"Go out with me, Daitaro." That was a command, not a request. I placed my hands on my hips and shifted my weight to one side. My beautiful brown hair fell over one shoulder like a silky sheet. I had put on my best make-up today, and my green eyes held my crush's gaze confidently. Yes, with all this in my favor, there absolutely was no way he could deny me.

"Oh…uh…" Just as I expected, Daitaro seemed at a loss for words. He pressed his fingers into the side of his face uneasily, averting his dark eyes. I smirked. Any moment now, he'd bashfully admit that he'd liked me all along for these past two or so months that we'd been hanging out. And then he'd ask me where I wanted to go on our date. A simple scenario that I'd gone through many times with my many ex-boyfriends. There was no reason for this to be any different.

"Yes?" I urged him. Say it, Daitaro. Tell me how much you like me.

"Actually, Arielle…I can't. I'm really flattered, but I'm not really looking for a relationship right now." I smiled, running a hand through my hair. I knew I had –

Wait. What?

"Excuse me?" I asked, my mind reeling. Did he just…say no? No one had ever, ever said no to me before.

"Yeah…but we can still be friends, right? I really love hanging out with you, and if we just promise not to be awkward around each other, we can just forget about this. Okay?"

I took a deep breath and told myself to stay calm. Okay, I needed time to think. Why was I being rejected? I was beautiful, I was skinny, I was fashionable…why didn't he want to go out with me? I would just have to accept for now until I fully processed this.

"Yeah, sure," I replied. Daitaro gave me a small smile and walked away slowly, hands casually in his pockets. I stood there, rooted to the spot, staring at his shrinking figure as he left. I was still clueless as to what went wrong. I had been trying to be as alluring as possible. Why the hell was he able to resist that?

Oh, he was so not getting away with this.

………

Apparently he did more than just get away from me that day three weeks ago. He also got himself a girlfriend. Yes, the boy that told me he didn't want a relationship had asked out another girl. He rejected me for a plain Jane, pretty much.

The nerve of him. Seriously? The girl, a Melinda Irwin, was so ordinary it was ridiculous. Brown hair, brown eyes, a big mouth. If I were being generous, I would call her vaguely pretty. Like you would call an egg vaguely round.

Oh well. Not that I care about Daitaro much anymore. I haven't talked to him since the day he rejected me. Not intentionally, of course. It wouldn't be classy of me to completely ignore him after he had insisted that we stay friends. However, I just found that I was busy all the time. Eleventh grade gave a considerable amount of homework for me to deal with. And since Daitaro was a year older than me, I never really had the opportunity to run into him much. Which is just as well. I didn't need a constant reminder of that day. What did that silly boy have to offer me besides a pretty face and his money? Nothing I couldn't get from anyone else.

At least, that's what I would like to think as I sit here at my computer on a Wednesday night. Since it's Thanksgiving Holiday, I have no reason to go to bed early, so I'm just checking up on Facebook. After reading up several friends' comments on my newly uploaded photos – all compliments that I'm not surprised to receive – I check my inbox. There is one new message and I click on it without reading the sender's name.

Hey guys, sorry to bother you, but if any one of you can contact Melinda, I would appreciate it. She isn't picking up my calls and her parents haven't heard anything from her all day.

Puzzled, my eyes briefly dart to the name of the person who wrote the message. Daitaro Takahashi. Damn. I read over the message again. It was sent only a few minutes ago to a lot of people at once. I notice that most of them go to our school. For a few seconds, I'm actually concerned that Melinda is missing.

And then I shrug it off. Who cares? It's his girlfriend, his problem. If he had agreed to go out with me, I definitely wouldn't have disappeared on him. Not before Christmas, at least. I roll my eyes as I logout from the site, slamming down the lid of my laptop. It's midnight, and even though there's no school tomorrow, there is no point in staying up late if I'm not going to be doing anything productive. Poor Daitaro. Knowing him, he's probably going to be up worried that his poor Melinda isn't back yet.

"Arielle?" At the sound of my mother's voice, I turn to the doorway. She's standing there in her long silk nightgown, her hair pulled back into curlers and a beauty mask on her face. "Remember, dear, that tomorrow everyone will be over for dinner. Think of something that you can say you are thankful for."

"I will," I reply. "Good night." My mother doesn't smile as she walks away. I understand. She probably doesn't want to disturb the cream on her face. I begin making preparations to turn in myself. Something to be thankful for, huh? There's always the money, and the things I get to buy with it. The clothes, the shoes, the jewelry. I always thank God for giving me a pretty face, but it didn't work on Daitaro, so I don't know if I will be doing that this time.

Maybe I should be thankful that the move here wasn't quite as traumatic as I thought it would be. After living in one place for so long, I was quite pissed that we would be coming to some little nobody-town like Sundance, Texas. Granted, I'm still pissed off about the fact that this house is a lot smaller than our other one, and that I no longer have a whole bedroom suite to myself and instead have to share a bathroom with my twin sister, Darcy. However, it could have been a lot worse. I might have not had access to all the same designer brands as I did back in New York, and I might have not met any rich people here.

