"That was last year." Colin takes my hand and leads me into the house. "I want you to show me how much you care. Now."

We enter Shane's bedroom and Colin pulls me down on the bed with him.

I push him away when he nuzzles my neck.

"Stop acting like I'm going to force you, Brit," Colin slurs. The bed creaks under his weight. "Ever since school started you've been acting like a damn prude."

I sit up. "I don't want to base our relationship on sex. It's like we never talk anymore."

"So talk," he says as his hand wanders on my chest.

"You go first. You say something, then I'll say something."

"That's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard. I don't have anything to say, Brit. If you've got something on your mind, let it out."

I breathe deeply, chastising myself for feeling more comfortable with Alex than here in a bed with Colin. I can't let our relationship end. My mom would freak, my friends would freak . . . the solar system would go out of alignment. . . .

Colin pulls me beside him. I can't break up with him just because I'm scared of having sex. He is, after all, a virgin, too. And he's waiting for me so we could share our first time together. Most of our friends have done it; maybe I'm being silly about the whole thing. Maybe my interest in Alex is my excuse to avoid doing it with Colin.

Colin's arm snakes around my waist. We've spent two years together, why blow it all for some silly attraction to someone I shouldn't even be talking to?

When his lips are inches from mine, my gaze freezes. On Shane's dresser is a picture. Shane and Colin at the beach this summer. There are two girls with them, and Colin has his arms intimately around the cute one with brown hair and a short, shag cut. They're smiling wide, as if they have a secret they aren't about to share.

I point to the picture. "Who's that?" I ask, trying to keep the unease out of my voice.

"Just a couple of girls we met at the beach," he says, leaning back while looking at the picture.

"What's the name of the girl you have your arm around?"

"I don't know. I think it was Mia or something like that."

"You look like a couple," I say.

"That's ridiculous. Come here," he says, pushing himself up and blocking my view of the picture. "You're the one I want now, Brit."

What does he mean by now? As if he wanted Mia over the summer, but now he wants me? Am I overanalyzing his words?

Before I can think further, he eases my dress and bra up to my chin. I'm trying to get into the mood and convince myself my hesitation stems from my nervousness. "Did you lock the door?" I ask, filing my uneasiness into the dark recesses of my mind.

"Yeah," he says, totally concentrating on my breasts.

Knowing I need to participate but having a hard time motivating myself, I feel him through his pants.

Colin lifts himself up, pushes my hand away, and unzips himself. When he lowers his pants down to his knees he says, "Come on, Brit. Let's try something new."

It's not feeling right, it feels orchestrated. I move closer, although my mind is far away.

The door creaks open and Shane's head pokes into the room. His mouth stretches into a wide grin. "Holy shit! Where's a cell phone camera when you need one?"

"I thought you locked the door!" I say angrily to Colin as I quickly pull my bra and dress back down. "You lied to me."

Colin grabs the blanket and covers himself. "Shane, give us some fucking privacy, will ya? Brit, stop freaking out like a psycho."

"In case you hadn't noticed, this is my room," Shane says. He leans against the doorway and wiggles his eyebrows at me. "Brit, tell me the truth. Are those real?"

"Shane, you're a pig," I say, then move away from Colin.

Colin reaches for me as I hop off the bed. "Come back here, Brit. I'm sorry I didn't lock it. I was caught up in the moment."

The problem is, the unlocked door is only part of the reason why I'm mad. He called me "psycho" and didn't think twice about it. And he didn't defend me to Shane. I look back at my boyfriend. "Yeah? Well right now I'm caught up in the act of leaving," I say.

At one thirty in the morning I'm staring at my cell phone in my bedroom. Colin has called thirty-six times. And left ten messages. Since Sierra drove me home, I've ignored him. Mostly because I need to let my anger deflate. I'm mortified Shane saw me half undressed. In the time it took me to find Sierra and asked her to take me home, at least five people were whispering about my show in Shane's room. I don't want to blow up like my mom does, and I was about to lose it on Shane and Colin back at Shane's house.

By Colin's thirty-ninth call, my heart rate is as slow as it's gonna get tonight.

I finally answer it. "Stop calling me," I say.

"I'll stop calling when you listen to what I have to say," Colin says on the other end of the line, frustration laced through his voice.

"So talk. I'm listening."

I hear him take a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Brit. I'm sorry I didn't lock the door tonight. I'm sorry for wanting to have sex. I'm sorry one of my best friends thinks he's funny when he's not. I'm sorry I can't stand watching you and Fuentes in Peterson's class. I'm sorry I changed this summer."

I don't know what to say. He has changed. Have I? Or am I the same person who he said good-bye to before he left for the summer? I don't know. There's one thing I do know, though. "Colin, I don't want to fight anymore."

"Me, neither. Can you just try to forget tonight ever happened? I promise I'll make it up to you. Remember our anniversary last year when my uncle flew us to Michigan for the day in his Cessna?"

