SUMMER OF ADAM DEVEREAUX

By Alaska Everfall

EBOOK EDITION

*****

PUBLISHED BY: Alaska Everfall

Summer of Adam Devereaux Copyright © 2011 by Alaska Everfall

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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

To find out more about me, just visit my blog at: http://justremy.blogspot.com

PROLOGUE
Nobody liked Adam Devereaux much. Not once had anybody witnessed a smile on his face. And if they have, it was one of his famous “half-smiles” which never appear genuine. Needless to say, he became known as “The Boy Who Never Smiled.” He was some lone wolf, seeming to be more alive at nighttimes than the duration of the day. During class he would sit at the back, arms folded and earphones blocking him out from the rest of the world. None of the students were keen on him, but mainly because us twelve years old and didn’t recognise when a person was ignorant on the outside, but breaking within. The teachers didn’t bother tolerating him; instead, they pretended he wasn’t there. They would block him out, while Adam would shrug and pretend it was no big deal. But it was. That one day when I left my sock puppet in the school playground, I saw him in the moonlight, swinging back and forth on the playground. The motion of the swing reminded me of the pendulum in a grandfather clock. He was staring up at the sky with those alluring brown eyes; the spark visible even in the darkness. He must’ve walked here to escape his house, I realised, as I slowly approached him. Nobody came into the school grounds when it wasn’t necessary. I was hesitant to stroll over to him; the stories, the rumours –everything seemed to flash through my mind. What if Summer-Lily’s speech about Adam controlling mutated robots is true? But even at twelve years old, I knew it was ridiculous. “Are you okay?” I finally mustered up the courage to speak to him. “You should probably get going now.” Pointing at the direction of his house, which is only about three minutes away, I attempt to avoid his eyes. “It’s getting late.” “Not until I find Scorpio.” Whatever intention I have for not looking him in the eye, he’s helping me out a ton. “I like star-gazing,” he adds, as if I hadn’t noticed already. But then again, perhaps this was just a cover-up so I didn’t look into his eyes. “Is that what you are?” I asked, taking a seat in the other swing, slowly edging myself faster and faster. My legs kicked high as I waited for Adam’s reply. He merely turned around to give me a half-smile. “Calling people scorpions. So this is what class captains do in their spare time,” he teased. All of a sudden, I didn’t see a lone boy anymore. Here was somebody, logically the same as me, and shared the same emotions as I did. He got hurt by things, lost his temper at certain aspects of time, and though nobody has ever witnessed it, laughed at something, smiled genuinely, even. He didn’t smile. That was the only thing –besides blocking everybody out– which made him appear inhuman. Thrilled with my new discovery, I couldn’t help taking a risk. A plunge. “Adam, why do you never smile?”

He hesitated for such a small amount of time, that if I blinked, I would miss it completely. “Because there’s no need. Just because I don’t smile, doesn’t mean that I’m not grateful for my life.” He gave me, yet again, another halfsmile. “I just don’t find the need to use up fourteen muscles.” “Lazy old creep,” I say with a glint in my eye, elbowing him in the ribs as if we had known each other forever. But it was one of the qualities people received when running the whole class. And trust me, my class was the pavement to evil. “Fourteen muscles must be like running marathon for you.” Then he did the unexpected. He held my hand. But the weirdest thing was, I never pulled back.

CHAPTER ONE
When Mum said she was going to put me up for auction, I laughed. Now, about to be in a Spot-the-Wagging-Dog suit, I’m not laughing anymore. She's serious. This is a people auction, where people to dress up and spend time with the person who buys them. A whole month, in fact. And the idea some complete lunatic who is unable to separate red from blue isn’t entirely impossible - far less assuring than I’d like it to be. “Oh my, you’re gonna look so cute, Skye!” Clay laughs like a hyena, his brown eyes shining. Out of all people, he’s the one who’s helping run the auction – the only person who I usually can’t stand in the Stupendous Six. Well, actually, all of the Stupendous Six are helping me, but Clay’s doing the actual auctioning and helping. The others are pretty much half-dead. “I’m sure everybody will love you.” He has no idea what costume I’m going to wear –it has to be strictly confidential among everyone– but knows I’m either going to be a duck, dolphin, whale, otter, rat or, the million-dollar guess, Spot-the-Wagging-Dog. It’s easy to assume I’m going to be “cute.” “Please don’t, uh, give Skye a-a hard time, Clay,” Ryan replies, putting an assuring hand on my shoulder. “It’ll be okay. All the money’s going towards the –eh– AIDs foundation.” A smile lights up among my face, despite myself. Yeah, it’s true. AIDs are something which affects society nowadays. Just knowing I’m helping out among millions makes me happy. I’m helping people around the world! But at the same time, I wish Mum was the person who entered this people auction rather than me. I snort. If my posh, Japanese mother were to be involved in an auction like this, she’d find a way out of it. With a sigh, I go back into the backroom. That’s where I put my costume on, and as a special rule my lunatic mother came up with, I’m not allowed to tell anybody my real identity, along with the Stupendous Six disallowed to question who I am. I inspect my black-and-white suit in the mirror. There are holes cut for the eyes; so big that both my eyes are fully visible, along with eye-colour. I’d rather eat my own toenails than let people assume I like raising money for hippies, Because that’s exactly what my carefree mother is, and what all the money is going towards. Deciding it’s the only way to keep my reputation, I insert a couple of green contacts to go over my brown eyes. It works perfectly and everything is clear and bright. Because we’re backstage, I can hear everybody’s loud callings and hooting. I look through the curtain to inspect just how many people it requires to make that kind of racket, and surprise myself by seeing many people from our school. Deciding the costume fits, I take off all the accessories and put them on the counter so I can confidentially change into them. It’s amazing how many volunteers Mum came up with for this occasion. Pretty much all her friends and a few of my unfortunate cousins were forced into a costume themselves, not having much choice. If there’s something to learn about Mum, it’s that one must always listen to her. Not necessary agreeing with every decision, but doing it nevertheless. It’s the only way to spare her yodelling at the top of her hippy-like lungs. “Alright” Mum does a failing twirl. “Do I look okay, Skye?”

From behind her, Autumn is mouthing, “Lie if you must.” At the same time, Autumn’s identical twin speaks up. Not really speaking, but expressing a line of dialogue, Summer mouths, “Because it’s the only thing you can do in this situation.” “Of course!” I lie, taking in her fake makeup, twenty-five inch heels and smudging mascara. Okay, so maybe it’s an overstatement to say her heels are that long. But it’s still enough to make me wince. “You look wonderful.” She heads to the stage, proud that her daughter approves of her. Perhaps she still hasn’t worked out humans can lie yet, even if it truly is her own girl. The idea makes me feel a little light and more easy-going about this whole idea. Mum needs the money for their… park? Come to think of it, I have no idea what specific reason they need the money for, besides the fact it’s to do with their “hippiness.” See what I did there? Hippy? Happy? “Yeowch” Jason twinges away from me. Inspecting the scar on my left hand, he asks with curiosity, “Where did you get that from?” He never notices things. Even like this scar which had a place in my hand for approximately four years. My face turns a whole new revolution of red, because I’d rather not think of it. Not at this moment. Because the first thing tied down with that scar is a boy. A boy by the name of Adam Devereaux. Perhaps it wasn’t really his fault that he proposed to me in front of a rose bush, but even at twelve years old, it was shocking and unexpected. I staggered right back into the bushes when he said those words. Adam’s going to be here today, and somehow, I’m not so excited anymore. Yesterday I was obsessing over how I looked, and what I could possibly do to make him recognize me and never forget. Yet somehow, I don’t care anymore. It’s all in the past. He’s not going to forgive me for something I didn’t know I’d done wrong; I have no legit clue towards his ongoing grudge for me. “Okay, first up, we have Nora the Dolphin!” Jason bursts out into a round of applause with his sore hands. Because he only lives with his grandmother, he does all the housework and sewing – mainly because his grandmother lost her eyesight a couple of years ago. “Please welcome Nora!” The clapping erupts again before gradually lessening. “Bids starting at three-hundred dollars.” The minute these words escape his mouth, I can practically see people leaving the building with huge sighs. But in order to support this random hippie company, we need all the money possible. I peek through the velvet red curtains; only to see about two-hundred rich people lined up, ready to pay whatever amount. Of course, among that quantity are pompous folks who can’t admit they’re not paying for anything. Basically, they’re just a waste of space. Gee, I sure wish Adam was here. With his non-smiling attitude, it’s easy for anybody to feel a cold aura coming from him in first glance. Speaking of him…. Frantically, I search the crowd for a boy with dark-brown eyes and dark-brown hair. Overall, extremely dark. Even his skin is tannish. But I fail, finding only Travis from science class, happily chewing on his elbow when many can’t do as much as lick it. That creep.

“Four hundred!” “Four-hundred and fifty?” “Five-hundred and seventy-five!” The entire crowd turns around to see an elderly woman dressed in pearl accessories and lilac, tight-fitting clothing. Her face burns, but her jaw is tight and set. “Five hundred and seventy-five. Going once, twice…Sold!” With a burst of applause, Nora the Dolphin steps down. Or should I say Seth. For some strange and peculiar reason, my seven-year-old cousin wanted to be known as a girl. I’m not one-hundred-percent sure if it’s him, but I have a pretty good idea. I don’t blame him for wanting to be known as a girl. Claiming to be the opposite gender prevents a good chance of true identity to be discovered, therefore providing eternal support towards pure humiliation. My, what big words you’ve used, Skye? I laugh, only to stop abruptly and feel stares at me. “She’s not human,” Summer whispers in comfort to the janitor walking past. “Just smile at her and wave. It’s the only way to keep your head and shoulders attached.” The janitor has a slight smile on his face, and for a split-second, I feel as if I’m looking at Adam. Why does everything refer back to him? No wonder I don’t miss that boy –how can I miss somebody when he has never left? Although Adam transferred to England so many years ago, he still remains on my mind, to this very day and second. “I thought you were the nice one,” Autumn teases, elbowing her sister in the ribs. Everybody with half a brain knows Summer Backstar is anything but nice. “And yet, here’s how you support a Stupendous Six member.” “What’s all this ‘Stupendous Six’ nonsense?” Uh-oh. I’m face-to-face with Becky, the nosiest girl in the whole world. She’s one of the many of Mum’s volunteers and has full access to backstage. She can keep secrets, however. It’s just how she manages to question every single thing aloud which annoys me to no extent. “I mean, I hear you guys talking about it, but what exactly is it?” Before I can make up some lame excuse for not telling her, Clay interrupts. He stares at the girl through his glasses, cocking his head the slightest. If there’s one person who’s more observant –and food-loving– than Clay, I will eat my hat. Not that I have one on me right now, but more of a matter of expression. Jason is announcing the next person about to be up for auction, so Ryan has a short break before returning to stage. “You know how all six of us –me, Skye Valenti, Autumn and Summer Backstar, Ryan St. Clair and Jason Earles– live in the same building? For apartments, that is.” “Yeah” The girl already looks bored. Poor Becky, because when Clay explains something, people usually faint. Unconscious because they’ve never realised how boring one person can be. “So?” “So, we’re always together. We walk home from school; we visit each other’s houses…” “In other words, we’re–” Summer interrupts. “–The best of friends,” Autumn completes.

It’s actually really weird how both the twins are able to finish the other’s sentences, providing how different their personalities are. Their contrasting feelings and views on life actually make them different people, and everybody can tell the difference from them. If they’re talking, that is. It’s their gestures which do all the real speaking. As several minutes pass, an ant makes itself up Summer-Lily’s tanned legs. “Argh! Ant, ant! Get it off me!” She waves her petite hands around, and from a distance, people would mistake her for failing at dance moves. Her aggressive shaking causes her floppy, light-brown curls to move, almost pushing the ant on the ground. “Don’t hurt it!” replies a concerned Autumn, as she tenderly picks up the ant and holds it to her chest, whispering words of comfort. “It’s okay. You wouldn’t like her anyway.” Exhibit A: Autumn’s kindness contrasting with Summer’s girly attitude. “I’m gonna go,” says a bored Becky as she’s about to run with her might. Anything to get away from us, although I can’t really blame her. “You guys are really boring, despite being so popular.” “Why, thank you.” I give a fake bow. “What costume are you wearing?” “I have no clue.” That’s when she breaks down on her knees, her hand dramatically on her forehead. “The world is spinning around so vividly and…” I’m pretty sure she goes on about heaven and hell being far apart, but I’m not listening. I’m next, so I race back to the room and put everything on. Last but not least, I fix my contacts into place. “Next we have Spot-the-Wagging-Dog!” Jason is back on stage, declaring my name and breaking off into a round of applause. “Please, welcome Spot-the-Wagging-Dog!” I step onto stage, seeing all the audience makes me feel more comfortable rather than nervous. For some reason, stage-fright has never been an issue, but probably because Adam and I used to sing karaoke every Friday at school. We always used to go in pair, singing our lungs out. It didn’t take a genius to recognize we have no talent, but we weren’t too bad either. Too bad. My arms wave themselves like crazy before I can control them. They have a mind of their own. Blowing kisses which is completely unlike the real me, I do a little victory dance before watching little children giggle at my exterior. “This wonderful dog will do anything you want, for a whole month! The only exception is that this one, like all the others, can’t be forced to reveal who they are. By purchasing these wonderful helpers, you’re swearing to never take off their costumes, or forcing them.” Jason pastes a huge, cheesy grin on his face. “It will come to your house every day for the entire month.” Hold on. I’m one of the lucky ones who protested to get only half a month of work. My mouth drops open, but since I’m inside a costume, nobody in the audience can see it. But the way Jason’s looking at me, his eyes twinkling, I know he can tell what I’m thinking. Knowing him, he probably already suspects I’m Skyla underneath. He merely shrugs and declares the words before I can stop him, “Going once!”

Frantically, my eyes search the crowd for the person who’s trying to buy me. There’s a boy with a dark appearance overall. I can’t see his face, but from what I do see, he has dark brown hair and tanned skin. Finally, he looks up with his dark-brown eyes looking straight ahead. Even though I don’t see them directly, I know exactly who he is. This is Adam Devereaux. But what a coincidence? “I bid double the amount he does!” There’s another bidder –a teenaged girl with piercings, dark eye-shadow and a gothic edge ringing onto her. I suddenly wince, and although it’s strange, I can’t help wishing Adam would double the amount she bids. Just to increase my value. But of course, he doesn’t. When we used to be inseparable, he always complained about how little money he has; and today’s no different. “Alright!” Ryan claps his hands in glee. “Going once, going twice…sold to the girl in the piercings.” There’s a shuffle through the crowd as everyone looks back at her. She simply has a victorious grin on her lips, taking no notice of all the eyes on her. Suddenly, somebody whispers, “Olivia? Is that you?” This makes my head snap up and take a closer look at her. Under her right eye in a beauty spot, one which is hard to see at first glance. But when looking closer, it’s something she can’t get rid of –no matter how much foundation she puts on her skin. Feeling rather horrified, I’m ready to run away from the stage. How does my archenemy know it’s me? She probably doesn’t. Ever since I got the honours of being school captain, and not her, she has never hesitated to make my life a misery. Now, her whole look has changed. Today’s the last day of school, being a Friday, but it’s amazing how a couple of hours ago she was a completely different person. Blonde, perky and dazzling. Now she’s… actually, I don’t know what she is. But I do know I’m officially a puppet. And she’s the one controlling my strings.

CHAPTER TWO
Olivia. Her name repeats in my head, over and over like an unmentionable chant. Why her? But a part of me is glad it’s not Adam who won me over at the final minute. Knowing him and his torturing techniques, there’s no knowing what I’ll be forced to do. Back to the days of Skyla-and-Adam-forever, we used to pick out ladybugs from the long grass. I was the one to handle them, because Mr. Devereaux-the-animal-killer couldn’t hold a simple critter without murdering it mercilessly. He always had an unnaturally-strong grip, even back then. Of course, Olivia has no idea it’s me underneath the costume. I’m following her around the supermarket, because after all, that’s what I’m being paid to do. I have the feeling her neat-freak-self won’t really have me making her bed or household chores, but rather, expecting me to be her personal cheerleader. One which follows her, and from somebody else’s eyes, I admire her so much that I trail behind her at every step. It’s sickening how much I’m relying on her for the money from her rich and wealthy parents, all because Mum promised me two-hundred dollars from the total savings. Which I will use for my human-anatomy kit. Most people would look into this little fact and feel slightly freaked out, but who I am. Skeletons and mummies. I love things which haunt people. Fear is something which nobody can control on the inside, even if they pretend to relax externally. Back when Adam and I were inseparable, we used to organise night-shows where we’d invite people. Only to tell spooky stories and giving people nightmares. But of course, as we grew older, so did the stories which once scared the daylights out of classmates. So we had to give up, grudgingly. “So, you bored yet?” she says in a monotone, yawning. “Zoey?” I’m not stupid enough to tell her my real name. That’s something which requires a level of intelligence that only Becky has –very, exceptionally low. With an enthusiastic shake of my head, I follow her around. It’s then I realise I’m going against everything that I stand for; but that’s what has to be done to prevent her recognising my true identity. To be honest, I’m extremely happy that the masked creatures –also known as yours truly– don’t have to reveal their true selves. If Olivia had the slightest idea towards who I am, I’m sure she’d be smashing my soul into pieces and feeding them to the demon king. That’s just the sort of innocent girl she is. Of course, to save myself from death –or even worse, total humiliation that I’m a dog in a suit– I must also remember to not show any signs I’m Skyla. Nothing. There must be no resemblance between me and Skyla. “Hey, Olivia,” I say, my voice all unnaturally girly. “Who’re we waiting for?” She waves my words off and I have to prevent myself from not whacking her. “You wouldn’t know, since you go to the private school.” I go to the same school as you, Stupid! I feel like yelling. My name’s not even Zoey! But somehow, I manage to keep my thoughts from spilling like an overflowed bowl of soup. “But his name’s Adam.”

My heart skips a beat. If I’m not mistaken, there’s only one Adam in this small, small town. One which never leaves the back of my mind, and one who used to be my best friend before leaving for Boston in America. Dark hair and dark eyes. One which– “Livy!” Speak of the devil. A smile which is larger than Clay’s ability to turn a normal conversation into something completely boring crosses Olivia’s face. They already have nicknames. I try my best not to vomit my breakfast as I follow her into the small and cosy café, decorated with coloured Christmas lights and mistletoe hung on the left side of the roof. The paint on the wall reminds me of melting chocolate, maintaining the same colour and not changing shades. Unfortunately, the vomit-green menu in large print doesn’t help the appearance. And somehow, it’s better than Adam’s nickname for this girl– “Devere-Adam!” I stand corrected. That is the worst nickname in history. Pretending I’m not about to twist both of their earlobes, I sit opposite of him, since there are four seats to a table. Adam cocks his head to the side. “You bought her from the auction, right?” “Yeah. But since you were so close to winning it, you can have half of her.” What am I, a piece of cheesecake? “Hello.” My girly voice is back. I wonder if I’m fooling Adam. “I’m Zoey. I go to St. Patricks.” A half-smile forms on his face, making him look, dare I say it, handsome. “Nice to meet you.” Olivia orders a chocolate milkshake for herself and asks us what we want. Naturally, Adam asks for plain vanilla. When she turns to me, I can see Adam observing what I’m about to choose. He still hasn’t given up his suspicions of me being somebody he knows, despite the green eyes, fake-girly voice and pretend attendance to a school. It’d be very stupid to order chocolate, because that’s what Skye always does. So, naturally, I say, “Strawberry.” If there’s one thing Skye really, really hates, it’s strawberry milkshake. And Adam knows it. I sure hope he hasn’t forgotten. Oh no! What if, because of the long time we spent apart, he completely forgot about my preferences in little things? Maybe he thinks it’s the other way around; that Skyla likes strawberry flavoured milkshakes over chocolate. What would I say then? Oh, by the way, my favourite is chocolate. I’m just taking strawberry because I don’t want you to realise I’m Skyla, because if you do, then you won’t treat me like a human being because you were mad at Skyla before you left. Not that I’m Skyla or anything, but yeah. “Be right back,” says Olivia, standing by the counter with her black-and-red purse in her clutches. It completely matches her newfound “gothic” look, complete with the black hair and heavy marks of eyeliner. This leaves me with Adam sitting opposite of me, trying to open a small packet of sugar and failing; spilling it all over his lap.

Joy. “So, you have any plans for today?” Just to ease us into a conversation. Not that I care about anything he’s doing today, especially if it’s with Olivia. Who knows what they’ve been up to between yesterday and today… I shudder, but I can’t say I didn’t see this coming. On the last day of school –for him, at least– he snuck a loveletter into Olivia’s locker. She was absolutely thrilled, and naturally, she told me. As her best friend, who she met because she always pass me in the hallways. But those days are now behind us. She hates me now, all because I got a leadership role and she didn’t. I suspect there are other reasons behind her hatred, but I’m not going to ask. Something tells me I’m better off not knowing the reasons behind her ridiculous statements of hatred. Perhaps one day she’ll realise that ruling the school isn’t everything, and how she has mistreated me for something I won fairin-square. But until then, I’ll stay back and wait for sense to be knocked into her. Ever since I saw with my own eyes how she dyed her hair, I know it’s going to be a while until her sanity is kicked back. “Actually, I’m going over to Skyla’s house. Her mum’s making us go.” I don’t know this. It’s so like Mum to make preparations without notifying me first. He searches my face. Actually, he’d be looking at my eyes more than my face, considering the costume’s covering my entire face. “You know her?” He’s challenging me. “I think…” I tilt my head to the side, feigning innocence. “Is she that creepy girl who collects bones and stuff? Olivia was telling me about her.” A half-smile is on Adam’s face. He clearly looks amused and convinced I’m not who he thinks I am. Right now, I’m ready to whack him with a mullet. But because I’m the sweet, green-eyed Zoey, I don’t. “Yeah, her. Everybody else calls her Skye. But I don’t.” “Why not?” I know the answer. But because I’m not Skyla –no, I’m not her at all– I question him. “Because I like her name. It’s so ironic.” He puts his hands together and slowly drifts them apart, like he’s presenting a movie which won a million Oscars. “Skyla-Rose Valenti. It sounds so girly.” “But isn’t she girly?” “Completely the opposite. She loves ghost stories and scaring people. All the boys back at primary school had this survey, and then they voted her ‘most-likely-to-kill’ out of everybody.” I laugh, but I’ve heard this all too many times before. “Wow. She must be pretty weird.” “Believe me, she is.” But I don’t take it as an insult. Adam’s not out to kill me or anything, it’s just how he gave me these deathglares before leaving for Boston. He wouldn’t talk to me at all. In fact, I think that’s one of the main reasons he’s still on my mind is because I was never forgiven. He was angry at me when he left. Still to this very second, I wonder why he ignored me.

Wouldn’t speak to me. Now that I’m thinking about it, if he knew I was Skyla, would he be talking to me so casually? Or maybe he’d ignore me. Like I’m a piece of translucent glass not worth seeing through. It’s best if he thinks I’m Zoey. But Adam is a boy who’s not easily fooled. I’ll have to use every inch of my acting skills if I’m to con him into thinking I’m somebody I’m not. Zoey needs a personality of her own. When I get home, I’ll have to create a character profile for her and rehearse it. Things like what her parents do for profession and what her favourite colours are; something completely different to what the real me has down in her own profile. “I’m baaack.” Olivia arrives, stretching so her mid-body is exposed along with her perfectly-skinny waist. I’m five kilos overweight, and trust me, people can see it. Just seeing her with a perfect figure makes me feel depressed. She doesn’t even look like she tries to keep her figure. “Strawberry.” She puts it in front of me. “Vanilla.” She puts it in front of Adam, only to keep the remaining chocolate milkshake for herself. “So” Her voice is bright. “Devere-Adam, I just asked the people back at the cash register if we could borrow the blackboard.” She points outside, where a skinny boy with braces is carrying the giant blackboard inside the café. It’s out there, usually to advertise as people walk past. Things like “Buy 1 and Get One Free!” The skinny boy brings it in –finally– and gives Olivia a weak smile. “Thank you!” she says in her best voice, faking a girly laugh. The boy blushes before walking back to the counter. Adam watches this whole incident with a raised eyebrow. “You’re so cruel, Livy. You can tell he has the hots for you.” He frowns, scratching his hair and I can see a row of pimples on his hairline. “What was his name again?” Ryan! I feel like yelling. It’s Ryan, the second-oldest member of the Stupendous Six! He used to hang out with us sometimes, don’t you remember? You stupid boy! But of course, Zoey is sentenced to a lifetime of silence, so she simply agrees with Adam. What he’s saying is nothing but the truth –Ryan’s been crushing on Olivia for at least a century. Or maybe two. Trust me, she knows it. And then uses it to her complete advantage. I’m utterly sure she knows how the blackboard isn’t supposed to be moved, but still manages to get somebody to do the dirty work for her. “Watch me,” she mouths to both Adam and me as she picks out the chalk attached to the blackboard and starts writing with it. Her hand is slow-moving and she finally finishes with a neat tinge to her writing. She steps back to admire it. “What do you think?” Skyla-Rose Valenti is a freak-show, lunatic, and idiot who believes in miracles. She thinks she can do the impossible. But she’s a warthog. I understand jealousy, but this is beyond everything. Right then and there, with my fists clenched up, I’m ready to take off my costume and reveal my true identity. Oh, wouldn’t Olivia like to know just who she’s messing with! Why can’t she realise I have confidence in myself? Maybe I’ll never be able to do the impossible, but it’s not going to stop me trying. Like that time I climbed up the mountain back at camp and reached the top when hardly anybody could get halfway. Perhaps she’s referring to my optimistic attitude. No wonder she likes Adam, I think. He’s a complete pessimist; he never smiles, for crying out loud!

Just when I’m about to wipe the smirk off Olivia’s face, Adam interrupts my devious plans. “That’s not correct,” he whispers. Apparently, I didn’t have to wipe off the smirk on her face; “Devere-Adam” did it without any assistance. He steps to the blackboard. Go Adam! Show Olivia what she’s dealing with! You’re my absolute hero! Using his fingers, I watch him rub out the comma after the word “lunatic.” Skyla-Rose Valenti is a freak-show, lunatic and idiot who believes in miracles. She thinks she can do the impossible. But she’s a warthog. “It’s grammatically incorrect in Australia,” he explains. “Now it’s correct!” I’m ready to slap him. Truly. Right across his tanned-face. Olivia bursts out into laughter and the fact she has the impression she knew it all along. Of course he precious-wecious boyfriend would agree with her, even if it means he’s going against his one and only true friend. And all of a sudden, I realise how empty I feel. I expected Adam to defend me, not leave things like this. Adam exchanges a half-smile with his darling, while she simply shakes her head. Olivia is not impressed. “Why don’t you ever laugh?” she whines. “It’s so annoying!” She pauses. “It’ impossible; you’re so cold all the time!” That’s when I realise what I have to do. In order to prove myself to Olivia, I must do something she thinks is impossible. She thinks Adam laughing and smiling, exchanging warm conversations with anybody else is impossible. Me? I think it’s unlikely, but definitely not impossible to make Adam a heart-warming boy. Nothing’s impossible. And I’m going to prove it to her.

CHAPTER THREE
Adam’s mother stares at me, eyeing me up and down with her sparkling eyes. “Skyla!” She wraps me into a bear hug which almost suffocates me. Her son appears behind her, a smirk on his face. Perhaps I don’t know this new side of Adam, but I know the old version enough to realise his exact words: If she suffocates you, I’m not paying the funeral expenses. His voice is repeating over and over in my head, even if he never said the words aloud in first place. This reminds me how much I miss Adam. My Adam. Not the Devil’s Son who has taken place in his body. But it won’t matter anymore. I’ll change him for once and for all; he’s going to be open and kind-hearted. Most of all, he’ll smile. I’ll make a better version of the original –better than my Adam. Sure, I know it might take a lot of excess time and effort, but I have the opportunity of a lifetime to prove myself to Olivia. Maybe I’ll even convince him to dump her, but that truly would be a miracle. She doesn’t believe in miracles; not at all. She pretends she knows everything, when in reality, she has hardly any clue what she consumes for breakfast every morning. But she’s right about one thing: I believe in miracles. So much that it’s painful when they never come true. “Have a seat inside,” he mutters to me, avoiding my eyes completely. “We’re having dinner right now, but I’ve finished.” He turns his head around so he doesn’t see Mrs. Devereaux’s unimpressed scowl. “I’ll be in my bedroom if any of you need me.” With a light jog, he’s slowly out of distance. “That boy…” mutters his mother under her breath, before lightening up. “Don’t worry, Skyla. I’m sure he’ll warm up to you in no time.” Just like I’m sure you don’t know him. You don’t know him at all. I’m the only one in this world who knows and understands him, and this is the thank-you I get? But instead of blurting out my true feelings, I just nod as if I believe in miracles so great. Adam warming up to me. Even I know miracles that great cannot exist. It wouldn’t matter if he hates Skyla forever, “Zoey” will change him slowly and surely. Perhaps I’ll never have a chance to say anything to him because he’ll always block me out, but he’ll be changed. And Skyla-Rose Valenti will be responsible for that. How the Devereauxes managed to unpack so much in such little time is beyond me. Besides a few boxes, everything is exactly like their old house was organised. Every little picture-frame to a picture of Adam on his first red bicycle, a half-smile on his face. Even back then. But the item which caught me most was a small, multi-coloured vase. I peered at it closely, unblinking and wondering if it could possibly be… Yes. It was. It even had my initials written at the bottom. Clearly, it was the gift I gave to Adam before he left –though very imperfect and crooked. Smiling, I wonder internally if he ever thinks about me. My smile fades. No, no, no. Do you want him to think about you?

Well… yeah. Actually, I do. Isn’t it natural for best friends to think about each other? But Adam’s not my best friend anymore, if not a complete stranger. I have no idea what made him this new, cold human being, but I have a feeling I can change him. Once and for all. It can’t be too difficult, can it? Ignoring the rhetorical question my mind asks me, I sit at the giant-oak dining table. In front of me are a plate of braised tomatoes, a bowl of pumpkin soup and Quinche lorraine –all traditional French food. Mum digs right in and starts with an extra dish of snails, which Mrs. Devereaux knows enough to avoid giving me. I hate snails –just the thought of them makes me psychologically grossed out to eat them, but in reality, I think they’re beautiful creatures. So slow but have beautiful shells which they carry around. We all discuss things, laughing and remembering old memories. I laugh along with them, but a bit of my heart is a sinking ship. Nothing feels right without Adam. He’s the only thing which would make this particular moment memorable, with his cold exterior but warm heart. I hear the rain trickling down outside like heartbeats, slowly, oneby-one. Summer rain, just like the last time Adam and I got a karaoke machine –at thirteen years old– and sang our heart out. We were pretty awful and had complaining neighbours, but it was one of the best moments of my life. All the best memories of my life involve Adam. Things happen, people change. But why him? “Skyla,” Mrs. Devereaux says, her tone concerned. “Are you okay?” I blink. “Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” Just for safe measures, I take another spoonful of pumpkin soup, trying to smile as I do so. “You have that expression on your face.” She glances around nervously, as if expecting some ghost to appear out of nowhere, before standing and sitting in between Mum and myself. “I’m arranging Adam’s marriage.” Every drop of soup in my mouth squirts right out in front of me. But even though I’ve made a humongous mess, all I can do is gaze at her, wide-eyed. “You what?” “Shh!” Her vacillate eyes dart around the room. “Keep it quiet. I want you to marry him.” “I’m not marrying her,” says another voice. Sure enough, Adam Devereaux enters the room with a poker-face. But there’s something glinting in his eyes. Danger. “Skyla’s not the one I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. I can barely stand her for a second.” Yeah? And whose fault is that, Mr. I-Will-Never-Smile? I think hot-headedly. I’m just about to stand up and punch him in the nose. After all, this is exactly what he means by how my name is ironic –despite my name, I’m not afraid to punch him. Straight in his smug and horrible face. Who does he think he is, telling me I’m no worthy of marrying? But do you want to marry him? Of course not! He– “Adam.” Mrs. Devereaux is giving him the look. Not a look, but the look. Adam appears taken aback. I can’t help a smile tugging at the corner of my lips as I take another spoonful of soup. Score! Skye: 1 Adam: 0. “Apologise. Now.” “I’m sorry that you’re not worthy of marrying, Skyla.”

I stick my tongue out and he mimics me. Mum just rolls her eyes with a, “Will they ever grow up?” while Adam’s mother hides a smile –probably thinking how wonderful I’d look with her son. Gag. With a roll of his eyes, Adam stamps back to his room like a little child. He’s so immature! He honestly acts like a five-year-old sometimes… “I don’t understand my own son,” she mutters under her breath as Adam slams his door. He’s probably whining under his breath about involving me in something so utterly embarrassing. As if I’d actually want to marry him! “In our family, we have arranged marriages. Adam is an eligible suitor for any girl. But…” She clasps her bony hands on the table, exasperated. “He has the worst personality I have ever seen in a human!” That I cannot deny. “His talents are miraculous; he’s persistent and can do anything if he puts his mind to it. What girl would marry a boy as selfish and illogical as him?” Apparently, I’m in the running. Thinking this over, I can’t help feeling pity for her. Imagine giving birth to such a problem-child as Adam himself. “It’s okay–” She doesn’t hear me. “Which is why I want you to marry him. You know him so well… You’re the only one he opens up to, I know. To be honest, I have no idea what happened between the both of you, but you used to be so close. Inseparable.” She shakes her head. “Skyla, I’m so desperate. I need him to help me; to raise a family, have a wife.” The idea hits me in an instant. “Why don’t I change his personality for you?” The minute I say it aloud, I see a quizzical but curious look on her face. I’ve struck her interest. “I can change his personality. I know I can. And then I can find another girl –who’s not me– and get you the same dream?” Her whole face lights up as a flash. “Please.” And with that one word hanging in the air, I stand up and march straight to his room. Without even knocking, I enter and sit right on his bed. Adam is the definition of neat and tidy, with his magnifying glass and history books tucked under his bed. I see him sitting on his computer, eating a cookie and pressing random keys. Rolling my eyes, I realise another rule of him which I forgotten: when he gets in touch with a computer, not even a hailstorm can divert him. “Die!” he yells to what I imagine is the computer. In a flash, he spins around and looks at me with a sly expression. “You heard me. Why don’t you?” “Because if I did, you wouldn’t have anybody to change your awful personality.” I eye his rocking chair. Only he would choose a rocking chair over one of the leather, wheeled ones. So utterly old-fashioned. “Now, in order for me to not ruin my whole life living with you, I need to find you a proper girl.” He snorts, his hand waving dismissively. “Pfft. Good luck with that, Skyla.” “The exact thought registering my mind. I need all the luck I can get.” I glare at him. “Why are you so against me?” For some reason, this causes an outburst of hysterical laughter from Adam. But it’s not nice and cheerful laughter –it’s mocking, sarcastic. Everything about his personality. This makes me feel like a thousand bullets hitting me at the same time, and now that I think about it, only Adam can make me feel this guilty and worthless. Unimportant. Selfish. Only he, out of everybody in the world, can make me feel this revolting.

And at the same time, he’s the one who can cheer me up. Just a simple of his compliments can make me feel airy and light, even proud. Because he doesn’t dish out compliments –he means what he says, the good and the bad. His honesty is enough to make me trust him, because every secret and “silly” thought I express is confidential. Was. Right now, I have no idea if he’s still the same Adam. My Adam. “Do you honestly not know why, Skyla?” he whispers to me, his voice light and at the same time, taunting. “You must be more ignorant than I thought.” He shakes his head. “You won’t be able to change me. Just wait and see; you’re nothing to me. No influence or anything.” His honesty is burning me. Like flames. “You truly do believe in miracles.” He pokes at my nose. “Stupid little princess,” he says, his voice soft as honey but words sharper than chainsaws. “Grow up.” That’s the last straw. He tells me to grow up? Let’s remind ourselves exactly who it is slamming doors and worrying their mothers into thinking they’d die alone with seventy-two cats. My lips draw back into a snarl, but Adam has already turned back to his computer. Deciding I need to calm down and not let him see the reaction he’s expecting –for me to punch him, which I’d happily do if there weren’t any consequences involved– I move closer to the window, which I can barely see through in the dark evening. Just from across the road I can see my apartment, directly face-to-face. There is a string connecting this apartment to mine. Right now, I remember the times where we’d get a small box, attach it to the string and put a note inside. Then we’d push it to the other apartment –it was our way of communicating. Merely thinking of the good old times causes a goofy smile on my face, which soon fades. I want my old Adam back. Even if it’s not an improvement, I want him back. And I’ll do anything to get him.

CHAPTER FOUR
“Isn’t he completely adorable?” Olivia rests her head on her elbows, a distant expression crossing her face. I gag silently but force a smile. “Devere-Adam. He’s just… so flawless.” Flawless? Seriously? Are we still talking about Adam here? Or have we changed the subject to some ultrabeautiful witch statue without notifying me? “Uh, yeah. He’s quite good-looking,” I force out. Olivia turns to me, popping the bubble her gun makes. “But he’s not my type,” I add quickly. “Like, at all.” “Say, Zoey, what is your type?” A bunch of crickets were sounding that very second. I can hear them ringing at the back of my mind, but I shake the thoughts out of my head. No, I simply cannot focus on anything else. This entire job has been handed down to me, and the last thing I need is Olivia suspecting my true identity and being a complete loser to me. Like, a soreloser. Just because I’m “Devere-Adam’s” best friend, while she’s merely a girlfriend he doesn’t knowanything about. But now that I’m thinking about it, it seems as if my best friend has become a stranger. Two years; that’s all the time between us, and yet, it seems to be enough for him to completely change. What happened to him? There’s something really wrong going on here –even though Adam never really smiled, he never was this cold to me before. Something’s wrong, very, very wrong. The thoughts circulate my mind, but they’re interrupted by Olivia’s stare. She looks at me, with merely a blank and nonchalant expression, expecting an answer as soon as possible. So I say, “Blonds. With blue eyes.” The complete opposite to Adam. She nods, but seems hardly interested. I watch her press and un-press her lips, chewing her gun in a more elegant manner than I’d take her for. But then again, I’ve always been known to think the worst of Olivia. She’s just one of those people I just can’t stand even faking optimism around. It’s just… the way she treats everybody like she’s better than them. But a deep person isn’t one which relies on friendship and physical relationships like herself. There’s no such thing as a perfect girl, and it’s obvious from every point of view that Olivia tries too hard. I watch the black eyeliner, which is heavily applied around her mascara, slowly melt towards her cheekbones. My mouth opens to tell her, but I close it with a snap. No, she deserves humiliation. Especially after making “believing in miracles” such a bad thing. Sometimes, I feel like I’m a little child trapped in a teenager’s body. A girl who still believes in Santa Claus, even though it’s obvious there is no such thing. No, nothing should get in the way of me and my dreams and hopes. One of these days, I’m going to prove how growing up isn’t a good thing. I want to be young forever. “Skyla, seriously, you’re a complete loser for wanting to grow up,” says Adam, kicking a pebble away from us.

