast. I winced in pain before pulling myself forward and frantically felt around for the bar once more. ‘Mustard Gas’ spilled into the air and I sprinted in the direction of my home. the air whipped across my hair and jarred me awake from what I had hoped was just a nightmare.” he chuckled. I could see Jesse reach for me again as my fingers wrapped around the base. He stumbled back from the car. I yelled for someone to help me but the blizzard drowned out all sound. I brought it out and swung as hard as I could toward Jesse. not to shut down as it wanted so badly to do. I was a mere two blocks from my front door. I was all alone.

I bit his fingers and swung my elbow back toward his face but missed.. but for my Elliott and the cruel. “Understood?” I nodded and he slightly released some pressure around my torso. before Jesse covered my mouth with his hand. He whispered in my ear as I desperately tried to pull oxygen into my lungs. not just for me. He pulled me tighter into his chest and squeezed the air from my lungs.He walked slowly toward me like he had all the time in the world. kissing my neck. He leaned his mouth into my ear. He snatched the bar from my hand and threw it in Sawyer Tuttle’s yard.” I yelled again. out of realization that his house was so close. cutting off the possibility of breath. help me! Saw. I realized. I gulped freezing air into my lungs and coughed from the pain of it.. ordering myself not to cry. I turned to run toward my home again but he picked up his pace and overpowered me..” he said.” He squeezed me tighter. horrible things he did to him. He grabbed a handful of my hair again and started dragging me to his . He pulled me onto the ground and the melted ice and snow from the road soaked into my clothing. every time I let out a little air to gain a breath he would choke his arm further into my chest. I refused to show him any sort of weakness. “Sawyer!” I yelled. Crying would only give him satisfaction and refusing him that. repositioning his hand tight across my mouth.” I shuddered at his touch. “Come on Julia. His arm acted as a boa constrictor. He’s a conditioned athlete and I basically had no chance. “Sawyer. was the only power I would have over him. “Yell again and I shove that crowbar down your throat. “You’re coming with me.

suffocating me. “You’ll pay for that. Thankfully. I shook my head. his fingers at my throat. I clawed at his forearm. Trying to get a better grip on him. I’m not sure why I protested.” he threatened. when all hell started breaking loose. the tears subsided as I stared into his vacant eyes. I shut my mouth but he brought me to my feet anyway and slammed me into the car. The four times it happened he pulled harder and I would moan in pain. He pushed hard against my mouth. It felt likes weeks before we arrived at his car and he dragged me toward the trunk. nothing more than a way for him to let me know that he was in control. It was a punishing kiss. When I remembered this. I turned over onto my stomach and started walking on my knees but several times I faltered and my face ended up flat against the icy pavement. His hold was crushing my windpipe. cruelly crushing . the red from my fingernails streaking the leather. Instinct? Weeks ago.Mustang. “No!” I yelled. tears threatening the corners of my eyes and breathed through my nose deeply to gain control. Elliott told me if anything ever happened to him and Jesse got to me that I should encourage being transported in his trunk because I could kick out a tail light and push my arm through to get the attention of passing vehicles without Jesse having any knowledge of it. but his thick jacket protected him from my short nails furiously trying to scrape through. pleading with him to release me. He studied me before angrily pushing his lips to mine and I kept my mouth tight.

kissed me gently instead. threatening more punishment but. “I can just imagine it. I winced in pain as he drew out my bottom lip and bit down. he opened his trunk and removed a length of rope and a roll of duct tape. . I swallowed hard and tried to break free of his grip but the effort was pointless.and bruising my lips. his mouth started bleeding and his grip on my arm softened but when I turned to run it just as quickly tightened again and he grabbed the other arm with his free hand and yanked me into his chest. Of the two. the latter was the most revolting. to my surprise. I might just kill you here and deliver your body to your parents' doorstep. I yelped in pain. He buried his face in my neck and I could feel warm blood from his lips trickle down my throat.” he said. from the pleasure of the visual I assumed. he was just too powerful for me. He breathed into my neck and bit down hard on the muscle between my throat and shoulder. the most disturbing. not expecting an answer. this is going to be fun. for reasons only he knew.” He shuddered. His empty eyes pierced mine before he inched closer. “Oh God. Would you prefer that?” he asked. he withdrew. “If you’re not careful. I tried to take advantage of his distraction and swung my elbow once more towards his face and this time it made contact with his chin. gripping my arms tighter. Then. Immediately. He snapped my body to the back of his car and with one hand gripped tightly on my upper arm. “I’m losing patience with you Julia. your dad. stepping onto his porch to find his daughter dead and exposed to the world. too intimate and caused me to involuntarily lurch. grinning from ear to ear.” he whispered.

and stretched a long piece of tape.. my jaw locked tight in resignation as he forced me into a sitting position by grabbing my upper arms and pulling me forward. The wind whistled in protest against the blizzard swirling around the car.“Come to think of it. I heard him shift some things around then close the trunk. then he forced me to kneel at the ground and strung the rope toward my feet and bound those together as well. My jaw trembled and I clamped my teeth hard to hide the weakness. leaving it attached to the roll and energetically pressing the end to my mouth. laying me on my back in the front seat. I kept my eyes closed until I heard the stripping sound of duct tape being removed from the roll. You’ve caused me a great deal of grief Julia Jacobs and you will pay dearly for the trouble you’ve inflicted.” He yanked me closer to the trunk and bound my hands together. I felt deflated that he didn’t put me in the trunk. with all the familiarity of old friends going for a winter joy ride. I heard his feet crush more snow for a few more steps on the opposite side of the car before he opened the driver’s side door and settled into his seat before shutting it.. I couldn’t see anything but heard his footfalls crunch the snow toward the trunk once more. “no.” he sighed in resignation.” “I’ve done noth. He coiled his arms underneath my armpits and dragged me to his car. I plan to have my fun instead. I’m preferring that route more and more but. “Cold isnt’ it?” He asked. He wrapped my head twice as taut as he could and . I refused to look at him. causing the tattoo on his neck to dance up and down. Though it is a good idea. He smiled and swallowed..

I begged myself. looking at Jesse in that moment meant death was most certainly a very real possibility. Using his teeth.” I whispered in unison with the music. Don’t cry. For Elliott. Jesse looked surprised and slightly amused to see me acting so boldly. his Cool Water cologne attacked my senses. No doubt. until now. even if it meant I was deluding myself. “You got something you need to say jewel?” . I was lying to myself. I would pay for it later. It wasn’t working and I found myself straining against the hollow feeling inside my chest. “From the other side. After several hours of driving. I told myself to fortify my resolve. leaving half an inch between our faces. I always thought Jesse had smelled so good. The only sound was the harsh inhale and exhale I made through my nose. a spontaneous promise to always love Elliott. Tears welled. He roughly pushed me onto my back and my neck dug into the buckle clasp of the passenger’s seat belt. You’ll find a way out of this. That worked. my body warmed only slightly. realization coming to the forefront of my mind. no matter where I ended up. I will never again be able to smell that fragrance without wanting to hurl. We drove off just as the song was coming to an end. Proof that I would do just about anything if it prevented me from losing it. I needed to get out of my wet clothes soon if I was going to avoid hypothermia.leaned in. I was tired and emotionally numb but forced myself to sit upright. he tore the roll end of the tape before securing the remaining few inches to my mouth. Don’t cry. because although I knew I would fight with everything I had to stay alive.

desperate to smell his scent of ocean and the woods after a fresh rain that was so uniquely masculine. I imagined his tall frame holding me against him. I suddenly felt the need to pray that my body not be too mutilated when the cops found me. You know that right? Three layers this time and I’ll make sure it’s wrapped around lots of that beautiful hair. Julia?” He had asked this on that ridiculous movie date. The color of the water there can only be described as the most surreal incandescent cerulean blue. God was good to him in how He gifted him. He laughed and picked up his speed. so uniquely Elliott. for Elliott’s. I could wait. I breathed in.I nodded. maybe even attach a couple of those tacks in my cup holder to the sticky side against your head. He smelled like home. “and I’m just going to put it right back on. Hands down. Just as suddenly came the thought that never being found seemed a precious gift. There was no amount of mental preparation that would ready me for the things he had in store for me. Should I pull over?” I shook my head from side to side. reminded me of home. His eyes were the brightest blue you’ve ever seen. I tried to focus on envisioning Elliott. no doubt eager to begin whatever he had planned for me. One question he once asked me repeatedly popped into my head over and over. My parents had taken me on vacation once as a child to the island of Santorini in Greece.” he smiled. “If I rip off the tape it’s gonna’ hurt like hell. “Have you ever heard of scarification. such an amazing person. To calm myself down. There’s no need to lie to you. quickly turning his eyes back on the road then returning his glare on me. for my family’s sake. the most beautiful color on .

