He ran as fast as he could, not looking back. The fear of death and the adrenaline rushing through his body were the only things that were keeping him going. He could have given up when he had fallen and sprained his left ankle two miles earlier, but he didn't. He was not going to die. He could hear the evil cackling voice of his pursuer right behind him, only getting closer with every step. His legs were beginning to tire out, and his lungs were on fire. He couldn't keep going like this. His ankle was swollen and purple. It wasn't good to run on, but he had to keep going. His life depended on it. "You can't keep this up! You can run, but you can't hide!" He had to keep running. He just had to. "You might as well give up now!" He looked over his shoulder for one second, just to see if the man chasing him was coming any closer. But the man was nowhere in sight. He was confused. He was just right behind him a second ago. Where— Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain shoot straight through his abdomen. He stopped dead in his tracks as he looked down at his torso. His hand reached up to his abs. As soon as he touched them, he hissed, keeping himself from crying out. He could feel some warm liquid seeping through his fingers. He took his hand away to see what the liquid was. But as soon as he did, his eyes widened in fear. It was blood. Seeing the blood had made him weak, and his legs collapsed from underneath him, making him fall to the damp, mossy ground. He could hear footsteps coming closer to him. His breathing began to quicken in panic. He tried to move, but he was frozen still. The footsteps stopped right in front of his face. The pursuer's voice chuckled evilly. "You are such a foolish boy." He looked up to see the pursuer's gun pointed at his head. "No," he begged hoarsely. "Please!" The hammer was pulled back. "NO!"
Danny Santana bolted upright in his bed in a cold sweat, breathing as hard as he could. This was the third this week alone that he has had this nightmare. Why was he having this horrible dream? It wouldn't leave him alone. The nightmare started coming to him about a month ago, which was right around Christmas. It was the same one every time. But each time, it seemed like it would get scarier and scarier.
He was not going to die.
He could hear the evil cackling voice of his pursuer right behind him, only getting closer with every step. His legs were beginning to tire out, and his lungs were on fire. He couldn't keep going like this. His ankle was swollen and purple. It wasn't good to run on, but he had to keep going. His life depended on it.
"You can't keep this up! You can run, but you can't hide!"
He had to keep running. He just had to.
"You might as well give up now!"
He looked over his shoulder for one second, just to see if the man chasing him was coming any closer. But the man was nowhere in sight. He was confused. He was just right behind him a second ago. Where—
Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain shoot straight through his abdomen. He stopped dead in his tracks as he looked down at his torso. His hand reached up to his abs. As soon as he touched them, he hissed, keeping himself from crying out. He could feel some warm liquid seeping through his fingers. He took his hand away to see what the liquid was. But as soon as he did, his eyes widened in fear.
It was blood.
Seeing the blood had made him weak, and his legs collapsed from underneath him, making him fall to the damp, mossy ground. He could hear footsteps coming closer to him. His breathing began to quicken in panic. He tried to move, but he was frozen still. The footsteps stopped right in front of his face. The pursuer's voice chuckled evilly.
"You are such a foolish boy." He looked up to see the pursuer's gun pointed at his head.
"No," he begged hoarsely. "Please!" The hammer was pulled back.
Danny looked over at his clock to see the time. It was 7:27. His green eyes widened. "Crap! I'm gonna be late!" He jumped out of his bed and sprinted out of his room and into the bathroom. He took a five-minute shower. Once he got out, he ran back to his room and changed into a pair of washed-out jeans, a blue plaid flannel shirt with a white t-shirt under it, his black leather jacket, and his worn black biker boots. To top off his outfit, he put on his favorite gray beanie to hide his sensitive ears from the cold, crisp January air. He grabbed his backpack and ran down the stairs. But right before he got out of the house, he realized he was forgetting something.
Danny dropped his bag at the door and ran back up the steps again. Once he was in his room, he grabbed his shark tooth necklace and put it on around his neck. He didn't go a day without it, and he wasn't going to start now. It was the only thing he had of the brother that left him eight years ago. But he had a little bit of anger towards his brother, considering the situation he had put him and their mother in. How could someone just leave their family behind and not think twice? All Danny wanted was his brother to be there for him, but all he did was run away. He remembered the one thing his brother taught him growing up:
"Never run. People will think you're a coward. It's basically the same as quitting. Don't be a quitter; then you won't be a runner."
