False Facades

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Chapter One
"Mr. Sam Westlane, is it?" The headmaster of the prestigious Crestan High School peered over his frames at the small boy sitting in front of
him. As the principal of the private all boys school for the last thirty years, he had grown more and more determined to uphold the school's
traditions and maintain its "legacy of producing high upstanding young men to assume leadership positions in the world". In other words, to
prevent the boys from tearing apart his precious building with their cheerful mischief before they graduated.
A rosy, rounded man, his seat creaked painfully as he shifted. "I'm Headmaster Finnigan. I'm extremely pleased to have you as a new addition
to our wonderful school. I've looked at your files. It's amazing." He nodded at the boy. "You're here on full scholarship. That's quite a task to
accomplish. I congratulate you." His eyes squinted behind the wire rimmed glasses as he glanced over the documents spread out before him.
"But you say that you mailed your old school records to us?" Shaking his head slowly, he flipped through the papers. "I'm sorry, but we haven't
received anything yet. Perhaps it was lost in the mail? You must have them on file or something, I hope."
The boy shook his head and whispered, "No."
Finnigan frowned. Sam Westlane kept his eyes cast down. The boy's shiny red hair was cut short and messily, ragged at the ends. His clothes
were baggy and oversized, engulfing his small frame. He was clearly extremely shy and nervous, chewing his lip every two seconds. The boy had
obviously been through hard times, arriving just this morning with only a tiny banged up suitcase and his letter of acceptance.
The principal sighed. He sympathized with the boy. He'd seen too many spoiled, rich brats and it was nice to see someone different for a
change.
The boy tensed after the long silence. He whispered softly again, "Does this mean I can't stay?"
Lord, he sounded devastated. Finnigan was suddenly determined to help young Westlane out. Nodding briskly, he said,"I believe we can
overlook this as long as you prove to be hard-working, responsible and conscientious - in short, a model Crestan student." At least, what I
believe should be a Crestan student . . .
Sam Westlane's head shot up and he eagerly thanked the headmaster. Finnigan took a while to answer because he was momentarily stunned
by the boy's beautiful, emerald green eyes and his pale, porcelain skin. The boy looked almost . . . feminine. Finnigan shook his head to clear his
thoughts and frowned. Poor kid. Something tells me hes not just going to be bullied by the others for his financial status alone. Theyre going to
drive him away by the end of the week, just like the last kid who came here on scholarship. What a shame. He seems like such a nice boy, too.

Sam Westlane breathed a silent prayer. The ordeal was over. The school had accepted him. His only problem now was to make sure no one
found out his secret - that Sam Westlane was actually Samantha Westlane and that she was far from meeting the standards for the "model
Crestan student".
She smiled to herself. Headmaster Finnigan seemed like a nice, friendly man and she had felt a bit guilty for lying to him . . . but it was
necessary. Her future depended on this step. Her fingers tightened instinctively as the memories she'd tried so hard to lock away resurfaced
with a vengeance. Her parents' deaths in the car accident …her energetic brother now stuck in a coma like a living vegetable . . . her uncle
taking her in . . . her uncle's vile treatmentof her for two years . . .
Sam shook her head and breathed deeply. She'd finally run away after finding out that her desperate application to Crestan had been accepted.
For days, she'd prayed that her uncle wouldn't find out and lock her away in the attic again, but luck was on her side. She'd managed to
intercept the mail and she'd nearly wept with relief at the sight of the thick envelope.
With this, she could finally assume the identity of the last person her uncle would look for: a teenage boy enrolled in the famous prep school for
the rich and the spoiled.

Yes, everything is finally going to change. Her hands tightened on her bag, knuckles whitening. It was time that her life took a turn for the
better.

She changed her mind. Her bad luck was still running strong and fast. After getting her schedule and supplies, she found her dorm room.
Standing before the nondescript oak door, she quickly smoothed down her short hair, which she had cropped off awkwardly with a pair of
shears, and reached out for the doorknob.
Then she looked down again and pressed her hands down her clothes, fluffing her father's old shirt to ensure that it was loose around her small
chest, which she had tried to bind down anyway with some old bandages she'd stolen from her uncle's medicine cabinet. She really, really
hoped her roommate was nice and not too attentive to details. Heaving another breath, she turned the doorknob. It was unlocked. With a
hesitant smile, she stepped in and stopped short.
A tall boy her age looked up, startled. His dark black hair was still damp from the shower and his clear gray eyes pierced into hers. Her gaze
moved down to his bare, tanned chest and she felt her cheeks burning. He was evidently in the middle of changing. Thank god he had on a pair
of blue jeans already. "S – sorry," she whispered and slammed the door.
She leaned on the door and covered her face embarrassedly. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why didn't you knock? Stupid, stupid, stu - "WAHHH!" She
fell backward when the door abruptly opened. Stumbling, she crashed against something solidly warm and she heard a soft grunt. Her
roommate caught her in his arms to steady her and she looked up into a pair of irritated gray eyes.
Mouth agape, she spun around and apologized profusely again. I'm an idiot.

Vincent raised his eyebrow as he leaned against the doorframe. The tiny boy continued whispering his apologies, nearly bowing by the time he
was finished. Vincent's lips quirked in amusement before he plastered on a cool, bored look. He drawled, "I assume you're Sam Westlane . . .
the new kid?"
The boy nodded, wringing his hands together and keeping his eyes downcast. Vincent frowned as he studied his new roommate. This one's
a nervous wreck. Should be easy enough to get rid of. Not like that nagging know-it-all who was here last time. This kid will be out of here by the
end of the week. He sighed. And I was so looking forward to a challenge this time.
It was well known throughout the campus that the student body was divided into two major sections: either you were on Vincent Grenford's
side or you were against him -namely, on his rival, Tristan Harland's side. Between them, it was their favorite game to either recruit the newbies
onto their sides or kick them out. Today, Vincent was in the mood to choose the latter.
He nodded briskly at the boy and brushed past him. "I would tell you to make yourself comfortable ... but then again, there really isn't any
need. You won't be around for long."
Sam stared bewilderedly as the door closed behind the tall, handsome boy. What was that about? So much for getting a nice roommate. She
blew a wisp of her bangs out of her eyes in defeat and turned around. The room was neat, at least. Her roommate was surprisingly well
organized for a boy. Huh. Then again, I don't have much to compare to. Dad, Terry, Uncle Frank . . . Her teeth clenched and once again, she
turned her attention back to the room. Pressing her lips together, she straggled slowly over to her side of the room and began to put away her
sparse possessions.

Vincent strolled across the lawn, tucking his hands into his pockets. Out of the corner of his eyes, he caught a slight movement and he quickly
turned to catch the football his best friend, Jack, hurled at him. Jack laughed, "Damn, and here I was, hoping to give you a minor concussion."

"Go to hell, you bastard," Vincent retorted with a roll of his eyes.
"So?"
He knew immediately what his friend was asking. He shrugged, "He's a goner. Too tiny and wimpy looking to join us. Name's Sam. Red hair,
green eyes, an inch away from a nervous breakdown."
Jack frowned, "Is he really annoying?"
"Nah . . ." Vincent mused. "I think he might actually be a pretty nice guy. Too bad he's so edgy and quiet. He came in while I was changing and
fled the room with his face as red as a volcano." Vincent smiled, amused. They continued their way across the meticulously kept green field, the
smell of freshly mown grass pungent in the air. Other students who came their way quickly turned around or fled in a wide veer around the two
boys.
Jack laughed, oblivious to the other boys running off in the distance. "Maybe he's gay. Took one look at your sexy little self and swooned. Be
careful tonight."
"Ha ha, you're so funny." Vincent tossed the ball back to Jack. "I really do think he's not such a bad guy ." He shrugged. "We shouldn't be too
harsh this time. Just minor pranks or so. I feel bad for him already - not like that four-eyed goody goody who was here last time." He wrinkled
his nose. "Lord, he was annoying. Wouldn't stop yapping all the time."
"Maybe he liked you too –"
"I'm this close to slamming my fist into your face."
"I'm shutting up."

Chapter Two
Tristan Harland squinted against the sun, hand running through his hair as he released a tired sigh. Marvin chattered away beside him and he
tried to tune him out, quickening his steps. Marvin, a short spindly fellow with greasy hair, was too rich for his own good. For some reason, he
was overly eager to follow Tristan around, making it his hobby to flatter his idol obsequiously. Half the time, Tristan just wanted to knock him
senseless.
"The way you told Grenford off the other day was just too awesome! Did you see his face?" Marvin chortled, reminding Tristan of bleating
goats. "Priceless!"
With another sigh, Tristan turned the corner, but he immediately staggered back as someone crashed into him. A red headed boy looked up at
him, bewildered, and Tristan was momentarily struck by the startling green eyes. Panic twisted the other boy's features as he murmured in a
voice so low, he was almost mouthing the words. "I'm sorry. So sorry."
Marvin shoved the boy in the chest with one hand and the latter made an odd, squeaking sound as his hands flew up to cover his upper body,
fingers settling on the collarbone. Marvin snapped, "Watch where you're going, you dork. Tristan, you alright?"
Tristan rolled his eyes and turned back to the boy - only to find thin air. Twisting around, he stared in astonishment at the back of the fleeing
boy. Boy, can he run fast. "You know who that kid was?"
Marvin frowned and shook his head. "Must be new."

Tristan nodded absentmindedly as he stared at the sprinting kid. The boy had his head ducked low and he was sprinting so fast, his arms fairly
waved in the air. What a weird guy. "Wonder what Grenford thinks of him."

Sam wanted to whimper in defeat and hide. Just two hours and she'd already crashed into two cute guys. Was this going to be her destiny? A
horde of guys passed her by, laughing and shoving each other, and she ducked her head low as she consulted her map, trying to blend into the
wall. Where the heck was the room for her history class?
"Lost?"
She looked up to see a brown haired boy smiling at her. He was dressed in the school uniform, a basic charcoal grey set with the top two
buttons of his white collar shirt unfastened. She nodded shyly and asked, "Do you happen to know where Mr. Friedman's room is?"
He grinned and jabbed a thumb to her right. She smiled gratefully and started to run off in the direction he directed, stumbling a bit as she
remembered to call over her shoulder, "Thank you!"

Jack stepped into Friedman's class and plopped down into a seat next to Vincent. Mischief lit up his face. "Met him."
Vincent raised an eyebrow and said coolly, "And?"
"He's currently running off campus."
Vincent sat back in his seat and chuckled. "Wonder how long it'll take him to turn around."
"I'm thinking not until after the class is over. He seems pretty naive."
Another boy with long dark hair and hazel eye sitting across the aisle leaned forward in his seat and frowned. "You two running him off so
fast?"
Jack rolled his eyes, "You just want to see if he's cute first, pervert."
A broad grin slipped across Will's face. "Well, it doesn't hurt to check out if he's my type." Will's sexual preference was known across campus,
openly bisexual and openly lascivious. With a disturbingly unique sense of humor, he was a close friend to Vincent and Jack - after they made it
clear that they had no interest in returning any lewd suggestions of his.
They stopped talking when Tristan and his group walked in. Vincent tipped his head to one side, scowling at the blonde boy while the latter
pointedly ignored him as he walked to the other side of the room. Marvin followed closely behind, glaring fiercely.
Mr. Friedman walked in shortly after and closed the door. A tall, stern man with bifocals thicker than his folders, he was easily everybody's most
hated teacher. He cleared his throat loudly and barked, "Class, sit down and be quiet so I can get started -"
The door suddenly banged open and Sam came stumbling in, gasping for air. Mr. Friedman's face darkened with a scowl. Drawing up to his full
height, he snapped, "I take it you're Sam Westlane, the new student?"
Sam couldn't say anything. She wheezed and nodded furiously.
"Seeing as you're new, I guess it would be my duty to inform you that the other Crestan teachers and I do not appreciate any tardiness," Mr.
Friedman warned. "And when you are late, we expect a proper excuse and an apology." Folding his arms, he waited pointedly.

Sam gasped out, "I – I'm sorry . . . I – was late – cause – a – someone – I – I'm just sorry – I didn't know –"
"Perhaps you'll like to talk without stuttering, Mr. Westlane? I don't believe in students spluttering gibberish when they talk to me."
Sam turned pink. "I –" She stopped when her eyes fell on her roommate. He was sitting near the back, staring at her coolly with his arms folded
in front of him, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Her gaze moved to the boy sitting next to him and her eyes widened in recognition. The brown
haired boy made a show of winking at her, grinning insolently.
"Mr. Westlane, may you please redirect your attention to me? Mr. Jack Worthing is a friendly fellow but you may make your acquaintances
after class."
Her face reddened even more. Someone whispered, "Queer." The class erupted into snickers. Her eyes fell upon the short, sleazy kid who had
pushed her this morning and he sneered. Sitting next to him was the blonde haired boy she had crashed into. His icy blue eyes stared lazily into
hers and he rested his chin in the palm of his hand.
She stiffened and though her first instinct was to lower her head and bury herself into a hole in the ground, she tried to keep her head
lifted. Jerks. She mumbled, "I'm sorry, Mr. Friedman. I got lost on the campus. It won't happen again."
He nodded abruptly, but his eyes were still filled with displeasure and disdain. He said, "You may take a seat now."
Sam looked around the room and decided to take a seat in the empty middle row that seemed to divide the class into two parts: her
roommate's and the side of the boy she crashed into. She sat down in the front seat, feeling everyone's gazes burning into her back. Face still
rosy with humiliation, she plucked a notebook out of her bag and tried to ignore her classmates.

"The Renaissance means the rebirth of culture. However, this doesn't mean the Middle Age was . . ." Mr. Friedman droned on. Vincent tuned
him out and turned his gaze on his roommate again. A lazy smile quirked on his lips. He was a bit surprised that the kid hadn't immediately
pointed fingers and tattled on Jack. Not that it would do anything except earn him more derision from the rest of the class and most likely, from
Mr. Friedman as well, but most newcomers generally tried to seek help from the authorities first thing. Vincent wondered if it was because the
new kid had spunk or if he was actually so cowardly, he was too scared to tattle.
Will whispered, "Your roommate is cute. I like him."
Jack rolled his eyes again, "You're impossible."
"What? That flush on his face is too adorable."
"Shut up," Vincent declared. For some reason, hearing Will say Sam was cute didn't quite settle right with him. It wasn't like it was anything
new though - Will tend to be attracted to anything on two legs. But … still.
"You okay?" Jack asked him.
Vincent frowned and nodded. "Why?"
"It's just that you suddenly scowled."
"I was just thinking."
"About what?"

"Stuff."
"What stuff?"
"Just stuff," Vincent snapped, exasperated. "Care to stop bugging me?"
"Jeez . . ." Jack coughed. "PMS."
There was a moment of silence and then a different voice spoke up.
"Man, I think I'm in love. Look! Your roommate's playing with his hair. Aw, cutie. Yes, you may introduce me to him after class."
"Will?"
"Yes?"
"I'm going to introduce you to my fist soon."
"Nah, it's not my type."
"Then how about my foot?"

Tristan twirled his pen between his fingers. A frown flickered across his face. Something about Sam Westlane was bothering him. Something
didn't feel exactly … right. He stared hard at the red haired boy, trying to discern what exactly was drawing his attention to him. Fingers tapping
thoughtfully against his chin, he leaned back in his chair. His eyes roamed across the room and he caught sight of Vincent. Oddly, the boy was
staring at the new kid too. Is Sam on his side or against? He shrugged. Whatever. If Grenford is planning to recruit him . . . I'll do it first. If not,
well, Sam will just be a huge sore eye then . . .

The bell rang and Sam immediately shot up from her seat. She grabbed all her books and nearly sprinted out the door. Tristan walked calmly
after her and just as she was about to hurl herself around a corner, he closed in on her and grabbed her backpack from behind. She nearly
toppled backward before she found out she was anchored to her spot. She turned around wearily and raised an eyebrow at the boy. "Yes?"
"I'm Tristan," He smiled easily.
She gnawed at her bottom lip and clutched her books tighter. "I'm Sam."
There was a moment of silence. Sam nodded slightly and turned to leave. Tristan caught hold of her bag again and she was reeled back again to
his side. She stared quizzically up at him, "Yes?"
"Hi again," he remarked.
She blinked. "Hi."
"You're one of us now."

Apprehension fell over her face as she shifted uneasily, "What? Of – of course I'm one of you. What did you think I was? Of course I'm a normal
teenage boy studying here like, uh, a normal teenage boy . . . I – I also like sports, girls, cars . . . yeah. You know. A normal guy liking normal guy
stuff."
Amused, Tristan smiled indulgently, "Yeah. I can see that. What I meant was –"
"Back off, Harland." A growl rifted the air, interrupting them.
Sam was suddenly plucked up into the air like a potato sack. Twisting her head, she looked up at her roommate's features, pulled taut by a
fierce scowl. He didn't address her, merely casting his eyes down at her in a cursory overview before focusing his attention on Tristan. Releasing
his hold on her collar, Vincent set her down next to him and took a step forward in front of her. Her face burned in embarrassment; she must
have looked like a mangy stray being carted off by the scruff of its neck. "Um –"
Tristan's blue eyes turned cold. "I believe it's Westlane's choice, Grenford."
Vincent folded his arms, his broad shoulders like a wall in front of Sam. "You're too late. He's my roommate. Naturally, he belongs with us."
Sam's eyes darted back and forth between the two. She had the uncanny feeling of watching two dogs fighting over their territory.
The kid who shoved her this morning popped up all of a sudden besides Tristan and sneered, "Oh, jerk off, Grenford."
The boy who sent her off on the morning run stepped up next to her roommate with a mocking smile. "Oh yeah, I'm sure you're familiar with
jerking off, Marvin."
An arm slung around her shoulders and she turned her face bewilderedly up to stare into another boy with longish dark hair and twinkling hazel
eyes. He winked at her and whispered, "Why don't we go to someplace quiet and let them battle it out?"
All she could do was nod dumbly and let the boy lead her away.

Will grinned to himself as he led the new kid to a shaded area underneath the trees just outside of the cafeteria doors, bypassing the benches.
Several picnic tables lined the area and there was a small fountain featuring a cherub sprouting water in the center of it all.
"Um . . . shouldn't we be in class?" Sam mumbled, fumbling with the hem of her sleeves. They were too long on her and she constantly had to
roll them up over her wrists.
"It's break time now," Will reminded her, dropping down in the grass to sit with his legs crossed.
"Oh . . . right," Sam shifted uneasily and sat down stiffly in the grass.
Will slid closer and smiled brightly, "Well, how do you like our school so far?"
Sam shrugged. "It's okay."
"The campus?"
"It's okay."
"The people?"

"Um . . . they're okay."
"Me?"
"Uh . . . you're okay, too."
Will laughed. "Do you have any other opinion besides it's okay?"
Sam frowned and shrugged, leaning forward to hug her legs. "I really don't understand what that fight was about."
"Fight? Oh, that wasn't a fight. You'll know when it's a fight. That was just normal bantering." Will unfolded his legs and sat back, watching the
dappled light through the leaves.
"Oh." Sam prayed she'd never have to witness a true fight.
"So which side do you prefer?"
"Hmmm?"
"Vincent or Tristan?" Will prompted.
There was a moment of silence. "Who's Vincent?"
Will stared at her in astonishment. "You don't know the name of your own roommate?"
"Well . . . we weren't really properly introduced," she said defensively.
He smiled. "I'm on Vince's side because that Marvin kid really bugs me. Jack is on our side, too."
"Jack?" she said blankly.
"The one who pointed you to the wrong direction."
"Oh." Her eyes flashed liquid green for a second and she quieted down. "So I suppose Marvin is the short, skinny kid?"
He nodded, resting his arms on top of his drawn up knees.
"Then I'm not on either side."
"Huh?" Will stared at her in surprise.
"Both Jack and Marvin haven't been exactly welcoming to me and I don't think I want to hang out with anyone who looks down on me." She
glanced away, plucking at the grass. "Therefore, I'll go solo." Her voice quieted to a low murmur. "It's not like I haven't been alone before."
"What's that?"
"Nothing."
Will gave her one last doubtful look before laughing. "Okay . . . if that's what you want. Still, you can always come to me. I'll be more than happy
to show you around." He winked devilishly at her and she blinked. She suddenly noticed that he had somehow moved very, very close to her.

"That's . . . nice, but who are you?" she blurted out.
He blinked and paused thoughtfully. "That's right. We haven't had a proper introduction either." He suddenly grinned lopsidedly and leaned
close to her, draping an arm around her. "Hey, I'm William Carter. I'm eighteen years old and I'm a single white male. I like long walks on the
beach, sunsets, and cotton candy, but most importantly, I like you. You're cute." His smile was brilliant.
Her stomach turned and she tried to calm down. Panic overwhelmed her as her heartbeat raced. Trying to nonchalantly wipe her sweaty palms
on her pants, she plastered on a smile. "Uh, you do know I'm Sam Westlane and I'm a GUY? Right? Right? A GUY?"
He chuckled. "I heard you the first time. I'm also a GUY . . . though how normal, I wouldn't know." He smiled flirtatiously. "I'd suggest spending
some more time with me to figure that out though."
Sam nearly bit through her lip. She was near hyperventilation. What's wrong with this guy? Is he hitting on me? But – but I thought my disguise
was perfect. He couldn't possibly know I'm a girl. Or could he? Is he playing around with me? Does he know and – and – oh god, I'm going to be
sick.
"Hey? Hey? You okay?" Will stared at the pallid girl in concern. "The prospect of spending more time with me isn't that scary, is it?"
"What – what do you want?" Sam whispered. Will frowned. The boy sounded petrified and ready to bolt for the neighboring woods.
He sighed. "I'm sorry. I was just teasing you." He smiled ruefully. "If you must know, I'm bisexual. Armed with my awesome pick up lines, my
dream is to win the hearts of everybody - asides from Marvin, Vince, Tristan, Jack – ahem, but yeah, apart from them, I'm pretty damn
irresistible, right?"
Relief immediately covered Sam's face and she laughed nervously. "Oh! You're bisexual! That's great!"
William immediately reverted to his suggestive grin. "Oh? How so?"
She coughed and covered her mouth, simultaneously edging away nervously. "I mean, that's cool. About how you're so open and – and – yeah
– isn't class going to start now?" She made a show of looking at her wrist, except she had no watch on. Still, she nodded. "Wow! We have to
run!"
She shot up to her feet and dashed off. Will laughed and scrambled up to his feet, giving chase.

Tristan glowered darkly and Vincent returned the look. The two boys were still in each other's face, features taut and tensed. Tristan bit off,
"You know what? Why don't we ask Sam for his opinion? He'll make the right one."
Vincent nodded curtly and they both turned around. Everyone blinked at the empty space.
Jack groaned, "Oh man, Will must have dragged him off."
Marvin sniffed, "Great, another queer."

Chapter Three
Sam frowned as she glanced around. The hallway was dwindling down to a few students, doors slamming to a few classrooms, but she still
didn't catch sight of any doors that seemed to lead to a gymnasium.

"What's the matter?" Will asked, walking besides her with his backpack slung over one shoulder.
"Where is the gym?"
"Oh, third floor."
"Then why are we on the second?"
Will raised an eyebrow and stared at her strangely. "Well, we sort of need to go change first."
"Change?" Sam squeaked, steps screeching to a halt.
"Yes, change . . . as in change into our gym uniforms."
"As in boys locker room changing?" Butterflies dropkicked her stomach.
"Well, I would think so," Will laughed. "Jeez . . . did you just go to gym in your regular clothes in your old school?"
No . . . but I sure didn't change in the boys locker room! "Uh … do we have to?" she asked weakly.
"What's the matter? You got your uniform already. You're not shy, are you?" he joked.
"Uh . . . no . . . of course not . . ." she replied feebly. How am I going to get out of this?
"Here we are!" Will cheered and she looked up. "After you!" He opened the door with a flourish and all but shoved her in. She stumbled
through the doors and Will came in after her, closing the door with an ominous bang. "Hey guys!" he called out.
Jack pretended to cover himself. "No, Will! What have we told you before? Don't come in until we're all safely dressed! We can't have you go
around taking advantage of us poor innocents!" Everyone laughed.
Will grinned cheekily. "Yeah, well, I just can't help myself. You're too delectable to keep unspoiled, Jack dear."
Jack gasped in mock disapproval. Vincent smiled in amusement over his friends' antics. Marvin snorted in disgust. Tristan showed no response
and Sam was too busy trying to back into a corner with her eyes locked to the floor.
"Sam! Where you going? Come! You can have the locker next to Vince," Will hauled her back despite her dragging feet.
She stood there for a long time, staring hard at the ugly grey lockers. She tried to block out all the noises and the clamor. Don't look to your
right, Sammy. Don't look to your left. Don't look anywhere. Keep your eyes "What are you doing?" Vincent's voice cut through her mantra. He frowned at the motionless boy as he shrugged off his sweater.
She started and began to turn around - then quickly changed direction and stayed put, squinting her eyes at the ground. "N – nothing."
Will teased her, "What's the matter? Forgot how to take off your clothes? I'll be more than happy to do so for you."
Sam shook her head furiously. Her face was turning red again. If this keeps up, my face is going to be permanently stamped crimson. "I – uh – is
there a bathroom stall in here?"
"Yeah, over there."

"Where?" She refused to look up.
"There."
"Where?"
Vincent sighed and pushed her gently toward the general direction. "Just walk straight," he ordered.
"Thank you," Sam replied softly. Vincent stared after Sam, who stumbled off without lifting her eyes from the ground. A small smile tugged on
his lips whenever she bumped into someone with a squeaked apology.
Jack's brows knitted. "What's the matter with him?"
Vincent shrugged as he slipped on a T-shirt. "Maybe he just has a phobia around people changing."

Sam sighed in relief. She'd finally made it out of the locker room. After changing in the stall, she'd waited patiently until everyone else
evacuated. Trudging up the stairs, she walked into the gym and immediately wanted to fade away. Oh dear. I'm going to have gym with thirty
huge, strong teenage boys who all look like they can snap me in half like a twig.
The gym teacher, a tiny balding man named Mr. Harth, blew his whistle and everyone turned silent. "We are going to have a little fun today.
Basketball!" Everyone cheered and Sam wilted. I can hardly dribble, let alone play. Maybe I can fake a stomachache? Cramps still work?
"Sam! You're on our team!" William cried out cheerfully.
"Huh?" Before she could protest, he had dragged her off. She stood there, nerves building up in her while she bit her nails to the quick, as
William whispered, "It's same as always. Vince against Tristan. Watch out for two guys on Tristan's team: Marco and Polo - they're twins double the ugliness and stupidity, just as nasty as Marvin, too. We have a notion that their mother took one look at them and named them like
idiots to warn the world."
Her stomach churned as she tilted her head back to take in two huge giants who sneered across the room at her. Oh lord . . . oh lord . . . oh lord
. . . She breathed in deeply and swallowed hard.No reason to panic . . . I mean, our team is just as big. I probably won't get trampled much . . .
no, just have confidence . . . you can just run around . . . yes . . . An image of her darting pounding feet like a cockroach suddenly came to mind
and she felt faint.
Tristan and Vincent stepped forward to the center. The teacher blew the whistle again and the game began. Vincent leapt into the air and
knocked the ball to their side. She moaned softly and ran around, trying to look unimportant. Vincent shot past her and grabbed the ball Jack
hurled through the air. Tristan flew across the court and blocked the dark haired boy. William caught the ball and dodged the rampaging twins,
only to lose the ball to Marvin. Marvin dribbled triumphantly before finding himself with thin air after Jack flew by. Another boy on Tristan's
team waved his arms frantically in an attempt to block Jack, but was expertly brushed past.
Sam chewed her lip anxiously, trying to run in the other direction away from the ball. As it turned out, that was a major mistake. The sudden
motion caught Jack's eye. Seeing as no one bothered to cover her since she was so puny and everyone else was too busy, Jack decided she was
the best choice to throw the ball to. She shook her head desperately. No! I wasn't called butterfingers for nothing! When he paid no heed, she
reached up wearily in a weak attempt and to her astonishment, the ball landed in her hands cleanly.
Wow . . . I love this ball. She suddenly refocused and panicked as she saw Tristan's team pounding toward her. She spun around in alarm and
tossed the ball toward the hoop - and to her astonished delight, it hit the backboard, but sailed through the hoop nicely. That is a really, really
good ball.

Tristan and Vincent blinked when they saw who had made the first shot. They both smiled in amusement when they saw the bewildered joy on
the Sam's face until they nearly ran into each other. Vincent shoved Tristan away and they shot each other lethal glares.
Marco and Polo weren't as pleased. Marvin gave them a slight imperceptible nod and they grinned darkly. Shouting to each other gleefully
across the court, they ran toward the new kid.
Sam turned around and stared numbly at the two running brutes. Oh, I'm going to die. They crashed into her and sent her nearly flying through
the air. With a leaden thud, she wound up sprawled on the ground in a haze of pain.
Jack yelled angrily, "What the hell! Foul! That was a foul!"
William knelt beside her and asked, concerned. "Are you okay, Sammy?"
She groaned and croaked, "Huh?"
Vincent snapped darkly, "Harland, get better control of your team."
Tristan came in close, staring down at the prone girl on the floor. "I don't need you to tell me that, Grenford," he retorted, jaw clenched.
Mr. Harth fluttered anxiously over them. "Is he all right? Oh dear! I hope he didn't break anything. I'll have a lot of accident reports to fill out."
Jack continued yelling, "FOUL! FOUL!"
Marvin snapped, "It wasn't a foul! They just didn't see him since he's so small and everything. Right, Marco? Polo?"
"Yeah. Right," they muttered.
Mr. Harth continued to blabber on. "Boys, boys, I just want to know if he's going to be okay."
Will asked again, "Are you okay, Sammy?"
"Sammy? My brother calls me Sammy," she mumbled dazedly as she struggled to sit up straight. A spasm of pain shot through her and she
clutched her stomach, sucking in a quick indrawn of breath.
"FOUL!"
"IT WASN'T!"
"IS HE GOING TO BE ALRIGHT?"
"Harland, shut up your people."
"Do the same with yours, Grenford."
"IS MR. WESTLANE GOING TO BE ALRIGHT?"
"Sammy? Are you okay?"
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

Everyone turned to stare at Sam in surprise. She flushed at her sudden high-pitched shriek and turned her eyes downward.
Will blinked, "I just wanted to see if you broke any ribs. I didn't know I'll get such a huge reaction for lifting up your shirt."
Sam coughed in embarrassment, clutching onto the hem of her shirt. "It's okay. I'm fine." Her hands continued to tighten on the bottom of her
shirt. She sat up, drawing her legs up. As her knees grazed against her sore stomach, a wince flitted across her face.
Tristan frowned and stepped up. In a flash, he hauled her up into his arms and said, "Let's go to the nurse to make sure. Just in case." His
eyebrows raised. "Wow, you're kinda light, aren't you?"
Sam turned red, eyes darting around to her other classmates. Vincent's face was dark, but no one made a comment as Tristan started to walk
off. She stammered, "It's okay really. I can walk . . . really."
Tristan ignored her comments as he walked out of the gym. "It's okay. You really don't weigh a thing - and you're really very skinny." Even
though he was the one carrying her like she was a "girl", he gave her a weird look. "Don't eat much?"
"I eat," she mumbled. "Uh, don't you find carrying me like this kinda funny though?"
His blue eyes pierced hers. "Would you prefer a piggy back ride then?"
She wanted to die. "No, thank you. This is fine."
They turned silent as Tristan walked up the steps. She mumbled again, "You really don't have to do this. I'm not that hurt."
"They were on my team," he said abruptly. "I'm just taking responsibility for their actions."
"That's kinda admirable."
Startled, his eyes cut down to the top of her head. She ducked her face even lower. "Admirable?" he asked, eyebrow raised.
"I don't think there's much loyalty in the world, even with family." She shrugged, voice low. "So it's nice that you seem to dedicate this level of
loyalty to your friends."
Tristan cleared his throat awkwardly. "I wouldn't exactly call them my friends, but it's no big deal. Better than staying around, listening to
Vincent."
Her eyes lowered as she nodded. "Still … thank you."
He stared down at her red hair, ruffled and straggly, and he felt strangely self-conscious. His grip tightening, he climbed the final steps.

Meanwhile, the game had continued without Sam and Tristan. Vincent was busy immersing himself in the act of pulverizing Marco and Polo.
They were up twenty to two and Vincent began to leisurely chuck balls at their heads.
He was furious that they dared take advantage of someone smaller than themselves and he was seething with rage that they gave Tristan an
inadvertent opportunity to cart Sam off. This unreasonable possessiveness was stupid, but for now, he was content with hurting the two idiots
as much as possible.

A motherly woman with soft chestnut hair and a warm smile was Nurse Clairol. "Oh, you poor dear, you must be in a lot of pain."
She suddenly looked menacing as she turned to Tristan. "Shame on you boys. You all play too rough."
Tristan backed away with an uneasy smile, running a hand through his blonde locks sheepishly. "Sorry, Ms. Clairol."
She nodded, appeased for the moment. Her voice softened as she smiled down at Sam. "Lemme see how bad it is." Her hands reached for
Sam's shirt.
Sam shook her head furiously, clapping her hands down on her hem. "It's okay. I'm just a little bruised. I feel fine."
Nurse Clairol frowned. "Still, I think I better see if –"
"No, really –"
"I think we should check –"
"No, it's really okay –"
"You know this is strictly professional and there's nothing to be shy of, young man –"
Sam dodged her hands and all but ran to the door. "Reallyit'sokaybutthanksanywaybye." The door slammed.
Tristan stared blankly and then turned to the perplexed woman. Tucking his hands in his pockets, he smiled, "I believe he's going to be okay
after all."

Chapter Four
The bell rang, signaling the end of the day. Sam trudged wearily up the stairs to her dorm. Blowing a strand of red hair from her face, she kicked
the door closed behind her. Well, her first day had certainly been . . . eventful. So far, she'd walked into a half-naked cute guy, crashed into a
cute guy, got hit on by a cute bisexual guy, got locked into a locker room full of cute changing guys and to top it off, got the wind knocked out of
her by two not so cute guys. Yep, eventful.
She looked around the room. The roomy dorm was more like a hotel with whitewashed walls, a beautiful view of a dense forest outside the
window, and shining mahogany desks. There were two separate wardrobes and two comfy beds. There was not only a huge, spacious
bathroom attached but also a wee little kitchenette, though she highly doubted any of these wealthy kids ever made use of it. She glanced over
to her roommate's side. Vincent had probably bought in that huge television too. Jeez, this is probably half the size of my old house. She flopped
onto her bed and stretched lazily. I think I'm going to skip dinner today. I have too much to do . . . like homework . . . and studying . . . I have to
catch up. I'm already behind since I came in so late . . . and I still need to unpack . . . and get organized . . . Five minutes later, she was sound
asleep.

"Hiya, Sammy."
Her eyes flew open and she sat up to see her brother grinning at her. "Terry! What the hell are you doing here?"
He laughed and waved his arms around in a fluid motion. "What are you talking about? I've always been here."

She blinked in confusion. He sighed and ran his hand through his messy, orange hair. Tears started welling up in her eyes. Even though he now
towered over her and his freckles were no longer as prominent, to her, he would always remain her baby brother with the round, ruddy cheeks.
"Ah, hell, don't do that," he pleaded.
She burst in tears. Terry frowned and shifted uncomfortably. "I'm sorry. I just can't help it. After months of seeing you in a coma, even if this is
just a dream, it's still nice to see your smile again, kiddo."
Terry grinned that familiar way she missed so much. "Boy, Sammy, I can't believe you would just chop off your hair like that. Mom and Dad
would roll in their graves if they knew you're masquerading yourself as a boy - not to mention being surrounded by so many of them. I can just
see Dad getting a rifle."
She turned sober. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I should have been in that car with you guys. I should have been there. I –" Her voice broke.
He waved his hand airily. "What's past is past, Sammy. It wouldn't have been any better if you were hurt, too. Even though I'm currently like a
vegetable in some lumpy hospital bed, it's really not that bad. Just think of it as . . . prolonged beauty sleep."
She smiled weakly. "I don't want this to be a dream. I want to wake up and we'll all be back home with Mom and Dad. You're not a figment of
my imagination. You're not."
To this, he only smiled. His eyes crinkled and his expression was a cheerful one, neither indulging her nor comforting her. He was unreal.
Still, she rambled, "I'm sorry for leaving you behind. I tried to stay. I really didn't want to leave you, but Uncle Frank - he - I just couldn't stand it
anymore." Her vision blurred as tears rolled unchecked. "I can't do anything against him, Terry! I was terrified …" Her voice turned hushed. "I
still am." Her eyes dropped. "Why is he so influential? Where can I go? I don't know what to do anymore."
But Terry nodded grimly now, his forest green eyes blazing. "Don't worry, you did the right thing. If I was there, I would have snapped him in
half for you."
She bobbed her head up and down in agreement before finally blurting out. "God, I miss you!" She reached out, grabbing hold of the boy. "I
miss you. I miss you so much."
"Ah, dear Samantha, I've missed you as well."
She froze, pulling back sharply to see the blotchy face of her uncle. His black, beady eyes gleamed underneath black, bushy brows. His warm,
sour breath mixed with the overwhelming cologne he dunked himself in made her want to gag. His pale, chapped lips curled above blinding
white teeth. His greasy hair was slicked as always, accentuating his resemblance to a sycophantic snake. Yet even though he was but a few
inches taller than her, his grip on her was too strong for her to break free from. His nails dug into her skin as he leaned close to her and he
crooned, voice dripping with honeyed venom, "How could you leave me? You know I'll always find you. You can't run away from me."
Her mouth dried up and her heart began slamming against her ribcage. "Please . . . leave me alone," she whimpered softly.
He ignored her. "My stupid brother was no where near as smart as I am. If he was, he wouldn't have been so poor. He could have been as rich
as I am now - as happy as I am now. But look at him now – went off and died, leaving you and your wasting brother in my care."
She stiffened and retorted, "Even though we weren't rich, we were happy. We had a loving family and we were –"
He shook her violently and her teeth chattered. "Happy? Don't give me that clichéd crap. You think love is all you need? Don't be foolish. That's
only stories the poor make up to comfort themselves."
Her jaw clenched and she looked away.

"You know, you're really very beautiful. Just like your mother. Same fiery hair, same emerald green eyes, same snowy skin . . ." His voice had
softened and that petrified her even more. "I was in love with your mother, you know. I offered her everything from jewels to clothes, but she
chose your father instead." His voice quaked with fury. "Love again. She said she loved him despite the fact that he was neither as smart nor as
rich as I was. I was the one who continued our family's business, making tons of investments. He was the one who decided to live out his petty
dreams as a social worker. I was the one who made money by the thousands! He was the one who went around to crummy neighborhoods as
poor as the people he tried to help! I was the perfect bachelor! He was the younger dilettante! And yet, she still chose him, embarrassing me in
front of the whole society!" By now, he was screaming in her face, spraying spittle at her.
She cowered backward. His face folded, expressionless, as he turned quiet. His hand caressed her cheek softly. She panicked, shivering in
disgust as he trailed his cold fingers along her skin. "But I have you now, my darling Samantha. I have you now. You can make up for all the
injustice your parents did to me." He smiled coldly. "Every time I see you, you've grown so much. You're a beautiful young lady now. Come now,
let Uncle Frank see just how much you've grown, dear Samantha." He leaned forward to her, holding her in place as his fingers trailed down
along her body . . .
She started screaming.
"Samantha . . . oh, Samantha . . . Samantha . . . Sam . . . Sammy . . . SAM . . . SAM … SAM!"
Her eyes flew open and her breath came in short gasps. Gray eyes peered down at her and she sat upright in a flash, bombarding her head
against Vincent's forehead in the process.
"OW!" They both yelped. Pastel spots dotted her vision as she rubbed her forehead furiously.
Vincent frowned at her as he held his own head. "What the hell is wrong with you? You didn't come to dinner so I thought you must still be
hurting from gym. I came up to check on you but even outside the door, I heard you screaming your head off."
Her cheeks burned as she stamped her hand to her heart, trying to calm her racing beat. "I'm sorry. Just had a nightmare."
He nodded but he didn't take his eyes off of her. He furrowed his eyebrow in concern and cleared his throat gruffly, "Want to talk about it?"
She blinked and smiled with some hesitation. "Thanks, but it's okay now. I think I'm fine."
He nodded slowly and shrugged. "So . . . you hungry?"
Her stomach growled in answer for her. She flushed and looked down sheepishly. A wrapped sandwich popped up under her nose. She looked
up, startled, and he stuffed the food into her hands along with a carton of orange juice, an apple, a bag of chips, and a bag of chocolate chip
cookies. "Here. I figured you would want food later so I took the liberty of snagging some from the cafeteria." He scratched the back of his neck,
eyes not quite meeting hers.
She beamed gratefully. "Thank you so much."
He cleared his throat again and responded, "It's no big deal. I just didn't want your stomach growling in the night and waking me up. I'm going
to take a shower now. Finish the food." He grabbed a towel and walked off to the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
She smiled a little and took a bite of the sandwich. Chewing hard, she got up to unzip her bag and began unpacking. As she sorted out her loose
clothing she picked up from what her brother and dad left, she stumbled upon the family picture album she had managed to save from her
uncle right before she ran away. Sitting down heavily, she took another bite of her sandwich while she browsed through the pictures. She
smiled sadly down at a picture of her parents' wedding day. Then she flipped to a picture of her brother. She grinned. Terry was laughing at the
camera and flexing his muscles cheerfully. The sun bounced off his shiny copper hair and his dark green eyes were crinkled brightly against his
tanned skin. She had laughed at him then.

"Terry, don't do that! You'll crack the camera lens!"
"What? But I'm so hot! Come on, even you have to admit that!"
"Is that a pimple I see on your nose?"
"Oh, shut up!"
"Who is he?"
She jumped and nearly choked on the sandwich. She looked up and her jaw dropped. Vincent frowned down at the picture while rubbing his
white towel through his damp dark hair. A trickle of water trailed down from the strands plastered to his neck down toward his tanned chest,
dampening his white T-shirt. He also wore black silk boxers - the ones that probably cost the same amount as her whole wardrobe. She tore her
eyes away and his jaw suddenly captivated her. It was those strong, firm ones that made her go weak in the knees. How come I didn't notice
that before? Wow . . .
"Who is he?" Vincent repeated flatly. He narrowed his eyes at the picture of some guy she was smiling so fondly over.
She blinked herself out of her daze. "My brother."
"Oh." Vincent didn't know why he was so surprised. He'd automatically jumped to the wrong conclusions just because … Oh god. You're so
stupid . . . who did you think it was? His boyfriend? It's not like he's automatically gay, you know, just because you think he's as attractive as any
girl . . . oh god, I'm turning into Will.
"Are you okay?" Sammy inquired.
He stared down at the concerned girl and nodded stiffly. "Why?"
"Because you looked a bit green before."
"I'm fine. You're still not done eating?" He sat down next to his roommate and snagged his bag of chips, tearing it open. He polished off half the
bag in two seconds. "Want?"
She shook her head in awe as he demolished the rest. How do guys eat like that? How does HE eat like that? He must work out a lot. She
continued chewing on her sandwich.
"You want your apple?" he asked. She shook her head again and he reached over her to grab it. His head turned in her direction to find her
clear green eyes watching him and he forgot what he was doing.
Her heart gave a jolt as she stared unblinkingly up into his stormy, grey eyes.
Vincent continued to stare bewilderedly down at her and his head inclined. Damn, but she's cute. Another thought instantly tripped him. Uh
huh, that's right, except the she you're referring to is actually a HE. Good going. He immediately jerked away and shook his head as if trying to
shake the fog from his eyes. Great, he had two voices in his head now.
He stole a look out of the corner of his eyes at his roommate and groaned inwardly. Sam was flushed for some reason and with the bright red
hair framing his disturbingly delicate features, he looked ridiculously like a girl. How the hell is his roommate so feminine looking? If he didn't
know better, he'd have sworn the boy was a girl.
"Uh, Vincent?" Sam asked shakily.

Great, he suspects you're a gay molester now. He probably wants to change rooms. "Hmm?" He grunted.
"You still want your apple?"
He stared blankly at the shining red fruit Sam was holding out to him. "Apple? OH! Uh, no thanks, but it's nice of you to offer."
She raised an eyebrow and stared at him, bemused. Shrugging, she got off the bed and placed it on the table. Her body shivered in protest.
Vincent's body heat was just too warm and cozy. "I guess I'm gonna go and take a shower now. You need to use the bathroom anymore?"
"Nah, go ahead."
She grabbed her towel, clothes and toiletries before she scurried off to a nice warm shower.

Sam stepped out of the bathroom, the steam swirling around her. Vincent looked up from his laptop and smiled. His roommate looked fresh,
rosy, pretty. Pretty? God . . . "You sure took your time," he quipped. He placed his laptop on his table and leaned back on his own bed, folding
his arms underneath his head. "Never saw a guy take an hour long shower."
She laughed nervously. "Oh, uh, yeah. I like hot showers."
His eyes scanned her up and down and he raised an eyebrow. She was wearing an oversized flannel pajamas with each button fastened all the
way up to her neck. "It's not that cold tonight." He glanced down pointedly at his own thin T-shirt
She bit her lip, "Oh . . . I get cold really easily. Hehe . . ."
His eyes trailed down and he nearly burst out laughing. The kid was wearing pink bunny slippers, for gods' sakes. She followed his eyes and
blushed furiously. "My mom gave them to me. I always wear them." She walked over to her bed and plopped down, kicking off her shoes.
He grinned and said teasingly, "You have small feet. You know what they say . . ."
She stared blankly at him. "No, what?"
He faltered. "You don't know?"
"No."
"Oh, never mind then." He shifted around uncomfortably, pounding his pillow to fluff it up.
"What does it mean?"
"Never mind."
"But I want to know."
"Uh . . . they say, um, small feet means . . . now, don't get offended, it's probably not true . . . uh, the size of your feet means . . . uh . . ."
"What?" she asked quizzically. She took a look at his feet. "Hey, you have pretty big feet. What does that mean then?"
He turned red. "They say the size of your feet means . . . the proportion of your other . . . errr . . . endowment."

"Endowment?"
He looked exasperated and awfully embarrassed. "Do I have to spell it out for you? What is the most important part of a guy's body to him?"
"Ummm . . ." She racked her brain for memories of her brother. "His hair?"
Vincent turned around with his back facing her. "I'm tired. Good night."
She frowned and slowly got up to turn off the light. As she shuffled back to her bed and snuggled into her sheets, pondering the problem as if it
was one of her calculus equations, the answer hit her. She flushed hotly. Oh god, smart, Sammy. He must have thought she was an idiot. Her
face burned in embarrassment at her ignorance and her stupid answers. Then she started giggling. Suddenly, the absurdity of her situation was
hilarious to her. She was talking to her male roommate about her feet and how they correspond to her nonexistent body organs. By now, she
was cracking up and she clapped her pillow over her head to try to muffle the sound.
Vincent grinned in the darkness. He guessed she must have finally figured it out. "Jeez, Sam, hair, huh? Now I know what you value the most . .
."
Her peals of laughter filled the dark room and he joined in not long after.

Chapter Five
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Sammy's eyes flew open and she sat up groggily. Rubbing her eyes confusedly, she looked over to see the source of the noise: Vincent's alarm
clock. Ugh. She was definitely not a morning person.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BE – SLAM! SLAMSLAMSLAMSLAMSLAM! And apparently, neither was Vincent. After slapping the clock around a few
times, he finally hit the snooze button and proceeded to roll over and snore away again. Sammy grinned sleepily and clamored out of her warm
bed, slipping on her fuzzy slippers. She stretched and yawned lazily, shuffling to the bathroom door. Please let today be better than yesterday.
This was her daily prayer - one that rarely came true.
She squinted drowsily at the mirror and after brushing her teeth, washing her face, and combing her short hair … she still felt half-dead. So
sleepy!
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! She jumped at the sound. Okay, now I'm awake. She suppressed a giggle as she heard a low curse. CRASH! She
jumped again and raised her eyebrow as she came out. The alarm clock laid in pieces along the opposite wall. Vincent blinked sheepishly at her
while running a hand through his unruly hair, "Sorry, that's just my morning ritual. I break an alarm clock every two weeks."
She nodded amusedly. "I see. No wonder the electronic stores are booming."
He smiled wryly and winked, "Well, of course, I'm just supporting the economy, that's all." His hair still stuck out all over the place and she
giggled. Before she knew what she was doing, she had stepped forward and started brushing his hair down with her brush. She stepped back
and he raised an eyebrow. "What was that for?"
She blushed. "Your hair was bothering me. Go get ready!"
His clear gray eyes were laughing as he saluted her before heading to the bathroom. "Yes, mommy."

"So how'd you sleep, Sammy?" Will grinned at her as he plopped down into the seat next to her at breakfast.
Taking a sip of her orange juice, she gave him a quizzical look. "Fine. How about you?"
"Filled with thoughts of you," the dark haired boy drawled, leaning forward while draping an arm over her shoulders. He blinked innocently up
into her eyes.
She laughed nervously and looked quickly in the opposite direction while gulping down her juice.
"Don't mind him." Vincent shot a threatening glare at William. "He's always like that," he grumbled darkly as he slouched down in his seat.
"Don't know how he's always so chipper in the morning."
"I don't understand how come you're always so tired," Will shot back. His eyes slid over to Sammy. "Perhaps you and Sammy kept yourself up
with a certain, amusing activity –"
Vincent threw his roll at William's face and the latter laughed. Sammy ducked her head down and was bright red. This is not normal talk for a
guy. This is not normal talk for a "Speaking of amusing, late-night activities, man oh man, my whole summer was packed full of those. All those gorgeous, curvaceous blondes . .
."
Sammy turned around to see a new addition to the group. The boy was shorter than Vincent and Jack, but nevertheless, still tall. With dirtyblonde hair, eyes hidden behind sunglasses, tanned skin and a devilish grin, he was almost as handsome as Vincent and Tristan. He glanced
down at her and then turned back for a second look. "Whoa." He leaned down and lowered his glasses slowly; piercing sea-green eyes stared
into hers. "Whoa, your eyes are even nicer than mine." His eyes drifted down slowly and she shivered nervously under his close scrutiny. His
eyes stopped at her chest and he frowned. She could have sworn he was trying to burn a hole through her shirt with his look.
Jack reached over and whacked the new boy against the back of his head. "Since when do you goggle after guys? Are we getting a second
William here?"
The boy straightened back up and replied smoothly, "No way, my specialty is with women only."
Will announced cheerfully, "This is Caine, the class pervert."
Caine shot him a glare. "I am not a pervert. I merely celebrate the art of human sexuality."
Jack snorted, "Yeah, he studies the old classics, P and P."
Sammy furrowed her eyebrow confusedly, "Pride & Prejudice?"
"Nah, Porn & Playboy."
Caine waved a hand disdainfully. "I do not merely study." He winked at her and she flushed. "I practice."
"Even Will isn't as bad as you – with girls, I mean, not guys," Jack quickly amended when Will smiled leeringly at him.
"Yeah, about that, are you about ready to give up on girls yet? You're a disgrace to mankind for being so wishy-washy. Just stick to being gay,
won't you?" Caine turned to Will.
"Nope! More competition for you!" Will chimed cheerfully.

Caine rolled his eyes, "Yeah, right. As if you're my match." He turned to Sammy and shook her hand. "Hi, I'm Caine, you're Sam Westlane, right?
Say, have you met Tristan yet? He's –"
"Scram, Caine. He's with us," Vincent finally spoke up with a growl.
"Fine, fine!" he raised his hands up and backed off. "No need to get all alpha wolf on me." He smiled at her again. "But if you need anyone to
show you how to unhook a woman's bra in two seconds, I'm always free. See ya."
She blinked slowly at Caine's back as he made his departure.
"He's technically on Tristan's side, but he's cool enough in spite of his womanizing ways. He hangs out with us sometimes but every now and
then, his remarks can get downright stupid. Don't pay him any attention," Jack nodded.
Sammy nodded and shrugged, saying absentmindedly, "As if I needed him to show me how to take off a bra."
The table went silent.
She suddenly realized what she just blurted out - and just how wrong it sounded. Slowly, her eyes moved up. She had all three guys' attention
now; William stared at her amusedly, Jack ogled at her with an almost surprised admiration and Vincent . . . well, she didn't know what he was
thinking with his impassive stare. She shrugged awkwardly, ducked her head, and went back to her food.

Sammy sat in her math class, twirling her pen distractedly. So far, so good. Acting as a guy is, uh, yeah, pretty easier than I thought. I've met
quite a few people already. Vincent, William, Jack. Tristan and Caine. But then there are the not so nice people: Marvin and Tweedledee and
Tweedledum. She winced as she remembered how they barreled into her; her stomach still ached.
Mr. Morbald continued droning on and on. A tall, thin man well into his fifties, he was already contemplating retirement. A few wisps of gray
hair were combed over in an attempt to cover the shining scalp and his Adam's apple protruded over his tight necktie, wobbling up and down
whenever he swallowed. He peered over his bifocals at his notes, squinting painfully, while he lectured about x and y.
Sammy stifled a yawn. Math had always been her worst subject. Numbers and calculations just went right over her head. She chewed her lip,
darting her eyes around the room. The clock, the door, the board, the windows. It was autumn now and the leaves of the oak trees clustering
around the gorgeous green campus had faded to shades of red, orange and yellow. The place was, simply put, serene. Her parents would have
loved to be in a place like this.
Our of the corner of his eyes, Tristan watched Sam. One minute, the redhead was staring off into outer space with a dreamy smile on her face
and the next, she had tensed up with a bleak, grim expression.
Vincent frowned as he watched his roommate clench her jaw tight and twirl her pen even faster, almost erratically - until it finally whirled out
of the boy's hand through the air in a blue blur and ricocheted off 's forehead. The teacher froze in the middle of his explanation of functions
and blinked rapidly behind his glasses, his mouth gaped ajar. The whole class was silent in shock, heads turned to stare at the new student.
Tristan and Vincent cracked up.
Sammy leapt out of her seat and babbled, "Oh god, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean it! It just flew and it just – I – I – I'm so sorry!"
Mr. Morbald was stock-still, even though his mind ran with thoughts of retirement in some peaceful, tropical island where all pens and other
flying projectiles weren't needed.
The red haired boy bouncing nervously on his heels in front of him was still talking, "Are you okay? I didn't hurt you that much, did I? I'm really
sorry!"

Tristan and Vincent were now rolling around in their seats, trying to stop their chortles. Sammy turned to frown disapprovingly at them and
they quieted down despite the huge grins on their faces.
She turned to apologize to the teacher again, only to find him walking toward the door. "Mr. Morbald? Where are you going?"
He paused before leaving and said simply, "Bahamas."
Tristan and Vincent doubled over again.

"It's not funny!"
"Sure it is. You've been here for only two days and you've already sent the teacher packing. Good job." Tristan grinned down at her. They were
walking to their music appreciation class, the only class Vincent didn't have with her. Her roommate hadn't been particularly happy about that,
practically firing shots with his icy gray eyes at Tristan. He must be worried I'll be whisked off join Tristan's side. Honestly, what's up with these
guys and their stupid rivalry?
Caine suddenly appeared besides her and clapped her on her back, sending her reeling. She coughed weakly as he beamed at her. "Heard what
you did. Nice!"
"IT WAS AN ACCIDENT! It wasn't like I purposely chucked my pen at –"
Tristan started snickering again and she turned red, shooting him a dirty look. He regained control of himself and smiled softly, a nice easy smile
that made her heart flutter. "I know. I know. You're not like that. You're too nice."
She blinked, feeling flattered and self-conscious at the same time. A slow blush crept into her cheeks.
"Just not to writing implements," he added before sauntering into the classroom.
"Meanie," she muttered underneath her breath.

Chapter Six
Sammy walked out of class slowly, scrutinizing her schedule. Tristan glanced down at her and asked, "What's wrong?"
"What's training? It's supposed to be my next class, but I don't know what it is."
He laughed, "All you need to know is that you'll hate it."
"Huh?" she stared at him, alarmed.
He grinned lazily, "Training is 'the discovery and defense of one's self and mind through the physical refinement of the body'."
"Say what?"
Tristan smiled, "It means learning how to kick ass."

"As in self-defense classes?" Sammy was intrigued.
Caine snorted from next to her. "Self-defense is for women. Men crack heads."
"In other words, men are like rams," she retorted dryly.
Caine grinned while Tristan chuckled. "Exactly. But we also prefer to be likened to grizzly bears and sharks, of course."
"Of course," Sammy nodded, amused. Then she stopped in her tracks. "Wait, so by training . . . it means . . ."
"Well, basically, hand to hand combat." Caine, still grinning, shook a fist in her face.
"Oh, lord."

"How can this happen? We just had gym yesterday!" she whispered furiously to Will in the glistening gym.
His eyes twinkled with amusement, "Honey, there's gym and then there's training. We play in gym and we die in training."
"Great." She sat down miserably, scratching her elbow. Then she stood up again and turned to him. "Are you sure this isn't against the law?
Something feels wrong about having a class to teach you how to beat up someone."
Vincent rolled his eyes, reached up and yanked her down. "Sit."
The Coach stepped in then. He was a hefty man in navy shorts and grey T-shirt, but it was the mean scowl that got to her. The whole room went
silent. His eyes seemed to narrow in on her, penetrating her, and she smiled nervously. He didn't smile back.
"I'm Bob Graham, but on no account will you ever refer to me by my name. You will call me Coach and you will listen to everything I have to
say. You will do everything I tell you to do. This class is called training and I will train you in the ways of how to inflict the most pain on your
opponent. Fighting is never honest and there are never rules. But the school authorities still wants me to tell you all that in cases where you
should beat your enemies into a bloody pulp, you could always first attempt to settle things the sissy way: talk it out and reach an agreement,
yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda . . ."
Sammy shifted uneasily as his eyes flashed to her again piercingly. He continued, "By the end of this year, all of you will shed off your puny
flabby surface." It was statement of fact. "But now, let's begin with a warm up." His black eyes glinted maliciously and her stomach sank. Oh,
lord.

