Chapter Four

Over the River and Through the Woods

I wanted answers, not more questions, and yet, I found myself asking more and more. Funny how that worked out.

"What are we doing, Carrie?" I whispered harshly, clutching to the flashlight in my hand like it was the only thing keeping me from death. It was freezing outside, and not even my insulated jacket and boots could save me from the cold. I had been an idiot and didn't grab gloves, my fingers growing numb as every second passed by.

She gave me a mischievous smile, walking away from me and edging closer to the trees that enclosed the backyard. "Haven't you ever wondered why Grandma wants us to stay out of the woods?" Carrie glanced back, her hair falling over her shoulders like a waterfall, her eyes sad even in the dark of the night.

She was waiting for me to answer, but my heart had stopped beating the moment I heard her words. "Don't be ridiculous, Carrie," I told her softly.

She smiled again, but her eyes remained sad. "Whatever do you mean, Meredith?"

"I'm not going in there." I had already broken one rule; I wasn't ready to break the others. "You know very well why we aren't allowed; it's dangerous."

"Oh, right," Carrie said, turning back around so that she was facing me completely. "It's dangerous, but why?"

I was getting frustrated again. She wasn't answering any questions, just giving me more to answer, as if I were the one with all of the information. "Goddamn it, Carrie. You said you would explain."

"I will." She turned back around and started walking towards the trees, but this time, she didn't stop. I felt my skin crawl as I watched my cousin in her leather jacket and jeans and thigh-high boots disappear into the dark like she had never been there in the first place, and I knew—I knew—that she was testing me, trying to make me follow her. I would be damned if I did.

"Very funny, Carrie!" I called after her, clinging tighter to the flashlight. I shined it in the direction that she went but could see nothing but trees.

She didn't answer me.

I waited a few moments before calling out again. "Seriously, Care, let's go back inside!"

No answer.

I chewed my lip, trying to calm down the flares of frustration scratching inside of my chest. She really wanted to draw this out, didn't she? I waited a few more moments before sighing heavily. "You know what? Fine! I don't care anymore! Don't tell me anything! Let's just go back inside and go back asleep. I give up. Did you hear me? I give up!"

There was still no answer, and I was growing restless with worry and anger. I couldn't believe that she was doing this to me. Was it so important that I go into the woods? What could she tell me in there that she couldn't out here?

I took a deep breath and glanced back at my grandmother's home. She was in there sleeping, and that alone was enough to fill me with guilt. It wasn't the first time that Carrie and I had snuck out at night and stared at the woods, smiling sheepishly at each other to see who would be willing to get closest to the boundary that separated our favorite play place and the forbidden area that had been so drilled inside of our minds.

Believe it or not, but I was always the one who would win that game. Carrie would always chicken out, too afraid to inch even just a foot closer to the trees.

I guess that's irony.

I turned back to look at the trees, rustling quietly in front of me as a cold wind blew through the branches. I shivered a bit, but from the cold or from the prospect of actually doing the one thing I had had nightmares about, I wasn't sure. Still, just as Carrie had wanted and just as I had hoped would not happen, I started to walk slowly towards the edge, and once I had one foot in the tall grass, cracking a branch or two, it was too late to turn back.

I walked blindly into the woods, dodging branches and trying to watch my step as well as one could in the dark. Why was it dangerous? I wondered, thinking back to what Carrie had asked me. The animals seemed like a good enough answer, getting lost a second best, but I wasn't sure. The way Grandma had always talked about it, it sounded like monsters lived in—

"—Meri." I nearly died, my heart thumping loudly in my ears, my body freezing at the sound of my name. I spun around to see Carrie sitting on a tree stump, looking utterly—and disgustingly—pleased with herself. I must've passed her, not even noticed she was there, but I blamed it in part on my bad vision and her ridiculously good hiding skills.

"Don't do that," I ordered, trying to calm down my racing heart. "I almost had a heart attack, and also," I trudged my way over to her, unable to resist a pout scrunching at my lips, "don't look so smug, okay? I'm here; now, tell me."

I wanted to wipe the smirk off of her face. "Oh? I thought that you didn't even care about it anymore, that you didn't want to know anything? Didn't you say something about giving up?"

I hated that being a smartass seemed to run in our family. "Stop teasing, and spill. I've lied for you, walked into the fucking woods, and been patient all this time; the least you can do is tell me."