We’re walking across a football field, but some of the users found rocks and decided to bombard the football field with them. They’re all over the place, and though it seems completely out of character, Adam is actually trying to remove them so nobody gets injured. The sun’s shining a little too brightly for my tastes. Way, way too brightly, so I shield my eyes with my hand. “Why is wanting to grow up a ‘loserous’ act?” “Firstly, there’s no such word as ‘loserous’,” he says a matter-o-factly, using air-quotes in the right places. “And secondly, when you grow up, you’ll just want to be a kid again. You’ll want to become… innocent, I guess.” I think these are one of the rare moments when Adam seems out of this world. The seriousness dripping from every word he says makes me realise he knows what he’s talking about, but at the same time, it causes shivers to run up my spine. Adam was the person who predicted my life and future before I could; somebody who knew exactly what’s going on in my mind when I hadn’t fully discovered it myself. I think he knew me so well that he couldn’t help making predictions which became ridiculously accurate. But there’s a part of me which denies the fact he knew me well at all; personally, I don’t think it’s possible for somebody to say something so simply and watch it become completely true. Not unless they’re been through it before. * “Spot?” It’s Ryan, jogging up to me with a smile which looks like it’s hurting his cheekbones.He’s so skinny! I think with a jolt. Does he ever eat? “Uh, I need some advice. You see…” Sitting at the café Adam, Olivia and “Zoey” attended yesterday, I wait for my master to arrive. Meanwhile, my hand is circulating in slow-motion, stirring every little bit of my chocolate milkshake. I regret making “Zoey” like the worst flavour possible in milkshakes or any kind of sugary drink. And then, all of a sudden, Ryan comes out of nowhere. It shocks me to see how he doesn’t care about the fact that I might be Skyla –but I guess The Stupendous Six already got a hunch I was another masked-animal, not this one. I listen to his problems, all while trying not to slap him across the face. He has no clue I’m Skyla –the girl who’s completely against the idea of him and the Satan’s-Assistant-Olivia getting together. But at the same time, I can’t help feeling in awe. There are times where Ryan would describe the signs which make him think Olivia is “interested,” and my eyes can’t help but take in the blush of his cheeks or how his eyes would awkwardly shift downwards, as if it’s too embarrassing to say aloud. It’s times like this I realise I know nothing about him, despite knowing him for around a year. Why does he like Olivia so much? What is with liking a girl who changes her personality like a model changes clothes, only to lose herself in her lies? Can’t he see that Olivia is not the girl he thinks she is? She has a zillion personalities –chances are, the one which Ryan fell in love with wasn’t what she really was. And honestly, I think that’s the very reason I can’t find myself to fake optimism around her. I don’t like her because she doesn’t love herself. That’s the thing: she’s changing herself so much, I believe she doesn’t even know

who she’s supposed to be. She’s like an actress, only when the directly “cuts” the scene, she doesn’t go back to her old self. There’s no old-self to go back to, but instead, she gets a new identity. Tries to pull it off and deceive people. Poor, poor Ryan. Imagine falling in love with a girl like that. I fake a smile when he tells me about how beautiful her shoulders are shaped (seriously? Shoulders?) and then try not let vomit trickling out of my mouth when he asks how he should ask her out. “Ryan, she’s already in a relationship.” “How did you know my name?” “I saw you around at a restaurant once,” I say quickly, gulping down the glass of water in front of me. If there’s one thing which would give me away, it’s how my upper-lip curls upwards when I lie. It’s something all the members of The Stupendous Six have discovered, much to my horror. “And you were wearing your nametag. But the point is, she already has a boyfriend.” There aren’t many people at the café today, which is quite unusual, seeing as how there’salways somebody here, somebody chattering like a complete maniac. But today, it’s just filled with sensible teenagers speaking softly among themselves, elderly people munching on cookies or adults reading newspapers, taking a sip out of their glass every so often. A waitress comes around “That Adam guy, right?” “Yeah.” To my surprise, he snorts. “Everybody knows they weren’t meant to be together.” This captures my interest immediately. But I pretend to be nonchalant. “Oh? Is that so? How come?” Ryan opens his mouth. I wince, reminding myself this is the boy who has the ability to makerollercoasters sound boring. And trust me, there’s a certain girl (or curse, in this case) which has to be strong enough to enable something as extreme as that. “The reason they’re together in first place is because Skyla –wait, you know Skyla, don’t you?” There’s a tone of urgency in his voice which tells me exactly what he wants me to do. So, I shake my head and fake an expression which reads, Who’s she? Ryan sighs in relief. “Alright, the reason they’re together is because of this letter that Adam gave Olivia back in primary school.” “Olivia’s my master,” I say, trying to sound solemn while fighting fits of laughter at the same time. Ryan nods, obviously not hearing what I just said. Oh no, when Ryan opens his mouth, he doesn’t hear anything else in the world. Chances are, someone can choke right in front of him, dying, but he’ll be going on about things which bore everybody around him. Then –and only after he finishes his “exciting speech”– will he rush them to hospital.

But chances are, the victim will already be dead; not by choking, but from severe and utter boredom. “But the letter wasn’t for her.” “What?” “Yeah. Adam got the lockets mixed up.” There’s a thoughtful expression on his face as he scratches his chin. “Come to think of it, their lockers were pretty close, and he was trying to get away in a hurry before anybody catches–” “Wait, so the letter wasn’t for Olivia?” “Nope. The love-letter was for Skyla.” Seven words. They could destroy my entire perspective on Adam and everything that’s been going strangely. Right then, I felt like curling myself into a ball and rocking back and forth, trapped in a dark room. However, it doesn’t seem to be the wisest thing to do, especially seeing as how realisation hits me instantly. No wonder Adam hates me so much! If some guy I sent a love-letter to thinks I rejected them. All of a sudden, I think of the time he wouldn’t talk to me. For those large amount of days, he wouldn’t talk to me. I thought he was just too upset about moving away, that he didn’t want to speak to anyone. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Oh, how much I hate myself right now. He probably spent all his life thinking I showed the note to Olivia, when in fact, it was his fault for leaving it in the wrong locker. But like Ryan said before, it’s not fair to blame him for this. Especially since he probably wasn’t thinking properly; thrusting the letter in a locker quickly, just in case somebody caught him. And how, I can’t help feel mad at nobody but myself. It’s my entire stupid fault for not realising he wouldn’t ever date a girl like Olivia; one who wears too much makeup and relies on putting people down for her own popularity and benefits. Internally, I wonder if Olivia knows. My stomach churns. Of course she does! How hard is it to miss that her boyfriend hardly likes her? I never thought of Adam as being the type to like her, but maybe he truly does now. Perhaps she’s grown onto him like toe-fungus. But then again, I never suspected him to be the type to like me more than a friend either. But wasn’t that two years ago? Hasn’t everything changed in those two years? It’s unfair to assume he still likes me. “Spot? Are you okay?” I’m just about to ask who Spot was, but then realised that it was me. A deep panging sounds against my chest. I’m pretending to be somebody I’m not; a person in a stuffed-animal costume without much clue on how I got here in first place. People come to me, people such as Ryan, and then I get secrets out of them by faking a personality completely different to my own. Aren’t I just as bad as Olivia?

CHAPTER FIVE
It was Ryan's birthday in three days and everybody’s racing around to find the perfect present. Well, one of the many “perfect” presents, that is. The entire Stupendous Six can’t rest when there’s any sort of thing to celebrate –oh no, exams and finals can wait; parties are much better than anything else! Which I can’t really deny. Although, I have this feeling Autumn won’t be able to become the vet she wants to be when older without her finals, but it’s best not remind her. If there’s one thing everybody knows about Autumn, it’s how she becomes paranoid and panicked about everything. “Skye? What do you think of a baseball? Like, signed by Gregory Williamson.” “Yeah, right and what do you think some famous baseball player has to do with us.” “We can always forge it…” “But it’ll be too hard! No, no, no. Just give him a baseball.” Autumn sighs before placing the ball on the shelf. She half-smiles before leaving the aisle and wandering around the store, almost aimlessly. Extremely paranoid, she has to make sure to get the perfect present, even if it really doesn’t make a difference towards his feelings; Ryan’s that “cool” guy who everybody wants everything to do with. But the thing is, however, he's locked up to himself. Like, what kind of sore loser chooses Olivia over every other female on the planet? It truly is a baffling question, without many answers to suit it. When Autumn first admitted that she might, just might, have the slightest of a crush on Clay, I laughed. I remember that hot summer's day when I sat beside her, underneath that willow tree and wondered what she could possibly see in him. What was with that, I wondered with a frown? Now, as she's looking for the perfect present, I don't think it's her paranoid self striking. Think she's a little too self-respecting to let something so little as that to influence her future. Maybe it's just unrequited love floating around. For the second time in two days, I'm again reminded about how little I know about every member in the Stupendous Six, despite knowing them for almost all my life. There's Ryan, first of all, who's in love with a girl who'd never -ever- look at him. And then there's Autumn, with her own spastic personality, but is innocent enough to like somebody as strange as Ryan. With a smile playing on my lips, I head towards the checkout, motioning for Autumn to follow me. For a while, it seemed as if she wasn't sure what to do; whether to follow me or act like a spoilt-brat and throw a tantrum which will require me to stay. But deciding she wasn't a twin sister, Autumn gives an audible sigh before walking out of the store.

I can almost hear her grumble, despite being someone who hardly ever complains. However, three hours is too much time to waste on a birthday present. If she decides to undergo such a baffling amount of time to some boy she thought she loved for a long time... I don't know what her future is going to end up like. I’m aware that I’ll be out of sight when it happens. "Skyla?" Oh no. It's Adam, with her smirked face and crossed arms. Honestly, sometimes it seems as if the boy takes all his influences from Hollywood. With the whole "arrogant" look when a boy has that whole "bad-boy" appearance flowing. But maybe it's best not to point it out, seeing as how it's a definite way to make sure his ego is larger than it already is. No, Skyla-Rose Valenti wouldn't be able to perform any sorts of miracles if their head grows that big. "Oh, hello, Adam.” I try to make my voice sound nonchalant. Unfortunately, Autumn doesn’t help my intentions by waving her right hand like a maniac. “Autumn…” She turns to me. “Don’t be so rude to Devere-Adam.” This is the last straw. “What is up with that nickname? If you’re going to call each other names, use something which is shorter than his real name!” “Ooh. Somebody’s got their panties in a twist,” murmurs Autumn. “And all because people actually like me rather than you and your stupid optimism,” says Adam, a smirk crossing his face. “And that’s why you gave me that love letter?” His smirk vanishes; his cold exterior just disappears as if he’s witnessed a life-changing event. When in reality, it’s not the “life-changing-event” which is getting to him, but rather, the fact that I know about it. He’s seething on the inside and does a terrible job of hiding it from my vision. It’s just like Adam to be so… predictable. But at the same time, he’s unpredictable when I need it most. I have no idea what’s changed in him in the last two years, and it’s no secret I’d rather not be able to read his every expression in exchange to know what happened to him. What happened to Adam Devereaux? There’s a tapping noise occurring in the background, and just when I’m about to turn around and snap at the person who’s ruining this glorious moment, I see the shop-worker. She’s an old lady with white hair sparking out in all directions like she’s been struck by lightning, a pair of rectangular glasses situated on her face. Her ripe, white eyebrows fold into a frown. “Uh, we’re just about to leave…”

With that, I grab Autumn’s hand and pretty much drag her out. I’m surprised she’s not screaming her lungs out at the sudden movement. But at least I’ve done something right: I’ve gotten rid of Adam. The last thing I needed was something blurting out of my mouth, something which I’ll regret later. Something which would make his head grow bigger than it already is (like, majorly ginormous) and ruin any hopes of changing his intentions. Something I’ll only blurt it out in arguments, but not just with anybody: with Adam. “Skye?” Her voice is worried as she clutches onto my arm. “Skye… are you okay?” “Yeah. I’m fin–” “Skye, you’re the most stupid girl in the world!” fourteen-year-old Adam screeches, stomping around the house like a giant in middle of nowhere. Whenever he argues, his voice rises about three octaves and sounds more like a five-year-old, especially with the loss of sophisticated words. “I hate you!” “Yeah? Well, I hate you too! You stole my freaking school-captain speech!” “I didn’t know you had the same intentions! Seriously, is it my fault we think so alike?” Oh no, no, no. Not that incident. Any other incident but that time, where we were in Adam’s kitchen after school because Mum was at some meeting and I needed somewhere to stay. I remember everything: how the blue-and-white tiled looked when catching Adam’s shadow as he stomped around, the grey walls which probably weren’t enough to expose our argument or the ceiling fan which was probably damaged thanks to the octave-rise of our voices. Please, please don’t make me remember it again. Please– “You know what; I’m sick and tired of you always making me lose my reputation!” “And I’m sick and tired of always being the one who has to comfort you when you fall! ‘Oh, Adam, SummerLily is amazing, isn’t she? I’m going to be just like her when she grows up.” The words are spat out like they’re poisoning his mouth. “Did you ever consider how worthless that made me feel? Grow up, Skyla! How old are you, seven? Summer-Lily’s never going to accept you as a friend.” “She is so!” “She is not! The closest you have to a friend is me, Skyla. Me. Oh, wait a minute: didn’t you just say you didn’t want to be friends anymore?” A pained expression crosses my face. “Adam–” “No, Skyla. You listen. There’s not gonna be another person in this world who loves you as much as I do. So just shut up and accept it!” He stomps out; he never got to fully understand how normal boys his age wouldn’t admit to things like that; how, because I was his only friend in the world, he was influenced by me to open himself up a bit –even just a little bit. He’ll never know that.

Or how my heart was racing that minute, like it was about to leap out of my chest. My eyes squeeze shut but snap open. Welcome to reality, Skyla. Autumn still has that quizzical look, and I’m suddenly grateful she can’t read my mind. How humiliating it must be! To have her look through the most personal of all things, especially something as private as this piece of memory. Feigning a smile, I find my balance and somehow scramble to my feet. “I’m fine. Let’s just… go home.” The last thing I needed that very minute was Olivia crashing into the party –even though there’s only Autumn and me. But tragically, that’s exactly what happened. “Hello, Skyla,” she says, and if it was anybody but me, I wouldn’t thought, Wow, isn’t that girl polite? Acknowledging my existence like this? However, nobody else knows Olivia as much as I do: they wouldn’t be able to see the eye-twitch in her left eye, like she’s debating whether to cook me alive or feed me to the sharks. “Nice seeing you.” “Yeah. Nice seeing you too.” My eyes drop to the ground. What if she sees a slight resemblance (even if it’s just the slightest) to Spot? “Uh, are you looking for Adam? I mean… ‘Devere-Adam’?” I even use the air-quotes, but she still doesn’t look happy. “That’s my nickname for him, and only mine. Please don’t use it.” And that’s when everything snapped. Here I was, trying to make her see the bright side of everyone: how I can be awfully polite to those who completely loathe me for unknown reasons. And then here she is, just waving off my efforts with a tired yawn as if she’s seen is all before. Which she probably had, because she’s Olivia –the girl who everybody wants to be. Everybody but me. Maybe that’s the reason she hates me so much: that the only girl in school who doesn’t want to be an exact identical copy of her is the one who knows the most about Adam. Even Summer – fresh and aspiring Summer– wanted to be Olivia’s clone at one point in her life. Then she got more common-sense and threw it all down the drain. Which I still cheer for before sleeping every night, a goofy grin stuck to my face. “You know what, Olivia? If you’re so close to Adam, then how come that love letter–” “…Skyla…” Autumn says in a warning voice, shooting worried looks back and forth between Olivia and me. “–was actually meant for me? Huh?” She looks so startled; it seems as if she’s been slapped in the face with a whacking-stick. And instantly, I feel as if my big mouth said something I’ll be regretting for eternity. Why do I have to have such a big mouth at the worst of times? Sometimes, optimism isn’t enough for me to give to another person around me –oh no, I have to make people feel so bad that, when I apologise, they’ll feel better and get that bubbly feeling of happiness spread through me. Is that my idea all along? Unconsciously? If so, what a terrible, terrible person I must be. “She was crying, you know,” says Autumn with a raised eyebrow, but at the same time there’s a tiny smile on her lips. “And now, I know exactly what to get Ryan. A love letter!’

The thought makes me sick to the stomach, in all honesty. But because Autumn is one of my closest friends, I smile back and tell her it’s a splendid idea. I somehow prevent vomit trickling down the corner of my lips when she begins saying the letter aloud in flowery language which is even too out-dated for Shakespeare. We’re sitting at a beige bench, and I’m delighted at how she lost focus of the “flowery” language and is now using English words. Well, words I can understand without racking through a mental dictionary. “And last but not least, I want you to know I love you. Not really in that way or anything, but you’re always going to be one of the people I will never be able to live without.” Unconsciously, there was only one face which popped into my mind. A boy who handled his entire life living in the shadows, not talking unless he needs to, and almost becoming somebody the teachers hardly noticed. After a couple of weeks of his rebelling, people weren’t as amazed by his “courage” and spent most of their time ignoring them. I wonder, sometimes, if I had never left my sock-puppet, would he still be one of the most important people in my life? No. That was the day which changed it all. “Hey, Autumn?” “Yeah?” “I think I’m in love with Adam.”

CHAPTER SIX
“Oh my gosh, Skyla, you seriously remind me of Edward sometimes,” says Summer, shaking her head and eating a spoonful of ice-cream. Her little brother is somebody who doesn’t know the different between a boat and a train, so I choose to take offense. “You’re so naïve. And immature.” “Am not!’ “That wasn’t intended, but there you go. So. You suddenly think that you’re in love with Adam, right?” The wrinkle of her nose clearly indicated she didn’t approve of the boy. This isn’t really surprising, seeing as how Adam had once stolen one of her pencils (the one with the –gasp– eraser at the end) in second grade. And I wasn’t either of their friends, so I didn’t really know about this until today. In fact, there are a lot of things I’m finding out today. The fact I may be in love with Adam is definitely on the top of my list for “new things.” Even though Autumn comforted me yesterday on that bench about how I’ve just got confused, I know I haven’t. This isn’t a “confused” feeling because I wouldn’t be thinking about Adam twenty-fourhours a day if he was “just a frenemy.” Every time the slightest bits of memories rush to me, it’s him I’m thinking about. Why is that so? What’s wrong with me? We’re at the ice-cream shop, Summer with ice-cream smeared all over her upper-lip. Heaven knows how the miracle girl can manage such a task. There are people all around us, exactly what is expected on a hot summer’s day like today. A lot of people from out high-school are there, but we ignore them. No, it’s mainly the “losers” sitting at the corner. There’s Lance, the computer geek, typing away so fast I’m surprised his computer hasn’t crashed with “ERROR 8320323: MANIACAL TYPING.” But who am I to judge? I can barely write a sentence on the computer without struggling. “Right. Skye, I want to test you.” “Hmm?” “What would you say if I asked him out for you?” “He wouldn’t care. He doesn’t like you much.” “Yeah, kinda figured. And guess what? He actually chewed on that pencil! There are still bite-marks to this very day.” With a couple of realistic-but-fake sobs, Summer comes back to reality. Even without realising it, she’s the most dramatic person I’ve ever met. She clears her throat; ice-cream usually makes it clog up, but she doesn’t care. Rebellion and teenagers; inseparable. “Okay, what would you do if he kissed you?” “Punch him in the nose until he bleeds and naturally some maggots come crawling out and then convert into leeches and suck out his brains even though he doesn’t have any?”

She shudders. “And to think I thought you were a happy, undisturbed girl. Look at you now; the devil must be proud.” “Ah, Adam taught me well.” She grins. “You’re so not in love with him. You’re too naïve. Seriously, it’s impossible to ‘fall in love’ with a guy who you’d punch and then watch him bleed until maggots spurt out and turn into leeches and then have a failed attempt at sucking out his brains before realising he doesn’t have one.” Summer groans, while I’m startled and impressed about how she remembered the entire rambling. “Oh my gosh! Your disturbing-ness is contagious!” “Why, thank you. It’s what I do best.” We eat the rest of our ice-cream in silence, but neither of us are speaking. Ice-cream is something which should be eaten in peace at times, enough said. As we’re eating ice cream, I watch Summer’s eyes widen like a deer stuck in the middle of headlights. Pushing away her ice cream with such force, I’m surprised the bowl hadn’t clattered to the floor. “I –uh– have to go.” And off she goes, leaving me in the middle of nowhere (not really true, seeing as how this ridiculously small town is carved at the back of my mind without my intentions) and suffering. So I use this time to think. How on Earth am I supposed to change Adam? This is like changing a hat to a rabbit –much more complex and needing much more effort than simply affecting any other human being. Sometimes, the new Adam makes me wonder if I’m the one who’s changed. Maybe he was like this all along but I didn’t notice it because I pretty much grew up with him. Maybe I just can’t handle pessimistic friends anymore. But that’s a ridiculous conclusion, especially since I’ve never been the type to judge someone. Everybody has a right to have friends. So what exactly is it about Adam Devereaux which makes me think otherwise? Why am I being so judgemental? Skyla isn’t this judgemental, nor does she ever talk in third person. All of a sudden, I’m so determined to change Adam to the way he was back before. But I have this slight suspicion he’s not the one who changed: it’s me. Always, it’ll be me. Something’s wrong here. Something’s very, very wrong. Why is he so cold towards me? And then it hits me. It’s the love-letter. The fact he thought I was so ignorant to his letter would make anybody bitter, not just him. Isn’t it natural that I apologise? Consuming another spoonful of ice-cream, I’ve decided that once Ryan’s birthday comes around, I’ll apologise to him. After all, Adam is unlikely to miss out any celebrations. Back in the days of us, we were always going to each other’s houses, trying to find something to celebrate every-time. It didn’t matter what or how important it was, it was celebrated. Always. And now, I don’t think many things could’ve changed from the older version and the new and damaged one.

Even though it seems we’re in two separate worlds with no way to return. “Hey, Skye!” Jason waves to me before grinning, displaying an orange peel in between his teeth. His eyes are twinkling. “Slup?” “Slup?” “Slow and up. It’s what all the cool kids are saying.” “…Right.” He sits opposite of me, the smile on his face still not disappearing. We sit there in silence for a couple of minutes; only, it doesn’t seem too silent, as he’s taking my spoon and eating away at my chocolate ice-cream. “Skyla! Give me back my ice-cream!” screams twelve-year-old Adam, stamping his feet like a maniac. He dives towards his bowl of vanilla ice-cream –which is indeed in my hands– but fails when I dodge. “Sheesh, Adam. Only food can make you aggressive. What’s with that?” Tauntingly, I consume another spoonful of ice-cream and pretend it’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Adam clearly isn’t happy; his hands shake so violently, I almost worry he might suffer a seizure. Almost. “I’ll tell you ‘what’s with that’ if you don’t give me back my ice-cream,” he says darkly. Despite the fact people from my high school may see this, I laugh. But they probably think it’s something which the Class Clown a.k.a. Jason had said to me. Not the fact I may be laughing about something which happened so long ago, it seems like a complete different person. Unfortunately, Jason knows he didn’t say anything funny. He doesn’t say anything; he doesn’t have to, seeing as how he has an enormous smirk on his face. I give in immediately. “Jace, how would you tell if you’re in love with someone?” The questions obviously catches him off-guard. “Well, some of the celebrities–” If that caught him off-guard, it’s no match for what I ask next. “Do you fancy Autumn?” He chokes on air. I never thought it was possible, and I stare in admiration as he clutches at the napkin in front of him and somehow just holding onto it makes him regain his breath. But it’s not my fault he made sure that question was one to ask. It’s so obvious, seeing as how he’d always look directly at Autumn when he’s talking to the group in general. And sometimes, when he doesn’t want his secret crush to be discovered, he looks at everybody but gazes at Autumn more often than anybody else. Of course, he does this “secretly.” So secretly, all the members of Stupendous Six but Autumn can detect it. If Summer-Lily thinks I’m naïve, she obviously hasn’t taken a close look at her sister. “Of course not! How preposterous for you to even consider–”

“You gonna ask her out?” “Never,” he mutters before he can stop himself. Suddenly aware he’s revealing himself to me, he stares down at the table, so his entire face is covered under the fringe of his straight-cut hair. “Anyway, everybody knows she likes Ryan.” “But how come he hasn’t asked her out?” “She doesn’t fit the description of his novel-character.” I somehow stop myself from looking completely gobsmacked on the outside, though I’m definitely freaking out within. It’s no secret that the quiet, socially-awkward Ryan plans on becoming a bestseller when older, but never has it crossed my mind his favourite female character –Emily– would look a lot like Olivia. How do I know about his novels? Oh, he might’ve mentioned his works five or six billion times. Though extremely quiet and never speaking unless asked questions, he shies away from all his fears when it comes to his beautiful, writing future. But I guess every single person in the world needs something to be proud of. I, on the other hand, doesn’t have many things to be proud of, except the fact I got Adam Devereaux to open up to me. I groan internally. How on Earth is this not “love”? What does Summer know, anyway? Would I be thinking of Adam a million times a second if I wasn’t completely obsessed with him? “So his novel character looked like Olivia,” I say, a little disgusted. “What? No! Ha-ha, yeah. Emily acted like Olivia, but since Ryan was the writer, he added little bits of why Emily acted like that. And how he’s psychologically brain-damaged into thinking that Olivia’s exactly like Emily. Even though they’re probably nothing alike.” “How was Emily portrayed?” “She had a past. She was going out with a boy who didn’t love her.” Check. “She was brutally teased in primary school.” Uncheck. Teased? More like worshipped. “Had people who were scared of her.” Oh, double-ticks there. “And last but not least, nobody could figure her out.” I think of yesterday, when Autumn claimed she was crying. Check. We sit there in silence, when all of a sudden, I’m realising that Summer’s supposed to be here, eating her icecream. Telling Jason I’ll be right back, I walk into the ice-cream shop as a ding awaits me, letting the owners know a customer was here. They have bright, cheesy grins and a red-and-white vertically designed top hat. They’re just about to ask me if I’d like some help, but I just smile and shake my head before walking straight into the toilets. There are three toilets: women, children and men’s. So, seeing as how Summer is neither disabled nor a man, I push open the first door. No-one’s in there. All the cubicles are empty: all the doors are swang open, making it obvious I don’t have to check for feet under each of them. I frown. Surely Summer hadn’t gone home without me, had she? I’m just about to leave the toilets altogether and re-join Jason, when I hear a whisper. Very faint, but it’s somebody all the same.

“We could get caught,” says the whisper. And only because I’ve known the voice forever, I know she’s not in any sort of trouble. In fact, her voice is excited –rebelling. “Do you think we should do this?” “Summer, come here.” The voice is young, not cracking. It can’t be any older than thirty, but definitely older than a normal teenager’s. There are slurping noises from the disabled toilets and I’m almost tempted to throw up right there. But I simply won’t. Instead, my eyes dart to the very bottom of the cubicle to see a small gap which reveals shoes. Summer’s gold-and-white thongs are revealed, her toes poking out with faded nail-polish. The other pair of shoes, however, makes my stomach churn. A pair of blue-checked slippers which are so unfashionable, even Adam wouldn’t wear them. The shoes of my English teacher.

CHAPTER SEVEN
Clay’s in his room, grinning like a complete idiot. When I yell out, “Boo!” only then does he jump almost three meters off the ground. He snaps the lid of his laptop down with such force, I’m surprised he’s not a ninja-apprentice. Regardless of how much he tries, I’ve seen something he doesn’t want me –or anybody, for that matter– to know. I can’t help a smug smile creep on my face, one which makes him scowl. “Chatting to Summer again?” He clears his throat, trying to look anywhere but my eyes. “Maybe. And anyway, she’s just so… devilish. It makes me smile. Is there something wrong with smiling?” His voice sounds a touch defensive. No, actually, that’s a lie. It’s completely and utter defence, a little embarrassment and demanding tone added and mixed together. “No. Nothing’s wrong.” “Then wipe that stupid smirk off your face.” Clay is the only person in the Stupendous Six who I don’t get along with too well. He’s the “nerd” of the group, and when we’re all together, he treats me like a normal person and even sneaks in a couple of “chemistry” laughs –Gold went to the pub and took a glass of beer without paying. The bartender went, “A.U, come back here and pay for the drink.” Lame, yes, but it makes me feel accepted. But when alone, I’m acknowledged as the equivalent value of a rubbish-bin. “You might have a chance with her, you know,” I say hopefully. To my surprise, he snorts. “Yeah. Not with that super-ultra-hot teacher in the way.” “Wait… you know about that?” “She’s my best girl-friend; of course I do. After all, I’m nothing but ‘the best friend’ who she can cry to after their relationship breaks. But because she’s ridiculously-attractive, her mourning barely lasts fifteen minutes.” “You think she’s ridiculously attractive?” Realising for the first time exactly who he’s speaking to –matchmaker and annoyingly-optimistic Skyla-Rose Valenti– he presses his lips together and opens the laptop screen, as if saying, “If I just ignore you, you’ll go away.” He likes Summer. Well, that’s definitely something new, seeing as how she’s the kind of girl a lot of boys would go for. Sure, she and Autumn look the same, but Autumn doesn’t even know this year’s “colour” and wears such a baggy clothes people question whether she truly is female by the exterior lack of curves. And yet, Jason fell for her. So there’s always going to be one person in the world who loves another, regardless of the general population. Clay liking Summer isn’t such a big deal, seeing as how many boys date her to make-out and raise their reputations. But it’s the fact he’s known Summer for so long which makes his crush exceptional: if there are two people in the world who should be together right now, it’s them two.

How come the best-friend hardly ever wins? Anyhow, even though Clay isn’t my favourite person in the Stupendous Six, he deserves the very best in his love-life. He deserves to “get the girl” seeing as how they should be together. “Clay, what would you say if I told you I could get Summer to like you?” “I’d wonder what’s in it for you.” “Nothing. Just… count it as a birthday present?” To my surprise, he laughs. Not the mocking laugh he usually has when we’re in isolation, the one which questions both my intellectual level and sanity. But a good-spirited one. “Okay, deal.” He glances away from his laptop, smiling at me. Smiling at me. What has just happened in the world? “But, you’ll never make it.” My fists clench. “Doubting me?” Genuinely shocked, he says, “No! I’m not doubting you. But, as a boy with an IQ of 132, I know your plan will fail, because you only have one way of thinking: optimism.” I poke the air, hoping some brilliant comeback will strike me and I will fire it, only to be admired by all my fellow followers. But who am I kidding? As if anybody would follow me. The comeback never comes, as I exhale quite loudly. He’s right. I’m too optimistic to set a pair up. I’ll be looking at everything they have in common, even if it’s not always the case. “So… what do you suggest?” I’m not sure I want to ask. No, scratch that: I really, really didn’t want to –it’s not a question of surety anymore. But all the same, it’s the only thing which will save me from buying Clay the “perfect” birthday present he’ll probably throw out later on. It’ll probably prevent Mr Reville, Summer’s current forbidden romance, from using her any longer. But most of all, it’ll be the solution to all his “unrequited-love” problems, and somehow, that out-powers all the reasons not to help. And, after all, what have I got to lose by assisting? That’s when another thought hits me. It’s not just Clay’s love-life I’m trying to fix; it’s Stupendous Six in general. For one thing, we’re all falling apart. Autumn’s got her animal shelters to volunteer at every Saturday, raising money and hardly presenting herself at any meetings. Summer’s trying out for modelling agencies that’re still, to this very minute, rejecting her. This is frustrating enough for her to try even harder, because Summer-Lily Backstar will never accept “no” as an answer. Jason and his musical. It’s out of town, meaning he’s out-of-sight a lot. But very frequently, he’ll go to the icecream shop and scoop himself some ice-cream, though I suspect he’s just waiting around in case Autumn’s there, since she can never separate from her favourite food for long. Ryan is working part-time at the restaurant, still blushing and flushing like a maniac when girls talk to him. Sometimes, the awkwardness is too much and he’d have to excuse himself and a couple swigs of water. How he’s still not fired is beyond me.

And last but not least, Clay is spending less and less time with real people and more time on the web. Chatting to strangers on omegle.com and Skype-ing with people in China, who’re learning the English language. He wants to start a career as a tutor, but at the same time, he’s losing us. We’re all falling apart; we’re all so messed-up. If I fix one relationship, such as the one between Summer and Clay, there would be more chance of us sticking together. Forever and always. But the deadly, evil words spill out of Clay’s mouth. So casually, I’m debating whether he rehearsed them to try and torture me. “I suggest that you get Adam Devereaux as a sidekick.” * “Happy birthday to you! I went to the zoo! I saw a fat lady; and I thought it was you!” blares out Jason, standing on the table and doing the most humiliating version of the chicken dance my innocent eyes have ever seen. “Jace!” Autumn pulls on his arms and pretty much slams him down into his chair. Despite being a frequent charity-fundraiser and animal lover, her strength is undeniable. Even Jason looked shocked, but at the same time, there’s a smile on his face. A goofy one, which Autumn doesn’t see because she’s too busy staring at Ryan. Watching Ryan eat another shrimp and blush wildly when Clay exclaims how he’s never seen the socially-awkward-member of the Stupendous Six eat. Unfortunately, Jason seems to notice this as he slumps down at his seat and buries his head down. Frustrated, by my guess. Why can’t Autumn just open her eyes? Why he she chasing down a guy who’ll never like her? But those questions are just rhetorical, as I wash down my cheese-sandwich with a glass of water. The entire Stupendous Six is here, looking their very best for Clay’s birthday. And, probably to his complete and utter delight, Summer’s sitting next to him. Stuffing her face with cake and complaining about how fat she’s going to grow later on. But Clay, being the lovesick child he is, doesn’t use logic with her. Whereas if it were Autumn or myself, he’d be all, “If you’re going to be so damn childish, don’t stuff yourself. Did you know that statistics show that 95% of people…?” And he’d go on and on and on, while I’d block my ears and pray for something to get me out of the situation. After a few minutes, everything’s moving smoothly for most people. Autumn and Ryan are chatting about the new fundraising program, Clay’s laughing with Summer about some random topics which I find completely strange. So it only leaves Jason and me sitting in the darkness. Jason with his love-of-his-life speaking to another man. His eyebrows slide towards each other as Ryan touches Autumn’s hands and pulls them apart to indicate the size of a puppy-feeding bowl. Poor, poor boy. “Hey, Jace.”

“Why doesn’t she like me?” It turns out like a strangled kitten dying, so he clears his throat, obviously choked up. But because he’s a complete macho-guy, he looks at me directly in the eyes and smiles. His smile can’t fool me, seeing as how it’s twitching at the corners, however, I play along anyway. “Hey, Skye. Great party, isn’t it?” “Wouldn’t it be better if you were… oh, I don’t know… within ten meters of Autumn?” We stare at each other for a few, long seconds. He’s the first to pull away, groaning and dropping his head in his arms. “This is pathetic. Why do I even like someone like her? I mean, she’s not even pretty.” “Prettiness is you go for?” “Well, yeah. I mean, I used to be much better friends with Summer and had a crush on her for so long it wasn’t funny, but… at the same time, I wasn’t nervous around her. I was myself. With Autumn… she’s pretty much a stranger. And whenever she’s around I want to hide under a rock for the rest of eternity.” “But why do you like her?” He slants his head to look at me, a crooked smile on his face. “It truly is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? I honestly don’t know why.” And that’s when I say words I thought I’d never be able to say without breaking out in a vomiting spree. “Let’s play ‘Spin-the-Bottle’,” I say, standing up on my chair so I’d be heard. There is nothing but pure silence. The balloons, bunched up in three along the walls, look as if they’re about to burst any second –probably in reaction to my speech. Silver tinsel along the walls seem to be losing their spark, and the ceiling fans above us are spinning too fast. Far, far too fast. But the silence is broken. “Why not?” Clay is the first one to speak up. His eyes a furrowed together. Oh goodness, he thinks I’m doing this for him. What a way to burst his bubble! “I mean, it’ll be an accomplishment for us, right?” “Stupendous Six, unite!” we yell out at the same time, and almost start giggling. It was a stupid thing we made up as youngsters, but somehow, it stuck to us like glue. Clay says, “Okay, I know the birthday boy usually has to go first, but can someone else go instead? I… uh.. wanna have more of an idea of the game.” I raise an eyebrow almost immediately and Clay looks away and pretends he doesn’t see it. But he knows exactly the look he’s getting. For one thing, I know exactly why he didn’t want to go first: if he can see other people playing the game first, he can get an idea of all the geeky stuff, like how the air-pressure is, which way the wind is blowing, what angle the bottle must be placed… all so he can get the lid pointing at Summer-Lily. We all sit in a circle, kind of feeling sheepish and excited at the same time. The Stupendous Six had always been a rather old and immature kind of group, but now, it seems like it’s the moment where it “all changes.” “Anybody volunteering to go first?” I say hopefully.

My eyes lock onto Jason’s, who squirms a bit before nodding. “I’ll go,” he volunteers, putting the bottle out. His eyes are gazing at me, obviously worried. What if the bottle hits Summer-Lily instead? Not only will he have to kiss one of his more “closer” friends, but Clay will be sure to give him a cold-shoulder for… oh, I don’t know… the rest of his life. “Um, so I spin the bottle and when it lands on somebody, I have to kiss them?” “Yup.” “And what happens if it’s not a girl?” “Keep spinning until you get to one.” I’m sitting right beside Autumn-Lily, who doesn’t seem excited at all by this game, if not a little bored. For one thing, Ryan’s getting refills and coming back any moment. Nothing seems to contain the slightest bit of sparks without him, as it seems. Jason obviously acknowledges it, and I can’t help feeling sorry for the boy repeatedly. And that’s when he takes a deep breath and spins it. Only, it’s the worst time possible to spin it, because Ryan walks in that very minute. Ryan, although light as a feather, is wearing really thick boots which are making clanking sounds as he glide through the floor, vibrating the entire hard-floor effectively. It messes the whole game up. It makes the bottle move away from Summer-Lily, away from Autumn until… …Until it points to me.

CHAPTER EIGHT
I’m not entirely sure bad luck this bad is possible. Out of all three girls in the game, the bottle had to land on me. Everybody’s eyes are looking at me, some of them smirking (Clay) and others looking plain worried in case exchanging saliva with this boy alienates me (Summer.) But there’s no way out of this. The worst thing is how I’m the one who suggested this game in first place, so there’s no opportunity to go, “Oh, I never wanted to play this in first place.” I never considered the possibility that, when its Jason’s turn, the bottle wouldn’t land on Autumn. Figures; my brain is too occupied thinking of the future and how terrific it’ll be that I don’t think about the present at all. Typical Skyla, Adam would say right now, grinning. Come join the pessimistic side! Not only do we spend all our time mourning about the past, there’s always chocolate-chip cookies available as well. Then, it was my cue to fake an excited look. I was going to say no, but… what human being can say no to cookies? Great. Oh, great. Double-great. I’m thinking about him again. What is wrong with me? Maybe it’s just the desperation of trying to turn him back to the old Adam that I’m rethinking the old memories we used to have. Every second’s worth. “So… start the lip-action,” says Clay, clapping his hands like a spoilt child. Both Jason and I turn around to death-glare him; so hauntingly Clay’s entire face turns ashen as his arms hang limply down. “Or you can always… you know… play… wait, what’s that game where you go into some sort of room thingo?” “Seven minutes in heaven?” Summer suggests. “Yeah, that one. Let’s change the game and you guys have to go to my room.” He points to the room closest to us. Both Jason and I exchange a look, mutually thinking the same thing: being stuck in a room and having nobody monitor what we’re doing is so much better than kissing in front of everybody here. We both start power-walking to the bedroom and, because Clay’s a complete smart-aleck, yells out, “It’s seven minutes!” in the most annoying, matter-o-fact voice. Once the door is closed behind us, Ryan mutters, “I want to kill that boy.” “Ah, the feeling’s mutual.” “How did he become a part of the Stupendous Six anyway?” “Cause he moved into this apartment.” He snorts. “Lucky us. But, seriously, the guy’s about two years older than us. He must be severely lonely if he doesn’t have any other friends but us.” I smile to myself. There’s a piece of information I’ll be remembering for a long time, agitating Clay whenever it is needed.

