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Copyright 2011 by Fisher Amelie All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S.

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

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

The Leaving Series

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

The Understorey
Book One

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


Dont worry Jules, I thought, Ill be with you again and from the looks of it, probably very soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scrambling, Jules apologized, Im so sorry Mrs. Kitt! I wasnt paying attention and........ Oh darlin, its no big deal, Mrs. Kitt sang. Jules voice woke me from my catatonic state. I threw myself down onto the floor next to both women and helped them with the spill, purposefully reaching for the same paper Jules was in order to graze her hand. Little did I know the literal and figurative cataclysmic results of such a touch. A potent, electric shock raced through us and we yanked our hands away. Our touch sent a warm blaze of sparkling flash from our connected fingertips, spreading a tangled mesh of lit pressure that briefly painted the walls around us. It lasted only a second yet permanently altered me. Something huge and very unexplainable had definitely just happened. When all the worksheets were gathered, Jules and I straightened our backs but settled softly into our own bodies once our eyes met again, the anxiety eroding from our chests with each second that passed. We stayed knelt on the floor just staring at one another like idiots. We were dumbstruck by the physical reaction of our very physical touch and bewildered beyond belief at the lack of reaction from our classmates. What were we supposed to do though? Ask everyone why their lack of response was about as dull as watching bread bake? The entire class was already seated and Mrs. Kitt had to clear her throat to ask us if we would mind sitting in our own desks. That was the rest of the class cue to laugh hysterically. I playfully slapped the back of my buddy Matthew Tanens head as I walked by. We chose desks next to one another, but kept our gazes toward Mrs. Kitt to avoid anymore suspicion. If Jules thoughts had been

anything like mine, she had to have been scared out of her mind. When class was over, I gathered all of my things and waited for Jules to gather hers, assuming she and I were going to talk, but to my surprise she bolted for the door instead. I chased after her in the hallway. Jules! My name isnt Jules. Its Julia, she said over her shoulder, picking up her pace. Julia, stop running will ya? Why? Because its hard to run and talk. Well, you see, I dont want to talk. I guess that means I can run all I want. Wait a minute! I pulled her body short by grabbing her arm. The lightning bolt cracked and whipped its way around us, darkening the hall, only jagged shards of electricity illuminating our faces. I pulled my hand away in a slight daze and watched as she fled toward the lunchroom. Crap. I walked into the cafeteria, nodding to those who said hello, never allowing my stare to stray far from Jules. I sat next to Jesse and the other varsity seniors on the football team. To my dread, five of the cheerleaders, including Taylor Williams, shared the line of tables we all sat at but I did my best to ignore them. Conversations erupted around me but I was in my own world. Jules sat on her own. She looked relaxed but I knew it had to be an act. Her legs rested on the chair next to her and she was reading a book. A tiny, rapid bounce in her right knee exposed her true feelings.

Anxiety. Thats what it is. Jules shakes her head. Are you sure about that? No, not anxiety, she hates you dude. Can you blame her? You never bothered talking to her before. Why now?........Wait, wait, wait. Whatever that was in the hallway and classroom definitely meant something. Stupid, shes just scared, frightened is all. Its an amazing thing, our shared zap. Be honest with yourself, youre not really that alarmed by it. It feels natural. Maybe shes concerned about what it means. Yeah, shaken up. Its got nothing to do with you personally. Did you see how quickly she ran away from you though? She genuinely cant stand you man. Every chance she got she pushed you away. She hates you. I sighed out loud. I need her not to hate me. What can I do to get her not to hate me? How can I get her to stop detesting me and start listening to me? How should I approach her?
Jules looked up and caught me staring. I smiled crookedly and raised a weary hand but she rolled her eyes at me and returned to her book. She shifted her chair so her back would face me. Wait a minute. Wait just a gosh

darn minute! What is wrong with you dummy? Why do you need her not to hate you? Why should you care?........Yeah. I dont care! She doesnt want to talk to me? I dont want to talk to her!
I folded my arms in resolution. She leaned her elbow on the table beside her and started looping a strand of hair through her finger. She sighed and sat up straight. Her hair slid across the top of the chair and fell across her lovely back............I really, really need to talk to her.

I confirmed it was all an act when I took note that she hadnt turned a page in ten minutes. I would have given anything to know what she was thinking. I readied myself for the rebuff Id get when I walked over to her in three, two, one...... Dude? Where are you? Jesse asked, wrapping his knuckles on my head. I tossed my head back from his reach and looked his way. He was really starting to annoy me lately. Maybe I was spending too much time with him. The difference between medicine and poison is in the dose right? Im here, I said. No, youre not. What is up with you? Nothing, I said, turning my stare back to where Jules sat. She wasnt there and I got up in a panic. Uh, see you later. I gotta go. What? Whats up with you! He shouted as I escaped the cafeteria. I pounced through the double doors, peering down the center hall, the left, and then the right. She was gone. My shoulders slumped at the loss. Until tomorrow Julia

The following day I found out that I shared neither my first nor second class with Jules. I wanted to see her so badly that I was seriously considering ditching third period of the second day of school just to search for her. I decided against it though. Mainly, I chickened out. No sense in getting detention unless Jules was going to be there right? I compromised with reason and decided that right after lunch I would convince Millie in the office to let me look at Jules

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

braniac, right? I mean, youre always reading, so I assume. Not that I claim to be a braniac or anything. Im of pretty average intelligence, I think. I was drowning. Yeah, so, I continued, digging my embarrassment hole deeper. Hell, it was so deep I could bury myself in it. Good thing, too. I wanted to be buried. I heard they collaborated with Baylors College of Medicine in Houston. Nothing. I was beginning to think the book was attached to her nose. Houstons a pretty crazy town or so Ive heard. Supposedly the humidity is heck on girls hair. Your hair doesnt seem to take on that much humidity. Ive never seen it frizz anyway. I drummed my fingertips on the table. As I was saying, I said digging my grave further than needed, might as well go for gold here, its obviously done wonders for your teeth. She stopped her reading and scanned my eyes. Stop talking! I commanded myself. Yeah, your teeth are big and a pretty white. See, that wasnt so bad. You could mistake them for a horses.

Nice, very nice.

I nervously laughed. She didnt. When I was nervous, I resorted to inadvertent insults. She looked at me but turned her focus back on her book. Sweat was dripping down my neck. I carried my fingers through my hair and down the nape to remove any evidence of my impending social death. No sense in letting her see the physical evidence as well as the emotional proof that I was drowning. Im sorry. I didnt mean to compare your teeth to a horses. I was only trying to point out how large they were.

That is, I mean to say, that they are larger than most peoples. But! Perfectly proportionate to your face. Your face isnt huge or anything! Your face seems pretty average in its proportions. Yes, very well proportioned. I sighed deeply. What I meant to say is that you have very beautiful teeth.

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

talk to her. Third period I had band and it gave me a chance to calm down a little bit, for which I was grateful and allowed me to go to my last class of the day, chemistry, a little bit more relaxed until I walked through the door to the classroom. I was immediately crushed with borderline hysteria. I gulped a breath and slid past Julia who sat at a lab table in the center of class. I chose a table in the very back and sat with Sawyer Tuttle, whom everyone just called Tut. He nodded a hello and I nodded back. I set all my stuff down and just watched her. She reached for her bag on the ground and her hair gracefully slid across her shoulders and back as she pulled it onto the table. She opened the bags flap and felt around inside for her notebook and pen and pencil. She closed the flap and laid the bag back onto the floor but as she let the bag slide off her arm and fall to the linoleum she glanced behind her to see if I was watching. I smiled and she quickly turned her head back to the front of the classroom. She looked. That was enough for me. Thats when I noticed Sawyer Tuttle. His eyes followed her every movement. His fists tightened when she tossed her hair behind her shoulders and I had the overpowering desire to clobber his face. I searched for a reason to justify such a violent reaction but there was none. Damn. He wasnt doing anything repulsive. In fact, I was probably the only person in the room who even noticed him watching her; he was so subtle about it. Still, it felt as if he was asking me to hit him and it was bothering me that I didnt know why. I had no claim on Jules. She wasnt mine to get in fights over but I still wanted to and had to busy my hands in order to distract myself. Yep,

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

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

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

desperately to forget her. Every night, after dinner, I would get in my truck and tell myself to drive. Somewhere. Anywhere. Except to wherever Jules may be. That was my only rule. I forbade myself to look for Jules, convinced that I needed to break my dependence on knowing where she was, as if I could do that, but of course, every night, I meandered throughout town trying to tell myself that I wasnt out driving to see if Jules was at Thatchers, or at one of the shops off Main in Bramwells business district, or at her home, The Perry House, on Brick that turned into Main. I never had trouble with schoolwork before Jules either, but she distracted me so often, even in the classes we didnt share, that I would get home and have to try and teach myself everything I missed in class because the lessons behind the homework were never absorbed. I found myself wondering where she was, what she was doing, what she was wearing, how her hair looked, how she smelled, and what book shed be reading at lunch the next day. And the weekends? The weekends were pure torture. The Friday night of the second agonizing week, I left town and drove two hours to Charleston to get my mind off her. I went to an obscure little book store and actually wandered into the self-help section. I absently trailed my fingers along the titles praying there would be one that read Youre insane Elliott Gray. Stop obsessing about Julia Jacobs or Shes just a normal girl dummy. An abnormally beautiful and intelligent girl who just happens to share literal electricity with you but thats nothing to get so worked up about. Can you believe it? There wasnt, but there was one ironically entitled Getting over the one youre obsessed with. I laughed out loud, got a few shushes, and almost picked it up but stopped myself. I do need help, I thought to

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

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

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

have to pick this store? Of all stores? Why did I have to leave my keys in that stupid jacket in this stupid store?
I picked up the coat with a yank and headed back out toward my truck without giving her a second glance and shoved the stores door open with all my might. I had never been so angry with myself in my entire life. I wish I had stayed home and played board games with my mom and pop or called Jesse and see if he wasnt with a girl that night but I didnt. Instead, I had daftly removed any sort of minuscule chance of making something real with the one girl I couldnt stop thinking about. The drive home gave me the opportunity to analyze what had happened over and over in my mind and by the time I had arrived, according to my calculations, the atom bomb might as well have detonated inside that store. I demolished any hope of a future with Julia Jacobs. I stormed off to my room, ignoring my parents stares. I slammed the door behind me and kicked on my stereo before toppling onto the bed and laid there staring at the plastered ceiling until I noticed I still had that insipid jacket on. I sprang off my bed, tore off the jacket and threw it across the room and sank back onto the bed with enough force that my hair landed in my face. I brushed it over my

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

herself off the bed. Come on, its time for dinner. Oh, and Elliott? Remember, you never throw the first punch boy. Thats the rule. Just a reminder. It wont come to that mom. Trust me. I was beginning to scare myself. It was time to do something about my obsession.

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

betray myself if I do that. I just know Id end up smiling like the dope I am if those eyes met mine.

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

I cannot let this happen. I cannot let him near me. When the bell rings, I gather my books and haul towards the door. He chases me. Jules! He yells. My name isnt Jules. Its Julia, I yell back. Julia, stop running will ya? Why? I ask, curious to hear his response. Curiosity

killed the cat Julia.

Because its hard to run and talk? Not the answer Im looking for. I want him to say something like, because Im scared and not sure what do to or I need you to forgive me our past and move forward with me into what seems like an obvious future together. What? Too much? Well, you see, I dont want to talk, I say, I guess that means I can run all I want. I know this is rude, but I push down the guilt. Im denying my instincts with everything I have because if I didnt, Id have grabbed Elliotts hands the second I saw him standing with Jesse Thomas and wrapped my own inside them, refusing to let go ever, and that to me, is a dangerous, dangerous idea. Wait a minute! He says. He pulls my body short by grabbing my arm. The lightning from earlier is definitely not a coincidence. He yanks back his hand and I flee for the lunchroom. I hope and pray that he will not approach me while at lunch. I need some time to decide what to do, to decipher what our heated physical reaction is. I go to the table in the corner that I camped out alone at all of the year prior, sit down and use my feet to pull a nearby chair closer to my body before reclining them on top of the seat. I whip out my old friend George Orwell and desperately try to escape into Big

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

creep from the middle of my chest and out towards my arms, through my stomach and then my legs. Hes mad at me, I think. I dont know how I know this but I can say with absolute certainty that Ive offended him. I sit up straight at the comprehension of it and sigh in disappointment; disappointment, strangely, in myself for letting him down. Im scared of these automatic responses toward him. Acid bubbles in my stomach. I feel an overwhelming compulsion to flee. I must get away from him. I have to stop these involuntary answers or Im certain I will lose my heart. My heart is the one thing I am determined to safeguard. To protect it means I will never hurt again. Ever. I stand and gather my belongings. I glance his direction and notice that hes distracted by Jesse Thomas. Perfect, I think. I run. I run and run and burst through the double doors. I find a tile pillar and take refuge behind it, panting from the exertion. I hear him toss open the double doors and still, holding a breath in my already burning lungs. I can almost feel the disappointment roll off his shoulders before he retreats back to the cafeteria. I peer down at the floor and see his pain roll past me, ethereal jumbles of invisible smoke that toss and tumble against the linoleum. I breathe one in. Elliotts disappointment smells and tastes alkaline, like putting my tongue to the end of a battery. It makes me exceedingly uncomfortable. That night, I sit at my dining room table with my parents for dinner. The crushing formality of the entire process is exhausting. Its my mothers doing. Shes a lovely woman but incredibly particular when it comes to traditions and daughterly expectations. I love her but she is stifling. My father, on the other hand, makes life more than tolerable.

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

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

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

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

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

obsession on Elliott Gray. She tried her darndest but he wasnt noticing her and that meant there had to be a reason why. Apparently, according to Taylor, I was that reason. I may have even survived my complete lack of identifying within this social circle had I never been friends with Elliott in the first place because when Taylor found out that Elliott dumped me as his friend she felt guilty by association. That meant I was the contaminant that needed flushing. Long story short, Elliotts dumping of me was her cue to do the same. You know, a show of solidarity and obviously after that Elliott fell madly in love with her right? Anyway, they are the reason I decided that the only one I could count on was, well, myself. It is the reason Im a loner. I sit at my table, like I said, alone. It sounds lame but man, sometimes I like being alone. Reading is literally my favorite thing to do in the entire world. If I was being honest, Id have to admit that I didnt try very hard to make friends but then again they didnt make it easy either. I set my sack of carrots on my lap, prop my feet on the chair next to me and start reading about Big Brother again. I almost forget about Elliott, almost. A stinging, buzzing sensation starts to creep into my chest and suddenly I hear, I love that book. I glance with only my eyes and almost hyperventilate. Its Elliott and he looks unbelievably sweet with his bulky black glasses and chin length black hair. Hes nervous, an extremely rare side of him. Only a handful of times had I ever seen him get nervous. He wasnt even nervous that time in sixth grade when we almost slipped off the edge of the deep crevice by the old waterfalls and nearly went toppling to our deaths. He caught me and pulled me into his

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

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

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

sign that hes near. Uh, oh. I bite down on my lower lip to control its trembling anticipation. Im bewildered by these inherent reactions to him. He walks into the classroom and I take a sharp intake of breath, biting my lip a little too hard and tasting blood. Elliott winces but I'm not sure why. He slides past my table and I avoid eye contact. He joins Sawyer at the lab table behind me. I realize now that I should have made Sawyer come sit next to me so I wouldnt be alone with Elliotts eyes piercing the back of my head. I reach for my bag on the linoleum and pull it onto the lab table. I open the flap and feel around for my notebook, pens and pencils. I close the flap and place the bag back onto the floor but I cant control myself and I sneak a peek over my shoulder in his direction. He smiles at me. I fix my direction at the blackboard and chide myself for being so careless. Everywhere I go in town, Elliott seems to be there. He is out and about way more than Id ever seen him out before. Hes looking for me and Im troubled by the fact that Im not as upset about this as I should be. In fact, I actually look forward to seeing him. The very few times Im certain he cant see me provides the window I am looking for to observe him. By just how much as he truly changed or has

he stayed the same?

Theres no denying it now. Ive already begun to ache for Elliott. Ugh. I lay in bed, grasping at my heart, praying that the ache will dull but it never does. I feel addicted to his touch. A single touch has sealed my fate. The few weeks of playing cat and mouse has a

profound effect on me. My life is filled with unbelievable anxiety every moment I am awake. I do everything in my power to get him off my mind but fail. The Tuesday of the second week of our careful dance my mom sends me to the store to pick up a bell pepper. Careful to avoid the main streets Elliott often travels, I arrive at the store and lock my car. I peek above the top of my Karmann Ghia and spot Elliott getting out of his truck. I duck down like an idiot only to realize that my car is in no way inconspicuous. Its Tiffany blue and older than ninety-nine percent of the cars in the lot. I crouch down and practically crawl towards the entrance, watching his feet underneath the cars as he passes. My head hits something hard and I glance up. Sawyer. Uh, Julia? I shoot to my feet after Elliott passes us and watch him head toward the entrance, his back toward me. Uh, hey Sawyer. Whats up? Nothing. He laughs, Whats up with you? This is why I like Sawyer. He doesnt even bother asking why Im crawling in the grocery store parking lot. Just getting a bell pepper for me ma. You? Similar errands but I need a lemon. Ahh, I sigh, the curse of the driving teen. I eye Sawyer carefully. Doesnt your mom make lemon chicken, like, three times a week? I peek Elliotts direction. She should just invest in a fruit of the month club. Skip the produce section altogether, just have it delivered already. Right. Anyway, shall we? He asks, gesturing toward the entrance. I toss an extra glance Elliotts way and discover hes talking to a woman at the door.

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

The woman laughs but loses the happiness just as quickly as it came. Well, Elliott continues, I believe Ive got a few tricks up my sleeve for Samuel here. How about we take a trip down the baby aisle together? Oh thank you..... Elliott. .....Elliott. Thank you. I am so embarrassed. Ive never had to do anything like this before but Im desperate. Its either this or head to the nearest soup kitchen but I dont have a car and I dont want to expose Samuel to the elements. I understand...." Karen. ....Only a great mom would brave asking a stranger for help. Id be honored to help you guys out. Truly, it would make my day. Both Elliott and Karen, with Samuel in tow, headed toward the baby aisle. I decide that this will be the extent of my eavesdropping, that I wont risk the possibility of further humiliation. I am firm in my decision. Maybe another

second wouldn't hurt.

I crept one aisle over and listened to their progress. A little old lady rushed past me in her cart, eyeing me strangely. I know, Im insane grandma. So, what does Samuel like to eat Karen? Oatmeal. He loves banana oatmeal. I hear box after box toss into a cart. Karen laughs. He doesnt need that much, she says. Im sure he doesnt but I just want to make sure. Alright, how about these? I remember when my little sister was about Samuels age she couldnt get enough of these.

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

I hear his cart rumbling down the aisle and I haul my ridiculous feet to the end cap opposite the direction theyre traveling. When he passes my aisle, I almost trip over myself racing to the other side, trying to eavesdrop yet again. Grandma is plainly gawking at me now. I shrug my shoulders and lean down to get a better grip on their friendly conversation while I trail him all around the market. He gets her all sorts of non-perishables. Smart, I think, but he also gets her a few staples like milk and eggs. When they head towards the checkout counter I follow closely and lean near the end cap to listen in. They talk about her life at home, where she works, and what Samuels habits and talents are. Elliott comments on what a well behaved baby he is, how smart he seems to be, and what an amazing disposition he possesses. I find myself drawn to Elliott then, like a string connects our hearts and that string is coiling tighter and tighter, drawing me closer and closer to him. I realize that Im seeing Elliott at his best and the ironic part is that he isnt even doing this in show. This is genuinely who he is. As far as hes concerned, no one knows what hes doing and that melts away one of the protective layers Ive so carefully built around my heart. It clamors in that instant and I begin to daydream what it would be like to run my fingers through his hair and hold his face in my hands. If I could, I would let him know just

what I think of what hes doing. Perhaps Id do just that with a kiss. What would that be li....
Boo, I hear from behind me. I jump and shriek. Everyones eyes turn my way. I cant see Elliott but Im more than positive he and Karen are looking our direction, as curious as the rest of the stores patrons

are. I hit Sawyer. Sawyer! I whisper yell. Julia! He mocks, holding his gut in laughter. What the heck are you doing? I start laughing with him. Nothing. Im just a big buffoon. Hanging on the end cap like an overgrown monkey. Oh, is that why you were dragging your knuckles on the ground outside? I hit him once more and start laughing again. What are you looking at? He asks, trying to peek over my shoulder at the checkout lines. Nothing. Nothing, I say, pushing him towards Dairy. Uh, huh. Seriously Sawyer. Stop. Alright, alright. My early man poses are just between you and me. Agreed? Alright but itll cost ya. Yeah, yeah. Put it on my tab. Wheres your bell pepper? He asks studying my empty hands. Uh, I havent gotten it yet, I say, shoving my hands in the back pockets of my jeans. Wheres your list? I square my shoulders, In my pocket. He raises an eyebrow, Alright, let me see it. I sigh in frustration and slump down in defeat. Okay, theres no list. I was trying to avoid someone. He raises another eyebrow, The same someone you were trying to avoid in French? I dont answer.

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

in his forearms flexed, sending me into a frenzy. Jeez. Get

a grip Julia.
Elliott turned toward the Colston's front door. Ezra Colston got into an auto accident his senior year and broke his back. He barely finished high school and has been confined to a wheel chair for the past two years. His friends used to come around a lot but when they all went their separate ways to college, Ezra was sort of left on his own. He attends classes at the local community college and plans on transferring to university as soon as his lengthy rehabilitation is over. He cant live on his own right now because of it and is forced to bide his time at home until then. At first, Ezra was sort of lonely I think, but then last year nineteen year old Delphine moved across the street and now Im not so sure he regrets living at home. He loves her. She loves him. But shes stupid and wont take a chance, too scared to let him make the first move. Dunce.

Hypocrite. What? Who said that?

I visit Ezra once a week but hes never mentioned Elliott to me. I start to think hes using Ezra as an excuse to see me but when Ezra opens his door Elliott hugs him and they do this secret handshake thing that makes me think otherwise. Hmm. They stand on his porch and joke and laugh for what seems like forever. Ezra points my direction and Elliott drags his hand back down which sends a secret thrill through me, though I'd never say it out loud. Ezra starts laughing and Elliott jokingly wheels Ezras chair into the house. You surprise me Elliott Gray. I still suspect that Elliott is using Ezra for information despite their obvious friendship and decide to

wait him out but I fall asleep on my moms stiff sofa instead. My dad wakes me for dinner. What are you doing sweetheart? Im on a stake out. Oh, okay, he says, comfortable with my idiosyncrasies. I gaze out the window and Elliotts truck is still there. Huh. I decide Im going to go to Ezras after dinner only if Elliotts out of there. I stuff my face much to the dismay of my mother and run back to the window to see Elliotts truck gone. Yes! And no? Get it together Julia. I dash out the front door and march up Ezras porch. I pound on the frame of the screen door, Ezra! Open up Ez! What the bloody heck are you doing creature? Ezras like the brother I never had. I annoy him, he annoys me, but we'd do anything for each other. Why was Elliott Gray at your house all afternoon? Because hes my friend, he says, a small smile twists up the side of his mouth. How come Ive never seen him here before? Maybe because youre blind? I dont know. He comes here like twice a week Julia. We hang out and stuff. Hes cool. Why? You like him? An eyebrow raised. Immediately, Im on the defensive, No! Doesnt appear that way to me girly. Youre all flustered and red in the face. Looks like youre ready to huff and puff and blow my house down. Ezra Colston! What are you talking about? Go home, look in the mirror Julia. Youre smitten with Elliott Gray. Boy, that is hilarious. Never thought Id see the day that Julia Jacobs was a smitten kitten! Kind of always pegged you for a panther myself but heck Ive been wrong

before. I am not! I am not as you say a smitten kitten! Im.....Im.... Doing a fantastic job of defending myself? Alright Julia, whatever you say, he says closing the door. I heard him chuckling through it and marched myself back over to my parents home. I stop in the foyer and glance in the mirror. Darn. Hes right. I am a smitten kitten.

Can makeup fix this?

Thursday proves rather difficult at school. Now that Sawyer is on to me hes paying very close attention to everything I do. Friday rolls around and to be perfectly honest, I was exhausted. Between avoiding Elliott, wanting to find Elliott, wanting Elliott to find me, avoiding Sawyer, listening to Ezra taunt me about how Elliott and I are sitting in a supposed tree, school, homework, and parents Ive had enough. Im glad to have the week over with and plan a visit to Koans, my favorite indie book store in Charleston. I want to load up on books and camp in my room until school starts back up the following Monday; a little mini-vacay from my impossible life. No more Elliott. No more obsessing. Koans is amazing. Only the hippest cats in town know about it. Okay, thats sort of a stupid thing to say about a bookstore but lets just say its off the beaten path. I head in and inhale the sharp smells of fresh ink. The earthy smell of paper permeates the air around me and I close my eyes for just a moment enjoying the temporary escape. I greedily finger the display piles and run my palms over the covers. If I were wealthy, Id swim in a pile of books. I wouldnt even

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

stand there waiting for my turn when I hear the door jingle again. I look up and suck in a breath. Elliott. My eyes widen then narrow, trying to figure out if hes been near me that entire time, if he was the reason my chest ached. My heart tingles yet again. I lock eyes with him. Elliott trips over a chair. His face and neck turn a brilliant red and I feel so sorry for him. The girl in front of me laughs. That infuriates me. I fight the urge to pull her hair. Violent. Why so violent? Thats not like me. He yanks his coat from a chair and storms toward the door without so much as a second glance. My heart aches for him, cries for him. Be right back Chuck, I say, and toss my book onto the counter. I chase after him but Im too late. Hes gone. Probably a good thing, I remind myself. I need to get over this

obsession. He may be the sweetest boy Ive ever met but that doesnt mean hes not going to break my heart. I return
to the store and make my purchases. Saturday proves to be harder to sit through than I thought. The books are just not doing it for me, not distracting me the way I wanted them to. I sit up, resign myself to doing something outside. I promise myself that I am not getting out to search for Elliott today but even I know thats a lie. I push my books from my lap and onto the bed and head to my dad's study. Pop? Want to walk into town with me? I would schnitzel but Im swamped. Schnitzel is a nickname he gave me at two. No prob Bob. Im gonna go to Sadies shop then. Take a look around. See if theres anything good on the shelves

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

therefore it is safe to assume that I am popular as well. Sure Sadie. Apparently you havent heard, so Ill enlighten you. The name Julia Jacobs is synonymous with Bluefield Pariah. Nonsense. Sadie, Sadie, Sadie. Its true. Hmmm, she says. I change the subject. Do you know the Gray family Sadie?

Awesome subject change Julia. You numb skull.

Mark and Shelby? Wasnt their boy Elliott your best friend growing up? That hit too close to home. My heart begins to ache. Yeah. Well? What about them? Oh, nothing, just curious to know if you knew them or not. Ohhh, I see. Youre smitten with Elliott Gray. I am not! Why does everyone keep saying that? I can just tell, always had a feeling about you two kids. This is good Julia. No, its not, I say.

Did I just admit to being smitten with Elliott Gray? To Sadie? Out loud?
Yes, it is. Now come over here. I have some awesome new jeans that just came in. I follow Sadie. I saw him yesterday, I whisper. Who? She teases. You know who Sadie! Sheesh. Where? The grocery store. He did something extraordinary.

What? Did he use paper instead of plastic? Hardy, har, har. I swallow. He helped a woman in need. Im not surprised. He was always such a generous boy. She was with her baby and he bought them food and supplies to last them awhile. Thats incredibly sweet Julia. I know, I admit quietly, and he did it while keeping her dignity intact. Ive never seen anything like it. A lump forms in my throat.

There he goes, affecting me again.

I stick around Sadies shop for about an hour. I lounge on the dark purple settee she has in her window, people watching and chatting with Sadie about nothing in particular. Thats when I see him. I jump up and crouch behind the settee, my head just above the tufted back. He walks over to the newly renovated old fashioned train station and sits on the bench just outside it. What are you

up to now Elliott gray?

