I met Bryce in sixth grade when I moved to Hoffman from Philadelphia. On the first day of school, it was all I could do to keep myself from passing out from nervousness. In Philadelphia I'd lived in a nice area but Hoffman was so different - never before had I seen school-age kids clothed in Lacoste polos and Armani jeans. Little girls walked around carrying their books in Prada backpacks and constantly reapplying Chanel lip-gloss. Every inch of Hoffman both amazed and terrified me. And then Bryce came along.

The bell rang just after I sank wearily into an empty desk in the front row. Of the five desks in the front row, the three from the middle of the row to the window at the end of the row were occupied. The two open seats were closer to the right side of the room, in front of the teacher's desk. Being painfully shy, I took the seat closest to the wall - leaving an empty seat between myself and the scrawny boy in the middle desk.

After the bell rang, the teacher stepped up to the front of the room. She was young - thirty at the very most - and pretty; her chin-length wavy hair was the color of gold and her eyes looked exactly like the amber stones in the favorite bracelet of my mother. Her name was Miss Morris, which I knew from my schedule and right away I knew that she was nice. With a welcoming smile, Ms. Morris took the attendance, marking all twenty-two people present. One boy's name caused several girls to giggle and swoon while my name made people look around to room to see who I was.

"Welcome to the sixth grade! I'm Miss Morris, your language arts and social studies teacher," she said sweetly. "Now, I know that a lot of you already know each other but I was thinking that we could do an activity to make sure that every person in here knows at least two other people."

A few people groaned, a few sounded excited.

"I counted off the names on the attendance sheet by sevens and came up with these groups." She turned on the overhead and I saw six groups of three names and one group of four names. My name was located in a group with Chris Allard and Bryce Montgomery. My stomach began to ache; I was in a group with two boys. It wasn't that I didn't like boys; I just would've liked to have had a girl to identify with. But I didn't. And so it became that I met the soon-to-be-legendary Bryce Montgomery.

Miss Morris sent our groups to different places around the room, ours ending up in a pile of mutli-colored beanbag chairs. I nervously sat in a bright red one, the vinyl making strange sounds under my weight and several cushy white pellets seeping from a long-forgotten split in the seam whenever I moved. The two boys sat on two of the other beanbags - the red head on a yellow one and the sandy-blond boy on a black one. The red head was scrawny and gawky with deep green eyes and freckles littering his face like dirt. And the other boy was surprisingly good looking with his perfect sandy hair and intense blue eyes, set amongst naturally tan skin that was free of any imperfections. He was tall (though not overly so) and thin, like any normal sixth grader. But it was his aura that did me in - it was almost as if he knew exactly what he would become. He had such a mysterious confidence about him that made it slightly hard to even look him in the eye.

"I'm Bryce," he said in a buttery-smooth voice. A smile rose on his face, one that was a tiny bit malicious, and he turned to the other boy - Chris. "But Allard already knew that."

Chris squirmed nervously. "E-everybody knows that," he said quietly.

"She didn't."

"W-what's your n-name?" Chris asked me, not making any eye contact.

I almost said Katelyn, which was truly my name, but a thought broke into my mind; I'd been Katelyn for all of my life and it was time for a change. Kate was far too boring and I detested the name Lynn. So another option was decided upon. "Katie."

"And where are you from, Katie?" Bryce asked, emphasizing my name.

I felt my cheeks blush. "Philadelphia," I muttered, hoping that the accent I was sure I had wouldn't seep through.

"Do you like it here?"

"So far. It's so warm and pretty here. Plus, my house is really big so that helps a lot."

He smiled, though it wasn't malicious like the one on his face when he'd talked to Chris. The one he had set on me was slightly intimidating, like he was trying to size up my strength. Or maybe he was amused by me.

I looked away from him, knowing that speaking so many words had revealed far too much of my accent. The beanbag that I was perched on blurred below me, the bright red of it blending together with my jeans. I thought I would be sick - I was so embarrassed about my accent and I'd gone and shown it to the best looking boy that I'd ever seen.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Miss Morris called over all of the talking and giggling. "I want you to find out five interesting facts about each of your group members."

"Katie." His voice floated into my ears and warmed me up inside. He had an amazing voice; one that could probably talk a person into anything.