Unsurprisingly, his room is completely tidy. Seeing as how everybody from the Stupendous Six has a key to his house, it’s up to him to make sure it’s tidy all the time. Just in case Summer comes one day and he’ll have to impress her with his “feminine” side. But I have a theory that, if I open his suspiciously-bulging wardrobe, I won’t be able to close it again. Jason looks at me, and all of a sudden, it’s awkward. “We’re not going to kiss or anything, right?” “What? Of course not! I mean–” My voice stops in mid-sentence, as my eyes catch a glimpse of a familiar figure through the blinds of the window: there are small gaps between each of the blinds, meaning it’s easy to detect anything through them. Because Clay’s apartment (he’s living alone, since it’s legal to do so at eighteen) is on the top of the building, I can see the entire view from up here. The garden in front of the building, the moon seeming so much closer than ever before, and the whole city lit up by street-light; ant-like cars driving past with high-beamed headlights. But the one thing which catches my attention is a boy sitting on a bench, his hands around something – something which looks like a book to me, though I may be mistaken seeing as how nothing is completely accurate from so far up high. The boy is sitting right beside the streetlights, his brown hair catching the light and showing me the dark, tanned skin on his arm as he flips through pages. “Is that Adam?” I’m suddenly aware of Clay standing right beside me. “Yeah…” How was I supposed to explain how I know exactly who it is even if I didn’t see his physical features under the streetlights. That it’s his spot, the place he’ll always sit with a book or a portable DVD player and entertain himself until bedtime. He avoids his house at all costs, unless I’m invited over. Isn’t that a little strange? Wouldn’t it be a little terrifying to know this much about someone I barely recognise now? “Jace? “Yeah?” “There’s an emergency exit in this room, right?” Clay forever brags about how amazing his apartment is. I guess just like Ryan with his novels, my least favourite member of the Stupendous Six doesn’t shy away from praising his home. He pretty much made us memorise all the rooms, where everything is put, and how everything’s organised so we can live with him when we move out of school. I think that’s one of the only reasons we welcomed Clay with open-arms: if all other plans fail and we become complete psychopaths that even our parents can’t control, there’s always the option of living with a fellow Stupendous Six member.

“Um, yeah. It’s that door over there. It leads to a hallway which leads to another flight of stairs.” He frowns, slanting his head as he looks at me. “Why?” He doesn’t get the word “Why?” fully out before I’m tugging at the doorknob. The expression on Jason’s face right then: priceless. “Tell Clay that I hope he has a happy birthday and that Summer gives him a zillion birthday kisses.” “Wait, he likes Summe–?” But I’m already out the door. * “Oh, what a surprise” Mrs Devereaux genuinely looks startled to see me, but there’s a welcoming smile all the same. She holds her golden-knobbed door wide open. “Come in, Skyla.” Inside, I see the television running through French channels with everybody speaking in that language. For a moment, I can’t help but stare at the screen for several long seconds: trying to understand every word of this beautiful language before realising that I don’t know anything about it. There’s the warm scent of pumpkin soup floating through the air, as I unconsciously raise my nose a little to inhale the smell more effectively. “Ah, Adam is not here.” She points to his room. “But you are welcome in his room, I’m sure.” She obviously has forgotten the fact Adam completely and utterly hates me (with a passion) and wouldn’t let me on his street without knocking me down with a hairdryer, let alone give access to his own room. But I don’t tell his mother that. Instead, I bow and walk unsuspiciously towards her son’s bedroom –like he doesn’t want to slaughter me with a butcher’s knife. When I enter, I see a sight which makes me grin instantly. On his table are three little bottles of hair-gel, a giant bottle of shampoo and several bottles of conditioner scattered around. “What’s with your hair?” I say, laughing. Teasingly, I pull on a couple of strands at the same time. We’re sitting underneath the old willow tree, spending out lazy summer days together. Adam’s bicycle is parked against the tree, resting, catching rays of the blinding sun in its metallic external appearance. Adam frowns, clearly not amused, as he pulls away from my reach. “Don’t touch.” “Look but don’t touch?” “And don’t you forget it.” For a long, long time, Adam’s been obsessed with his hair. He kept putting random chemicals through it, just to make it more attractive. Fortunately, there was a time where his hair was oh-so-perfect and he completely forgot about his obsession and addiction to hair-products. Unfortunately, he remembered again.

The old rocking chair has a white t-shirt attached to the backboard. Because Adam hates anything to do with dryers and housework, his clothes always dry up when they’re attached to the back of his chair. I guess the streaming sun from the window dries it in an instant, especially in summer. Maybe that’s why he’s so tan without intention. “You’re not supposed to be here,” says a voice behind me. I almost jump three meters off the ground. And sure enough, there he is: dressed in slacks and a messy edge done to his hair (huh, the hair-products didn’t work after all. Told you, Adam Devereaux!) But I somehow manage to manage a poker-face. “Why, hello, Adam.” “What do you want?” “To say sorry. About the love-letter incident… I mean, I’m supposed to be at Clay’s party and everything but I just couldn’t keep my mind off how completely self-conceited I sounded.” “Oh, cheer up. You’re always self-conceited; it’ll match you entire life-story.” I frown. He half-smiles. And for a moment, just a small, delicate moment, I feel as if Adam had returned to his body. But he hasn’t, has he? No, my Adam is disappearing out of my life. Chances are, he already has, but I hadn’t been paying enough attention to him to realise that. Everything’s falling apart in my life. The Stupendous Six have numbered days together, before we all graduate and, most-likely, forget about each other. I need to make sure there are romantic relationships if I’m going to keep us all together. Stuck like glue. But, just like Clay’s ridiculously-good point, I can’t think about the present or the past. I look more at the future, an optimistic future, and forget exactly what I’m trying to achieve. If I try and cause a miracle, the closest I’ll get is dreaming of it. And, under another light, I’ve made miracles happen before. Adam Devereaux held my hand that one faithful night, a clear indication he wanted to be my friend. But the thing is, I never expected a miracle. Miracles are always made when I don’t realise I’m causing them. So I need to keep Adam from changing into this new, egoistic beast. But the Stupendous Six come first in priority; his own life can wait. “Honestly, I don’t care. And anyway, it’s not like I like you anymore. It was all just a misunderstanding, that’s all.” “…Misunderstanding?” “Yeah. I mean, I kept thinking about you and everything, so I thought I was desperately in love or something. But I wasn’t. I mean, I wasn’t really attracted to you in that way.” “Why are you telling me this?”

“So I can continue avoiding you without any interruptions. Now, will you kindly exit my room and never return?” Not waiting for a response, he pretty much shoves me out of the door and slams it right after I’m one-meter out. Technically, he pushed me so hard that I’m already halfway to the kitchen. With a scowl forming on my face, I bang my fists on his door. Hard. Mrs Devereaux is too absorbed in the French opera on television to notice me. She has a tissue in her hand which she occasionally wipes her damp cheeks with, a sob escaping every now and then. Clearly, she’s not understanding how I’m ready to murder her son. “Devere-Adam,” I scream as a last resort. “If you don’t open this door, I will make sure–” The door opens so abruptly, I’m almost knocked over because I’ve been slamming on it for so long. “What do you waaaaant?” says Adam, his eyes half-closed and in the most boring voice I’ve ever heard in my short lifetime. “I want you to help me fix the Stupendous Six.” “Huh. Fat chance” He’s ready to slam the door in my face again, but I stop him. “Unless you want your hair to see sunrise tomorrow, I suggest you do exactly what I say,” I say darkly, my voice on the verge of cracking. His eyes are as wide as basketballs. Blink, blink, blink. Jaw dropping, saliva escaping. Sigh. “So where do we meet up?”

CHAPTER NINE
Olivia looks at me, and then looks down at the floor as if she’s never seen me in first place. Her lips are pressing together and then un-pressing instantly. If possible, her eyes are the tiniest bit moist. I’m struck by awe at how fragile she seems to be. Despite wearing so much makeup that even celebrities would refuse, she manages to still feel self-conscious. Of course she would. She has no idea who the heck she is. “Olivia?” “What?” She says this as if talking to me is the most time-wasting incident of her lifetime. If I kindly point out that dating Adam is the most useless and boring thing in her lifetime, I’m more than likely to stumble home with bruises and cuts. So I shut my mouth. Very wise of me, actually. “You know what, Skye? You act as if I didn’t know he was completely in love with you.” “But that’s the thing. I called you to meet me here today ‘cause he didn’t. He didn’t see me in that way.” “Right. And that’s why he wrote that love-letter, with all those stupidly-brilliant metaphors and similes? Go kid somebody else. I do realise he doesn’t like me. I do realise he’ll never love me. But gosh, do you have to rub it in?” She stands up and starts walking away. At a steady pace, one which I can easily catch up to her if I wanted to. Honestly, I could assure her it was all a mistake: that I should’ve never been that terrible to her. And she wasn’t a complete cow to me only because she realised it isn’t me she’s mad at in this situation. It’s herself. Whoever she is. Maybe I should’ve chased her. Said something to make her listen. Make another miracle happen by Adam falling in love with such a broken, messed-up girl who has no clue who she is. But I had no idea what I was supposed to say. So I remained frozen; silent. * Unfortunately for me, Adam wasn’t anywhere near the old version when he came over to my house. Instead, he sits there with a bored expression on his face, a baseball cap stuck backwards on his head. I feel like grabbing it and throwing it out the window. “What normal person likes baseball?” Adam asks in disgust, obviously not expecting an answer. He dribbles his basketball before twirling on his foot and passing it to me. “Catch it!” I catch it easily. And immediately find I cannot argue with him. Baseball is so lame.

“You’re wearing a baseball cap,” I point out. “And you’re wearing a hair-tie. What is this, a game of stating the obvious?” Despite my every wish to heave Adam’s body with my abdominal body strength and fling him off a two-storey building, I somehow remain calm. Somewhat calm on the inside, anyway. There, I stay with my hands scribbling through my notebook, scratching ideas about what we can possibly do to create more relationships in the Stupendous Six. Maybe this is a very bad idea, but I can’t help thinking I should keep Zoey’s real idea a secret from him. It’ll just cause more drama than needed. And anyway, it doesn’t matter: what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. So long there isn’t an axe-murderer under his bed that I fail to remind him about, the rule applies to pretty much everything else. And then there’s Olivia and her tears which I really don’t want to think about –especially not right now, when I’m already mad at Adam. She… she truly likes him. Maybe she’s not old enough to “love” yet, but her feelings are sure as heck heading that way. So one of these days, she’ll just grow up, admit how she really feels and I won’t be the “perfect” bride for Adam like his mother thinks I’ll be. Why does this make me feel so lonely? So lost? Am I suddenly jealous of his girlfriend–? Ridiculous. Simply and utterly ridiculous. No, I’m not jealous of Olivia. Pfft. As if. “…So, I’m thinking of inviting Zoey?” This makes my head snap up faster than I intended it to. “Wait, what?” “You know,” he continues, ignorant to my sudden interest. “To the Lying Festival. It’s something lame that the community-club is holding. But Livy-Poo loves the activities, so–” “Livy-Poo?” He glares at me. So hard and threatening, it may just quicken the process of global warming if applied to all the glaciers in the North and South Pole. I cough, pretending I never said (or mocked) anything he said. But the nicknames are just ridiculous! For another note, the nickname for “Olivia” –Livy-Poo– is still the same amount of syllables as her original name. Perhaps it’s just me being completely and utterly paranoid, but nicknames are supposed to be shorter than the real name, not the same length or longer. Seriously! What’s wrong with this world? But as I watch Adam stare out the window, his messy hair falling underneath his newly-loved baseball cap, I’m suddenly reminded of the old Adam. The old version would be more than happy to pull off this “baseball-loving” business. Instantly, I remember how we’d sit together at sleepovers, decoding “secret” messages. “See that card over there?” Adam whispers, shining his torch over the bright purple font on a red background. “Read it diagonally.” Tilting my head to the side, I read the words as directed. “I-A-M-A-W-E-S-O-M-E.” Grinning, I read it properly. “I am awesome!”

“Yeah,” he says. But his voice is serious. Like he wants me to remember that form of decoding for a long, long time. What happened to that version of Adam? Actually, more specifically, when did I ever stop thinking my best friend wasn’t good enough? Exactly what does he have to do to prove himself worthy to me? Why are my standards so high? He deserves to have me as a friend. Why did I ever disown him as one in first place? “Skyla, have you ever considered changing your name to Olivia?” Without intention, I’m reminded why. * The Lying Festival had begun. Actually, it wasn’t much of a festival seeing as barely twenty people showed up. But with Olivia’s enthusiastic screaming and fist-pumping, she makes it seem like the Olympics have just taken place. It was a massive hall, complete with a cone-shaped roof made out of straw. The walls were high; fairly-ruined and reminded me more of a stable than an actual building. And here I was, stuck in the middle of nowhere with a dogcostume boiling all my insides. Joy. “Zoey, don’t you just love it here?” Olivia is squealing the words with such glee that I’m surprised a mountainfull of spit hasn’t attacked my body. “This is the best.” Why does she find the need to exaggerate at least one word in every sentence she speaks? With that specific thought circling my head, I smile my best smile and try to show no evidence of vomit trickling down my mouth. Sure enough, as I steal a glance at Adam and watch him glancing at his watch. I fight a smile. Despite Olivia being his “Livy-Poo,” it sure doesn’t mean he’ll change his impatient, cold-striking personality for her. Oh no, no girl is good enough for Adam Devereaux, are they? Nobody can change his personality whatsoever. What makes me think I’m any different? Sure, he was my best friend and vice versa, but this was two years ago. Two years, three-hundred-and-sixty-days times two, can make all the difference in somebody’s lifetime. There must be so many things I don’t know about Adam. For example, his new love of baseball which he wouldn’t be caught dead with people assuming he actually liked the sport. Now, he pretty much displays his affection, nowhere near hiding it. “It starts now,” Adam says to me, cocking his head sideways to see a better view of me. That’s when I notice his watch for the first time. It’s the one I gave him on his thirteenth birthday. “Are you excited, Zoey?” He tries to sound perky, but let’s just say optimism doesn’t quite float his boat. I let him suffer a little less. “Ah, to be honest, it sounds really lame.”

It’s amazing how quickly the fake optimism drops off his voice: like unwanted glue on an otherwise smooth surface. “Great minds think alike; I can’t believe she made me come here,” he mutters. His eyes widen. “Don’t tell Zoey that. Please.” “I won’t.” He looks doubtful, and this is when I realise I’ve never seen him use that face. To other people, such as his mother, yes. But not to be directly. Not to Skyla. He always, always trusted Skyla, even at his darkest times. And here he is, giving me a look which he believes Zoey is receiving. I suddenly find myself praying he never finds out “Zoey’s” true identity. He’ll feel so cheated, lied to. Deceived. And then he’ll make the comparison to his amazing (sarcasm alert) female companion and then realise how awful she is that she influenced his once-best friend and they will break up and I will be his best friend and we will go out for ice-cream and pretend that nothing– Who am I trying to kid? This isn’t some seven-year-old kid, despite the tantrums and occasional glimpses of half-smiles which make him look the slightest bit normal. He is a grown, teen boy. No matter how much I’d like to imagine those incidents taking place, Adam is not the kind who’d fulfil wishes. And anyway, miracles are something I can’t perform. Not without the help of fate, anyway. Why can’t anything be simple, like the magical fairy tales I’d watch as a little girl? How the prince fell for Cinderella, despite her poorness and mysterious disappearance. So simplistic. So fake. Everything’s so fake in the real world. Fake, fake, fake. I have a feeling I’ll be the champion of this lying game, despite not knowing any of the rules. “Did you get that, Zoey?” Olivia inquires, her eyeliner smudging. Her voice sounds closer to accusing than quizzical. Adam’s taste in girls is truly questionable. “Okay. So the whole point is that you’re paired with someone and if they lie, you have to detect it. And if you lie, you have to detect it. The idea is that nobody wears anything over their head, so if I can–” She grabs at my dog-head before I can blink. I feel like shrinking away to nothing. Oh no. No, no, no. In a simple matter of seconds, she’ll find out my true identity. Adam will discover the secret to “Zoey,” and I’ll be stuck feeling guilt for the rest of eternity. But how am I possibly supposed to refuse an offer from my “master”? “Livy!” Adam calls out, before she can barely tug at it. “Let her keep her head –okay, wow, I just made it sound like we’re beheading her or something– but I talked to the manager and they said she can keep it on. ‘Cause it’s part of the deal and everything.” Olivia scowls so much that it’s impossible to miss. She shoots her boyfriend a death-glare, despite “loving” him so much. Adam seems unmoved, standing there with folded arms as she walks towards the managers and discusses some of the rules. Adam looks straight through me. Maybe it’s normal for people to look at somebody else, but not through them. Not like how intensely Adam was looking right then, his dark-brown –almost black– eyes staring right ahead. Like he was looking for clues towards my real identity.

My entire stomach turns upside down. Adam’s always been mature for his age, always dark and mysterious from an young age. Doesn’t take thrash from anybody else and moves to his own beat. He’ll find out my identity and then he’ll spread the rumour all around the world and cause a global crisis. And then I’ll have to catch the next flight to India and ride elephant while I wait ever-so-patiently for my terrible life to end. “I just saved your entire job, Summer-Lily.” He has one of those smirks on his face; the really pompous one, where he has that, “Oh, I so own you” look. “You should be grateful to me for a long, long time.” …Or I could just continue living like a normal person. Yeah. That works too.

CHAPTER TEN
It’s down to the two of us. Actually, no. We’re the semi-finalists, and if Adam can get away with telling a lie I can’t see through, he’ll make it to the finals. And if I can catch the untrue words, I win. Although if I do make it to the finals, I’ll fake a stomach-illness and casually climb out of the bathroom window, because Olivia is one of the semi-finalists also. And the last thing I want is for both of them to go against me. I mean, I’d rather spend the rest of my summer under somebody else’s control in peace rather than have them plot many terrifying ways to dispose of me. They’d probably go undercover and restlessly find out my biggest fear –grasshoppers– and fill my entire bed with them as I sleep. So, I want to beat Adam at this game. But that’s it. I don’t need to “win” this tournament; I just want to see his face when somebody beats him at his own game. “Three statements,” the irritating man with a bleached moustache squeaks. Yes, squeaks –his voice is too highpitched to consider it as talking. “Zoey, your turn first.” “My biggest fear is falling off a bike.” With this game, I have to tell the irritating-man-with-bleached-facial-hair what statements I’ll say and whether they’re true or not. Personally, this just concludes this “festival” as the worst one I’ve ever been to in my long sixteen years. What’s the point of this entire game? The fact that Olivia has been participating in this event since the age of seven, winning almost every year makes me realise how truly lifeless she is. Like a fish out of water for a hundred days. “False,” Adam says. It’s true. The made-up personality of Zoey doesn’t have bike-riding as her biggest fear. It’s being run over by a hunting tiger which makes her feel terrified. So, I nod and the umpire points to Adam. That’s when the umpire glances at his watch, decides he’s too hungry to continue this match, and declares this to be the final deciding factor. The winner will proceed to the next round; the loser will drop out of the competition. People are surrounding us, several secretive whispers spreading through the room like wildfire. They’re all on the border of the room, just watching. Like an observant crowd at a cricket game; not wanting to miss a thing that happens. “I don’t smile because I can’t be bothered. Because life’s just too short to smile. True or false?” I hear Olivia suck in her breath and automatically realise how much tension has built up in such short timing. Everybody in the room is looking at me, possibly talking among themselves and betting who’ll win. Not that it really matters. This is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever come across.

Zoey has no idea about Adam’s past. She wasn’t the one who’d go through his room when he was away, trying to find out everything about her mysterious best friend. Zoey didn’t find the medical certificate hidden behind his drawers, while trying to find out why Adam took so many pills or how he couldn’t walk properly sometimes. She didn’t find the medical condition and look it up on the internet, finding every little bit of information about Parkinson’s Disease, just so she could work out why he doesn’t smile. Why his muscles don’t allow him to function that way. How he’s so socially isolated, because he can’t mix with people his age, and then figure out No, Zoey didn’t do any of those things. But Skyla did. “False,” I whisper. “Absolutely and utterly false” The expression on Adam’s face… it has nothing to do with how he just lost to a stuffed dog. How he won’t be in the finals this years, nor will Olivia approve of having boyfriend who can’t tell a simple lie without being caught. But how I saw through him. * “I can’t believe it,” I hear Olivia say to Adam, her voice flat and emotionless. “Seriously, how low are you? You knew she was Summer-Lily all along! You know how much I hate that girl! How I was so carelessly displaced with stupid Skyla! I hate you.” She pushes him towards the wall, a loud thudding echoing the changing rooms. “How dare you, Adam Devereaux? I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” And before I know it, she’s breaking down beside the wall, sobbing. Adam is stunned, moving towards her but she kicks him straight in the shoulders. “You know what else? You can have Summer-Lily. You can freaking have her! Pretend I never won the auction. She’s all yours; are you happy now?” “Olivia, you’re just overreacting…” “I am overreacting? I spend all my life being the second choice of everybody and suddenly I’m the one who saved Summer-Lily from killing herself, I’m the one who saved you from–” Adam clamps a hand over her mouth to mute her unfinished sentence. It’s almost like he can detect me nearby, careful not to let me hear the end of her sentence. It will answer too many of my questions for his liking: he’d rather be dying to find out about his past. “Livy, how about we have a break?” She looks at him, her eyes wide. “A break? Like–” “Yeah. I’m breaking up with you. Just until I work out myself. Please. Just give me some time.” Olivia stands up, sniffles a couple of times and stomps out of the changing-rooms. In horror, I try and blend in with the walls, but there really isn’t any need. She’s so busy blinking away her tears she ignores me completely as she storms away from me.

Adam sits there, rocking with his knees together and hands wrap around them. He sighs so loudly, he may as well wake the living dead. It’s painful watching him so down and lonely. And even if he was a complete idiot to me a couple of days ago, doesn’t mean he’s still one. After all, he was telling me I was a stupid spoilt princess, but at the same time, I have a suspicion he’d be worshipping me if I add anymore hair-related threats. Who am I kidding? I’m not even Skyla anymore. I’m Zoey. Girly, giggly and somewhat clueless. Adam has no idea about my real identity, and I’m hoping it stays that way. So I simply grin like a maniac and walk up to him, tilting slightly. He looks at me like I’m a mental patient. Perfect. That’s as far away from Skyla I can possibly get. But wait: he thinks I’m Summer-Lily. Now I have to try and sound like her. Clearing my throat, I try my best luck. “Are you okay, Devere-Adam?” I say, giggling like Summer-Lily would. In reaction, he raises an eyebrow. “I mean, your girlfriend, like, left you!” “Ah, it’s alright.” But he still doesn’t take his eyes off me. Just searching through my irises like he’s looking for something. Oh no. Did I wear my contact–? Oh, yes I did. Phew. “After all, I’ve always got Skyla.” “Skyla?” “Summer-Lily” replies, but it’s not just her who’s questioning this. “Yeah. I mean, I’m in love with her and everything. You know that, right? I was talking to you about it the other day. Don’t you remember?” …Summer didn’t say anything about talking to Adam, let alone informing how he’s “madly in love with me.” So I decide it’s best to nod my head robotically and pretend I know exactly what he’s talking about. “Like, course I do. But she, like, hates you.” His jaw drops. “Why?” “Apparently you were a complete loser to her. And she hates losers.” “…Has she ever looked in a mirror?” he mutters under his breath, probably thinking I can’t hear him, but trust me, I do. “You know, I think she’s really self-absorbed. And annoying. Really pushy too. Thinks she’s the queen of everything.” He steals a glance by turning his eyes lazily sideways; there’s a smirk forming on his face. I know this smirk. It’s the typical, “You can’t hide anything from me.” He probably suspects I’m somebody else! No, Adam’s not smart enough to find out I’m really his old-best-friend, but instead, he’ll find out I’m not Summer-Lily. And there aren’t many people who know about Adam’s “non-smiling” condition not being his own choice –just me, Summer-Lily and Jason. So, I do the only thing Skyla never would. “Yeah. And she’s really stupid too, you know?” He looks stunned; shocked, petrified. “Uh… should you really be dissing your best friend?” “Oh, she’s so not my best friend. And anyway, I’m thinking of knocking her out one day.” “…Don’t.”

It’s my turn to be surprised. “Why not?” “Just give her a chance,” he whispers, looking everywhere but into my eyes. His eyes shift towards the floor. “She probably wasn’t there for you, either.” “Wait, what do you mean–?” “Never mind. Yeah, just… forget I said that.” He stands up, looking me directly in the eyes. For a second, I feel like my costume is slipping away and I’m standing there –exposed. That he can see right through me. He holds out his hand. “Guess I’ll have to be your master, seeing as Olivia’s pretty much left you.” I clear my throat to sound more like Summer-Lily. “Yeah, Devere-Adam–” “Please don’t call me that. Nicknames are supposed to be shorter than the actual name.” When he says that, I feel my heart skipping. He must’ve heard it, because he quickly adds, “Please don’t tell Skyla. She’ll never let me live.” Oh, right. I’m not myself. I’m not his best-friend –I’m some other girl he found at an auction. Most-likely a prostitute who was hoping to get some action from his point of view, seeing as how he doesn’t know Summer-Lily at all. Why else did he get so angry when I started worshipping her? “Don’t worry, I won’t tell her.” Reluctantly, I shake his hand. There was a moment where we just looked at each other, trying to see through the other. Me trying to see through the two years Adam suffered through to make him a completely different person, him trying to see through my mask –trying to see who “Summer-Lily” really is. But neither of us got any answers. Just more questions. * Summer-Lily is eating her melting ice-cream. I watch half of it drip on the table, recognising what a hard job it’ll be for the cleaner to clean off such a gooey and unnecessary mess. But I clear my throat, watching her look up with a bored expression in her eyes. “Summer, I need your help.” “What with?” I know I’ll regret this, seeing as how I can’t go undercover as Spot to fix her problems. She’ll probably tell all the members of the Stupendous Six and I’ll be doomed. Unless I can keep her mouth shut, but I don’t know how. “It’s about that people-auction Mum held…” “Yeah?” “Adam thinks you’re Spot-the-Dog,” I blurt out. Her eyes widen as the cone in her hand slips out, hitting the table while the ice-cream oozes out. There’s a cleaner nearby who’s giving Summer a death-glare, but she doesn’t notice. “So you…”

“…Yeah. I want you to run whenever you see ‘Spot’ and Adam together. Make sure he never sees you.” The next question is expected –so Summer-like– that I predict it before she opens her mouth. How can Clay like somebody who always looks for benefits in offers? I think to myself. Oh, that’s right- ‘cause he does exactly the same thing. “What’s in it for me?” “You get Mum’s famous sushi anytime,” I declare. Summer’s eyes twitch. She knows she wants the offer badly, but she doesn’t know if bargaining might cease the deal altogether. Deciding she shouldn’t risk losing the opportunity of having free-sushi for the rest of eternity, she sighs. “Fine. Deal.” She holds out her hand. I shake it. This is going to be one, eventful summer.

CHAPTER ELEVEN
Local Girl Whitney O’Brien’s Body Found Police have reportedly found Whitey-Jane O’Brien’s body in a lake… …They suspect she’s been killed by gangs… …Witnesses are being questioned. Skimming through the article, that’s all I gather. It’s hung up on Adam’s wall; just there for the whole world to see. His entire wall is filled with posters of motorbikes, boyish posters and gaming consoles with their release date. But this news article seems to be smack-bang in the middle of it all. Like he takes a minute to stare at it, read it, every single day. “Summer, you’re here.” Adam half-smiles. “Your contacts do a good job of hiding your blue eyes.” Right. Of course. Summer has blue eyes and Spot has green. But Skyla has brown. Will Adam ever realise my true identity? A part of me wants him to see through my mask, just so I can think to myself, “I have a person in this world who knows me well.” Just once I want somebody to know everything about me, recognise every aspect of my personality. But that’s not possible, is it? Not without forcing somebody to remember every detail about me. Cheesy romance novels have all the facts wrong: there’s no such thing as true love. Nothing like that at all; it’s all makebelieve. I smile the best possible smile. “Yeah. Um, yeah.” I’m not entirely sure what to reply to that. “Anyway. So, Skyla was, like, telling me about how the Stupendous Six was falling apart. So. Do you want to help mend it again?” Of course, he can't see the smile on my face -it's all hidden. “But…” “She made me.” I pull up my hands in surrender. “She said something about staying over at Yasmin’s house. You know her cousin, Yasmin O’Brien, don’t you?” It’s true. I do have a cousin by the name of Yasmin O’Brien. And her sister did get murdered two years ago. Whitney was a snobby spirit, the type who parties all night and day but still has a soft spot for animals and camping. Her disappearance didn’t really affect me much, seeing as how I never visit the O’Brien’s’, but sometimes we exchange phone-calls. We shouldn’t avoid them; after all, they’re still family; they’re just from Dad’s side– No. Don’t think about Dad. Never, ever think about him. With a heavy heart, I look up at Adam. But my focus is wavering, my mouth gasping for air. It’s like holding my breath but there’s no way to let the air out. Just stuck at my throat. Adam watches me, his lips slightly apart. “Summer, are you okay?”

Somehow, I manage to regain my breathing. Feeling assured but not completely safe, I fake a smile and stand up straight. The torment of it all. Never think about him again. Not Him. “I’m fine, thanks, Adam. Anyway, you in or not?” “I’m in. What do we have to do?” It’s amazing how fluently Adam agreed to this. Perhaps it’s because I’m not Skyla he decided to avoid for the rest of his natural life. Oh no, I’m Summer-Lily –the pretty and popular leader who’s always the centre of attention. Pretty girls always have the best advantages: it’s just not fair at times. “Ah, I’ve got a list right here…” * “Are you sure this is a good idea?” “Look here; I’m, like, the leader. You’re simply some person I grabbed along the way. You are helping me, whether you like it or not.” He doesn’t seem too thrilled about my position in the leadership role, but I’m too annoyed to care about what he thinks. All along the way, he was complaining about how terribly his mother would scold him if she finds out he’s been sneaking off. Forget about your mother! I had shouted. But Adam doesn’t follow the rules of anybody. Only Skyla, his best friend, can make a difference in his psychology. All she needs to do is yell out, “Bet you’re too chicken!” and an infuriated version of her best friend will storm out of the house. Adam would rebel. I’m not Skyla, though. Summer Backstar is my full name, and I’m almost the complete opposite of myself. And I hate it. I hate deceiving my best friend all because I want to see him under another light. Adam would take his time sneaking out with Skyla –well, the new version of my best friend– but Summer is somebody he barely knows. Somebody he can learn to trust, and somehow, that’s enough for him to run after her. Catch her if she falls. We’re hiding under the desk, and I barely fit. Adam was telling me a couple of times to remove my costume, but I kept reminding him about the conditions. He doesn’t want to see who I really am. The last thing he needs is his fragile heart torn after his best friend lied to him. But he kind of asked for it. As somebody he’d been excruciatingly horrid to, I have every right to search for revenge. Feeling myself boil under the costume –after all, who doesn’t boil in summer? – I crouch beside Adam, my lips pursed. Summer-Lily attends summer-school, seeing as how her grades drop dramatically every year. It’s like she’s failing even worse year after year. Which is exactly how her brand-new relationship has formed, making me feel sick to the stomach.

I see my English teacher sitting there, a smile on his face. Summer’s going to enter any minute, seeing as how I switched her papers around so she’ll have to ask –again– for her test results. Sure enough, after a couple of minutes’ worth waiting, she enters with a shy smile. “Bob,” she whispers the name like it’s a melody. Its obvious Adam’s trying not to burst out in snickers. “Summer,” he replies, his voice smooth as honey. “Back already?” “Just for you, of course.” “Now,” I whisper to Adam, who presses play on the voice recorder. I love you, Jenna. I love you so, so, so much. Will you be mine? Will you be my valentine? Maybe it wasn’t really Mr Reville’s voice saying all those cheesy, vomit-worthy lines. Perhaps it was just Adam recording himself and then mixing it using his admirable DJ-ing skills, making it sound exactly like Mr Reville. But it sure fooled Summer. Boy, did she look mad. For a second, she completely forgot to check her sources. She didn’t care about the fact that the sound just came out of nowhere –instead, she just focussed on one thing and one thing alone. Slapping Mr Reville. “You stupid sausage!” she yells at the top of her lungs. Mr Reville looks dumbfounded, and when she bares her teeth, the look increases. Whenever Summer looks angry, her face always points downwards, making her double-chin appear. It’s a frightening sight, really. “I hope you go die! And you said you didn’t have a girlfriend!” She storms out, clearly not expecting any explanations. Luckily for her, Mr Reville looks too taken aback to give her one. Instead, once she has disappeared out of the door, he quietly scrambles to his feet and heads out also. Only, he goes in a completely different direction. The minute he leaves the room, it’s a time for celebration. I laugh so loud that my breathing almost stops. Adam laughs along with me –no, actually, he just gives me a half-smile; but I like thinking he laughed right then– forgetting the fact we pretty much did something devilish. But neither of us can stop laughing to recognise that fact. Finally, when I’ve finished laughing, Adam turns to me. “Hey, Skyla, do you still have the sushi you owe Summer?” “Actually, no. I kind of ate–” My jaw drops. The world stops spinning. Time stops. Frozen in mid-air. It’s like everything’s frozen in thinice, just waiting for a form of escapement. I can’t believe it… “You knew?” I say, but it sounds closer to a whisper. “You knew all along, didn’t you?”

“’Course I did. But I have to admit, you pretty much dug your own grave there. Pretending to be somebody else and then, dumbly, inviting me to spy on them.” Softly, he grabs at my fake-head. “Thank God you’re not a spy. You’d be a disaster, really.” When he takes it off, it’s like a whole revolution. And part of me is so happy, it can fly! He recognised me; he knew it was me from the very beginning. Maybe it’s not supposed to make me feel any form of happiness, but that’s exactly what happens. I feel bubbly, light. I suddenly feel self-conscious because he’s looking at my sweat-covered face. But why should I care about what he thinks? It’s not like he’s any importance of me in first place. No, Adam’s nothing in my life anymore. He’s like a stranger; nothing like the previous version. And yet, he seems to read my mind when he holds out his hand. “Let’s reintroduce ourselves. I’m Adam Devereaux, unchangeable, frequent pessimistic, futuristic DJ-wannabe.” He holds out his hand in such a carefree way, nothing seems weird anymore. The fact we’re caved-in under a two-metre high table, surrounded by grey walls and a blackboard which is far too polished to be considered a school. The fact that I have a full Spot-the-Dog costume tucked beside me, ready to deceive more people. But I’m glad Adam knows who I really am. And maybe this kindness he’s offering me won’t last. Maybe, by tomorrow, it’ll go to his head how mercilessly I tricked him into thinking I’m someone I’m not. However, even so, I still won’t be mad at him. I don’t want to deceive my only friend. So I shake his hand. “I’m Skyla-Rose Valenti, a girl with a super-girly name which she hates. She collects skulls, somewhat annoyingly optimistic, futuristic miracle-maker.” “You can stop talking in third-person.” He half-smiles. “It’s like you don’t even know who you are. And look, I’m not an expert or anything, but it’s really hard to change people when you don’t know yourself.” “I know perfectly well who–” “Really? Then good for you. You don’t have to listen to another word I say.” He’s got me there, and he knows it. Suddenly, I find myself wishing he didn’t know me so well. It’d be much easier to change him if he couldn’t detect faults in the person who’s trying to perform miracles. What Adam is pretty much implying, is that I’m exactly like Olivia. If not worse, because at least Olivia has the slightest clue of who she is. Me? I have no idea. All I’ve ever known is that I’m a Stupendous Six members. It was all that ever matters to me. It’s my duty to prevent us from breaking apart. …And trying to change Adam on the way. * Nothing could prepare me for what happened next.

It didn’t happen at normal-speed; it happened in slow-motion, but at the same time, it went quicker than I could blink. Everything seemed like it was racing towards a finish line, however, it kept stopping for breaks, like a CD with scratches engraved in it. “Skyla?” It was Adam’s worried mother, giving me a worried look while mixing cake-batter with her hands. “Are you okay?” No. No, I’m not okay. I watch Adam casually walk towards his room, the sound of a clicking lock filling my mind. Click, click, click. It’s like torture. Click, click, click. Repeating again and again like a broken record. Click, click, click. And there, lay in pieces, was the broken glass. Mrs Devereaux didn’t hear it smash against the ground, so she clearly has nothing to worry about. The television’s too loud to hear it. Me, on the other hand, will survive with the image forever. “Adam, let’s get these glasses!” my fourteen-year-old self points to a pair of drinking glasses, each with bright cherries painted near the rim. “They’re so adorable!” “They’re girly.” “But adorable. Take them, take them, take them!” He sighs, taking the glasses and weighing them in his hands. “Whatever. But seriously, why are we having matching glasses in first place?” “Not matching glasses, idiot! You’re going to keep both of them. It’s like this: every sip of water you drink, you’ll remember me.” “And what if I don’t want to remember you?” he says. Normally, I’d worry. But because this is Adam, I don’t. There’s a teasing edge to his voice that only I can detect, seeing as how I’ve known him for almost three years. Anybody else would just hair a monotonic voice; anybody else who wasn’t his best –only– friend in the world. “Break them,” I say simply, as we continue floating through the aisle. I know for a fact he’ll never break it. But I guess I’m not always right. Because there it is, shattered into pieces are spread all over the floor like a ragged doll ripped to shreds by a baby. Like its worthless garbage; not a sign of our entire friendship. My chest feels tighter with every breath. Don’t be so dramatic, Skyla, I scold myself, but I’m not listening to my inner-voice. I’m ignoring it, because Adam did something which he knows the exact definition and consequences of. And yet, he still did it, enjoying himself with that maniacal smirk of his spreading over his face. He just broke us apart. And he doesn’t regret it one bit.

CHAPTER TWELVE
Olivia’s sitting in front of me, stunned, holding her hotdog in the air. I have the sudden urge to lean forward and bite it, but it definitely won’t show my sane side. Not when I’m about to reveal my true identity to her, because I’m sick and tired of lying to all around me. “Zoey” does not exist: she’s merely a figment of my imagination. Skyla is the real version. Sucking in a breath, I turn to her. We’re at the shopping mall, sitting on the golden benches, decorated with a potted-plant stuck at both ends. People are rushing by, the sound of talking echoing through the entire building and clicking high-heels distracting me. Large, bulging bags are floating through the space. “Olivia, I’ve got something to confess.” It’s like she’s regained motion in her hands. She lowers her hotdog but her facial expression shows full alert. “Yeah…?” Lifting my “head” off, I hold it in front of me. Olivia looks at me for a couple of seconds before shrugging. “I kind of guessed that.” “Huh?” “You’re the only one who knows him better than himself.” A sly smile crosses her face as she takes a bite into her hotdog. “Or, you’d like to think you do.” “And what exactly does that mean?” “Face it: you might’ve known the old Adam better than anybody in the world, but you know nothing about him now. He’s a different person.” Yeah, I think, referring to the broken glass yesterday. Yesterday, I lay in my bed trying not to cry; that’s how much breaking those glasses impacted me. He just broke us apart, only because he has the power. Just sprung us apart like I’m nothing useful in his life anymore. After all, I’m just another stranger to him, right? He has Olivia now. Maybe she’s right. Actually, there’s no “maybes” –she is right. I don’t deserve Adam. After all, didn’t I reject him with that love-letter? Even so, I never went, “Hey, Adam, you know that love-letter? Yeah, well, I accept it. Just saying. Thank you.” No wonder he hates me so much. And a normal person would ring him right now and say those words, but not me. I’m too cowardly. I’m a terrible person. I’m Skyla-Rose Valenti. What more reason does he need to “break-up” with me? “Anyway, you’re still working for me.” She stands up, brushes off the hotdog-pastry crumbs off her kneelength skirt. “So, you might as well suck it up when I give you the hardest task ever.”

