The window shattered.
I heard it.
It’s supposed to be flight-or-fight. I did neither. I froze.
The funny thing, as I saw his silhouette approach the bedroom doorway, a part of my mind detached and all I thought about was how I had run the first time. Flight.
This was the second time.
If there was ever a third, maybe I’d fight then.
He came in, and my gaze shifted.
I left my body, my room, but I remembered the paperweight on my dresser.
I never stopped staring at that paperweight.
That was a party house.
Full out. No exceptions. That was a total party house.
Every room was lit up. People were on the front yard. The door was constantly opening and closing. People were running in and out. Girls. Guys. All Homo sapiens with those red cups in hand. A person didn’t need to be a social outcast like myself to know what was in those cups. Beer. Booze. Alcohol. Liquor.
I checked my email again, and yep. This was not what I had signed up for. The rental ad read, BORING! STUDIOUS! QUIET! I clicked on it, and a person named ‘Char’ seemed only too eager for me, saying I was a ‘perfect fit’ and the rest had been history.
I mean, not totally.
There’d been the credit history, because mine wasn’t so great since I had helped with family stuff, and she’d not been so regular on getting back to me, but the end result was all that mattered. Right? Right. I was answering myself and I was right. It was right.
But no, looking at the house that matched the address and matched the pictures, that was so not right.
Same house. Different context. The pictures she sent me told me it was a demure house. Boring, like her ad said. White-trimmed shutters. Freshly painted red on the house. A freaking blue door. The door might’ve sold it, or it might’ve been the promise that I’d have my own entrance and exit. My own parking spot.
She said quiet, studious, boring! Boring. Hello. A party with red Solo cups and people milling in and out the door, and those weren’t even what I would consider normal party people. I was looking closer at them. I knew people from the higher echelon circles, and these people were definitely it.
That was not me. No way.
I had had a small scrape with someone from that world, and I walked away with a full body shiver.
Well. I was shivering again. A full body/full twitchy one.
I had two years left. Two freaking years. A thing happened and I had made the decision that life was short. I was going for what I truly loved, and apparently, what I truly loved took me almost five states away from my father and my stepmother.
I made my decision, applied, and when I was accepted a week later, even though I was late in the application process, I searched for a place to live while I was packing my car. The house was four blocks from college. I was changing my major from pre-law to marine biology, so I needed quiet, I needed studious, I needed boring because I knew what my next few years were going to be about. I would not have a life. That was okay with me. Fully. Totally.
It’s what I wanted.
I let out a sigh and pulled my keys from the car. This was it. Do or die.
Well, not die. Not actually. That was too—I was shivering again—morbid.
My phone rang.
Fishing it out of my purse, I saw it was my stepmom and hit decline. Gail would need to wait, but I knew she was worried since I drove the whole way. I hadn’t wanted to part with my car. My car meant independence, and I couldn’t afford to ship it across state lines, so I texted her back.
Me: Just got here. Safe and sound. House looks cozy and quaint.
Lies. I tossed it back in my purse, grabbed my bag, and had to take another moment to compose myself.
I hated meeting people. Like, truly hated it. I was what you’d call an introvert extrovert. I was chatty once I got to know someone, but let’s be honest here, because of a certain incident, I was very peopled-out.
Again. Noticing a theme here.
The less interaction with people, the better, which was why I was having a hard time making myself leave my car. I was safe here. I wasn’t safe out there. I was shot-putting myself out of my sanctuary zone, but I had to go and face this.
I also had to pee. Badly.
The twenty-ounce coffee from the last gas station had been a great idea…then. Not so much now.
My hair was a road-trip mess. I tried pulling it back into a ponytail, but I knew some of the strands refused to obey. They kept slipping out, and I probably smelled. More like definitely smelled. I’d been driving since five that morning, and it was now evening. I wanted to just get here, and my six-hour pit stop at a motel hadn’t been the most restful decision I’d ever made. But, alas, it was necessary. I’d been almost falling asleep behind the wheel, so I was forced to pull over. I was pretty sure the room next to me had been filming a porn—or auditioning for one—but I’d been so exhausted I’d even slept through that.
