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I wasn’t nearly as excited about it as she was, though I couldn’t help but hope she was right. It would be nice to feel like I was home somewhere.


“if you leave”

Our new house also supplied us with a large vegetable garden, which thrilled Maggie endlessly. Matt and I were much less thrilled. While I loved the outdoors, I’d never been a big fan of manual labor.

Autumn was settling in, and Maggie insisted that we had to clear the garden of its dying vegetation to prepare it for planting in the spring. She used words like “rototiller” and “mulch,” and I hoped Matt would deal with them. When it came to work, I usually just handed Matt the necessary tools and kept him company.

“So when are you hauling out the rototiller?” I asked, watching as Matt tore up dead vines. I’m not sure what they used to be, but they reminded me of grapevines. While Matt pulled things up, my job was to hold the wheelbarrow so he could throw them in.

“We don’t have a rototiller.” He gave me a look as he tossed the dead plants into the wheelbarrow. “You know, you could be helping me with this. You don’t need to physically hold that at all times.”

“I take my job very seriously, so I think it’d be better if I did,” I said, and he rolled his eyes.

Matt continued grumbling, but I tuned him out. A warm fall breeze blew over us, and I closed my eyes, breathing it in. It smelled wonderfully sweet, like fresh-cut corn and grass and wet leaves. A nearby wind chime tinkled lightly, and it made me dread winter coming and taking this all away.

I’d been lost in the moment, enjoying the perfection, but something snapped me out of it. It was hard to describe exactly what it was, but the hair on the back of my neck stood up. The air suddenly felt chillier, and I knew somebody was watching us.

I looked around, trying to see who it was, and this weird fear ran over me. We had a privacy fence at the back of the yard, and a thick row of hedges blocking our house on either side. I scanned them, searching for any signs of crouching figures or spying eyes. I didn’t see anything, but the feeling didn’t go away.

“If you’re gonna be out here, you should at least wear shoes,” Matt said, pulling me from my thoughts. He stood up, stretching his back, and looked at me. “Wendy?”

“I’m fine,” I answered absently.

I thought I saw movement around the side of the house, so I went over there. Matt called my name, but I ignored him. When I rounded the house, I stopped short. Finn Holmes stood on the sidewalk, but oddly enough, he wasn’t looking at me. He was staring at something down the street, something out of my sight.

As strange as it sounds, as soon as I saw him, the anxiety I’d felt started to subside. My first thought should’ve been that it was him causing my uneasiness, since he was the one who always stared at me in such a creepy fashion. But it wasn’t.

Whatever I’d felt in the backyard, it wasn’t because of him. When he stared, he made me self-conscious. But this . . . this made my skin crawl.

After a second, Finn turned to look back at me. His dark eyes rested on me a moment, his face expressionless as always. Then, without saying a word, he turned and walked off in the direction he’d been staring.

“Wendy, what’s going on?” Matt asked, coming up behind me.

“I thought I saw something.” I shook my head.

“Yeah?” He looked at me hard, concern etched on his face. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.” I forced a smile and turned to the backyard. “Come on. We’ve got a lot of work to do if I’m gonna make it to that dance.”

“You’re still on that kick?” Matt grimaced.

Telling Maggie about the dance may have been the worst idea I’ve ever had, and my life is made up almost entirely of bad ideas. I hadn’t wanted to go, but as soon as she’d heard about it, she decided it would be the most fantastic thing ever. I’d never gone to a dance before, but she was so excited about it, I let her have this small victory.

With the dance at seven, she figured she had enough time to finish the coat of paint in the bathroom. Matt had started to voice his complaints, mostly about my interacting with the opposite sex, but Maggie shut him down. To keep him from getting in her way, she ordered him to finish the yardwork. He complied only because he knew that there was no stopping Maggie this time.

Despite Matt’s attempts to slow us down, we finished the garden pretty quickly, and I went inside to get ready. Maggie sat on the bed and watched me as I rummaged through my closet, offering suggestions and comments on everything. This included an endless stream of questions about Finn. Matt would grunt or scoff every now and then at my answers, so I knew he was listening nearby.

Once I had decided on a simple blue dress that Maggie insisted looked amazing on me, I let her do my hair. My hair refused to cooperate with anything I tried to do to it, and while it wasn’t exactly obedient for Maggie, she outwitted it. She left some of it down, so the curls framed my face, and pulled the rest of it back.

When Matt saw me, he looked really pissed off and a little awed, so I knew that I must look pretty awesome.

Maggie gave me a ride to the dance, because we both weren’t convinced that Matt would let me out of the car. He kept insisting on a nine o’clock curfew, even though the dance went until ten. I thought I’d be back well before that, but Maggie told me to take all the time I wanted.

My only experience with dances was what I had seen on TV, but reality wasn’t that far off. The theme appeared to be “Crepe Paper in the Gymnasium,” and they had mastered it perfectly.