Her smile disappeared, and I immediately found myself wishing for it to come back, wishing that I could retract my words that were left hanging in the air. A smug Carrie was so much better than a sad Carrie.

"Karly and Reese ran away together about six months ago."

I blinked. "What?"

"They ran away together. Karly packed a suitcase, and she and Reese left town without a word to anyone."

I sucked in a breath and stared hard at Carrie, but there was no sign of a joke. "How were they found?"

"Jared," Carrie said quietly, "Frankie, and me. While Grandma freaked out and was ready to call the Coast Guard and Old Man Quinn showed up at our house and was ready to strangle our grandmother, the three of us got in Jared's car and tracked them down. It was easy enough; the girls weren't very creative in getting away. They rented a motel room right outside of town."

"She's learned nothing from us," I said, deadpanned, while inside, I felt like all of my organs had melted together and were swirling into one big puddle of gunk. Things were making sense now: the way Grandma reacted, the way Karly reacted, the way Frankie reacted. It all made sense. I think I either wanted to throw up, cry, or punch something, but I wasn't sure which. "Why did no one tell me this?"

"Grandma told Aunt Susana. I don't know why she didn't tell you."

Did my mother really want so much to do nothing with this town that she would withhold such important information from me? I was so happy that I wouldn't see her for at least two months because maybe by then I would be able to be civil with her, but at that moment, I was so angry that my hands were shaking. "I just don't understand."

"They wanted to be together and thought it was the only way. They think they're in love, Meri," Carrie said softly, "sometimes I think Reese more so than Karly. You know Karly; she loves everyone and everything, but Reese, she really does like my baby sister. You saw her the other day, didn't you? Did you see the way she looks at Karly?"

No, I hadn't. I was so busy with trying not to stab Frankie—I mean, Franklin in the throat that I hadn't even really registered Reese that much. I hadn't even thought that they would be more than friends.

"It's like she thinks Karly makes the world turn. It makes my heart hurt just thinking about how much Grandma wouldn't stand for it."

"I didn't know." I took a deep breath, the cold air rushing into my chest, trying to steady myself as I absorbed all of this new information. "Why were you so rude to Karly earlier?" She seemed so sympathetic now.

"You mean, why wouldn't I coddle her?" Carrie's gaze was sharp, distinct. "Karly knew that this was going to happen. You don't just run away from home and expect that, when you return to home, everything can just go back to the way it was. And besides, Reese is a Quinn, and Karly knew all of this, but she still decided to go behind Grandma's back anyway."

Carrie sighed, looking away from me. "She needs to learn that her actions come with consequences. We've babied her for too long, and she's just going to get hurt if we keep letting her…" She trailed off, not finishing her sentence, but she didn't need to. I understood.

"I'm sorry," were the only words I could find.

But Carrie just shook her head. "You didn't know."

I let a few moments pass before I pushed a little harder. There was just one more thing that I needed to know. "What did you mean when you said that your mom was murdered?"

Carrie glanced at me. "That she was murdered."

I could tell that we were both becoming irritated with each other. "You know what I meant. Why? How? Who? How did you even find out?"

"I think that's where I come in," a voice called from behind me, familiar and unrushed like rehearsed lines in a play.

I wanted to die—nearly did die—jumping and whipping around to see Franklin standing there in the moonlight, a wiry smile on his lips. He wore the same clothes he had been wearing earlier, blue plaid shirt rolled up to his elbows and jeans, standing there without a jacket even though he had to've been freezing.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I whispered harshly, feeling that age old anger flare up inside of me again. Or maybe, more importantly, how long had he been standing there? I heard Carrie rustle leaves behind me as she stood up and walked to my side.

"I invited him," Carrie said steadily, every word precise and planned. Her eyes caught mine, searing in the dark like a hot poker, but she didn't hold my gaze for long, turning her attention back to Franklin. "He's been helping me."

"Helping," I repeated, turning my own gaze back to the very laidback boy with his easy-going smile. His hands were stuffed into his jeans as he eyed Carrie, waiting for something. Was he the one shining the flashlight through our window last night?

"I wonder," Carrie started, "how we should tell her."

Oh, God. Tell me what?

