"In another horrific murder, the body of local girl, Georgia Dooges, was discovered yesterday." My head shoots up, and I almost tumble into a chair as I rush to the TV. "It's believed that Miss Dooges' murder is related to that of Lisa Evans', who was found just last week. I'm here with the chief of police, Rodney Bakes. Now Mr Bakes, what can you tell us about these victims?"
Mr Bakes rolls his shoulders back. "We have reason to believe that these girls were murdered by the same person or persons; the way in which it was done, and the way in which their bodies were dumped indicates this."
"Do you have any leads?"
"Not at this stage, no. We were given a statement from a witness saying the man was blonde, but we are yet to confirm the legitimacy of that statement."
"Do you think we may be seeing what are the first stages of a serial killer?"
Mr Bakes hesitates. "Well... we're unsure at this point in time, and we certainly hope it stays that way. We will catch this guy, and we will see that he is brought to justice. For the time being, I can only stress how important it is to not wander around at night, especially by yourself, and especially if you're a female; don't go out alone, and we urge anyone with information to come forward. Thank you." He walks out of view of the camera, and it focuses back on the news reporter.
"Mr Bakes and the rest of the police force would like to express their sincere condolences to the victim's families. If you have any information regarding the murders, you can phone the police hotline on..."
I zone out. It's hard to imagine what the families are going through. I don't know either of the girls, and a small part of me is just glad it wasn't me. It could have been. It's a fact I'll never forget. But neither of the guys in the park were blonde. Legit statement or not, it's gotta be something.
Mum frowns at the TV. "I don't want you walking around anymore, Savannah," she says. "Day or night."
I let out a groan. She can't be serious. "Mum, no one's going to snatch me up in broad daylight."
"You say that now, and the next thing you know you're in the boot of someone's car, en route to the last day of your life," Jordan pipes up.
"Jordan, this isn't funny!" mum snaps. Apparently the weekend she spent camping with him and his friends took its toll. "And I'm serious, Savannah; you're not to go anywhere unless there's someone else with you, do you understand?"
"Yes, mum." I suppress a sigh. She's worried, I know, but I don't fancy the thought of being driven to school in her broken-down dinosaur. The thing spends more time being poked and prodded by mechanics than it does actually driving. I'll have to see if Katie can take me.
I grab an apple and head upstairs. My phone sits on my desk. It's good for being an alarm clock, but that's all. I never use the stupid thing if I can help it. Grabbing it, I open a new message, type out 'hey, think I can catch lifts with you to and from school? Mum doesn't want me going anywhere alone.' And send it to Katie.
She replies almost immediately 'Jenna said the same thing. Be ready by 8'. I send a quick thanks, and dump my phone back on its designated spot.
I devour the apple, throwing the core in my bin. School tomorrow is going to be a nightmare.
The only thing anyone talks about all Monday is the latest disappearance. Jenna makes a mention that Hannah still hasn't come home, brushing it off as her vying for attention. I'm not so sure, but don't say anything. It seems a girl in my maths class knew Georgia; halfway through class she ran out in tears.
By Tuesday the hype's died down a bit, replaced by a sort of fear. Who's next? Are the victims random? If not, what do they have in common? Is it just that they're females? Or that they're young?
"I think everyone's getting worked up over nothing," Jenna says as we all pile in Katie's car. "I don't even think they were related. They were one-off's."
"You can't get two one-off's," Ryan points out. "This is big. Like Jack the Ripper big."
Katie picks at her cuticles, nervous. "You really think so?" she asks.
"Oh, yeah," Ryan says then, seeing the look on her face, adds, "but the cops will catch them before it gets to that point. If they don't, I'll protect you." He flexes his arms.
We all laugh. "Captain Ryan to the rescue," I joke. "Toughest superhero in daycare."
He scowls. "I am a fine specimen."
"The finest there is," Jenna coyly adds.
Katie pulls up at Jenna's house. She says her goodbyes and hops out. Ryan is next, and then it's just the two of us. Katie clears her throat nervously. "I need to stop in at dad's work again; mum's too useless to learn how to use a phone. I hope you don't mind."
"Why would I mind?" I ask.
She shrugs. "Well. I mean, Alex is there. You can wait in the car, if you want."
I laugh. "Dinner wasn't that bad. It was alright, actually," I assure her.