Actually, scratch that. Daitaro's family is the only other one I've met here in the upper class, and I refuse to be thankful for him. Even if he is a nice enough person, I just can't tolerate the fact that he put Melinda above me. Melinda, who is currently missing. I wonder if they found her. Wait, why am I curious? Better for me if she stays missing.

With that thought, I climb into bed and pull up the covers to my chin. Even though there is a good heating system in the house, the cold November air still seeps into my room from the many windows. I close my eyes and smile. Besides having to deal with Daitaro, I had plenty to be thankful for. Money and clothes and shoes. Those are lovely things to be thankful for. I sigh deeply and nod off…

…only to wake up an hour later. I stare at the dark ceiling in confusion. It isn't anywhere near morning yet. For some reason, the name Melinda crosses my thoughts. I scowl. I don't know what's more upsetting, the fact that I'm remembering her, or the fact that I'm imagining how Daitaro must be so worried about her. Oh whatever, I'm just going to turn over and go back to sleep.

Easier said than done. I'm sure more than a few minutes have gone by, but I'm awake before I really get a chance to stay asleep. Maybe if I just check that thread again, this nagging feeling will go away? I'm really hoping so as I crawl over my bed and reach for my laptop on the desk nearby. A quick login, a click on the message thread, and a whole list of comments is displayed. Many people have responded with concern, and I look all the way to the bottom where Daitaro's latest update is.

No, still no sign of her. It's already 3 AM, where can she be? None of her friends seem to know either. It's supposed to hit below freezing tonight, I hope she's not outside.

My mouth twists into a pout as I scan over the other messages. That stupid Melinda has everyone so worried about her. I'm not surprised though that Daitaro is still up and trying to get a hold of her. He's the kind who's really good at taking care of people. Maybe it's due to the fact that he has two younger siblings, one of them being only four years old. Who knows?

More importantly, who cares? I surely don't.

However, as much as I would like to keep thinking that, it gets impossible to forget about her as the night goes on. I end up waking up every ten minutes until a little past five in the morning, at which time I check the Facebook thread again. Apparently she's still missing. I look at all the other messages to try to figure out exactly what is going on. Apparently she and Daitaro got into some fight, and as a result she dramatically ran off and hasn't contacted anyone since.

Seriously? This is ridiculous. Well, now that I can't get back to sleep anyway, I might as well do something about this. I brush my teeth and wash my face as quietly as possible so that I don't wake up anyone in the household. I pull on boots and a warm coat over my pajamas and sneak out. I highly doubt Melinda would have gone anywhere far if she was just being a drama queen. I simply had to find an isolated spot somewhere and I would be sure to find her.

Since Daitaro lives in the same neighborhood as I do, and since that is probably the last place he saw Melinda, I decide to start my search in the woody area near his house. It's cold and dark and annoyingly uncomfortable to be walking around like this in a place that doesn't have good footing, but I am sure no one else took the time to search here. This is a rather pathetic place to try to hide from others, which is why I am almost certain that Melinda is here.

Sure enough, I see the girl leaning against one of the trees. It's so dark, I wouldn't have been able to tell it was her had I not seen her in person several times and known to look for her here.

"How did I know?" I say as I approach. Melinda gasps softly and whirls around, grabbing the tree in front of her.

"What are you doing here? Leave me alone!" she shouts. Wow, I didn't think she could get on my nerves so quickly, but somehow she has.

"If you think I'm here to take you back to everyone out there who is so worried about you, you are mistaken." I calmly shove my hands into my coat pockets and stride on up to her. She backs up with every step I take until I am at the tree, and she is several feet farther into the darkness. Instead of continuing to walk, I drop down and sit cross-legged on the ground. I stare at Melinda smugly, waiting for her answer.

"Then what are you doing here? Just go away and leave me alone!"

"After all the time I took to get up and come here, I'm not just going to walk away because you tell me to. I will, however, leave you alone." I cross my arms over my chest, close my eyes, and lean back against the tree. If Melinda wants me to move, she's going to have to pick me up herself.

After a few minutes of what was probably spiteful silence on her part, I hear a long sigh and the soft trudging of feet against dirt. I look up to see Melinda come up next to me and sit down. She's still pouting and looking upset about me being here, but I have a feeling she'll say something soon. So I just wait.

"If you aren't going to take me back, why did you come? You said everyone was worried about me." She sounds just a little apologetic now. I shrug.

"I don't owe anything to those people out there, especially Daitaro. Therefore, I'm not going to force you to go back. I do want you safe, though. Don't ask me why." After all, even if she asks why, I couldn't explain to her why I wanted to make sure she was all right. It pretty much contradicts my first statement.

Melinda looks rather confused at this point. "Huh. When Daitaro told me about you, he called you…spoiled, selfish, and generally thankless. I didn't expect this."

Ouch. That hurt. "Weird. I thought he and I were friends, actually. We hung out for a few months before this."

"Yeah. That's why he thinks that of you," she explains. I give her a look.

"That makes sense." Because, you know, it totally doesn't.

