Chapter Four:

.:.:Wait. You didn't ask him to?:.:.

The sun is already setting, lining the trees in the distance with vibrant shades of reds, oranges, and yellows. I tap my foot, pretending to be impatient, as I wait for Sammy to finish packing all of her books into her hefty pink book-bag.

"I don't know why you bother staying." I say, smirking a little, "You'll never pass the exam."

She picks up her bag and swings it over her shoulder, pouting, "You're so mean to me." She whines, "Just you wait, Droy. I'll be the one laughing when I make it to the top class and you're stuck with Allen by yourself."

That kills my laugh and I almost groan.

Just when I had forgotten about it, too. Damn.

We head out of the room and to the front doors, our footsteps echoing. It's just past seven and everyone in the school is gone, except Sammy, who decided to stay for extra study, and me, who stayed because I'm going home with her.

"Are you ever going to tell me where you're living?" She asks just as we open the double doors, throwing a curious glance my way.

"What's there to say?" I shrug, "I told you it's only a few stops away."

"That's not what I meant." She whines, looking at me with her usual in-need-of-information face, "I meant: where is it? Is the neighborhood nice? What about the people? Are they nice? Mean? Weird? Do they have kids? Are they our age? Is one hot? Can I-"

"Sammy, breathe. One question at a time please. I can't keep up when you babble absently from Samland." I chuckle, ignoring the churning in my stomach.

She takes a quick breath, seeming completely unfazed by the string of endless questions, and smiles at me with anticipation, "So what are they like?"

"They're friendly." I say half-heartedly, thinking, "And nice. They've even given me my own room."

"Wow." She says in approval, "I wish a stranger would make me a room. It takes a lot of persuasion just to get Mom to let me get a notebook, let alone get her to give someone she's never met a room. What does it look like?"

"It's more of your type of room." I say, "But it is nice."

"My type?" She tilts her head, "What d'ya mean?"

"It's pink." I answer, looking at her.

"Oh my god!" She laughs, "You? In a pink room? That's perfect!"

I roll my eyes, "I'm so glad you find it amusing." I say sarcastically.

"You have no idea." She continues to laugh.

I nudge her with my hand lightly and she loses her footing, tripping on the small shoelace string and falling face-first into the large, city fountain.

I laugh as she surfaces, looking like a drowned kitten, "Are you okay?" I ask, holding my stomach.

"Ha ha." She says sarcastically, holding out her hand with a not-amused expression, "Help me out, you buttmunch."

I take a deep breath, grinning, "Sorry, I couldn't help it." I chuckle, "Only you'd be clumsy enough to-"

Just as I reach my hand out, her fingers suddenly snake around my wrist, yanking me over the ledge and into the ice water.

Quickly, I stand up, trying not to shiver as I suck in warm air.

Sammy, I notice, is laughing so hard, she's doubled over, both her arms holding her stomach, "I can't believe you fell for that!" She laughs, "Usually, you're so good when it comes to my tricks! Something must be on the mighty Droy's mind."

I almost stop at how perceptive she is, but catch myself and send her a snicker, "Oh really?"

Her smile fades, "No, Droy. Come on! We're in public and our uniform skirts don't cover much as it is. Think about our uniforms, Droy!"

Too late.

I bring my hand down to the water, acting as if I'm going to splash her, and she backs up, her hands up in defense. Just as she comes in front of the sprinklers that shot up into the air, I splash water on her, causing her to tumble backwards in the bowl of water.

"Ahh!" She squeals, "That was dirty!"

I laugh.

"Hey you two! Get out of there! It's not a playground!" A thick, masculine voice suddenly yells out.

We turn to a burly man who looks like he's had a rough day.

"Sorry!" Sammy giggles loudly as we jump over the opposite ledge, making a mad dash for the train station.

We barely make it in time. The train's doors are already closing as our feet hit the platform. With a huge leap, we just make it inside the crowded doors, shouts about keeping away from the edge resonating over the intercom.