This isn't so bad after all. Sammy smiled to herself as she kept up her rhythm, breaths starting to quicken.
Next to her, Caine tripped on his rope for the fifth time. He stumbled and cursed lowly. "What the hell is the point of jumping rope like little
girls?"
Coach obviously heard and bellowed loudly, "The point is to learn agility and stamina. You must sting like a bee and float like a butterfly . . .
yadda, yadda, yadda . . ."
This was one thing Sammy was an expert in. Humming an old rhyme softly to herself, she increased the pace even though her legs were already
burning. I wonder if hula hoops will be used too?

The other guys huffed and puffed. With each jump, the ground seemed to vibrate. Every one of them grumbled and gnashed their teeth in
annoyance. Marco and Polo were especially having a hard time of it. They appeared to have no coordination whatsoever, lumbering clumsily,
nearly ripping the rope in half in their frustration.
The whistle blew. "Alright! You clumsy oafs, enough! I'm getting a headache watching all of you. The only person who came close to half what I
expected is the tiniest kid in the class." Everyone turned to stare at Sammy and she reddened. Coach sighed and waved his hand warily.
"Alright, let's move on. Partner up, boys, and grab these pathetic safety cushions. We're gonna practice how to punch properly. Harland,
Grenford, you two go help the new kid."
Vincent and Tristan eyed each other with wary repulsion, but moved to stand next to Sammy anyway. Sammy bit her lip as her eyes darted
between them. Tristan picked up a cumbersome blue cushion and held it up expectantly. He stared pointedly at her and she stared back. "You
can start anytime now, Sam," he prompted.
"S – start?"
"Just try a punch or two."
"You're kidding right?"
Both guys' expressions didn't change and her heart sank. "O – okay." She fisted her hand and threw it feebly against the pad.
Vincent sighed, "Are you trying to swat a fly?"
Tristan smiled laughingly, "You punch like a girl."
Gee, thanks. "Well, I haven't exactly been brought up to knock someone out," she retorted in defense.
"Fine, then it's time you started. First of all, your stance is all wrong. You're standing too stiffly," Vincent admonished. She nodded and slumped
over.
"No, not like that. You look like you have no spine. You're going to be knocked over like a pile of jello," Tristan reproved. She straightened up.
"Next, you really shouldn't fist your hand like that," Vincent pointed out.
Tristan nodded, "You could break your thumb if you tuck it under your fingers like that."
Vincent continued, "And bring up your other arm."
"It's for defense," Tristan added.
"No, not like that. You look like a chicken."
"No, now you look like you're epileptic. Like this."
"Don't look so puny."
Sammy screamed inside, Do you THINK I have a choice?
"Give us the meanest, hard look you have."

"You look constipated."
"Is that supposed to scare us?"
"For gods' sake, a glare doesn't mean squinting your eyes at us."
"You look like you need glasses."
"Don't try narrowing your eyes."
"Yeah, you still look like you're squinting."
"Don't pout."
"Don't jut out your jaw."
"Yeah, that's right. Clench your jaw."
"Mm-hm, nice fist."
"Good, you look really pissed off now."
Sammy shot them both a dirty look and they nodded approvingly.
"Now try a punch again," Tristan said.
She drew back her arm and gave it all she got. Tristan barely budged, but pain shot through her arm. Man, is that thing made of steel?
Vincent and Tristan both shook their heads. Sammy groaned in frustration. "If you're such experts, why don't you show me then?" she hissed.
Vincent turned to stare at Tristan speculatively, eyes positively gleaming with delight.
I really shouldn't have said that. Sammy could practically see her roommate's mind working: A legitimate excuse to pulverize Tristan?
Excellent! She turned to give Tristan a warning look, but his expression only made her more agitated. The blonde boy's grim face and sneer said
it clearly: Like hell I'm gonna stand and let you use me as a punching bag, you son of a b- Sammy quickly censored the rest of her thoughts.
Vincent grinned and pressed forward, landing his first punch with a resounding slam, sending Tristan reeling backward with its force.
A dark smirk crossed Tristan's lips and he dropped the cushion. "My turn." He threw himself forward at Vincent and Sammy could only stare,
panicked, at the all out brawl.
Vincent grunted with Tristan's jab and retaliated with an equal blow. Jack and Caine both ran forward and grabbed each boy, trying to pull them
apart.
Will sighed beside her. "Oh, well."
"What should we do?" Sammy nearly screamed at him. The two boys refused to budge from their fight, shrugging off their friends.
"Get popcorn?" the dark haired boy suggested.

Sammy bounced on her balls of her feet and with a stifled groan, ran forward, trying to placate the boys. Well, in hindsight, it had certainly
sounded like a better idea in her mind before it was put into action. Of course, in the confusion and clamor, it was only natural she could get
hurt.
She just didn't know how much.
She protested, "Will you guys just stop – " BAM!
Tristan and Vincent both stopped short and stared down at Sam in shock. The Coach finally blew the whistle and came running over. "What the
hell happened here?"
"Where were you before?" Will asked angrily as he hurried to Sam's side.
"I thought this was just a friendly fight. Hell, beats these stupid practice punches. New kid, what are you doing sitting on the floor like that?
Stop being so lazy."
"Ow . . ."

Nurse Clairol sighed and clucked her tongue. "Boys these days. You poor dear, getting hurt so fast again." The woman moved out of the room,
giving the other boys a warning look. "Stay here until you feel better, okay? I have to pick up some supplies that were just delivered to the
office, but I'll be right back."
Sammy winced as she pressed the ice pack to her eye. Then she adjusted it to the other eye.
Will spoke up, "Well, I still think you look really cute, Sammy. Those two black eyes make you look as adorable as a tiny panda bear."
Vincent offered an apologetic smile. "Yeah, I mean, you have to admit . . . we had good aim, didn't we? One on each eye."
Tristan nodded profusely. "Yeah, and it'll heal fast. No worries." He gestured at his friend next to him. "Until then, you're welcome to borrow
Caine's sunglasses."
Sammy glared at them and they flinched. "Boy, you sure got that mean look down cold now." Vincent smiled hesitantly. Her glowering didn't let
up.
"Well, if it'll make you feel better, you're welcomed to punch us," Tristan suggested cooperatively. Vincent nodded firmly.
"You know, you two are sure agreeing a lot with each other. Does that mean your stupid rivalry has finally ended?" Sammy asked, folding her
arms grumpily.
The boys glanced at each other and rolled their eyes, snorting.
"I take that as a no. You guys are so – so – I don't even understand why you two hate each other so much!"
They quieted down and Caine spoke up helpfully, "It's a long story."
Sammy raised her eyebrow, winced as the pain reminded her again of her two new accessories, and replied, "And nobody would care to explain
that story to me?"
No one answered and she gritted her teeth. She jumped off the table and picked up her backpack.

"Where are you going?" Vincent asked.
"Dorm."
"So you're not going to punch us? It might make you feel better," Tristan said.
Sammy sulked, "Don't believe I don't want to. It's just that I'm not strong enough to inflict real damage and you know it. It'll probably hurt my
hands more than I'll hurt you two."
They grinned simultaneously and she grimaced at them one last time before slamming the door.
"Damn, those black eyes must be really hurting him," Will rubbed his chin absentmindedly.
Vincent cast him a look. "Why would you say that?"
"Why else would he be squinting at you like that?"
"Yeah, that was his death glare."
"Oh . . . well, it wasn't very good, was it?"
"You try telling him that. He'll only squint at you more. Just pretend to be scared. It'll make him happy."
"Hey, what is this?" Caine picked up a beat up brown wallet off the floor.
"Must be Sam's. He must have dropped it while he was stomping out the door," Jack said.
Caine opened it and whistled lowly.
"What? It's not as if you haven't seen money before." Vincent clambered up to perch on the cabinet.
"No, but take a look at this. Damn, she's hot," Caine raked his eyes over the picture in appreciation.
All the guys crowded around the tiny picture, curious. It was a family portrait: a tall well built brown haired man smiled gently with his arm
wrapped around a petite woman with short red hair. They stood in front a small, yellow house with white gates. The grinning orange haired boy
Vincent recognized from the picture Sam had before of her brother stood next to the man, but there was one last figure in the picture. A
familiar tall, slender girl with pale, creamy skin, liquid green eyes, and glorious red hair that floated loosely to her waist. Towering over her
mother and yet only reaching her father's shoulders, she smiled brightly, eyes crinkled in pure delight.
Vincent's heart started pounding. Even though he still hadn't seen that open smile yet, he had seen a ghost of it before. A hint, a shadow of the
same smile. Sam's smile.

Chapter Seven
Sammy trudged down the stairs wearily, wincing slightly as she poked gingerly at her bruised eyes. A sudden clatter from behind made her
whirl around in alarm. She half expected to see Marco or Polo toppling down the stairs after her like a bowling ball, but to her surprise, no one
was there. "Huh?"

Her eyes lowered to a blue pen on the step, then moved upward to two pencils, a calculator, a suspiciously familiar looking composition
notebook, an even more recognizable calculus textbook and . . . Damn! I've been leaving a freaking trail behind me! Darting up the steps, she
scooped up all her possessions that fell out of her open backpack and stopped at the top to survey her losses. "Oh man, where's my wallet? It
has most of my savings!" She quickly retraced her path through the convoluted hallways and finally came back to her starting point. Huffing and
puffing, she opened the door to check the nurse's office - and blinked when five pairs of eyes swerved to her.
"Wh – what's wrong?" she asked nervously, gripping her backpack tightly against her shoulder. "Why are you guys still here?"
The boys didn't answer her, merely staring at her contemplatively. Sammy started to feel uneasy under their speculative scrutiny and her
attention was suddenly caught by what Caine was holding. "Hey, that's my wallet! You found it. Thanks!" She extended her arm out for it, but
he held it out of her reach.
"First thing first," his turquoise eyes gleamed penetratingly. An uneasy feeling washed over her and she shivered in dread. Caine paused,
studying her expression for a few moments before his features softened into a smile. She watched him in confusion, but the smile flickered
away. "Who is this?" the boy demanded as he held the wallet out to her.
She furrowed her eyebrow. "What are you talking –" She faltered as she stared down at her favorite picture of her family she had carefully
placed into her wallet. Her heart flipped over as she gazed down at the image of her "female self". Oh damn. She bit her lip and saw that
everyone was now watching her carefully. Stupid, stupid, stupid! How could you forget your wallet had this picture? Why didn't you pick a
picture without yourself in it? Why must, of all people, did they have to find it? Why? Why! Okay, no, just stay calm and just think "Why didn't you tell me you have such a hot sister?" Caine demanded again.
"Eh?" She blinked. Oh, bless you. "I, well, it's not like I just go around telling people I have a, uh, hot sister. I mean, what kind of a brother would
I be?"
Vincent shoved Caine out of the way and grabbed the picture. He glared down at it and then returned his eyes back at her. After repeating this
for a few times, he asked skeptically, "This really your sister?" His gray eyes narrowed.
She couldn't seem to lie to him and she wrenched her eyes away from him, deciding to play dumb. "Well, no."
"No?"
"No," she repeated densely. "That picture isn't my sister."
Vincent rolled his eyes. "Very funny, fine then, is the female figure in this picture your sister?"
"No, she's my mom."
"THE OTHER ONE!"
She shrank away from them.
Caine answered for her, "Well, of course she's his sister. Who else could she be? They look so much alike, they could be twins."
Will draped an arm over Sam's shoulders and his eyes practically gleamed with delight. "Oh, wow, now I have a cute female version of Sam as
well as the adorable male original. My prayers have finally been answered!"
Caine grinned, cocking his head to one side in a haughty gesture. "Don't be greedy. You can have the brother. I'll be more than happy to settle
for the sister."

Vincent erupted, "Nobody is having anybody!"
Caine laughed, waving a hand in the other boy's direction. "Oh, I see, you're also interested in Sam's sister then? Want a piece of the action,
eh?"
Vincent gave him a dirty look. "No."
Will gasped and his arms locked around Sam tightly. "Don't tell me you're interested in my Sammy then!"
Vincent turned red, but before he could reach out to smash the two guys together, Tristan spoke up dryly, "Alright, enough. Let's turn back the
discussion to Sam, shall we? All this talk about Grenford is giving me indigestion." Vincent glared at the blonde boy, but the latter continued
without acknowledging him, "What's her name, Sam?"
"Who?"
"Your sister."
"Um, uh, ah, Samantha."
Jack stared at her, amused. "Samantha? Sam? Boy, your parents were sure creative. Your brother named Samuel too?"
"Terry, actually," she smiled weakly. "Yeah, uh, Samantha and I were twins so my parents decided to be funny."
Jack whistled appreciatively as his eyes scanned the picture again, "Man, she sure is beautiful."
Sam blushed. "Thank you." The guys stared at her weirdly and she cleared her throat with a nervous laugh.
Vincent continued to watch her. "Where is your family now?"
Her face turned somber. Will slowly loosened his hold on her as he stared down at her. Sammy kept her green eyes downcast as she spoke
clearly, "They died in a car accident when I was fifteen. Terry was with them and . . . I wasn't. Even though his body survived, he's been stuck in
a coma ever since." Her breaths started to quicken in short, shallow gasps, eyes already stinging familiarly with tears. "In one night, my whole
family was gone."
"And Samantha?" Tristan inquired, his crystal blue eyes softened.
Sammy started and she blinked blankly at them. "She died the moment my parents drew in their last breaths," she said flatly. Suddenly, all the
memories flashed over her in an overwhelming wave. The surge of grief, pain, anger, and fear enveloped her and her breath caught in her
throat.
"Excuse me, I have to go put away my books," she choked and she hurried out before anyone could stop her. The room was deathly quiet as the
boys stared at the door in shocked silence.
Caine finally spoke up to break the grim tension, lips twisting in a half-hearted smile. "Well. So much for getting his sister's number."

Sammy sat glumly in the comfortable, red velvet, high-backed chair in her room. She dug her spoon once again into the carton of Edy's Espresso
Chip ice cream and lifted it to her lips. She hesitated for a minute. This will go straight to my thighs. She spooned down the ice cream with a
vengeance. Ah hell, I'm already a boy now. Who cares?

A knock suddenly sounded on the door. She frowned, pursing her lips over the spoon. Vincent must have forgotten his key. Shuffling to the door
in her bunny slippers and oversized plaid pajamas, she sucked on her spoon as she threw open the door. Her mouth fell open and the spoon
clattered to the floor. Tristan stared at her, looking especially dashing in a blue sweater and black jeans. His eyes sparkled with amusement as
they took in her state of appearance. She reddened and resisted the urge to slam the door in his face. He laughed, "Cute bunny slippers."
"Yeah, that's what Vincent said too," she grumbled. She bent over to pick up the spoon and stood up, adjusting her shirt nonchalantly. "So, uh,
wh – what are you doing here?"
He stared at her with his brows knitted, eyes concerned, and she looked away, mindful of her near breakdown in the nurse's office. He held up
her wallet absentmindedly. "You, um, forgot this."
"Oh, thanks!" She started to reach for it, only to remember that her hands were already occupied by a spoon and the carton of ice cream. "Uh,
why don't you come in?"
Tristan walked in after her and closed the door behind him. Looking around the room, his eyes fell on Vincent's stuff. "Haven't been here
before. Grenford and I aren't exactly the best buddies around here, you know."
That's an understatement. She got a new spoon and plopped down into her seat again, setting the carton on her lap before accepting the
wallet. Her eyes softened at the family picture and then she flipped it shut, clutching it to her chest. She munched furiously on her ice cream
again, chewing on the bitter sweet chocolate chips. Tristan watched her from the corner of his eyes, tucked his hands into his pockets and sat
down in the opposite chair. He smiled at her again.
"What?" She gave him a curious look.
"Nothing. Just never really saw a guy drown his sorrows in ice cream."
She smiled wryly. "That obvious, huh?"
"It's not rocket science and you have every right to grieve." He nodded quietly.
She smiled back at him and said teasingly. "So tell me, Mr. Harland, what do the typical nice, normal guy drown himself in?"
He chuckled and shrugged. "Well, I wouldn't know about the "normal" guy, but I do know most people prefer alcohol."
She arched her eyebrow. "Wine?"
"Beer. Liquor. Whatever."
Her brows furrowed. "But we're under-aged."
He stared at her in disbelief. "Don't tell me you haven't even taken a tiny sip of beer before?"
Now she felt like a dork. "Well, I did have some champagne before," she said defensively.
He laughed. "Boy, you're just this wild beast, aren't you?"
A flush swept up her neck and she spooned another mouthful of ice cream, shrugging.

Vincent wandered aimlessly through the halls. Reaching an alcove, he took a step into the shadows and opened the doors to the balcony.
Leaning his forearms on the railing, the cool night breeze ruffled his hair. Stars twinkled brightly and the trees rustled in the dark night. It was
still September and the temperature was low, but not cold enough for him to need his winter jacket.
He chewed on the inside of his cheek and rested his chin in the palm of his hand. Squinting against the light wind, he sighed. 'In one night, my
whole family was gone.' He just couldn't get Sam's words out of his head. Somehow, he never expected that the quiet, shy boy would be hiding
such a painful past. The picture of Sam's family flashed through his mind again and once again, he was struck by the willowy figure of the boy's
sister. For some reason, he just couldn't stop himself from thinking about the girl's smile - and her uncanny resemblance to Sam.
Stop this, Vince. She's his twin. Of course they look alike. What did you expect? But that did nothing to quell what appeared to be ...
disappointment ... in the pit of his stomach. He ran a hand over his face in frustration and disgust. For a minute there, I had really thought that
Sam was really ... well, a girl in disguise ... and for that moment, I was actually happy about that. He hadn't wanted to think about it, but this
brief false alarm had suddenly made him realize that he was kinda, sorta attracted to his roommate. It wasn't really Vincent's fault though – the
kid looks so much like a girl that - Ah hell, I have a sexuality crisis.
Perhaps this was what happens in prison, when you're a lonely male surrounded by all these other guys. That's why they say not to drop the
soap, isn't it? It's just hormones and frustration speaking - I bet if I had Will for my roommate, I'd also – A vision of Will puckering up his lips with
a 'come hither' look flashed in Vincent's mind and he choked. Okay, he wasn't attracted to Will, that's for sure.
He dropped his forehead heavily against the marble column. He opened his eyes blearily and snorted. But even if Sam was a girl, how will that
change things? I mean, sure, being roommates would be a bit awkward then, but what else? Just because he suddenly became a she wouldn't
give me the permission to suddenly jump her ... him. Even if Sam was a girl, does that automatically made her ... him ... up for grabs? God, why
am I even wondering about the impossible? Sam, a girl? Ridiculous.

Tristan leaned back in the chair and folded his hands on his stomach. "You might not know this but we're not that much different."
Yeah, you think so? How about being born with money, good looks, and oh, I don't know, the Y chromosome? She turned her head, offering him
a quizzical look. "How so?"
The room was silent for a bout of time before he finally said, "My mother died when I was ten."
She was startled and didn't really know how to respond. "Uh, I, oh, I'm –" She didn't want to give any trite responses since she'd received
enough to know that they really suck. "I didn't know that." Yeah, and that's so much better.
He smiled faintly and she continued, hesitating, "How – how did she –"
"Cancer."
"Oh . . . I'm – that's horrible." She was awful at coming up with the right things to say.
"It was. She just withered away and there was nothing Father or I could do. She got all depressed and frail - wouldn't even look at my little
sister." His expression didn't change but his fingers curled around each other in such tight fists, his knuckles turned white. "She just gave up
hope. She stopped living."
Sammy bit her lip and reached out without thinking. His eyes darted over to her and she froze, arm outstretched. What are you doing, Sammy?
Were you actually thinking about taking his hand? Yeah . . . might as well throw in a hug . . . it'll probably make him feel better to throw you
against the wall. She quickly switched tactics, pretending to stretch and yawn before offering her carton. "Ice cream?"

He grinned lightly and accepted the box and her spoon. Taking a huge bite, he smiled lopsidedly, "You know, I'm beginning to like your way
better than drinking myself stupid."
She laughed, "Yeah, well, it has its bad side, too."
He nodded solemnly. "Yeah, addiction might be a bitch. 'Hi, I'm Tristan Harland and I'm an ice cream-holic. I've gained fifty pounds in the last
month and my stomach is so huge now, I have trouble seeing my feet.'"
She rolled her eyes. "You poor dear."
They cracked up. A jingle of keys interrupted them then and the door swung open. Vincent walked in and stopped short, frozen as his eyes fell
on Tristan. Sam abruptly felt an inexplicable spasm of guilt flit through her. Don't be silly, Sammy. Vincent isn't that foul-tempered.

Vincent felt like giving the guy a black eye of his own. His gray eyes narrowed and darted to Sam. The boy looked like a deer caught in
headlights. Why was he fraternizing with the enemy? Why is that creep here in my room? Why is that bastard sitting in my chair? Sam's lips
pulled back in a hesitant smile at him and that was all it took to momentarily mollify Vincent's fury. Damn. I'm turning into a big softie.
He growled, "What the hell are you doing here, Harland?"
"None of your business," Tristan responded coolly. He stood up and turned to Sam, his voice softening, "I'll see you tomorrow. Good night,
Sam."
"Good night, Tristan," Sam echoed. She chewed on her lip nervously as Tristan walked to the door. Vincent wouldn't be budged though and
Tristan's eyes glittered coldly before brushing past him. Vincent kicked the door shut behind him and stared at Sam.
He spoke gruffly, obviously disgruntled. "Next time he bothers you, just kick him out."
"He was just returning my wallet," Sam protested.
He grunted, dropping his bag heavily on the floor. Then his eyes lighted up. "Oooh, ice cream!"
He reached over her for the carton and had just started to take a bite when she stopped him, "Um, you might want to get a new spoon. Tristan
just ate with mine, but if you –"
He shivered with disgust and immediately dropped the spoon. He dropped the whole carton, spoon included, into the waste basket. He
muttered, "Why the hell did you let him eat with your spoon? Were you sharing?" He pinned her with a accusatory look as if she'd just
admitted she'd robbed a bank with Tristan.
She frowned in response. "I don't get why you guys hate each other so much."
His eyes turned stony. "Simply put, I don't like anybody touching what belongs to me and he … well, he touched."
Baffled by his vague explanation, she stared at his broad back as he walked off into the bathroom

Chapter Eight

Well, days passed into weeks and weeks passed into months. Autumn leaves continued to billow down, blanketing the grounds with the
brilliant reds and golds. Sammy had gotten relatively used to the place already - it was, after all, her new home.
Making her trek across the campus to her biology class, she trudged through the grounds, the crunch of the leaves echoing around her. She
stifled a yawn as she adjusted the strap of her backpack, shivering in her brother's old windbreaker. Winter was nearing and she made a mental
note to pull out her father's winter jacket from the small suitcase she had packed with all of the clothes she managed to preserve after the
accident.
Things have been pretty good so far. Between hanging out with Tristan and Vincent, my social life has been fairly packed. Just have to be careful
to keep them apart ... and to stop acting so girly every other minute.
"SAMMY!"
She turned around, startled, just in time to see Will shooting past her in a blur. Just as he brushed past her, his hand latched onto her wrist and
she found herself being dragged along behind him. But with Will's antics, how could I ever relax?
"Who are we running from?" she panted hard as they finally reached the building. Their mad dash let up and she bent over, hands on her
knees.
"No one," the tall tanned boy grinned, his hazel eyes twinkling. Damn him, he didn't even break out into a sweat. "Just like to see you rosy and
out of breath." He winked devilishly at her.
She didn't even bother to respond.

Yep, everything finally seemed to be falling into place. She was getting the hang of things and life wasn't so ... awkward anymore. Nope,
everything was just fine … just fine . . .
Sammy tossed and turned in her sleep. "No . . . stop . . ." She was running through the dark hallways of her uncle's mansion. Screaming for her
parents, screaming for anybody, her footsteps resounded throughout the marble corridors. She slipped and slid as she clung her way past the
cold, unyielding walls. Her panting sounded harsh to her ears and her heartbeat too fast and too loud to be normal.
"No . . . " she moaned as she stared at the same wall that always plagued her nightmares. "No . . ." A dark, immovable stone wall cold to the
touch, it was the dead end she always dreaded and could never escape.
"Samantha," the low amused voice sent chills down her spine and she turned around slowly. The dark figure of Frank Westlane loomed at the
end of the passageway and he took a step toward her, crooning at her. "Samantha." Another step and another and . . .
"Please don't. DON'T!" Sammy kicked out and she jerked awake. Her breaths came in short gasps and tendrils of her short red hair clung
damply to the nape of her neck. She could feel tears rolling down her cheeks. "Just a dream . . . just a dream . . . just a . . ." She sucked in breath
as a sharp spasm of pain rippled through her leg. She clutched her leg and curled up in a ball. She couldn't stop herself from letting out a soft
moan and Vincent woke up drowsily.
"Sam? Wha's the matta?" Vincent slurred sleepily.
"Nothing. Nothing. Go back to sleep," she answered him in a hushed voice thick with tears.
He was fully alert now. He clamored out of his bed and crossed the room in three steps, hovering over her. "What's the matter? Why are you
crying?"

She sniffed. "I'm not crying. Who said I was crying?"
His hand started to reach out to brush a tear off her cheek, but he froze at the last second. Instead, he flicked his finger at her face and her
head fell to one side. She mumbled, "Ow."
"Hmmm?" he asked pointedly.
"What?"
"My finger is wet!"
She rubbed her nose with the back of her hand and narrowed her eyes at him. "So?"
"So you're crying," he said, feeling a tad foolish.
"I'm not crying. I just have allergies," she lied.
"Uh-huh," he said skeptically. She tried to sit up and a spasm of pain shot through her again. She fell backward and rubbed her leg, grimacing.
"What's wrong?"
"Nothing!"
"You have a cramp in your leg?"
She nodded dejectedly.
"So you're crying because of a cramp?" he said incredulously.
"I'M NOT CRYING!" But she couldn't stop hiccupping with new tears. She suddenly felt immensely exhausted; she hadn't had proper time to
mourn her parents' deaths before she was ushered into the home of her sadistic uncle and just as quickly, she ran off only to be living a life of
lies for god knows how long. Yes, it was high and proper time to sit back and let everything catch up to her. Damn it, she deserved a good cry.
The only problem was that she didn't want to cry now. She had been doing such a good job with coping and everything – why the hell should
she break down now? Why couldn't she be strong?
Vincent took a seat next to her and she reared back, wincing slightly. "It hurts," she said lamely as she rubbed her leaden foot.
He sighed, rubbing his eyes sleepily. By the moonlight, the angles of his profile were thrown in sharp contrast with the shadows. He looked so
sturdy and reliable and for a second there, she was tempted to just confess everything to him. Was it fair for her to bring other people into her
mess?
Then his hand shot out and before she could blink, he was cradling her leg in his lap. "What – what are you doing?" her voice sounded highpitched even to her.
He grumbled, "What does it look like?" His fingers rubbed in circular motions along her calf and she reddened. He yawned loudly. "It wouldn't
help me to sleep with you sniffling in the corner of your bed. Don't worry, this happens too when you don't warm up before doing exercise so
sometimes, you have to massage the muscles to relieve the cramping." Eyes still closed, he peeled back his right eye to squint at her. "Though I
guess you can't exactly warm up before going to sleep?"

I don't even shave anymore! Thank goodness I wear long pants to bed. The image of Vincent running his hand over her bare legs sent shivers
down her spine, but then it was overlapped with the picture of him caressing her stubbles and well, then she just wanted to die. Why is he
doing this? Don't tell me this is normal behavior between boys. The aching throb in her leg was starting to wane though and since Vincent's eyes
were still half closed, she figured maybe he was just too sleepy to be weirded out by this situation. She hugged her pillow to her chest, propping
up her chin as she stared at her roommate.
Vincent was impossibly tall. Even when he was sitting, his height still surpassed her. His large built made her feel strangely small and vulnerable
and yet, she felt completely safe next to him. His touch was so gentle, soft and careful … it sent warm tingles swirling in the pit of her stomach
and her face reddened even more.
A lock of black hair fell into Vincent's eyes and she resisted the urge to brush it away. He's usually so gruff and stoic but he can be so nice when
he wants to be. He's so - "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" she shrieked as she yanked her foot away from him and clamored backward in alarm.
He gave a jolt as if she had woken him up and raised an eyebrow at her. "Same thing I was doing before."
"Yeah, but – but – but you were traveling upward. Upward! You were touching my thigh and -"
Her roommate looked stunned and even by the wan light, she realized that he had turned bright red. "H – hey! It wasn't like I was feeling you
up! I was just trying to loosen up the muscles and – and what are you thinking? You're a guy! I wasn't going to take advantage – okay, good
night."
With the abrupt turn in the conversation, he got up and made a beeline to his side of the room.
She clutched her pillow, stunned by his quick dismissal. Her cheeks were still red hot. The room turned silent.
Vincent stopped, making a half-turn, and cleared his throat. "But - you okay now?"
"Uh, yeah."
"Alright, good night then." He turned back to his bed, yanking back his covers.
"Good night."
Vincent climbed back into his bed.
"Vincent?"
"Yes?" He turned his head.
"Thank you."
Startled, he grunted gruffly in response. As he laid his head down on his pillow, he could still feel his face burning.
On the other side of the room, Sammy curled up in her covers and rubbed her leg absentmindedly. She could still feel the warmth of Vincent's
touch and in spite of her flushed face, she was unable to stop a soft smile from creeping up on her lips.
Neither of them got any sleep that night.

"Morning!" Will and Jack sauntered into the cafeteria, pulling up two chairs to the table.

Sammy smiled tiredly in response. Vincent just propped a hand up and leaned his cheek against his palm, closing his eyes.
"What's wrong?" Jack frowned.
"Had a late night?" William grinned at them.
Vincent didn't even open his eyes and he let out a loud yawn. "Wipe that grin off your face, stupid. I just gave him a massage ..." Too late, he
choked and coughed, trailing off.
"WHAT?" Will and Jack exclaimed.
"I didn't say anything," Vincent said quickly.
"Yes, you did. You said –"
"Oh god, I knew I should have stayed in bed today," Vincent groaned, dropping his head against the table.
"It isn't like that," Sammy quickly cut in. "He was just worried about me. I was rolling around in my bed and I couldn't move and he came over
to make me feel better –"
"OH . . . make you 'feel better'," Will nodded knowledgably.
"No! No! It wasn't even like a massage. He was just rubbing my leg and my thigh –"
"Okay, too much information!" Jack laughed.
"Nonononono! Vincent was just being really nice! He –"
"Aw, Vincie-poo, you're such a darling! You're so very chivalrous!" Jack cooed.
Vincent straightened up, shooting them a dirty look. "Coaches help athletes with muscle cramps all the time –"
"And what strenuous bedtime activities have your athlete been participating in?" Jack nodded at Sammy and the girl turned beet red.
"Oh, Coach Vincie, I have a crick in my neck. You think you could be a sweetie pie and smooth it out for me? Pretty please?" Will batted his
eyelashes at the other boy.
The expression on Vincent's face darkened, eyes glittering grey, and he rolled up his sleeves. He cracked his knuckles and loomed over them.
"Sure, Will, I'll be more than happy to."
The two boys instantly stopped laughing and cowered backward, ducking their heads low to paddle cornflakes into their mouths.
While her roommate was busy waving fists in his friends' faces, someone tapped Sammy on her shoulder. She turned around to see Tristan
smile down at her. "Hiya."
"Hey," she smiled back.
Vincent promptly stopped what he was doing and turned to glare at the blonde boy. Tristan ignored him and sat down with Caine by his side.
"So where are you planning to go for the winter vacation, Sam?"

"Huh?"
"Winter vacation. We're going to have a break from school for two weeks." Tristan grinned.
Oh crap. I totally forgot about the holidays. What am I going to do? "Uh, right, I think I'm just going to stay here."
Everyone stared at her. "But Sam, it's the holidays. You can't stay here by yourself," Will protested.
"It's okay. I'll be fine," she smiled weakly.
"But that's so sad! You're going to feel so lonely and sad during the happiest time of the season! Don't you have some guardian to take you
home?"
Her throat tightened. I'll go to hell sooner than I'll let him drag me back. "No. But it's fine really."
There was a moment of silence and then Vincent and Tristan both spoke up, "How about coming to my place for the break?"
The table went silent as their faces swiveled to each other in surprise.
"Oh, that sounds like fun! Sammy, we should all go to Vincent's place! It'll be like a little vacation," Will beamed. Jack nodded cheerfully.
Vincent muttered darkly, "I don't recall inviting you two boneheads."
Tristan shook his head, "Sam, you deserve a break from this idiot. I feel bad enough that you have to face him day and night here."
"What did you say?" Vincent bit off.
Marvin suddenly appeared by Tristan's side and sneered, "You heard him! He called you an idiot!"
Tristan frowned. "Where did you pop out from?"
"I've always been by your side, Trist," Marvin whined obsequiously. The blonde boy rolled his eyes, turning back to the redhead.
"Sam, it's your choice," Tristan said patiently.
"Uhhh . . ." How did I go from having no place to hang out for winter to this? The two boys fixated their eyes on her intently and she shifted
uneasily in her seat. Maybe I should just stay here.
Will grinned. "No need to fret, Sammy. I've got the perfect solution."
"Hmm?" She gave him a grateful, expectant look. Anything to get out of this mess. Those two look ready to rip each other apart … and tear me
in half in the process.
"We flip a coin!" The hazel eyed boy pulled out a quarter triumphantly.
She dropped her head on the table. Not exactly what I had in mind . . . but I'll take it.
"Heads is Vincent, tails is Tristan." The shiny coin flipped through the air in a graceful arc. Everyone watched it expectantly as it made its way
back down. Clattering onto the table, it spun around rapidly before coming to a stop.

Chapter Nine
Heads.
Vincent smirked triumphantly, casting his gloating eyes over to Tristan. The other boy ignored him and stood up abruptly. His blue eyes
glittered icily for a moment and then warmed up as he smiled down at Sammy. "Don't worry. I won't be far away." And with those simple
words, he sauntered off with Marvin and Caine in tow.
"Jerk," Vincent muttered under his breath.
"You know, I really don't mind staying here. I mean, I'll be completely fine," Sammy said.
"Like hell you will. You're coming and that's that." Vincent downed his glass of orange juice..
"Translation: he's welcoming you with open arms," Jack supplied helpfully. Vincent rolled his eyes.
Still hesitating, Sammy tried to smile.

And so, it was decided. Sammy will spend her break at Vincent's house. Her nerves were strung tighter and tighter as the break drew nearer.
What would his parents be like? Would they like her? And did that even matter?
On the last day, before everyone was free to go home, Headmaster Finnigan called for an assembly. In the large auditorium, Sammy sat next to
the reclining Vincent. Propping his feet on the chair before him, he stared lazily up at the ceiling. There was automatically a wide berth around
them. All the other students have always made sure to stay as far away as possible from the unpredictable boy. A noisy buzz filled the hall as
excited chattering echoed all around. Headmaster Finnigan cleared his throat - and repeated it a few more times to no avail. Finally, he resorted
to yelling, "Shut up before I make this speech two hours long!" Everyone quieted down.
Standing up on stage, the stout man smiled brightly. "Ah, the long awaited winter vacation. How blessed we are to get a much needed respite –
" People started chattering again and he narrowed his eyes. "Three hours." The room went silent again. "Anyway, since I see that all of you has
the attention span of a fly, I'll make this quick. Have a nice holiday and remember, as much as you think you enjoy having no school . . . the
faculty and I love it even more. So go home and don't come back until you have to. And oh yeah, keep safe. You are all dismissed!" Finnigan
beamed joyfully and waddled off stage, humming to himself. "I'm going to go home, get some sleep, and eat a whole turkey."
Will smiled at Sammy. "Ah, he loves us so."

"ROAD TRIP!" Will cheered happily. He stuffed his suitcases into the trunk of Vincent's silver BMW before reaching over to take Sammy's own
paltry beat-up bag. She smiled wryly to herself.Never thought I'd see the day when a guy's luggage would outnumber a girl's. Then again, I'm
not exactly a girl now, am I? She shivered in her father's old oversized jacket. Feathers were seeping out of the seams already so the garment
provided little warmth now. Her ears and her hands were literally going numb and she bounced around on the heels of her feet, trying to stay
warm.
"What kind of a coat is that?" Vincent frowned at her.
She answered, puzzled. "A down jacket."

"No, it isn't. It looks like you're wearing a garbage bag."
"It's not that thin. It's actually quite warm." She ruined her protests by promptly sneezing.
He shook his head. "Warm, my ass." He rummaged through his duffel bag and tossed a large, black jacket at her. "Here, you can have it. I have a
dozen others."
She smiled gratefully and stuttered, "Thanks." She pulled it on, nearly groaning with happiness at the cozy warmth. Even though it almost
reached her knees and the sleeves went beyond her arms, it was still quite comfortable. Not to mention, she could smell Vincent's scent on it.
He didn't wear cologne, she had found out during the second month of living with him. He said it was like perfume for men and there was no
way in hell he was going to spritz his body all over with man-made chemicals-infused water like some "girly-girl". Nope, he said, soap and his
natural "man smell" was good enough for him. She had laughed in response, "You mean your sweaty odor?" "Exactly," he'd grinned
back, "Attracts the ladies like flies."
She smiled at the memory, burying her sudden grin in the neck of the jacket. She took a big whiff again; Vincent did seem to have a point. The
clean smell of soap and a faint trace of a musky masculine scent suited her nose quite nicely.
Vincent raised an eyebrow. "Are you getting high on my jacket?"
She flushed. "No! I was just trying to get warm."
Will pulled her along. "Come along! Let's take the backseat. Jack can sit up front with Vince. We can huddle underneath my blanket and share
body heat." He widened his smile.
Jack nodded quickly, "Works for me."
"No." Vincent shook his head, features tautened. "Sam sits up front. He's still not immune to Will's craziness. The kid will probably get felt up
before he even blinks."
Jack groaned, frustrated, "I thought I was your best friend! How can you leave me in the car for five hours with this sex-starved maniac? What
about me?"
"Oh, you'll probably get felt up too, but hey, that's what training's for, isn't it?"
"Bastard."
"God, I really hope not. I don't think my parents would be very happy if I was."
"Yeah, they must be crying now once they find out that their son is a traitorous pig who should get deep-fried for abandoning his friends in the
hands of America's Most Not Wanted."
"Uh huh. Creative."
"Yeah, you're still a bastard pig."

After filing into the car, they finally began the long trip to Vincent's home. Vincent drove carefully to Sammy's relief. She had been praying that
he wasn't one of those rich boys who bought their cars before they got their driver's licenses.

In the back seat, Jack wouldn't stop sending glances at William askance. The latter kept a blissful smile on his face. Just as Jack started to settle
down, the other boy leaned close, holding up a corner of his blanket. He whispered seductively, "Want to share my blankie?"
TWAP! Will sat back, sulking from the red mark on the side of his cheek. "You didn't have to slap me."
"Be glad I didn't punch you."

ONE HOUR LATER
Sammy leaned her forehead against the cool glass of her window and closed her eyes, getting ready to nestle back into her seat.
"NINETY NINE THOUSAND BOTTLES OF BEERS ON THE WALL! NINETY NINE THOUSAND BOTTLES OF BEERS! YOU TAKE –" Will's loud belting
jolted her out of her reverie and she smacked her forehead against the window with a thud.
Vincent groaned. "He's always like this. Put him in a car and he's like a hyperactive dog. He'll hang his head out the window right now and stick
out his tongue if he wasn't afraid of getting it frozen off - WILL YOU SHUT UP ALREADY?"
Will ignored him, bobbing his head to and fro, as he sang, "NINETY EIGHT NINE HUNDRED AND NINE BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL! NINETY
EIGHT –"
Vincent growled, "I'm tempted to boot him out of the car while it's still moving."
"Can I?" Jack asked eagerly.
Sammy bit her lip helplessly. As much as she loved Will, her head was ready to split from his off-key singing. As if to emphasize the point, his
voice broke as he crooned the next verse. Involuntary shivers swept over her and she bent over to rummage through the bag of snacks Vincent
had brought along. "Here, Will, have a lollipop."
He shut up.

ONE AND A HALF HOUR LATER
"EIGHT THOUSAND BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL! EIGHT THOUSAND BOTTLES OF BEER!"
Jack rammed his head repeatedly against the window. Sammy closed her eyes tightly, trying to block out the noise. Vincent's fingers were
clenched tightly on the wheel. "Give him another lollipop, please," he said desperately.
"I can't. He ate them all," Sammy moaned.
"Can I knock him out?" Jack offered.
Will suddenly stopped singing.
"Thank god!"
"I need to go pee."

HALF AN HOUR LATER
They pulled into a resting stop for a bathroom break and Will practically ripped open the door before the car came to a stop, dashing off to the
men's room as fast as he can.
Vincent mused, "After all these years, the kid still acts like, well, a kid. Maybe he had some traumatic experience when he was in the second
grade and kept the same mindset all these years."
Jack shook his head stonily. "That wouldn't explain his exuberant passion for the opposite sex – or for the same sex, for that matter."
Sammy shuffled her feet. "Maybe he just had too much . . . sugar or something for the last couple of ... months."
"Can we just leave him here? Can we? Huh? Huh?" Jack pleaded. "We can call a taxi for him later." Vincent actually seemed to be putting some
thought into the notion.
Sammy hurriedly said, "Uh, I'm going to head to the toilet too, okay?"
Jack's face fell.
As she went inside the welcome center, she sighed as she saw the ever present long line in front of the women's bathroom. Oh jeez. She
patiently waited for her turn at the end of the line, humming softly to herself. A little girl sucking her thumb stared up at her with big brown
doe-like eyes. Sammy grinned down at her. "Hey there." She loved little kids as long as they didn't try to pull her hair out. The girl continued to
focus her intense gaze on Sammy. Sammy chuckled slightly and stared at the large pink bow in the girl's hair. Oh, I remember those. My mom
used to dress me up in those frilly dresses and attach these hair thingies in my hair. Damn, those things were half the size of my head. Could
have blocked out my whole face. Heck, it could have blocked the hole in the ozone layer.
The little girl caught her attention again as she tottered over to the side of a tall pretty African American woman and asked loudly, "Mommy,
why is a boy going to a girl's bathroom?"
Huh? Where? Must be some kind of a freak. Sammy glanced around, eyes narrowing in search for the weirdo.
"Shhh . . . just because someone looks like a boy doesn't mean she's not a girl. Now be quiet and don't bother other people again, honey." The
woman looked up and smiled apologetically at Sammy. Sammy smiled back automatically in return. Then she faltered. Oh, stupid. You're the
freak, Sammy! Mentally slapping herself, she quickly step out of line and hurried out of the building.
The mother shook her head disapprovingly at her daughter, "Now look at what you've done. You've hurt the poor girl's feelings. This is why we
must never judge a book by its cover, right?"
"Yes, Mommy," the girl replied, solemnly playing with her braid.

YET ANOTHER HALF HOUR LATER
"You took pretty long in the bathroom. Number two, huh?" Jack said.
Sammy turned red and cleared her throat. "Uh, yeah."
Will nodded. "Did you have diarrhea or were you just constipated?"

Sammy blanched. "Uh, no."
"Just normal?"
"Yeah."
"You know, the other day, I ate something really bad. I had a huge stomachache and was on the can for nearly half the day," Will mused.
"Really? What did you eat?" Jack frowned.
"I really have no idea. At first I thought it might be those peanut butter and pickle sandwiches but I've been eating them since forever. So then, I
figured it must be the honey dipped mozzarella sticks –"
"Can't be. Maybe it was that old slice of pizza with anchovies you refused to throw out."
"But it tasted so good!"
"But it looked a tad green and smelled kinda funky -"
Sammy started to pale. She hasn't gotten carsick since she was five, but she wasn't so sure about her stomach's endurance anymore.

FORTY FIVE MINUTES LATER
Vincent peered up at the window. "Hey, it's snowing." Sammy immediately opened her eyes and stopped holding her stomach. Pressing her
nose to the window, she peered out into the darkening sky at the fuzzy billowing of snowflakes. Dancing down onto the road, a thin white film
was already forming.
"It's so pretty! I hope it snows a lot. I haven't made a snowman since, well, since Dad was alive. Haven't really spent a winter outdoors ever
since." Sammy leaned her head back happily against the headrest. Vincent sent her a sidelong glance before refocusing his attention on the
road again.
"Screw snowmans! Let's have an all out snowball battle!" Will babbled excitedly.
"No, you like to add ice to yours. They freaking hurt," Jack snapped.
"Okay, you can be on my team then."
"I don't want to be on your team," Jack grumbled, moving away from his friend.
Will tried to embrace him, jabbing a finger at the boy. "Tall brown haired boy to my left, I choose you!" Will cheered.
"I'm not on your team!" Jack elbowed the boy away and they started whacking each other.

TWENTY MINUTES LATER

Sammy was starting to regret her wish. It was really coming down hard now. Every time the windshield swiped across, more snow piled down.
She couldn't even see outside her window anymore. Vincent cursed underneath his breath and slowed the car down to almost a crawl.
Will frowned, serious for once. "Hey, maybe we should find a hotel or something to check into for the night. We really shouldn't continue
driving in this kind of weather."
"That's the best idea you've said all day," Jack said.
"Of course, my life is at stake."
Vincent continued to drive until they finally saw a faint glowing red VACANCY sign. They pulled into the parking lot, grabbed some of their stuff,
and ran to the dingy motel. By the time they stamped the snow off their shoes, Vincent had taken a good look at the place and he wasn't
pleased. His lip nearly curling with displeasure, he said disgustedly, "This isn't a hotel."
"No, it's a motel," Sammy said. All three boys stared at her.
Jack said cautiously, "But is it the same as a hotel?"
"Um, yeah. Sort of. I mean, you can still rent rooms here."
They sighed in relief. Will said tiredly, "Can't wait to take a shower, break out the mini-bar and watch some movies."
Sammy took a look at her surroundings and noted the peeling wallpapers. No, this definitely isn't a five-star hotel. She shifted uneasily. "Um, I
don't think this motel has a mini bar … much less cable TV."
They stared at her in alarm. "What kind of a backward place are we in?"
Vincent said grumpily, "Do they at least have a shower?"
Sammy resisted the urge to laugh. "Yes." At least I think so.
They stepped up to the counter and rang the bell. A thin zombie-like man with yellow sallow skin, long stringy hair and bloodshot eyes stared at
them. "You rang?"
Sammy resisted the urge to hum the Addams' Family tune and smiled brightly. "Yeah, we'll like to rent some rooms."
Vincent nodded. "Four, to be exact."
The man croaked, "We only have one vacancy."
The four students stared at him. Jack demanded, "One? But we have four people."
The man shrugged slowly. "Share the room."
Vincent's eyes flared. "Listen, pal, we said we have four people. At least give us two rooms. We have the money to pay."
The man shrugged again, "Only one room. No more."
All three boys looked ready to throttle the man. Sammy placed her hand on Vincent's arm to calm him down. "We'll take it."

Vincent sighed and rolled his eyes. "Let's go then. Send the bill up." He started to take the key but the man pulled it away.
"Pay up first."
Vincent cracked his knuckles furiously and closed his eyes tightly. After taking a few deep breaths, he pulled out a credit card. The man shook
his head again, "Cash only."
The boy chewed on the inside of his cheek and pulled out his wallet. Sammy's eyes popped open as she stared at the stacks of bills in it. She
also noticed that Will and Jack didn't even bat an eyelash.

"This room is a closet!" Will whined, extending his arms out and taking a spin in the center of the room as if trying to see if he could brush the
walls with his fingers.
"It's just a bit smaller than what you're used to," Sammy placated him.
"A cockroach just scattered up the walls when I hit the light!" Jack yelped from the bathroom.
She shivered, but smiled bravely, "It's just a bug." Note to self: Do not take a shower tonight.
"There's only one bed and no chairs as far as I can see," Vincent stated blandly, scratching his chin.
"WHAT?" Sammy spun around, following her roommate further into the room. "What the hell? Every room should have at least a couple of
chairs and two beds! Two!"
"Jeez, don't get such a big reaction. We'll just sleep together," Will slung an arm over her shoulders. "Vince and Jack can take the floor."
Vincent clapped a hand on the back of Will's neck and snarled, "What did you say?"
"I said we should all draw straws to be equal and fair," Will smiled widely.
"That's better."
Sammy furrowed her eyebrows. Sleep in the same bed with one of these guys? She stared at the hard, stained carpeting on the floor and
sighed. Even though it isn't exactly appealing, I guess I really have no choice. "Alright, you guys draw straws for the bed. I'll take the floor."
"No," Vincent retorted and he went back to cutting the straws. Great, the motel has cups and straws, but no extra armchairs.
She rubbed the back of her neck. "It's really okay. I mean, I heard sleeping on the floor can actually be, uh, better for your back than a lumpy
bed."
"Bullshit. No."
"But –"
"No."
"I –"

"No."
"Why?" she nearly screamed with frustration.
He stared at her with those smoky, gray eyes of his again. "Because it's not fair. Now shut up and let me explain the rules."
Damn you and your stupid fairness. But she stayed quiet.
"Okay, there are two long ones and two short ones. Long equals the bed, short for the floor. Got it? Choose."
Jack chose first and got the floor. He groaned loudly. "Great, sleeping with the roaches. Just lovely."
"Unless you want to take the tub with the roach you frightened off?" Will suggested. Jack gave him the middle finger.
Sammy went next and taking a deep breath, she grasped one and pulled. A long one. Her heart sank.
Will waggled his eyebrows at her. "Wish me luck." He reached his hand out.
Vincent tensed. I'd go to hell sooner than I'll let you sleep with her – him. Him! His fingers tightened; Will struggled with all his might, but
couldn't seem to yank out the straw. "Vince, stop playing. Let go!" The gray-eyed boy loosened his grip reluctantly and out flew . . . a short
straw.
Vincent nearly sagged with relief and then froze. He darted a glance at Sam. The boy stared back at him and then turned away from him slowly.
Sammy couldn't look at him. Her face was burning too hotly.
"Damn, can't sleep with you tonight, Sammy, but perhaps, there will be a next time. In the meantime, I'll have Jackie boy as my consolation
prize," Will smiled.
Jack glowered at him, "You sleep on one side of the bed and I'll sleep on the other. Come over to my side and I will kill you."

"Which side do you prefer?" Vincent asked. She shrugged, embarrassed. "Um, how about I take the right then?" She shrugged again. "Okay, do
you want two pillows or one?" She shrugged. "Comforter down or up?" Shrug. "How about –"
"Will you just sleep already?" Jack screamed. "God, this isn't some sacred ritual, you know."
She slipped underneath the covers hurriedly and turned onto her side. Vincent climbed in on the other side and after switching off the lamp, he
settled onto his left side. "Good night, Sam."
"Night."
"Good night, my dear lovely Sammy. Don't let the bed bugs bite," Will called out.
"Yeah, yeah, he wishes you a good night too, Will. But if I were you, I'd be the one who'd worry about bugs."
"Gee, I love you too, Vince."

After a few more shifting and awkward bumping of feet, Sammy finally settled down. She drifted off to sleep with the background
accompaniment of three distinct snores.

She woke up in his arms. Opening her eyes to Vincent's peaceful, sleeping face, she'd nearly had a heart attack. Then he tightened his arms and
rested his forehead against hers, snorting slightly in his sleep and she couldn't help herself from smiling. She'd never looked at his sleeping face
this closely, but from this proximity, he looked adorable, like a disgruntled child. She tried to ease herself away, but his arms seemed to clamp
down on her tighter.
Resigned, she carefully maneuvered her face to rest in the nape of his neck and she suddenly went dizzy. Whoa. Vince is right. I could get high
off his scent. A lock of his black hair fell onto her nose and she stifled a giggle. She wrinkled her nose and tried to blow it away but when he
shifted slightly, she immediately stopped. He buried his nose into her own red tresses and mumbled, "Shush, pillow ..." He sighed happily
before snoring again.
Sammy bit her lip. The guy can sleep through an earthquake. She closed her eyes tightly, figuring she might get some more sleep. Just for this
brief time, she can rest in his arms and forget about everything else. Let her be selfish for once. He was like a big . . . huge . . . pillow . . . no . . . a
big . . . huge . . . aromatherapy . . . heated . . . pillow . . . I think . . . I think if I could just stay like this, then . . .
Well, that was before he shifted and his hand dropped down ... right onto her chest.
She kicked him off the bed before she could think.
"Wh – WHOA!" Vincent tumbled off the side of the bed right on top of Will.
Will awoke with a gasp and wheezed with pain. "What the hell?" He felt like an anchor had just dropped on him. Then he noticed who the
anchor was. He grinned. "You know, Vince, if you really wanted me that much, all you had to do was ask nicely."
Sammy sat up straight and stared down at them in shock. Her heart pounded furiously and blood was rising to her cheeks again. Even though
she had bounded her chest and wore two shirts . . . still. Even though he was asleep and couldn't have done it on purpose, it was like an
instinctive reaction.
Jack asked groggily, "Wh – what happened? Vince, what the hell are you doing? Are you straddling Will?"
Vincent turned red and snarled, "No! I'm just trying to get up." He struggled to pull himself upward without touching the boy underneath him.
"And just what were you doing on top of him in the first place?"
"I don't know. One minute, I was dreaming that I was holding –" Vincent blushed again. I dreamt I was holding . . . Samantha. No, not
Samantha. Sam. Oh god. I need a psychiatrist. "Never mind. All I know is that . . . Sam suddenly kicked me off the bed?" He stared at the
redhead inquisitively. "Did you?" A sudden realization hit him. Oh lord, did I do something embarrassing in my sleep? Did I say his name? Does
he know I'm having dreams about him? Oh, I'm going to be sick. I have dreams about him. That sounds loony even to me. He tried to maintain a
calm composure.
"Ah, uh, I, um, I thrash a lot in my sleep. Sorry!" She forced a laugh, clutching the covers.
The room was silent and Vincent had to smack Will's fingers from inching up his legs.
"We should go now. Maybe?" Sammy ventured. Vincent nodded.

After a quick breakfast at McDonald's, Vincent drove the rest of the way. He kept sending glances over at Sam. The redhead seemed especially
quiet all morning. Vincent's fingers clutched the wheel tightly. "Hey Sam … slept well yesterday?" he asked cautiously.
Sam turned to fixate her jade eyes on him. "I slept fine. Why? Did you . . . not sleep well yesterday?" she asked, equally as wary.
"Fine. Just fine. Slept like a log."
"Good. Me too."
"Great."
Loud snores from the backseat drew their attention. They smiled at the scene; Will slept, head resting on Jack's shoulder as the other boy
snored. Sammy chuckled, "They look cute."
"Jack's gonna have a fit when he wakes up, though."
They laughed softly. Sammy suddenly felt like they were parents looking in on their rowdy kids. Her cheeks stained pink as she sat back. "You
should look at the road again."
"Yeah, wouldn't want an accident or something . . ." Vincent agreed, tightening his hands on the wheel.

They pulled into the drive soon after and Sammy's eyes widened. The house – no, the mansion – was enormous. A fountain in the figure of a
joyful cherub was covered in snow, barren in the winter cold. Steps led up to the intricately carved doorway. Large windows behind semicircular balconies allowed sunlight to filter in. A row of marble columns stood before the whitewashed walls. Impeccably kept bushes lined the
sides and she could faintly make out a large garden with ivy covered fences and a conservatory of colorful roses around the back of the home.
"Wow," she opened and closed her mouth.
Vincent grinned lopsidedly as he pulled into the driveway. A middle-aged man in a suit waited in front of the steps, tilting his head respectfully.
"Young Master, welcome home."
He grinned, "Nice to be back, Sterns." He tossed the keys to the man and instructed him to bring in the luggage.
Will yawned lazily. "We here already? Jeez, this place hasn't changed at all, has it?"
Vincent smiled, "Mom is intention on preserving the historic value or whatever."
Jack woke up then and nearly screamed. "Get off me, Will!"
While they bickered, someone suddenly called out, "Sam!"
Sammy turned around in surprise to see . . . Tristan.
The blonde boy grinned at her from across the street with his hands in his pockets. He stood before an equally impressive home with pale
buttery yellow walls. Willow trees swayed gently besides the house, offering shade. She could make out a showcase of white lilies and golden
carnations behind the foggy windows of an adjacent greenhouse. Tristan waved jauntily at her.
"Tristan?" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"I live here!" He called out to her as he jabbed his thumb behind him.
She could only blink.
Vincent snapped at him, "Harland, you had better stay on your side! I'm warning you! You take even one step over the middle of the road and
I'll sue you for trespassing!"
"Yeah, yeah. Same goes for you, Grenford!" Tristan rolled his eyes.
Sammy blinked again. "Do not tell me . . ."
"Yeah, Vince and Tristan have quite a history together." Will clambered out of the car with a grin, shaking his head.
"Please, don't tell me . . ."
"Yep," Will sighed, throwing an arm around her. "They're neighbors."

Chapter Ten
Sammy walked into Vincent's mansion in a daze. "Neighbors? They're neightbors?" She repeated for the umpteenth time.
Jack smiled amusedly. "Sam appears to be having a problem getting over that fact."
Vincent sighed tiredly, "Yes, we're neighbors and yes, I'd as soon as rig my yard with mines to blow him up than invite him over for anything.
Understand?"
"How is that even possible? How –" She was cut off at the sound of high heels clicking on the marble floors toward them. She turned and her
eyes turned to the size of tennis balls. A gorgeous woman with shoulder length black hair and pale gray eyes strolled gracefully up to them. She
looked so refined, so beautiful, Sammy immediately felt self-conscious even though there wasn't any reason she should be. It's not like I could
even compare to her - especially in guy mode.
The woman continued to walk daintily, a warm welcoming smile on her face. Sammy was completely in awe, but for some strange reason, she
had the funny feeling that the guys next to her were all edging backward ever so subtly.
The dark-haired woman reached them and with the same loving smile, slugged Vincent in the gut. Sammy leapt back in shock.
"Danielle! What the hell?" Vincent roared, rubbing his stomach.
The woman's eyes flashed and she leaned forward, jabbing her index finger into his chest and although she had to tilt up her head to talk to the
boy, Sammy could have sworn the woman could tower over all of them. Danielle snapped, "What the hell is wrong with you? Not calling home
and driving in this kind of weather! You worried our parents so much, they started bugging me! Me! You're seventeen now! Grow up!"
Vincent bellowed, "I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself so don't trouble yourself, YOU OLD HAG!"
Danielle went for his throat. "I'LL SHOW YOU WHO'S AN OLD HAG!"
While the beautiful woman was busy throttling Vincent, Sammy had edged close to Will. The boy smiled reassuringly at her. "Don't worry. It's
how they show their love and affection."

