The tiny rapping sound grew steadily louder and more persistent, but I knew better than to run off to meet danger and invite it in for tea (as I had done in the past...). Still, I would feel very foolish if it were just a branch scraping over the glass. And I'd never get to sleep!

Remember the wooden bat I'd kept by my bed before I was kidnapped? Well, my parents had invested in a metal bat upon my homecoming. I grabbed said weapon before tiptoeing to the window.

As I crept closer, the thing on the other side began to hiss its frustration, trying in vain to force the window open. At least whatever it was was sentient. That's a plus.

Wielding the bat with both hands, I silently unlatched the window so that the assailant could come in. As the window slowly opened, I heard a distinct, triumphant, "All right!" on the other side.

It's a person!! Oh, no, I am not going through this again!

With that thought in mind, I readied myself for the imminent attack. As soon as two feet touched the ground, I released a mighty shout and swung the bat as hard as I could into the trespasser's head. I heard a grunt, then a thump! as the intruder hit the floor.

Proud of myself, I skipped giddily to the light switch so I could look upon the criminal I'd just clobbered. But as soon as I saw his face, I blanched.


My face became a ghostly pallor and cold to the touch as I rushed to his side, trying to check for injuries. I'd clocked him pretty good, so he'd have quite a knot on his head, but I hadn't broken his nose or anything, as far as I could tell. For a moment, I was overcome with feelings of sentimentality and rapture. He had come back for me after all.

Unless he was back to his old, thieving ways and I'd just happened to get lucky.

I didn't truly panic until I heard two people thundering up the stairs. Quickly, I dragged Isaac's heavy body over to the other side of my bed, where he wouldn't be seen. It was a gamble, but I didn't exactly have the time to find anything better.

Just as I had him properly hidden, the light out, and I'd hopped back into bed, my parents exploded into the room. "What's the matter?! We heard a scream! Are you all right?!" My dad shouted, armed with a flashlight and an unloaded gun, which also had the safety on (shh, don't tell anyone).

I pretended to be abruptly awoken by them, squinting in aggravation at the bright light (I didn't really have to fake that). "Mom? Dad? What's the matter?"

They seemed to be unequivocally puzzled, and I held back a laugh at their mystified expressions.

"Um... hm. You're okay then, Nevaeh?" My mother asked, brow furrowed in consternation. My dad was scratching his head. They both remained near the doorway, thank God.

My heart was beating wildly against my rib cage, my blood pressure had likely skyrocketed, and my hands were shaking badly, but I kept up my cool exterior. "I'm fine. Really. Go back to bed."

They headed back to their room, still confused beyond belief. If I hadn't been in such dire circumstances, I would have rolled off my bed in laughter and then patted myself on the back for such an extraordinary performance.

But there was no time for that.

I peeked back over the side of the bed, slowly, just in case I'd dreamed the whole thing and he wasn't there anymore. To my everlasting shock, there he lay, just as still and as silent as I'd left him. The only thing that kept me from worrying about his health was the steady, peaceful rise and fall of his chest.

For two hours I laid that way, peering over the edge of my bed and just watching him, all the while with a gentle smile on my face. He showed no signs of stirring, and I didn't plan to rouse him anytime soon. Occasionally I would reach down to caress his cheek with my fingertips, abruptly lose my nerve, and scoot backward until only my eyes remained unhidden by the sheets.

Then, just as I was nodding off, his eyes slowly opened, narrowed in confusion. He sat up slowly, feeling the bump on his head with growing agitation. But when he saw me grinning cheekily down at him, his eyes widened in horror as he flew backward, hitting his already sore head on my dresser. I leaped away from the bed and held my hands up in placid surrender, so as not to alarm him and cause him to further injure himself.

"Take it easy. Just calm down." I told him gently.

When I saw him approaching me with fire in his eyes, it occurred to me that he had no intention of taking my advice. His arms wrapped around my waist as he pulled me tightly against him, and all I could do was reciprocate.

I could not possibly describe with words how good it felt to be in his arms again, occupying the same space, breathing the same air, feeling his heartbeat galloping in sync with mine.

He pulled back and cupped my face in his hands, smiling at me in a way that told me he felt exactly about me as I did about him. I wanted to cry. My sneaking suspicion was only confirmed when he leaned down and kissed me hard, murmuring expressions of happiness against my lips.

When we pulled away, I became aware of twin trails of tears making their way down my face. "I thought I'd never see you again." I managed to sputter awkwardly.

"Did you actually think moving out of state could hide you from me?" He grinned and kissed me again, tenderly this time.

"Where are the others?" I asked, wiping the tears from my eyes.