His lips? Full. my heart already heavy with regret and missing him so much even my teeth ached. That’s the color of Elliott’s eyes and they contrasted so well with his black hair. Jesse turn the car abruptly and I could taste the panic rising into my throat. I constantly teased him about his being born in the wrong century but the truth was. he really was an old soul. there was a truth in his eyes that told me he wasn’t joshing. I was so undeserving of him. For some reason even my jaw throbbed. Thinking on him was becoming burdensome on my chest. His cheeks? Strong. I let my back sink into the snow and I slid at a snail’s pace towards the sound of running water. His nose? Romanesque. His chin? Stronger. . He got out and ran over to my side. He was such a good man. Just as I decided it was time to sit up once more and check our location. I glanced over to him and he flipped open a butterfly knife. Elliott Gray would die for me and I prayed to God that He would not let that happen. And he was so in love with me. I turned my body to face him and scrambled as best I could over to the driver’s side door and busted it open. I couldn’t believe he was mine. He mentioned once to me that he would kill tigers for me and as soon as he said it. The car pulled to a stop. my body instinctively suspecting how close I was to my death. He was devastatingly handsome and totally clueless of that fact. I was shocked. to be honest with you.God’s green earth. He did things for people that no modern person in society would do. When he opened the door.

There was no way to brace myself as my hands were still tied. a reaction I would have often with him from that point.“Oh calm down Julia. you will not find it so pleasant. Here’s a little clue for you. He buried his face in my hair and inhaled.” he said.” I stilled. He dove for me and I braced myself for the stab but it never came. muffling my cry of pain and filling my mouth with the salty warmth of my own blood. He pushed me into the room causing me to fall to the floor before closing the door behind him. I breathed hard. the exhale from my nose freezing in the air as he cut the leg restraint and pulled me to my feet. as the tape was so tight against my mouth. I breathed deeply through my nose to hold back the vomit. “Come on lovely. “God you smell good. I’m only removing the restraints. He freed his right hand from its grip around my shoulder and ran his left hand across my chest to keep me from running. it involves my butterfly knife. He started pullilng the fingers of his right hand through my hair and I jerked away from his touch. I fell on my face and felt the hard wood floor lacerate my cheek and bust my bottom lip through the tape. and your skin.” he said. “Let me do this Julia or I’ll think of another use for my hand and believe me. knowing I would choke if I did. I had to swallow to keep from choking. . He pulled me up the back porch steps and the back door creaked open. He picked me up and faced me away from him.” He made me want to vomit. placing his hand on the hood to meet me on the driver’s side.

He pinched my jaw between his thumb and index finger.” He leaned in closer to me and ran the tip of his tongue across the surface where our blood mixed together. now we are as one Julia. I’m sure that had to hurt. “Here.“That’s what I thought. “No tears?” He asked. his jaw tight.” he winked. “I’ve wanted you for a very.” he said. Foolish girl. He squeezed his hand together and I saw blood begin to trickle down his forearm and onto the floor. You would have been smarter to feign your tolerance for pain. very long time Julia. he unraveled the tape harshly from my face and it pulled my hair and skin so roughly I could feel blood trickling down my face and neck.” He bit my ear and I shrieked at the unexpected pain.” Before I could brace myself. running his fingers through my hair again and again. “You’re trying to be brave. let me take care of this uncomfortable tape for you.” He chuckled. inspecting his handiwork. he raised the palm of his hand and ran slippery digits down my throat and the back of my neck. I see. “But there’s blood Julia. “We taste incredible. bewildered.” He turned my face from side to side. I refused to cry. When he had a decent amount of blood in his hand.” My eyes watered but I refused to let one slip as he . It was warm and the tangy bitterness made my head spin. “Salty. Leaning into my ear he said. He turned me around. Now I know your threshold and I’ll be sure to inflict enough to bring the reaction I want. Oh. “There. and ran his right hand up my arm until his fingers found my face.” I watched as he flipped the broad side of the blade of his knife to rest in his palm. tainting me with his vileness. “Hmm.

I need to get out of here fast but I can’t have you dying of hypothermia before I get to do my thing.” I did as I was told and covered myself the best I could with my hands and arms. “Let me set some ground rules for you puppet. He untied my hands and repositioned me so I was facing him again.” I did. facing him. “Put your clothes in the dryer and start it.” “No. . “Go stand by the fire. “Walk into the laundry room. “Turn around. Got it? If you refuse me anything. When I didn’t give him what he wanted he just laughed and dragged me towards the fireplace. you say ‘how high Jesse?’.” I was afraid to use my voice. his eyebrows furrowed and lips curled around an evil smile. “Sit.” I said.” he said. flipping it open and closed repeatedly. I removed all my clothing except for my underwear and bra and held the wet clothes against my body. finding my voice. but I had a few choice words standing by. and guided me to the floor.” I did. When I say ‘jump’. “Stand. He sat on the couch. “Undress. “Undress. I sat with my back against the sofa.” he repeated. “Wouldn’t want you to get sick now would we pet? Especially since you’re in need of getting out of those cold.” He followed me back to the living room and I stood with my back to the fire.” he said and positioned himself above me. playing with his knife. He threw wood into the hearth and started the gas before lighting the flame. Understand?” I nodded my response. wet clothes. I obeyed. I will make it so difficult for you to breathe you’ll beg me for death.watched in hopeful anticipation.

Not a thing. Knowing he’d demand it. Bodies? Are there more like me? “So. I’ll make a comfy little fire and start experimenting on you before Elliott finds us.” I swallowed.staring off into nothing. Don’t you?” He stood slowly and towered over me. “You’re learning pet. I made the decision to position my feet mere inches from his before folding my arms across my chest. We’ll head over there. his chest heaving with each breath. It might take him a little while to find it because he’s never been there before. You’ll like it. months. First .” he winked. but I’m sure we can think of something to pass the time. He laughed. I plan on taking you to my cave behind the falls. flip. Your bodies won’t be found for weeks. “That’s right. but it did no good. He charged me at full speed and I did the only thing I could. “That’s right. He did this for what seemed like a very long time before his eyes met mine again. flip.” Flip. He knows about it. can’t hear a thing through the rushing water. My hands shook as I approached him. I grabbed it and backed across the room.” he continued. I sliced at his arms so I could attempt at a stab. “After your clothes are dry. “Well hidden. “Don’t come any closer!” I yelled. “just as soon as they’re dry. He continued the flip of his knife but lost control of it and it toppled to the ground but before he had an opportunity to reach for it. Would you like to hear my plans for you?” I refused to acknowledge him. “Come here.” he smiled.” My eyes widened in fear. maybe even years.

I promise not to kill you on one condition. “Hold still. He overpowered me and I kicked and punched.p. “Ah. You see.. right below my left collarbone..” He sat up and straddled my legs. I have three more lines to do. I flinched and tried to crawl away.” I almost burst into tears but an image of Elliott laying . he licked the blood off the blade. “I’ll do anything. You let me do this and I won’t kill you.d..” I begged. ahhh.just don’t kill me. “Please?” He seemed amused. “Okay. then the right but missed..promise..” “Anything?” “Anything. I yelled in pain but he just drew the blade over the wound over and over until it was deep enough for him. but it was of no use. j. taking the knife. I gritted my teeth by the third turn and braced myself to pass out. He slammed me into the ground. “Please. then I tried the left once more and it cut but not as deeply as the first time.the left and I made contact slicing close to bone. bit and pulled at his hair..... I p.do you want?” “Hold still.” “Wh. We had a deal Julia.” he laughed. “Now where was I?” He placed the blade in the exact same spot and began to slice a two inch line..” He took the blade and brought it to my chest. took the knife from me and pressed the sharp blade against my neck.what. “I’ll give you a moment. It cut and the blood began to pool onto the floor beneath me.d.” he commanded and pinned my hands with his knees to the hard pine floor. ah..

” he said before tearing me through the bedroom and into the laundry room. My eyes zeroed in on his artwork.unconscious on a hospital bed with his jaw wired shut came to mind and I steeled myself. I was afraid to look at what he had carved into my chest but he shouted for me to open my eyes and I met my body’s image. for him. . I shouted at the agony of it but the tears never came. I didn’t know if he meant Elliott’s initial or if he literally meant Elliott himself. causing even more blood to stream down my skin and soak through my bra. his and mine. I only wanted Elliott never to come anywhere near us. He made me grab my now dry clothes from the dryer and put them back on. mostly mine. I shuddered when forced to lean against him because my knees threatened to buckle beneath me. Right underneath my left collarbone. “Enough. I was drenched in blood. carved in the flesh. he picked his body weight up from my legs and brought me to my feet. was the letter ‘E’. Once I had steady enough footing he steered me into his parents’ room to the mirror in the bathroom. My hair was plastered to my skin from all the blood and the E was bleeding profusely all over the floor and counter top. I looked like death warmed over.” he said. but I didn’t want to find out. “You’ll take him to the grave with you Julia. bringing his hand to the ‘E’ from over my shoulder and pressing the raw wound. He was my everything and didn’t deserve to see me like this. My ‘E’ bled through my shirt. When I saw myself I almost fainted. soaked into my clothing and dripped into my jeans. When he finished all four lines. I focused on the damage he’d done. to be honest.

can I? Leaves a nasty trail.He pushed me from the laundry room and tossed me onto the pine planks of the living room. painting glassy crimson proof of the promise of my own impending trail. dripping life over every inch of the floor. Please. but it didn’t last long because he went into the bedroom and I heard the tearing of some fabric. I turned from my side to my back and quietly sobbed. Just need to take care of these knife wounds. He came out with strips of what looked like a sheet and gagged me by tying it tight behind my ahead and across my mouth. I silently prayed. I could barely breathe. praying that I could stop the salt water flow before he got out of his shower.” He turned for his parents’ bathroom. He tied me once more but didn’t tape my mouth shut. Please God. . I’ll have enough trouble as it is hiding yours. let my death be a peaceful one. “I’ll be back Julia. Can’t very well flee West Virginia if I’m bleeding a trailed path that leads to my hiding place. for which I was grateful.