What are you doing Julia? Shh, get down. I grab her sleeve and pull. Im spying on Elliott Gray. Sadie crouches down beside me. Whats he doing? She asks. Hes just sitting there. Wait! Someones coming! Isnt that Robyn Larson? I accidentally growl through gritted teeth. Oops. Sadie laughs. Robyn Larson is an incredibly sweet girl but shes rather popular with the boys at school. I tried once our sophomore year to get her to be my friend, thought it would help her self-esteem a little, get her to realize she was something worth waiting for but it wasnt happening. She

knew what she wanted. I tried, at least. I dont like him. I dont want him, I say bluntly. Oh yeah, because everyone growls. Its a natural part of everyday conversation right? I have no witty retort for that. What do you suppose theyre talking about? Sadie asks. I dont know. Why didnt I bring my spy equipment with me today? You left them at home again? She snaps her middle finger and thumb, playing along. Must be setting next to the four inch incisors that came with that growl. Funny. I thought it was. Elliott and Robyn sit for at least half an hour before going their separate ways. Sadie and I stay camped out on the floor even after Elliott turns the corner at Thatchers. Apparently, neither of us heard the bell ring earlier because I look to my left and Sawyer is crouched beside me. What are we looking at? He asks, with the largest smile on his face, when I finally take notice of him. Are you destined to interrupt every embarrassing moment I have? Looks like it. Awesome. What? Do you get memos or something? Possibly. Mind forwarding those to me? Id rather avoid these little moments if I could. Where would be the fun in that? We all stand up and Sadie tucks herself behind her counter. What are you doing Julia? You have to tell me now. I cant Sawyer. Dont ask again, please? I just cant. Sawyer sighs. Alright.

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

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

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

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

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

Which was all the more reason to fear him.

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

likes that guy so much. They share a one track mind. Jerk.

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

She didnt respond. Julia? I nearly shouted. She walked right past me and I, against my better judgment, followed suit. Before I could reach her she was already through the doors. I picked up my pace, tossed open the schools double doors and raced into the hall. When the doors opened, the air spilling in from the outside tossed her hair about her face and carried that honeysuckle-orange scent rolling towards me. I recovered from the fragrant punch and when I caught up with her dug my hands into my pockets to keep from seizing her in my arms. The last thing I wanted was an electric shock to spook her away from me again. I wound my way around the other students in the crowded hall, leaned over her shoulder and spoke closely into her ear. Jules, can I talk to you? Goosebumps rose on the flesh of her neck. I had gotten her attention. Though she didnt confirm it with that pouty bottom lip, I had definitely caught her attention. She stopped at her locker and began to spin its dial. Alright, two

can play at this game.

Jules, I sighed, casually leaning my shoulder against the locker next to hers. I kept my hands in my pockets for safekeeping. Seeing that you wont talk to me, I guess Ill talk to you. I want to know what were going to do about what happened in the hall outside Mrs. Kitts class, and inside her class, and every time weve seen each other since? Im dying here. I pulled my hands from my pockets and ran them through my hair but put them back, just in case. I cant eat. I cant sleep. I dream about you all day. Against my will, youve polluted my thoughts. She turned, wide eyed, angry and mouth agape. Just the

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

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

obviously an older picture of Justin Weber because he was easily twenty pounds lighter in the picture than he was in real life. He was standing in front of his auto body shop and there was a rented sports car between himself and his garage. On the hood laid Kitty, in a fitted jumpsuit with Justins logo on the front. Kitty was Justins ex-girlfriend from Charleston who left him for a big city man but he just wouldnt let her go. Shell be back, hed always say. Poor guy, total denial. On the top in big letters it read, Come to Justins. Well treat you right. Jules had already begun to wrap her book. Her thin fingers carefully measured the folds and creased them attentively. She pressed the side of her thumbs knuckle across the crease to make sure it took. She did this for all four sides of the cover but on the fourth crease accidentally gave herself a paper cut. The shared pain was sharp and intense and made me jump when she did. The throb subsided when she brought her knuckle to her tongue to soothe the ache. She looked over at me briefly, knowing full well I felt the slice. Are you okay? I asked. Yes, thank you, she said, breathing heavily from the realization rather than the laceration. She turned back to her task. Jules was the only one who wrapped her book inside out so the paper would be blank and she could draw on it later. When she was done, I threw a dorky smile her way, and copied her, but for a very different reason. I took out my pen and wrote on the top of the cover in very small letters, bracing myself for the long fight it was going to take to erase whatever idea she had of who I was and what I wanted her to be to me.

Hi. What do you want Elliott? Can we talk? About what? You know what. About your following me to Koans? I DID NOT follow you to Koans. Right. Exactly. I am right. It was a coincidence. Boy, you must think the world revolves around you. I do not! Dont try to make me appear as if Im imagining things. Ive noticed you watching me. How would you even know that Jules? If you werent watching me as well? Its Julia, Elliott. Class is about to start. I dont have time for your games.
She turned to her own notebook. I wrote and shoved the cover into her face.

Are we ever going to talk about what happened the first day of school?
She hesitated, but at last answered me.

I have no idea what youre talking about. Jules. My name is Julia, not Jules, Elliott. How many times do I have to tell you? I know that but I like Jules. Ive noticed Im the only one who calls you that. It makes me a part of you that only we share.
She wasnt expecting that answer and I could see when her eyes widened then quickly narrowed that she wasnt exactly adverse to the idea. Whew.

Whats your motivation? I have to have a motivation to talk to you? Boys like you always have a motivation. Boys like me, huh? Youve never struck me as the type who read into stereotypes Jules. I didnt know you were such a snob. Im the snob? Spare me. What about the first day of school, huh? Did I act like a snob then? It seems to me that youre the one whos the snob. Youve avoided me like the plague. You see me coming and you run the other direction. Ive gotten the cold shoulder from you for the past three weeks.
She reached out her hand to yank the pen from mine in retaliation. Her finger grazed mine and the contact struck a sparkled heat between us. We pulled away as if they were hands held to a stove. Everyone around us were completely unaware of the netted lightning bolt that stuck us stiff to our seats and quieted us from its silently deafening effects. With trembling hands I wrote,

Theres no denying that baby girl. Youre right. I cannot deny that, even if I wanted to.
I looked at her, confused.

Do you? What? Want to deny it? Kind of. Youre literally breaking my heart Jules. Am I really that bad? Its not that. Its just, I dont trust you. Why?

How do I know youre the same Elliott Gray who would play with me on the rock bridge as kids? You seemed to have changed when we entered eighth grade. It seemed as if overnight we just stopped being friends.
Maybe I was the snob.

Oh, Jules. Im sorry, really. I was an idiot and afraid of girls. Honestly, it seemed like you wanted nothing to do with me so I stopped talking to you. I wasnt some girl Elliott. I was your friend. It was all so awkward that first day and I didnt know what I had done. Only one day had passed since last we saw one another, but you ignored me as if we hardly knew each other at all. I admit, I did act as if I wanted nothing to do with you, but I was only doing that to protect myself from the way you were acting. Im sorry too. I should have just come out and asked you.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Again, Im sorry. But, I have to admit, Im kind of glad we ignored each other. That was mean. Ask me why Jules. Okay, why? Because, if we hadnt grown apart maybe we never would have found our thing and I kind of like our thing. Growing apart meant that we became the people we are today and you seem to be an amazing someone, whom I may have never noticed had we not grown up without each other. Our thing may have gotten lost in the friendship. This brings me to my next question. Whats happening to us? I dont know. Your guess is as good as mine.

She swallowed hard. She knew what was happening.

I know what happened to us. Then whyd you ask? I just wanted to confirm that you knew too, so I dont look like a fool again. I do an incredible job of looking foolish in front of you without even realizing it until its too late.
She put the back of her index finger up to her mouth and quietly laughed at me. She was laughing. Progress. All it took was an incredibly frightening thing.

Whats so funny? You. Youre funny. Why? Because even with our thing, our powerful, powerful thing, your ego is afraid of rejection Elliott Gray. This town still has a slight hold on you, I think. Youve got me pegged pretty well Jacobs. I know. What should we do about it then? Talk after class? And why not now? As far as Im concerned, weve just gotten started. Youve somethin better to do?
When she didnt answer, I looked at her and she nodded toward the front of the classroom. It was Mrs. Kitt. She had been watching us and was headed our way. I turned over my book and werent able to talk or write for the rest of the class. Jules was definitely lowering her defenses and I was making plans to disarm her completely by the end of the week. On our way to lunch, Jules and I walked side by side. I didnt want to unnerve her so I stayed pretty quiet. When I didnt say anything, I clumsily gave her the impression that I

was no longer interested in talking. See you third period, she said and started walking quickly toward her usual table. I jogged to catch up with her. Uh, I dont think so Jules. I just got you to start talking to me. Where do you think youre going? Well, I didnt think youd want to be seen eating lunch with the freak of Bluefield High, she laughed. She was being sarcastic. She knew that was her reputation and probably reveled in it. Is there a freak here? Point them out to me? Ive never seen one up close before. She rolled her eyes. You sure do make a lot of assumptions about me, I said. Why dont you just throw out whatever preconceived notions you hold of who you think I am and consider me a blank slate. Now come on, lets sit at your table. Itll be easier to talk if were alone. I grabbed her hand and the surge permeated my skin and gave me the most luxurious calm pulsing through my arm and torso. We sat down and she stared at the wall away from me. So, Julia Jacobs, why do you sit here day after day by yourself? Dont you have any friends at Bluefield? Yikes. Youre nosy. If you must know, she said, placing her elbow on the table and leaning her body toward me, none of the girls here like me because of Taylor Williams noxious gossip and none of the boys like me because theyre afraid of me. Im sorry. I didnt know about the girls. Honest. I dont listen to anything anyone says about others around here. Gossip just doesnt appeal to me.

I find that................refreshing, she mused, her eyes brightened. She reclined again in her seat and brought her legs to the chair next to her There are lots of things you might find refreshing about me. Ill be the judge of that. As far as the boys are concerned, I can see why theyd be afraid of you. Ha! That was rude. Are you surprised? You sulk around here. Pay little to no attention to anyone and sneer at the ones who even attempt to talk to you. You dont know what youre talking about. Its a matter of self preservation. You think I enjoy having to be put up with? What would you know about it anyway? Youre just as much of a freak, or whatever their definition of a freak is, as I am. Yet, since youre the king of their football team they look right past it. I know you listen to all the same music I do. I know that you secretly think my clothing is kind of cool. She slid her hands down her waist. I have a pretty good feeling that you cant stand most of your lemming friends and Im also willing to bet you dont really care what they think. Oh yeah? And what makes you think I dont care what they think? They are my friends after all. Because youre sitting at this table while your friends whisper and stare. She threw her eyes in the direction of the team table. If you cared so much, you wouldnt be here at all. Youre perfectly aware of the trouble Im going to cause you by being here right now. Still, here you are. She had hit the nail on the head. I didnt care. I only

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

this. This I said gesturing with my free hand around us, should be proof enough. I let go of her arm and we both relaxed from the release of the lit tension. She stared seriously into my eyes. Im.....Im sorry Elliott. Youre right. I, I did judge you unfairly. Well, good, I said, running my fingers through my hair, and Im sorry if I ever gave you the impression that I was anything like the idiots just beyond those doors. She smiled and sniffed. So? I asked. So, I think that maybe you should call me tonight. Seriously? That would be really nice. Alright. Here. She grabbed my hand and took a pen from the inside pocket of her bag. She wrote her number on my palm then looked up at me and smiled before releasing our grip. If this were a movie, this would be where we break away from one another and the gooey music would be cued, but.... I said. But we still have like twenty minutes of lunch together? And third period next? I moved next to Jules at the lockers. We slid to the linoleum floor in unison. We ate and passed back and forth simple questions like, whats your favorite color? Things like that. We had things in common that didnt really matter much on paper but, to me, were an indication of the things to come. Also, we shared birthdays. I had forgotten about that. Growing up we were always aware that wed have to plan our parties around the other until, that is, Jules no longer threw them. It didnt seem that significant then but

intimidated me now. I wondered what it meant. Feel like adding weirder to the already weird? Our birth date was February, 29th, leap year. We talked music, food, movies, books and when they bell rang, much, much too soon, we headed for third period. Without even skin contact, I could tell her heart was lighter and that mine beat in rhythm with hers. That night, I asked my mom if I could borrow her cell. I borrowed it all the time to talk privately in my room because Maddy had a tendency to get on the other line and eavesdrop, so my mom thought nothing of it. I picked up the phone and ran up the creaky kitchen wooden stairs to my room. My hand shook as I nervously dialed the number written on my hand. Three rings. Her dad answered. Hello? Jacobs residence. Hello? Mr. Jacobs? This is Elliott Gray. May I speak with Jule, uh, Julia please? Just a moment. The silent wait was torturous. My bouncing knee would have kept time with a hummingbirds wings. Hello? Hello? Just hello? Hi Elliott. Jules. She didnt correct her name. My heart swelled. Can you talk? I asked. Just a sec, she said and laid her hand over the receiver before continuing, Pop, please? Im beggin you. There was a ruffling sound and a chair scooting backward. Thank you! I hereby retract calling your love for Tiny Dancer lame! She yelled the last part then laughed.

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

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

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

uncomfortably in my computer chair. So, I looked around to ensure that no one was there. I mean, it is in the middle of nowhere and you and I are the only two people in the world that I knew of who had any idea where it was so I took off my cut-offs and my tank top and left them with my flip flops on that tree stump that got hit by lightning when we were kids at the edge of the creek. Anyway, so I dove in. I was having a marvelous time just swimming and enjoying the cool water but when I got out and started for the stump where my clothes were, they werent there. I started to worry that someone had seen me and I kind of began to panic until I remembered that I had left half a candy bar in my shorts pocket. Thats when I noticed the raccoon tracks trailing away from the scene of its crime. Whatd you do? I said, swallowing hard. The only thing I could do. I put on my flip flops and walked back to Carmen in my underwear. I laughed so hard. How did you drive through town without people noticing? Well, when I got back to the car I remembered I had an old hand towel from my Tribal dance class in the back so I draped it over my chest and practically sped through town. I s a y, practically sped because I didnt want to risk embarrassing myself or your Uncle Danny. My Uncle Danny was the towns sheriff. Oh my gosh, thats hilarious. Well then came the hard part. The hard part? Yeah, so I made it home right? My parents werent there and I had no way of calling for help. Plus, go figure, I only had one key and it was for the front door, meaning the back

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

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

and shes skittish. I dont want to scare her off. Awww man! Elliott! All heads turned our way. Shhhhh! Keep your voice down. Elliott, you cant go out with Julia Jacobs, he whispered. I can do whatever I want Jesse. He got unusually serious for a moment and his face and voice grew menacing. Youd be smart to stay away from her Elliott. Trust me, youd be the smartest person in the world to stay away from her. Whatever Jesse. Thats enough ordering me around. Class is about to start. I tried to pass off what Jesse said but it really rubbed me the wrong way. It wasnt so much what he said, but how he said it that gave me the willies. I decided to ignore it. I had better things to think about, like Jules hair and skin. After rocking it out for an hour and a half. I thought about changing my sweaty t-shirt but was too excited to see Jules. My hair even stuck to the back of my neck, I was so sticky with sweat. I threw my book bag onto my shoulder, stuck my sticks in the back pockets of my jeans and hauled over to Mr. Belkins Chemistry class. I sat at the lab table in the back with my little friend Sawyer Tuttle. I say little, but the guy was at least six foot two with a broad chest that could probably take a few punches, darn it. Jules wasnt there yet so I took my sticks out of the back of my jeans to play with on the lab table while I waited for her to walk in. I really got into whatever it was I was playing because when she strolled in Tut had to shove at one of my elbows, causing me to drop one of my sticks, to

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

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


Wow, this is going to work out really well, I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Williams is in love with you. No! I said emphatically. Youre wrong. She only thinks shes in love with me. She just wants what she thinks I am. And whats that? Her ticket to prom queen. Oh, said Jules. She bit her lower lip to keep from laughing. Shallow right? I asked. Jules became serious. A bit, but more sad than anything else. Imagine if she spent as much time and energy as she wastes on the unimportant doing something that could improve her mind. She could be extraordinary if she wanted to be. You give her more credit than I do Jules. Jules took a spoonful from her pudding cup. I was impressed with Jules at that moment. Even with the cruelty Taylor threw her way, Jules still thought she was salvageable. I added gracious to the never ending list of amazing things I thought about her. The bell rang and I picked up Jules bag for her and carried it to class. I like talking to you Jules. Its easy, natural. It might help that we used to go fishing for tadpoles as kids on the creek and play king of the mountain on the giant rock bridge. No, I dont think thats it, I said, walking to our class. I think its because we think alike. The bell rang after third period. Hey, I said, meet me at my truck after school? Im in lot B. Okaaaay, she sang. You said youd come Jules.

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

People stopped by there like gossiping was on their to do list, right next to shopping at the market and paying the water bill and it wasnt surprising at all to see through the window that afternoon all the little housewives huddled around Gerties desk, chattering and wide eyed. There were a few more wives than usual on account it was the day before our first game and apparently there were things that needed to be talked about. Our town was obsessed with our high schools football team. They sat at the edge of their seats all summer waiting for the first seasons game. If I had been smart, or patient, I would have done what the few kids in our town who were actually dating each other knew to do and that was to go to Charleston. No one could pry into your fledgling relationship if they didnt know about it, right? You see, Bramwell was the kind of town where the parents had nothing to do but become obsessed with their own children. Living vicariously through their football playing and cheerleading offspring but there was only one diner in the whole damn town and it was a school night so we werent allowed to stay out late and I definitely wasnt going to wait until the weekend to take her out since Friday night was the game and Saturday was too far away. I felt confident that if I asked her about our lightning bolt, she might stick around this time. Wed been avoiding the matter entirely. Granted, the subject wasnt exactly school appropriate because people were really good at eavesdropping on us. I knew this because Id get a full on angry report from Jesse later, on what Taylor thought of things we did or didnt say to each other. So basically, you can see I didnt really have a choice. It didnt help much that Julia wasnt your typical Bramwell resident. While the other girls were painting their

nails and practicing their hurkeys, Julia was painting a canvas and practicing her guitar. For this, she was considered the moody and pensive outcast, but she didnt care. I loved this about her because she had the guts to stand out amongst the cookie cutters, at least thats what she called them, and I didnt. While we drove to Thatchers, we stayed perfectly quiet the ride there. I think it may have been the anticipation of the conversation about our grossly intense lightning bolt that unsettled us or maybe it was because we werent officially dating and I didnt know how Jules felt about that after todays denial of it at lunch. Personally, I was more scared of what the lightning bolt actually meant as opposed to the bolt itself. I could handle Jules denial of me. That was a piece of cake in comparison. As we drove, I followed a bead of sweat dripping down Jules neck. It was starting to stifle inside the cab. It was an unusually warm day in September and my truck had no air conditioning, so we rolled down the windows and I stared as her long hair lifted and dove with the breath of the wind. Smiles were the only form of communication we held and if my dashboard had been a confessional, it would have known we were promised to be thick as thieves. Thatchers seemed pretty busy. I hopped out and ran to the other side of the truck to open her door for her. I took her hand and the cindery flash shot up both our arms. I let go and she looked at me, paralyzed. It was warmer, brighter. When I smiled, she caught it and I could see all the muscles in her body relax at once as she took the same hand I had previously offered yet again. When her hand cupped with mine, there it was, that same shocking voltage, but this time, it was no longer

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

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

you ever read Platos Symposium? I chuckled on the inside. What are you trying to say? I asked. We were once, together, a hermaphrodite? She laughed wildly. I could tell she was shocked and frightfully pleased that I even got the reference. It suddenly doesnt sound as romantic as I meant it to sound but it would explain the lightning bolt feeling. Youre ridiculous," I teased. Im only kidding, but still, it can be our own private joke," she said, beaming. Already weve got an inside joke? Dont you think thats a big step? Arent inside jokes for people with labels? Were not even friends. I had only said that because of what she had said at lunch. We arent? She asked pleadingly. I didnt know what I was doing. I had forgotten how to be a man. Forget parameters, I thought to myself. Forget lunch.

Tell her what you want.

No Jules. We arent friends but thats going to change, because were going to start dating. A little too forceful. If thats okay with you? I amended. She looked pleased, but I couldnt tell for sure. Elliott Gray. Ive never met anyone like you. Youre nothing like Id thought youd be. How you appear to others is not what I see in your heart. Youre well liked at school, but you dont seem to care. Youre the starting quarterback, and from what Ive heard your phenomenal, but you dont seem to be bothered to even talk about it. Youre an

enigma. Oh that, I said, clearing my throat. I do that for my pop. Dont get me wrong, I like playing. I mean, its fun and all, but he wants me to play college and frankly I havent figured out a way to break it to him that I wont be doing that. At that moment, Thatchers door opened up and let a tiny gust of wind in. The wind carried itself throughout the diner, caught Julias perfume and sent it through my nostrils. It assaulted me, and again, I forgot what we had been talking about. It tasted of honeysuckle and citrus and it was intoxicating. I almost shot up, snatched her hand, and dragged her from that booth. I didnt know what I was going to do then, but I can tell you this, if the food hadnt come to free me from the thought I would have seized her with everything I had in front of Thatcher and the whole inane town. Thatcher tossed everything down and slumped away. It was hot so we let it cool for a moment or maybe we were just too excited to eat. Let me try something, she said. She reached out her hand, her palm facing me and waited for mine. I reached up my own hand and met it with hers. The voltaic strike punched through us but neither of us pulled away, darkening the diner around our booth. A hot heat built between our palms and our breathing got heavier and deeper as the charge trembled through us. I had to pull my hand away just to keep my sanity about me. Thats an amazing feeling, isnt it?" She asked. Its unfathomable, I said. What is it? She asked bluntly. Asking the very question I had wanted answered since day one.

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

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

highways for dead animal carcasses. How does getting in my truck with me and perusing for smelly deer sound? Thats disgusting. Is that a real job? Of course it is Jules. What do you think happens to all those animals? We have to prevent diseases you know. Plus, its just unsightly. We smiled at each other. Then she paused and looked at me strangely. Wow Elliott, I must say, Im a little affected by you. To say the very least, Jules. When I got home, my mom was livid but my dad was too interested in what happened at practice that morning to let my mom rant anymore about the no good I was probably up to. I let her know I was at Thatchers with some kids from school from the time I had left until just before I got home. I told her she could check with Thatcher. While my dad asked me about my day, my mom checked my story and called Thatcher. If that woman was anything, she was diligent. I tried to keep up with my dads questions but couldnt help but try to eavesdrop on my moms conversation with Thatcher. Thatcher was usually pretty good at keeping the gossip to a minimum. He was a no nonsense kind of guy, but I could tell from my moms facial expression that he was spilling the beans and I was trying to come up with the answers to the questions that were about to barrel my way. My mom finally clicked the phone quietly on its receiver and stood staring at the wall. My dad realized how quiet she was, hushed himself and waited for her to turn around. Shelby? He finally asked. She turned around and smiled, something I hadnt expected.

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

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

My dad, whom we thought wasnt listening, poured himself a cup of coffee in the corner of the kitchen and chimed in. Dont listen to her son, we fell in love just like everyone else. Sounds to me like it was just the hormones, he playfully answered. Hes lyin through his teeth Elliott. That man was a fool for me then, just as he is now. He walked out of the room smiling without a peep of disagreement. He knew she was right. Well, it sounds to me like it was quite a day for you. You hungry? Oh! What am I sayin? You just ate. Well, you go to bed sweetheart and well talk more tomorrow. She stood and kissed the top of my head, but before she left, declared, I love you Elliott, very much. Remember the rules darlin. She pointed at me. You treat her as a lady, always. You handle her with kid gloves young man, shes precious. Yes, maam. I nodded. Then she strolled down the hallway through the living room on her light feet to the master bedroom. She turned right before opening her door. Is she the student you were having trouble with baby? She was. She turned with a smile and opened the door to her bedroom. I woke an hour earlier than usual and rang Julia to let her know to anticipate me at seven-thirty, an hour before school. I knew it wouldnt wake her mom or her dad as they would have been at work at six a.m., along with my dad. She answered and her voice impressed on me like freshly baked bread, warm and soft.

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

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

bridge we used to play a lot on as kids. I hadnt been there in years and I didnt remember it being so magnificent. Smooth and soft from thousands of years worth of water carving out its intricate form, it sat as a natural bridge between both sides of the creek bank. Water trickled down the cascading hill of rocky matter underneath it and joined the main body of water several feet below. The greenest, wet moss surrounded the stone, as if someone had laid a soft blanket on the flat of it but the wind grabbed hold and blew it to the sides. The quilted moss hugged the rock tightly, foolishly trying to avoid getting wet. Above, hovered the thickest canopy of green trees and foliage that camouflaged the sky leaving a gap just wide enough for the sun to appear. It smelled sweet and clean and earthy. Its trilling stream wept down the rock bed, tears splashing into each other, finally whirling together and funneling its way back to its tamer companion. The only other thing audible to me was the obnoxious static of my own heart beating from my chest. I painfully hoped that the beating of the water against the rocks was loud enough that my heart wouldnt betray how vulnerable and intimidated I truly felt. She sat close to me and stared into the water below. I ordered myself to wrap my arm around her but it laid feebly by my side. Elliott? she asked. Yeah Jules? Tell me something interesting. I cleared my throat, Okay, I laughed a little, nervous, I have dreams of becoming a physician, of donating my time to countries where medical attention is needed most. Wow Elliott. I have to say, Im a little shocked.

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

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

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

The next day, I picked Jules up for school. It was Friday and just happened to be my first game of the season. I was

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

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

matter is, I have never felt happier than I do when my hand rests inside yours. Im happy to be myself and I make no excuses.......but, Im pretty sure you already knew that about me. I did, I said, wrapping my hand over hers. I turned to face her, Its what makes you stronger than every girl in this school Jules. Youre an example of examples babe. You pioneer the self esteem cause in this little high school. Who knows how many girls look at you and are influenced. When their minds are ready, whether it will be now or later in life, theyll be stronger because of your exuberance for life and independence from peer pressure. Youre amazing Jules. I could kiss you Elliott Gray, she admitted, a bit starry eyed. Whats stopping you? Her sarcastic stare burrowed through me, Hypocrisy. Cant give into the pressures of society, remember? Youre just going to have to wait. Jules! I got out, collected myself as best I could and coolly strolled to her side of the truck and opened her door for her. By the time the handle had clicked, at least a hundred eyes were staring in our direction and those hundred eyes were grabbing the attention of a hundred more. Great, so much for discrete, I thought. We should have come earlier, less

nerve racking.
I took her hand and helped her out of the truck. I grabbed our bags, never breaking my grip on Jules hand and began to walk toward the double doors. This feeling that emanated through me from her forced me to stop about a hundred feet from the doors. I turned to face Jules. I couldnt take another step without looking into her eyes. I

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

were both some of the tallest in our class and it just added an extra red circle to the target we were both already carrying. Jules was also breathtakingly beautiful. I looked like a lumberjack in comparison. Her skin was flawless and pale as porcelain. I didnt have time to shave that morning and was looking pretty scruffy. Jules wore these jeans that made her legs look like they went for miles. I wore a faded pair of jeans that I had put in the dryer the night before and forgot about so they were wrinkled as heck. It was a bit chilly that morning so Jules wore an olive green, very feminine light knit beret over her freshly washed curled hair. I wore a wool cap from ten years ago over hair that should have been cut two months before. My hair reached just below my chin now and the cap kept it out of my eyes. Jules wore shin length brown leather moccasins over her jeans and I wore boots that were so heavy even a biker wouldnt wear them. Jules wore a thin, dark red floor length sweater jacket over a white tank. I wore a wrinkled button up sweater over an old Led Zeppelin t-shirt that used to belong to my dad in the seventies. Plus, my contacts were bothering me that morning so I had to wear my black rimmed Buddy Holly glasses. We were night and day. I was night and she was day. She was amazing and I was a massive mess. Suddenly, I felt very self-conscious. Stop stressing babe. You look hot, she said, reading the way I felt through our touch. Thank you sweetheart, but Im no fool. I know what I look like. Youre really that clueless? Elliott, every girl here falls over for your casual sexiness. You dont even try and yet

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

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

and that makes me feel.... Happy, I said. Youre feeling very happy and inspired. Right! What did it taste like? Like chocolate and wine? We both laughed. Is that what it tastes like to you? I asked. No, your happiness tastes like pumpkin pie. She smiled. This is so weird. I dont even know how I know that it was happiness. I went with my instincts. Okay, lets try another. Just then Taylor Williams, who shared first period with Jules, walked past us with a look of disgust on her face before going into the classroom. Youre feeling smug........with a twinge of guilt? I said, almost laughing. Jules let her hand drop to her side and her cheeks burned a bright red. That was embarrassing. Oh Jules, dont be silly. It was a gut reaction and you immediately corrected yourself. I felt it. Now, lets do another. I picked up her hand and placed it back around my throat. I like this game, I said. She smiled, stared at me for a moment, then let her hand slide to the back of my neck. Okay, now Im thinking.... She pulled her hand away at lightning speed. Wait, I said, confused. What was that? She turned her head away and clenched her hands into fists. I pushed her back into the tiled wall and pinned both of my arms beside her to keep her from fleeing.

