Earphones in, angry music blasting to the rhythm of his feet - Ethan Black's eyes were focused dead ahead as he ran on the treadmill. If anyone from school had walked into the gym - hefty membership fees paid - they wouldn't have immediately placed him as the resident golden boy of Tennyson High School. The grimace on his face was bordering on painful, having gone hard in the first hour and struggling in the second. No amount of touchdowns, could equal how he felt when running away from past demons.

He flicked his eyes to the side, when he saw a strange girl on the treadmill beside him. She was wearing fitted yoga pants, bright pink sneakers and a black hoodie, that covered her from head to toe. All he could see from her profile was a nose. His gaze quickly grew distracted, when she punched in the speed for her run - higher than his - and started drawing her knees up, straightening her back as her hands sliced through the air, like she was holding a baton and needed to get it to the next team member before the final klaxon sounded.

She was wearing a matching bright pink sports watch, with her heartbeats being recorded on it.

Ethan slowed to a walk and shot her a weird look. Then grabbing for the towel wrapped around his neck, he patted his face and got off.

"Hello?" he said once outside the gym.

"Are you coming home tonight?" his father gruffly asked through the phone.

"I'll be late."

"Where are you?"

"Football practice."

"You don't have football practices on Tuesdays."

"I do now."

There was a pause. A dangerous one.

"You better not be lying to me," his father said softly. "Melissa's unhappy about how you've been reacting to her becoming a part of our family. She says you barely talk to her in the hallways. Sometimes she walks into a room, and you walk out."

Ethan gritted his teeth. Did she also tell you how she came onto me last month? Walked into my room, when you were away at work one night, dropped her robe to reveal her nakedness and climbed into bed with me? Did she tell you, I woke up to find her mouth buried in my crotch?

The most awful thing was that he'd realized too late.

His body had reacted, and the woman had gotten what she wanted. The scars that had been inflicted that day, would never leave him. Now, that woman and him shared a secret. The looks she gave him carried a carnal knowledge, half hunger that spoke with truth beneath it. Whenever their eyes connected, shame flushed his soul and he felt disgusted with himself. That woman was a cheater, more than half his father's age and probably in it for the money - but he couldn't breathe a word, because he would have to admit that she'd blown him off.

His future stepmother had crept up between his thighs and given him head.

Christ, his life was a mess.

"Check then," Ethan growled. Conner would cover for him. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"If you have time, go to the outfitters after school any time this week, and get fitted for your tux. I don't want my best man looking shabby for my wedding."

"What do you see in her?" Ethan burst out.

There was another silence.

"Is there something you want to tell me?" his father asked quietly, with a bit of scare factor.

"Yeah." He couldn't bring himself to say it, so took a cop out. "I miss mom."

Having reached his car, Ethan threw his gym bag and phone into the back seat and laid both elbows on the roof of the car, leaning forward, so his dark bangs brushed against the rim. Then he shut his eyes and counted to ten, a coping mechanism whenever he wanted to swear and go apeshit. Was nothing in his life sacred any more? Even the memories of his mom, were being eroded away by his father chasing after a bit of skirt, seventeen months after his wife's death.

It didn't help that a tiny piece of himself, as his team mates jostled, and made crude comments over Melissa, when they'd seen her at a game, leaning over into the truck with her short skirt, a part of him had appreciated the sight and felt some kind of sick ownership.

What the hell was that?

What the HELL was that?

A growl erupted from his chest and he pushed back from his car. It was getting dark, and going home seemed out of the question right now. Could he risk another night on Connor's couch? It wasn't as comfortable as his bed at home, but to be honest, he'd been struggling to sleep in that bed ever since that Melissa incident. The entire space was tainted. And asking his dad to put a lock on the door would just be embarrassing.

Connor's couch it was.

"You're going to eat me out of house and home," Connor groaned, when he opened the door. "Just came from the gym?"

"I reek," Ethan said in way of answer, wiping sweat off his face. "Can I use your shower?"

"Sure. Just stay away from Olivia's shower things - yeah? She claimed half a bottle of her favorite shampoo went missing, right after you used it."

"She that bothered?" Ethan muttered. "I'll buy her a new one."

"Yeah, and you'll pay for it to be shipped over from Europe too, I bet." Connor rolled his eyes.

Ethan raised his eyebrows. "Olivia buys shampoo all the way from Europe?"

"Don't ask. Her best friend, Vinny, got her hooked on the coconut scent."

The smell was pretty enticing. It was one of the reasons, his hands had sought it out and he hadn't hesitated rubbing it over his skull, the last two times he'd taken a shower here. But if he'd known the cargo was that precious, he would've used it sparingly. Ethan made a mental note to apologize to Olivia Sanderson, the next time he saw her.

He asked off-handedly, "Where is she?"

"Dunno. Probably Vinny's."

Vinny was short for Vincent. That boy was Olivia's biggest confidante.

Ethan sighed. "My dad called."

"Again?" Connor commiserated. "The poor guy still doesn't know, huh?"

