1 CHAPTER ONE

"Ivy. This doesn't look good... I mean, I would never say 'no' to a party, but maybe we should reconsider it."

I took off my hood, grimacing as the rain slowed down, only a few drops still falling on my forehead. I couldn't ask more from Norfolk's lovely weather. Virginia state seemed to be nice from pictures, but to live in it... wasn't as beautiful as I thought. A shiver went down my spine and I flinched, turning my head towards Mike. "You said you wanna come. We're here."

"But... mom doesn't know we left. I don't wanna get in trouble... she's gotta buy me a car for my birthday." He ran a hand through his brown hair. His nervous behavior was making me feel sick, because I was just like him.

If mom figures out we sneaked out tonight, I probably won't see the light of day the whole summer.

"It's gonna be fine. She won't know. Besides, I came just for Emily. She sent me a weird text and I can't let her hang around a guy's house totally drunk." My voice became shaky as the rain penetrated the thin material of my jacket.

"Why didn't you tell me that? I could've called a friend to..."

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"Mike. I wanna go out. And you wanna go out too. Mom won't find out. Can you stop talking?"

He shut his mouth and nodded, eyeing me with a weird intensity. I sighed, walking faster. We had one more street to walk until Mike's friend's house. His name was Jamie and he was well known for his huge parties held in his mansion when his parents were out of town. I adjusted my jacket and put the hood up.

What if it's coming back? What will you do then? Can you afford the risk?

I didn't know what I should've done. But, one thing I was sure of: I wanted to go out. I didn't want to feel trapped, closed in a cage like an animal, anymore. I know mom wants the best for me...

...but sometimes the best is not enough.

"We're almost there. See that yellow house?" Mike said, pointing out a house approximatively 15 feet away from us. I shoved my hands in my pockets.

"Good. We can stay there two hours. In two hours meet me outside, okay?" I told him, looking straight at him, making sure he clearly understood my words.

Mike nodded with a blank expression on his face. He seemed... worried. I frowned, not sure why he felt that way when a party was held right in front of him. "Mike, you okay? You seem a bit off."

He shrugged, throwing me a quick smile. "No, man, I just... God, Ivy, I really want that car!"

I rolled my eyes, picking up my pace. "Bye, Mike. Two hours, understood?"

I heard him yelling from behind "I know already! Don't you dare be late either!" and I smiled, shaking my head. If only he knew how aware I was of the time spent there. It wasn't only about mom.

What if something happens, Ivy? Can you take responsibility?

Only two hours. This is the limit. You're Cinderella. When the clock strikes the midnight, your fairytale turns into a nightmare. Do you understand?

I shook my head, throwing away my worries. The point of sneaking out was to actually have fun. I didn't have time to worry about something which might or might not happen. So, I took a deep breath, climbed the stone stairs which led me to a huge, fancy double door on which complicated models were engraved, I cleared my throat and knocked twice.

Do I even have to knock? Isn't it like an open party?

"Password." Someone hissed from the other side. I lifted an eyebrow at the talking door and sighed.

"Open sesame?" I scoffed, crossing my arms over my flat chest and feeling how my blood was turning cold because of my wet jacket.

"Bingo!" The guy said, opening the door and showing me the biggest smile I'd ever seen.

"Let me guess. Jamie?" I asked the blonde guy, and his brown eyes glowed, as he raised his eyebrows.

"Oh, my. Who are you, young lady?"

I closed my eyes for a few seconds.

He's literally the same age as me...

"Hey, Jamie! How's it goin'?" Mike said and I turned my head towards him as he was climbing the stairs.

"Hey, bro. Pretty stoned, to be honest. You said you ain't comin'. Your ma' let you comin' after all?"

Jamie folded his muscular arms, letting us admire his well-defined muscles. Mike grimaced, scratching the back of his neck and planting his feet next to me. "Yeah, you can say that. Oh, and I brought my sister. She said a friend of hers is at your party..."

Mike got interrupted by someone yelling at Jamie and then, in a few seconds, a beer flew in the air. Fortunately, Jamie had better reflexes than I thought, and he managed to catch it before it hit the ground. He started laughing, opening the beer and taking a long sip from it. We waited patiently until he breathed again and he gave us a short nod. "Alright, guys. Come in."

I exhaled sharply as we entered his house. The smoke and the smell of the alcohol and other things, which were better not named, made me wrinkle my nose, as we were following Jamie towards the kitchen. Mike started talking to Jamie about soccer and I inspected the huge living room, trying to get a glimpse of natural blonde hair.

"Ouch!"

I pulled off quickly, massaging my nose and cursing myself for being so clumsy. For a second, all I could see was the guy's chest I bumped into. That looks like a very hard chest, indeed. Then, I slowly raised my head...

"Uh... s-s-sorry." I managed to apologize, turning my head and avoiding a possible eye contact with him.

He looks like my ex.

His black hair, blue eyes, sharp features... they reminded me of Brian. The sweet, warm Brian, who used to be by my side all the time...

He thinks you're a weirdo. It's been six months already, Ivy. Get over it.

"...drink."

"Huh?" I looked back at the stranger I bumped into, frowning, not sure of what he said. The stranger smiled gently and showed me his bottle of beer.

"Do you want a drink?" He repeated, increasing his voice's volume, the electronic music becoming even louder than before.

I shook my head, blushing while I was staring at his face. "No, thanks."

I turned my back, ready to search for Emily, but my arm got yanked backward, surprising me by his sudden action, and I almost fell in his arms. He whirled me around and smiled, but this time the smile wasn't as welcoming as the other one.