"Uh …"
"Meet Danielle Amelia Grenford," Will waved a hand at the woman. "Vincent's older sister."

"Hi, I'm Danielle," the woman smiled sheepishly as she handed Sammy a glass of orange juice. "I'm sorry you had to see me fighting with that
idiot over there." Vincent sat glumly in the corner of the kitchen, rubbing his jaw as he threw his sister a dirty look.
Sammy smiled back. "I'm Sam Westlane. You can call me Sammy."
Danielle leaned back against the kitchen table, hands perched on its edges. "So how is school so far?"
"Great. There are a lot of friendly people there."
Will beamed and draped an arm around Sammy. "Like me."
Danielle raised an eyebrow and then raised the other when she caught sight of her brother's darkening features.
The butler, Sterns, suddenly appeared in the doorway. "Young master, miss, there's a phone call for Mr. Sam Westlane."
"Huh?" Sammy blinked in surprise. Who would be calling her?
"Excuse me." She stood up and followed the man out. Accepting the receiver, she spoke hesitantly, "Hello?"
"Hey, Sam."
"Tristan?" she exclaimed.
"Shhhh, don't talk so loud. Grenford would hear."
"Oh, sorry." Bewildered, she lowered her voice. "What's the matter?"
"Just wanted to invite you over," he said with this low chuckle. "You busy?"
"Um, no, I'm not busy … I think I can come over in a bit."
"Great! I want you to –"
She braced the receiver in the crook of her neck and absently turned around to find Vincent hovering behind her. Sammy stifled her shriek.
With a grumpy expression, he asked, "Who's that?"
"Um, ah, Tristan?" she answered in a small tone.
His dark eyes flickered with what seemed to be irritation. He nodded curtly. "Oh, okay." Then he gently pried her fingers off the phone and
slammed it down. He narrowed his eyes at her, hand still pressing down hard on the phone as if he wanted to crush it. "What did he want?"
"He wanted me to come over –"
"Yeah, right," he scoffed. "You don't have to listen to him."

"But –"
"It's okay. Don't go."
"He's just –"
"No -"
Like Vincent, Danielle also mastered the trick of materializing out of the blue. Slapping the back of her brother's head swiftly, the woman then
threw an arm around his neck almost like a friendly embrace, if Vincent wasn't choking. "Of course you can go! This isn't a prison here. You're
free to visit any of your friends." She smiled cheerfully.
Vincent snapped, "It's Tristan!"
"Oh, him! I've always liked that boy. Of course you have to go!"
Vincent's eyes narrowed into slits and he stared sullenly at his sister. Backstabbing little Danielle was already propelling Sammy to the door. "Have fun now! Send my regards to Tristan! Toodles!" She closed the door.
"Next time I'm talking to my friends," Vincent seethed. "Would you kindly butt out?"
"Oh, so he's your friend?"
Vincent folded his arms and stared at his sister. Sometimes, he thought she had been dropped on the head as a baby. "No, I just saw him on the
streets and decided that he'll make a nice pet. Of course he's my friend!"
"Uh-huh," she nodded skeptically in that infuriating way which always made him feel that she knew something he didn't know.
"What?"
"Whatever do you mean?" She cocked his head at him.
"Why the hell are you giving me that look?"
Her eyes widened innocently, "Look? What look?"
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Sister. Related by blood. Supposed to love her and all that crap. And also, you don't want to go to jail
for killing her.
She smiled at him again. He rolled his eyes and started to turn away. "Why didn't you tell me you were gay?" she called after him.
He whirled back around. His eyes darted to the doorway to make sure Jack and Will couldn't overhear and then closed the space between him
and his sister in two steps. "I'm. Not. GAY!" He gritted his teeth.
"Huh. Could've fooled me."
"If this is another one of your sadistic jokes, it's not funny! He's my roommate! He's a he!"

"With the way you're acting around Sammy . . ." she sighed amusedly, as if she hadn't heard him. "It's kinda obvious you're head over heels,
dear Vinnie."
"Head over heels?" He snorted, hissing furiously in a low whisper. "I'm going to throw you head over heels out that window."
Danielle laughed and his blood boiled. "You're so cute when you get mad, Vinnie." She stood on tiptoes to ruffle his hair and he jerked away.
He retorted insolently, "Stop treating me like a kid. You're only two years older than me, Dani."
She folded her arms and grinned broadly. "Two years makes all the difference. Besides, even though you're not a kid in body, you still are in
mind."
He resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her. "Shut up."

DING DONG!
Sammy bounced on her heels nervously, not quite sure what to expect. She turned around as the large intricately carved oak door swung open.
A girl with long light blonde hair and dark blue eyes stared at her.
Sammy smiled tentatively. "Hi, I'm Sam. Um, Tristan asked me to come over?"
The girl continued to stare at her. Sammy shifted uneasily, glancing up at the doorway. I didn't get the wrong house, did I?
"What are you doing?"
The girl turned around and Tristan appeared behind her. He was dressed in a loose sweatshirt and a pair of black jeans. He looked up and a
bright smile lit up his face. "Sam! You're here! Have you met my sister? This is Carrie."
Sammy smiled. Carrie blushed and fidgeted, her fingers fumbling along the edge of her white turtleneck. The girl ducked her head low and
rushed off. "Is she okay?"
Tristan shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. "Carrie's always been a little shy. It also doesn't help that our mother died when she
was so young and we rarely see each other."
Sammy nodded as she stepped in. They started for the stairs. "How old is she?"
"Two years younger. She goes to an all girls' school. Here we are! Prepare to be amazed by my very own sanctuary." They headed through the
spacious hallways, lit up by small lily-shaped light fixtures, and he swung the door open to a cozy room with high ceilings and a roaring fire
crackling away in the fireplace. A bed was all the way to the right and what appeared to be a study area, with a bookshelf and a table strewn
with books, papers, and a laptop, was directly adjacent to the fireplace.
She smiled. "Your room?"
"Yup. Hungry? I could ask Rosie to make something."
"Rosie?"
"The cook."

"Oh."
"She's great. My father was never at home because of work so she took care of us ever since we were babies. She loves Carrie like her own
daughter, but Carrie never seems to bring home any other close friends. She worries that my sister's a tad anti-social." He frowned, crossing his
arms. He sighed and turned to her with a small smile. "How about I go get some drinks and snacks, huh? Make yourself comfortable, okay?"
Tristan was out the door before she could nod. Sammy drifted toward the bookshelves. She smiled at the picture of a toothless blonde baby
sitting in a crib and then giggled at another picture of what seemed to be a five years old Tristan holding a bawling three years old Carrie
glumly. He had curls when he was little. That's so cute!
Then she stopped in front of a photo of a woman with blonde curls, dressed in a beautiful silvery blue gown. The lady smiled gently, waving a
gloved hand at the camera. This must be his mother. She looks so nice. Sammy moved on to another picture and her heart throbbed. It was a
black and white photo of Tristan's mother - only this time, the vivacity in the woman's eyes was completely gone. She stared blankly at the
camera. The lack of color only accentuated the limpness in her hair and the absolute emptiness of expression.
A sound behind her made her jump and she spun around to see that Carrie had come into the room. The girl's eyes slid away from her toward
the photo. They stood in awkward silence for a minute and then to Sammy's surprise, Carrie said softly, almost as if she was thinking out loud,
"Sometimes I wonder, if she had been a little stronger, if she had held on for a little longer, maybe she would have survived."
Carrie glanced back at Sam, eyes oddly dull. "It's not that I blame her … well, maybe I do ... a small part of me inside. Do you think that maybe if
I wasn't such a kid and if I had pushed her, supported her more, she would have ... wanted to live?"
Sammy didn't know what to say. The girl sounded like a lost child. She took a step closer and the girl stumbled away, startled. Hesitating,
Sammy reached out and touched Carrie's arm gently. "You can't think like this, Carrie. Is there ever any use in asking what if? You'd never be
able to have a future if you keep focusing on the past. Believe me, I know."
Carrie stared at her and Sammy offered a faint smile. "My parents died in a car accident. My brother's in a coma. I'd always asked myself, why
wasn't I with them that day? What if I had gone with them? What if I had died with them?" She bit her lip. "But then ... then I realized, would
that have changed things? Would the pain have been lessened? Carrie, things happen for a reason. It's our job to move on, not to wallow
around. Your mother would have wanted that."
Carrie only blinked at her, but then a tear slipped, trailing down her cheek, and it was followed by another. And another. Pretty soon, the girl
was crying freely – silent tears that wrenched her face in a grimace - and Sammy panicked. Great job. Make her cry. "I'm sorry, Carrie. Do you
want a tissue or –"
The smaller girl staggered toward her, hugging her. " – or a hug. There, there," she squeaked awkwardly, patting Carrie's back in what she
hoped was a reassuring way.
Tristan walked in then and stopped short. "Uh –"
Sammy froze. I'm not taking advantage of your sister. Please don't punch me.
But Tristan's expression seemed to visibly soften as he gathered in the scene and after dragging his attention from his sobbing sister, his pale
blue eyes settled Sammy with a soft intensity.
She wasn't sure what his look meant, but it didn't seem like he wanted to rearrange her face. Uneasily, Sammy waved him over and Tristan,
with that same faint smile on his face, took his sister from her arms. "Shhh. I'm here," Tristan murmured as he enveloped Carrie in his arms, but
his eyes stayed on Sammy.
Sammy looked down, self-conscious, and made a gesture at the pictures of his mother, hoping he'd understand. She lifted her eyes back to his
and he tilted his head with such a fond smile, her heart turned. "I'm gonna go now," she mouthed and the blonde haired boy nodded, pressing
his cheek against his sister's hair as Sammy let herself out as quietly as possible.

"So what were you crying about?" Tristan asked as his sister wiped tears off her face. Carrie sat on the ground on his room, arms curled around
her legs.
"Just realized some things," she murmured. "About Mom and stuff."
"Oh, good."
" Good?" she asked, surprised.
"Yeah, I mean, it's not everyday you walk into your room and find a boy hugging your sobbing sister. I was afraid I was going to have to do my
brotherly duty and beat up Sam," he drawled.
She frowned. "Sam isn't like that. He was being kind and he actually listened to me."
"I listen to you. Why haven't you ever talked to me about Mom?"
Carrie played with the ends of her hair, looking down. "You wouldn't understand. You always seem to know what to do, even when Mom died."
"And Sam's different?"
"He's – I don't know." She furrowed her brows. "I don't feel as nervous around him as most people for some reason. He seems to understand."
He arched an eyebrow. "You've taken a liking to him."
She reddened, "He's ... different from any boy I've ever met. I think ... he's a good friend to have."
His lips quirked in a smile. "He's certainly different from anyone I've ever met."

Sammy rang the doorbell to Vincent's mansion and the door swung open a second later. Vincent loomed before her, a hulking shadow in the
doorway, and she backed away, uneasy. "Wh – what's up? Were you waiting for me?"
He twitched and scoffed, "No. I – I was just making sure the door was well oiled when you rang the bell." He tested the hinges and nodded
solemnly. "Hmm, good."
Danielle stood by the staircase, leaning against the railing. She smiled sweetly, "Great, Vinnie, why don't you go run off and check the other, oh,
I don't know, forty doors in the house?"
He ignored his sister. "Listen, Sam, next time –"
"Sammy, let's go!" Danielle shoved her brother to one side and latched on the redhead's wrist, yanking Sammy up the stairs.
"Huh?"
"I want to show you your room. You look tired, poor dear. Vinnie, stop standing there like an idiot."

They were halfway down the hallway upstairs when the deafening slam of the front door reverberated throughout the house and Sammy could
have sworn Danielle had laughed.

Chapter Eleven
Sammy woke up to the pale sunlight that peeked through the butter yellow window curtains. She sighed and shifted in her bed. With a thick,
unbelievably soft quilt, she was quite happy to snuggle in for a few more minutes. Burying her nose in the fluffy pillow, she closed her eyes and
burrowed herself deeper into the toasty warmth.
Knock, knock. She lifted her head up and called out, "Who's there?"
"Your sexy stud muffin."
"Hi, Will."
She could hear his laughter. "Are you up yet? Breakfast is ready. I would come in and wake you up myself, but Vince already warned me not to
do so or I'd "find my ass out in the snow". Besides … your door is locked." She could practically see the pout on his face.
Sammy hurriedly threw back the covers and ran to the closet. Thank god she had taken the time to unpack yesterday. Rummaging for the long
piece of cloth she had stuffed in the back of the wardrobe, she yanked it out. Breathing in sharply, she held her breath as she wrapped the
fabric around her chest and knotted it. She coughed at the tight restraint. Damn, I hate this. Pulling on a loose dark blue sweater and a pair of
black pants, she ran to the bathroom and brushed her teeth while combing her hair. One thing good about being a boy, I don't really have to
care that much about my appearances. Bye-bye, blow dryer. Bye-bye, make-up. She pinched her pasty features and heaved a sigh.
Running to the doors, she jerked at the doorknob - remembered it was locked - unlocked it, rushed out ... and crashed into Danielle. I must have
been cursed to run people over.
"I'm so sorry!"
Danielle laughed, tucking a loose lock of hair behind one ear. "It's okay. It woke me up at least."
Sammy smiled apologetically. Danielle once again looked absolutely stunning. Dressed stylishly in a tight beige turtleneck and a long formfitting
black skirt, she looked casual yet elegant. Her black hair was pinned back with a simple russet clasp and she wore the cutest black boots ever.
Sammy's eyes trained in on them. They're so nice. I wonder where she got them. I wonder if I'd be able to get them in a sale … man, I wonder if
I'd ever get the chance to actually wear pretty boots again.
Danielle raised an eyebrow, coughing slightly. "Shall we get going?"
Sammy jumped and laughed, abashed. "Yeah. Sorry."

Sammy's eyes widened to plate size. "Oh my god. Is that real?"
Will laughed proudly. "Of course! One hundred percent raw beauty!"
Jack sat back on the sofa, shaking his head, "Careful. The kid looks like he's having heart palpitations."
Danielle chuckled. "He's so adorable."

Vincent shook his head, but couldn't keep a smile off his face. "If I didn't like him so much, I would have bashed his head in for being such a
dork."
Danielle's smoky gray eyes turned into slits as she nudged her brother's side, murmuring, "If you didn't like him so much?"
He blanched and hissed at her, "As a friend, stupid! If the guys hear, I'll kill you first!"
Danielle sniffed. "Fine! Fine!" She walked to the door. "I'll go leave you guys alone … but Vinnie, please, don't play too rough, 'kay?" She threw a
wink over her shoulder.
A strangled growl tore out of his throat as he chucked a throw pillow at the closing door.
Meanwhile, Sammy was still preoccupied with the gigantic television with massive stereos that was in Vincent's room. She fawned over it,
craning her neck up. "It's like fifty times my size!" She held out her arms and plastered herself against it, trying to measure.
Jack smiled wryly. "He had the same reaction to his bedroom, the indoor pool, the outdoor pool, the backyard, the garden, the grand piano,
even the bathroom. Poor people are kinda amusing, aren't they?"
Will cocked his head to the side, checking out Sammy's butt. "And cute."
Vincent elbowed him in the gut, sighing impatiently. "Sam, are you done yet? We're only halfway through the house tour."
She gasped, "There's more?"
Jack cracked up. "Stop. I think we should give him a break. He's going to keel over soon."
Sammy stiffened, grumbling, "It's only because I've never seen such a large house before . . ."
Vincent produced a pillow out of seemingly nowhere, stuffing it into Jack's face and holding it there. "It's okay. He's just being a jerk."
Will said, "You mean, he 'was' being a jerk. I think you killed him."
Vincent lifted the pillow as Jack coughed and wheezed. "Nah, he's resilient. Like a cockroach. So Sam, any more comments?"
"Don't you get lost in this place?"
Will shook his head solemnly. "Didn't you know? We keep a stack of maps by the front door."
"Oh . . ." The expression on Sammy's face was uncertain and Will erupted into laughter.
"You're too cute, Sammy," he chortled.
Vincent decided it was time for a break. "How about we play some video games for a while?" Jack and Will nodded approvingly, eyes lighting
up.
Hesitating, Sammy offered a wary smile.

"Oh, he's totally kicking your ass, Jack!" Will cried out, perched on the edge of his seat.

Jack hunched over his game controller as he maneuvered his character. Sammy tapped her thumb furiously on the kick button, blocked Jack's
move, and sent the character spiraling into the air. GAME OVER.
Jack hung his head, defeated. "I don't believe this. You beat all of us. Weren't you supposed to live somewhere in Hicksville where there weren't
any televisions, let alone video games?"
Sammy rolled her eyes. "Ha ha. I said I wasn't as rich as you. That doesn't mean I couldn't afford to play video games." Back when her parents
were still alive, she and Terry used to spend lazy summer afternoons playing her brother's favorite video games. She could still remember
playing until her thumb felt swollen and hot and how her mother kept coming to Terry's room and telling them to get off their lazy butts and go
vacuum the house. Now, it all felt so long ago. "As a matter of fact, I'll have you know I was very good at these kinds of games," she continued
with false cheer. "I could beat all the characters like this!" She snapped her fingers to emphasize her point.
Vincent folded his arms, "Yeah, yeah, Game Master, lemme ask you something, what games did you play before?"
She looked puzzled, "I don't really remember. Street Fighters?" She shrugged, taking a sip from her bottled water. "But they're all basically the
same."
They all looked dismayed, as if she had committed blasphemy. "The same? What? You're crazy! There are all these different levels of skills you
have to master. Different villains, different tactics, different graphics, different –"
Danielle stuck her head inside the room. "Hey, Sammy, there's someone across the street here for you!"
Sammy blinked, "Oh, okay!"
Vincent's eyes fired up and he got up before she can, storming out of the room. "Harland has some nerve. I'll tear out his entrails and string him
up on a Christmas tree and -"
He stopped short. Sammy, who had hurried after him in a panic, ran straight into his back. She peeked around the boy. A familiar blonde girl
stood in the hall, timidly pulling at her white scarf.
Vincent was the picture of geniality. "Carrie, you're the visitor for Sam?" The girl nodded. "Is your brother here?" She shook her head. "Okay
then. See ya." The black haired boy turned around and almost stepped on top of Sammy. "Sam, what's the matter with you? You're blocking the
doorway." She moved aside without a sound and he sauntered off. Sometimes, it's scary how he changes his mood so fast.

"You wanted to talk to me?" Sammy asked, taking a step into the foyer.
Carrie bit her lip, shuffling her feet slightly. "I – can we go to some place a bit more ... private?"
"Um, well, would the living room be okay? The guys are playing games and with me out of the room, one of them might actually have a chance
of winning," Sammy grinned.
Carrie chuckled shyly and nodded. "Okay." But before Sammy could look around and try to figure out where precisely is the nearest living room,
the blonde girl had already turned around and was walking down the hall to the spacious room at the end away from the room with the guys.
Sammy followed in surprise. Wow, she knows this place better than I do. Has she been here before?
Carrie took a seat on the black leather sofa in the room, fidgeting with her scarf, and then stood up abruptly. Pacing around the room, she went
to the window with lace curtains and stopped. "Um, Sam, can – can I tell you something?"
Sammy nodded slowly, mystified by the young girl's behavior. "Sure. What's up?"

Carrie suddenly spun around and grabbed her hands. Her light blue eyes were bright. "I – I – I like you."
Sammy choked. Stunned, all she could say was, "Uh, what?"
"I like you," Carrie blurted out desperately. "I thought about what you said and you were right about moving on with my life. I'm going to take
the initiative with everything I do from now on –"
"Okay, maybe sometimes, too much initiative is not such a stellar idea – I mean, like, for example, say you're in a war zone and you run out
without thinking and step on a land mine or get – get probed – I mean, shot or cut up – and gutted. See? Initiative not so good," Sammy
babbled. Oh, my god. She's supposed to be all shy and quiet. What did I do to her?
"I've thought about it and I think we could really give this a try. I – I just felt this instant connection and I really do like you –"
"Oh." Sammy laughed nervously. "I like you too. You're a really nice girl and you'll be a really, really, really good FRIEND."
The blonde hair girl looked crestfallen. "No, you don't understand –"
"Yes, I do," Sammy nodded.
"No –"
"Yes."
"No –"
"I understand perfectly!" Come on, just stop talking, Carrie.
The girl looked like she was on the brink of tears and even as Sammy sweated buckets, she had to give Carrie props for having such pure nerve.
Lord knows she'd never be able to face a guy like this – Vincent's face came to forefront and Sammy turned bright red.
Carrie mumbled, "I like you. As in, I like you more than a friend."
Damn.
Carrie bit her lip and she slowly released Sammy's hands. Wringing her fingers together, the blonde girl fixated her eyes on the floor. "I like you,
Sam."
Sammy's brows knitted as she closed her eyes, rubbing them as she released a rueful sigh. "Listen, Carrie, you're just confused. You only met
me yesterday –"
"It was love at first sight!" At Sammy's expression, the girl added, "Maybe?"
Sammy was still green. "No, it wasn't! I was the first, ahem, boy you ever truly talked to besides your brother and you probably mistook this
new friendship for something deeper."
Carrie's eyes filled with tears. "I felt a connection with you."
It's called estrogen bonding. "Connection and love …" Sammy tried to slowly explain. "They're different. Love … needs to have some sparks. You
know, chemistry."

"There is!"
"No, there isn't!" she protested and Carrie blanched.
"How would you know?" the blonde girl mumbled, distraught. "Am I so unappealing, you can't even give me a chance?"
"No, it's not like that, Carrie." Sammy's shoulders sagged in defeat. "Like I said, you only met me for one day. There are cases of ... false alarms."
Carrie bowed her head. "You understand me. You listen to me. You also lost your family. You know how I feel. We have a special bond. You and
me ... we're the same."
"In more ways than one," Sammy muttered tiredly.
"Excuse me?"
"Nothing. Listen to me, Carrie. Go home and rethink this over."
"I spent the whole night thinking about this already. You told me to live on, to seize the day ... well, here I am! I know this is a bit fast, but just
give me a chance! I think I'm taking a step in the right direction!" The girl pleaded.
Sammy had never felt guiltier in her life. She took a deep breath. "Carrie, you don't like me. You ... don't know everything."
Carrie furrowed her eyebrows. "I need to know more about you? Oh … well, I was planning to do that when we go on our first date, but okay!"
She pulled out a little notepad from her pocket and fished out a pen. She flipped to the first page and waited expectantly with her pen poised.
"You can begin!"
Sammy stared at the poor girl. God, she really doesn't have any experience with guys, does she? "Fine, I'll give you the reasons why there's no
way you could really like me."
Carrie only stared at her, poised with her pen and pad.
Sammy sighed. "You only met me after one day."
"But we can get to know each other as we date."
"But you go to an all girls' school and I go to an all boys' school. We'll hardly meet."
"We can visit each other any time during vacations and weekends. Bonus: I can also see my brother more."
Sammy wanted to tear her hair out in frustration.
She continued, "Tristan is my friend and he wouldn't approve of me dating his sister."
For the first time, Sammy noticed the stubborn set of Carrie's chin. The younger girl responded, "Tristan is my brother and he'd be more than
happy to see me with such a great guy."
"I have only brotherly feelings for you," Sammy tried to put her down as gently as possible.
Except, there was only a pause before: "I can change that."

Oh lord, I've created a monster. Sure, she's a bit delusional … and a tad desperate, she's gutful at least. Gutful? Is that a word? Sammy thought,
half dazed.
Sammy gave up. "Carrie, I . . ."
"Yes?" Carrie waited in anticipation.
Sammy closed her eyes, grimacing. "I'm . . . a girl."
The notepad clattered to the floor.

"Ex – excuse me?" Carrie blurted out in shock.
"I'm a girl."
Carrie froze and tears filled her eyes again. She looked away, blinking furiously.
"I'm so sorry," Sammy whispered. "I –"
"It's okay. You don't have to lie to me," Carrie retorted, back stiffened.
"Huh?"
"I would have just settled for 'I'm gay', but 'I'm a girl'. Huh. You get creativity points, at least."
"What? Nononono, I'm serious!" Jeez, the first person I tell my secret to and she doesn't believe me.
Tears were rolling down Carrie's cheeks unchecked now. "I'm sorry for bothering you. I'll go home now."
Sammy sidestepped in front of the girl, stopping her. In a low voice, she repeated quietly, "Carrie, I'm a girl."
The girl stared unblinkingly at the somberness in Sammy's face and with dawning horror, she paled. "Oh my god. I'm a lesbian."
Sammy clapped a hand to her forehead. She shook her head. "You're not a lesbian! Like I said before, you were just confused."
"Uh … I guess," Carrie said in a small voice. "You sure?"
"Yes, I'm pretty sure." Sammy's lips quirked in a wry smile. "We're only good friends."
The girl nodded blankly. "Yes, good friends." She sagged in relief. "Well, at least I didn't really get rejected. I was getting so depressed that my
first real initiative was failing so badly."
Sammy grinned. "Yeah, we're going to work on how you talk to a guy. He would have been running for the hills a mile a minute if you did that to
him."
Carrie giggled, "Yeah, I was a bit surprised by my own nerve." Then she smiled playfully. "So does Tristan know about this?"
Sammy blushed. "No, and I would appreciate it if you didn't tell this to him . . . or anyone, for the matter. Nobody knows."

"I know."
Sammy's heart failed. They turned in shock to see Danielle leaning against the doorway with her arms crossed in front of her chest. The dark
haired girl grinned.
Sammy was having a nervous breakdown. "Wh – what?"
"I knew that you were a girl."
"B – but how?" All she could process was, They all know. I'm going to be shipped back to Uncle Frank. Numbed with fear, she could barely
breathe. Her chest seemed to be constricting on her.
"Simple." Danielle shrugged. "You kept staring at my clothes and my shoes."
"Huh?"
"Men tend to go for the breasts or at least, the butt. But every time I saw you, your eyes were hungrily devouring my boots."
"I – I could have had a shoe fetish . . ."
"But you don't. And I just overheard. You're a girl!" Danielle was practically clapping with glee.
Sammy wilted. "Are you going to report me to Headmaster Finnigan?"
"What?" Danielle frowned. "No way."
Sammy perked up. "Really?"
"Of course!" Danielle walked over and linked her arms through Sammy's left arm and Carrie's right one. "Girls must stick together, you know.
Now I don't know your reasons why you're doing this, but I think this could be a lot of fun, don't you? I do. I think so. A secret just between us
three. The Triple Alliance. Oh hehehehe, Vinnie won't know what hit him." Danielle's grey eyes were practically dark steel as she all but cackled.
Carrie nodded, still bewildered but trying to recollect her composure. "Yeah, we're friends. I won't betray you ever - not even to Tristan."
Tears prickled Sammy's eyes. She'd gotten so used to hitting dead ends and seeing things more cynically after staying with Uncle Frank that
she'd forgotten how nice it was to have the support of friends. Real friends. She beamed. "You have no idea how grateful I am to you guys!"
"What the hell are you three whispering about?"
They froze and turned to find a scowling Vincent hovering in the doorway. "Dani, why do you have Sam in a death grip? What were you guys
talking about?"
Danielle smiled back sweetly. "Oh . . . this and that."
Vincent's eyes darted suspiciously between the three. Something weird is going on . . . He knew that much for sure, but as his eyes rested on
Sam for a minute, the redhead gave him a small smile. Vincent turned away, tightening his grip on the bottle of water he had came out to
get. At least he's still normal.

Chapter Twelve
Vincent glanced up as Danielle walked into his room. Leaning back in his seat, he put down his book to give her his full attention. You have to be
alert when the enemy is near.
"Hey, Vinnie, I picked up a little something for you today. Think of it as an ... early Christmas present," Danielle smiled at her brother a bit too
sweetly.
He raised his eyebrow in suspicion and took the bag from her hands. Pulling out a glossy thick blue book, he read the title. Being Gay Means
Being Happy. He gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes. "Very funny."
"There's more!" Danielle said in a singsong voice.
With a sigh, he pulled out the next item. "Hundred Most Hottest Guys." He dropped the magazine like it was on fire.
"For comparisons," she informed him.
"To what?"
"To whom," she corrected. "Sam, of course! Silly!"
"Oh yeah. Silly me." He nodded. Then he roared, "What the hell is wrong with you? Were you dropped on your head when you were born?"
She tapped a perfectly manicured finger to her chin. "Nooo ... I believe that was you."
He decided to tune her out and picked up his novel again. She poked his back several times before he snapped, "What?"
"I decided to splurge and get you one more book for reference."
"Oh goody," he retorted sarcastically without looking up from his book.
"Voila! Dating for Dummies!" Danielle plopped the yellow tome down proudly before him. She smirked. "Lord knows you need it."
Vincent stared blankly and then said calmly, "You should have gotten me the hardcover versions."
"Because you want to cherish them forever and ever?"
"No," he snarled as he slammed his hands onto the desk. "So I could knock you unconscious with them, tie you up into a sack and throw you
into a river with these lovely gifts to weigh you down to your watery grave."
Danielle patted his back. "Silly imagination."
He growled darkly and lifted Dating for Dummies up, testing its weight. She made a quick exit.

Sammy walked outside in the snow covered backyard. Although the weather was freezing and her breath came out in visible smoky puffs, she
was bundled up quite nicely. Vincent had given her a long black scarf, a pair of leather gloves and some boots to add to her wardrobe. He had
told her gruffly that they were old and he would have thrown them out anyway so she might as well take them. She would have believed him if
everything hadn't fit her so perfectly. She highly doubted he wore size six shoes.

With her feet crunching along into the thick layer of snow, she admired the absolute whiteness of her environment. A coat of pristine snow
decorated everything including the tall evergreen trees and everything felt absolutely peaceful. Sammy chewed the inside of her cheek. I
wonder how Terry is doing. As soon as I turn eighteen, I'm going to pick up my inheritance, hire the best lawyers, press charges and get custody
over Terry. Then I'll be able to say good bye to Uncle Frank properly … maybe give him a sound kick in his behind for good effect. I hope he's
haunted every night with horrible nightmares of Mom and Dad rising from the grave. I hope he gets locked up in jail for the remainder of his life.
I hope he "Sammy! Are you okay?" Sammy jumped and turned to see Danielle frowning at her. "You've been standing here in a trance. What's the
matter?"
Sammy forced a smile on her face. "Nothing. Everything's fine."
Danielle nodded skeptically before grinning broadly as she looped an arm through Sam's. "I got the stuff you asked me for. They're in your
room. Gonna make homemade presents?"
Sammy blushed. "Yeah, it's so hard to get all of you things. You're so rich, what don't you have? I figured making them might be more unique you don't think it's too cheap, do you?" Sammy turned to the older girl with an anxious frown.
Danielle shook her head. "Nah. Don't you know what everyone says? It's the thought that counts."
Sammy glanced down at the glittering snow, toeing an icy clump. "My parents used to say that. My uncle, on the other hand, laughed at the
idea. 'It's the poor man's way of feeling better'."
Danielle curled her lip. "He sounds like an idiot."
Sammy chuckled, "Yeah. He is." She changed the subject. "So what did you get Vincent?"
Danielle's smile spread from ear to ear. "Books."
The other girl raised her eyebrow. "What kind of books?"
"Oh, just those self-help kinds." Danielle waved her hand breezily.
"Did he like them?"
The older girl broke into a fit of hysterical laughter. "Oh yeah. He loved them."
Sammy narrowed her eyes at her, suspicious. Danielle noticed the scrutiny and calmed herself down. She draped an arm around the younger
girl's shoulders. "So, Sammy dear, I never did get a chance to ask you . . ."
"Hmm?"
"What do you think of my brother?"
Sammy stumbled and nearly went crashing head first into the snow. She could feel her face burning. "He's a good friend."
"Do you think he's cute?"
"Danielle!" Sammy whispered embarrassedly.
"What?"

"I'm not comfortable discussing this."
"Why not? I want to know if girls find him attractive. I definitely don't want him to be hanging around the house in his forties, still single."
"Oh, I definitely don't think he has that problem," she mumbled.
"So you DO find him cute!" Danielle exclaimed, smacking her shoulder with a gloved hand.
Sammy thought her face was so hot, the snow she was standing on should be melting into steam by now. "I never said that. I merely stated that
I do not believe Vincent has a problem with finding a suitable girlfriend in the future."
"You do realize that you're a pretty horrible liar?" Danielle tilted her head, appraising her.
"I am not lying," she retorted.
"You're blushing."
"No, extreme weather conditions just tend to cause my cheeks to alter colors. It's too cold here." Sammy tried to pull up her scarf all the way to
her nose.
Danielle giggled. "You're so cute, Sammy! Just like the little sister I never had. But then, if you did get together with Vinnie, I suppose that
would make you my –"
"Stop it!"
Danielle chortled and slung an arm around her, hugging her playfully. Sammy couldn't stop a smile from creeping onto her face as she leaned
against the older girl. She chuckled, "You really are an evil older sister."

Vincent marched through the hallways, sulking. Where the hell is Sam? He's always disappearing off. Don't tell me he went across the street to
that jerk's place again. He really has to stop He stopped short and then back-tracked his steps until he came back to the window. He stared out in utter disbelief and then threw himself
against the cold panes. Face almost plastered against the glass, he frantically wiped the fog away with the sleeve of his sweater. WHAT THE
HELL?
His dear beloved sister was standing in the backyard, hugging – nay! Manhandling Sam! His jaw dropped. Danielle was a few inches taller than
the red headed boy and her face was tilted back, laughing, as she wrapped her arms around Sam's shoulders.
Vincent felt sick. His stomach was turning and his palms were so clammy, they stuck to the glass. That desperate – old – HAG. Stop flirting with
him! His sister reached her arms up and entangled her hands through his roommate's glossy hair.
"NO!" Vincent slammed his fists against the window.

Danielle frowned as she inspected Sammy's hair. "You poor dear. I would die before cutting my hair so short."
Sammy nodded sullenly. "I wasn't too happy about it either."

"But you have the nicest hair ever. It's so silky." Danielle squinted her eyes, leaning in closer to inspect the ends. "What shampoo do you use?"
"Oh, I like Pantene Pro-V, but Dove is also good too."

Vincent resisted the urge to throw a chair out the window. His sister was whispering something to Sam. Sick woman, always trying to seduce
someone. Making a move on one of my friends - how could she do something so – so His eyes widened. Sam was laughing.
The boy was laughing. He was actually responding. He was - No! Don't! Willpower, Sam! Fight her! You must fight her! Oh, for god's sake, just
punch her out.

"I don't have any willpower," Sammy admitted.
Danielle nodded, sympathy written all over her face. "If I was in your situation, I probably wouldn't either."
"I've gained five pounds," she complained, looking down at herself as if she could see the fat bulging out. "Boys eat so much and I couldn't
possibly get a salad while Vincent's scarfing down fifty pounds of everything."
"Yeah, that's true." Danielle shrugged. "I say enjoy yourself for now. Diet later when you revert back to being a girl."
"I'm going to be a fatty." Sammy's face crumpled.
"Fatties are cute. I bet Vinnie won't mind."
"Would you stop already!"

They were laughing again. Vincent sighed dourly as he leaned his forehead against the window. Sam, how could you? The dark side, really?
"Vincent, what's the matter?" Jack and Will stood at the end of the hall, staring quizzically at their friend. They didn't dare to come any closer in
case Vincent was in a particularly volatile mood.
He turned his face in their direction without removing his forehead from the window. Monotonously, he asked, "Did my sister ever hit on you
guys?"
"Huh?"
"Well . . . she did 'hit' me once. Does that count?" Will asked thoughtfully.

Danielle hummed as she ran up the steps, heels clicking against the marble. She turned the corner and nearly crashed into her brother. His
features were dark. "Hiya, Vinnie!"

He clenched his teeth and responded mockingly in a high-pitched squeal, "Hiya, Dani!"
Danielle sniggered and walked into her room. He followed her in and she threw him a curious look. "What's the matter?"
Vincent folded his arms and took a deep breath. "I know what your game is."
"My game?"
He shook his head. "I'm very disappointed in you. I know you've always been a tad weird and sad, but never did I ever imagine that you'd stoop
so low as to take advantage of the innocent and –"
"What the hell are you blabbering about?" She reapplied her lip gloss, smacking her lips.
He growled, "Stop seducing Sam!"
She gaped at her brother … and then rolled off her chair in laughter. "Me – seduce Sam – are – oh my god – are you serious? What a – oh man –
you really are an idiot."
He saw red. "I saw you two outside in the garden, giggling and hugging and touching each other. Don't think I don't know. You're older than
him, for gods' sake. He's my friend! He's just a poor defenseless little boy –"
"Vinnie, hate to break it to you, but he's not a two year old."
He jabbed his finger at her. "You're a corrupter!"
She took a deep breath to stifle her laughter and sat back into her seat as calmly as possible. She let out a big sigh and nodded sorrowfully.
"You're right, Vinnie. I was trying to hide it from you, but ever since I saw that sweet darling Sam with his, ah, sexy scarlet tresses, I've just been
struggling with my inner turmoil to throw him onto the nearest bed and ravish him. The secret's out. You're too smart, Vinnie." She clapped the
back of her hand to her forehead and exhaled noisily. "I am the corrupter of innocent souls!"
Vincent blanched and gave her a wary look. "Stop making this a joke."
"Uh-huh," she moaned, ignoring him. She then folded her hands and leaned toward him, grinning like the Cheshire cat. "So what are you going
to do about it?"
Vincent narrowed his eyes. "What the hell do you mean?"
"How are you going to stop me? I mean, it's really difficult for 'poor defenseless Sam' to resist the wiles of such a mature, older woman –"
"Oh, I don't think there's going to be a problem," he muttered.
"What did you say?" It was her turn to narrow her eyes.
He smirked, "Such an ugly hag like you would never tempt Sam." He had to duck the box of tissues his sister hurled at his head.
Danielle sniffed disdainfully. "I believe Sam thinks otherwise." She stared at him out of the corners of her eye. "But since my dear brother likes
him so much, I will gladly step out of the way and unite you two in blissful –"
"Shut the hell up." A rosy tint covered Vincent's cheeks. "I don't like him –"

"Then I could continue my wicked seduction –"
"NO."
"Then you do like him –"
"NO."
"Tsk, tsk. Denial, denial."
"What's wrong with you?" he snapped. "Do you want me to be gay?"
Danielle was having a really hard time trying not to smile. "It's important that you are true to yourself, Vinnie." She patted his hand as if to
comfort him and he rolled his eyes.
"Just stay away from Sam," he seethed.
She sighed loudly. "Whatever."
He gave her another look.
"Yeah, okay. Will do." She rolled her eyes, taking a seat before the mirror. Idiot.

The bell rang and Tristan reached the door before one of the servants came out. "I got it!" he called back as he opened the door. Sam stood in
the doorway. "Hey! You wanted to talk to me?"
"Uhhh –" Sammy hesitated.
"Actually, Tristan, he's here for me." Carrie pushed her brother aside and grabbed Sam's wrist. "Can you get some of Rosie's oatmeal raisin
cookies for us? Thanks!" Sammy threw the boy another smile before the blonde girl dragged her up the stairs with her.
Tristan closed the door, brows furrowed. "Should I be worried?" he muttered.

"Does he suspect anything?" Sammy bit her lip as she accepted a glass of water from Carrie.
"Tristan? Nah, but he thinks you're really nice," Carrie smiled broadly.
Sammy laughed, "Well, I should hope so." Sammy took a sip of water.
"So what do you think of my brother?"
Sammy choked, water dribbling all over her chin, and she flushed as she wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Why is everybody asking me
this? "He's nice," she commented noncommittally.
"Do you think he's cute?"

She frowned, "Have you and Danielle been planning this?"
"Huh?" Carrie said, confused.
"Never mind," Sammy muttered.
"I just think you and Tristan are so perfect together. You're so nice and –"
"I think you're overlooking one fact," Sammy interrupted. "I'm a boy right now."
"But you're really a girl." Carrie reclined back on her bed.
"Yeah, but Tristan doesn't know that." She set the glass on Carrie's desk.
"You could always tell him."
"Sure, that'll make a great topic for locker room talk. 'Hey, Tristan. Can you pass me that towel? By the way, did I happen to mention I'm really a
girl in disguise? Ta da!'" Sammy sighed. "It just won't work. Besides, I don't want to focus on anything but my studies right now until I graduate.
The less people know, the better."
"But do you like him?"
"Carrie," she said warningly.
Carrie raised her hands. "Fine, fine. I'll go get some chips from the kitchen. Just think about it, okay? My brother is really very, um, eligible."
Sammy sighed. Funny, how come it seems like my troubles are only increasing as more people find out my secret? She got up to stretch - and
nearly fell over something.
She stared down in surprise to find a pair of big blue eyes gazing up at her. She melted. An adorable toddler about three years with rosy,
chubby cheeks and a mop of golden curls stood before her. "Hi there. Who are you?"
"She's my baby cousin. This is her twin brother. Amanda and Andrew." Sammy looked up to see Tristan in the doorway with another blonde
haired cherub climbing over the tall boy. "My uncle and aunt work with my father. They usually leave them here." He shook his head in disgust.
"They're workaholics, just like my father. These two hardly get a chance to see their parents." He scoffed. "I bet they don't even recognize
who're their mother and father by now."
"Aw. Who would want to leave you guys alone?" She cooed as she lifted Amanda up. The baby giggled and stopped sucking on her thumb.
Andrew immediately started a clamor. "Up! Up! Twist, up!" Tristan sighed and scooped the boy up.
"Twist?" Sammy chuckled.
Tristan gave her a sheepish smile. "They have a hard time pronouncing my name. Andy, stop yanking my hair. Mandy, you stop pulling Sam's
hair too."
Sammy giggled, "They're adorable."
Tristan rolled his eyes. "They're little hellions."

Amanda lifted her face up and stared earnestly at Sammy. "You're pwetty."
Sammy smiled nervously. "Uh, thank you . . ."
As if she'd received permission, Amanda instantly burrowed her head against Sammy's neck and proclaimed, "Mama."

Chapter Thirteen
Amanda grinned toothlessly up at Sammy. "Mama! Mommy!" She repeated gleefully.
Sammy laughed, high-pitched and nervous. "Aw, don't kids say the darnest things? No, Mandy, I'm not your mommy."
Amanda frowned and shook her little head, sending the blue bow on her head careening haphazardly over her left eye. "Mommy!"
"No." Sammy tried to smile. "Sammy. SAM – MY. Sammy."
"Mommy. MOM - MY!"
Sammy didn't know what to do. She looked up in desperation and caught the eye of Tristan. He smiled, amused, while shifting Andrew in his
arms. "You know, you would make a nice mother. You're already so in touch with your feminine side already."
Sammy paled.
"I mean, you won't change in the locker rooms with us. You drown your sorrows in a bucket of ice cream. You can barely dribble a ball, but you
jump rope better than my little sister. You can't make a proper punch. Hell, you can't even give a proper glare." Tristan's blue eyes darkened as
they narrowed in on her. "You know, it's pretty obvious."
"What is?" Her whisper was hoarse.
"That you're really a girl in disguise."
Sammy's heart stopped beating.
"Just kidding." Tristan chortled with laughter and the babies giggled in delight. "Man, you should have seen your face. I'm so sorry. Just couldn't
help it. Don't get mad."
Sammy started breathing again and she shrugged nonchalantly. "Ha . . . that was funny . . . ha." She nodded distantly. "Of course I'm not
offended. I mean, being compared to a woman, that's great! Everyone knows how intelligent, understanding, well-mannered and mature
women are."
Tristan stared at her strangely. "Right . . . you weren't being sarcastic by any chance, were you?"
"Why would I?"
"Ah, no reason." Tristan swung Andrew up into the air and walked over to take a seat across from Sammy.
Sammy sat down and placed Amanda on her lap. "So where is your father?"

Tristan shrugged, "Away on business. He'll be back for Christmas, I think."
"Oh."
"What about you? I mean, do you have other relatives you need to call or –
"No," she stated flatly. "I don't know much about my mother's side; they're in Ireland. As for my father's side, my grandmother died before I
was born and my grandfather just passed away a year before the accident. He was a stern man and used to frighten me when I was a kid, but I
soon came to realize his gruffness was only bluster. He always had tons of gifts for me and my brother."
"And your sister."
"Uh, yeah, and my sister," she amended, flustered.
"Your father was an only child?"
Her eyes dropped, fingers combing through Amanda's hair. "A brother. He had a brother."
Tristan opened his mouth to say something, but she jumped up before he could. She twirled Amanda around before setting the giggling child on
the couch. "I have to get back. Vince will throw a fit if I'm here for too long. Tell Carrie I'll see her later."
Tristan nodded. "Yeah, okay. And you can tell Vincent to go to hell for me." His smile was wide and pleasant.
She rolled her eyes. "Right, you know I can't do that. Wouldn't want the messenger to be killed, would you?"
The boy laughed softly and as Sammy left the room, responded lazily, "Like he would ever lay a finger on you, Sammy."

Sterns opened the door for Sammy and she could see that the normally immaculate butler was in an alarming state of disarray. The man's white
hair was sticking up all over the place like he had been running his hand through it for the past hour and his glasses kept slipping down his nose.
"Mister Westlane, welcome back. How was your visit? Let me take your coat. Good. Good. Oh dear, I forgot to tell the cook to prepare the duck.
Oh, oh, so many things to do. So little time. Ah, please excuse me." And with that, the man sprinted away across the hall, muttering furiously
underneath his breath about duck and dust. He reeled backward as he spotted a maid who was shining the silverware and he started jabbing at
a spot she missed. He looked ready to faint.
Sammy raised her eyebrow. Has Armageddon come?
The rest of the household was in an even more frenzied condition. Danielle came clicking away on her high heels. Her long black hair swished
behind her back and her bracelets jangled together. She panted as she nearly slipped in her hurry. She called out loudly, "Someone get fresh
flowers from the conservatory! The witch will throw the vase across the room if she even suspects the roses are a day old!"
Vincent came crashing around the corner as he bellowed, "PILLOWS! I NEED PILLOWS! The throw cushions for the sofa in the second floor living
room in the west wing are missing! She'll gnash her teeth out!"
Will and Jack hurried behind him. They looked gloomy as they dodged all the running maids and servants. Will caught sight of Sammy and
nearly got ran over fifty times as he ran toward her. He wheezed, "We must hurry. The witch is coming home. 'An early surprise' she says.
Surprise, my ass." He grabbed her hand and they started running after Vincent.
"What? What are you talking about? Who's 'the witch'?" Sammy gasped.

Danielle came rushing past. "My mother," she gritted out. Then she screamed, "Oh my god! There's a stain! Mary, get it out or get something to
cover it!"
"Danielle's mother?" Sammy whispered. "That means . . . Vincent's mother is –"
"- paying us a delightful Christmas visit," Vincent suddenly appeared besides her, clutching several fuchsia pillows. He muttered angrily, "Never
pays any attention to us but she always expects everything to be perfection whenever she decides to pop in. Mother dearest." He laughed
bitterly as he tossed the pillows at a nearby servant. "Get them up to the west wing living room!"
"When is she going to be here?" Sammy asked faintly.
"In two hours, just in time for dinner. Oh and Sam, she 'prefers' everything to be semi-formal at meals. That means you better be wearing a
shirt and tie or she'll beat the living hell out of you with the breadsticks. I already sent a suit up to your room. You should go get ready now."
Vincent started to walk off to inspect the dusting when Sammy pulled on his sleeve. He stared in surprise. "Is something wrong?"
She hesitated.
He cocked his head, puzzled.
"I don't know how to put on a tie," Sam finally said, voice faint.
Vincent resisted the urge to smile, nodding briskly instead. "I'll come up later to help you, but it'll be a while. Go take a shower first."

Sammy was panicking. In the shower, she scrubbed herself hard enough until she was pink all over. Oh my god. I'm meeting the parents tonight.
Well, the mother, anyway. And she seems to be one scary lady. What should I do? I haven't been brought up to eat a formal dinner. What if I
mess up? What if I use the wrong fork? I wonder if she'll like me. I wonder if she'll make small talk first. I wonder what she'll think of me. Oh
wait. I know. The shrimpy carrot top kid who's tagging behind her son - the shrimpy carrot top MALE kid. Sammy felt like wailing and pounding
her head against the wall.

He frowned to himself as he walked through the hallways. I wonder what the old witch's going to think of Sam. She can be so cruel sometimes she'll probably crush his feelings into powder.
He smiled to himself then. But as long as I'm here, I think he'll be just fine . . . He turned the corner and came to Sam's room. The boy didn't
answer the knock. Opening the door, he raised an eyebrow at the empty room and started to leave. Then he heard the sound of the shower
running and he smiled. God, he takes long in the shower.
A wicked grin came across his face though as he paused. Maybe I should try to lighten up his mood . . .

She wrapped a towel tightly around her body and stepped out of the shower. As she toweled off, she realized that she'd left her change of
clothes outside. Figuring she might as well get into her suit now, she wrapped her towel around her and padded over to the door. Just as she
was about to open the door, Sammy thought she heard something outside and stopped short. I'm . . . pretty sure I locked the door . . . right?
Yeah. I think so. Didn't I? Frowning to herself, she called out anyway to check. "Is someone out there?"
There was no answer.

Breathing in relief, she turned the doorknob and –
"BOO!" Someone jumped out in front of her.
She jumped and almost lost her grip on her towel. Water dripped down, trailing along her neck and down onto her shoulders. She stared in
shock as she slowly felt her trademark blush spread across her cheeks.
He stared back, equally incredulous, dropping his outspread arms to his sides. His mouth gaped open, closing repeatedly like a goldfish.
They both screamed at the same time. "AHHHHHH!"

"What – what are you doing here? I thought I locked the door!" Sammy shrieked.
"Obviously not!" Will yelped back, his eyes widened in shock. "I – I was just going to surprise you! I – I didn't realize that I was gonna get one
myself!" He jabbed his finger at her. "You – you – you're a girl!"
"I realized!" she shouted. His eyes dropped to her chest and she clung harder to her towel.
"You – you have breasts! Breasts! Two of them!" He threw up two fingers in her face like some deranged victory sign.
She stared at him for a minute. "Yeah, it was buy one, get one free – HONESTLY, WILL, WHAT WERE YOU EXPECTING?"
"Not boobs, apparently!" he yelped. Then he quieted and a suspicious glint came into the boy's eyes. "Hey, what am I in a panic for? This is like
a dream come true! You're everything I've ever wanted wrapped in one package! Boy and girl!"
She narrowed her eyes. "I'm not a hermaphrodite if that's what you're suggesting."
He laughed and she scowled. Pointing to the door, she whispered furiously, "Get out, Will! I have to change!"
"I don't mind."
She shot him a dirty look and he sighed. "Fine, fine. I'll talk to you later. I'll be wanting a thorough explanation . . . or a lap dance. Either one will
satisfy me." But as he started toward the door, someone knocked on it.
"Sam? It's me. I'm coming in."
Vincent! She tried not to hyperventilate as she grabbed her clothes off her bed, seized Will by the collar and all but tossed him inside the
bathroom. She followed quickly and slammed the door just as Vincent walked in. He frowned, "Sam?"
"Just a minute!" She called out. She murmured furiously to Will, "Turn around while I change! No peeking or – or I'll hurl this shampoo bottle at
you."
He mumbled as he turned around, "You're getting violent. I think I like it."
She jabbed him with her elbow as she wrapped a piece of cloth around her chest, pulled on her shirt and struggled into her pants. She banged
her knee against the countertop and hopped around in pain.

Will started to turn around, but she stopped him through clenched teeth. "Not yet!" She finally stood up and stared at herself in the mirror
without really seeing anything, wanting to smash her head through the wall. Now what?
"Sam? Are you all right in there?" Vincent asked, just outside the door.
She nodded glumly, but realized of course, he couldn't see her.
"Sam?" He called again. She opened her mouth, but Will beat her to it.
"She's okay!"
Oh lord.
There was a pause and then Vincent repeated, puzzled, "She?"
Sammy nudged Will to stop talking, but it appeared he did not quite understand her - or was enjoying himself too much to stop. "Oops! I meant
'He'." He winked at her conspiratorially and she slumped against the wall in defeat. She covered her face and waited . . .
There was another pause - and then Vincent roared, "WILL? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN THERE WITH SAM?"
Will appeared to have finally realized his mistake. "Uh-oh."
"GET OUT OF THERE RIGHT NOW!"
Sammy thought about climbing out the window before realizing that there was a long way down to the ground and there was no way she could
make it down the icy walls without slipping.Perhaps I should throw Will out first to use as a cushion?
"I'M GIVING YOU FIVE SECONDS OR I SWEAR I'M GOING TO TEAR THE DOOR OFF ITS HINGES!"
No escape.

Just as Vincent was getting ready to do his Hulk impersonation and blast through the wooden door, it opened slowly. Will poked his head out
and offered a meek smile. Through the small crack, Vincent's eyes found Sam. The boy was flushed and his clothes were all disheveled. His red
locks were still damp and clinging to the nape of his neck. Vincent's eyes narrowed. Will gave a small wave. "Hiii–EEP!"
The door slammed close as Vincent lunged for it. He grabbed the doorknob and barked, "Open this door this instant!"
"Oh, yeah right!" Will clung desperately on the other side.
Sammy's voice was anxious. "Vince, just calm down! What are you getting so worked up over for?"
Vincent's blood boiled. "WHO SAID I WAS GETTING WORKED UP?" He slammed his fists on the wooden frame to emphasize his point.
"Then you promise not to kill me?" Will asked brightly.
" . . . Sure."
As soon as the boy opened the door, Vincent grabbed the front of his shirt, lifted him a few feet up into the air, and slammed him into the wall.

"You promised!" Will choked out.
"No, I promised not to kill you. I didn't say anything about breaking your legs," Vincent hissed.
Will's face crumpled. "Why do you have to be so mean? My legs are one of the sexiest parts of my -"
"Just let him go! It's all a big misunderstanding!" Sammy cried out. She grabbed Vincent's arm and he rolled his eyes, releasing his grip. Will
slumped to the floor.
He turned around and folded his arms. "Well, why was he in the shower with you then?" he demanded.
Sammy's eyes widened, "What? NO! He was NOT in the shower with me! What – why – how could – what are you thinking!"
Vincent felt foolish, but continued to babble on, "Then why was he in there? Did he sneak in on you?" Without batting an eye, he grabbed hold
of Will as the other boy tried to slide away.
"No!"
"So why were you two together then?"
"Uh – ah – well – you see –"
"Sammy slipped!"
"Huh?" They both turned to face Will who was nodding cheerfully.
"Sammy slipped and I went in to help her - him get up! That's all!"
Vincent didn't speak for a minute before he whacked Will on the head. He growled, "I'm not that stupid, stupid! You expect me to believe
something that stupid?"
"You just like saying stupid, don't you?" Will rubbed his head, making a face at him.
"Shut up! Don't try to change the subject!"
Sammy slumped. "It's okay, Will. It's about time I tell him the truth anyway." She took a deep breath and lifted her head to stare at Vincent's
chin. "Vincent, I'm sorry, but I haven't been completely honest with you. The fact is –"
"- he's just too cute for me to resist!" Will interrupted hastily. "You see, Vince, he looks so feminine sometimes, I just can't help but call him a
'she'? Isn't it easy, even for you, to also make the same mistakes? I bet if it was you, you would have tried to sneak into Sam's bathroom too!"
Vincent bristled and Will quickly added, "It was a joke! A harmless prank! I swear it! On my life and all that is sexy about me!"
With a dark scowl, Vincent sagged against the wall in resignation. Covering his face with his hand, he muttered, "First my sister, now Will . . ."
Will grinned cheerfully. "Yup! Sammy is a real man slut, huh?"
Sammy turned completely red. Vincent growled darkly, "Go away now."
Will almost tripped as he scurried away to the door.

Sammy couldn't look up, not quite able to meet Vincent's eyes.
Something silky soft wrapped around her neck and she jumped. Shocked, she would have stumbled backward if her neck wasn't locked firmly in
place. Glancing up, her heart flipped when she realized that Vincent was only a scant breath's away from her. How did he get so close? He
tightened the smooth cloth around her neck and she gulped. He's going to strangle me.
She croaked, "What – what are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" He murmured gruffly, "Putting on your tie. Is light gray fine?"
Bewildered, she broke out into a smile. "Oh, right! Yeah, it's perfect!"
Except being so close to him did nothing at all for her racing heart and she tried to look at anything but Vincent. Eyes diverted to the side, she
hummed underneath her breath as she rocked gently back and forth on her heels.