As usual, it's packed to the brim with people. As soon as the doors close, we're shoved against them, squished against the cool glass.

"Now I remember why I hate this train." I mutter, finding myself thinking about the train Dacen and I took to school this morning.

What's so different about them, anyway?

She groans, "Yeah. Even I don't understand why it's so bad."

I move myself a little, forcing the guy draped over me to back up, and feel my hand touch the wet clothes, laughing a little, "But you know, I feel bad for the people pressed against us."

She blinks, "Why?" She asks cluelessly.

I look down and back at her, Obviously written all over my face.

"Ohh~" She chimes as it hits her.

I chuckle, shaking my head. Even now, my hair is sticking to my face, water trickling down my cheeks and down my arms and legs.

Sammy shifts uncomfortably as I'm shoved against the door again. With a grunt, I shove on the guy behind me and, as he eases up, I glance at Sammy, who's gone unusually still. When she sees me studying her, she looks down in discomfort, the blood rushing to her cheeks.

I furrow my eyebrows, confused. I follow her gaze and catch a flash of tan skin running up her thigh, in the dim lights, however, I can't tell who it belongs to.

But I know a way to find out.

I grab the hand, catching it by the middle finger, and bend it back. The hand stops as soon as I touch it and someone lets out a definite yelp.

My eyes trail up the arm to a stacked man. His shoulders are broad and rigid, emphasized by the skin-tight black shirt wrapped around his torso. Dark brown, messy hair lies on his shoulders, framing his angular jaw, matching stubble filling his upper lip and chin with no traces of sideburns. Infuriated, hazel eyes stare at me, narrowing as if he's daring me to do something.

I return the glare and pull his finger back further, threatening to break it.

He grunts and releases his grip, retracting his hand with a glower.

I ignore him, turning back to the door.

Thank you. She mouths.

I shrug as if to say, Don't worry about it.

By the time the train stops at Sammy's stop, the sun has already gone completely down, filling the sky with a few stars here and there. Sammy and I haven't really spoken much and I sigh, looking at her.

"Does that happen all the time?" I ask as we walk down the bare road.

She looks down at her feet, kicking at an imaginary rock, "Some days more than others." She admits shamefully, "But it usually doesn't get as bad as it did today."

I shake my head, "Sammy, you can't let people do that to you." I say sternly, "If you're not going to fight back, at least ask someone for help."

"It's not that big of a deal." She mumbles, refusing to look at me.

"Bull." I say, "That asshole touching you is a big deal. Fight back, Sammy. Don't let jerks take advantage of you."

She sighs, "I'll try not to." She shivers, wrapping her arms around herself, "Yeesh, it's cold."

I give her a look, knowing she's trying to change the subject.

"What?" She asks innocently, "It is."

I shake my head, but agree nonetheless, "Yeah, it is. Seems like the temperature dropped when the sun went down."

The air lets out a gust of wind, ruffling my damp hair and soaked skirt, and I shiver a little.

"Brr. You can tell it's Fall." I mutter, trying to keep my hair from flickering everywhere.

"Yeah." She agrees, teeth chattering, "I'm never getting near you around that fountain again."

"You're the one who yanked me in." I chuckle, "I barely even pushed you."

She crosses her arms, pouting, "Always have to use my clumsiness against me, huh?"

I laugh, "It's not my fault you walk as if you have two left feet."

She sticks her tongue out just as we get to her door.

The door opens to the smell of sizzling bacon and eggs. In front of me, Sammy's dad, Mr. Jones, is sitting on an olive green couch, the flat screen in front of him turned on to some football game. Unlike Sammy and her mom, Mr. Jones has thick blonde hair that has a hint of waves to it with pale green eyes. At the moment, he's dressed in his grey scrubs, the long, white doctor's coat draped over the arm of the couch.

To my left, almost completely parallel to the flat screen, is a large kitchen, matching even Dacen's kitchen in size. Mrs. Jones is standing over the stove, flipping pancakes in one pan while checking on the bacon in another. Her long, brown hair that's usually down to her lower back is pulled into a lazy bun, her brown eyes more focused on the food than the door.

