The Devil's Heart

 

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Chapter 1

I’ve always been so sure of how my life would turn out. Like, I’m a pretty confident person. I’ll get good marks, graduate, go to university. I’ll become a psychologist, to give others a hand with their mental health. Then I’ll get married, have some kids, retire a rich, happy woman with more grandchildren than I’ll ever be able to count.

That’s my life, right there.

But sometimes something unexpected happens. Even after you’ve planned everything down to the names of your children, and you’ve dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s of your life’s plan list. When you’re absolutely positive about what it is you’re going to be studying for the next two years in preparation for the rest of your life, some greater good throws you a curveball, and all that planning goes out the window and you realise something that you hadn’t realised before.

Shit. Happens.

And there is nothing you can do about that.

I’ve always been a bit of an anti-social person. Not for a lack of friends – I have enough to keep me out of the ‘loner’ range – but because I just can’t be bothered. I prefer to stay home, read and listen to my music than to go out and get drunk. So I can’t help but feel out of my element as I get ready for a party that I’m only attending because of a lost bet.

I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Jenna. Turns out that vending machines do kill more people than sharks. Just in case you ever need that information. Thanks to that, I need to find something ‘nice’ to wear to this stupid party.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing that I would constitute as ‘nice’ in my closet, so I throw on a pair of skinny jeans and a tiedye t-shirt. Perfect party get-up. I grab a jacket for extra insulation – it’s already cold, and it’s not even 8 – and I lounge on the couch, waiting.

Jordan, my older brother, is playing some blood’n’guts game on the x-box. He doesn’t even look up as I enter. Probably doesn’t even care. After a while, he speaks. “What do you want?”

“Nothing; I’m waiting,” I tell him.

He kills a few more people on the screen. “For what?”

“My friends.” He doesn’t really need any more elaboration than that.

“I thought you didn’t have any friends.”

I scowl at him. Ever the ladies’ man. “I have plenty of friends,” I defend. “Not that you care.”

He considers this for a moment as he blows up an entire building. “You’re right; I don’t.”

Rolling my eyes, I sit up. “So you wouldn’t care that I’m going to a party, then?”

“Nope.”

“With a boy,” I lie.

“That’s nice.” I’m not sure if he genuinely doesn’t care, or if he’s just to enthralled by his game to fully comprehend the meaning of my words.

“I’ll be sleeping at his house.”

“Cool.”

My face falls flat. Out of all the brothers in the world, I get stuck with the one who doesn’t give a damn. Not even the least bit protective.

There is the beep of a horn, and someone – most likely Jenna – shouts out some incoherent phrase. Taking that as my cue, I haul myself off the couch and drag my feet outside. I do not want to go to this party. Can’t I just cut out a kidney instead?

Jenna is hanging out the passenger window, already drunk. Katie is des, because she’s the only one of us with a license, and Ryan is sitting in the back, looking like he’d rather be any place than in the car. I have to agree with him, as I join him in the backseat. Jenna tells us some story about when she was chasing ducks down the river naked the first time she ever got drunk.

“Hey, this is your first time drinking! We should celebrate!” Jenna enthuses. She twists around in her seat to face me. “We should christen you in alcohol.”

“We should not,” I assure her. No way am I having someone dump a can of beer over me. And chances are I won’t be drinking, anyway.

Please!” Jenna begs. She gives me the puppy dog eyes, but the effect of them is lost when she retches.

“Do not vomit in my car,” Katie warns.

“I’m sorry.”

“I will kill you.”

Jenna pouts. “It’s not my fault!”

“Maybe if you didn’t drink so much, you wouldn’t feel sick,” I tell her, wondering again how I got myself into this mess. A bet. A stupid bet.

“Oh, shut up. You need to have some fun!”

“I do have fun!” I defend.

Ryan snorts in his shadows. “What, reading? Oh yes, tonnes of fun. Here we are.”

Katie parks the car on the side of the street, which is already packed. I can hear the wub, wub, wub of some shitty dub-step song from inside the vehicle. We all hop out, Katie doing a quick vomit sweep, and make our way to the respective house; I trail unenthusiastically behind the others.

As soon as we cross the threshold, Jenna vanishes. Ryan mumbles something about finding alcohol, and Katie and I huddle in a corner, trying to save our ears from the horrible music. “Is this what you do every time you go to a party?” I yell.

“No, not really,” she yells back. She’s scanning the crowd, probably looking for Jenna.

“If I go to hell, it’s gonna be like this.”

She smiles, and for a moment I think it was at my comment, but then she excuses herself and works her way through the crowd to where her boyfriend, James, is. I scowl. So they forced me to come to this stupid party, and then they abandon me? Great.

Hugging myself, I inch back into the wall, in case someone was planning on sneaking up on me or something. Most of the people are drunk, and the rest of them, like me, look like maybe they shouldn’t really be here. A girl stumbles past me, a spray of liquid vomit erupting from her mouth, narrowly missing me. I wrinkle my nose in disgust.

Definitely do not want to be here.

Something on the opposite side of the room catches my eye, and I glance up to see a young man leaning against the wall, while a blonde girl talks animatedly to him. He looks very uninterested in her, but the girl obviously doesn’t notice it. She pulls off a thin cardigan, revealing a poorly covered chest, and takes a step closer. Taking a sip of his beer, he glances at the girl, sighs, and turns away.

He looks older than the rest of the people here; most of them are in my year, making them between 16 and 18. But this guy is at least 20, maybe older. No more than 25. I’m bad a guessing ages, but it’s somewhere in there. His runs a hand through his dark hair and does a scan of the room. When he notices me staring, he smirks. He doesn’t smile, doesn’t grin; he smirks. And, like the idiot I am, I smile back. He takes this as some sort of confirmation, waves the blonde girl off, and makes his way over to me.

Great. Just what I need. Mr Popularity knocking at my door.

“You look interesting,” he says when he’s in earshot.

I flush. I look ‘interesting’? What, as opposed to a cheeseburger with chocolate topping instead of sauce? Or is he comparing me to a dog with glasses and a cane? Of all the compliments and insults in the English language, he goes with ‘interesting’.

He leans closer to me. “Name’s Alex.”

Despite his dark features, his eyes are a bright blue, and I find myself momentarily speechless. “Uh, hi,” I reply dumbly.

I mean, he’s cute. And I like cute boys.

He raises a dark eyebrow. “Don’t have a name?”

I compose myself. “If I tell you, will you leave me alone?” I ask. What were the terms of this bet? Can I leave now, or am I required to stay here for a certain amount of time? An hour? Two hours? Until Jenna is ready to leave? God, I hope not; I’ll never get out of here.

Alex considers this for a moment. “No,” he finally answers. “But if you tell me your name, I’ll be nice.”

It’s my turn to raise an eyebrow. “So, let me get this straight,” I begin. “I’m stuck with you, either way...”

“That’s right.”

“...but if I tell you my name, you’ll be ‘nice’ to me?”

“Well, I’ll try my best,” he promises.

I laugh sarcastically. “Well thank God; I was worried about being bullied.”

He rests an arm on the wall beside me, leaning forward again. I can feel myself shrinking under his gaze as his eyes rake my body. “Are you gonna tell me, I should I start guessing?”

For a moment I consider letting him fire off names, but realise that it’ll probably be more annoying. “Savannah,” I tell him with a sigh.

“Is that what your friends call you?”

“No, it’s what my mum calls me when I’m in trouble.”

“Ouch. That’s cruel; I thought we were friends,” he says, pretending to be hurt.

I study him for a few seconds, as his expression goes back to when the girl was talking to him. It’s unreadable, unnervingly so. No hint of any emotion on his face. Is he bored of me now, or what?

“What do you want?” I ask, hugging my chest self-consciously. I jerk my head in the direction of the girl he blew off, who’s now glaring at me from the couch. “What do I have that she doesn’t?”

Alex shrugs. He doesn’t even look at the girl. “You look a bit like you walked into the wrong house and couldn’t find your way back out. I figured you could use some good company.”

I laugh. Well, he’s not too far off the mark. “Thanks for that observation, Sherlock.”

Another smirk. “Besides, there’s more to life than girls like that; she knows what she’s here for. You don’t.”

“I lost a bet,” I explain. “Turns out vending machines kill more people annually than sharks.”

A dark eyebrow shoots into the air. “That was the bet? And you lost it?”

“Oh, come on. Since when did vending machines kill people?” I question. It’s a fair point when you think about it. In between your shark movie collection of Jaws (all of them), Great White, Deep Blue Sea, 2-Headed Shark Attack and Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus, do you have the blockbuster hit Killer Vending Machine?

No.

Didn’t think so.

“Fair enough, then. You’re from around town?”

I nod. “I don’t live here just for the fun of it.”

He offers me a drink. God knows where he pulled it from, because he did not have it a moment ago. “What do you do with yourself, Sav?”