I looked up to see his blue eyes staring into mine. My heart jumped and I actually thought that I'd had a heart attack. However, I had no such luck. "Yeah?" I asked shakily.

"Tell me four interesting things about yourself."

"Four?"

"You already told me one," he reminded me with a smile.

"Oh. . . uh. . . I play basketball and. I have a rabbit named Rosie and. . . and I can't think of anything else."

"What did you like to do in Philadelphia?"

"I loved going to Sixers games. My dad worked in their offices so we always got free tickets."

"See, there are plenty of interesting things about you," he assured me. "One more."

"Um. . . I've broken my collar bone."

"Ouch. Were you getting too frisky?"

My face grew hot; like it had been set on fire. But my stomach was the more pressing issue - it was jumping and flipping and twisting like an Olympic gymnast. "No. . . I fell off the slide when I was like six."

"That sucks. I've never broken my collar bone but I have broken my foot and my leg and my arm. Oh! And I cracked a vertebrae a long time ago."

I winced - how had a sixth grader broken so many bones? He didn't have any visible wounds or scars so I knew that it hadn't been a recent car accident but no other explanations came to mind. Maybe he loved danger?

"I play a lot of sports," he told me, almost as if he'd known that I'd been wondering.

"W-well, we know Katie's five so B-Bryce, why don't y-you tell us y-yours?" Chris piped up.

Bryce slowly moved his face from me to Chris, his face contorting as he did so. A hateful swirl spun quickly through his eyes and anchored in the middle, branching out to the rims. "If you wish," he spat. "I've broken four bones, I sail, I went to France over the summer and I like going to Marlins games."

"That was only f-four."

"And I play football because I love to tackle people," he warned.

Sensing that the situation could get very bad very quickly, I intervened. "Chris, what are your five?"

Chris smiled nervously and looked away from me. He crossed his arms over his lap (which utterly disgusted me) and began breathing very rapidly. "This s-summer I m-made a new computer program, I went to C-Connecticut, I g-got a new l-lizard, my d-dad bought a new c-car, and my d-dog ate my tarantula."

"No way," Bryce breathed, trying not to burst out laughing. He looked away from us and allowed a few silent laughs to escape.

"Y-yeah, it was n-neat."

But Bryce wasn't laughing about any specific thing that had been said, he was laughing because Chris was a nerd and a very big one at that. Part of me felt bad for Chris but the other part wanted to laugh along with Bryce. It was strange; not being able to see the part of Bryce that everyone else saw. It was almost a glimpse into his future but I chose not to see it that way. All I saw was him; Bryce Montgomery. And I fell in love with him right away.

****

A month into seventh grade, we went on a field trip with our science class. The field trip was to a large camp-type place in a wooded area of the hills outside of Hoffman. There was a lake and, in our week long stay, we would be able to swim at least once. Or so our teacher promised.

A tiring hike through the hills, collecting leaves and flowers, took up the first day. And, four hours after beginning, we returned and were told that we could go swimming for two hours. We were all excited, even though it was October and quite chilly outside.

Lauren Erickson (my best friend at the time) and I changed into our bathing suits and scampered out of the girls' cabin, holding fluffy beach towels around ourselves. Everyone was already out there - including Bryce, who'd been the first to jump into the icy-cold water. I watched in awe as he hoisted Tyra Brinaski onto his shoulders and toted her around. But I hated Tyra for it, even though I was fully aware of the fact that they were just friends. Jealousy, however, neglects to see the line between friendship and love.

After about an hour of swimming, everyone was out of the water and clothed in warm jeans and sweatshirts. Lauren and I were sitting on our sleeping bags, playing speed, when Tyra came up to us. Tyra was a really pretty blond girl who was one of the sweetest people I'd ever met and would remain so for the rest of my life.

"Do you guys wanna play truth or dare with a bunch of us?" she asked sweetly.

"Of course!" Lauren giggled excitedly.

"Katie?"

I shifted nervously; trying to make myself say yes. Being so shy, truth or dare was a hard game for me to play but I wanted so badly to play, since there was a chance that Bryce would be playing too. And Bryce was the only reason that I chose to say yes. "Yeah, I guess I will."