Neither of them notice us until Sammy announces our arrival, "Mom, Dad, I'm home~"

They turn to us, smiling warmly, but Mrs. Jones stops when she notices me slightly behind Sammy, her smile tightening around the corners.

"Welcome back." Mr. Jones says, standing up, "It's good to see you, Droy."

"Good to see you too, Mr. Jones." I smile, "How's work?"

"Oh, it's work." He says, giving me a humorous pained expression, "You're brother is a blessing in disguise, though."

"I bet." I laugh, "Are you two working tonight?"

He nods, "At nine, we're going to the hospital so I can observe him performing his first surgery."

I nod, suppressing a sigh.

My first night alone in the Riddles' house. This should be interesting.

He heads into the kitchen, pouring him a cup of black coffee before turning to us again, "So how was school today?" He asks, plopping in two cubes of sugar.

"Great!" Sammy says enthusiastically, skipping to the kitchen to get a drink as well, "We spent most of class learning tips from Danielle about how to style hair."

Mrs. Jones let out a long, disappointed sigh as she poured the contents of the frying pan onto a plate next to the stove, "That's why you kids have low grades." She says, "I'm sure if that teacher actually tried teaching once, you're grades would go up by at least three grades."

"Mom, Ms. Hudson is a great teacher!" Sammy whines, pouring herself a glass of sweet tea, "She listens to us and helps us out with our problems."

"She acts like a teenager." She retorts, practically throwing the pan into the sink, "If it wasn't for her Ten Year, she'd be fired by now."

I lean against the paneling, trying to keep from looking annoyed.

Honestly, every time Mrs. Jones has the audacity to insult Ms. Hudson, it gets on my nerves. Sure, Ms. Hudson isn't the most organized person, and yes, she has the most spazzed out memory, but she's real. She's not all about brains or looks or anything superficial like that. She believes in a person's ability to excel in what they like and do anything in their power to get to their goals.

And, according to Sammy, the only time she brings up Ms. Hudson's "terrible" teaching habits is when I'm over.

Which, needless to say, simply fuels my undying distaste for her.

Mr. Jones clears his throat, taking another sip of his piping hot coffee, "Are you staying for dinner, Droy?"

"I better not." I say, rubbing my head, "I still have to talk to Taylor about something before he leaves."

"Oh yeah." Sammy says, her face suddenly looking worried, "You never told me what your punishment was for hitting Dacen."

Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Jones flinches or pauses. Mr. Jones simply looks at me, a hint of curiousness written on his face; while Mrs. Jones barely glances me as she walks to the cabinet next to me filled with large, glass, serving plates. Apparently, Sammy has already informed them of my… anger issue yesterday.

"Uh… about that…" I look at a strand of red hair, pretending to be interested in the deep crimson color, "Can we talk about that alone?"

"There's no need." Mrs. Jones says in a monotone, "I'll find out eventually. Go ahead and say it out for everyone to hear: You were suspended, correct?"

"Mom, if she was suspended, she would've just said so." Sammy snaps, heading out of the kitchen, "We can go to my room."

I nod and follow after her, heading down through the living room and to a door that opens up to a metal, spiraling staircase.

At the bottom of the stairs is Sammy's gigantic room. The white, shag carpet is as soft as it always is (thanks to Sammy's mom, who has some kind of obsession with cleaning the carpet with carpet shampoo every other day) and looks brand new, despite being at least nine years old. Straight ahead, in the right corner of the room, a king size bed sits, taking up only a fraction of the large floor. A pink and black zebra print comforter is covering the bed messily, showing the silk pink sheets underneath, and an arrangement of pink and black, queen size pillows sprawled all around the bed and floor. Next to her bed is a black night stand with a set of pink drawers on it, a regular, black and white zebra-style, smooth top. A Hello Kitty alarm clock sat on top (which had Hello Kitty sleeping on a pink bed, the time printed digitally on bed post), an Xbox 360 controller lying in pieces behind it.