“Not a whole lot, to be honest,” I admit. “And it’s Savannah.”

“Well, Savannah, there’s a party on tomorrow night,” he tells me. “17 Jameson Street. I need to leave now, but I’ll be there tomorrow.”

Did he just invite me to a party? Yeah. He did. I blink. Maybe I will go if he’s going to be there. Wait, no, what am I saying? I don’t want to see him again. He’s intimidating, annoying and the way he looks at me makes me feel as though he knows what I’m thinking. “Thanks, but I don’t think I’ll be welcome. Sorry.”

“Why not?” he asks. “It’s my party.” With a smirk that must be his signature, he leans into me, his lips brushing against mine.

My heart stops as he reaches a hand up and tangles his fingers in my hair. The smell of his cologne reaches my nose, and I can taste alcohol and nicotine on his lips as he presses me into the wall.

“If it makes you feel better, bring a friend,” he whispers, before disappearing into the throng.

I stare into space, shocked. Letting out a deep breath, I touch my fingers to my lips. He kissed me. Some guy who I’ve never met before just kissed me.

I mean, I’ve been kissed once or twice before, but never just, randomly. Who the hell does he think he is, anyway? He can’t just go up to girls, ask them their name, and kiss them. I’m so shocked that I don’t realise Jenna approach me until she speaks.

“Who was that?” she asks.

I shrug. “I have no idea. Seriously.”

She sways as she puts on her best ‘I don’t believe you’ face. “He kissed you.”

“Yeah. He did.”

“I mean, I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend. The least you could have done was told me.” She grabs my arm suddenly, to stop herself from falling face-first into the carpet.

I scowl at her. “Jenna, I have no idea who the hell he is.” And I am not going to his party, I mentally add. I shake her off me, and she wobbles dangerously. “In any case, I’m going home.”

 

I wake up the next morning to the sound of shooting. Dear God. Please strike a bolt of lightning down onto my brother’s x-box. Amen.

“Jordan!” I scream, stomping down the stairs. “It’s barely 7!”

He ignores me, as is custom, and continues to shout into his microphone at people on the opposite side of the world. “You idiot! Get out of the way!”

I leave him to it and go make myself a cup of coffee. I’m still conflicted about this party tonight. I don’t really want to go; I barely know Alex, I won’t know anyone there, and parties just don’t mix well with me. But I can’t stop thinking about the feel of his lips on mine, the smell of his cologne. Is it possible that he’ll kiss me again?

No. Stop thinking about it. You’re not going. You’re going to stay here and read.

“Hey! Make me a coffee, will you!” Jordan yells. Then, to the TV, says, “You useless prick! My grandmother’s a better shooter than you are, and she can’t even get to the toilet herself!”

I purse my lips. “Make it yourself,” I snap. I take my drink and retreat to my bedroom.

Books are strewn across my bed, unable to fit in my pathetic excuse for a bookshelf. I place my mug on my bedside table and make room for myself. My parents don’t understand how I can sleep in it, what with all the books, but I manage.

Grabbing the closest book to me – the Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I pry it open to where I left off and begin to read. As much as I try to concentrate on the words, however, I can’t help but think about the kiss, and Alex’s smouldering blue eyes.

What will one party hurt? Just one more, and I’ll never go to another again, I promise myself. Not for as long as I live. I frown. What time was it on? I don’t recall him giving one. I strain my mind. Nope. No time, just an address. Great.

He said I can bring a friend, though. I debate who to take. Katie? She’s usually des by default. I can get her to drive me home when I’ve had enough. But she won’t really have fun – I doubt there will be anyone there she knows. Ryan is out of the question – I can’t show up to Alex’s party with a guy – which leaves but one choice.

Jenna.

She’ll enjoy herself, oh yes. I’m just not too sure if it’s worth the risk; what if she does something embarrassing? Or tells them just how boring I am? What if she cracks onto Alex? I don’t want that to happen. Guess that means I’m going on my own.

I spend the whole day trying to decide what to wear, even though I’m limited to jeans, more jeans, short jeans, and an array of shirts ranging from tank tops to t-shirts. I really need to expand on that.

Fortunately, it’s warmer than last night, and I go with shorts and a tank top. After having a quick shower, I dress, grab my jacket, and am out the door by 7. Jameson Street is within walking distance of mine, and it’s even closer when you cut through the park.

It takes about 10 minutes to get there, and I’m relieved to see I’m not early; the music is already pounding, and people are showing up left, right and centre. I watch them for a short while to assess the clothing situation. They’re dressed in styles ranging from barely anything, to jeans and a t-shirt, to formal. So basically no one was told the dress code and everyone made their own up. Excellent.

I join in with the crowd, jostling and shoving people to get inside. Feeling claustrophobic, I retreat to an empty corner, scanning the room for Alex. I can’t see him anywhere. This was stupid.

Someone, already drunk as hell, shoves a full cruiser in my hand, says, “here ya go, love,” and stumbles off. I glance down at the drink, open it, sniff and take a sip. Tastes like raspberry cordial. Shrugging, I drink it, watching as people talk and laugh and fall over. The drunken person who handed me the drink is face-down on the couch. Aside from them, no one else even acknowledges me, and Alex still hasn’t made an appearance.

Telling myself how stupid this decision was, I hug myself and pretend I’m part of the furniture. I must do a pretty good job of being a floor-lamp because no one pays me any attention. They walk past, drinks in hand, chatting away to their friends, too busy to wonder about me. I manage to down my drink and score another one from the hands of a passed out party-goer.

People-watching is fun, so it’s not the worst time in the world; I enjoy living vicariously through others, and drunk people live. The young guy in the corner, trying to pick up two chicks at once – succeeding, despite his youthful appearance. In the kitchen, a girl on the phone crying – suspected break up. Against the wall, me, steadily getting drunker and I somehow have done a shot of death liquid and actually I should probably go home now.

I push my way through people, stumble over feet, and almost reach the door when a hand grabs my wrist, and I’m being pulled back into the crowd. I spin around to face Alex.

“Leaving so soon?” he asks.

“I should probably go,” I tell him with a shrug. “Sorry.”

He smirks. “Stay for a while. Have a drink.” Someone hollers at him. “Don’t leave me with these people.”

“What do you ‘these people’? I thought this was your party,” I counter. And I am not having anymore drinks.

“I made the mistake of letting my boss organise it,” he admits.

I glance around. The house is already a mess, and it’s only going to get worse. “Your boss? You must have a lot of faith in him.”

“I used to.”

I laugh. “I can see how you’d lose that faith after this. Good luck with the cleanup.”

Before he can answer there’s a smash, a chorus of ‘ooh's, and someone bursts out laughing. “You should probably replace that before mummy and daddy get home,” I tell him.

He chuckles. “Mummy and daddy don’t live here.” He pulls me through the crowd, up the stairs and shoves me into an empty bedroom. Considering it must be his, it’s rather neat. Not a single article of dirty clothing anywhere. I’m impressed.

As he closes the door behind him, my stomach churns. I wipe my clammy palms on my shorts. “Is this how you seduce me?” I joke. I sit down at the foot of the bed.

Leaning against the wall, Alex studies me. I drop my gaze, squirming. Don’t think, he can read your mind. Don’t think, especially not about the kiss – crap. Stop thinking.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think you’d actually come. Especially not alone.”

I flush. There’s no way I’m telling him I came because I hoped he’ll kiss me again. No way. Especially if he wasn’t expecting me in the first place. “Why’d you invite me?” I counter.

Crossing his arms over his chest, he shrugs. “You looked interesting.”

“I sit in my room all day reading books. Still sound interesting?”

“Read me a lullaby?”

“Buy me dinner,” I retort, before I can stop myself. I bite my fist so I can’t incriminate myself any more than I already have.

Alex chuckles. “Is that all it takes to get in your good books?”

I duck my head to stare at my feet and shrug. “I’m gonna regret all of this in the morning.”

Alex reaches a hand under my chin, lifting my head until I’m looking at him. I hadn’t even heard him walk over. His face is just inches from mine, and I can smell his cologne, the Alexe as last night. I breathe it in. He pushes me onto my back. I gasp in surprise as he hovers over me.

My breathing is rapid as his lips press down on mine, fusing together. What to do, what to do? I panic because I’ve never gotten this far before. What if I do something stupid? Everything that I thought I’d ever do in this situation escapes my mind, so I just kiss him back, wrap my arms around his neck, and hope he doesn’t notice.

He runs a hand up my thigh, tickling the sensitive skin as he runs it up, under my top, to massage my breast. I moan into his lips, squirming at the touch. I feel him smirk as he moves his hand back down, and he rubs me. I gasp and dig my nails into the back of his neck.