I should’ve seen this coming. Now she’s going to torture me for the rest of my life. My real identity has been revealed, meaning she’ll no longer be merciful to “Zoey” –she doesn’t exist anymore. Skyla, the girl Adam chose “first” with that love-letter, is who she’ll see me as. And I have a feeling it’s not going to grant any favours for me. “I want you to tell me a spooky story.” It’s only when there’s a pause do I realise I’m squeezing my eyes shut. Opening them, my eyes gaze at her in awe. Did she just say…? “Yeah, you heard me. Tell me a ghost story. Believe it or not, I’m not as ‘heartless’ as you make me out to be.” Swallowing my mouth of spit, I nod. She just gave me the easiest job in the world, and seeing how completely satisfied she looks, I’m sure she knows it. A story about zombies and mummies escape my mouth, which turns out to be more humorous than scary. When Olivia laughed aloud at the first few sentences, I gave her a death-glare. But once I continued through the story, I couldn’t help laughing with her. My ghost-stories are truly more to the humorous side than “blood-curling.” Olivia doesn’t stop herself from showing it. She simply listens, patiently, adding the right reactions (most of the time) and keeping her mouth zipped shut. Maybe I shouldn’t say this already, but I have a feeling I’ve learnt more about Olivia than I ever will. Everything about how she postures herself when deep in thought, what she says at certain times, and slowly, I figure her out. I’m recognising Olivia in a completely different light. My entire prediction of her was completely inaccurate. She doesn’t change herself to figure out who she is: that’s completely ridiculous, seeing as how she didn’t act “lost” or confused right then. It was her true colours showing: somewhat sarcastic but overall a nice person. Her makeup continues to smudge and she grabs a tissue, wiping at the black eyeliner. And though it might be a fatal task, I can’t help asking the question. “How come you’ve started wearing makeup?” She grins. “It scares off people.” My jaw drops. Here is a girl who wears dark makeup not to hide herself from the world, but instead, expose herself more. Show her “don’t-mess-with-me” side, even if others don’t realise it. To scare people. I like her already. * “Why’d you do that?” No answer. He just simply sits beside the water, his hands flat on the ground behind him. Just idly staring at the mini ripples floating through the lake. Ducks are swooping in from nowhere, floating around for a swim before flying away.

Children are playing at the playground, screaming and giggling as they slide and swing. The swings are what makes my heart pound. The paint of the swings are disappearing, leaving more of a stainless-steel look, but it’s still there. It’s the same set of swings we “met.” Perhaps I had a minor idea of who Adam was before we sat on the swings and he, boldly, grabbed my hand. But under another light, that was the day we “met.” The day we decided we had more to associate with each other than just being “strangers.” We were the best of friends, really, just from that day. The next day is unforgettable, when Adam sat next to me in front of everybody in class. “Hello,” he said to me, sitting down beside me. Our primary-school was arranged in tables of two, even though most Australian schools have tables randomly scattered around the place. Nobody usually sits next to me, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t popular; I’d always talk to the people in front and behind. But boy was I startled. “Uh…hello.” There were eyes on us. No whispers –thankfully– but just stares; not disapproving or approving. Neutral. Adam didn’t seem to realise how strangely people were looking at him. He simply unzipped his pencil case and began pouring out the contents. It was at that moment the teacher entered the room. She was in a frenzy and apologising over and over for being late. She gazed at all of us with a smile on her face, while faltered when she saw us sitting together. “Skyla is he disturbing you?” she said, her voice sounding ten years older. “No.” My voice was more confident than I could ever imagine it to be. “He’s my friend.” That look on his face. If only I could lock it up in a jar and stare at it for years afterwards. But that was, like Olivia said, a fragment of the past. I don’t know who he is: he doesn’t know who I am. So it’s even, right? It still doesn’t make me feel better about myself. I want him to go back to the way he was before– “Why do you want me to change back?” he says, startling me with his sudden motivation to speak. “What’s so special about me that you want that version back?” “That version wasn’t a complete loser to me. That version wanted to be my friend.” “But that version’s gone.” He turns to me. There’s no expression on his face, but I can detect his lip twitching a little. “When are you going to realise it? I want to go back to that version. I want to be your friend. But I can’t.” Anger boils inside me. It’s like everything I wanted to hear from him –the fact he didn’t want to break our friendship– but it didn’t mean it’ll make sense to me. Everything is twisted and confusing, and quite frankly, I hate every second of it.

If Adam hates me, then he wouldn’t meet me here when I phoned him. He wouldn’t care about my feelings. And though he’s not answering any of my questions, deep down, he unconsciously still wants to be my friend. He wants everything that I want: all the random celebrations we’d hold, the miniature arguments we used to have and the freakish number of things we have in common –like the whole “nicknames have to be shorter than the actual name.” By smashing those glasses, he just broke us apart. But it doesn’t mean he wants us to break forever: he wants to fix it. Maybe he just doesn’t know how. It still doesn’t make this any less confusing for me. “And why not?” My voice is surprisingly calmer than I thought it’d be. “Tell me: why not.” If I said I’ve never seen him this pained before, it’d be of complete accuracy. His eyes are shut tight and his teeth are grinding against each other, as if ready to bite somebody –anybody– and blame them for what’s happening to him. Blame them for what’s happening to us. But when is he going to learn that the only person not making it work is himself? “Stay away from me, Skyla. You can’t perform miracles. Stop being so childish.” Its official: my once-best friend is diagnosed with a serious case of mental damage and bi-polar. The evidence of mental damage includes the fact he is telling me I’m being childish –let’s remind ourselves just who smashed those glasses, therefore broke us apart forever? It sure as heck wasn’t me. Then there’s the whole “you can’t perform miracles” –at one point in time, I was the only person in the entire world who could gather half-smiles from him. And boy, did I have to earn them; whether it was telling jokes, insulting myself or repeating the funniest quotes from the comedy movies we’d watch. He was disabled: he had, and probably still has, Parkinson’s disease. I had to work extremely hard to gather the slightest of smiles from him. But I didn’t care. I wanted to make him smile. Just because I liked him so much. And the bi-polar part for the fact he changes emotions so quickly, it’s terrifying. And worrying. He was perfectly fine and acted like the “old” version when I requested his help for the whole “Let’s save the Stupendous Six!” mission. He was acting all bored and grumpy like the good old times, despite wearing a baseball cap. Now, he’s just being plain moody and confusing. Is it possible to be this messed-up? Apparently not. Because Adam doesn’t say anything else to clarify his previous sentence. He doesn’t say a single word, just stares at the ducks splashing in the water with a distinct look in his eyes. Not a word escapes from his pressed lips. Standing up, I sit down exactly next to him. He doesn’t do as much as blink. “Adam, are you okay?” I’m at a sleepover at his house. He’s restlessly moving around, wailing at times and grunting at others. We’re sleeping in twin beds, a dresser with a lamp between us. I flick on the light, worriedly looking over at Adam. He seems

like he’s struggling. Since his mother and him have slept in separate rooms for a long, long time, she probably has no idea about his night-struggles. Standing up, I stand next to him and watch a single tear escape from his eyes. Through all my times with Adam, I never seen so much as moist eyes on his face. Maybe I should’ve done something. Perhaps something should’ve been done that night, when we were young and fourteen, two months before Adam left the entire town altogether. However, I went to bed, not getting a hint of sleep that night. I was awake when I heard the door open. I was awake when the front door opened and he disappeared into the night. I was awake the next day when I saw him asleep beside me, but muddy shoes placed on his feet. But I didn’t do anything. Perhaps the whole incident is somehow connected to that night. I remember, for a fact, it was one of the only two sleepovers we ever had. He always made sure to never sleep over at my house; I always had to be at his house. I used to think it was homesickness, but there’s a stomach-clenching feeling in my mind that the situation runs much deeper than that. That I should’ve stopped him that night. Or at the very least, get out of bed and follow him. But I didn’t. Instead, I just let it go, thinking it must be nothing. Adam turns to me. “Please. Stay away from me, Skyla. You have no idea how dangerous I am.” With those words hanging in the air, he stands up and leaves. Not even a glance backwards.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
Mum looks at me. I look back at her. She doesn’t even try to hide her horror. But I guess it’s typical for a normal mother to take one glance at her daughter and realise she’s insane. With what I’m doing, anyway. For starters, teenagers don’t spend all their pocket-money on skulls –especially when they’re the oh-so-happy and bubbly Skyla. And though I’ve stopped purchasing them, I still have a dozen plastic human skulls tucked at the back of my closet. Just waiting for somebody to hold them; love them. I don’t really need to buy anymore, seeing as how I’ve got a zillion (actually, only around twelve) already. Secondly, normal teenaged girls don’t talk to their plastic skulls –heck, they don’t even look at them, let alone even hold them. They also don’t cradle it in their arms, tears spilling out on occasional times. They don’t look at the skull’s grinning face and expose watery smiles when they get the feeling they’re being heard. Thirdly, they don’t look at the skulls like they’re answering questions. A normal teenage girl wouldn’t be asking a skull, “What happened to Adam? I really, really liked him! What happened? Please, please, please tell me what happened!” Also, they wouldn’t be holding the skull near their ear and, seriously, answer, “Yes, I should’ve followed him that night.” Common teenagers wouldn’t do that at all. Does that make me abnormal? “Skyla-Rose Valenti!” she yells, but really, it sounds like she’s calling out the name of a grandmother, not daughter. Almost sweet and melodic, despite her bulging head-veins and bloodshot eyes. Hmm –minus that baring mouth, also. “You abnormal child! How do you expect me not to question your mental health?” I mumble something, but it doesn’t sound intelligent, even from my own ears. “Do you want me to send you to the shrink? Because, I swear to God, you scare me sometimes.” “That’s what Adam said,” I say, but it comes out as a whisper. “What?” But we both know perfectly well she heard me. “Adam!” After a long summer alone, seeing as Adam was at camp, I finally see him again. He looks, as usual, socially-awkward and completely out-of-place. Heck, he looks five years older than his thirteen years of age. “Adam, Adam, Adam!” He looks stunned to see me, and this is obvious with his facial expression. “Are you oka–?” But before he can finish his sentence, I hug him. Well, more like choke him, because next thing I know, he’s wrestling me. “Skyla! Seriously, get a hold of yourself! You’re choking me!”

I choose not to listen for a long time, but finally, I let go of him. With my sparkling eyes, I slant my chin upwards to stare at him. “Hello.” Unintentionally, he takes a step backwards. “I swear to God, you scare me sometimes.” However, I just grin from ear-to-ear and take it as a strangely-worded compliment. Mum sits down next to me, and for a second, she just pauses. Staring me in the eyes to search for things I’m too afraid to say aloud. She does that a lot –and very effectively, too. Because she says, “This is about Adam, isn’t it?” It’s not much of a question. More of a statement of the obvious. Anybody with half a brain and eavesdropping skills who heard the whole, “I should’ve followed Adam!” routine would think identically. I drop my gaze. “Yeah.” “He’s been acting awful? I guess we all figured out he changed with the whole ‘I’m never marrying Skyla’ attitude.” She ruffles my short red hair. “He was crazy to marry you at an younger age, do you remember?” I blush, despite myself; it gives Mum all the satisfaction I’d rather her not to have. “Yeah, and he was also thirteen years old and didn’t know what it meant.” My eyes dart towards the scar on my hand, when I jumped back in the bush in surprise and astonishment. There’s a long pause. A sickening, heart-jolting pause. Mum turns to me, slants my chin up and looks me directly in the eyes. “I think he knew exactly what it meant.” And, secretly, I always thought so as well. When I used to look at Adam, glance at him when he had headphones stuck in his ears, minute after minute… I didn’t think he was weird. Just mature. Too cool for us, actually. After all, what would anybody want to do with immature, noisy and whiny kids like ourselves? I had a distinctive bit of respect for him. When he spoke, even in the socially-awkward and hushed manner, everybody would turn around to listen. It’s like he was this completely cool guy. Though he seemed like the “LoneWolf,” he honestly wasn’t. He had people who respected him, even tried to make him laugh on several occasions. Everybody knew he existed. He was, under another light, popular. “But he’s gone now,” I say. “Honestly, sometimes I think it’s you who’s changed. The old Skyla would never let this defeat her. She’d somehow find a way to solve things.” I know she’s right. She knows she’s right. And it really annoys me how she always is. It’s like my genetics were mixed up, and I got all of the wrongness ever found on this planet. Unless, of course, it was just my father– No, no, no. Don’t think about him. Don’t think about– “So you’re just going to leave me?” Mum’s voice is on the verge of hysteria. At nine years old, I wasn’t sure why my parents suddenly woke up in the middle of the night to argue, especially seeing as how I’ve got school tomorrow. “Right now. Right here?”

“Maybe” There’s no warmth in his voice. “Just keep hanging around with that stupid woman and you may not live to see the next sunrise.” I didn’t like the tone he was using. Not a little bit, not at all. For a minute, I considered breaking them apart. The idea of standing between them to prevent anymore harsh words thrown around seemed like a dream come true. But everybody knew that to interfere with arguments between parents could be fatal. So I kept quiet. “I don’t know what’s wrong–” “Really? Well, then. Let me explain what’s wrong: that thing you’ve befriended is the wife of him.” My mum looked a thousand years older. “Honestly, I would’ve never married you if I knew you were–” “Were what? Say it!” my father screeched, grabbing Mum’s collar and knocking her against the wall. Her eyes are the widest and terrified I’ve ever witnessed. “Say it to my face.” “…A criminal,” she whispered. “And I may have made a mistake by marrying you, and also have your ‘worst enemy’ chasing after you because I’ve told his wife to divorce him. But you will never have enough power to overtake my pride.” …Too late. The memories already hit me like lightning. Mum’s in the kitchen once more, cleaning the dishes with liquid detergent. She doesn’t notice how shaken up I feel, but perhaps it doesn’t show on my face. Inhaling a couple of sharp breaths, I cradle myself by placing my feet together and rocking back and forth. The grinning skull clatters to the ground. It stares at me with the missing eyes. And somehow, I feel like all my problems have been solved. Just when I think I’ve figured Adam Devereaux out –just when I feel there is the slightest hope of him returning to his old self; to what he used to be– he turns back to his new, cold-hearted version. He’s so confusing. But I have to try my hardest. Because this is no longer a matter of optimism and “dreams always coming true.” Oh no, this is revenge to his new-self for making me depressed enough to sit here with a dead –not really, seeing as how the skull is made purely out of plastic– person’s head. For making my mother question my mental health when she already has problems of her own, being a single parent with frequently changing jobs. Revenge. I’ve never had to use the word before. It sounds far too determined and needy for my tastes. But now that I have… …I like it. * The next week is spent at the ice-cream store.

In fact, I’ve been locked away for so long that I didn’t notice how the Stupendous Six are already going their separate ways until they started speaking. It wasn’t that I didn’t spend every spare minute with them, because I did, but… I was never there. Summer and Autumn would have to scream in my ear to drag me away from my thoughts. Kind of like being stuck in my own mind with super-glue. “Hey, Rye, you wanna soda? ‘Cause I’m gunna go to the checkout and get some,” says Clay, tragically using two slangy words in the same sentence. “Yeah, um, sure. Why not? Do you, uh, want the money? Or should I pay when my… cheque… arrives?” Ryan stops so many times in that sentence, it wasn’t funny. But what really caught my attention is how he was actually contributing to the conversation. This catches Autumn’s eye. “Would you like me to pay for the drink? I would not mind paying at slightest.” My jaw drops. Jason turns to me, a grimace on his face. “She’s been reading too many Jane Austen books,” he explains, and right then, I could kiss him for being the only one with normal dialogue exchange. But I decide to withhold the temptation. Especially when the devilish Summer puts in, “How was that kiss with him, Skye?” Clay turns to me. He and Summer exchange a look, one which makes me want to throw a handful of pie at both their faces. “Yeah… you gunna tell us any of it?” “I kissed him.” “You kissed him?” Summer yells out. “Whoa, you kissed him?” It’s Clay, his mouth dropped open so low I’m surprised he hasn’t been infected with buzzing flies searching a new habitat. But the next person to look surprised shocks all of us. Autumn’s ice cream falls to the ground. She turns to me in horror. “You kissed him?” For a moment, nobody speaks. The cricket chirping can be heard in the background, and neither of us want to admit the “kiss” never really happened. Because though Jace’s face is completely blank, I’m certified he’s screaming with joy internally due to the fact that Autumn might be, probably, would be the slightest bit jealous. It shows it clearly on her face. She’s always easy-to-read, that girl. The silence continues. Nobody speaks for so long, I somehow find myself forgetting they’re there in first place. My thoughts divert straight to Adam, because he’s always subconsciously there at the back of my mind. He’s just floating around like a yucky cork in the middle of a puddle. A puddle which I have no control over, therefore not being able to get a boat in risk it may tip over. And for that reason alone, I can’t save him. Just because I was too scared to step into the water –or, in this situation, I was afraid of getting hurt. Trying too hard would only result it getting hurt, I thought. Thought being the keyword.

I no longer and will no longer think so pessimistically. And if Adam Devereaux hurts me, I’ll think optimistically and decide I can always help the endangered sharks around the world by throwing him ever-so-ungently into shark-infested waters. Then they’ll all thank me for the rest of eternity, I won’t have to worry about ever being unaccepted back by a friend. Win-win situation. The idea comes to be in such a flash, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before. It’s a brilliant, brilliant idea. Grinning like a complete idiot, I stand up with a distant look on my face –even I can sense it– I push in my chair and walk aimlessly towards the set of traffic lights. The Stupendous Six are all sitting back, watching me with fearful eyes. Cars rush in front of me, racing backwards and forwards. Maybe some of them are staring at me when the light turns green and I don’t do as much as take a step, but I’m too absorbed in my thoughts to notice. Wind tousles my hair. It’s a sign. I know exactly how to get him back.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN
Adam’s eyes widen. I’m pulling the door inwards of the Ladies Room at the shopping centre, leaving just enough gap for me to inspect everything that’s going on. Summer has the Spot-the-Wagging-Dog outfit on, though she takes her “head” off. This is the reason for Adam’s sudden eye-widening, and it makes me grin like a complete loser to recognise I am the genius behind this operation. If my once-best-friend just turned around, he’d see the gap in the Ladies room and, though I’d love to underestimate him, he’ll work out the entire ploy in a matter of seconds. But this is a risk I’m willing to take. Just to change him, my best friend. “Wait, so you are Spot-the-Wagging-Dog?” Adam doesn’t bother to disguise his shock. “Yes, I am,” huffs Summer, crossing her arms. “What’s it to you?” “…But wasn’t Skyla–” “Look, I hate you. I think we’re pretty clear with that detail. I wanted to rebel against her mother’s stupid auction and not turn up, Skyla cared about all that ‘honesty’ thrash and went in the costume herself.” She rolls her eyes. “Of course, she never considered the fact you might see through her, so she lied and pretended it was her all along to prevent me from getting into trouble.” Poor Adam. If there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to witness on his face, it’s confusion, but right now it’s too pitiable to enjoy. What is the point of laughing like a maniac at somebody’s expression when they don’t even realise somebody is laughing? His mouth is hanging so open, I feel like marching up to him and pushing his chin upwards to prevent any uninvited flies to crawl in. But somehow that’ll just ruin the entire plan. So my motherly-scolding-self somehow withholds as I watch Summer explain more thoroughly through the lie and make my once-best friend promise to never tell a single soul about her “secret identity.” I’ve taught her the secret of a good lie: Not to go overboard with detail, but add a significant detail to make him believe. And, from what I can see, she’s doing a fantastic job of it. “Excuse me,” says a soft voice from behind me, so I scramble backwards and watch the fragile girl scatter out of the door with a smile backwards. Summer and Adam are too busy arguing to notice there’s somebody walking past them, and most likely, they wouldn’t care anyway. Their argument? It revolves around Adam thinking onions taste weird and then loving celery while Summer hates both foods. Maybe this is exactly what people mean by “once you hate somebody, you hate everything about them.” Never have I thought I may have, just have, hated Adam. Even if he’s not one of my best friends anymore –even if he’s changed– it doesn’t mean that I suddenly get the privilege to back down on making him return back to the way he used to be. All this “I’m dangerous” nonsense must be flooding his brain. He probably doesn’t even know what he’s saying. Yes, that simply must be it. He’s always been extremely absentminded at the worst of times.

He doesn’t even remember saying those words to me, I’m certain. Maybe he thought I was somebody else? I remember this one time I caught him talking to his food. There’s a heavy chance of him thinking I was a piece of chicken, talking to me and begging for more space before he eats me with a hungry stomach. I don’t know what’s worse: the fact he’s not my best friend anymore, or how I may have been mixed up with a chicken. “I’ve really got to go,” says Summer, feigning heavy breath. And she really didn’t need to say it, but she adds, “Girl stuff,” before entering the Ladies’ Room ever-so-casual. And he really didn’t need to show it, but he makes a face of disgust before turning away from the Ladies’ Room. He’s always hated straightforward people. Not the type who tells you exactly what’s wrong with them or what’s on their mind, but the type who feeds him on unnecessary details. My lips form into a smile despite myself. Summer smirks. “Mission accomplished, oh-so-wise one.” She takes off the costume, revealing an entire set of casual clothing underneath. Handing the costume to me, she pushes me lightly towards a cubicle where I get changed. Once I come out, all of my covered and confidential self, I grin. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think this plan is so crazy, it might just work.” “Why, thank you. That may have been the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” “You’re welcome. Just one of my many charming characteristics.” * “I’m back!” I say, imitating Summer’s high-pitched voice. I purposely make it sound bored and unmoving. “Okay, c’mon.” Grabbing Adam’s hand, I drag him around with me towards the ice scream stand. He looks as confused as ever. It’s obvious he doesn’t suspect my true identity, and I’m hoping it stays this way. With a sigh, I order ice creams for both of us. Because I’m not “Zoey” anymore, I don’t have to order the awful strawberry smoothie. Instead, I get Summer’s favourite –rainbow– and begin slurping on it. Adam just sits there, stares at his smoothie and looks back at me. This process occurs for a long, long time. Finally, it gets on my nerves. “What do you want?” I snap. “For you to get me some ice.” There’s a smirk on his face. It takes ten years off his face, even though it’s what smiles are supposed to do. But Adam Devereaux never smiles, so away floats that hope. “Chop, chop. If Livy was here, she’d bash you.” Muttering under my breath, I head towards the counter and collect a glass of ice. I place it on the table with a thump, while a startled Adam looks on. But his look of shock is replaced with a more relaxed half-smile. He obviously still thinks I’m Summer, or he wouldn’t be so carefree right now.

With my chest heaving with my breathing, I drink up my rainbow smoothie –which, though a million times better than the strawberry, is nowhere as good as the chocolate one. People scamper past us like we’re invisible. The loud echoing of the shopping mall –checkouts beeping, people chatting on mobile shop, a radio playing lightly in the background– makes me realise how alone I truly am. Isolated. Maybe this is why I want Adam back. I need somebody to still be at my side, to still love me no matter what mistakes I make. It’s like how I never followed him out of the door at that sleepover; I make too many mistakes to wrap my head around. But it’s time to help him return. I know Adam Devereaux, and exactly what he’s capable of. He has a presence everybody takes for granted. The day he left, everybody was oddly quiet. There’s usually a boy sitting at the back corner, a boy who everybody pretends to ignore but secretly admires. He’s not there anymore. Maybe that’s the day I felt a jolt of pain for the first time. Two of my biggest influences have disappeared into thin air, probably for something I’ve done. When my father left, I was convinced I was the reason for his leaving. Perhaps he couldn’t pay the bills for three people living at the same house? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s not like he was much of a father in first place. Uptight, angry and egoistic. And yet, at the same time, he was the most loving person in many different ways. Always grabbing for my hand when crossing roads, scolding me when I would eat too much junk food and sometimes, just sitting with me. Not saying or doing anything. Just being there. Adam had a similar presence. Maybe it’s the reason I’m so deeply attracted to him; he’s similar to my father in so many ways. My father never shows emotion –though not completely unsmiling like my used-to-be best friend. Dad is a man of very little words, as so is Adam. They didn’t need words; neither of them. They were always there. Just there. And this is why I need Adam back. I can’t stand the thought of having somebody not standing by me. The Stupendous Six, though we know everybody’s personalities and favourite colours like the back of our hand, still doesn’t know the facts which really count. I admit I barely know anything about Adam, but what I do know, it’s the type of information I’m not given by any other person. So I suck in my breath. And take a deep breath. “Adam.” “Yeah, Summer?” He doesn’t look up from his smoothie, still slurping at it. “I know Skyla brought this up with you before, and then, at the same time, brought it up when she was pretending to be me…” I roll my eyes for good measures. “But can you help me with the Stupendous Six?”

He shrugs. “Yeah, why not? It’s not like I have a girlfriend who’d get jealous of me not meeting up with her.” He sounds so bitter, I feel like slipping out of my costume and ruffling his hair. The old Adam would smile –no actually, that’s a lie; he’d half-smile– and I’d feel a zillion times better about myself. But this isn’t the old Adam. I don’t know who this is. So I resist the urge to do everything Skyla would do in a situation like this. Because I’m not her: I’m one of her closest friends. “Yeah” My voice is indifferent. “Come to think of it, why did she dump you?” “’Cause she thought you were Summer.” “…But aren’t I?” I cock my head to the side like Summer would at this very second. Adam looks completely and utterly convinced of my fake identity. Maybe this is one of the best privileges of knowing somebody like the back of my hand. “I mean, she shouldn’t act so spoilt.” “And you’re talking?” There’s a half-smile on his face. But it doesn’t matter, because his eyes are shining. Adam never has shining eyes –it’s theoretically not possible for a boy this cold to show the slightest sign of his shied breaking down. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Maybe his mouth wasn’t twitching in an out-of-the-ordinary way, but his eyes were shining like rubies. “Yeah, I’m talking.” I grin at him, but he can’t see it behind my costume. Thank God, really. My crooked teeth would give me away immediately, especially the gap between both my upper and lower front teeth. “Anyway, our mission starts now.” * “Uh, is this is a good idea?” His eyebrows are pressing together. Normally, I’d laugh at him and tell him he says this every time we do something rebellious together. But that will give off too much information about my secret identity. So I fake scorn and whack him on the shoulder. He bites his lip to prevent any expression of pain crossing over his face. Which is perfect, because this is exactly what happens when Summer and Clay are in a room together and he tries one of his oh-so-fabulous pick-up lines on her –“You’re sweet; sweet as three-point-one-four.” “Yes, this is a good idea,” I snap in my Summer-imitating voice. “Do you want me to rip off your intestines or are you gonna follow me like an obedient sidekick?” “…The latter option.” And only because he used to be my best friend, I sense a hint of fear in his voice. This is the kind of fear which isn’t of me. It’s the type of fear when he sense he won’t be accepted somewhere. If I –more specifically, “Summer”– don’t approve of him, his entire world can come crashing down. I have full control of his emotions and what happens next. Normally, it’d make me feel pleased. I’ll just command him to turn back to his old-self, wouldn’t I? But this is another time in life where my stomach is just queasy. He has no idea who I am underneath, and if he knew, I have a feeling things wouldn’t be as light-hearted as it is right now. Adam was never the type to over-exaggerate. What if he’s not lying?

What if he truly is dangerous?

CHAPTER FIFTEEN
“Olivia, I need your help.” She’s sitting there, her fingers moving through the keys on her mobile like a ballet dancer. Looking up, she welcomes me with a scowl as she meets my eyes. “What?” She’s sitting at the bus-stop, probably waiting for the next bus so she can catch up with friends from her old school. All throughout her life, Olivia’s always complained about how boring this stupid little town is. She’s been going on and on about how many friends she has on the other side, and how much she longs to be with them. To top it all off, she brags about their skills: “Oh my gosh, Adam, you can’t swim? I have a friend called Katrina who used to win first prize at every swimming carnival!” And sadly, Adam still cannot swim. I’ve always tried to pressure him into learning, but he’d just shrug and say it’s a waste of money. We’re living in Queensland, for crying out loud! I’d yell, and he’d just stand there with a bored expression, pretending he doesn’t understand a single word I’m saying. To clarify, I’d shout, do you have any idea how many floods happen every year? And he’d still stand there, occasionally closing off the entire conversation with a shrug. How typical of him. “I need you to pretend I’m Summer.” Of course, I’m wearing my Spot-the-Wagging-Dog costume. And perhaps she can’t see it, but my eyes are pleading. “Please.” I try to sound indifferent, however, I have a suspicion she can see right through me. “And what’s in it for me?” she says. Her lips are twitching, fighting a smile. The Satan’s assistant has risen. “I’ll help you out with your exams?” “Or, you can just get Devere-Adam desperately in love with me.” That’s when I lost it. “I’m sorry, Livy, but Adam only dates girls who’re… oh, I don’t know… human?” She seems freakishly calm about my insult. “He dated me before, he can date me again. Just flatter me around him.” Her lips form into a smile. “Unless, of course, you want him to know who you really are under that costume…” Darn it. She has the upper-hand in this deal and she knows it. With a reluctant nod, I fight the urge to groan and slap him across the face. How dare I be considered a matchmaker! But isn’t that pretty much what you’re trying to do among the Stupendous Six? a voice in my head asks. I snort, accidently aloud. Olivia looks ready to question my sanity. “I… uh…” I give up trying to explain my feelings. “It’s nothing; don’t worry.” “It’s times like this when I truly wonder why Adam saw you as a sane friend.”

I grit my teeth. Sometimes, Olivia says the most revolting things, but at the same time, they’re the questions of everybody. She’s just stating what the majority of the population is thinking, but is too afraid to say. Olivia has more of a personality than I do. Why does this make me feel so worthless and… terrible, I guess. It makes me feel like the entire world has crashed down beneath my feet and it’s only a matter of time before I rise again. But I’ll fall. There won’t be my father or Adam to catch me. Sometimes, things are meant to be gone through alone. But it doesn’t mean I don’t want support beside me. When I fall because of how failing I am, nobody will catch me. * Step one to saving the Stupendous Six: Get Olivia and Ryan together in a room; size of room doesn’t matter, so long as they’re together. Perhaps Olivia isn’t in the Stupendous Six, but with Ryan already occupied, Autumn will have no choice but to date Jason. Obviously, seeing as neither Ryan nor Olivia fall under the category of "close friends," I'll have to depend on luck to get them together somehow. Adam is beside me, chewing on his fingernail like it's a matter of life and death. Shuddering, I continue making plans. Perhaps I can just... no. I can't "accidentally" bump into Ryan and "not on purpose" shove him towards Olivia where they meet. The Stupendous Six simply won't work if that happens. Instead, I need some logical and trusting plan by my side. I grin when I realise its Sunday. Ryan's going to church, meaning he'll be somewhere public. If only I can plot something to get OliviaWhat am I thinking? That girl wouldn't enter a church even if her life depended on it. With a grimace forming on my mouth, I turn to my assistant. "Adam, how would I get Olivia to go to the church?" "It would help if she had a religion in first place." Ah, so much for his amazing help. Sometimes I wonder why I chose Adam as a helper, especially seeing as how he's as good as useless. But maybe this is exactly why I’ve chosen him: so I have full leadership over somebody not as experienced in the area of matchmaking. Pacing backwards and forwards, I think. And think. And think. And– “We can always blackmail her…” “Adam, that is a repulsive, insensitive and stupid idea.” I pause. “Let’s do it.” That’s how the entire day is wasted as we walk straight to Olivia’s house. It’s really more like a shed, seeing as how they’re more into “comfy” houses. Her family isn’t poor or anything: they just choose to give everything away.

The very religious types who believe the world is only a test for them to complete, and that kindness will be the factor of whether they go to heaven or hell. To be honest, I envy them. I sometimes wonder what it feels like to rely completely on one’s creator. Maybe I don’t have enough fate in myself or the world to believe something –somebody– out there is watching over us. Even optimism cannot deny how completely down I feel at times, but have nobody to vent to. I remember my deal with Olivia, and gritting my teeth, I turn to Adam with a forced smile. “Hey, Adam, don’t you think Olivia’s the most beautiful girl in the world?” How I said that without breaking off into giggles is beyond me. He looks stunned but carefully replies, “Yeah. She’s… something. What, you keen on her or something?” Darn his straightforwardness. How am I supposed to explain myself out of this situation without revealing my true identity? And not only will Adam completely dislike Skyla, he’ll keep his distance from Summer who’s in love with his ex-girlfriend. Things definitely aren’t looking well for me. So I suck in my breath and tell the truth. Well, close to it, anyway. “Olivia knows my true identity –that I’m Summer– and is threatening to expose me if I don’t set her up with you.” Adam’s mouth forms into an “O” of realisation. He smiles, relaxed. “Ah, typical her.” “You dated her.” “Didn’t mean I liked her.” “You’re a cold, shallow beast.” “I try.” Ignoring his last comment, I press on the doorbell with more force than required. Olivia comes out with a grin on her face, which fades as soon as she sees me. It falters like seeing chewing gum stuck to the sole of her shoe. But then she realises how much of an advantage she has over me, so she decides to smile. “Hello, Summer.” I want to punch her right then. But because I’m Summer, I laugh and roll my eyes. “’Sup, Liv.” Olivia’s eyes turn to Adam. She swallows and raises her head a little into the air, as if trying to ward off any emotions attacking her. “Hello.” She tries to sound confident, but her voice falls with emotion –exactly what she was wishing to hide. Adam, you stupid heartbreaker, I think to myself. And when I look at Olivia, I don’t see a Goth-wannabe who’s a disgrace to the world: I see a lost girl, trying everything she can to fit in, but give up at the very end. Olivia is somebody I don’t know. Though she can be extremely evil and blackmailing, she’s still human. She still has, underneath all that black makeup and white-powdered-foundation, a heart and soul. Feelings; she uses them. Adam, my best friend Adam who I lost two years ago, is the only one who can get any reaction out of her. Either than that, she’s indifferent to the world.

In a way, it reminds me of what we –Adam and I– used to be. I remember being the only person who could cause a half-smile to appear on his face, just like he’s the only person who can make any significant change to Olivia and her personality. Maybe I’m being overly observant. Perhaps I’m overestimating Olivia and her feelings which she keeps locked up inside. But I know this for sure: she’s human. She makes mistakes, even ones she doesn’t realise she’s making. But it’s up to us to forget them. Which is why I turn to her and state the obvious in a very straightforward manner. “I want you to go to the church.” She raises her eyebrows. “Because…?” “No reason. Please, just come.” Olivia is, after all, just human. Maybe that’s why she blinked as I looked deeply in her eyes, like she’s just seen something strange; something paranormal. She must’ve seen how desperate I must be if I’m to come at her doorstep and beg for something she may not agree to. Or maybe it was just luck which made everything go according to plan, but she looks down at her long-sleeved clothes and gives both of us a tight smile. “Why not?” * Ryan’s standing on stage. He has a polite smile on his face, but I can read his inner expression well: get me out of these itchy clothes. If there’s one thing he hates, it’s the itchy pants he’s forced to wear at church. Actually, nobody really forces him besides his grandmother. Ryan’s never been the “religious” type, which is most of the church don’t approve of him. His novels, though only published online, are widely popular. A lot of people from this very town have spent much of their precious time reading them. And, apparently, a lot of his novels have a spiritual theme running. Nevertheless, according to some of the people at this church, he got all the details wrong. So it’s imaginable how many huffed and scornful people are arousing Ryan for adding the wrong touches to his novels. But it shouldn’t be his fault: it’s just his way of looking at things, and he shouldn’t be discriminated or criticised for what he chooses to write. It’s just not fair. The entire church is typical: statues, stained-glass windows and beautifully decorated roof which extends to almost three times the length of the actual church. There is a walkway in between the aisles, just aiming for people to pass through without hesitation. I wonder why Ryan’s standing there; I honestly do. But when it’s revealed, it seems I’m not the only person to be shocked.

“I’d like to congratulate this boy for his ultimate decision in becoming a priest,” says the white-haired priest at the front, his tone covered in gentleness. “May I have a round of applause?” Everybody was too stunned. Nobody was gossiping or whispering, but everybody was shocked. Astonished at how this boy, the one who “supposedly” got so many details wrong in the Christian culture, could possibly want to become one of the “leaders” for the entire religion. Nobody really protested against it; nobody could speak at first place. But there was clapping. By one person sitting next to me. Olivia clapped her hands softly, but the sound was loud enough to spread through the entire church. A lot of people turned around to look at her, but she kept her eyes on Ryan who stood there, his jaw dropping. And soon, when everybody regained consciousness of the world, they burst out into a round of applause. Not hard and completely supportive, but a polite and acceptable gathering of hands. When the clapping died, Ryan was smiling and accepting a blessing from the priest. Everybody, at the end of the session, came out to congratulate him. The unsure environment about his future intentions which were once questioned is no forgotten. He accepted a lot of hugs and handshakes from strangers. But his eyes wouldn’t leave Olivia. Not for a second.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN
It wasn’t long until Ryan and Olivia started “seeing each other.” All of us –the Stupendous Six and Adam– teased them about dating, but neither of them would budge. Well, at least Olivia wouldn’t: Ryan, on the other hand, would sit there awkwardly and blush till his cheeks appear rashinfected. It didn’t help, and Olivia would occasionally excuse herself with a tight smile. But Ryan, the poor demented soul, actually smiles when she lectures him. A green-with-envy Autumn asked him why he’d smile, and he replied with, “She’s cute when she’s mad.” Two days later, I’m biting my lip and watching Autumn’s lower lip trembling as she takes another scoop of chocolate ice cream. She calls me out of nowhere about needing somebody beside her, and presto, here I am: watching her stuff herself and her tearstained cheeks moist and identifiable. “Why can’t I just be pretty?” Now I realise why her sister isn’t here to help her through this. Summer looks exactly like her, if it isn’t for the beauty spot on her left ear. Asking her twin why neither of them are pretty is like asking for a kick in the face from Summer-Lily. “Autumn…” I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s all over television; even literature has those moments where a character has a heart-to-heart conversation with another, and it changes their relationship forever. But nothing that comes to mind is original. My brain’s just full of the same, unrealistic clichés. “There’s somebody out there who thinks you’re beautiful.” “But it wasn’t Ryan,” she whispers. “Why not him?” “So? Stuff him, it’s not like he’s ever done a significant thing for you in his life. Get over it.” She smiles through her sobs, if that’s even possible. “For somebody so optimistic, you can be so harsh sometimes. But you’re right: why mourn about the present?” “Yeah, why would you? And anyway, I’ve got a surprise for you.” She sits up properly for the first time. Her slumping and depressed posture disappears like my mother with ice cream. “What kind?” “A good one. Now, quit being so horribly depressed and get to the train station in fifteen minutes.” Before she can quiz me any further, I pick up my Spot-the-Wagging-Dog costume and examine myself in the mirror. My contacts weren’t taken out in first place. Quite obviously, I look exactly like how Summer would if she was wearing such a fluffy and cute costume. Perhaps I could be her twin underneath –who knows? One thing’s for sure: this is the costume which will help me fix every bit of mess around me. It’ll help me change Adam –make him go back to the way he was– and mend the Stupendous Six so we don’t go our separate ways. In the sixteen years of my life, I’ve never considered the fact something as simple as pretending to be somebody I’m not is a solution to all my problems.