"Maybe it's best to show her instead." Franklin's voice was a bit darker that time, tinted with some hidden meaning that I suddenly didn't want to know. My stomach began to tie itself in knots, and the uneasiness was thick enough to choke on. Show me? Show me what?

"No," she said back softly. "Not yet. She isn't ready."

I was growing a bit frustrated, the way they were talking about me like I wasn't even there, and I made it very clear that I didn't like it. "She," I emphasized, sending Carrie a glare that she very much deserved, "is very confused. Is anyone going to explain, or am I standing out here in the cold for nothing?"

Franklin ignored me. "It's impossible anyway for another day." He nodded his head upwards; I watched as Carrie's eyes flickered upward before settling back down on him. I tried to follow Carrie's gaze, but I saw nothing but tree branches and a dark night sky. "And I highly doubt Devon would be willing to give us a performance."

Who the fuck was Devon? For such a small town, I found myself not knowing many people.

"Carrie, Franklin," I said as sweetly as I could, my eyes shifting from one to the other. "Can we please not pretend that I'm not here?"

"Were you followed?" Carrie asked him, almost as though she didn't hear me, but I knew that she did. How could she not?

"No." Franklin's smile just made me one hundred percent more annoyed. "Were you?"

"No. Do you think it's safe?"

"There's no one listening. It's probably as safe as we can be."

"Carrie," I insisted. My patience was gone, had run dry. I was tired of these games. "Franklin. Will someone tell me what's going on?"

"Your aunt was killed on a July night, July 17th, to be exact," Franklin announced, his voice steady and unwavering, as though he were telling a fairytale and not a true tragedy. His eyes caught mine and wouldn't let go. "She was found in these woods, her head cracked open. It was deemed an accident. The officials claimed that she walking and tripped and hit her head, but there was more. Her neck was broken, twisted." My blood froze, my stomach churning in some form of disgust as I could just picture my aunt in my mind's eye, dead and bloody. I wanted to throw up.

"Then, why didn't they investigate?" I glanced over at Carrie, but she didn't move an inch, didn't leave any sign of emotion. This had been the first time I had even heard anything detailing the death of Aunt Jackie. When we were younger, the word accident seemed to satisfy and justify the entire thing, and we didn't want to know—and Grandma and my mom didn't want to tell us—everything about what happened to her. All I knew was that one night she was there, and when I woke up, she was gone.

"It wasn't reported." Franklin took a step closer, and I was compelled to look him in the eye. "For some reason, the autopsy was wiped clear of any information pertaining to any other wounds besides that of the one on her head."

"Well, that's convenient, isn't it?" Things still weren't adding up. "How do you know all of this if everything was wiped clean?"

"My father." He didn't say anything else, but he didn't need to. Dr. Elias Quinn, middle brother of the triad that made the Quinn patriarchs, was the forensic pathologist, a medical examiner if you will, of Harken County, in charge of examining the bodies of those who have died. Perfectly convenient, now that I think about it.

"So, your father told you that he faked the files surrounding my aunt's death? I'm pretty sure that's at least a felony." This was surreal, absolutely surreal.

"Well, he didn't exactly tell me," Franklin amended, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. "He told Carrie."


"He stopped me in Aunt Lurlene's store." I watched Carrie carefully, not sure what made sense anymore and what didn't. "Invited me over for coffee. He has his own reasons, reasons that you should probably hear from him," more secrets, "but just know that he means well. Dr. Quinn feels guilty, wants to make things right, but he needs us to do it. He doesn't know who killed my mom or why, but they all agreed to make it look like an accident, rather than get the police involved in a murder investigation."

"But why?" I pleaded, desperation making my eyes sting, but I wouldn't cry, not now, not here. "Why didn't they want the police involved? Who are they protecting?"

"Look, Meredith." Franklin's steady voice pulled my gaze back to him, the moonlight shadowing all of the right parts of his face. "I know I've been a shitty person to you in the past, but even I know that this beyond messed up. This—this whole thing is just so fucked up. And my dad, he's a good guy. He really is; he just screwed up majorly and feels absolutely awful about it. He knows what he's done is unforgivable, but he's trying to redeem himself by helping Carrie—by helping both of you, and setting things right. And I want to help, too."