We pull up at her dad's garage, and the both of us hop out. "I'm glad. Jenna and I thought you were going to be single forever."
I raise an eyebrow. We went out for dinner, we're not getting married or anything. "Well, we'll just have to see how it goes."
Katie nods. "Yeah, I guess." She holds the door open for me. "James and I had a fight last night. I think he wants to – hi daddy!"
Pete is a scary man. He towers over everyone and speaks to you as if you're on the opposite side of a field. To make things worse, he's deep in conversation with Alex. When he sees us, his face breaks out in a grin. "Well, look what the cat dragged in!" he booms.
"Hi, Mr Winston."
"Pete," he corrects. He turns to Katie. "What does she want, now?"
"The keys to the shed."
Pete scratches his chin thoughtfully. "They're in my office somewhere. That woman. Come on, I'll go look for them." As they walk off, I hear him say, "what does she want to get in the shed for, anyway?"
Alex and I stand awkwardly, as I avoid looking at him. "Miss me?" he asks.
I scoff. "No."
"Yeah, I bet."
I risk a glance. He's watching me carefully. "Saturday," he says.
"What about it?"
"Yes," I lie.
He doesn't fall for it. "Ten o'clock."
"I'm going to the art gallery." Another lie. "Care to join me?"
Alex gives me a look that clearly says 'over my dead body', but instead of saying that says, "yeah, why not."
It's completely unexpected, and I groan internally. Not because he agreed to come, but because I have no intention of visiting the art gallery. I hate art. Hate, hate, hate it. Squares of solid colour is not art. I sigh. "I'm kidding; I don't even like art."
The corner of Alex's mouth curls upward. "I figured."
Katie and Pete walk back in, and I subconsciously take a step back. Pete doesn't even notice or, if he does, doesn't care, but Katie gives me a look, and I feel my face heating up. This is more than enough confirmation of something happening. "Thanks for the key, dad. I'll see you when you get home."
He grumbles something about work. "I think I might just come home now. Bye girls."
"Bye Mr Winston!" We hurry off, and the moment we're in the car, Katie bombards me with questions.
"What happened? What'd he say?"
"Apparently we're going out on Saturday," I inform her. I hope he doesn't actually expect to go to the art gallery.
Her face lights up. "Where to?"
I shrug. "No idea. He just said 'Saturday, ten o'clock', and it was settled." I try and fail at mimicking his voice.
When Katie drops me off home, I go straight to the computer and look up things to do. Just on the off chance he doesn't have anything planned, and wants me to suggest ideas. Unfortunately, our city doesn't have much to offer.
We could go to the movies. I scroll through the sessions. Nothing interesting. So that's out. Ice-skating? No... There are ballet classes... I spend a moment trying to imagine Alex in a tutu, attempting to balance on his toes, with his arms thrust in the air.
So, that's out.
Apart from that, there's the art gallery (over my dead body). I doubt we're going to spend from ten onwards eating. We could go to the beach or the park. Or home... I sigh. Maybe he can think of something better. I'm not exactly an expert when it comes to the opposite sex.
The week passes quickly, and before I know it, it's Saturday. Because I can't get out of the house without mum knowing where I'm going and who I'm going with, she's aware of my 'date' and, I swear it, she's more excited than I am. She's as bad as Jenna and Katie, if not worse.
"My baby girl is growing up and meeting boys!"
She's still under the impression that we go to school together. Where she got the idea, I don't know, but I figure I'll let her run with it until she explicitly asks me his age. We can deal with it then.
"Make sure you stay with him."
"The whole time. Don't wander off on your own. It's not safe." She sighs. "Those poor girls."
"I'm not going to," I promise. The rapes and murders of the two girls are fresh in my mind, and most likely the rest of the city's.
Oaton is, and always has been, a relatively quiet city. The crime rate is one of the lowest in the country, so to all of a sudden be faced with the possibility of a serial killer slash rapist... well, it's had quite the effect on the place.
Most of the girls at school have similar stories to mine and Jenna's; don't go out at night, don't go anywhere alone. It's like the whole city has been put under curfew.
And still, in the back of my mind, that ever-present thought that it could have been me. Maybe those two men were just creepy. But what if they're not? What would have happened to me if Alex hadn't followed me?