Vincent's eyes narrowed. What is he so giggly about? Sam reached up to nervously brush a lock of her copper hair behind her ears and
something about that gesture sped up Vincent's pulse. Clearing his throat roughly, he bent his head down and tried to refocus on tying the
knot. He caught a huge whiff of Sam's light fragrance. Damn, why the hell does he smell so feminine, all roses and stupid flowers?
His hands tightened and the redhead squeaked in surprise. "Sorry," he mumbled as he loosened the knot. But Sammy looked up then, directly
into his eyes, and his breath hitched. There was something about those green eyes. They fairly gleamed . . . like green Lifesavers. Vincent nearly
laughed out loud. I've got to be the worst poet on earth. 'Oh Sam, dear Sam. How lovely thine eyes look, Like emerald candies in the black
darkness, I melt with gaping tooth cavities'.
Sammy frowned. She tilted her head closer, peering at his face. "Vince?"
And that was how Sam succeeded in rendering him completely incapable of thought.
She was practically standing on tiptoes, craning her neck back to peer up at him. He had to bend his neck at a nearly ninety degree angle to help
put on her tie. But for some reason, neither of them really minded their awkward postures.
He was busy trying to gather his thoughts again and trying not to strangle her and she . . . well, she was looking at his Adam's apple. It bobbed
up and down every time he swallowed – for some reason, he seemed to gulping a lot. That can't be normal. She looked up again and met his
eyes. His gray eyes turned dark. His clean soap smell washed over her in waves and she wanted to reach up to brush that strand of black hair
from his eyes. She would have done so, but it appeared that she could not move her limbs anymore. Strange.
Vincent, though, didn't seem to have that problem. He reached up to tuck a lock of her own hair back behind her ears, his fingertips grazing
lightly across her forehead, tickling her ears. She shivered involuntarily and her heart went wild in an unsteady, staccato beat. Huh. This is really
strange. I may be having a heart attack.
Vincent bent his head lower and his hands pulled away from the gray tie to rest on her shoulders softly. He paused and appeared to be
pondering over something before he finally shrugged carelessly and took another step closer to her. Brows knotted, he started, "Sam . . ."
"Yes?" she squeaked.
"I – I think -"

BAM! The door swung open and Danielle came barging in. "Ah, there you guys are! Snap to it! Places, people! She's moving into position! I
repeat! The witch is moving into position! Go, go, go!"
At the interruption, Vincent had all but shoved Sam away and the redhead wobbled, trying to regain her balance. She flailed her arms, grabbing
Vincent's forest green tie by accident and nearly choking him. She quickly let go and he reached out to ready her, but by then, Danielle had
moved between them and grabbed their arms. "No time to dally! GO, GO, GO!"
Half dazed, they started running down the hallways anyway, taking the corners at breakneck speed. Vincent snapped at his sister between
pants, voice hushed, "Next time, knock before you come into a person's room!"
Danielle slid on her heels around a corner and had to balance herself, latching onto her brother's arm. Still, she gave him a sly smirk and he
shrugged her off. "What's the matter? Did I interrupt a love fest?"
Sammy overheard, turning pink. Vincent's expression turned absolutely black.
Danielle stopped in her tracks and nearly fell over as they rammed into her. "OH MY GOD! I did! Aw, you guys! So cute!"
Vincent snarled, "Yeah, right. Idiot – it's not –" He glanced over at Sammy and licked his lips, apprehensive. "Stop with this gay shit, Dani. You're
making him uncomfortable. Sorry, Sam, she's just kidding. My sister never knows when to stop." His hand darted out to clap Sammy on the
back and the redhead nearly doubled over with a racking cough. "We're buddies! Whoo! Go, go, go!"
Sammy straightened up, knees weak as she pulled at her tie's knot, trying to keep up with the boy as he sprinted off. "Yeah. Buddies."

They reached the foyer just as Katherine Pearling Grenford stepped in. The woman was like an older version of Danielle, except her pale gray
eyes radiated the same warmth as ice chips did. Her black hair was impeccably swept up in a tight, severe chignon bun and she was wearing a
modest black pantsuit. Her lips were pursed and faint wrinkle lines could be made out around her eyes. She must have been a stunning woman
in the past but right now, bitterness and disdain marred her beauty.
"Danielle," she nodded to her daughter. Danielle stepped up and pecked her mother on the cheek. "What kind of clunky shoes are you
wearing? Looks like something a whore will wear. My daughter, you are born from class - don't lose it."
"Yes, mother," Danielle responded through gritted teeth, making a face when Katherine walked past her.
"Vincent, how have you been?" Katherine reached out to touch her son's arm.
Vincent stepped forward and pressed a kiss on his mother's cheek stiffly. "Fine, mother. And you?"
"Fine. Have you heard from your father yet?"
"Father phoned to say that he won't be home for Christmas this year. An important business associate is holding a party and insists that father
must attend."
Katherine sniffed in derision. She nodded to Jack and William. "How are your parents? We'll be happy to have their business again."
They nodded, silent. Then the older woman caught sight of Sammy. Her lips practically curled. It was like the woman had a radar sense of who
belonged ... and who, well, didn't.
"And you are?" Katherine asked coldly.

Vincent went to stand next to Sammy. Danielle hurried over to Sammy's other side. "He's a friend from school."
Katherine arched a perfectly tweezed eyebrow. "Oh? From what family, may I ask?"
Sammy spoke up, "My name is Sam Westlane, Mrs. Grenford."
Immediately, the glacial glare seemed to diminish, though Sammy couldn't fathom why. "Westlane?"
Sammy felt uneasy, squeezing her hands as her palms turned clammy. A sense of inexplicable dread washed over her. "Yes. Westlane."
"Oh, then you wouldn't happen to be related to a certain Frank Westlane, would you?"
Sammy felt like she had just been socked in the gut. "N – no. Why?"
Katherine's features hardened once again and she sighed impatiently. "He's my financial adviser. I've known him for a long time. He seems to
be a respectable man, but since you don't know him, it's of no importance, is it?" She waved a hand, the light glinting on her diamond
encrusted watch. "No matter, I'm sure you will meet him later."
Sammy had trouble breathing. "Later?"
"Yes. Later." Katherine rolled her eyes in exasperation. "He'll be at the Christmas Party next week. You can see him then. I'm sure you will like
him."

Chapter Fourteen
The silence in the elegant dining room with off-white walls and glossy wooden floors was deafening. Aside from the light clinking sounds of
silverware against expensive china, no one spoke a word. Sammy was still in shock; robotically lifting the fork to her lips, she swallowed without
tasting. Uncle Frank is coming. Her hand shook as she lifted the glass of water in front of her. It'd been so long, she had almost forgotten what
he looked like. Almost. Now, everything came rushing back. His beady eyes roaming over her. She shivered. His bony, cold hands reaching out
for her. Her jaw locked. She couldn't escape him. She slammed the glass back onto the table and everyone turned to look at her.
Ducking her head low, she mumbled, "Sorry."
Katherine spoke crisply, "I don't know where you're from, but in MY house, we prefer not to break our silverware."
"Well, Mother, I don't know about that," Danielle responded. "Vinnie and I have actually taken quite a penchant for breaking our stuff – oh, but
since you haven't been home in months, you wouldn't know that, would you?" She tossed her glass over her shoulder and it crashed against the
floor, scattering shards everywhere.
Katherine's eyes flashed. "Why, I never. How dare you - I have never heard about – I know you're only doing this to protect this – this 'friend' of
yours, but how simply idiotic of you to -"
She was interrupted when Vincent threw his glass across the room . . . followed closely by his plate, his fork and his spoon. The knife he kept.
He didn't want to accidentally give into his urge and send it hurling at his beloved mother.
"Vincent!" Katherine seethed.
He shrugged. "Never really cared much for foie gras." He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, indifferent.

Sammy resisted the impulse to grin and bit her lips hard.
Katherine was practically quivering in her seat. Taking a deep breath, she called out, "STERNS!"
The butler stepped forward, "Yes, madam?"
"Have you known about this atrocious behavior before?" she demanded.
"No, madam." But before she launch into a triumphant diatribe, he continued, "They usually throw their electronic devices, clothes, pillows,
books –"
"STERNS!"
"Yes, madam?" The butler inquired politely. There was a twinkle in his eyes and Sammy quickly looked away in fear of losing her composure.
Vincent's mother couldn't speak, seemingly close to blowing a blood vessel.
Vincent added, "Yeah, everyone knows I love breaking my alarm clocks. If anything, it's me who has a bad influence on Sam, not the other way
around, right, Sam?
Sammy tried to nod gravely. Katherine now looked like she wanted to throw 'her' plate at Sammy. Sammy could have sworn the older woman
twitched before taking a deep breath and putting down her fork gently. "I'm not hungry anymore. You are all dismissed."
Will frowned, "But I'm hungry!"
Katherine's eyes were ice cold. "Excuse me, William?"
"Boy, am I stuffed! Yeah, getting sleepy. Good night, Mrs. Grenford," Will nodded and then turned to Sammy. "Shall we run off and put on our
jammies before prancing to bed, Sam?"
"Yes. Of course. Must run and prance," Sammy echoed. "Good night, Mrs. Grenford."
Vincent's mother nodded stiffly in acknowledgement while the others inched out of the room.

Will kept looking at Sammy askance with a blissful grin as they walked through the hallways. Vincent shuffled behind them, grey eyes getting
stormier as they flitted between the two. Danielle took note of the dark look on her brother's face and elbowed William to one side to talk to
Sammy. "What's up with Mr. Jolly?" she whispered.
"Who, Will? Oh, he, well, he . . ." Sammy sighed before leaning in close to murmur in Danielle's ear. Vincent's eyes practically bulged at this. "He
knows."
The dark haired girl's eyes widened and then she smiled. "About time." When they reached Sammy's door, Danielle grabbed Will and
proceeded to waltz into the room after Sammy. Vincent furrowed his eyebrows in confusion and tried to follow, only to have the door slam in
his face.
"HEY! What do you guys think you're doing?" Vincent scowled, pounding on the door.
Danielle popped her head out and smiled sweetly. "Sorry, Vinnie, girls only."

"Girls only?" The expression on his face was incredulous. "You're the only girl in the room!"
"Well, Sammy understands his feminine side and Will, well, he already counts as half a girl." The door closed again.
Vincent stood there, fuming silently. Jack clapped a hand on his back, "Don't worry. We can always make our own club. The He-Man
Woman/Girly Boys Haters Club. How does that sound?"
Will sighed happily as he wrapped his arms around Sammy. He nuzzled the side of her neck. "My girl . . ."
Sammy tried to disentangle herself from the octopus grip. "Help," she squeaked.
Danielle pried Will away from the redhead and backhanded him. "Don't touch. She's taken." Taking Will's seat, she threw an arm around
Sammy's shoulders. "My sister-in-law," she crooned sweetly.
Sammy buried her face in her pillow and muffled her groan. Silent, she laid there without moving for quite a while, turning things over in her
mind. She wished she could stay under her covers forever. That way, she wouldn't have to face her uncle and be dragged back to her prison.
Her heart twisted painfully and she sighed in frustration as she punched her pillow. What was she going to do?
Will poked her side and she nearly leaped up into the air. Rubbing her side, she frowned grumpily. "What?"
"What's wrong?"
She hunched over in depression. "Nothing."
"Doesn't look like nothing," Danielle said, concerned.
Sammy flopped backwards and rubbed her eyes tiredly. "You know that guy your mother was talking about?"
"My mother talks about guys?" Danielle said in disbelief. An image of the prim and proper Katherine Pearling Grenford sitting stiffly on a highbacked chair dictating monotonously on the phone came up. 'That boy there was such a fine specimen of male vigor and potency. What good
posture and he has a full set of hair. How simply splendid. Yes. A delectable darling, indeed. Simply scrumptious. I would blush and giggle
girlishly now if my blood wasn't made of ice.' Danielle blanched, "Oh, oh. That's an ugly picture. I'm going to have nightmares for a week."
Sammy smiled in amusement. "I meant Frank Westlane."
"Oh, him. Yeah, so?"
"He's my uncle," she admitted.
"I thought you said he wasn't related to you!" Will said.
"I lied." She made a face, plucking at the stitches of her covers. "You remember that picture you guys saw in the nurse's office? Asides from the
fact that the girl is me, everything else I told you is true. My parents died in a car accident a year after my grandfather died. My brother ended
up in a coma. And my uncle – Frank – he was given full custody of me and my brother. He's – he's -" Her breath quickened and she was
suddenly enraged that after all this time, she still felt so scared and cornered by the man. "I want him to die," she hissed.
Danielle and Will stared at each other in surprise. They reached out their hands, trying to soothe the girl. "Hey, it's alright now, isn't it? You're
okay. Just calm down." Will added, "Do you want a paper bag? You look like you're hyperventilating."

Sammy regained control of her emotions and shook her head. She noticed her hands were shaking and quickly hid them underneath the sheets.
"I ran away after two years. I couldn't take his … care anymore. I packed my father and my brother's old clothes, cut my hair and enrolled
myself into Crestan High. I was hoping that he would never think to look for me in an all boys' school."
Danielle chewed on her lip. "And then what? Were you planning on being Sam Westlane forever?"
Sammy shook her head. "After I'm legally an adult, I'm going to pick up my inheritance my parents had saved up and left for us. I was going to
sue for custody of my brother. I know that I won't have much of a chance against my uncle's powerful lawyers, but I was hoping … if I threaten
to ruin his reputation about the way he … took care of me, he'd give in and leave me and my brother alone."
Will frowned, "You can't know that. Your uncle might not give up. How can you be sure –"
"I'm not," Sammy blurted out. "But it's the only option I have. If I sue him now, what will happen to my brother? The government won't let me
support him with me still under-aged and even if I could, how can I pay the medical bills now? Working part-time asking people whether they
want fries or not? I have no choice."
Her friends didn't know what to say and for the first time in their lives, they began to get a sense of the same hopelessness Sammy felt ever
since her parents passed away.
Sammy closed her eyes bleakly and covered her face. "And now I have to run again."
Danielle bristled in alarm. "You're not running anywhere unless it's into my brother's arms!"
"Or mine!" Will supplied.
Sammy smiled weakly. "It's not like I have a choice. I don't want to leave. Crestan High is the first place that's been like a true home to me since
the accident. It's given me the stability I've needed, but I just can't stay. As soon as my uncle sees me at the party, he's going to haul me off and
that'll be the end of that."
Danielle pursed her lips and tapped her index finger thoughtfully against her chin. "Well, what if he doesn't see you?"
Sammy frowned. "I doubt I can dodge him for the whole night, but maybe if I say I'm sick –"
Will interrupted, "I don't want you alone during the party. It's Christmas! How sad would that be?"
"Not as sad as getting caught by my uncle," Sammy argued.
Danielle smiled slyly. "Don't worry. Sammy will be able to go to the party and her bastard uncle won't be able to see her at all. I've got it all
figured out." She had a mysteriously smug look on her face that strangely managed to relieve and unnerve Sammy at the same time.

Christmas Day finally came. On the day of the party, the household was in an uproar similar to the one prior to Mrs. Grenford's visit. The
ballroom though was spectacular. Sammy didn't even know ballrooms still existed in this time and age. Colossal chandeliers hung down from
the high ceilings, sending a warm golden light over the whole room. Elegant wreaths decorated the buttery walls, where glass panes reflected
hazy dreamlike images of the people in the room. Looking into the mirror, it was like everything was in an alternate universe, where everyone
drifted lazily through a warm golden fog.
A long table covered with a gigantic white tablecloth was already getting set with plates of treats and hors d'oeuvres. Holly and candles
decorated the spread in a warm, colorful display. Everything must be to perfection.

A tall, looming green tree stood at the end opposite of the huge, golden doors. Employees of the house climbed up and down ladders to string
the majestic tree with silver tinsel and ornaments of all colors. Sammy was afraid they might lose their balance and be sent tumbling to the
floor a few feet below, but it appeared the servants were all quite efficient in their work. By the time they were done, the plant was glittering
and sparkling. Sammy found herself holding her breath. She was getting swept away by the holiday cheer. It's been so long - too long - since she
last celebrated her favorite holiday.

Vincent was climbing the ladder to top the tree off with a brilliant golden star the size of his head. After he positioned the ornament carefully,
he looked down and met Sammy's eyes. Vincent smiled softly and gave a small wave. Sammy beamed back, waving back, and Vincent almost
lost his grip. He glanced at Sammy again, embarrassed, but the redhead's green eyes were plastered to the tree and his hands clasped tightly
before him. Just like a little kid. He looks too radiant for his own good. Why can't he be more like Jack or even Will?
His friend was currently at the other end of the table, trying to steal some cookies off a plate. Jack scratched his side as he stuffed two
gingerbread men into his mouth. Will fluttered around him, trying to pull the other boy to the mistletoe next to the windows. Jack hurled a
candy cane at William, which was quickly whisked off by a maid as soon as it hit the floor.
Vincent turned to look at Sammy again, but the boy was gone.

"Where are we going, Danielle?" Sammy panted as Danielle dragged her up the marble staircases.
"We must get ready for the ball!" Danielle responded gleefully.
"Oh." Sammy licked her lips, frowning. "But, um, by the way, what is your big plan, Danielle?"
The older girl stopped short and looked over her head, grinning like a maniac. "You mean I didn't tell you?" she said innocently. "It's going to be
a masquerade ball!"
"Masquerade ball?" Sammy repeated dubiously. " went for this?"
"Oh, I managed to convince her with some spiel about how creativity equals party of the year." Danielle waved her hand airily. "What matters is
that she accepted it. Now all we have to do is get ready and have fun."
Sammy nodded hesitantly. "I suppose it could work. I mean, I guess Uncle Frank wouldn't recognize me now that I'm dressed as a boy with a
mask covering my face –"
"Whoops, didn't I tell you?" Danielle interrupted with a devilish laugh. "You're going in girl mode."
"WHAT? Danielle, I think you place too much trust in a mask! It's too risky!" Sammy's eyes widened, alarmed. "It's not like the movies! Just
because I slap a mask on doesn't mean I'm the master of disguises! Anyone with half a brain will see –"
"That's why I'm giving you a makeover." Danielle was practically rubbing her hands together with delight.
"A – a what?"
"A makeover!" Danielle threw her head back, long black hair gleaming in the light, and all but cackled. Sammy's stomach dropped as she
instinctively took a step backward, and all she could wonder was, How the hell did I get myself into this?

Two hours later, Will knocked impatiently on Sammy's door. Dressed in a splendid white tuxedo with a black shiny mask in hand, he leaned
against the wall. "Sammy! Are you ready yet? I wanna see! I wanna see! Sam –" He was cut off as the door swung open. His eyes turned into the
sizes of dinner plates and he whistled lowly. "Holy mama, come to papa!" He threw open his arms.
Sammy blushed, self-conscious, and tucked her long hair behind an ear. "Stop it, Will."
"Where have you been hiding that nice set of –"
"WILL!"
"- ears. Those nice ears. Really quite exquisite," Will smiled impudently.
Sammy shook her head and laughed. Danielle stepped out of the room and extended her hands like a showcase assistant. "I'm so good, aren't
I? Aren't I?"
"Yes, yes. The very best." Sammy reached down to smooth down her gown. "But I feel so fake. You changed everything!"
"No I didn't! Besides, isn't it the inner you that counts? You know that thing they say about how as long as you're still yourself inside, then that's
all that matters, etc., etc. Right? You're still you!"
"I guess . . ." Sammy glanced up at the clock. "But I still don't know how to explain to the others where Sam went, though!"
Danielle smiled. "A nice case of flu."
"Can we go now? Can we? Huh? Huh?" Will hopped from foot to foot like a little kid as he struggled with his mask.
Sammy sighed and nodded slightly. Will immediately stood up straight, extended his arm and asked in a stuffy British accent, "Then shall I
escort you, milady?"
She smiled and slipped on her sparkling, forest green mask on before accepting his arm. He offered his other arm to Danielle and she graciously
took it after putting on her own dark blue mask.

Vincent sighed tiredly. "Of all the stupid things my sister had to think of, this one really takes the cake." He slipped on his black velvet mask and
adjusted the white rose in his pocket while walking next to Jack. Decked out in a midnight black suit, his dark jacket fitted quite closely to his
physique and his light gray eyes emanated an aura of secrecy behind his mask. His eyes traveled lazily across the walls as he walked through the
hallways with his hands tucked in his pockets; the picture of an aloof prince.
Jack had his white mask on already, looking just as good as his friend in his dark tuxedo. His brown eyes were warm as he laughed, "It's not so
bad, Vince. Everything's pretty good, except for my stupid tie." He muttered a curse underneath his breath as he tried to adjust his cravat for
the umpteenth time. They continued their way down to the ballroom, nodding to a couple of servants along the way. Two maids giggled shyly
to each other as the two boys passed them.

"I changed my mind. I'm not going," Sammy cried out in a panic as she tried to tear her hand away from William.
Danielle frowned darkly. "You're not going to waste my beautiful work, are you? You're coming and that's that."

Sammy was close to hyperventilation. "I can't! I've never been good at these sorts of things! A ball? I won't know what to do! I'm not very
social, guys!" She tried to dig in her heels as they dragged her by force to the double doors. Already, she could hear the quiet, muffled noise of
violins and people talking. "I'm so different from all of you! I – I revel in the fact you guys have an indoor pool! I – I drool at the sight of your big
screen TVs! TVsssss, mind you! SSSSS! They'll never accept me! They'll turn their nose up at me and – and sniffed disdainfully and – and –"
"Come on, Sammy, we've never treated you like that before, have we? Just calm down. We're almost there," Danielle said soothingly as she dug
her nails into Sammy's wrist.
"I'm so bad with conversations! I won't know how to mingle!"
"All you have to do is hold a glass of champagne and walk around with your nose in the air, sniffing disdainfully," Will grinned as he yanked on
her arm.
"I don't feel so good. I think I'm coming down with something!"
"Dance fever, dance fever . . ." Will sang over his shoulder in response.
"Please! My uncle's going to take one look at me and know that I don't belong there! He'll know it's me!"
"You'll be fine. We'll be with you," Danielle soothed her.
"No, I can't!" But her protests were to no avail. Her friends linked their arms through hers and forcibly hauled her through the doors.

Vincent covered his mouth as he yawned. "What a drag," he drawled. He leaned against the wall in the corner next to the Christmas tree,
hoping to stay out of the sights of certain overly tenacious neighborhood girls. Jack continued to munch on some cookies. "These are really
good," Jack mumbled through a mouthful. "I think I'm addicted."
Vincent rolled his eyes. "Pig."
Jack grabbed another one. "I heard Sam made them to help out. Pretty girly, but he has quite a talent – HEY!"
Vincent snatched it out of his friend's hand and tossed it into his mouth. He chewed slowly, eyebrows furrowed in thought. "You're right. It is
good. Hand over the plate."
"What? No way! I found them first!"
"This is MY house! MY party! MY cookies! Give!"
"You're supposed to be the gracious host! I'm your guest!"
"Not unless I toss you out that window there."
Jack tried to block Vincent from the table. "You big – whoa."
"What?" Vincent frowned, reaching around him to grab a handful of gingersnaps.
Jack was busy staring over his shoulder at something. His mouth had fallen open into a gaping hole.

Vincent turned around and recognized his sister through the crowd of dancing guests in a slinky blue dress with a matching feathered mask
standing in the doorway. Her hair was piled gracefully on top of her head and loose strands escaped to curl around her slender neck. He
groaned, mumbling around a mouthful of cookies. "Not you too, Jack. My own sister?"
Jack shook his head mutedly and pointed furiously. Vincent saw William then in a creamy white tuxedo and a shiny black mask. The other boy's
wavy, dark chestnut brown hair was a bit too long, tapering down in loose layers until it cupped his ears loosely. The ever present happy grin
and twinkling hazel eyes were, if possible, even more "happy and twinkly". Vincent's head snapped back to his friend at an alarming speed. "Oh
god, have you converted, too? Will?"
Jack almost choked and shot him an evil glare. He shook his head and pointed again, even more insistently.
This time, Vincent saw her. William had been blocking her from sight - or maybe had been hiding behind him. A slender girl in an elegant, jade
colored dress with flowing sleeves and an intricately patterned bodice stood, basked by the mellow golden light from the candles on the tables
near by. Her raven black hair was slightly curly, half of the thick tresses pinned up loosely, and she wore a simple green velvet mask similar to
his. She was obviously nervous; she kept reaching up to tuck her curls behind her right ear. But suddenly, she looked up and met his eyes from
across the room and he almost staggered back. Her eyes were a brilliant green.

"Vincent. I saw Vincent," Sammy turned back quickly to Danielle.
"Where? Where?" the older girl asked, craning her neck as she stood on tiptoes to look over the crowd.
Sammy was trying to stoop down lower, bending her knees even though she knew that she must look like a fool. "I think he recognized me. I
told you it won't work! But you had to go ahead and dye my hair and add extensions and everything!"
Danielle chewed on her bottom lip. "Hmmm, maybe I should have gotten you contacts, too."
Sammy frowned unhappily. "Sure, why not? Everything else on my body now is fake anyway."
Will leered at her - namely, her chest. "Everything?"
Sammy turned pink. "Stop it, Will."
She turned around again and found herself face to face with Vincent with Jack standing next to him, beaming at her.
She squeaked.
Vincent's voice rumbled quietly. "Dani, who is this?" As blunt as ever.
But Sammy nearly sagged in relief. He didn't recognize me! Danielle smiled happily, "Oh, this is Sam – OW!" Sammy stepped on her foot gently
with her high heels.
"Samow?" Vincent repeated, puzzled.
"Uh, Samowa," Sammy stammered. "My parents wanted a more original name. It means – uh –"
"Big breasts," Will supplied helpfully.
There was a pause. "Excuse me?" Vincent inquired politely, eyes flickering between Will and Sammy.

"Ah, um, it means blessing in fertility and children so uh, yeah, big breasts would, um, yeah," Sammy felt her face burning.
"Interesting." Jack grinned. Vincent continued to stare at her, grey eyes piercing through her as if appraising her worth.
"Yeah, well, Samowa is a really good friend of mine. A really nice girl," Danielle emphasized.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance. I'm Danielle's brother, Vincent Warren Grenford III. Just call me Vince," Vincent inclined his head slightly
as he took her hand and pressed his lips lightly on her knuckles. Sammy felt like whipping out a paper fan and waving it crazily in front of her
face. Jack did the same and she flushed in embarrassment over the attention.
Vincent then turned to Danielle and asked, "Where's Sam?"
Sammy turned pale, but the older girl quickly answered, "Poor guy. He's sick. He said he can't come down, but he wants you all to have fun
anyway."
Vincent frowned worriedly. "Sick? Should we call a doctor?"
Sammy felt awful about causing him unnecessary concern. "It's alright! Just a minor case of flu!"
He turned to look at her in surprise and she froze. She laughed nervously, "Danielle told me about poor old Sam."
"You know," Vincent started, peering at her closely. "You really remind of –"
He was cut off then as the doors opened and a tall, boy in a creamy white suit that fitted closely to his broad shoulders sauntered in. His light
blonde hair and sparkling, white mask accentuated his almost ethereal, angelic appearance. His pale blue eyes turned to them languidly and a
cool smile formed on his lips.
Tristan?

Chapter Fifteen
An older man with Tristan's broad shoulders and blue eyes followed closely behind. His hair was gray, matching the color of his mask and his
suit. The man was shorter than Tristan by a few inches, but carried himself regally. A young girl with sleek blonde hair in a gorgeous shimmering
cerulean dress and matching disguise walked in quietly with her head bowed low. She looked up and after doing a double take, smiled brightly
at Sammy. Danielle leaned close to whisper in Sammy's ear, "I called her before the party so she'll know it's you."
Carrie looked down bashfully and Sammy could tell the girl was relieved she found them. She smiled in sympathy. She's shyer than I am.
Suddenly, a woman in a regal black gown with her hair tied in a tight chignon walked up to the new guests. Even with a feathered mask, Sammy
easily recognized the cold gray eyes. Mrs. Grenford pasted a simpering smile on her face, "Is that Patrick Harland I see there?"
Tristan's father beamed back similarly. "Kat! How delightful! What a marvelous party! Where's George?"
"Oh, he's away on business." Katherine shook her head. "But . . ."
The younger people drifted away from the conversation. Vincent smiled at Carrie. "Hey, Carrie." He only gave Tristan an icy glare.
Tristan ignored Vincent and nodded at Danielle. "Haven't seen you in quite a while, Dani."

Danielle grinned back. "Then maybe you should come visit me more often. How are the babies?"
"Well, Carrie's all grown up now so that's a relief, but I have two efficient replacements. Mandy and Andy are enough to make me prematurely
old," Tristan sighed ruefully. He noticed Sam then and with a peculiar glint in his eyes, smiled quietly. "Dani, don't forget your manners."
Danielle linked an arm through Sammy's and chuckled. "Tristan, Carrie, this is Samowa. Samowa, Tristan and Carrie. They're our neighbors.
Tristan goes to the same school as Vincent."
"Until he dies of unexpected causes," Vincent muttered.
Tristan's eyes glittered icily but a voice suddenly rang out. "Hey!" They turned to see a boy with golden hair in a deep navy, almost black, suit
striding toward them. Huh . . . he looks familiar. His dark blue mask surrounded a pair of turquoise eyes. The new guest was followed closely by
a puny boy in puke-green and two heavy bumbling guys in brown. "Hey," the boy in the blue repeated. "Long time no see." His twinkling eyes
were directed at Danielle. "You're still as gorgeous as ever, Dani. You've grown into your curves."
Danielle rolled her eyes. "That's Danielle Amelia Grenford to you. I see you're still as repulsive and immature as ever, Caine."
Sammy finally recognized the group. The boy who kept winking at her was Caine, the notorious flirter. The sniveling rat with glasses jammed in
front of his pea green mask was the detested Marvin. The two trolls in dirt brown – Marco and Polo; they looked more like gorillas today than
ever, shifting heavily on legs the size of tree trunks. Everyone was here. It was like a big family reunion … only not so happy.
Vincent was practically sneering at Tristan. The other boy wasn't so much better with his hands tucked in his pocket and his lips curled in
disgust. Jack was taking his position behind Vince, eyes firmly fixated on the twins and Marvin. Will was blissfully wrapping an arm around
Sammy and sticking his tongue out at the dismayed Caine.
Danielle shook her head and steered Sammy and Carrie away from the staring contest. "Boys. They come in all different levels of stupidity,"
Danielle muttered.
Sammy smiled. "You seem to be close to Tristan."
Carrie spoke up, "Didn't you know? Dad might not like Mrs. Grenford that much, but he's been old buddies with Danielle's father since forever.
The Grenfords and Harlands have always been close family friends."
Sammy almost choked, "Close family friends?" She threw a look back at the boys. They were still immovable, staring at each other through
narrowed eyes.
Carrie nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! That's why I know this place so well! It was a second home to me when I was little."
Sammy stared at her dubiously, then back at the silent feud. Vincent and Tristan were now circling one another like contending lions.
Danielle chuckled, "You may not believe it but, well, Vince and Tristan have been best friends since babies."
Her words came out strangled. "Are you sure? They certainly don't look so chummy now."
Danielle and Carrie's eyes darkened then. "That's because of the Rift."
"The Rift?" Sammy arched an eyebrow.
Carrie sighed loudly. "Yeah, it came in the form of –"

A loud commotion at the door made them turn around. A stunning girl around Sammy's age was standing in the doorway, surveying the crowd
with cool, black eyes. In a fiery crimson dress with sides slit up to her knees and a matching mask, she was an epitome of a sultry siren. Long,
wild curls the color of midnight swung loosely around her bare shoulders and a seductive smile touched the full, red lips. Excited murmurs
broke out all around them - mostly from guys. The girls were satisfied with shooting the new guest resentful glares.
Danielle finished darkly, "- Victoria Steele."
"Who is she? She's so pretty. Is she a model?" Sammy said curiously.
Danielle looked pained. "Sammy, please. Number one rule. Never, ever, compliment your rival."
"My – my what?" Sammy spluttered bewilderedly.
Carrie patted her hand sympathetically. "Sammy, meet Victoria Steele. She's the only child of the Steele family, one of the richest families in
this neighborhood. The Harlands and the Grenfords have been close with the Steeles since forever - and unfortunately, this means we've
known Victoria from her wailing, spoiled baby years –"
"- to her wailing, spoiled teenager years," Danielle interrupted grimly.
"I – I don't understand." Sammy couldn't see where this was going.
Danielle explained dryly, "Victoria has a special skill. You see, she has the brains to act all innocent and sweet when she wants to be and vile and
nasty to those she doesn't deem privileged enough to receive her affections. Carrie and I saw through her act years ago. Regrettably, our
brothers weren't so bright."
It was beginning to dawn on her. "You mean . . ."
"Victoria Steele's the first girl our brothers ever went out with," Carrie clarified.
"Both of them?" Sammy was horrified.
"Nearly at the same time, too," Danielle muttered darkly. "At age fourteen, Victoria first fixed her eyes on Vincent and Vincent, being the poor
naively stupid little boy he was and is, thought he had found his first love. A week later, Victoria went across the street for a pool party and
found Tristan. Tristan, unaware of the fact that Victoria was supposedly already Vincent's girlfriend, took an interest in her behind the pool
house. By the time both male parties found out, she had popped in early enough to blame the other person for 'confusing' her feelings and on
one stifling summer day, fists went flying, Victoria went home meekly, but The Rift has been ensued from that point on," Danielle dictated
solemnly.
Carrie shook her head, grumbling, "They were such good friends before she came in. I remember how I always came over to your house to play.
Stupid mess."
Danielle murmured, "I don't think either of them took a real, serious interest in Victoria. It was more about their pride and the supposed
betrayal of their friendship."
There was a long period of silence before Sammy finally whispered, "They've been angry at each other all this while . . . for a girl?"
They nodded and then jumped as Sammy snarled in a manner so different from her usual temperament, "That has to be the most stupidest,
dumbest, brainless piece of crap I've ever heard! I thought it was something serious like – I don't know, Vincent ran over Tristan's dog with a
lawn mower or something - but a girl? Sheesh! And they say we hold long grudges! Why didn't someone just explain the matter to them?"

Danielle rolled her eyes. "Here's where the stupid male stubbornness comes in. Neither of them believed their incredibly intelligent, gorgeous
sisters. They preferred to fume and pout about how 'My best friend, whom I would have trusted with my life and video games, has betrayed
me! Woe is me!' Believe me, I wanted to launch our grand piano at his head."
Carrie frowned and nodded, "Tristan just refused to listen. He said something about how I was too young to understand 'adult stuff and loyalty
issues'. Boys."
Sammy groaned in frustration. "At least they know what kind of person Victoria is."
They shook their heads. "Here's the really sad part. They believed she was more confused than evil. They didn't think she was capable of
manipulation at such a young age." Danielle's eyes gleamed. "They should know all women come readily competent in this field since the
moment of birth. It's a matter of survival of the fittest!" Sammy didn't know if that was true, but something about Danielle's 'Wonder Woman'
stance disturbed her.
Chills ran up her spine as she heard a shrill voice call out. "DANI! CARRIE!"
Danielle turned green and squealed back exaggeratedly, "VICKY!" Carrie just cowered to her friend's side. Sammy had a feeling Victoria scared
the young girl a little.
"Oh my god, I haven't seen you two since forever!" Victoria gushed. "But I knew it was you even with that mask on. No one has the same grace
and style as Danielle Grenford!"
"Sycophant," Danielle coughed.
"I'm sorry. What?" Victoria batted her eyelashes, hand seemingly attached to her hip as if ready to take the runway.
Danielle plastered a smile on. "Oh, let's not forget about you!"
Victoria tittered, "Aw! Yes, well, I suppose that is true."
Then the bouncy girl noticed Sammy and her smile faltered. Her black eyes cooled forbiddingly and she murmured, "Well, well. Who is this?"
"Samowa, um, Liskovich," Sammy supplied. "Nice to meet you."
Victoria wrinkled her nose distastefully. "Liskovich . . . I haven't heard that before. New immigrant?"
Sammy could only stare while Danielle fielded her question, "She's an international student.
Victoria nodded thoughtfully as she continued, "Anyway, I'm sure I would have heard about you if you were anybody important but since I
haven't . . . well, whoops, we know what that means, don't we?" She ended that remark with a soft giggle and Sammy didn't know if she should
take it as an insult or just accept it as a bad joke.
Danielle chose the former. "Or you could just be ignorant and stupid, but since you were born that way, well, it isn't really your fault then, is it?"
She tittered in a similar sickeningly sweet way. Victoria's smile faltered a little and her eyes darted uncertainly between the three girls while
chuckling nervously. Her eyes narrowed at Sammy again.
Victoria turned away, nearly flipping her hair in Sammy's face, and pointedly ignored her as she murmured in her melodic voice, "Well, excuse
me, girls. I think I have to mingle now! See you around, babes!" She sauntered off, her hips swaying.
"Bye!" they droned back. Danielle grinned broadly as soon as she was gone and patted Sammy on her head. "Good girl!"

Sammy raised an eyebrow. "Uh, Danielle, I'm not a dog . . ."
Carrie giggled, "We're just happy for you!"
"W – why?" She asked suspiciously.
"You've succeeded in making your rival jealous! Didn't you notice all those nasty looks Victoria was shooting at you? She was ready to curl back
her lips and hiss at you! Ha ha!" Danielle did a little victory dance. "This means that she views you as a potential challenger for stealing her
spotlight!"
Sammy whispered frantically, "Danielle! I don't want to steal her spotlight! Remember? I'm trying to NOT draw attention to myself because a
certain evil uncle is looking for me?"
Danielle nodded in agreement, then brightened as Will, Jack and Caine came up to them. Her smile was decidedly wicked when they all asked,
"Would you care to dance?"
It took Samowa a while to realize that they were all staring at her. It took Sammy even longer to panic. Caine stepped forward and grinned at
her. "I've been unable to stop looking at you for quite a while and I just cannot rest until I have had the pleasure of dancing with you. You
wouldn't turn a gentleman down, would you?"
Sammy didn't know what to do and shot a desperate look at Danielle and Carrie. They shrugged.
Will stepped in and interrupted, "You don't have to listen to Mr. Candy Caine here. He's a heterosexual slut."
Caine's eyes flashed and he puffed up his chest. "Excuse me? You're one to talk."
Will glared and stuck out his tongue. Caine bared his teeth in response. "Um, my name is –" Jack tried to get her attention, but was waylaid by
the two bickering boys.
Danielle took over then. Like a martinet, she took Caine's arm after leading Carrie to Jack. Will pumped his fist into the air in triumph and led
Sammy to the dance floor.
Sammy whispered, "You were so mean to Caine."
Will smiled smugly, "Only if he gets in my way!"
She shook her head, but chuckled when he waggled his eyebrows at her. Over his shoulder, she could see Carrie blushing. The girl's head was
bent so low, it was nearly a perfect ninety degree angle, but Sammy could see that Jack was amused as he tightened his arms around the girl
and attempted to stoop, craning his neck to meet her eyes.
Over Will's other shoulder, she could see Danielle and Caine. Vincent's sister looked frankly annoyed as Caine attempted to pull the girl closer.
She slammed her heel into his foot and he grunted painfully, immediately backed away with a sweet smile. Sammy tried not to laugh.
Will pouted down at her. "You're supposed to pay attention to me, you know. Me!"
"I'm sorry, Will," she allowed him to twirl her and as her eyes passed over the crowd, her heart froze and she stopped breathing. Uncle Frank.
Will spun her back around and she stiffened in his arms, pushing him away. She whirled around to see if it was really him, but either she had
just hallucinated or she had mistaken someone else. The man was gone.
"What's wrong, Sammy?" Will asked worriedly, looking around with her.

She felt sick. "I – I – nothing. Never mind."
Her friend nodded, face still skeptical, and pulled her back into his arms. As soon as the music ended, she hurried off the dance floor. The room
was spinning around her and she suddenly felt that there were way too many people around her. "I need some air," she mumbled to her
friends and she rushed off before they could follow.
Stumbling through the crowd, she hoped desperately that it wasn't her uncle and if it was, that he didn't recognize her. She made her way to
the doors that led out to the balcony and stepped out gratefully. It was really cold since it was winter but she didn't care. Freezing to death was
better than suffocating to death.
Her breaths came out in short gasps and she leaned heavily against the railing.
"Are you okay?"
She jumped and nearly fell over, but a pair of warm hands steadied her. She looked up into a pair of familiar blue eyes. "Tristan! What are you
doing here?"
He looked down at her teasingly. "Probably the same reason you're here, I guess."
She smiled. "I just needed some air."
He nodded and leaned his forearms against the railing. The wind ruffled his blond hair gently and he looked up at the stars, face pensive. She
stared at him and he glanced at her askance. "What?"
She reddened and shook her head. "Nothing."
It was his turn to stare at her. "What?" She squeaked.
"You . . . remind me a lot of my friend."
"A friend?" she responded nervously.
"Yeah . . . his name's Sam," he laughed.
Alarm bells rang in her head and she tried to remain composed. Then she felt insulted. "I look like a guy to you?"
Tristan grinned and shook his head, "Nah. Don't tell this to him since he'll probably hurt his eyes glaring at me , but he's very much like a girl."
She wanted to wail. After all my hard work, people still think I'm like a girl?
"Is he a good friend?" she asked nonchalantly, placing her hands up on the balcony railing next to his.
"Oh yeah, he's a really nice kid. Just, you know, a tad weird sometimes."
"Weird?" she exclaimed. "What do you mean, weird?"
He turned to face her and his intense stare made her jittery. "He's just different from anyone I've ever met before."
She didn't know if it was a compliment or not. Then she noticed that he was still scrutinizing her. "Is something wrong?" she said in an attempt
to distract his attention.

It didn't work. He continued to examine her. "You know, the more I think about it, the more I'm certain –"
She sneezed. "Boy, it's cold out here." She rubbed her arms briskly and he immediately unbuttoned his jacket, wrapping it around her. She
blushed and remembered the time when Vincent gave her his jacket. They really are quite similar. They should be great friends. How could they
have a fight over some girl?
She found herself glaring at Tristan and the boy raised an eyebrow, puzzled by her sudden change. "You don't like my jacket?"
"No!" She blinked. "I mean, thank you. It's very kind of you," she replied. I'm just disappointed in you. I thought you were more understanding
than that. She sighed loudly. "How can you act so stupid?"
"Excuse me?"
She froze. Gah! Did I say that out loud? "I meant that, uh, you shouldn't act so stupid because you'll catch a cold and get sick and then what
would you do? So here!" She practically threw the jacket in his face. "Never give your jacket to others! I'm going back inside! See you around!"
She sprinted away, nearly tripping in her heels, before he could pull his coat off his head.
Tristan stared at the empty space Sammy had just occupied. A soft smile graced his lips as he turned around to look up at the stars. Ah,
definitely just like Sam.

Sammy was out of breath by the time she found Danielle and Carrie. "I have to leave."
"What?" Danielle was horrified. "You can't!"
Carrie nodded furiously. "You can't leave me alone! I only know you and Danielle."
"I think I just saw my uncle."
Danielle scrunched up her eyebrows. "Well, did he recognize you?"
"I don't know. It was just a glimpse of him, but I'm getting really nervous –"
"It's going to be all right! Sammy, you have black hair and a mask on," Danielle reassured her. "I don't think you'll be that easy to recognize and
even if he did, he can't grab you with us around. Now just relax."
Sammy shook her head. "No, I really think it'll be better if I –"
"Vinnie!" Danielle called out and as soon as her brother turned around, she shoved Sammy with the force of a stampeding elephant. Sammy
teetered on her heels before lurching backwards and slamming against Vincent's chest.

Vincent grunted in surprise and suddenly had the eerie feeling of déjà vu. Looking down at the girl with green eyes, he was suddenly struck by
the memory of his first encounter with Sam.Those eyes are the exact same color. Wow.
Now what the hell was her name again? Samoo? Shampoo?
He looked up as his sister called out cheerfully, "Why don't you be a good host and go dance with dear Samowa? Have fun!"

His cheeks reddened in embarrassment. She has some nerve … He gritted his teeth and looked back down at the girl in his arms. She was almost
reclining backwards, supported by his arms, and her face was just as red as his. He cleared his throat and practically lifted her up off her feet
before setting her back down so she could stand. He ran a hand through his hair before holding out his hand. "Please excuse my dear demented
sister, but would you care to dance anyway?"
Samowa hesitated for only a second before shyly taking his hand. Leading the girl to the dance floor, he grasped her hand with his right and
rested his left on her waist. She's really skinny. I bet her arms can wrap around her three times. I bet Sam must be this thin underneath all those
baggy clothes. I bet if he was in a dress – that's it, I'm just as demented as my sister. He took a step forward and Samowa swept along after him.
"I haven't seen you before. Where are you from?" Vincent inquired, trying to make small talk.
The girl stammered, "Uh – well – um – I'm a friend of Carrie's. Yep, I hail from – uh – Wisconsin."
"Wisconsin? That's a long way from here. What business is your family in?"
"Oh, um, the most famous business of all. You know, um, cheese. Yeah. Cheese. The Liskovichian Cheese. Ever heard of it? No, I don't think you
have because – because we do mainly exports. Yeah. Finland really likes our cheese. Yup. Cheese," she finished lamely.
Vincent nodded slowly. "Ah, I see." Boy, she's weird. His eyes fell on Victoria then, who was standing by the refreshment tables surrounded by
three guys as she sipped from a glass of champagne. She threw him a flirtatious wink and he mentally rolled his eyes. I'm not that stupid to fall
for that again. You and Tristan would just run off and laugh at me behind my back again.
Samowa mumbled softly. "Victoria is looking at you."
His eyes zoomed to her in surprise. "Yes, I noticed," he said icily. She was silent, her lowered eyes liquid green. His mouth went dry and his
heart began racing. Sam? He began, "You know, you really remind me of my friend."
Her head snapped upward so fast, he'd rather thought she gave herself whiplash. "Oh. Really?" she squeaked.
"Yeah, you know, Sam."
Her eyes darkened and he mentally slapped himself. Smart, Vince, tell a girl she seems like a guy you know. He hastily tried to explain. "I mean,
you don't look like him, of course - well, you kinda do – wait, no, I mean, just your eyes. Yeah. But asides from that, you really don't look the
same because you have black hair and he has red and you have breasts and – oh damn. That was obvious, wasn't it? And – yeah, feel free to cut
me off anytime now."
She was blushing again. "It's okay." She met his eyes and damn if he didn't melt again. He quickly averted his eyes. I think I have a thing for
green eyes. Help.
The music ended and he led her off the floor. He mused out loud, "You know, I really should go check on Sam. I mean, he is my guest and since
he's sick and all, I really shouldn't just leave him alone like that. Please excuse me, Sa – what?"
Samowa was staring at him in dismay like he had just scratched his armpits in front of her.
"Samowa, is something wrong?"
"N – no," she croaked.
"You sure?"

She waved her hand flimsily. He nodded skeptically before excusing himself again and making his way to the door. Sammy stood there for a few
seconds in a frozen daze before jolting herself out of it and running as fast as she could on high heels. She finally found Danielle, who was
currently trying to choke Caine with a party streamer. After yanking Danielle away to a secluded corner, she babbled in a panic,
"Vincenthe''sroomwhichI'!"
Danielle gaped at her in alarm. "I have no idea what you just said but I'm guessing it's something . . . bad?"
Sammy took a deep breath and flapped her hands around. "Vincent is going to see me, no, not me – Sam – in Sam's room, which, by the way,
I'M NOT IN! OH MAN, OH MAN, OH MAN! HOW MANY WAYS CAN I DIE?"
Danielle chewed on her lip. "Okay, let's not panic. I have a plan!"

The plan was to run out the French doors, down the steps into the garden and stand below Sammy's room so she scale a tree before throwing
herself through the open (thank goodness) window. Can you say Mission Impossible?
Sammy wanted to smash her head against the pretty marble walls. "Danielle, you're a really great friend and all … but I have to tell you, your
plans suck."
Danielle whispered to her urgently, "Listen to me! William is waylaying Vincent right now, but I doubt Vinnie can be stopped. Come on! I've
always snuck out of my room like this. It's really easy! Just grab hold and pull yourself up. You're so light, it'll sustain your weight!"
Sammy moaned in self-pity before taking a deep breath, hitching up her dress, and grabbing the lowest branch. She kicked upwards . . . and
flipped over, landing on her back with a heavy thud and her dress up around her head. Danielle doubled over with laughter. "I'm sorry, Sammy!
But, uh, practice makes perfect, right?"
"Right . . ." came the muffled grunt.

"So, that guy really broke my heart," Will sobbed loudly and clung desperately onto Vincent's shoulder. Vincent tried to pry the boy away. He
was rapidly turning green and he didn't think he was able to control himself anymore.
"There, there, Will," Vincent responded. He slammed his hand into Will's back in a comforting pat while trying to see if it could dislodge him at
the same time. "I feel really bad for you, I do. Your first love - girl version - was really mean to you. Shame on her. And your other first love - guy
version - ditto. But you know, now's not exactly the time to swap sob stories. Sam –"
Will dug his heels into the carpet and was dragged along down the hall. "Sam's all right! There's really no need to go see him!"
"Just a quick glance, Will! He is sick, you know!" Vincent grunted as he stumbled forward.
"Well, um, he might not be in his room!" William declared.
"Then where else could he be?" Vincent growled, patience evaporating.
"Uh, bathroom?"
"He has a private bathroom connected to his room, stupid."
"Uhhh. . . say, Vince, did I tell you about the time when I met this really hot boy with a really cute butt –"

"GET OFF ME, WILL!"

Sammy inched along gingerly on the tree branch. She winced as she got another splinter in her hand. Again … why me?
Suddenly, two beams of light were thrown across her. She was temporarily blinded and nearly fell off the branch after all her hard work.
Danielle growled softly from somewhere under the tree, "Damn. The security guards."
What? Oh jeez, are they going to shoot me down now?
Danielle spoke softly, but her tone was authoritative. "John, James, it's just me, Danielle."
"Young miss? What – what are you doing here?" The light blinded Sammy again and she closed her eyes, seeing spots dance before her. "And
who's that up in the tree?"
Sammy tried to wave while clinging onto the branch and pressing her dress down so they won't "see" anything. Yeah, smooth, Sammy. Just act
like you climb a tree and hang precariously off the end of a flimsy bough everyday.
"Um, well, my friend here is one nature lover," Danielle explained. "She's just checking if the, uh, leaves are healthy. Yeah. Don't mind us. You
may leave now."
"But um, we do have a gardener –"
"I said, you may leave now."
"Yes, miss. Enjoy . . . inspecting the tree."
"We will. See you!" Danielle waved and as footsteps faded off in the distance, she whispered frenetically, "Hurry, Sammy! We can't risk
anybody else seeing us!"
"Okay, okay," she panted as she crawled along carefully.

Vincent tried to walk, but Will had wrapped both his arms around his right leg. "Will! What the hell are you doing?"
"I've decided! I'm in love with you!" William declared dramatically.
Vincent sent him a withering glare. "Don't make me kick you."
"You're my sun, my moon, my stars! You're the reason for me living! Take me now!"
Vincent shuddered. "Hell, no. Go find Jack."
"Vincent is so beautiful! Vincent is so yummy! Vincent is –"
"Vincent is going to kick your ass down the stairs. Have you had one too many cups of eggnog, Will?"

"I'm drunk on you, baby," Will batted his eyelashes up at him.
"Will you just leave me alone?" Vincent barked, slapping at the boy's hands.
"Ever since you straddled me that fateful day in the hotel –"
"I DID NOT STRADDLE YOU! WILL, I'M WARNING YOU!"
They suddenly heard a loud thump from Sam's room and Vincent was immobilized. "Sam?" He tried to shrug Will off again and fortunately, this
time, the boy released his grip.
While Vincent ran to the door, Will remained sitting on the floor and folded his arms across his chest. With an impish smile, he drawled, "Fine,
break my heart. See if I care."
Vincent pounded on the door. "Sam? Are you okay? I'm coming in!" He turned the doorknob - only to have the door slammed in his face again.
"Sam?" He cried out, alarmed. He shoved the door.

Sammy panted hard and tossed a clump of hair out of her eyes. Vincent pushed against the door harder and she nearly went flying across the
room. She pressed back against the door with all her body weight. "I'm okay, Vince! I'm fine!"
Vincent frowned on the other side. "Then can you let me in?"
"NO!"
He blinked in surprise. "Excuse me?"
"Uh, I mean, I'm sick right now," she feigned a cough. "I don't want you to catch my cold, that's all."
"Nonsense. I don't get sick that easily."
"It's really okay! I'm kinda tired anyway. Yeah, I'm going to sleep so there's really no need for you to check up on me."
"But –" Vincent hesitated.
"I'm really fine! Don't worry!"
"Are you sure? You sound a bit out of breath to me . . ."
"I'm fine! Really. I just, uh, I just got out of the shower. But thanks for worrying! Go have fun now! I'll see you in the morning! Night!"
Vincent stood there, puzzled. He jumped when he felt Will slide up next to him and drape an arm around his shoulders. "Shall we go have fun
then?"
Vincent stiffened and without looking at his friend, seethed, "Will, I'm giving you two seconds to get out of my sight. Don't blame me if you find
yourself hanging outside in a tree, understand?"
Will sighed, "Duly noted." And then he ran.

Vincent made his way down to the ballroom again. He frowned to himself. Why was Sam acting so weird? He suddenly didn't feel like going to
the ball again. There were just too many people. I hate all their false smiles. Their false laughter. Their facades. How annoying.
He headed out to a balcony and pulled off his mask, allowing the chilly air to envelope him. He leaned against the railing and ran a hand across
his face tiredly. What am I doing? It's a beautiful party with plenty of girls … so what am I doing, standing here thinking about a guy? He
groaned loudly, chewing the inside of his cheek. There are so many girls in the world ... like Samowa. She's pretty and although she's a bit
eccentric, she's still nice. So what makes Sam so special? There's really no difference at all. The stars twinkled brightly in the cloudless
night. Maybe . . . maybe it's because I know Sam won't ever lie to me. He's one of those honest, quiet types of a guy. I feel that I can really trust
him. Yes, that's it. Honesty. That's what I like about him. But . . . that doesn't mean there aren't honest girls out there, Vince. Oh jeez, I don't
know anymore. I need therapy.
Just then, he heard the two security guards walk by underneath the balcony.
"Hey John, did you really believe that girl was "inspecting the tree leaves"?"
John snorted in response. "Yeah, and I'm the Queen of England. Nah, that girl must be some friend of Danielle who has the hots for that new
kid."
Danielle? New kid? What the hell are they talking about? Vincent leaned over the railing to eavesdrop better.
"Oh, you mean that was the room of that red-haired boy?"
Sam? Vincent realized with a start.
"Yeah, did you know he called in sick today? Said he couldn't make it to the ball?" John sniggered. "Well, he sure wasn't sick enough to receive
his pretty little guest."
"You really think the kid was lying?"
"Oh come on, what do you think a girl sneaking into a guy's room means? They sure as hell aren't going to play Scrabble."
"Seems funny to me that Miss Danielle would, um, offer her assistance."
"Eh, the gal's probably her friend or something."
Vincent felt like he had been socked in the gut. He clenched his fists tightly. What the -He suddenly recalled how "breathless" Sam sounded and
how the boy was so determined not to "contaminate" him. He scoffed at his own foolishness. Yeah right, he was probably off mauling that girl
of his and I'd just interrupted. He shook his head and slammed his fist against the wall. Yeah . . . honest Sam. How I could really trust him. You
have to be the dumbest guy ever, Vince. I can't even believe you were thinking that you might actually be falling for – SAM! I AM GOING TO
MURDER YOU! ASSHOLE HAD ME DOUBTING MY OWN SEXUALITY! I'LL TEAR YOU APART AND – AND – and He sagged against the railing and buried his face into his palm. He let out a racking sigh. For some reason, there was this empty feeling at the pit
of his stomach that felt like it was going to eat him up. He straightened up, shrugging carelessly. Probably hunger pangs or something. That's all.
By the time he stepped back inside, he had his mask back in place, his face expressionless. He strode back to the ballroom with his hands in his
pockets, another façade in the crowd.

Sammy sagged against the door. The door suddenly flung open and slammed into her. "OW!"
Will gasped, "Oh, oh, my poor Sammy! Are you okay?"
"Fine, fine," she replied weakly while rubbing her back. "Vincent's gone?"
"Yeah," Will nodded. "For some reason, he didn't want to see me. I had to sneak back after he cleared the hallway. Up for another round at the
ball?"
"Not really."
"Too bad." His hand latched onto her arm. "You're going anyway."

"Vincent!"
Vincent looked up from the glass of prosecco he was chugging down and groaned inwardly. "Hey, Victoria."
"Vincent, I've missed you sooo much! How have you been? You still look as great as ever," she giggled while twirling a curl around her finger.
"Thanks. You, uh, look the same, too," Vincent mumbled, working on his fifth glass.
"Vincent, what's wrong?" Victoria tucked a hand through his arm and pulled on him to walk with her.
"Nothing," he muttered. He didn't feel much like fighting and allowed himself to be led.
"You sure? You look down," she pouted.
He was annoyed now. "I'm fine. You can leave me alone now." She wouldn't let him pull his arm away though.
"Vincent, don't be mean!" she whined, a sound that was starting to grate on his nerves. "Don't you want to dance with me?"
"Not really," he mumbled, setting his empty glass on a passing waiter's tray
"Vincent!" She bleated again. "Pretty please?"
"I said no."
"Vincent!"
"Listen, Victoria, I'm really in a bad mood right now so I'm just not up for listening to your nagging. Now please sashay off before I –"
"You think I sashay?" she giggled. "Aw, you think I'm like a model? You're so cute, Vinnie!"
His hands twitched in their desire to wrap themselves around her throat. "Victoria, just go find someone else to dance with, okay? I'm really
tired."
Victoria smiled seductively at him and bit her bottom lip in a way that sent alarm bells ringing in his head. "Okay, Vinnie."

He gazed at her warily. What now?
"But first . . ." She pointed a slender tapered finger upwards. He looked up - and found a mistletoe dangling over them. Oh damn.
She giggled before pouncing on him, holding his face in a freakishly strong grip. Her lips locked with his before he could even raise his hands up
to push her away and all he could think was, Oh damn.

Will halted in his steps and Sammy nearly crashed into his back. "Will?" She tried to look for what he was gaping at - and well, it wasn't very
hard to find. Jack was kissing Carrie underneath a mistletoe. She smiled softly at the adorable scene. The blonde girl was blushing when Jack
pulled away, the boy giving her a strangely tender yet roguish grin. Will made a face. "Sammy, he's cheating on me!" Then he beamed. "But at
least I still have you!"
She laughed, shaking her head and as her eyes ran across the crowd in the room, she went still. Her heart just stopped beating. She didn't know
if this was worse than seeing her uncle or not, but it sure felt like someone had just kicked her in the stomach. Across the room, Victoria's
slender white arms were wrapped tightly around Vincent's neck, her hands entangled in his dark hair, her lips pressed passionately against
Vincent's - and her vision blurred.
For some reason, tears had gathered in her eyes and she looked away, hiding her face from Will.
She could feel Will stiffening next to her and she knew that he had finally saw them. The boy attempted to laugh it off, "Damn . . . everybody's
getting some action underneath the mistletoes tonight except for me. Maybe we should go do the same, huh, Sammy?" There was no answer.
"Sammy?"
He turned around, but the girl wasn't there anymore.

Sammy trudged back up the stairs to her room. For some reason, she couldn't seem to process any thoughts through her mind. For some
reason, she couldn't seem to catch her breath. For some reason, her eyes were still filling up with tears. And for some reason, her heart felt like
it was being torn in half.
She shook her head numbly as she lifted up the hem of her dress to run up the steps. But at the very top, she was met with an obstacle.
Squinting through her blurry tears, she thought the figure looked quite familiar.
Brushing a hand across her eyes hastily, she refocused her attention and for the third time tonight, her heart stopped.
Uncle Frank.