The car ride to my house felt like an eternity. I could also tell Matt didn’t want to cause me any unnecessary pain or maybe he was taking my ‘no questions asked’ demand a bit too literally. It was probably the fact that he already knew where we were going and was debating on whether or not it was worth our friendship to take me back to the hospital and spare both our lives or even Jesse’s. for several baseball bats setting underneath my seat as well. I followed him to his car and placed my hand on my chest at the pain under my left collarbone before signaling to head towards my house and he revved his engine. Jesse. The fact that I couldn’t speak more than one or two words together wasn’t helping much either. not just for the truck though.Chapter Ten My Calling “Let’s go. Jesse. He had no chains on his tires and we were going into some crazy weather and it wasn’t likely to make it up the obscure dirt road to Jesse’s parents’ cabin. I needed him to come with me to Blackwater Falls but his old Camaro couldn’t make the trek. Jesse.” Matt said. someone I don’t even think Marisa or even Taylor knew was capable of such monstrosity. . I needed to get to my truck. We were understandably quiet. the most deranged person I’ve ever known of in my entire life and whom I had no idea had it in him to be so.

I absently placed my hand over the place on my chest I knew Julia was hurting the worst. and watched Matt hug his arms through my rear view.When Matt killed the engine. he sat in the driver’s seat while I removed my seat belt and began to exit the car. I hopped into the cab. squeezed. I didn’t blame him. It wasn’t sticking and . waved my thank you. The roads were barely visible through the thick fog of snow tossing and turning around me. I struggled through the falling snow to my truck and put it in neutral to push back onto the road without waking my mom or sister. Poor Matt. The next thing I knew Matt was beside me helping me push her onto the road. He didn’t so much as blink and I hesitated at the door’s handle. The four and a half hour drive to Blackwater Falls left room for me to imagine the worst scenarios possible. He did the most he was willing to do and I could tell he was struggling with the words to say. and smiled the best crooked smile I could through the pain to let him know it was okay and bolted into the winter’s night. nothing. I prayed that he was keeping her at the cabin but feared that since the police had already been there I would find the same thing they did. I could only imagine what he was thinking but there was one thing I knew for certain. The pang of hurt settled inside my chest at the thought of what Jesse might have done to Jules while I was out and I found my foot laying harder on the gas. sat back again only to nod in realization that Matt had no intention of coming with me. I made a mental checklist of all the things I was going to need if I was forced to go out into the woods to find Jules. It instantly aged him. His eyes were the most worried I’d ever seen them. I grabbed his shoulder.

not only because of the weather. I found Jesse’s car parked in the back next to the firewood. Four hours passed sluggishly before I found myself at the obscure turn off that was the Thomas’ private drive to their small vacation home but in Jesse’s case it was more his own private hideaway from the law.that was very good news to me. If they had been there it had to have been hours . I stepped inside and the cabin felt as icy cold as it was outside. I was hoping since the police had come and left at that point that Jesse would feel comfortable coming back to the cabin but it was a false hope. I walked through his screened porch and shook the snow from my boots and body. I was lucky to find it at all. I turned onto the drive and slowly snaked the truck through two miles of blizzard. My heart. I circled the cabin with my bat in hand looking for any signs of their whereabouts. thinking it was a trap. I pressed my ear against the door and heard nothing. The truck slipped and skidded a few times in a dangerous ice dance but when I finally reached the cabin my earlier prediction struck home. It was dark. I hadn’t even needed to wait long for my windshield to defrost. I hid the truck in an alcove of trees I was confident wouldn’t hinder a hasty retreat and slipped out. but saw no smoke coming from the chimney and was fairly sure he wouldn’t have been inside without one. but also because I’d only been there twice before. just one I was so wishing was true. the cold was that bitter. on the other hand was another story. I hesitated. I checked the handle and it was unlocked. frozen solid knowing Jules was so close yet so very far away from me. not a single light on.

My jaw throbbed as the pain medication wore off but I did notice my strength was returning with more potency as the pain grew worse. It was clotted and had been there for hours.before because the fireplace was completely void of any warmth. I turned to leave the room and noticed I hadn’t checked the bathroom. It was worth the trade off. God only knew how long it was going to take for me to find Jules and then I was probably going to have to fight Jesse once I came upon them. no more than a day old. I wasn’t about to turn on a light near any windows just in case he was nearby and watching for me. probably less gauging the time frame he was working under. rinsing off the blood from their . waiting for the possibility that he could be hiding with Jules in the room. Obviously. I needed all the strength I could assemble. begging for a clue of any kind that could lead me to my Jules but it was too dark. I glanced around the room. I scaled the one nearest the master bedroom and opened the door to the room but didn’t step in. or maybe Jesse came after they had. I could tell there had been a recent fire though. I circled the entire living room searching. no windows in there. I threw open the closet doors. I flipped on the light. nearly vomiting from the scene before me. lots and lots of sickeningly rusted blood. I approached this door as I had the master’s and waited before entering. The shower was enclosed in glass and the bleeder had taken a quick shower. My back against the wall. the police hadn’t had a warrant to enter the Thomas home or they’d have corded off the room as evidence. peered underneath the bed but no one was there. It was covered in blood. When I stepped inside.

body but not bothering to rinse it from the tile floor. I noticed two hand prints belonging to the same person imprinted on the glass door. I could tell by their size that they belonged to Jesse and I almost burst into tears. My knees began to buckle and I had to support myself against the door to keep from bathing in the blood pooled on the floor. Julia. I staggered from the room and fell onto my knees at the foot of the Thomas’ bed. I pulled myself up against the mattress and headed back to the living room. I lost control and could barely keep myself up. I leaned against the fireplace and used the bat I brought to balance myself. Watery eyes scanned the room, desperately seeking something, anything that would help me find Jules but I found nothing but more blood pooled in random areas of the living area. No matter, I wasn’t giving up. Until she was in my hands, I was never giving up. Never. All at once it came to me. I knew where Jesse was. I was so disgusted with myself that I hadn’t thought of it earlier, it could have spared Jules any torture she had most probably already received. She wasn’t dead because the soreness at my chest still pulsed, a perversely good sign. When Jesse was younger, after he had brought me to the cabin the two times he had invited me, he told me he discovered a place he could be alone and by alone he meant a place he could take girls when his parents were around. He said it was a small cave underneath a small group of falls near his cabin. He told me it was perfect because the water made it impossible for anyone to find him there. I practically sprinted to my truck and with my bat in hand, I stuffed a couple of plastic cuffs I stole from my Uncle Danny into my coat pocket along with a flashlight and began my

trudge through the snow, three feet thick in some spots, to the river. I followed the river until I met the first fall of water and steadily worked my way to its base. I edged myself down, trying to see if it was possible to hold a cave but it was too small and I could see the rock through running water when I held my flashlight to it. Trying very hard not to get wet, knowing it would kill me within a few minutes in this cold, I patiently edged myself back to the trees lining the river and continued to follow it. I walked for at least a quarter of a mile without seeing any kind of waterfall. I contemplated turning around and following the river in the opposite direction of the Thomas cabin. I began to turn but instinctively decided to go just a few more yards in the direction I had been traveling. I could see, around a bend, several yards ahead a break in the river and a set of waterfalls slightly larger than the first one I had found. I had a gut wrenching feeling those were it and intuitively turned off my flashlight. I used the trees as a physical guide and avoided any place I could see the reflection of stars to avoid getting wet. My toes and fingers felt like they would fall completely off at any moment but it was a pathetic sting in comparison to the ache I felt for needing to find Jules. Please, I prayed. Please let her be alright! My head pounded at the possibility that she could just be on the other side of the wall of that water. It was everything in my power not to dive into the water and snatch her way. I found restraining myself when I felt the excruciating need to find her drained me of precious energy so I shifted my focus to preserving all I had to fight. Every crunch of snow beneath my boot grated my

nerves. I was certain the rushing water drowned out any noise on both sides but I still hated that Jesse could have any warning whatsoever. I wanted the crack of my bat against his back to be the only way for him to be aware of my presence. The waterfall was tall, probably sixty feet high, and the surrounding edges of the erupting water was frozen, seemingly instantaneously, a swollen cloud of powdered water in perfect stillness. In between the frame of solid water, rushed liquid, racing as fast as it could to avoid the fate of its brother frigid in time. I edged myself down the embankment heading toward the end of the fall before realizing too late that there was no way to avoid getting wet. The water seeped into my clothing at an alarming rate. I knew that if they weren’t at this fall that I’d have to find a dry place soon to avoid hypothermia. A few feet before the edge, I heard voices, someone talking, but it seemed too long and drawn out to be a conversation. My heart jumped into my throat before I realized that it wasn’t someone talking, it was someone’s yelling dulled by the raging water. Jules. I wanted to shout out but the wire holding my jaw tight prohibited it. I threw myself through the water, rolled over my shoulder onto a damp poorly lit cave, and sat up against my heels to witness the most horrific sight my eyes have ever taken in. Jules. My beautiful Jules, her hair darkly saturated and matted down from what could only be a lot of blood, her blood. She sat with her legs crossed on the floor and her