I wouldn't be worrying about a stupid Saturday date, that's for sure. I hear a car pull up, and peek out the window. It's Alex.
"Wait, I want to talk to him!"
Alex is about to close his door when I bound outside. "Excited?"
"We should go before my mum starts asking questions." I hop in the passenger seat, and he drives off as mum gets outside. Do I feel guilty? A little bit. Regret it? Not at all.
"Was she gunna ask me around for dinner, or something?"
"No, she'd probably ask what classes you're taking." Alex throws me a sidewards glance. I sigh. "She thinks you go to school with me." His frown deepens. "I'm not quite sure I'm ready to be murdered by my own mother."
"So instead you tell her I'm a schoolie?"
"Well... no. She just assumed, so I'm going to allow her to assume as much until she asks. Besides, it might not reach that point," I add.
"Meaning you could pick any girl up off the street. Any girl. Why me?"
"I've already told you."
Because I'm interesting, I mentally recite. What a ridiculous excuse for coercing someone to go on two... dates with you. Even though it is silly, I can't help the bubble of happiness that rises in me. He thinks I'm interesting. I hate parties, I don't drink, hell, I don't really do anything, and he still thinks there's something in me that's worth spending a Friday night and a Saturday with.
It's like a small part of me has come back to life.
And then Alex pulls up out front of the art gallery, and that small part in me dies. I glance at him, but his face is blank. "You're kidding, right?"
"No." He steps out of the car, and I follow suit.
"You know I wasn't serious!" He ignores me. "Alex. Hey! Come on, this is torture, and you know it."
He walks up to the gallery, but instead of going in, keeps walking. Confused, I chase after him. We walk for about ten minutes before he turns into a cafe, holding the door open for me. I give him my best angry look. "What was the point of parking over there?" I ask.
Alex looks at me and shrugs. He walks up to the counter and orders two coffees. "You hungry?"
Yes. I didn't have breakfast this morning. I slept in and ran out of time. "No, it's fine, I..." His eyes bore into me, making me cringe. "I am a bit."
"What do you want?"
Both he and the waitress are staring at me. Way to put me on the spot. "Uh..." I glance at the board, and then at the display case. "Um... scones! I'll have a scone."
"They come in threes."
I nod. Just stop staring at me.
"Cream and jam?"
"That won't be a moment."
Alex pays her and we sit by the window, staring out on the street. There aren't too many people awake. "You didn't have to buy me breakfast," I tell him. "I don't expect you to."
"So you expect me to gorge myself while you sit there and watch?"
I shrug. "Why not?"
The waitress brings my scones around, then hurries off to make our coffees. "Uh... do you want one?" I hold the plate out to Alex.
"I don't eat jam."
"Oh. You're not eating?" Obviously he isn't, because he didn't order anything else.
"I'm not hungry." He watches me as I eat, and I self-consciously wipe my mouth of any runaway food, imagined or otherwise. "What are you doing? At school?" he asks after a while.
"Maths, intro to sociology and psychology, English and biology. I want to go to uni, be a psychologist. Foster kids. When I was younger I was terrified of the dark. It was so bad that I couldn't even sleep at night. My mum took me to see a psychologist to help me get over it, and I've been fascinated with them ever since. How they work, and how they actually help people."
The girl brings over our coffees, and we thank her. I take a sip before I plough on.
"They have these specific methods of helping people get over fears, right? It's called deconditioning, the process of extinction. You write a list of the ten things you're most scared of, worst at the top. And once a week they face you with that fear, starting at ten, down to one. The aim is that by the time you reach number one, you're not afraid anymore."
I feel proud of myself for remembering it all. It's not that I'm a terrible student; I just have a habit of forgetting. Alex is watching me with an amused expression. He probably has no idea what I was talking about.
"Sorry. I get a bit carried away." I shove some scone in my mouth so I don't have to talk.
Alex just chuckles. "If you were boring me, you'd know." He takes a drink of his coffee. "I hope you realise I haven't planned anything after this."
I stare for a second, then mentally sigh. Should have picked something while I was looking. Of course, it's not exactly easy trying to figure out the things Alex would enjoy. He looks like the kind of person who doesn't do anything outside of work. When I saw him at the party he looked as out of place there as I did.
"What exactly do you do when you're not working?" I ask.
