This was going to be the longest summer of my life. Being deprived of my three best friends, Jesse, Josh and, Jack—otherwise known as the J's—was worse than I'd imagined it would be. It'd only been a week and I was already cracking like a nut job from the summer boredom. If it weren't for the new kid across the street I'd be in a room with padded walls already.
The new kid and his mom moved in the day after the J's left to go to hockey camp for the summer. I'm not going to even start on how unfair it is that I couldn't go with them just because of the fact that I'm a stupid girl—a fact which my older sister says is debatable—because it will only make me punch something.
Anyway, the J's all left to go become NHL material, and just when I thought for sure I was going to literally die without them, a moving van pulled up in front of the house across the street. Naturally I was curious, so I sat up in my room, with a bowl of ice cream and Weezer blaring loudly through my open window, and watched as the movers began hauling stuff into the house.
After a few minutes, I stuck the spoon in my mouth and forgot to remove it until I got a massive brain freeze. This was not because I'm a moron and don't know how to eat ice cream. It was because a BMW, of all things, pulled up to the curb in front of the house.
Of course I've seen sports cars before, and it wasn't even about the fact that I live in the kind of neighborhood where people only drive minivans, but a BMW? That's like German or something. If you're going to move to Detroit—okay well Canton, which is only a suburb of Detroit, but still—the least you could do is have the decency to drive American.
I waited to see what kind of people would have the nerve to roll up in a foreign car, and the woman who stepped out from behind the wheel seemed to fit the stereotype I had in my head perfectly. She was super skinny, which, not to be rude to a lot of the moms on my street, was not something we were used to seeing around here. She had really shiny brunette hair, like the kind you see on shampoo commercials. Her clothes were probably designer, not that I would really know, and she had something hanging on her ear, which I decided was one of those cell phone things you see people using in the movies. In fact, she looked like someone you would see in the movies.
Then he stepped out of the car and I felt like I'd died and gone to The OC. He had shaggy, dark brown hair that was as messy as the guys' that play hockey with me, except that his seemed to be styled like that on purpose. It hung down into his eyes, making him look kind of mysterious, and he was really tall. Definitely varsity basketball team tall—not that he struck me as the type to play organized sports. And tall is good, because I'm like five, ten.
Not that I'm planning our wedding or anything, I'm just saying.
He seemed a little on the skinny side, but you could see the definition under his polo-fit tee. It gave him the appearance of an Abercrombie & Fitch model, officially making him the hottest boy I've ever seen. So hot, that I could feel myself blushing even though he was down on the street and had no idea I was watching him.
And that's what I did for the rest of the week. I watched him.
I'd become obsessive about spying on him over the last week since it was my only form of entertainment. Well, it was the most exciting entertainment anyway. I did have my x-box to keep me company, but even Grand Theft Auto couldn't compare with Mr. Abercrombie working out in his garage, like he was doing at the moment.
The workouts started the morning after he moved in. Every morning around nine a.m. he works himself ragged. Half the days he does an extensive cardio workout, with a jump rope of all things, and then he beats the crap out of a punching bag. That's pretty fun to watch, but I'll admit I like the days when he lifts better. He's got one of those weight machines that allows you to work out all the different parts of your body, so after he works his thighs and gluts, he moves on to my particular favorite, his upper body.
I kind of have the perfect view too. My bedroom window is directly across from his bedroom window, which sits above his garage. So after his workout, I can usually catch a glimpse of him stripping his tank top off as he heads into his bathroom to shower. Best ten seconds of my day. Only today it was actually more like a whole minute, because he stopped to look out his window as he gulped down a bottle of water.
I was completely mesmerized by his hotness, and didn't think to hide from his view until our eyes locked. I panicked and quickly ducked out of sight hoping that we were far enough away from each other, that maybe he didn't notice me. Maybe I only thought he'd seen me.
I waited a minute and then peeked again to see if he was gone, but he was still standing there. Not only that, but it's like he was waiting for me—like he knew I'd look again. At that point what could I do, hide again? I think not. I was already busted.
In an attempt to save my dignity, and hopefully make him think I'd just happened to notice him and wasn't actually watching him, I threw my hand up and waved. He didn't wave back, but beneath the intense stare he was giving me, the corners of his mouth curved into half a smile. I couldn’t help but think, Is he laughing at me?
"Who are you waving at?" a shrill voice called out from behind me.
Angela. The dreaded older sister. Just the name makes me shudder. She's only a year older than me, but that's enough to make her think she's better than me in every way possible. I hate her because she's way pretty and wears a lot of skirts and stuff, and she hates me because I'm basically the opposite—a pale, skinny, redhead, who's taller than half the boys in school and could beat any one of them in hockey.