I lose all sense of time and thought, abandoning reason and common sense. I refuse to admit to myself that I shouldn’t be doing this, that I barely know this guy. Pleasure takes over as he touches me. I don’t want him to stop. He breaks apart to tear off our shirts, and unhook my bra.

I become self-conscious when he takes my bra off, and I go to cover my breasts, blushing furiously. With a chuckle, he leans into me, grabbing my wrists and securing them above my head. His breathing is laboured as he kisses me again, moving from my lips to my neck, to my breast.

As he gets to work on my shorts, there is a bang, a squeal of laughter, and the door flies open. I scramble backwards off the bed, grabbing the closest article of clothing I can find to cover myself, as Alex turns to face the intruder, a lot less perturbed than me.

The girl in the doorway stares from Alex to me, her eyes narrowing. It’s suddenly become verrry tense in the room. “Hi, Alex.”

Alex scowls. “What do you want?”

“I came to wish you a happy birthday. And I was hoping we could talk.”

A happy birthday..? I blink. It’s his birthday? The shock must be showing, because the girl says to me, “he’s 22 today. Surely you must know that? Oh!” She fakes horror. “Or maybe you’re just another whore he paid, to make it look like he’s over me.”

I don’t say anything because I’m too shocked. Alex shoots off the bed, grabs the girl’s arm and practically throws her out the room, following after her. He slams the door behind him, and I can hear him yelling. She screams back as I briefly wonder if he does think I’m just a whore.

Or maybe he’d just throw me the whole ‘I’ll call you’ card, and never actually do it. The thought that I was going to go along with it makes me feel worse. How many girls has he slept with? I guess I almost made it on the list.

Ashamed, I search around the room for my bra and top, throwing them on before he comes back in. They’re still fighting, so I open the door and step out. They both turn to me. I hand Alex his shirt. “Have a nice birthday,” I say, before rushing down the stairs.

“Hey! Savannah!” Alex calls me, but I ignore him.

I push through the crowd, roughly shoving people out of the way as I head for the door. This was a stupid, stupid idea! I knew it was when I made the decision to come. How idiotic could I get?

Once I get outside I can speed up the pace. 10 minutes to get home, and I can put all of this behind me. I barely reach the end of the street when Alex catches up with me. He grabs my arm, forcing me to stop. “Savannah. Hey!”

I struggle to break his grip. “Get off me.”

“Don’t listen to Emma, there’s a reason we broke up.”

“What, the money ran out?” I spit. I yank my arm out of his hand, angrily wipe away unwanted tears. “I’m not a whore, Alex. I’m not. Just leave me alone.”

I leave him standing there, and start off home. I get halfway through the park when I hear footsteps. He’s following me. Great. I spin around, ready to give him a mouthful. “I said to leave me alone, Alex! Are you...”

I trail off because the man behind me is clearly not Alex. He’s significantly older, for a start, and his hair is longer and greyer. “Oh... I’m sorry,” I mumble, embarrassed. “I thought you were someone else.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” he says. “Shit happens.”

I give him a weak smile. “Yeah.” I turn back around and keep on walking. The footsteps continue, as well. I try to keep my breathing steady as I speed up, but the man speeds up as well.

The exit is only a few metres away. I break into a run but don’t get very far when another man appears in front of me. I skid to a stop. “What’s wrong, darling?” the man behind me drawls. “Why are you running?”

“Stay away from me,” I warn. Or what, Savannah? You’ll hurt him? You gonna take on two full-grown men on your own? You idiot.

My breath comes out in short gasps as I search for an escape route. I can’t see one. They’ll chase after me, either way, and I doubt I’m faster than the both of them.

“Now don’t be like that. We just wanna chat.”

I laugh sarcastically. Chat. Of course. “What, a nice chat that ends up with me dead in a ditch somewhere?”

“Oh that’s just rude, love. How about we all go back to my place and we can-”

“Savannah!”

The men look back to see Alex rushing towards us. I never thought I’d be so glad to see him, but here I am. He passes the first man, grabbing my hand and pushing me behind him. “What, you’ve got a problem?” he asks, as the men stare.

“We were just talking, weren’t we, darling?”

As much as I don’t want to, as much as I’d love for him to beat these creeps black and blue, I seize his arm with one hand, squeezing his hand with other, and pull him back, because he looks like he’s about to kill the both of them. “Don’t,” I beg. “Let’s just go.”

He takes a while but finally gives in. “Yeah, alright.” He pulls me in the direction I was heading, watching the two men.

“Have a nice night,” one of them sneers.

When they’re out of ear and eyeshot, Alex speaks. “Are you alright?” he asks.

I nod. “I’m fine. Thank you. You followed me?”

“Well, I realised it wasn’t a smart idea to let a girl walk home by herself at night.”

“You know, I always walk through there. Never had any problems,” I tell him. “I thought it was safe.”

He scowls when I tell him. “Oh yeah, really safe.”

We walk in comfortable silence as we enter my street, hand-in-hand, until we reach my house and I pull him to a stop.

“This is me.” My house looms in front of us, dark and silent. “I guess mum went to bed already.”

I turn to Alex. What do I say? Thanks for saving me, even though I ruined your night? Thanks for an almost good time, even though your stupid ex-girlfriend called me a whore? I wonder if it would be wrong of me to kiss him, just once more. Probably.

“Well, enjoy the rest of your night,” I say because it’s the first thing that comes to mind. “And... thanks.” I turn and head inside, leaving him standing there. It’s only when I get inside do I realise I left my jacket in his room.

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Chapter 2

I haven’t been back to Alex’s yet, but at some point I’ll have to go. I need to get my jacket back because it’s one of the only ones I own, and happens to be my favourite, but I don’t want to face the awkward conversation that will come with it. After what nearly happened, I doubt I’ll get two words out before getting too embarrassed.

“Honey?” Mum is standing in the doorway, watching me with her concerned mother eyes. “How are you feeling?”

My mum suffers migraines and so, being her daughter, I do too. It’s similar to being hit in the head repeatedly with a hammer. “Better,” I tell her. A handful of strong painkillers and 5 hours sleep has done wonders. “The pain’s basically gone.”

She frowns, steps forward and places the back of her palm on my head. “There’s no fever, so that’s good. Try and get some more sleep. I’ll wake you up for dinner.” She bends down to kiss me on the forehead before leaving.

I lay down and close my eyes. The throbbing in my head might be mostly gone, thanks to an arsenal of drugs, but I still feel like puking. After a few minutes, I give up, throw the covers off, and make my way to the bathroom.

Stripping, I hop in the shower and turn the taps on. I gasp as the cold water hit me. It takes a few seconds to warm up. When it does, I adjust the heat until it’s almost too hot, and stand under the spray, sighing.

I haven’t thought too much about the men at the park – I mean if I ignore it then it’s like it never happened, right? – but I still can’t help but think what would have happened if Alex hadn’t followed me. I could be dead, that would be inconvenient. Or worse.

Someone knocks on the door, causing me to jump. “What?”

Mum’s voice wafts in. “Your friend’s here,” she says.

I sigh. It’s probably Jenna, wondering why I wasn’t at school today. Some would call it concern, but in her case, she’s just a busybody. “Thanks. I’ll be out in a minute.”

When she’s gone, I turn the shower off and throw a towel on; it’s not like she hasn’t seen me naked at least once before. I catch a glance at my reflection in the mirror. My face is pale. My dark hair, heavy with water, only makes me look worse. I throw it up in a bun and head to my room.

I step in, look up at the obviously male figure and freeze, my mouth falling open. Instinctively I grab the top of my towel, in case it should decide to give him a show. “What are you doing here?” I ask, shocked.

Alex holds up my jacket in response. “Your mum said I could wait in here,” he explains, shrugging.

“Thanks.” I grab it from him, and toss it on my bed, which Alex is eyeing. A frown forms on his face. He’s probably wondering how on earth I sleep on it. I briefly wonder if we’d both fit on there, before reprimanding myself in disgust. He thinks you’re a whore, remember? “When she said my friend was here, I thought she meant one of the girls.”

“Well at least I’m prettier than them,” Alex jokes. He takes a seat in my desk chair. “Your mum told me you weren’t feeling well,” he notes.

I nod. Of course she did. Probably told him my weekly schedule, too. “Yeah, migraine. I get them from my mum,” I state matter-of-factly. I sit on my bed, hugging my knees to my chest.

Alex studies me. “You didn’t tell them.”

I frown in confusion. “About what?” He doesn’t honestly expect me to tell my mother about my first almost-sexual experience?

“About what happened at the park.”

“Nothing happened at the park, Alex. They approached me, they were creepy, end of story. Half the people in this city are creepy.”

“Savannah...”

“What?” I snap. “You don’t exactly know me. I mean yeah, thanks for walking me home and all, but I’m fine. So just forget it.” From the corner of my bed I wrangle a long brown cardigan from the sheets, hastily throwing it on.

