His hair wasn't clean

His hair wasn't clean. That was the first thing I noticed about the strange boy on the bicycle. It was as blonde as my own and nearly as long, but it wasn't clean.

He was dressed all in black—black helmet, black trench coat, black shirt, black jeans, black backpack, even black shoes.

I'd heard him come up behind me and I'd turned to see who it was. For a split second, we stared at each other—he had startlingly brilliant green eyes—but it was only for a second, because then he was past me. His trench coat flew out behind him as he coasted down the sidewalk, and it made him look as if he had wings.

I stood still, watching him until he'd disappeared around the far corner. I wondered who he was as I resumed my walk towards the library. He wasn't from my high school, even though he had looked to be about my age. And if he was over here, he certainly wasn't from the other high school—it was all the way across the district. Maybe he was at the middle school; this was about the time they usually let out. But it was quite a hike from there to here, even on a bicycle. Why didn't he take the bus?

I pondered this all the way to the library and all the way home. I'd picked up a few of my favorite books: Les Misérables, Witch Week, and The Silver Kiss. It was this last which especially reminded me of the strange boy- he'd struck me as being an awful lot like the main character, a teenage vampire named Simon. I wondered if I would see him again.

* * * * * * * *

Three days later, I had nearly forgotten him. It was a gloriously sunny Friday afternoon, and several of the high schoolers had trekked over to McDonalds for lunch. It's only about two blocks from the school, so it's a popular hangout.

I was sitting at my own little table, reading and slowly eating my burger. I paid no attention to the argument going on at the counter. That is, until the taller of the two boys literally lifted the other boy off his feet and threw him through the air.

He landed in the middle of my table with a crash, scattering my lunch. Instantly I recognized the boy on the bicycle—he wore the same clothes he had on Tuesday. I whipped around to face the boy who'd thrown him.

"Back off Justin!" I said, recognizing the senior quarterback of our football team.

"That little %@I$#! just called me a—" he began indignantly.

"That's because you are one," I interrupted sweetly. "Now back off!"

He stood, frustrated, for several seconds, looking back and forth between me and the boy, before turning on his heel and stomping out.

"He's not worth it," he muttered as he left. His friends followed him.

I turned and helped the boy to his feet. "You okay?" I asked.

He nodded. "You shouldn't have done that. He could've hurt you."

I shook my head. "He won't hit a girl. Trust me, he goes to my school. What's your name?"

He hesitated for a second. "Ian," he said at last.

I nodded, satisfied. "I'm Danielle."

"Yeah," he mumbled. "Thanks. I owe you one. See ya." Then he was out of the restaurant and off down the street on his bike. I stared after him until I couldn't see his coattail flapping in the wind.

* * * * * * * *

After that, I began to see him around school. He wasn't in any of my classes, but sometimes we would pass each other in the halls, and I would flash him a quick smile. He never smiled back, but I knew he noticed.

I remember the day he paid me back for the favor I'd done him in stopping Justin. It was a Friday, and Alex Perkins had caught up with me after school. He was the stereotypical jock—gorgeous and good at sports, but more brawn than brain.

"Hey Danielle," he began, "you interested in going bowling this weekend or something?"

"Not really, sorry," I told him, quickening my pace. Although a month ago I'd told him flat out that I couldn't stand him, he never really seemed to have gotten the hint and was constantly on my case, wondering if I wanted to do this or that.

"Aw, how come?" he whined. "You never do anything with me."

It wasn't my fault; I'd had a bad day, and his words just hit a wrong nerve. I whirled on him. "And do you know why that is?" I exclaimed, my voice rising. "Because I can't stand you! We are not dating; we are not even friends!"

"What are you trying to say?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.

I rolled my eyes heavenward for patience. "I'm trying to say," I said very, very quietly, "that I am sick and tired of you asking me to do things with you. Now go away and bug someone else. Do you understand?"

He straightened, and gave me a long look.

"No," he said, just as quietly.

"No?"

"No, I don't understand. I won't go away, Danielle. I like you. And I want you to be my girlfriend. Do you understand?"

There was something incredibly terrifying in the way he said that. I looked around, desperate for an escape, but he had neatly backed me into a corner, and with him leaning into my face like that, I was trapped.

"No," I said in a tiny voice. Suddenly I caught a whiff of his breath, and it was heavily laden with alcohol. He was drunk. That explained a lot, since I knew he'd never acted this way in his life. That was a good thing, because he worked out and could probably have beaten the crap out of the entire football team.

"No?" he bellowed, and I flinched, expecting to be slapped.

The slap didn't come, and suddenly I heard Alex turn around. I opened my eyes carefully.

"What do you want, punk?" Alex asked, his eyes glittering dangerously at Ian, who had evidently distracted him. I was exceedingly grateful.

"I want you to leave her alone," Ian told him.

"Who's gonna make me?" Alex wanted to know.

"I don't think you want to find out," Ian answered calmly.

This infuriated Alex, who swung a fist at Ian. I gasped as Ian deftly sidestepped him and grabbed his arms, twisting them behind his back and forcing Alex to his knees.

"When I let you up," Ian whispered in his ear, so quietly that even I could barely hear him, "you are going to turn around and go about your own business. You are never, and I mean never, to bother Danielle again. You are not even to speak to her. Do you understand?"

Without waiting for an answer, he released Alex. To my amazement the boy immediately obeyed Ian's commands, turning and walking off without so much as a glance in my direction.

"Thank you," I whispered weakly, my knees shaking so hard that I had to sit down.

"Are you all right?" Ian asked courteously. I was too shocked to do more than nod. Satisfied, Ian dashed off around a corner. By the time I'd mustered enough strength to stand up again, he was long gone.

After that, we began to make a sort of game out of sticking up for each other. Whenever one of us came across the other in an unpleasant situation, we would bail each other out. But that was always the extent of our friendship—we never hung out together or even talked.

It wasn't until the last day of school before summer vacation that I really talked to him again. Or, more correctly, before I ran into him again.

When the last bell rang, the whole school poured out of the doors, cheering and chattering. They began to go their separate ways, piling into buses or cars or streaming across the street that ran next to the high school. Ian was one of those who walked, and he crossed the street at the crosswalk just beside the student parking lot. Unfortunately, that meant most of the upperclassmen were just driving out of the lot—and paying more attention to their passengers than to the road in front of them.

I saw the truck coming, and let out a yell that startled most of the people around me. Unfortunately, the one person who really needed to hear me didn't. Shoving several kids aside, I raced into the street and threw myself into Ian. We crashed to the pavement, Ian going into a forward roll and getting clear of the oncoming truck. Unfortunately, I wasn't as lucky.

I heard an awful screech, and then something that felt like a giant baseball bat slammed into my stomach. There was a crunching sound, which I later realized was my ribs breaking, and then Ian was leaning over me. I could see his lips moving, but all I heard was a faint hum as my world slowly faded to black.