Diagonally from the end of her bed, on the opposite wall of the stairs, is a slim, wooden TV stand with a mini LCD TV sitting on it, a couple of her Spiderman comic books and a few old Halo games on the shelves. Two, large Snorlax bean bags are plastered on the floor in between the TV and bed, a family-sized bag of Lays leaning against the one closest to me, another Xbox controller on the closed eye of the poor Snorlax.

"I see your taste hasn't changed much." I say, smiling down at the fat Pokémon, "You've had these things since the sixth grade."

She grins, plopping down in the middle of Snorlax's stomach and snatching a Lays chip, "One does not simply outgrow Pokémon." She says, mimicking some dead guy, "Have a seat, my dear Droy, and tell me the problem."

I laugh, falling back onto the other Snorlax, "I'll tell you if you promise to never talk in that accent again."

"What?" She whines, "I enjoy talking all sophisticated and British and stuff. It's fun."

"And annoying." I add, chuckling as she sticks her tongue out at me.

"So?" She pries, "What's going on? Are you suspended or what?"

I sigh, leaning back to stair up at the burning balls of fiery stars on the ceiling, "Sammy, what would you do if I told you that I'm not… as dumb as everyone thinks I am?"

"I'd tell you I already know." She says.

Abruptly, I sit up, looking at her, "What?"

She smiles, "I already know you're not as stupid as everyone in the school thinks."

"How?" I gape, not bothering to hide my surprise.

"Droy, we've been best friends since the sixth grade. Up until the eighth grade, you got straight A's and the only time you studied was when you helped me study."

I blink, "But you never said anything…"

She shrugs, "That's because I figured you had your reasons for making people believe you suck at school. Most of the things you do have a purpose."

"Huh." I rest my head on my hand, elbow resting on my crossed legs, "To think that the same Samantha Jones, who doesn't know the difference between photosynthesis and photography, actually knew my secret the entire time… Wow."

She throws a chip at me, "In my defense, what the heck does the "photo" in photosynthesis have to do with plants, okay? It's an easy mistake."

"For a second grader." I smirk.

"And there's a difference between plants and cameras and my best friend. I actually care about my best friend. Plants and cameras aren't really my thing." She defends.

I chuckle.

"But what does that have to do with your punishment?" She asks, shoving six chips into her mouth at a time and handing me the bag.

Another sigh.

"Mr. Andrews knows just how smart I am." I explain, taking the bag from her, "And he's decided to transfer me to the A-4 class as punishment."

She inhales sharply and starts choking, coughing violently on a chip that's gone down the wrong pipe, "He's-" more coughs, "-what?"

"Transferring me to the A-4 class." I repeat, tossing the bag back to her, "As punishment, he's sending me to Hell with that dang Dacen."

"Oh" cough "my" cough "God!" She clears her throat, staring at me with wide eyes, "How can he do that? Aren't your grades too low?"

"My grades are barely passing." I agree, "But because of a test Taylor had me take, he has just the proof he needs to transfer me at will."

"What about the teachers?" She tries, "Won't they hate having someone like you in their class? I mean, you punched the star student!"

"I thought so too, but, if my guess is right, the school, and even the teachers, only care about getting higher scores on exams. If I transfer into the top class, it'll make the school's website." I grumble.

"More like the national news!" She exaggerates, throwing her arms around, "What about your fight with Dacen? How can they put you into the same class as the guy you hit!? Isn't that a contradiction or something?"

"Dacen's the one who recommended it." I grumble.

She stops, the flow of her words coming to a halt. And for Sammy, that's something that doesn't happen often.

Or ever, really.

With terror, I look over at her, only to see her entire face practically glowing with a very large and very creepy grin.

"Dacen?" She squeaks, grinning so wide, I'm afraid her face will break, "So Dacen wanted you in his class?"

