It’s everywhere. The pool of dark red liquid on the floor is spreading, multiplying. It’s on my feet, my skin, my hair . . . I can taste it, smell it, feel it covering me. I’m drowning in blood, suffocating in it.
I want to scream, but I can’t draw in enough air. I want to move, but I’m restrained, tied in place, the ropes cutting into my skin as I struggle against them.
I can hear her screams, though. Inhuman shrieks of pain and agony that slice me open, leaving my mind as raw and mangled as her flesh.
He lifts the knife one last time, and the pool of blood turns into an ocean, the rip current sucking me in—
I wake up screaming his name, my sheets soaked through with cold sweat.
For a moment, I’m disoriented . . . and then I remember.
He will never come for me again.
Eighteen Months Earlier
I’m seventeen years old when I first meet him.
Seventeen and crazy about Jake.
“Nora, come on, this is boring,” Leah says as we sit on the bleachers watching the game. Football. Something I know nothing about, but pretend I love because that’s where I see him. Out there on that field, practicing every day.
I’m not the only girl watching Jake, of course. He’s the quarterback and the hottest guy on the planet—or at least in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn, Illinois.
“It’s not boring,” I tell her. “Football is a lot of fun.”
Leah rolls her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Just go talk to him already. You’re not shy. Why don’t you just make him notice you?”
I shrug. Jake and I don’t run in the same circles. He’s
got cheerleaders climbing all over him, and I’ve been watching him long enough to know that he goes for tall blond girls, not short brunettes.
Besides, for now it’s kind of fun to just enjoy the attraction. And I know that’s what this feeling is. Lust. Hormones, pure and simple. I have no idea if I’ll like Jake as a person, but I certainly love how he looks without his shirt. Whenever he walks by, I feel my heart beating faster from excitement. I feel warm inside, and I want to squirm in my seat.
I also dream about him. Sexy dreams, sensual dreams, where he holds my hand, touches my face, kisses me. Our bodies touch, rub against each other. Our clothes come off.
I try to imagine what sex with Jake would be like.
Last year, when I was dating Rob, we nearly went all the way, but then I found out he slept with another girl at a party while drunk. He groveled profusely when I confronted him about it, but I couldn’t trust him again and we broke up. Now I’m much more careful about the guys I date, although I know not all of them are like Rob.
Jake might be, though. He’s just too popular not to be a player. Still, if there’s anybody I’d want to have my first time with, it’s definitely Jake.
“Let’s go out tonight,” Leah says. “Just us girls. We can go to Chicago, celebrate your birthday.”
“My birthday is not for another week,” I remind her, even though I know she’s got the date marked on her calendar.
“So what? We can get a head start.”
I grin. She’s always so eager to party. “I don’t know. What if they throw us out again? Those IDs are just not that good—”
“We’ll go to another place. It doesn’t have to be
Aristotle is by far the coolest club in the city. But Leah was right—there were others.
“Okay,” I say. “Let’s do it. Let’s get a head start.”
* * *
Leah picks me up at 9 p.m.
She’s dressed for clubbing—dark skinny jeans, a sparkly black tube-top, and over-the-knee high-heeled boots. Her blond hair is perfectly smooth and straight, falling down her back like a highlighted waterfall.
In contrast, I’m still wearing my sneakers. My clubbing shoes I hide in the backpack that I intend to leave in Leah’s car. A thick sweater hides the sexy top I’m wearing. No makeup and my long brown hair in a ponytail.
I leave the house like that to avoid any suspicion. I tell my parents I’m going to hang out with Leah at a friend’s house. My mom smiles and tells me to have fun.
Now that I’m almost eighteen, I don’t have a curfew anymore. Well, I probably do, but it’s not a formal one. As long as I come home before my parents start freaking out—or at least if I let them know where I am—it’s all good.
Once I get into Leah’s car, I begin my transformation.
Off goes the thick sweater, revealing the slinky tank-top I have on underneath. I wore a push-up bra to maximize my somewhat-undersized assets. The bra straps are cleverly designed to look cute, so I’m not embarrassed to have them show. I don’t have cool boots like Leah’s, but I did manage to sneak out my nicest pair of black heels. They add about four inches to my height. I need every single one of those inches, so I put on the shoes.