You know, she said, breathing deeply, I think thats enough for one day. Youve been an excellent student. The bell is about to ring. See you next period. She ducked underneath my arm, too quick to catch. I waved at her inside the classroom and went to History with Coach Miles. It was a game day and he usually just played a movie. I loved that because it was going to give me time to think about the emotion Jules was trying to hide from me. I was still racking my brain trying to figure it out when I sat at my desk next to Jesse. Hey, I said, distracted. Hey, he said sarcastically. Care to explain why your arm was around Julia Jacobs back there in the hallway? Huh? He crossed his arms smugly around his torso. Please tell me shes nothing more than a tiny distraction right now, a bug to get out of your system. What? Why would you say that? Do I look like the tiny distraction type to you? Where in my past behavior have I ever given you reason to think that about me? I dont know Gray. I guess Im just hoping is all. You have no idea what youre doing do you? I mean, jeez Gray! Shes freakin Julia Jacobs. She should be a stepping stone on your way to Taylor Williams. My blood was beginning to boil. Jesse, I find it so hilarious that youre suddenly so interested in my dating. Its also fascinating that you are equally as interested in who I date. Your opinions are comical because, last time I checked, you arent even this picky for yourself. Why are you so hell bent on my dating Taylor Williams anyway? If you like her so much why dont you date her?:

Shes too yippy for me, he amended and waved me off. Oh, and I enjoy yippy so much, right? Give me a break. Ive never said a word about the girls you date and Id appreciate the same courtesy dude. Fine, he said through clenched teeth. Youll see though. It wont last. Yeah, yeah. So, are you excited about the game tonight? I asked, desperate to change the subject. The fuming seemed to subside and he leaned back in his desk. Yeah, coach said he wont be putting Farley in after all. Can you believe it? Doc says his knee doesnt look one hundred percent. Farley said he could play with no problem but coach doesnt want to risk it the first game. Whew, I thought, barely listening. So annoying. Too bad

hes so loyal.
Coach started the movie and Jesse finally shut his blubber mouth. I wrapped my ankles around the legs of my desk and tipped my chair back. I wrapped my fingers around the back of my head and stared at the ceiling, just thinking. What in the world was that? She was so quick to

pull away. Lets see. I definitely felt distraction. Then she slid her hand to the back of my neck. That was awesome. Must have her do that again. It was a warm feeling that turned blazing hot. Tasted like what I would think my moms Egyptian Cotton candle would taste like. If I didnt know any better I..........I let my chair fall hard back to the ground in sudden realization. I swallowed hard. She loves me. Shes in love with me. I havent even taken her on a proper date yet! Havent even kissed her! Yet, she loves me!
My breath trapped in my throat and I almost began to

hyperventilate. I planted my hands on the desk in front of me to anchor myself from falling over from the sheer shock of it. Shock. Shock and happiness? Why doesnt this scare

me? Shouldnt I feel like running the opposite direction from her or something? I mean, yeah, so Ive known her my whole life and all but do I really know know her? I thought about it for a moment. Yes, I do.
Shes the Julia Jacobs who forced me to suffer my mothers wrath by arriving late to dinner one summer night of our fifth grade year because I had to help her rescue the feral kittens underneath Mr. Westburgs wood porch. Shes the Julia Jacobs who helped me fix the flat in my bikes tire so I wouldnt get in trouble for riding near the construction site I was forbidden to go near off Main. Shes the Julia Jacobs who used to sing American Pie at the top of her lungs with me at the pool in seventh grade and made me laugh so hard grape soda went up my nose. Shes the Julia Jacobs who would weave fantastic tales of adventure over a gleaming flashlight when we used to camp by the creek. That girl was colorfully, gorgeously, brilliantly, and astonishingly in love with me. I felt it. Thats exactly what it was. The taste of it was remarkably similar to greatness. No, it beat greatness, to a bloody pulp. My heart inflated like a balloon, doubling, tripling in size with each beat when she revealed it to me, like a massive kick drum. Thump, thump, thump. It sang to me and was the sweetest melody that had ever touched my ears. It was beyond words, impossible to put into words. It was something that needed to be touched, heard, smelled, tasted to grasp its full meaning and I knew. I knew that it was mine only. It was a flavor only I could taste and smell, a feeling only my fingers could touch, and a song only I was meant to hear.

Unexpectedly, a choir of angels sounded. It dawned on me. It was a feeling I sincerely shared. She probably knew it too. I know she must have felt it as well. Now that I knew what the love she held for me tasted like it was suddenly easy to recognize my own distinct flavor I had for her and boy was it ever the dominant current. I had sent it streaming through my fingers to hers every single time Id touched her. She must have gotten a private kick out of my revealing more than I had intended. I was a fool, an unbelievably happy fool. Hey Jules, I said calmly, when I finally sat next to her in English. I couldnt let her touch me or look into my eyes or Id give it away. I suppressed the feeling as much as possible so she couldnt read any radiations of it either. Hi darlin. She tried to act as casual as possible but even without our gift I could see through her cool facade. Hey Jules? I said seriously, turning my body toward hers, resting my elbows on the desk and chair. Yes Elliott? She said, her head buried in Nineteen Eighty-Four. I think I figured it out, I said, and paused for a really long time, letting her sweat it out. She kept her nose buried but her eyes began to look for mine. She was worried. Hmm? Her voice cracked, her eyes resettling on the wrong page. I said, I think I figured out the theme I am going to write about for Mrs. Kitts book report due next month. Oh, she swallowed hard. I think Ive got a theme too. What are you going to write about?

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

she seemed to have gotten everything she needed, I grabbed her velvety hand and we walked side by side, laughing and joking ignoring every prying eye that shot our direction. I opened the double doors that led to the parking lot and I noticed from the corner of my eye an out of place group that lingered near Taylor Williams car. Taylor Williams, Marisa Hartford, and Jesse Thomas. All three were gathered around Taylors open drivers side door talking and laughing. At first, I thought it might be nothing but when we passed by and I waved at Jesse each became quiet and went their separate ways. Jesse nodded his hello. That was weird, Jules said. Hmm, was all I could reply, narrowing my stare on Jesse. I drove Jules home and walked her to her door before hugging her goodbye. It wasnt a little hug either. It was a big bear of a hug. I squeezed the air from her lungs and lifted her feet from the porch. I left her as breathless as if I had kissed her. I got into my truck and turned the key, hoping she would check her bag before seven oclock because thats when the game started. I drove away with her standing bewildered at the door, staring in my direction, her keys still in hand and her hair mussed about her face. The team was required to be at the stadium an hour before the game but I got there five minutes late because the traffic was already horrible getting into the stadium parking lot. It looked like at least two thousand people from the nearby towns decided to make the game their Friday night. No pressure Elliott. On all accounts. I walked into our locker room and saw all my gear piled into a locker with my name printed on a piece of paper tacked to a broken

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

birds to manage the cause, the sun always finds the earth. I knew Id have to give into the catch twenty-two and just come out and ask her about it before we even traveled to Charleston the next day and I dreaded that conversation. I was wishing I had never put the stupid note in the bag in the first place. I thought I was being so clever. I tried to stop thinking about it. I needed a distraction or I was going to lose the game. I threw on my iPod and started Muses Map of the Problematique. It always pumped me up before a game. It was working. I was only starting to refocus when I looked up and through the corner of my eye I saw tall a girl with long dark hair floating behind the bleachers. Oh my God! I said out loud, gulping down my shock and dropping my hands to my side. Well, she definitely got my note. Butterflies ensued. She was walking across the cement underneath the bleachers and I could see her face through the gaps beneath the seats. She finally turned onto the ramp leading into the stands and boy did she ever prove to be the distraction I had asked for. She wasnt wearing anything close to what she had worn to school that day. My jaw went slack and from the corner of my eye I could see my mom following my stare. When she saw Jules she laughed at me and shook her head but I barely noticed, too absorbed in Jules every step. Her hair was down, as usual, and met her waist but this time it was straight as corn silk, her bangs across her forehead instead of swept to the side. At the top of the ramp the wind caught it and blew it behind her. It brought out the outline of her flawless face. She had done her makeup a tad bit darker for the evening and her lips were a

dark red. She had a cashmere sweater dress on that covered almost every inch of her, from the scoop neck that met her collarbone all the way down to her knees but hugged her body like it was painted on. She wore her flat brown moccasins again that met the middle of her shins. If there were any doubts in any of the minds of the guys in the stands that she was drop dead, this outfit would erase them all. She kept her hands at her side until she reached the bleachers but lifted them slightly to balance herself as she stepped onto the first bleacher raising her hemline slightly and making me forget where I was. It left me wondering how anyone could dress so modestly yet be so astonishingly beautiful. It permanently altered my definition of sexy. Once she sat, she slowly looked across the track separating the field from the bleachers and smiled a devilish smile. Youre in trouble Jacobs , I thought and smiled back. She blew me a kiss and my heart literally stopped beating. I caught it, to be goofy, and tucked it into a pretend pocket. She laughed and I pointed toward my family a little to her right and up four rows. She smiled and nodded, stood and walked up the bleachers toward my parents. Each step she took she passed by at least a dozen classmates. I furrowed my brow and took note of all the boys who would be joining Sawyer Tuttle on my enemies list. Tuts name was now on their twice. You can close your

mouth now Tut.

My family stood and I watched as she shook my dads hand and hugged both my mom and Maddy before squeezing past them to sit next to my sister. My dad gave me a wink. Please dont embarrass me dad.

Done ogling Julia Jacobs? The team manager asked me. Are you? I joked. He just smiled and passed the ball back to me. It was time to get my head in the game and now that I had both of my own personal muses, thats exactly what I did. I was preparing myself for the win that came our teams way. When the game was over, the crowd was on their feet and celebrating our first victory. The drum line was doing their finest and it really revved up the team and crowd. I ran off the field over to the fence near Jules and thread my fingers through the chain link. Yoko! I yelled at Jules. Her back was turned to me but when she heard my voice she turned and smiled before hopping down the stairs to meet me. She bent to sit on her ankles, one knee resting on the concrete and wound her fingers through the fence over mine. I readjusted mine to rest on top of hers and kept them gripped tightly. Our charge lit up the fence like a net of burning ember. You did well Gray! She yelled over the drums. Thanks miss Jacobs! Im really very glad you came tonight! Yeah, well...........I got your note! She smiled letting it touch the corners of her bright eyes. Oh yeah? Huh! Thought wed need to talk about it but I can feel it wont be necessary! I dont think it will Gray! I can tell you feel the same way! I smiled. The exact same way! I jumped onto the concrete barrier that separated the track from the stands and leaned my stomach against the

fence. She stood and we met face to face. I leaned into her ear, I love you Julia Jacobs. I felt her grin against my cheek, electrifying my face. I love you Elliott Gray, she whispered. I pulled my face from hers and readied myself to kiss her. We both closed our eyes but when I expected to feel her warm lips on mine, instead, I felt a million hands pull me from the fence and carry me off the field. I stared back at her and shrugged my shoulders with a crooked smile. She only laughed. There would be a time for our first kiss and if I had anything to say about it that time would be very soon, like the next day. I picked Jules up for our study session at the library in Charleston at two oclock. I was really nervous. I knew her parents but never at a time that I found their daughter to be the most handsome woman I had ever known. Sorta added a pressure that hadnt ever been there before. I tugged on my t-shirt and wrinkled cardigan before bounding up the steps to her front door. I should really invest in an iron. My eyes were tired from the game the night before and I was forced to wear my dark rimmed glasses again which made me incredibly self-conscious despite Jules earlier rants. I rang the door bell and looked down at my feet while I waited. Should have cleaned my Converse, I thought right before her dad answered. My blood pressure spiked to an unhealthy level when he signaled for me to step through the door. Mr. Jacobs I said and offered my hand. He took it and shook it with a firm squeeze. I returned the pressure in kind. My dad had always told me that was

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

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

I turned and saw a pair of long legs stride toward the sitting room. I gulped and started to panic. At that precise moment I felt very self-conscious, having no clue what Julia Jacobs wanted with me. I fiddled with my glasses and pulled at my sweater. She was too radiant to bother with the likes of me. I turned my head and faced Jules dad again. He sat with his eyebrows creased. I must have taken too long to turn back around. Whatever the punishment for staring too long at someones daughter was I didnt want to find out because his eyes told me it might be penalty of death. Oops. I had no intentions of disrespecting her father and after that held little to no eye contact with Jules to remedy how uncomfortable I had made him. Are you ready? Jules asked. Sure, I said, wiping my sweaty hands on my jeans. So, where are you going? Her dad asked. Dad, you know where. I told you this morning. The Kanawha County Library in Charleston. Okay, he sighed, but if youre going to be home past seven you need to call Julia. No problem pop, she reached up and pecked him on the cheek. I took Jules bag from her, politely shook Mr. Jacobs hand and led Jules to my truck. I opened the door for her and swung her bag into the bed. I hopped in, waved to a glaring Mr. Jacobs and headed toward Main. When we reached the end of her street I let out a breath I didnt even know I was holding. I finally looked at Jules. She had her legs crossed and her right elbow on the windows edge twisting a curl in her hand. Youre sweating Elliott Gray, she said coolly. What? I said, reaching my hand to my forehead,

wiping away the perspiration. Need a towel? She teased. Yes, actually, I laughed, I nearly hyperventilated from the very look of you. I dont think your dad was too happy with me when it took me forever to break my stare. Hell survive, she said. Besides, she leaned in close, I like the way you stare at me. Its a sweet stare. It makes me feel beautiful. That shouldnt be a problem for you Jules. You should feel that regardless. It means a little more when you make me feel that way though. So, thank you. Youre welcome maam, I said and tipped an imaginary hat her direction. On our way to the library in Charleston, Jules and I talked about anything and everything. When the conversation turned toward music, it got heated though. We were both extremely opinionated when it came to music. Ironically, we loved all of the same bands but differed in opinion when it got down to the nitty gritty of the inner workings of individual songs. The heat was awesome actually. It was fun to talk to someone who held legitimate interest and opinion in something that mattered to me and we traded banter for almost an hour on the subject. When we reached the library and parked in the garage across the street, I put my truck in park and sighed with satisfaction. She was the most intellectually stimulating conversation I had ever had. Youre somethin else miss Jacobs, I said trying to catch my breath. Youre quite a match, my friend. Sparring with you sure does bring out the spirit in a girl. I got out and ran to the other side of the truck. I opened

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

interrupted her frenzied writing by placing my hand on hers. Jules? Her head popped up. Yeah? Can I? Can I try something? A sly smile spread across her face. What? Lean towards me? She did as I asked and I brought my cheek to hers, before whispering into her ear. Keep your head very still. She didnt say anything but her breathing became as labored as mine. I softly kissed her cheek and the library lit up like the fourth of July. Fiery flowers burst like rockets from our table, exploded in the air above our heads, and their remnants misted to the table, chairs and floor beneath us like snow. I felt her anticipation and I know she felt mine. I felt her happiness and I know she felt mine. I felt her longing for more and I know she felt mine. We sat upright, wide eyed and overwhelmed. Do it again, she whispered. Okay, I happily agreed but when I leaned in and she closed her eyes, prepared for the coming sensation, I stopped. You try it, I whispered. Youll like it. Okay, lean into me then. I obeyed her and could barely control my laughter. She stilled my head by grabbing my chin and tilting my face and she kissed my cheek softly. The same spirited flames flew above our heads and filled our chests with its sonic boom. We sat up once more, equally as stunned as before. I had an idea.

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

our first kiss but kept our hands intertwined. We patiently lingered while our insides came back into our own control. That was...... The best thing Ive ever felt and tasted in my entire life, Jules finished with an intense twinkle in her bright green eyes. Exactly. What do you think? Will they all be like that? How about one more for good measure? I flirted. She nodded and bit her bottom lip in a smile. This time, I continued, let me hold your face with my hands. We did one more for good measure six times. The only reason we had to stop was because I glanced at my watch to see how much time we had to practice. It was approaching seven oclock and Jules needed to ring her dad to let him know I was taking her to dinner in Charleston and wouldnt be home until eleven oclock or so. Pop? She said on her cell phone. Its Julia. Yeah, I know, who else. Weve finished studying, she winked my way, but Elliott wants to take me to a restaurant while were in Charleston. Is that okay? Uh, huh. Uh, huh. Uh, huh. Around eleven, dad. Okay. See you then. Love you too. She hung up and smiled at me. Done, she said. Should you call your folks? No, I told them Id be home late, but before curfew and they waved me off. Cool. Well, where to? Im starving. You wore me out Mr.Gray, she said with another wink. Whats your favorite food Jules? On the count of three, she teased. One, two, three.... Italian, we said in unison, then laughed until we almost spilled onto the ground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

crossed and while massaging the foot in my hand I noticed the foot underneath it had a toe ring around the middle toe. I uncrossed them and re-crossed them with the toe ring foot on top this time. I hadnt seen it before because it was hidden beneath her other foot but the ring was connected to a chain. I followed the chain with my finger and had to peel back a little of the cuff of her jean to reveal the ankle bracelet it was connected to. It was extremely attractive on her. I dropped her foot to regain control of myself. It did very funny things to my chest and stomach. To distract myself, I turned the radio on and Matt & Kims Daylight came on. I focused on the road ahead of me, dragging my hand over my mouth yet again. I glimpsed her direction. Youre gonna be the death of me. I smiled.

But who would have thought death could be this sweet?

When I felt in control of myself again I laid my hand on her knee and got the surprise of my life when I felt her dreams. They matched mine perfectly and the ones that didnt quickly became mine. We arrived in Bramwell with half an hour to spare and there was no way I was going to drop her off early if I didnt have to. I woke her when we were close to home and we both decided the rock bridge was the perfect spot to waste the time. I grabbed my flashlight from my glove box and we crunched in silence through the brush to our little spot. I lifted her onto its face and we laid side by side pointing out constellations, wishing we were kissing instead. With ten minutes to spare I gathered up the courage to grab her face and we shared three sweet, thoughtful, controlled kisses before I decided it was time to go back.

We discovered a third very convenient use for our gift. It kept us very warm, despite the chill growing in the air. She protested when I held out my hand to go but I didnt want to disrespect her father and insisted I take her back. We trudged our way through the sticky, brisk air back to my truck but felt perfectly warm as we held hands. When we got into the truck she slid in close to me and I draped my hand over her shoulder. We rode in blissful silence. I parked in front of The Perry House and jumped out to open Jules door. I grabbed her hand and we inched slowly to her front porch. What time is your curfew? She asked. Two a.m. on the weekends, I said. Mine too, she said, but it wont be tonight because Ive already spent nine hours with you. My dad would never go for it. Oh, I laughed, thats okay. Ill see you in church tomorrow morning right? Yeah, but thats over ten hours away and Im afraid Ill have withdrawals, she taunted. One more for the road then? We smiled and I drew her near to my body, but heard the creak of her front door as it began to swing open forcing me to let go of Jules waist. It was her dad. Darn. Darn, Jules whispered my unspoken thought. Hi, Mr. Jacobs, I said. Hello Elliott, thank you for bringing Jules home on time. Of course, I said and walked the few feet back to my truck to grab Jules bag from the bed. She turned her back toward her dad and held out her hand for it. She squeezed my hand when she took it from me and winked.

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

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

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

at every torturous detail. Damn if Jules wasnt going to be a very big part of my life. Julia Jacobs was going to be my future and I was going to be hers. The next day my mom knocked on my door to wake me for church. I found myself really alert, more alert than I was used to being on a weekend morning. Mornings werent exactly my favorite part of the day, but knowing Id be able to hold Jules hand in a little over an hour made it more than tolerable. I showered, ate breakfast, readied myself quickly and was ready to leave in less than half an hour. I was tired of waiting on my parents and Maddy so I yelled at the kitchen door to let everyone know Id meet them there, that I was going on ahead of them. Save us a pew! My dad yelled. Okay! I was out the door and in my truck in less than ten seconds and at the church in less than five minutes. I sat inside the almost empty church alone. I kept glancing over my shoulder. I sort of had hoped Jules would have shown up a little earlier so I could get looking at her out of my system and could concentrate. No sooner had I thought this did she walk in, on her own, and strolled down the center aisle of the nave toward me. She was breathtaking, again, and I didnt think I was ever going to get used to the way she looked. She was so charming. She wore a dress that looked to be straight out of a Grace Kelly movie, green and white striped. She wore pristine white gloves that barely reached the bottom of her wrist where they buttoned with little pearls. Her bangs swept to one side of her forehead and her long curled hair fell at points at her waist. The only thing missing to complete the

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

Sounds perfect, I said but as she began to walk away, I called her back to me, Oh, Jules? Yes babe? She asked, leaning into the pew. Pray for me, I said with a wink. She rolled her eyes at me and shook her head but couldnt hide her smile. I watched as she joined her family wishing I could sit next to her as well but satisfied just to be in the same room with her. Just looking at her, I knew that Julia Jacobs was definitely my past, my present, and very much my future.

Im going to marry that girl one day.

After church, I hopped in my truck and followed Jules home. Turns out, she had a basket already packed. I drove the winding path to the dirt patch free of trees on the side of the road nearest our rock bridge. When I parked, I got out and immediately started loosening my tie. I swung my jacket over the seat, untucked my shirt, and rolled up my sleeves. Ahh, thats much better, I said. Jules gaped at me. What? I asked. So quick to undress around me Gray? You should probably check yourself before you wreck yourself. Oh, whatever. You love it. I can see the twinkle in your eye from here. Youre a flirt Gray. No, Im a tease. Theres a difference, I joked, hunched over, untying my shoes and throwing on the extra pair of Converse I kept in the cab of my truck. She laughed out loud, Thats so? You should probably get your own soundtrack then.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh Gray, so many points for that one. Just for that, Id let you carry me anywhere. Jules sat on the back of her heels and opened the basket beneath her. She had lots of awesome food in there and I wondered if she had made it herself. I didnt get a chance to ask because she said she had a surprise for me. Ta daa! She said and pulled a little portable mp3 player out. I thought we could listen to music and dance and be silly. The rock bridge is like the perfect dance floor. She turned it on and fiddled with it until I heard Silverchairs Without You come on. Diorama, I said. She nodded and threw a flirtatious smile my way. I reclined back onto an elbow and watched her dance around while belting out every single word. I was mesmerized. When the song was over she collapsed on the stone, happy and out of breath. God, youre adorable, I said. She just laughed and tried to catch her breath. Come here, she said and patted the bit of stone next to her. I got up and laid next to her. I have something I want to listen to with you. The melody does insane things to my heart and I want to see what it feels like while you hold me. She got up and flipped it to another song. It started and I recognized another one of Silverchairs songs. Part one of Those Thieving Birds, she said. It makes me want to cry its so beautiful. I turned to my side and hovered over her. I studied her face for a moment then drug the tip of my thumb over her bottom lip before gathering her in my arms and kissing her

softly. Hey Jules? Yes, love? I am so in love with you. She kissed me deeper in response. No one could love me as much as you love me, she whispered. Nor could anyone love me as much as you do Jules. I know. After Saturdays game, as tired as I was, I felt like I was getting my second wind knowing Jules and I would be going to Tanens. I planned on introducing the team to how fun Jules really was. Good game, Gray. Thanks mister Dorvey. Good game, Elliott. Thanks, I said to the stranger who patted me on the back. Gray! Jules called from behind me. I spun around to find her. Stop! Youre under arrest! I teased. For what? For stealin my heart, I joked with a crooked smile. She moved closer to me and clutched the hem of my t-shirt. Gonna frisk me officer? She asked sarcastically. Are you carrying? Hell yeah I am. A massive crush on this burdened heart. Those are capital offenses Jules. How do you plead? Guilty. Very guilty. Well, Im the law and the order in this town and as your judge I find you guilty as well. Now, for the sentencing. I tapped my chin, You are hereby ordered to kiss me. Right

here. I pointed to my cheek. She went in but at the last second I turned and caught her mouth with mine. Youre a clever minx Jules. Youre a flirt Gray and oh yeah, cheesy as hell. I cant believe I went along with that. Youre a bad influence on me. Cheese can be fun sometimes and yes, I hope to influence you severely. Time for Matthews party. You ready to go? Im more than ready. Im eager to get this over with. Oh Jules. Its going to be fun. I promise you. Okaaaay, she said, skeptical. I walked Jules to my truck and threw my pads in the back. I helped her into the cab and put her seat belt on for her like I did on our library date, except for the part where I lost my head and attacked her. Matthews parents' lake house cabin was on an isolated strip of land on the east side of Bramwell Lake. We had to circle half the lake to get to it. Were here, I said finally turning into the entrance of the long driveway. Can you see the lit windows through the trees? I can actually hear all the people. We passed car after car on our way to the cabin. Dang, look at all the cars. Must have heard I was coming, she teased. Thats exactly why, I winked. We rounded a bend of drive and skirted a thick grove of trees before coming upon the little house on top of Bramwell Lake. The windows were well lit, a stark contrast against the dark forest. Also, the Tanens cabin was the only one for miles.

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

was barely enough room to walk. Jules heart immediately tensed up when she saw Taylor and I felt just how nervous the girl made her. The music was so loud I could barely hear anyone around us. I leaned in close to Jules ear, Stay close. If we get separated meet me outside on the deck. She nodded. I wound her through the small passageway of kids from school to a corner of the room and sat her on top of one of Matthews Peavey subwoofers. I leaned in next to her and spoke closely at her ear. Im gonna run out to the truck for my moms cell. She told me to keep it on me and I forgot it. I need to take a leak first though. Are you okay here for a second? Sure, she said. Want some water or anything? Im cool. I know it. Be right back. I kissed her roughly, leaving her dazed before meandering my way through the crowd. I glanced a last look at my Jules. She winked in her usual confident way and I ran to the bathroom. I had to wait for three people before my turn but finally got inside. I decided to exit the back and loop around to the front to avoid climbing over people. I got the cell and bounded up the deck but before I had even swung open the screen door I heard a collective ohhhhh come from inside the house, making my stomach twist. I hurried inside to see what was going on and caught the tail end of an insult aimed directly at my Jules. .........and no one wants you hear anyway Julia. This is a crowd you dont belong in leech, Taylor Williams gestured at the room, her words dripping with venom. Jules was still perched on top of the speaker I sat her upon,

giving Taylor a height advantage that allowed her to speak down to Jules literally and figuratively. Had to give Jules credit where credit was due. She was leaning back on her hands, cool as a cucumber. Taylor leaned over her, I dont know what you did to poison our Elliott but once we figure out how to remove your cancerous claws well steal him back. You just dont fit in, which is why you should just leave Julia. No one wants you here! Jules expression was cool. Her face didnt betray a hint of hurt but I felt it. It was strong enough of a sensation that it permeated the room and made my stomach roil. Enough! I shouted, my voice booming against the walls. All heads, including Taylors, spun my way and the silence was deafening. I felt sick. Above all, this was the one thing I told Jules I would protect her from and Id failed miserably. Enough Taylor! A sick glint of shimmer fluttered across her eyes when I said her name and the corners of her mouth twitched. Apparently, she was a proponent of the theory that any attention was good attention. I climbed over people to get to Jules and yanked her to my side. She speaks for everyone? I asked the room. I scanned their faces but they refused to make eye contact with me and I realized that Taylor was staring each down in silent threat. Leading the lemmings. I turned my attention back to Taylor. The date she had brought from a local community college took a shot of liquid courage and stood by her side, swaying slightly. Although the fool was tall and big, I was taller and bigger which told me he had to

have been drunk when he eyed me like he was craving a fight. Little did I know his real motivation. I needed to get Julia out of there. Well Taylor, I can see that youre also slightly inebriated so Ill leave you to your date. Im willing to drop this shit, for now. As for the rest of you, I stared in seething anger at my boots, I thought you were my friends. I guess I was mistaken. None of my friends would have allowed Julia to be ostracized like this, especially you Jesse. I drug my heavy stare onto Jesse. He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes. I grabbed Jules hand and began to squeeze my way to the door but when we walked past Taylor, her drunk date grabbed at Jules, catching one of her necklaces and dragging her backward. I caught her and straightened her up. What the hell is your problem? I asked the jerk. I want to talk to that girl, he slurred.

Ahhh, the truth to Taylors outburst.