"No, um, that's not entirely-"

"OHMIGOD!" She squeals, clapping her hands together as if she's applauding some unknown idea in her head, "Does he like you!? I bet that's it! The popular guy in school likes the strong-willed girl with awesome hair and wants to be closer to her! That's the most amazingest thing-"

I cover her mouth with my left hand, rolling my eyes as she still continues to talk, "Please don't let your imagination get away with you on this. Dacen hates me as much as I hate him. Did you forget he's a genius? He probably figured out my secret and blabbed it to Mr. Andrews because he knew that that would tick me off the most. And you can't use "most" and the suffix "-est" in the same sentence. Just saying."

She removes my hand with her own, "First of all, I'm not in school so no English lesson; second of all, even if he is a genius, there's no way he figured it out that easily. I mean you're practically the world's best liar. It'd take a slip up on your part for him to even have a hint."

I rub my forehead, cursing the pretty brunette next to me.

How can someone who doesn't even know the basics of English be so perceptive? This is about the third time today alone that she's read through something I've said.

It's a shame I can't tell her that I slipped up when I was helping his little brother with Chinese at his house.

"Who knows?" I sigh, once again resting my head on my palm, "Maybe when we were in that argument. I did tell him that I checked it myself. Maybe he took that more seriously than he led on."

"Good point." She mutters in defeat, "But still! The possibility is still there!"

"Just give up, Sams, okay?" I say, on the verge of begging, "There is no way in hell that Dacen would even find me remotely attractive, let alone like me in the way you're thinking."

"You never know." She grumbles, crossing her arms in a childish pout, "I read a graphic novel once about it."

"That's a novel, not reality. At least, not reality when it comes to me." I reason. "Can we please just focus on the problem at hand? I'm transferring to the A-4 class on Monday, you know."

Her eyes widen, "So soon!?"

"I guess." I mumble, "The sooner, the better, right?" I say sourly.

"Droy, what am I supposed to do in class without you!?" She wails, leaping from her bean bag to mine as she wraps her arms around my neck, "How am I supposed to live on in school!?"

"Really, Sammy, really?" I chuckle, "At least you'll still have Allen and everyone. I'm stuck with know-it-alls who all probably hate me."

She cringes and pulls away, looking at me with comical sympathy, "You're right. That's going to suck."

"Tell me about it." I sigh for the thousandth time since this morning, "But it's my own fault, so it's okay."

"Samantha! Dinner's ready!" Mrs. Jones calls down the stairs. "Hurry and get up here."

Sammy's face contorts into disgust, "I'm sorry about my mom, by the way. I know it seems like nothing's changed, but she honestly has warmed up to you a little."

I wave her off, standing up, "It's fine. I won't stop talking to you just because she hates me, so you don't have to work so hard for her to stop."

"She'll come around eventually!" She promises, "Especially now that you're going to be in the top class! Oh man is she going to blow a casket when she finds out…"

"I can see it now." I say, "She'll be surprised at first, a little impressed, and then she'll be so angry, that she'll be worse than usual."

"Droy!" She smacks my arm, "Stop being so pessimistic! I doubt it could get worse!"

I laugh, "Thanks for the encouragement."

We head back up the stairs, me leading the way to the door and Sammy following closely behind.

"So I'll see you in class tomorrow?" She asks, checking to make sure.

"Yes." I answer, "I'm switching Monday, remember? Tomorrow will be like any other day."

She lets out a breath, blowing out her bangs with a pout, "I don't like this one bit." She whines.

I laugh, patting her shoulder, "You and me both. But we'll still see each other. I'll stay after school and hang out in there with you guys when the bell rings for the A classes to leave."

"Really!?" She shines, "Will you help me with my studies too?"

"Probably." I agree, turning the doorknob, "No use hiding it now, now is there?"

"Awesome!" She cheers, "I'm going to be the smartest girl in the C class ever!"

I roll my eyes, "You'll have to learn the basics first."

"So mean~" She whines.

"I'll see you tomorrow." I laugh, stepping out.