His expression turned abruptly grim. "I managed to meet up with Brooke, Joseph, and Autumn. Ben and Levi were caught and taken to the local jail. After I'm done here, I'll go break them out."

I couldn't help but notice that he'd left someone out, and although I knew she and her sister had always hated me, I still wanted to know if she was all right. She was, after all, part of the team. "You didn't mention Miranda. Is she okay?"

Isaac frowned deeply. "We lost her. I have no idea where she is right now. Autumn is devastated." His face fell and he shook his head, sighing. "I feel really bad for her. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose Brooke, and we're not even twins."

"Oh, no." I felt tears welling up again. "Poor Miranda. You guys were her family. And now, she's lost you. She's alone." I swallowed a huge lump in my throat and tried not to completely break down. Since when had I been so empathic?

The moment Isaac began to look concerned, which was almost immediately, was when I brought my emotional outburst to an abrupt and forceful halt. I furiously wiped the tears from my eyes and stubbornly glared at the floor, willing my emotions to shut up.

"I'm sorry." He said shamefully, looking down at his feet.

This caused my head to snap upward – I nearly gave myself whiplash – and my eyes to stare at him, dumbstruck. "Why? You came back for me. What could you possibly have to be sorry for?"

He peered at me with his impossibly dark eyes. "I shouldn't have come here. I wanted to see you just one last time before I-"

"What? One last time? Forgive me if I'm being a little slow but I was under the impression that-" I paused to regain normal breathing. "That I would be going back with you."

"I'm so, so sorry. I didn't mean to lead you on. I just had to see you again. I couldn't stand being away from you for more than two seconds. I was desperate to find you. Joseph couldn't stand being around me. Brooke thought it was cute that I was so lovesick." I tried to stop his rambling before he could go further, but he paid me no mind. "So what I'm trying to say is that I-" He cleared his throat and drew in a deep breath. "I pretty much have the biggest crush on you. Ever. Like, the most enormous crush that has ever been recorded in the history of forever."

I smiled. "Are you trying to say that you're in love with me?"

He shrugged. "I'm just sayin'."

I smiled and threw my arms around his neck, pushing myself upward to meet his lips. "I love you, too." I muttered under my breath, quietly so that he wouldn't be able to hear me. But when he smiled and kissed me with more fervor, I knew that he had.

When the moment had passed, he unlatched my arms from around his neck and stepped back, staring at me with a crestfallen expression. I watched him, confused.

"That's the problem." My heart dropped into my stomach. "That's why I can't take you with me. I can't- I won't bring you down to my level. I love you too much." He explained.

The lump in my throat was back with a vengeance. "Listen, if you're worried that I'll get in the way or something-"

"It's not that. I just don't want you to get mixed up in all this again. It would be better if I just disappeared and you moved on."

"What about you, though?"

He tossed me a sad smile. "You're the first girl I ever loved. I will probably never really get over you."

My mind reeled as I groped blindly for more excuses. At the risk of sounding as obsessive and needy as Bella Swan, I didn't know if I could live without him. I had to find a way to stop him. "You've been in my life for so long. I don't want to lose you." I pleaded.

"I've waited a long time to hear you say that. How ironic that I can't even take any pleasure in it." He sighed and began to inch his way toward my window.

"I promise I can be of help to you. I want to stay with you. I'll leave everything behind... Don't give me that look! I will! I'll never come back here again!" I choked inwardly at the thought of never seeing my parents again.

He smiled tightly. It didn't reach his eyes. "I can't let you do that. You're a good girl, Nevaeh. But I'm a bad guy. I'm no good for you. You gotta forget about me. You gotta find yourself a good man who treats you right, and have a bunch of babies. You'll be a great mother, you know." He chuckled at the thought. "But I'm telling you right now; you'll never see me again after tonight."

"Why would you do this to me? Make me hate you for so long, then when I finally fall for you, leave? You stupid jerk!" My fingers itched to throw something at him.

He rushed toward me and enveloped me in his strong embrace, where I promptly burst into tears again. "The last thing I want you to do is hate me, but I understand if you do. Just know that I will always love you, no matter what happens."

He kissed me again, with more urgency and passion than I had ever known before or since. With those parting words and that final, fateful kiss, he fled out the window and out of my life forever. All I had left of him was a memory that would soon grow cold and distant.

I cried myself to sleep that night, as I would for many, many nights after.

The next morning, I woke with the nauseating feeling of dread. Had Isaac really come back, only to tell me we couldn't be together? Had I only dreamed it all? Had I really decked him with a metal bat??