Angela barged into my room so suddenly that I jumped sky high at the sound of her voice. "What?" I yelped as I whirled around to face her.
"Why are you blushing?" she demanded the moment she saw my face.
"I'm not blushing. I'm just… It's hot in here. What do you want?"
She watched me suspiciously for a moment and then put the pieces together. "Oh, my gosh!" she shrieked. "You were watching the new guy work out, weren't you?" She pushed me out of the way to take her own peek at the window across the street, which was now empty, and added, "Did I miss him take his shirt off already?"
Good to know stalking runs in the family. I was going to deny it and play dumb, but I was still so stunned by him catching me that I blurted out a "yup" before I could stop myself.
Angela sighed in regret, but then pulled herself away form my window and turned her evil eyes on me. "Well, well, well, is Ellie Westley finally crushing on a boy? It's about time."
"What? I don't—"
"It's nothing to be ashamed of, Ellie." Angela rolled her eyes as she cut me off. "He's totally gorgeous and you're almost sixteen. I was starting to worry that you'd never realize what boys are for."
I'd already had enough embarrassment for one day with the whole being caught spying thing. I didn't need Angela making it worse with some sort of welcome to womanhood speech.
"What are you doing in my room?" I yelled.
"Sheesh, I was just looking for my black clips."
"Do I look like someone who would use your hair clips?"
"You should. You actually have really nice hair if you would just brush it once in a while."
I couldn't help reaching up to grab my ponytail defensively. "I brush it."
When Angela saw the frown on my face, she studied me for a moment then sighed. "I can't believe I'm about to say this but, why don't we go shopping today and get you a skirt and a swimsuit and you can come with me to the lake tomorrow."
"Excuse me?" Never in all my fifteen years and eleven months of existence had such a statement come out of Angela's mouth.
"Listen. I know you miss those loser friends of yours, but maybe them being gone is a good thing." I was shocked because she actually sounded sincere. Well, sincere for her anyway. "If you'll promise to not be quite so… you." There goes the sincerity. "I'll let you hang out with my friends and me. With the J's out of the way, we might have a decent chance of turning you into a girl this summer."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Had Angela gone mental? Was I not the only one going crazy from the summer break? Well Hell would have to freeze over before I agreed to a make-over, and considering it was like a hundred degrees outside, I pushed Angela into the hallway and slammed my bedroom door screaming, "I don't have your stupid clips!"
"Freak!" Angela yelled back through the door. I guess she was mad that I wouldn't let her play like I'm her Barbie.
Well, whatever! Just because my best friends were all boys, and I liked to play hockey, and I'd never been kissed before, didn't mean I wasn’t a girl. And for the record, I didn't have a crush on the new guy. I just thought he was really hot. But even if I did, it wouldn't have been my first. I’d had crushes on boys before. Not any of the J's of course, but last year I totally liked my biology partner Eric Sherman. That didn't work out so much since we dissected frogs and I mentioned I was disappointed that there wasn't any blood. But still.
Feeling ready to punch something, which is basically how I feel every time I have to interact with Angela, I cranked up the Oasis and climbed out my bedroom window onto the roof of the garage where I like to go when I need space. I assumed that's where I'd spend the rest of my day because my life was just that exciting.
I actually didn't stay out on the roof that long because Mrs. Haskins pulled up in front of my house. "Ellie, honey," she called to me through the open passenger window, "are you free to watch Cameron this evening?"
"Sure Mrs. Haskins. What time do you need me?"
"Six o'clock okay?"
"Should be fine."
"Thanks Ellie!" She started to drive off, but then stopped again. "Oh, and Ellie?"
"Yeah, Mrs. H?"
"If you see Bruno, would you mind hanging on to him till I can come get him?"
"He got out?" I couldn't help the surprise in my voice. It's not like Bruno is a little Chihuahua who could sneak through a hole he dug under the fence. He's a 70-pound boxer. He'd never hurt a fly, but still not the kind of dog you'd want cruising the neighborhood on his own.
"Bob forgot to shut the gate after he took the trash to the curb this morning."
I laughed because that was just like Mr. Haskins. That man would forget his shoes in the morning if Mrs. Haskins weren't there. "You want me to help you look for him?"
Mrs. Haskin's eyes lit up at the offer. "Oh, would you?"
"Sure. Let me just put on my skates and I'll do a few laps through the greenbelt for you."
"Oh, Ellie." Mrs. Haskins sighed in relief. "What would I ever do without you?"