What are you doing Craig? Taylor whispered. We both ignored her. Cant. Were leaving Craig. Ive been wanting to talk to her since she got here. She keeps ignoring me. He started leaning into Jules face, barely able to keep himself up. Well, obviously she didnt care to talk with you, I said, pressing his shoulder back and correcting his posture. Take the hint. I couldnt believe the direction this conversation had taken. The rest of the crowd stood dumbstruck, listening to drunk Craig hit on my Jules in front of Taylor. Craig was

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

What. the. hell? I asked him, between punches. I looked over at Jules mid punch and saw the terror on her face. She felt every single punch that landed and her face twisted in pain. I knew she felt the nausea. I felt that she had and it was the first time I hated our shared connection. She rose above it and started to grab at the one who was punching me and pleaded with tears in her eyes for Jesse to help me. No one listened. Taking matters into her own hands, she sprung her leg back and delivered a knee to my attackers groin. This stopped him before he could hit again and gave Matthew Tanen enough time to come through the back door with James Cappelli to discover me getting beat. They grabbed the three goons and Craig on the floor and started hauling them toward the door. Get them the hell out of here Taylor! Matthew said. She ran out the front door and we heard them struggling to get to Taylors car. What the hell happened in here? James asked me. We were gone two seconds and you get into a fight Elliott? Why didnt you wait for us? He joked. Ha, ha, I sighed, out of breath, trying to stand up straight. Youre bleeding, Matthew said. Come on. He grabbed my arm. Ill help you to the bathroom. Get you cleaned up. No. No, thanks, I insisted. I need to take Jules home. Its okay Elliott, she said, unable to disguise the terror in her voice. Im fine, really. Lets just clean off the blood and see what damage there is. Her hand shook when she brought it to my face and tenderly brushed a lock of hair stuck to a bloody cheek. Its but a flesh wound, I teased, trying to lighten the mood. Its okay, I said, turning to Matthew. Thank you but I

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

She didnt say anything but tried to smile. She grabbed three washcloths from a drawer and waited for the water to get warm before soaking them and wringing them out. She helped me remove my shirt and I twisted in pain from having to contort my sides and chest. The bruises had already started to show which made her gasp. Yikes, I said standing up in front of the bathroom mirror. Oh well. Remember that two hundred and fifty pound lineman that Reggie couldnt block me from? This isnt much worse than that. She nodded. I grimaced as she took a damp rag to the blood on my face and neck. When I was blood free she had me lay back in a chair in her living room and then went to the kitchen sink to wash as much blood as possible from my t-shirt. Several minutes passed in silence. Youre awfully quiet over there Jules. What are you thinking about? Nothing, she said. Are you okay over there? Comfortable? Uh, well, Jules my sides are really sore and its hard to get comfortable, I said. I can fix that. She pulled an aspirin bottle from a cabinet, opened the bottle, removed two and grabbed a bottle of water. Here babe, she said, handing me the bottle and little pills. Thanks sweetheart, I said, swallowing them. Tears began to well once more. Babe, tell me whats wrong. Me. Im whats wrong. You were well liked before we started dating. Revered even. I come into your life and all hell breaks loose. I mean, my God Elliott! Look at what they did to your face! Taylors right. I dont belong in your

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

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

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

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

Sit down, my mom commanded. Well, Id love to, but I cant. Why? Because they punched the crap out of my ribs and it hurts to sit. Well, that quells any suspicions I had about you and the Jacobs girl, my dad said. Mark! I almost laughed. Are they broken? She asked. Id had a broken rib before. No, just bruised, I said. Okay, well, lets just get you upstairs, she said, and well help you lie down. They both helped me take a stair at a time and once I reached the top I exhaled and promised myself that Id never let someone hit me in the ribs again. Death before anyone punches me there again, theirs or mine. My parents helped me lie down and my mom promised me a long talk the next morning after church. The next morning, while everyone readied for church, I just laid there wishing I could join them when we heard a knock on the back door. Hi Julia, my dad said. Hi Mark, a bubbly Jules said. She called them by their first names with ease. I could barely squawk out Mr. or Mrs. Jacobs. To what do we owe the pleasure young lady? My mom asked dryly.

Uh, oh. I thought maybe Id take care of Elliott while you were at
church. You know, get him water, things like that. My mom

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

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

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

Yeah? Send my condolences to your mama. Julia! I heard in the background. Gotta go sweetheart. See you in, I dont know, a year? She laughed and hung up. Maddy! I screamed, ignoring the searing pain in my lungs.

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

Because Maddy felt like crap for snitching, she promised to be our go between since Jules mom and dad refused to let me get anywhere near Jules during her imprisonment. I sent Maddy to Jules house with them to have them painted. After every one she dropped off, Jules would call me and rant and rave. Side note, girls are funny. She would always send Maddy back with Polaroids of the paintings shed completed and every single time I saw a new one I would almost fall over. The girl had talent, which was very apparent. When we had plenty of items in stock we started placing them online. We didnt have any luck for the first few weeks but when Jules was no longer grounded and we were able to scheme together, we had much better results. Jules had an idea to post them on this website where creatives can market their stuff. Finally, through that, we had a couple of bites. At first, it was easier to sell the birdhouses because they werent as expensive as the paintings, but eventually, after the first sale, Jules paintings moved like hotcakes. Word of mouth had to have been the key factor there because we were doing little to no marketing. All the money we made we put into an interest bearing savings and slowly but surely after a couple of weeks had earned enough for both of our trips and a little spending cash a piece. We even had a few extra dollars to invest in a couple of pairs of clothing for the trip and we agreed that we would each get a new suitcase. We even went out and bought the suitcases early to get ourselves really excited. Jules found this vintage steam trunk at an antique shop that she, and I quote, had to have. So I replaced the hinges, and oiled the leather and made it travel worthy. We were set and all that

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

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

ignored it. Im sure Jules saw my shoulders shake with laughter. Shelby, you know me better than that. Do I look like the type of girl who follows a man around? Ive wanted to go to Penn my entire life. Besides, it has an excellent English program, Jules said without skipping a beat. Im sure it does, my mom said dryly. I could just imagine my mom crossing her arms. She was still pretty sore about us falling asleep at Jules and that slightly changed her opinion of Jules. Dont get me wrong, my mom still loved Jules like a daughter. She was just disappointed in her as well as myself was all and thought that we werent the best decision makers when it came to making the important ones together. She may have been right, but we were young and we made admittedly made a mistake. What do you and Elliott plan on doing if yall break up at Penn? My mom asked. This was my moms way of helping us grow up she would tell me. We would never, Jules said. But my mom interrupted, Never say never. Penn is a big school. Im sure since we would have totally different majors we would never even see each other if it could be helped, Jules said, trying to appease my mom. Jules wasnt one to be messed with, but if she wasnt careful my mama was going to slap the sass out of her mouth. Jules realized the disrespect and tried to atone for it, Shelby, Im sorry. I wasnt trying to be smart. Its just, I know you think that Elliott and I are co-dependent and I have to admit that you think correctly and I really cant think of any

other way then to just let you think it. At least until enough time passes that you recognize that we found our soul mates a little earlier than most. That killed me. Shed never admitted that out loud before. Though it was sort of implied and felt, Id never heard her say the words. I wanted to jump into the stands and kiss her face. Youre right Jules. I do think that but you assume that I dont also see how he looks at you. That boy is head over heels in love with you and there is no doubt in my mind that one day youll become my daughter officially some day. I just want to make sure that he gets the education, no, that you both get the education you deserve. I want to see the two of you get out of this town and its rut and make something of yourselves. Thanks Shelby and I hope you know I mean no disrespect. I can promise you that Elliott is going to be the best student that ever came out of Penn, even with me there. Ill make sure of that. He has big plans and the day I saw him standing still in that hallway outside Mrs. Kitts class was the day that his plans became mine and mine became his. Well link them together and I know it will balance, because its our destiny. That was a little dramatic, but that was Jules and I loved that about her. I could tell the game was about to start because they got really quiet and Jules anxiety for my safety seared into the back of my head. Coach Miles slapped me on the shoulder, jarring my eyes open, and began to go over the first play. I ran onto the field and glanced back at my mom and Jules. My dad was standing next to my mom and Maddy next to him. I could see the whites of Jules knuckles and felt a little sorry

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

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

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

silently stared her warning. It was so powerful that it peeled around him and began to wash over all the boys on the field. She scared the living daylights out of us, but I had never wanted to kiss her more. When she reached the edge of the field the referee set her down and she hopped the fence in response to something he said but turned our direction once more. She straightened her hair and clothing, turned toward the direction of my truck and attractively sauntered until she was out of sight. I was laughing so hard by then I couldnt even stand up. Soon, the stands joined me, forgetting our amazing last minute victory. I finally regained enough control to trot toward the sidelines and because my nose was bleeding, I handed Coach my helmet and with an approving wink fled the field toward Jules. I heard applause but I knew it was for her only. The intensity in that girls heart. I jogged across the parking lot, removing my jersey and shoulder pads, leaving my plain white t-shirt, to a sedately lounging Jules scattered across my hood, her back to my windshield, one hand behind her head, the other twirling the end of a lock of her long hair. I threw my pads and jersey to the gravel and stopped a few feet short of the truck. Come here, I said with a smile. She melted off the hood of the truck and carelessly strode my way. Her hips had a bit more swing than usual. She stood about a foot in front of me, her head high with confidence and shrugged her shoulders, a slight grin pulled at the right corner of her mouth. Well, well miss Jacobs. Care to explain yourself? I teased.

It was impulsive, she said, her face slightly blushing. She gritted her teeth to prevent the obvious grin. Oh, yeah, impulsive, I winked at her. I have to say, Ive never seen that side of you before. It was tremendously sexy. Shut up Gray! Her face became an instant shade of deep pink. Yeah Jules! Especially when you stepped on his chest plate like that, I closed my eyes and pursed my lips in satisfaction. Very Joan of Arc of you, I continued, charging in like that, by the way. All that was missing were your brave soldiers. I have a feeling, if the referees hadnt torn you off him, you would have gotten those soon enough. You must think youre so hilarious Gray. She bit her lip trying to keep the smile from her face, but she was failing. The corners of her mouth turned up and they were too strong for her teeth to contain. Finally, she burst into laughter and I followed suit. Im so embarrassed, she said. I have no idea what your mom thinks of me now. Shes already on edge about me as it is. My dad is going to kill me and I have the distinct feeling Ill be receiving the lady like convo from my own mom as soon as we get a moment alone. You were so cute Jules I almost kissed your face in front of God and everyone. Im glad you restrained yourself. At least one of us did. I couldnt help myself, she said. It was like I had no awareness of the people around me. All I know is I saw you bleeding and that ridiculous pinhead was responsible for it. I immediately ran to your side but when you smiled at me all I could feel was this rage inside me as I saw the blood stain your face. Suddenly, it was my job to do something about it,

so I did. It was instinctual. Imagine how you felt, babe, quadruple it and thats how I felt about what happened at Tanens. Come on, before everyone bombards you here under these scorching lights, I said, grabbing her hand, scooping up my pads and jersey and leading her to the passenger side of my truck. Everyone from our side of town decided to switch things up a bit and piled into Babes restaurant in Bluefield. Jules and I got there a little earlier, for obvious reasons, and we sat at a long table with a million chairs. Eventually our fellow Greenbacks, the ones I considered loyal anyway, came streaming in and one by one they began to tease Jules. She blushed in horror but finally things settled down. It was crazy busy and it was beginning to look like it would turn into a really fun night. Jesse came and sat at our table with us and Greg and four other guys and two random girls who arrived before him. Hey Elliott, Jesse said, totally disregarding Jules. What do you think? Huh? He asked pointing to the new tattoo on his neck. Whats up Jesse? I said, throwing a subtle nod toward Jules. Hey Julia, he said sweetly, eyeing her strangely. She ignored him and enthusiastically greeted him like she did with everyone, sweet and sunnily. Jesse was icy cold to Jules but had recently ceased being outright mean to her. I didnt quite get Jesse. I was starting to believe something was seriously wrong with him. His behavior was so erratic. So? He asked again. Oh, I wondered why you had a bandage on your neck during the game. Is that why you skipped school today?

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

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

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

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

him. He knew that I didnt like this one bit. Whats that? I asked. None of your business Gray. He smiled, sticking whatever it was in his back pocket. Come on buddy! Relax! Its me! Exactly! I snapped. Maybe, I am being a bit

overprotective. This is Jesse. Ive known him since I was a baby! So what if hes been acting strangely lately. I know hed never step over my line.
I led him to the sitting room. Sit, I barked and he sat, lounging his arms across the top of the sofa, peering about the room before letting out a low whistle. Damn, Elliott. You bagged a wealthy one didnt you? Yeah, thats it Thomas. I bagged Jules because somehow this is all going to be mine right? I gestured to the room. I leaned against the banister, the wood creaking beneath my weight, as I crossed my arms over my chest. God youre testy. Something botherin you man? Why are you doing this Jesse? The truth. Dude, youve got to relax! He sat quiet and narrowed his eyes. Is this about Tanens party? Because I apologized for that already! Im sorry! How many more times can I say it? This isnt about Tanens party and you know it. Im just taking her to a film Elliott. Well talk. Ill get to know her. Im doing this for you remember? Then, Ill bring her right back here. No harm. No foul. No! I mean, no, I added quietly, You can bring her back to my place afterwards. I smiled.

Okay. He eyed me carefully, the corners of his mouth turning up. This is serious for you, isnt it Elliott? Very. I walked across the room and stood over him. He didnt even flinch. I kept my arms crossed. I dont feel the necessity to tell you how much I love her Jesse and that if you let one strand of hair on her head get harmed that well have serious problems. If it wasnt necessary, then why did you even bother to tell me? I stared him down but turned toward the hallway when I heard Jules padding down the corridor. She was a vision in dark red. Dark red with dark hair. Wow. Jesse stood up next to me and elbowed me. Dont piss me off Jesse, I gritted through my teeth. He rolled his eyes at me. Hi Jesse! Jules said. Hi beautiful, he responded. I could have hit him. He left my side and grabbed Jules to hug her. I really could have hit him. That was.....unexpected, she said with a laugh. Well, I figure Id make a concerted effort. You know? For Elliotts sake. I snorted. Here, he said, I got you something. He pulled a little book from the back of his jeans pocket and handed it to her. She took it and read the title. Her eyes shot wide. The Complete Collection of Poems by Edgar Allen Poe! How did you know I wanted this? I remember you mentioning it at lunch two weeks ago. Jerk. I wanted to have been the one who thought to give that to her.

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

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

effort with her that he actually took me seriously and now Im regretting that I ever did. Oh baby, youre so silly! I know that Jesse is a, whats the word, ladies man? I snorted. Well, whatever he is, I know he isnt the type of guy you would normally want your girlfriend to spend time with. I know hes a whatever the word is for what he is and its made you feel uncomfortable at times but you can trust Jesse honey. Hes been your best friend since you were knee high in diapers and besides, even if you couldnt trust him, you can trust Jules. I softened a little bit. Thanks mama, I kissed her forehead. What ya makin here? Jesse brought Jules to my house at ten fifteen and I nearly burst from the kitchen door when I heard them pull through the gravel. I had stayed in the kitchen with my mom the entire time theyd been out, pretending that I wasnt waiting for Jules. I could hear them laughing and my God did that irritate me. Cost you to keep me quiet, I heard Jesse tease.

What the heck does that mean?

Jules opened the screen door and peeked her head inside. Youre late, I said as coolly as possible given my extreme unexplainable rage. So we are, she said, without any other explanation. Hi Shelby! My mom tugged her into the kitchen and kissed her cheek and hugged her tightly as if she didnt just see her the day

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

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

Man, Ive never seen you so jealous before Elliott. Green is a good color on you. I shot her a look of disbelief. Im serious, she said. It gives a girl encouragement to see her man squirm at the end of her hook. It makes quite the impact. Stop toying with me! Okay, okay. She laughed. He was the perfect gentleman and we had a surprisingly good time. How good? My God Elliott! We saw a film, we talked about you, and then he took me to your house! It wasnt quite the debauchery you were expecting. Which I resent by the way! What kind of girl do you take me for! I grabbed her hand. Im just a big fool Jules. That was enough of an apology, I guess, because she just smiled at me. He is an incredible kisser though, she teased. Jules! Im only joking! Jeez, lighten up! Will ya? I kissed her hand, deciding I didnt need to kill Jesse after all. The following Monday, at school, we got all kinds of reactions to Jules defensive action on the football field, some of disgust, some with humor, and some with awe. Funnily enough, even Taylor Williams decided it was a good idea to leave Jules alone for awhile and Jules said she lived peacefully without Taylors cruelness for at least two days. Thats a record, Jules said, laughing. I think I might have scared Taylor.

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

We grinned at each other. I leaned over her beautiful face and kissed her lightly. She whispered, I love you, but paused, despite your being an idiot. I pinned her shoulders to the ground and kissed her neck aggressively. She frantically laughed and tried to squirm away. My mom came in and cleared her throat. Oops, sorry mom, I said. Sorry Shelby, said Jules, red as a lobster. We knew she wasnt stupid. We just didnt want to offend her. Yeah, yeah, my mom said. Next time, Ill make a shuffling noise with my feet. All three of us howled with laughter. My dad got home thirty minutes later and my mom asked if Jules wanted to stay for dinner. All five of us squeezed around our little kitchen table and only Maddy complained. There was more room in the dining room but we never ate there. Too stuffy. We preferred homey and overcrowded, I guess. Hush your mouth Maddy Gray unless youre interested in going to bed hungry, my dad threatened. Jules ignored it. For some reason she loved Maddy even though she was such a brat to her. We prayed over the meal and dug in. My mom made fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and rolls with cinnamon butter. Mom, this meal is incredible, I said. Everyone agreed in silence, their mouths full to the brim. The chicken was hot, juicy and crispy. I sank my teeth into it and let its salty goodness slide down my throat. Arlene Chambers got laid off today, my dad said somberly.

The rest of us continued eating accept for my mom. What? She asked, setting down her cob. That cant be. They let Bob go just six months ago. What are they gonna do Mark? Arlene was just telling me the other day that because of Bobs layoff they were several months behind in their mortgage. Trust Bank sent them letters threatening foreclosure. She said shed need five thousand dollars to get them out of their hole and she didnt know how she was going to do it because her wages alone were barely putting food on the table. Dont they have four kids? My dad asked pensively. No, Mark, five, my mom said with tears in her eyes. The table got really quiet and none of us continued to eat, including Maddy. After a minute of silence, Jules rapped my foot with hers. My heart sunk to the pit of my stomach. I knew what she was thinking because I was thinking the same thing myself. The next day, after school, Jules and I climbed into my truck and headed to Trust Bank in Charleston because the last thing we needed were people knowing what we were doing. We slumped out of my truck and dragged our feet toward the front doors. Wait a minute Jules! I said stopping abruptly. Maybe we can think of another way to help them. No sweetheart, she smiled at me, theres no other way. I knew she was right too, but I had to try. She held my hand while we stood in line and waited for the teller to call us to her station. May I help you? Asked the short, blonde teller. Yes, said Jules, knowing I wouldnt be able to speak. Wed like to make a withdrawal from our joint savings. I sighed heavily and Jules rubbed my back in sympathy.

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

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

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

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

And youve got half an hour before curfew right? Again, your point? She asked cautiously. I just thought that maybe, if you wanted to, we could hang in the cab of the truck for awhile before you go in. What are you suggesting we do? She asked flirtatiously. I dont know, maybe, as a reward for doing such a good thing today we could make out? Elliott, she laughed, what am I going to do with you? You know one good thing doesnt cancel out one naughty thing right? Wait a minute! Theres nothing naughty about making out, I protested. No, there isnt, but there are things it can lead to that arent exactly good for us, she replied, and we arent exactly the suppressing type. I think we can control ourselves for a few minutes Jules. We did that night I fell asleep on your living room chair, I basically pleaded. She sat for a few seconds, thinking. No argument there, she smiled. We were at each other before you could blink an eye. She felt so warm to me, warmer than the heater blowing through my vents. Theres always something so romantic about the winter. The chill in the air forces you closer to one another and what can be an already satisfying touch always feels extraordinary when its cold outside but there was also, for me, the added bonus that every touch from Jules included a shivering electric shudder through my spine. Winter also brought with it the most enticing smells as well. The clean snow, warm chocolate drinks, the satisfying punch of the woodsy billowing smoke from everyone's

chimneys. The smoke was always my personal favorite, besides Jules fragrance that is. When I began to kiss her, I could feel her breath warm against my mouth. I pressed my fingers into the small of her back and culled her into my body. I ran my hand down her hip and thigh and cupped my hand around the back of her knee. She let her hair fall behind her and I brushed my lips along her neck until they reached the hollow beneath her ear. I repeatedly kissed her there. Tiny, insignificant kisses that spread a shiver across her skin. I continued across her collarbone to the bottom of her neck, kissing up her throat and paused when I heard her swallowing hard. Stop, she barely whispered. Stop? I asked quietly. Dont stop, she corrected. I continued until I reached her chin and kept going until my lips met hers. She slammed her mouth against mine and the electricity hammered its way through my body, ravaging every nerve that I had, firing off each one with tumultuous effectiveness. I pulled her knee up and around me as I pressed her against the window on her side of the car. I propelled my body into hers, pressing my left hand against the cold glass. The cold shocked me back into reality. I sat back up and scooted myself away from her. Wow, I said and dragged both my hands through my hair. Her chest huffed with each winded breath. She rested the back of her head against the cold passenger window and attempted to straighten out her hair but I could tell she was thinking of something. She quickly sprang for me and grabbed the collar of my shirt. She crushed her lips into mine with the same severity as before, but this time I

resisted. No, I said grabbing her shoulders. Yes, she said pushing herself against me. No Jules. Please Elliott. Jules! I yelled. Her eyes popped open, startled. She sank into her seat, licked her lips and wiped her mouth with her thumb and index finger, pulling at her bottom lip. She ran her fingers through her hair and bit her thumb, her elbow resting on the door staring out of the window. I could see her reflection in the frosted glass and her eyes began to wet with tears. Im sorry, was all I could muster up. The tears flowed more steadily and she opened her door without a word. She scrambled quickly to retrieve her bag. I jumped out of the truck and followed her up the porch steps to the front door. What are you doing Jules? I asked desperately. What does it look like Im doing? She bellowed, the tears still coming, Im going to bed. What happened? I dont understand, I said, racking my brain for an answer to the question of how this had turned so badly, so quickly. Her hands trembled as she searched in the dark for her keys in the front pocket of her bag. When she found them she slid the key in the door and turned it. She walked in and left me standing on the porch without a word, without a second glance. The whole way home, I kept trying to guess what I had done that so terribly offended her. Jules was dramatic but she had never been unreasonable, so I had to have

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

about women Uncle Danny. How he married my lovely aunt Becky I will never know. Well, if you really did, then you should have a pretty good idea what happened that made her that way, he said intelligently. I have an idea Danny. Well, go fix it son but its better you get there in one piece. You hear me boy? Slow down! He demanded in his best sheriffs voice. Okay, I will. Thanks Danny. Alright, bye Elliott. Wait! Uncle Danny? Yes Elliott? Dont mention this to my mom. Please? I pleaded. Mention what? He said with a wink while walking back to his cruiser. I started back toward Bluefield, this time at a snails pace. When I finally got to school, the parking lots were pretty full. I drove around Lot A, where Jules car would be and saw it parked toward the front. I had to drive to the other side of campus to my lot and was almost late for my first class. I was going to have to wait until lunch to see her. I paid little to no attention in Economics or Algebra. I only faintly remember Mr. Cook calling on me in Algebra and asking me if Id forgotten to turn in my homework. He had counted one short and called out everybodys names on the headings to take attendance and find out who skipped out. I apologized and handed it in. I sat back down and zoned out again. I was okay with having to teach myself the lesson later from my book. After second period, I walked into the lunch room and Jules wasnt there. Damn it Jules! What is going on? I sat

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

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

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

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

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

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

stared into the creek below. The sun was starting to set and I cursed myself for forgetting my flashlight. She stood quietly waiting for me to speak. Jules, listen, I was really upset with what happened last night and wanted so desperately to speak with you about it. I had tried to pick you up for school but you had gone so that just increased the irritation I had for myself and at lunch you werent there and that just sent me over the edge. I basically took it out on Jesse at lunch. I know I should have chosen a more private venue for the conversation. Plus, our topic wasnt the one Taylor gave you the impression it was. I was trying to talk to Jesse about how upset I was so I told him what happened, I watched a tear fall down her cheek, but I was discrete about it! I told him what you meant to me, that I am just as responsible for you as you are for yourself. I wanted him to know how its supposed to be and that the way he is acting is self-destructive. He got really defensive and condescendingly brushed me off. I stood and let him know what I thought of him and the cafeteria caught the latter end and it spiraled out of control from there. Thats why Taylor was out there, she was trying to take advantage of a weak moment. Please dont let her do that to us Jules. Jules turned toward me, wiping her eyes as dry as she could get them. I took her hands in mine and they were freezing. I warmed them by bringing her body in closer for a hug. I was wearing a t-shirt with a button up flannel over it so I took her hands and put them inside my open shirt and onto my back. I wrapped my jacket around her body and kissed the top of her head. Jules? I asked after a moment. Yes Elliott? She asked, her voice cracked from crying.

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

When I came up to breathe, I noticed how dark it was. Wouldnt it be nice, I sighed at the moon. What? If we were older? She smiled.

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

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

Yes, I like her legs. He chuckled, She has absolutely no interest in me at all and Ive never run across that before. The ego. I feel challenged and to be honest with you I need a challenge. Im so bored. Granted, shes sort of chatty but Im sure I could remedy that. Get over yourself Jesse. He laughed. Im going to get her from you, one way or another. Think you can frighten me into submission? You couldnt be more off the mark. I would kill for her. I would even kill you, despite the fact we used to play together as babes. Ive only begun to frighten you Gray. That was very true. It was official, he was insane. These past few weeks, I had very strong suspicions but was in total and utter denial. This robotic, psychotic version of Jesse that sputtered out this dribble was in fact the new Jesse. The final version. I could see in his cold, dead eyes that he had snapped and that it had been a long time coming. In retrospect, my first clue should have been when I caught him as kids on two separate occasions trying to mutilate live animals. The first time, he made an excuse and I shrugged it off but the second time there was no mistaking what he was doing and I had proceeded to scream and yell and explain until I was blue in the face how cruel it was. He had bowed his head and apologized and I was naive enough to think that I had gotten through to him, that it was just a phase because I hadnt caught him doing anything else since, but I could no longer deny that my best friend was insane. Then there was the way he treated women, yet another red flag. The puzzle pieces were fitting together and I could

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

Go ahead Gray. Provoke the deranged psychopath.


He slowly slid his eyes closed and took two deep breaths. He hurled himself at me and I began my second fight for that year. He crashed into me with pathetic force, or maybe it just seemed that way because the adrenaline streaming through my veins might as well have made me a brick wall. I yanked my hands from my pocket and stood up. He let go of me, straightened himself, and rubber banded his right elbow behind his back, forming a tight fist. I shoved my chair behind me with my right foot and steadied myself for the next blow. He swung his right fist toward my temple and I blocked it with the back of my left forearm. I swung with my right hand swiftly under his pitiful chin and knocked his head back. The blood and spit spilled from his lips and I watched as it splattered across the same vinyl tile he had so closely been studying just a minute before. He stuttered backward into Katie Shannon and she shoved him off of her body and ran toward the door where the rest of the class hovered, waiting for our scrap to die out or for Coach Miles to enter and intervene. He regained his balance and the hate emanated from his eyes. Ive never seen eyes that looked like that. It was as if I could see into the depths of his wicked heart and it sent chills down my spine. I held out my hand and told him to back off but he sprinted toward me with unspeakable rage billowing from his stare. Great. He attacked again, but I didnt even give him the chance to get near before kicking my right leg in front of me and striking the middle of his chest. I heard the huff of his breath break short. He groaned in pain. His body listlessly curled around my foot, his hands brushed against my knee

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

paying absolutely no attention to the lesson. My thoughts turned back to the disastrous turn of events. Ive only begun to frighten you, he had said. Acid from my stomach began to creep into my throat. I couldnt sit there any longer. I grabbed my bag and jacket and rocketed from my desk into the hall. Coach started to protest but I had already started for my truck and wasnt about to turn back. I sat in the cab, shivering from the cold, wrapping my jacket closer to my body, collecting my thoughts. I thought about how I was going to handle Jesse and wondered if I was overreacting. Stop trying to find an excuse for him.

Hes not the same Jesse anymore.

I wondered if I was going to tell anyone about our conversation, I wondered if they would believe me, but mostly I wondered how I was going to keep Jesse away from Jules. I still hadnt decided what I was going to do when the bell rang. It startled me from my dark thoughts. It startled me because it meant something to me that it had never meant before. Its shrill tone marked the end of a euphoric existence with Jules and the beginning of an uncertainty. I was scared and I never get scared because, I realized, I had never had anything worth losing before. Jules! I called when I caught a glimpse of her across the hall. My hands shook at my sides. She smiled and did this little funny dancing jig to make me laugh, not caring one bit about the pairs of eyes staring right at her. She was blissfully unaware of how effective it was, temporarily melting away the fear of my morning from my mind.

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

comment. Jesse Thomas and I got into a fist fight. Guess what

else baby? Hes also a psychopath.