"You sound doubtful. It's just…even though Daitaro's the type to have these kinds of opinions, he still acts really friendly to everyone. Even when they're being mean to him."

I stay silent for a little while, wondering if I really could have been so mean to him. Sure, I took advantage of him a little and made him devote all his time to me in the beginning. But I was lonely, and friends do these sorts of things for each other. And I used to get mad at him for small things, but I never meant anything mean by it. Maybe I had tried his patience too much. I guess asking him out, no, demanding him out, was probably a little too much.

When I don't say anything, Melinda continues, "You know, I have been mean to him too. It's the reason we got into a fight today…I mean, yesterday. He asked me out and I said yes, but I didn't tell him that I actually had a boyfriend already. It's really dumb. My boyfriend, Trey, and I got into a fight. I had been ignoring him for a couple of weeks, and then Daitaro came along, and…yeah. I made a few stupid decisions, was obnoxious about it, and now I'm fighting with both of them."

I blink, staring at Melinda. She smiles sheepishly and scratches the back of her head. First of all, I'm now really annoyed with her. However, this now gives me a way to take her back without making it obvious, and I might as well act upon it.

"How dare you!" I cry out suddenly, jumping to my feet. It is a good thing Melinda does not know me very well, or she would realize this is all an act. I am not usually prone to such outbursts. As it is, Melinda looks at me in shock.

"What?"

"Do you know that a few weeks ago, I asked Daitaro out?" I demand, pointing an accusing finger at Melinda. "And he rejected me for you! And for what? To find out that you were just using him to get back at your other boyfriend? How low is that?"

"Oh, sorry, he didn't tell me that!" Melinda replies, but I cut her off as I start to walk away.

"I cannot believe I just wasted my time here! You aren't worth it!" I continue to rant as I keep walking. Just as I expect, Melinda scrambles to her feet and rushes after me.

"No, please, I'm so sorry! I know it was really horrible of me, but I almost never realize what I'm doing until it's too late. I know I shouldn't have done all those things. Really, you're so nice for coming out here and helping me. Please don't get mad!"

"You know! I could have left you out there to die! I didn't have to try to save your life or something! You would have frozen to death without me! Be thankful that you're the one he chose to go out with! Be thankful that I'm here even though he rejected me for you're sake, and that even though you are such a jerk to them, you have two guys who like you!"

It is amazing how hard it is to shout all these words, even if I'm only acting like I'm angry. I know they are the truth, and while previously I might have expected to think that way, after what Melinda told me about Daitaro's impression of me, I can't bear to actually feel the way I'm pretending to. Did I want to prove him right?

"I'm so sorry!" Melinda keeps up with me as I lead her right up to the front door of Daitaro's house. She's so caught up in her apology that she doesn't even notice until I ring the doorbell.

"Here you go," I say, turning to face her and revealing that I had been smiling the entire time. Melinda is confused for a few moments, but then Daitaro opens the door and her expression turns into one of horror.

"Oh no, oh no no…"

"Arielle….Melinda!" I should not be so happy, but something within me is excited that he said my name first. The feeling does not go away even when Daitaro gives Melinda a crushing hug, repeating over and over how worried he was all this time.

"You should thank her. She found me," Melinda points out. Daitaro turns and gives me a funny glance.

"Really," he says. I shrug, smiling at him. He turns his attention back to Melinda, but he does so slowly, his eyes focused on me even when he moves to face her again. He tells her that her parents are the most worried of everyone that she sent into a panic by disappearing, and invites her inside to call them. As she disappears inside the house, Daitaro turns his attention to me again.

"Well?" I prompt, because it's pretty obvious that something is on his mind.

"Why did you help her? I'm really thankful that you did, but…" he trails off.

"It's not like me, is it?" I finish for him. "To do something nice." Daitaro looks a little shocked that I would admit that and insists that it isn't what he meant to say.

I shake my head. "But it's true, isn't it, that you think that?"

"I would have thought that, maybe, if I hadn't seen this," he admits. "But now I know that I was wrong about you. I haven't given you enough credit."

"And I honestly haven't really cared enough about you." In the beginning, he was just an accessory to me. The seventeen-year-old Japanese super model who was the first to greet me when I moved here from the north. Obviously I had to have someone as hot and rich as him for a boyfriend, especially in the coming Christmas season. But now, I realize there's a really sweet, caring person there that I should get to know better.

"So, about that earlier offer you made to me," Daitaro says. "The one a few weeks back. I may not have given you a very honest answer at that time."

I raise an eyebrow. "I remember. I think you owe me an apology, in fact." I lean back against the side of the entrance, smiling at Daitaro.

"Oh, I owe you more than that. I owe you a second chance," he replies as he walks forward when I move back. He extends both his hands and plants them on the wall on either side of my face. I smirk.

"Well, that would be very kind of you, and I would be very grateful if you would," I state politely. Though if he moves any closer, he might find that I'll slip back into being a very bad girl.

"How grateful?" he asks, tempting me. Oh forget about him moving closer. I reach out and grab him by his collar, yanking him towards me.

"Here, let me show you."