More like what would I do without the Haskins's? I'm saving up to by a car as soon as I get my drivers license, and the Haskins's add to my car fund more than any other family in the neighborhood. They pay really well and only have one kid—a baby who'll be in bed by seven-thirty. Plus, they always have the cupboards stocked, and they get all the movie channels. It's almost a crime to take their money. "See you in a while Mrs. Haskins," I called with a big friendly grin.
Not that looking for Bruno was all that exciting, but I was more than happy to slip on my rollerblades and go for a good skate. I'd been in the house too much this week and could use the exercise. So, as Mrs. Haskins continued to drive down the street calling out for her dog, I headed in the other direction toward the greenbelt like I'd promised.
I live in a subdivision called Brookhurst. I don't mean one of those new "housing developments" where you have to put a potted plant or a flag by the mailbox just so that you can tell which house is yours. I'm talking about a real neighborhood. The kind of place where there may be a house here and there in need of a paint job, but the trees are mature enough that they actually produce shade. Real estate people like to use the term character.
It's the type of place where everybody knows everybody, and for some reason once you move in you stay until you croak. Which is exactly why the new guy moving in was so exciting, and also why I couldn't stop thinking about him as I rolled around the neighborhood.
I went down every path in the entire neighborhood but didn't see any trace of Bruno. Since Michigan is hot and muggy enough to be mistaken for a rainforest in the summer, I only did one lap and then called it quits. I got to my driveway and ripped off my helmet to wipe at the sweat that had gathered under it.
No sooner did I toss the helmet in the grass, then I heard the sound of paws thudding toward me. Not only does Bruno love me because I feed him junk sometimes while I'm babysitting, but he seemed particularly excited at the moment because of his current freedom. He came barreling at me at full speed.
"Bruno, no! Stay! Bad dog!" I called when I realized he wasn't going to stop. But it was too late. Bruno jumped up and knocked me right off my skates.
Everything happened so fast. I crashed back against my driveway hard, and for a second, things went totally black. When I came to my ears were ringing, my head was pounding, and I felt like I was going to vomit at any moment.
Then, just as I'd suspected would happen, a giant tongue attacked my face.
Bruno only got the chance to give me one good lick before he yelped and fell limp beside me. That's when I looked up to see the new guy staring down at me with the most intense eyes I'd ever seen. And, get this. He was holding a Taser. "Hi, Ellie," he said in a strong, deep voice. "It's nice to meet you."
Well of course I screamed. The psycho just killed the Haskins's dog. I screamed loud enough that the J's probably heard me all the way at camp. Then I tried my best to push the new kid away from me, but he was too strong. I would have freaked out that such a hot boy was touching me, except I was too busy freaking out that such a hot boy was touching me! Pinning me to the ground actually.
"Easy there, Ellie," New Guy ordered me and then did the weirdest thing ever. He took off his shirt.
Not that I didn't appreciate what was under his shirt, but I screamed again. Well what was I supposed to do? The guy comes out of nowhere, kills a dog, pins me to the ground, and takes his clothes off? Oh yeah, and he knows my name. How does he know my name?
It wasn't until he wadded up his shirt and plastered it against the back of my head that I realized maybe he wasn't attacking me. Once I understood this, it finally dawned on me, how much pain I was in.
There was a pounding in my head like nothing I've ever felt, and it seemed to match the rhythm of my heartbeat. The thud, thud, thud was echoing in my ears and making my brain want to explode, but it was soon overpowered by a much worse sound. One that was unfortunately all too familiar, and makes my head ache even when I haven't just cracked it on the driveway.
"Ellie! What the freak is with the screaming? I'm on the phone!" Angela was saying until she got to the driveway and saw what was going on. The shriek that followed was blood curdling.
"Don't worry, she'll be all right, but she's going to need stitches."
I was startled because the voice came from so close to me. It's like I'd forgotten the new kid was there, and when I looked up I was surprised to see his face just a foot from mine. They're blue, I thought as I finally got a really good look at his eyes. I'd been wondering all week what color they were. It was hard to tell from my window. Deep, dark, ocean blue. Gorgeous, just like the rest of him.
He looked down at me suddenly with the same amused grin he'd given me from his bedroom window, which I thought was strange. But maybe I was looking at him cross-eyed since he held a finger up in front of me and slowly waved it from side to side. The motion made me nauseous.
"She might have a concussion too," he said, still grinning at me. Is a concussion funny? It certainly didn't feel funny. "We should get her to a hospital. Are your parents home?"
"They're both at work," Angela replied in a frantic voice.
She came rushing to my side as if she were completely freaked out, but I noticed the way she put her hand down on New Guy's forearm as she pretended to care about my well being. I smirked at her fingers clinging to his skin. Obvious much, Ang?