Until I woke up.
Because my body decided it was time to go, but now I was tired all over again.
With a backpack on, my purse hanging from the crook in my elbow, and a box in hand, I headed toward the house.
I was feeling a kindred spirit with Dirty Dancing’s Baby carrying that watermelon.
A vehicle pulled up a few feet in front of me as I was trotting up the sidewalk. A circle of guys headed for the car.
I waited, breath held, thinking they’d look at me strange or say something that would draw attention to me.
They passed right by me. A few skimmed up and down, giving me the once-over, but for the most part, I was a ghost. Or mist. They went up to the car and pounded fists with the two guys who got out.
A couple girls went with them, darting past me, the same red cups in their hands. One of the girls almost ran into me. Her friend shrieked, pointing, and laughing at her other friend, “Look out!”
“Oh. Sorry.” I tried to be invisible, wanted to be, at least.
Then they were both off, still laughing and almost tripping over their own feet.
Another group of girls remained near the house, sipping on their drinks, held close up to their mouths. They literally had formed a circle, but they were watching the guys. It was obvious the party wasn’t a common occurrence to them. A few were hungry, watching. A few had slight panic in their eyes, like myself. And a few others looked irritated. They weren’t dressed as skimpy as the two giggling girls. They actually wore clothes. Jeans. Shirt. Sandals. Hair in a blow-out. The gigglers only had a bikini top on and a miniskirt, clearly intoxicated in their state of almost undress.
It was hot down in Texas, especially the end of August. It was scorching, even late at night, so the bikini tops made sense. But with a miniskirt? Not so much.
Me. I still had my long-sleeve shirt on.
Driving from South Dakota, it was warm up there, as well, but it just wasn’t the same. Still. Long sleeves were my comfort zone.
I moved past the female circle jerk, and like the others, they barely noticed me. The panic-stricken girls watched me, almost with envy. I didn’t know why and kept my eyes downcast. Pausing at the door, I wasn’t sure if I should ring the bell or knock, or just go in?
The door swung open toward me.
“Oomph!” I managed to swing backwards, out of the way, just as two more guys hotfooted it out of there. One was big and brawny and had a golden tan. He glanced back at me as he passed, his eyes cold, but neither of them stopped. The other one, I didn’t even see. He jetted around his friends, out of sight, and my decision about ringing the bell or knocking was made for me.
I walked right in.
“Where’d Wyatt go?”
A girl with gazelle-length legs, Greek goddess hair, and the most porcelain complexion I’d ever seen was coming toward me. She was talking to someone behind her, and as her friend stepped to the side, she saw me and grabbed the Greek Gazelle. “Watch out!”
The Greek Gazelle stepped forward…and on me. Well, more specifically, on my foot.
She stiffened and swung around. I was right there. Her arms smacked my box out of my arms and her body collided with me.
We both went down.
I oomphed again.
And cringed, hearing something snap.
Then the door opened behind me. I was lying prone now, and looking up at the same time the golden tan guy with cold eyes gazed down at me. He stared, his lip curled up in a smirk, and he drawled, “Always falling at my feet, Mia.”
His eyes were on me, no emotion showing, but the Gazelle snapped, “Shut it, Wyatt. Help me up.”
He did so, swooping quickly down to me. I almost thought he was going to help me up first, but he reached over me instead, grabbed her hand and simply lifted her up.
It was like he was lifting up a puppy or something, one-handed, by the back of its neck. But instead of a cute, cuddly neck, he was holding a slender arm, and instead of a cute puppy, the Gazelle was frothing at the mouth. If she could kill me with a look, I would’ve already died, been raised up, and ordered to bury myself again. It was that bad.
“Excuse you?!” she snapped as the guy set her on her feet, then threw his arm around her shoulders. She almost didn’t notice. “This is a private party.”
“Um.” Her friend was biting her lip. She was eyeing my box that was now scattered all over the immediate real estate surrounding us as everything in there had spilled out.