Realisation hits me in an instant. Maybe this is what Olivia feels before she deceives the world with her fake identity. Maybe she’s doing the same thing I am: trying to help things around her. She probably feels a deep sense of accomplishment when things go her way, just like how the feeling’s mutual right now. For the first time in many days, things are finally working out for me. Goals are being achieved, good luck is being served. So why do I feel so lost? Autumn giggles when she sees me, startling me because I forgot she was there. “Skyla, you legend. How on Earth do you manage to pull off Lily’s voice?” Autumn may be the only person in the world who calls Summer “Lily” when she feels like it. Nobody else does, because “Lily” is usually for a delicate and innocent flower, not the girl who jumps off a three-storey building. “I’m just that awesome.” I laugh. “But in all seriousness, I’m quite good at imitating voices. I don’t sound exactly like her, but it’s pretty darn close. Maybe it’s because I’ve known her for so long…” I race to the door, realising how late it is. “Anyway, I’ve got to go. Be out immediately. Got it?” She doesn’t have a chance to answer. I simply run towards the tree in her backyard and dive behind, jumping the white fence. Puffing and huffing, I see Adam in the distance with his self-conscious crossing of arms. He smirks at me when I arrive at his feet, puffing endlessly like running a marathon. “Disorganisation is a terrible flaw, Summer.” “Shut up,” I snap, but recoil. When I realise I’ve pretty much given in to him, I bring back the fierce expression and stare into his eyes. Hard. Maybe Skyla would’ve given up, but Summer wouldn’t have. “I know exactly what my capabilities are, Adam.” “And I know exactly what your flaws are, Summer. We better get to the rain station fast if we’re to pull this off.” Deciding now’s not the time for me to argue with him, and him to reason with “Summer,” I nod and run with him all the way to the train station. That feeling. That feeling when we’re running together makes my heart leap. It remind me of the old times, except the fact I didn’t have a Spot-the-Wagging-Dog costume and he wasn’t as sarcastic –heck, he hardly even spoke! But it still felt so much like the old times. How we’d run through each other’s backyard –me giggling and him half-smiling, because his Parkinson’s disease makes it hard for him to manage that much. Sometimes he looked as if he’d lose his balance, so I’d naturally hold his arm in a strong and heroic manner. He never fell when I was by his side. Not once, not ever. So what was I supposed to do when he slowly begun to lose his balance? Summer wouldn’t have caught him – after all, the only thing she knows about Parkinson’s disease is that it’s the reason he never smiles. Summer doesn’t know anything about how the main disadvantage of the Parkinson’s disease revolves around people losing their balance; their nerves and functions not working properly, therefore making their entire body weak. It doesn’t matter what thoughts were running through my mind. Because just in time, I realised who I really was. Summer-Lily wasn’t my true identity, if not the complete opposite. How dare I think I’m her when even she doesn’t know herself! This, I’m sure, is how Olivia feels. How she feels when she realises who she is doesn’t exist: Summer may still be alive, but she’s probably nothing like my interpretation of her.

Only I know who I am. Me. Skyla-Rose Valenti. Which is why I grabbed his arm just before he trips over. Just held it like the old times. Adam’s mouth parts as his head snaps up to look at me, studying. But instead, I reply, “I stuck out my foot in front of you, but you didn’t see it. So I felt bad and chose to catch you.” I roll my eyes like my interpretation of Summer would. “Stop being such a loony and get up.” Adam nods slowly, following me. He pulls on his arm to free it away from my grip, but I don’t let go. “I’m planning on tripping you over again,” I lie in explanation. “So I need your arm just in case I feel nice enough to stop you from falling over.” There’s an odd look in his eyes. But no sign of recognition. It’s like the new version of Summer-Lily has completely hypnotised him: mesmerised him to such an extent he doesn’t see the similarities between her and his old best friend. And though it pains me on the inside to think he doesn’t remember us, it’s exactly how I want things to be. Even if, deep down, it’s killing me. * We’re hiding behind the bush. Autumn and Jason are walking in unison, talking about random things but coming to awkward stops every time. It’s obvious neither of them want to stop talking, but aren’t sure on what to talk about. They’re coming from the train station; the graphitised, rusty and weatherboarded undercover scene which is some sad excuse for a vehicle to transport them. Even in a town this small, I’d expect the slightest bit of renovation when it comes to the public areas, but apparently, the mayor doesn’t have time to appoint workers. Wearing a dog-suit in the middle of a prickly bush isn’t the best of ideas. Adam’s beside me, just watching with a frown placed upon his face. “Uh, why are we here again?” “’Cause I’m awesome. Oh, and, you’re awesome… okay, I couldn’t say that with a straight face. But in all seriousness, I wanna see how they get together.” My hand lingers over a brick in the prickly bush. Adam notices this too, as his eyes widen with a, “You aren’t really going to use that, are you?” look. In response, I shrug. This clearly doesn’t help his expression. But my eyes have diverted from his sharp features and are focussing on the scene in front of me. “Jace?” “Yeah huh?” “Thanks. For coming here, I mean.” I watch Jason swallow and am ready to attack him with that brick. Gain confidence, you disgraceful wimp! I want to shout. But then again, Ryan obviously wasn’t confident but still won the heart of Autumn, who only got through a heartbreak of unrequited love. So maybe a boy lacking in confidence Is exactly what she’s looking for.

But at the same time, I can’t help feeling the only reason Autumn liked Ryan was because he was the only boy who didn’t show any interest in her unfairly-popular twin sister. Jason admitted to having a crush on her once upon a time, just like Clay has one right now. Summer’s a boy-magnet no matter which way one looks at it. Autumn needs to grow up, though. She needs to realise that Jason is looking at her, even if he did have a history of liking her sister once upon a time. “Autumn?” “Yeah huh?” she imitates in the same indifferent but interested voice. Jason grins at her. “I like you.” He holds out his hand, which has Band-Aids all over them. I cannot bear to watch. Okay, I understand he has to do everything for his grandmother ever since she lost her sight, but couldn’t he be a little… clean about it? “Will you go out with me?” I think that’s the line which stops me from retorting something very inhumane. Adam’s jaw drops, his eyebrows snapping upwards. I can read his expression, Wow, he’s good. And I have to admit, it kind of caught me offguard. But nowhere near the feeling Autumn was feeling as she looks at him, her mouth in a slight gape as if wondering if this was all a joke. My senses catch up to me. Of course she did! He held out his hand, for crying out loud! What girl would take him seriously after that? I arise from my hiding position and balance the brick in my hand. Jason detects the motion immediately and starts walking very fast –away from Autumn. His eyes are almost fearful. “Hey, uh, Autumn? Can we continue this convo later? Your best friend has a-a brick in her hand and is ready to knock me senseless.” Mocking indifference, she stretches her neck to see me and my sweet smile. Which would’ve been, to my defence, completely believable if it wasn’t for my baring teeth and brick in one hand. She turns to Jason and smiles sweetly. “Of course not. Just meet me tomorrow after school –that is, if you’re still breathing.” With those snarky words hanging in the air, she glides away. I seize the opportunity immediately. Next thing I know, the shrill screams of Jason is filling the entire neighbourhood, and I must admit, that boy screams like a girl. Higher than a girl’s, if that’s even possible. And as I sprint as fast as my little, scrawny legs can take me, I can’t help but laugh. Soon enough, I can’t do anything but laugh as I stand there with a brick in my hand. Gently, I watch it drop as I collapse on the floor with my legs sprawled out. I’m so unfit, even the world’s heaviest woman has an advantage over me. Jason is peering at me from the front, his eyebrows furrowing. I know that look. He’s questioning my sanity, and not being very mysterious about it. It seems so naïve. So innocent. The entire scene, my entire world. I have an old best friend who pretty much hates me, a mother who occasionally ponders on disowning me and a nerdy member of the Stupendous Six who has no trust in miracles. Maybe that’s it. Perhaps I’m innocent for even considering there’s somebody out there listening to me. But I’ve watched enough angst movies and read enough depressing books to realise life moves on. The positives never last and neither do the negatives. Life is about up and downs, and nobody has less of a terrible life than another.

So as I lay there, I think about how eternally grateful I am for the things I do have: a group full of the quirkiest, most amazing friends; a mother who still loves me unconditionally; an acceptable reputation in high school. How I’m not living in poverty –how I have a bed to sleep in, fresh water to drink and food to eat. And how, one day, everything will disappear. Everything which made me smile, everything which made me laugh. Until I begin to question if it was there in first place.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
I never felt so lonely before. Even though Adam has no idea I’m Skyla, it still never occurred to me how his presence might affect me. But sitting here with the mot loneliest feeling in the world, I’m beginning to understand for the first time how impossible it all seems. The fact I may hate somebody but still not be able to survive a single minute without having an urge for them near me. So utterly ridiculous. Which brings me back to another conclusion: I love him. And for the first time, there’s no doubt in my voice. I do love him, even if it’s not in a romantic way. Caring about somebody so utterly much that it hurts me every time they show signs of hatred. Feeling like my entire chest has been ripped out when they narrow their eyes or bare their teeth at me. I want Adam back, but not because he was warmer back then. Whatever dangerous secret he’s holding, I have no reason to interfere. And, under all reality, I don’t want the old Adam back. Everything in my mind screams that I must begin to understand this new version, because if I really cared about him, his changes wouldn’t affect me. This new version is the one I’m supposed to accept. I’m trying –oh, I’m trying so, so hard. Why else am I putting up with him when all I feel like doing is slamming him against the wall and dumping a bowl of cement on his head? And maybe I secretly like this new, colder version. But I can never accept him. Because he doesn’t love me like the old version did. The old version was so reserved, but when he got agitated, would spill out all his feelings. This new renovation of the previous version? He simply tries to calm me down. So expertise, and I can’t find a single flaw in this newer and “improved” version. He must love me deep down. I refuse to believe things any other way. But it’s not fair of him to keep me hanging by a thread while he refuses to catch me if I dare to slip. All I need is him to tell me that he loves me, even if not in a romantic way. I just need that aspect of the old Adam back –who loved Skyla even after knowing every little thing about her– and I swear, I wouldn’t need anything else. These are the thoughts swirling my head as I pick up a loaf of bread and heave it onto the counter. There’s a man behind me, one with sunglasses, whose eyes I cannot see. Dark brown curly hair, tannish skin… he looks so familiar. I have the feeling I recognise those features, and if I could just see his eyes– “May I help you?” An adolescent girl smiles politely behind the counter. She takes my loaf of bread and stuffs it into the plastic bag. “That’ll be two dollars and five cents, please.” My hands are trembling as I fish through my purse. And at one point, I forget what the change is. The man behind me is still staring at me; I can see this because I’m standing side-on to him, facing directly at the counter. And his eyes, they just burn through me. Just like flames in a bushfire. Feeling chills running up my spine, I splutter some loose coins on the counter, accept the change with a rushed thank-you and flee with the loaf of bread hanging onto my arm. I don’t stop power walking until I’m confirmed he’s not behind me. Relieved, my mouth seems to have a mind of its own, as he exhales loudly enough to wake the dead. That man… just the smell of him was a distinct but familiar. It’s something I’m sure I’ve never come across, but at the same time, feel I’ve known all my life.

Who was that man that made me feel so breathless like I’m on the verge of suffocation? It definitely wasn’t lust, seeing as how his prickly beard shaped around his face like a tight tank top on a doll. Or how his nose had millions of tiny but noticeable blackheads scattered around like grass on a football oval. There was something about that man. And I intend on finding out exactly– I feel a hand clamp over my mouth. Every nerve in my body freezes and my heart stops. Time stops. Everything just stops that very second, and I just accept the fact I may never live until my seventeenth birthday. Or the fact this maybe my last breath. Darn it! I never even got to have my famous last words. But the voice calms me. “Shh. Skyla, don’t panic. Just keep walking. Act casual.” “It’s kind of hard to act casual when your hand’s over my mouth,” I mutter, but it ends up in a jumble because of poor projection, seeing as how his hand’s clasped tightly around my lips. He releases and I turn around to meet the eyes of my old best friend. Feigning indifference, I ask, “What do you want?” “For you to follow me.” “Uh-huh. And why–?” “Just shut up and follow me!” he hisses, grabbing my arm roughly and pretty much dragging me towards a sheet of metal. He pulls at the sheet and I watch it expose a small but cosy-looking hole. “Watch your step,” he says in a hushed down voice. I sit down in the hole, watching dust and dirt cling onto every visible area of this hole. It terrifies me, the fact that if that metal sheet covers the opening again, not a single ray of light will shine through. My entire body freezes at that thought. No, I simply would not be able to bear living underground for God-knows how long because Adam says so. There has to be a good reason; a legit one. “Adam, tell me what’s going on this instant,” I demand. He sighs before turning to me. “It’s just my father. He was at the shop –you know, shopping and everything– and so it’ll be really embarrassing if he saw you.” So that’s who the mysterious man was, I think to myself. Now, looking at Adam though the light which shines only because he hasn’t covered the hole with metal, I see the resemblance almost instantly. They both have the same skin texture and sharp features; I’m confirmed that if I saw his father’s eyes, I’d be able to recognise him immediately. But it still doesn’t allow me to forget what he said. “Wait, why would him seeing me be embarrassing?” With a simple move, the metal sheet is effortlessly over the hole. We’re stuck in the middle of darkness. It makes me feel almost claustrophobic. “Because he knows I wrote you a love letter before we left. I mean, Mum and him live separately but aren’t officially divorced. So it was really his choice we moved to Brisbane in first place.” Adam doesn’t blush or anything. Just plays cool ‘cause that’s the kind of person he is. Or maybe he does but it’s too dark to witness any reddening of cheeks.

But one thing’s for sure: my entire face is scarlet! Like jam on pancakes –Mum’s favourite food. “So. He, uh, knows me…?” It’s hard not to make the question sound awkward. Fortunately, it’s like Adam was prepared for this kind of questioning. “Yup. Knows you by face, name and everything. If he meets you, he’s gunna ask really personal questions, so we’re hiding here to avoid them.” Huh. Seems reasonable enough. We sit there in silence, and I can’t help wishing he’d slide that metal sheet along. Just to let a tiny bit of light into the small hole so I don’t feel trapped. However, it doesn’t seem like Adam’s going to give in to the idea anytime soon. If there’s one thing the old Adam hated, it was humiliation and even feeling the slightest bit embarrassed against his will. It seems a little odd, truth be told, to use this kind of procedure for avoiding contact with somebody. I’ve always thought Adam as being a little smarter than the type who shies away from situations when they attack them: I’ve always thought of him as a spontaneous mystery. But it goes to show how he’s nothing like the version I know. “Why do you want to change him?” Clay once asked, a little bit of disgust dripping from his voice. “He has Parkinson’s Disease, for crying out loud! How are you supposed to make a person like that smile?” I pondered over that for a long moment, much to Clay’s egoistic know-it-all delight. I didn’t end up with an answer and instead shrugged, before taking the conversation to another topic but still hating Clay for always finding a flaw in my plans. I guess it isn’t entirely his fault my ploys to create miracles are usually holey. But couldn’t he act a little less smart? Apparently not. Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make him smile. It’s a promise of a miracle which was broken the very minute it was created. How am I supposed to do something which is part of a sickness? I don't have that much potential within myself to prevent any sort of condition to overcome. For once, maybe Olivia's right. I cannot create miracles, no matter how much I'd like to think otherwise. Or maybe it's just me who thinks the whole world revolves around make-believe fate. How stupid am I, thinking I'll be able to change him. Instead, I should just focus on the present. Forget the past. Adam Devereaux was one of my dearest friends and it's tearing me apart internally to think he gave up that position. Was it me? Did I do something which made him thought, "Gee, what a loser." That's a rhetorical question: of course I did something to mess our relationship up. It's always me who hangs onto the past too dearly, and focuses into the future in a carefree matter. No wonder he doesn't want me anymore. I'm the complete opposite of him! "Skye, don't make a sound," he whispers to me. We're centimetres away in this small, dug-up hole. "Please. Just don't." Okay, this is just ridiculous. I've got nothing to lose by screaming, right? He's already disowned me, rejected me. Anger boils, uncontrollable. Exactly. He rejected me. Why do I have to listen to anything he says anymore? Friends are who I trust, understand. He's not a friend: he's a stranger.

Which is why I inhale deeply, exhale. Scream. I'm not sure what I expected to happen, but definitely not what happened next. The sheet of metal was moved, shifted with a terrible squeaking noise sounding against my ears. Adam's jaw drops. He reaches out to me, but his Parkinson's disease condition takes advantage of him, so he's shoulder locks in place, unable to touch me. When he whispers, it's the softest tone I've ever heard. And also the slowest. "Move... back...please..." Deciding it's best to obey his instructions, I scuttle backwards as far as possible in this small hole. Everything doesn't make sense. It's like the whole world has collapsed right in front of me, and I'm the survivor. That feeling exceeds when I see the face of the man who opens the metal. Adam's father. He's still wearing his sunglasses, only now he doesn't have a poker-face anymore. It's hidden behind a snarling gesture as he looks down at Adam. My once-best-friend stares back. Because I can't see his eyes or face, I have no idea what he's thinking. But I can only guess when his father reaches down, grabs at his collar and raises him. I watch him above from a slight angle. Knocking him to the floor, Mr Devereaux shifts the sheet of metal over the hole. Unable to recognise what I've just witnessed, I close my eyes. This has to be a dream. A haunting nightmare. But it wasn't. It was all reality. The sounds of banging, swearing and thrusting erupts from above. No screams. Just silence from the mouth of The Boy Who Never Smiled. I just heard a boy get abused by his father. And I didn't do anything to help him.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
I never thought I’d lose sleep over something I couldn’t control. Miracles were always my specialty: wasn’t it a miracle which made Adam open up to me? Wasn’t it a miracle when we were together on the swings, when he uncontrollably held my hand? But when he needs me most, nothing seems to work. No amount of magic dust or plastic-skull-rubbing will result in a better life for him. Deciding I won’t be able to get any sleep, I flick the light on and scamper through my wardrobe. Sure enough, I find the item I’m looking for. It’s a crystal ball, apparently known to be accurate, which I bought from the store down the road. Taking a few breaths, I place it on the table and stare at it for a second. The mystery behind an inanimate object: the purple smoke which rises in all directions. My eyes fix on it for a good twenty seconds before I shake it. Nothing. That’s what I see. Nothing. Because that’s what I’ve done, isn’t it? Perhaps it’s not enough for somebody to hate me, but it’s definitely a matter of not doing anything. Adam’s father could’ve damaged him fatally back then. I’d just watch with a gaping mouth. I’m the most useless person in the entire world. When my entire life depends on it, it doesn’t matter where I am: I flee. I run away from whatever decides to haunt me. Because that’s the type of person I am: a runner. A sprinter. A coward. And suddenly, the goal isn’t to help Adam turn back to who he was –it’s something different. I want to save him. Just let him live. Whether he likes me or hates me is completely out of my control; it would genuinely require a miracle for him to forgive me after just seeing me stand there –helpless– as he got beaten up. Abused. This won’t take a miracle to solve. I just need to stop being a coward and stand up for him. Find out everything about his past, his so-called secret. And there’s one way to do that… My eyes dart over the Spot-the-Wagging-Dog costume. * “Oh, hey, Summer.” He half-smiles at me. “What’s up?” “Nothing.” Immediately, my eyes notice the Band-Aids all around his face. Stuck to his cheeks and his forehead. There is the slightest bit of a bruise forming on his elbow, which makes me sick to the stomach. I could’ve prevented all of it from happening. If I hadn’t run away. If I just stayed and stood up for him. But of course, my cowardly self is too selfish to offer my assistance to anybody. Why bother with anything? Aren’t I as good as worthless?

But I’m not worthless. I honestly could’ve emerged from the hole, attacked his father from behind to bring him down. Let him fall. Just let him die, after what he did to Adam. My fist clenches up despite myself, and a bitter smile forms on my face. Me? Having a pessimistic thought? Wow. Miracles truly do exist. Still with that bitter smile on my face, I look up at Adam. I somehow gather the courage and shamelessness to stare at him directly in the eyes. “What happened to your face?” “I tripped.” There’s a grimace hanging at the end of his lip. “Yeah. Clumsy me.” “Stop lying.” That definitely stunned him to silence. His mouth opens and closes a couple of times, but he manages to keep his eyes from widening. “What’re you–?” “I’m not stupid. Tell me what really happened.” I point to the sofa. We’re at his house since Olivia still won’t take me back. Actually, I made a deal with her: she lets me become Adam’s “auctioned doll” and I won’t tell anybody about how she was the first one to clap after Ryan’s priest-wannabe-declaration. The Stupendous Six already gives them both enough torture without needing more juicy details to feed into their “relationship.” Quite an easy deal, actually. I somewhat expected her to hand me a scrubbing brush and point at her toes with a cruel smile playing on her lips. But I believe she still likes Adam –still has butterflies when she sees him. Just because it’s not that easy to forget him. I’d know this fact best. “What really happened…?” He hesitates, obviously fishing for lies inside that massive head of his. “Ah, I don’t really…” “Do you want to be bald by sunrise?” “…Know why you’d want to know,” he adds quickly, panic visible in his dark brown eyes. “But if you have to know, my father got angry at me. And that’s all. Nothing major, nothing dramatic.” Summer knows about his hair-obsession, which makes everything easier. In fact, she’s the one who told me this in first place. I decide its best not to take this conversation too far. Summer isn’t observant at all, and if I’m pretending to be her, I have to pull it off as good as the original. She would’ve just believed the “I tripped” lie –actually, she probably wouldn’t. But she wouldn’t bother trying to fish an answer. So by racking further into this case, I’ve already let half of my identity reveal itself. Shrugging, I pretend I wasn’t interested in first place. “Whatever. Can I snoop through your room?”

He looks a little taken aback by my straightforwardness, but nods his head. There’s a little bit of a cautious edge to his nod, but I ignore it completely. Walking into his room, I take the door and slam it exactly the way he slammed it in Skyla’s –uh, I mean my– face before. Sheesh, I’ve got to stop talking in third person. No wonder my mother thinks I need mental help… Adam lets me snoop around because I’m Summer. She doesn’t know how he has a secret compartment at the bottom of his drawer, which carefully folds in. Summer has no idea about how Adam relies on that place to hide every bit of his personal things or how he doesn’t know that even Skyla knows about it. But I do. Tugging at the bottom drawer, I pull it out completely. Surely enough, I see a secret compartment. I’m just about open it when the door handle twists and opens straight away. Adam looks at me, his lips slightly agape. But there’s no point trying to shove the drawer back and pretending I didn’t do it. His eyes are staring at how confident my arms are about this drawer. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. No, no, no! “Can I ask you a question? Why did you pick this drawer?” Think, Skyla, think. “Because everybody knows you stuff really personal things there.” “Uh-huh. And what kind of personal things did you think I have?” “I was thinking you might have some chocolate stuffed in there.” I glance to one side and then to the other. “I know what it’s like to have somebody always in your business, always stealing your chocolate.” I feign a sigh. “I’ve got Autumn, the world’s biggest choc-a-holic. I think I’d know.” Adam looks amused. But on the bright side, at least he’s not suspicious of me anymore. I sit on his bed, which is surprisingly bouncy. Covered with a blue blanket which I recognise from one of our sleepovers, my eyes avert to the clipping in the middle of his wall. The picture of the girl –my cousin– hung there. I guess it’s because we were distanced that I don’t feel any surge of grief, but it still stuns me. How could she have died? Apparently, the police found her body on the side of the road, covered in blood. There wasn’t much evidence of who the murderer was, and it continues to be an ongoing case. Before I open my mouth, I realise how it’s not wise to ask why the clipping’s there, so I mentally close it. Adam always loved mysteries. I just never thought he could be one himself. He sits on the bed with me, resting his head on the pillow above. There’s a lazy smile tugging at his lips, but he doesn’t bother to call it a “full smile.” Everything’s changed between us. It’s not the first time I’ve realised it, but the first time I’ve accepted it. Yes, things have changed. Adam’s different from the way he was before. But then again, I’ve changed too. The old Skyla would never dream of snooping through somebody’s personal properties, let alone half-accomplish it. She innocently stumbled across the medical report and found out his condition from then onwards.

I also think she would’ve stood up for Adam that time his father abused him. But one thing’s for sure: I need to make sure he doesn’t get hurt again. No matter what I do, there’s a promise I’ve made within myself. No matter what it takes, Adam will not get a single scar on his body from his father. There’s no point involving the police with this. They’ll just fine Mr Devereaux, only to make him more agitated at both Adam and me. If I tell my mother, it’s a guarantee she’ll never let me near him again. It’ll probably be a matter of the spirits, and how they’ll be angry at me for mixing with such a “troubled and unclean” creature. But what she wouldn’t know is that it’s not his fault. None of this is his fault. He’s just a boy with severely bad luck, Parkinson’s disease, and who dated Olivia Kingston without thinking about the consequences. Not thinking about how he doesn’t even love her. I realise something with a jolt. Olivia knows something about Adam. She worked out something about him, something that I don’t know, but Adam recognises that she does. Which is probably why he dated her in first place: shut her up. Just to prevent anything from spreading. What makes me think I’ll be able to pressure her into telling me anything? “Adam?” “Yeah?” “Let’s take a trip to the park.” My eyes point out the window and towards the school, specifically at the playground where we met. “I hate staying indoors.” Which is completely true for Summer. “Uh, can’t we just–?” “I have a pair of clippers at home which are perfect for cutting hair.” “…Why not?” * We’re sitting on the swings. I made sure to run towards the one I was on when we first met. Seeing how there’s only two swings, Adam had to sit in the other. He was frowning as he was doing so. The breeze tousles my ears, which is perfect, because I’m melting on the inside. Not only is summer the worst season to wear an itchy costume, I also have to make sure to keep it on to prevent a boy from discovering my identity. I’m sure every girl in the entire world has to go through this kind of suffering –not. “This seems so familiar…” he says aloud, probably not realising he had. He clutches at his head, but manages a tight grip on the ropes just in time. “I don’t know why I feel so dizzy…” Parkinson’s disease didn’t have a side-effect of dizziness –at least, not the last time I checked. Who knows: maybe it’s a new effect which has been added. Desperate to change the subject, I say, “So. Adam. Why was your father mad at you?” I quickly add, “Not that I care or anything, but it’s just curiosity.”

“Go take your curiosity somewhere else.” “Tell me. Tell me or else I’ll–” “Cut off my hair? Seriously, Summer. Get a life.” A long thirty seconds tick by. I swing softly, missing how innocent my childhood used to be. How innocent Adam used to be, when he was still my best friend. Everything about the old him, I completely miss, but I don’t need. Him as a best friend –I don’t require that sort of love at all. Instead, I’m actually more relieved he isn’t the same. Because if he was, it’d be even harder to accept he doesn’t want me anymore. With the way he is right now, I can fool myself into thinking it’s all a matter of him “not knowing what he wants.” At least, now, I can continue fooling myself into thinking that’s the reality of situations. Maybe Adam doesn’t want me anymore, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to stop trying. He probably doesn’t realise it, but he starts talking. In a soft, hushed voice as if he doesn’t remember who I am. Or maybe he feels as if he’s alone in a room, without anybody around. “He’s just angry I didn’t kill somebody I’m supposed to. You see, him and her father are the worst of enemies.” Before my father left, I remember him arguing with my mother about how he hated her. But what really engraved itself into my mind, is how my mother was telling somebody’s wife to divorce her husband, and my father coming close to killing Mum for that. My father and this man were the worst of enemies. “And who is this girl?” Nothing but silence from Adam. He’s not looking at me, he’s not swinging. Just frozen into position like the Earth has stopped spinning, obviously realising he wasn’t alone when he said those words. But he doesn’t have to tell me who it is. I already know. And it’s damaging my sense of safety forever.

CHAPTER NINETEEN
Adam’s mother smiles at me, her eyes crinkling. “Hello, Mrs Devereaux. I was just wondering if Adam was here, because I wanted to talk to him,” I lie. As expected, she opens the door wide open. “No, he’s playing baseball with his friends. I don’t really know, but there’s this boy who can not only lick his elbow, but he can chew it.” Travis from science class, obviously. There’s no other freakish person like him. And of course, before I even thought of coming here, I knew Adam was out. I needed to make sure he wasn’t home in order to pull off this ploy. Which might not work if he told Mrs Devereaux not to let anybody in. Crossing my fingers, I say, “Can I come in?” “Of course!” So the boy wasn’t smart enough to avoid people. Hmm, it’s typical of Adam to forget about significant ways he can get rid of me. I enter the house with a smile playing on my lips, as I walk straight to Adam’s room. The television is still on – I begin to wonder if Mrs Devereaux can’t work without it– so it makes it easier for her to be distracted by a flashy advertisement. Which is perfect, before if I’m to snoop around in this spaced-out and probably echoing room, every form of distraction possible. My eyes linger over his desk, where all his school textbooks are sprawled out along with his pencil case and homework. Despite hardly ever concentrating on his studies, Adam always got high marks. He was one of those naturally bright kids but probably wouldn’t get anywhere in life due to his attitude and uncaring features. Or maybe it’s just the Parkinson’s disease which makes him weak during school. What am I doing? I’m speaking of Adam like he’s still in grade-school! For all I know, maybe he’s starting to work a little harder. Without fighting the temptation, I grab the papers on his desk and wearily stare at all the wrong answers. I’m no genius –an average, C student– but I can tell right from wrong answers when it comes to math. And I also recognise the rushed way he slid his pencil through all the equations to know he didn’t try. At all. Not the slightest bit of attempt in these not-so-difficult problems. I sigh. He’s going to have a rough time in the next two years, seeing as how badly he’s doing now will affect his final score. Heck, it’ll affect his entire future! Why can’t he see that? Or maybe he can. But just chooses not to. Which bring me to the next question: if he came during the summer, how come he has all kinds of homework? He obviously hasn’t taken any classes due to the timing of his arrival, but it can only mean its extra work from his old school.

Suddenly, it makes sense. Why would he stay here for long? He needs to go back to the school in Brisbane. Sooner or later, he’s moving back. After this summer he’s not going to be here anymore, but in a completely different city. It truly is my only chance to help him. This summer’s only focus should be Adam Devereaux. Summer of Adam Devereaux. And it’s my chance to find out his mysteries. He probably doesn’t want me to, but he can go stuff himself. Oh no, what an aggressive sentence! Honestly, I can’t care less what my own mind thinks of me. The main point is, I’ll make sure that I can help him in every way possible. That I can be just as a good friend as any! Because that’s what friends do. This is what true friends would do. A fake friend would just let this whole thing go down the drain, not caring less what’s happening to Adam and actually listen to him. A true friend would do everything in their power to find out everything about this boy and the mysteries he’s holding. Which is why I check through the secret compartment in his drawer first. There’s a letter tucked in. Unfolding and swiping at the wrinkles, I read it. Adam, The case is over. We’ve survived. But she’s not dead. I need her dead. R.D His father’s name is Rick. I remember this specifically when Adam bashed up a boy, when they were both in third grade, because he was scrawny and had the same name as his father. Apparently, it was a “disgrace” to his father’s name. My once-best friend had detention for an entire week –I remember how I had to supervise him at one point, and since we weren’t friends yet, he gave me the most coldest stares with his dark eyes. It haunted me for a long time, but he made sure he was never forgotten. Though he hardly talked, sat at the very back of the classroom, nobody could help but feel the eerie presence floating through, almost expecting him to do something disastrous. And from what he admitted the other day, I’m the girl he’s supposed to kill. Realisation grasps at me. I’m the girl he’s supposed to kill. This means the reason he’s even here for the whole summer is so I’m not alive at the end of it. Maybe this is what he means by “I’m dangerous,” because I won’t be living. How dare he act so casual about this! My hands are trembling, despite myself. Why doesn’t he tell me anything? Of course, saying, “I’m just gonna kill you ‘cause my father said so” wouldn’t really float my boat. There’s no way in miles I’d agree to something like that. And something tells me that, deep down, he’d never kill me. No matter how much somebody is torturing him, abusing him and making his life a living dungeon. He’ll always stay by my side.

But that was the old Adam. This new one? Who knows what kind of damage his father has done to his brain. Maybe he ever told Adam about things before bed so that, when he wakes up the next day, he’ll think it was reality. People with Parkinson’s disease have a hard time recognising reality from fantasy, I remember reading once. It’s all too surreal. Suddenly, I’m on my knees. It’s just unreal that he’s the person who was my best friend. The only person who ever spoke a full sentence to, back when we were twelve years old, was me. He respected me in a way I never could for myself, just like vice versa. We were like too odd peas in a pod, neither of us admitting we were best friends. Really, I didn’t see us as friends until he moved away, and I realise how much of an influence he had on me. Sure, I did admit he was one of my friends when he sat next to me, all those years ago, but I didn’t really think it. Not until now, where nothing can be the same. I’m about to be murdered by him. I can feel it in my bones. So isn’t it natural I avoid staying anywhere near him? Yes. That’s what I’ll do. Make sure he can’t see me. Instead, I’ll use Spot’s identity –Summer– to talk him out of killing me. Wow, doesn’t that sound completely insane? Thank God Mum can’t read my thoughts, or I’d be stuck in a mental chamber for centuries. I stuff the letter inside the drawer and close it. “What’re you doing here?” Somehow, I prevent myself from jumping. He looks straight at me, his dark brown eyes looking closer to black without the sun reaching it. It looks haunting, terrifying. Just like how he used to look before I became his friend. “Uh, I was just waiting for you,” I lie. Lie, lie, lie. Biggest lie of the century. Quite the opposite, actually, seeing as how he wasn’t supposed to come home. Maybe Travis scared him off? A small smile appears on my lips, which I suppose Adam mistakes for having him arrive. “I was just wondering… why do you hate me?” “I don’t hate you.” And though I’m sure he said “I hate you” to me this summer, somehow he’s completely stunned that I might even think that. Uh-huh. Definitely the Parkinson’s disease preventing him from realising the different between a dream and reality. Chances are, he thought the whole “I hate you” scenery happened in his dream. So I don’t burst his bubble. “Because, you know, you told me to stay away from you.” Now he looks even more confused, a little bit of surprise added to his expression. “Stay away? You don’t– " And that’s when I see it. His eyes literally popping out of his head in realisation. He forgot how dangerous he was. He forgot how he needed to kill me, or he’d be abused for the rest of his life. And as he looks at me, me with the innocent baby-pink bow stuck in my hair, he looks ready to scream. “I-I’m sorry. I have to go.” Without taking a glance backwards, he’s already out of the door. And it’s not bi-polar which makes him so moody; it’s something he had since birth, a condition called Parkinson’s disease. It destroyed his life forever. I often wonder what it’s like, waking up and reaching out for something but not having a fast enough brain to reach it. To have such bad luck when it comes to remembering things, not being able to distinguish what I said to my own friends and family. How terrible it must feel to be weak and tired all the time, the nerves in my body damaged.

But never have I realised just how much Adam has to go through. I understand that, since my father is a “criminal,” his father is one too. In what way, I have no idea. Mum’s the best person to ask about this. Yes, I’ll ask her. Those are the thoughts which circulate my mind as I watch him from his bedroom window. Watch him run across the streets, just running. I know him long enough to realise it’s all aimless. He has no idea where he’s going, but knows exactly what he’s running from. How can anybody remind him that his only enemy is himself? * “Mum…” Sure enough, she’s sewing. As the perfect Japanese maiden, her life revolves around wearing the most cutest kimonos and cooking the most traditional food. Humble –not around me, at least– and fluent in English, she’s the perfect woman for men all over Japan. But aside from her charming streak, she can’t resist danger. Which is how she, when migrating here with her family, fell in love with my father. American. When I was younger, she used to tell me about how my father had the most beautiful eyes, and how shameful it was that I didn’t inherit them. Back then, I thought Mum’s sense of rebellion was merely marrying somebody from a different nationality, belief and country. Little did I know he was more dangerous than somebody different in background. “Skyla,” she acknowledges, not looking up from her piece of work. “Anything to say?” “When you and Dad broke up… was it my fault?” Her needle drops from her hand. Down, down down. Landing on the comfortable, white-furred rug. Looking surprised, she turns to me. Which is perfect. This is exactly the kind of reaction I need in order to pull this off. “No! Of course not. Why do you ask?” “So whose fault was it?” Such an innocent question. And though most mothers would lie, and say, “It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just what needs to happen” my mother isn’t like that. She’s honest, even if it kills the other person with her straightforwardness. “It was your father’s.” “How come?” She shoots me a look. Almost as if studying me. But doesn’t avoid the question. “He was a criminal. Part of the gang. He was best friends with a man in grade school, but as they grew older, some sort of jealousy formed between them.” She shrugs. “Don’t really know what that was, but yeah. And then it all started: the killing, the egoistic smoking and drinking, all the swearing and damaged spirits.” When she stares me directly in the eyes, she smiles. Somehow, she finds the courage to smile. “In a way, he was the best thing that happened to me. But also the worst.”

Faking a smile, I stumble towards my room. I have my entire back on her and only when I enter the safety of my room do I dare to release my inner-feelings. The mask on my face previously melts faster than a snowman in summer. And somehow, although I’ve been suspecting it earlier, it still strikes me as abnormal. My father is part of a street-gang. Only because I’m related to him, only because it’s the best form of pain to a parent no matter how bad, I’m targeted. To be killed.

CHAPTER TWENTY
“Skyla! Yasmin’s on the phone.” Grumbling slightly, I arise from the couch and take the receiver. Mum always thinks I’m impolite to not want phone-calls, but I hate communication when I can’t see the person! Why not just drive a couple of hours and arrive at their house to talk properly? I know, I know. This entire argument makes me seem like an antisocial person. I somehow find myself smiling when I answer the phone. “Hello?” “Skye! How are you?” “Ah, good thanks.” There’s a short pause. “Any details on Whitney?” I wonder if that’s the right question to ask. Perhaps they found her dead body and I’m just interrupting their peace? Or maybe she just doesn’t want to listen anymore about her murdered sister and what everybody’s doing to try and track her down. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if all Yasmin does right now is slam the floor. Whether it’s for the better or the worst, I don’t know, but she doesn’t. “Uh, she’s good.” Silence. “Anyway, I forgot to say thank you! You know, for that clip…” “The butterfly clip?” I suggest. “Yeah! That one. Anyway, Whitney really loves –uh, loved– it until…” Her sentence trails off. She coughs. “There’s no point, really, trying to uncover details about her death.” “Hmm?” I pretend to be interested. To be honest, I really didn’t want to know about her death. It seems like such a fragile topic which can damage our entire friendship. Not that we have much of it in first place, of course, it’s just that I don’t want to hurt her feelings. Her little sister always annoyed her, and I was there when she said “Go die!” on countless occasions to the red-faced girl. But never did Yasmin think her wish would come true in the worst way possible. “The trial is over, I guess. They’re not going to focus on it anymore. I mean, if they find evidence, then yeah. But it’s not a focus.” Yasmin told me, after news about Whitney’s disappearance but not yet recognised murder, that it was all her fault. I remember trying to comfort her, assure her it wasn’t. But fragile, shaken up and teary Yasmin insisted otherwise. She told me about how Whitney was waiting at the bus-stop for her older sister. Naturally, her disorganised character made her forget it was time to pick her up. Along with balancing her parttime job and nineteenth birthday in three weeks, Yasmin had too much in her mind. Too much future to look forward to. Therefore, Whitney wasn’t picked up when she was supposed to. Nobody knows what happened next. Whitney just happens to be a fragment of the past, a mystery.