"Have a drink with me."

... he's threatening me.

I took a deep breath. Suddenly, I felt like I could breathe no more. I gulped, blinking a few times.

Calm down, Ivy.

"I'm sorry. I told you no..."

He grabbed my chin, lifting it so our eyes were at the same level. I shut my mouth, almost biting my tongue. His grip was hurting me. I tried to reach out for his hand, but his other hand grabbed my arms, making me unable to move.

Help.

"Reconsider my offer, pretty face." He whispered into my ear, closing the small gap between our faces.

"Josh, man! Stop it!" Someone yelled and the creepy stranger let go of me. I took a few steps back, placing a hand on my chest, feeling how my heart was racing like I was running a marathon.

A guy with curly, blonde hair, grabbed the stranger's arm, throwing him a meaningful glare. The stranger nodded and jerked away from his touch. With a frustrated sigh, the blonde guy turned his head towards me and smiled apologetically. "Sorry. My friend is kinda drunk. You see, he is a bit aggressive when he's like that."

Then, with a serious expression, he approached his friend, whispering something to him which seemed to be intense, as the stranger's eyes widened, fear appearing within them.

They turned their backs to me, running away like they were chased by the police. I sighed, relieved that they left me. I wrapped my hands around me, shivering, but not because I was cold. I couldn't care less about my wet jacket.

What were that guy's intentions? Actually, I don't want to know.

I let out a harsh breath and got back to my mission for the night: finding Emily. I whirled around briskly, trying to focus on this task, without letting other black thoughts darken my mind.

"Emily!" I yelled, but no one heard me. The music was too loud. The people were too drunk. And Emily was nowhere to be found.

This is not working. I have to go out.

I elbowed some people aside, trying to get out of the crowded room. The huge number of people made me become anxious and... scared. Scared of what could've happened.

Please not here, not now.

The store. The building. The bus.

Dad.

Time has frozen. Her blonde hair got into my visual area. She opened a door and left the room, without throwing a single glance behind her back.

"Emily!" I screamed, making a few people around me to turn their heads towards me, but I didn't have time to care about their confusion. I ran towards the door which Emily used to escape the living room.

When I reached it, I grabbed the knob quickly, going out in the middle of the night. I let myself calm down and exhale slowly, as the chilly air got into my lungs. I was in a small backyard, where people were sitting down on lounges, getting laid and drunk. At least, there were fewer people than inside.

"Emily?" I said, but more to myself.

Emily wasn't there.

But I can swear I saw her leaving the house...

Maybe I saw another blonde girl and thought she was Emily? Probably. There was no other logical explanation besides this. Sighing, I took a few steps and flopped down on a lounge, eyeing one of the untouched beer bottles near it.

Don't you dare to drink, Ivy Moore! No more drinking!

I shook my head.

Be strong, Ivy!

"Hey there, lonely girl."

I raised my head. A gorgeous red-haired girl has planted her feet in front of me. When we made eye contact, she smiled, inclining her head, curiously studying me. I cleared my throat and plastered a fake smile onto my pale face. "Hey."

"Care if I join you?" She asked, but her actions told me it wasn't a question, but more of an announcement, as she laid down on the lounge, right next to me.

"...I wasn't intending to stay anyway. I have to find my friend." I said, starting to rise from the lounge but she grabbed my arm, forcing me to stay down.

"Where are you going now? I gotta ask you something."

"What?" My brows furrowed, not sure of what she actually wanted from me.

She exposed her white teeth and I gulped, involuntarily.

There's something weird about this girl and I don't like it.

"Now, now, now... don't you think you're quite impolite? I'm trying to be friends with you, you know."

I grimaced, rubbing my hands and looking down at them. My wet jacket wasn't helping me stay warm and I should've gotten changed long time ago, but there was no time for this kind of details. "I'm sorry, but I don't like making new friends." I don't want to hurt you. "So... I'm gonna search for my drunk friend and then go home. Sorry..."

"Listen to me, human."

She lifted my chin, forcing me to look straight into her eyes.

What's wrong with these people, grabbing my chin and forcing me to make eye contact?!

Her blue eyes were boring into my very soul like she could read me like an open book. Her expression... was scaring me.

She's like that strange guy.

"Have you seen a weird guy around? Funny, likes to talk a lot and has a thing for cute girls, just like you?"

I felt dizzy. Maybe staring into her mesmerizing eyes for too long wasn't a healthy thing to do. I shook my head, not sure of what she was trying to ask me. "I... just want to... find Emily..."

She sighed, rolling her eyes and letting go of my chin.

Because of my dizziness, my sense of balance disappeared completely and I found myself kissing the grass. A pair of black stiletto appeared in front of my eyes and I looked up at the girl with curly, long red hair. She threw me a disgusted look and pivoted. She wanted to leave me there, when I couldn't even get to my feet.

The strange guy.

My hand moved without my permission and I grabbed her ankle, making her stop. Slowly, she turned around and lowered her body. "What? Now you want to be friends?" She said, smiling like a devil.

I ignored her question and, gulping, I told her: "There was someone. Someone creepy and weird. He tried to make me drink with him."

She narrowed her eyes, resting her chin on her palm. "Creepy? It's not him. Thanks for sharing this information."

"Wait!" I whispered.

Why is my voice like that? What's going on?!

She patted my head and smiled. "Sleep, dear. There are some bad guys inside. Your big sister gonna kill them all, okay?"

I drew in a deep breath and my eyelids felt really heavy. I closed my eyes.

Sleep. Forget.

Forget.

Forget.

But I couldn't forget everything.

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