Chapter Sixteen
Uncle Frank in all his glory. The dirt brown mask covering his eyes only served to accentuate his sallow pockmarked skin. His thinning, greasy
black hair was combed over meticulously and his squinty eyes were narrowed at her. He had grown a moustache since she last saw him and she
would have laughed if not for the fact she was shaking so hard. The new addition to his thin face was neatly trimmed, but it still looked like a
caterpillar was dangling desperately off the tip of his nose. She resisted the urge to slap it off his face.
He cleared his throat and straightened his hideous plaid suit. She took a step back and nearly tumbled down the stairs. He reached out to
steady her, but she quickly regained her balance and slapped his hands away, tensing in fear.

He raised his eyebrows and his lips pursed in a sugary smile. "My, my. Has anyone ever told you how hypnotizing your gaze is, miss?"
She felt relieved at first. He doesn't recognize me. Then, she wanted to throw up. Dear god, he's flirting with me. She didn't quite know how to
respond and finally decided on a quick nod. She tried to make an escape by brushing past him, but his hand suddenly shot out and grabbed her
wrist.
Her eyes widened in alarm and she bit her trembling lip to prevent herself from screaming. She wrenched her wrist away and backed away,
trying to gather her wits. To her horror, he took a step toward her, backing her against the railing. His eyes were slits as he scrutinized her
carefully. Her breathing quickened. "You have marvelous green eyes, quite like my beloved niece. Yes, she used to look at me with much the
same expression you have right now, but I never could tell what she was feeling. Might you enlighten me?" He practically waggled his eyebrows
at her.
It's revulsion and terror, you bastard! She shrugged, agitated, and tried to walk away again. He moved to intercept her once more. She avoided
his eyes and looked around anxiously for any sign of help. He murmured lowly and she shuddered in disgust at his nearness. "My dear, are you
alright? You seem a bit distracted." His black eyes hardened and she drew a sharp intake of breath. She was paralyzed, unable to move under
that awful gaze.
"Samowa!"
She nearly cried in relief. Her Prince - and Princess - Charming were here. "Will! Danielle!"
Will nearly bowled Frank Westlane over, shoving his body in between them. "Excuse me, pardon me, I'm trying to knock you over to get to my
girlfriend here."
Danielle grabbed the bewildered man by the shoulder, spinning him around. "Oh, excuse me, I'm Katherine Pearling Grenford's daughter,
Danielle Amelia Grenford, sister to Vincent Warren Grenford III … and who might you be?" she asked pointedly.
Will whispered in Sammy's ear, "She's playing the Name Card. Let's make our get away while he's still confused . . ."
Sammy and Will were trying to sneak up the stairs when Frank cleared his throat importantly, "I'm your mother's financial advisor."
"Ah, I see," Danielle mused. "Wait, no, I don't. Name?"
Frank reddened and sniffed, "Frank Westlane, at your service." He tried to kiss Danielle's hand but she yanked it away.
She stared at him down her nose. "Sorry, but I don't recall a Frank Westlane. You're crashing this party, aren't you? Tsk tsk. Naughty, naughty."
She turned her head, voice sharp. "SECURITY!"
Frank gasped as two burly men crashed through the doors and grabbed his arms. "Wh – what? Let me talk to your mother! I'm Frank
Westlane!"
"Heard you the first time! Now come on, honey, let's leave this lecherous man alone now." Will wrapped an arm around Sammy's shoulders
and steered her up the stairs. Her heart was still pounding furiously and she clutched his arm tightly. Will tried to smile reassuringly at her, but
his eyes were grim and troubled.
"What in the world is going on here?" Mrs. Grenford's voice thundered loudly. Everyone froze. "Frank? Is that you?"
"Mrs. Grenford!" Frank wheezed. "Oh, thank god! I have no idea what is wrong with your daughter! All of a sudden, she just decided to sic her
guards -"

Mrs. Grenford glowered darkly. "Frank, do shut up. This is a party and I will not have you drawing all my guests out here." Frank turned bright
red and quieted down. Danielle shot him a simpering smile before her mother turned to unleash her rage at her.
"Danielle, explain."
"This man's a pedophile."
Frank blew up again, "What? Of all the preposterous things I've ever heard –"
"He was getting all touchy feely with my friend," Danielle interrupted coolly. "Mother dear, can I throw him out now?"
Mrs. Grenford narrowed her eyes and turned her attention to Sammy. "And might I ask, just who is your friend?"
Will slung his arm around Sammy's shoulder, successfully knocking the breath out of her. "My girlfriend," he declared.
There was a pause. Mrs. Grenford asked delicately, "Is this a girlfriend girlfriend or a girl friend girlfriend?"
"Uhhh . . . girlfriend girlfriend?"
She was blunter this time. "Huh, thought you were gay. Well, this makes me feel a bit better about you hanging around my son all this time."
"Oh no, I still think your son is an impeccable specimen of bootylicious manly man. However, I'm bisexual which means I love my bootylicious
girly girls as well," William reassured Mrs. Grenford. He added with a grin, "Your genes are superb. You should be proud." Sammy cringed. The
boy was walking straight into the lion's den - and belting a song loudly while he was at it.
Mrs. Grenford gritted her teeth before covering her face with a low aggravated moan. She waved at them blindly. "Go. Get out of my sight
before I decide to sic my own guards on you."
Will, Sammy and Danielle scampered up the stairs, but even as they crossed the last step, Sammy could still feel her uncle's stare burning into
her back.

Vincent wrenched his face from Victoria's grip and grabbed her hands to prevent her from launching herself at him again. "What the hell do you
think you're doing?" he growled furiously.
Victoria pursed her lips playfully. "Kissing you."
His temper spiked. "Have you forgotten that we're not exactly a couple anymore?"
She breathed, "You know I still –"
"Please don't," he cut her off, teeth clenched. "Don't. Go run off to Tristan if you want to play your little games again. Just looking at you makes
me sick."
Victoria paled, her dark eyes all the more luminous. "How – how dare you? I -"
But Vincent was already walking away and the girl clenched her fists before hurrying after him. She grabbed his elbow and he whirled around,
flicking her hands off. With a startled gasp, she stumbled back and for the first time in a long while, she was frightened. The fury in his eyes had
turned them from grey to almost cloudy black and he snarled at her, "I 'm not in the mood to put up with you, Victoria. Either you get the hell
out of here or I boot you out. Simple as that."

Numbly, Sammy sat on the stool while Danielle worked in a hurry, hands flying everywhere, to turn her back into boy mode. Will fluttered over
them, anxiously patting Sammy's shoulder. "Sammy, it's okay. He's gone. He didn't recognize you."
"I know," she responded quietly.
"Then what's wrong?" he asked, crouching low before her. Frankly, Sammy was starting to scare him with her comatose condition.
"Everything." Sammy tried to bend forward to bury her face into her hands, but Danielle was still holding onto her hair. Her neck jerked back
painfully. "Ow," she gasped softly.
Danielle winced for her. "Sorry, hon. The hair's a bit hard to fix."
Sammy broke down. Danielle let go of her hair just in time as the girl leapt up from her seat, staggering around to face her friends. Sammy's
green eyes flashed and she waved her hands in the air as if she could settle down her emotions. "What am I?" She grabbed a clump of her faux
black hair and shook it. "I'm not Samantha Westlane. I'm not Sam Westlane. What am I doing? Who am I? I'm not a boy - hell, I'm not even the
girl I was before. I'm some stupid phony who – who can't even live without lying!"
Her breathing came out in racking sobs and she rubbed her makeup off her face in a frenzy with a napkin. "Today was too close. Uncle Frank
knows. He's too smart. He's a sick man, but he's still smart. He's not an idiot." Sammy rambled on quietly, almost as if she was talking to herself.
"Everything was a mess today. Everything. First this whole disguise thing, then Uncle Frank, and – and now even Vincent . . ." She swayed,
feeling around for the edges of Danielle's desk as she sat down, collapsing on the floor amidst the folds of her green dress. Her friends rushed
to her side, kneeling next to her, afraid that Sammy had fainted or something.
But Sammy just sat there. Tears finally flowed fast and free. "I can't face my uncle. I can't face my little brother. I can't even face Vincent. I don't
know who I am anymore."
Will pulled her against his chest, pushing away from her resisting hands, and murmured, "You're Sammy, the most bootylicious babe I've ever
laid eyes on."
She managed a laugh, but it was the bitterest sound they had ever heard.

After Danielle finally finished fixing Sammy's appearance, the younger girl's short, coppery hair was back and she was once again in her father's
baggy clothes. Sammy absentmindedly traced the wispy strands of her hair that touched the base of her neck. Her face was still deathly pale
and she stared off into space, lost in thought.
"Sammy?" Will asked uncertainly. There was no response except for her eyes sliding blankly to him.
Danielle murmured, "Let's leave her alone for now. I think she needs some time to think."
Will hesitated slightly before backing out of the room. "Sammy, uh, get some sleep, okay?"
The girl only gave an imperceptible nod. After the door closed, Sammy got up with a quiet composure she didn't quite feel inside and walked as
calmly as she could to the wardrobe. She opened the elegantly carved doors, pulled out her clothes and her suitcase and began packing. No
more. I can't handle this anymore. No more pretenses. No more being Vincent's "buddy" …
The door swung open with a loud bang as it collided with the wall. Speak of the devil. Vincent stood in the doorway, eyes nearly a feverish
black. "Made a fast recovery, did you?" he growled, a sardonic smile grazing the corners of his lips.

Meanwhile, Carrie and Jack were still … spending some quality time underneath the mistletoe. Jack murmured bemusedly when he came up for
air, "Where have you been all my life?"
Carrie still managed to blush though at the stupid line and she rolled her eyes, "Across the street, Jack. It's not like I suddenly materialized out
of thin air."
"Ah, but you did. Just like a faerie princess arising from a dewy soft petal of a new blossom," Jack whispered dreamily, swaying a bit on his feet
as he hiccupped.
Carrie blushed yet again. Then her eyes narrowed. "Jack, just exactly how many cups of eggnog and champagne did you have tonight?"
"Mmm, enough . . ." He happily blew wisps of her light blonde hair off her forehead.
She grabbed the lapels of his suit and shook him with a low growl. "If you're drunk and forget about everything that happened tonight by
tomorrow morning, I swear I will hunt you down and stuff a snowman down your throat. Understand?"
Jack blinked blearily and nodded with a goofy smile. "Understood, Carrie, my darling."
She smiled, leaning gently against him. "I'm glad you're so considerate." Her eyes scanned the room and she suddenly noticed that Sammy,
William, Danielle, and Vincent were all missing in action. Then she saw Victoria stomping angrily across the room. Uh oh. What did I miss?
She sighed ruefully before pulling away from Jack. The boy nearly fell over before he righted himself up with a casual smile. "Where ya goin'?"
"To find Sammy," she replied absentmindedly as she walked away.
He nodded slowly and rubbed his temples before his brows snapped together and he jerked around. Wait, what? SAM?

Sammy winced slightly and tried to maintain her composure. It was time for the truth – her last chance to get everything straightened out
before she disappeared from their lives. She let her gaze drift over the tall boy's features, his grey eyes and the strong, stubborn set of his jaw.
"Sorry, Vincent, I was never sick –"
"Oh, really? Gee, I hadn't noticed. Thanks ever so much for taking the time to clarify things for me!" Vincent exploded in fury. His intense stare
drifted from her open suitcase back to her and he leaned against the doorway, playing with the strap of his removed mask. "Going off on a
vacation, are you?"
"No. I mean, yes, I mean . . ." she trailed off, extremely uncomfortable. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, shaking her hands out as if
she could soothe her nerves. "I have something to tell you. The thing is … all this time, I haven't exactly been honest with you. I - I'm actually –"
"A lying bastard?" he bit off. "Yes, I know."
Her head jerked up and her eyes found his, astonished. "What?"
Vincent stepped into the room coolly and kicked the door shut with a slam. He folded his arms and leaned against the door as if to prevent her
from escaping. "Please. Don't act all innocent with me. Sam, I'll understand if you wanted to ... meet up with your girlfriend. Just don't lie to me
and sneak her into my house." His eyes were icy cold, appraising her with disdain.
She continued to stare at him in confusion. "Huh?"

Vincent's face went taut. "I know about you and your little tryst tonight."
"What?" She shook her head, bewildered. What was going on?
"The girl!"
"What girl?"
"That girl!" He tossed the mask down at the floor between them, lips curled. He was getting so angry, he nearly trembled with the need to
punch someone. Turning around quickly, he stared at the wall and tried to calm down before he gave into his urges to hurt Sam in any way he
could.
"What?" The soft inquiry only incensed him.
"You lied to me about being sick and brought a girl to your room," he hissed.
"How would I do that?" Sammy exclaimed.
"The guards saw her climbing through the window."
There was a long pause and Sammy paled slightly.
"Oh, you remember now, do you?" Vincent snapped, turning back around to stare down the redhead. He was getting angrier by the second
with that fake blank look Sam was giving him. "You're pathetic," he spat out.
Sammy's emerald eyes flared. She'd had enough for one night and she didn't need Vincent to be screaming at her about her supposed
rendezvous with herself. She didn't owe him anything. She raised her voice. "I'm pathetic? Me? You're one to talk!"
At Sammy's abnormal outburst, Vincent froze in utter surprise and all he could do was stare at her for a second or two. His eyes glittered coldly
and his voice was subzero when he spoke. "What?"
Sammy crossed the room in three steps and stood in front of Vincent. She had to tilt her head back to look him in the face, but her eyes spat
fire. She jabbed him in the chest with her index finger as if trying to get her point across into his heart. "You're the one who was mauling
Victoria underneath that – that stupid mistletoe!"
It was Vincent's turn to tense and he growled, "Who the hell told you that?"
"I saw it with my own eyes," she retorted through clenched teeth.
His eyes pierced her. "Oh? Did you come downstairs especially to escort your little whore?"
She wanted to pummel him with her fists, but decided against it. It would be like a fly ramming itself against a brick wall. "You – you're the
biggest idiot I've ever met in my life and believe me, I've met quite a few!" She waved her hands around in front of his face and he twitched in
annoyance. "Are you blind? Haven't you noticed that I'm different from you?"
He stared down at her and arched an eyebrow, giving her a condescending look. "You snuck a girl into someone's house where you're a guest
at. That's different."
"Oh god." She groaned in frustration and her hands trembled. She'd never liked confrontations and never would she have imagined that she
would be fighting with Vincent like this. "Well, at least I'm not someone who kisses a cheating ex-girlfriend!"

"Yeah, that's right. So what if I kissed her? She's hot and she's someone who walked through the front door unlike the girls you seem to prefer,"
he retorted. He leaned down, getting in her face. "At least, I'm not the one who pretends to be someone he's not!" At his words, Sammy's face
seemed to get gradually more pallid. "At least I don't have a phobia about changing in the locker rooms! 'Oh, look at me, I'm prissy little Sam. I
don't like people seeing me indecent - oh wait, never mind, just girls who scales a tree to get into my window! Yeah, that's fine!'"
"You think I have a phobia about public changing? That's your reasoning?" She spluttered, giving him an incredulous look. "Boy, you're dumber
than I thought."
"What?" His voice turned low, deepening with a warning note.
"I SAID YOU'RE DUMBER THAN I THOUGHT!" She didn't know whether to laugh or to cry now. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to turn
away. Vincent's arm shot out and grabbed her shoulder. He wrenched her around and shoved her against the wall. Her breath shot out of her in
a surprised gasp as he slammed his hands against the walls, arms lining her face, successfully pinning her against the hard surface.
She glared up at him. "What? I'm in no mood to talk to you."
"Who was that girl you brought up to your room?" He leaned his head closer to her, shoulders crouched, and his voice was quiet. "The guards
said something about her being Danielle's friend. Did Danielle have anything to do with this?" His gray eyes bored into her and she shifted
uneasily.
"Why do you keep bringing this up? It's none of your business anyway!"
Instantly, the expression on Vincent's face closed off - and that was even scarier than when he was yelling at her. His eyes had frozen and she
wasn't able to tell what he thinking about any longer. She knew she should back down now, but the words tumbled out of her mouth before
she could stop them. "Are you back together with Victoria?"
He stared down at her without a sound for a long while before he inclined his face close to hers, stopping a few inches away as he looked
straight into her eyes. His eyes were the same beautiful shade of gray when she had first crashed into him, but there was no amusement, no
laughter, nothing this time. Her heart sunk. His low voice rumbled gently in his chest and with his body so close to hers, she could almost feel
the vibrations through her as he answered, "None of your business."
This was it. She was going to disappear after this night anyway so was it – why did it feel so painful to let him go like this? This should be good.
This final, clean break. This was good.
But as he turned away and started to open the door, Sammy panicked. I can't let him leave. Why were we fighting anyway? Vincent - Her heart
felt oddly hollow and she reached out a hand to grab his sleeve. "Vincent, please –"
"Let go," he refused to turn around. She grabbed his shirt with her other hand.
"Vince –"
"I said LET GO!" Vincent jerked his arm free and she staggered, tripping and crashing against the door, clipping her shoulder. Pain shot through
her body and he glanced over his shoulder, alarmed.
She clutched her upper right arm, dazed as they stared at each other. "I have to say something to you!" she cried out desperately. "Just one last
thing! I need you to know that I'm a –"
"Save it. Like I'm ever gonna listen to you again. I detest liars," he bit off.
Her heart broke. So much for telling the truth.

She shook her head, desolated, before crossing the room and grabbing her suitcase. Vincent watched her as she walked out of the room,
brushing past him without another look.
"H – hey! Where do you think you're going?" For some reason, he couldn't seem to be able to just make himself stop caring. "Sam! What the
hell are you doing?" It was his turn to tug on Sammy's arm.
"What do you want me to do? You won't listen to me!" She screamed at him, voice hoarse. "So I'm just going to get out of your hair and be on
my way then! Go find your beloved Vicky and have some champagne in your nice fancy mansions, you big jerk!"
His temper got the better of him and he yelled back at her. "Fine then! And you can go sleep with as many girls that climb through your
windows as you want and contract all sorts of diseases!"
Her blood boiled. "FINE!" Sammy yelled back and she spun around to stalk away, the suitcase in her case swinging into his shin.
"Shit, mother-!" He gritted his teeth, grabbing his leg in pain. With luck, a bruise the size of her head will turn up by tomorrow.
She stormed away just as Carrie was coming up the stairs with a concerned expression on her face. Sammy grabbed the girl's hand and dragged
her back down the steps. "Come on, Carrie! I'll sleep with you tonight then!"
Vincent choked and his eyes nearly bulged out as he followed, coming to the balustrade just in time to watch the front doors slam behind the
two.
"What happened?" Will came up behind him, puzzled. Danielle followed closely, her arms crossed in front of her. She frowned. "Where's
Sammy?"
"He absconded off with Carrie!" Jack came running up the stairs, nearly wailing. "How can this happen?"
"Abscond – verb - to depart secretly," Will recited. "Bravo, you've been studying your vocabulary, haven't you?"
"Yeah, well, SAT prep," Jack shrugged modestly. He switched topics, snarling, "What the hell's wrong with Sam?"
Vincent turned away, face stiff and impassive. "Everything. Just forget about him. He's not worth our time."
"What?" Will and Danielle cried out.
"He's the biggest liar I've ever met - and that includes you too, Danielle. Who was that girl you helped sneak into Sam's room?" Vincent
narrowed his eyes.
Jack's jaw fell open. "He snuck a girl into his room? Wow . . . NICE!"
"Yeah, well, that's the same nice boy who's with Carrie right now."
Jack turned slack. "I'LL KILL HIM!"
Will shook his head. "Wait! Wait! It's not what you guys think! Sammy's actually a –"
Danielle stopped the boy with a small, abrupt shake of her head. She leaned in close and whispered to Will, "We can't fight Sammy's battles for
her. If she didn't tell him herself, we'll just have to let them sort things out for themselves."
Will threw her a suspicious look out of the corner of his eyes. "And you're not just doing this to torment Vincent?"

"God, he is my brother." But Danielle shrugged, a wicked grin touching the corners of her lips. "So okay, maybe."

Chapter Seventeen
Frank Westlane stood awkwardly by the doorway of the ballroom. So far, the night has not been successful. All the women he had approached
seemed to be too busy or too tired. He curled his lip in disdain. Well, none of them are worth my time anyway. Stupid, common bitches. All the
while, his eyes searched through the crowd for any signs of redheads. He has always been partial to that glorious red hair, a symbol of passion
and fire. If the girl happened to come with captivating green eyes, then so much the better. He had found one many years ago and had pursued
her relentlessly, bestowing all sorts of riches on her, but there had been no happy ending for him. She had chosen to run off with his pathetic
excuse of a brother, throwing all his gifts back in his face. His hand tightened on his glass of champagne. It wasn't fair.
He had to remain on the sidelines, watching the happy couple make their little happy home with their little happy children. To make it worse,
his own father – that old geezer – played favorites and once again, his brother was chosen over him. After he died, that senile old man actually
– no, he refused to think about it any longer. It only made his blood boil. Besides, it was all over now thanks to his meticulous plan.
His life got better since then; God had finally answered him and bestowed a miracle on him: his niece, Samantha. It was destiny. The very
picture of her mother, Samantha was left in his custody. She was his. Much quieter than her mother, she was perfect. Yes, she was his.
Oh, she tried to fight him, all right. But once again, luck was on his side. He was on a roll. Her dear brother had ended up in a little coma,
sustained only by the prestigious medical system Frank's money had provided for. Dear little Terry had become Frank's source of blackmail. As
long as Samantha was nice and obedient, Terry would remain nice and breathing. Perfect.
Then the little bitch ran away. Turned out Samantha actually had some of her mother's rebellious nature. Frank had almost gone into Terry's
room and suffocated the boy with a pillow in his rage before he realized that he still needed the vegetative brat. Once he got Samantha back in
his grasp, he would use his "Terry card" and make sure she would be locked up tight this time without a complaint. That would be the end of
that.
Except for the fact that he still haven't found her! He gnashed his teeth together, fuming silently. He didn't know what to do now. He wanted to
kill the boy and break Samantha's heart for defying him, but that would be useless if Frank wasn't there with her to see her crying face. He had
no choice but to keep her brother alive, but for every day that passed, Frank's migraine would get worse and worse. He could almost see that
betraying girl out there laughing at him - just like what her stupid parents probably had done behind his back seventeen years ago.
Where the hell was that stupid girl? All the private investigators he had hired turned up with nothing. You would think a girl with such bright
red hair would be easy to find - unless she actually had the brains to dye it. He almost threw his glass down then. Dye his prized red hair? How
dare her for ruining her hair. How dare her for ruining everything! Just wait . . . once I get my hands on you He suddenly caught a flash of a familiar copper red color and he whirled around just in time to see a small, redheaded boy leading a blonde girl
out the front doors. He stood there for a minute, furrowing his eyebrows in confusion.
"What's the matter, Frank? You look like you have a migraine," Katherine coolly interrupted his thoughts.
He blinked blankly at the woman before murmuring, "I – I thought I just saw this red haired boy –"
"Oh, him," Katherine sniffed disdainfully. "I thought he was too sick to come down to the party tonight - not that I want him here anyway. He's
some underprivileged friend of Vincent from school and came to visit for the vacation."
"A friend from school?" Something clicked in Frank's mind. "That all boys boarding school?"
"Yes, yes."

"Well, what's his name?"
"Oh, this will be funny. The boy actually has the same last name as your own. Such a coincidence. Sam Westlane, I believe it was."
Frank almost laughed. How smart you are, Samantha. So you do have brains after all. Hiding your sweet little self in an all boys school - you
almost fooled me. Almost. But as always, I will win. Your mother couldn't escape me and neither would you.
Katherine was a bit disturbed by that weird expression on Frank's face. It almost appeared like he was . . . smiling. Genuinely. She shuddered.
"Frank, whatever is the matter with you tonight? Did you forget to take your medications or something?"
"Oh no, Mrs. Grenford. I'm just very, very happy tonight," he commented. So you want to play, Samantha. Alright, I'll leave you be for now and
see how far you go before I reel you back in.

Vincent slammed the door to his room, escaping his sister, Will, and Jack to find some sanctuary. He took two steps before sinking to the floor
with a sickening thud. He curled his legs up in front of him and bent forward to rest his forehead against his kneecaps. He ran a hand through
his hair messily before letting out a long sigh. So what do I do now?
A whiny voice answered him. I want you to march yourself across the street right now and talk to the boy. I don't care how long it takes! You're
obviously in loAnother voice strangled the first one. Don't even say it, dude. That word's not in our vocabulary, understand? NO WAY! Man, what the hell are
you doing here moaning like a woman? You got the kid out of your hair! Now celebrate! Go after Victoria! Man, oh man, now that's one hot
babe - not that I'm saying you should take her back, of course. Just use her, dude! Pure carnal pleasure, baby! After one night, we'll have you
straightened, back to normal Voice # 1 interrupted. Do you even know what you're saying, imbecile? You think Vinnie wants Sammy out of his hair? It's the complete
opposite! There's nothing more that Vincent wants than to have Sammy hug him and run his fingers through his glorious, dark hair – which I
might add, is still in fine condition. No chance of it balding because of the care I take Prissy girly wimp. With the advice you give, I'm surprised Vincent hasn't turned into Will already!
You take that back! I just want Vincent to follow his heart and not his nether regions, barbarian!
His heart goes out to a boy! A boy! You want our genes to die off?
If his genes are going to produce some more copies of a narrow minded jerk like you, then I'd rather have them go into extinction!
Vincent groaned and rubbed his temples to shut the voices up before they battle it out right there and then in his brain. Great, I have active
voices in my head now. Wonder how long it'd take before I get locked up in the nearest asylum.

Jack glared resentfully at Will. The latter had managed to pin the boy down and tied him up with a rope before dragging him off into Danielle's
room. Danielle shut the door and stood next to the perpetually cheerful William and chewed on her lip, cocking her head to one side. "Jack, just
calm down already. We can't set you free if you're going to spring across the street and murder Sammy."
Jack cried out desperately, "I won't kill him! Just a black eye or two - maybe a bloody nose - COME ON! Carrie's with him!"
Danielle rolled her eyes. "You really think Sammy is capable of taking advantage of Carrie?"

"Well … not really, but then again, I mean, he snuck a girl into his room," Jack countered. "I think that says quite a lot about his supposedly
innocent nature!"
"Don't be stupid," Danielle retorted crossly. "Sammy isn't like that."
Jack shook his head insistently. "You know what they say, never judge a book by its cover. Sam is just this evil pervert inside and there's nothing
you can say that would change my mind now."
"Sammy's a girl."
There was a long pause of silence while Jack gave them a dumbfounded look. "That - that might work."

Tristan came home to find his sister holding Sam in a death grip.
Sammy tried to disentangle herself, but the other girl was just so freakishly strong. "Help me . . ." she wheezed out.
He raised his right eyebrow and folded his arms. "I've never seen this side to you before, Carrie."
Carrie fumbled, trying to keep her arms locked around Sammy. "Yeah, well, I haven't really been myself tonight all that much. Where's father?"
"Trying to chat up some business deal. He'll be home later." Tristan took off his coat and calmly hung it up in the closet.
"Good. Help me tie Sammy up then. We'll toss her in the basement."
"Excuse me?" Her brother scratched his chin, observing their struggle.
"She and Vincent got into a big fight and she left him."
"Ah." He nodded. "Great!"
"But she wants to leave Creston High and run away."
Tristan's brows knitted as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Alright, hold onto her for a minute, would you?"
"Why?"
"I need to find something that I can knock her out with …"
Sammy tore Carrie's arms free and she protested, "Nobody's tying me up or knocking me out tonight! I have to leave!"
Tristan turned around and stared at her coolly, "I'm not letting some girl run off by herself in the middle of the night."
Sammy froze. She suddenly realized Carrie's blunder. Blunders. Oh dear god. "Er . . . I'm a boy," she said lamely.
Tristan rolled his eyes, obviously irritated. "Sam, I'm not as stupid as the rest. I know that you're a girl." He glanced away. "In fact, I've known
for quite a while."

Sammy whirled around and her eyes landed on Carrie. The younger girl flinched and looked away guiltily. "It's not my fault. Well, not
technically. Tristan already knew beforehand," Carrie cried out defensively.
Sammy paled slightly and then sagged before covering her face with a hand. "Fine. I'm tired of all the pretenses anyway. I'm a girl."
Tristan smiled at her softly. "There, now. That wasn't so hard, was it?"
Sammy gave him a confused look. "How did you find out anyways?"
"Well, it really wasn't that hard to guess. You're a terrible actress," Tristan folded his arms and grinned impudently at her.
"The others couldn't figure it out," she mumbled, her cheeks flaming red.
"That's because they're all a bit lacking in the brains region," Tristan waved his hand airily. "And besides, remember that time I came to your
room to return your wallet and you were in that nice pajama set?"
Sammy nodded hesitantly.
"Remember how that nice pajama set was so loose and baggy?"
"It was my brother's," she cried out in defense.
He ignored her as he continued, "Well, do you remember how you dropped your spoon?"
She frowned and nodded again. Where is he taking this?
"And remember how you bent over to pick that spoon up?"
"Yea –" She stopped and a hot flush crept up her neck. "Oh god. You mean –"
Tristan had the decency to look uncomfortable as he nodded.
"B – but it was bandaged –"
He coughed slightly, "Yeah, well, it didn't really help when you were bending over like that. I, er, still saw your . . . cleavage –"
"Carrie, hold onto your brother for a minute."
"W – why?"
"I want to go get something to knock him out!" Sammy choked out, "WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY SOMETHING THEN?"
Tristan grinned sheepishly. "Well, I thought I should see how far you'd take things. I was sure you must have had your reasons for not wanting
people to know, which was why I told Caine not to tell –"
"CAINE KNOWS?" Sammy shrieked. Oh god. My secret isn't even a secret!
Tristan chuckled slightly, "You can't expect him not to know. He figured you out since the first day. He has a radar sensor or something
regarding the opposite sex. He's trained himself to recognize a girl whenever he sees one ever since that unfortunate accident in Thailand when

he went to a hotel with some girl he picked up from a bar only to find that the girl wasn't, well, a girl … yeah, he wound up sick in bed for a
month –"
Sammy twisted her hands, very close to a meltdown.
Tristan continued, "Well, then I got worried about you being all alone in the same room as Vincent ... until I noticed that you seemed to be
affecting him more than he was bothering you." He cracked up then and Sammy stared at him, upset. "It's so funny! The poor guy's all confused
and bothered now since he obviously has feelings for you –"
"Hold on!" Sammy cried out. She flushed hotly. "That's where you're wrong! He does not have feelings for me!"
Tristan shook his head. "Boy, you two are really perfect for each other."
"W – what?"
"You're just as dense as he is."
Sammy muttered, "I really need to find something to bash into your head."
"Sammy," Tristan regarded her seriously this time. "I know about your family ... and your uncle. Carrie told me."
Sammy swiveled around again to shoot daggers at the girl. The blonde waved her hands, the picture of innocence. "I'm a really bad liar! Tristan
just asked me so straight-forwardly! I couldn't make up something!"
"Sammy," Tristan turned her attention to him again. "You can't leave. Not with that ... guy out there. The safest place is Creston High, where I
can keep an eye on you. And if I'm not there, there's Caine. No ..." He paused, frowning. "Wit a minute, not Caine. He's dangerous, too. Well,
there's always Will – wait, no." Tristan sighed in frustration. "Well, yeah, there's always me ... and I guess, Vincent."
Sammy looked down, biting her lip hard. "That's the problem. I – I can't face Vincent anymore. We – we got into a huge fight and I don't think
he wants to see me anymore –"
Tristan rolled his eyes, tucking his hands into his pants pockets. "He likes you. He'll get over it."
"NO! He doesn't! Stop saying that!"
Tristan groaned. "Listen, even though he's stupid and we're not exactly on friendly terms right now ... he was once my best friend. I know the
guy. I know what he's like and what he likes. And I do know that he really, really likes you."
A glimmer of hope sprouted within her at his confident tone, but she continued to shake her head. "But why would he? He thinks I'm a boy,
remember?"
Tristan's grin stretched from ear to ear and there was no other word to describe it except for pure evil. Sammy raised an eyebrow. Well, this is
certainly a side of him I haven't seen before . . .
"Isn't that cute then?" He drawled. "He likes you for you. Not because you're all pretty – which you can be, as proven by that dress you wore
tonight." She blinked, a blush creeping into her cheeks. "He just . . . feels for you," Tristan nodded, confident. "Now the question is: do you like
him?"
Sammy almost burst into tears. If only everything he said was true. She sighed, glancing away. "I'm tired."

"Don't change the subject, Sammy." And suddenly, his eyes were an intense sapphire blue. "Sammy, I need to know . . . because me and Vince,
well, we have a tendency to like the same things in life."
Her heart stuttered.
"So," he continued with a faint, crooked smile. "Before any hearts get strayed along, it's best that we get this clear now." His eyes crinkled,
warm and gracious. "Do you sort of catch my drift?"
She stared at him for a moment before turning pink as she stammered, "Oh, Tristan. Y – you can't possibly – there – there's no way -"
His eyes softened and he nodded good-naturedly. "I see."
She looked down and twisted the hem of her shirt. Flustered, she whispered, "I – I'm making a mess of everything, aren't I?"
He laid a hand on her head, ruffling her hair tenderly. "It's okay."
Carrie frowned in confusion. "What? What happened? I don't understand! It's like you guys are speaking in code now! Did I miss something?"
They ignored her. Carrie narrowed her eyes. "Tristan, stop petting Sammy like she's a dog."
"Alright." Tristan turned his head smoothly, pinning his sister with a dark look. "Let's move onto you then, Miss I Made Out With Jack All Night.
Since when did you get so friendly with the -"
Carrie turned volcanic red and backed up, fleeing for the stairs. "I'm tired! Sleeping!"
"I'm not done talking to you, young lady!" Tristan called out as he followed his sister, taking the steps two at a time.
Sammy was left standing in the foyer. Her head was still bent, but her lips quirked slightly in a small, wistful smile. Vincent liking me? Even if
that was possible, it certainly isn't the case now. Her eyes prickled with tears and her breath caught as she remembered Vincent's icy grey
eyes. We're not okay anymore, are we? She rubbed her bruised shoulder and refused to cry.

Chapter Eighteen
The New Year came and went. Before long, Sammy found herself back at Creston High but this time, everything had completely changed.
Returning to school with Tristan and Caine, as soon as she had stepped out of the car, furious whispers swept across the entire student body.
Gleaming eyes appraised her everywhere, speculative murmurs following her each step. No one was certain what exactly had happened over
the break but they did know one thing: Sam was suddenly with Vincent's "enemy". Tension crackled like electricity as people began edging
away back to their dorm rooms as if to hide out until the storm had passed. With Vincent's volatile temper, there was no telling just what will
happen.

Sammy bit her lower lip, unnerved by all the eyes that were on her. Dragging her suitcase beside her, she trudged through the hallways besides
Tristan and Caine. She kept her eyes on the ground, unable to meet the rampant curiosity in her fellow classmates' eyes.
Caine caught her attention by slinging his arm around her shoulders. With a silky smile, he asked, "Say, Sammy, isn't that a bit heavy for you?
Want me to take it to your room and, uh, help you get comfortable?" He threw her a roguish wink before Tristan hauled him away from
Sammy.

Tristan spoke briskly, "Caine, you are to remain more than five feet away from Sammy at all times."
Caine frowned, "Well, I don't think that's very gentlemanly. I mean now that she knows that I know, then I don't really see a problem anymore
with me hanging out with her. Besides, she might need protection."
Sammy opened her mouth, but Tristan beat her to it. Calmly shooting Caine a nasty look, he responded, "Yeah, well, that's the problem. Who's
going to protect her from you?"
"No one because I will treat her with the utmost care and –"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever."
"I resent that!"
"Uh huh . . . okay. Sammy, just remember to run away as fast as you can whenever you see him coming near you with a weird look on his face."
Before Sammy could respond, Caine protested indignantly, "What weird face? My face is always in impeccable shape –"
"That weird face."
"What? Sammy, don't listen to him. I don't have a weird face!" The blonde haired boy paused before giving her a puppy dog face. "Do I?"
"Errr . . ."
"Sammy, forget it. If he even comes near you, just put your training skills to use. Jab right, then uppercut."
"What?" Caine exclaimed.
Tristan ignored him and continued, "If he still persists, just hurl your pre-calculus textbook at his head. Even if you miss, it might still crush his
foot and trip him."
"What?"

Sammy finally made a turn to head to her room and left the two guys bickering away. Her footsteps slowed down more and more until she was
lifting her foot agonizingly slow before placing it on the ground as if afraid she'd kill some ants. Still, the pathway was too short to drag out and
she soon found herself staring at her door.
Tucking her red hair behind her ears, she could feel her heart threatening to split out of her ribcage. Taking a quivering deep breath, she raised
her shaking hand to grasp the doorknob. Is Vincent back? Is he still angry? What do I say? How do I face him? I . . . I . . . I miss him. Clenching her
teeth tightly, she dropped her hand to her side and tried to calm herself down. Leaning her forehead against the wooden door, she furrowed
her eyebrows in frustration and fear. I can't do this. I can't. Why did I ever have such a bad idea about dressing up as a guy and coming here?
WHY? I hate myself. Such a pathetic, stupid idea –
Of course, Sammy has always had a history with coming up with bad ideas - and at this moment, she quickly learned that leaning on doors are
never, ever good ideas.
The door had swung open so quickly, Sammy immediately lost her balance. Snapshot images flashed through her head and she felt a sudden
sense of déjà vu. Even while falling forward, her mind dimly registered in some numb, irrational part of her brain that this was how she had first
met Vincent. Of course, she always cursed herself for not having a quicker and more efficient brain that would allow her to at least right herself

after falling instead of having these useless pop up images . . . but at this moment in time, she was too busy remembering. Vincent's firm chest
she had crashed against. Vincent's grunt of surprise. Vincent's warm arms encircling her. Vincent's faint distinct clean smell of soap and
masculinity. Vincent's amused eyes the color of dusk.
All of these memories quickly became reality as she slammed into Vincent firsthand. Everything was the same . . . and yet, not. Looking up in
embarrassment, Sammy resisted the urge to blanch as she met his eyes. They were the same color, but there was no warmth, no humor,
nothing. Coolly boring down at her, they were like glacial ice chips.
She stammered, "Vincent! I – I – I –"
With a smooth movement, he tightened his arms around her slim frame, lifted her up, and swung her around. Her heartbeat quickened at the
sudden embrace and she stared down at him in shock … but something was wrong. He was still looking at her like she was a complete stranger
and his movements were strangely mechanical like he was a complete robot.
Vincent made a stiff 360 degrees turn and set her down back on her feet. It wasn't a sudden drop one would give to a sack of potatoes, but nor
was it a tender, carefree placement that one would allot to something fragile. It was simply a perfunctory act and after he was done, he did an
abrupt about face again before leaving the room. Not one word to her. He had simply ... moved her out of his way. Like she was some petty
rock in his path.
She stared at the back of his head as he walked away and she felt her heart breaking once again. Somehow, for some peculiar reason, she had
the absurd notion that she'd prefer a red faced, screaming Vincent vastly to this cold, robotic one that had greeted her. Speechless, she
stumbled to her bed and sank down in it, utterly devastated.

Vincent might have perfected his stony demeanor enough to please his dragon of a mother, but he was ready to double over from the inner
turmoil that was wreaking havoc among his stupid blood pumping organ and his stomach. As he walked away from his room, he had to take
deep breaths and clench his fists tightly at his side in order to prevent himself from running back into the room and begging Sam for
forgiveness.
Forgiveness for what? He's the one who's at wrong here!
Still, when he had opened the door and Sam fell face first against him, his first thoughts were too busy obscured by a dizzying spell of
happiness. You know, the kind that makes you want to float up and spin around in a double axel like those ice skaters on TV. Yep. Complete
with the twirling arms and a big goofy grin. He had come back. That was all he kept thinking. He had come back.
During the whole ride back to school, his heart felt like something was gnawing at it, scraping its teeth against the exterior. Throughout the
ride, he kept thinking what if Sam had lived up to his word and chose to leave Creston High? Had chosen to leave forever? And their last words
consisted of a scream fest over lies, champagne in mansions, and contracting STDs. And oh yeah, can't forget the thoughtful bruising.
So of course, Vincent was happy . . . but he could tell Sam wasn't. The boy had been near panic and as he looked up at him, Vincent could see
the fear and anxiety in his eyes. Fear and anxiety. He was in lo– he liked the kid and Sam was actually afraid of him. Great. Just great. I guess we
can't ever be friends again . . . Once again, that stupid gnawing sensation on his heart. He really should go to the doctor and have it checked out
or something. Might suddenly get cardiac syncope or something. I guess . . . I have to stay away from him – Stop gnawing at me! We should go
our separate ways, graduate, and that's that. He nodded firmly before rubbing his chest, curling his fingers over his heart absentmindedly.

Dark eyes slanted over at the prospective victims. Inwardly, evil cackles erupted and the world turned dark and somber. They were so very
naïve, so stupid. Still babbling together in what they thought were a very secretive way, they were oblivious to the imminent danger. Closer . . .
closer . . . they had no time to run now . . .

With a loud snarl, Vincent slammed his hands on the table in front of his friends and they jumped in response. "What are you two whispering
about?"
Will and Jack looked momentarily guilty before they quickly smoothed their expressions over with a sickening façade of innocence. Batting his
eyelashes no slower than a hummingbird's wings, Will bared his teeth in a toothy smile, "Whatever do you mean, Vincie dear?"
Vincent shot him a lethal glare powerful enough to take down a herd of elephants. "Don't give me that crap. You've been whispering together
throughout the whole ride back and now, you're still yapping away. What are you two conspiring?"
"Nothing," they responded all too quickly.
He narrowed his grey eyes piercingly. "Oh jeez, don't tell me you two are a couple now?"
Jack blanched with a visible shudder. "OH GOD, NO!"
Will pouted. "You didn't have to react that way, Jack." He sniffed in disdain. "No one appreciates me."
Vincent stared at them suspiciously before taking a seat across from them. Pulling out a notebook, he started to scribble something inside when
he noticed that they had reverted to murmuring to each other again. His head snapped up so quickly, he could have sworn he heard the crack
of his neck. He glared darkly.
"What are you talking about now?"
"Errr . . . lunch."
" . . . lunch?"
"Yes, we're so hungry. We're discussing the many possibilities the lunch ladies might serve. For example, pizza, cheeseburgers, lasagna –"
"You weren't talking about lunch."
"Yes, we were. We were –"
"I'm not stupid, Will!"
"Well . . . we don't know about that . . ." his friends mumbled underneath their breaths.
"What?"

For the next two weeks, Vincent nearly tore his hair out at his friends' "secret discussions" while Sammy shuffled around the school in an
awkward daze. Whenever she went to class with Tristan, she couldn't bring herself to meet Vincent's eyes, afraid that she'd see stinging
accusation or bitter hurt and resentment or, even worse, the cold unfeeling indifference she'd seen before.
It was even worse when they were alone in their dorm. The silence was deafening and for some reason, the room suddenly seemed too small
as if the school had undergone construction over the break and had compacted each living quarters. It suddenly felt like Sammy was bumping
into Vincent each time she turned around or took a step, but it wasn't like the results were any different.
Sammy looks up anxiously. Vincent looks down unperturbed. Sammy bites her lip. Vincent lifts her up. Sammy gets heart attack (false alarm).
Vincent rotates around. Sammy blinks rapidly. Vincent sets Sammy down. Both go away on separate paths.

Sammy was near the point of breakdown. She felt like a complete nuisance to Vincent and Vincent, well, asides from being able to build up his
arm muscles by lifting her up like some dumbbells, was probably ready to boot her out on her behind.
Thus, it was perfectly natural for her to trudge blindly to Will's door one day before falling into the boy's arms and dragging him to his bed.
Prostrating herself onto the soft mattress, she looked up beguilingly at the bewildered boy before proceeding to hiccup loudly and ask glumly,
"Do you have any ice cream?" Then she burrowed herself underneath his covers and all but passed out from exhaustion. She had barely gotten
a wink of sleep in the last few days, too busy being miserable while staring at Vincent's back across the room.

Sammy yawned lazily as she slowly woke up. Will immediately plopped down on the bed with a flourish and grinned down at her, "Hiya,
Sleeping Cross dresser. Feel better after passing out for so long?"
She blinked blearily up at the ever cheerful boy and blushed when she realized that she had practically barged in, staked her claim and took
over Will's bed. Then she was thankful that he had not chosen to take advantage of her while she was barging, staking, and taking. She croaked,
"How long was I, er, passed out?"
Will pursed his lips in thought, "Mmm . . . not long. Just six hours."
"Six hours? I wasn't even planning on a nap. Thank goodness we don't have class tomorrow." She lay there momentarily, blinking up at the
ceilings. Abruptly, she sat up and absentmindedly mumbled, "Got to go back. Vincent might be worried."
She started to slide out of bed when Will "fell" against her and pinned her down with his back. "Will!"
"Sorry, I slipped," Will responded cheerfully. He made no move to get up though.
Lying on her side, her left arm started to feel crushed as she struggled to get free. Will merely folded his arms and rested his head on her
shoulder while enjoying his view of the ceiling. She protested loudly, "Will! You're killing me!"
"What? Are you implying that I'm fat?"
"Will!"
He ignored her. "Is Vincent bothering you?"
She stopped moving and laid there on her right side, defeated. Staring at the table across the bed from her, she was completely motionless
until Will prodded her side with his finger. She jerked involuntarily and frowned sideways up at him. He asked, "Good. I thought I had really
killed you. So is he?"
When she still didn't make a noise, he held out his index finger threatening. With a loud sigh, she answered, "It's not so much as
he's bothering me but . . . that's just the problem. He's not doing anything. It's like I don't even exist to him."
Will didn't answer for a minute. Then he asked, "Want some champagne?"
"WHAT?"
"You asked me for ice cream before, but I don't any here." He sniffed. "I'm trying to watch my weight because I don't want to crush anybody, of
course."
She couldn't help but smile, "Alright, I'm sorry. It's okay. I'll be your makeshift pillow any day, Will."

She could hear the smile in his voice, "Much better, Sammy. But don't worry, you're much too precious to be flattened. I'm going to save that
for Jack."
He lifted himself off the bed lazily before crossing the room in three steps. Rummaging through his fridge, he pulled out a bottle of champagne
and waved it at her with a waggle of his eyebrows. "I swiped it from Vincent's party. Want?"
She stared at him disapprovingly.
"What? It's not like they're going to drink it all. They had, like, five hundred crates of these things."
She continued to frown.
"Oh . . . you worried about getting drunk? Please, it's champagne! Could hardly be called real alcohol anyway. Besides, look at all the pretty
bubbles. Oooh! So what do you say, huh? Huh?"
She broke out into a grin and shook her head in resignation. "You're such a bad influence but fine, I give in to your peer pressure. However, if
I do wind up drunk, you have the responsibility of dragging me to my room."
Will nodded cheerfully. "Of course but really, even if we downed the whole bottle, I doubt we'd even get a little buzz."

Half a bottle later, Will was knocked out on the floor, snoring away and Sammy had a pleasant fluffy feeling in her body. Hiccupping slightly, she
jabbed him in the side a couple of times. All he did was snort and roll over. Frowning exaggeratedly, she wagged her finger down at him, "And
you said that we won't even get a buzz. Liar. We did get a buzz. Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz." She giggled before she hiccupped again. Clamping a hand
over her mouth, she slowly righted herself. The room immediately spun around her and she blinked a few times, trying to find the door.
"There you are!" She pointed her finger at the wooden door in accusation. "Where have you been hiding? Bad door." Stumbling over, she
turned around once to wave at Will. "Bye bye, Will. I have to go find Vincie now. I'll come to free you later. Yes. I'll come back to free Willy."
Nodding firmly, she bobbed her head down a few times before opening the door and stepping out.
As the door closed on the room, Will slowly opened his eyes and propped himself up with his right arm. Smiling lazily, he shook his head, "Poor
Sammy. She really can't hold her alcohol, can she?" He sprawled down on his back again and folded his hands behind his head with a satisfied
smile. "Oh well. Lucky we have Vinnie to take care of her." He cackled to himself loudly. "Now where did I hide my ice cream? Cherry Garcia,
here I come!"

Of course, Will's simple irrationality left no room for the little errors in his way of thinking such as Sammy getting caught by a teacher, Sammy
stumbling into the wrong room, Sammy passing out in the hallway, etc. Nope, he held quite a lot of faith in the works of serendipity. And
tonight, it deigned to acquiesce with the meddling boy's desires.
Sammy managed to find herself in front of her door without much difficulties and with for a while, she stared up at the number with a goofy
grin. Vincie is just behind the door. Ah, Vincie. While searching languidly for her key, a spout of dizziness overtook her and she fell face-forward
into the door. Ow. Whoa, I just head butted the door.

Vincent kept casting his eyes over at the clock. Sam was missing. Lights were supposed to have been out in the rooms an hour ago and Vincent
now sat in the darkness, tenser than he had ever been before. Clenching his fists tightly, he tried to calm himself down while pounding them

into his pillow. Did Sam finally run away? It was while he was beating the life out of his poor pillow that he heard a distinct thud against the
door.
He immediately paused to listen and curiosity finally brought him to the door. Turning the knob, he swung open the door only to have Sam
tumbling into his arms and crashing against his chest for the third time. Vincent's eyes widened in alarm. "Sam? Are you hurt? What –"
Sammy looked up at Vincent and beamed before slurring, " 'Ello, Vinnie. How ya doin'?" The red haired girl/boy followed up with a loud hiccup.
"I'm so tired. Did you miss me?"
Oh god. He's drunk. Vincent looked out into the hallway to make sure no one had seen the state Sam had returned in and quickly dragged the
boy inside. Sammy had gone limp on him and Vincent closed the door quietly before heaving the boy across the room. Sammy's feet dragged
and scraped all the way.
While he was maneuvering Sammy to her bed, he grumbled, "What the hell were you drinking so much for? And who gave you alcohol?"
"Mmm . . . Free Willy," she murmured dreamily.
"I'm not even going to ask," he grunted as he tried to set her down on her bed gently. She sat there with a dazed look in her eyes before they
turned wide with panic. "Oh no! There's an earthquake! The room's spinning around!" Her green orbs settled on Vincent in fear. "Gyah! You're
spinning too!" And with that, she launched herself off the bed straight at him. He grunted as he caught her easily in his arms, but she tightened
her arms around his shoulders and pressed close against him. Whispering comfortingly in his ear, Sammy slammed her hand against his back in
what he thought was supposed to be a soothing manner, "Don't worry. I got you. You're not spinning around anymore!"
He turned red at her proximity and cleared his throat awkwardly. With a wry smile, he remarked, "Ah, gee, thanks. You're right. No more
spinning around anymore. Whew."
She grinned crookedly at him as he ducked low, lifting her up in his arms and setting her back in bed. He attempted to tuck her in underneath
her covers, but she caught his hands. "Vinnie . . . Vinnie . . ."
I'm going to disembowel whoever gave him so much alcohol. "What?" It was too dark in the room and his eyes caught sight of that fragrant
candle his stupid sister had bought him to "set the mood" for his future girlfriends. Since he couldn't open the lights and risk having teachers
knocking on his door to check what was wrong what with Sam dead drunk and all, he quickly lit the candle and hoped that it wouldn't stimulate
the fire detectors. He opened the window a bit to let in some fresh air and a cool breeze ruffled the flame, sending the glowing light flickering.
Sammy spoke up then. "Did ya know I used to want pets?"
"Hmmm?"
"Yup. But we were too poor." She shook her head sadly against her pillow and her red hair turned into a messed mop. Vincent grinned and
brushed his fingers against her forehead to smooth the tendrils back into place.
She continued rambling, "Yup. But then I found out there was a thing called dust bunnies."
He raised an eyebrow. "Yes . . .?"
"So I decided to search for them with Terry. We did a lot of research and discovered that they liked to populate the place underneath beds and
couches the most. So we went on an adventure to find our very own dust bunnies so that we may have our own very cute pets." She frowned
thoughtfully. " 'Course we never did find bunnies. Just clumps of black dust. So disappointed!" she wailed and he clamped his hand over his
mouth to keep from chuckling out loud. "We thought they were hiding. Then we learned that the lil balls of icky black dust were the dust
bunnies so then we got even more disappointed."

She looked up at Vincent ruefully. "Vinnie, they shouldn't call them dust bunnies. They don't even look like bunnies. They should have a
disclaimer or something to warn children else they gonna get disappointed too." She nodded solemnly.
Vincent stared at Sammy for a while before he mumbled underneath his breath, "That is so unbelievably sad in so many different ways."
"Huh?" She blinked up at him, bemused.
"Nothing, Sammy." He leaned in close to pull the covers up to her chin. She continued to look up, her eyes fixated unwaveringly on him.
Hesitating slightly, he bent down quickly to peck her chastely on her forehead before spinning around with the speed of lightning to hurry back
to his bed. Eh. Hopefully, he'll be too drunk to remember any of this.
"Vinnie?"
He turned around with an amused smile and folded his arms, "Yes, Sammy?" In the face of Sammy's purely silly yet adorable drunken self, like
hell he could bring himself to act cold again. He really was turning into a mush.
"I have a secret. Do you wanna hear?"
His eyes crinkled as he watched her. "Do you want to tell me?"
She paused for a while and he almost kicked himself for asking the question. Then she nodded hesitatingly, "Y – yes. I do. It's time."
He raised an eyebrow. "Hmm?"
"I – I – I –"
He took a step closer to her, turning his face to one side to fix his eyes on her.
She let out a sigh of regret and mumbled, "I hate cabbages."
That gave him pause. "I'm sorry?"
"Never did like them. I didn't even like those Cabbage Patch kids. Nope. Stupid cabbage."
"Ah . . . I see. Well, er, good of you to tell me so." He nodded, bewildered.
"There's more."
His lips quirked in humor and he responded exaggeratedly, "No."
"Yes. I'm afraid so."
Resigning himself to what appeared to be Sammy's confessions regarding her passionate hatred for certain toys, he quipped, "You gonna tell
me you hate Barbies as well?"
"No . . ."
"Then?"
"I – I'm actually not what you think I am."

"No?"
"No. Actually, truthfully, in reality, I'm Sammy. Not Sam. 'cause Sammy is what I'm known by. Not Sam. 'Cause Sam is not really my name. I like
Sammy. Not Sam. 'Cause my family used to call me Sammy. Not –"
"Sam. I understand. Alright, Sammy, how about you get some sleep now, huh? You're going to wish you were dead in the morning when you
wake up with a splitting headache."
"But I'm not done yet," she murmured softly.
"It's okay. I'll listen tomorrow," Vincent grinned as he turned around to head back to his bed. He shook his head. The kid really can't hold his
liquor, can he?
"Vinnie . . ."
"I know. I know. You hate cabbage."
"No –"
"You don't even like Cabbage Patch kids."
"Yes. But I'm also –"
"I know. You're Sammy."
"Yes. I used to have dust bunnies as my pets."
"Mmmm . . ." Vincent reached his bed and started to pull back his covers.
"Terry used to kidnap my bunnies and set fire on them."
"Uh huh . . ."
"I was so sad."
"I'm sure you were . . ."
"I was only eight."
"Mmhmm …"
"Vinnie . . ."
"Hmmm . . ."
"I'm Sammy."
"Yup."
"Vinnie . . ."

"Uh huh . . ."
"I'm a girl."
"Mmhmm . . ."
"Good night, Vinnie."
"Uh huh," he was busy fluffing his pillow when Sammy's words suddenly caught up with him. His head flew up and he spun around, almost
losing his balance. Heart thudding in his chest, he crossed the room in three steps and he stared down at her closed eyes. "Sammy."
"Mmm?"
"What did you just say before?"
"I don't like cabbage."
"After that."
"I used to have a dust bunny. Its name was Fluffy."
"No, after that."
"Terry burned it. Then he flushed my second Fluffy down the toilet."
"No! After that!"
She didn't respond this time and her breathing turned deep and even. He watched her, trying to catch his breath. His heart pounded frantically
and he slowly lifted his hand to cover his face. A bitter smile curved his face and he resisted the urge to laugh. God, he must really be going
crazy. He was starting to hear things. 'I'm a girl.' He could have sworn that was what Sammy had said but who knows? It could just be some
cruel figment of his imagination again. Heck, he was already hearing voices, wasn't he? He shook his head slowly and turned around, shuffling
back to his bed.
Sammy sighed softly before mumbling lazily in the glow of the dancing candlelight, "I'm a girl, Vincent."
One of these days, Vincent was going to hurt himself from all the spinning around he does. Vincent whirled around once again and as his frantic
dark grey eyes fell on his roommate, the serene sleeping expression on Sammy's face was the last thing he saw before the candle's golden
flame was dashed out by a sudden draft of cold air.