hands tied behind her back. Her mouth was bound with a piece of cloth that tied behind her head. I could tell it was way too tight because her cheeks bulged around it and her skin looked chafed. The cloth, at one time, was of a light color but its original hue was lost in the soaked red that ringed her beautiful head. The tragic sight sent a shivering pulse of rage through my entire body. My hands gripped my bat with blistering mania. He was going to be stopped, by me, and at that very moment. I stood. Jules could barely register an audible scream. She begged me to stop, feverishly trying to warn me, but I couldn’t hear her over the ferocious wrath pulsing in my ears, eyes, face, and body. I swung the bat above my head focusing my aim at the top of his skull but stopped myself right before giving the deadly blow he deserved. I hadn’t noticed before, because his body was turned in such a way that it blocked my view, but in his left hand was a gun and it was aimed at Jules’ head. “Stop!” I mumbled. “Put your bat down,” he said calmly. I placed the bat slowly on the ground and rose with my hands where he could see them. He signaled for me to kick the bat to the opposite corner of the cave and I complied. I noticed he had two cuts across his arms, one looked particularly deep, and that he had bound it with strips of a cloth but it did little to stop the heavy bleeding. I realized then that the blood in his parents’ bathroom wasn’t Jules’. It was his. I was very proud of Jules. She must have caught him off guard enough to do some damage but I felt a twist of agony for the price she had paid for it. It was evident in her eyes but even more apparent in the ‘E’ he had carved on the left part of her chest just below the collar bone. I fingered my chest where I felt the same pounding

burn. It was deep enough to have soaked a thick trail of blood down her shirt and into her jeans. I’m so sorry, I mouthed. She squeezed her eyes shut, fighting tears and shook her head slightly. “Good,” he said, never breaking his frightening gaze on Jules. Her eyes stayed with mine. She silently pleaded with me to cooperate. She had a few hours practice with Jesse and somehow knew this was it for her soon. “I’ve waited for a long time for you to find us here,” he said, his eyes briefly darting to mine before refocusing them on Jules’. “You know Julia? You aren’t the only girl I’ve brought down here.” My eyes widened in fear, anticipating what he’d say next. “She’s not exactly the best I’ve had down here Elliott but she had her moments. I do think I could have enjoyed it more if you had been here to watch but I relish the fact I can recount it to you in front of her.” He closed his eyes. “Her scream, when I can get her to, I must say Elliott, is phenomenal; involuntarily gravelly I’m happy to say.” Jules’ eyes began to water and she shook her head violently, trying to keep me from doing something stupid and getting us both killed. My knuckles tightened in fury, the whites of them brightened with a hungry need to hit him. “Oh calm down, Elliott,” he threatened. “Don’t act so surprised. I told you that I wanted her.” He smiled at some private thought before continuing on, “It’s your fault, you know. If you had just stepped aside as I had told you, it wouldn’t have to be so painful for her.” He raised his red eyes my direction and emphatically insisted with the gun, “You did that to her!” Jules broke down into sobs as she shook her head

from side to side, telling me it wasn’t true. I made a move toward her to comfort her. I didn’t care what he did to me. I needed only to touch her and both our fears, our anxieties, our pain, would dissipate into nothing. Surprisingly, he made no move to stop me, only stepped further back putting the fire he made between himself and us but kept the gun aimed at Jules. I touched Jules and it was as if nothing else mattered. Our shared current emanated through our bodies and we were one. I had never felt it pulse so powerfully through us and in that moment I understood that it had been our heightened sense of longing that caused it. The desperation for the other was never as frantic as it was in that second. Our bodies somehow knew it was the last time our touch would be a reality and were instinctively getting their fill before they extinguished forever. The sensation was more powerful than before, although no less pleasurable. It calmed me yet simultaneously frightened me. It was a sign. A sign that our gift anticipated this was to be the end of our time together. The tears overwhelmed us Jules and we forgot about Jesse completely. I sat on the back of my legs to remove the gag, inhaling her into the deepest kiss, the softest kiss possible. It glorified all that was good in us, all that was buried in our hearts. I lifted my hand for her face but when it came up a scorching, excruciating pain pierced my left shoulder. Jules yelled my name as I tumbled onto the stone floor behind me. She lunged herself on top of me and pleaded my name, tears flooding down her face. I hated when she cried, worse than a million gunshot wounds to the shoulder. My chest ached for her. “Elliott!” She cried over and over.

Jesse lifted her from my torso and threw her against the rock wall purposely slamming her head against the stone and pulled her gag back into place. “Calm down Julia! It’s only his shoulder. That’s not the shot that’s going to kill him. Trust me,” he said with a cruel smile. I sprang to my feet but made no attempt to go for the bat at the other end of the stone alcove. I wouldn’t have had time. I had no idea what I was going to do. In my hesitation, Jesse aimed the gun at my other shoulder. “Please,” I begged. “What?” He mockingly cupped his hand over his ear. “I’m sorry Elliott, did you say something?” He laughed maniacally. “Nothing to say for Julia? I really expected more of a protest than this at least Elliott. You’ve hardly said two words. Come now! What kind of boyfriend are you that you can’t even spit out two words to plead for her? Does her life mean nothing to you? Tsk, tsk, tsk.” He turned to Jules. “Look at this loser? He can’t even fight for you. How can you be with somebody so pathetic?” “You broke his jaw!” She yelled through her gag. Jesse ignored her, “Should I describe the intimate things we’ve shared tonight Julia? Do you think that might goad some sort of response from him? Why don’t you tell him Julia?” She pleaded with me through her eyes. “No?” He turned his gaze back to me. “That’s alright. I’ll start then.........Hmmmm.” He tapped his gun against his chin, “Well, first off, she’s an amazing kisser Elliott. I’m shocked you never spoke of her lips before. “I particularly enjoyed her tongue, very warm. I accidentally bit her though. Poor girl. I was too eager.” He turned toward Jules, “I’m really sorry about that by the way,”

before returning his eyes to mine. “It was messy as hell, with all the blood and everything, but it didn’t stop me now did it Julia? And those orthodontics? They really paid off I think. I let my tongue feel its way around her mouth and I couldn’t find even one out of place. You’ve been quite a good girl, I can tell. Diligent in wearing your retainers.” He sighed, “I like good girls. You know what I like more? Making good girls dirty. Isn’t that right Elliott? You’ve lent your ear my way to hear a tale or two. “Wouldn’t you agree I’m quite good at that?” He paused, waiting for an answer that wouldn’t come. “Well, I think I am. You’ll actually be able to judge for yourself here Elliott in just a few minutes. Anyway,” he said waving the gun absently, “her hair is quite soft. I’ve never smelled anything so appetizing before. It was a shame it got so bloody and filthy, I had plans to run my knife through it. A souvenir would have been nice. Oh well,” he sighed in disappointment. “Let’s see, what happened next?” Jules closed hard at the memory of it all and tears poured slowly down her cheeks. He stared at her reaction and it must have reminded him of what he had done next. “Oh yeah!” He laughed, “Her legs. I must admit Elliott, out of all the legs I’ve slid my hands up, hers were the most enjoyable. She kept trying to squeeze them back together and I was forced to lay my knees against them. “That took care of that, didn’t it Julia? She may have a few bruises but after that it was no trouble at all to feel what I wanted to feel. Of course, mind you, it was over her jeans, a problem I plan on remedying soon, now that you’re here. “It was a good thing you came when you did too, because I was really starting to become impatient. I am so enthralled with her. She seems so, what’s the word,

it really rubbed me the wrong way. it was the position people coveted and they just worshipped you for it. didn’t they? “Academically? If I was being honest with myself. leaving me to cough and choke on the remnants of your dust. I’d have to admit you have me there but I just don’t care. you had the gall to accuse me of slacking off. I can’t wait to lay my hands on her. Get a hold of yourself. ‘it’s Elliott. while I worked myself to the bone trying to earn a friggin’ D and yet.uptight.” he laughed. Granted. You grabbed hold of the nonsense that she was your Julia and ran with it. as always. Technically you were no better at sports than I. “Then. is it Elliott? Rightfully so. you ended up with your perfect scores. you’ll see’ but I was wrong wasn’t I? You never did. You rattled on and on about it. I never really understood the hype around you. “It’s not fair that you got a full ride when you barely earned it. but that didn’t matter. constantly wafting it in front of my face. “I was preoccupied myself with most of the girls volleyball team this semester but how dare you accuse me of slacking off when you barely spent a few minutes with me at all! What kind of friend does that make you? “You’ve completely ignored me since your experience with her that first day and I gotta’ tell you. He’ll come back around.” I knew the guy had a selective memory but to be so . you even threw the fact that you were on to me in my face. tediously preoccupied with the girl and all. “That’s something you’ll never get to do. You knew I wanted her. I saw how little you studied for your exams this year. That ticked me off but I thought. “The only thing I didn’t want you to have was the university life you held in such esteem.