He shrugs. "I blow things up and shoot people."
In other words, he's not much different from Jordan. "And you're not the size of a house. How is that possible?"
"I exercise. Come on." We leave the cafe, and he promptly pulls out a packet of cigarettes. I know he smokes – I've smelt the nicotine on his breath – but I haven't yet witnessed him doing it. "You mind?"
I shake my head, wondering if he'd still smoke if I said I did. Probably.
He pulls one out, shoves it in his mouth and lights it, all while balancing the coffee. I've never really gone for the smokers, but I must say he's incredibly good-looking with one hanging off his lips. I blush.
Unfortunately, he notices. "What?"
"Nothing." I shake my head furiously.
He exhales a mouthful of smoke. "You figured out what you want to do, yet?"
Me? Why am I the one who has to figure it out? It was his idea to go out in the first place. I scowl at him. "No. Why aren't you thinking of anything?" Of course, when I really think about it, I don't care what we do.
He shrugs. "You're a girl; you should be bursting with ideas."
"Well, I'm sorry for not living up to your expectations," I say. "I guess we could–"
We both turn to see a man bounding across the street. Alex obviously knows him, because he makes a noise that sounds as though it might be a sign of discontent. "Benny."
"Hey, man! I haven't seen you in ages, how ya doing?" He looks at me, does a onceover, then holds his hand out. "Benny."
I shake it. "Savannah."
He beams. "Man, you didn't tell me you found yourself a girlfriend." I blush at being referred to as his girlfriend. "But, I guess, he's the quiet type, hey?" He nudges me, sees the glare on Alex's face, and laughs.
I don't know whether I should laugh or not. Alex certainly doesn't look amused – well, he never really looks anything, but I'm slowly beginning to be able to distinguish between his normal face, and his anything else face. He looks anything but passive.
Maybe it's that Benny referred to me as a 'girlfriend'. Or it could simply be that he's not too happy to see him. Does he not want me as a girlfriend? We've only met a few times, so we don't know each other too well, but I can see myself with him. He doesn't talk and I rarely stop.
"Don't give me that look, man. Hey, there's a party at Zoe's next Friday. You going?" Benny asks.
Alex takes a long drag on his smoke. "Yeah, probably."
Benny turns to me. "How bout you? Gunna be there?"
I blink. Apart from the fact I have no idea who 'Zoe' is, I don't know if I'd be welcome. "I don't... know..." I turn to Alex for help. He shrugs.
"You should come; it'll be great," Benny promises. He winks at me. "Starts at 7. I guess I'll leave you two to it, then. See you Friday." He claps Alex on the shoulder, and continues on down the street.
I watch him go. "He's... different."
"He's a pain in the ass."
"At least he can string two words together," I joke. I want to ask him about the girlfriend comment Benny made. Does he consider me as much? Or am I just a girl he's seeing? Is he seeing other girls as well? It's probably too soon though, so I simply ask, "who's Zoe?"
"A girl," Alex replies simply. "Why? Are you jealous?"
I scoff. "No! Well, maybe..." Alex raises an eyebrow. "Yes." I hang my head.
"Then come," he tells me. "Keep me out of trouble."
"I don't think you can just invite people to someone else's party, and I don't really enjoy them that much, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Yeah, I've noticed. You know what you want to do, yet?"
Ah, I forgot about that. "Well, we could watch a movie. Unless you don't do movies, either."
He gives me a looks that clearly says he thinks I'm retarded.
"I'll take that as a no." I smirk. "There's still the art gallery, you know. Squares of colour aren't really my thing, but I guess, deep down, you love the consistency."
"Yeah, like hell. Is it safe to assume we're going to my house?"
I nod. "Unless you want to get cosy with my mum and brother."
When we reach his house, the first thing I see when I get inside is a giant ball of fur, and it's almost the last thing as the giant ball of fur bounds into me, and I stumble back into Alex. If he wasn't there, I probably would have split my head open on the pavement.
"Down, Bo!" Alex snaps, but the husky ignores him and continues to lick my face.
I laugh, because it's funny, because I like dogs, and because I've never had one before. "Hey, boy!" I rough him on the back of the neck, which excites him even more. He barks and starts running in circles, stopping every now and then to bark again, just in case we lose interest.