Chapter Nineteen
The first thing Sammy was aware of as she slowly came back into the world from some weird dreams about . . . dust bunnies . . . and Cabbage
Patch kids . . . was this jackhammer going off in her head. It was like Snow White's seven dwarves had suddenly decided to pick up and move
into her cranium, complete with their mining sets of pickaxes and shovels. Wincing slightly, she wrinkled her nose and refused to open her eyes.
Somehow, she didn't think blinding sunlight would do her throbbing headache any good. No sirree.
A low groan croaked out of her throat and she sighed. Why did she feel like someone had jumped off from the top of a skyscraper on top of
her? Her eyebrows snapped together as she faintly recalled something about . . . buzzing . . . and Free Willy. What? Wait. Oh right. She had
gotten drunk. Oh dear god. That was all she remembered. Stumbling around the hallways, she had managed to find her way back to her room

and then – and then – and then – ARGH! Something about dust bunnies again! Somehow, she had the feeling that she was forgetting
something extremely important . . . but what?
Her mouth felt dried like salted fish or something and her tongue darted out to moisten her lips. Indulgently, she stretched out languidly,
relishing in working out each crick in her muscles and threw open her arms when –
"Ow!"
Her right fist appeared to have connected with something distinctly firm and solid. Something distinctly firm, solid and warm. Something
distinctly firm, solid, warm and familiar. Ah, no, it was a someone.
Her eyes flew open then to see who she had inadvertently jabbed and she nearly choked. Vincent's proverbial hazy gray eyes, albeit a bit
bloodshot, stared intently into her. She flinched. She had temporarily forgotten about the dwarves in her head and they had redoubled their
pounding with a vengeance. Blinking blearily, she noticed that Vincent was, for some weird reason, on his knees by her bed, his upper body
looming precariously over hers. His hands were clutching the sheets tightly until his knuckles turned a deathly white and he whispered hoarsely,
"Sam."
She blanched. Gee, he sounds almost as bad as me. Was he drinking with me yesterday? No . . . that was Free Willy. She paused. Don't
ask. Squinting uncertainly at her roommate, she rasped, "Is something wrong, Vincent?"
"Last night . . . you were . . . drunk . . ." He intoned in a similar cacophonous tone.
A jolt of alarm rifled through her body. Oh no. Did I do something . . . inappropriate? Trying to maintain a nonchalant tone while shifting subtly
to her right, she answered in a throaty voice, "Er . . . yeah. Sorry about that." By that time, her shoulder had ran into the wall, but still she
persisted in pushing back until her shoulder started to crawl up the surface and she slowly slid onto the side of her body. Vincent quickly took
up the room she had worked so hard in creating by immediately seating himself down, effectively closing in on the tiny distance between them.
Rubbing his knees absentmindedly, he leaned down until the upper half of his body was practically covering her body. Her eyes started blinking
involuntarily at his propinquity. "Sam. No, Sammy. You said something last night . . . that I believe you should explain . . ." His solemn tone
suddenly had a twinge of what sounded like . . . desperation and frustration. "Please."
She wished he wouldn't get so close. Sammy knew she probably looked like a mess. After all, it wasn't like they were in a movie or in some
romance novel where the characters magically woke up picture perfect, ready for some heavy duty make-out session. Not that she was
planning on making out with Vincent. Ever. At least not in her current cross dressing condition. Once again, that familiar feeling of self-pity
swarmed over her and she frowned darkly. She surreptitiously ran a hand over a face, trying to cover her hair, then her eyes, and finally her
mouth. All at once. She nearly cried at the foolish impossibility. Somehow, she knew her hair was all mussed up and sticking out everywhere
like a half dilapidated mop. Somehow, she knew her eyes were probably dilated and dazed like she was a heroin addict or something - not to
mention the corners must be covered with eye gunk. Somehow, she knew after a night of drinking, her breath would not be pepperminty nor
doubleminty fresh. Somehow, she wanted to fade away into the wall behind her forever and ever before Vincent could notice her icky morning
self. Not like he hadn't seen her in the past mornings they've spent together in the same room . . . but still. Not this close!
"Sam?" He asked, managing to sound impatient, irritated and anxious all at the same time. Not to mention, husky, sensual, and – BAH! Sammy
quickly reminded herself of her yucky, disheveled appearance and managed to get her thoughts gathered.
Racking her brain desperately, she wondered what in the world she had possibly babbled about yesterday night. A sudden flash came to
her. Vincent standing at the open window, illuminated by the flickering glow of a candle. A sudden breeze ruffled his dark hair. Her blurry vision
still managed to capture the gracefully sculpted cheekbones and slender nose highlighted by the shadows produced by the golden flame. Black
eyebrows curved in the shape of half moons ruled over his dark, smoldering eyes that were somehow made even darker in the night. His firm,
solid chin leading the path that trailed against his strong jaw line. Then there was her. Collapsed in an unladylike (not that she did look very
ladylike in the first place, being in her boy mode and all, of course) heap on the bed. "Vinnie, they shouldn't call them dust bunnies. They don't
even look like bunnies. They should have a disclaimer or something to warn children else they gonna get disappointed too."

Sammy wilted. Of all the things she could have talked about. Oh geez. Stammering incoherently, she tried to explain, "Well, about – oh geez – I
don't know – I – I liked bunnies then. I – yeah – poor so – yeah – dust bunnies – good. Uh, I was small then – Terry made me do it – well –
actually – really only about eight then – quite small – and – yeah. Children just do the darnedest things." She forced a high pitched laugh and
winced at the jarring sound. The dwarves were having the time of their lives, prancing about in her brain.
Vincent stared at her in confusion before shaking his head impatiently. "I wasn't talking about that. I actually found your weird childhood antics
strangely endearing –" He turned pink for a minute. "Never mind, I wanted to know . . . you know, about what you last said before you passed
out."
No, she didn't know. Sammy's face twisted in a grimace as she tried to figure out what she was rambling about yesterday night but nothing of
immediate importance came to mind . . .except dust bunnies. She shrugged helplessly, continuing to crush her shoulder against the wall. "I
really don't remember."

Vincent paled and then he shook his head quickly. He did not just wait by her bed the whole night on his knees, staring almost obsessively at
her sleeping face, for this! So close. He was so close to getting some answers that might finally solve his problems once and for all. Sammy's
drunken confession last night that "he" was actually a girl had induced Vincent to leap into the air and perform a little dance with much flailing
of his limbs. He had nearly drowned in the sudden wave of sheer bliss and contentment that overwhelmed him. His heart had started pounding
furiously and his eyes were widened to the size of Texas - or perhaps just a Texan bull.
It was also at this moment that he realized the extent of his feelings for Sammy. It wasn't so much as an infatuation. It was an obsession. Even
though he had spent hours running around in denial, frustration, anger, foolishness . . . well, the list can just go on. And he finally realized that
he honestly, truly, genuinely liked Sam ... Samantha … Sammy. He liked her … even when she was still a him. Pause. Oh man, that sounded just
wrong.
"No! Just . . . think about it. Something about . . ." He was running his hand through his hair a mile a minute and he bit his bottom lip in
frustration. He trailed off and stared at her hopefully. That was no help.
Sammy started to shake her head when something struck her. Clapping a hand to her mouth, she stared blankly at him in horror. Oh no . . . I
didn't . . . did I? I . . . oh no . . . ohnoohnononono! Did I blurted out something about . . . liking him? She started to panic again. Vincent isn't just
going to give me the silent treatment. He's going to boot me out! He thinks I'm gay! She wanted to wail at the top of her lungs.
Perhaps Vincent was just feeling particularly sadistic but he was absolutely elated by her expression of horror. He nodded gleefully, "Yes, yes!
You remember now?"
Sammy felt sick. Slowly maneuvering herself around Vincent by somehow twisting her body appendages in a contortionist's fantasy, she
managed to clamber off her bed. She swayed there, trying to get her balance for a minute or so. It appeared that Snow White's minions had
hacked their way through her motor coordination system. Upgrading to Rosy Red Cheeks Version 2.0, Sammy waved her hands around in a
fluster, "I – I'm sorry! I don't what I was blabbering about yesterday but if I said anything . . . ah . . . offensive . . . I'm sorry!" The girl started
scuttling backward, mindful of the fact that she probably looked like a crusty old crab.
Vincent continued to sit there on her bed, seemingly dumbfounded. In one quick motion, he was on his feet and halfway across the room
toward her. "Offensive? Sorry? What in the world are you talking about?" He repeated, clearly confused. His hands came up to grab her by the
shoulders before she could scuttle around the room in a Crab Marathon. His wary eyes probed hers intently before he took a deep breath.
"Sammy. Are you a –" He stopped. "I mean, could you possibly be –" He furrowed his eyebrows. Damn. "Are you a girl?" So simple, Vincent!
What the hell are you making a muck out of things for?
Sammy shifted her feet uncomfortably, chewing her lip. He eyed her speculatively. Could it be that he was . . . somehow . . . wrong? Perhaps
Sammy was just a really befuddled drunkard and was prone to babbling nonsensical things like . . . he was a girl . . . or he had a dust bunny for a
pet. Oh geez.

Vincent's grip slowly slackened and he contemplated just ignoring Sam's words for the rest of their lives . . . NO! He shook his head furiously. He
had spent the whole night thinking things through and he realized that the "Sammy = Girl" theory explained a lot of things such as the locker
room syndrome, the family picture with the eerily familiar looking girl, the same bed discomfort, everything! There was no way he could be
wrong . . . right? No? Before he could lose his nerves, he tightened his hold on Sammy once again and proceeded to enunciate carefully as if she
was his deaf Aunt Beatrice, "You're a girl."

Sammy felt like she had been socked in the gut and she immediately started choking – apparently on thin air or something since she obviously
hadn't been drinking nor eating – but she was running off on a tangent here.
Vincent knows.
The way he had so matter of fact stated her real gender indicated that there was no way she could wheedle her way out of this - and she
suddenly realized that she didn't really want to find a way to hide the truth from him any longer. She immediately felt lightened as if a sudden
burden had been lifted off her shoulders. Yes, she felt relieved, but she was also in excruciating pain.
Vincent had decided to gallantly slam his hand against her back to try to help her out with her choking. It only served to make her cough and
hack even more. She wanted to groan if she wasn't trying to suck in a breath of fresh air. Oh great. This is just how I pictured Vincent finding
out. "Yo, you a girl?" Cough, wheeze, choke, gasp, gurgle. "Yo, you dead yet?" SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!Yep,she could just see the headlines.
EXTRA! EXTRA! CROSS-DRESSING GIRL FOUND DEAD ON THE FLOOR AFTER CHOKING ON NOTHING. Small subtitles underneath: EXTREMELY
WEALTHY AND HANDSOME ROOMMATE TRIED TO OFFER ASSISTANCE BUT CROSS-DRESSER ONLY ENDED UP WITH MULTIPLE BRUISES ON HER
BACK. Going out with style.
She cringed and then graduated to Rosy Red Cheeks Version 5.0when she noticed Vincent's intense scrutiny. Forget choking to death. How
about internal combustion from humiliation?
It was time to pull back and regroup. She needed to reassess her situation and perhaps call in reinforcement. Too vulnerable now. Must
prepare herself with the proper ammo and equipment before moving out with some sort of a strategy. Art of Warfare 101. She wished she had
her military and foreign affairs advisors with her right now. Danielle! Willy! S.O.S!
"I –"
He stared at her expectantly.
She couldn't do it. Feinting to the left before ducking under Vincent's arms, she effectively dislodged his hands on her shoulders and she darted
forward to freedom.
Startled, he turned around and tried to follow but he was too slow. Vincent stared in bewilderment as the door to the bathroom slammed in his
face. "Sammy? Sammy!"
The sound of running water. She called out, "I have to freshen up first. Talk to you later!"
What the – Vincent gaped in disbelief at the door. This was probably the most important conversation in their lives and she runs off to wash her
face? He frowned darkly. "Sammy. Sammy, you can't put this off forever." He spread his palm out over the wooden door, fingers tensed. "Just –
just answer me this. Are you a girl? Simple as that. Yes or no?"
The sound of the sink running was the only reply and he was beginning to believe that he was never going to get a clear cut response from
Sammy when her voice wavered out from behind the wooden door, quiet and faint. It was so soft, so meek, he almost didn't hear her. "Yes."

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. The noise of all those instruments and technology of the medical world. The fragrance of alcohol and excessive
cleanliness. The blinding grim whiteness. Hushed voices whispering, echoing in each hallways. A familiar characteristic of all hospitals in the
world.
Frank Westlane's shiny brown Italian shoes echoed resoundingly through the pathways with each step he took. He carried nothing with him
because he had nothing he wished to give to his nephew. A vegetable needs no platitudes, no petty gifts. Flowers were only a waste of his
money. They were the most frivolous things in the world. Wilting shortly after they bloom, inevitably dying off. They were even more useless to
a coma stricken patient.
Entering a dim room just off the side of the hallway, his eyes immediately sought out the prone figure positioned on the bed in this near
darkness. The garish light from the hallway illuminated the motionless body once again when Frank moved out of the doorway into the room.
The once robust and cheerful features were relaxed into a grim, wan visage. Samantha's dear beloved brother looked like a corpse.
Terry Westlane's light eyelashes fell against deep, dark circles underneath his eyes. The boy's face was pale and thin. His tan had long faded
away. Even the bright coppery hair seemed to have dulled into a lifeless pale orange like the waning of varnish on a glorious oak table. Wires
and tubes connected to arms, fingers, nose, mouth, everywhere like a maze. Terry looked absolutely lifeless and the doctors had finally said
that the boy's chances of recovery were now declining to minimal if he didn't show any sigh of reaction soon.
Frank's lips quirked and a victorious smile slowly emerged from its burial underneath the bushy moustache. He slinked over to Terry's side and
sat down heavily on the bed before leaning his head close to the vegetable's ear. Any doctor or nurse passing by outside would smile sadly at
the obvious display of affection and how admirable the uncle was still trying to talk to the boy. How lovely it is to still have hope. What a true
tragedy, indeed.
Frank would have laughed himself to bits and pieces should he have known what the others thought. He would have crowed in delight at his
excellent acting skills for this little uncle had absolutely no intention of ever displaying any sort of affection for his pallid nephew. Bent close to
Terry's ear, he hissed, "Sleep well, brat. Enjoy it while it last. Once I have sweet Samantha in my hands, say bye bye respirator."
His lips twisted in a cruel imitation of a grin. "I haven't seen you in a long time, have I? Perhaps I should update you on your sister's condition?
Your darling sister was quite skillful. Quite resourceful, indeed. While I was out on a business trip, she managed to escape from my house. Lord
knows how the guards could have missed her but believe me, I won't make the same mistake twice. I'll quadruple the guards and lock her away
nice and tight once I get her back."
He snarled, "She only packed up my stupid brother's things and left without a trace. Didn't even take the beautiful silk dresses and jewelry I had
so generously bestowed upon her. That ungrateful little –" He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself down. "Just like her mother. So
ungrateful. So undeserving . . . but no matter. I'll teach her to know better later. Yes. I'll kill that rebellious spirit of hers. She won't run away
again. She won't betray me again. No. Not with my brother. Never again." He stopped and chuckled lowly. "Oh, of course not. What am I
saying? That bastard's dead already. And she's Samantha, not that slut of her mother. Right."
He gritted his teeth, "But Samantha! How could she do this to me? She actually had the nerve to run away, hack off her glorious hair and enroll
herself in some - some all boys school! Can you believe this? It's her mother's bad influence, I tell you. Yes, I have to teach her to know better
later. And to think, she almost got away with it and ruined her life permanently if I hadn't found her at that Christmas party."
He whispered dreamily, "Yes, it's fate. Destiny has decreed that Samantha and I will always meet up together . . . somewhere . . . somehow . . .
some time . . . yes. She belongs to me. It's always been this way. Right from the start. She was with my brother at first, you see, because he
corrupted her but after a while, she knew better. She knew it was me all along who truly loved her. Her purity. Her fire. Her passion. Her
crimson heart, blood, tresses. Sweet girl."
He bared his teeth as he turned his attention back to the pathetic boy. "So you listen to me now, you stupid brat. When you go find your father,
tell him that I win. He might have had his fun, but I will always win. Always. You can convey that message to that senile father of mine as well.
Tell him to look at where his favorite son is and then look at me. I came out just perfect and happy without his help. You tell him that!"

He fell back into that eerie, dreamy voice again. "I've decided to be nice and allow Samantha to run around for a little while more. She's going
to realize soon how kind I've been to her and she's going to regret running away. She'll come back to me soon . . . and if she won't . . . if she's
too stupid to wake up soon . . ." His voice turned dark and ugly. "Then I'll just have to rescue her again. I'll make her understand. Oh, I'll punish
her first for disappointing me, but she'll soon understand. It'll be that way, you'll see. She'll accept me for who I am, unlike all the others. Unlike
Father, unlike my brother, unlike – unlike her mother. Your sister is mine."
He laughed hollowly before shifting around to stare at Terry. The man jerked and nearly fell off the bed. Mouth dry, he swallowed deeply as he
stared in wild shock. "Wh – what –"
Terry's dark green eyes were finally open - and they were pinned directly on his uncle. Frank twitched. "What are you doing? Close your eyes!
Stop staring at me like that! Stop it! Stop!"
The doctor rushed in at the noise and blinked in surprise. Frank stumbled back in horror as the physician brushed past him to Terry's side.
Checking the brain pressure as indicated on the machine by the bed first, the doctor proceeded to move onto checking up on Terry's vital stats.
The man nodded once before uncapping a small penlight. Shining it in Terry's open eyes, he smiled. Frank's heart pounded. Smiling was not a
good thing.
The doctor turned around and smiled, "Congratulations, Mister Westlane. It appears that Terry's finally responding to stimuli. While it is not
entirely certain that he'll recover completely, considering the fact that he has not shown any reaction for the last couple of months, this is
definitely a good sign. Terry's pupils are dilating to light and they are tracking movements now. Through coma recovery therapy, perhaps he
might actually get back to normal soon . . ."
Frank tuned out the rest. His world was crashing down around him. He must think of a new plan now. Should the brat revive, Samantha will –
no! No! He clenched his fists painfully and his heart thumped in his chest when he noticed that Terry's eyes were trained on him again, slicing
into him in what appeared to be an accusatory, resentful, lethal glare. Stop looking at me like that!

Chapter Twenty
Sammy cringed. "Vincent? Did – did you hear me?" There was absolutely no sound outside. Oh my god. Is Vincent . . . dead? Her mouth went
dry as she pictured yet another headline: BOY'S PREMATURE DEATH INDUCED BY SHOCK FROM CROSSDRESSING GIRL! She perked up
slightly. May – maybe he just . . . I don't know . . . fainted? She pressed her ear hopefully against the bathroom door, trying to pick up any
sounds of vital stats. Breathing, hiccupping, gasping, choking, gurgling, burping, any of those would do. "V – Vincent?"
BAM! BOOM! BAMBOOMBAMBAMBAMBAM! She jumped at the sound and her heart faltered. It sounded like Vincent was . . . stomping
something. Unless there were suddenly a battalion of cockroaches stampeding inside the dorm, Sammy had the funny feeling that the boy's
sudden spout of exercise had something to do with her. The corners of her lips drooped as she sagged against the door. Twisting her hands
frantically, she chewed her lip as her eyes darted around the room in search for an escape route. Unfortunately, her last escapade with Will had
taught her that bathrooms were virtually impenetrable fortresses. She sighed miserably. Just like I thought, Vincent did not take the news very
well. Well . . . how else did I expect him to react? Go out and buy me a dress so I could whirl around in it for him? Or squeal and clap his hands
happily and say "Oh, I've always wanted a lil sister!"?
The pounding outside had yet to cease. It's okay. It's good for him to work out his fury like this. Yes. It's okay. She dropped her head heavily until
her chin touched her chest. I'm so dead.

Well, if it's any indication by the expression on Vincent's face, it didn't seem like Sammy was going to die any time soon. But quite frankly, it
was also pretty ambiguous exactly what Vincent was doing. Eyes crinkled, a small smile on his face, Vincent pumped his arms in the air as he
jumped up and down and up and down and up and down. He paused and shook his head at his idiotic antics. Then he activated a complex

routine of excited flapping of his limbs before sinking down on his bed, perching on the edge as he buried his face in his palms, nearly quivering
with relief.
An hour later, he was sitting there on his bed, staring glumly at the bathroom door. "Sammy?" he called out.
There was no answer and he tried again, "Sammy!"
"Huh?"
"What are you doing?"
"Freshening up."
"Well, I think you should be quite . . . refreshed by now. Don't you?"
There was no response. Vincent frowned darkly before getting up. Crossing the room in three brisk steps, he knocked on the door. "Are you
purposely avoiding me?"
"Well . . . perhaps not purposely . . . and I wouldn't really call it avoiding –"
"Then perhaps you should come out now?"
"Well, perhaps I could just stay in here for a few more –"
"Perhaps no?"
"Perhaps yes."
"Perhaps I should think about breaking down this door and dragging you out?"
"Definitely perhaps no."
"That doesn't even make sense."
"As if our whole scenario actually makes any sense at all."
His eyes narrowed. "Sammy . . ."

Sammy was feeling quite bored. There wasn't much you could do in a bathroom. So far, she'd wet, shampoo, rinse, and repeat until her hair felt
squeaky clean enough to use as rubber bands. Then she sat down and read the labels on the shampoo bottles. The amount of chemicals used
was certainly astonishing.
How very stimulating. She stifled a yawn before stiffening up as Vincent's voice floated through the door.
"Sammy, come on. Won't you come out? Please?" He murmured cajolingly.
"Ah!" She glanced around, panicking. "Just a few more minutes."

"Sammy. Come on. Won't you just come out? Please." He sighed in exasperation.
"Just a few more minutes."
"SAMMY! Come on! Won't you just come out already! PLEASE!" He raised his voice as he slammed his fist on the door – which sounded more
like he was roundhouse kicking the wooden frame.
Okay. She had to admit it was getting a bit tiring – not to mention, childish – to keep herself locked inside the bathroom. Yes. She definitely
understood that point. The only problem was that she just couldn't somehow bring herself to turn the stupid doorknob. That was all. No biggie.
Sammy buried her face in her palms as her foot jittered involuntarily. She just knew that once she steps outside that door, everything would
change. She couldn't pretend anymore. Vincent would know. He would finally know and he'd treat her differently . . . talk to her differently . . .
smile at her differently . . . look at her differently. She knew.
The thing is . . . was this good or bad?
She suddenly noticed the abnormal silence outside the bathroom and she frowned. Did he finally give up and leave? A pang of regret swept
over her and she could almost kick herself for her indecisiveness. Heaving a deep sigh, she gathered up her courage, bounced up onto her feet,
squared her jaw, threw open the door, and promptly ran into Vincent's lips.

Vincent certainly hadn't been expecting that. It wasn't like he purposely maneuvered himself so that his lips were positioned at exactly the right
height for Sammy. No way. He wasn't planning at all to kiss her. Well, at least not that soon.
No, he'd just been casually propping his forehead against the door while trying to figure out a way to break down the door without attracting
the attention of the authorities, just casually stumbling in when the door suddenly collapsed on him.
Except his casual posture had just lent him an extremely casual way of crashing into the girl, his startled hands fumbling over her shoulders as
he stumbled, lips brushing against the corner of her mouth.
Although "casual" certainly was no suitable adjective to describe the moment of impact. In fact, Vincent was having quite a problem coming up
with the right description. In fact, Vinnie was having quite a problem piecing his thoughts together.

Sammy almost choked when Vincent, eyes widened, toppled in on her. His hands flew up to catch her as he tripped, lips meeting the side of her
mouth. They both froze, her breath catching in her throat as if the guy had just cut off her air supply. Fortunately, she managed to regain her
composure before she started hacking. Her heart quickened and her hands turned sweaty, thanking her stars that she had somehow managed
to remain standing as Vincent propelled into her. Maybe rigor mortis had already settled in?
Dimly in her mind, she registered how warm Vincent's lips were and a thin sliver started to crack in her icy stance. Her heart went into
overdrive. Oh boy. Isn't this . . . She had trouble coming up with a proper adjective.
Vincent pulled away, lips parting, but as his gaze settled on her face, his eyes darkened and his mouth snapped close. Slowly, he drew closer to
her, inclining his face as he murmured, "Sorry." His hands came up in a light hesitant caress of fingertips against her hair, her ears, her cheeks
and a loud roaring noise echoed inside her ears. Perhaps it was her blood boiling up?
Her voice was faint. "It's okay." She leaned ever so closer against him and Vincent's arms seemed to instinctively close around her. Her own
arms meandered up around his neck and he kissed her, lips firm against hers. Posture lax, her eyelids closed as her mind went catatonic on her.
Inside his embrace, all masks were finally unveiled, all facades were finally dropped.

She caught herself before she completely collapsed against him. Wait a minute. What am I doing? What are we doing? Why am I kissing him?
Why is he kissing me? Wait . . . how did we get to this point? He finds out I'm a girl and we begin mauling each other? Wait. I need to think. His
fingers started tracing a circular pattern along her spine and she shivered. Uhh . . . just a few more minutes. She could feel his lips curve in a
smile against hers and her own lips quirked in response. Wait! No, missy! You stop right now. No more "few minutes" or you'll never stop. Her
fingers trailed against Vincent's nape and his arms tightened around her. Did you hear me? Stop!
Sammy opened her eyes and she pulled back sharply. Vincent almost fell over. He blinked at her, eyelids heavy, and murmured thickly, "What?"
She drew in a tight, shuddering breath and licked her lips before running her hands through her tousled hair. She realized her heart was still
pounding. I mean, pounding very hard. Because hearts always pound. Always. Because if they don't, that means I'm dead. So my heart is just
pounding quicker than normal. Yes, that's what I mean – She realized she was mind-babbling and that was never a good sign. Her nerves were
wrecked.
Vincent grinned at her now and she didn't know quite how to respond. Attempting to smile brightly, she joked, "Perhaps we should make a pact
to never lean on a door again?"
Vincent's grin broadened. "I don't know. I quite liked the way things turned out."
She blushed. Shifting her eyes to the floor, she mumbled, "Um, I think we should talk before – uh, yes, I think we should talk."
"Sure," he responded just as absentmindedly. Sammy looked up just in time to see his arms reach out for her again.
She ducked. "Vincent, talking, remember?"
"I know. You could talk while I . . . hold you."
Another duck. "I don't think that's possible.
"Sure, it is."
She caught his hands. "Wait. Why?"
He raised an eyebrow in confusion, twisting his hands around to entangle his fingers through hers. "Why what?"
"Why do you want to . . . hold me?" Her cheeks flushed as she coughed.
Vincent turned equally red and he fumbled with his words. "Well, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? I just . . . want to."
"Why do you want to?"
Vincent could tell she wasn't going to make it easy for him. "Because I, well, I – hey, why didn't you tell me you were a girl?" His brows snapped
together and a grimace thinned his lips.
"I – it's a long story," she looked away and twisted her fingers painfully. "I had a pretty rough past and I – well, you see, there was this – I have
this uncle and he – he – are you mad at me?" She blurted out like a panicked child before glancing back at him.
He watched her quietly before reaching out to draw her close to him. Wrapping a hand loosely around her wrist, he slowly reined her in until
she was but a step away from him. His fingers trailed down across her palm until they entwined with hers. He offered her a smile. "I don't know
why you chose to keep this secret from me for so long … or how I didn't notice until now." He frowned at that point before refocusing his
attention. "But I guess you must have had your reasons and I'm ... not mad. Perhaps a bit frustrated and feeling a bit stupid but mostly …
relieved ... and happy." The corner of his lips tilted up in a lopsided grin. "Almost deliriously happy."

She couldn't help but smile.
Vincent started to slowly pull her in closer. Keeping his eyes steadily on hers, he murmured, "Like I said before, I don't know why you chose to
keep this from me for so long, but now that I finally know, you can definitely be sure to count on me. I'll help you keep this secret as long as you
want - I promise."
Her smile continued to spread as he leaned toward her. She could only whisper, "Really? Why?"
He paused for a moment in his descent and blinked at her. An awkward amusement touched his lips. "Why?" He continued his momentum. "I
guess it's because I li –"
There was a knock at the door and they froze. Their eyes slanted toward the door out of the corners of their eyes and Vincent had to stifle his
curse.
Hesitating, he swooped down to peck her lightly on the lips before heading toward the door. "Don't move. I'll be right back." A huge grin spread
across her face as she watched him march over to the door and she suddenly had the funny notion of attempting to spin around and around
and around until she was dizzily spent.
Vincent swung open the door with a growl and his expression darkened even further. "You."
Tristan raised his eyebrows. The corners of his lips tipped up lazily in an attempt at a cordial facial expression before immediately drooping back
down. "Yes. Me." He glanced over Vincent's shoulder. "Sammy, come along now. Breakfast."
Vincent rolled his eyes with a scoff. "Ha. Big fat chance I'll ever let her go anywhere with you. If she's going anywhere, it'll be with me."
Tristan's eyes veered sharply toward his former best friend.
Vincent snapped, "What?"
"She?"
There was a pause. "Shit."

Uncle Frank was currently engaged in a lethal staring contest with his dear nephew. Terry glared back defiantly and though he couldn't voice his
insults, it appeared his rapid blinking was some attempt at Morse Code Cursing.
Frank Westlane pursed his lips. His nostrils flared as he bent over Terry's face. "You stop that right now or I'll smack you into oblivion."
Terry rolled his eyes.
Frank's eyebrow twitched and he looked at the doorway quickly. No one. Good. He quickly pulled the pillow from beneath Terry's head and
slammed it over the boy's head. He pinned it down and snarled, "Who's rolling his eyes now, huh? Huh? Who's the stupid one now? You can
never beat me, you stupid, stupid, stupid little boy. Just because you woke up doesn't mean anything. You're only a step up from a vegetable.
Can't even talk. Can't even move. Can't even fight back. Samantha is still going to be mine. I still have you. I can still –" He shrieked suddenly and
collapsed on the floor with a groan. He clutched the pillow tightly as he rolled around in pain.
A doctor stepped in then and his eyes went round. Rushing toward the bedside, he tried to help Frank up. "What happened, Mr. Westlane?"

"The stu –" Frank coughed. "I mean, my nephew suddenly jerked and kneed me in – He kneed me. I thought you said he was just responding to
stimuli. You never said he could move."
The doctor immediately went to check on Terry. Although the boy looked a bit pale and he was blinking rapidly, he seemed to be in a good
condition. He was heaving a bit but it seemed like he was getting enough air. The doctor pressed his fingers down hard on the boy's side and
Terry's arm immediately flew up in response. An expression of joy lit up the doctor's face and once again, Frank got a queasy feeling in the pit of
his stomach.
"Congratulations, Mr. Westlane. Terry's reacting to pain and the body will now jerk involuntarily to the pain's source in an attempt to ward it
off. That means no nerves were harmed and the body's basic functions are coming back. I expect he's beginning to recuperate." The doctor
smiled broadly, "Every time you come visit, it seems like Terry's condition improves. How did you get Terry to react to you this time?"
Frank gritted his teeth before wheezing out, "I was, uh, fluffing his pillow and I guess . . . I accidentally jabbed him. The next thing I knew, his
knee had slammed into my . . . stomach." Oh, if only it had been my stomach. No, the dumb boy had aimed for the "family jewels". Frank winced
in pain.
That was when he noticed Terry's eyes. They were gloating this time, shimmering emerald pools of dancing victory. Frank could almost hear his
mocking. Who's stupid now, old man?
Frank curled his lips. Stupid brat.

Vincent felt like cracking his head against the wall. God, he had just promised Sammy and now he'd gone and blurted it out to his worst enemy.
He felt so foolish and of course, that was when Tristan decided to pipe up, "So, Sammy, you finally told him, huh?"
Wh – WHAT? He spun around to frown at the girl. "Sammy, what does he mean by 'Oh, you finally told him'?"
Sammy cringed.
Vincent turned back to see the most infuriating, smug expression on Tristan's face. "You knew?"
"Yes. I knew." Tristan stepped around Vincent to enter the room. "Sure took you long enough to catch up."
Vincent bristled before slamming the door. He took a deep breath before whirling around to Sammy. Jabbing a finger at the other boy, he
enunciated carefully, "Tristan knew before me?"
Tristan took a seat on Sammy's bed and propped his chin up in his palm, watching the scene with avid enthusiasm.
Sammy answered softly, "Uhh . . . kinda?"
Vincent bit his tongue to keep himself from yelling. He also clasped his hands behind his back to prevent himself from throwing himself at the
blonde boy who appeared to be enjoying this entirely too much. "How?"
"Oh, it wasn't like I told him. It was by accident. He just looked down my –" Sammy immediately snapped her mouth shut.
"Looked down your what?" When Sammy turned pink, Vincent's eyes flew toward Tristan and to his dismay and fury, found the normally
composed boy quite flustered as well. That was definitely not a good sign. "WHAT DID YOU DO TO HER, YOU BASTARD?"
"Now, now, Grenford, watch your language. We have a lady present," Tristan calmly retorted, even though his cheeks were now completely
crimson.

"What. Did. You. Do. To. HER!"
"It was a complete accident, Vincent! I – I dropped my spoon that day and bent down and it was a baggy shirt and he was in front of me and he
– he – he saw."
"Oh." Vincent nodded. Then he tried to tackle Tristan. Sammy clung desperately to the back of his shirt.
"Vincent! Accident! Accident!"
"Yeah, right. We're going to have a huge, bloody accident here soon enough," Vincent growled as he swiped at Tristan.
Tristan's eyes flashed as he snapped, "Hey, man, at least I didn't catch her in the shower!"
Sammy couldn't help but let out a small squeak of dismay. Both boys turned to scrutinize her. She turned pink.
"Sammy?" Vincent asked. He had a strange feeling he wasn't going to like what's coming next. "Is there something else you're not telling me?"
She gulped. "No?"
"Sammy." His voice turned low with a dark warning note. "Who else knows?"
"Not – not many people."
"Who?" he repeated.
"Will."
"That's it?"
"Danielle."
"My sister?" he exclaimed.
"Yes."
"Anybody else?"
"My sister," Tristan supplied helpfully.
"Carrie knows too?"
"Yes."
"And?" Vincent prompted, words grumbling in his throat.
"Uhh . . ."
"Caine," Tristan offered up again.
Sammy narrowed her eyes at the other boy. "Gee, thanks."

"Anytime," the blonde boy replied breezily.
"No one else?"
"No. No one else. I think. Wait. Yes. One more. Jack. But really, that's all."
"That's all? Great. That's lovely. That's all." Vincent smiled sardonically. "Sammy, that's practically everybody! I can't believe I'm the last one to
find out!"
She chewed her lip anxiously. "Well, no. I mean, Tristan's other friends still don't know yet."
"You're talking about Marco, Polo, and gang?"
"Uh huh."
"Oh great. I'm so happy I get to find out before Tweedledee and Tweedledum."
Tristan snorted and the other two turned to glare at the boy. "What? It's funny. You have to admit, Sammy, that among your 'close' friends,
Vincent is really the last one to find out."
Vincent twitched again and Sammy moaned in desperation, "You're really not helping, Tristan!"
Vincent suddenly recalled Sammy's weird response earlier to Tristan's words and he froze. Rubbing his chin softly, he asked quietly, "How did
Caine find out?"
"He supposedly has a sixth sense about females," Sammy quickly responded, relieved that they seemed to be back on safer grounds now.
"How did Jack find out then?" Vincent's complexion darkened by the minute and alarm bells began ringing in Sammy's head.
"Um, Carrie told him." A sagging feeling began to weigh down on Sammy's shoulders.
Vincent finally remembered that day when he found Sammy and Will in the same bathroom and his blood pressure jolted up. "Well, then how
did dear Willy find out?"
"Uh, um, well . . ." Sammy panicked. "Hey! You know what's funny? How Carrie found out! It turned out she thought I was really a guy and that I
–"
"How did Will find out?" Vincent's voice was soft, lethal. He had stopped rubbing his chin and was now cracking his knuckles. Tristan's blue eyes
darkened as he took notice of Vincent's stiffness and he quickly met Sammy's gaze. He could only shrug helplessly, but his eyes warned her to
tread carefully.
Sammy squirmed, nervously tugging on the hem of her shirt before closing her eyes in defeat. "He – he almost found me in – in – in the
shower."
"Almost?" His tone was sharp.
"I had a towel on."
"Ah, I see. A towel."

She opened her eyes and almost screamed. Vincent's eyes were burning and the gray color was so cold, they seemed like iced granite
blocks. Please, Will, run away. Run far, far, far away. Run The door banged open then and Will flounced into the room with a jovial grin. "Howdy, neighbors! My, my, we having a party this early in the
morning –" He stopped abruptly when Vincent turned his head stiffly toward him. The boy was suddenly reminded of that scene in The
Exorcist when that possessed girl spun her head around 360 degrees – only it was much scarier now, for this was reality and Vincent was very
much in corporal flesh and could inflict much, much, much bodily damage.
"Uh oh."

Chapter Twenty One
A most worryingly feral smile twisted Vincent's lips and everyone blanched in response. As he slowly stalked over toward Will, whose features
had gone alarmingly pasty, Sammy sighed in exasperation. Why can't we all be mature about this?
She let out a loud groan before crumpling to the floor. Her hand darted out to clutch at her ankle. "Oh, ow." No one did say Sammy was a
particularly accomplished actress.
But Vincent might have as well transported in the time he took to get to her side. He dropped to his knees beside her and his hands floated
hesitantly around her. "What is it? What's wrong? Cramps again? Need a massage again?"
Tristan arched an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
Will can never keep his mouth shut when it came to recounting his friend's many embarrassing moments. "Oh, Vinnie poo was such a dah-ling.
Just swooped down on our dear Sammy in the middle of the night and proceeded to gently assuage her – I mean, his -"
A nerve seemed to throb above Vincent's right eyebrow. "I know Sam is a she and not a he."
Will blinked. "Oh, you do? Well, uh, isn't this such a lovely surprise! Me, uh, too!"
The articulate response did nothing to calm Vincent down and the boy was already rising up again, slowly reaching his arms out like a pseudoFrankenstein. Sammy quickly made another noise of pain and Vincent paused, looking stricken and torn as his eyes darted between the girl and
his proclaimed punching bag.
Tristan chose this time to jump in with his own assertion. "So let me get this straight . . . before he even knew Sammy was a girl, Vincent
proceeded to hop into her bed and . . . maul her? When she supposedly was a guy?" He shivered exaggeratedly. "Ick. Vincent, I didn't know you
were picking up on Will's tendencies."
Pink swept across the bridge of Vince's nose and cheeks. "I did not maul her! I was merely extending my . . . services . . . in a . . . gallant
gesture."
There was a long pause before both Tristan and Will cracked up.
Tristan clutched his stomach while jerking a thumb in Vincent's direction. He chortled, "Did you hear this guy? Gallant! I think your mother
needs to fire whoever's teaching you your etiquette lessons."
"Well, I don't know about that." Will grinned broadly before lowering his voice in a seductive caress. "'Cause, hey, baby, I'll certainly be glad to
receive your extremely gallant services anytime, anywhere."

The dark haired boy gritted his teeth. "I told you, it was in the middle of the night and I was half asleep and she was in pain and I just thought –
it was an emergency!"
"Moron," Tristan coughed delicately in his hand.
Vincent could feel himself getting riled up again – for some reason, since Sammy's appearance, he had an innate feeling that his blood pressure
hasn't exactly been its most tip top shape. If he wasn't careful, he just might be able to give himself a stroke. "Listen, I'm not usually a very
violent person but –"
"Pfft." Boy, Will was just adding fuel to his own personal bonfire, wasn't he?
Vincent's grey eyes narrowed in a stormy glint as he started to roll up his sleeves.
Sammy decided to jump in then. "Alright, stop! Stop it!" The order was so unlike Sammy that everyone froze in their movements. She jerked
her head in a firm nod. "That's right. You heard me."
Okay. This is working out well, but now that I have their attention, what exactly do I want them to do? The gears in her head clacked furiously
before she nodded again. "Alright Will, you go back to your room now before you get killed. You're not exactly helping things here."
He jutted out his bottom lip.
"Don't give me that. Go!"
The lip started trembling and she could have sworn his eyes turned absolutely plate size complete with a teary shine. "No, Will! It's for your
own good. Now go before I – I – I –" She searched her mind for a suitable punishment. "- hurt you."
"Hurt me how? Spanking?" The puppy dog eyes were transformed by an absolutely sly, lascivious glint. He immediately turned around and bent
over, wriggling his bottom at her. "Bring it on, mama!"
She closed her eyes in defeat. Well, at least he dropped the pout.
Tristan cleared his throat. "Will, you might want to put your ass away before Vincent sends a kick that would transport you back to your room
the hard way."
Vincent was covering his eyes tiredly with one hand as he drawled, "For once, I agree with Tristan. Please leave before I resort to drastic
measures."
Will's voiced was laced with too much hope. "Might the drastic measures have anything to do with some spanking, perchance?"
"Hmmm . . . let me think . . ." Vincent dropped his hand and glowered. "NO."
"Will, go please," Sammy pleaded.
The other boy straightened up and snapped his fingers mournfully. "Drat, and I got my hopes up too."
"I don't even want to know what runs through your head, Will." Tristan shook his head before heading to the door. "I take it you two want
some privacy to, ah, reconcile everything?"
Vincent was already nodding when Sammy spoke. "No. You stay, Tristan. I'm thinking about reconciliations of sorts – but it doesn't involve me."

Tristan's gaze immediately turned wary but he didn't submit to his instincts to run. Will grumbled and mumbled as he made his way to the
door. "Meanies. Prosecution against beautiful, sexy bisexuals . . . how come he gets to stay and I don't? Not fair . . . meanies. Hurt my feelings . .
. emotional traumatic experience . . . gonna grow up crazy . . ."
"You know, you sure take a long time to make your exit," Vincent commented lazily.
Will's bottom lip trembled again.
Sammy smiled sympathetically, "Don't worry. I'll talk to you later, Will. For now, just head back to your room and make sure to lock it up tight. If
someone knocks, make sure you know who he is . . ." She shot a quick glance over at Vincent. ". . . and that he doesn't have a hatchet raised
over his head."
Will gave a quavering smile as if he was about to go off to his own execution before sniffing loudly. Lifting his head up high, he opened the door,
took a step out, flapped his hand back at Sammy in a little wave, and then slammed the door theatrically.
Tristan blinked. "He sure has a flair for dramatics, doesn't he?"
"He's a sweetie," Sammy murmured absentmindedly as she tried to figure out what she had to say. "Alright, Vincent, sit." He sat down promptly
on his bed. "Tristan, go sit next to Vincent." They both gave her horrified looks. "Go on!"
"What? On the bed? With him?"
"Is that a problem? It's not like you two are going to be doing anything." She paused. "Are you?"
"Hell, no!" Both voices chorused in.
"Then I see no problem. Now sit!" Tristan sat. Funny, I think I'm beginning to like being in charge. "Alrighty, now that we're all comfortable, I'd
like to bring your attention to something that's been bugging me for quite a while."
"The fact that you've been disguised as a boy and I've only known a moment ago?" Vincent asked.
"Uhhh . . . no, but yes, we'll get to that later."
"The fact that we still have to know just exactly why you've been girl undercover?" Tristan commented.
"Uhhh . . . no, but alright, we'll get to that later too."
"The fact that –"
"Wait! Wait! No, the real reason I've called you here today –"
"You didn't exactly call us here," Tristan interrupted. "I sort of dropped by to ask you to go to breakfast . . . which reminds me, I'm pretty hungry
right now."
"Yeah, me too. And you didn't call me here either. I sort of found out while you were drunk and I waited around in the room while you locked
yourself in the bathroom," Vincent added.
"Really? She was drunk?" Tristan exclaimed. "Funny, I thought she didn't drink. She likes ice cream."
Vincent snorted, "Yeah, well, she must have changed her mind last night –"

"Okay, wait! Wait! See, this is precisely what I wanted to talk to you about," Sammy broke in.
They stared blankly up at her. "What?"
"You! You guys! You two being so chummy with each other!"
They shifted apart from each other. "No, we're not."
"Yes! Yes, you are. You two are so obviously meant for each other and when you aren't trying to rip each other's heads off, you guys can
actually talk civilly and joke and have fun. You two are absolutely, one hundred percent wonderful together!" She nodded furiously as she
finished her passionate spiel.
The boys had turned green by then. Tristan croaked, "Uh, Sammy, hate to burst your bubble here but … I'm not gay."
Vincent snapped, "We're not gay. Sammy, please don't tell me you've picked up a new hobby and it's matchmaking because frankly, you're not
too good at it. Might I suggest stamp collecting?" He fixated a hard, intent stare on her. "And might I remind you that just moments before, I
wasn't acting particularly gay with you?" Then he hurried to add, "Well, not that I make it a habit of acting gay during my other times – ah hell,
you know what I mean."
She blushed. Dummies. "I meant you guys are great as friends. Jeez."
They blinked. "Ohhh. No."
"Oh, for crying – why not?"
"We went over this before."
"No, we didn't."
"Well, sometimes the past is just too hard to forget and forgive, Sammy." They nodded slowly at her as if she was a little child.
Her temper flared. "Well, considering this past involves a certain girl named Victoria Steele, I would have thought friendship would be more
important . . . unless this Victoria is actually thatimportant?" Her eyes narrowed at Tristan and he shook his head meekly. Then she pinned
Vincent with an even harder glare and he tucked his head submissively. "Then exactly what is the problem here, hmmm?"
There was a moment of silence.
"Face it. You can't think yourselves out of this one." She crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at the pair. "So what do we say when we're
wrong?"
"We're sorry," they mumbled.
"Not to me! To each other."
"Yeah, yeah, sorry," they muttered out of the corner of their mouths.
"That was the worst apology ever."
They twisted their upper halves of their bodies to face each other before Vincent grudgingly grumbled, "Yeah, sorry, man. You can have Victoria
now if you want."

"My apologies as well, Grenford. But for your, uh, kind offer . . ." Tristan shuddered exaggeratedly, "Thanks, but no thanks."
There was a moment of awkward silence as they tried to think of something to say.
Perhaps they should smile? But would that seem a bit too . . . sentimental?
Perhaps some small talk? But about what? The weather?
So they both decided to sort of smirk at each other for a moment or so before Vincent finally reached over to slam his fist into Tristan's arm.
Sammy bristled but before she could make a move, Tristan's lips twisted in a smile and he responded similarly by cuffing the other boy. "So you
got a new car. About time! That old one looked like junk compared to mine."
Vincent scoffed, "Hardly. Your car might be all slick and glossy but mine's about power."
"Oh yeah?"
"Uh huh."
"Well, what's the engine?"
"3.0 liter 245 horsepower."
"Pretty cool. But mine is …"
Sammy sort of went into a daze from that point on. Staring back and forth between the two guys, her eyebrows alternated from arching to
furrowing as she realized just how easily guys can forget a grudge when they're having an animated conversation about cars and engines and
something about carburetors. But I guess . . . this is a good thing . . .
She was all ready to be patient and wait for the tête-à-tête to come to some sort of an interval when she quickly realized to her alarm that it
doesn't appear that there was an end to the many car designs in the world. She finally decided to cut in when the pair moved into comparisons
of Japanese and American designs.
"Alright, uh, hate to interrupt your male bonding but can we go get some breakfast before you guys bring out a car show?"
The two boys stared at her. "What?" She ducked her head sheepishly. "Alright, I know I started it but well, I am kinda starving here." Her
stomach growled in testimony and she turned pink.
"Fine, let's head off then. We'll continue this later," Tristan said breezily as he went to the door. "But let me give you a warning now, Sammy.
You had better stuff your face and pack in some energy -"
"- because, you know, Sammy . . . you're not going to get off that easily later when it's our turn to sit you down for some interrogation," Vincent
finished as he followed the other boy to the door. They smiled smugly in unison.
Sammy suddenly didn't know if it was such a good idea for them to get so friendly.

Frank Westlane paced the glossy, black marble floor of his house while his trembling hands twitched and tugged each other. He was ready to
tear out his hair if his strands weren't so rigid and infallible, courtesy of the gallon of mousse he dumped on them each morning. "Why is this
happening to me?" He moaned. "First Father, then my brother and his wife, now this." He spun around in search of something to throw but

everything was too expensive to break. Impulsively, he grabbed a vase and lifted it over his head. Too late did he realize that the vase had
flowers – and the flowers were immersed in water.
The man spluttered as he was immediately drenched. Frank's face contorted in a nasty grimace as he pulled his arm back to toss the vase
against the wall. Then he recalled that he had acquired it for two thousand dollars. Although frustrated, the man meekly returned the offending
piece back to its stand.
"Why doesn't anything ever go my way?"
Even though Terry was still in the hospital, unable to speak or move much – despite that goal winning kick he presented Frank – the boy was
still too alive for his uncle's satisfaction. Now that he was awake and showed some sort of response, the decision to pull Terry's respirator plug
was no longer applicable – and without this threat to hang over Samantha's head, there was basically no hold he had over her. "Damn it." I was
being too confident. Had I not loosened the guards around her, she couldn't have run away. BUT I DIDN'T KNOW SHE WOULD TAKE SUCH A RISK!
I thought as long as I had Terry, she would meekly obey. Hadn't she thought that I would immediately end all funds for his medical expenses if
she angered me? Hadn't she?
His eyes narrowed. No, she was too smart for her own good. She knew that my reputation was too important to me. She knew my little sham of
being a grieving and supporting uncle was helping me gain sympathy and business from those pretentious, rich little nobodies. She knew I
wouldn't dare risk it all by killing Terry. No. THE LITTLE BITCH!
He staggered, breath coming in short gasps, and he sat down heavily on the floor, staring at the glittering vase. It twinkled jauntily, almost
mocking him. I never break something that I had to pay for. I must always keep up my status in society despite everything – and Samantha
knows that. She's played quite an impressive game. Pretended to be scared by my feeble threats, bided her time, ran away, allowed me to keep
looking for her while my money are wasted to keep her brother alive. His eyes widened with rage. She was using me! I should have lived up to
my words. I should have killed Terry when I had the chance. That'd show her for underestimating me.
His head dropped down to his knees. "But everything's too late now. She's off in her little all boys school while I'm stuck here, playing the role
of a kind, worried uncle. Too late now . . ."
His fist slammed down onto the cold floor next to him. No. It's not over yet. She may have outplayed me in the beginning games but I can still
catch up. His eyes glittered darkly. I know where she is now and if worse comes to worse, I'll just take her back by force. No more playing around
now that using Terry is out. It's time to make the final move. His lips curled upwards. Then I'll show her what happens when she's not a good
little girl. Then I'll show her the meaning of pain.
"Sir?"
His head jerked up to pin the nervous maid with a lethal glare. "What?"
"Are – are you alright? I – do you need me to get a towel for you?"
He suddenly realized that he looked absolutely ridiculous, crouched down on the floor while water dripped off of him. In a flash, he was back on
his feet and staring down his nose at the woman. "I'm fine," he snapped. "I want to clean up so have someone prepare a nice, hot bath for me.
Mop up the floor, get some new flowers for the vase, and –"
He stared peculiarly at the vase before a furtive smile flitted across his lips. With a sudden swoop of his arm, he swept the crystal piece crashing
to the floor. His eyes hooded as he gazed at the display of broken gleaming shards, he murmured to the startled maid, "On second thought, I
never really liked that thing much anyway. Just sweep it up and dump it all away."

Chapter Twenty Two

Under the inky black shade of a tall, gnarled willow tree, two boys lounged against the grass. The blonde one dressed warmly in a black coat
brushed a blade of grass against his lips almost absentmindedly while the other boy with raven colored hair reclined on his back a few feet
away from him. With his gray eyes closed tightly and his hands folded behind his head, he looked absolutely at peace with himself – if one
didn't notice the slight ticking in his jaw and the tension in his body as if he was ready to leap up at any moment and make a run for it.
"So," Tristan murmured.
"So," Vincent retorted.
"You really deserve an Oscar for that performance back in your room."
A wry, cynical smile curved Vincent's lips. "As do you."
Tristan stared coolly off into the distance. "Funny. I've always thought you were a bit dense, but I'm glad you had enough brains to respond so
deftly."
Vincent snorted. "Likewise."
"At least we're in agreement that Sammy doesn't need any more things to worry about."
Grunt. "It'll give her premature wrinkles with all the things she'd have to deal with." Then in a much softer, tender tone, he added, "She
deserves to always have a little insipid grin plastered to her face – like Will." Pause. "Okay, maybe not exactly like him."
"At least she's finally confided in us." A steely edge tinted his voice. "Now we know who we have to kill."
Vincent chuckled but it didn't sound quite amused. "If he ever comes near her again, I'll rip his arms off and beat him to death with them."
Another dark laugh. "Ditto."
There was a long period of tensed silence. The wind billowed through the trees, hushing their whispers as they sent leaves twirling down
toward the ground.
Tristan's slender fingers snapped a crimson brown leaf out of the air and twirled it around. "Grenford, we're not really a-okay, are we?"
Vincent remained motionless as a leaf made its landing on his forehead. "Really enjoyed that conversation about cars but frankly, I think we've
reached our limit. If Sammy wasn't so adamant about us getting all chummy again, I wouldn't have even bothered."
The blonde boy smirked. "Once again, ditto."
"Good thing she was fooled though." Amusement trickled into his words. "I guess compared with her own acting skills, she wouldn't really know
the difference between truth and lies. Now all we have to do is at least pretend to be civil with each other whenever she's there."
"Guess I can handle that," Tristan responded with a sardonic smile.
There was yet another interlude and the wind seemed to pick up, trying to fill in the silence.
"Harland, I've been meaning to ask you something." Vincent's eyes opened to slant over at the other boy. "Do you . . . well, I've seen the way
you act around her . . . do you have feelings for . . ."
Tristan twirled the brittle stem between his fingers. "Yes," he responded simply.

Grey eyes narrowed into dusty glints. "Is this going to be a repeat of the Victoria incident then?"
Tristan hummed softly. "Nah. I don't know why, but it appears you're the preference here."
A wry grin spread across Vincent's face as he visibly relaxed. "Frankly, I don't know why either. Guess I'm just luckier." They both chuckled.
"Still . . . I'm guessing you wouldn't really appreciate me hanging around you two as much as Sammy wants to believe," Tristan commented. He
smirked. "Hell, I don't particularly want to be the third wheel either."
Vincent grinned before haltingly murmuring, "Harland . . . don't get me wrong. It's not that I particularly detest you. Hell, we were kids then.
Mere childhood resentments . . . but you know, sometimes, you just can't go back that easily. Grudges don't fade away overnight."
Tristan smiled lazily. "I know, Grenford." He snapped the crumbling leaf in half and let the wind sweep the pieces off into the blue sky. "Believe
me, I know." His cerulean blue eyes followed the dusty bits as they soared off upon the wind. "And just as a fair warning, if you ever hurt
Sammy, well . . . you know what they say. All's fair in love and war."
Their eyes met in a silent clash, fiery and challenging. Vincent's smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "Oh, I know, Harland. I know."

A wide grinned spread across Sammy's face when she saw the two boys and her pace quickened toward them. Holding her textbooks tightly to
her chest while balancing her backpack on one shoulder, she came to a breathless stop before them. "Hey! Didn't have class last period, huh?"
They smiled broadly and shook their heads.
"So catching up on lost days?"
They nodded in unison.
"Okay . . . then shall we go to lunch now?"
They nodded again before standing up. Brushing errant leaves off his jacket, Vincent asked Tristan cheerfully, "Say, didn't you say you had to
pick up something from your room before?"
The other boy bobbed his head just as enthusiastically, "So I'm going to go off now. See you two later." He strolled away, making rapid progress
with his long legs, before Sammy could even blink.
"Wait! Tristan! Do you want us to wait for you?" Sammy called after him. Vincent threw an arm around her shoulders and she staggered
underneath the sudden weight, surprised.
The blonde boy merely threw them a small smile over his shoulder and gave an abrupt shake of his head before ambling away.
She furrowed her eyebrows while Vincent leaned down to nuzzle the side of her neck. Is something wrong with Tristan? She reached up to
stroke the boy's cheek distractedly. He was smiling, though. But why am I getting this weird feeling – She suddenly realized what she was doing
and immediately jerked away from Vincent. "Would you stop that?"
Vincent widened his eyes. "Who, me? What did I do?"
She knew hanging around Will had to have rubbed off on him some way. She gave him the "I'm not buying that crap" look before surveying
their surroundings to make sure no one had noticed their abnormal non-manly behavior. "You just can't do that in public unless you want to be
like Will!"

Vincent pursed his lips. Then he grabbed her hand and proceeded to drag her off. "Fine, let's head back to our room then."
"Oh, for crying out – Vincent!" Her cheeks were flaming red now.
He laughed and spun around to pull her sharply into his arms. She stared up at him, disgruntled. "Don't blame me when someone sees us and
thinks you're gay."
He smiled impishly, merely tightening his arms around her waist. She coughed uncomfortably as she avoided his eyes. Her cheeks felt like they
were going to melt off her bones soon. Vincent scrutinized her for a couple of minutes, watching her pink flush blossom into burning crimson,
before clearing his throat gruffly. "You, uh, do like me, right? I mean … you do return my feelings, don't you?" A tinge of pink swept across his
own face as he realized how he sounded so sickeningly sappy. Then he realized that he didn't particularly care. Eh, what the hell. Might as well
continue to be a fool. "That kiss wasn't just a fluke, right?"
Sammy stared at him in utter astonishment. How in the world can a kiss be a fluke? Then she remembered how they had just "happened" upon
their first, ahem, encounter and she smiled embarrassedly. "Of course I –" Her voice cracked and she cleared her throat, licking her dry lips.
"Ahem." She tried again. "Of course I return your . . . feelings. You - you like me, too?" She cursed herself for that hopeful lilt at the end of the
question.
Vincent responded with an eager nod, which he immediately dialed it down after he realized his close resemblance to a bobbing head toy. "So .
. . we're together then."
She smiled, can't quite meeting his eyes. "Guess so."
"Cool."
"Yup."
Boy, was this an awkward moment. I suppose in romantic movies and novels, the couple should be falling all over each other in passionate
disarray. Her cheeks almost throbbed at the intensity of her blush. Too bad we're more like a romantic comedy . . . or a romantic mishap . . . oh
forget it, we're probably just a comedic mishap.
"MUAHAHAHA!"
They nearly crashed into each other as they jumped in startled surprise.
"Will! I told you not to do that!" Vincent snapped.
Will leapt out of the bushes with his hands akimbo in triumph. He waved a finger at them frantically as he crowed, "You two are finally together
thanks to my brilliant plan! I am a genius, I say! A genius!"
"Right. So you say," the black haired boy retorted dryly.
Will heaved a sigh. "Jealousy does not become you, my dear Vinnie poo."
"A bloated ego doesn't do much wonders for your swollen head, either."
Will grinned impudently as he slung an arm around Sammy's shoulders. "So, sweets, how's this booger been treating you?"
"I'm not a booger and I've been treating her just great. However, if you don't kindly remove your arm right now, I just might decide to do it for
you - and detach it for a souvenir."