"That man is anything but poor" -Ethan never defended his dad, if he could help it- "he never even went through a grieving phase properly you know, like normal people. Just his luck to rebound with a skank. A skank who's hot for his son's dick."

Another thing Ethan did to distance himself from the mess, was to make out he'd wanted Melissa's advances. Even saw it as a notch on the bed-post. Connor stared at him like he was mad, but didn't pry any deeper. Making awkward excuses, to escape the sour taste in his mouth, Ethan walked up the stairs to take the longest shower he'd taken in a while. Fifteen minutes later, scrubbing the back of his head, he ditched the room full of steam to see Olivia waiting outside, foot tapping against the carpet and arms crossed.

His eyes crossed over her.

Olivia was safe.

She was one girl he could look at, and feel brotherly affection for without his libido tainting it. The situation at home, was twisting him up, because the boundaries of family and sex were being crossed, but with Olivia, he could reach out and ruffle her hair. She must've showered before him. Her nose was still pink and hair damp.

"I thought you were at Vinny's."

She nodded, like what he said was interesting. "Did you?"

"Weren't you?" He frowned.

Olivia huffed. "Never mind that." She leaned over and sniffed him. "Why do I smell coconut and eucalyptus extract all over you?" Her eyes widened and she leaned back to threaten, "You better not have used the whole bottle."

He crossed his arms and touched his shoulder against the wall. Looking down at her, he shrugged. "I'm sorry. It's been a particularly stressful day. I needed all the help I could get."

Olivia made a strangled noise.

She was cute, really.

In a little sister kind of way. Never mind, she was two minutes older than Connor.

"And that justified using my entire bottle of shampoo?"

"I dig it." He shrugged.

Olivia worried her bottom lip between her teeth, loose brown hair falling around her shoulders, and dressed in a pink pajama set. Hell, it had Peppa pig on the front, with the words "oink oink." Her eyes ran over him again, this time with a worried lilt. "Are you okay?" she asked. "You look really" -his eyes narrowed- "pale," she amended.

"I'm fine."

"Okay." She rocked back on her heels. "Just as long as you believe it."

Those words stuck with him for the entire evening.


Shit. He hadn't studied for this test. What was this test? Their American History teacher hadn't been in for the past two weeks, but he still found ways to torture his students from the sick-bed. During Study Hall, in-between periods four and five, the few classes that had study hall that day, were assigned a test that everyone thought was cancelled. The questions were all about Roosevelt (probably Franklin) - and the timeline to the fall of Hitler.

He could barely concentrate on the page.

Shit.

He hadn't prepared for this.

Blindly, he looked up - towards the teacher who was patrolling the aisles, when his eyes kind of skipped over, and he noticed about ten rows ahead, a freckled wrist was sticking up, with the biggest pink sports watch he'd ever seen.

Ethan stood up before he realized what he was doing.

"Sir?" the teacher inquired sharply. "Sit down at once."

"But -"

"You can leave your desk once the test is completed."

Eyes fixed on the wrist, the hand now waving about to flag the teacher's attention, Ethan slowly sat back down and stared like he couldn't believe his eyes. He didn't know why he suddenly wanted to find out who the wrist belonged to, but he knew for certain the owner was the mystery figure who'd been running beside him yesterday afternoon, when he'd been at his worst and most emotionally bare. If that person had chosen to run beside him, and also attended this school, then it was because she knew who he was.

And yet he couldn't return the favor...

Suddenly, the importance of finding the owner was more incessant than it had ever been. He needed to unveil her. Needed to know who it was. It was a madness that crept under his skin, and made him itch with curiosity. Barely containing the nervous energy within his six foot two body; he managed to last the hour, scribbling down passages he vaguely remembered reading in a textbook. He couldn't recall the dates exactly, but made a rough approximation of the mid-forties.

Finally, time was up.

He swept out of his chair and hurried to the front, pushing past people calling his name.

He caught the shoulder of one boy.

"Hey. Do you remember who was sitting in front of you?"

"No..."

The boy blinked again. "Ethan Black," he breathed, touching his shoulder. "You're a legend around here."

"Legend means I'm above the game." Ethan clapped his hands on the boy's shoulders. "I'm not above the game. I'm just a boy from Kansas, dreaming to make it big."

"Oh, you will..." the boy sighed.

Giving him a tight-lipped smile, Ethan turned and scanned around the hall, in hopes of seeing the pink watch again like a homing beacon. His eyes caught sight of Vinny, near the exit, smiling and talking to Olivia, gesticulating wildly. Olivia smiled back. In her short-capped blouse, and blue jeans, she smiled as she reached up, to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. Like she could sense his eyes honed in like electricity to her wrist, she turned and gave him a confused smile, not understanding the intensity directed at her.

Then she glanced at the time.

On her pink sports watch.

Ethan's gaze turned hungry when she looked at him again, this time the confusion melting into polite concern. "What?" she mouthed, allowing him to focus on her lips and notice they were very nice lips, with just the right amount of gloss to make it look sticky and shiny, and absolutely kissable.

Christ, where had that thought sprung from?