It’s not like what happened didn’t make me uneasy; it’s just easier if I don’t think about it, pretend that nothing happened so it can feel like nothing happened.

He watches me for a few seconds, his dark eyes searching my face. “Alright, I’ll drop it,” he agrees.

There is a knock on the door, and mum pokes her head in. “Hey kids, I’m going to the shop. Are you staying for dinner?” she smiles at Alex expectantly.

“Um... no,” he says after a moment. “Thanks.”

“Alright. I won’t be long,” she promises.

“Kids?” Alex asks when she’s gone. I shrug. “She didn’t even ask my name, you know. She just let me in the house.”

“Yeah, she has trust issues; doesn’t know when to stop.” I chuckle, staring into space. “Anyway, thanks for bringing my jacket.”

He takes this as a cue to leave, and stands up, stretching. “No problem.”

I walk him to the door, hugging myself as the wind hits my skin. “Where’s your car?” I ask, frowning. He does have a car, right?

“Well you don’t live too far away, so I walked,” he tells me, shrugging.

I don’t believe my ears. After what happened the other night, he walks to my house. What, does he think he’s safe or something? Just because he’s bigger than me and he’s a male it wouldn’t happen to him?

My horror must show on my face, because he raises an eyebrow and says, “hey, don’t worry about me; I can take care of myself. Besides, it’s daytime.” He lightly ruffles my hair. He opens his mouth to say something else, but then seems to think better of it. “I guess I’ll see you around.”

I force a half-smile. “Yeah, guess so.” I almost lean forward to place a kiss on his cheek as a way of thanks, but I hesitate, and then he’s walking down the stairs, so I just watch him go until he turns the corner.

“Boyfriend?”

I jump, nearly tumbling down the stairs as I turn to face Jordan. “What? No!” I exclaim, putting a hand to my chest. I try to regulate my breathing as my brother stands there and laughs.

“Someone’s jumpy. So, he’s not your boyfriend?”

“No.”

“You’re sure?”

“Why do you care?”

Jordan scratches the back of his neck. “I don’t,” he assures me. “I just like to know these things.”

I scowl at him. So now he decides to play the dutiful brother? “That’s nice of you,” I snap.

“Why are you so grumpy?” he asks, following me through the house. “What did I ever do to deserve your scorn? Nothing. You’re just jealous of my insanely good looks. Oh!” he gasps. “Could it be that you love him, but he doesn’t love you back?”

Ignoring him, I slam my bedroom door in his face, blocking out everything else he says. If he was half as smart as he is annoying, he’d be Prime Minister by now.

 

“Savannah!”

I flinch at the sound as Jenna bounds up to me. There are people everywhere, jostling me as I try to work my way through them to somewhere... empty. I hate crowds. They’re smelly, and people push you back and forth.

“We missed you yesterday,” she continues. “I called your mum and she said you were sick.”

I nod in agreement as I burst out a door. There isn’t really anyone outside, so it’s easier to breathe. “I wasn’t feeling too well, so I stayed home.”

“Ah, well, you’re better now. Guess you didn’t hear, then.”

“Hear what?” I ask.

“Hannah ran away from home,” Jenna tells me. “Didn’t come home after the party Friday, her mum called the cops Saturday night; she thought Hannah was at a friend’s or something.”

I don’t really know Hannah, so there isn’t much I can say. She’s a year older than me, and isn’t in any of my classes. I know her and her mum fight a lot, and it isn’t the first time she’s run away. “Yeah, but that’s happened before. She’ll probably be back by the weekend.”

“Probably. She’s just an attention whore.”

I wince at the word, and find myself defending her. “We don’t know anything about her or her mum. She could be going through any number of problems.”

Jenna raises an eyebrow. “If you say so,” she says. “I’m going class. See ya later!”

She bounds off, and I sit down at a bench. I wait until everyone else has gone to class before I make my way. Andrew, my teacher, isn’t too happy when I show up late, but I apologise and take my seat at the back of the room.

I suck at maths, so I don’t even know why I did it in the first place, but there’s no chance of me getting any work done, anyway. Too much on my mind. Like the thought that maybe Alex might like me. He was nice enough to bring my jacket back, after all.

I’m so caught up in my thoughts that I don’t realise the rest of my class is pouring out. Andrew clicks his fingers in front of my face, startling me. “Are you alright?” he asks. He looks genuinely concerned.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assure him. I gather my things and leave before he can ask anything else. Jenna and Katie are in the cafe. I never have liked being in here, preferring the library, so it’s no surprise to the two of them when I usher them outside. In any case, it’s cooler.

“Hey, Katie? Do you think you’d be able to give me a lift after school?” I ask. “I still don’t feel very well.”

Katie nods. “Yeah, sure. Meet me at my car when you finish,” she says in between bites.

“Thanks.”

The rest of the day passes all too quickly, and I make my way to Katie’s car. She smiles at me, and I smile back. “I have to stop in at my dad’s work first. Is that okay?”

I shrug. “It’s fine.” Her dad’s a car mechanic, and owns his own business. “We’ll have to start paying you for petrol soon,” I joke.

The drive is quick, and Katie hops out while I wait. She disappears inside for a moment, and reappears just as quick. “He’s out,” she tells me when she’s in the car.

She drives me home, says goodbye and leaves. No one’s home. I whip up a sandwich, hungry.

Wandering into my bedroom, I flop down on the bed, grab my book, and continue reading it as I wait for mum to get home.

Mum doesn’t arrive home until after five, and Jordan is nowhere to be seen. I try not to worry too much as she sets about making dinner. “What are we having?” I ask.

“Apricot chicken,” she replies.

Good, I think. I like apricot chicken. Every time I try to cook it, unfortunately, it turns out crap, but mum does it beautifully.

She turns the news on as she cooks, and I settle down to watch it.

“The body of local girl Lisa Evans was discovered this morning.” I stiffen, as the photo of a pretty girl with long blonde waves is shown. “It’s believed Evans went missing some time Saturday night while on her way home from work. A passerby found her body dumped in an alleyway. Police have confirmed that she was sexually assaulted before being stabbed to death, and they urge any witnesses to come forward....”

I feel a wave of nausea creeping up. Did she go through the park? Was she attacked by the men I ran into? That could have been me. It could have been my body in that alleyway, and my mother crying on the kitchen floor.

“That’s horrible,” she says. “What happened to the girl.” She turns to me. “I don’t want you going out at night alone, okay?”

“I won’t,” I promise. Like I would anyway. No way, no how. Not after what almost happened on Saturday.

Then mum smiles at me. “I’m just so glad it wasn’t you.”

“Yeah, me too.”

 

When I wake up the next morning, I wander in the kitchen to find mum pouring over a map. She smiles at me when she sees me, arousing my suspicious side. “Morning,” she greets. “I was thinking of going camping this weekend.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Alone?” I ask.

She smiles sheepishly, and I get the feeling I’m about to reject whatever it is she says next. “I thought you might want to come.”

Yeah, I knew that was coming. “Mum. I hate camping.”

“I know, I just thought we could spend some mother daughter time together,” she admits.

“Well you should have picked a hotel or something. Sorry.”

Jordan wanders in, yawning, oblivious to the both of us. Mum eyeballs him, her next victim. “Jordan?”

“Hmm?” He turns in surprise. “Oh, morning. What? What did I do?” he asks, because mum is still watching him like she might kill him.

“You’ll come camping, won’t you?”

I snort. Jordan gives her a suspicious look. “Camping? With... you?”

Mum nods enthusiastically. She holds the map out, indicating a circled area. “I thought we could stay here. We’ll walk there, stay the night, and come back! I even figured out how long it would take us to get there.” She looks genuinely pleased with herself. So much so that Jordan can’t possibly turn her down.

“I guess,” he says, looking to me for help. I shake my head. Not going. Absolutely not. “Can I bring some friends?”

“Of course! It’ll be great! I’m going to get ready for work,” she says, before leaving us.

I inspect my fingernails, trying to keep from smiling. “You do realise you can’t take your x-box camping,” I tell Jordan.

He doesn’t speak for a while, and goes about making his cereal. “Camping,” he finally says. “With mum. And my friends. She’ll never let me out of the house again. Why? Why did I agree to this?”

I snicker, as there is a knock at the door. Jordan rushes to answer it, while I pour myself a coffee. He returns a moment later. “It’s your boyfriend,” he informs me, grabbing his cereal and making a beeline for the lounge.

Alex follows after him, frowning. He looks at me and smiles.

“Just because you know where I live, doesn’t mean you can keep coming to my house.”

He smirks. “Boyfriend?”

“He’s got mental problems. What are you doing here?”

“I saw the news last night,” he says with a shrug.

I sigh, running a hand through my hair. “Look, I’m...” I cut myself off, making sure there’s no one else in the room. “I’m grateful for what you did, really, but you don’t need to keep coming around, okay? I’m fine.”