Will moved away but not before drawing Sammy's arms up around his neck. He stuck his tongue out at Vincent. "Well, huh, huh? Whatcha
gonna do about this, huh? I'm not touching her. She is! See? See? Ha! You can't do anything about this now, huh?"
Vincent smiled brightly. "Oh, wow, you're so smart, Will! Well, seeing as how Sammy seems to be so fond of your head, I guess I'll just have to
rip it off then as a present."
"You wouldn't!"
"Try me."
"Sammy won't let you hurt me!"
"Not if you keep on acting like a second grader!"
"I'm just cute! You're the one with violent tendencies!"
"I'll show you violent!"
"You need anger management classes! Sammy is much too gentle for the likes of you! You're a – a bear!"
"A bear?"
"Yeah, and not the stuffed teddy ones, either!"
"I think I realized, Will."
"Just making sure since you can be pretty dense sometimes."
"Oh, you really want to die today, don't you?"
"What did I say? What? Nothing! Nothing! I said nothing!" The sound of rapid footsteps hitting gravel marked Will's hasty exit.
"Sammy, I'll be right back. I'll detach his limbs for you." Vincent took off after the boy.
Sammy muttered underneath her breath, following them at a more sedate pace, "You know, I would just prefer flowers, chocolates, even a
teddy bear for a gift but whatever floats your boat, I guess . . ."

Frank Westlane huffed and puffed as he staggered through the forest. He paused to lean against the wrinkled bark of a nearby oak tree and
pulled out a handkerchief, dabbing gently at his perspiring forehead. Why the hell does this stupid school have to be built in the middle of a
forest? He narrowed his eyes. He couldn't very well pull up in his car to the front door since that'll give Samantha the chance to run away again
so he had decided to park by the main road. Too bad that he soon learned he was going to have to trek through the woods in order to get to
the building without alerting anyone.
His impromptu exercise had caused him to sweat through his silk shirt and jacket. He grimaced as he tried to air himself out by peeling his shirt
off his back. Ugh. When I get my hands on you, Samantha . . .
He continued to walk until he finally saw an opening in front of him. A triumphant smirk spread over his lips as he quickly darted behind a tree
to peer out at the school. To his delight, it was only a couple of steps from the back entrance. The glass doors offered an ample view of students
passing by through the hallways. It'll be perfect to just grab Samantha while she's out for some fresh air and drag her off.

He nearly laughed out loud in his delight. He could almost picture the moment in his head and he almost salivated at the thought. Then his
smile faltered. Alright. Now that I'm here, what do I do?
His mood darkened. Am I just going to have to wait here until Samantha comes out? Oh lord. A sudden chilly wind swept up around him and his
body went numb at the thought. With my luck so far, I'll freeze to death before I can even see her.
His thick brows knitted together before he finally sighed in resignation. I guess there's no helping it. He pressed close against the tree and
prepared himself for the long wait ahead. Above his head, the dark clouds rumbled and he glanced up with a low curse.

Sammy was trying to concentrate on her physics homework when an uneasy feeling throbbed in the pit of her stomach. She looked up and
blinked in confusion as she stared out the window of her room. The tops of the trees rustled lightly with the rain, a smooth melody that should
sound serene and settling, but for some reason, it only made her more anxious. Her foot started jittering in an uneasy momentum as she
chewed on her bottom lip.
Vincent looked up from his own work, distracted by his girlfriend's inattentiveness. He grinned when he saw her preoccupation with the
scenery outside of the window, but his good humor quickly faded as he noted the tension wrought in her body. He leaned his face lazily against
the palm of his hand as he studied Sammy's profile. Narrowing his eyes, he scooted closer to the girl. She appeared to be totally out of it,
oblivious to the boy.
He frowned. Vincent leaned closer and reached up, lightly tracing a finger along her brow. She spun around in surprise and would have fell out
of her chair had he not grabbed hold of her. "What – what are you doing, Vince?"
"Trying to iron out the wrinkles in your forehead. What were you doing?" Vincent touched Sammy's lip, which was already swollen red from her
worrying of it. "I know physics usually send me off to daydream land as well . . . but typically, I choose dreams that wouldn't give me premature
white hair. What had you frowning and pouting?"
Sammy sighed. "I wasn't frowning."
"Alright," he agreed noncommittally. "So why were you pouting?"
She laughed. "I wasn't pouting either."
"Fine. What were you doing then?"
"Nothing much."
He arched an eyebrow. She sighed and shifted back against her seat. He moved his legs and scooted his chair even closer until it was lined up
against hers. Twisting his upper body around again, he proceeded to stare at her with every ounce of intensity he could muster up.
She picked up her pencil and tried to ignore him. "Vincent, go back to your homework. I said it was nothing."
"I don't believe you. Something's bugging you."
She didn't answer, just ducked her head and continued scribbling nonsensical numbers and equations – your basic physics homework.
He glared at her.
She reached for the calculator.

"Sammy."
She punched in some random numbers.
"Sammy . . ."
She picked up her pencil again.
Vincent dropped his chin onto her shoulder and bumped his forehead against her neck. "Sammy . . ."
She glanced at him out of the corners of her eyes and he beamed up at her, trying to convey Will's spirit. A reluctant smile pulled at Sammy's
lips as she tried to shrug him off. His chin remained persistent in using her shoulder as a resting stand. She heaved a sigh and he rubbed his
nose against her neck defiantly.
Squirming, she laughed, "You're tickling me. Stop being such a baby."
He sat back into his chair and retorted, "Fine. Then you be the baby." He jerked forward, looped his arms around her waist, and heaved her out
of her chair into his lap.
"Oh, for – Vincent!" She tried to pull away, but his grip tightened.
He looked at her solemnly and patted her back. "Baby comfy?"
She burst out laughing and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her face into the nape. "I don't know what to do with you," she said,
voice muffled.
"Ah, I tend to invoke that feeling in most people." He cradled her close.
"You know, if you dress in red and grow a white beard, you'll make a pretty good Santa Claus."
"What? Are you saying I'm fat?"
There was a moment of silence. "No."
He poked her in her side and she jerked involuntarily. "What was that pause for?"
"Well, you have been packing a lot of cookies and chips lately –" He poked her again and she chortled. "Alright! Alright! You're not fat! You're in
perfect, tip top shape and should go for modeling."
"Thank you," he grinned cheekily and pressed a kiss to her cheek.
She rolled her eyes. "You're becoming more and more like Will each day."
He shivered. "Alright, I'm fat. I'm horribly obese. I'll go to gym more and practice punches with Tristan again."
She pulled back sharply, "Speaking of Tristan, what happened this morning? He said he went to get something from his room and we haven't
seen him since. Are you two fighting again?"
He kept his hands locked around her waist and tried to rein her back in. "No. Not exactly."

She narrowed her eyes and roughly grabbing the collar of his shirt, yanked him toward her. "What did you do?"
He blinked at her. "Why does it always have to be me?"
"Because of your violent tendencies."
"I have no violent tendencies!"
She stared skeptically at him. "I've been your roommate for quite a while now."
"Yes, and isn't it so very nice how we're just so comfortable around each other? See? We're already hugging and sharing a chair!" He grinned
roguishly. "Now if you'll just hold still for a minute, perhaps we can graduate to another level . . ." He leaned close, but she pulled out of range.
"Tristan, remember? Did you punch him or something?"
"I'm really not violent!"
She raised an eyebrow at him again.
"Okay, well, not that violent at least. Really. We're fine. It's just that . . . well, you can't expect us to automatically pick up where we left off a
couple years ago. It just doesn't work that. We're practically strangers now."
She furrowed her eyebrows and sighed. "Yeah. I guess that's true."
He smiled and pecked her on the tip of her nose. She wrinkled it at him before breaking out into a huge smile. He eyed her warily. "What?"
"You know, for someone with such violent tendencies, you're awfully touchy and cute."
"For the last time, I don't have violent tendencies!" Then he paused. "You think I'm cute?"

"Ohmigod, they're, like, so cute! You could totally tell that he's so into her and she's all, like, a blushing bride and such. Absolute adorableness!"
There was no answer for quite a while. "Will, why are you talking like a valley girl?"
Will was on his stomach in bed and talking on his cell phone, his feet swinging in the air and his finger curling around a strand of his hair. "Oh,
I've always wanted to act like one of those gossipy school girls. It makes me feel like I'm popular."
Danielle sighed loudly on the other side of the extension. "What I have to put up with to hear all the juicy details of my brother's love life."
Disgruntlement colored her tone. "Perhaps Vinnie was right. I am getting to be an old maid. Man, I've really got to get a new boyfriend soon."
Will perked up but just as he opened his mouth, Danielle snapped, "And no, my preferences do not include any brown haired bisexuals who are
younger than me."
The boy sighed. "You'll regret it later and when you coming begging for my sweet bod, don't say I didn't tell you so."
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind," Danielle murmured dryly. "So spill."

"Yees, Vinnie poo finally knows Sammy is a double X chromosome and yees, zhey're finally togezher. It's simplee vonderful! I'll be sure to
prepare ze wedding!"
"Oh goody! Finally! Yay! I win! Can't wait to tell Carrie." Her voice darkened. "And by the way, what the heck is that awful accent?"
"Ah, I simply do not know, but I like it very much," Will replied cheerfully.
"You're ridiculous," Danielle muttered before changing the subject. "So everything's okay right now for Sammy, right? No sign of You-KnowWho?"
"What, Voldemort?"
"Are you Harry Potter? Idiot, I'm talking about a certain disgusting uncle."
"Ohh. No. Everything looks clear." His voice darkened. "Too bad. I was looking so forward to ripping that icky moustache off his face and making
him eat it."
"Have you been hanging around Vincent too much?"

"Hey, sweetie, how's school?" Jack murmured into his own phone on the other side of the room.
"Fine! Now spill!"
"What? No 'Hello, I miss you, I've been dying in agony from not being able to see you and hold you, I want to kiss you until you're breathless'?"
"Hello, I miss you, I've been dying in agony from not being able to see you and hold you, I want to kiss you until you're breathless. Now tell me!"
Carrie rambled off excitedly.
Jack laughed and he spoke in a lilting, teasing voice. "What happened to the sweet, quiet girl who wouldn't speak more than 2 words to me?"
"Here are two words for you now: Tell Me."
He grinned lopsidedly. "Oh, I don't know. I really don't like to gossip much."
"You're not gossiping. You're just transferring information – like a messenger or a newspaper."
"Right, sure."
"Jack!"
"Hmm?"
"Come on!"
"Mmmm . . ."
"Don't make me call Caine."

"Oh, hell no! He's the only person I know who's capable of sexual harassment over the phone."
"Sooo?"
"Alrighty, Sammy goes to Vincent."
"What do you mean 'goes to'? She's not some kind of an object!"
"Alright, I'm sorry. I mean, Sammy and Vincent are now a couple of equal standing."
"Oh. Darn! I was so hoping Tristan would win. They are so cute together."
"Well, I don't know. Vince and Sammy are pretty good together as well. He was walking around today with the most insipid grin on his face. I
swear he started walking into walls."
Carrie giggled. Then she let out a long sigh.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing. I just remembered that I now owe Danielle fifty dollars."
"Huh?"
"Yeah, we had a bet about which one of our brothers was going to win Sammy. Man, what a huge disappointment."
"Uh huh. Now who's the one who's being a bit materialistic and treating Sammy like an object? Huh? Huh?"
"Jacky, don't contradict me, please." She sniffed loudly and he could have sworn he heard her eyelashes fluttering with the speed of a
hummingbird's wings. "I'm still feeling a bit down."
His heart melted despite his instincts. "There, there. I'm sure your brother will find someone nice soon. If not, there's always Will. I'm beginning
to think he'll go for anyone."
Will stopped yapping on his cell phone and stuck out his tongue at his roommate.
"Thanks, Jack. You're the best."
His chest swelled up and he mumbled gruffly, "Yeah, well, I'll never kick a dog when it's down – oh, not that I'll kick a dog - ever – and ah, not
that I'm comparing you to a dog – it's just –"
"I know, I know. You're a big softy, Jacky." She coughed delicately. "Sucker."
"Excuse me?"

"You know, I bet if you had just let me worked my charms on Sammy, she wouldn't be with Vincent right now. Between you and me, who could
possibly resist us?"
Tristan rolled his eyes before turning back to his book. "Whatever."

"I mean, we're really missing out on a great opportunity here. It's not like there's always a cute girl who's managed to smuggle into an all boys
school."
"As opposed to the not so cute ones who've snuck in before?" Tristan raised an eyebrow.
Caine waved a hand airily. "Eh, semantics. You know what I mean. What I'm saying is that I want a cross dressing girlfriend of my own!"
Tristan drawled while flipping a page, "That sounds so unbelievably pathetic, I don't even know where to start."
"Again, you know what I mean. I want a girlfriend who I can see every day instead of just over holidays. It's not fair!"
"Boo hoo. Cry me a river. My heart just throbs for you."
"Say, aren't you like supposed to be madly in love with Sammy as well? What happened?"
Tristan narrowed his eyes at him. "Who told you that? What do you mean what happened?"
Caine shrugged and stretched his arms up over his head. "It isn't that hard to see. Shouldn't you be really jealous and running around smashing
things?"
"I believe you have me mistaken with the Hulk . . . or Vincent."
"Boy, your feelings for her must have been pretty shallow then –" Caine suddenly found himself thrown up against the wall. Tristan fixated a
unnerving gaze on him, pinning him with his arm. The book fell in a fluttered heap by their feet.
Icy blue eyes glittered as Tristan enunciated clearly, "I'm never just 'playing around' so I'll have you know that when I care for someone, you can
be sure that my feelings are true. I don't know what your relationships are like, but I typically prefer to be a gentleman and if Sammy chooses
Vincent and she's happy, then I damn well will respect her decision even if it kills me. So kindly let me be respectful and kill myself about this
without your little inputs!"
Caine blinked. "Okay."
Tristan loosened his grip and backed away, running a hand through his hair. He breathed heavily as he looked away. "Alrighty then." He bent
down to pick up his discarded book.
"Tristan?"
He grunted.
"You really are quite a gentleman."
Tristan glanced over at his friend in surprise.
"But that isn't always a good thing." Caine grinned crookedly. "That's why I hope you'll find yourself a girl one day who'll actually be able to
make you forget all about being a proper gentleman and allow you to just be yet another reckless teenager in love."
Tristan chuckled, "I don't know. I'm never much for conformity."
The other boy laughed. Then a peculiar expression swept across his features. "You know, I've also been wondering . . ."

His roommate cocked his head in puzzlement. "What?"

"Well . . . I don't know about Vincent since my brother has been pretty much stupid about these things but well . . ." Danielle trailed off yet
again.
"What? What?" Will switched the phone to his other ear. "What is it?"

"It's just that I'm kind of . . . worried about Sammy. I - I've heard that all boys think about it all the time – oh please don't take offense, Jack, but
. . ." Carrie seemed to be too embarrassed to continue.
"Huh?"

". . . but now that Vincent knows and they're together, do you think nighttime activities might get a tad more, well, friskier?" Caine waggled his
eyebrows.
Although Danielle and Carrie might have been a tad bit more tactful about their wording, their unexpected questions still carried over the same
meaning and impact on their recipients – and all three boys managed to skillfully sum up their whole reactions in one word.
"WHAT?"

"So what had your facial expressions all contorted before?"
Sammy sagged. "I knew you wouldn't forget it so easily."
"Nope," Vincent agreed, trailing a finger lazily against Sammy's shoulder.
She moved to get off his lap but he tightened his hold again. "Where are you going?"
"I'm crushing you, Vince."
"Pfft. You weigh as much as a peanut."
Rolling her eyes, she smiled. "Gee, thanks, but it's still getting kind of awkward. I'm going to develop a Santa Claus complex soon."
He grinned. "Ho ho ho."
"Yeah, yeah."
"So? What's up?"
She shrugged. "It was nothing really. I just had this … weird feeling in the pit of my stomach."

"Weird? As in 'I'm gonna hurl' or 'Cirque de Soleil are practicing in my stomach'?"
"I don't know. Perhaps a mixture of both?"
"Huh."
"I'm probably feeling a bit paranoid. I keep thinking that . . ." She trailed off.
Vincent hugged the girl to him. "Don't worry. Even if he can get past the security, he'll still have to get through the rest of us. Believe me, when
we put our minds to it, we can form quite an impassable border."
She pressed her forehead to his neck, feeling the steady beat of the pulse course through her body. "I know, I know. Thank you."
"Mmm . . . you want to go for a walk then? Perhaps some fresh air might soothe your nerves?"
"Mmm . . . perhaps. Okay."

Frank Westlane was about to collapse. The rain had finally stopped, but the sun was setting and a dark gloom fell over the trees. It didn't seem
like Samantha was going to be outside today.Damn it. He sniffed, wiping his nose with his wrangled handkerchief. He slammed his fist into the
tree and immediately winced in pain.
As he cradled his hand and prepared to turn around, his eyes caught on the most beautiful sight in the world. Glorious red hair.
He crouched low behind the tree, his soggy shoes making squishy sounds. He narrowed his eyes as he peered at the building. Samantha.

Sammy shivered and she turned to look out the glass doors she just passed by. Raven darkness and the whispery soft rustling of shrubbery met
her. Squinting in concentration, she took a step closer to the glass pane. Is there something out there? A jolt of alarm sprinkled over her skin,
sending goose bumps surfacing. Her hand trembled as she reached up to touch the cool surface.
"Sammy?"
She jumped and turned around to smile shakily at Vincent. "Hmm?"
His eyebrows furrowed and he moved closer to touch her shoulder. "What's the matter? You stopped all of a sudden. Something out there?"
"No. I didn't see anything. I – I think I'm just jumpy today." She cocked her head to look at the sky. "No moon tonight. So dark outside."
"Yeah. Are you sure you're okay?" He studied her with a frown on his face. "You want to head back now?"
Smiling softly, she nodded before reaching out to slip a hand through his. The warmth immediately enveloped her and he grinned dazzlingly.
"Let's go."

Just as Frank was about to lose his impatience and jump out to drag Samantha from the doors she was hiding behind, a dark haired boy came to
the girl's side. He cursed.

He recognized the boy to be Mrs. Grenford's own son and that definitely presented more problems. Then he watched the boy reach up to
touch Samantha and his blood almost erupted in rage.How dare he touch her so intimately? Who does he think he is? When Samantha leaned
into the touch, Frank's eyes almost popped out his sockets. That slut!
His fists tightened until his nails dug into his palms as he watched the two speak briefly. The soft smiles they were exchanging sent a horrible
feeling swirling in the pit of his stomach.
The final blow came when Samantha turned to leave. Actually daring to reach out and allowing her hand to be encompassed by the boy's
sweaty palm. Frank watched in utter disbelief as the couple walked away. Numbness settled over him as he shook his head slowly. His lips
contorted in a grimace as he roared internally. No!
He whirled around and staggered his way back to the car as he struggled to think clearly. What to do now . . . what to do . . . She'll be missed.
The damn slut. She found herself a nice rich boy. Stupid whore!
He wrenched open the door and collapsed into the driver's seat, breathing heavily. Finally unclenching his hands, he smoothed them over the
dashboard. A strange smile pulled at his lips. No matter. You've left me no other choice now, Samantha. He always had back up plans.

Chapter Twenty Three
"Come on."
"No."
"You know you want it."
"No. I don't." Pause. "Really."
"Come on. Please? Do it for me?"
"No. Vincent, I – I just can't."
"Why not?"
"I just can't! Go away."
"Come on, Sammy. It'll feel sooo good. Don't you want it?"
There was a longer pause. "No. I don't. Stop pressuring me, Vincent. What kind of a boyfriend are you?"
"A boyfriend who just loves you very much. Now the question is – do you love me?"
"Oh please. Vincent, just give up."
There was a suspicious rustling sound and then Sammy nearly shrieked, "What are you doing? Get that away from me!"
"That's it." Will pushed the other eavesdropping boys out of the way before he kicked the door down. Well, tried to. He grimaced as a jolt of
pain hurtled through his foot. "Crap. This is a lot harder than it's shown in the movies."

Tristan shoved him out of the way. "Or we could try the doorknob first." The door opened easily and he gave Will a pointed look.
Will scoffed. "Oh please. How was I supposed to know it was unlocked? You would think Vince would at least secure the lock before making any
advances on Sammy."
Tristan nodded. "Ah, but that's the point. You would think. I've learned not to expect much from Grenford."
The door opened all the way as Vincent folded his arms, a dark glare on his face. "And you would think that some people would learn not to
insult others while standing on their doorsteps."
Jack and Caine tried to peer around Vincent's shoulders. Caine whispered excitedly, "Do you see anything? Huh? Huh?"
Jack shook his head as he went up on his tiptoes. "No. Vincent's just blocking the whole damn view."
Vincent arched an eyebrow. "Just what exactly are you looking for?"
"Well, duh. Sammy's naked, gorgeous self," Caine chirped. The blonde boy was immediately kicked out of the doorway.
"SAMMY! SAMMY! ARE YOU OKAY? ARE YOU? I'M HERE! DON'T WORRY! I'LL RESCUE YOU!" Will's screaming into his ear didn't help Vincent's
temper much either.
Sammy peered around Vincent's shoulder and blinked. "What are you guys doing here?"
"RESCU – oof!" Will reeled back from the impact of Vince's palm making contact with his forehead.
"Sammy says I have violent tendencies so . . . please stop screaming in my ear. Thank you," Vincent declared gracefully, albeit a bit belatedly.
Will was still rubbing his forehead, which was now turning a dull red.
"Why do I need rescuing?" Sammy cocked her head to one side.
"Vincent's forcing himself on you!"
"Wh – what?" Sammy's eyes widened, her cheeks flushed, and her hands dropped limply next to her sides. "He's what?" She looked over at
Vincent. "You're what?"
"WHAT?" A dull flush spread over Vincent's cheeks and his hands clenched into two impressive fists.
They were particularly impressive to the boys lingering on the doorstep, who were quite in the near vicinity for those fists to make some pretty
impressive contact.
"Oh boy." Jack tried to laugh even as he started to back away. "I hope that was a guilty WHAT and not a 'What the hell are you talking about
and I'm just about to pummel you' WHAT."

Frank was busy realizing that his ideas for reinforcement weren't so . . . reinforcing after all. He rubbed his face in weary frustration before
straightening up. He was going to try again - and again - and again – and he wasn't going to stop until the stupid woman finally got his meaning.
"Yes," he sighed loudly. "Yes, my nephew has run away for quite some time now. I have no idea where he went. He should be fairly easy to
recognize, what with his brilliant orange hair andgreen eyes and small build . . ." His eyes slanted over to the woman hopefully, waiting for a
glimmer of recognition.

Mrs. Grenford just made a bored, humming sound, her eyes still perusing some documents on her table.
He sighed loudly.
"If you need to go to the restroom or something, stop sighing, go now and get it over with before I throw something at you," she snapped. Well,
with their tempers, no one ever did say Vincent wasn't her son.
His patience finally shattered and he decided to go for the direct approach. "You know, Mrs. Grenford, I do believe I recall something about you
mentioning a Sam Westlane at your delightful Christmas party . . ."
She arched an eyebrow. "Yes. What about it?"
He widened his eyes, trying to convey an expression of shock and hope. "Oh! Then perhaps, maybe . . . could it be? I didn't dare hope that he
would have been so close but now, after thinking it over – yes! It does make perfect sense now! He was always so – so – but wait. You say he's a
good friend of Vincent?"
She frowned, clearly uncomfortable with the fact that she seemed to be in the dark about something. "Well, I wouldn't exactly say that they
are good friends . . . but yes, they're roommates and their relationship is pretty amiable."
His eyes turned plate sized again, this time trying to express horror. "Oh my. Oh dear. Oh dear, dear . . ."

"You mean he was just trying to force you to eat a cupcake?"
Sammy nodded with a frown, still pink with embarrassment.
"Well . . . he wasn't even doing something kinky with the cream filling or something?"
Vincent shot Will a lethal, death glare.
"No." Her cheeks reddened. "I've been trying to watch my weight lately and well, Vince was becoming a bit concerned –"
"It's not healthy to just have a salad at every meal! You need protein, carbohydrates -"
"And you thought to seek that in a cupcake?" Tristan inquired dryly.
"Well, of course not! I was merely trying to … lure her back to the realm of good food before moving on to the steaks and such."
"Ah, bribe her first with dessert, then slap her with the meat."
Sammy interrupted. "I don't see what's the big deal. I mean, after these months of gorging myself as a boy, I don't see why I can't cut back on
my food intake now . . ."
"As long as you take everything in moderation, you shouldn't even need to worry about going on a diet!"
"But – but – I'm so bloated now. I look like a pig!"
"No, you don't! How many times do I need to repeat it? You're fine the way you are."

Sammy nodded, smiling softly up at him. Then she turned her back on him and asked the others, "So, what do you guys think?"

Frank had been afraid that he had overdone it a bit with all the "Oh dears", but it turned out Mrs. Grenford had bought it anyway. She sat up
straight in her chair and pierced him with one of her "peer down the nose, sniff arrogantly, arch an eyebrow" looks.
"What in the world are you blathering about?"
"My nephew ran away from home for quite some time now. His name is Samuel Westlane and after my dear brother and his wife met their
horrible fate in a car crash, the boy has been simply impossible to handle. He has always had a bit of a cruel, devilish nature in him – enjoyed
trampling on small animals, setting fire to the house when he was little, and such - but we thought it was merely a childhood phase that would
simply disappear once he matured. Ah, I see now that it is an innate part of his character and he is simply a poor, disturbed soul. I should have
taken every precaution –"
"Are you saying your crazy nephew ran away and enrolled himself in Creston?"
Frank nodded.
"Are you saying your nephew – who very well might be an arsonist and an animal torturer – is now my son's roommate?"
"Well . . . yes."
Her eyes spat fire. "When I first mentioned Sam Westlane and when you saw him at my house, WHY DIDN'T YOU HAUL HIM OFF TO AN
ASYLUM THEN?"
Oh shit. Time for some major BS. "Well, I just caught a brief glimpse of him and I wasn't sure if he was – we always called him Samuel. Your son
didn't seem to mention any problems with him to you either so I thought that maybe he wasn't my nephew."
Her voice became shrewd, coolly calculating. "Then why now? What made you decide he could very well be your nephew?"
Frank gulped, but he shrugged. "Well, I don't really know, but I figured I should warn you at the very least, you know, in case it turned out that
he is really my nephew and that –"
"And that Creston suddenly goes up in flames one night? Or that my son is found dead in his room one day? What were you thinking to inform
me so late?" She snarled.
Frank suppressed a smile. "Well, why don't you just find someone to pull Sam Westlane out of the school and then you could hand him over to
me so that –"
She waved a hand. "No."
"What?"
"No. As you said before, Vincent didn't mention having any problems to me, so I can probably imagine that this Sam isn't your lunatic of a
nephew. Besides, when I met Sam, I didn't detect any trait of mental problems and such – no, he was simply a sniveling, little boy who'd seem
to be the type that'll be afraid of his own shadow. Thus, case closed. That's that. Good luck finding your crazy boy." She turned her attention
back to the articles spread out before her.
Ah, crap. What now? Uhhh . . . ah. "Perhaps I forgot to mention that Samuel can be such a good actor? Sometimes, he likes to . . . play with his
victims before making his final kill."

Mrs. Grenford's eyes slanted over to gage the man and Frank chose his every word carefully.
"Samuel also has other . . . disturbing interests."
"Like what?"
"To be frank, Samuel has always expressed an attraction to his own sex and I'm just afraid that with his cunning wiles, he might have persuaded
your dear son over to the dark side." Dark side. Was that too over the top?
The woman curled her lips. "While I'm not exactly supportive of homosexuality, I would hardly call it the "dark side". Besides, Vincent has a
friend, William, who's quite open about his own sexuality and had my son had any sort of an inclination for his own sex, I would imagine
William would have already influenced him ages ago."
Frank gritted his teeth. Damn. Knew I shouldn't have used that stupid term. Where the hell did I pick that up from? He enunciated carefully,
brushing at his sleeve nonchalantly. "Well, sometimes, it isn't a matter of when, but who. Sometimes, if you happen upon the right person –
and I'm not saying Samuel is – but if you're met with a whole-hearted seduction and you're not prepared to see through the lies, even the most
intelligent men can get swept off by the tide. Has Vincent seemed any different lately? Is he particularly protective of his roommate?"
Mrs. Grenford was silent for a while and Frank watched with triumph as the woman's lips slowly thinned, the edges turning white.
He decided to stoke up the fire just in case. "I just worry that I might be too late and that young Vincent might have already fallen. I hope
Samuel will only play and not torment the poor boy - not like the last one . . ."
Mrs. Grenford stood up abruptly. In a voice that's too calm and too quiet, she spoke. "I'm going to pay my son a visit. Should I find anything
wrong, I expect you to claim your nephew immediately or I'll be forced to bring down serious measures."
Frank stood up, nodding effusively. "Of course! But, shouldn't you pull him out immediately and hand him over to him? I'll be sure to –"
"Quiet. I have always done things my way and this time, it will be no difference. Should I need your assistance, I will call you. If not, I expect to
keep your mouth shut about this and proceed as normal."
He kept his eyes low. "Yes, I understand. But remember –" He looked up and his dark eyes glittered. "- as soon as you find something wrong, I
will be more than happy to take care of the problem for you. Whether or not he's my nephew, it no longer matters. I'm only concerned about
you and young Vincent's best interests."

"Just tell me the truth. Am I fat?"
"Uhhh . . ." A chorus of fumbling males babbled in response.
Sammy's face crumpled.
"You're not! You're not! You're perfect!" Will exclaimed.
"Liar. Stop trying to flatter me."
"No, it's true!" Caine echoed. "You're as lovely as a lily. Rosy as a rose! Delectable like a – a d-lettered flower – ah, dandelion!"
"Or a daffodil, you mean?" Tristan suggested with a wry smile.

"Yes, I suppose that could work as well." Caine nodded.
"Sammy, you're great the way you are. You could hardly be called fat," Vincent reassured her.
"Yes! If anything, you can only be termed as pleasantly plump!" Jack added.
The room turned quiet.
TWACK! There goes Vincent's hand against the back of Jack's head.
Sammy whispered, devastated. "Wh - what's the difference between pleasantly plump and FAT?" She covered her face.
"Pl – pleasantly plump means you're pleasant –"
"- and plump," Sammy muttered.
"It was meant as a compliment! Ah, alright, uh, you're as gorgeous as a – a - crap. Uh, intoxicating as a – an indigo colored flower. Oh, oh, you're
as pretty as a partridge in a pear tree! There! That should make up for the last few –"
"Alright, that's it! Everybody kindly get out of our room before we run through the whole alphabet!"
"But we want to stay . . ." Will protested.
Sammy smiled wanly. "It's alright, guys. You don't have to stay to cheer up me. I know I'm just acting like a complete airhead these days. I'm
fine. I shouldn't be such a girl anymore . . ." Her bottom lip gave a suspicious quiver.
"Sammy, come on. Who in their right mind would ever call you fat?" Vincent demanded.
"Yeah, especially with a big, bad boyfriend standing next to her – you won't end up in a right body either," Jack snickered to Will.
The "big, bad boyfriend" ignored them. "Sammy, if appearances were all that mattered, then I wouldn't have liked you when you were in boy
mode."
"Ugh, mushiness alert." One of the boys in the background coughed.
"Well, this does bring up an interesting point. I don't know why he was so attracted to Sammy either. Maybe he does have a hidden tendency
for, um, how should I put it - being warm for a guy's form, you know?" Caine piped up.
The others nodded musingly.
"Or maybe Sammy is just unique!" Vincent snapped. "May – maybe I just innately knew she was a girl or I picked up some, I don't know, female
pheromones from her, or maybe whenever we're together, we just have this crackling chemistry that . . . you know . . . crackles."
"Uh huh."
"Oh, shut up."
Silence was particularly deafening then, especially with the pointed looks the boys were passing back and forth between them.
"Oh, for – why haven't you guys kindly left yet, huh? Must I boot you all out every single time?"

They blinked at him.
"Are you deaf? I want to talk to Sammy alone. Private. In our room made for two people only. Two."
Tristan yawned.
"Guys, can you please give us a moment or so to talk in private? We can catch up later at dinner." Sammy intervened.
"Sure thing, Sammy. All you had to do was ask." Will spun cheerfully on his heels and the others followed.
"I hate them all." Vincent plopped down next to Sammy on the bed as the door slammed.
He appraised her out of the corners of his eyes. "So anyway, what brought this whole thing on?"
Sammy turned to look at him, her green eyes startled. "What?"
"Why did you all of a sudden decide to do the whole diet thing?"
Her cheeks flushed and she didn't meet his eyes. "Oh, well, nothing much. I just wanted to – it's nothing."
"Tell me."
"I – okay, well, it's – I've been thinking about going a diet these couple of months, but what really made me get into it recently is that . . ." She
lowered her head and mumbled something.
"What?"
Mumble. Mumble. Mumble.
"I can't hear you."
Louder mumble.
"Oh for –" He twisted her around and clapped his hands around her cheeks before trying to lift her head up. She resisted. "Damn, you have a
strong neck. Why don't you want to look at me? Come on. Sammy, stop fighting me or you're really going to end up with a broken neck."
"You know, Will could probably interpret that as a case for domestic violence."
"He can interpret anything into what he wants to hear. Sammy, come on."
She sighed and lifted her face to meet his eyes.
"Tell me."
Her eyes swerved over to scrutinize the walls and she slowly blushed. "Well, it's just that last week, Coach Graham congratulated me."
"On what?"

Her cheeks approached an alarming flame red. "He said it was a good thing to see me get better at training. He said it's about damn time that I
went through puberty and stop looking like a puny, girly stick. He – he said thank goodness I was finally getting some meat on my bones and
that I was looking - looking bulkier lately!" She let out a moan and leaned forward to rest her forehead on Vincent's shoulder.
Then she heard a suspicious snicker.
She pulled back immediately. "You're laughing at me!"
Vincent rubbed his mouth, but his eyes twinkled. "No, I'm not."
"You're snickering!"
"I was just, er, laughing with you, not at you."
"Oh, don't give me that. Whoever thought up that line should go – go burn or something because whenever someone says that, the recipient is
most definitely NOT LAUGHING!"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. But you know, bulky doesn't naturally mean that you're fat. It could mean . . . muscular."
She stared at him sullenly. "Oh great. So I'm starting to look like a bodybuilder. I'm a manly woman!"
He chuckled again and she turned her back on him.
"Aw, Sammy."
"I'm not talking to you. I'm too busy lifting weights and popping pills. I have to train, you know, so I can keep on being muscular and bulky!
Sammy, the Wonder Woman! Sammy, the He She! Sammy, the Manly Woman – eep!"
A pair of arms locked around her waist before she was dragged backward onto the bed, falling on her back. Smoothly, Vincent twisted himself
on top of her and pinned her there, giving her an insolent grin. "Alright, Miss Sammy the Manly Woman, show me how strong you are then."
She closed her eyes. "I'm not playing, Vince."
He leaned down to press his forehead against hers. "And I'm not, either. Sammy, stop being so sensitive –"
Her eyes flew open to glare up at him.
"Whoops, wrong thing to say, huh? Um, let me clarify. What I meant to say is that even if the whole world sees you as a bulky boy, you would
always be my bulky girlfriend."
She blinked up at him calmly. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"Okay, what I really meant to say is that you are perfect and I don't know what you've been talking about when you say you're getting fat. I
don't notice these things unless you're getting too big for me to pick up or too skinny for me to hug –"
"Are you trying to show that you're not an observant boyfriend?"
"Okay, okay. What I really, really meant to say is that you're beautiful and I like you a lot. Just the way you are. You can tell I'm not big on liking
someone for the appearances since I seemed to have fallen for you when you were a boy, so I expect that even if you turn into a huge,
slobbering, pill-popping bodybuilder type of a pig, I would still –"

She laughed and arched her neck to press her lips against his. "Alright! I get the idea, you pig lover."
He gave her a lopsided grin and corrected her. "Only you. I'm only a Sammy lover."
She grimaced.
"What?"
"That was so unbelievably mushy and cheesy." She giggled even as a blush swept across her cheeks yet again.
He shrugged. "Eh, what can I tell you? You created a monster."
She made a face and then furrowed her eyebrows. "Vince?"
"Hmm?"
"You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?"
"What?"
"Pinning me down."
"And what if I am?" His grin turned sly.
"I can sic Will on you, since you're not supposed to force yourself on me."
"Well, that depends on whether or not it's forcing." He kissed her. "Is it?"
"Is it what?" She murmured dazedly.
"Force."
"Hmm . . . I'm supposed to be really bulky and strong now so I guess I'll have to defend myself."
He smiled. "I guess you should." He leaned down again – and then jerked when he felt something dig into his sides. "What are you doing?"
She laughed. "Defending myself." Tickling him without mercy, she dug her fingers into his sides.
Vincent howled. "Stop that! Stop! Who told you I'm ticklish?"
"Danielle."
"I'm gonna kill – AH HAHAHAHA! STOP! I'M GONNA – I CAN'T BREATHE!" He started convulsing, but struggled to stay on top of her. "YOU! I
wasn't going to do this since you're a girl and all, but you leave me no choice!" His fingers crept up her sides, running up and down, and she
twisted and squealed.
"Stop it, Vince!"
"You stop it!"

"NO!"
"THEN – wheeze – I'M NOT GONNA – buwahaha – STOP EITHER!"
"YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO PICK ON – gah -GIRLS!"
"THIS IS SELF-DEFENSE!"
"STOP!"
"NO! YOU STOP!"
"NO!" Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she spluttered involuntarily.
"SAY UNCLE!"
Sammy stopped suddenly, face going pale.
"Sammy? What's the matter? What – oh shit. I'm so stupid. That must have brought up a lot of – oh, I'm so sorry." Vincent sat back
remorsefully. "I'm so – ACK!"
Sammy lunged herself at him and knocked him onto his back. She smiled brightly down at him. "Sucker. I win!"
Vincent made a face, but he smiled in resignation. "That was such a cheap trick. Here I was, so concerned about you and you just betrayed my
feelings like that. My ego's all hurt." He grinned. "You should give me a kiss to make it all better."
"I guess as a victorious, bulky gal, I should be magnanimous and take pity on you."
"Yes, you should."
"And I guess, as your girlfriend, I should sometimes give in to your wishes."
"Yes, you should."
"Then perhaps I should go and eat that cupcake now . . ." She made a move to climb off of him.
He tightened his grip on her waist. "Uh huh. I'll like to see you try."
She laughed. "You're so contradictory."
"And you're being a tease. What happened to my blushing, shy Sammy?"
A soft smile touched her lips. "Still here, even though you can be such a bad influence." She closed her eyes and slowly dipped her head down . .
.
BAM!
"WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING?"
Sammy and Vincent twisted apart and looked up in astonishment.

"M - mother? W – what are you doing here?" Vincent choked.
Mrs. Grenford stood in the open doorway in a neat, white business suit, with her hands at her hips. Her eyes were freezing as she scowled at
Sammy and she gritted her teeth. The door was still creaking from the impact of colliding against the wall and it swayed rhythmically. "Hello,
Samuel Westlane. How have you been treating my son?"
Vincent grimaced, closing his eyes. I have got to start making sure the door is locked.

Chapter Twenty-Four
Katherine Grenford's heels clicked furiously through the hallways. Her stomach felt queasy, much like that time her idiot of a husband had
insisted on making her try the "homemade sushi" he had so lovingly prepared for her. She rolled her eyes. Thank goodness neither of our
children had picked up his "eccentric" genes – at least, I hope not.
She shook her head and lifted her head up higher, pursing her lips and fixating her eyes on some invisible point off in the far distance. It was her
"I'm pondering a huge life altering problem, so nobody better bother me because I have no time for you pitiful beings" look.
Unfortunately, Headmaster Finnigan seemed to be a pitiful being that didn't want to be ignored. He finally caught up with her and twisted his
body in front of her, whipping out his arms to block any further movement on her part. "Mrs. Gren – gasp – ford," he wheezed, his cheeks red
from exertion. "How – huff – nice of you – cough – to pay us a visit."
She met his eyes in a leveling glare. "I'm not here to pay you a visit. I'm here to see my son."
"Yes, well, why don't we head over to my office so that we can properly sit down, have a cup of tea, and call for Vincent –"
Katherine sidestepped him without a backward glance. "No need. I can find him myself."
"But, Mrs. Grenford, it's not exactly proper procedure for you to roam through Creston's hallways –"
She whirled around and snapped, "Are you saying I'm forbidden to visit my son's own room?"
"N – no, but he might not be in and –"
She thrust out her hand and tapped her foot impatiently.
"W – what?"
"Master key."
"H – huh?"
"I need the master key so that I can get into my son's room."
"But – why don't we just call Vincent to the office and –"
"Give me the key or Creston isn't getting a single penny from me from now on."

Headmaster Finnigan blinked. "I can't, Mrs. Grenford. This is against the rules. You must understand that we can't simply give the key to
anybody –"
"Ah, but I'm not just anybody, am I?" Her pale gray eyes stabbed piercingly into the man and he could have sworn the woman towered over
him – even though he knew he should have been taller than her by at least half a foot.
"Perhaps I should accompany you to Vincent's room then. I'll open it for you –"
"Give. Me. The. Key."
Mutedly, he dug out the huge, jingling chain and handed it over. "The one labeled with Vincent's room number is the –"
She spun around and resumed her path.

Terry Westlane had never felt more vulnerable, useless, terrified in his life. His eyelids were also drooping most disturbingly, despite his heroic
attempts to keep focus. When he had first awakened, he hadn't been exactly thrilled that the first sight was of his dear uncle. Then the allconsuming rage had swept over him and lent him an adrenaline rush that had his hands achingto reach up and go all octopus style on Frank's
twiggy neck. Nonetheless, the kick was still a satisfying substitute.
But as always, energy must wane and as it did, Terry's body sagged in absolute exhaustion. As he lay there, blinking up at the ceiling, he slowly
sifted through his thoughts, his memories. Brain still groggy, he felt like he wading in waist deep cement that was hardening far too quickly.
He remembered his own body jolting forward and his neck snapping forward and back, wincing as he imagined his brain taking a nasty tumble
inside his skull as it tried to keep up with the momentum. No wonder it had shut down on him.
Terry continued his steady blinking. But what had happened before? Where was I going? Come to think of it, why the hell was I so anxious to
kick Frank's butt? Sure, he'd always given me the creeps, but I never felt this urge to just bash his brains in.
A memory of long red hair, concerned green eyes, and a small smile drifted in and out. Sammy? A tingly feeling tap danced in his gut and he
gritted his teeth. Something's wrong. Something's wrong. What is it? Where – where is she? Where are Mom and Dad? Why can't I – what the
hell exactly happened?
He struggled to remain calm. His pulse was racing – there goes that adrenaline rush again. Okay, this is what I know. I remember leaving the
house with Mom and Dad to go . . . somewhere. Okay, good enough. Sammy stayed home because she wasn't feeling too well that day. Okay,
okay. Doing good so far. So we're driving and driving and then – A loud crash, Dad's frantic cries, Mom's screams, crushing pressure, pain,
darkness. His hands started to shake. Alright, car crash. So where are Mom and Dad? Dread and apprehension flipped his gut over. Where's
Sammy?
Terry swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry. I woke up, feeling overwhelmingly angry. Desperately angry. I see Frank's face with this creepy
smirk. Fury. Pain. Rage. Alright, so something must have happened that I didn't like. Frank was a big jerk somehow and I want to throttle him.
That's settled. Now all I have to figure out is what exactly had happened?
He thought of his sister again. Sammy would have been here. She should have been here. There's something definitely wrong here. No shit,
Sherlock. Emotions swept over him again, but this time, it inspired cold shivers tingling down the back of his neck. There was still an intense
sensation of rage, but this time, an almost desperate, underlying tone of terror came in with the tide – and he had the uncanny feeling that it
had everything to do with his sister.

Long story short, Katherine Grenford finally found her son's room, daintily overheard (because real ladies never ever resort to "eavesdropping")
some excruciatingly disturbing giggling and rustling with her ear in a slight, reclining position against the door, found out that the door was
stupidly left unlocked (Dear lord, has she taught the boy nothing?), and proceeded to enter in a cool, collected manner.
"WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING?"
She had almost yelped in horror, had not years of etiquette training taught her that yelping is for dogs and small rodents, not ladies (Rule 192).
The sight was so terrible, so sickening, it made her stomach roil in protest. Her only son, heir to the whole Grenford enterprise, sprawled on his
back in his bed, with his roommate bestriding him – an entangled mess of limbs, hair all mussed up, faces flushed red, panting hard – she
shuddered and pressed the palm of her hand against her eyes until spots of colors danced behind her eyelids.
She gritted her teeth and whipped her hand away, fixating every inch of rage and disgust at the red headed devil. How dare he? Who did he
think he was messing with?
"Hello, Samuel Westlane. How have you been treating my son?"
Vincent groaned and her eyes veered to him, jaw tightening in response. I am going to – you stupid – I – why is my son so – how can he – if he
even thinks about protecting – She took a deep breath and closed off her ramblings before glaring at Sam again.
Sammy flinched and in her haste to get away from Vincent, tripped and tumbled onto the floor with a loud thud.
Vincent sat up quickly. "Sammy, are you alright?" He reached out his hands –
"Don't touch him!" Katherine spat.
Vincent looked up at his mother and his eyes went cold. Staring deliberately into the eyes of the prim business woman, he reached down and
grabbed hold of Sammy before tugging her up next to him. Fury flashed in Katherine's eyes and a silent mutiny raged in his.
"What exactly were you two doing?" Her voice was deceptively cool.
Sammy spoke in a quavering voice. "Um, it wasn't what you think – I – we were just –"
"We were just wrestling with each other," Vincent smoothly took over.
"Wrestling?"
"Yes, wrestling. You know, like all red-blooded boys do." He spoke calmly, but there was a wry irony tinting his tone.
"On the bed?"
He shrugged, keeping his arm wrapped loosely around Sammy's shoulders. "The floor felt too cold. Where else would you suggest? The
bathtub?" His lips twisted in an ugly smirk.
In a flash, Katherine crossed the room and cracked the palm of her hand against Vincent's face neatly. Sammy gasped, her hands trembling
slightly as she reached up to touch his shoulder. Vincent's face remained stony as his cheek slowly reddened, but his fingers stroked Sammy's
back soothingly.
Katherine was equally horrified at what she had just done. She never expected to lose her cool like that. It was completely – she shouldn't have
– she wasn't supposed to act this way. She was supposed to be dignified, an expert at playing her cards right and keeping her emotions
collected. She wasn't – It's all that boy's fault. She narrowed her eyes at Sammy before turning her attention back to her son.

"What is wrong with you, Vincent? When have you turned into such a – How can you act like this? What have I taught you? Wrestling? Do you
take me as a complete fool? I know very well when you're lying to me, Vincent. You're my son! How can you - how can you be such a disgrace
to the family? Dallying with – with this boy? Are you completely out of your mind? Do you know what kind of a scandal you can start? You're
the heir and you're acting like you're – you're gay or something!"
Sammy chose to speak up then. "Please, Mrs. Grenford, it isn't what you think. Actually, I'm not who you think I am. Vincent was just – I'm
actually a gi –"
"Mother, if you're all done with barging in and slapping me, please leave now." Vincent tightened his arm around Sammy. "I'm glad you finally
remembered that you have a son and kudos to you for attempting this whole motherly act now, but really, after all these years, I'm fine. After
all, I haven't killed myself yet, have I? I can take care of myself just great without your so-called pep talks and emotional support." He curled his
lips. "I really don't need any help from a total stranger who calls herself my mother. Just keep up with the financial aid and I'll promise you I
won't grow up into a serial killer."
Her lips went white. "You ungrateful little – who do you think I work so hard for? Who gave you such an excellent education, a beautiful home?
Who –"
His eyes were a dark, murky grey as he spoke softly. "I appreciate all you've done so far. Really, I do. But when I was younger, sometimes I
actually wished that we'd go bankrupt just so that I'd have a normal mother who'd actually live at home with her children, who'd sleep in a
bedroom just down the hallway so that her children can run to every time they have a nightmare, who'd take the time to talk for more than a
few minutes per week, who'd simply laugh, cry, scream, and shout in her house just because she was with her family and it was home."
He heaved a sigh. "Frankly, I don't know you, Mother. I haven't had and I expect I never will. It used to break my heart when I was still young
enough to care, but you know how time covers up everything. I've learned not to expect much from you anymore." His hand wrapped tightly
around Sammy's fingers. "I'm happy now. If you still treat me as a son, just let me be and leave us alone." He turned his face away. "Go home,
Mother."
Sammy looked back and forth between them, her other hand turning clammy and twisting the sheets. She wanted to say something, but she
couldn't seem to be able to find anything that seemed appropriate. Her mouth fluttered open and shut as she stared at Mrs. Grenford.
Katherine Grenford seemed to have turned into stone, if not for the fact that her hands were quivering in short spastic motions. She started to
say something, before finally snapping her mouth shut and spinning around on her heels. She walked over to the door and rested on her hand
on the doorknob for a brief pause as she thought. Her back taut with tension, she finally murmured, "I do care, Vincent. You'll understand soon
enough that all I've ever done was to keep your best interests in mind. You'll understand that soon enough." When Vincent made no response,
she finally walked out of the door. "Good bye, son." The door didn't exactly slam shut, but the silence of the room made the softest click seem
deafening.

Katherine Grenford wandered through the hallways dazedly. Shock numbed her a while before rage started its course, boiling her blood to an
overwhelming heat. Her footsteps started to speed up and she was soon clicking down the hallways with the momentum of a clacking
typewriter.
The headmaster's eyes lit up in obvious relief when he saw her. "Mrs. Grenford, I trust –"
Without sparing him a glance, she tossed the keys at him and his arms flapped out wildly in his surprise. She continued walking without a word.
Just as she was about to leave the building so that she could brood – no, ponder extensively - at home, a loud voice caught her attention and
stopped her in her footsteps.
"I don't know who he thinks he is. Stupid Sam Westlane. He's nothing special. I just don't understand why Tristan and Vincent are all, like,
almost fawning over the guy. Just because he's new and quiet and red-headed, I don't see what's so great about him. Pfft, I mean, I'm so much

cooler than he is and you've never seen Tristan talk to me like that." The voice took a whiny turn. "I mean, I've known him so much longer than
that idiot, how come I'm not in his inner circle? It's not fair!"
Katherine turned around and walked slowly toward a room that a door slightly ajar. A short, tweedy looking boy with oily hair stood, waving his
hands frantically as he yapped at a pair of large twins that looked slack jawed with stupidity.
"Someone should teach that jerk a lesson and put him in his place!"
"Why can't you be that someone?" she suggested, tone flat.
Marvin whirled around, his eyes wide with fear. He relaxed slightly when he saw that it was just Mrs. Grenford, before going stiff again. "Mrs.
Grenford, I – I didn't see you there! What brings you to our fine school this fine morning?" He gulped.
She furrowed her eyebrow. "Do I know you?"
"N – no, but I'm Marvin, the son of Chip Onyenbreth."
"I see." She paused. "No, I don't. Who is he?"
"He – he's the owner of the Chip Chip Corporation. We specialize in the strategic manufacturing of the most top notch potatoes and all natural
ingredients into a perfectly formulized product of zesty flavor and incredible texture –"
"What?"
"We make chips. Potato chips. You know, the famous slogan: 'Chip Chip Corporation's CEO Chip Always Chips In to Make Your Chippiest Chip!'"
Marvin grinned proudly. "We've always admired the Grenford Enterprise and would love to get together sometimes to discuss, you know, the
best marketing strategies and such."
"Right. I'll … keep that in mind." She shook her head. "Anyway, Marvin, how would you and your friends like to help me out in dealing with a
pesky little problem that's been bugging us both?"
His eyebrows furrowed. "What, you have a bug infestation problem too?"
She stared at him. "No, Marvin. Sam Westlane."
"Oh!" His eyes started shifting. "But, I – I don't know. He's pretty good friends with Vincent and Tristan and if they ever find out, my butt is
going to be pummeled faster than you can say 'Chip Chip Corp –"
"If you help me out, I'll promise you that your –" She wrinkled her nose. " - Chip Chip Corp – whatever - will seriously benefit in the near future."
"Really? Gosh, Dad would be so – but, what exactly do you want us to do?"
Marco and Polo finally made their voices heard. "Yeah, like what?"
Katherine's lips curled in a dark smile that chilled the whole room.

For a while, there was no noise in the room as Vincent and Sammy just sat there on the bed. Both seemed completely wiped out with a weary,
drawn look on both their faces. Sammy rested her head on his shoulder as her hand crept up to touch his cheek. "You okay?"

"Mmm." He grunted as he closed his eyes.
"Why didn't you let me explain? I could have told her that I was a girl and maybe she wouldn't have gotten so angry –"
He chuckled low, bitterly. "Nah. She would have still blown up. The only difference would be that she would immediately get you kicked out."
She tensed up. "Still. You two had such a huge fight and it's just so – so –"
"Believe me, this is probably the first time we've ever spoken so long. It's no skin off my back."
Silence reigned supreme for the next few minutes. "You know, I think she really does care."
He jolted in surprise. "What?"
"You're her son. Every mother cares for her son –"
"Uh huh, right, and that explains all those –"
"I'm not saying that she hasn't made mistakes in the way she brought you and Danielle up, but you know, maybe she just has a hard time
expressing her feelings. I think she really does believe she's doing the best she can as a mother to you two. She looked so hurt when you asked
her to leave."
"Hurt? The Ice Queen?"
"Vincent! She's your mother and I can't believe she would honestly do something to hurt you!"
"I know that! It's just – you don't understand, alright? I've never had anything from her that was personal. To this day, I don't know what her
favorite color is, what she likes to do late at night, what her favorite TV show is, if she even watches TV. I don't know anything about her
besides the fact that she's my biological mother and she's damn good at business and sending us money every month. You've always had a
loving family – awesome parents, a little brother – your life is complete, Sammy –"
She twisted away from him. "Was, Vincent! Was! Don't you remember? Half of my loving family is dead. My grandfather, my parents. My little
brother is locked away in a hospital and I haven't got a clue if he's even still breathing. The only relation I'm aware of is a demented uncle who
gets all touchy feely whenever I'm near him and calls my hair his precious!" She was feeling a familiar sting in her eyes again. "So, I'm just saying
that maybe you're the one who doesn't understand! You still have a mother and a father, Vince. They're still alive and as long as they're here,
you still have a chance to get to know them, love them. It doesn't necessarily mean that you guys would be all happy happy now, but at least
you still have time to try! Just stop – stop acting so damned spoiled!"
Vincent went shock still and they stared at each other, chests heaving slightly. He reached for her, but she shrank away and shook her head
furiously. "No, I – I need to think for a minute –"
"Maybe I should go take a walk –"
"No, I should go. You stay. I want to get some fresh air," she said.
"Are you sure you don't want me to come with –"
"No. No. We should have some space apart, clear our heads, think over things for a while and – yeah. I'll see you later, okay?"
He nodded and she scrambled off the bed. She took a step toward the door, then turned back quickly and planted a kiss on his cheek, before
scurrying out.

He fell back on his bed and folded his arms under his neck, looking up at the shadows that played along the ceiling.

Sammy wandered through the halls, rubbing her hands together absentmindedly. She tried to focus on one certain point, but it seemed like her
brain was a jumbled mess today. All these fleeting thoughts darting around in her mind like tiny hummingbirds, so difficult to catch hold of.
"'ello, Sam."
She looked up, startled. Marvin blocked her way, his legs spread out and his hands at his hips like a nerdy swashbuckler wannabe.
"Um, hi."
He grinned nastily. "Lookee what we 'ave 'ere, boys. New kid all by his little lonesome."
She blinked in astonishment as Marco and Polo suddenly appeared out of nowhere, flanking her by both sides. "What – what's going on?"
"Nurthing much. Just wanted to talk, you see? Boys!" He snapped his fingers.
Sammy tensed up, but nothing happen. Marvin dropped his head with a suffering moan. "Marco, Polo, what are you doing?"
One of them blinked. "Nothing."
"Exactly!" He snarled. "Why didn't you grab him?"
"But you didn't tell us to and we couldn't understand what you were saying anyway. You had this funny sound to your words –"
Marvin turned puce. "It's an accent, understand? It makes me sound like the cool kidnapper sort."
"Really?"
"Yes."
Silence.
"Where's Sam?"
Sammy was busy edging down the hallways, but at his words, quickly started running instead.
"Go!" Marvin snapped his fingers again.
"Go where?"
"Duh! Grab him!"
"But you didn't tell us –"
"That's what the snap is for!"
"Well, why didn't you just say so? Have to make everything so complicated –"

"Well, I'm telling you now, aren't I? Go, you idiots! He's getting away!"

I have no idea what they want to do, but it's probably not going to be something pleasant. Sammy's heart was thudding in her throat as she
gasped for breath, sprinting down the hallways.
She had just opened her mouth to scream when she was roughly tackled from behind. "Oof!" Crashing against the ground, jarring her chin
against the hard surface, has a tendency to sweep all remaining breath from your lungs and make your world spin in front of you for a couple of
minutes.
These couple of minutes was more than enough for the twins to lumber to their feet and hoist Sammy up by her arms, one on each side. She
blinked dazedly as they moved back to Marvin, her feet barely grazing against the floor and her arms bruising from their tight grips.
Marvin grinned in triumph and stepped forward to sock her in the gut. The breath she had just regained quickly whooshed out from the pain
and she would have doubled over had not the twins been holding her up. Who knew the twerp can pack such a punch? He chirped, "That was
for making me look stupid, you stupid bastard."
He waved his hands. "Come on, guys. We can't keep her waiting too long."
Sammy blinked in confusion. Who? What? Marvin led the way as the twins moved her outside the glass doors, down the steps and across the
grass toward the woods.
Dread tingled along her spine and she tried to kick, swiping her feet right and left at the human vises, as she started to scream. "Help! Vincent!
Will! Tristan! Somebody! Help! Please! Vince!"
"Shut him up!" Marvin hissed. The twins shook her as they started to run deeper into the cover of the woods, but she only screamed louder.
"Oh, for the love of –" He backhanded her across the face and she wheezed, her cheek already stinging. He curled his lips and leaned forward.
"Whiny little girly bastard. Take it like a man!"
She whipped her head around and snarled, "I'll show you who's a man, you little wimp!" She brought her head forward and cracked her
forehead against his face, sending the boy reeling backward. Pain jolted in her own head, sending spots of white light before her vision, but
boy, was it worth it.
"GAH! He broke my nose!" Marvin yelped in an even more nasal voice than usual, clamping his hands over his nose, where blood was oozing
out profusely. "You little punk! You're going down!" He reared back with his hand fisted and she closed her eyes involuntarily, flinching
backward, when another voice interrupted.
"That's enough, Marvin. Marco, Polo, drop him."
She crashed to the ground with a thud and immediately covered her bruised stomach, trying to ease the pain.
"You three may go now. I'll take it from here."
"But, Mrs. Grenford," Marvin whined. "He broke my nose. Can't I return the favor?"
Sammy looked up sharply to find Katherine Grenford staring down at her coolly. The woman spoke dryly, but kept her eyes on Sammy. "As
much as I want to fulfill your wishes, Marvin, we're already running short on time and I want to get this done before Vincent suspects
something and comes running to find him. Go now."
Marvin grumbled, but he led the others back.