I had never seen such a determined look in Franklin's eyes, and I was surprised by how compelling his words were. If we didn't have so much history, I might've believed him—I even caught myself wanting to believe him, but I didn't say anything and let him continue.

"We only have each other in this, and you have to trust us. We don't know why. My dad can't tell us why, so it's up to us—the three of us—to find out why, to bury these skeletons once and for all, so to speak." The smile that he gave me was so raw and steely that it sliced into me. I think it was his attempt at being funny, but I couldn't conjure up any laughs at all. I felt any doubts I had clog inside my throat.

I waited, paused, listening to the wind blowing softly pass us. It was so cold and so quiet that night that my thoughts were the loudest I had ever heard them, the beating of my heart thudding inside of my ears. I tried to absorb all of this information, but even still, with everything laid out before me, I found myself grasping at straws.

"We have to tell Grandma," I finally said, a whisper just above the wind, but Carrie heard me, her eyes less than welcoming.

"That's the problem, Meri," she said, her volume matching mine, but there was a chill inside her eyes that was even colder than the night air. Her words dripped from her mouth like venom. "Grandma already knows."

"What?" My blood ran cold, as cold as Carrie's gaze.

"My father was pretty clear," Franklin said softly, but I couldn't turn away from Carrie, my eyes glued to her. I couldn't tear them away if I tried. "Your grandmother, your mom—"

My mother? I sputtered, this time forcibly ripping my eyes away from my cousin's blank, unmoving face. I had never known desperation until then, searching for any sign of falsehood on Franklin's face, but there was nothing. "—They what?"

Carrie took a deep ragged breath and exhaled rusty, sharp words. Her eyes were angry, a fire burning inside of them that seemed to spark an identical one inside my heart. I didn't know cold anymore; all I could feel was that burning inside of my chest. "They know," she said. "They were both in on it. They were both there that night. They know already, Meri."

My family was really fucked up.

"Can we trust him?" I asked her softly, my breath making those pretty little clouds in the air as we trudged back through the woods in the pale moonlight. Franklin had left after making promises to meet with us next night so that we could discuss where we go from here. Apparently, they had a lead. The guy who found Aunt Jackie that night lived just out of the town.

But I still had my doubts as we made our way back home. My hands were stuffed into the pockets of my jacket, my nose starting to tingle from the cold. Carrie had taken the flashlight from me, leading us back home through what felt like arctic winds. It was summer for Christ's sake, but you would've never guessed it, the air so cold that it could probably snow, but I was no meteorologist, simply an overdramatic teenage girl who had gotten the shock of her life, not exactly the most reliable of narrators.

Carrie hardly registered my voice. The only sign that she really had heard me was the glance she spared, her eyes brushing ever so slightly across my face before returning straight forward. A pause rested heavy on our shoulders, and once again, I was struck by just how silent the woods were, so silent that it made the most deafening noise, thudding inside my eardrums and drowning out all else.

It was only when we reached the outskirts that she stopped, her feet just yards away from the boundary between the woods and our grandmother's back yard. I stopped, too, waiting patiently. This entire night had been a test of my patience.

"Yes," she finally answered, the word holding more weight than any other phrase that she could've uttered. Her eyes found me, and like always, they held me, searing into me. "You have to trust him, Meri. You have to trust Frankie, Dr. Quinn, and most of all, you have to trust me. I know it sounds strange, but there's even more—even more strange things. You just have to trust me."

That word: trust. It was beginning to sound more and more like it meant something else entirely.

"There's really more to all of this that I don't know still?" I should've been surprised, but all I could feel was the bitter cold and a heavy tiredness weighing me down. I wanted to sigh, to rub my forehead in hopes that my headache would go away, my thunderous, growing headache—or maybe migraine—pounding inside my skull, but I didn't. I just turned away, weariness winning.


"—Trust you," I finished for her, not having the strength to meet her eyes again even though I could feel her gaze on me. I never wanted to hear anyone say trust ever again. It was like poison falling into my ears, resentment boiling underneath my skin as the single syllable was uttered. "I understand. I have to trust you, but I don't trust him. I won't trust him, I won't trust his father, and you shouldn't trust them either." Trust, trust, trust. What did that really mean in the end?

She didn't say anything back, and I immediately regretted my words. They had spilled out almost unconsciously. I wanted to lie to her, to put her at ease, but my mouth betrayed me faster than I could think. It was the look of complete exhaustion on her face that staked my heart. Now, that I thought about it, she probably hadn't slept at all last night.