Like she was more than a good roll in the hay but I know what she really is. badly. “I’d like to retract that statement.. I just can’t seem to get Julia out of . I regretted hesitating earlier and should have grabbed it before he could regain control of his gun. I must say. pinching his lower lip between his thumb and forefinger. despite the excruciating pain. Not one ounce of fat. I claimed earlier that she wasn’t as good as some I’ve brought in here but I only said that because she struggled so mightily and I could barely control her..insane as to make stuff up and convince yourself of the validity? “You pretended like Julia was so special. It’s too bad you’ll never get to have her. She’s nothing but dirt underneath my fingernails. I wore a mask of calm and let the storm erupt within me waiting for the perfect moment to unleash it. “No.Oh! And her stomach! Smooth and flat. He continued with the retelling of his cruelty but was totally unaware of the building wrath that I would descend upon him with every single word he spoke. apparently approaching the end of his speech and shrugged his shoulders. “You know. I drew my bottom lip through my teeth. I think she’s the best... in fact.” He sighed. yet still as soft as I’ve ever felt. “Let’s see. o nly good for one thing. I needed to get my bat. I think I enjoyed it all the more because of the fight.” he said..” I was struggling with the extreme anger surging through my muscles. to keep from charging him and getting myself killed before I could save Jules.. I didn’t anticipate liking her body so much. I’m sure you would have found her as incredible as I will... “I had so much more I wanted to say to you Elliott but I just can’t remember now.

Not now. It was painful to her because she began to groan but that only served to spur him on and he kissed her even more harshly. Won’t you Julia?” He kept the gun pointed at my shoulder and carefully walked over to Jules. “Acknowledge me!” He yelled. “but replace your gag. harder. like the object of his torment wasn’t human. When he pulled his face away from hers. . “Get undressed.” It sickened me to hear his thoughts. trembling. I promised myself. Your screams might be muffled but I think we’ll still be able to ruffle Elliott’s feathers. Jules wailed and spit the blood toward the stone to keep from choking. He pulled her up to him and she stood. He aggressively pulled down her gag.” He snorted. You will never taste him again. Elliott. sort of anti-climactic. then with his free hand wrapped her hair around his fist. Julia will more than make up for it. Soon. I reigned in the rage once more. Her body tightened in response before she nodded. “Gotta’ get the taste of him out of your mouth. He yanked her head backward and she squealed in pain. I can’t have you biting me. you hear me?” She watched him.my head. wasn’t Jules. He pushed her head to his and kissed her. He kissed her again. “You know when you’ve been looking forward to something for a long time and then when the time comes you sort of lose interest? No matter. their mouths were covered in her blood. cutting the ties at her hands in one swift swipe of his blade.” he said.

She was afraid. She removed her coat and stood frozen. She immediately bent to remove her boots. My entire sleeve was soaked red and my hand was slippery with the wet of it. I slowly began to inch toward the bat without him noticing. Even her socks were soaked in blood but I couldn’t locate the source.” I said. not for herself. I could see the terror in them and feel it in her heart. My eyes darted . Before she could move onto her coat he ordered her to remove her socks as well.“No. I was hoping she wouldn’t have noticed the pool of blood growing at my feet. “Get undressed Julia or Elliott gets another bullet. “I didn’t say everything but your socks darlin’. I tried to take advantage of that but he only signaled with the barrel of the gun for me to move back to my original spot. too engrossed with his prey. but for me.” She nodded and removed her socks. her eyes focused rigidly at the stone beneath my feet. The blood swam down my arm and gathered at my fingertips. I was losing so much I was swaying from the loss.” he threatened somberly. Consider this punishment for earlier. I could barely keep my eyes focused. I obeyed him. I knew I didn’t have much time. It’s important to me that your feet are as cold as the rest of your body. ultimately deciding she must have stepped in a bloody pool back at the cabin. She raised her gaze into my eyes. afraid to remove her sweater or pants. the room spun around me.” The tears stained a clear path through the blood on her face. if you wish. While she had been removing her boots. “Do you want an additional punishment other than the one that’s already coming your way Julia? I can make it worse for you.

I immediately left Jesse to help her and he used the opportunity to grab the bat I had brought. blood burst from between his lips. I rallied the courage to attack when I felt he was sufficiently distracted. covering her ears. As he brought the bat down I felt for the sidewall of the cave and used it to propel myself on top of him. . Jesse’s eyes became and I knew that tiny lapse in concentration was going to be my only chance. at least. and despite my hurt shoulder the adrenaline pumping through me was able to give me the strength I needed to push my palm underneath his chin with tremendous force. Jules ducked. darting slightly left anticipating the deafening shot that came from the gun the second I moved. eyes wide with fear. Jules attempted to pull his hair back to get him on the ground but he kicked backwards with enough force it knocked the wind from her small frame and she toppled onto the stone gasping for air. The bullet missed me by mere inches and he re-aimed the gun to shoot again but it was too late. She couldn’t get a good angle on Jesse so instead knocked the gun from his hands and into the water. I cursed myself for bringing the ‘knife to the gun fight’ and darted at him to avoid Jules from being caught underneath the blow.about the cave looking for anything that might aid me in stopping him but there was nothing. Jules removed her sweater and began to lift her camisole. I was already on him and had pulled him back toward the waterfall’s edge. Part of his tongue had been resting on his bottom row of teeth and the force of my blow severed the tip. It was a fairer fight. I had run out of options and time. I lunged for him. We struggled over control of the gun and I watched Jules run for the bat.

I heard Jules yell my name as we toppled over the steep edge into the chilling pitch black water. I struggled to keep my head above water. Eventually my head broke the surface and I screamed out in pain from the bullet wound in my arm before swallowing my first breath of air. tumbling water. I forced his head and shoulders through the waterfall but he grabbed my coat before I could release my grip and he took me over the edge with him. kicking my invisible assailant. He staggered at the pain of it and I used the time to reposition myself for an uppercut to the gut. By the way she struggled to breathe. I couldn’t control them. being twisted and coiled through the numbing cold.I felt helpless in the struggle. I was certain he had broken a rib and that brought the rage to a new boiling point. I fought with everything in me. my arms felt detached from my body. desperate for air. I felt myself losing consciousness and frantically fought against its determined attempts to pull me down. ironically. I only knew to fight against the current dragging and pulling me around like a rag doll in a washing machine. I hit a calmer part of the rapids and began looking for Jesse but . Dark hands circled my ankles. I used the nitrous effect of it to. My lungs squeezed tightly in my chest. dragging me down with all their might. We were caught underneath the churning. crack his jaw. picturing Julia at the surface of the water. neither of us interested in the fight once we landed in its arctic temperature. This floored him and I dragged him toward the water. It was too dark to know which way was up or which way was down. The temperature was paralyzing. distracted by the labored breathing coming from Jules.

I stumbled repeatedly. I waited and waited but there was not a single sound. When I reached the embankment. No one in their right mind would have been able to float further on their own accord. She . my blood staining the pristine white snow and recording my pathetic progress. the water. I spotted Jules looking for me. I called out to her and she hobbled to my side. the cold. The loss of blood. The snow was falling so thickly it would have immediately covered his tracks so I looked for movement only. My eyes scanned both sides of the riverbank but it was too dark. naturally reacting to the feeling that there was no immediate danger. from him at least. I tried as hard as I could. it was all adding up to be more than I thought I could fight through. The water was so cold and I knew that the break in the rapids was the only feasible point to come out of. throwing my shot shoulder ahead of me and using all the strength I could to get to the shore before he fled and I was too late. About halfway to the waterfall. my feet sinking further than I imagined possible. not a single movement other than the falling snowflakes floating to the earth. my body heavy with exhaustion. The deep snow wasn’t helping any. there was no way in knowing where he had fled the water. I needed to know she was okay. I fell to my knees in exhaustion. My adrenaline began to dissipate. I studied the shore further down the river and waited patiently in the debilitating cold. I needed to get to Jules. I could barely lift myself from the ground at that point. I felt like I was trying to catch my already unsteady footing on top of a cloud. if he had.he was nowhere to be found. I thought before eerily reminding myself just how not right in the head he truly was.

She began to wrap my bleeding wound.” I managed to fight out through wires and a throbbing.” I lied.” I smiled crookedly at her and did as she asked. shivering jaw. “I won’t ever let you . Jules sat up and began to remove all my wet clothes. Again. probably drowned. “Put your hand on my exposed skin and hopefully our current will dull the pain. She removed her jacket and laid it across my torso.” She removed all my wet clothes except for my boxers and laid them flat on the stone next to the fire so they could dry enough to get us out of there. “We have to get you out of these or you’ll get hypothermia. relief that we were both alive. Will. “I. yanked up her sweater and tore massive strips of her camisole off before lowering it back down. She was right. I pointed to her rib. “Don’t worry. You. Relief that he was gone. “This is going to be painful my love. We both tumbled to the ground in fatigue of body and mind but mostly from relief.urged me up and helped me back to the fire inside the cave. Out.” she lied. Of. Never. “I’m perfectly fine. somewhat alright and together. My. I removed my wet glove but instead of taking the shaking hand I offered her. relief from the heat of the fire. “I know your arm hurts but I think the cold is helping the bleeding.” she said through chattering teeth. Let.” she said while working. “How’s your shoulder?” “Fine. touching her helped tremendously or maybe it was that I was just so glad we were alive and together.” she whispered. Sight.