“What, you don’t want me at your house?”

“No.”

“Then dinner. Friday, six o’clock. My shout.”

I blink. What? Dinner? Does he mean like a date? With him? Does this mean he likes me? Feels sorry for me? “I... what?”

“I could always stay here for dinner,” he muses. “I’m sure your mum would be more than happy to-”

“Alright! Dinner, fine.”

For the first time since I met him, he grins. He doesn’t smirk at me, he actually grins, and it makes him look younger, less intimidating. Then he leans over and say, “I’m not going to toss you in my boot and demand you eat. If you don’t want to, I promise not to be upset.”

I shake my head, huffing. “Six o’clock. Just don’t pick somewhere overly busy.”

“So I guess Maccas is out of the question, then.”

I scowl. “What a shame that is. I guess you’ll actually have to dig into your savings account.”

“I’ll see you Friday,” he says, and leaves me standing there.

Jordan saunters in when he’s gone. “Not your boyfriend, hey?”

“Shut up.”

“Because, from what I saw-”

“Shut up!” I snap. I grab my bag and chase after Alex.

He’s halfway in his car, and look of bewilderment crosses his face when he sees me.

“I was just... would you be able to give me a lift?” I ask.  

“Sure. To where?”

“School,” I tell him, hopping in the passenger’s seat.

He looks at his watch. “Well you’re a bit keen, I’ll give you that. It’s only eight.”

I rub my arm nervously, shrugging.

“Coffee?” he suggests.

I don’t have any money, but I agree anyway. Anything to get away from my idiot brother.

He drives to some cafe that I’ve never been to, and we both hop out. I trail after him. The girl behind the counter greets Alex enthusiastically, smiling warmly as she says, “the usual?”

I scowl as a pang of jealousy stabs through me. No, not jealousy, I tell myself. A pang of... distaste.

“Thanks, Alisha. You?” he turns to me expectantly.

“Hmm..? Oh, no,” I shake my head, waving my hands. “I don’t have any money.”

He ignores me. “Make it two,” he tells the girl.

“No problem.” She nods, glances at me, looks me up and down, and makes a start on our drinks. 

I throw my hands up in defeat. “Are you deaf, or just an idiot?” I ask. “I’m broke.”

“I’ll pay.”

“I’m not a charity case.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to shout me coffee sometime, won’t you?”

He’s not bad, I’ll give him that. When he realises I’ve given up, a smirk creeps up on his face, which just infuriates me more. Fortunately, Alisha the waitress places our drinks on the counter, and Alex pulls his wallet out to pay.

“Who’s your new friend?” she asks, handing Alex his change.

I narrow my eyes. None of your business, that’s who I am.

“Savannah,” he tells her. He turns to me. “This is Alisha; my sister.”

And just like that, my jealousy is gone, and I’m left feeling like a prick. They don’t look alike at all. The only similarities are their blue eyes. That’s it.

I smile at Alisha. “Hi.”

Alisha doesn’t smile; her eyes are narrowed. “How old are you?”

“Alright, let’s go,” Alex cuts in, before I can say anything. He shoves a coffee in my hands and ushers me out the door. “Bye Alisha.”

“I get the feeling that she doesn’t really like me much,” I say when we’re in the car.

Alex scoffs. “She doesn’t really like anyone much.”

“Me included, huh?”

“You and the rest of the world.” He parks on the side of the road next to the school. There are a few kids around, but I doubt Jenna or Katie would be here yet, and Ryan wouldn’t even be awake. It’s still quite early.

I open the door, grabbing my bag and coffee. “Thanks for the ride... and the coffee,” I say.

“Don’t mention it,” he replies with his signature smirk.

I hover in the car for a few more seconds, wondering if I should say something else, before stumbling out. “So... six o’clock?”

He nods. “Make sure you’re ready.”

“I will. Bye.” I close the door and head up the path as he drives off. As I’m walking, I hear hushed voices.

“You ask.”

“No man, you said it, you do.”

“Tch. Hey, you!”

Assuming ‘you’ is me, I look up. Two boys are standing, facing the road. “That car you got out of,” one of them says.

“What about it?” I ask.

“Is that a 991?” the first boy asks.

“I’m telling you, man, it’s a 997.”

I frown in bewilderment. What on earth are the two of them talking about? Instead of asking them, I just say, “I’m not really sure, sorry.”

“It’s a Porsche, isn’t it?”

“Uh, yes?” I don’t know cars. They don’t do it for me. Models, brands, years. I don’t care. As long as it can get me from point A to point B, I’m a duck in water.

The first gives me a look of utter disbelief. “You don’t know if it’s a Porsche or not? How can you not know?” I shrug. “Women,” he mutters, and they walk off.

I scoff. Men. Standing near the entrance, I drink my coffee, waiting for someone to show up. Jenna’s the first on campus. She waves when she spots me. “You’re early!” she says.

“Yeah, got a lift.” I don’t elaborate, and she doesn’t ask.

We find a place in the cafeteria to sit. “Did you see the news?” she asks. “Really horrible what happened. She didn’t go here though; she went to St Richard’s.”

“Yeah, I saw that. Mum told me I wasn’t allowed out by myself at night.”

“I don’t blame her, after that. They haven’t caught the guy.”

“Or guys,” I add, thinking back to Saturday. Oh, thank you Alex. You really saved my life.

“There’s more than one?”

I shrug. I don’t know. And unless they’re locked away in jail, I don’t ever want to be in a position where I find out.

“Morning, guys!” We look up to see Katie bounding towards us, Ryan trailing behind her, looking as though he’d rather be anywhere but here. She sits down at the table. “I’m so tired. James and I were up all night watching the Walking Dead.”

Jenna rolls her eyes. “Of course you were ‘watching’ it.”

“I hated it. All the blood and gore...” Katie grimaces.

Ryan makes a pfft sound. “The Walking Dead is the best show out. Once you get past the whole Lori thing, anyway.”

“Lori was just trying to protect her kid,” Katie defends. She turns to me. “So, met anyone interesting lately?” she bluntly asks. They all turn to me. “Dad was telling me they were teasing one of his mates at the workshop, asking when he was gonna find a girl. He said he met someone.”

I raise an eyebrow. “There are a lot of ‘someone’s in the world,” I point out.

“Ah, but not many someone’s with the name Savannah. His name’s Alex, by the way.”

Jenna watches me expectantly, and even Ryan looks mildly interested. I flush. I had no idea Alex worked with Katie’s dad. If I did, I’d have told him to keep his mouth shut. About what, I don’t know. We aren’t really a couple. We’re not anything.

“You did! Oh my God!” Jenna squeals, jumping in her seat. 

“Don’t get excited,” I tell them, scowling. “We’re not dating or anything.” Jenna stares at me, hard. “Okay, he asked me to dinner Friday, but that doesn’t mean anything!”

I have to raise my voice a bit, because Jenna and Katie are making horrible sounds they seem to think are cute, and Ryan is banging his head on the table in the hopes they’ll shut up.

“Is that the guy from the party?” Jenna asks. “The one that you kissed?”

“I didn’t kiss him.”

“Well he kissed you then.”

Katie’s head snaps up. “He kissed you?”

“Uh, yeah. That’s the one,” I say.

Jenna makes an appreciative sound. “He was pretty cute.”

“He’s older,” Katie warns.

As though that’s going to stop me.

I scowl at the both of them. “He’s 22. And he’s annoying.”

My declaration doesn’t have the desired effect on them, as Jenna grins at me like a creep, and Katie waggles her eyebrows. “You’re impossible, both of you.”

 

The two and a half days pass quickly, and before I know it, Friday night rolls around. Mum and Jordan are getting ready for their camping adventure, and I’m left to pour over my wardrobe in a pathetic attempt to find suitable clothes for dinner. I’ve got no idea where Alex is taking me, and no idea what I should wear; my wardrobe consists of 90% jeans.

I mentally slap myself. It’s just dinner. I throw on my newest, least faded pair of jeans, and the nicest top I can find. Running the brush through my hair, I head downstairs. Jordan doesn’t even glance at me, but mum is instantly suspicious.

“Where are you going?” she asks.

“Out.”

“Out with your friends? That’s nice. Where to?”

“Out to dinner.”

“With your boyfriend?” Jordan pipes up.

“What boyfriend?”

“He’s not my boyfriend, mum, he’s just a friend.”

“Is it that boy who bought your jacket home the other day?” mum presses.

“Yes, mum.”

“The one that was here yesterday morning?”

“Yes, Jordan.”

There’s a knock at the front door. Jordan, in an effort to reach it before anyone else, moves faster than I’ve ever seen him move. I race after him and mum trails behind.

“Can I help you?” I hear Jordan ask.

“Is Savannah here?”