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

Would you do it? If I asked you to? Would you do it without explanation? She sighed, If you could look me straight in the eyes and say it was absolutely necessary. Yes, I would. I trust you. Alright, that was good to know. No sense in worrying her anymore than needed. I decided to tell her the bare minimum. Alright, I said, steadying myself to blurt it out. Jesse Thomas told me that I needed to break up with you and that I needed to give you to him. She thought seriously for a moment. As in, he wants to be with me? Yes. Why? I dont know. That was the truth. I didnt actually know why but do the insane need to justify their reasons to anyone? Their reasons are their own. I got the distinct impression that Jesse didnt feel the need to divulge his reasoning at all. Thats really sad. Why? Well, it sort of confirms a suspicion of mine. What Jules? I asked seriously. I wasnt sure at first, but at the movies, she hesitated, now dont get mad, but he kept staring at my legs. I let out a deep breath. So, he must like me. Hmm. He must be suffering and all on account of me, that makes me feel terrible.

Must teach Jules not to assume anything ever again.

Assumptions are dangerous things. Is there any way we can fix it? She asked, genuinely wondering if she could help him.

For now, I had decided to let her assume whatever she wanted though, for her sake, not his, of course. I dont think so Jules. The last thing a guy wants when hes trying to get over somebody is that somebody helping him try to get over them. Its sweet of you to want it, but Im thinking it would just be cruel. Not to mention incredibly

dangerous. No, Julia Jacobs, I will never allow you near him again.
She nodded in agreement. No wonder he gave me such a horrible time. He was lashing out, she said. Uh, yeah. Lashing out. That makes sense. I cleared my throat, On your date, did he do or say anything else that was strange? Uh, kind of, but I just assumed he was being his usual kooky self. There she went assuming again. What happened? I held my breath. He kept asking me all these extremely personal questions. Like, what time do you go to bed? Do you wear pajamas or sleep in your underwear? How far have you gone with Elliott? I think we can safely assume he knows that now after yesterdays blow up. He asked me if I thought I was going to marry you and I started to think maybe his line of questioning wasnt all that strange, like maybe I was overreacting or something, but then he asked me something that made my hair stand on end. She shivered, but not because she was cold. What? I gulped. He asked me if I knew what scarification was. What? Oh my God! Yeah, I know. I said, that was out of left field! I asked

him why he wanted to know but he evaded it. I thought about ringing you on my cell at that point but he did this complete one-eighty on me and started acting like the perfect gentleman again, holding doors, you know, things like that. The theater was full so we were forced to sit in the only two seats available toward the side. My seat had a piece of gum stuck to it and he laid down his leather jacket so I wouldnt ruin my jeans. So, after that, I figured he was just kooky or socially inept. Im sorry I didnt mention it to you. I didnt want to worry you. Jules! Thats not kooky! Its creepy! Im starting to think youre right. Starting? Jeez Jules! Youre gonna be the death of me. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Dont touch me. Dont touch me. Dont touch me, I thought. This new piece of information made me more afraid than Id ever felt before. Calm down. Sheesh. I think youre overreacting, she said.

No, Im not.
Maybe this whole thing will blow over, she hoped. Maybe, I said, knowing full well it was not going to blow over. Better start figuring out where were going to live

when we have to flee. How do you legally change your name anyway without others finding out who and where you are? Could we even get our diplomas and make it to university without anyones help?
For then, that was the end of that conversation, with her and myself. That night, we sat on our rock bridge with a fleece

blanket underneath us as well as one to cover us. We sat cozily side by side and stared into the stars. Wow, I said. I know, she concurred. She stole my eyes away from the starry night and I gazed upon her radiant face. I love you Jules. I love you too Elliott, she said turning to face me. So, whats up? I actually want to talk seriously about our future. About

something so dear to me that not even what happened with Jesse Thomas today could keep me from talking to you about it.
Whats to talk about? Youre my future and I feel confident in saying that Im yours. I mean the technicalities babe. God, she was cute. I know, she shrugged her shoulders. Well, I want to know how long youd like to wait before were married. I just came right out and said it because it felt natural and after the day I had with Jesse I was at my wits end. It had taken me practically the whole day to calm down. I know it was sort of anti-climactic and all that but we felt it in our guts that we would someday be married to one another anyway. She knew it. I knew it. Elliott! She laughed. I thought you were going to say something like Are you okay with never seeing me for the next seven years since Ill be knee deep in cadavers. Jules, youre a punk. Im being serious. I know its premature, but I was thinking about it the other day. Then there is the night we almost lost it and....... and todays

insaneness. Mostly todays insaneness.

You mean the night that I almost lost it. No, we both almost lost it. Anyway, while I was in bed that night, I was thinking that I might want to get married as soon as we graduate. College? She asked. No, high school Jules. No way Elliott! Why not? Because that would be too Bramwell-like of us, thats why. Oh who cares if it is! Are we or are we not from Bramwell anyway? Besides, I wanted to go to Philadelphia and actually be there with you. If we can even go to

Philadelphia now.
Oh my gosh Elliott. Listen, she laid on her back and turned onto her side. She patted the spot next to her and I followed suit, laying with my hands behind my head. I always tried to restrain my hands one way or another when I was near her. She scooted closer to me and continued, I am actually hyperventilating at the very idea of it because it sounds so tempting, but I think that it would be the death of our careers. I can just imagine getting pregnant while were in school and then Id have to quit to take care of our baby and then youd never see us for years because youd be becoming a physician Elliott! You wont have time for anything else. No. Were just going to have to wait. I almost jumped out of my skin from excitement at the prospect of having children with her. I surprised myself with that one. You want to wait? I can handle that, but I dont want to wait another ten years Jules. Can we compromise? I

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

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

Sure. I plopped myself on the plaid chair next to her and grabbed her book. Which one is it? Number thirty-four. Okay. I figured it out quickly, she is almost seven years younger than I am. When I was done re-teaching her the lesson her teacher should have taught her in the first place, she discovered she had done almost every problem incorrectly and I could tell she had wished she had never asked me for my help. She threw herself in a huff back onto the floor and vigorously erased her entire worksheet. It got really quiet and I decided Thanksgiving with Jules was the perfect topic to break the silence. Mom? Dad? I reluctantly said. Yeah son? My dad said. Jules family is going to her aunts house in Mauch Chunk for Thanksgiving and theyve invited me along. What do yall think? Can I go? I made eye contact with my mom so she knew I wasnt planning anything devious. I dont think so Elliott, my mom said. Well, if you say so, I said, disappointed, but if it makes you feel any better, her entire family will be there, including her extended family. Wed be chaperoned well and her parents are comfortable with it. Please say yes. Oh let him go Shelby, my dad said hoping wed shut up so he could catch the end of his program. Hmm, she deliberated, Ill call her mama in the morning and get the details. As long as it will be as well chaperoned as you claim it will be I dont have a problem with it. Are you

okay with being away from the family on such a holiday? Ill miss you very much mom, I got up and kissed her forehead. That made her more comfortable. She made me promise that, if I went, Id call her the day of and I crossed my heart that I would. Yall are stupid, Maddy said with audacity, eyes still focused on her worksheet. I would never let my boy do something like that. All three of us stared at the pre-teen lounging in all her false glory. I left the room so I wouldnt have to witness the disrespect smacked out of her knowing I would hear it through the walls as it was. Maddy check your tone before you find yourself grounded the entire Thanksgiving break, my dad said. Imagine that Mark! My mom said. Maddy giving us advice! Were so lucky to have birthed her and raised her to be more intelligent than us. Wouldnt you agree Mark? Youre right Shelby. Where would we be without her? I couldnt see it but Im sure my mom had a look of disgust on her face and I couldnt help but chuckle at the thought of it. I bounded up the stairs to my room and went to sleep happily dreaming of turkeys. The next morning I was really excited to pick Jules up for school. When I got there, I bounded up the smallish incline to the bottom of the steps of the covered porch just as she was locking the door. You didnt! She squealed with delight when she turned around and met my eyes. What are you talking about? I said. I can feel it in your chest Elliott Gray. You asked and they said yes!

It was handy, most of the time. I had a feeling Id never be able to surprise her again though. She dropped her bag on the wood porch with a loud thud and she leaped into my arms from the top step in excitement. Youre gonna love Mauch Chunk, she said. Ive been there before Jules. Granted, I was pretty little and dont remember much, but I have been there. Oh, youll remember this trip, she flirted. I bet I will, I teased. Were going to have to start picking out our road trip music starting today, she said, gesturing excitedly with her hands. We only have a week! Jules took forever to pick out music. She said there was an art to choosing the correct songs, to provide diverse choices that would suit any mood. I had to admit she was pretty good at it. Should we ditch today and stay here? She asked. I bet we could get a lot more done if we did. Whoa! We just got stow away privileges and you already want to rock the boat? Any minute now we could capsize and never make our destination. Youre right, she sagged with a sigh. Lets get to school. Aye, aye, capn! I said with a salute. That day was a B day and Id only have fourth period Chemistry with her. I didnt get to see her that morning but at least we got to eat lunch together and I was able to finish the day with her. The hours ticked by so slowly but I absorbed the little information I didnt already know in Economics and Algebra and ran to the cafeteria to see my Jules. I saw her sitting at our usual table but didnt see what I had imagined all

morning. She had her arms folded across her stomach as if in pain and a look of panic strewn about her perfect face. I instantly ran to her and pleaded to know what was wrong. Jules! What happened? The tears were just beginning to flow. I guess they had unconsciously been waiting for me. They knew how much I hated them. They were a sign of pain in Jules and that was unacceptable to me. She tried to speak but couldnt and instead just handed me, with trembling hands, a folded piece of notebook paper torn from a binder. It was a printed note and read,

Julia, youve got something that I want and Im determined to make it mine. I think you know what I mean. Watch yourself.
My hands tremored and the paper shook furiously in my hands. I crumpled it up but the frustration didnt subside as Id hoped. I needed to find Jesse and immediately. I stared out across the cafeteria. Im going to find Jesse, I said as calmly as I possibly could. I began to stand but she pulled me back to my chair. No, babe, please. Have you considered that it might be from Taylor? She asked. I hadnt thought of that but I guess I could see how it could also make sense. Both people made sense as its author but Jesse was the outright psycho, not to mention the unveiled threats, not that Jules knew about those. Jesse was the only one who could have done it, in my book. Damn it! I said a little too loudly. Jules stroked my arm to calm me down but it wasnt helping. I could tell that she was scared because her fingers shook and she was nearly screaming it through our touch.

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

speak with Principal Rudolph. Jules stood beside me, confident. It was a bit of a ruse. She was frightened and it was something only I could sense. She was a strong girl, stronger than anyone I knew, but this was beyond the both of us. It was too unbelievable to imagine. Principal Rudolph is out today kids, Millie said, her head buried in paperwork. Will you tell her that we stopped by? I asked. Without waiting for her response, I dragged Jules back to the cafeteria. She didnt want to eat and I didnt blame her. We sat at our table and agreed that we should act like the note we had found didnt bother us in case someone was watching and by someone we meant one of Taylors cronies, since Taylor didnt share this lunch with us and Jesse was gone. I wasnt taking any chances. I grabbed Jules hand, leaned into her neck and breathed into her ear that I loved her. I blasted a concentrated amount of feeling through her throat and the heat relaxed her at once. The electricity that flowed between us was as powerful as a rivers. We discovered we could control the dosage, so to speak, but had to be careful because releasing too much made us sleepy as heck. It soothed us both to experience the exchange and was quite addicting. I craved it at night especially. It was when we were away from each other the longest and I found myself waking earlier and earlier each day just so I could touch her as quickly as possible to mollify the necessity for it. She audibly sighed in relief and that cleared my head a little. I was too preoccupied with her suffering to start analyzing the note and deciphering its real meaning. I was incredibly shocked at the brazenness of the culprit breaking

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

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

nervously. Okay, he said shaking his head, rubbing chin stubble between his thumb and forefinger. Ill be right back. Jules and I heaved ourselves onto the hood of my truck. The heat from the engine was a comfort. I made sure she sat closely so our skin would stay in contact and itd keep me calm. It was freezing but neither of us made an attempt to go inside because our contact kept us a balmy ninety-eight point six, maybe warmer. I dont think we wanted to hear the conversation he was having either. We remained silent, keeping a conversation within ourselves. I tried extremely hard not to imagine Jesse sneaking into Jules room, slithering his way around, going through her stuff. I also tried not to think about all the different ways Id kill him when I found out for sure that it was him. I tried not to think about what I was going to say to him at school the next day as well. I did think about avoiding him altogether and skipping school but I had to see for myself the way he acted around me, around us. I knew him well enough to recognize when he was acting shady, though Jesse 2.0 might be a little harder to decipher. Jules squeezed my hand tightly into hers to ease my restlessness. She was reading me. It worked. I closed my eyes and let the sleepy current soften my rigid torso. I took a deep breath through my nose and nearly drowned from the heavenly delirium that was Jules perfume. I fought past that and could smell dark smoke, most likely from a couple miles ahead of us at the Millers house. They always started burning old wood from the prior winter seasons first and I could smell the burning of dormant kindling. I looked up and saw my Uncle Danny hanging up the phone. He swung his coat over his shoulders and stomped his heavy boots across the old wood floor of the station and

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

house. When we looked closely at the window the paint had been freshly scratched where the intruder had pried open the bottom of the ancient window, probably with a crowbar from the width of the scratch. I watched Jules start to lose it a little bit so I grabbed her and held her steadily against my side. Strange, said Danny. What is? I asked. Well, Im sort of flabbergasted as to how Julia didnt hear the wood of the window cracking or the intruder? Jules blushed slightly and scrunched her nose. Im an extremely heavy sleeper, she admitted. Ahhh, he said. Well, whoever it was that actually entered couldnt have been that tall. These windows arent very far from the ground. They needed cinder blocks to see or get inside. He pointed at the blocks against the house.

Taylor then?
Okay, Danny said, Im going to call Julias parents and let them know whats going on. Maybe they can stop by a home improvement store and get some additional locking mechanisms for the windows. Be right back. He left us there staring at the creepiness that was the intruders handiwork. Shes insane, Jules said, her voice shaking. Or theyre insane. Theres something else thats bothering me. Whats that? Jules asked. Well, who would risk getting caught boldly waltzing into your room at night? They must have known that you were a heavy sleeper, but nobody but myself and your family would know something like that.........unless youve told someone

else? Do you remember talking about it at school with anyone? The blood drained from her face and she nodded, keeping her eyes steady with mine. Dont you remember? She asked. We did, with each other, in front of Jesse. When we came back to school after Tanens party fiasco, you were talking about the night and broke off to tease me about that fact that I could sleep through a hurricane. Later, she trembled, we were all hanging out at Thatchers. When Jesse thought you werent looking, he poked me in the ribs and told me that if I wasnt careful hed come in while I was asleep and rearrange my furniture. I thought he was just messing with me, trying to get a rise out of me as usual, like he got some sort of sick pleasure out of scaring me. In the past, Id always felt you were kind of harsh on him about me and the few times I would let you in on the stupid things hed say to me, youd scold him and he would just take it out on me later. Thats why I kept it from you. Its why Ive kept a lot of weird things hes done from you. Its okay Jules, were all the words I could rally up. So it was a joint effort. I gritted my teeth and tried to hold back what I was thinking, but couldnt. Hes crazy! The both are! I said. This whole thing is going to be squashed tomorrow and Im going to be the one who does it! she exclaimed, her eyebrows furrowing at the last bit. You cant Jules! Why? Because we need to ignore this behavior, whatever their motives are, and pretend like we have barely taken notice

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

the entire school, its staff and the police knew the details. We felt confident that Jesse would stifle any plans for future pranks. Early the next morning, I sat around my kitchen table and chatted with my mom while I waited for Jules parents to pick me up. So I talked to Danny last night, she said. Oh yeah? Yeah, he thought like we did. That whoever did this thing is done. They didnt want to point fingers at Jesse and Taylor. My mom especially didnt believe it was Jesse. He did a spot on impression of Eddie Haskell with her, if you catch my drift. I didnt argue with any of them. I knew the truth and thought that as long as they were quiet, there would be no need to taint any smallish reputation of being decent they still had, despite the fact that it hung by a thread. Their razor sharp indecencies would cut those on their own. Ive found its always better for people to discover things like that without my help. Ive found that when I did help things along, the shock would lose its potency and water down the needed reaction. I hope youre right, I said. Are you excited sweetheart? Huh? About what? I asked, my mind still occupied by the idiots. About Mauch Chunk, Elliott. Golly baby! What else? Youve been counting down the hours and minutes to this trip since day one. She laughed. It sang through the house like a clear bell and touched every heart within a hundred foot radius. It melted away all the anxiety resting in my chest. Her happiness was always so contagious.

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

When I opened it, there stood a shivering Jules with the rosiest cheeks and, boy, did she look stunning. My mom waved at the Jacobs and they waved back. We crunched our way through the snow and tumbled into Jules parents car. Hi Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs! I said. Hi Elliott! They said in unison. Excited son? Mr. Jacobs asked. Very, I said and stared at Jules with a grin that touched both my eyes. She reached across me and grabbed my seat belt. When she clicked it into its buckle, she winked at me. She killed me. This game we got going on I like, I thought, touching her arm. She nodded. I brought our huge fleece blanket for the car ride there. And our awesome travel music, she frowned, that we didnt get to finish putting together. Weve got at least fifty songs on here though. I think that will get us through, I winked. Something about going away with Jules got me into such a cheeky mood. If her parents hadnt been there with us, Id have ravished the hollow of her neck. It didnt help that she looked so incredible. She was wearing something new, something she must have bought in Charleston when she went with her mom to pick a few things up for their trip. She wore a grey thermal top and faded distressed blue jeans. Typical of Jules, she had all this silvery jewelry on, tons of bracelets, a necklace. She wore this hat that made her literally look like the cutest girl Ive ever seen in my life. I pulled at one of the ear flaps and asked her what it was. She called it her pom-pom beanie. It was striped, light

grey and black, a chunky knit, and had braided ear flaps with tassels that reached to the bottom of her ribcage. Her long raven hair hung in soft curls around her shoulders and reached the middle of her back. She was so beautiful, I couldnt help myself. You look so pretty Jules, I said. She sat up from retrieving the iPod from her bag and her cheeks burned pink once more and Im guessing it wasnt from the chill air. Thank you Elliott, she said. We both glanced into the rear-view to catch her dads reaction and much to our surprise he was deep into his own conversation with Jules mom. Neither caught my comment or maybe they just acted as if they didnt, either way what I said wasnt that bad, just a little too intimate for Jules to feel comfortable around her parents. She was sort of a prude that way, especially in front of her dad. Once, I tried to link pinkies with her at their house while waiting to leave for her moms birthday dinner and Jules looked at me like Id assaulted her. What a goof. I could tell her dad didnt care as long as we were being respectful but Jules was careful and I could appreciate that. She plugged the ear buds into the iPod and handed me the left bud and I placed it into my ear and she did the same with the right. She started to play our list and we both took out our time passers as she called them. She had her sketch pad and I brought a book. She spread the fleece over our laps and I almost burst into laughter when I saw her dad count to four, assuming he was counting hands. Parents. I hadnt even finished chapter four when I caught Jules drifting to sleep. I gathered her pencils and folded her sketch pad and placed them all into her messenger bag.

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

My name is Julia, not Jules, Elliott. How many times do I have to tell you?

I laughed at the memory and took the pen from her.

I know that but I like Jules. Ive noticed Im the only one who calls you that. It makes me a part of you that only we share. I know what happened. I just wanted to confirm that you knew too, so I dont look like a fool.
We both laughed.

Youre so freaking cute Jules. Seriously, YOU are Elliott. Ive been dying to kiss you since Harrisonburg. Seriously, you cant say things like that when you look like you do right now. You gonna do something about it? Stop torturing me Jules. Its not fair. Alright, alright. Im glad to be getting out of Bramwell, I wrote,
changing the subject.

Me too. I am most glad to be getting away from THEM. Theyre done. Im certain of it. Besides, Jesse will get a shovel to the face if he so much as breathes on you. Elliott! Your thoughts are always so violent Im violent? Does a certain football game mean anything to you?
She giggled under her breath.

Seriously though, I wouldnt let anything happen to you, ever. I promise. No one can keep a promise like that babe. Be realistic. Im being honest Jules. Not one hair on your head will they touch.
She sighed aloud and I decided to change the subject, yet again.

So, can your family cook? Cause Im a growing boy you know? I need the calories. My memaw Joan E is an excellent cook. She taught me everything she knows. Did she? Ill have to thank her then. I am forever indebted to her for that. Youre an amazing cook. Thanks sweetheart.
Jules broke her most stringent rule, leaned in and pecked me on the cheek. I guess that was all I was going to get.

Whoa Jules! Now your dad is going to think were messing around! Shut up Elliott!
More laughing.

Seriously though Jules, your outfit looks so nice on you. Oh Elliott, get your head out of the gutter. Im not trying to be saucy with you. I mean it. You look incredibly beautiful. Stop, youre making me blush and that will make my dad want to read what weve been writing.
We both looked up and saw her dads eyes refocus from the rear-view back onto the road. Something told me it wouldnt be a comfortable vacation for him. Poor guy. I promised myself Id try to make it easier on him, to behave just a little more responsibly to ease his anxiety.

So, I cant believe I havent asked you this yet, but whos all going to be there?
Id already met many of Jules family members from previous visits from them to Bramwell but there were a few Id be meeting for the first time and although this would have scared a lot of guys my age and even older, it didnt faze me in the slightest. I was comforted to know that while

we would be living in Philadelphia shed have some family nearby.

A lot of my cousins will be there, most youve never met before. Many aunts and uncles. Im most excited for you to meet my aunt Isabel. Im looking forward to meeting all of them. I want this trip to go as smoothly as possible. I want to be invited to future visits. Got any suggestions? Be wary of some of my cousins. Theyre awesome, but they love to tease. My cousin Lizzy is the best, youll love her. Just stick close to me and youll be okay. Oh that should be no problem whatsoever.
I threw a sneaky grin her way and we both laughed quietly. I need gas, Jules dad said in a huff and slightly jerked the wheel toward the nearest exit. We bumped heads. Ow! Dad! Oops! Sorry kids! he said with a slight smirk. He was ornery, he must have been where Jules got it. We stopped at a gas station in Greencastle and ate lunch at a little burger joint named Billy Miners. They had some of the best burgers Id ever eaten in my entire life. It was an amazing town and every person wed met there treated us as if we were family. I promised myself Id go back again. We finally got back onto the road and arrived in Mauch Chunk in record time. When Jules dragged me through the door I was overwhelmed by the amount of people despite the home being one of the largest Id ever ever stepped foot in. No wonder everyone comes here, I whispered. This isnt your grandmothers den.

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

head toward the kitchen? I can hear everyone buzzing around in there. We started toward the kitchen and Jules grabbed my hand. She apparently felt comfortable enough to do that and I wasnt going to pitch a fit so I wove my fingers with hers and brought the top of her hand to my lips and kissed it. I didnt let go of her hand once while being introduced to the cousins I had been so fairly warned about. Jules was right, Lizzy was the thoroughly cool one. Then Jules led me to a spunky, elderly lady with the whitest hair. You must be memaw Joan E.? I asked. No, fool, Im Julias aunt. How old do you think I am? She asked, her eyes wide. I turned bright red and my eyes nearly popped from my head. I...I....I, I stuttered. Im just pullin your chain son! She laughed a hearty laugh. Come here! She planted a large kiss on my face and tapped my cheek lightly with her palm. I laughed along with her and Jules. You pass boy. Then she walked off. And that was memaw Joan E., Jules said. Great isnt she? She beamed. Very Jules. Are you going to see Caroline, Julia? Isabel asked us from the sink. Is she in town? Jules asked excitedly. She is and I believe theyre playing tonight at Antones. Jules walked the length of the kitchen and we sat in the corner window seat together. The entire kitchen was full to the brim of her chattering family. Yes, quite an impossible

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

huge family affair? Caroline would love that! Everyone agreed and all consented to leave for her show at nine that night. Jules mom and dad volunteered to watch everyones children because they felt drained from the car ride. I think it was further proof that they preferred a quieter life. We had several hours to kill so Jules aunt Isabel showed me to the room Id be sharing with the other boys of the house. It was a game room they just added a bunch of cots to. She gave me the cot between the pool table and the wall. It was slightly secluded and I appreciated the privacy it provided me. She showed me the massive bathroom where I could shower and ready myself in the morning. The house was so big that if Jules hadnt been with me almost the entire time I would have gotten lost for sure. Isabel instructed Jules to show me the rest of the house and headed back downstairs to see to dinner. Im in desperate need of a shower, I pleaded. Me too, she said. Meet you back here in an hour? I want to wash my hair again and curl it. No prob Bob. I grabbed my bag and closed the bathroom door behind me. I tossed it onto the marble tile and turned the shower on. I sat at the edge of the sink while the water warmed. It was an incredible room. Cream marble from floor to ceiling cut into large subway tiles. The toilet actually had an electronic keypad next to it and I wasnt about to mess with it for fear itd set the whole house on fire, as that was my luck. I kicked off my heavy, large boots. Jules always kidded me that their weight is what kept me grounded. I undressed and tossed my jeans, boxers and weathered thermal to the ground. I could tell the water

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

Egad! I can just imagine some random relative having to come in here and find me sprawled over the tile.
I jumped and hit my target but my legs were sore from all the extra running around at Fridays game and I winced in pain. What I wouldnt have given to be married to Jules. Id have her massage all the kinks out. I could just as well have her do it now over my jeans but that would have been an invitation for disaster, stupid teenage hormones. I couldnt wait for those to subside. Though, there was one sensation I hoped would never diminish. Every time I would see her, even after only a five minute absence, my heart would beat an unhealthy rhythm and I loved it. Oh, and of course our electricity, but I knew that wasnt going anywhere. I reached for the towel and dried myself off, then the floor where Id dripped and then threw the towel in the laundry chute. Are laundry chutes something people actually use? I wondered if I had just sent my used towel into some random open alcove in the kitchen in front of everyone. I paused and waited for the impending uproarious laughter but there came none. Huh. They must

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

sleeves so they met midway up my forearm. I wore a black vest over the knit and threw my boots back on. I stood at the mirror and shrugged my shoulders. I looked like a hobo but I never much cared for what I looked like so it was of no concern to me. Jules seemed to like me and that was all I cared about. I tossed on my wool cap and tucked my hair behind my ears. My hair was starting to get a little too long. I usually kept it at my chin but it had grown an inch or two below it now and I looked like a mess. The very sight of myself made me laugh almost uncontrollably. Just then, I heard a knock at the door. I tossed all of my stuff into my bag and answered it. There was still a little steam left in the room and it emptied itself around a desperately striking Jules, as if she were in one of my dreams. When the steam dissipated, I caught my lost breath and choked. Jules, youre killing me. She spun around so I could get a better look. Uh, Im gonna die trying to fend off the Mauch Chunkites. Thanks, but dont. Id rather you live. I like you alive, it suits you. Feelings mutual, I joked. She grabbed my hand and that familiar jolt coursed through my body soothing every aching muscle I had previously complained about. Wait, I said, Ive gotta put my bag on my cot. I tossed my bag onto the cot and she grabbed my hand once more. Okay, for the rest of the tour. Ill start down the hall, in their home theater. Seriously? My mouth fell open widely.

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

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

us. Jules and I rested our feet on the seats in front of us but neither of us made it past the opening credits. We fell asleep with my arm around Jules and her head on my shoulder. I dozed off breathing in the scent of her shampoo. When the movie was over, apparently the other kids just let us get some sleep and Jules mom didnt wake us until everyone was ready to leave. Julia, honey, I barely heard. Jules rustled beneath my arms. Yeah? She asked, unaware where she was. Oh, what time is it? Quarter til dear. Okay. Jules shook me awake and I sat up. We both stretched in our seats and stood up. Im going to freshen up, Jules said, before we have to leave. I met Jules in the foyer five minutes later and we all piled into various cars. We all marched into Antones with amazed eyes. The venue was dark and smelled of incense. One of their songs played softly to rev the crowd up. Thats all Caroline, Jules said. This is really exciting, I said. The band came out first and began to play a low beat and then Caroline joined the stage. The audience erupted into shouts and applause. I guess she was the reason people came. Then, I saw why she was the real reason people came. Her dancing was phenomenal and I saw so much of Jules in her it was shocking. They looked alike, danced alike and even made similar facial expressions. Its obvious that youre family, I said.