“Just a second. she carefully helped me dress. It was a kiss with a multitude of layers. when she felt my clothes were dry enough to walk through the snow. She had been uncomfortably quiet through that time... teary eyed. you understand?” She asked.. After half an hour. She cupped her hands underneath a trickling stream of water leaking from a crack in the rock above. She leaned back over my body and I began where I left off... She worked quietly. “I have to wash Jesse out of my mouth. that my life was meaningless without . so I let her do it.out of my sight again either. washed out her mouth and cleaned off her face. I knew if she could handle what she must have gone through with Jesse.” I began to protest but she didn’t care.. periodically checking on my wound. how thankful I was to her. I squeezed her arm with my good hand and gave her a reassuring smile.. I started to bring her mouth to mine but she refused.I. I had never kissed Jules this way before.” she said. You’re not allowed more than a few feet from me at all times.. how thankful I was for her. I let her know the need I had for her. Through that simple kiss I told her everything I wasn’t able to voice.. “I love you so much Elliott and when you were shot.” she couldn’t finish. the temperature of the water would be no challenge at all. I gave her some space to let her grieve over the awful things that must have happened to her while I laid in that ridiculous hospital bed. I told her how much I loved her....... I reached for her face and delicately brushed my hand underneath her jaw. and what she truly meant to me..

” My eyes began to match hers and I kissed her softly once more. “But before we do that. “Of course we’ll marry after graduation. Jules looked for the nearest hospital. afraid I’d pass out from the loss of blood. She said she took note of it. we need to get out of here. When it came into view Jules was too terrified to continue. She buckled me in and then herself and started the engine.. She sat up in surprise. I guided her toward my truck and kissed her cheek in reassurance. We brushed at least two feet of snow from the windshield and scraped the little amount of ice there was.. . When it purred to life she sighed in relief and threw it in reverse. She said she saw a sign on the way up here not too far away for a Davis Memorial Hospital. As we sped down the highway.. She helped me put my coat back on and tied my boots for me and we edged our way up the embankment and followed the same line of trees up to Jesse’s parents’ cabin.her. I assured her they would find Jesse’s body soon. the future that we were destined to have together and the overwhelming requisite to make her my wife..as soon as possible. I smiled and waited for her to explain. She sighed in relief when she saw it. I was glad she insisted on driving as I was already blacking in and out of consciousness.” she smiled through watery eyes.“Of course Elliott. desperate to get as far away as possible as quickly as possible from anything remotely related to Jesse Thomas.” she winked. She wouldn’t let me drive. wanting to prepare herself for all possibilities.

both of us smothered in a sheet of dried blood. “I’m sorry sweetheart but he needs to be examined quickly and will probably be heading to surgery soon.” She stood and firmly. I couldn’t imagine what we looked like to him. “Oh my God. “I can’t leave his side. eyes bulged from his head I knew we must have looked something frightful. You can’t go with him.” she said. “I told you.” the nurse said. “What happened to you two!” He screamed. You don’t know . I nodded and smirked as if to say I wasn’t going to let her even if she tried. crossing himself. The sun was just starting to rise behind us in the brightest red and orange colors.” she said looking up at Smithy. “Hyacinth! Hyacinth! Get a gurney in here! We’ve got a gunshot wound! Smithy get me a wheelchair too!” A nurse ran to us and asked if there was anything else wrong that we weren’t able to see and I shook my head. I can’t leave his side. When the officer. but calmly repeated what she had said. “Yesterday he had his jaw broken by the guy who did this to us and can barely speak.We pulled into the snow blanketed parking lot and parked at the covered ambulance entrance to the emergency room before the truck’s heater even had a chance to kick in. “I refuse to leave your side. sitting at the small security desk next to a sign that read ‘ER Admittance’. Hyacinth helped me onto a gurney and the nurse I assume was named Smithy helped Jules into the wheelchair.” she said through tears. His eyes went to my arm.

I didn’t have to walk on my wounds.what we’ve been through. Paying attention to Jules was infuriating the doctor examining me and he threatened to separate us. I settled down but never kept my eyes from Jules’. They asked her to stand but she said she didn’t think she’d be able to. As they examined my wound. I felt awful. so Jules could get a CT scan and have her head bandaged . It made me feel sleepy it was so soothing and thrummed through my muscles and bones. The loss of blood just exacerbated the sensation. When they asked her why. she said that he had sliced the bottom of her feet so she couldn’t run and I almost lost my cool wishing I had gone ahead and hit him with the bat and cracked open his skull. I noticed her limping in the snow on the way to my truck but I thought it was in attempt to help me. I almost got sick imagining the pain she must have felt with every step she took and my heavy body leaning against hers. they insisted we had to separate. My poor Jules. The doctor pulled Jules’ shirt back slightly to look at the ‘E’ carved into her chest and murmured to the nurse beside him that he’d need to put several stitches there as well. I had nothing but a small bullet wound in some muscle. Eventually. They suspected a mild concussion but nothing major. probably to regain the composure that was leaking from his expression while examining her. I saw two doctors look at Jules’ head. I saw the doctor’s eyes widen at the extent of cruelty once he left the room. Jules grabbed my hand and I felt our current’s relief. He looked down at us and didn’t argue with her. saw the ‘E’ she forced a gasp back into her throat.” her voice cracked. It made me feel like I was the worst person in the world. When the nurse named Hyacinth.

tears in her eyes.. “It’s not allowed but we didn’t care and they didn’t really put up much of a fight considering. I barely had to lift my lids before Jules said. “Hello my love. She brushed hair from my face. “Mom. but that was all going to end..” but she couldn’t finish. My mom broke the silence. it’s not okay sweetheart but it will be. He stood at the foot of the bed and squeezed my leg. I didn’t want her to be away from my touch ever again.. kissing her hand..it’s. “Elliott.okay. honey.. I promised myself. She was mine to protect and admittedly I hadn’t done a very good job thus far. I could hear talking in the hall and recognized more family members... We understood each other so well. I was being prepared for surgery and got the distinct impression I’d wake.” “Hello.” I scanned the room and piled high to the rafters were our families. We were at a loss for words. We are all so happy to see the two of you alive.and her feet and chest could be stitched.” I said. just stared at each other in total awe of the other. no words were . to the hysterical faces of my family lingering above me but what I really wanted when I woke. “He’s awake!” She leaned towards me. barely reaching my face since she was in a wheelchair.Jules. from my second surgery in two days. We love you baby.” my dad said. was Jules in my arms..” “No.. I woke to the sound of beeps and soft murmurs.

I nodded at him.” a single tear reaching the hand she held so tightly in her own. “Thank you. my calling. Jacobs. looking more tired than even Jules and I did. Gerry and Ann Jacobs stood and walked to the side of my bed. It’s my destiny to protect Julia.necessary. red eyed.” Gerry told me. .” I signaled for a pad and pen. Jules’ mom and dad were sitting in the corner. “We can see that. Of course Mr.” Ann said softly. “We can see that. “Thank you. I confidently wrote.

Rapturous Kiss Eight weeks after surgery and I was almost back to normal. She picked me up every day before school. After an extensive search for Jesse. my mom insisted we take a picture together to remember our ‘cuteness’ but insisted that ‘as cute as y’all are’ that it better never happen again.Epilogue A Single. at a turtle’s pace I might add. She kept me well nourished. . I say ‘when things died down’ because our real concerns had only begun to dissipate. his body never turned up and Jules would practically beg me not to leave her for the night in fear that he’d return and finish what he started. I still had the sling around my shoulder but it was healing nicely. for example. You should have seen her rolling around beside me with my ridiculous jaw and shoulder. She knew that if she ever saw him again that he or she would have to die and she worried that. my broken jaw hadn’t made me lose weight and I had Jules to thank for that. When things had died out a little bit. except the first couple of weeks. Andy Frasier one of my team’s lineman. bringing a hearty soup for lunch every day and a nutritional shake for breakfast. She was especially fearful when she wasn’t able to stand on her own. just after the first several weeks. We looked insane together. without me. when our parents had to drive us because Jules had to stroll around in a wheelchair. My jaw was no longer wired shut and it was still very difficult to eat but unlike most invalids I’d known. it would be her.

She laughed and said she would never ask again but that she was going to make it up to us. pleaded for our forgiveness. Taylor kept a very clear distance from us and barely looked in Jules’ eyes. We believed them. They returned the favor but with tears in their eyes. According to Danny. Taylor Williams and Marisa Hartford cooperated fully with the police once they knew the extent of Jesse’s damage and escaped with probation and lots of community service. together. . It was pure bliss. when they saw us for the first time in our battered states. Eventually. They were good people who just happened to have a messed up son. We thought them stupid. Jules and I thought about visiting Jesse’s mom and dad but knew that it would be inappropriate. offered apologies often. not in the slightest. Despite the fact it was cold and I was really uncomfortable on her wood floor. but we believed them. We saw them at the grocery store once. insisting they had no clue what Jesse had really planned. Danny told us to move on. the weeks I slept next to Jules were the best because she would drape her hand off the side of the bed and keep it against my arm. causing them additional pain they really didn’t need but we still wanted them to know that we didn’t blame them. I had to tell her that she was forgiven and forbidden to apologize again or I’d yell at her. Both. I didn’t even want to know what she meant by that but nodded anyway just to get her off our case. on the other hand. Jesse never contacted either of them or his family since disappearing into the water.When my shoulder healed well enough to maneuver how I’d need to in order to sneak into her window at night I would sleep on her floor. Marisa. and nodded with a solemn smile.