It's colder than what it was when we first got to her house. Now, the temperature has dropped at least thirty degrees and is giving me goosebumps, making me regret this trip entirely.

How am I supposed to get to Dacen's house from Sammy's anyway? Do I really have to take the train all the way back to school and then take the fancy train to the house?

I look around, trying to think of where Sammy's place is on the town map and then where Dacen's is.

Sadly, I don't have a photographic memory.

Cursing at my inability to think through before taking action, I head to the train station. It's only about seven-thirty, eight o'clock, so the ticket master for the train should still be at the usual post; I'll just have to ask him.

The walk isn't long, taking only a little over ten minutes to get to the platform, and I'm relieved to see a thin and lanky man standing behind the counter.

"Excuse me." I say politely, tapping on the thick glass with the tip of my index finger's nail.

The man awakes with a start, his big blue eyes flipping open fast. When he sees that it's just me, a lost high schooler, he immediately relaxes, smoothing down his deep blue, silk tie and straightening his black sweater vest, showing the white button-up.

"Is something wrong?" He asks, yawning a little.

"I was wondering if you could tell me what train I can take to get from here to Private Lane." I laugh uneasily, rubbing my head, "You see, I got on the wrong train on my way home and didn't realize it until they called out the last stop."

The guy smiles with sympathy and flips open a hardcover book, a list of numbers filling each line.

"There is one more running tonight. It should be here any minute." He informs me, scaling through the numbers with the tip of his long finger, "You'll get off on the first stop."

"Huh. So it's that close?" I mumble, putting a finger to my lip. "Is it possible for me to walk there?"

He tilts his head, calculations running through his mind, before he nods, "It'll take you a half hour or so, but yeah, you can walk."

"Thanks." I bow my head before heading back up the steps.

"Are you sure you want to walk, though?" He stops me, leaning out of the sliding window slightly, "There is a serial rapist on the loose."

"Don't worry." I smile, "I can take care of myself."

"I can take you home." He says, sounding almost pleading, "I'd never forgive myself if such a cute girl got hurt."

I blink, taken back.

It's the first time anyone's called me cute.

"Um…" What am I supposed to say to that!? "Thanks… But, er, I'll be okay."

He doesn't seem as sure, but I'm too uncomfortable to stick around, so I make my way out of the station with haste.

The streets seem to be creepier than what they were before. My mind's racing with thoughts of the rapist and the poor girl's whose picture had been plastered on the front page, an unknowing smile on her face…

Ah, get a hold of yourself, Droy! There's no way someone who likes girls like Sammy would want to attack you!

With a new air of courage, I trudge on, walking along the sidewalk with my hands in the pocket of my black and white plaid, uniform skirt.

After a few minutes of boring and silent steps, I stop at the sound of a distinct footstep, one that isn't mine. I freeze, a feeling of shear panic running my body to ice. My stomach feels like it has fallen, my heart hammering in my ears in obvious warning.

Someone's following me.

Instead of looking back, I glance at the imaginary watch on my wrist and pick up my pace, pretending to be worried about being late.

Suddenly, with the force of wrecking ball, I ram into someone's hard chest and stumble back.

"Ugh." I groan, "I am so sor-" I stop mid-sentence when I look up at the person I ran into.

Standing in front of me, with a sick look of satisfaction and amusement on his face, is the man who tried to feel Sammy up.

My eyes narrow and I ignore the warnings going off somewhere in the back of my mind, "What? Come to get revenge?"

He smirks thinly, sending chills down my spine, "Still so brave."

I put my hands on my hips, legs trembling, "Well? What do you want?"

His giant hand reaches out and grabs my right wrist, pulling it behind my back painfully. I grind my teeth, groaning at the force as his other hand wraps securely around my waist, pulling my back against his hard chest.

My entire body is trembling with fear and I thrash around out of instinct, hitting something with the back of my head. He grunts and tugs my right wrist farther behind my back, sending another surge of pain through my body.