“No.”

“Jordan!” I snap. They both turn to me.

“Oh look, she is here,” Jordan states. “Have fun!” He slinks off into the lounge.

I give Alex an apologetic look. Mum beams at him. “You’re a handsome boy!” she enthuses.

If embarrassing mothers was an Olympic sport, mine would take the gold. “Mum...”

“What’s your name?”

“Alex.”

“Isn’t that wonderful? Do you remember that mouse you had? His name was Alex too, wasn’t it? Did he go missing, I don’t remember?”

“Jordan drowned him,” I mumble, pushing Alex out the door and down the stairs. “Bye, mum.”

“Oh, I remember, now. You cried for about a week afterwards – oh, have fun! Be back by 10!”

I can see Alex holding back laughter as he gets in the car. “Don’t start,” I warn.

He waits until we’re driving before he says anything. “You called your pet mouse Alex?”

“I swear to God I will kill you.”

“And your brother drowned it?”

“I changed the tv channel on him.”

Alex just chuckles. “I can see where you got your interesting side from,” he says.

I scowl.

We fall into a comfortable silence as he drives, and I keep thinking that I need to get my licence. It would be so much easier. He eventually parks out front of a restaurant, and we both hop out. I glance up at the building. “Fancy.”

“Only if you’re wearing fancy clothes. You said somewhere that wasn’t busy.”

I follow him inside, briefly wondering if he picked this place just to show off. I dismiss the thought, though; Alex doesn’t strike me as the kind of person to show off, and even if he was, he doesn’t need to. He approaches the waitress, and she shows us to our table. He actually booked one.

Nothing more can surprise me.

“I’ll take your orders in a moment. Would you like something to drink in the meantime?”

Alex looks at me. The waitress follows suit. “Uh... water, please?”

She nods and turns to Alex. “I’ll have a beer.”

“No problem, I’ll be right back with those.”

“You’re not planning on getting drunk, are you?” I ask.

He chuckles. “Is that a problem?” Then, seeing the look on my face, adds, “I’m kidding.”

“Good. Wouldn’t want to walk home.”

He sits back in his chair, tapping his fork on the table. “I didn’t realise you were still at school,” he admits.

“I bet you didn’t realise my best friend’s dad is your boss, either.”

He doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. “Well, now you know where I work.”

I nod. “Yeah. She told me everything.” Still no reaction. “Even that you ‘found a girl’.”

Nothing. Not a blush, or a slight widening of the eyes. He doesn’t even move, just says, “well, I didn’t lie.” No hint of embarrassment. I wonder if he has any emotions in there.

The waitress drops our drinks off, with a promise to come back soon for our orders.

“Okay, then. What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done.”

He raises an eyebrow. “I jumped off the top of my high school building,” he says.

“That’s not embarrassing.”

“I was naked.”

I inhale the water I’m drinking. “You’re kidding?” He shakes his head, smirking. “Why?”

“I lost a bet.”

“Wow.” I try to imagine Alex naked, and end up blushing. It’s a nice thought.

“I think it was on the last day of term. End of year assembly. The whole school was gathered outside, teachers and all.”

“What was the bet?” I ask. It must have been something big, if Alex ended up jumping off a school building naked.

“Mate of mine reckoned he could steal the principal’s car, drive it to his house, and get back to the school without anyone noticing it was gone.”

“And he did?”

“What do you reckon?”

I laugh. “That would have been a sight to see.”

“Oh, it was.”

I spend most of the night telling him about myself, because he only seems to ever talk if I ask him a question, or if he thinks something’s amusing. I find out that he’s got two sisters – Alisha, the eldest at 25, and Amy, the youngest at 16. His mum’s a primary school teacher, and his father’s a fitter and turner. He hates comedies, chick flicks and dub step, has a dog called Bo, and broke up with his crazy ex five months ago.

After dinner, he drives me home. He follows me up to my front door. “Um... I had fun,” I say. “You’ll probably be glad for some peace and quiet.”

He doesn’t say anything, just places a hand on the side of my face as he leans in and kisses me. I frame his face with my hands as he tangles one of his in my hair, the other wrapping around my waist to pull me into him.

All too soon we break apart. “Your mum’ll probably have a heart attack if you don’t get in there soon,” he says.

“Yeah, most likely,” I reply.

“I’ll see you around.” He places another kiss on my lips before leaving me there to ponder what he’d just said.

He’ll ‘see me around’? Does that mean he had fun, too? Or is it a way of saying ‘actually, I don’t really like you, but I don’t want to say that’? I enter the house feeling more confused about him than what I did before.

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Chapter 3

“In another horrific murder, the body of local girl, Georgia Dooges, was discovered yesterday.” My head shoots up, and I almost tumble into a chair as I rush to the TV. “It’s believed that Miss Dooges’ murder is related to that of Lisa Evans’, who was found just last week. I’m here with the chief of police, Rodney Bakes. Now Mr Bakes, what can you tell us about these victims?”

Mr Bakes rolls his shoulders back. “We have reason to believe that these girls were murdered by the same person or persons; the way in which it was done, and the way in which their bodies were dumped indicates this.”

“Do you have any leads?”

“Not at this stage, no. We were given a statement from a witness saying the man was blonde, but we are yet to confirm the legitimacy of that statement.”

“Do you think we may be seeing what are the first stages of a serial killer?”

Mr Bakes hesitates. “Well... we’re unsure at this point in time, and we certainly hope it stays that way. We will catch this guy, and we will see that he is brought to justice. For the time being, I can only stress how important it is to not wander around at night, especially by yourself, and especially if you’re a female; don’t go out alone, and we urge anyone with information to come forward. Thank you.” He walks out of view of the camera, and it focuses back on the news reporter.

“Mr Bakes and the rest of the police force would like to express their sincere condolences to the victim’s families. If you have any information regarding the murders, you can phone the police hotline on...”

I zone out. It’s hard to imagine what the families are going through. I don’t know either of the girls, and a small part of me is just glad it wasn’t me. It could have been. It’s a fact I’ll never forget. But neither of the guys in the park were blonde. Legit statement or not, it’s gotta be something.

Mum frowns at the TV. “I don’t want you walking around anymore, Savannah,” she says. “Day or night.”

I let out a groan. She can’t be serious. “Mum, no one’s going to snatch me up in broad daylight.”

“You say that now, and the next thing you know you’re in the boot of someone’s car, en route to the last day of your life,” Jordan pipes up.

“Jordan, this isn’t funny!” mum snaps. Apparently the weekend she spent camping with him and his friends took its toll. “And I’m serious, Savannah; you’re not to go anywhere unless there’s someone else with you, do you understand?”

“Yes, mum.” I suppress a sigh. She’s worried, I know, but I don’t fancy the thought of being driven to school in her broken-down dinosaur. The thing spends more time being poked and prodded by mechanics than it does actually driving. I’ll have to see if Katie can take me.

I grab an apple and head upstairs. My phone sits on my desk. It’s good for being an alarm clock, but that’s all. I never use the stupid thing if I can help it. Grabbing it, I open a new message, type out ‘hey, think I can catch lifts with you to and from school? Mum doesn’t want me going anywhere alone.’ And send it to Katie.

She replies almost immediately ‘Jenna said the same thing. Be ready by 8’. I send a quick thanks, and dump my phone back on its designated spot.

I devour the apple, throwing the core in my bin. School tomorrow is going to be a nightmare.

 

The only thing anyone talks about all Monday is the latest disappearance. Jenna makes a mention that Hannah still hasn’t come home, brushing it off as her vying for attention. I’m not so sure, but don’t say anything. It seems a girl in my maths class knew Georgia; halfway through class she ran out in tears.

By Tuesday the hype’s died down a bit, replaced by a sort of fear. Who’s next? Are the victims random? If not, what do they have in common? Is it just that they’re females? Or that they’re young?

“I think everyone’s getting worked up over nothing,” Jenna says as we all pile in Katie’s car. “I don’t even think they were related. They were one-off’s.”

“You can’t get two one-off’s,” Ryan points out. “This is big. Like Jack the Ripper big.”

Katie picks at her cuticles, nervous. “You really think so?” she asks.

“Oh, yeah,” Ryan says then, seeing the look on her face, adds, “but the cops will catch them before it gets to that point. If they don’t, I’ll protect you.” He flexes his arms.

We all laugh. “Captain Ryan to the rescue,” I joke. “Toughest superhero in daycare.”

He scowls. “I am a fine specimen.”

“The finest there is,” Jenna coyly adds.

Ryan beams.

Katie pulls up at Jenna’s house. She says her goodbyes and hops out. Ryan is next, and then it’s just the two of us. Katie clears her throat nervously. “I need to stop in at dad’s work again; mum’s too useless to learn how to use a phone. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Why would I mind?” I ask.