I knew he was working hard to find him and just wanted us to try getting some peace from the whole ordeal. for the first time since our injuries. Stop creating problems for yourself. Jesse had drowned in the freezing water that day but it haunted me that they couldn’t find his body. Jules and I started to become a lot more comfortable and eventually we thought about him less and less. I tried really hard to focus on living life but it was difficult with the hole in my shoulder staring back at me in the mirror every day. Jules had her picnic basket full to the brim and I couldn’t wait for our little party to start. Jules and I had decided that once we were well enough. and Jesse never showing. It was a . So. I’ve been deprived of some awesome stuff and I’m tired of waiting. it wasn’t the most romantic night of our lives.” I teased. Enjoy your girl.” she mused. “We’ll just pretend. I knew that. we would go to the rock bridge and celebrate the New Year on our own. Jules and I had to spend New Year’s Eve with our families inside my hospital room. Trust me. toward the creek.” “Surprising me again at the rock bridge Jules?” “I guess so.“Jesse drowned in that water boy. After two months. though. “No worries!” She said patting the side of the basket.” she grinned as I drove. “I have a surprise for you too. “I have you covered Elliott. Live your life.” he finally demanded of me after weeks of me hounding for details on the open case. While I was recovering in the hospital. more than likely. It’s all warm too. Let’s just say. “That basket better be full of food honey.

The snowy carpet shone like hidden diamonds in the moonlight.” she laughed. “How’s the scar?” I whispered. It had snowed the night before and had laid an even thicker blanket for us to trudge through. but I wanted to make sure she was moving on in a healthy way so I would periodically bring it up to her.” I brought a gift for you too. distracted by her thoughts.” I helped her from the truck and carried her basket for her. “sorry. . It’s a late Christmas gift as well. That was pretty generous of them and we happily agreed to keep to the confines of our marble slab. I didn’t blame her and didn’t want to push her.lot of work but worth it. The perfect backdrop for what was to be a lovely night.” “Oh. It was around ten at night and our parents gave us both permission to stay “at the rock bridge only” until at least two-thirty in the morning. her eyes staring at the trees along the road. I guess they figured it’d be too cold for clothing to be removed and they trusted us when we said we would stay put. “Healing. love. It was progress so I dropped it at that. “You’re surviving was gift enough for the rest of our lives. ‘Healing’ was a better answer than the shrug she had given me last time.” I shuddered. clicking the buckle of her seat belt. “We’re here. I smirked to myself before my thoughts turned one hundred and eighty degrees to answer. I didn’t mind because it added to the experience.” Jules didn’t like talking about the night at Blackwater Falls. “Jules?” I asked “Hmm?” she answered.

about the importance of his daughter staying as she was and I could. dark blue and freckled with sparkling diamond-like stars. It had been over two months since we had been to the rock bridge and it was surely the sweetest sight for the sorest eyes. go figure.Jules’ dad had talked to me. in all honesty. already awake from their winter’s nap. The air still smelled like winter and the sky was a deep. we snuggled pretty closely together but when we heard that key jingle it was our cue to sit up and slightly far apart. He even trusted us to be alone in their house as long as we promised to stay away from the bedrooms. Our boots crushed through the knee deep snow and we listened quietly to the rhythm of our own feet. Though I honestly meant what I said when I agreed to keep her that way. That was about as bad as we got. He told me that he might end up liking me after all if I could be man enough to endure the conversation and still look him in the eye afterwards. look him straight in the eye and agree to keep it that way. last year before Thanksgiving. not because I promised her father but because I loved her. I couldn’t bear to think of taking something that didn’t truly belong to me yet. The talk sure did make coming around Jules’ house a lot easier. Occasionally. I peeked over at Jules with the largest grin on my face and saw her eyes glistening with happiness and a smile . we heard a few animals here and there scratching. It wasn’t unheard of for them to come home and find us sprawled out on the living room floor doing homework. it didn’t change the fact that I was still shivering in my boots when I left that night back to my own home. When we watched TV. so completely and so whole-heartedly. or sitting and watching television alone.

I had. “I had the jewelry maker place raised ranunculus .” I said.” I blurted out. My mom went to Babe’s for me in Roanoke and Mary Beth had everything ready to go. creamed corn.” she laughed.that melted my heart into a puddle at my feet. mashed potatoes and biscuits the size of my hand. “What? Is that what I think it is?” “Yes it is.” Jules stuck her hand in the bag and pulled out a white gold three dimensional clasp bangle.” “The way to your heart Elliott Gray is through your stomach. for once. Her eyes widened and then narrowed at the unexpected compliment. I laughed at her and she kissed my cheek before I took her by the waist and set her on the rock. “I got you something. “I can tell by your facial expression that I’ve caught you off guard.” “Got me something?” “Well. caught Julia Jacobs off guard. That’s twice in one night missus. taking the plate she made for me. I had something made for you. She got home right before you picked me up. She wriggled herself closer and began to remove everything she’d brought. She spread out the thick blanket and sat down next to the basket. you’re losing your touch.” I pulled a blue velvet bag from my coat pocket and handed it to her.” “You know me so well. sweetheart. In several porcelain dishes sat fried chicken. I was afraid we’d have to wait for her to get home and my surprise would have been ruined. “Speaking of surprises. just in the nick of time. “You’re so beautiful.

Do you like it?” Tears spilled from the corners of her eyes..” she said. “Yes. I was researching surveillance cameras online and needed a pen to write down the models.so. That pen was a gift from my grandfather to my father and was pure gold.” she said in a gasp of air.. “But there’s more.” she giggled. I had this made for you and slept with it in my hands for several days. A miniature blast of Julia shot up my arm and thrummed through my heart.. I reached for a pen. let me put it on you..” “This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen Elliott.” “That’s amazing.” I grabbed her small wrist and clasped the bangle together and a sharp intake of breath passed through her lips.. “Thank you. and felt you. We never noticed it before because I think it can only be stored within gold.” “You?” “Yes. “Very me.. So I experimented. “I know. The current can only survive for a few days but it can be recharged.” she said. “They’re my favorite flower.” She reached for me and hugged my neck tightly. through watery eyes.around the top of the cuff. “Apparently we can store our current. the same pen you used to finish your homework a few day before you left.” I whispered into her hair. “I discovered something while you were in Mauch Chunk Jules. Here. Thank you my love. Anyway. trying to control her emotions. “Can we get you one?” “Ranunculus aren’t a good look for me. It’s just so.” .

a woman.” “And I love you Elliott Gray. “Did you know that my heart beats from my chest every single time I am close to you? Every time I am in the same vicinity? That each time I witness your chest rise and fall with breath I am grateful beyond belief? That you are everything a person.” she laughed. I removed the cuff and showed her that I had a small plate of gold sewed on the inside of the cuff right over the pulse point. but I had the initials JG. I grabbed her face in my hands and kissed her puckered lips. I handed her the cuff and she instinctively tucked it into the hem of her jeans. “You know what I mean. should be and that your heart and soul are as pristine as the clean bright glow of your eyes? And that I have never wanted to protect someone so much in my entire life? “You’ve struck me in ways I didn’t know possible . “I love you Julia Jacobs.“Shut up.” “Already done. Also.” “What’s that sweets?” “You know that I love you but I don’t think I’ve ever really told you how I love you. for Julia Gray.” I raised my arm and showed her a leather cuff wrapped around my right wrist. the gold against the skin of her hip so it could ‘charge’. etched underneath that plate out of sight on the cuff side. so she could feel my words. I never showed her this.” “I need to tell you something Jules.” “Go on. It was a few months premature but I didn’t care.” I kept her face in my palms.

but as I’d gotten to know you all over again.” My watch unexpectedly chimed midnight. I can say with absolute certainty that you are the only person in this world that deserves the moon. saddened by all the missed love. looking back. to sketch us to compliment the other Elliott. Tears welled in her eyes and she spoke softly into my ear.Jules. “When we were small. “I can feel it. unaware of the dormant gift that lay beneath our own skin. And a pair of eyes watching us from the cold shadows. I can see just how steeped we were in our destiny even then. You are the only exception.” I grinned from ear to ear. “The first few months we were re-discovering who we were to one another and I often wondered what God had been waiting for when I could have known you as this Elliott all those years. I uncovered why. the ocean and the stars. . “I’m happy that you are blind to my faults and even happier that you love me as much as I love you. Time was what He needed to design us as individuals. “Time.” Then I kissed her softly. I remember playing on this very rock bridge. It seems funny now. rapturous kiss. We are destined for greatness Elliott Gray. There was a single. You deserve them and if it takes me our entire lives to give them to you I won’t settle until they are yours. as a perfect combination of souls and only time will tell what we are fated to do with it.