Neither of them met my father, despite having him on their side of the family. The relation between us falls with having my father and their mother has siblings. Some sort of unspoken agreement to always stay on the other’s side and be “family-like” and civilised to each other. Even though my father has left me, the ties still remain. Mum and Mrs Valenti are friends, though not as close as Mrs Devereaux and my mother. It’s like all a form of deception, sometimes. That my father never wanted a family in first place. “How long did the trial go for?” “Two years. It ended at the start of this summer.” Huh. That’s strange, seeing as two years ago –at the start of summer– Adam Devereaux and his father left this entire city. But surely he didn’t… I don’t allow myself to finish the thought. “Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for the butterfly clip.” She laughs, but it has a sad edge to it. “Whitney used to wear it a lot –everywhere, really. And since you guys both have the same hair-colour it looks exactly like you from the back.” Down, down, down. The phone clashes on the ground. Somehow, it doesn’t make a single sound. Or maybe it’s the shock which is making me avoid the entire audio version of this scene. It’s a cordless phone, so there was nothing preventing it from falling. And since you guys both have the same hair-colour… Mum notices this, and comes to the kitchen with a huff. Picking up the phone, she apologises before shoving the phone to me. But I don’t take it. My hands just aren’t responding anymore. Frowning, my mother asks to speak to their mother and begins talking about something light-hearted. …It looks exactly like you from the back. Whitney was shot with a bullet straight into her back. All because she was mistaken for me. * Think, Skyla, think. What reasoning does Adam’s father have to kill me, besides my own Dad being an enemy. Once upon a time, didn’t they have the best of relationships? They were best friends, weren’t they? It makes me wonder how much rage is store dup within Mr Devereaux to want to kill me so badly. It all makes sense. Adam was hiding me when we went in that underground cover. He purposely sat directly underneath the opening, because he knew that if his father found our location, I won’t be discovered since I’m not the first thing Mr Devereaux would see. He got beaten up, bruised for that reason alone.

He saved me. There’s no other way to look at this situation, how he was tortured because he tried to help me. And it worked. He helped me, but I’m so helpless when it comes to wriggling him out of a situation as dangerous as this. But it doesn’t mean I won’t be trying my hardest. Trying my best to try and save him, catch him. I stand up from my bed. Light rays enter through the windows, lighting up my entire scruffy room. Not exactly messy, but nowhere near clean. Just the room of a typical teenager, with plain walls, childhood toys tossed carelessly in the closet and a ceiling fan which is always turning in this hot, summer weather. It’s so typical. Nobody would be able to enter this room and think, “Oh my, this girl has been targeted! She’s going to be killed soon!” Nobody can do that. But Adam’s father seems to be unstoppable with his intentions. What kind of man damages their own son because of his failures to kill somebody? What has my father done, which is so terrifying, to this man? Right now, the only thing I want is to talk to Adam. Sort this entire mess out. But how am I supposed to talk casually with somebody who’s been ordered to kill me? At any time, Adam can forget the difference between reality and fantasy, killing me because he thinks it’s not real. Because it’s something he won’t be able to bring himself to do in real life. Is that how he killed Whitney? Not realising its reality? No wonder Mr Devereaux likes using Adam for all his devious plans: a mentally damaged boy is the perfect person to control and torture, because they can never confront. They only figure out their mistakes until it’s too late. Whitney’s picture is in the centre of Adam’s wall. Just so he never forgets what he’s done. Or maybe he didn’t do it, but somehow got involved. He’s dangerous. He’s keeping his distance from me, just in case he does what his father tells him. Adam’s right: I’m a stupid, stuck-up princess to think I can change around a fact like that, even if I didn’t know the truth once upon a time. It’s not fair! Why can’t I do anything to help him, stop the pain flowing through his veins? A bitter smile forms on my lips. With all this dark, creepy business of assassinating, I’ve completely forgotten about the Stupendous Six. We’re supposed to meet up for Christmas in one week. But somehow, everything has lost its priority over Adam and his intentions. Here’s something that optimism can’t fix: something which is so fragile, so easily broken. I’m somebody he’s supposed to kill, but doesn’t want to. How would I feel in his case? Shaking off the thoughts, I walk out of the room with a fake smile. * “Summer, why don’t you go out with Clay?” Because I’m trying everything in my power to forget about my intense, frightening life, I decide it’s best if I get involved in somebody else’s business. Just so I don’t have to even think about my own. Thankfully, we’re sitting at the park, where a lake full of water awaits us; this means Adam won’t be coming at this part of the park at all. Not knowing how to swim, he’s not going to take chances. Summer rolls her eyes. “That boy? He’s so arrogant, idiotic, childish, goofy and completely crazy! How can any decent woman ever think about–” “You like him, don’t you?”

“…Darn. But I’d never date him. I just like watching him from a distance.” This strikes me as confusing. “Why not?” “This.” She stands up, twirling her arms around in circles, referring to all the Stupendous Six sitting around. Jason and Ryan are feeding ducks, Clay and Autumn are making daisy chains –well, Autumn is. Clay’s just destroying them with that pathetic evil laugh of his. “I just don’t want to lose this.” And that’s when I realise how different Summer is from me, in terms of how we think. The only reason I want to pair members of the Stupendous Six with others is so this doesn’t fall apart. While the only reason Summer doesn’t date Clay is so this entire group doesn’t fall apart. In a way, we both make sense. Neither one of is wrong nor right. “So… you’re afraid it will destroy the Stupendous Six if you dare to date him?” She raises an eyebrow. “Didn’t it destroy you and Adam?” This catches my attention. My entire spinal cord straightens as I face her. “What do you mean?” “Oh, c’mon. Everybody knows that scar on your hand came from him proposing to you. I mean, I didn’t see it with my own eyes, but there were a lot of rumours about it.” My entire face goes scarlet. Summer’s grin grows wider. Desperate, I say, “But what does that have to do with…?” “The only reason Adam avoided you was because you didn’t respond to his feelings. He asked you out, you pretty much rejected him.” A bitter smile forms on my face. She truly doesn’t know anything. And just when I came with the Stupendous Six to avoid thinking about the one thing I’d like to forget, it comes back to me like a boomerang. But this time, I can’t stop thinking about it. Summer thinks that letter contained a love letter –a genuine one. Somehow, it feels hard to accept. No, Adam wouldn’t write one. He’d tell me face-to-face about his “feelings” for me if they existed. Obviously, this letter is one which contained something important, a piece of information I needed to know. Olivia found it. It’s with her right now. I need to get my hands on that letter, even if it kills me. There’s something which will solve more mysteries about him. Something vital was in that love letter, I’m sure of this. Innocent, clueless Summer has no idea about me being next to die. She thinks life is still cute and fresh. Obviously, she doesn’t realise how having a best friend whose father is Dad’s worst enemy can affect my life. If Adam didn’t know me from so far back, I have an assumption I would be killed without a second glance. But because I’ve become a significant part of his life –from the sleepovers to arguments about becoming class president– he just can’t bring himself to kill me. To stab me and watch me wither away to nothing. “Hey, uh, Summer? I’ve got to go. I’ll be right back.” I stand up. “Oh, and if you see Adam, run. I might meet him along the way –and since his house is close, there’s nothing stopping him from visiting.”

She gives me a thumbs-up as I sprint.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
Olivia’s younger sister opens the door. “Oh, hello.” She opens the door wide, suspiciously. “I think you missed Halloween.” I guess it’s a guess many people would gather from the way I’m wearing this Spot-the-Wagging-Dog costume. With a smile she can’t see, I say, “Oh, hello! I’m Summer. Is Olivia home?” Because I’ve already checked with computer-hacker Clay, who told me he has a tracking device on her mobile (freaky, I know) and that she’s not home, I know she’s not. “No… But you can wait in the living room if you’d like.” So there I sit. I’m not sure what I expected, but it was stupid to presume everybody was as airheaded as Mrs Devereaux, who lets the visitors sit personally in the bedrooms. Olivia’s sister has more common sense, therefore she lets me sit there. The television is running. The sound of boiling erupts from the kitchen. Lights are glowing everywhere around the house. Feeling rather let down, I can’t help worrying about what I’d say if Olivia walks in. Though Clay can confirm she’s not home, it doesn’t mean he has any clue about how long she’d be out. Olivia’s room… I can remember when I came to her birthday party, second grade. It was close to the living room. Standing up, I tiptoe towards her bedroom. I’m sure it’s her bedroom. When I open the door, I watch a bald man on a bed, sleeping. There’s no indication of this being her room, so obviously they’ve switched rooms. Feeling my heart pace fast, I quietly close the door and head to the next room. I remember this one as being her father’s. Opening it, I see posters of all the latest craze –boys with six-pack abs hung on the walls. But there are moustaches on all of their faces, and her signature at the bottom. I can’t help smiling. I remember her telling me in fifth grade how she hates boys who have muscles, and how they make her feel fat. Which I found quite ironic, but couldn’t help seeing the truth behind her words. Entering her room, I search through all the areas she might possibly have stuck the love-letter. But unlike Adam, I don’t know who she is. Not enough to find out where she might’ve put a very secret item. Her room was quite neat, but I’m sure she must’ve put it somewhere I can’t find, no matter how organised it may be. Suddenly, I have the sudden urge to check under her mattress. I remember how, on detective movies, the suspect always hides evidence under the bed mattresses. But surely Olivia wouldn’t be that stupid, would she? Turns out, I overestimated her. When I reached under the mattress, I find a plastic bag. Tugging on it, I look through the contents. And sure enough, there’s a letter tucked inside among the many drawings and things which are hidden underneath.

The house is one storied. There isn’t any “protective nets” or bars on the windows, seeing as how Olivia’s family doesn’t believe in using money for the wrong reasons, although protecting one’s home from axe-murderer’s grasp is quite important. But anyway, I’m glad. Because this makes it perfect as I jump out, leap over the fence and sprint to my own house –all with the letter clutched in my hand. It’s already evening and I didn’t get to “come back” like I promised Summer. But it doesn’t matter, because I’ve got the love letter Adam Devereaux wanted to give me. Two summers ago. * When I get home, I sneak past my sewing mum and sit on the bed. I don’t want her to come inside and find this letter, seeing as even I’m not sure of the contents. One thing’s for sure: it’s anonymous. But why would he do that? It seems kind of stupid to not put my name… oh, right. My mistake. His life is messed up, and chances are, he needed to kill me two summers ago also. By putting my name there, it could be fatal if his father found out. But surely he could have enough common sense to put in the correct locket, right? I open the letter. Dear My Love On a scale of one to ten you’re by-far Never looking dead To me. Cease me from my misery Open your eyes and see Meet my mind today Ease you can put it in. Terribly sorry On how you’re telling me So listen right now Come to me right now Hear those angels

On and on Oranges and whites Leaves marks on my heart. Today it’s us Oh, will you ever Miss me while I go? Reason with me Really will I ever On a scale of one to ten Win your heart? Adam

I think back to when we were younger, and solving mysteries. There was one which required us to look diagonally to uncover the secret message. To anybody else, this may just be some sort of gibberish. But it wasn’t. Don’t come to school tomorrow. That was the message. Why didn’t he tell me himself about this sudden, hazardous warning? Well, how could I have expected so much from him? Chances are, his father would murder him –literally– if we were caught together. Olivia noticed the diagonal pattern as well. Which honestly makes me wonder… she’s not stupid. Not as dumb as I’d like to think her as. So why did she put these letters in the first place any normal person would look? It’s either because she knew I’d overestimate her, or wanted me to find this letter. To uncover what Adam really wanted to say to be two summers ago. Feeling frustrated with myself, I slip on my Spot-the-Wagging-Dog costume without thinking. And when I finally check my black and white furry self in the mirror, a smile tugs at my lips. There’s only one way to deceive Adam at a time like this, and it’s with this costume. My hand grabs the cordless phone in the kitchen. Mum looks up just in time to see me, shakes her head, and concentrates on her work once more. She has no idea what I’m up to. “Hello? Adam? Yeah, it’s me…” I mimic in Summer’s voice, hoping he doesn’t have a caller ID. * Thankfully, Adam is too old-fashioned to even think about getting a caller ID. I watch him swing backwards and forwards in his (gag) rocking chair. What is he, some old man? Not really saying the words aloud, I smile. “Can I do anything for you?”

“Sure. Make me a sandwich.” Not thinking twice, I slap him on the cheek. “Sexist!” “Joking,” he says with a smirk, trying to hide the fact my slap actually hurt him. He studies me. For a long, long time. “You know about my Parkinson’s Disease, don’t you?” “Yeah…” “My father got me some pills and I’m slowly reducing on the symptoms.” He genuinely looks happy. Like, his facial expressions don’t really show it, but it’s seen in his eyes. “And now, I can recognise the difference between dream and reality.” I don’t know why he told me this, but it’s definitely a good sign that his Parkinson’s disease symptoms are reducing. Maybe he’ll be able to tell me exactly what’s going on without me completely freaking out about whether my life is going to end or not. But Adam doesn’t seem like the type to make my life a living torture, whether he has the condition or not. He would take things onto himself if people got hurt, no matter how little he was involved. Feeling glum, I fake a smile. “That’s great.” And it really is, just, I can’t help thinking of a zillion things which aren’t very great –myself not living to see sunrise is among the many. He just sits there, observing me. It reminds me of what he used to do. Just sit at the back of the classroom, either watching everybody or falling asleep. He used to get in trouble a lot back then. Nowadays, I’m not sure if he’s changed at all, but I have a suspicion some things will never alter. “Summer. This is a personal question, but how would you define happiness?” I don’t have to think about it. “Love. Because I’m an atheist, I believe “hell” is a matter of being away from humans. Away from love is the worst thing that can possibly happen to somebody.” Both Summer and myself have the same beliefs when it comes to religion. It makes me wonder about the many similarities we have, along with the differences. All the Stupendous Six and myself have something in common. And at the same time, there are so many differences. Suddenly, a thought attacks my head. What does Adam’s mother have to say about all this? Does she know her son is being abused? And anyway, why did she move with Adam as well? How did he and his father sweet-talk the innocent woman into moving to the city along with him? Or is she all part of the plan? Suddenly, it’s hard to breathe. It’s hard to trust anybody and think they’re completely innocent. Everybody has a story of guilt and innocence, whether it be Adam, his mother, his father, my mother, my father… Me. I also have something to do with this entire plan they’ve been continuing for so long. Why can’t Adam’s father just see his son? And though I’ve heard my once best friend get abused by his father, there’s refusal of Mr Devereaux being a bad person in my heart. Chances are, he just can’t see how this is bad.

I used to have a best friend who was Italian, and her father was among the strictest –no shorts allowed, no mobile phone, no internet– and though he wasn’t abusive, I have a feeling he wouldn’t have any hesitation in bashing her up if it’s needed. Maybe Adam’s father also believes it’s a sin if the son doesn’t obey their elders, no matter how drastic and ridiculous the proposal may be. Perhaps it’s just something a lot of people from different nationalities –not just Italians, I know well about the strictness of some Japanese people can be– just inherit from one generation to the next. “Love. What would you consider as a definition of that? Romance-wise.” “Not ‘Oh my gosh, he-slash-she is perfect and let’s get married now.’ But more ‘I want to push you off a cliff but then catch you when you fall.’” “Do you believe in love at first sight?” What’s with all these questions? If I was myself, I’d do anything to avoid answering them. But since I’m Summer and she would love questions like these to answer, I fake a smile. Why couldn’t I choose to be Autumn? Even though it seems we have nothing in common –her an animal lover, me hating animals unless they’re on my dinner plate– we’re so much alike in philosophies and outlook on life in general. And anyway, they’re twins. Both of them sound the same, though Autumn’s voice is a little higher. But somebody as experienced with them, such as Adam, wouldn’t realise the difference. I guess it’s how I wanted Adam’s estimation to stick –because he thought I was Summer at first. “No.” All of a sudden, I’m not answering the questions the way she would, but rather, how I’d reply. “Love at first sight… It’s too shallow. And anyway, love’s more the memories. You can love somebody who you completely hate only because of the memories you share. You know?” Adam nods slowly, obviously not grasping the whole concept. This isn’t uncommon for him, seeing as he’s usually the slowest person when it comes to relationship-talks and advice. It makes me wonder how anybody can go out with him, especially the prideful Olivia. But at the same time, I can’t help wishing I could look into his mind. Just see what it’s like in the mind of a pessimist, one who doesn’t get close to people if they can help it. But when Adam gets close to somebody, there’s no turning back. He will spill his whole heart to them if they pressure him. Maybe this is why he’s acting so cold towards me –so he doesn’t get close to me again, revealing the task he’s been left to accomplish. Finally, he half-smiles and points out the door. Holding it out like a gentleman, he stares me directly in the eyes. “Follow me?”

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
Following is exactly what I did. Which is how I ended up on the edge of the water, sitting there with Adam. His hands are trembling, like always. Just the slightest because he doesn’t, thankfully, have the full physical effects of Parkinson’s disease. I’ve gotten used to this for so long, I don’t notice it anymore. It’s just not worth noting. It’s something which is always happening, out of his control. I often wonder how terrifying it must be, forgetting how to take control of one’s own body. My heart leaps a couple of times in a row. How lucky am I? A healthy family, not living in poverty and loved. I’m loved by people, even by Adam, deep down. Way, way deep down. The moon is reflecting on the water, causing the light to flicker in my eyes. Everything’s so peaceful, with the chirping crickets and dark clouds hanging from the sky. A moon sits there, hidden somewhat behind the heavy, summer fog. This is where I first met Adam. This specific park, at those specific swings casting shadows under the dim streetlights. Not The Boy Who Never Smiled or The Class Troublemaker –this is where I met Adam Devereaux. I guess I’d never forget our history, no matter how much I’d like to pretend he’s no significance in my life anymore. I wonder if he thinks the same. That I’m not good enough to be his friend anymore. Is it possible for a person to think so condescendingly? Knowing Adam, it probably is. He looks surprisingly relaxed, despite being a non-swimmer around a lake full of dark, deep water. Lying down on the grass, he says, “I’m your ‘master’ aren’t I?” I can see the air-quotes there, meaning I might as well be part of a video game and him the controller –no additional priority would be given to me. “Yeah.” I wonder if I should’ve replied so casually. What is he going to make me do? He’s always had the worst ideas when it came to dares and abnormal yet scary things. “Can you promise me something?” “So long as it’s doable and not too extreme.” “Don’t save me.” There’s a bitter smile which is visible under just the streetlights which are reflecting our way. “And if anybody asks, I fell.” A scream just tugs at my throat as he leaps into the water. The deep, dark water. He doesn’t know how to swim. This is a form of suicide, isn’t it? Every muscle on my body has officially gone numb. No. No, no, no. This simply cannot do! How on Earth has this happened in a matter of second? Of course, Adam’s the kind of person who would plan things like this for years in advance. It’s typically like him to not care about the consequences.

Why is he making me –me as Summer– watch this? How dare he plunge himself into the water! Just like that! Making my entire body freeze like a solid block of ice. I watch the water my heart skipping beats. Just waiting for his head to bob up, for him to suddenly go, “Oh, and by the way, I took swimming lessons in that two years you haven’t been around.” I want him beside me, just sitting there. I doesn’t matter how long it takes for him to accept me once again, but I want him. How dare he make me promise something as ghastly as that! “Don’t save me.” How on Earth am I supposed to survive without him beside me? What kind of low trick is he pulling? But when no soul rises from the water to breathe, panic wells up in my throat. My head is dizzy, spinning around and around. What Australian doesn’t know how to swim? I feel like screaming. Why do you like scaring me like this? Tick, tock. He’s not there. He’s not coming up. I tear my costume off without thinking about my mother having to pay for it, seeing as I might need a replacement. There’s only one person I should worry about right now, and it’s the person drowning in the dark waters. He made Summer promise not to save him. But not Skyla. Not me. When I’m underwater, I can’t see anything as expected. I wish I brought along a flashlight, but chances are, Adam would argue against it. Because he knew exactly what he was going to do, even if I didn’t get a say in the situation. My hands are trembling. There I see it. A figure which is darker than everything else in the water. Sure enough, when I touch it, it’s a hand with long fingers attached. Grabbing it, I feel it grasp around my own. So tightly. Too tightly. But I manage, pulling my hand over his hands and grasping him upwards. Towards oxygen. I’m huffing and soaking wet when I drag him to the patch of grass. Even though it’s a hot summer’s night, I still feel extremely cold when I arrive here. Breathing oxygen and feeling an eruption of life flood from my soul. But Adam’s my first priority. When I feel his forehead, it’s warm. Too warm compared to mine. He’s breathing. My mobile phone is at home, seeing as I’m the only teenager in the world who refuses to use them. Dragging him up, I wrap his arms around my neck, but there’s no need because he opens his eyes. “Skyla…” His voice is so choked-up. Droplets of water is falling, his mouth wide open as he gasps for air. “Shh..” I whisper. “Just relax.” * “He did what?” Mrs Devereaux’s jaw drops.

I guess it’s a common reaction when I notify a mother that a) her son had almost drowned and b) it was a suicidal attempt, despite his request for me to hide it. Her entire face went an ashen colour, and I considered bringing out a makeup set to return the usual, blossoming colour in her cheeks. We’re wrapping an almost-unconscious Adam in blankets while Mrs Devereaux turns the heater to full blast, making hot hair flow through the already warm room. Adam sits, not saying or doing anything, just staring at the ground. He’s sitting in bed with a beanie which his mother forced on him and a box of tissue beside, which he uses every two to three minutes. It reminds me how lucky I was that Summer wasn’t really chosen for Olivia. When I first was given to her, I thought, “What bad luck I have! Why couldn’t it be somebody else?” But if I wasn’t Olivia’s auctioned stuff-animal, I wouldn’t also be there for Adam when he needed me most. If it were Summer in that situation, there’s no doubt she’d hesitate too long and let him drown. “How’re you feeling?” I say quietly, closing the door from letting any excess cold air in. I sit on the bed beside Adam, waiting for him to answer. He grimaces. “Okay for somebody who almost drowned,” he says in a soft, hushed voice. Almost strangled. “That’s good, I guess…” And to my surprise, there’s a bitter smile on his lip as he looks up at me with his bloodshot eyes. “You know what’s really ironic? I knew that ‘Summer’ was actually you all along. Even after the second time around. “But when you went to save me, I opened my eyes for the slightest second. And though I couldn’t see you or anything, I knew it was you because of your short hair –it kind of casted shadows. For some reason, I couldn’t accept the idea that you’d save me.” “You’ve lost all faith in me, haven’t you?” He doesn’t even flinch. “Yeah, I had.” His fingers circle the rim of the coffee mug in his hand, as he avoids looking at me. “But you saved me, didn’t you? I reckon you just earned my trust back. Even though you lost it ‘cause you couldn’t be bothered to check what I wanted you to do on that love-letter–” “How is it my fault if you put it in the wrong locker?” That sure stops him at his tracks. “Wait, what?” I’m confirmed I told him before about him putting it in the wrong locker, but also have a suspicion he forgot already. Maybe it’s just slight shock which is preventing him from remember specific details. For one thing, I know how difficult it is to concentrate on anything a person’s saying when one almost died about two hours ago. So I make sure not to sound condescending when I reply, “You put it in Olivia’s locker. I never got to see it. Of course, it made me feel kind of strange that there was something of mine I never read. So, on the other day, I snuck into her bedroom–” “You snuck into her bedroom?”

“…Irrelevant. I found it tucked under her mattress and read it. ‘Don’t come to school tomorrow.’ Tell me, why wasn’t I to come the next day? Was it that important that you lose all faith in me?” “Actually, yeah. That very day, my father was hunting for you. He knows you play hockey on the courts which are close to where your cousin lives. Just, he doesn’t have enough general knowledge to know that hockey’s a winter sport. He was going to wait there for you to finish playing and… uh, how can I say this in a non-creepy way? No, I don’t think I can… kill you with a shotgun.” “Oh, Adam. You legend. You sure know how to make a girl feel important. Telling them so bluntly they’re about to be slaughtered –it’s a wonder why you’re still single.” “Ah, it sure is a wonder.” His eyes a twinkling. “Care to change that?” “Seriously? Aren’t you going to use your oh-so-famous pick-up line–?” “You spoke too soon. ‘You’re sweet. Sweet as three-point-one-four.’” I’m just about to open my mouth and say something which would make him shut up, something intelligent, but it snaps shut. What am I doing? What are we doing? Was it that simple to stop everything from changing? How come I didn’t save him before this? Wouldn’t it be a much more effective summer? When Adam and I started that sarcastic, slightly amusing conversation, I realise he never changed. He was always there. Just waiting for me to realise it’s me who’s in the wrong. And now that I truly have, I’ve also decided he was in the “wrong” for not putting that letter in the right locker. Maybe this is the response he wanted, but it still feels abnormal. Miracles happen. They’re happening all the time. I just never opened my eyes to see them performed in any other form but the path imagined. Adam Devereaux has officially accepted me back as a friend, even if he hasn’t said it aloud. This is obvious by the way he’s not pushing me off the bed, spitting on my face or chewing the ends of my hair off. So does this mean everything can go back to the way it was? Of course it can’t. Although that was a short moment of having nothing going on, I can’t help feel a nagging feeling about how heavyhearted the situation will turn from this light-hearted scene. We’ll be running away from criminals such as our very own fathers, hiding from the police and keeping this entire situation a secret from friends, especially the innocent members of the Stupendous Six. It seems strange to realise how a couple of hours ago, Adam almost drowned. Maybe if I hadn’t dived in after him, he’d be a wrecked and deal soul by now. Just a moment of hesitation is all that was required. What if I was the “loyal” type who’d let somebody as messed-up like him make decisions? He wouldn’t be beside me –not alive, anymore. Adam looks at me. Intensely. Only I don’t have to pretend I’m somebody else. So I stare right back without a minute’s hesitation. I remember the staring contests we’d hold two summers ago, all for fun. Then we’d have tournaments. If there’s something which Adam can’t do, its hold a stare for a long time. And just as I think this, his eyes flicker away towards his blanket, colourful and knitted by his grandmother. “Skyla?” “Yeah?”

“I… I was the one who killed your cousin.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
Adam’s just staring at me. He’s expecting some sort of reaction. And though I want to scream and pelt stones at him, I remain calm. “Why?” Maybe I shouldn’t have asked the question. He’s a boy for crying out loud! The gory parts of this story may be included in this oh-so-unusual conversation. My heart leaps a zillion times at the same minute, and I have the temptation to open the windows and inhale the fresh air from outside. It makes me nauseous just sitting here with somebody who killed her. He killed Whitney. It makes my stomach clench and twist. Maybe this is what it feels like before somebody avoids another. But don’t I have a valid reason, instead of running away from problems like Adam did since the start of this summer? Whitney. Spoilt yet sweet Whitney, who looked exactly like me from the back. I need to hear him out. Just to listen to what happened before she stopped breathing. My heart is pounding when he looks up at me. The entire time all these thoughts stumbled into my mind like bullets, Adam was staring blankly at his wall. Avoiding me, avoiding everything –a deep, faraway look in his eyes. But now he’s ready to talk. “I watched her head outside. I knew that you didn’t have hockey, so it was safe.” He closes his eyes. Tight. So tightly, his jaw clenching. Like he’s avoiding images from shooting into his brain. “There’s no such thing as being too careful. So I phoned your number, but since you turned it off like always–” He pauses to give me an accusing look. “–I didn’t get the confirmation I needed.” “So when you shot…” “…I knew there was a chance it could be you before I walked behind her. But then I saw that butterfly clip and knew you weren’t feminine enough to wear–” “Hey!” “Sorry! It’s the truth. I used a rifle–” “Rifle? I thought you used a shotgun…” “Nope. Rifle. And I shot her straight in the back.” There’s a bitter edge to every word he says. “Any questions?” There’s just silence which awaits me next. How can he describe something so fatal and expect me to answer casually? Does he want me to lose my mind for good? He probably doesn’t realise how many nightmares I’ll be receiving from this one confession. Why did have to confess this to me? I’d much rather sleep my nights thinking Adam was still innocent. In a way, he still is. But he remains guilty of murder. He’ll always be haunted by a mistake he made when he wasn’t thinking. Why did he have to listen to his father? Surely one rule which goes by without a follower could be unnoticed. My heart’s leaping a million times in the same minute. Why? Why did have to make my entire view of him change?

There’s no second chance when it comes to murder. How is he supposed to “make it up” to the victim’s family? What’s more, Whitey didn’t do anything to him. I think I’ve worked out their entire story and plot. Two years ago, Adam’s father had decided to hold a grudge against my dad for whatever reason. Actually, the grudge may have started way before the indicated time, or still continuing now. But I don’t know enough. They decided that I was to be target, although I’m beginning to question if it was the whole “I want revenge so I’m going to kill your child” –for somebody who’s mentally damaged like Mr Devereaux, it’s completely possible he just dreamt he “must” kill me and that became his main intention. Sanity and logic is no longer a factor anymore. It’s tearing me on the inside how I’m not able to predict anything about Adam’s family. Mr Devereaux, still holding the target, killed Whitney by mistake. But where does Adam giving me that love letter have to do? Maybe Mr Devereaux specifically kept an eye on the gates that day, ready to shoot me when I walked in or out. A shiver runs up my spine, but I somehow avoid it as I piece more of the details together. So when they realised their mistake, it was best if they stay out of the crime scene. If they’re at Brisbane, what reason would anybody have towards accusing them? The entire ploy was planned so perfectly with nobody knowing but their family. Coming to think of it, does Mrs Devereaux know about anything? Has she realised the reason behind by her family moved to the city? After the two years were over, they had no reason to stay in the city. Why live there when they have the perfect, jobbed life here? So they’re back. Just back to get me back for not dying two years before. It helps to know Adam’s on my side and slowly beginning to lose some of his Parkinson’s disease symptoms. But it makes me wonder… Parkinson’s disease is something which is permanent. Maybe the doctors misdiagnosed it for something else, seeing as how he’s getting better. However, it’s merely my own train of thoughts which are probably never going to come true. I ask a personal question. “How come you got Parkinson’s Disease in first place?” He looks amused as he sits up straight. It makes me realise how tired his eyes are looking right now. “Mum was raped. You know that, didn’t you?” My jaw drops. “No…” “Anyway. She was raped and my father, who’s always extreme, tried to abort me with cocaine. Of course, she didn’t know it. He’s slip bits of it in her water –so little that she couldn’t notice the taste difference.” “Why didn’t she take those Plan B tablets instead?” “She’s allergic to them, I’m pretty sure. And anyway, she didn’t want to get… rid of me…” He says those words with such a quiet voice, I can’t help a little bit of my heart reaching out to him. How rejected he must feel, being the child who wasn’t supposed to happen. Rape. Cocaine. Guns. Drugs. Abuse. Suicide. Parkinson’s disease. Mentality. Memory Loss. I never realised how messed up the Devereaux family truly was –not until now. All my body is shaken up and disturbed, just waiting for Adam’s eyes to twinkle and in a cheery voice, he’d say, “Just kidding. I was joking about it all. Ha-ha. Really got you there.”

But he doesn’t. That’s what really makes my stomach do a million backflips. He doesn’t say anything to assure me; he’s saying it like it is. Which is why I hate him so much right now. Couldn’t he at least pretend my once best friend didn’t have the worst life possible? Why not forget the entire thing happened and not tell me any part of it? Because I asked. Because I wanted to know. The only reason he was forced to tell me those gruesome, haunting details was because I asked him to tell me. Of course, the only thing he’s willing to forget is exactly the issue I raise. Breathing a couple of times, I realise how long it has been since I’ve started holding it subconsciously. Just listening to him with an intense expression on my face. “You’re not rejected, right?” I muster up the courage to say these words. He looks at me, shocked. “You’re never alone.” “Yeah? Tell me, who have I got?” “Becky Rivers.” I pretend to look thoughtful, pretending I didn’t see Adam’s cheeks grow red. Uh-oh. Did I just touch a nerve there? “You know, I think she likes you.” “Shut up,” he mutters. If it was anybody but Adam, I’d be teasing them endlessly. Tickling them until they admit to the truth. But because this isn’t just anybody –this is a boy who’s suffering from a disease he shouldn’t be. For goodness sake, Parkinson’s Disease is something which elderly people are supposed to inherit whether it’s from their weakening bones or family inheritance. He shouldn’t be suffering from something –even if it’s minimal side effects– so rare for his age. The cocaine is a definite triggering for Parkinson’s Disease. It’s one of the things the deadly drug can do, according to my science/health class. Maybe it’s not a good reason to avoid teasing somebody, but it’s good enough for me. With a smile playing on my lips, I just sit there in silence. I watch his cheeks burn redder. And redder. And redder. He likes her. Definitely likes her. But it makes me wonder, how can he like a girl he barely knows? All I know about Becky is that she talks to anybody, regardless of their popularity or reputation around the school –so long as they’re willing to share their supposedly darkest secrets with her. She’s deathly loyal –so long it has nothing to do with Elbow-Chewing Travis, her ex– and she won’t tell a soul anything. At the same time, there’s a squeezing feeling in my stomach. I can’t really point it out. However, it strengthens after I see how embarrassed Adam looks about the whole situation. Maybe it’s a little bit of jealousy about how he’s able to like a girl he barely knows –in a way, choose her over me, the one who saved his life. It’s mostly loneliness. Isolation of him being taken away. Becky won’t be able to find a better guy than Adam. Sure, he’s extremely obsessed with his hair, sometimes brutal with his honesty, doesn’t care about how people around him are feeling, avoids talking to people, rarely opens up, doesn’t smile, socially awkward, mentally damaged, very unpredictable to the extreme, hates chocolate ice cream… …But guess what? I love his imperfect self with all my messed-up heart.

* “Skyla!” Mum gets up instantly in her t-shirt and jeans, her eyes widening. “What happened?” Mum’s always been honest with me. Even when the times are tough, she tells me the full truth when I ask for it. It’s usually me who doesn’t ask, and suffers from too much cowardice. So it’s only fair I return the favours she’s been paying me for so many years in a row. “Do you want the truth or lies?” “The truth.” “Olivia bought me from that people auction, but Adam claimed me after she didn’t want me anymore. So he called me a couple of hours ago to meet him at the park. He tried to commit suicide by jumping into the lake, but I saved him from drowning. Any questions?” My God. I’m beginning to talk like him! What have I ever done to deserve this kind of suffering? People are going to start comparing us together, and my entire life will be in ruins. Especially if Summer is the mastermind behind all the operations. So condescending and pessimistic… is that how I wish to spend the rest of my life appearing as? Mum’s jaw drops. “Wow. You had a rough day, huh?” “Just a little.” Sarcasm creeps into my voice, as I stare at myself in horror from a third person’s point of view. Adam’s wellknown for his sarcastic and “duh” attitude. Why am I suddenly doing everything like him? Those are the questions spinning around my mind as I open the door and leap onto my bed. It bounces in response as I lay back and let all my muscles relax. But none of them seem to want to. It’s like they all have a definition of their own towards the entire night. Which I don’t blame, seeing as how it may have been the most frightful day of my life. Now, I’ve also got the concerns of Adam’s father jumping through my window and attacking me. He knows where I live –since my father and his father were the best of friends, they’re bound to know the location of each other’s houses. It’s only a matter of time before he stops depending on other people and attacks me himself. Doesn’t that make me scared? Shouldn’t it make me scared? Yes. Everything has taken such a ridiculous switch of events, it’s no longer a summer of changing Adam Devereaux or converting him back to the way he was. It’s a summer of escaping him, the version which doesn’t have any clue about what’s going on. And maybe I’m frightened for my life –literally. But I shouldn’t be too scared. I’ve got Adam on my side, deceiving his father.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
Is it strange I’m only beginning to realise how different the Stupendous Six is from each other? Only now do I realise how Ryan adds “uh” or any form of stammering words to his dialogue. Never had I noticed this as clearly as right now. Autumn has a weird way of sounding posh, but not stuck-up. Summer talks like a normal person now. Clay’s still hanging onto his slang like it’s a matter of life and death, while Jason’s talking normally… kind of. The first time they were together, I did notice their weird ways of speaking. But just like family, I got used to their strangeness and focussed more on what they said rather than how it was said. With a grimace forming on my lips, I’m reminded why I haven’t been around with them for so long: because I’m about to be murdered by a possible axemurderer. And as for Adam? I’m going to set him up with Becky without his father noticing. Maybe I can get her and the face full of freckles to arrive somewhere and drag Adam along? Why am I concerned about his life when mine’s more than a handful to worry about? Shaking the thoughts out of my head, I try to concentrate on what’s being said. But nothing registers. It’s like I’m stuck in the middle of a class after the chicken pox, trying to join into conversations but failing nevertheless. Eventually, I give up trying and grab my glass of smoothie and start drinking it down. Nobody notices me. They’re all talking about the amazing Christmas party they’re going to hold on the twentyfifth of December. Why can’t I just join in with the jokes and laugh along with everybody? Deciding this definitely isn’t my scene –not right now, anyway– I gloomily walk all the way down the street without saying a simple goodbye. Jason’s the only one who notices I’ve left, who turns around to raise his eyebrows. I wave at him before disappearing from their sight, behind a wall. That’s the shortcut to Olivia’s house. During the night, I find myself often unable to sleep. Olivia knows something which I obviously don’t. She worked out the letter so quickly –not that it’s hard to– but then caught Adam’s interest in something. It’s a definite possibility that she pressured him into dating her, however, I believe she didn’t. Maybe Adam just dated her as a sign of her keeping her mouth shut. Whatever it is, I need to listen to it. Single-handedly and without a secondary source. And what’s more, I can’t help thinking back to where we held the community tournaments and played that “Lying” game. When I pretended to be Summer, he said something about me letting him down as well. Oh wait. That’s right. He thought I purposely gave the note to Olivia when I didn’t. But I don’t believe him when he says that. For some reason, there was a twitching in his eye. Or maybe it was all a hallucination, but nevertheless, I refuse to listen to a word I get from him. Not that Olivia’s more trustworthy, but in this case, she’s more likely to give me more information. When I knock on the door this time, only her sister opens the door. She’s looking at me with a polite smile and prevent myself from sneering. What, aren’t you going to ask me if I missed Halloween? But then I realise I’m not in my Spot-the-Wagging-Dog and look more… human. So I dismiss the colourful words which pop into my head and feign a smile.

“Is Olivia here?” “Yeah.” She opens the door wide. “She’s sitting in her bedroom, playing video games.” Huh. So she’s a gaming girl. I guess I never took her for one. Look at me: underestimating somebody simply because they dated Adam. A thumping heartbeat drums against my chest. That’s right. I didn’t really hate Olivia until she and my once-best friend started dating. Why does it bother me so much? Maybe it’s the fact that Adam’s far too good for her. Yes, that must be it. “What do you waaant?” she drones, her eyelids half-closed and glued to the television screen. She doesn’t bother to turn around, let alone face me. “I’m on level sixty-three. Woo. Beat that.” Her expression is less than a brick. She pauses it, turning to me. “Yes?” Somehow, she doesn’t seem surprised it’s me who has arrived to speak with her. Smiling, I ask, “Uh… nothing, really. I was just wondering if I could speak to you.” “Doesn’t sound like nothing to me,” she says cautiously, examining my eyes. Darn that smartness! Back in primary school, before she got obsessed with trying to prove she can be anybody she wanted, she used to be one of the smartest people. Many students looked up to her; I looked up to her. Look at her now, I think, referring to her smudged black eyeliner that she really should stop using. I’ve got no problem with people wearing it, but in reality, it gives off the wrong impression. How her parents would let a girl look so dark and scary is beyond me. I have a suspicion it may have something to do with blackmail, but I don’t voice my opinion. “Tell me everything you know about Adam.” “Why should I?” She’s being very, very difficult. “Please, Olivia. I need to know.” “Why?” “Because he’s my best friend.” “Used to be.” “Which is exactly why I need to know. So I can work out why we’re not friends anymore.” She debates it for a minute, looking thoughtful. Finally, she says, “Fine. But I’m warning you, I probably know just as much as you do. He has an abusive father who wants to kill you.” “Yeah, I may have noticed that by how he killed my cousin by mistake, thinking it was me.” Her eyebrows shoot upwards in curiosity, but she quickly disguises it with indifference. Clearing her throat, she asks, “Do you know why he wants to kill you?”