She shrugs. “Well. I mean, Alex is there. You can wait in the car, if you want.”

I laugh. “Dinner wasn’t that bad. It was alright, actually,” I assure her.

We pull up at her dad’s garage, and the both of us hop out. “I’m glad. Jenna and I thought you were going to be single forever.”

I raise an eyebrow. We went out for dinner, we’re not getting married or anything. “Well, we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Katie nods. “Yeah, I guess.” She holds the door open for me. “James and I had a fight last night. I think he wants to – hi daddy!”

Pete is a scary man. He towers over everyone and speaks to you as if you’re on the opposite side of a field. To make things worse, he’s deep in conversation with Alex. When he sees us, his face breaks out in a grin. “Well, look what the cat dragged in!” he booms.

“Hi, Mr Winston.”

“Pete,” he corrects. He turns to Katie. “What does she want, now?”

“The keys to the shed.”

Pete scratches his chin thoughtfully. “They’re in my office somewhere. That woman. Come on, I’ll go look for them.” As they walk off, I hear him say, “what does she want to get in the shed for, anyway?”

Alex and I stand awkwardly, as I avoid looking at him. “Miss me?” he asks.

I scoff. “No.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

I risk a glance. He’s watching me carefully. “Saturday,” he says.

“What about it?”

“You busy?”

“Yes,” I lie.

He doesn’t fall for it. “Ten o’clock.”

“I’m going to the art gallery.” Another lie. “Care to join me?”

Alex gives me a look that clearly says ‘over my dead body’, but instead of saying that says, “yeah, why not.”

It’s completely unexpected, and I groan internally. Not because he agreed to come, but because I have no intention of visiting the art gallery. I hate art. Hate, hate, hate it. Squares of solid colour is not art. I sigh. “I’m kidding; I don’t even like art.”

The corner of Alex’s mouth curls upward. “I figured.”

Katie and Pete walk back in, and I subconsciously take a step back. Pete doesn’t even notice or, if he does, doesn’t care, but Katie gives me a look, and I feel my face heating up. This is more than enough confirmation of something happening. “Thanks for the key, dad. I’ll see you when you get home.”

He grumbles something about work. “I think I might just come home now. Bye girls.”

“Bye Mr Winston!” We hurry off, and the moment we’re in the car, Katie bombards me with questions.

“What happened? What’d he say?”

“Apparently we’re going out on Saturday,” I inform her. I hope he doesn’t actually expect to go to the art gallery.

Her face lights up. “Where to?”

I shrug. “No idea. He just said ‘Saturday, ten o’clock’, and it was settled.” I try and fail at mimicking his voice.

When Katie drops me off home, I go straight to the computer and look up things to do. Just on the off chance he doesn’t have anything planned, and wants me to suggest ideas. Unfortunately, our city doesn’t have much to offer.

We could go to the movies. I scroll through the sessions. Nothing interesting. So that’s out. Ice-skating? No... There are ballet classes... I spend a moment trying to imagine Alex in a tutu, attempting to balance on his toes, with his arms thrust in the air.

So, that’s out.

Apart from that, there’s the art gallery (over my dead body). I doubt we’re going to spend from ten onwards eating. We could go to the beach or the park. Or home... I sigh. Maybe he can think of something better. I’m not exactly an expert when it comes to the opposite sex.

The week passes quickly, and before I know it, it’s Saturday. Because I can’t get out of the house without mum knowing where I’m going and who I’m going with, she’s aware of my ‘date’ and, I swear it, she’s more excited than I am. She’s as bad as Jenna and Katie, if not worse.

“My baby girl is growing up and meeting boys!”

She’s still under the impression that we go to school together. Where she got the idea, I don’t know, but I figure I’ll let her run with it until she explicitly asks me his age. We can deal with it then.

“Make sure you stay with him.”

“Yes, mum.”

“The whole time. Don’t wander off on your own. It’s not safe.” She sighs. “Those poor girls.”

“I’m not going to,” I promise. The rapes and murders of the two girls are fresh in my mind, and most likely the rest of the city’s.

Oaton is, and always has been, a relatively quiet city. The crime rate is one of the lowest in the country, so to all of a sudden be faced with the possibility of a serial killer slash rapist... well, it’s had quite the effect on the place.

Most of the girls at school have similar stories to mine and Jenna’s; don’t go out at night, don’t go anywhere alone. It’s like the whole city has been put under curfew.

And still, in the back of my mind, that ever-present thought that it could have been me. Maybe those two men were just creepy. But what if they’re not? What would have happened to me if Alex hadn’t followed me?

I wouldn’t be worrying about a stupid Saturday date, that’s for sure. I hear a car pull up, and peek out the window. It’s Alex.

“I’m off!”

“Wait, I want to talk to him!”

Alex is about to close his door when I bound outside. “Excited?”

“We should go before my mum starts asking questions.” I hop in the passenger seat, and he drives off as mum gets outside. Do I feel guilty? A little bit. Regret it? Not at all.

“Was she gunna ask me around for dinner, or something?”

“No, she’d probably ask what classes you’re taking.” Alex throws me a sidewards glance. I sigh. “She thinks you go to school with me.” His frown deepens. “I’m not quite sure I’m ready to be murdered by my own mother.”

“So instead you tell her I’m a schoolie?”

“Well... no. She just assumed, so I’m going to allow her to assume as much until she asks. Besides, it might not reach that point,” I add.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning you could pick any girl up off the street. Any girl. Why me?”

“I’ve already told you.”

Because I’m interesting, I mentally recite. What a ridiculous excuse for coercing someone to go on two... dates with you. Even though it is silly, I can’t help the bubble of happiness that rises in me. He thinks I’m interesting. I hate parties, I don’t drink, hell, I don’t really do anything, and he still thinks there’s something in me that’s worth spending a Friday night and a Saturday with.

It’s like a small part of me has come back to life.

And then Alex pulls up out front of the art gallery, and that small part in me dies. I glance at him, but his face is blank. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No.” He steps out of the car, and I follow suit.

“You know I wasn’t serious!” He ignores me. “Alex. Hey! Come on, this is torture, and you know it.”

He walks up to the gallery, but instead of going in, keeps walking. Confused, I chase after him. We walk for about ten minutes before he turns into a cafe, holding the door open for me. I give him my best angry look. “What was the point of parking over there?” I ask.

Alex looks at me and shrugs. He walks up to the counter and orders two coffees. “You hungry?”

Yes. I didn’t have breakfast this morning. I slept in and ran out of time. “No, it’s fine, I...” His eyes bore into me, making me cringe. “I am a bit.”

“What do you want?”

Both he and the waitress are staring at me. Way to put me on the spot. “Uh...” I glance at the board, and then at the display case. “Um... scones! I’ll have a scone.”

“They come in threes.”

I nod. Just stop staring at me.

“Cream and jam?”

“Yes, please.”

“That won’t be a moment.”

Alex pays her and we sit by the window, staring out on the street. There aren’t too many people awake. “You didn’t have to buy me breakfast,” I tell him. “I don’t expect you to.”

“So you expect me to gorge myself while you sit there and watch?”

I shrug. “Why not?”

The waitress brings my scones around, then hurries off to make our coffees. “Uh... do you want one?” I hold the plate out to Alex.

“I don’t eat jam.”

“Oh. You’re not eating?” Obviously he isn’t, because he didn’t order anything else.

“I’m not hungry.” He watches me as I eat, and I self-consciously wipe my mouth of any runaway food, imagined or otherwise. “What are you doing? At school?” he asks after a while.

“Maths, intro to sociology and psychology, English and biology. I want to go to uni, be a psychologist. Foster kids. When I was younger I was terrified of the dark. It was so bad that I couldn’t even sleep at night. My mum took me to see a psychologist to help me get over it, and I’ve been fascinated with them ever since. How they work, and how they actually help people.”

The girl brings over our coffees, and we thank her. I take a sip before I plough on.

“They have these specific methods of helping people get over fears, right? It’s called deconditioning, the process of extinction. You write a list of the ten things you’re most scared of, worst at the top. And once a week they face you with that fear, starting at ten, down to one. The aim is that by the time you reach number one, you’re not afraid anymore.”

I feel proud of myself for remembering it all. It’s not that I’m a terrible student; I just have a habit of forgetting. Alex is watching me with an amused expression. He probably has no idea what I was talking about.

“Sorry. I get a bit carried away.” I shove some scone in my mouth so I don’t have to talk.

Alex just chuckles. “If you were boring me, you’d know.” He takes a drink of his coffee. “I hope you realise I haven’t planned anything after this.”

I stare for a second, then mentally sigh. Should have picked something while I was looking. Of course, it’s not exactly easy trying to figure out the things Alex would enjoy. He looks like the kind of person who doesn’t do anything outside of work. When I saw him at the party he looked as out of place there as I did.

“What exactly do you do when you’re not working?” I ask.