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

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

whispered. You did? I asked quietly. She brought her lips to my ear, I had a dream about us. I stared at her in disbelief. So did I. What was yours about? She asked. Our honeymoon, I said. Mine too. Why I was surprised by this, I dont know. I had gotten used to things being unusual between us, I just hadnt expected this was all. Amazing, I said. She told me all about her dream. It was almost identical to mine but with a slight twist. She said she kept trying to talk to me but I wouldnt answer her and all she was able to do was touch me and smile at me. Amazing, I repeated. I held on to her for a very long time. I cupped her face in my hands and stared into her eyes. Every now and then I would softly kiss her chin, cheek, forehead, or lips. I was passionately in love with Jules and I could see in her eyes and feel through her touch that she was too. Im so in love with you Jules, I said. And I with you, my love, she answered. I dont think I can wait to belong to you any longer. Please marry me after graduation Jules? Desperate. We cant my love. Well need to wait just a little bit longer. What is four years in the scheme of things? But why? Because I promised your mother youd become the

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

coming down the staircase. What in the heck are you two doing up? He asked. His eyes became large, You two arent just getting in are you? No Mr. Jacobs. We rode with everyone else last night. Jules and I were just the earliest risers this morning, I said. I glanced at Jules and she smiled back. Oh, he said shuffling in his slippers and bathrobe to an empty coffee pot. Didnt either of you make coffee? We both shook our heads. Thats unAmerican, he joked. Its too chilly for the door to be open. Close that for me, will ya Elliott? I rolled the door down and locked the chain. The kitchen began to heat up with warm bodies and Joan Es cooking. She made these miniature quiches with the most delectable insides known to man. I never would have considered myself a quiche kind of guy but I ate my share and three others worth of the darn things. Jules, on a whim, made a yogurt parfait with low fat yogurt, fresh fruit, and honey baked granola. That was probably her antidote to all the cholesterol I had just ingested. Here babe, she said handing me a bowl. Jules, are you worried about me? I cracked. A little, she said. I was just witness to the feast you treated yourself to. If I wasnt already aware of your intimidating self control Id think youd had none. Everyone got really quiet, reading too much into what she had just said. I felt the color drain from my own face and travel over to Jules red hot cheeks. Suddenly, everyone burst into laughter. All, except Jules father, but I could live with that. I mean, technically I was being accused of being a prude. That was okay with me. Jules, on the other hand, had just labeled herself the opposite.

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

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

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

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

Yes, classic. Classic. Are we done? I asked. Yes, were in too playful a mood to do this. Alright, lets watch the film and annoy everyone by reciting every line, I said. Youre Wesley and Ill be Princess Buttercup. Such an awesome name, she said. Its so funny that they had a somewhat normal name coupled with such a cutesy one. What are you talking about? She said. Hes The Dread Pirate Roberts! Ohhhh, thats right. Theyre doomed. Theyre kids are going to be named something stupid like Princesses Alstroemeria and Delphinium. What is wrong with you? She laughed. How do you even know the names of those flowers? Thats it. I forbid your reading to reach such subjects that allow me to immediately ask for your man card. Your reading shall be limited to the sciences, mysteries, really anything manly, and that is all. We laughed pretty hard. Shhhh! Everyone said in unison. That sent us into a frenzy and we had to flee the theater in fear wed be flogged. We ran and sat at the top of the stairs trying to catch our breath from our stupid banter. I grabbed Jules hand but that didnt help. The current was only soothing if we were anxious, scared, or sad. If we were already happy it just magnified the feeling. We started laughing so loudly we decided to hide out in the kitchen. We realized that memaw Joan E was in there cooking up a storm so we found a retreat inside Isabels and Rockys garage.

Wow! I shouted. Look at all these cars! Nice huh? Uh, yup. More laughing. That wasnt even funny, I could barely speak. I know. Youre so much fun and for no reason at all. She became serious, Thats one of the things I love about you. She leaned in for a kiss and this time I gave it to her. I think were going to love Philadelphia, I said. Dude, I think so too. It is such a fun city. The music Elliott! The music! Thats the best part! Imagine all the live music! Mwua ha ha ha ha! She dribbled her fingers together. Mwua ha ha ha ha! I joined in with her. Thats when Jules dad entered the garage to check on us and caught us acting like fools. We burst out into laughter again. You kids, he tossed up his hands. I was confident that Jules dad officially liked me. He never quite warmed up to me on account of the night I accidentally spent with Jules, but I think this week convinced him of my intentions toward Jules and that made me very happy. The next day was Thanksgiving and while the dinner was being prepared all the young cousins spent the day in the game room, after we put up all the cots of course. Jules and I had begun a game of darts before her mom came up looking for her. Come on Julia, all the women want to talk to you. Youre a well enough cook to make a difference in the work this year, she said. But ma? What about Elliott? She asked, deep concern

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

entire life, have I ever been hasty? Dont I bide my time? Arent I careful when I make big decisions? No one answered. That was a good sign. Yes dear, but there is a first time for everything, Jules mom said. Suddenly, I felt as if I was intruding. It was so ungentlemanly of me to be listening to this. I felt the urge to stand up and leave but my body might as well have been made of lead. Youre right mama, Jules said.

What? Jules, what are saying?

But, she continued.

But you forget, were not looking to get married right out of high school. We both have big college plans and we dont want my getting pregnant to hinder them. Weve decided to wait until we graduate university. Youve decided to wait until we graduate university. Who knows, said the same doubting aunt to the room, as long as they plan on waiting, she could change her mind or he could. I have no doubts, but I wont try to change anyones minds. I have made my choice and I am confident that he has as well. Time, in this case, is on our side. It will show you our devotion. Whoo! I like your spunk Julia! Said memaw Joan E. All the women settled from the subject onto the next and I could feel the tension release from Jules body. I continued reading and eventually dozed off, my book in my lap. I awoke to the voice of an angel. Jules had gathered my book, saved my place and sat next to me on the

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

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

Heads. She flipped the coin. Tails. Aw, shucks, Jules said. Its okay Jules, I said. Its okay Jules, everyone mocked and burst into laughter. A few made gagging noises. Okay, okay! Head in the game heads! Jules shouted. The game went on until two thirty in the morning. I could barely hold my head up but didnt want to be the first to turn in. Jules family was so fun as well and I didnt want to miss out. Weve got to get to bed, said Jules, reading my body language. Were shopping tomorrow, remember? The men groaned but the ladies cheered and with that, we all went to bed full and very content.

Chapter Six
Hindsights Twenty-Twenty
I am particularly practical when it comes to most things in my life. In my opinion, things are generally black and white. If you push A into B you get C, basically a proponent of the laws of nature. Jules, however, possessed a sixth sense about the grey area I knew nothing about. She had theories that supported the idea that pushing A into B could possibly get you C,D, and even E and being the blockhead I was, I grossly underestimated this talent of hers, until that is, we returned from our trip to Mauch Chunk. The day we left was a day of horrid goings on in Bramwell, West Virginia. Jesse Thomas, Taylor Williams, and a very desperate and empty Marisa Hartford crammed their tiny minds together and were plotting against Jules and I with adult size weaponry; ammunition that the experts in their associated fields handled with kid gloves, never mind two hateful humans and their idiotic apprentice. I wouldnt even give Marisa that much credit. She was more of a minion of sorts. Though her involvement was minor, her part held the most excruciating effects and unfortunately she was too stupid to realize how deeply she was implicated in the entire process. That was, in my opinion, most decidedly by design on Jesses part. Marisa Hartford belonged to a family of equine veterinarians. Apparently, the intelligent gene skipped her generation as she was the only child and one of her family, knowing what I do about the Hartfords, lacking in the

fortitude to weigh the pros and cons of assisting in a highly dangerous and highly illegal crime. I will give Marisa credit where credit is due though, she had no idea what Taylor and Jesse were doing with the help she afforded them, but Im getting ahead of myself. The Hartford family is a decent family. They lived moderately and had no need or want for anything. It is definitely a possibility that they are one of the wealthiest families in Bluefield, but they are frugal. They dont squander their profits like most families do and by far and away, excluding Marisa. They are a family of morals. Those morals were lost on Marisa. She chose to help the imbeciles against her better judgment and for what do you ask? For further social rank in a high school she was less than a year from never seeing again. Marisa worked two evenings a week, usually Friday and Saturday evenings, if she wasnt cheering, to help out at her familys equestrian practice. Here, she would answer phones and make appointments. Marisa, legally, along with her familys careful practice and procedures, had absolutely no access to any of the medicines her grandfather or father kept on hand at their office. These seemingly harmless, yet potent glass viles were kept under lock and key and regularly inventoried. Every day, Marisas grandfather would take his lunch at the exact same hour each day and leave the keys to the metal and glass cabinet inside a locked drawer in his hundred year old desk. The key to this desk hung on a ring that he kept with him at all times. The good doctor felt safe in thinking there would be no way those viles could be stolen, short of breaking the cabinet itself. At the end of his work day, he would place that key ring in a bowl on a table in his foyer.

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

and made enough noise to distract the family from her true task. She replaced the key back into the exact order she found it and walked into the kitchen acting as cheerfully as she could without arising suspicion. The next day at school, Marisa met Jesse outside of her car to pick up the key he had made. She could have taken the key that night but she didnt want to take the risk of owning that on a night she was acting strangely as it was. You see, Marisas mom checked up on her thoroughly. Im guessing she saw a deficiency in her daughter and didnt know how to compensate and Marisa knew this. She took the key from Jesse and he barely acknowledged her. I felt sorry for Marisa when I learned of this information, such low self esteem. Who, in their right mind, would sink so low for further social gain? For any reason really? The week of Thanksgiving break, Marisa volunteered to cover the reception desk at the clinic because she needed money. In fact, Marisa volunteered to cover the desk every night that week and, while her grandfather ate, she would steal away and remove the cabinet keys from his desk, and methodically extract an exact measured amount of the horse tranquilizer Ketamine through each individual wax vile stopper by syringe, enough that it would eventually add up to the dosage Taylor and Jesse needed but too little an amount to cause suspicion to the naked eye. Then, she would place the cap on the syringe, lock the cabinet door, return the keys to his desk, and none would be the wiser. She repeated this process every single day during Thanksgiving break and by the end of the week, she had enough to heavily sedate a seventeen year old boy, about my size. Jules and I arrived home from Mauch Chunk the following Saturday evening, rather late, and I dreaded

having to go to church early the next morning but considered that Jules would be just as tired as I was and we could lean on one another, literally and figuratively. I was excited because we still had Monday and Tuesday off and the school week was only going to be three days before the weekend came upon us again. Basically, lots of time to take it easy. I had to admit, the football season was taking its toll on my body. I definitely didnt get enough sleep either. Jules occupied my every thought. I actually worried about what I was going to do when I reached Philadelphia and would be required to think. The only way I could get away with it then was because school was no challenge whatsoever. I thought that was a good point to bring up to Jules for the argument that we needed to marry as soon as possible. I reminded myself to remember that one later. The next day, at church, Jules was already in the youth hall when I walked in to greet her. I noticed she was sitting on top of a table on her own and staring in the direction of the wall that was concealed by the door. I walked in and glanced to my left to see what she was staring at. Jesse Thomas and Taylor Williams stared silently back at her. A silent fight of wills and Im pretty sure Jules was winning. I didnt say a word to either of them. I walked in, grabbed Jules hand and guided her outside. She had hung her jacket up earlier and didnt have it so I gave her mine. What the....? I asked. I have no idea. They never come to church. Their parents are always making excuses for them.

I know why, Jules said, panicked. Now, Jules, they might just be trying to mess with our heads and obviously its working. Look at you. Who knows, they could be coming for a better reason.

Yeah, right.
No Elliott, theyre here for devious reasons. If they were coming here for innocent reasons than they would have approached me, apologized, try to atone for what they had done. No. Theyre here to intimidate us. Okay, lets just get to the church and sit with our parents. She nodded. We walked back into the hallway and passed the doors to the youth hall quickly trying to avoid Taylor and Jesse but unfortunately forgot about the second entrance to the hall and once we passed it, they followed quickly. Where yall going? Asked Jesse. I knew who the mastermind was. I knew who the evil one really was. Taylor was only mean and Marisa was only stupid. They were merely pawns in Jesses game, but Jesse, Jesse was the real tyrant. The one whom Jules was most afraid of. None of your business Jesse, I said. Leave us be. Wait a minute, he said, I want to make amends. Nope. Please Elliott? Im really sorry about everything that happened. I miss our friendship. He was a terrible liar. I stopped, took a deep breath and stared down at him. And what is the everything that youre sorry about Jesse? I asked, falsely hoping he would own up to

breaking into Jules room. Im sorry about the misunderstanding, he evaded. What misunderstanding? Our fight in History. Nope. That was no misunderstanding. What I want to know is if youre sorry for the other things youve done. What are you talking about? Dont play coy with me. Youre the one who decided to break into Jules home and mess with us. Thats what you should be sorry for. Do you have any idea how badly I wish to hurt you for doing that? Youre lucky were at church. Am I? He goaded. I came within inches of his face and clinched my teeth. I still held Jules shaking hand. He was lucky. Very. Get away from us Jesse, you and Taylor, and stay away from us. I dont understand Elliott! Were just trying to make amends here! His voice trailed off as we ran to the narthex. We heard them laughing as they walked the other way. We sat in the childrens cry room and I grabbed Jules hand so the current could calm us both down and I could read her thoughts. It took several minutes but it worked, as always, and soon after, we joined our parents. We didnt mention what had happened to anyone, though. After all, hindsights twenty twenty. After church, both our families, like all the families in Bramwell did after church, went to Babes to eat. By then, Jules and I had almost forgotten about Jesse and Taylor and were having an extraordinary time with a bunch of kids from school. We all chatted about our vacations, what we did, who we saw, what we ate and we were asked a lot of questions about how Mauch Chunk was. All in all, it was a

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

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

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

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

kind. Jules? I asked, turning her direction. She apathetically shook her head that she had nothing to add and turned her gaze back toward the windows. They took the hint, got up and sat at their own table. By this time, I noticed the deathly quiet that had presided over the lunch room. Time to go, I whispered in Jules ear. We both grabbed our bags and lazily tred toward the double doors. When they closed behind us Jules looked up at me as if to ask what I thought. I dont think theyll be an issue anymore, I said. I really hope youre right love, was all she could reply. A week had passed and there was no sign of Taylor or Jesse except their literal presence and we barely took notice of that. They didnt talk to us, look at us, or, like I had warned, breathed in our direction. See Jules, I said with confidence after school scraping the ice from my windshield, nothing to worry about sweetheart. Ive almost forgotten about them. Thats a good sign. I dont easily forget. You know that from experience, she winked. I have something I could say, but I wont, I jested. Oh yeah? Well I have something in response to that so go right ahead, she joked back, knowing my exact thoughts. Okay, consider it said. I have, and bounded from the car at lightning speed. She tackled me to the ground and we fell into the snow. I swung her around by her waist and pinned her to the white blanket underneath her. I kept my left hand at her waist and held her hip bone between my thumb and index finger.

It was cold, extremely, so I removed the glove from the other hand with my teeth and placed it on her warm neck. The torridity boiled in our veins and we were both comfortable again. Ill never get used to that, I said. Neither will I and I dont want to for that matter. I forgot what we were doing, I said, genuinely confused as to why we were on the ground. Me too, this is nice nevertheless. Ill take it. Im curious to know how long we could stay this way. I mean, does the charge actually keep us warm? Or is it an illusion? Oh Elliott, you think like a scientist. I understand, it comes so naturally to you, but honestly? There is no way this, we, are an illusion, she smiled, placing her hands over my heart on the word we. Good answer! Five points. That earned five points. Five points? Come on, at least ten. Okay, ten. She winked. What topic are you choosing for your paper due next week? I asked, pretending I wasnt dying inside that her hands were touching my chest. Hmm, I thought about it and since its an open topic, I chose to write on the history of the word fate and its definitions. Oh Jules, thats worth at least fifteen points. Youre raking them in today. Thanks Elliott. Are you planning on citing specific examples? I asked. Her smile pushed into her eyes and made her nose wrinkle. I think it would weaken the strength of the paper. Dont

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

pocket and dragged the chain out for my watch. It was four oclock and all the cars had left the lot. It hadnt even phased us. Mrs. Littlebrook must have been in charge of locking the gate. Oops, Jules said. We rushed to the cab. Sorry Mrs. Littlebrook! Jules yelled out of the window with a wave. She rolled up the manual window and it was practically frozen shut. Are you cold? She asked. No, I said, surprised. Are you? Nope, she grinned. Told you. At Jules house, we ran inside to drop off her bag. We were going to the rock bridge tonight. We had no homework and wanted to get away, as Jules always said. Nothing like a fresh blanket of snow, Jules said as we trudged our way to our little spot. I had the blankets and she had the hot chocolate. When we arrived it looked like a post card. The snow formed a perfect sheath over our marble. I handed her the blankets and jumped up before her to clear an area. I methodically used the side of my boot to clear a section for us to lay the heavy blanket onto. It was waterproof on one side, we learned to bring one of those the hard way. I took the blanket from her, spread it out and laid the other one on top along with the thermos. I grabbed her hands and lifted her onto the sculpted rock. We bundled ourselves together and drank everything in the thermos while laughing. We rolled up our sleeves underneath the blanket to get an even more cogent punch of our electricity while holding hands, the inside of our forearms stuck to together like a heated magnet. Only lately was it that Id especially found that holding

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

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

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

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

the books on the bottom shelf. The next night, my hanger hooks looped the closet bar the opposite way I placed them. The night after that, my bed had been made and they had placed something on my pillow. When I bent in for a closer look I saw they had torn a strip from the end of my sheet and formed a noose with it. She shuddered. Every day, Ive walked into my room in search of their newest installment. Theyre usually harmless, or as harmless as youd expect from two complete and utter psychos, stupid, or unnoticeable except, for last nights. And what had they done last night? I asked eerily calmly. She didnt have to tell me. I was going to kill him regardless and only because my Uncle Danny, Jules parents, my parents, even Jesses parents didnt believe a word Jules and I had said about him. He was the perfect psycho, a well adjusted, for appearances sake, psycho with the worlds largest death wish. Go on, I said. She must have felt the thoughts because she waited too long to spill what he had done. She continued to hesitate. Go on, I insisted, calming my tone so she would feel comfortable enough to continue. They stole the painting I had been working on for you for Christmas. I walked into my studio, saw that it was gone and assumed it was gone for good, until I left to see you today. After I locked my front door to leave, I saw the painting. It was hanging by a larger scale noose taken from longer strips of my sheet but the most disturbing part was what was done to the painting. What did he do? My voice teetered on hysteria. He drew one word in dripping red. She paused. The

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

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

her face. Nothing really. Nothing? I dont believe that. I can see the bruise on your knuckles from here Elliott. What happened? I punched him. You punched him? She asked, skeptical. Just once and then he slumped to the wood floor of his porch with a satisfying thud. Elliott! Jules, hes lucky I didnt do more. Oh? You planned on what? Killing him? Thats a dandy plan. I can barely handle a few hours without touching you as it is. I can just imagine visiting you in prison, a thick piece of glass holding us back. Id go insane. Killing him would mean slowly killing me Elliott. Had you thought about that? This is the first time youve ever been so selfish you forgot about me Elliott and Im begging you to stop. My heart is breaking. I grabbed Jules and brought her head to my chest. Oh Jules, Im so sorry. Really. Please forgive me love. She sobbed into my shirt. I imagine, releasing all the pent up hurt and anger she felt toward the situation in one good cry. I began to carry her to the sofa when the doorbell rang. I froze, as did Jules. Did you call Danny when I left? I asked. Of course! I didnt know what you were doing and I was trying to save you from yourself. I stood up and opened the door half expecting it to be Jesse, almost wishing it to be Jesse because Danny on the other side of that door meant a trip to the police station. I opened the door and heard Dannys radio on his hip asking if hed found me. Danny reached for his radio and kept a decided glare on me.

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

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

Rightfully so, Danny added. But when he had hung the painting up, she didnt have a choice. She had to tell me everything. Jules couldnt get it down and she had to ask me to. She didnt want it scaring her parents, I turned to face Danny. What would you have done if someone was harassing Aunt Becky? Id call the police Elliott. And what if youve told the police and they dont believe you? Its not that I dont believe you Elliott! Its that I think youve pegged the wrong guy. Jesse was your best friend. You should know he wouldnt do that. His record is spotless. Its just not in his nature Elliott, to be so cruel. Hes an incredible deceiver. We arrived at Jules house and I jumped out to see for myself what had scared my Jules so badly. The red maple was surprisingly beautiful. Its red leaves, on the verge of falling, dusted lightly with a recent blanket of snow. I circled the tree and found no painting. Always one step ahead,

isnt he?
Wheres the painting Elliott? Jules isnt lying. He must have gotten it. Jesses been at the station since you hit him. He couldnt have done it Elliott. I sighed in obvious defeat. I know how this looks Danny. Do you? He asked me seriously. Because if I didnt know you personally, Id think that you and Jules were out to start trouble. But you do know us personally! Im starting to think that I dont really know you at all. Get in the car! He screamed.

He must have called Taylor, I thought. Damn it! I punched

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

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

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

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

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

about leaving and coming back every hour to check on her because the idea of waking her pained me, but standing in the cold brought me back to reality quickly and I decided to take a chance. I pushed up her window easily, the old locking mechanism was worthless after being broken by Jesse and the new one had yet to be installed. I clumsily toppled onto her floor making a loud noise and lay frozen on the ground afraid I woke her parents. I didnt hear any stirring in the room or across the house and then decided shut the window. I crawled toward her bed and stared at her angelic face for a moment but she woke and sucked in a breath to yell. I plastered my palm to her mouth and that calmed her instantly. The electric shock gave me away and we both waited for either her mom or dad to come streaming into the room, but they were obviously as deep a sleeper as Jules was, must have been inherited. What are you doing here Elliott?! She panted. I couldnt stand knowing you were here alone and that Jesse knew it. Im here to stay with you until I feel its safe enough to leave again. She threw her hands around my neck and kissed my cheek. My parents picked tonight of all nights to demand I start sleeping in my room again. I havent told them about the nightly break ins. They thought it was a one-time deal. Im surprised I even fell asleep. She hugged me more tightly, Im so grateful you came. I wouldnt have been able to sleep without knowing how you were. I fixed her alarm clock to display the correct time and set the timer for four thirty, half an hour before my dad woke for work. Jules gave me one of her pillows and a few extra

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

while laying in bed the night before and I was so proud of it. I couldnt wait to ask her. Elliott? Yes my love? I asked warily. You cant stay in my room every night. Eventually one of our parents will figure it out. I know Jules, but its worth the risk. I refuse to let him get away with frightening you anymore regardless of what others think of him. We know the truth and Im afraid the truth is a chilling one, I inwardly shuddered. Come on, I said, changing my tone, Im buying you a pretzel sweetheart. Just what I need. You know me so well, she winked. When Jules is upset, give her carbs. Quiet Jules! Im just trying to fill you out a little, youre looking much too thin these days and I think the anxietys to blame. I kissed her protruding cheekbones. She was growing very thin, her jeans hung on her bones. This was affecting Jules health and her body wasnt the only thing thinning. My patience was running a close second. On Christmas day, my family woke at the crack of dawn with a squealing Maddy running up and down the hall giddy with excitement. I had slept the night at Jules and had only gotten home a few minutes prior. I was still freezing from the walk. When I tumbled out of bed, I threw on a faded pair of grey sweatpants and I vaguely remember stumbling into the hallway. Maddy grabbed my hand and pulled me down the stairs toward the tree. My mother always made the most beautiful trees. Always a noble fir, always multicolored lights, chock full of a million homemade ornaments and a million strands of

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

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

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

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

stuff drove me insane. Just wait until two, I thought, shes

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

Yes love? Yesterday I drove to the church on my own because we were running late from Charleston. Did I tell you that? No, I shook my head, wondering where she was going with it. After church and dinner, after you walked me to my car and said goodbye, I got in and turned the key in the ignition, and when I went to put Carmen in reverse I noticed a wrapped package in the passenger seat. Yes? I said. It read, From Elliott. I froze. I knew automatically that it wasnt from you. First of all, because it looked like it had been wrapped by a guy and I know you get your mom to wrap all of your gifts and second because we agreed on our question gift. Where is it? I demanded. Here, she took her messenger bag and removed the thermos, some Christmas cookies, and a wrapped square box. I couldnt open it. I was too afraid. In fact, I dont even want you to open it. Jules, honey, I have to. No you dont actually, she said. Actually, you could just throw it in the creek and be done with it for good. The only reason Im telling you is because I cant keep the knowledge of the things they do locked up inside anymore or Ill go mental. Im glad you told me. Maybe we should take it to Danny and have him open it, I suggested to make her feel better. I could see that it did. The anxiety melted off her fair skin and some color was brought back into her paled cheeks. Thank you Elliott. Now, throw it over there so I dont have to look at it anymore. I refuse to let him ruin our day. She grabbed the thermos and poured hot chocolate in two

mugs. Cookie? Yes, please. Thank you sweetheart. I took a bite, Wow! Did you make these? I did. Do you like them? Theyre a Jacobs tradition. Grams just taught me the recipe this morning. Like them? Im thinking of stealing the one out of your hand. She laughed like she hadnt in a very long time. I missed it. I was determined to fix it. Oh Elliott! I cant wait to ask you my question, but you first, she requested. I was happy to oblige, Okay, I reluctantly put down my cookie and mug and dusted the gingerbread off my hands. Jules, I would like you to help me sell my bird houses again and I dont want you to ask me why. Will you do this with me? She stared at me strangely. You know we wont make enough in time for the trip right? I know. Okay, she sighed. And I cant ask you why? She asked. When I shook my head, she squealed in mock frustration, Im dying to find out why you want to do this. I can only imagine! Im going to conjure up all sorts of strange things as your motivation, but I promise. I promise I wont ask why. I felt incredibly empowered. My motivations were my own, the money had to sit there and I couldnt wait to begin saving. Youre turn, I said, excited for her question. Youve made me rethink my question now Elliott. What a strange request. I feel like torturing you with a similarly

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

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

We gathered the blankets and I towed her behind me as I raced for my truck. I kissed her goodbye and followed her back into town. When she went left and I went right we both waved at the other. I pulled up to my house and thankfully they didnt even notice I was late as they were running behind themselves. Whats wrong with your hair? Maddy asked. What? I ran to the hall mirror and ran my fingers through the disheveled mess that was my hair.

Why didnt Jules say something? Shes such a troublemaker.

You need a haircut son, my dad said taking packages out to the car. I kind of like it long like that, my mom admitted. I think Jules does too. She winked at me. We arrived at my grandmas house to open arms. She was a sweetheart of a woman. Granddad was in his lounger with the largest smile on his face. His hip hurt too badly to stand up for a hug so we all went to him. We ate dinner at grandmas and granddad's once a week, every week but they greeted us with such fervor each time. It was as if we were returning to them after a long absence. We opened gifts, played games, laughed, ate, and sat around. I was very careful to make sure that everyone was content and having a good time before I took Danny out to my parents car to show him Jesses gift. I didnt want people wondering. Hey, Danny? I asked. Yeah Elliott? Whats up? I have something I want to show you. I need your opinion on what we should do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danny! I yelled. What?! The, the.......painting! Its shredded in the box! I was starting to feel nauseated. I knew what the painting represented to Jesse. It was Jules. He was going to kill Jules and soon. Okay Elliott. Listen, he said, trying to calm me down, we need to get back to your grandmas. Weve wasted enough time here. Just let me lock all of this in the evidence room and Ill call Julias parents and.. I knew what he was trying to do. He was trying to downplay it, like it was something that could happen to just about anyone, but I knew. I knew that this was probably one of the sickest things hed seen in Bramwell. No! I interrupted. Jules parents cant know. Theyll leave Bramwell if they hear of this. Danny looked on me with pity. I cant Elliott. They need to know. Think of the danger that Julia is in? Is it worth her life? This has spun so out of control. Its too serious to take the risk. On our way back to my grandmas and granddads I could barely keep two thoughts in my head. I was reeling in physical pain. My entire world was about to crumble on top of me and there was nothing I could do about it. I walked into the house and everyone was cheery and happy and full of life. Mom, was all I could mumble off my tongue. She could tell something was wrong. She ran up to me and hugged me and I hugged her back. I felt like I was seven again, and Id skinned my knee and ran to my mom for her to make everything better, to make the wound disappear but this hug couldnt make it all better. It was just

a reminder that nothing could fix the pain but a locked away or a dead Jesse. I didnt really want Jesse dead I just wanted the monster that was doing this to die inside him and for him to be at least somewhat normal again. Lets go into moms room Shelby. I need to talk to you, Danny said. Everyone watched with solemn eyes as I nearly toppled over trying to get to my grandparents room. Its okay everyone! Granddad? Can you put on some music? My dad said before closing the door to the bedroom behind him. I plopped at the edge of my grandparents bed and examined the fibers of the shag carpet beneath my feet. I listened as Danny revealed the details to my parents but I felt as if I were in a fog. The words were barely audible. They all buzzed around me in slow motion. I snapped back into reality when Danny mouthed the words Julias parents. Wait, I said. Elliott, I already told you, I have to contact them. I know, but please, let me tell them? In person? I looked at my parents and they kindly agreed it would be the best plan. Danny? My mom asked. Can you take him? That was my moms way of making sure I was safe and that I wouldnt take a much wanted detour to the Thomas house. Sure Shelby, of course I will, he said. We got to Jules house and I willed my heavy body up her mountainous front porch steps. I knocked on her door with a deafening thud. The door opened and an exuberant Jules jumped in my arms. Elliott? She asked in slow motion. Jules, I said peeling her off of me, I need to tell you

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

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

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

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

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

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

much time. I could have been with her, instead we were unconscious and I felt a bubbling fear rise in my throat. When I opened my door, instead of letting her wait for me to get hers I slid her over my seat and brought her out of my door. I shut the door and pinned her against it. You cant go, I pleaded. If you want, Ill get on my knees. Elliott, all my family is in there, she peeked over the hood. Oh who cares! They cant hear us anyway theyre all having fun in there, you can tell by the rumbling. They know youre safe with me, wherever they think you are. Please dont do this. You know this is what they want right? They want us separating. The best thing we can do is to have you stay but stay at my house, with me. Yeah, like my parents would go for that. Okay, then stay at my Uncle Dannys and Aunt Beckys. They have a spare room. Youd love it there. Elliott, be reasonable babe. I pressed my forehead against hers and gazed into her eyes. I cant be reasonable. Prudence left my intentions for us the day I met you, even when we were kids we were out of control but when time slipped away from us I had intended to be an acquaintance of yours, seeing you at reunions and joking about fishing with you as a kid then saying goodbye. I had no idea the knockdown, drag out astonishing hold youd put on me Jules. Its your fault I cant live without you and it would be cruel for you to leave me now, no matter how long youre gone. I was thoroughly aware of the guilt trip I was laying on her. If Im going to do it, I might as well really do it.