“No…” “Your mother and him were friends. Not best friends or anything, but he was the boy next door who always thought she was different –being Japanese and all– and unlike anything he saw before. “But then along your father. Accordingly, he was really rebellious and everything, even back then. She found an attraction to him, so automatically started dating him. “The irony is, Adam’s father was known as the typical ‘best friend’ –always there for girls, even falling in love with them, but it’s always unrequited love.” She sighs at my bewildered expression. “Yeah, I know. Just look at him now.” “So what you’re saying is…” She pretends not to hear me. “Then when your father proposed to your mother and she accepted, it was like a million rainy days at once for Mr Devereaux. That night, when he was just walking the streets of Australia, there was a man who sweet-talked him into going to the pub. “And though it was only one night, it was something which changed him forever. He couldn’t survive without the alcohol, and eventually became bankrupt. Which is when things really spun out of control. That was when he raped Adam’s mother –did you know they’re actually cousins? – And she was pregnant with Adam not so long after. “In reality, Adam’s father is messed-up. But Adam reckons that, if he can get enough money to afford counselling classes, he might get his sanity back. Just a little bit.” “Why doesn’t he?” She looks at me in disbelief, as if I’ve said the most abrupt thing. “Dude, he’s bankrupt. Literally. Don’t you wonder why you never get to spend a whole day with him this summer? It’s because Adam’s working at his part-time job just to live. They’ve been deserted.” “What about Mrs Devereaux?” “She’s mentally damaged. You’ve been to their house, right? She always has the television on, because if the house is quiet, she’s start thinking. And then she’ll start thinking pessimistic thoughts, because that’s who Adam gets his way of thinking from. She wants Adam’s father back, even though he was clearly in the wrong. It’s strange what love can do to people, huh?” Yeah, I think, a little dizzy. It truly is worse than any magic spells witches can cast, because there’s no antidote. For a minute, there’s just silence as I try registering everything she said. So fluently, so carelessly. Why did she help me find out the reasons behind Adam’s father’s intentions and history? But I’d find out anyway. Somehow or another, I’ll discover the reason behind my once-best friend’s damaged past and his family history. With a leaping feeling in my heart, I think of Mr Devereaux. Before, I thought he was a messed-up soul who has no warmth in his heart. But like a wise person one said, damage is done only because there is bitterness in the world. If it wasn’t for my mother rejecting him so harshly, he probably wouldn’t be this destroyed.

Why did my mother have to make a mistake? I can’t help feeling this entire scenario is her fault. If she only was smarter than to marry a guy who’s head-to-toe in drugs and chemicals, this thing wouldn’t happen. Adam’s father was probably influenced by my own father –Maybe if I was more like him, she’d love me– and forced himself to act more like the troublemaker. Now I finally know what happened. But at the same time, I can’t help a bit of guilt rushing to me. Just like my mother, I’m extremely oblivious to the feelings around me. Unlike her, though, I simply can’t be bothered choosing anybody at all. It’s too much work to get stuck in a love triangle of anything. However, what really makes me shudder is how my mother didn’t know it was a love triangle. From Olivia’s description, Mr Devereaux sounds like the type who’d never confess to a girl, no matter how madly in love they’d be. All the more pitiful for me to comprehend. Why didn’t he just confess? If my mother is anything like me, she would’ve at least considered it. Why would she not, especially with him saying the words directly? I bet he’s suffering somewhere now. But no, he’s not suffering –he’s just waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. And, truthfully, it makes me feel rather intimidated by how much my life’s going downhill. One moment my biggest worry was being a slave for the oh-so-bossy Olivia, the next it was being murdered in my sleep. What a huge gap. Lastly, I allow myself to acknowledge I truly don’t remember a day I spent with Adam. Not a full day, anyway. And this alone confirms Olivia’s theory of him working part-time to earn money to live. Why does that make me feel so isolated? He didn’t even tell me about their bankruptcy, and continued through like it was no big deal. Couldn’t he at least tell me? I would be more than happy to give him some of my earnings –especially from the people auction, seeing as I’ve got literally nothing to do with four-hundred dollars. But Adam’s the type who, even if I did offer that amount of money to him, wouldn’t accept it. Just refuse it flatly. He’s so difficult. Why is he difficult? And on top of that, if he’s living under such extreme conditions, how will he ever think about getting professional help for his father? It’ll never work with the lack of financial support he’s receiving. I must find some way to help him. One way or another, he will receive help. It doesn’t matter whether I have to hack to his bank account and add money there; I will assist him in one way or another. ‘Cause that’s what friends do. Turning to Olivia, I give her a tight smile. “Thanks for being straightforward. But, uh, you can trust me. I’m not going to tell–” “I want you to tell, you idiot!” There’s a devilish smile on his face. “And tell him the deal’s off. For everything he promised to keep secret by dating me.” My jaw drops. I was right after all! “So he dated you in return for you to keep his secret?” “Yup. But I’m telling you, I’m never making that mistake again. Never trust boys who are literally physically perfect, because they’re sure as heck damaged within.”

I smile at his words and can’t help the truth ringing like a bell. Finally somebody understands it’s highly unlikely for a boy to be physically perfect and sane on the inside, just like vice versa. My smile weakens to a sad one. Instant realisation how my mother used to gush about my father’s perfect body, and how she wouldn’t have minded if he was a AIDS sufferer to sleep with him (always made me choke on my internal vomit, mind you.) My father was physically perfect. And look where it lead to now.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE
When Adam Devereaux came in the middle of the night to tap on my window, I can’t say I wasn’t surprised. No, scratch that. I freaked out. “Adam!” Sure enough, the familiar styled hair of my once-best friend was bobbing up and down on the other side of the glass. At first, I couldn’t help wondering how he possibly got here, so many storeys high. But then I realise he’s dangerous, and shook the thoughts out of my head. “What on Earth are you doing here?” He doesn’t seem to hear me. Even though I’m quite confirmed the layer of window between him and myself is very thin and limited. With my heart beating fast, I debate over whether I should open the window or not. What if he’s not himself? Sure, he told me once before that the symptoms of his Parkinson’s Disease were gradually dissolving, but it doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared. Maybe his father brainwashed him into thinking murdering people was the best way to get sent to heaven? I shudder at the thought. Mr Devereaux is so utterly messed-up, I wouldn’t be surprised if it truly was the case. A man suffering from unrequited love is worse than any disease, seeing as how he doesn’t have any form of cures except mourning and, well, blaming others for his bad luck. But this is Adam. My once-best friend who broke those glasses with cherries, just so I stay away from him. Just in case he’s functioned specially to kill me, and he loses sight of the difference between wrong and right. He’s also the same boy who tried to commit suicide by jumping into the water, so in a way, he saved me. But it doesn’t make it anymore right. Especially seeing how by losing himself, nobody would be left to protect me. In which case he might as well have deserted me. For the millionth time, I can’t help thinking how lucky I am that I chose to save him. I couldn’t live with myself if he had drowned that day, or watched the funeral without feeling forever scarred. But most of all, I’d never know if he truly was still the old Adam Devereaux inside. Which, only soon after, I found out for myself. Adam, even with somebody almost controlling his mind, strikes me as somebody who can’t fully lose themselves. Even if he had drunk alcohol –which I’m sure with a father so daredevil-like, he must’ve done by now– he would have sanity left in him even the slightest. There are some things one cannot destroy completely, and that’s all the things which chase them forever. So I open the window. He scrambles inside, and lands on my carpeted floor with a thud. Reaching out, I close the window which was sending warm breezes into my room. As I close them, my eyes scamper over the clothing line which connects between his and my apartments. There’s a little bit of scruff detaching itself from the line, but overall, a still useable material. I remember that robot we used to send across, the one with a small box. And then we’d put messages and push it to the other side. Then there was that one time where it was stuck in the middle, and I remember Adam getting a notso-heavy pole and pushing it towards me.

Now, it just sits there. Not having a use of anything, really. “Skyla, we have to go,” Adam says urgently, tugging on my arm. And when I don’t say anything, he replies, “Please. Just trust me.” There was a time where I had deserted Adam at one of our sleepovers. Only, I didn’t realise what I’d done until two years later. Two painful years had ticked by, and then I recognised my mistake and what I should’ve done. Perhaps Adam’s brain isn’t entirely screwed on properly, but how can somebody with a fear of being murdered in her sleep be considered normal? I’ve let him go once, I’ve betrayed him without realising and he forgave me. This time, I know for sure if I don’t follow him, I’ll repeat the same procedure as last time. I’m not losing him again. I let myself be led out of my bedroom, as he closes the creaking door slowly to avoid any disturbances in Mum’s sleep. He leads me out of the house, standing aside and letting me go first. And even at a thrilling and confusing moment like this, I can’t help rolling my eyes at truly how old-fashioned he is compared to the rest of the youth. As he grabs my hand, I feel it tighten after every step we take downwards on the spiralled staircase. Every step his heartbeat feels closer to mine, tightening at such intensity that my arms feels dislocated. Numb. But I don’t complain, because despite having slightly sore hands, I need the pain to keep me awake through this endless torture of wondering where we’re going. What if we meet his father, who then drags me to his office to kill? All my thoughts now revolve around killing. How ironic for an otherwise optimist. “Don’t make a sound, okay?” he whispers to me, though it’s quite obvious we’re trying to be extra sneaky here. “Well, duh,” I whisper back, unable to contain myself. He rolls his eyes before pulling on my hand a little harder. Perhaps this is the worst of times, but I feel my heart skip a beat as he holds onto my hand tightly, with no intention of letting go. A feeling of strange, bubbly happiness boils up inside my system, making me feel almost… lovesick. Oh no. No, no, no. Please no. “You okay?” he finally says at last. Only then do I realise he’s been staring at me strangely this entire staircase trip. “You look like you’re about to be sick.” Any girl realising they might have feeling for you would feel the same way, I feel like yelling. But I don’t. Instead, I fake a smile and give off a nervous laugh before pulling him down the stairs without another word. When we finally reach the bottom, I feel like kissing the ground beneath. Oh, sweet heaven. How much I adore you right now, giving me the opportunity to finally get away from my messed-up brain. I’m not going to fall for him. Falling for somebody who has the task of tearing you apart and chewing you alive isn’t the best way to handle romance.

Adam lets go off my sweaty hand, and I pretend I’m not disappointed by the unintentional rejection. He leads me to a tree with branches so thick, I find my vision getting lost as I try to untangle each branch from another mentally. But it doesn’t seem to work. “C’mon. Let’s climb up,” he whispers, stepping back. I stand there wordlessly. “Skyla?” “Uh, can’t we just–” His eyes widen. “You’re scared of heights, aren’t you?” The words stab me in the middle of my stomach. But I nod and look down to avoid his face. He doesn’t seem to care too much when he grabs my hand again and leads me out of the mess of trees. My heart paces faster as I run with him, making sure to have a tight grip on his hand in case he finds himself losing his balance. Without a word, I recognise exactly where he’s taking me. This was the place we first met; only, we weren’t going to the swings. Or the slide. Even the see-saw isn’t our destination today. No, we’re going to head straight towards the bushes behind the playground. A rather prickly one, if I may say so myself. And finally, I find the common sense to ask what any other normal person would inquire the minute some random ex-best-friend decides to drag them away. “Uh, what are we doing?” “We might have to stay outside for the entire night.” Reaching into the prickly bush, he brings out a fold-up tent and a torch, shining it into my face with an impish half-smile. “So we’re going to go to set it up behind the bush, seeing as how it’s pretty much invisible from every other point of view. Not as good as the tree, seeing as how nobody could catch us from above, either, but still a good place.” “So you already set a second resort up?” He gives me a weird look. “You told me heights were your biggest fear in sixth grade. Don’t you remember?” “Oh, yeah. I remember,” I lie. Truth is, I don’t even recognise telling him about my biggest fear. What if he held it against me for blackmail? Now I’m just being ridiculous. Completely annoying and occasionally arrogant, but Adam Devereaux is somebody who’ll always have my back when it comes to loyalty. No matter how much he hates me, he’ll stick by me. At least, that’s how I look at things. It’d be tragic if this wasn’t the case. The next ten minutes were spent setting up the tent and adding the finishing touches to everything. We finally got the sleeping bags out (yes, he truly thought of everything) and placed it into the tent, putting the torch in the middle of us as the finishing touch. It reminds me of the one of two times I went over to his house, using the twin bed he had in his room. Definitely the exact way they looked, with the dressing table where the flashlight is right now. “Why are we staying up all night?” “Because it’s safer. I can keep an eye on you here.”

My face is as red as a tomato. Oh no. Why am I blushing? Obviously, I still haven’t gotten over the shock I truly may be falling for him. Not the type of “love” I confessed I maybe under with Summer, but this new kind of feeling. Just the smell of him… it makes me feel so queasy in the stomach, but so safe and fuzzy on the inside. It’s an indescribable feeling. Or maybe I’m some hopeless romantic on the inside, just waiting for a guy to notice my “amazing” self, no matter how terribly they behaved towards me. The thought alone makes me suffer. Francesca, my fifth skull, would be ashamed of me right now –she hates Adam Devereaux, because she told me herself. And how exactly do I know this? Don’t ask. Seriously, don’t ask. “Why are you blushing?” he asks the obvious, looking genuinely confused even under the light of the torch. “…No reason.” And then the perfect comeback pops into my mind. I can almost see the devilish smile I must have forming on my lips. “Just thinking of ways to get you and Becky together.” “Dude, you’re about to be kill-ee-d,” he says, exaggerating on his syllable as if I’m somebody who still doesn’t comprehend the meaning of the word. “Please sort out your priorities before trying to set us up.” “I don’t think I will. Especially since this ‘unfortunate’ ordering of priority is making –gasp– Adam Devereaux flush?” He throws the torchlight at me, but only lightly. “Shut up. I’m slowly beginning to realise how annoying you are.” “Face it,” I say, flicking my exceptionally short hair. As far as I possibly could, anyway. “It’s what you love about me.” “We’ll see about that,” he mutters under his breath, but glances up to flash me one of his half-smiles. “And anyway, you’re blushing again.” Maybe I am blushing. Perhaps I feel like having a very strongly-worded conversation with my mother for providing me with such delicate, easy-to-colour cheeks. But I hate, hate Adam’s half-smiles. They’re all so gentle, like there’s a brighter future ahead. At the same time, they’re so kind I find myself staring at him for seconds afterwards; just gazing without an aim. But most of all, I hate how he can get away with committing murder and I’d still forgive him. Just because I like him too much not to.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX
“Uh, hi?” Becky’s face pops out from the side, looking at me like I’ve gone insane. The door is stuck with the chain, preventing it from being opened any further. “Any reason you’re here?” Okay, I must admit that I’ve always ignored Becky unless I needed something from her. As shallow as that sounds, she’s one of those people I can’t stand. Not anymore, seeing as how Adam likes her way too much than he should. Oh no. Now I’m acting like a jealous ex-girlfriend, even though we never had a relationship to begin with. But now, I’ve decided I need them to be happy. Well, Adam anyway –not sure if Becky will squeal with excitement or start babbling to all her friends about how lucky she is. My hands clench involuntarily. Wow. I am jealous of this girl. Maybe it’s because she has blonde hair? I’ve always felt a little inferior around them. Just because they’re usually much more attractive and more “popular” than any hair colour. At my school, anyway, with Olivia being popular when she was perky and light-haired. Somehow, I know I can never compete with her. Not that I’d want to, especially with something as useless as Adam. I enter her house, flashing her a quick smile which turns to a grimace. She looks worried as she points to the seat. I sit there without hesitating. She has a nice house. Cosy, with decorative cushions matching with the white leather sofa-seats. There’s a coffee table in front of me, sitting on top of a furry white rug, containing a vase with a single rose. A deep, red colour. “Adam likes you,” I say, not bothering to add all the description. After all, that’s the conclusion I’m coming to –no point building up to it. “Do you like him back?” “How do you know?” “He blushes like a maniac every time your name is mentioned. Isn’t that evidence enough?” To my surprise, she starts giggling. She puts a hand over her mouth and starts full-on laughing. Did I miss something? I think, fighting the urge to check myself in the mirror. Perhaps there’s a giant pimple growing on my nose? Surely that shouldn’t be hard to point out something as embarrassing as that –why must she be so cruel as to laugh at me? “Yeah, he loves me. You are the one he’s in love with, Idiot.” My fists clench. I don’t appreciate being called an idiot or lied to. “I’m not joking. He really does like you.” There’s a silence. A long, endless silence. I’ve never heard silence this loud. Becky’s entire head snaps up, looking at me with bulging eyes. She’s about to ask more questions. After all, it’s not like she’d reject him or anything –who’s dumb enough to not date a boy this good-looking? That’s what I’d like to know. But instead of sitting around while she admits mutual feelings, I stand up and exit the room without even turning back.

Becky probably doesn’t even notice I’ve gone. * This entire day, I was in a bitter mood. Ready to snap at anybody walking by, savagely sinking my teeth into their flesh and watch the blood ooze out. I sit with Francesca, one of my many skull-buddies, and look her straight in the eyes –eyeholes to be more exact. My entire brain is flooding with thoughts, but there’s nothing to let it all sink down. Deciding I can’t take this lonely, bitter feeling any longer, I stand up and exit the house. Mum’s not home today, seeing as how she’s got work and will only come home at around twelve. She found some bank which she wants to apply to, and they’re going to make her start with a night-shift. Not really a worker, but more of a sales counter and all that jazz. I have no idea what her profession is and can’t be bothered finding out. Wow, I think to myself, grimacing. I really am moody today. When I arrive at the gate, I notice an envelope stuck inside the letterbox. Feeling curious, I open it to reveal a note. Hey, Skyla. I want to talk to you. Please stay home tonight, and I’ll come around at eight. Don’t call me on my mobile. I’ve got tons of homework to do and don’t need any distractions. From Adam. As if by magic, my entire world turned towards the bright side. There are butterflies floating in the air, the sun shining more vividly than ever before. I hear the sweet songs of birds, so much beauty enriched in each of their voices. It makes me wonder that, if I’m so happy about simply getting a letter from him, how ecstatic I’d be if he asked me out. Which I don’t want. At all. Because he’s just a friend –actually, I’m not sure if he’s even that much. My stomach churns a million times in the same minute. But I somehow manage to keep my feeling internal and keep myself from screaming. Why am I thinking like this? Surely I can’t like him in that way or something, right? The dizzying feeling crosses me once more. I somehow manage to climb to my apartment, but have to hold onto the staring rails the entire path. Just to keep myself from falling. Finally, I enter my empty apartment with my hand still clutched around the envelope. Merely tucked into my hand, and I place it on the kitchen bench, putting face-up. Not entirely sure what to do now that I’m alone, I pick up the phone and decide to make a phone-call to each of the Stupendous Six. Ever since Adam and the whole “murdering” business came into my life, I never had a moment of peace. Everything seemed too messed-up for my liking. I guess nobody fully appreciates the idea of being “next,” but if it’s even possible, I hated it more. My entire world revolved around perfection before Adam barged into it with his mentally-damaged father. It makes me feel like my entire world has crashed down against my feet, especially when I was used to it being so beautiful and perfect.

But at the same time, I can’t help feeling happy Adam entered my life once again. It makes me feel so much better that he’s there with me. My guardian angel. He said, once upon a time when I was crying like a maniac, that he’ll always be my guardian angel. Of course, he probably didn’t even mean it –he pretty much tried everything else to calm me down. Why I was crying, I have no idea. However, it’s always stuck in my mind, how he said those words to me and I felt so safe. And warm. Although afterwards, he threw a ball of dirt at my face, being the mature twelve year old he was. So I guess the moment was kind of over. Maybe he’s a terrible saviour. One which would kill me rather than save me. Extremely clumsy, kind of arrogant at times… but he’s still my imperfectly perfect protector. Picking up the phone, I dial all the numbers. I know them all of them by heart, seeing as how I’ve rung them all too many times. Naturally, I ring Autumn first. “Hey, Autumn.” “Skye! Haven’t heard from you in ages. Did you hear? Ryan and Olivia broke up.” My eyebrows shoot upward. “Really?” “Yup,” she says, sounding distracted. “Uh, he’s kind of picking me up on a date in five minutes. Would you mind if I called you later on?” Keeping the surprise out of my voice, I say, “Sure.” The phone’s dead. My mind is in a twist. What just happened? So since Ryan and Olivia broke up, Autumn became Ryan’s new girlfriend? Well, sure, they’re not “official” yet or she’d be screaming it in my ear – but they’re bound to head that way. What about Jace? I enter his number in the keypad. “Hey, Jace?” “Oh, hi.” He sounds so glum. “Haven’t heard from you lately, Skye. Did you hear? I got rejected. By Autumn. Apparently, that whole ‘admitting how beautiful she was’ got a confidence boost in her, and she thanked me for being such a great friend.” His voice rises an octave. “Can you believe it?” “This is Autumn we’re talking about. Clueless, slow and stupid Autumn. Still lovable, though.” He groans. “Ugh. I feel like such a reject. If you don’t mind, I’m going to get some sleep and mourn about my problems. Talk to you later?” “Sure.” I end the call.

Summer. She’s bound to have good news with Clay –maybe they’ve expanded on their relationship? Yes, that must be it. Even if it’s just friendship, they’re bound to have a positive influence on one another. Right? “Hey, Summer.” “Skye, I’m so glad you’ve called!” Her voice sounds close to hysterical. Definitely not a good sign. “There’s no point loving a boy if he’s not good-looking, right?” “Is this is a trick-question?” “Just answer it!” “Okay, okay. Well… being good-looking doesn’t matter…” “Oh no. No, no. I can’t freaking believe it!” “What?” “I think I may like Jason,” she whispers. “Uh, gotta go. Bye.” Yet another Stupendous Six member who’s messed-up, as seen by their reactions towards romance in their life. Sure, they have other things to focus on: school, life and family. It can’t be the end of the world for them. For a second, I ponder calling Clay, but then I’ve realised how, if I call him, he’ll be all grumpy. It’s not much fun when one sees their best friend –who they’re in love with– fancying somebody else. I think of Adam’s face right then. Yeah, I would know, I think, grimacing. Hold on. Did I just say I loved him? Before I let my mind get carried away, I grab my notebook and flick over to Olivia’s number. She may have moved house, but I have the feeling their house is bought. The number shouldn’t have changed. We were forced to do some assignment back in seventh grade, and that’s where I got her number from. Picking up the phone once more, I punch in the numbers. “Hey, Olivia?” Because she probably can’t recognise my voice, I add, “its Skyla.” She sounds like she’s choking on something. What a way to greet somebody. “Oh, hello. Do you have anything to ask me or something?” “No. Just wondering how things are going in your life.” “They’re good, I guess. Did you hear? Ryan dumped me.” “Yeah, I heard…” “Don’t get me wrong, we’re the best of friends. But he said something about me not being what he thought I was.” I resist the urge to roll my eyes. “Yeah. He kind of mistook you for a fictional character when chasing after you.”

“Well. I guess I can’t really say much to that.” She laughs. “Oh, I’ve gotta go. My sister’s running around with –put that down! I mean it!” The phone disconnects. I lie against the chair, my lips forming in a smile. My life’s so hectic with abnormal friends who can’t even sort out romance among them without me solving everything for them. For goodness sake, I had to force Ryan to admit his feelings to Autumn, who only thought he was saying those words to assure her. At the end of the day, I’m performing miracles. They’re just not accepting them. Then there’s Summer and Clay, who have feelings for each other –somewhere, deep down, I’m sure Summer doesn’t like Jason. It’s not that easy to give up when one is falling for their best friend. My eyes scan the clock. Seven forty-five. Standing up with a goofy smile on my face, I look at the letter again. Only this time, the smile disappears off my face. There’s something very wrong with this letter. For one thing, I remember how Adam used to fail a lot of his exams because the teachers couldn’t tell his handwriting apart, due to his Parkinson’s disease. Because of Parkinson’s disease, his handwriting would start off large and then lessen in size. It’s just another symptom of his condition, due to his hands always shaking. This letter? It’s written in perfect, English letters. There’s no flaw in any of the structures. Adam didn’t write this letter; he couldn’t have written it. There’s a knock on the door.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
The knocking increases. Louder. Louder. My eardrums are bursting with the noise, but more frightened with the possibility it may be Mr Devereaux. Every vein and artery in my heart is pounding. It can’t be Adam’s handwriting. Even though the symptoms of his Parkinson’s Disease may decrease, it’s theoretically impossible for his handwriting structure to change so rapidly within days. Lips parted, I’m just about to yell out, “Go away!” But the stranger beats me to it. “Let me in,” says a gruff voice. Though I’ve never met Adam’s father before on a normal basis– and no, hiding in secret caves underground isn’t the definition of casualty– I have an assumption it’s him. The voice matches his face, if that’s possible to admit. “Open the damned door!” With my hands shaking, I consider exiting through the fire exit. But my feet are stuck to the ground; they cannot move. And even if I was to exit through the emergency escape, he’s bound to catch me. And when he does, I’ll be more helpless than if I let this wall sit in between us. Does anybody else have to put up with this? Is there somebody around the world –anyone– who’s suffering from this kind of shock? This kind of torment? The burning worry which haunts me every night, wondering if I’ll be alive the next morning. Normal people aren’t like this. Surely there aren’t many people who’ve ever experienced something as deadly as this. Because unlike the cartoons on Saturday mornings, life is unpredictable. The good guy doesn’t always win, and the bad guy won’t suddenly find the urge to reveal their entire trap to the hero. In reality, they aim and fire. They kill without a second thought. He will kill me. But only if I let him. Grabbing a chair from the kitchen, I fling it near the door, frightened that if I walk closer, he may reach through the brick wall and plunge me outside. Everything is in slow-motion as I hear a deafening crack. I watch as the entire door smashes into sizeable pieces and lies lifelessly on the ground. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. It was happening all right. The maniacal stare of Adam’s father meets mine. His eyes are bloodshot, puffy and in a lifeless stare. This alone warns any living person he’s dangerous –he’s unsafe. Trembling a bit, he takes a menacing step closer. I want to run. Run back to my room and hide under the covers. Or even better –jump through the window. But my feet are glued to the ground. Nothing can move me. I’m like a lifeless statue.

And finally, I feel his gruff hands on my shoulder. Before I know it, I’m being lifted and hurled effortlessly behind his back. The urge to scream runs into my mind, but my lips suddenly become seat when I’m aware of a black object in his back pocket. A gun. It’s a gun. If I dare to make a sound, he’ll make no hesitation to shoot me. To kill me and have this entire force of reality remain as “child’s play.” He’ll gently place the gun next to me and make it look like a suicidal attempt. No evidence, no blame. What about Adam? The thought strikes me immediately. He has no idea that, even though he’s supposed to kill me, his father would have no problem doing it either. Everything seems numb. Black and blue like a bruise. Suddenly, I don’t care if he kills me. But the tension, the unpredictability of this situation… I hate it. Possibly a lot more than death itself. “We’re going to go on a long walk,” he whispers breathlessly into my ear. The whiskers of his beard and moustache tickle my chin. “A long, long one.” To my surprise, I find myself thinking, If I die right now… …Adam, I want you to keep fighting with yourself. I want you to win. * When I open my eyes, there isn’t anything to open it to. I see pitch darkness, which makes me blink several times in a row to ponder if I’m even alive. But when I wriggle my toes and all the fingers to my hands, I realise I’m not quite dead. And even if I am, I’m in a world where my body is intact and everything is placed together in a perfect manner. My entire body is lying on my back. Feeling a little confused at what is happening, I try to sit up but feel my head hit against something. Something hard. Shock fills through me. Lying as flat as possible, I stretch out my toes to reach a dead end on each side. They’re like walls, trapping me in. Just like a roof to keep myself from ever breathing. My heart pounds a million times a second. This is a coffin. I have been buried alive in a coffin. All of a sudden, I notice the end of a pipe attached on the coffin lid. Right above my chest area. “Are you comfortable down there?” says a voice, a bit of a leering edge to it. Sure enough, it’s coming from the pipe directly above my chest. It’s the same gruff voice I’ve learned to hate and get a heat-pacing reaction out of me. Adam’s father’s voice. Maybe, if I ever get out of this place alive, I’ll learn to hate it forever. Perhaps it’ll be the last human voice I’ll ever hear before my death. A sudden sound startles me. A banging sound. Like a gun.

“If you try and escape, that bullet is coming right down that pipe,” he says darkly. I’m buried alive by a maniac who finds nothing wrong with letting me suffer alone –facing certain death must be something he lets people experience on a regular basis. This is Adam’s father we’re talking about, after all. They’re both cold-hearted, except one of them is more of my best friend than the other. A sudden thought hits me. I shouldn’t be too worried. Adam will come here, since he’s good at predicting people and save me. I’ll just have to put all of my faith in him. He’ll realise my location at one point or another. But until then, I have to make sure I’m still alive. To be honest, I don’t think there’s any way to escape from a coffin which is buried underground. Adam’s father needn’t worry about something so ridiculous. Continuing to lie down, I feel my hands shaking unconsciously. How am I supposed to get water? Food? Is he going to let me live underground as torture? A punishment for what? Although I realise asking a question this boldly may result in a bullet to my heart, I have to ask. It’s killing me on the inside to not know why I’m being tortured like this. Was it something I did? Does it have something to do with my family history? My hands clench into a fist. He has no right to treat me like this. For one, it’s illegal, but I have the feeling he doesn’t care. Nobody cares when it comes to their own mistakes. “Why are you doing this?” I ask. There’s no answer. A long silence meets me instead. All of a sudden, there’s a grunt out of nowhere. “You don’t know?” His tone is still mocking. “Why not ask your father, girly?” Involuntarily, my teeth grit like chainsaws against trees. “Where is he, anyway?” “Dead. And you’re going to die the same way.” A pang sounds against my heart. It’s more than likely my father died in this way, if not this specific coffin. He’s serious. Adam’s father is going to kill me. And the only person who can help me is my old best friend. I’m truly in trouble right now, with no way of knowing if there’s anybody who recognises my position. “Did you kill him?” I whisper, afraid to ask too loudly. “No. Adam did. We make a good team, you know?” My blood suddenly turns cold. It’s like nobody’s left in this world to rely upon. The only person I can trust now without any questions is myself, but having belief within isn’t going to help me escape from this underground torture. Why is this happening to me? Slowly and surely, I’m going to rot in this coffin. Shouldn’t I at least get a say in the way I want to die? But of course, nobody’s going to ask me. At the end of the day, I’m just another ordinary girl who lies helplessly, ready to face certain death. “It’s night time,” Adam’s father says suddenly, scaring me half to death with the gruffness of his voice. “Good night. Hope you don’t die.” With a last snigger echoing several layers underground, I hear his footsteps as he walks away.

I can hear both his voice and footsteps. It must mean I’m not too much underground. An abrupt flash of hope crosses me. Anytime I want to, I can start looking for flaws in this brilliant plan of his. Somehow, I’ll escape here. But how am I supposed to do that without the slightest clue what I’m looking at? There’s no way to escape somewhere I can’t receive properly. This is the perfect ploy before killing somebody –maybe this is his way of frightening the living daylights out of me, no pun intended. Why can’t anything go the way I want it to? It’s then I feel my lips cracking. Definitely must be the fright attacking me, just tearing my face into parts. Everything is spinning in circles, endlessly. But all I see is darkness. Dizzying darkness which makes me feel like I’m about to die this very second. My stomach grumbles with pain afterwards. It’s one thing to be hungry and refill, but it’s another to be buried underground and away from civilised areas. There’s no opportunity for me, at all, to restock my stomach with more food. A grumble escapes my lips before I can stop it. Nothing works out for me. All of a sudden, I hear a thud on the pipe. “Still alive?” There’s amusement stuck to his voice. How can there be delight in his tone? I’m feeling ready to dig myself out of this position and punch his face in with a brick. “It’s morning.” A sudden jolt’s in my stomach. Morning. I’ve lasted one entire night alone, in the darkness and without any food or water. The worst part was, I didn’t even realise it. He can trap me for an entire before my kidneys shut down with the shortage of water. One entire day has passed without me noticing –imagine how quickly another six days would run. My hands attempt to clench themselves into fists, but I’m too weak. Everything seems so vivid. How has things come to this? Me buried alive in an underground coffin? What’s more, I’m being threatened because of his guns. Hasn’t he realised guns aren’t allowed in Australia? Then again, most of his drug usage wouldn’t fit under the “legal” category either. Or raping Adam’s mother. Or being absolutely difficult. He’s messed-up, this man. So why isn’t he locked up in jail somewhere around the world? A thought hits me. Adam probably has a zillion pieces of evidence which would result in jail-time for his father. But it’s a matter of my old best friend to find the courage and dignity to hand these pieces of evidence over. He’ll do it eventually. Right after he saves me. Flooding with relief, I smile a little to myself. Yes. Adam knows his father like the back of his hand. Finding out the location of his father’s torturing shouldn’t be a problem. My eyes linger on the pipe. But I don’t care. Let him shoot the bullet if he must. I want Mr Devereaux to realise Adam’s on my side. “You do realise Adam’s going to save me, right?” I yell, hoping my voice travelled up the pipe. There’s a chuckle. A cold, heartless laugh. And then a pure guffaw with zero humour. “Oh, you think my boy’s going to save you, right? This entire plan was his idea. I’m just laying it out for him.” Shock. Hurt. Anger. Hopelessness. Betrayal. Deception. Defeat.

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT
I’m stuck underground with a psychologically-challenged maniac holding me captive. What is wrong with this picture? The most alarming point is how my best friend was the person behind this entire operation. I have an opinion he isn’t my “best friend” anymore. Something tells me having a torturer as a best friend isn’t very friend-like at all. It should violate all policies in the “friendship” values of life. Murdering isn’t among the code either. Did I really use the word “friend” more than three times in the same thought-paragraph? Sighing, I decide I’m truly going mad. I guess total darkness does this to unsuspecting victims. Suddenly, I find myself wondering what light looked like again. Was it a white colour? Or was it yellow? If I ever get out of here alive, I’ll promise to observe the simple sunlight more closely. There are some things which I may never see again. Never did I realise light would be one of them. I always expected my death to be something in my sleep, especially since this is exactly what I told Adam once upon our friendship. “Hey, Skyla, random question of the day.” He raises his hands in “suspense.” It doesn’t really work, but I play along with a dropped jaw. “How would you like to die?” I stop at my tracks. We’re walking home together, seeing as our apartments are in buildings which are next door –it’s only natural we head the same way. Pollution covers the air with the cars racing past. We’re in the busiest street in this town, holding the theory if somebody saw just this street, they’d suppose this was a city. “What a wonderful question. But, to answer it, in my sleep,” I say, without stopping to think. “It’s much more peaceful that way, isn’t it?” “Nothing about death is peaceful.” Shocked, I turn to him and his sure words. Adam’s looking up at the sky, avoiding my gaze. “Ultimately, we’re all dead. Lifeless. What’s peaceful about that?” Shuddering at the memory, I can’t help wondering if there was a deeper meaning to his words. But right now, I suppose everything he does might have a “hidden meaning” attached to it, seeing as how he tried to kill me so many times –this being one of the many. The most alarming thought is how this may be his last attempt at slaughtering, seeing as he’s likely to win. Trapping a person underground. It’s so inhumane, but it’s bound to work for his benefit. Soon enough, I’ll be killed –just another body like a million in the graveyard. But I’ll be so young. Sixteen years old and without any profession or life. Why couldn’t I do all my achievements before being buried? Surely Adam could’ve told me earlier about his schemes, ensuring I live my last days the best I possibly can. The again, I have the feeling I wouldn’t appreciate his ideas at the slightest. Telling somebody he’s about to kill them among the darkness won’t get him many friends. Nobody likes the thought of being deceived or murdered – Adam’s just one of those people who manages to do both. Maybe this is why he was a loner?

Just look at me. Trapped alone underground with no food nor water, and my biggest priority is how Adam failed to make friends all this time. Why did he befriend me? The idea’s simple: because he wanted to get close to me; close enough to murder. With one’s victim as a friend, he will have excuses for being at my house, watching me as I slept. At any time he could take the gun and shoot at my head. But he didn’t. My heart jolts with the realisation. He still cares about me, somewhere deep in his messed-up head. Chances are, he couldn’t stand the thought of picking up his gun and running a bullet straight through my skull. Maybe he likes me too much to let me die. Which is kind of foolish, seeing as how he wouldn’t be listening to his father at all if he wanted me to live. So, naturally, he gets somebody else to finish the job. His father. The one who probably wanted to kill me all along, but couldn’t without getting close to me. Maybe this is why Adam became my friend –because his father said so. Somehow, he must’ve known I would be on the swings. Or maybe he didn’t, and it was a spontaneous decision to become closer to his victim. Like a snake with their prey. Why am I over thinking so many things? Right now, my only focus should be sitting tight –not that there’s anywhere to accidentally slip to– and wait. Merely lying down and waiting for somebody to realise there’s something wrong with a random person sitting on a chair above ground, talking to something underneath. Now that I’m thinking about it, I have no clue where I’m lying. In the middle of a graveyard? Near the fastrunning vehicles on the road? Why can’t I get any answer? Would anybody ever save me if they knew I was here? Because I’m buried alive, that’s why. This is why nobody will answer any of my questions, seeing as I might as well be dead. Heck, I’m starting to wonder if Mr Devereaux is even up there, or if he has abandoned me on my last days. He has me trapped without a second option –what is the need for supervision? “A-Are you up there?” I find myself asking. No answer. Then, suddenly, there’s a, “What do you think?” in the meanest snarl I’ve ever head. “I don’t know what I think.” Which is one-hundred percent true. What am I supposed to make out of my best friend plotting this entire scheme by himself? Is this fact even true –after all, who takes their information source from the murder, or the person holding them captive? Adam probably doesn’t know his father’s doing this to me. A few seconds later, I hear, “Do you have any last words?” It’s so calm and relaxing, I find myself stumped, seeing as there’s no way this voice can be my enemy. But it is. They are holding me down alive. “I’ll give them to your mother, if you want me to.” “No words. Just questions.” I take a deep breath. “Why do you want to kill me?” “Easy. You’re too much like your father for my liking.” I had doubts before about whether he was psycho or just heartbroken, but the answer is handed to me on a silver platter. This man is insane. Bizarre and completely uncontrollable. He’s the one who’s brainwashing my best friend into betraying me against his will. Everything is falling apart right in front of my face. I can’t do anything about it.