Lauren and I abandoned our Spice Girls cards and followed Tyra through the cabin and out to the campfire area of the forest. A group of close to ten had gathered, including Bryce. Tyra walked lightly over to him and sat down, very close to him. My insides twisted and my mouth went dry when I saw her say something to him and saw him reply with a big smile. I felt my heart literally skip a beat - as corny as it was - when his eyes met mine and he smiled.

"I wanna go first!" an annoying girl named Lucia exclaimed. Lucia Jennings was a lively redhead who thought she was insanely hilarious when, in truth, she got on everyone's nerves. But she'd somehow managed to get and stay popular, even though most of the popular people wanted to kill her.

"Fine," Bryce groaned. His eyes darted from Lucia to me and he smiled again - weakly this time. Before I could smile back or even try to respond in any way, he looked down at the ground. I would've never in a million years guessed (or believed) that, at that moment, Bryce Montgomery was nervous. Because of me.

"Katie," Dane Warren said with a muted grin. "Truth or dare?"

I almost chose truth but I decided that I needed to take a risk. And it was a risk that I would never regret. "Dare."

"Kiss Bryce."

A murmur went through the group, being as Bryce and I had yet to be touched in the game. And because every girl in the group wanted to be in my place. My nerves took over; making me feel very sick. I wanted to run away and cry because, not only was I more embarrassed than I ever had been in my short life, but also because I didn't think I could do my dare.

Bryce and I both stood up and walked very slowly towards each other. We weren't far apart but our distance seemed like miles. Everyone (all ten-or- so of them) stared at us, expecting something magical. They'd all known that this match-up would happen because they'd been informed of the scheme that Bryce's and my friends had concocted. Without my knowledge and very little of Bryce's, they'd planned the entire thing and notified the game's players that Bryce and I were not to be touched until Dane's dare.

"Hi," I whispered nervously when we got close enough for no one else to hear.

"Hey."

"Good game."

"Are you ready?"

"Y-yeah." But I wasn't in the least. I was so nervous and I wanted to scream at everyone for what they were making me do. But there was the slightest piece of me that wanted to do it. Because I loved him - I'd had a crush on him for over a year and, in middle school, that constituted love.

He tried to smile at me but it seemed to fail him. Instead, he simply leaned forward and pressed his lips to mine.

Five. The count seemed like an eternity. But my stomach jumped and fluttered more when we'd parted than it had when we'd actually been kissing. The game continued with me staring into space, not caring about what else went on. Finally, Lauren and I were able to withdraw from the game. We walked back to the cabin in silence, me not wanting to talk and her being hardly able to hold words in. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I thought of Bryce as we walked. I couldn't believe what I'd done.

"Katie, I forgot that I need to go talk to Melanie. And then we should go explore this place," Lauren said quickly when we'd gotten back to the cabin. She stepped back towards the door and forced out a smile. "Meet me at the campfire in like five minutes, okay?"

"Uh, okay. I'll see you in five." I didn't understand why I couldn't have gone to talk to Melanie with her, being as I too was friends with Melanie. But I didn't quested Lauren as she rushed off through the door into the steadily darkening evening.

To pass the five minutes, I jammed Lauren's deck of cards back into their tattered box and got my sleeping bag ready to lounge in when we returned from 'exploring.' As I spread my navy blue sleeping bag onto the floor next to Lauren's purple one, I overheard two girls talking about me.

"That's the girl who kissed Bryce," the first whispered.

"Katie? No way!"

"It was during truth or dare but I heard that he likes her."

"Well, everyone knows that she wants to marry him," the second said in a very hushed voice.

"Ew. I really hope that they don't go out."

"I know! She totally does not deserve him."

"For real! He should go out with someone good, like one of us," the first giggled.

I pit my lip and almost felt like crying. How could those girls feel so badly towards me just because I'd gotten dared to kiss Bryce? Yeah, I liked him but that shouldn't turn people that I barely knew against me. But middle school was exactly like that.

As the two girls snickered, I stood up and walked very quickly from the cabin. Towards the campfire I shuffled, holding in my hurt. The leaves on the trees rustled together in the autumn wind, closing me in and making me hurt even more. I refused to look up until I reached the campfire, in case I came across anyone else who would hate me because of my dare.