He shrugs. “I blow things up and shoot people.”

In other words, he’s not much different from Jordan. “And you’re not the size of a house. How is that possible?”

“I exercise. Come on.” We leave the cafe, and he promptly pulls out a packet of cigarettes. I know he smokes – I’ve smelt the nicotine on his breath – but I haven’t yet witnessed him doing it. “You mind?”

I shake my head, wondering if he’d still smoke if I said I did. Probably.

He pulls one out, shoves it in his mouth and lights it, all while balancing the coffee. I’ve never really gone for the smokers, but I must say he’s incredibly good-looking with one hanging off his lips. I blush.

Unfortunately, he notices. “What?”

“Nothing.” I shake my head furiously.

He exhales a mouthful of smoke. “You figured out what you want to do, yet?”

Me? Why am I the one who has to figure it out? It was his idea to go out in the first place. I scowl at him. “No. Why aren’t you thinking of anything?” Of course, when I really think about it, I don’t care what we do.

He shrugs. “You’re a girl; you should be bursting with ideas.”

“Well, I’m sorry for not living up to your expectations,” I say. “I guess we could–”

“Alex!”

We both turn to see a man bounding across the street. Alex obviously knows him, because he makes a noise that sounds as though it might be a sign of discontent. “Benny.”

“Hey, man! I haven’t seen you in ages, how ya doing?” He looks at me, does a onceover, then holds his hand out. “Benny.”

I shake it. “Savannah.”

He beams. “Man, you didn’t tell me you found yourself a girlfriend.” I blush at being referred to as his girlfriend. “But, I guess, he’s the quiet type, hey?” He nudges me, sees the glare on Alex’s face, and laughs.

I don’t know whether I should laugh or not. Alex certainly doesn’t look amused – well, he never really looks anything, but I’m slowly beginning to be able to distinguish between his normal face, and his anything else face. He looks anything but passive.

Maybe it’s that Benny referred to me as a ‘girlfriend’. Or it could simply be that he’s not too happy to see him. Does he not want me as a girlfriend? We’ve only met a few times, so we don’t know each other too well, but I can see myself with him. He doesn’t talk and I rarely stop.

“Don’t give me that look, man. Hey, there’s a party at Zoe’s next Friday. You going?” Benny asks.

Alex takes a long drag on his smoke. “Yeah, probably.”

Benny turns to me. “How bout you? Gunna be there?”

I blink. Apart from the fact I have no idea who ‘Zoe’ is, I don’t know if I’d be welcome. “I don’t... know...” I turn to Alex for help. He shrugs.

“You should come; it’ll be great,” Benny promises. He winks at me. “Starts at 7. I guess I’ll leave you two to it, then. See you Friday.” He claps Alex on the shoulder, and continues on down the street.

I watch him go. “He’s... different.”

“He’s a pain in the ass.”

“At least he can string two words together,” I joke. I want to ask him about the girlfriend comment Benny made. Does he consider me as much? Or am I just a girl he’s seeing? Is he seeing other girls as well? It’s probably too soon though, so I simply ask, “who’s Zoe?”

“A girl,” Alex replies simply. “Why? Are you jealous?”

I scoff. “No! Well, maybe...” Alex raises an eyebrow. “Yes.” I hang my head.

“Then come,” he tells me. “Keep me out of trouble.”

“I don’t think you can just invite people to someone else’s party, and I don’t really enjoy them that much, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed. You know what you want to do, yet?”

Ah, I forgot about that. “Well, we could watch a movie. Unless you don’t do movies, either.”

He gives me a looks that clearly says he thinks I’m retarded.

“I’ll take that as a no.” I smirk. “There’s still the art gallery, you know. Squares of colour aren’t really my thing, but I guess, deep down, you love the consistency.”

“Yeah, like hell. Is it safe to assume we’re going to my house?”

I nod. “Unless you want to get cosy with my mum and brother.”

When we reach his house, the first thing I see when I get inside is a giant ball of fur, and it’s almost the last thing as the giant ball of fur bounds into me, and I stumble back into Alex. If he wasn’t there, I probably would have split my head open on the pavement.

“Down, Bo!” Alex snaps, but the husky ignores him and continues to lick my face.

I laugh, because it’s funny, because I like dogs, and because I’ve never had one before. “Hey, boy!” I rough him on the back of the neck, which excites him even more. He barks and starts running in circles, stopping every now and then to bark again, just in case we lose interest.

“Ignore it,” Alex tells me. He directs me to the lounge room pointing out a rather impressive DVD collection. Bo follows us.

“But he’s so cute,” I gush.

Alex bats Bo away as the dog tries to lick his face. “What, more than me?”

I pretend to consider it for a moment. “Yeah,” I say. “Definitely.”

I browse through his movies. Most of them are action, thriller or horror. In the midst of them, I spot Shaun of the Dead. So much for not liking comedy. Pulling it out, I hold it up for confirmation.

Alex takes it, and I sit down with Bo while he sets the whole thing up. I’m worse at dealing with technology than my mother, and she can barely turn a TV on. Once, I tried playing one of my brother’s games – online, mind you – and I sucked so bad he screamed at me for half an hour. Something about ruining his kill streak.

When it’s all fixed up, Alex plops down next to me, reclining back on the arm. He points to an archway, where I can see a table and chairs. The dining room. “Kitchen’s through there; bathroom’s upstairs.”

“No tour?”

Again comes the ‘you must be an idiot’ look. I guess his gentlemanly qualities are restricted to paying for coffee and dinner, and holding doors open. Not that I mind, or anything.

The movie starts, and we fall silent. Every now and then I’ll comment on something, or Alex will make a smart remark, but apart from that, we don’t speak. At some point during the movie, I end up leaning against him, his arm slung around my waist, while I absent-mindedly fiddle with his rings. He doesn’t seem to mind, so I don’t bother to stop.

Near the end of the movie Bo begins to get excited again. Halfway through wrestling a ring off Alex’s pinky finger, he lets out a particularly loud bark, causing me to jump. He sits, wagging his tail furiously. I begin understand why Alex called him a pain. “Shut it.”

“Maybe he’s jealous because he’s not getting any attention,” I suggest. I manage to get the ring off his finger.

“He’s used to not getting any attention. He wants food.”

I shove the ring back on. “Why don’t you give him some, then?”

“Because the movie’s not over.”

I scowl. “But you-”

“Shh.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

I wake up on Monday morning with a message from Jenna. ‘OMG ryan asked me out’. I cringe at the complete lack of grammar.

‘That’s great!’ I reply. I knew it was coming. Katie knew it as well; Ryan’s had a crush on Jenna for ages, and in the past year Jenna slowly began to notice him.

I get ready for school, and wait out the front for Katie. When she arrives, I hop in the car and the first thing she does is ask me how Saturday went.

I grin, like the idiot I am. “It was great,” I tell her. “He bought me breakfast, and went to his place and watched some movies, had lunch, then he took me home. He gave me his number, too.”

“You didn’t already have it?” she asks.

“Well I don’t really use my phone, do I?” I say, shrugging. “Oh, and he has a dog called Bo. It’s a husky. You’d love him. But he is annoying; he kept barking and licking my face.”

“When are you seeing him again?” She pulls up out front of Jenna’s.

I shrug. “We ran into his friend, who invited me to this party on Friday. Alex said he’ll probably go, so I might show up as well. Otherwise I don’t know.”

As Jenna hops in the back, she beams at us. “Isn’t it exciting!” she exclaims. “None of us are single anymore!”

“I don’t think going to dinner and watching movies constitutes as being in a relationship, Jenna,” I tell her. I’m not exactly sure what Alex and I are. I figure it’s too soon to know, and too soon to ask.

“Of course it does.”

“It doesn’t...”

While Jenna and I bicker, Katie is silent. She waits until we stop before she says anything. “I’ve got some news, too,” she says.

Oh, God. She’s pregnant. I brace myself for the news.

“James and I broke up.”

A minute of stunned silence sweeps through the car, and for a moment, I think it’s a joke. Katie and James are perfect together. They’ve been dating for the better part of three years.

“You what!

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask. “I mean, you’re not actually serious.”

Katie nods. “He says he needs space.”

“What a prick!” Jenna leans forward, hanging off the back of my seat.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she says.

She’s lying; I know she is. Her eyes are full of tears that she’s desperately trying to hold back, and her hands are shaking. I wonder if that might be me one day. I hope not.

“Why don’t we all go out after school?” I suggest. “Go to the movies.” I don’t really know what to say, but hopefully a movie will take her mind off him.

“I can’t,” Katie says. “I’m working.”

“Ryan and I are going out.”

Well. There goes that brilliant idea. “Tomorrow?”

Katie shrugs. “I guess so.”

“I can do tomorrow!” 

“Tomorrow it is, then.”

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