Then why did he run? He was never a quitter, so why did he quit on the family? That was what always bugged him.
Danny ran back downstairs and grabbed a pack of strawberry Pop-Tarts, only to notice a note left by his mother. He grabbed the note and began to read it.
Working late tonight. You can go home with Taylor today after you're done working at the clinic. Spend the night if you want. Heater isn't working. Be careful. Love you. Mom
Danny sighed. His mother was a nurse at Mercy Hospital in Tulsa, which was an hour away from their home in Misty Springs, and was worked to the bone day in and day out. She didn't even get paid enough for all the work she did. Danny's job paid well enough to keep him and his mother in their house. But then there was that mysterious monthly check that came in the mail by an anonymous addresser. Whoever that person was had saved Danny and his mother from being kicked out of the house. They have gotten monthly checks since Danny was eleven. He always imagined it was his brother, but he would say if it was him.
Danny laid the note back down on the counter in his kitchen and made his way out of the house and to the family barn house. His keys to his motorcycle were already in his jacket pocket and ready to go. Danny took the tarp off his precious black Harley that was given to him by the mysterious person with all of the money. It was a gift he was thankful for getting. His motorcycle was the one thing he couldn't live without. He hopped on his bike and put his helmet on before putting the key in the ignition to start it up. He revved up his bike before driving out of the barn house and down the street through his neighborhood.
In ten minutes, he was in the school parking lot. He parked his bike in his usual spot—right next to his best friend, Taylor Blackbear's car.
Taylor, a tall, muscular Native American boy, was leaning against his black Ford F-150, waiting for Danny Santana to show up. At this point, the bell was about to ring when Danny pulled up to park in his spot. He shut off his bike and removed his helmet before it messed up his perfect, moppish, light brown hair. He pushed the brake bars down to keep his bike from falling to the side. He hopped off his bike and stood in front of his best friend.
"You're late, Mr. No-Tardies-Since-Fifth-Grade," Taylor greeted his friend with a smirk. Danny stuck his tongue out at him.
"You think I don't know that?" Danny snapped back, walking past Taylor to get into the school. Taylor caught up with him a moment later. Danny was in a bad mood again, and he knew it. He usually was when his mother had to work late or if he had a nightmare again. And from the looks of things, it might be both.
"Another nightmare?" Taylor asked. Danny sighed and nodded. "What is it with you and this nightmare? Have you even told your mom about it yet?"
"No," Danny said quickly. "And she doesn't need to know about my problems. She's got enough on her mind already. The last thing she needs is to worry about me."
"She's your mom. She's gonna worry about you, dude. That's what moms do."
"Your mom doesn't worry about you."
"That's because I'm not you." Danny rolled his eyes. He was considered the most popular teen in school, even if he was a Sophomore. He was the star baseball player and was the best pitcher Misty Springs had ever seen. But he was also the biggest troublemaker. Pranks were his specialty, and Taylor would sometimes get dragged down with him with all of his shenanigans. The dastardly duo would prank everybody, from fellow Sophomores to Seniors to teachers, even to Principal Foley.
Just like Nic Santana.
Nic was the king of the school—and the king of the pranks. He was everybody's best friend. There wasn't a single person at East Point High School that didn't like Nic Santana. Well, all except for Principal Foley. He hated Nic Santana and tried everything to make his life miserable. Their relationship was kind of like a Ferris Bueller-Principal Rooney relationship—no love, just hate. Foley actually cried the day of Nic's graduation, and not because he was going to miss him when he left for Vanderbilt in the fall; he was crying tears of joy because Nic was leaving.
"So what if I pull pranks every now and then?" Danny said in his defense. Taylor burst into laughter.
"Ha! That's funny!" Taylor doubled over from laughing so hard. Danny just stared at him.
"I've got to get a new best friend," he mumbled, making a serious mental note about it in his head. Once Taylor had calmed down, he looked up to see Danny's face. He frowned.
"What?" Danny just shook his head and walked the opposite direction to the school. Taylor followed closely behind him as the two Sophomore boys walked through the doors of East Point High. Luckily, the bell had not rung yet, so they were—
"Good morning, boys."
Fine. Danny hung his head as he turned around to face his worst nightmare: Principal Foley.
