Branches cut into my bare arms, face, and legs as I sprinted through the thick undergrowth of the New England woods. My lungs screamed as I forced air in and out. Barely dodging trees and boulders as I struggled to reach safety.
I could still hear his maniacal whistle. Was it in my head? There was no way he was still that close and able to whistle, right?
I tucked myself behind a boulder, taking shallow breaths as quietly as I could, straining to hear between the greedy gulps.
* * *
There are two kinds of love, I’ve realized, in my sixteen years on this earth. There’s actual love. The kind you read about and see in your mom’s eye when she looks at your dad. The kind that they both look upon you with. If you’re lucky enough to have that kind of thing in your life. Those are actual love. Love that hurts when you hurt and does what’s best for you, even when you don’t like it. Like making you eat kale and brush your teeth on time. The kind that protects you. Romantic love is also real. I know what you’re thinking. You’re sixteen. What do you know about romantic love? I know it’s real. I’ve seen it, felt it.
I’ve also seen something else. Something that wants you to think it’s romantic love, but it’s not. It’s scary and hurts in an entirely different way. It’s dangerous. And if you’re not careful, it will consume you.
* * *
I met him two weeks ago as my new friend from my new school changed into her bathing suit so we could go swimming. We moved around so much I was just happy to have a friend. I wasn’t paying attention to other things. Like unwanted attention or lingering glances or whispers about missing girls.
As I stood outside her door, she was chattering on about a boy, Bobby. Did he like her? Should she ask him out? What did I know? I wasn’t even sure which one Bobby was at that point. The day was a blur of new classes, teachers, boys and girls.
As I tried to come up with the appropriate response, movement from the open door next to me drew my attention. A boy—no—a man, was exiting his bathroom, his towel around his shoulders as he dried his not quite shoulder-length blond hair. His blue eyes were cold as he noticed me staring at him in all his… nakedness. He was naked—and ripped. I’d never seen a guy my age look like that before. He couldn’t have looked better if Michelangelo himself had carved him from marble. He gave a cocky grin as he shut the door in my face.
Courtney, my friend, emerged from her room in a white bikini with strawberries all over it and I felt frumpy in my age-old one piece.
She noted what I’d been looking at. “That’s my brother.” warning tinged her tone. “Stay away from him.”
She wasn’t jealous or childish. It was deadly serious and full of fear. I gave him one last look as we left. When he opened the door, he had a belt and jeans hung low over his hips. He leaned against the door with one arm, giving me a smile.
I was curious about him for sure. And he was definitively the most beautiful man I’d ever seen in person, but the chill that raced down my spine was more than enough than to make me want to run for cover.
* * *
“Charlotte?” his voice was melodious and full of trickery. I hated him for doing this to me. And he hadn’t even caught me yet. But as I sat huddled next to a boulder, allowing mosquitoes to bite me for fear of any movement leading to discovery, I hated him.
“I know you’re here. You’re pretty fast. If I wasn’t about to kill you, I’d say you should go out for track.” He laughed. The bastard actually laughed. My hand found a good sized rock and slowly lifted it, ready for a fight.
“My sister wants you to make it through this, but the last one I left alive went and told on me. You wouldn’t do that though? Would you? You’re cooler than that.”
I stood as he spoke and hurled the rock at his head. He barely dodged it. His eyes wide with fear and excitement as his laugh filled the woods. I turned on my heel and ran back the way I’d come. If I could beat him to the house, maybe…
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