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

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

Yeah, she came by but you were asleep. She thought it best not to wake you and left this letter for you. I sunk into the soft arm chair in defeat, not bothering to even remove the jacket from my one arm. She was here and didnt wake me? Her dad was honking his horn honey. I was surprised you didnt wake from that. Does it make you feel better that she was bitterly sad to be leaving? She joked. No, it doesnt. It makes me feel worse. Im sorry. I shouldnt have said that, but whats the big deal? Shell be back before you know it sugar. Yeah, I sighed in consolation, her dad must have forced her to go. I probably would have done the same thing if I had a daughter going through that. Youre a good boy. She handed me the letter and I retreated to my room, my coat still half on.

Elliott, So you got my note. Yikes, right? Our plan for my staying didnt sit well with my family, especially my dad. Theyre so worried and I dont want to be the one who causes anyone pain, least of all you, but they feel its the safest thing. I know you and Danny will catch Jesse and Taylor soon and it will only be a matter of time before Im gathered in your arms........oh.........and try to do it before school starts back up, ha ha, because my dad is threatening to enroll me up here. That only gives you a week, but no pressure or anything. Dont feel hurried at all. Ill only be nine hours away for the duration of the investigation but by all means take your time......just kidding. Or am I?.........Yes, I am.

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

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

hoping to catch them putting on their masks in side those bushes and the other pointing directly at the window they favored. Another I planned on actually hiding inside her room. The cameras were of an ingenious nature. I could hook all three to one hub and digitally record the video through the software that came with the cameras on to the laptop I planned on keeping hidden in their living room. Nobody knew Jules had left town. As far as her neighbors were concerned the only people seen leaving Jules home the past few days were her visiting relatives. It worked out really well that way since I was hoping Jesse and Taylor would continue with their nightly visits. Lunatics, I shuddered. Through clever questioning while shooting the breeze with Mr. Williams, Taylors dad, Danny found out that Taylor had a hidden GPS tracking device in her car so he could keep track of his out of control daughter. That was a lucky break. Danny said that he hoped they used Taylors car for everything so they could subpoena the information to use as evidence. Danny was starting to warm up to the idea that it was Jesse and Taylor who might be responsible though he wasnt singling them out and still considering all other possibilities. It was only a matter of time until he saw exactly what I did. With my purchases in hand, I began my drive straight for Jules house. I didnt want to waste any time. Before I arrived though, came the lonely hour and a half car ride home and again the sense of sadness overwhelmed me. I was determined to get this separation over with. It had only been a couple of hours that Id been separated from Jules but it was already taking a serious toll on me. I felt weak,

drained. I didnt want to find out what several days of an untouchable Jules meant. Id be the walking dead. Jules house was empty but her dad told me he left a key at the neighbors house. That was awkward. Mrs. Stevenson looked at me strangely and I didnt really feel like offering an explanation as she held the key a bit too long, obviously waiting for me to explain myself. I took the key, said thank you and walked over to the Jacobs house. I went to my truck and got the bags of my snooping loot. Using Mr. Jacobs ladder, I scaled the trees and directed the cameras toward the most ideal spots. I stapled the cords to the part of the tree that would be invisible at the angle Jesse and Taylor intrude from and ran them along the hidden parts of the grass through Jules back door. I hoped for two things just then. I wished that it would snow soon and cover up all of my tracks and the cameras cords and I also wished that Mrs. Stevenson would keep her mouth closed to everyone about what I was doing because I could see her nosey ass peeking through the window at me. It would be the most massive waste of time if she even told one person in Bramwell because that would mean itd eventually be front page news and Jesse would shy away like a mouse in the walls. Well, I hoped for three things really. The third, bringing Jules home, tonight if possible. Id go get her myself. I strung the cords to the cameras through the living room and sprawled them onto the wood floor. I grabbed the third camera and walked into Jules room. The look of it knocked me breathless. Everything about it screamed Jules to me. Her bed was a patchwork of dark, rich fabrics, velvets, silks and satins, even a bit of antiqued lace. The

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

didnt. In fact, I felt ill. I couldnt believe all this was happening to us. When most teenagers were out goofing around on their Christmas Break, going to the mall, or driving to friends houses I was setting up my own private surveillance system to catch my psychotic ex-best friend and Taylor the pathetic stalker in the act of harassing my girlfriend, to get to me. That was the hardest part to swallow. I knew why these things were happening. Me. What killed me the most is that I had no idea how to make it stop. It seemed as if there was no stopping it, I couldnt even offer up myself. Jesse was the cruelest kind of monster. He didnt want me to die, leave, perish. He wanted me to suffer. He wanted to take away everything that was dear to me and I knew that if I didnt catch him soon that he wouldnt stop at Jules. He would move on to my family as well. He had doled out every kind of punishment the insane could hand out and up until now I had pretty much taken it lying down. I would no longer do this. I decided that he needed a taste of his own medicine and from what I heard Judge Henderson liked to double the dosage. That evening I called Jules and we chatted it up for close to two hours. At dinner my mom stared at me in disbelief. What could you possibly talk about for two hours? You guys spend every waking minute together. Whats left to say? Mom, we entertain each other. Its the most peculiar thing. Shes so much fun to laugh with. I find that mighty sweet son but two hours is too long, Im sorry. What if your grandma or Danny had called? We

dont have call waiting darlin. Okay, mom. Ill shorten it up, promise. Good deal baby, she said ruffling my hair. Your hair really is getting long. Yeah, Im thinkin about getting it cut soon, maybe before Jules comes home. Why? Because if she were here, she wouldnt let me cut it. Only my mom and I laughed. Maddy and dad were immersed in their own conversation about how to properly construct a homemade kite. Sheesh, they were such nerds. You might want to keep it as long as possible since youll need it short when youre in the fields for hygienic purposes. You know, sort of live it up. Youre too practical mom, I said, shaking my head. No, I really want it cut, it makes me feel younger than what I really am. Ive felt Ive aged so much these past few weeks what with Jules being harassed and all. Oh Elliott, my poor boy. Youve been given challenges no one should carry, but Ive noticed you do carry on and well, as if you were made of stuff greater than all other men. Yours is the most resilient soul Ive ever met. Oh no, mom. I am barely hanging on by a thread, the slightest wind and my thread might break. You may feel as much but I assure you that thread might as well be a steel cable for all the strength that is in your heart. No, you are much stronger than you think. Thanks mom, I said standing up. I smiled at her and she took my hand in hers and squeezed it, reassuring me of all the things she felt. I couldnt wait to go to sleep, for several reasons. First, because I was tired of the ache in my stomach, chest and heart from missing Jules so intensely and second, because

I was more than anxious to wake early and check the video for signs of the idiots. I was surprised at how well Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs kept their cool during this entire thing. If it were my kid, well, lets just say Id feel sorry for the maniac. I suppose I couldnt blame them, they were doing everything possible to catch Jesse and keep Jules safe. I climbed into bed, my muscles felt sore and used like Id just run flat out for miles, but I knew it was only the yearning I felt for Jules. My tired body drifted off to sleep easily thinking of her and just as easily I shifted to dreaming about her, about the happiest times on our rock bridge. The rock bridge, especially during the winter, was one of the most beautiful pieces of nature Id ever laid eyes on. Even if I traveled Gods entire earth I would never see a hundred pieces together as beautiful as our marble slab, because it was our piece of earth, our own heavenly fixed mark. It was a place of firsts and I wanted it to be the place where Jules would first agree to marry me with no stipulations and I hoped it would be the place where we said I do. The next morning, I woke with my feet hanging from the edge of my bed. Being six foot four had its drawbacks sometimes. I slumped onto my back, feet touching the cold wood floor and stared at my ceiling. December twentyeighth, I said to myself. I needed to get a move on if I wanted to get Jules back by New Years Eve. I jumped up and hopped into the shower. I let the hot water cascade down my back and held myself up by placing both of my hands on the tiled wall in front of me below the shower head. I almost drifted back to sleep when my mom woke me by knocking on the door. Jules is on the phone. Do you want me to tell her youll

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

right back that she just ran to the store with one of her cousins. I told her Id call her back later that morning. Crap, I said slamming down the receiver. I left the house in a hurry and nearly sped the short few miles from my house to Jules. Dont want Danny to pull me over. I thought about what Id do if I did catch the jerk on the video and we definitely needed to catch him on video as soon as possible because the rumor of Jules leaving for Mauch Chunk was bound to get out inevitably. I pulled into Jules driveway and parked the truck. I was a little frightened to go inside. I was afraid of what I might find. I did what I had to and slammed the door behind me. I found the laptop still running and still recording which was a good sign. All three cameras worked and I could even see my truck in the view of the camera pointed in the direction of Jules window. I stopped the current recording and saved the files permanently. This was a lot easier than I thought itd be, I thought, until I watched each video. I started with the one pointed toward her window inside her room since it was the least convoluted. I started fast forwarding and stopped at three seventeen a.m. There they were, in all their repulsive glory. I felt like throwing up. The rage was all consuming. I felt compelled to do things no sane person should think of. I wanted to pin him down, torture him, and murder him. I tried to calm myself down but it wasnt working. I jumped up and decided to try Jules again, this time she answered. Hello, hello, she cheerfully said. Jules? I said inadvertently panicked.

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

As I am with you. Bye. Bye. I set the phone on its receiver and walked back over to the laptop with a surprisingly clear mind and calm body thanks to Jules. I took a deep breath and pressed play. I watched a masked Jesse climb through the window and check for Jules under her bed and closet. He was wondering where she was. I felt the rage again but remembered Jules words. He started rummaging through her things. I couldnt figure out what he was trying to do. This wasnt his usual routine. I think he was looking for information that could clue him in on why she wasnt in her bed but what he did next surprised me. He sat at the edge of the bed and looked toward the window, like he was talking to someone but I couldnt hear anything and I could have kicked myself for not thinking of microphones. He was signaling toward the living room. He

must be telling Taylor to check the living room windows to see if Jules was sleeping on the couch. But she wasnt
there. She was a cool five hundred miles away from their insane asses, probably sleeping in a down comforter. That warmed me on the inside. Finally, something got to them but I started to realize that they were looking for her for a reason. I was desperate to know why. I knew something for sure though, I knew if they came tonight that theyd know something was up and stop coming altogether and my efforts would have been for not. I needed to sleep here tonight. Jules parents would have never agreed to it, neither would mine, or my Uncle Danny, especially not Danny. They knew the potential danger. Id have to do it on my own. Before I left Jules

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

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

truly was. I needed to expose his face as soon as possible to the camera. That was the first on my list of priorities. The next? Beat the bloody crap out of him? It sounded like a plan to me. I left the door of the wardrobe cracked open and watched his every move through Jules vanity mirror. The next part took all of five seconds but it seemed like an eternity to me. I could hear Jesse breathing and I could see him squinting as if he were trying to see something that wasnt there. Jules bed was empty but he didnt seem surprised, or angry, or anxious, more like he was just searching. I couldnt wrap my head around it. I needed to catch him off guard and immediately so I didnt waste any time. In a fraction of a second, I was on his back desperately trying to remove his ski mask. I got just enough of it off to expose the chin and mouth but he shrugged me off of him before I could remove it in its entirety. I had to get the entire thing off if this was going to work. He yanked the mask back onto his face and turned, his back toward the camera. Ill admit, it wasnt going as smoothly as Id like it to. We were both being extremely quiet, a silent fight. It was a riddle of a clash, urgent, raging and totally soundless. As much as either of us wanted to yell and throw the other into the wall we fought a restrained battle, neither wanting to wake the Jacobs. I, because I wanted to keep the danger from them and he, so he couldnt get caught. What should have been exaggerated movements became minimal. I hated it, every second of it. The adrenaline pumping through me would have produced a hit the equivalent of a Mack track going a hundred miles an hour. He should have been dead weight on the floor by now but I just couldnt risk waking the

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

Chapter Eight
Rubber Ribbons and Jellied Arms
When I woke, the morning sun branded itself into my eyes. All I could see was the blinding yellow rays of light that gave me an instant pounding headache. I went to block the sun with my hands but couldnt pick up either of my arms. I was freezing cold. My teeth had to have been chattering unconsciously for hours because even my teeth felt sore. My jaw was so tender, too pained actually, and I realized that whatever Jesse had hit me with had actually broken it. I was in excruciating pain and worse yet, I couldnt move. I started to panic. Why cant I move! I felt paralyzed and worried that Jesse may have broken my spine at the neck no less, but if that were true how was I able to feel everything? The tears were beginning to well up but I fought back. I wasnt going to shed a single drop for the psycho. I tried to turn my head to see where I was but wasnt able. I did recognize a very large tree from the school parking lot and wondered what Jesse was up to in putting me here. For several hours, I remained paralyzed, but somehow in incredible pain. I tried to remember what had happened during the struggle but was having difficulty. I finally recalled a needle and couldnt comprehend where Jesse had gotten something like that. Hed drugged me. I wondered if he was trying to kill me

and it just didnt work. I tried moving my body again and again and eventually found I had regained the use of my toes. I sighed in relief when I heard Dannys police cruiser. I could tell it was him because it was moving along at a snails pace and his windows must have been down because I heard his dispatcher spout some code. It was difficult to see properly through a window when the temperature on the inside of your vehicle was almost thirty degrees higher than the temperature outside. He was looking for me. I tried yelling but found that I couldnt. A new panic rushed through me. I hadnt tried using my voice before when analyzing what I was able to move on my body. I waited an agonizing five minutes to be discovered. I heard Dannys car screech to a halt despite his sluggish pace. I heard him flip his cruiser into park and jump out. His boots clamored up the sidewalk and ran up to me. It was so cold, the moisture from his breath froze in the air and billowed into tiny clouds above my face. Are you alright son? He asked, desperate for a reply. I could tell in his reaction that I didnt look good. I couldnt respond, only squint my eyes in terror. God! Elliott! Why didnt you wait for me boy? He asked, his eyes becoming moist. His hands searched the air above my body. Searching for something he could do for me. Everything about Dannys eyes made me realize that Jesse had probably beaten me within an inch of my life and if felt that way too. I managed a grunt but that was the best I could do. Can you move? He asked and I furrowed my eyebrows in response. Ill be right back, he said, removing his coat and throwing it over my chest.

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

mask and I saw that stupid tattoo he had gotten weeks ago on his neck. He leaned closer to my face with a grin, I bet you hed never thought in a million years that that was how wed catch him. He definitely knew you had cameras in the room. Im also betting he knew you were going to be waiting in there to catch him.

So that was what Taylor was checking on. She wasnt looking for Jules. Jesse must have seen the camera and had her check the house for the main feed. Im such an idiot, I thought.
He took your cameras, and your laptop, thinking that hed gotten rid of any evidence. I dont think he realized you were feeding it to my computer offsite as well. What a fool. It was very smart thinking on your part. It was enough to get a warrant son. This morning Sam tried to arrest Jesse but, he hesitated. I could tell he didnt want to continue but I knew what he was about to say anyway. He cant be found, but dont worry! Sam will get him! And Elliott? Im sorry I didnt believe you before. He continued talking, jabbering on and on in nervousness, trying to make me feel better but all I wanted was to hear that Jules was okay. I at least knew that Jesse hadnt gotten to her but I needed so much more. I needed to hear that she was as perfect as the day she had to flee Bramwell. No, that she was better. I knew where Jesse was going. Jules would know it too. He was going to his parents cabin in Blackwater Falls. I knew him all too well. Thats where he went after he did anything that could land him in jail. Its where he hid until the dust from the trouble he always caused settled. The ambulance finally came around. The paramedics

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

that did this to me in my neck? What if he gave me

something else? I thought. What was he doing? He was too smart to make so many mistakes. Then, I heard the
medics. Son, can you tell me what drugs you took? He studied my confused expression. The syringe? He asked. What was in the syringe at the scene? Syringe? I thought. I knew it. Nothing, I managed to just barely slur out. Kill, I mumbled. What? He asked, furrowing his eyebrows and pitching his ear toward my lips., I finally muddled. I took a deep breath and said the only thing I could possibly say, Pain. He nodded. It was so painful to speak and with every word, every roll of the tongue I fought back the bile rising in my throat. I had never been in so much pain and could barely voice it. I passed out so many times I lost count and every time I woke I wished I would black out again. I woke, this time with no pain. I heard machines beeping, liquid dripping and the shallow breathing of my family. I pried my eyelids open and looked around. Jules wasnt there. I knew if she wasnt there I couldnt have been out for that long. I lifted my arms and found that although they felt like jelly I could indeed lift them and that relieved some of my anxiety. I tried to speak but couldnt. My jaw was wired shut. Elliott? My mom said softly, eyes red from hours of crying. Elliott, youve had to have surgery on your jaw son. It went well but your jaw had to be wired shut. If you want to

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

pen and paper and tried to write down everything I wanted to know. My mom helped me once more.

How long?
Julia was here from the second she got into town until I had to order her several times to go home and get some sleep and something to eat. She repeatedly refused me but I eventually convinced her that you wouldnt be up for hours...... I underlined the words how long and waited impatiently. I wasnt interested in the back story. Eight hours, Danny said. Eight hours. Eight hours away from her being safe in my sight or enduring whatever hideous plan Jesse had for her. Only eight. I felt like vomiting but knew that wouldnt have been an option with my jaw wired shut and shut my eyes for a moment instead to catch my breath.

Why arent you looking for her?

Weve searched everywhere Elliott. Shes not here son. We found her car running on Main with the door open. We think shes alive because there was evidence of a struggle and it looks like he took her away in his car Elliott. Hes taken her somewhere. Weve notified all the necessary authorities and they are all doing everything they can, Danny said, before pausing. He leaned in and focused on my eyes, Is there any place you can possibly think that he would have taken her? Anything you could give us would be helpful Elliott. I nodded and wrote, Blackwater Falls. Someone must have called for a nurse then. I didnt complain until I saw the syringe in her hand. I began to protest but it was no use. I couldnt stop her and my dad and Uncle Danny had me by the arms.

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

my heart monitor stopped beeping and I could already hear the nurses speedy steps heading the direction of my room. I had no idea how I was going to get to my truck but I didnt care. I was working down my list and wasnt going to worry about everything at once. One step at a time, I kept telling myself. I turned the corner and was almost found out. I peered back around that same corner and saw someone, people, I never expected. My entire team, including Matthew Tanen, sleeping along several chairs. I took a closer look at everyone sleeping in the waiting room and figured Matt was my only chance because he was closest. I quietly snuck up to him and pulled at his sleeve. He startled awake and I had to restrain his booming voice with my hand. Several of my family members stirred but thankfully never woke and when I thought Matt had a grip on himself I pulled him toward a hidden hallway. What the hell are you doing out here Gray? He asked. Matt, I scribbled as legibly but as fast as I could,

Remember that time you said you owed me because I wouldnt let you cheat off my paper in Chemistry and instead stayed with you all night and helped you study?
Yeeeesss, he said reluctantly. Im calling in that favor, I wrote. I need your help

and I dont want you to ask questions.

Matt was the kind of loyal friend that knew when to let things go when you wanted it dropped and he agreed without hesitation. We ran toward the double doors and I had a fleeting thought towards the pain in my chest. Thats when it hit me, hard.

Oh my God! Julia!

Chapter Nine
From The Other Side
Jules, can you breathe alright? He asked, knuckles tight on the steering wheel. I nodded my head, barely acknowledging him, not that I could talk anyway, with all the duct tape he had plastered to my mouth. I learned my lesson early on in this little abduction that if I didnt answer promptly I paid dearly with a slap to the face. What was that? He asked, cupping his ear, feigning he missed what I never said and laughing maniacally. Jeez,

who is this guy?

Psycho, I mumbled through tape. My saliva and the heat from my breath softened the glue on the tape and was beginning to chafe the skin around my mouth. We were heading northeast toward Blackwater Falls from the little I was able to see. I was hogtied and on my back and every few minutes, when I could gather the strength, I would strain to peek over the dash in attempt to get my bearings. He never tried to stop me. I dont think he thought it would be an issue because I dont think he planned on letting me live long enough to do anything about it and although that may have frightened me I refused to give up and refused to let him know how terrified I really was. Peeking over the dash didnt get me much but I knew the little information I could get might help Elliott find me if I could eventually get to a phone. I prayed like hell that we were going to his parents

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

Look to the sky... I sang as I crossed the intersection at Main where it turns into Brick and in that moment, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Jesses Mustang come from out of nowhere. I inhaled sharply just as he stopped short in front of me, barely missing my front bumper. At the sight of his Mustang, instant panic ran icy through my veins. An awful sense of dread took over my body confirming I should have trusted my own instincts and stayed at the hospital. My thoughts were consumed with the thoughts that the love of my life was unconscious, on a hospital bed, totally unable to come to my rescue. I knew that Elliott would never be able to forgive himself if something happened to me and he hadnt been there to stop it. That meant I was going to fight tooth and nail to make sure it didnt happen, so I could tell him myself, give my eyeteeth to stop it if I had to. Hurting me would hurt Elliott and there was no way in hell I was going to let that come to pass. I was a Jacobs after all and everyone knows that the Jacobs possess warrior hearts. I just prayed to God mine would beat furiously enough to weather the foulness that more than likely laid in my immediate future. I suffered a building, wretched hysteria while Jesse sauntered from his vehicle at a confident, lazy pace, his face hardly visible through the blizzard swarming around us. I threw Carmen into reverse, resting my right hand on the back of the passenger seat to brace myself as I looked out my foggy rear window, crystallized ice preventing me from seeing anything. I slammed the gas and blindly attempted to steer the car a decent enough distance to throw it back into drive and get out of there, but there was a sheet of ice beneath me at least two inches thick and my tires lost any traction from the all too eager spinning. Id driven in ice my

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

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

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

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

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

Come to think of it, Im preferring that route more and more but, he sighed in resignation, no. Though it is a good idea, I plan to have my fun instead. Youve caused me a great deal of grief Julia Jacobs and you will pay dearly for the trouble youve inflicted. Ive done noth.... He yanked me closer to the trunk and bound my hands together, then he forced me to kneel at the ground and strung the rope toward my feet and bound those together as well. He coiled his arms underneath my armpits and dragged me to his car, laying me on my back in the front seat. I felt deflated that he didnt put me in the trunk. I couldnt see anything but heard his footfalls crunch the snow toward the trunk once more. The wind whistled in protest against the blizzard swirling around the car. I heard him shift some things around then close the trunk. I heard his feet crush more snow for a few more steps on the opposite side of the car before he opened the drivers side door and settled into his seat before shutting it. Cold isnt it? He asked, with all the familiarity of old friends going for a winter joy ride. I refused to look at him, my jaw locked tight in resignation as he forced me into a sitting position by grabbing my upper arms and pulling me forward. I kept my eyes closed until I heard the stripping sound of duct tape being removed from the roll. My jaw trembled and I clamped my teeth hard to hide the weakness. He smiled and swallowed, causing the tattoo on his neck to dance up and down, and stretched a long piece of tape, leaving it attached to the roll and energetically pressing the end to my mouth. He wrapped my head twice as taut as he could and

leaned in, leaving half an inch between our faces. The only sound was the harsh inhale and exhale I made through my nose, his Cool Water cologne attacked my senses. I always thought Jesse had smelled so good, until now. I will never again be able to smell that fragrance without wanting to hurl. Using his teeth, he tore the roll end of the tape before securing the remaining few inches to my mouth. He roughly pushed me onto my back and my neck dug into the buckle clasp of the passengers seat belt. Dont cry, I begged myself. Dont cry. Youll find a way out of this. I was lying to myself. Proof that I would do just about anything if it prevented me from losing it, even if it meant I was deluding myself. Tears welled. It wasnt working and I found myself straining against the hollow feeling inside my chest. For Elliott, I told myself to fortify my resolve. That worked. We drove off just as the song was coming to an end, realization coming to the forefront of my mind. From the other side, I whispered in unison with the music, a spontaneous promise to always love Elliott, no matter where I ended up, because although I knew I would fight with everything I had to stay alive, looking at Jesse in that moment meant death was most certainly a very real possibility. After several hours of driving, my body warmed only slightly. I needed to get out of my wet clothes soon if I was going to avoid hypothermia. I was tired and emotionally numb but forced myself to sit upright. Jesse looked surprised and slightly amused to see me acting so boldly. No doubt, I would pay for it later. You got something you need to say jewel?

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

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

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

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

watched in hopeful anticipation, his eyebrows furrowed and lips curled around an evil smile. When I didnt give him what he wanted he just laughed and dragged me towards the fireplace. Sit, he said, and guided me to the floor. I sat with my back against the sofa. He threw wood into the hearth and started the gas before lighting the flame. Wouldnt want you to get sick now would we pet? Especially since youre in need of getting out of those cold, wet clothes. I was afraid to use my voice, but I had a few choice words standing by. Stand, he said and positioned himself above me. I obeyed. Turn around. I did. He untied my hands and repositioned me so I was facing him again. Undress. No, I said, finding my voice. Let me set some ground rules for you puppet. When I say jump, you say how high Jesse?. Got it? If you refuse me anything, I will make it so difficult for you to breathe youll beg me for death. Understand? I nodded my response. Undress, he repeated. I removed all my clothing except for my underwear and bra and held the wet clothes against my body. Walk into the laundry room. I did. Put your clothes in the dryer and start it. I need to get out of here fast but I cant have you dying of hypothermia before I get to do my thing. I did as I was told and covered myself the best I could with my hands and arms. Go stand by the fire. He followed me back to the living room and I stood with my back to the fire, facing him. He sat on the couch, playing with his knife, flipping it open and closed repeatedly,

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

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

unconscious on a hospital bed with his jaw wired shut came to mind and I steeled myself, for him. When he finished all four lines, he picked his body weight up from my legs and brought me to my feet. I shuddered when forced to lean against him because my knees threatened to buckle beneath me. Once I had steady enough footing he steered me into his parents room to the mirror in the bathroom. When I saw myself I almost fainted. I was drenched in blood, his and mine, mostly mine. I was afraid to look at what he had carved into my chest but he shouted for me to open my eyes and I met my bodys image. I focused on the damage hed done. My eyes zeroed in on his artwork. Right underneath my left collarbone, carved in the flesh, was the letter E. Youll take him to the grave with you Julia, he said, bringing his hand to the E from over my shoulder and pressing the raw wound, causing even more blood to stream down my skin and soak through my bra. I shouted at the agony of it but the tears never came. I didnt know if he meant Elliotts initial or if he literally meant Elliott himself, but I didnt want to find out, to be honest. I only wanted Elliott never to come anywhere near us. He was my everything and didnt deserve to see me like this. I looked like death warmed over. My hair was plastered to my skin from all the blood and the E was bleeding profusely all over the floor and counter top. Enough, he said before tearing me through the bedroom and into the laundry room. He made me grab my now dry clothes from the dryer and put them back on. My E bled through my shirt, soaked into my clothing and dripped into my jeans.