Principal Foley was a tall, thin man with a very pointy nose like a witch and the smile and tiny, beady black eyes of a rat. He also had the personality of one. Ever since Danny could remember, whenever he saw Principal Foley, he made him cry. Now, he just made him frustrated and angry. Of course, he made everybody angry; he was the principal.
Principal Foley was smirking his infamous smirk. It was only seen when he caught Danny (which wasn't often). And when he caught him, he would give the worst punishments possible. He would even give him a detention for talking to a girl. That really happened, but it was Danny's best friend, Anna, that he was talking to. But it didn't matter; a girl was a girl.
That was why Danny never dated.
"Mr. Santana," Foley continued with that same smirk, "why are you late for class?" Danny raised an eyebrow.
"The bell doesn't ring for another five minutes!" he exclaimed. "I'm not late!" Foley turned to his head to the clock. He looked at it then at Danny, still smiling.
"It says 7:55. You are late."
"Actually," Taylor chimed in, "the bell doesn't ring at 7:55 anymore. You changed it to where it rings at 8:00, remember?" Danny's anxious expression slowly turned into a relieved smile. This meant he wasn't getting another detention. He couldn't afford another one or else he would've gotten kicked off the baseball team before the season even started. Foley suddenly frowned at the realization of this. The bell didn't ring at 7:55 anymore.
"Well," Danny said slowly, he and Taylor slowly walking backwards, "we've got to get to class, so—" And with that, the two boys turned around and sprinted down the hall away from Principal Foley.
"I'll get you next time, Santana!" Foley shouted after Danny in a booming voice. "Mark my words!"
Danny and Taylor were laughing as hard as they could as they walked into their first class of the day: Pre-AP Chemistry. As they were about to take their seats, Danny suddenly realized that a girl he had never seen before was sitting in his seat. Well, his class didn't really have assigned seats, but he sat there every single day. He frowned.
"Who's sitting in your seat?" Taylor asked. Danny shrugged.
"No clue." He walked over to the girl sitting in his seat. He had it all planned out: he was going to politely tell her that she was sitting in his seat and let her move to a desk right next to him. He stood right behind her and cleared his throat. "Excuse me, you're in my—"
As soon as the girl turned around to face him, Danny was at a sudden loss for words. This was the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on. That long, curly, dark brown hair; those gray-baby blue eyes; the most perfect naturally cherry lips; the cutest freckles going across her nose; the brilliant tan skin with virtually no flaws.
She was beautiful.
"Oh, sorry," the girl said in the sweetest, most angelic voice Danny never thought existed. "I didn't know I was sitting in your seat. I'll just move." As the girl got up and began to gather her stuff to move, Danny felt a pang of guilt for making her get up. As if on cue, he says:
"Wait. I'm sorry. I was being really rude. You can stay there."
"It's really not a hassle."
"I know, but you can stay where you are. I'll just sit here." He moved to a desk right next to the new girl's new desk. Honestly, she could take his desk any day. The new girl blushed and sat back down in her seat.
"I am so rude," Danny said. "I'm Danny. Danny Santana." He held out his hand for the girl to shake. The girl immediately took his hand and shook it.
"I'm Ashlyn," the girl said. "Ashlyn Holland. But I go by Ash." Danny smiled. He liked that name. It was different from every other girl that lived in Misty Springs. She was a breath of fresh air. She was wearing a black Metallica graphic t-shirt with a black leather jacket over it, a red-and-black plaid scarf wrapped loosely around her neck, a simple pair of dark blue skinny jeans, and black, run-down lo-tops. She wore a charcoal gray beanie atop her beautiful hair to top off her rock star rebel look. Ash Holland was definitely someone Danny Santana never imagined to ever see in a small town like Misty Springs. And she was definitely someone he wanted to get to know.
"So," Danny said as he began to spark a conversation with the new student, "where are you from?"
"Chicago. Nice." Ash giggled.
"Yeah. Chicago was home to me."
"So what's a girl from Chicago, Illinois doing in Misty Springs, Oklahoma?"
"My dad's an engineer and got a promotion in Tulsa, but there were no safe neighborhoods in town."
"Tulsa's an hour-long drive from here."
"I know, but it was my dad's idea. If I had the choice, I would've chosen Tulsa." Danny frowned. Ash smirked.
"But I think I'm starting to like the idea of living in Misty Springs."
Danny's heart leaped. Was it because of him? Was he the reason this Chicago native wanted to stay in a small town of a population of only 8,561 people? He was hoping he was.