I sighed, trying to find words to make it better, but there were none. And Carrie knew it.

"Let's just go back home and sleep. We can talk about this more tomorrow," she said softly, heading towards the house without another look back, and I, like a toddling duckling, followed without any hesitation. She was right after all. We could talk about this in the morning.

And even though I was so tired that my limbs felt a thousand pounds heavy when my body hit the mattress, I didn't sleep that night. Not really. Carrie didn't either. We just laid in bed, looking up at the ceiling, listening to each other breathe in the least creepiest way possible. My head was spinning, and I didn't know how I would react the next time I saw my grandmother.

But this was the cost of knowledge. I knew the answers that I wanted to know—most of them anyway, and now, I was being drawn into the most convoluted family problems. Ignorance truly was bliss. I mean, how messed up do you have to be to cover up your own daughter's murder?

I wasn't satisfied, and neither was Carrie nor even Franklin for that matter. And now, our little ragtag group was tackling on something that was so much bigger than us. The entire situation felt ludicrous, like it was happening to someone else and I was just watching.

My little cousin was in love with the family enemy and had run away six months prior. My grandmother and mother were covering up my aunt's murder, and the bully of my childhood is helping my other cousin find out what really happened the night Aunt Jackie died, something that could result in the potential imprisonment of his own father, and his father is happily helping along with the very investigation that could lead to his imprisonment.

What the actual fuck?

I didn't know how to act when I crept downstairs and found Karly eating a bowl of cereal while scrolling on her laptop. She glanced at me briefly before smiling and waving hello. The warm early morning light shone through the windows, making everything seem so bright and… perfect. It was the scene of the perfect family, almost as though we didn't have a number of issues floating around, right under the surface.

"Good morning," she said, muffled by a mouthful of some kind of sugary oat breakfast thing. This was the girl who ran away from home? Really?

"Good morning," I greeted back, moving quickly to the cupboard to pull down a mug. I took a look at the coffee machine, and sure enough, there sat a pot of coffee, no longer steaming and looking unpleasantly cold. Grandma June had been here.

"Where's Grandma?" I asked as I poured the decidedly lukewarm coffee into my mug. Honestly, I was relieved that she wasn't there, happy that I wouldn't face her because I wasn't mentally ready to do so, but at the same time, I was wary. Was she out and about, spreading mayhem and murder?

I glanced over my shoulder when I didn't hear an answer to see Karly's look darken, but she didn't cry or pout, which had to be an improvement. "Just left actually. Something about Mary Winters needing help with her something-or-other."


She doesn't know, Carrie had told me when we crept through the back door last night, her voice hushed but fervent. She must have forgotten to mention it to me until we pried open the old sliding door. Karly has no idea—about Mom, about Grandma or Aunt Susana, she said. I want to keep it that way.

I threw a few tablespoons of sugar into my mug, added a bit of creamer, the dry and powdered kind, and stirred it, leaning against the counter, watching Karly as she did whatever it was on the computer.

I just couldn't see it. Karly running away, it just seemed impossible. She was always so happy; when did she become unhappy?

It didn't take long for her to glance up from her computer and at me. I was staring at her after all. "Is something wrong—something on my face or—?" She reached up and touched her cheek instinctively, her gaze never looking away from me.

"No," I answered, taking a sip of my coffee. It was still too bitter, but I didn't want to add more sugar. "I just… It's nothing." Did I want her to know that I knew? Would it make a difference?

But Karly is a lot more intelligent than I like to give her credit for, or perhaps, she's a lot more intuitive than I was willing to admit because she knew anyway, her brow scrunching together, the corners of her lips pointing downward. "Carrie told you, didn't she? About me and Reese."

"Yes," I answered softly, "but it's really okay, Karly. I mean, it isn't okay that you ran away, but I just didn't know is all. I was just surprised."

"Because Reese is a girl," Karly stipulated with such a serious, sad expression that I wanted to cry, and it was only until then did I realize that, even if Karly was sharp, she couldn't read minds any more than Grandma June could. We were talking about the same thing but on entirely different wavelengths.