He pushed me from the laundry room and tossed me onto the pine planks of the living room. He tied me once more but didnt tape my mouth shut, for which I was grateful, but it didnt last long because he went into the bedroom and I heard the tearing of some fabric. He came out with strips of what looked like a sheet and gagged me by tying it tight behind my ahead and across my mouth. I could barely breathe. Ill be back Julia. Just need to take care of these knife wounds. Cant very well flee West Virginia if Im bleeding a trailed path that leads to my hiding place, can I? Leaves a nasty trail. Ill have enough trouble as it is hiding yours. He turned for his parents bathroom, dripping life over every inch of the floor, painting glassy crimson proof of the promise of my own impending trail. I turned from my side to my back and quietly sobbed, praying that I could stop the salt water flow before he got out of his shower.

Please, I silently prayed, Please God, let my death be a peaceful one.

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

When Matt killed the engine, he sat in the drivers seat while I removed my seat belt and began to exit the car. He didnt so much as blink and I hesitated at the doors handle, sat back again only to nod in realization that Matt had no intention of coming with me. I didnt blame him. He did the most he was willing to do and I could tell he was struggling with the words to say. I grabbed his shoulder, squeezed, and smiled the best crooked smile I could through the pain to let him know it was okay and bolted into the winters night. I struggled through the falling snow to my truck and put it in neutral to push back onto the road without waking my mom or sister. The next thing I knew Matt was beside me helping me push her onto the road. I hopped into the cab, waved my thank you, and watched Matt hug his arms through my rear view. Poor Matt. I could only imagine what he was thinking but there was one thing I knew for certain. His eyes were the most worried Id ever seen them. It instantly aged him. The four and a half hour drive to Blackwater Falls left room for me to imagine the worst scenarios possible. I made a mental checklist of all the things I was going to need if I was forced to go out into the woods to find Jules. I prayed that he was keeping her at the cabin but feared that since the police had already been there I would find the same thing they did, nothing. The pang of hurt settled inside my chest at the thought of what Jesse might have done to Jules while I was out and I found my foot laying harder on the gas. I absently placed my hand over the place on my chest I knew Julia was hurting the worst. The roads were barely visible through the thick fog of snow tossing and turning around me. It wasnt sticking and

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

before because the fireplace was completely void of any warmth. I could tell there had been a recent fire though, no more than a day old, probably less gauging the time frame he was working under. My jaw throbbed as the pain medication wore off but I did notice my strength was returning with more potency as the pain grew worse. It was worth the trade off. I needed all the strength I could assemble. God only knew how long it was going to take for me to find Jules and then I was probably going to have to fight Jesse once I came upon them. I circled the entire living room searching, begging for a clue of any kind that could lead me to my Jules but it was too dark. I wasnt about to turn on a light near any windows just in case he was nearby and watching for me. My back against the wall, I scaled the one nearest the master bedroom and opened the door to the room but didnt step in, waiting for the possibility that he could be hiding with Jules in the room. I glanced around the room, I threw open the closet doors, peered underneath the bed but no one was there. I turned to leave the room and noticed I hadnt checked the bathroom, no windows in there. I approached this door as I had the masters and waited before entering. When I stepped inside, I flipped on the light, nearly vomiting from the scene before me. It was covered in blood, lots and lots of sickeningly rusted blood. It was clotted and had been there for hours. Obviously, the police hadnt had a warrant to enter the Thomas home or theyd have corded off the room as evidence, or maybe Jesse came after they had. The shower was enclosed in glass and the bleeder had taken a quick shower, rinsing off the blood from their

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

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

nerves. I was certain the rushing water drowned out any noise on both sides but I still hated that Jesse could have any warning whatsoever. I wanted the crack of my bat against his back to be the only way for him to be aware of my presence. The waterfall was tall, probably sixty feet high, and the surrounding edges of the erupting water was frozen, seemingly instantaneously, a swollen cloud of powdered water in perfect stillness. In between the frame of solid water, rushed liquid, racing as fast as it could to avoid the fate of its brother frigid in time. I edged myself down the embankment heading toward the end of the fall before realizing too late that there was no way to avoid getting wet. The water seeped into my clothing at an alarming rate. I knew that if they werent at this fall that Id have to find a dry place soon to avoid hypothermia. A few feet before the edge, I heard voices, someone talking, but it seemed too long and drawn out to be a conversation. My heart jumped into my throat before I realized that it wasnt someone talking, it was someones yelling dulled by the raging water. Jules. I wanted to shout out but the wire holding my jaw tight prohibited it. I threw myself through the water, rolled over my shoulder onto a damp poorly lit cave, and sat up against my heels to witness the most horrific sight my eyes have ever taken in. Jules. My beautiful Jules, her hair darkly saturated and matted down from what could only be a lot of blood, her blood. She sat with her legs crossed on the floor and her

hands tied behind her back. Her mouth was bound with a piece of cloth that tied behind her head. I could tell it was way too tight because her cheeks bulged around it and her skin looked chafed. The cloth, at one time, was of a light color but its original hue was lost in the soaked red that ringed her beautiful head. The tragic sight sent a shivering pulse of rage through my entire body. My hands gripped my bat with blistering mania. He was going to be stopped, by me, and at that very moment. I stood. Jules could barely register an audible scream. She begged me to stop, feverishly trying to warn me, but I couldnt hear her over the ferocious wrath pulsing in my ears, eyes, face, and body. I swung the bat above my head focusing my aim at the top of his skull but stopped myself right before giving the deadly blow he deserved. I hadnt noticed before, because his body was turned in such a way that it blocked my view, but in his left hand was a gun and it was aimed at Jules head. Stop! I mumbled. Put your bat down, he said calmly. I placed the bat slowly on the ground and rose with my hands where he could see them. He signaled for me to kick the bat to the opposite corner of the cave and I complied. I noticed he had two cuts across his arms, one looked particularly deep, and that he had bound it with strips of a cloth but it did little to stop the heavy bleeding. I realized then that the blood in his parents bathroom wasnt Jules. It was his. I was very proud of Jules. She must have caught him off guard enough to do some damage but I felt a twist of agony for the price she had paid for it. It was evident in her eyes but even more apparent in the E he had carved on the left part of her chest just below the collar bone. I fingered my chest where I felt the same pounding

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

from side to side, telling me it wasnt true. I made a move toward her to comfort her. I didnt care what he did to me. I needed only to touch her and both our fears, our anxieties, our pain, would dissipate into nothing. Surprisingly, he made no move to stop me, only stepped further back putting the fire he made between himself and us but kept the gun aimed at Jules. I touched Jules and it was as if nothing else mattered. Our shared current emanated through our bodies and we were one. I had never felt it pulse so powerfully through us and in that moment I understood that it had been our heightened sense of longing that caused it. The desperation for the other was never as frantic as it was in that second. Our bodies somehow knew it was the last time our touch would be a reality and were instinctively getting their fill before they extinguished forever. The sensation was more powerful than before, although no less pleasurable. It calmed me yet simultaneously frightened me. It was a sign. A sign that our gift anticipated this was to be the end of our time together. The tears overwhelmed us Jules and we forgot about Jesse completely. I sat on the back of my legs to remove the gag, inhaling her into the deepest kiss, the softest kiss possible. It glorified all that was good in us, all that was buried in our hearts. I lifted my hand for her face but when it came up a scorching, excruciating pain pierced my left shoulder. Jules yelled my name as I tumbled onto the stone floor behind me. She lunged herself on top of me and pleaded my name, tears flooding down her face. I hated when she cried, worse than a million gunshot wounds to the shoulder. My chest ached for her. Elliott! She cried over and over.

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

before returning his eyes to mine. It was messy as hell, with all the blood and everything, but it didnt stop me now did it Julia? And those orthodontics? They really paid off I think. I let my tongue feel its way around her mouth and I couldnt find even one out of place. Youve been quite a good girl, I can tell. Diligent in wearing your retainers. He sighed, I like good girls. You know what I like more? Making good girls dirty. Isnt that right Elliott? Youve lent your ear my way to hear a tale or two. Wouldnt you agree Im quite good at that? He paused, waiting for an answer that wouldnt come. Well, I think I am. Youll actually be able to judge for yourself here Elliott in just a few minutes. Anyway, he said waving the gun absently, her hair is quite soft. Ive never smelled anything so appetizing before. It was a shame it got so bloody and filthy, I had plans to run my knife through it. A souvenir would have been nice. Oh well, he sighed in disappointment. Lets see, what happened next? Jules closed hard at the memory of it all and tears poured slowly down her cheeks. He stared at her reaction and it must have reminded him of what he had done next. Oh yeah! He laughed, Her legs. I must admit Elliott, out of all the legs Ive slid my hands up, hers were the most enjoyable. She kept trying to squeeze them back together and I was forced to lay my knees against them. That took care of that, didnt it Julia? She may have a few bruises but after that it was no trouble at all to feel what I wanted to feel. Of course, mind you, it was over her jeans, a problem I plan on remedying soon, now that youre here. It was a good thing you came when you did too, because I was really starting to become impatient. I am so enthralled with her. She seems so, whats the word,

uptight. I cant wait to lay my hands on her.

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

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

my head, sort of anti-climactic. He snorted. You know when youve been looking forward to something for a long time and then when the time comes you sort of lose interest? No matter, Julia will more than make up for it. Wont you Julia? He kept the gun pointed at my shoulder and carefully walked over to Jules, then with his free hand wrapped her hair around his fist. He yanked her head backward and she squealed in pain. He aggressively pulled down her gag. I reigned in the rage once more. Soon, I promised myself. He pulled her up to him and she stood, trembling. He pushed her head to his and kissed her. Gotta get the taste of him out of your mouth. You will never taste him again, you hear me? She watched him. Acknowledge me! He yelled. Her body tightened in response before she nodded. He kissed her again, harder. It was painful to her because she began to groan but that only served to spur him on and he kissed her even more harshly. When he pulled his face away from hers, their mouths were covered in her blood. Jules wailed and spit the blood toward the stone to keep from choking.

Not now, Elliott.

Get undressed, he said, cutting the ties at her hands in one swift swipe of his blade, but replace your gag. I cant have you biting me. Your screams might be muffled but I think well still be able to ruffle Elliotts feathers. It sickened me to hear his thoughts, like the object of his torment wasnt human, wasnt Jules.

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

about the cave looking for anything that might aid me in stopping him but there was nothing. I had run out of options and time. I rallied the courage to attack when I felt he was sufficiently distracted. Jules removed her sweater and began to lift her camisole. Jesses eyes became and I knew that tiny lapse in concentration was going to be my only chance. I lunged for him, darting slightly left anticipating the deafening shot that came from the gun the second I moved. Jules ducked, covering her ears, eyes wide with fear. The bullet missed me by mere inches and he re-aimed the gun to shoot again but it was too late. I was already on him and had pulled him back toward the waterfalls edge. We struggled over control of the gun and I watched Jules run for the bat. She couldnt get a good angle on Jesse so instead knocked the gun from his hands and into the water. It was a fairer fight, at least, and despite my hurt shoulder the adrenaline pumping through me was able to give me the strength I needed to push my palm underneath his chin with tremendous force. Part of his tongue had been resting on his bottom row of teeth and the force of my blow severed the tip, blood burst from between his lips. Jules attempted to pull his hair back to get him on the ground but he kicked backwards with enough force it knocked the wind from her small frame and she toppled onto the stone gasping for air. I immediately left Jesse to help her and he used the opportunity to grab the bat I had brought. I cursed myself for bringing the knife to the gun fight and darted at him to avoid Jules from being caught underneath the blow. As he brought the bat down I felt for the sidewall of the cave and used it to propel myself on top of him.

I felt helpless in the struggle, distracted by the labored breathing coming from Jules. By the way she struggled to breathe, I was certain he had broken a rib and that brought the rage to a new boiling point. I used the nitrous effect of it to, ironically, crack his jaw. He staggered at the pain of it and I used the time to reposition myself for an uppercut to the gut. This floored him and I dragged him toward the water. I forced his head and shoulders through the waterfall but he grabbed my coat before I could release my grip and he took me over the edge with him. I heard Jules yell my name as we toppled over the steep edge into the chilling pitch black water, neither of us interested in the fight once we landed in its arctic temperature. We were caught underneath the churning, tumbling water. It was too dark to know which way was up or which way was down. I only knew to fight against the current dragging and pulling me around like a rag doll in a washing machine. My lungs squeezed tightly in my chest, desperate for air. I felt myself losing consciousness and frantically fought against its determined attempts to pull me down. Dark hands circled my ankles, dragging me down with all their might. I fought with everything in me, kicking my invisible assailant, picturing Julia at the surface of the water. Eventually my head broke the surface and I screamed out in pain from the bullet wound in my arm before swallowing my first breath of air. I struggled to keep my head above water, being twisted and coiled through the numbing cold. The temperature was paralyzing, my arms felt detached from my body. I couldnt control them. I hit a calmer part of the rapids and began looking for Jesse but

he was nowhere to be found. I tried as hard as I could, throwing my shot shoulder ahead of me and using all the strength I could to get to the shore before he fled and I was too late. When I reached the embankment, there was no way in knowing where he had fled the water, if he had. My eyes scanned both sides of the riverbank but it was too dark. The water was so cold and I knew that the break in the rapids was the only feasible point to come out of. No one in

their right mind would have been able to float further on their own accord, I thought before eerily reminding myself
just how not right in the head he truly was. I studied the shore further down the river and waited patiently in the debilitating cold. The snow was falling so thickly it would have immediately covered his tracks so I looked for movement only. I waited and waited but there was not a single sound, not a single movement other than the falling snowflakes floating to the earth. My adrenaline began to dissipate, naturally reacting to the feeling that there was no immediate danger, from him at least. I fell to my knees in exhaustion. The loss of blood, the cold, the water, it was all adding up to be more than I thought I could fight through. I needed to get to Jules. I needed to know she was okay. I could barely lift myself from the ground at that point, my body heavy with exhaustion. The deep snow wasnt helping any. I felt like I was trying to catch my already unsteady footing on top of a cloud, my feet sinking further than I imagined possible. I stumbled repeatedly, my blood staining the pristine white snow and recording my pathetic progress. About halfway to the waterfall, I spotted Jules looking for me. I called out to her and she hobbled to my side. She

urged me up and helped me back to the fire inside the cave. We both tumbled to the ground in fatigue of body and mind but mostly from relief. Relief that he was gone, probably drowned, relief from the heat of the fire, relief that we were both alive, somewhat alright and together. I removed my wet glove but instead of taking the shaking hand I offered her, Jules sat up and began to remove all my wet clothes. We have to get you out of these or youll get hypothermia, she said through chattering teeth. Hows your shoulder? Fine, I lied. I pointed to her rib. Im perfectly fine, she lied. I know your arm hurts but I think the cold is helping the bleeding. She removed all my wet clothes except for my boxers and laid them flat on the stone next to the fire so they could dry enough to get us out of there. She removed her jacket and laid it across my torso, yanked up her sweater and tore massive strips of her camisole off before lowering it back down. This is going to be painful my love, she whispered. Put your hand on my exposed skin and hopefully our current will dull the pain. I smiled crookedly at her and did as she asked. She began to wrap my bleeding wound. She was right, touching her helped tremendously or maybe it was that I was just so glad we were alive and together. I. Will. Never. Let. You. Out. Of. My. Sight. Again. I managed to fight out through wires and a throbbing, shivering jaw. Dont worry, she said while working, I wont ever let you

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

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

We pulled into the snow blanketed parking lot and parked at the covered ambulance entrance to the emergency room before the trucks heater even had a chance to kick in. The sun was just starting to rise behind us in the brightest red and orange colors. I refuse to leave your side, she said. I nodded and smirked as if to say I wasnt going to let her even if she tried. When the officer, sitting at the small security desk next to a sign that read ER Admittance, eyes bulged from his head I knew we must have looked something frightful. I couldnt imagine what we looked like to him, both of us smothered in a sheet of dried blood. What happened to you two! He screamed. His eyes went to my arm. Hyacinth! Hyacinth! Get a gurney in here! Weve got a gunshot wound! Smithy get me a wheelchair too! A nurse ran to us and asked if there was anything else wrong that we werent able to see and I shook my head. Yesterday he had his jaw broken by the guy who did this to us and can barely speak, she said through tears. Oh my God, the nurse said, crossing himself. Hyacinth helped me onto a gurney and the nurse I assume was named Smithy helped Jules into the wheelchair. I cant leave his side, she said looking up at Smithy. Im sorry sweetheart but he needs to be examined quickly and will probably be heading to surgery soon. You cant go with him. She stood and firmly, but calmly repeated what she had said, I told you, I cant leave his side. You dont know

what weve been through, her voice cracked. He looked down at us and didnt argue with her. Jules grabbed my hand and I felt our currents relief. It made me feel sleepy it was so soothing and thrummed through my muscles and bones. The loss of blood just exacerbated the sensation. As they examined my wound, I saw two doctors look at Jules head. They suspected a mild concussion but nothing major. They asked her to stand but she said she didnt think shed be able to. When they asked her why, she said that he had sliced the bottom of her feet so she couldnt run and I almost lost my cool wishing I had gone ahead and hit him with the bat and cracked open his skull. I felt awful. I noticed her limping in the snow on the way to my truck but I thought it was in attempt to help me. It made me feel like I was the worst person in the world. I had nothing but a small bullet wound in some muscle. I didnt have to walk on my wounds. I almost got sick imagining the pain she must have felt with every step she took and my heavy body leaning against hers. The doctor pulled Jules shirt back slightly to look at the E carved into her chest and murmured to the nurse beside him that hed need to put several stitches there as well. When the nurse named Hyacinth, saw the E she forced a gasp back into her throat. I saw the doctors eyes widen at the extent of cruelty once he left the room, probably to regain the composure that was leaking from his expression while examining her. Paying attention to Jules was infuriating the doctor examining me and he threatened to separate us. I settled down but never kept my eyes from Jules. My poor Jules. Eventually, they insisted we had to separate, so Jules could get a CT scan and have her head bandaged

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

necessary. I nodded at him. Jules mom and dad were sitting in the corner, red eyed, looking more tired than even Jules and I did. Gerry and Ann Jacobs stood and walked to the side of my bed. Thank you, Gerry told me. Thank you. I signaled for a pad and pen. I confidently wrote, Of course Mr. Jacobs. Its my destiny

to protect Julia, my calling.

We can see that, Ann said softly. We can see that, a single tear reaching the hand she held so tightly in her own.

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

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

Jesse drowned in that water boy. Stop creating problems for yourself. Live your life. Enjoy your girl, he finally demanded of me after weeks of me hounding for details on the open case. I knew he was working hard to find him and just wanted us to try getting some peace from the whole ordeal. I knew that, more than likely, Jesse had drowned in the freezing water that day but it haunted me that they couldnt find his body. I tried really hard to focus on living life but it was difficult with the hole in my shoulder staring back at me in the mirror every day. After two months, though, and Jesse never showing, Jules and I started to become a lot more comfortable and eventually we thought about him less and less. While I was recovering in the hospital, Jules and I had to spend New Years Eve with our families inside my hospital room. Lets just say, it wasnt the most romantic night of our lives. So, Jules and I had decided that once we were well enough, we would go to the rock bridge and celebrate the New Year on our own. Well just pretend, she grinned as I drove, for the first time since our injuries, toward the creek. I have a surprise for you too. Surprising me again at the rock bridge Jules? I guess so, she mused. Jules had her picnic basket full to the brim and I couldnt wait for our little party to start. That basket better be full of food honey. Ive been deprived of some awesome stuff and Im tired of waiting, I teased. No worries! She said patting the side of the basket, I have you covered Elliott. Trust me. Its all warm too. It was a

lot of work but worth it. Its a late Christmas gift as well. I brought a gift for you too, I smirked to myself before my thoughts turned one hundred and eighty degrees to answer. Youre surviving was gift enough for the rest of our lives, I shuddered. Hows the scar? I whispered. Healing. Jules didnt like talking about the night at Blackwater Falls. I didnt blame her and didnt want to push her, but I wanted to make sure she was moving on in a healthy way so I would periodically bring it up to her. Healing was a better answer than the shrug she had given me last time. It was progress so I dropped it at that. Jules? I asked Hmm? she answered, her eyes staring at the trees along the road, distracted by her thoughts. Were here, love. Oh, she laughed, clicking the buckle of her seat belt, sorry. I helped her from the truck and carried her basket for her. It had snowed the night before and had laid an even thicker blanket for us to trudge through. I didnt mind because it added to the experience. The snowy carpet shone like hidden diamonds in the moonlight. The perfect backdrop for what was to be a lovely night. It was around ten at night and our parents gave us both permission to stay at the rock bridge only until at least two-thirty in the morning. That was pretty generous of them and we happily agreed to keep to the confines of our marble slab. I guess they figured itd be too cold for clothing to be removed and they trusted us when we said we would stay put.

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

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

around the top of the cuff. Do you like it? Tears spilled from the corners of her eyes. Theyre my favorite flower, she said. I know. This is one of the most beautiful things Ive ever seen Elliott. Its just You? Yes, she giggled, through watery eyes. Very me. Thank you my love. She reached for me and hugged my neck tightly. Thank you, she said in a gasp of air, trying to control her emotions. But theres more, I whispered into her hair. Yes. Here, let me put it on you. I grabbed her small wrist and clasped the bangle together and a sharp intake of breath passed through her lips. I discovered something while you were in Mauch Chunk Jules. I was researching surveillance cameras online and needed a pen to write down the models. Anyway, I reached for a pen, the same pen you used to finish your homework a few day before you left, and felt you. A miniature blast of Julia shot up my arm and thrummed through my heart. Apparently we can store our current. That pen was a gift from my grandfather to my father and was pure gold. We never noticed it before because I think it can only be stored within gold. So I experimented. I had this made for you and slept with it in my hands for several days. The current can only survive for a few days but it can be recharged. Thats amazing, she said. Can we get you one? Ranunculus arent a good look for me.

Shut up, she laughed. You know what I mean. Already done. I raised my arm and showed her a leather cuff wrapped around my right wrist. I removed the cuff and showed her that I had a small plate of gold sewed on the inside of the cuff right over the pulse point. Also, I never showed her this, but I had the initials JG, for Julia Gray, etched underneath that plate out of sight on the cuff side. It was a few months premature but I didnt care. I handed her the cuff and she instinctively tucked it into the hem of her jeans, the gold against the skin of her hip so it could charge. I grabbed her face in my hands and kissed her puckered lips. I love you Julia Jacobs. And I love you Elliott Gray. I need to tell you something Jules. Whats that sweets? You know that I love you but I dont think Ive ever really told you how I love you. Go on. I kept her face in my palms, so she could feel my words. Did you know that my heart beats from my chest every single time I am close to you? Every time I am in the same vicinity? That each time I witness your chest rise and fall with breath I am grateful beyond belief? That you are everything a person, a woman, should be and that your heart and soul are as pristine as the clean bright glow of your eyes? And that I have never wanted to protect someone so much in my entire life? Youve struck me in ways I didnt know possible

Jules. I grinned from ear to ear. Im happy that you are blind to my faults and even happier that you love me as much as I love you. I can say with absolute certainty that you are the only person in this world that deserves the moon, the ocean and the stars. You are the only exception. You deserve them and if it takes me our entire lives to give them to you I wont settle until they are yours. Then I kissed her softly. Tears welled in her eyes and she spoke softly into my ear, When we were small, I remember playing on this very rock bridge. It seems funny now, looking back, I can see just how steeped we were in our destiny even then, unaware of the dormant gift that lay beneath our own skin. The first few months we were re-discovering who we were to one another and I often wondered what God had been waiting for when I could have known you as this Elliott all those years, saddened by all the missed love, but as Id gotten to know you all over again, I uncovered why. Time. Time was what He needed to design us as individuals, to sketch us to compliment the other Elliott, as a perfect combination of souls and only time will tell what we are fated to do with it. We are destined for greatness Elliott Gray. I can feel it. My watch unexpectedly chimed midnight. There was a single, rapturous kiss. And a pair of eyes watching us from the cold shadows.

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

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

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

For You:

The Imposed Upon Heart

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

Fisher Amelie Interview with Julia Jacobs and Elliott Gray:

Fisher: Im sitting here with the main characters of my newest book, The Understorey. Elliott and Jules? Welcome. Elliott: Thank you. Jules: No prob, Bob. Fisher: Now, I know you guys dont have much time so Ill try to make this quick. This first ones for Jules. Was it embarrassing to see what a goof you were in the beginning about handling the gift that you and Elliott share? Jules: Well, kind of. I mean, when Elliott told me you were writing our story, for a split second , just a split, I thought about nudging you with my elbow, winking, and encouraging you to use some of that creative license of yours, but Elliott convinced me that you wouldnt make me appear too foolish so I bit my tongue and trusted him that you would represent me well. Fisher: And were you happy with the results? Jules: Yeah, I have to admit, I was. I mean, granted, I looked like a spoiled brat in the beginning but you pulled it off nicely and by the end of the novel I felt vindicated. Plus, you told our story with such honesty, I couldnt get that upset right? (Laughing) Fisher: Is this the bracelet? Jules: Yes, it is. Beautiful isnt it? Fisher: Quite. Elliott?

Elliott: Yes maam? Fisher: Your cuff? Elliott: This is it. Fisher: Fascinating. They both feel like any normal cuff or bracelet to me. Elliott: Any normal cuff or bracelet that can store power. Let me ask you a question. Fisher: Okay. Elliott: Does this cuff make me look like a pansy? Jules: (Laughs) Oh Elliott! Ive told you! Its a very manly cuff. Elliott: I know, I know! But itd be nice to get Fishers opinion. Fisher: Its a cuff even the Dos Equis guy would wear. Elliott: Good enough for me. He is the most interesting man in the world. Jules: That he is and manly as all get out! (Laughs) Fisher: Okay. So, next question. Elliotts turn. Elliott: Uh, oh. Fisher: Ill go easy. Whats it like to be such a heart throb? Elliott: (Clears throat) Well, ha ha, I dont really know. I, uh, I dont know. Jules: Ill come to your rescue babe. Elliotts one of those heart throbs that isnt aware theyre actually heart throbs. Youve just let the cat out of the bag. (Laughs) Fisher: Moving on then. (Laughs) Fisher: Elliott, your relationship with your mom is so adorable. Its so obvious how much you love and respect

her. What advice can you give my readers about possibly duplicating that same relationship with their own parent? Elliott: Well, the trick is to get them good and schnockered. Jules: Elliott! (Laughs) Elliott: Kidding, kidding. Truthfully? When youre kind to them, reliable, loving, and honest theyll treat you the way you want to be treated. Isnt that right Jules? Jules: Of course babe. Parents are difficult, thats a given, but if youre mature enough to realize that when you give to them they also want to give back to you, and usually tenfold your effort, you can create a nice little situation for yourself. Fisher: Good advice. So, Jules, Im going to get into a hard question here. Jules: Shoot. Fisher: The scene where Jesse takes you from your car. How difficult was that to read? Jules: Extremely. I kept stopping to gain composure, picking the book back up, and then stopping again. It was harder than I thought it would be, harder than the cave and cabin scenes. Fisher: Really? Jules: Yeah, because.You alright Elliott? Elliott: Mmm, hmm. (Clears throat) Jules: Because the cave scenes, at the time I was living them, I was prepared for death. I know that sounds awful but I had mentally prepped myself so I wasnt as blown away by it all. I had steeled myself by that point. The initial abduction seemingly came out of the blue. I was just floored and really had no idea what I was doing. I desperately clung to anything that could get me away from

him and when I failed myself, I felt like I had failed Elliott. It was heartbreaking. Towards the end, Id lost hope and I never thought that would happen to me. Fisher: And Elliott? What was it like for you to read those scenes? Elliott: It was the first time I had heard that part of Jules torture. Fisher: Seriously? Elliott: Yes. Fisher: Why? Elliott: Because Jules wasnt ready to tell me before that and I refused to press her. She had decided that the book was a perfect way of filling me in on what happened because it would almost feel as if she didnt have to tell me. Early on, she revealed that it would be too heartbreaking to speak of it to me. She was with me when I eventually read them. Once I was done, I just held her for like four hours. Four hours, right? Jules: Four hours, yeah. Elliott: We talked for several more hours after that. I asked her questions I never would have asked before, in fear Id bring some horrible memory to the surface and shed shut down on me. So, the book helped the both of us with cleansing Jesse from our palate so to speak. We were vulnerable and revealed. It felt horrible and invigorating all at the same time. Strange. Fisher: And the scar? Jules: Healing. Fisher: Im glad to hear it. Jules: Thank you. Fisher: So, whats next for the two of you? Elliott: Youll just have to wait and find out.

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

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