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) In fact. fictitiously. I KNOW THIS TO BE UNTRUE. I made it appear in my book that the city of Bramwell were a bunch of ninnies. hard working. Bramwellians are incredible.. (Though.. they do love their children dearly. who have no minds of their own and are obsessed with their children’s lives. Yours forever. Fisher Amelie . smart and funny individuals who make up one of the best damn towns in the United States of America.but I desperately needed you to be... for the sake of the novel.. THIS IS UNTRUE.Thank You’s and Apologies: Dear City of Bramwell.. Please forgive me. Yours forever.. I know just how wonderful all of you truly are and I promise you that my readers will know it as well.. Fisher Amelie Dear readers.. I made it appear in my book that you were all a bunch of ninnies who had no mind of your own and are obsessed with your children’s lives...

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com/kickacemusic .Winter by Antonio Vivaldi Chapter Six.Starring by Freelance Whales Chapter One.Mustard Gas by The Dear Hunter Chapter Nine.Without You by Silverchair Chapter Two.Destiny by Zero 7 Chapter Two-Sleep Well Tonight by The Dissociatives Chapter Three.Back against the Wall by Cage the Elephant Chapter Ten.Ready To Go by Republica Chapter Two.Somewhere only we know by Keane Chapter Eight.Daylight by Matt & Kim Chapter Two.The Difference Between Medicine and Poison is in the Dose by Circa Survive Chapter One.Southern Weather by The Almost Chapter One.Eyes by Rogue Wave Chapter Two-Glory Box by Portishead Chapter Two.The Only Exception by Paramore Chapter Ten.Caterpillar by Beats Antique Chapter One.Fear by OneRepublic Ha! Good luck with this link: http://www.Thick as Thieves by Dashboard Confessional Chapter One.Part 1.Battle by Beats Antique Chapter One.Lover’s March by The Future Cast Chapter One.Ice Dance by Danny Elfman Chapter Nine.Birds by Deas Vail Chapter Two.Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles Chapter Two. Those Thieving Birds by Silverchair Chapter Two.Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys Chapter Five.Aha! by Imogen Heap Chapter Three.High by Feeder Chapter Two.fisheramelie.Hidden (and some not so hidden) Song Titles Elliott’s & Jules’ current fav song.Koan by The Guggenheim Grotto Chapter One.

nyuck. www.theleavingseries.com has some wild and crazy stuff on it. nyuck.com.com tells you only a little about Fisher but lots about the things that surround her.goroobix. Fisher Amelie Is picking lint from her toes and stuffing it in the secret box hidden beneath her bed marked ‘lint’. E.com/fisheramelie I’d love to incessantly bombard you with my thoughts and feelings. So.fisheramelie. . including some recipes from Memaw Joan E. Just look at my websites if you’re curious to know why I’m eternally grateful to them! (Shameless plug.Join me at facebook. Nyuck.) www. I might just scope it out with you. llc at www.g. 18 minutes ago · 1 · Like· Comment Share Thank you also to roobix. check ‘er out! Elliott and Jules told me they’ve put some great junk up there as well.

you see For you’re the only one for me. I always save the best for last: To Christ. My life would be devoid of happiness. but for a reason. Thanks for the kickin’ sense of humor. . P. without You. -Fisher And last.S. Thank You.For You: The Imposed Upon Heart For if I had but one more day ‘Fore Peter led me on my way I’d write our destiny with pen Preserving what had always been And what would always be. Oh.

granted. I mean. Elliott: Thank you. Beautiful isn’t it? Fisher: Quite. Fisher: Now. you told our story with such honesty. Elliott and Jules? Welcome.Fisher Amelie Interview with Julia Jacobs and Elliott Gray: Fisher: I’m sitting here with the main characters of my newest book. I know you guys don’t have much time so I’ll try to make this quick. Fisher: And were you happy with the results? Jules: Yeah. Jules: No prob. and encouraging you to use some of that creative license of yours. I thought about nudging you with my elbow. Bob. I was. Elliott? . kind of. I couldn’t get that upset right? (Laughing) Fisher: Is this the bracelet? Jules: Yes. The Understorey. for a split second . This first one’s for Jules. it is. just a split. Plus. I mean. I looked like a spoiled brat in the beginning but you pulled it off nicely and by the end of the novel I felt vindicated. when Elliott told me you were writing our story. I have to admit. Was it embarrassing to see what a goof you were in the beginning about handling the gift that you and Elliott share? Jules: Well. winking. but Elliott convinced me that you wouldn’t make me appear too foolish so I bit my tongue and trusted him that you would represent me well.

I. Fisher: It’s a cuff even the Dos Equis guy would wear. Elliott: I know. You’ve just let the cat out of the bag. Let me ask you a question. Fisher: Okay. He is the most interesting man in the world. (Laughs) Fisher: Elliott. uh. Elliott: Any normal cuff or bracelet that can store power. Jules: I’ll come to your rescue babe. Elliott: Does this cuff make me look like a pansy? Jules: (Laughs) Oh Elliott! I’ve told you! It’s a very manly cuff. next question. Elliott: Good enough for me. What’s it like to be such a heart throb? Elliott: (Clears throat) Well. Fisher: Fascinating. Elliott: Uh. So. It’s so obvious how much you love and respect . I don’t know. your relationship with your mom is so adorable. Elliott’s turn. oh. (Laughs) Fisher: Moving on then.Elliott: Yes ma’am? Fisher: Your cuff? Elliott: This is it. Fisher: I’ll go easy. They both feel like any normal cuff or bracelet to me. Elliott’s one of those heart throbs that isn’t aware they’re actually heart throbs. Jules: That he is and manly as all get out! (Laughs) Fisher: Okay. ha ha. I don’t really know. I know! But it’d be nice to get Fisher’s opinion.

I was prepared for death. you can create a nice little situation for yourself. What advice can you give my readers about possibly duplicating that same relationship with their own parent? Elliott: Well. It was harder than I thought it would be. Fisher: The scene where Jesse takes you from your car. Parents are difficult. that’s a given. and honest they’ll treat you the way you want to be treated. (Clears throat) Jules: Because the cave scenes. but if you’re mature enough to realize that when you give to them they also want to give back to you. picking the book back up.You alright Elliott? Elliott: Mmm. Fisher: Really? Jules: Yeah. Jules: Elliott! (Laughs) Elliott: Kidding. harder than the cave and cabin scenes. Jules: Shoot. I was just floored and really had no idea what I was doing. kidding. I kept stopping to gain composure. Jules. Truthfully? When you’re kind to them. I desperately clung to anything that could get me away from .her. I’m going to get into a hard question here. hmm. reliable. the trick is to get them good and schnockered. I had steeled myself by that point. How difficult was that to read? Jules: Extremely. loving. I know that sounds awful but I had mentally prepped myself so I wasn’t as blown away by it all. at the time I was living them. Isn’t that right Jules? Jules: Of course babe. and then stopping again. The initial abduction seemingly came out of the blue. and usually tenfold your effort. So. Fisher: Good advice. because….

Fisher: Why? Elliott: Because Jules wasn’t ready to tell me before that and I refused to press her. Fisher: And the scar? Jules: Healing. I felt like I had failed Elliott. Four hours. I just held her for like four hours. yeah. the book helped the both of us with cleansing ‘Jesse’ from our palate so to speak. Early on.him and when I failed myself. It was heartbreaking. She had decided that the book was a perfect way of filling me in on what happened because it would almost feel as if she didn’t have to tell me. what’s next for the two of you? Elliott: You’ll just have to wait and find out. We were vulnerable and revealed. It felt horrible and invigorating all at the same time. Once I was done. Towards the end. Fisher: And Elliott? What was it like for you to read those scenes? Elliott: It was the first time I had heard that part of Jules’ torture. right? Jules: Four hours. She was with me when I eventually read them. Fisher: Seriously? Elliott: Yes. Strange. Jules: Thank you. I asked her questions I never would have asked before. I’d lost hope and I never thought that would happen to me. in fear I’d bring some horrible memory to the surface and she’d shut down on me. Fisher: I’m glad to hear it. she revealed that it would be too heartbreaking to speak of it to me. . So. Elliott: We talked for several more hours after that. Fisher: So.

Jules: Sure. sure miss Amelie. Elliott: You’ve been. As you wish. thank you both for sitting with me. okay. Fisher: Aww. yeah. It’s in the bag for him. Elliott: Not true! Jules: Okay. Fisher: Kidding. Elliott: Thank you! Jules: And thank you! (Jules and Elliott stand to leave. What he means is he needs to help me study. Gotta’ study. peach. Elliott: Ho. Fisher: Well. Only kidding. come on! Not even a hint? Elliott: What are you talking about Fisher! It’s your story! Fisher: Oh. ho! Nice. we’ve gotta’ jet Fisher. It’s been fun. Jules: He doesn’t have to study. hitting the schnapps early have you? (Laughs) Fisher: Yes. Jules.) Jules: You want to help me with Chem first? Elliott: As you wish. . man! Elliott: Yup.Fisher: Oh. uh. Elliott: You know what Fisher? Fisher: What? Elliott: Every party has a pooper that’s why you invited me.

All these living creatures keep the belly of her life full. but she doesn't mind all that much because life isn't worth living if it isn't entertaining. 'Jonah'.fisheramelie. 'Whale'. right? Read more about Fisher at www. She also lives with her Weim. She earned her first 'mama' patch in 2009.com . sometimes to the point of gluttony.Fisher Amelie resides in the South with her kick ace husband/soulmate. and her Beta.

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