Angela was suddenly glaring at me for some reason, and the new guy laughed. It was quite irritating because the situation was anything but funny. I would have told him just where he could shove that laugh of his, but I started seeing these big, dark spots floating all around me, and sort of forgot that I was annoyed.
Plus, he didn't fall for Angela's CosmoGirl! techniques for getting his attention. He looked down at the hand on his arm and immediately removed it. That earned him a couple brownie points with me until he took her hand and placed it on the shirt he'd been pressing against my head. "Hold this," he instructed and then got to his feet to let my sister tend to me.
I was going to school him on just how not smart it was to leave a dying girl in the hands of my sister, when I saw him scoop up something huge into his arms, and I remembered what happened. Bruno! How could I have forgotten about Bruno? He totally killed Bruno! He's a dog killer!
I wanted to yell at him, but he'd already disappeared inside his house. He came back a minute later with keys in his hand instead of a dog, and a new shirt on—to both my sister’s and my disappointment. "You know where there's a hospital?" he asked Angela, handing her the keys to his BMW.
"Uh, just a mile or two from here," Angela said, staring at the keys in her hand.
"Good. I'll get her. You drive."
The next thing I knew I was being scooped carefully off the ground. My head responded with a vengeance, and I groaned when everything started to go black around me. Unfortunately I didn't get to pass out because Angela screamed again. "There's so much blood!"
I could feel the new guy shrug his shoulders beneath my weight and then he said, "I've seen a lot worse."
"You've seen worse?" Angela asked, vocalizing my exact thoughts.
New Guy didn't explain himself, though. "She's got plenty left. Trust me."
Angela frowned but New Guy just swept past her, not bothered in the least by my weight—which is a lot more than you'd think considering how skinny I look—and asked her to open the car door for him.
Angela did as she was told, but as the new guy climbed into the backseat with me she asked, "Doesn't blood stain? You're going to get it all over your car." Leave it to Angela to be worried about the car and not her dying baby sister.
I could barely make sense of anything at this point. My head hurt so bad the pain was almost numbing, and I was growing more and more tired by the second, but I could still hear the words he muttered under his breath as he pulled me against his chest, holding his shirt tightly against the back of my head again. The expression on his face grew disturbingly dark and he muttered, "Wouldn't be the first time."
"W-what d-do you mean not the first time?" I stammered, a little distracted by the threat of unconsciousness.
His scowl was gone so fast I wasn't sure it'd been there. "Shh," he said with a wink. Then he looked up at Angela and barked, "Just hurry, okay?"
The movement of the car only made my stomach feel even queasier. It made it very hard to fight off the unconsciousness that had been trying to overcome me. The world around me seemed to slip out of focus and then my eyelids drooped.
"Oh, no you don't." The new kid's voice was extremely tender, but the pat he gave my cheek, that made my eyes roll forward once again was quite the slap. "No falling asleep."
Can't help it, I thought. I'm so tired, and you're so comfortable. Maybe it was the possible concussion, but this was the closest I'd ever been to a boy that hadn't just mowed me down chasing after a puck, and I fully intended to take advantage of it. I relaxed in his arms and enjoyed the feel of the chest I was being held against. For someone with such hard-looking muscles, the new kid is surprisingly soft.
New Guy's chest started to tremble beneath me and I looked up to see him shaking his head with laughter. I'd officially had it with this guy and his being amused with my dying. My anger managed to give me a little burst of energy. Enough to steady my gaze momentarily and growl, "Something funny?"
I thought I sounded pretty menacing, but New Guy didn't bother to wipe the smile from his face. He just looked down at me and shrugged. "You are."
I tried to glare again, but I couldn't focus my eyes enough to do it. I don't think I lost consciousness then, but maybe I did, because New Guy touched my face again. Only this time he didn't slap it to keep me awake, he started brushing his fingers back and forth along my cheek.
The warm tingly sensation his fingers left on my skin was something I'd never felt before. Certainly nothing like whenever the J's tug on my ponytail, or give me an elbow jab, or even when they give me a hand up after they've knocked me to the ground. This was different. It was like magic. Wonderful, wonderful magic that made all the pain in my head disappear.
I was sure it was a concussion-induced hallucination, but even still, I was beginning to think it was worth it. That is, until New Guy brushed my hair out of my face and said, "Such shiny, bright, red hair. Gorgeous, just like the rest of you."
My stomach lurched and it had nothing to do with my head injury. I recognized his words. Hadn’t I thought the exact same ones about him only minutes before? Had I really been talking out loud this whole time? Suddenly, all his amusement made sense. The humiliation was too much for me to handle with everything else going on at the moment, and all those spots in my vision finally lumped into one giant shroud of black.