"Ignore it," Alex tells me. He directs me to the lounge room pointing out a rather impressive DVD collection. Bo follows us.
"But he's so cute," I gush.
Alex bats Bo away as the dog tries to lick his face. "What, more than me?"
I pretend to consider it for a moment. "Yeah," I say. "Definitely."
I browse through his movies. Most of them are action, thriller or horror. In the midst of them, I spot Shaun of the Dead. So much for not liking comedy. Pulling it out, I hold it up for confirmation.
Alex takes it, and I sit down with Bo while he sets the whole thing up. I'm worse at dealing with technology than my mother, and she can barely turn a TV on. Once, I tried playing one of my brother's games – online, mind you – and I sucked so bad he screamed at me for half an hour. Something about ruining his kill streak.
When it's all fixed up, Alex plops down next to me, reclining back on the arm. He points to an archway, where I can see a table and chairs. The dining room. "Kitchen's through there; bathroom's upstairs."
Again comes the 'you must be an idiot' look. I guess his gentlemanly qualities are restricted to paying for coffee and dinner, and holding doors open. Not that I mind, or anything.
The movie starts, and we fall silent. Every now and then I'll comment on something, or Alex will make a smart remark, but apart from that, we don't speak. At some point during the movie, I end up leaning against him, his arm slung around my waist, while I absent-mindedly fiddle with his rings. He doesn't seem to mind, so I don't bother to stop.
Near the end of the movie Bo begins to get excited again. Halfway through wrestling a ring off Alex's pinky finger, he lets out a particularly loud bark, causing me to jump. He sits, wagging his tail furiously. I begin understand why Alex called him a pain. "Shut it."
"Maybe he's jealous because he's not getting any attention," I suggest. I manage to get the ring off his finger.
"He's used to not getting any attention. He wants food."
I shove the ring back on. "Why don't you give him some, then?"
"Because the movie's not over."
I scowl. "But you-"
I wake up on Monday morning with a message from Jenna. 'OMG ryan asked me out'. I cringe at the complete lack of grammar.
'That's great!' I reply. I knew it was coming. Katie knew it as well; Ryan's had a crush on Jenna for ages, and in the past year Jenna slowly began to notice him.
I get ready for school, and wait out the front for Katie. When she arrives, I hop in the car and the first thing she does is ask me how Saturday went.
I grin, like the idiot I am. "It was great," I tell her. "He bought me breakfast, and went to his place and watched some movies, had lunch, then he took me home. He gave me his number, too."
"You didn't already have it?" she asks.
"Well I don't really use my phone, do I?" I say, shrugging. "Oh, and he has a dog called Bo. It's a husky. You'd love him. But he is annoying; he kept barking and licking my face."
"When are you seeing him again?" She pulls up out front of Jenna's.
I shrug. "We ran into his friend, who invited me to this party on Friday. Alex said he'll probably go, so I might show up as well. Otherwise I don't know."
As Jenna hops in the back, she beams at us. "Isn't it exciting!" she exclaims. "None of us are single anymore!"
"I don't think going to dinner and watching movies constitutes as being in a relationship, Jenna," I tell her. I'm not exactly sure what Alex and I are. I figure it's too soon to know, and too soon to ask.
"Of course it does."
While Jenna and I bicker, Katie is silent. She waits until we stop before she says anything. "I've got some news, too," she says.
Oh, God. She's pregnant. I brace myself for the news.
"James and I broke up."
A minute of stunned silence sweeps through the car, and for a moment, I think it's a joke. Katie and James are perfect together. They've been dating for the better part of three years.
"You're kidding, right?" I ask. "I mean, you're not actually serious."
Katie nods. "He says he needs space."
"What a prick!" Jenna leans forward, hanging off the back of my seat.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she says.
She's lying; I know she is. Her eyes are full of tears that she's desperately trying to hold back, and her hands are shaking. I wonder if that might be me one day. I hope not.
"Why don't we all go out after school?" I suggest. "Go to the movies." I don't really know what to say, but hopefully a movie will take her mind off him.
"I can't," Katie says. "I'm working."
"Ryan and I are going out."
Well. There goes that brilliant idea. "Tomorrow?"
Katie shrugs. "I guess so."
"I can do tomorrow!"
"Tomorrow it is, then."