We ended up at a resort. When we got to the restaurant for dinner that night, a huge bouquet of red roses was on our table, along with a turquoise box. Inside was a white gold bracelet from Tiffany's. "I remember."

"I'm going to buy you the earrings that match the bracelet, Brit."

I don't have the heart to tell him that it's not the earrings I want. I love the bracelet a ton and wear it all the time. But what blew me away wasn't the gift, it was that Colin went above and beyond in the planning of the day just to make it super special for us. That's what I remember when I look at the bracelet. Not the gift, but the meaning behind it. I've only seen small glimpses of that Colin since school started.

The expensive earrings would be a symbol of Colin's apology and would remind me of tonight. It might also serve to guilt me into giving something to him . . . like my virginity. He might not think of it consciously, but just the fact that the thought is lingering in my mind is a sign. I don't want that pressure. "Colin, I don't want the earrings."

"Then what do you want? Tell me."

It takes me a while to answer. Six months ago I could have written a hundred-page essay on what I wanted. Since school started, everything has turned around. "Right now I don't know what I want." I feel bad for saying it, but it's the truth.

"Well, when you figure it out will you clue me in?"

Yeah, if I ever figure it out myself.


On Monday I try not to read too much into my anticipation for chemistry. Surely it's not Mrs. P. making me crave class. It's Brittany.

She walks into class late.

"Hey," I say to her.

"Hey," she mumbles back. No smile, no bright eyes. Something is definitely bothering her.

"Okay, class," Mrs. P. says. "Get out your pencils. Let's see how well you've been studying."

While I silently curse Mrs. P. for not having a lab day with experiments so we can talk, I glance over at my partner. She looks totally unprepared. Feeling protective even though I have no right, I raise my hand.

"I'm afraid to call on you, Alex," Mrs. P. says, staring down at me.

"It's a small question."

"Go ahead. Make it quick."

"This is an open book test, right?"

The teacher glares at me over her glasses. "No, Alex, this is not an open book test. And if you didn't study, you're going to get yourself a big fat F. Understand?"

I drop my books with a loud thud onto the floor in response.

After Mrs. P. passes out the test, I read the first question. The density of Al (aluminum) is 2.7 grams per millimeter. What volume will 10.5 grams of Al (aluminum) occupy?

After I work out my answer, I look over at Brittany. She's staring blankly at the test.

Catching me watching her, she sneers. "What?"

"Nothin'. Nada."

"Then stop staring at me."

Mrs. P. is looking right at us. Taking a deep breath to calm myself, I go back to working on the test. Does Brittany have to do that, get all hot-and-cold without warning? What sets her off?

Out of the corner of my eye, I see my chem partner grab the bathroom pass off the hook by the classroom door. Problem is, the bathroom pass can't help you escape life. It's still there when you come out. Believe me, I've tried it. Problems and crap don't go away by hiding in the can.

Back in class, Brittany lays her head on the lab table as she scribbles answers. One glance and I know she's not into it, the girl is doing a half-ass job. And when Mrs. P. orders everyone to hand in their papers, my chem partner has a blank stare on her face.

"If it makes you feel any better," I say quietly so only Brittany can hear, "I flunked health class in eighth grade for puttin' a lit cigarette in the dummy's mouth."

Without looking up she says, "Good for you."

Music pipes through the speaker, signaling the end of class. I watch Brittany's golden hair bouncing less than usual as she shuffles out of class, surprisingly not accompanied by her boyfriend. I wonder if she thinks everything is supposed to land in her lap, even good grades.

I have to work for everything I have. Nothing lands in my lap.

"Hiya, Alex." Carmen is standing in front of my locker. Okay, so some things do land in my lap.


My ex-girlfriend leans toward me, the deep V of her shirt extra low-cut. "A bunch of us are going to hang out at the beach after school. Wanna come?"

"I've got to work," I tell her. "Maybe I'll catch up with ya later."

I think about two weekends ago. After going to Brittany's house only to be talked down to by her mother, something inside me snapped.

Getting drunk to drown my busted ego was a dumb idea. I wanted to be with Brittany, to hang out with her not only to study but to find out what's underneath those blond streaks. My chem partner blew me off. Carmen didn't. The memory is a hazy one, but I remember Carmen in the lake, wrapping her body around me. And sitting on top of me by the fire as we smoked something much stronger than a Marlboro. In my inebriated and stoned ego-busted state, any girl would have felt good to me.

Carmen was there, willing, and I owe her an apology because even if she was offering, I shouldn't have nibbled at the bait. I'll have to catch up with her and explain my dumbass behavior.

After school, there's a crowd around my motorcycle. Shit, if anything happened to Julio I swear I'm going to kick someone's ass. I don't have to push through the crowd because a path opens up when I get close.

All eyes are on me as I witness the vandalism to my motorcycle. They're expecting me to be in a rage. After all, who would dare attach a pink tricycle horn to the handlebars and tape sparkling streamers from the ends of the handles? Nobody can get away with this shit.