I looked up once I smelled the cinder of the extinguished fire. No one was there - not that I immediately saw, that is. It was dark, completely dark, as I sat on one of the log benches that circled the fire at what was deemed to be a safe distance. And, as I slipped down to a much lower level, I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before.

Bryce.

"Hey, Katie."

I clenched my jaw and prayed that the darkness would cover up my reddening face. A strong hate for Lauren brewed in me; she'd set me up and, because of it, I looked like an idiot. "Hey. . . ." "Thanks for coming to talk to me."

"It's no sweat," I lied, as if I'd known. "What's up?"

"I was really happy when Tyra said that you liked me back."

"W-what?"

"Tyra said that she asked you if you liked me," he said quietly, realizing that I'd been set up.

"She didn't. But she may've asked Lauren."

"Yeah, I suppose that's possible."

"Wait a second."

"Yeah?"

"You said that you were happy that I liked you back."

"Yeah. . . what's your point?"

"So that means that you like me?"

"I thought you knew that already?"

"I didn't, actually."

"Oh." He looked at the ground and began very nervously playing with his hands.

"So. . . what are we supposed to do now?"

It took a long time for Bryce to look up and, when he finally brought his eyes to mine, there was more of a sparkle in them. A smile aroused and disguised his normally sullen face. "Well, if we both like each other then we should do something about it, right?"

I nodded.

"So, will you go out with me?"

I nodded again, this time with a smile.

Noticing that I was shivering, Bryce stood up and walked over to me. "C'mon, I'll walk you back," he said, extending his hand.

I took his hand and stood up, being very surprised when our hands stayed clasped as we began to walk. The walk was awkwardly silent with us holding hands but still being very far apart. But it was great.

When we got to the cabin, I was about to go up the steps and back inside but Bryce, who was still holding my hand, pulled me back. He pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me.

"Thanks for saying yes."

"Thanks for asking."

He blushed and very quickly kissed me. "I'll see you in the morning."

I walked dreamily inside and bounded straight up to Lauren. "He asked me out!"

"Really? Oh my god!"

"I know! And he held my hand and kissed me! It was. . . perfect!"

"I knew it would be!" she said matter of factly.

"Yeah, about that. . . ."

Lauren smiled nervously but I only laughed.

Bryce and I spent most of the remainder of our time at the camp together. And, because we were always with Bryce, Lauren and I officially joined his group of friends and we all got along great. But I didn't pay much attention to them because Bryce was there and he was the only one who I wanted to see. It was wonderful; we walked around holding hands, sat together at meals and spent our free time together. I couldn't speak for Bryce but I knew that I fell in love with him that very week, despite the strong feelings I'd had for him before.

****

Bryce and I went out for nearly six months before I actually summed up the courage to sleep with him. It took so long because I was only a seventh grader but I did it because I loved him. I really did love him. Our first time was nothing like the movies; not perfect like they always made it out to be. No, it was awkward and painful but very sweet too. And I loved him so that made it all worth it.

"Are you sure you were ready for that?" he asked afterwards, when we were getting dressed.

"Yeah. . . I've been ready for a long time." I pulled on my rose-print tank top and glanced curiously over at him. His eyes were glazed over as he tied his pristine black Nike's, but a very faint and very dopey smile was slowly moving onto his mouth.

"Katie?" he asked after a long pause.

I finished tying the laces of my white Jake Purcell's and looked up at him. He was still looking down but his eyes now looked more determined than glazed. "Yeah?"

"I love you."

"You don't need to say that."

"I know. But I really do."

"Are you sure?"

"Completely."

"Then I love you too." I couldn't suppress a smile as he leaned back and kissed me softly, a spark looming in his sapphire-blue eyes.

Bryce walked me home that day and kissed me goodbye as we stood on my doorstep, under the drizzly April sky. My mind was spinning and my heart was beating so fast that it was only a hum in my ears and a nagging vibration under my ribs. He loved me. I didn't care about what had happened - what we'd done - because his saying that he loved me was ringing in above all else. He loved me. Bryce Montgomery loved me and he'd willingly admitted it.