"No," I insisted sternly. "There is nothing wrong with that; I was just surprised that you would run away. I mean." I stopped, unable to find the words. "I just never thought you would be so unhappy, that you would be so… stupid."

"Please, save the lecture, Meri. I've heard it all." The look in her eyes, so mature and so serious, shut me up faster than I thought possible. She wasn't that little girl anymore with the sparkling eyes and pigtails, following Carrie and me around and mimicking our every move. She had grown, was growing, but not fully grown. I knew that one day this teenage angst phase would hit her, but I never though it would've been now.

"It's suffocating," she continued, shifting her gaze away from me and onto the marble tabletop. "This town, it makes me want to scream. Grandma thinks that the Quinns are monster bent on destroying all of us, but Reese, even Frankie, Meri… they're people. Just like us. Hell, even Grandma loves Jared. I just don't understand…" Her fists clenched together tight and hard, and then, she unclenched them, relaxing her fingers as they splayed against the cool white marble.

"I—" but I didn't know what to say. What could I say? She was right. This town could smother the life out of the people inside of it. My mom and Aunt Jackie were testament to that, and even though it was hard for me to swallow, she was also right when she said that the Quinns were people. They were people, human, and not all of them were as awful as Grandma June would've liked us to think. I stared down into my coffee, brown and getting colder as the moments passed by; I stared into it as though it would have all the answers. It didn't, of course.

"I just want to be happy, Meri." Her eyes were pounding into me. "And she makes me happy. Is that so wrong?" Her sadness, her pleading, her desperate eyes scouring across my face, begging for an answer, it all plunged into me like a dagger, turning inside my chest.

"It's not wrong," I told her because it wasn't, "but you can't just run away from your problems, Karly. That's not how it works. Running away just makes things worse." And I could say that because I was a testament to it. I had watched my mother attempt to do that very thing. It was a different kind of situation, I suppose, but at its most simplified point, the situations boiled down to the same thing. At least, that's what I thought at the time.

"I had no choice," she whispered softly, her words just barely reaching my ears. "It was the only way we could be together."

My heart squeezed hard at the sound of her voice, something so sad and so full of contempt coloring her words that it almost made me want to reach out and hug her again, but I wouldn't be moved; I couldn't let her because there was a part of me that knew, no matter how sad-sob her story was, she still needed to be held accountable for her actions. Carrie was right in this aspect as much as I hated to admit it. Karly needed tough love.

Teenagers and their forbidden love, blinding them, I couldn't help but think as I watched her and her downcast look. It was hard to think straight, I suppose, when someone was in love, but I—embarrassingly—had no experience with it. Love, it seemed like something that happened to other people, not to me. "Should I remind you that Romeo and Juliet both ended up dead because they mindlessly pursued being together?" I asked very seriously, a bit of sting resting in my voice. I was joking but only half-heartedly.

My sharp tone earned me a sharp glance and a not amused scowl. "You're not funny."

"I wasn't trying to be."

She was going to say something, her gaze softening, her lips opening to form a word, but the front door clattered open. We could hear the shuffle of someone lingering near the doorway and then, the heavy footsteps clunked down the hall. My fingers clinched harder onto my mug, my heart pounding so loudly that it was all I could hear. What was I going to say to Grandma? How could I act like everything was fine? I just had to do it.

But the person, who came bustling into our kitchen, carrying about two stacks of what appeared to be egg cartons, was not my elderly grandmother. Quite the opposite actually. I was becoming used to the sight of an over six feet tall, golden blonde-haired, rugged and handsome, looking-like-he-just-jumped-off-of-a-magazine-cover individual, not something that I ever thought was possible, but I really couldn't complain when Jared peeped over the cartons and a smile broke across his face.

"Good morning, Meredith," he greeted, tipping his head down shyly, the perfect example of the perfect gentleman. I was just beginning to understand why Carrie might not've been able to handle the dashing young man. He was too perfect. It was enough to make someone stare all their imperfections in the face and get angry about it.

He turned slightly and saw Karly, hesitating for a second as he tried to glance at her over the cartons as well. "Ah, Karly. Good morning to you, too. Do people tell you that you're the spitting image of your sister?"

I had to bite back the giggle that rose inside my throat when I saw the most adorable expression spread across Karly's face, some kind of strange mixture of an annoyed pout. "We look completely different," she insisted, outrage of some form making her voice crack a bit. "The hair and the eyes, we're completely different."