"Be a good girl." His bold and strong voice flits to my ear, dripping with warning, "I'm not going to take you just yet."

I growl, but stop struggling and glare at the dark night, plotting.

He leans down to the crook of my neck, filling his lungs with the smell of my hair, "Herbal Essences? That isn't something I expected."

"Sorry to disappoint." I quip.

He chuckles, "I've never met a girl like you before." He breathes, "Most of them whimper in fear and beg, but you're different."

"Oh yeah?" I shift around a little, "Not all of us enjoy rolling over to assholes."

He throws his head back and laughs, loud and hardy, "When you bent my finger back, I was surprised, but I thought it'd be easy to get you out of the picture. However, even after seeing me, your resolve didn't waver and you even bent my finger back further! A girl has never done that to me before."

"Really? I would've never guessed." I move my head away, uncomfortable with his face being so close to mine, "I mean, you have such… great social skills."

His hold tightens, "You're strong." He compliments, "I like it. The others kept quiet and didn't respond at all, but you even throw out sarcastic remarks. I think I might even prefer you to my last girl, who was developed for her age."

I hiss, the picture of that innocent girl flashing across my memory. Hopefully with enough force to bust his lip, I bring my head back on him hard. In surprise, he lets go, gripping his mouth with a bloody hand.

He growls, angry to be so careless and starts after me, only to stop, another sick grin on his face.

I glare at him, refusing to give in.

And then, he's gone.

At the sound of more footsteps, he rushes towards houses and into people's backyards, running from the unwanted person.

The panic and terror finally wash over me and I fall to my knees, trembling with the relief that it's finally over. The intense fear I had been hiding takes over and wracks my body with shudders and I wrap my arms around myself in an attempt to stop the utter chaos rocking my body.

I will not cry. No matter what, I definitely will not cry.

"Droy?" Someone calls out, distant footsteps becoming rushed, panicked almost.

I ignore it, focusing on keeping the tears back.

He's gone, so pull yourself together Droy! There's no reason to freak Taylor out too!

"Droy, are you okay?" The person bends down and places their hands on my shoulders.

I take a deep breath and look up, only to stop dead.

Dacen is kneeling in front of me, inspecting my face with some emotion I can't decipher in his eyes.

My senses suddenly come back to me and I blink before glaring, "I'm fine." I answer curtly, trying to focus on the anger rather than the fear, "What do you want?"

He blinks, not expecting my harsh tone, "Nothing." He answers easily, "Your brother was getting worried about you and my mom asked me to look for you since it's so late."

I sigh, "I just talked to Sammy."

He nods, still studying me.

I pull back a little, putting space between us, "What?"

He leans forward, eyes narrowing, "Did something happen?"

I blink, "Huh?"

His eyes trail over me, "You're shaking." He explains, "And before you looked up at me, it looked like you were about to cry."

I avoid his gaze, suddenly feeling the anger drain, uneasiness taking its place, "I-I… uhm… I have no idea what you're, er, talking about."

He lets out a soft sigh, giving up on something, "Come on." He says, standing up and holding out a hand, "Everyone's waiting."

I eye his hand, guarded.

"It's just a hand." He states.

"Tch." I click my tongue, gripping his hand and lifting myself up, "You think I don't know that?"

"By the looks of your dumbfounded face, I just thought…" His voice trails off, a smirk filling the air.

"Well excuse me for thinking that you'd use this as a chance to get me back." I defend, shoving my hands in my pockets as we head towards the house.

He chuckles and I resist the urge to hit my head.

Seriously? You're talking to him? Shouldn't you pretend like he doesn't exist or something?

I resist the urge to sigh, yet again, and focus on the road ahead of us, our conversation evaporating into air.

Surprisingly, the silence isn't awkward; it's not comfortable either, but it's like we're both just here, out of necessity rather than want, and each of our thoughts are jumbled together, so we're using the silence to construct some sort of order.

Or maybe that's just me.

As soon as we walk into the door, Bridget rushes from the kitchen to meet us.