Why am I so helpless? Shouldn’t miracles be performed by now? What kind of a person believes in miracles, anyway? Right now, everything seems abnormal –the fact I might ever get out of this place being on the top of the imaginary list. As if my life will be the right way up once more. It just isn’t possible. My heart leaps. I’ve stopped believing in miracles. Adam’s right. He’s absolutely and utterly right. What good is a miracle going to do for a damaged person? Once something is destroyed, there’s no way to piece it back together. Just like those glasses I bought for him, the ones with the cherries painted near the rim. Obviously, he broke it apart pretending it was my soul. It should horrify me, but instead, I just feel sadness. A sense of reality. Miracles don’t work. There’s a catch to everything in life, most unfixable. I should stop thinking everything can be done with my own two hands. There are things which the entire human race can’t achieve on their own; things we have no control of. And here I am, just sitting around and believing I’m the source of everybody’s solution. My head got big, thinking I was “the one” who makes the world spin. No wonder Adam looked down on my intellectual level, because this is exactly what I’m doing at this current moment, trapped (possibly) several metres underground. Looking back, I was pretty foolish. Adam was right. He’s always right, whether he’s under the spell of his father or not being an unconsidered fact. It didn’t matter how harsh or completely mean he sounded, there was never a word of dishonesty which escaped from my best friend’s mouth. Once best-friend. I’m not sure best friends bury each other underground. …Unless Adam’s ridiculously old-fashioned, and thinks he’s living in the “friend is food” stone ages. A pessimist. My mouth twists into a smile, but it hurts my facial muscles. That’s what I am right now. Just looking back on the past and bickering to myself about how much I’d love to change. There is so much I should be able to alter to my desires, but life is written with a pen. Even though I’m the author of my own story, I can’t plan it out accurately. The truth? I don’t think I was ever an optimist in first place. Somehow, I loved thinking that I was the person people envied; so many people would die for the gift of positive thinking. Unfortunately, I wasn’t somebody who inherited it. But after having so much happen to me, how can I expect myself to be bright again? For one thing, there’s zero chance of me ever getting out of this box. Not alive or set free, anyway. Adam’s father is mentally disabled –it’s obvious by the way there’s nothing but suspicion spreading through his mind at everything. Whether Mrs Devereaux crushed on my father or not is completely personal; Adam’s father made a mistake by invading privacy. Come to think of it, how much does Mrs Devereaux know about this? “Your father was a terrible man,” he says, making me almost jump out of the coffin. But of course, I don’t. That’s just far too easy to escape that way. “He was the reason Adam almost didn’t live.” “What?” “I fed cocaine to my wife. Just because I thought it was his baby. I didn’t want anything to do with it. But Adam survived anyway. He was a strong boy.” It’s creepy, but I can hear the smile on his face. “Yeah, Adam’s really–”

“Enough. I don’t need to hear it from you. You little smug creature. You’re taunting her, don’t you realise?” Obviously, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Uh, screaming is a better word. But it doesn’t stop my hands from shaking. Finally, I muster up the courage to yelp out, “Who are you talking about?” He ignores me. “You’re taunting her. You’re looking like him. Especially when he freaking cheated on her! He tore her apart!” It doesn’t take me any longer to realise he’s talking about my mother. Realisation grabs me in the most unexpected way. He’s talking about my mother. This isn’t about revenge against my father. This is for the benefit of my own mother. He still loves her. Yes. He loves her so much, he’s willing to take a risk –sacrifice so much of his time and effort just to get rid of anything which reminds her of my father. I look exactly like my father. Everybody has told me so from a young age, although I didn’t quite see the resemblance myself. Never did I realise how much it’s hurting my mother. My poor, defenceless mother who’s tolerating with me. She sometimes tells me how much I look and act like him, but it’s always with a laugh, so I didn’t suspect anything wrong with the comparison. Not until now. “But it’s not going to matter,” he continues, not expecting any answer from me. “Not anymore. You’re going to die–” There’s a sound. I hear it. He hears it. The sound of a metal pole hitting against a scalp.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE
When I open my eyes, I see light. Blinding me. It’s blinding me. Deciding I can feel my hands, I cover both my eyes with it –as a shield from the bright light. Finally deciding my senses are focused enough, I turn my senses towards my own body. Sure enough, all my fingers and toe are still there. I wriggle all of them to make sure they continue to function. But as I do so, I feel my legs feeling heavy. And the soaked feeling sinks in –no pun intended. My entire body is surrounded with sagging clothes which are making the entire bed wet. Removing my hands, I allow myself to look up for the first time. There’s a ceiling fan which is spinning. Spinning, spinning. But it has four blades rather than the typical fan found at my house. Obviously, this isn’t my house –or any of the Stupendous Six’s, for that matter. This is Adam’s house. With a heavy intake of breath, my entire body snaps up to sitting position. But since it’s a sudden movement, I have to clutch at my forehead to prevent myself from falling dizzy. Whirling is the word to describe the feeling I feel next, my heart pounding a million times in the same minute. Why am I here? Surely Adam wouldn’t have brought me to his house, especially knowing how frightened I am by him. Why am I here, anyway? Was it even Adam who saved me? No, there’s zero doubt it was him –Mrs Devereaux could never bring herself to hit her own husband, the man she loves and hates at the same time. But ever since I found myself tangled up with the Devereauxes, I don’t know what to think. Adam always struck me as a rather awkward and lonely kind of boy; never could I imagine he’d be out to kill me. And his father, though I’ve never met him before, I’ve heard him over the phone when on loudspeaker. I thought he sounded very sophisticated. Now, I’m slowly beginning to realise how bad of an impact it may have on his surroundings. Being mature isn’t a good thing –especially when suspicion comes into the picture, and murdering doesn’t seem like a difficult task for them to achieve. It’s obvious none of the Devereauxes have a religion. Not that people with religions are better than ones without, but every religion is perfect. Whether it’s Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or any theory about life in general – there is not a single religion in the world which claims drugs, murder and alcohol as the “right” thing to do. Deciding my brain is rambling about things which are useless at this time, I bring myself to arise from the bed. Only this time, I make sure to rise very slowly. My head doesn’t spin like a cyclonic vacuum cleaner –for this, I’m extremely thankful. But at the same time, I can’t help a shudder run up my spines. Here I am, sitting in the house of the Devereauxes. Although there seems to be nobody around, I can’t shake the uneasy feeling off. All these people are out to get me: how am I supposed to feel comfortable in an environment like this? What’s more, why am I soaking wet? There wasn’t any water underground, in that coffin. I would’ve been the first one to notice; especially seeing as how I’d probably be drowned by now. Maybe watching the world from third person, from above the clouds.

The door opens. I have a hard time not jumping. “Here.” He walks in, taking each step with a slight hesitancy to it. There’s a tray of bread in his arms, along with a glass of pure milk. “Take some food.” I look at him for the first time. Really look at him. And my heart pounds when I see his carved, serious face. But not in the way of a girl in love –this is the heart pounding of a girl realising she may die in the next few minutes. There can be poison in that piece of food, making the whole “trapped underground” scheme to be completely useless. So, I reply with a croaky, “No thanks.” This agitates him straight away. I watch his arm muscles tense from under his t-shirt. “What do you mean ‘no thanks’? You’re going to freaking starve!” he snaps, so close to my face I feel more intimidated than before. But then realisation hits his face. There’s a half-smile on his face. “You think it’s poisoned, don’t you?” I look away. Why can’t I meet his eyes anymore? Obviously, it has everything to do with how he may kill me any minute. His father may be a psycho maniac, but it doesn’t stop me from trusting his word –Adam was the one who planned this whole thing. However, I can’t rest until I hear it directly from his mouth. Maybe it’ll kill me in reaction to the answer. It doesn’t matter, though. If he’s going to kill me anyway, I won’t allow myself to be lied to before I die. Wow, you’re optimistic, aren’t you? I grimace to myself. Yeah. I’m positively sure this is going to get me killed. It seems that living underground for God knows how long makes me lose sight of reality. Because I just. Don’t. Care. “Did you plan the underground incident?” I ask my voice surprisingly more firm than I expected, but shaky all the same. “Please tell me you didn’t.” There’s the longest of pauses as he looks down, avoiding my eyes. Instead, he’s ripping the bread into what I suppose is “chewable” pieces. Just looking at the food is making my mouth water, but I control myself. Starving now is better than dying later. If he was the reason behind the underground torture, it’s obvious he cannot be trusted. And if that’s the case, I’ll just dodge past him and run down the million flights of stairs. He won’t know what hit him. So it all comes down to one unsmiling, old-fashioned boy. “I would love to deny it, but I don’t want to lie to you.” When he looks up, his brown eyes are a thousand times more weary. Parkinson’s Disease always made him appear tired more or less, but today, he looked ancient. “You probably will never give me a second chance, right?” “No,” I blurt out immediately. “How can you expect me to be calm with you? Heck, what am I even doing here? You tried to kill me, for goodness sake! Why am I debating with you like you’re some normal person?”

When I try to stand up, I realise how numb my legs are. I guess this is the reaction to living underground for a long, long time. But I limp to my best. And a lot of adrenaline keeps me moving forward. Adam’s worried face comes into view, but before he can grab my hand, I slap it away. What am I even doing here? I’m one step out of the door. “Skyla–” “Let me tell you something, Devereaux,” I say darkly, somehow managing to face him. The doorframe is right in front of me. If he wants to, he can easily slam the door in my face. “You will never be normal. You can’t be something you never were.” Maybe he could’ve slapped me right then. Perhaps it would’ve be more of a wakeup call to me, for me to realise what a diva I was being –especially since this was the boy who saved my life, after all. Even if he did try to slaughter me at one point, it doesn’t change the fact he pulled me out of the mess. He must’ve cared to some extent to have done that. But I was too scared to look back and rethink. “Please. Stay away from me, Skyla. You have no idea how dangerous I am.” So I walked away. * “Skyla!” Summer reaches out to hug me. “How are you? I haven’t seen you in such a long time!” “Yeah, I went over to my Aunt’s house,” I lie. “I’m fine, thanks. Yourself?” Nobody except my mother knows about this entire incident. Not even Autumn, my best friend in the Stupendous Six. Of course, the Devereauxes have more idea about this incident than I’d like them to. But it doesn’t change the fact I won’t tell a single soul. There are some things I can’t discuss without feeling uncomfortable, and suddenly coming close to being killed by my best friend’s family is definitely on the list. Also, there’s no proof of the family being criminals –because, after all, who’d believe the sweet and innocent looking people can commit such horrendous crimes? Although I suppose it’s unfair to drag Mrs Devereaux in this entire scheme. There’s no hard proof about her being involved. Chances are, she probably doesn’t even know jails exist. She’s far too innocent to be involved in this. So I fake a smile and pretend I’m enjoying the Christmas party thrown by the Stupendous Six. They’re all grinning like idiots, placing their presents under the tree. Since this is Clay’s apartment, we don’t have to worry about any adults coming in. And although I’d usually love the idea of a “teen night out,” I can’t help feeling a deep sense of anxiety. They’re going to come back. They’re going to attack me. My heart paces faster. I’m just being paranoid. It’s all over. They’re not going to come back for me. Just because the Devereauxes are still in town doesn’t mean they’re going to strike again. Surely one failed attempt is enough for them to realise they’re not going to bring me down that easily.

Skyla Valenti doesn’t fall down to nobody but the best. So what is the clenching feeling in my gut? I feel so queasy and feel the desire to run out of this entire building and truly do take a holiday at my Aunt’s. Wouldn’t it be much better than being around a family which I’m sure contains serial killers? All the Stupendous Six are sitting around, talking, but I can’t find the heart to join any of them. To my huge surprise, Clay’s the one who notices my sudden lack of speech and gets up from his seat. He sits on the floor beside me, hugging his knees to his chest. “What’s this? Little Miss Sunshine looks as pale as chalk?” He grins lopsidedly as he does so. “Statistics show that ninety-nine percent of optimistic people–” “–Lose their positiveness at one point or another,” I complete, bored. He looks impressed and is about to say something, but I cut him off. “We both know you made it up. No need to brag.” This causes a stunned reaction. “You knew?” “’Course I did. I guess I know you too well.” He doesn’t say anything to this. There is merely a distracted expression on his face. He ignores the Christmas lights which are decorated across the room, and steps over the wires wrapped all around the floor. All of them are tangled among each other, refusing to be stuck to the walls. At least, Clay doesn’t “believe” in sticking wires to the sides of his house, anyway. When he reaches the window, he looks out. The one thing about Clay’s living room which makes it stand apart is how big the window is. Anybody can step right out (providing they and use it as a door –though it’d be more useful if this apartment wasn’t a million storeys high. “I saw something flash. I think it was a car.” It all happens so fast, I don’t remember the order. First, there is a banging sound as the door breaks open. There are screams all around the room, all except Ryan, who seems stuck to his chair with mortification. His glasses are highlighting his eyes more than ever –they’re widened to their extent. They widen even more when all the Stupendous Six members are shoved against the wall, despite their screaming protests. There’s a rope which ties every member together, a zillion knots made on it. Their hands are tied back; a piece of masking tape stuck to each their inactive lips. Because we’re at the back of the room, he hasn’t seen us yet. Clay’s beside me, his heart beating so fast, I can hear it. Or maybe it’s because I’ve managed to sprint closer to him ever since the door burst open. My hands are shaking. He’s not breathing. Both of us are a mess. Imagine my surprise when Clay walks towards the main door. Hesitant steps, but he still manages to get to the other side of the room. Adam’s father, however, spots him and drags him before pushing him into position with all the other prisoners. Though he didn’t say anything to me, it’s obvious he did this to buy time. Time for me to escape. Somehow, he realised Adam’s father was after me. Although I’ve always considered Clay as smart, never have I gained more respect for this boy. He will forever be my hero.

All of a sudden, there’s a rock which smashes the glass of the window I’m near. I find my breathing quick enough to notice how sharply carved it is –enough to break through the net and glass in one throw. As the normal response, my mouth twists in horror as I steal a glance outside. There, I find Adam Devereaux with his arms outstretched. Although he’s so far down, I can barely see him. But because I’ve known him for so long, I know this is him. He has smashed the glass and net so I can escape. So I can jump. But from this high up? He must’ve prepared everything, because he has a rock which is just perfect for bailing me out, and a megaphone which will probably wake up every family living in this apartment building. My heart beats. Faster. Faster. No, I can’t do– “Jump. Now!” Footsteps are walking closer to me. Heavy-footed. Footsteps which I’ll forever recognise as Mr Devereaux. “What are you waiting for?” I can hear his heavy breathing. My heart feels as if it’s about to fall apart. But nothing impacts me more than Adam’s next words. “Do you trust me?”

CHAPTER THIRTY
I jump. Maybe I don’t entirely forgive my once-best friend for bailing out on me, but it doesn’t mean I’ve lost him. I still trust him –well, more than his maniacal father, anyway. Anything’s gotta be an improvement, right? Especially since he’s already tying my friends with ropes, he won’t hesitate to do anything to me –even if it means murder in front of their unsuspecting eyes. As I leap, I feel air rushing through all my clothes. My facial features feel as if ripping off my face, thanks to the harsh winds hitting me like a cyclone. Why am I jumping? This is the most spontaneous, dangerous thing I’ve done in all my life. I feel fear hitting me from every directing, roughly and making me regret ever leaping in first place. Finally, I see the ground. Just under me. I’m going down at such a speed, I know I’m going to die. Any second now, I’ll be a lifeless corpse in the middle of the busiest street of this small town. Won’t that make Adam just thrilled? Maybe this was his ambition in first place. How I manage to think so much while I’m about to die is beyond me. I’ve always been the kind of person who, instead of blanking out in hopeless situations, thinks about the negative side to thinks. Maybe I truly am a pessimist somewhere deep in my soul. I feel something bouncy below me. Instantly, I find myself flying high into the air and then falling back into the cushiony but firm object. This happens over and over a couple of times, until I land without my body lifting off the base –not anymore. Instead, my eyes are squeezed shut. Forever, I feel like lying here. Just here. Without anybody to disturb me, without any maniacs and axemurderers to bother me. A life without Adam Devereaux –isn’t this exactly the kind of dream I should be aiming for? Wouldn’t it be the best wish in the entire world? Perhaps it’s just my girly side attacking, but I can’t imagine a life without him. Sharing all those memories, everything we’ve been through; it’s not that easy to forget him. I should know this better than anybody. When I finally open my eyes, I see a trampoline under me. How did this trampoline manage to withhold a person from three storeys high? Only when I look closely do I realise the trampoline is ripped. The entire upper part is torn. Instead, there are an endless supply of cushions spread out underneath. Even some of the cushions are ripped apart, fluff escaping. But does it matter when a life has been saved? More importantly, this was a life saved by Adam –the very person who tried to kill me in first place. The irony is enough to cause a brief smile on my face. “Whatcha smiling about, Valenti?” says an amused voice in my ear. I nearly jump (no pun intended) at the sudden sound.

My head snaps around to look at him, immediately causing a pull of muscle in my neck. Clutching at it, I rest my head on one of the many pillows. Sleep. That’s what I really want to do right now. Just crawl into a little ball and sleep til the end of the world, forgetting the outside exists in first place. But Adam sure doesn’t feel the same way, because next thing I know I’m being dragged by the arm and carried to his motorcycle. Unfortunately, he doesn’t miss a heartbeat of struggling and complaining. “Skyla, you’re really heavy,” he states. “I think you should talk to a doctor about your weight.” “Adam. You are so charming. You know what? I can smile at that doctor and tell them how well I can swim and say I’m stronger than a boy.” “What’re you trying to say? Sheesh, you should stop trying to pick a fight.” “A fight was started the minute you commented about my weight, you cretin!” “Cretin? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard somebody say it.” “Yeah? Well, this is the first time I’ve had to use it!” So there we were. Bickering to each other and using inappropriate words –acting like a married couple, to say the least. And yet, Adam doesn’t drop me on the ground. Knowing his temper, I realise how special I am to him –if I were anybody else, he’d leave me on the road to die. In the middle of nowhere. Without another care. Deep down all that unsmiling attitude and hair-obsessed manner, he has a heart. A heart which works for emotions. At least, that’s my theory. I’m sure Adam would create a giant list on why he doesn’t care about me if I voice my opinion aloud. He’s never been the type to let people know that he cares –oh, the horror of revealing one’s heart to another. Finally, he sits at his motorcycle and then lets me stand on my own two feet. Not really gently. Kind of like a basketball landing a slam-dunk. He then sighs and mutters something about not needing to go anywhere, so he simply, with his hands tucked in his pockets, walks away. “I could’ve hurt my knee when you plunged me down like that!” “And I could’ve broken my spinal cord with how heavy you were.” “Seriously? Are we seriously talking about this?” “And did you just use ‘seriously’ twice in a sentence?” “Quit changing the subject!” “Who’s changing the subject? Oh, and have you forgotten about your Stupendous Six mates already?” Pause. A long, long pause. A silent, hopeless, frightening pause. My friends are all locked up in that apartment, while I’m trying to reason with a boy who doesn’t know how to smile.

What is wrong with this picture? I am such a bad, bad friend. Adam’s father maybe a complete maniac, but he’s not dumb. If anything, he’s not dumb. He’s the one who knew exactly how to shoot in silence in the middle of a busy crowed –even if it did hit Whitney. Undoubtedly, he was the one who planned a lot of the tasks, getting ready to murder me to my doom. And here I am, not caring about my poor friends. They’re my responsibility if they killed, especially since I’m the reason Mr Devereaux entered that door in first place. I’m the reason they might be dead this very second. How am I supposed to do anything without them? Forget about building romance between pairs, they’ll be dead before they reach university! It’ll be my fault. Adam won’t babble to anybody about his father being a criminal, making it almost impossible to frame such an “innocent” man like his father. “We have to go back,” I say, my mouth dry. “Adam. Did you hear me?” “Yeah, I hear ya. Sit tight and all will be well.” That’s when I lose it. Completely and utterly. “All will be well? How can you even say that? They’re probably frightened out of their lives and–” My sentence stops when I see all the members of the Stupendous Six, chattering without a worry among themselves and walking out the main entrance. They’re all laughing and then looking excited at the right places. I blink. Could it be Mr Devereaux has brainwashed all of them like he had with Adam? Surely one man can’t have that much power? But there they were, slowly taking a seat –all except Clay, who has some major issues with “sitting down” due to some complicated physics theory he founds on the internet. It’s amazing how, despite not liking for so long, I know all these things about me. And ever since today, he’s a likeable person. Definitely not the best person in the world, but considered one of my friends. But it still doesn’t answer my question: why are they so calm and carefree when there’s a murderer on the loose? Did they not see him? Surely a man with ropes and a maniacal, abnormal smile is impossible to miss. At least, I’d hope so. “Yeah,” Adam whispers into my ear, putting a hand lightly on my shoulder. “They’re so scared.” “Shut up,” I hiss. There’s a pause. “Okay, smart-aleck. Tell me what on Earth is happening!” “My father isn’t a complete lunatic, you know?” “I kind of considered it ‘like father, like son.’ Can’t say I’m not surprised,” I mutter. He ignores me. “He only hates you. Everybody else, he loves. He loves people –ooh, here’s a fun fact. He wanted to be a psychiatrist for a long, long time.” My jaw drops. I did not see that one coming. But I keep the surprise hidden inside me, and play a cool and collected expression on my face. Poker-faced, I say, “So?” “Your father kind of ruined it for him. Thought it’d be funny to switch their college applications, and thought he’d get away with it, seeing as they were friends.”

“Wow. He was a real jerk.” “What can I say? Like father, like daughter.” I elbow him in the ribs, but can’t help a smile playing on my lips. “You haven’t answered my question. Why are they so carefree?” He shrugs. “Dad probably told them it was some skit they were playing. Maybe one of the members looked down and saw the trampoline, so they didn’t suspect anything. He’s one of those really careful people when it comes to feelings. I like killing people when they’re by themselves –he can’t, as a psychiatrist by heart, stand the fact of emotionally damaging somebody because they’re witnessed something they shouldn’t have.” I can’t believe this! They actually trust that guy? From the moment I saw his face, I felt strange. Though I suppose it’s kind of abnormal to see a grown man have the exact same features as my best friend. But I can’t expect anything from the Stupendous Six, especially since I haven’t been fully honest with them. Nobody knows about my little “underground” incident except a few people. It’s not fair of me to expect them to “suspect” something when I look as carefree as always –though today, Clay surprised me by showing he actually, kind of sort of, cared. Or maybe he just did it so he could open my presents without feeling pangs of guilt. Either way, I find myself drifting away from Adam. Soon enough, his gentle touch on my shoulder is gone, greeting myself with the cool summer winds once more. I stroll towards them, all laughing, and feel the need to join in. Just for once, I want to feel the impact of belonging with everybody else. When they see me, they stop laughing. Instead, there’s a hint of jealousy on Summer’s and disappointment on everybody else’s faces. They’re looking at me, waiting for me to speak, but I can’t think of anything to say. And if they are waiting for me to confess something, I’m sure it’s not the truth, because jealousy would be the last thing on Summer’s face otherwise. “Why didn’t you tell us you were a stunt woman for Hollywood?” says Autumn at last, surprising me with the sadness in her voice. “You can’t keep something that big from us, can you?” “Contract,” I blurt out as an instant lie. “They told me I wasn’t allowed. But you see, I kind of mixed up the dates for when I wanted them to shoot.” “Why weren’t you allowed to tell anybody?” Ryan speaks up, surprising me with the suspicion this introverted, awkward boy never has. “I mean, surely your name would come up in the credits.” “Don’t lie to us. Please,” Jace says, looking me straight in the eyes and making me uncomfortable. “It’s… its better if you guys don’t know. I promise you, it will never affect you again.” None of them speak, which is obvious they’re going to be suspicious of me for the rest of eternity. But even so, it’s a small price to pay for such a complicated secret. Quickly, I change the subject. “So, what was Adam’s father like?” “He was epic!” Summer yells out, pumping her fist. Everybody nods in approval of this fact. “He told us about some kid and the emotional traumas they go through, which is in the movie. And it’s actually really interesting.” “Yeah,” says Autumn. “I’m actually inspired to become a psychiatrist now –seeing as how he was the main character.”

I have no clue what they’re talking about, but I’m more than sure none of the details are accurate. Secretly, I wonder if they’ll ever know they’re being lied to by both me and Mr Devereaux. Obviously, by the way they’re bickering on –all except Clay, who cockily says he’s heard all this before and it’s nothing new– they have no clue about the real danger I was in. Maybe it’s best this way, but I can’t feel a little frustrated. But now I know that, so long as I have somebody next to me, I’ll be alive. So long as I’m not in a room alone with Mr Devereaux, I’ll be fine. All there needs to be is another person to step in there and prevent him front murdering me, even if it’s at the last minute. I just never realised it was always Adam.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE
I can't say I wasn't surprised when Adam suddenly decided we should complete our Christmas party. In fact, it made me feel kind of queasy to think he was in the festive mood -I guess almost getting killed by a psycho doesn't exactly lift moods for me. But wouldn't everybody else react the same way? The Stupendous Six are thrilled with the idea. I can't help feeling a little bit suspicious to how they accepted this entire thing like it was a joke. And then it hits me. All of them know there's something up. Actually, they already knew something was fishy the minute I said, "Maybe its better if you don't know." But they all realise something darker than usual is going in my life. A smile plays on my mouth. This is why everybody needs friends like these. Friends who're willing to play dumb until I feel ready to tell them. No wonder Jason had that eye-twitching going on -he's the worst liar/actor in the world, making it impossible for him to tell a lie without having some facial difference which gives him away. Suddenly, I don't feel as frustrated as before. Instead, I feel light-hearted. Almost happy. However, I can't help feeling a little stumped on this mystery. Adam should've told me about his father unable to kill somebody when there's another person around. That was one thing I deserved to know, regardless of whether Adam was still "my friend" or not. Sure even an enemy would have the decency to explain how to avoid being murdered. There's still a mystery hanging off Adam Devereaux. That's the only thought which circulates my mind as I follow the chattering Stupendous Six, with Adam safely behind me. But every time there's the slightest sound, I jump. Something tells me this isn't over. Something tells me Mr Devereaux will come out of nowhere, ripping me into shreds. What if this whole thing was a plot? Me jumping, Adam saving me -what if him and his father planned it out? That means I still shouldn't be with him. He can kill me anytime he wants to. Why am I still here? Shouldn't I be tucked in bed somewhere, insisting my mother to stay with me throughout the night so I don't get murdered? She already knows about this entire incident. How I was trapped underground, how Mr Devereaux was in love with her. But she waved her hand in dismissal, claiming something about him always being sketchy in first place. This made my jaw drop. She's acting as if me being buried underground isn't "much of a big deal." But at the same time, I suspect she was worried. She called Mrs Devereaux and thanked her for having me, while I wasn't sure if that was an appropriate response. What if Adam's mother knows nothing about this incident? Deciding I have a lot to talk about with my best friend, I enter Clay's apartment. It's still like it was before, except with pieces of ropes on the floor. And tape which have been on their mouths. "Home sweet home," Clay sings, being the first one to sit down at his seat. His eyes shine. "Okay, who wants to unwrap their present first?" There are excited chattering and grumbling among the gang, while Adam smirks and then sits in the corner. All by himself. I watch as the Stupendous Six are pretty much pouncing on the presents underneath the Christmas tree. Somehow, I feel my stomach clenching. I don't want to open my presents when I was this close to being murdered.

So instead, I walk straight over to where Adam's sitting. He's still unmoving, only his eyes flickering up to look at me. I sit down beside him. No words are exchanged between us; we're both like statues, just waiting for the other to somehow break apart. Unfortunately, Adam seems perfectly comfortable with silence. I sigh. "Can I ask you some questions?" "Didn't you just?" "Whatever. How come you let your father bury me?" "Because I felt as if I had to be loyal to him. This has nothing to do with Parkinson's Disease, mind you. I was his son, he was my father. I felt as if I owed him something." "Even if it meant losing sight of what's right?" It was his turn to sigh. "Look, let's say your mother asked you to oh-so-casually murder somebody, but not in those words. Imagine if she put a lot of logic behind it -could you have said no?" "I couldn't have let her down," I admit. "Exactly." There's a pause. "You know, it was thanks to Mum you're still alive." This causes my eyes to widen. I turn to him properly for the first time. "What?" "Yup. Believe it or not, I still lied to myself about how this was 'nothing.' And then she came in and kicked some sense into me." "...But couldn't she have just saved me herself? She knew about this all, didn't she?" "Yeah. Of course she did. She knows everything -don't let her absentminded exterior fool you." There's an amused expression on his face, but it soon fades. "If she saved me, it wouldn't do much good, because we'd kidnap you again. And again. And again. She needed to stop it once and for all, and the only way to do that was to either get through to my father and me." "...And since your father is in serious need of a mentalist..." "...It left only me." He brushes off imaginary dust from his shorts. "I know this is the understatement of the year, but I'm really sorry." "Oh, sure. It's okay. I totally forgive you for almost murdering me, burying me alive, scaring me out of my mind." "No need to be sarcastic!" He's gritting his teeth, clearly seething. There's such a cold look in his eyes, I feel the need to gulp. But somehow, I manage to stare at him back. To my surprise, he looks away. "I'm sorry," he repeats, but this time, there's a shaking edge to his voice. He clearly knows what he did all this time was wrong. Exceptionally so. And he's apologising for it. The stubborn and normal Skyla wouldn't have accepted an apology for something this big (hey, it was my life on the risk), and wouldn't have trusted even her best friend to bake her cookies next time. But that era of Skyla Valenti is over.

I've changed so much in one summer, it's horrifying. Who knew that if a fragment of my past came back, it'd haunt me? Not I, that's for sure. What's more, I've turned into a better person after Adam and his killing-family have landed into my life. The normal Skyla wouldn't have glanced twice at a person who did something exceptionally bad -she wouldn't have forgiven him. And though I'm not sure if this "new" Skyla is good enough at heart to forgive for something this big, I'm still giving him a second chance. Which is why I say, "Don't worry. It's behind us. Never mention it again, okay?" Adam's jaw drops. I casually comment about how flies are especially popular in summer, and how saliva seems to attract them. In response, he just rolls his eyes and says I should be a forensic taking knowledge of my deep fascination in dead bodies. He has said this to me so many times before, it'd be natural to roll my eyes. But this time, I actually consider his words. And before I know it, Adam's out of my sight and jogging out the exit, saying he'd be right back. Forensics has always been something I'd be interested in -combining dead bodies with a mystery and suspense edge always marvels me- but to consider it as a future profession hasn't exactly crossed my mind. I need to decide soon, however. This I do know. In about a year's time, all the Stupendous Six will be separated. Sure, we'll keep in touch and update with our own world, but it'll never be the same. We'll never be the same "best friends for life" people we have through all these countless years. But maybe it'll be alright. Maybe it won't be so bad. Internally, I wonder how long it'll take the Stupendous Six to succeed in their own category. How long will it take for Autumn, now suddenly interested in psychiatry and psychology, to become one herself? Will Ryan be able to balance both his priest life and become a part-time novelist? Jason will definitely become a full-time singer and musician with his epic guitar-playing. The internet world is the perfect place for website designer Clay -who knows? Maybe he'll be able to co-work the website with Summer's fashion designing dreams. And then there's me, who suddenly has an interest in becoming something Adam told me I have the potential to be. It seems like such a wonderful idea -it'll be a profession I'll never tire of. Which leaves only Adam. I've never quite wondered what he wants to be when he's older. Maybe it's something which is adventurous, manly and completely... insane. A stunt man? I laugh bitterly to myself, suddenly glad the Stupendous Six are still at the Christmas tree. It's obvious he'll be thinking twice after seeing how I, a stuntwoman, could've died while trying to land on a trampoline. But I still can't estimate his future profession. Out of everybody I know, he's the one I know best -and yet, I can't figure it out. He wanted to be a lot of things at a younger age, now though, I don't think his intentions and dreams are the same. Suddenly, I see the Stupendous Six walking towards me with a present each. They grin at me -well, all except Summer who seems "distracted" by Jason's charming smile. "Open mine first," says Clay, surprisingly eager. Underneath, I see a small voucher for a website with "Night Scavenger Hunting" games. It's an unlimited pass. I grin at him. "Thank you."

All the presents are finally open, and I beam at the amazing gifts I've received. A jumper reading "What do gangsta skulls say? Booya!" made especially by Summer, who went through a lot of trouble in getting the colours just right. I received a book of ghost stories from Autumn, a copy of Ryan's novel which he dedicated to me on the front page. And finally, a CD from Jason who put all the perfect Halloween soundtracks on there. Something spooky, something dark from all of the Stupendous Six. Suddenly, there's a tap on my arm and a flash of white teeth. "Open mine?" Unwrapping the ribbons of the box, I find two glasses. Two glasses with cherries painted at the top. Only now, it's glued together with superglue put to the extreme. The cracks are still visible, and it's impossible to drink from it, but it's fixed. I look up at Adam who seems to be avoiding my eyes. "Just thought you might want it," he murmurs, sitting next to me and wrapping his arms around his knees. "Sorry it's a little broken. And I'm sorry it was broken in first place. But I thought that, if you saw it broken, you'd realise how everything's different now." Turning to face him, I look right into his eyes. "Is it really different? I don't think anything much has changed, if you ask me." There's a pause. Finally, he replies, "I should've asked you, eh?" "Yeah. You should've." As I finger the cracks in both the glasses, I put one of them on Adam's lap. He should keep one for himself, just like I'll keep one for me. Just to remind me how everybody's going to break me at one point or another -these glasses are the perfect example. By breaking these two delicate objects, Adam's metaphorically ripping my soul into pieces. He did that so he could warn me off, but at the same time, it also implied he didn't want me around anymore. Everybody's going to break me at one point or another. Just like those glasses, although not as physically. Everybody will hurt me, all my closest friends will betray me, just like how many of the Stupendous Six have already done with our history of bad memories and fights. But then there's a category of people in that "close people" group who're worth it. Who're worth crying over; worth aching and paining for. The Stupendous and Adam Devereux fit into that category like a glove.

EPILOGUE
It’s Valentine’s Day today. But I can’t be bothered handing out cards or giving special romantic gifts to people around the world. I don’t want to play cupid today. Who needs to be optimistic all the time? The moon is hanging right above the hills, painted in the dark sky which is glittering with stars. Shadows of playground equipment surround me, but I’m in complete isolation from people. Which is why I don’t bother trying to “do my best.” Everybody needs time to relax and lay-back at one point or another –especially since this is the year I need to try my very best for academics if I’m to be my dream-job. But today’s not a day of stress. Instead, I let the day pass easily. Without a care. And I happen to be swinging on the very swings Adam and I first met. And, as if Adam knew exactly where I’d be relaxing, he’s beside me. Swinging without a care. Another school-term has started. The Stupendous Six are still together, although Adam’s Christmas present shocked them all. I giggle a little to myself as I think of how boldly he went around, saying, “Autumn likes Ryan, Ryan likes Autumn, Summer likes Jace, Jace likes Autumn, Clay likes Summer. But you know what? It’s far too complicated for me and Skyla to handle. So solve it yourself.” And then he exited the room, leaving only the Stupendous Six behind. Maybe I would’ve thought to eavesdrop on their conversation, but my mind was spinning at the fact Adam was holding my hand. He was holding my hand just like he did when we first met. But it doesn’t matter. Because he likes Becky –and Becky would be a complete idiot not to like him back. Mustering up the courage, I say, “Um, have you sent anything to Becky?” Quickly, I add, “Seeing as you like her and everything.” He stops swinging. Instead, he sits still and has a glint in his eyes as he swerves slightly to face me. “Jealous, are we?” “What? Why would I be jealous?” “No reason. And to answer your question, I’m over her.” Wait, what? “There’s only so much rejection a guy can receive from unrequited love.” “Unrequited…?” “Yeah. She’s fallen hard for Travis. You know, the elbow-chewer?” “Her ex?” “Yup. Turns out, they’re going out again. And seriously, I’ve never seen her so happy.” There’s a pause. Adam kicks up his speed and starts swinging all over again. There are only two swings at this playground, which turns out to be a marvellous thing –they’re always free at night-time, and nobody else can join us.

It’s like our own secret little meeting area –a place I love, especially because this is where I met one of my closest friends. Everything is behind us. Adam, apparently, had a voice-recording on his mobile from when his father killed Yasmin. He had it all along, but didn’t know whether to hand it in or not. After realising how saving a life means more than keeping loyalty, he handed it to the police. But because Mr Devereaux is mentally ill, they haven’t placed him in jail –it’d be cruel to do so. Instead, they’re making him take sessions with a psychiatrist to improve his mental status. Whether it’s improving or not, I have no clue, seeing as I no longer have an association with Adam’s father. Adam himself is suddenly the same. Only by force do I have to remind myself he has Parkinson’s Disease, that he has a mother who speaks up at the right times, that his father killed mine and didn’t hesitate to kill me. Because to me, he’s just another boy. Just like I’m another girl with a crush on this “another boy.” “Hey, Adam, what do you want to be when you grow up?” “An astronomic.” Wow, I was way off with my prediction. “And come to think of it, I think I’ve found Scorpio.” After all this time, he finally found the star he was looking for. He points to a star on the side which faces away from me. So, naturally, I have to turn toward him to see where he’s pointing. He kisses me. And maybe I might’ve fallen out of the swing. Admittedly, maybe Adam started feeling guilty about catching me off-guard. Maybe my elbow looked like it needed some antiseptic cream and a good band-aid. But details don’t matter –because right then, Adam Devereaux kissed me. And I didn’t “punch him in the nose until it bleeds and watch the maggots crawling out which quickly turn into leeches and suck out his brains even if he doesn’t have any.” I kissed him back.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
Thank you so much for reading! That’s the first thing I’d like to say. This is the end of the e-book “Summer of Adam Devereaux,” but stay tuned, because I’m writing a spin-off called “Chasing Normal.” It’s a different story, but it takes place the year after this book. So it’s like a sequel, only you don’t have to read them in order. I’m uploading it on Smashwords, and it’s going to be free (my books are always going to be free.) Please don’t forget to drop off a comment at my blog! I love hearing from you guys –it puts a smile on my face. So please do! http://justremy.blogspot.com/ Now, for the actual acknowledgements (in no particular order): First off, I’d like to thank kierra97 (Kierra) and Dreaming_Love (Addy) on Wattpad for their endless support. Both Addy and Kierra’s comments lightened up my entire day, and they continue to be two of my very best friends in the whole entire world. And also to Thebookangels (Aks, Rose and Laksh) for reading and making me the most amazing banner! It took her ages to find the perfect picture, but she found it! Thank you so much! Of course, I can’t forget MsBananaBomb (Selena) for writing me the most amazing song for this book. She’s the most talented song-writer I’ve met. AN HUMONGOUS THANK YOU to Alison Mason who edited this entire book! Oh my gosh, it must’ve taken her forever. But she did it. And got it back to me within a day. You’re my saviour, Alison. And how can I forget both the amazing joanna-t-tran9 (Joanna) who believed in me from the very first day I uploaded my first (and terribly written) book, A Passion Called Hate? I have every right to believe she was my first fan, and one of the most wonderful people in the world. A huge hug to CrimsonLinings (Cey) who makes strange noises against the computer screen every time I update a chapter. Thank you so much for making me laugh and smile at the same time at your randomness. And, again in no particular order, people who read this story first: Rainingmarshmallows, xTIRAMISUx, mavish20, storywriterlf97, angelyntjf, Jesseeehuang, loveleo, Rochick, sunshinelifee, Vivianx3, Fusiee, RadioGirl, relientkforg, artemis9 Thank you so much for being my pride and joy. You guys are all amazing. And so are you, reader, for giving this book a chance.

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