"You're right, I s'ppose," he agreed, his eyes looking around the kitchen, searching for something, and I wanted to say that it was for Carrie. "But with a quick glance, it's nearly impossible to tell who is who." His eyes finally rested back on me. "Do you have any idea where your grandma would want these?"

"Oh! Um, you can probably just put them here." I made a limp gestured to my left and pushed myself away from the cabinets and counter, trying to make room for him. Even with my less-than-clear instructions, he managed to read my mind, placing them gently on the countertop next to me.

I didn't miss the way his muscles flexed underneath his skin. How could you?

My eyes dragged upward till they met his, two brilliantly blue eyes looking back at me, amusement written all over his face. "Do you see something you like, Meredith?"

Heat flooded over me, burning my cheeks. It suddenly felt hotter than the inner circle of Hell in my grandmother's kitchen, and guilt rested at the bottom of my stomach, making me feel as though I had suddenly committed some form of atrocious sin in my grandmother's kitchen. "Hardly," I managed to cough back, immediately averting my gaze as I looked for some kind of relief.

"I do," Karly said cheekily, leaning onto her elbows, her eyes fixated on Jared, a smile painted on her lips.

Wasn't she supposed to be in love or something?

"I think the only one he wants looking at him is Carrie," I said. Only a moment passed before I reeled back, gnashing my teeth together and pressing my lips into a fine line. The shocked look that Jared gave me made my blood freeze still; it was a look of doleful surprise, as though he didn't quite believe that I knew, that I knew he was hopelessly infatuated with my cousin.

"It's not that hard to tell," I said, keeping my voice soft, just in case my words would make him flinch.

But he didn't in the end, just watched me with a careful and level gaze. "Is it really?" He let out a rough, sharp breath, glancing at the eggs in the cartons. I guess that was as close to a love confession as I was going to get. At first, I thought that Carrie might've not liked him because he was too perfect, but then, I began to see another reason why she might've not liked him: he was impossible, shifty in a roundabout way. He would say everything except for the words you wanted him to say.

"Do you need anything else before I go?" he finally asked, breaking the silence swiftly. His eyes still wouldn't reach mine, focused on the tile of the kitchen instead. I felt like shit to be honest, but even I didn't really understand why. What I had said hadn't been that cruel, had it?

Still the way he shifted slightly away from me made me feel as though he didn't want to be near me right then.

Which made the request that tingled on my lips all the harder to vocalize. "Yes, actually."

I hated asking this of him, especially after how awkward I had made the situation, but there was no other way around it. And he could've always denied my request, couldn't he?

Still, the guilt that sunk inside of me could've killed me, but I guess fate had other plans.

Hello, hello!

What a chapter, right? There's a lot of things revealed here, but there's still even more to be revealed! Meredith doesn't even know half of it yet. And who is this Devon? I guess we'll find out next chapter. ;-)

I want to start off by saying that I'm so sorry that it's been so long since I've updated. Things have been hectic during my first year at college, and I'm just trying to make sense of my life right now.

I also couldn't write this chapter in a way that satisfied me, but I decided to stop tinkering with it and post it for you guys to see.

Thank you to loving-life and Slinking Fox for reviewing! You are so amazing. Reviews always help me and are always welcome, even if they just tell me that you liked the story or the chapter (or didn't like the story or the chapter).

I'll attempt to update on a more regular basis, but I can't make promises. (I do have the next chapter almost finished though, so you can expect that within a week or so.)

loving-life: Haha. My lips are sealed, and you'll have to wait and see what is up with the whole woods thing. However, I will try my best to complete this story! So, hopefully, there will be many updates! Thank you so much! This is one of the slowest stories I've ever written, mostly because everything's very complex, and it wouldn't feel right if Meredith found out everything right in the beginning. I hope you'll stick around to see what happens. :D Thank you again for your reassurance and comments. I appreciate them so much.

Slinking Fox: Thank you so, so much! I don't think I'll ever publish this story in particular, but I hope to publish another book one day. :-) I'm actually terrible at cliffhangers, so reading what you wrote made me smile so much! I'm still learning, but it's good to know that I'm doing something right! I'm so happy that my writing can help in anyway. I hope you enjoyed this chapter!