"Oh, we were so worried!" She says, wrapping her arms around me.

I smile guiltily, "Um, I'm sorry." I apologize, returning the hug, "I was over at a friend's house and lost track of time."

"Thank goodness you two are okay." James agrees, standing up from the couch.

"You're freezing cold, Droy!" Bridget says, pressing her cheek against mine, "No wonder you're trembling! Hurry and go upstairs and change. I'll bring something warm up."

"You don't have to-"

"Nonsense." She interrupts, heading to the kitchen.

"Hurry along." James says in agreement, "We wouldn't want you two to catch a cold."

I do as I'm told and walk up the stairs, stopping at the sight of Kadence at the top.

"Dacen!" He says happily, running past me to stare up at Dacen, "Why're you home so late?"

"Sorry." He says, ruffling Kadence's hair with a small smile, "I had to make sure Droy knew her way home."

I stare at Dacen, blinking.

Dacen looks up at me and I drop my gaze, continuing to my room.

I collapse on the bed, feeling as if my thoughts are running thousands of miles per hour.

My body still feels as if it'll shut down at even the thought of the creepy man on the street, so I stray entirely from him, instead focusing on the stair scene.

I guess even someone as heartless as Dacen can have a soft spot; it's just weird to see it.

For a minute, when he rubbed Kadence's hair with that smile, he actually seemed human.

There's a knock at my door.

"Come in."

Bridget comes in with a tray of steaming tea and sits down next to me, "Here you go, dear."

"Thanks." I smile, taking a hot mug. "Did Taylor already leave?"

She nods, setting the grey tray on the pink bench next to my bed, "He had to finish his tests with his first surgery."

"How dumb." I mutter without thinking, "As if they don't already know how good he is."

She smiles, "I'm guessing he's gone like this often?"

The raspberry tea is seriously scorching, so I rest it on my lap, nodding, "Dr. Jones really enjoys having Taylor work under him, so he calls him in for almost everything."

"Must be hard." She says sympathetically.

I shrug, "It's what he has to do. Besides, I can stay at Sammy's or Allen's if I need to."

"Is that why you were so late?" She asks, taking a sip.

"Sorry to make you all worry." I apologize again, "It'll take some time getting used to people waiting for me."

She squeals, wrapping her arms around me, "Ahh! You are just the cutest thing in the entire world! Where have you been for these seventeen years of my boy-filled life!?"

I laugh, trying to keep from spilling the tea everywhere.

"Since it's your first weekend here, we're all going to hold a celebration here, okay?" She grins, looking hopefully at me as she pulls away, "We can invite my mother-in-law and have cake and everything, sound good?"

"Sure." I breathe, hoping that I don't sound as uneasy as I feel.

"Perfect~" She cheers, standing up, "Drink all of your tea and then get a hot shower. I'll see you in the morning."

"Oh, wait." I say quickly before she can close the door, "Thanks for asking Dacen to pick me up."

She stops and nudges the door open a little to look at me, "He picked you up?"

I nod, "Usually, I'm not bothered by the dark, but since it was so cold and I didn't know where I was going, it really helped me out."

"I didn't ask him to do anything like that." She says as she purses her lips in contemplation, "As a matter of fact, he left even though Taylor told us not to worry because you always come home late…"

"Wait, so you didn't ask him to?" I ask.

She shakes her head, "No. I thought he went to the convenience store…" She trails off, a knowing smirk popping up on her face, "So he came to pick you up, eh?"

"It's… it's nothing." I wave off, "Thanks for the tea."

"Sure, dear. Any time." She says, but the smirk is still on her face.

The door closes with a click and I stare at it, lost.

So, wait a minute, she didn't ask him? Does that mean he went to find me on his own?

I shake my head.

No. That's definitely not it. It's simply a coincidence. He probably left to go to the store or something and ended up running into me. Yeah. That's it.

I roll my eyes.

Sammy, your imagination has almost infected me!

Dacen worried about me? That's a laugh.