"So, what does your mom do?" he continued casually.
"Don't know," Ash responded sadly. "Never met her. My mom died at child's birth with me." Danny could hint the sadness in her voice. He knew how that felt. He didn't even know his own father.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Danny mumbled.
"Don't be. It wasn't really anyone's fault. I just came out too early."
"Yeah." Ash sighed. Danny decided it was time to change the subject before Ash got too upset.
"Do you have any siblings?"
"Yeah. I have four brothers." Danny's eyes widened. Four brothers? Of course, he had a brother—just one that didn't seem to care much about him; otherwise, he wouldn't have ran away eight years ago.
But that was just his opinion.
The bell suddenly rang loudly throughout the school building. At that moment, Mrs. Wilson walked into the classroom and shut the door behind her, catching her class's attention.
"Good morning, class!" Mrs. Wilson announced in a sing-song voice.
"'Morning, Mrs. Wilson," the class said back in unison.
"I hope y'all had a great weekend back in town." Ash turned to Danny.
"Back from what?" she asked in a whisper.
"Some of us went on a ski trip for our youth group," he replied. Ash seemed like she understood and looked back to the front.
"Hey, Santana." Danny's happy mood was changed abruptly into annoyance. "Santana." He rolled his eyes as he continued to ignore him. "Santana." He finally turned around to face Gregg Parker, his worst enemy, sitting right behind him. Well, vacation was over, and Gregg was back from reform school—for the third time since school started—but this time, he was back for good.
"What do you want, Parker?" Danny whispered harshly. Gregg smirked.
"Who's the new girl?"
"Why do you want with her?" Gregg leaned in and smirked.
"I think you know exactly what I want." Danny rolled his eyes.
"You have no chance."
"Oh really? In case you've forgotten that little incident from last year's Winter Formal after party, I can get any girl that I want." Danny was now suddenly not as much annoyed or angry as he was sad. Memories of that party still had an effect on him. He was supposed to be a ladies' man, the one that every girl wanted to be with. Then Winter Formal rolled around, and his entire self-esteem and reputation was ruined. Gregg's smirk grew even wider. "It's all coming back now, isn't, Santana?" Danny didn't answer. No need reliving the past, he thought.
Danny turned back around and focused on what the teacher was writing on the whiteboard. He looked over to Ash to see how she was doing. Ash was taking notes faster than he could—and he was naturally the fastest writer over any tenth-grader at Misty Springs High.
"How can you write that fast?" Danny asked. Ash just smiled, not even looking up at the handsome blond, green-eyed teen. Danny couldn't believe how she was acting. Most girls flaunt around him, old and new. This girl was just not going to flirt back. To Danny, she was a closed book that just couldn't be described.
That's what made Danny Santana determined to make Ashlyn Holland fall in love with him because he was already in love with her.
After two hours of baseball practice and another three for work at the animal clinic, Danny was finally home. It was late nights like this one when Danny just wanted to go straight to sleep. However, his stomach had other plans. He immediately walked into the kitchen and grabbed the leftover spaghetti his mother made the night before. After heating up a plate full of spaghetti, he walked over to the TV to see the local and national news and began eating in his lap.
"And in other news," a young, dark-haired male anchor began, "the Fire Ghost strikes again in New York City, where five fires have been set and ten people total have died from these deadly fires. The NYPD Homicide Unit is further investigating, revealing only that one building had two bodies that were apparently not there before the fires started. Sources say that the leading investigator of the double-homicide is taking on both cases at the same time. The Fire Ghost has set dozens of buildings ablaze in the last eight years all over the country in places such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, even Washington DC itself. Now he has decided to stop in New York City. More updates are sure to come in the following weeks or months."
Danny shut off the TV, not wanting to hear anything more about fires. He hated fire. He always tries to avoid bonfires with excuses such as getting grounded, studying for tests, doing homework, or working at the clinic. He looked down at his food again and suddenly lost his appetite. He could feel his stomach churn in disgust as he wrapped up his spaghetti and put it back in the fridge. He walked up the stairs to his room and took off his boots, jeans, and both of his shirts. He climbed into bed, ready for some much-needed sleep. He looked at the time. 9:06. His mother would be getting home in about an hour.
Danny turned off his lamp and turned over on his side and pulled the covers over him. As soon as his head sunk into the soft pillow, he fell into a thankfully dreamless sleep.