As I watched him walk towards home, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans, I knew that it was going to be perfect between us because love was forever.

****

It was the summer before our freshman year when one of my friends told me that she'd seen Bryce making out with another girl at a party that I hadn't been able to go to. I asked him about it, figuring that it was just a misunderstanding, but he wasn't even able to remember what he'd done the night of the party. It was a huge blow to me - how could a person who loved someone go and be unfaithful to them? Especially after being together for so long.

I called Bryce a week after I'd found out and five days after he'd admitted to being too drunk to remember what had happened at the party. I hadn't talked to him since then and, as I held the phone to my ear, I was so afraid of what might happen next. We had yet to break up and I didn't want to but he'd cheated on me so a thought of him being unhappy with me was stuck in my mind. He wanted to break up with me because he was unsatisfied - and I knew it.

"Hey," I said in an ultra-sweet voice once Bryce's evil housekeeper finally put him on the phone. "What's up?"

"Nothing." He paused, which he did a lot, especially when he was really nervous. "Why haven't you called me?"

"I called you. . . ."

"Are you pissed at me or something?"

"What do you think?"

"Katie, don't mess around, okay? Are you pissed at me or not?"

"I am. And I think I have every right to be!" I snapped angrily. Of course I was mad at him! How stupid was he to think that I might feel just fine towards him?

"I'm sorry that I don't remember what happened. I can't control what I do when I'm smashed," he replied calmly.

"You shouldn't have been smashed!"

"So now I can't drink?

"You can drink but you shouldn't be getting so drunk that you can't remember who you made out with!"

"I said I'm sorry! What the hell else should I say?"

"I want you to promise that you'll never do it again!"

"How can I promise something like that?"

"Excuse me? Are you trying to say that you'll do it again?" I asked in disbelief. Was he serious? I couldn't believe that he could actually say something so cruel to me!

"I don't plan on it but it could happen again without my knowing."

"I can't believe you!"

"You can't believe me?" he growled in a very intense and frightening way that made me shiver. "You're the one who's unbelievable, Katie! I apologized and you just won't give it up! Stop acting like I owe you something else!"

"But you do, Bryce!" I cried. "I slept with you and you told me that you loved me. that means that you owe me."

"Maybe so but I just can't deal with this anymore."

"You. . . you're trying to. . . what are you trying to say?"

"I think we need some time apart."

"Like a break?"

"No."

"God. . . are you sure?"

"Yes," he said firmly.

I hung up on him and sat on my bed with my head in my hands. Bryce and I were done. . . over. The one that I loved was gone and I would never, ever get him back.

Or so I'd thought. But I was so wrong. Bryce really was in love with me and he came back within a month of breaking up with me. We talked it over and got back together. I was happy again and a smile finally made its way back onto my depression-ridden face.

By the end of the summer, we'd broken up again. And we'd also decided not to get back together again. I was upset but, to prove that I wasn't, I dated a few boys, one of whom I spelt with. His name was Brandon Madison and Bryce absolutely hated him. I'd originally planned to let it "slip" to Bryce that I'd slept with his enemy but, when I looked him in the eye, I couldn't bring myself to hurt him like that. After all, I still loved him.

And it was nothing but love that made me kiss his as we were hanging out in my room one day in ninth grade. I let go all of my inhibitions, told my subconscious to shut up and kissed him the way that I always used to kiss him. It was just like before and totally flawless - until he pulled away from me.

"I don't want a girlfriend right now," he said in an uneven voice.

"That's okay," I assured him. "I don't want a boyfriend either."

"Then what are we doing?"

"Having fun."

"Are you sure?"

"It's just sex, Bryce."

And so it went. Bryce and I slept together again and, afterwards, he asked me if we could keep doing the casual sex thing. I agreed, knowing that it would draw him back to me and we'd soon be a couple again.

We dated several more times throughout high school but we always broke up. What didn't end, however, was us sleeping together. And we stayed great friends through it all. High school (even without us officially dating) was perfect; he was the star athlete and I got to cheer for him, we went to homecomings and formals and proms together, we partied together and we slept together. It was perfect - for both of us. But it didn't carry over into our final year of high school. Senior year was. . . indescribable. And nothing in the world could've prepared me for it.