When I rushed downstairs, my parents asked me if I was feeling better. When I wanted to know what they meant by that, they relayed to me what they'd been aware of the night previous.

So it hadn't been a dream.

I skipped school that day, complaining of aches and pains all over my body. My parents gave me the okay, all the while wondering why I walked back upstairs crying my eyes out.

In the weeks immediately following the incident, I had an extraordinarily hard time convincing myself that Isaac was right, that he and I could never be together. I missed him so much that I often threw myself into bouts of depression, leaving the comforts of my bed only to use the bathroom. I didn't wash my hair for days at a time. I ate some, but couldn't keep anything down. I was literally lovesick. On days that I was feeling hopeful, I'd sit on the sill and stare out the window, knowing he would return for me. But it was just wishful thinking, because he never did.

At my new school, I was labeled "goth" because I preferred darker shades to bright colors. I was thrown into a social hierarchy that was so blatantly unlike Raritan Bay. Back there, me, Logan, Izzy, and Lily were basically a nonexclusive clique, accepting anyone and everyone (other than Isaac and his crew of brainless monkeys, of course) who wanted to join. I had never had to defend my personality or the clothes I wore. I felt very alone.

Months went by, and though the initial depression was over, I was still an emotional wreck. My grades dropped dramatically, but due to the excellent grades on my transcript from the months previous, I still passed and graduated that May. I was disappointed that I couldn't share in my success with my friends, but I promised myself that I'd make a road trip up to New York to see them sometime that summer. That trip ended up not happening because I didn't have any money.

Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years. And all that was left in me was forever shaken because of one reckless, charming thief who'd managed to steal my heart.

For ten long years I was angry with myself for heeding Isaac's words. Why hadn't I followed him? I should have. But I couldn't bring myself to regret the decisions that brought me to today, because they led me to a wonderful husband and a happy life.

I became pregnant twelve days after my wedding day, which happened to fall on my twenty-eighth birthday.

During an especially emotional time in my pregnancy, I was watching TV one day and eating popcorn on our couch. I was flipping through channels and decided to watch the news for a bit. I froze when I saw a story on "Burglars At Large: Menaces to our City." They'd managed to identify a couple of the criminals and were broadcasting their names and faces. I sat bolt upright when I saw one candid snapshot in particular. There, clear as day, were the faces of Isaac and Brooke, stealing glances over their shoulders as though they were paranoid about being followed.

Brooke was stunning. She had matured into a gorgeous young woman. I could no longer envision her as the adorable little teenager who was so childlike it was hard to believe she was fifteen. As for Isaac, he was breathtaking. A light stubble dusted his chin, neck and cheeks. It made him look rugged and handsome, like a lumberjack or something. I stared deep into his russet eyes, hardened by years of life on the run, as if he could stare right back at me. He was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen.

I didn't realize I was sobbing until the teardrops had made their way down my face and dropped onto my collarbone, the chill from them slightly startling me. I knew then that I wouldn't see their faces on TV again for quite a while. They'd go into hiding again. I could do nothing but cry harder. That episode was hard to explain to the hubby when he came home to find me hysterical.

That was the last time I ever saw Isaac Russell's face.

Nine months later I held in my arms an adorable baby boy. We named him Isaac. When my husband asked why I'd chosen that name, I lied through my teeth. "I've always liked that name." I smiled.

Though I was very happy with my husband and new son, random stints of depression were not uncommon for me. I would occasionally wake up in the dead of night in a cold sweat, gasping for air. Once I'd calmed myself down, I would tiptoe out of the bedroom and down the hall. Then, I would sit upon the windowsill, watch the raindrops pitter-patter against the glass, and dream of times when I was hopelessly in love with my best frienemy.

I am constantly wondering what would have happened if I had followed Isaac that fateful night. Sometimes, I think I see his silhouette dart around a corner. Other times, I will swear up and down that I caught a glimpse of his dancing chocolate eyes as they laughed at my absurdity. He is like a ghost to me. An enchanting, entrancing, enticing phantom that haunts me every minute of every hour of every day.

I will never, ever forget Isaac Russell. And I will be completely and utterly in love with him until the day I die.

A/N: I can't believe it's over... This actually kind of hurts a little.

(wipes away tear)

Well, I just want to say thank you to everyone who's even read the first chapter, be they reviewer or not. A special thank you to all my reviewers; you guys rock my face off. I love you all, and I hope you'll stick with me for more of my projects. Put/Keep me on your "Author Alerts" list, even though I might not update for awhile. I've decided I want to start doing this: finish a story and post it a chapter at a time, instead of posting as I go. It's much less demanding.

But I might post little one-shots here and there; you know, whenever inspiration strikes.