Sammy stared up at Katherine, eyes widened. "Mrs. Grenford, why -?"
"I've decided that you're too much of a bad influence on Vincent and you must be dealt with now, before the effect becomes permanent. You
must vanish from his life forever."
Her mouth went dry. "What? Are – are you going to kill me?"
"What?" A flicker of annoyance darted through the gray, stony eyes. "No. Don't be silly."
"Then what –"
"I don't know. Frankly, I don't care."
"Huh?"
"Ladies always have assistants to do their dirty work, Sam. You should know that." Yet another voice made its presence – this time, from behind
her and it was all too familiar.
Numbing chill and horror swept across her body from the center of her gut, dispersing along her veins until her blood ran cold. Her fingers
trembled as she slowly looked over her shoulder. Uncle Frank stood in the shade of a gnarly tree, a small smile of victory playing on his lips. He
moved forward and she quickly scrambled backward.
"Frank, I expect you know what to do to deal with him. I just don't want him to see Vincent ever again, but you know –" Katherine looked down
at Sammy, a brief moment of hesitation in her eyes. Sammy gazed up pleadingly, but resolve tightened the woman's jaw and she looked away.
"- use discretion. No deaths. No unnecessary pain. Just get him away from this place. Gone."
Frank chuckled and the sound sent Sammy nearly hyperventilating. "No worries, Mrs. Grenford. I always use discretion."
Katherine nodded slowly, before turning around. Sammy paled when she realized that the woman was leaving. Leaving her alone with him.
Sammy flew up to her feet and tried to run to Katherine before she was yanked backward against Frank's chest. He hissed into her ear, his
breath making her recoil. "Where do you think you're going, Samantha?"
Her voice croaked as she started yelling. "Please, Mrs. Grenford! You don't understand! I'm really a girl! My name is Samantha Westlane. I'm an
orphan. This man's my uncle. He – he took me in and he – he abused me. That's – that's why I ran away –" Frank growled as he tried to clap his
hand over her mouth. She twisted away. "Please! You've got to help me! Vincent knows all about this! They're all helping me! Please, don't let
him take me away. I – I can't bear to go back to that hellhole. Please . . ." She was hiccupping harshly, tears running down her cheeks and her
whole body quavering with fear, panic, shock. After all this time, she thought she could finally make it. How could this happen?
Her lips trembled and she stared at the back of the woman, willing her to understand. "Please, Mrs. Grenford, I know you want the best for
Vincent. I know you really want to be a real mother to him. I know that you love him! But you must know that what you're doing now is wrong!
If you let my uncle take me away, everything will be – I – my life will be over. I will die."
Katherine stopped walking and Sammy held her breath, hoping against all hopes, drilling her eyes into the back of Vincent's mother.
"Mrs. Grenford, don't listen to this little liar," Frank protested, laughing weakly. "You can't honestly –"
"Frank . . ."
"Yes?"

The hollow, distant sounds of the rustling of trees, the scratchy skittering of leaves, and the birds' cries enforced a sense of an impenetrable
vacuum.
Katherine heaved a sigh. "Use your discretion." Sammy's heart sank. "Your family is . . . your business." Sammy sagged. "Above all things, I have
to protect my own." The neat and properly groomed woman tilted her head slightly to the side as if about to turn around. She stopped and
shook her head before walking away.
Sammy sobbed wretchedly as her last remaining hope disappeared off into the shadows.
Frank whispered in a mockingly tender voice. "Oh, my sweet darling, how I've missed you."
Her back went ramrod stiff. "Yeah?" She murmured.
"Yes. You want to know how much I've missed you?" His fingers started to trail along the sides of her hips as he pressed his nose against her red
hair, dragging in a deep sniff of her fragrance.
"Not really. I'd rather show you how much I missed you." She jerked her head back and smashed it against his nose in a Marvin-like defense
Round II. Then she spun around, dropped low, kneed him in his gut and smashed her fist against his chin just as he doubled over.
Okay. End of her Training class moves. Time to run.
Sammy darted around him and started dashing for her life, her tears drying on her cheeks and her fist smarting at the knuckles. She had
probably scraped some skin off, but please, please let her be able to cry over it later in the safety of her dorm with Vince, Tristan, Will, anybody
but Uncle Frank.
She heard a loud roar of outrage and crashing footsteps closing in behind her and her breath quickened as she tried to run faster. Oh no. Oh no.
OhnoOhnoOhnoOhnoOhno. Please. Somebody! Vincent! Please please please please. She leapt over some fallen branches, darting in and out
around the trees, praying she wouldn't trip and fall like those victims in the horror movies. Please please please please please. Her muscles
ached and her breath was harsh and loud, her heart beating too fast to be good. Please please please please please please please please
please. She could see the grassy lawn in front of her. Just a few more steps to safety. Back inside. Vincent. Vincent. Vincent. I have to see him.
Help. Help. "HELP!" She screamed as she reached the outer perimeter. "HELP! SOME –"
Something smashed into the back of her head and sent her sprawling. What the – Pain ricocheted inside of her skull as she tried to crawl
forward, pull herself up, do anything that would bring her closer to the school, to Vincent and away from Frank.
A hand clamped onto her shoulder and turned her over, her head spinning with pain when it hit the ground again. Frank's weight pressed her
into the dirt and she tried to scream again, but his hand covered her mouth and smothered her cries. She shook in disgust at the feel of his oily
hand touching her and she tried to bite him. He grimaced and slapped her. The pain doubled with a vengeance.
She thrashed, trying to kick upward. I have to hit him where it hurts the most. Get him off. Get him off. Get him off. Please please please please .
..
He sat on her legs and held her arms tight with one hand. He panted hard, grinning maliciously. Picking up a heavy looking branch that was
soaked dark at one end, he crooned, "Looks like fate's on my side today. Who knew my aiming was that good? Got you in one try."
That was when she realized that the branch was dark and slick with her blood. She closed her eyes tight, a tear squeezing out of the corner, and
whimpered as she realized that she had finally lost.
"That's a good girl. Now I don't want to hurt you anymore so –"

He pulled his hand away and she opened her mouth to shout just as a cloth covered her face. Her eyes widened and she jerked around again,
trying to throw him off. He shook his head at her and caressed her cheeks with his fingers as he murmured, "Just go to sleep now, my precious.
I'll take you home and we can be together again. Just you and me."
Her head thrashed against the ground, her blood matting her hair and mingling with the dirt and blades of grass. Her lungs burned for air and
her eyes watered as she tried not to breathe.Somebody please help . . . please . . . please . . . Vince . . .
Frank's eyes darkened with rage and tightened his hand over the cloth. "Damn it! Breathe, bitch!"
Tears trickled down her cheeks as she dragged in involuntary gulps of the sickly-sweet odor of chloroform. Her vision started wavering, her
limbs went limp, and a heavy grogginess swept over her. She blinked slowly, trying to regain focus and she glared piercingly up at her uncle.
He snarled, "Don't give me that stupid look like your brother did."
What? Terry . . . he's . . . Her heart seemed to be pounding in her ears, a slowing pace that lulled her to a terrifyingly peaceful darkness and all
was lost.

Chapter Twenty-Five
Tristan scooted up against the headboard of his bed, his left leg dangling off the edge of the mattress. He flipped open the cover of the Heart of
Darkness by Joseph Conrad and his eyes perused the first couple of sentences before he realized that he was squinting again. He dropped the
book and sighed. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he pulled open his drawer and rummaged around for his case. Neatly extracting a pair of thin
framed eyeglasses, he shook the ear stems open with one hand and slipped it on.
It wasn't so much that he purposely kept his need for glasses a secret from the others – just that he felt it really didn't matter anyway and that it
really wasn't any of their business. So his glasses remained buried in his drawer, pulled out for those rare cases when Tristan's eyes got
especially tired.
He resumed his reading with his glasses perched snugly on his nose when a loud thump at the door reverberated across the room.
BANG! BANG! BANGBANGBANGBANGBANG –
"What?" Tristan snapped as he jerked the door open.
Vincent blinked at him. The dark haired boy was in a disturbing state of disarray, his hair tousled as if he had ran his hands through it one time
too many and his eyes bleary. When he saw Tristan, his grey eyes turned blazing. He opened his mouth to speak and then a startled look swept
across his face as he stared over the boy's shoulder. Without a word, he shot past Tristan and stood in the middle of the room, turning around
and around.
Tristan caught his balance and his eyebrows arched in annoyance. "What the hell is the matter with you? Finally lost the other half of your
brain?"
Vincent ignored him. "Sammy? Sammy? Are you here?"
Tristan held his arms open. "Vincent. This is the whole room, so unless she's hiding in one of the closets – HEY!"
The boy had stalked across the room to the wardrobes and was busy yanking the doors open.
"What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think I'm smuggling Sammy away or something?"

Vincent tensed up, his hands still on the knobs of the door. The gaping darkness of the closet greeted him. No Sammy.
The boy just kept standing there and as Tristan watched the ramrod stiff back, a sense of uneasiness began to sweep over him. "Vincent?" he
spoke hesitantly. "Vince, what's wrong?"
"She's supposed to be here. It's the last place. She's supposed to be here."
"What? Is Sammy missing?"
Vincent slammed the doors closed with a snarl and banged his fists against the surface. "I don't know! She went for a walk like four hours ago,
but when I went to look for her, she wasn't anywhere in the usual sites – the alcove, the library, the lounge rooms, everywhere! So I started
looking around. Went to Jack and Will's room, but they hadn't seen her. Went back to our room, but she still wasn't there. So I doubled back on
my steps and went around the building again. No Sammy. Finally, I decided to come here because it was the last place left and – and Sammy
was supposed to be here, eating ice cream with you or something and laughing with you and making me jealous. She's supposed to be here."
He glared at Tristan. "Where is she?"
Tristan shook his head. "I don't know, man. She hasn't been here the whole day. Are you sure you –"
"Yes. I looked everywhere. She wouldn't go outside."
Silence loomed over them.
"Do you think – something – might have happened to her?"
Vincent didn't speak, but his face was growing steadily paler. His eyes had darkened to a wild, erratic, stormy grey and when he finally spoke,
his words were laced with a vibrating tension. "We've got to find her."
But somehow, even then, the boys knew. Their hearts thudded with a leaden dread. They knew.

"What are we going to do?"
The clock ticked steadily.
"What are we going to do?" William repeated. He couldn't seem to keep still, bouncing off the bed and pacing around the room before taking a
seat to repeat the whole routine all over again.
Caine was tapping his fingers against the desk. Tap tap taptap tap tap taptap tap tap tap tap –
"Can you shut the hell up?" Jack snapped.
Caine snarled, "I wasn't talking, idiot."
"Stop making all those stupid noises. You're getting on my nerves."
"Well, I'm sorry. Why don't you just get out of my room then, huh?"
"This is a crisis here. Why must you act so immature? Can't you see that we're all –"

"I'm immature? You pompous little –"
"Everybody just shut up." Tristan interrupted. His hands ran through his sandy blonde hair. "We don't need this now. Just keep calm and let's
think this through."
William was pacing the room again. "What are we going to do?"
All eyes were uncontrollably drawn to Vincent. The boy stood with his back toward them, his forehead pressed against the cool window pane
and his eyes closed tightly, eyelids crushed in creases. His back was visibly taut, the cords of his muscles rigid.
"Vincent? You think Frank Westlane kidnapped her?" Tristan asked.
Silence. "Yeah."
"So what are we going to do?" William implored once again.
Another long quiet span. "I don't know."
"Wh – what? What do you mean you don't know? We have to rescue Sammy, right? We have to save her. We can't let that –"
Vincent growled through gritted teeth. "I know that. That's a given. But how? Huh? How are we supposed to go about this?"
There was no answer and he continued.
A bitter laugh wracked his body. "I mean, hey, can't we all just climb up on some white horses, crash through the windows of his fortress –
wherever that is – and heave Sammy up and off we go, trampling that bastard on our way out? Or why don't we just man some fighter jets and
drop in on him with a rope ladder, slice away Sammy's bindings, and fly off with him shaking his fist at us? Or – oh, this is my favorite - how
about we just get some guns and blast our way through the doors, riddling little bullet holes in his body like some pincushion? I'm sure that'll all
work and everything will end up happily ever after, right? Right? Because it always ends like this, right?" His eyes were a silvery sheen and his
breaths were coming out in harsh gasps.
"Vincent –" Caine began.
"No. Don't. I know what you're all thinking. How come Vincent's being such a useless, whiny bastard? How come he's always had these violent
tendencies, but now, in the face of an emergency, he's being a coward? How come he can't even come up with some plan to save his own
girlfriend? Just -" The corners of lip twisted grimly. "Just how come?" He jerked his hands through his hair once, twice, three times. "What the
hell am I doing?"
"Vincent – it's not like that – really –" Jack began.
"Well, I, for one, am glad you're realizing what an idiot you're being," Tristan responded smoothly, his arms folded.
William gaped. "Tristan! Vincent, don't listen to him. Are you hyperventilating? Just breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Whoosh. Whoosh. In. Out -"
"No. Listen up, Grenford." Tristan's voice hardened. "You're right. You're acting like some baby. If you're looking for pity, you damn well won't
get it from me. If you want to save Sammy, then you think hard and act fast. If you want help, you have us. Just don't sit around moaning and
crying because you know that what you're doing helps nobody here – especially Sammy."
Vincent glowered stonily. "Is that right?" He arched his eyebrow wearily. "Well, that was a nice refreshing slap across the face."
"It's my specialty," Tristan quipped. The boys managed to smile at each other.

William forced a laugh. "Aw. Well, what about me? Wasn't I great too?"
"Yeah. Yeah. You'll make one awesome Lamaze trainer one day."
"Oh whoop de do." He ran a finger against the spine of a book. "But - so . . . what are we going to do?"
Vincent stood up and rolled his shoulders. "We're going to go to the headmaster first and notify him about Sammy's disappearance, see if he
knows anything, and then –" Feral grimness swept across his face. "Then we're going to track down The Bastard and bring Sammy back home."

Danielle leafed through a magazine absentmindedly with her legs curled up underneath her. The front door slammed and it echoed once
throughout the house. It was enough.
Danielle grabbed a stack of business proposals her mother had mandated her to study and shuffled them on top of her leisurely readings.
Planting her feet down firmly on the floor, she pushed in her chair and straightened her spine. Her mother spat fire whenever she caught
Danielle sitting in any position other than the normal prim and proper, ramrod stiff spine lady pose.
She picked up a pen just as her mother threw the door to her room open. Danielle blinked at her calmly. "Mother."
"Danielle."
"What has you slamming doors all about the house? It's not ladylike to –"
"Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs."
"Wouldn't dare dream of it, Mother."
"Your brother is crazy."
"Yes, I've always thought so. It's part of what makes him so special, isn't it?"
"Danielle."
"Mother."
"He is driving me crazy. As his older sister and his future mentor in the family business, you have a responsibility to lead him on the right path,
teach him about the world, help him discern darkness from white and –"
"- save him from all the wicked temptations and sins and guide him on his path to salvation?"
Katherine stared at her daughter.
"Amen?" Danielle added.
Katherine threw up her hands. "Must both my children be so absurd? What have I done to deserve this?"
"What exactly has Vincent done this time to pique you so, Mother?"
"He's gone and gotten himself involved with that devil roommate of his."

Danielle stiffened, but she kept her voice calm. "Sam?"
"Yes."
"How do you know –"
"I just do." The earlier scene in her son's dorm came unbidden in her mind, leaving a bitter taste in her mouth.
Alarm bells rang in Danielle's head and she struggled to remain nonchalant. "So . . . what are you planning to do about it?"
Katherine sank into a nearby chair and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Already taken care of."
"What?" The girl turned to face her mother. "What do you mean 'Already taken care of'? What did you do?"
The older woman looked up sharply, her eyes narrowing. "Why are you so interested?"
"Mother. What did you do?" Danielle enunciated through clenched teeth.
"Did you know about Sam before this?"
"Mom! What did you do to Sam?"

Vincent stared at Headmaster Finnegan. "Come again?"
The older man cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Well, I said that I am aware of the fact that Sam Westlane has been taken out of school."
"Excuse me?"
"I know that Sam –"
"How can you – do you know who took him out?" Vincent's fingers dug into the edges of the table.
"Well, yes. I believe it was his uncle."
Chills ran down Vincent's spine. "Did he have the papers? Did he have permission? You can't just let some minor leave – did Sammy give you his
consent?"
The headmaster furrowed his eyebrows. "Well, Sam was apparently waiting outside in the car while his uncle met up with me. But of course
Mr. Westlane offered proof that he was the guardian –"
"How is that possible? Sam or Samantha Westlane?"
"What are you talking about?"
"What was his proof?"
"Well, he brought Sam's papers, birth certificate, and –"

"What? For Sam? His name was listed as Sam?"
"Well, no."
Vincent gritted his teeth. "No?"
"The papers were listed for a Terry Westlane, but Mr. Westlane explained that Sam liked to go by his current name out of respect for his dead
sister."
"Dead sister?" Vincent's hands clenched.
"Samantha Westlane."
Vincent closed his eyes tightly. "I cannot believe this. I cannot believe this."
Headmaster Finnegan pushed up his glasses and frowned. "I don't understand why you're so upset, Vincent. I know that you've formed quite a
close friendship with the boy, but you must understand that his family business is his own and should be private. Besides, I'm sure your mother
would take care of all the matters."
Vincent straightened up. "What does my mother have anything to do with this?"
The man hesitated.
"What did she do?"

The phone rang shrilly and William lunged for it, elbowing Jack away. "Hello?" He coughed breathlessly. "Hello? Sammy? Is it you? Please let it
be you."
There was a loud groan and his heartbeat spiked. "Sammy? Are you hurt?"
"No. I'm too late. Oh god. I'm so sorry." It was a soft, feminine whisper, but it was not Sammy.
William's heart plummeted and he smiled halfheartedly. "Danielle?"
"Yeah. I – is Sammy missing?"
"Yeah. We can't find her anywhere. We think -"
"Oh no. Damn it. She moved so fast. Oh god. How can this – listen up, Will. I need you to tell Vincent something for me."
"What?"
"I think our mother had something to do with Sammy's disappearance. I think she helped Frank Westlane pull Sammy out."

Vincent walked briskly down the hall, his jaw taut and grim. His eyes never wavered as he headed toward the doors. Just as he was about to
push through, a cry caught his attention.

William wheezed. "Vincent! Where are you going? Danielle just called and she wanted me to tell you something about your mother –"
Vincent's lips curled bitterly. "Like how she was present when Frank came in to pull Sammy out of school? Like how she offered to vouch for
Frank Westlane's repute and excellent standing? Like how she told Headmaster Finnegan that she can attest to the bastard's honor?"
William blinked. "I - I guess so?"
"Tell Dani that I already got the message, Will." Vincent turned around to open the doors.
"Wait! Where are you going?"
"Home." Vincent didn't bother to turn around. "I think it's time to pay Mother a nice visit, don't you?" The doors swung shut behind the boy.
William stood there. Then he muttered, "I'm so behind on the news. Why does everybody move so fast these days?"

His hands jammed in the pockets of his jeans, Tristan walked out of the glass doors out into the lawns. How had Frank managed to take Sammy
without any one of us seeing?
He edged along the perimeter, scanning the grounds to see if there was some clue to where Sammy had vanished off. Be it some broken
jewelry (unlikely, since Sammy didn't wear much accessories since she'd taken on the role of Boy), some strands of hair (possible, if a sufficient
clump of distinctly red hair was torn off) or even a bread crumb trail (Hansel and Gretel reference, might not be applicable) - nothing.
That's when he nearly tripped over a tree branch and his temper finally snapped. After such a long day, he didn't need any more games. He just
wanted her back. He swore underneath his breath as he swung his leg back to send the branch flying off. However, his eyes chose that time to
notice something peculiar about the wooden obstacle and his legs tried to brake accordingly. What actually ensued though was a mad twist on
his limbs' behalf and whoops, there went Tristan on his face.
He coughed as he pushed himself up and he squinted at the branch. A rusty, dark substance was splattered on the end. Queasy apprehension
clenched his stomach and his fingers quivered as he dug into his pocket to pull out his eyeglass case. He carefully slipped them on before
leaning over to take a closer look.
He reached to scratch at one of the spots and he had a sudden memory of his childhood days with Carrie, playing with Scratch n' Sniff stickers.
His mouth went dry as he breathed in hesitantly, but his stomach rolled when he caught a familiar, metallic scent. Blood.
Tristan fumbled to his knees and his eyes roved the grounds frantically, looking for more of the traces. There. In the grass. There. Among the
leaves. Twisted and smeared. Blood. Sammy's blood. His breath hitched. Oh god. What the hell did he do to you, Sammy?

Caine's sea-green eyes darkened to a stormy aquamarine. "Well, hello. What do we have here?"
Marvin squeaked. "Nothing! Nothing!"
"Nothing? Doesn't look like nothing to me." He tugged hard on Marvin's arm and deftly swiped the card in his hand.
"It's nothing!"
"Well, we'll just have to see about that, won't we?" Caine hummed as he held the cream colored slip between the edges of his thumb and his
index finger.

Marvin looked over at the twins desperately, but they shrugged desperately. Jack glowered at them. "Guess they're finally getting a modicum of
intelligence." His arms folded as he tapped his foot impatiently. "So what does it say, Caine? What had them giggling like little schoolgirls?"
"We weren't –" Jack's glare silenced them again.
Caine frowned as he turned back again, but he was rubbing his eyebrow. A neat white gash sliced through his right eyebrow, a scar that
remained from a surfing accident four years ago. He thought it made him look particularly dashing and he'd developed the habit of rubbing the
smooth flesh whenever he brooded. His fingers danced across the line rhythmically now.
He narrowed his eyes. "What are you guys doing with Mrs. Grenford's business card?"
"Nothing! We – we, uh, found it."
"Found it? Where?"
"Somewhere in the school. I, uh, we thought Vincent might have dropped it and um, we just wanted to return it to him, you know?"
Jack and Caine exchanged looks. "Gee, Marvin, I always thought you were a brownnosing loser, but it turns out you're actually a brownnosing
loser who's absolutely horrible in lying. Now fess up before we call Tristan in."
Marvin actually went pale. "Please don't tell him. He wouldn't appreciate me fraternizing with the enemy's mother."
"What? I mean, yeah. Be afraid. You bet Tristan's going to get all bothered and ferocious when he hears about the, um, fraternizing and what
not. So you better tell us the whole truth or Tristan's going to blow."
"It wasn't my idea! It was all Mrs. Grenford's doing! I was just a helpless pawn in her wicked plans! I had nothing to do with trussing Sammy up
and –"
"You did what?" Jack and Caine snapped.
"I didn't do anything. Mrs. Grenford just gave me her business card and – and forced us to comply with her biddings. You know how scary she
is, right?"
"What did you do?"
"We – we – we were merely the middlemen, you know? Like deliverers or – or – oh, you know that movie with that hot Asian chick who
couldn't speak any English and was trapped in the trunk of the car and she was all banging and then that dude opened the trunk and was like
'Whoa' but it was like his job to bring her to some place because she was like his cargo or something – what's that movie called?"
"What the hell are you yapping about?"
"You – you know – oh! The Transporter! Yes, I remember now. We were like the Transporters –"
"You brought Sammy to Mrs. Grenford?"
"Yes, but only because she made us."
Jack cocked his head. "You know how I said you were horrible at lying?"
"Y – yes?"

A nasty glint came into the normally warm brown eyes. "Well, let's just say you've graduated to horrendous."

Tristan was still on his knees as he sorted through the leaves with a ginger touch. It was getting to the point where his lower body was getting
numbed and his kneecaps were tingling. Ghastly flashes of images darted before his eyes as his imagination ran wild. Sammy.
"Tristan! Tristan!"
His head jerked up and he watched in a daze as William, Jack and Caine ran toward him. Away from the school with the glinting panes of glass
windows and across the greenery, they ran.
He stared and his heart wavered between dread and hope.

"She did what? And he did what?"
"Mrs. Grenford apparently assisted Frank in taking Sammy. Vincent is apparently on his way home to confront his mother and possibly kill
Frank." William explained in huffs and puffs.
Jack snarled, "Well, we found out that Marvin, Marco and Polo helped Mrs. Grenford in, um, acquiring Sammy from the school. They found her
in a quiet hallway and dragged her out –"
"To the woods. Outside, deep into the shade of the trees, where none of us can hear her," Tristan murmured.
"Yeah. They said they left her with Mrs. Grenford, but they didn't see any man with her."
"He was probably hiding. He likes spooking Sammy, to see her body shaking with realization, to see red, her hair, her blood." Tristan's
expression darkened, face going pallid white, his blue eyes bright.
Caine stared at him, disturbed, as he reached up to touch his scar again. The others remained mute.
"Well, hell. No way am I getting stuck here in school while Vince goes off to play the hero. Right, Tristan? Tristan?"
The boy was already walking, his footsteps heavy amidst the fallen leaves. His index finger looped through a chain of car keys and he shook it
with a jingle over his shoulder.

Chapter Twenty Six
Danielle's fingers continued to tap erratically against the phone. Okay, should I call or should I wait – but what if I call and then he calls and then
we overlap and we get a busy signal and then we try again and we continue in this crazed unending cycle – and why, oh why couldn't I be
worrying over this problem because of an evil uncalling boyfriend instead of Sammy's evil nasty kidnapping uncle – oh, how I wish it was so
simple and carefree – I will never ever complain again about such a mundane thing as my love –
She jerked, spluttering, when the phone rang. Her hand was on the phone and yet, she still managed to fumble with it. "Hello?" She coughed.
"Baby?"

Chills crested over her spine.
"If I'm a baby, then you must still be an unfertilized egg wallowing in your mother's womb," Danielle snapped.
"Oh honey, you're only older than me by what? A couple of months?"
"Yeah, if a couple of months mean two years."
"Eh. I like my women mature anyway."
"Well, gee, that's good because that's how I like my men too so I guess that crosses you out on my list, little boy."
"I was on your list?"
"Caine . . ."
"Baby . . ."
"Oh, for crying out – how can you still act like this? Will you just shut up already and tell me what's going on?"
"Alright, alright, just trying to lighten up the mood –"
"Caine . . ."
"Alright, you can expect Vincent for an early visit."
"Vincent's coming home?"
"Yeah. He wanted to speak to your mother – well, if speaking can be another term for raging, screaming, and possible throwing of heavy
objects."
"Oh shit."
"Yeah. He talked with the Headmaster, got this scary red glint to his eyes according to Will, and stormed out. I'm currently with Jack and Will in
Tristan's car, though I'm not sure we're going to get there anytime soon to prevent the Son versus Mama Grenford throwdown."
"Oh shit."
"Um, yeah. So, uh, relax and try to exchange all hard covered books for fluffy pillows in the near vicinity, yeah?"
"Oh shit."
"Um, are you going to be okay? Okay, that was a stupid question. We're going as fast as we can, but you know, we don't want any further
impediments by the cops or anything and – are you going to be alright? Oh, crap, dumb question repeat again. Sorry, I can't seem to stop
myself. It's like the only thing I'm thinking -"
"Oh shit."
"Danielle? Are you alright?"

"Please hurry."
"Are you okay?"
"Shit shit shittity shit."
"Um . . ."
"Vincent apparently just walked in and from the sound of that crash, I don't think our front door survived."
"Shit."
"Yeah."

"What is the meaning of this?" Katherine's eyes blazed down at the lobby as she clutched the railing of the stairs from the second floor.
Her son returned an equally fiery glare. "Just thought to announce my homecoming, Mom."
"Shouldn't you be at school?"
"Shouldn't you be off aiding kidnappers and wrecking other people's relationships?"
"What in the world are you blathering about?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot you were too busy and important to remember the affairs of us little people. You probably have to run around all day
long, the events a mere colorful blur in your mind. I'll try to jog your noggin a little then. Does Sam Westlane ring any bells for you, Mother?" He
cocked his head, his eyes dark and unblinking.
She pressed her lips together. "What about it?"
If it was even possible, his eyes darkened further. He took a step and jerked his arms out of his jacket in short abrupt motions, yanking at the
sleeves before dropping it to the floor. He stood there in his black shirt and jeans, just taking a moment to catch his breath even though he
hadn't done any particularly strenuous exercise. He just stood and tried to collect his thoughts. Then he said, "Why?"
Her fingers tightened on the polished wood, but her voice remained unfazed. "For you."
Bitter laughter made her flinch. "Please, Mother. Please! Since when have you ever done things for me?"
Her chest tightened and a roaring sound in her ears seemed to distance the whole scene. She brought her fist slamming down against the
banister. She ignored the jolt of pain and she roared, "Everything, Vincent! Everything! I've always done everything I could for you and your
sister. Up to this point, I've always lived and worked for the two of you and you say that I haven't done anything for you?"
His lips pulled back as he tilted his head, appraising her with an almost lazy glance. "Oh, right. We appeared to have had this conversation
before, haven't we? I say no and you say yes, wasn't it? You believe you're World's Finest Mom and I, well, don't think so."
Danielle chose that moment to come sliding into the lobby. Her eyes darted back and forth between her brother and her mother as her teeth
nagged at her bottom lip.

"Exactly what have I done wrong this time, Vincent?"
"You know what you did."
She threw up her hands. "Is this all about that Sam? Would you just grow up already? How can you just lose your head over –"
He snarled, "Sam is a girl! Sam is my girlfriend! Sam – Sammy is in danger and you just pushed her into the very arms that had her running and
hiding away from all this time. You just vouched for the honor of a pedophile – of a sick, old man who has an inclination for incest and a taste
for his brother's daughter! Can you tell me now that I have no reason to get so upset, Mother?"
Katherine's fingers quivered, but she remained stolid as she stared down into her son's face.
As Vincent watched his mother and the reaction – or rather, lack of reaction – in her face, he paled and his stomach felt pummeled. His hands
ran through his hair, along his temple, around his cheeks, and over his mouth repeatedly as he blinked. "You knew."
She said nothing and the silence pierced him.
"You knew. You knew! You knew that she was a girl and that the bastard – you knew and you did nothing?"
She raised her chin and kept her posture.
"Oh, no. Right. You did do something." He stalked back and forth in front of the stairs before whirling around to jab a finger up at her. "You
chose to send her back to him!"
Katherine's tone was sharp. "I'm sure Frank Westlane is not really completely at fault here. You must know that a young girl has the tendency to
exaggerate and –"
"Oh, please!"
"No, just shut up for once! Vincent, would you just listen? A nice, respectable girl will never behave like Samantha did –"
"Oh, and I'm sure a nice, respectable girl gets abused by her uncle every day too –"
"Listen! If she had been such a smart, good little girl, why didn't she go to the police and had everything sorted out? No. She chose to run away
and enroll herself into an all boys school. Now what does that tell you about her character, hmm? Do you honestly think that she's an innocent
darling who never ever thought about trying to secure herself one of you rich little boys? Oh, Vincent, why can't you see? You've all been
deceived by her!"
He growled, "It's not like that! She tried to find someone, but all the police in the vicinity believed in her uncle and -"
She scoffed. "Do you know how pathetic that sounds?"
His eyes narrowed. "Well, what do you know? We've all been born with money and power. What could you possibly know about an orphan
desperate to find some place safe?"
"And what do you know?"
He dropped his hands and looked up at his mother. His eyes dropped to the floor and he leaned over to pick up his jacket. "Me?" He
straightened up. His smile was weary as he shrugged. "I know that she needs me and that I need her." He started walking to the door as he
flapped a hand over his shoulder. "Bye, Danielle."

Danielle stepped forward. "Vincent!"
"Just where do you think you're going?" Katherine demanded. "If you dare try to find that girl, I can assure you that even if you manage to see
her, you will never be able to take her away. Between Frank Westlane and my explanations to the authorities, they will never listen to your
story about some uncle smuggling his niece away. You won't even take a step into his house before the securities haul you back here. Just give
up on her! She's not worth this, Vincent! Vincent!"
Vincent didn't even bother responding. He took a step out of the house and let the door slam shut behind him.

He walked down the driveway just as a car pulled up to the end of the street. Tristan rolled down the window and waved at him. "Get in. We
don't need two cars."
Vincent stared at the boy for a moment before making his way toward the car. He opened the passenger side and slipped into the seat. As
Tristan pulled away from the curb, the dark haired boy managed a "Thanks."
Tristan nodded.
"Yeah, besides, more cars equal more time spent on finding two parking spaces."
Silence. "Gee. Thanks, Will."
"Anytime, boys. Anytime. My logic is your logic."
"What?"
"You know, mi casa su casa. My house is your house. My brain is your brain. My body is your –"
"Enough already!"

Terry stared up at the ceiling. It was basically all he could do these days anyway. Between tracing the path of shadows along the walls with his
eyes and sleeping fitfully, the only other pastime he had was to think. A lot.
Unfortunately, his head was throbbing again in a steady beat that made him want to smash his fist against his temples and scream "Stop that
racket!" His head positively pulsated whenever he tried to remember the details of his accident and with the failure, came the frustration,
which only seemed to exacerbate the pain. Oh, it was a vicious cycle indeed. A most vicious, vicious –Just stop pounding! I hate you, brain! I
would melt you like a stick of butter and slather my popcorn with you if I didn't need you so much!
He closed his eyes. I am sorry, Sammy. I have turned crazy. Forgive me.
A sudden loud crash from the far side of the room made his eyes snap open. A glaring beam of light blinded him and he instinctively squinted.
His heart slammed against his ribcages in an abnormally thundering pace and his breathing was harsh to his ears.
The nurse who had tried to open the shutters at the windows for a bit of light covered her mouth. "Oh my, I'm so sorry. Did I wake you? I didn't
know the blinds would snap upward like that. I swear we have to redecorate this hospital and replace some of these . . ."

But Terry wasn't paying attention to her. His pulse boiled as repressed memories resurfaced. Blaring horns. Bright light. Deafening. Blinding.
Headlights too close to us. Swerving. Spinning. Dad's alarm. Mom's panic. My fear. A sickening crunch of metal. Pain. Pain. Pain. And lights that
faded. Sounds that died away. Pulling away. Driving away.
And Terry knew why.

For a while, they coasted along the roads as the sky turned red orange and the sun wavered along the horizon.
Then William spoke up, "I know you guys told me to be quiet so you can think –"
"Quiet, Will."
"Yes, I know, but –"
"Shhh."
"Would love to shhh for you anytime, but um, where exactly are we going?"
Silence.
"And for that matter, where does Frank Westlane live anyway?"
Silence.
Tristan and Vincent sighed. "Ah hell."
"Ah ha! Once again, I have stunned you with my cunning logic –"
"Yes, Will. O' Great Master, we're sorry we told you to shush. Now, do you have any idea about the whereabouts of the bastard?" Jack
interrupted.
"Duh."
"Please, do tell," Caine drawled.
"Hold on, Grasshoppers."
Vincent closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the window as the sound of rummaging traveled from the backseat. Then he rammed
the glass with a loud thud. Thud. I am so sorry, Sammy. Thud. Why are we such a group of idiots? Thud. I promise you though – as soon as Will
gives us the info, we'll come for you Ring. Click. "Hello, Operator?"
Silence.
"Yes, hi. My name is Will and I would like to find out –"
Thud. Thud. Thud.

She liked the darkness. She liked the heady, encompassing feeling of the shadows – that they could swallow her up whole and that she will
finally be safe and secluded amidst the inky blackness. She liked being able to close her eyes to night and know that she will open them to
night. It meant stability, something that's been hard to come by in such a long time. Vincent. Yes.
When the door creaked open and a sliver of pale light slipped into the room, she suddenly felt very much like a stranded cockroach – yearning
to hide, but lost without a place to fold into. She closed her eyes tightly. When she was younger, she used to think that as long as she didn't see
something, then that something wouldn't be able to see her. It was a foolish, childish notion, but it never pained her so much until this very
moment to know that it really was all faked.
She felt another shadow fall over her, but she knew that it was not the same comforting darkness and she continued to tense as it moved closer
with steady footsteps. Backed up in the farthest corner of the room, she huddled with her arms wrapped around her legs and pressed her eyes
into her knees.
She heard a tsk and felt his grubby fingers run through her hair. She jerked her head back and bared her teeth.
Frank Westlane's lips tightened and she sucked in a deep breath as he fisted a chunk of her hair and yanked. He slammed her face into the wall
again and again until she saw stars and blood coursed from her nose. He released her and she barely had the time to straighten up before he
cracked the back of his hand across her face, sending her reeling into the corner again.
She scrabbled for a grip, her shaking hands alternating from woozily wiping at the blood and smoothing her hair back. It was always an attempt
to make her self look stronger than she felt while simultaneously trying to hide her examination for possible head wounds. None today. She
didn't know whether to feel relieved or disappointed. Half the times, she wanted to survive so that she might escape again even though he'd
clearly learned and made sure to double the locks on her door and smuggle her into a room without anyone noticing, including his own
household employees. It was this knowledge that fueled her bleakness and the other half of the times when she wished that she could just die
from a fatal injury by his hands.
He shook his head and his voice softened. "Samantha, sweetheart. Look at you, all covered in blood. I could have given you all the finery in the
world, if you had only just listened to me. All I asked for was your companionship, your respect, your love. Must you be so selfish?"
She coughed. "Just leave me alone."
He murmured, "Is your nose broken? Oh dear, you shouldn't have pushed me. Oh good, it looks straight. It doesn't seem to be broken. The
blood is already waning. Isn't that good? I would have hated for you to live the rest of your days with a crooked nose."
"Shut up. Shut up, shut up, shut up. Just go away!"
His eyes hardened. "After all this time, how can you still not understand my feelings? If I didn't care about you, I wouldn't have spent all this
time looking for you and worrying about you. I love you –"
She punched him. She kicked, scratched, elbowed, pounded. She spat, "Shut up! Don't make me throw up, you sick old –"
He grabbed her and pressed his weight against her body, forcing her against the wall. He tightened his fingers around her throat and snarled, "It
seems like that Grenford boy's been a bad influence on you, Samantha." She wheezed, tugging at his hands. "You never used to talk to me like
this. What happened to your fear? To your quiet composure? He turned you from a lady to a whore!"
She flailed and her nails left a long gouge along his neck. He hissed and kneed her in the gut before dropping her to the ground. She doubled
over, clutching her stomach as she breathed.Vince. Vince. Vince. Her eyes stung and her voice came out in harsh sobs. She hated these tears.
Tears that came when she felt especially enraged. Tears that couldn't be stopped and left her feeling even more hopeless. She choked, "What
the hell is wrong with you? I'm your freaking niece! Can't you get that through your head?"

"You're mine. Your mother should have been mine. Everything should have been mine. I've been given a second chance. Don't you see? You're
here for me. You're mine. My compensation for all the injustice in my life. You're mine."
"Freak. Lunatic. Sicko! Why did my parents have to die while you crazy bastard is still living?" She screamed even as tears poured down her
cheeks. She heaved dragging breaths, her chest quivering. "Why c – can't you j – just leave me alone? Please?"
Frank Westlane shook his head. "But Samantha, you don't understand. I need you."
She shook her head. "There are so many redheads out there. There must be someone who will agree to spend her life with you. With - with
your money and your – your - isn't there someone? Isn't that better than holding me against my will? Don't you want someone who will love
you?"
His eyes darkened. "No. You really don't understand. Samantha, there can't be any other. Only you."
"But why?" She wanted to scream and hurt him. She wanted to kill him.
He continued to shake his head. "Only you, Samantha. Even I didn't have a choice in the matter. It was all in fate's hands. Just accept it."
She stared at him, her head still aching and her cheeks still smeared with blood.
"I need you, Samantha."

Chapter Twenty Seven
"Hello, 911 – Emergency Services. May I help you?"
"Kidnapping. I need to report a kidnapping."
"Alright, sir. Who's been kidnapped and has it been twenty-four hours since the person was last seen?"
"My girlfriend. Her name's Samantha Westlane. It hasn't been quite twenty-four hours yet, but I know who took her and I think I know where
she is."
"Samantha Westlane? Sir, what is your name?"
"She's been abducted by her uncle. His name is Frank Westlane. I suspect he's taken her to his house. Can you send someone down here right
away? The address is –"
"Sir, you wouldn't happen to be Vincent Grenford, would you?"
A chill ran down his spine. Vincent retorted evenly, "Does my name matter?" His eyes darted over to Tristan, who kept his eyes on the road
even though his knuckles had whitened on the wheel. "As a matter of fact, no. My name is Tristan Harland."
The corner of Tristan's lips quirked, but he nodded his approval.
"Tristan Harland?" There was a rustle of papers on the other end and Vincent clenched his fist around his cell phone. "Sir, I'm afraid someone
has already called in about this kidnapping and after thorough investigation, we've found no indication –"

"Is that someone a Mrs. Katherine Grenford maybe?"
There was silence. "I'm sorry, sir, but we can't divulge confidential information."
"Confidential information, my ass. Thorough investigation, like hell. How much did it take to pay you guys off?"
"Sir! I must ask you to refrain –"
"You won't even bother sending someone down just to check things over again?"
"Sir, we have no reason to believe that –"
Click. Vincent threw his cell phone against the dashboard and slammed his fist. Tristan's eyes darted over and he murmured, "So I guess your
mother was really serious."
"Should have known. Thought to at least give it a try, but I should have known."
"So what do we do now?" Jack clutched the back of Vincent's seat, his brown eyes apprehensive.
"We have the address." Vincent's face hardened. "I don't believe the bastard can hide forever."

"Mrs. Grenford, oh dear, I don't know how to tell you this, but Vincent's gone missing! I believe he took off in his car along with his other
friends and I'm so sorry –"
"I'm quite aware of the fact that Vincent's left school, Headmaster Finnegan. In fact, he just came home a few hours ago."
"He did? Oh, thank goodness."
"Yes – but I should advise you, Headmaster. You have to seriously update Crestan's security. Next time we might not be so lucky and I won't
appreciate having to call out a search party for my son. After all, this is what I make all those donations for, isn't it?"
"Yes, yes. Of course. We shall make new plans immediately."
"Good. Now if that's all -"
"Um, Mrs. Grenford, there's just one more small matter I have to talk to you about."
"Yes?"
"It's about Sam Westlane. Vincent was most concerned about his roommate's abrupt withdrawal. Perhaps if you would care to explain to him –
"
"Duly noted, Headmaster. I'll speak to you later." She clicked the phone off before slamming it down on the receiver.
Katherine tried to shuffle some papers on her desk to salvage some semblance of organization, but her hands were shaking. She slapped her
palms against the tabletop, sending the papers scattering. "Vincent," she seethed.
The phone suddenly rang again and she yanked it out of the receiver. "What?" She snapped.

"Mother?"
Her hands shook. "Vincent?"
"I'm just calling to let you know that I congratulate you for planning ahead for everything –"
"Vincent –"
"There's no help for it. I'm just going to have to head to Frank's place myself."
"Vincent!"
"If something happens, I hope you know that the consequences were in some way your fault. That's all."
"Vincent!"
There was silence. "I know you did what you thought was best for me – but Mom, you were wrong this time. Really wrong."
"Vincent!"
He'd already hung up.

For the fiftieth time in the row, Danielle tried to call Vincent. No one picked up. By this time, her fingers were trembling over the buttons.
Carrie pressed her lips together, her face pale. "What's happening? Jack's not answering either."
Danielle cursed underneath her breath as she dialed Will's number. "Don't worry. It's Will. He'll always pick up –"
"Hey –"
"Will! Oh my god, you idiot. You're all crazy, crazy fools. Where the hell are you guys? How could you have just left –"
"- you've reached the sexy god, Will. I'm currently being distracted by my seductive minions. Please leave a message if you're really, really hot
and I'll call you back ASAP. Be sure to prepare whipped cream and chocolate syrup in anticipation of my return! HAHAHAHAHA –"
"I'M GOING TO FREAKING KILL YOU!" Danielle hung up.
Carrie snapped her cell phone shut at the same time. She stared glumly. "I reached Caine's voicemail too. His message makes me feel dirty."
Danielle threw her pillow down on the floor and proceeded to stomp it into teeny feathery pieces. "Those stupid chauvinistic jerks. How can
they just abandon us here while they run off and try to play heroes? I mean, Sammy's our friend too. We should go and be there for her. I
mean, heck, with their brains, how would they ever figure out a nice plan to rescue her? They need feminine wisdom – our wisdom –"
Carrie nervously tugged at the hem of her shirt. "I just don't understand. How could everything turn so bad so fast?"
Danielle was still babbling. "They're just not reasonable. They need us. We should be there for Sammy. With their luck, they're probably all rush
in and then get thrown out. Sammy would be locked up and – and –"

Carrie finally started crying, even though she had tried to hold back her tears as long as she could. "I just don't understand."
One kept rambling, one kept weeping, and in a whole separate section of the great Grenford house, still yet another continued to pace.

William winced after checking his messages. "Danielle called again. She didn't seem very happy. She was all growly."
"Growly?"
"Yes. Grrr. Roar. Me shall slaughter you and feed you to cows."
"I thought cows eat grass."
"Slaughter us into grass-like pieces?"
Caine muttered. "I don't know why she called you. There's a perfectly good me to growl at."
Jack scoffed. "You two are practically exchangeable."
"Well, Carrie didn't seem to think so . . ."
"You lie! Carrie called me."
"Well, she called me right after that. Apparently she's feeling a little left out by her boyfriend and has chosen to move on to more delectable
male specimens."
"Delectable male specimen? You and Will are definitely clones of each other."
"Jackass."
"Pardon me for not feeling particularly insulted by words coming from someone who refers to himself as a delectable male specimen."
Tristan gritted his teeth. "Can you guys just quiet down before I drive us off the road?"
"We wouldn't be arguing if you two didn't forbid us from picking up our phones. What's wrong with telling Danielle and Carrie what's going
on?"
Vincent retorted, "We'll tell them after we get Sammy back. There's no use risking them following us. They might get hurt."
"You do realize they're going to hurt us after we get back, right?"
"Beg for mercy."
"That's it," Tristan suddenly spoke up.
"Huh?"
"There. That's where he lives. That's the address, isn't it?"

The car slowed down in front of a large Victorian house painted in sienna red. The lawn was well kept with stylishly shaped shrubbery and the
neighborhood was quiet.
William blinked. "Weird. I pictured a huge mansion with tall, pointy gates, menacing Rottweilers, and a security guard holding a rifle and
barking at us in this Southern twang: Y'all git off this private property, ye hear! Else I blow your brains out through the buttocks!"
Vincent stared at him.
"Sorry."
"Okay, so what's the plan? How are we going to do this?" Jack whispered.
Everyone thought. As they kept their eyes trained on the front door, the house seemed suddenly far more foreboding. It now felt like it
radiated a sense of gloom and oppression. Vincent's heart clenched. Sammy. You there? Behind those walls?
"I mean, it's not like we could just walk up to the front door and ring the stupid doorbell. Right?"

"I need you, Samantha. It's inevitable."
She slumped against the wall and curled up, pressing her eyes against her knees until spots of color danced before her vision. "I feel sick. I don't
want to hear anymore. Just leave me alone."
"Why won't you just listen to me? Why must you be so stubborn?"
"I don't care anymore. Just lock me up. I'm going to die sooner or later. You can't do anything to me anymore. I'm not going to eat. I'm not
going to drink. You can smack me around until I throw up blood. You can crush all the bones in my body. I'm going to die and I sincerely hope
you go to hell."
He twisted his fist in her hair again and jerked back. Despite her determination to stop feeling anymore, tears of pain welled up and her cracked
lips were quivering.
He enunciated slowly. "You aren't listening to me. I need you."
She retorted just as tightly. "And you aren't listening to me either. I don't care."
He slapped her across the face with an almost casual flick of his hand. "You would think that you would care, especially since destiny seemed to
have deigned to let you escape the same fate as your parents and your brat of a brother."
"What the hell does that have to do with anything?" Her heart was suddenly pounding too fast, too loud.
"It has everything to do with it." A slow, languid smile lit up his face and he spread his arms wide like a performer taking one final bow. "Dear
Samantha, you must understand. It was the only way."
She couldn't speak. She clutched at her neck, making an indescribable sound in the pit of her throat. Please – no - please – please –
"It was the only way to get what should have been mine in the first place." His grin widened. "The people in my way must go."

James Westlane pecked Samantha on the cheek. "We'll be right back, princess. Just grab some rest, 'kay?"
Samantha smiled wanly. "Give Grandpa my greetings and tell him I'm sorry I couldn't go to see him myself."
Terry grinned, "No worries. He wouldn't have wanted to see you anyway in the messed up condition you're in."
Samantha scowled back. "Brat." She started coughing again and her mother steered her away from the door.
Claire Westlane pointed up the stairs. "Bed. Now. You're going to strain yourself and your fever will pick up again."
"Yes, Mom." Samantha started to head back up to her room, but halfway up the steps, she turned and opened her mouth. "Don't forget –"
"Chicken soup with rice. I know. I know. As soon as we get back, I'll run to the store for the ingredients and I'll make a nice big pot for you to
gorge yourself on, alright?" Claire smiled fondly as she leaned against her husband. The light shimmered against the fire red tresses that came
to a short bob right below her chin.
Samantha laughed. "Don't forget. Your poor daughter will be lounging all alone in bed, nursing her cold, while she waits with bated breath for
nourishment." She waved before disappearing around the corridor.
Claire turned to her husband. "She makes it sound as if we don't feed her."
James looped an arm around her waist and nuzzled her neck. "I think she just gets her melodramatic side from you."
"Me? So I'm melodramatic, am I? Then what, pray tell, does she get from you, husband of mine?" Claire arched her eyebrow.
"Good sense, of course."
"Good sense?"
"Yeah. I mean, I did have good enough sense to snatch you up, didn't I? Huh? Didn't I?" He leaned down to press his lips against her and she
giggled, swatting his arm.
Terry coughed. "Uh, still here. Your son's still here. Please. It's getting to be borderline traumatic."
They headed out of the door and James locked up while Claire fussed over Terry and his length of his hair. "No, Mom. I don't need a haircut
again. It's fine."
"Your bangs are hanging in your eyes. It can't be comfortable –"
"It's fine, Mom. Mom, don't touch. You're messing up my hair. Mom!"
James wrapped an arm around Claire's shoulders and they laughed as they headed down the steps to their car. The winter air was biting and
cloudy puffs of their breath wafted in front of their faces.
Just as they drew close to their old, beat up sedan, someone suddenly stepped out from the shadows of the trees and they jumped. Claire
clapped a gloved hand to her lips, startled, while Terry muttered, "Jesus –"
James squinted, "Frank? Is that you?"
Frank Westlane's lips stretched in a taut smile.

"It is you!" James grinned. "It's been too long. Claire, do you remember Frank?" He smiled down at his wife and she nodded haltingly.
"Yes, of course. Hello, Frank. How've you been?" She wrapped an arm around James' waist. "We haven't heard from you in a while."
Frank jerked his head in a short nod, his eyes fixated on Claire. She looked away.
James cocked his head. "What's the matter, bro?" Frank winced. "You don't look too good there. A tad pale. Maybe you're coming down with a
flu –"
"I'm not coming down with anything! Don't worry yourself on my behalf," Frank interrupted. He shifted uneasily. "Where – where are you all
heading to?"
"Just going to visit Dad's grave. Claire's bringing his and Mom's favorite flowers."
"Still trying to grab some extra brownie points there?" Frank quipped, his eyes turning cold and his fingers clenching.
"What?"
Frank forced a loud laugh. "Kidding. Kidding. As a matter of fact, I was just in the neighborhood and thought to come see you while I had some
time free. I haven't visited Dad in a while either. It's still so hard to believe that he just passed away a year ago. At times, I still feel he's here,
watching out for all of us – appraising us." His jaw tightened. "Mind if I come with?"
James blinked. "Sure. Of course you can come. The car still has room – especially now that Sammy's too sick to come."
"Samantha's not coming?" For a second there, Frank looked stricken, staring up at the second floor windows. Then, as a huge gust of wind
scattered leaves across the lawn, he nodded and smiled. "I see. Okay. You guys go ahead. I have my own car. I'll follow you."
"Oh. Well, alright. Sure." James nodded and opened the passenger door for his wife. "See you there."
"Yes, see you." Frank echoed before walking away.
As James pulled his car out of the driveway, they could see Frank's car pull up behind them. James looked up at the rearview mirror and his lips
quirked. "I'm sure Dad will be happy seeing us two brothers together again."
Claire was silent.
"What's the matter, honey?" He reached over and took her head. "Jeez, your hands are ice cold. What's wrong? Is the heat not enough? Do you
want my jacket?"
She shook her head. "No. Nothing's wrong." She lifted his hand to press her lips against his knuckles. "It's just – your brother creeps me out
sometimes."
"I know! Uncle Frank is so weird, right? He always looks so psychotic," Terry piped up from the backseat.
James chuckled. "Oh, come on. He's not that bad."
"Dad, he looks like he's a drug addict. He was all pale and he was shaking. Who sweats like that in the middle of winter?"
James shook his head. "Alright, I admit it. Frank's always been a bit – zany – but he's okay. He's never done anything –"

Frank's car sped up past their car then and James frowned. "What is he doing? I thought he was going to follow us."
Claire bit her lip and her hand tightened around James before releasing it. "Maybe – maybe he knows the way –"
Terry snorted, "Maybe he wants to show off his new car – you know, vroom vroom –"
"What the hell?" James suddenly barked.
Frank twisted his car around to block the road in front of them and they could see him staring at them through his window, his hands tight on
the wheel. His eyes were dark and dispassionate and he blinked solemnly.
Claire's eyes widened. "James, watch out!"
Terry closed his eyes, grabbing hold of his mother's headrest as his father swerved. The tires screeched against the icy road, slipping and sliding.
It reminded him of a roller coaster ride gone wrong. "James!" "Damn it!" The car hurtled into a tree in a sickening spray of glass and compressed
metal before careening and flipping over. His head whipped back and forth and he opened his bleary eyes. "Mom. Dad."
The silence horrified him and the pain surrounded him. His vision was upside down, his body still strapped in place by his seatbelt. Blood rushed
to his brain. "Mom." He stared at the shock of familiar red hair in front of him. Blood even more crimson trickled down through those beautiful
locks. "Mom."
"Dad. Help Mom. Dad." His voice was hoarse and his neck hurt as he tried to look over at his father. The back of James Westlane's body dangled
upside down in the same way as Terry's, but his neck seemed contorted in a way that was too unnatural. "Dad. Please."
Spots swam in front of his eyes as he felt something liquid and sticky run down along his neck, around his ear. His vision darkened – but not
before he listened to the sound of a car pulling away.
Terry stared up at the ceiling again, but this time, his eyes were too blurred by tears to see the play of shadows.
"Bastard."

"Bastard." Her voice shook, but she repeated herself until her words rang out. "Bastard. Bastard. Bastard!"
Frank bared his teeth and he reached for her, but she fought, leaving three welts across his cheek and gouging the skin off the back of his
hands. "Let go of me, you bastard. You killed your own brother. You killed my family!" She kicked and screamed, curling her fingers, trying to
reach his eyeballs.
"It had to be done," He said matter-of-factly. "It was the only way."
"You were actually this sick? To want to imprison me so much, that you were willing to kill your own brother? My parents?"
He snorted. "Oh Samantha, you're just too cute."
She tried to skin him and he slammed her back against the wall.
He hissed at her, "You're lovely, but not that great. You were just a nice gift that was thrown in along the side."
Samantha gnashed her teeth. A very primitive desire to sink her teeth into his arm took hold of her.

"No. It was more than that. It was your stupid dead grandfather."
"What does Grandpa have to do with everything? He died a year before you murdered my parents!"
"Yes, the old fart died, but the point is, he did me a great injustice."
"Grandpa was nice, fair and if he could just see you now, he would throw you into jail and –"
"Nice? Fair? Your grandfather upped and died, leaving practically all of his money to your idiotic dad. You think that's fair? I have always been
the one who worked and slaved for him. What did your dad do, huh? He didn't lift a pinky for the company. No, he was too busy wooing your
airhead of a mother and running off on little crusades for the poor and sickly. How was that fair?"
His fingers had tightened around her throat and she coughed. "Grandpa didn't leave all of his money to us, idiot. He divided it equally between
all of us –"
"Yes! Equally, is it? Four portions for you happy little Brady Bunch – and one measly share for poor Uncle Frank. That's lovely, isn't it? What did
you and your brother do? What did your mother and your father do? Did you really honestly think you deserve the money?"
She tried to twist away from his grasp. "Then maybe you should have done what any normal person with common sense would have done
instead of murdering my parents – find a lawyer and contest the freaking damn will!"
His eyes darkened and his lips whitened. "Well, that's all of little importance now, isn't it, Samantha? It all worked out for the best. Everyone
who was pesky has died and I now have you forever. Yes. A nice happy ending, isn't it?"
Her breath caught in her throat in a harsh hiccupping sob. "Dad shouldn't have swerved. He should have just driven into you and ended your
miserable life, you scum."
Frank's lips curled and as he raised his rigid hand, she lifted her head in defiance –
DING DONG!
Frank paused. "What the hell?"
A low murmur of voices sounded from the hall downstairs and he growled. "Visitors?" His eyes narrowed at Sammy and she swallowed, glaring
back. "Well then. Guess you're in luck. I shall have to tend to you later, Samantha." He released his hold and she pressed back against the wall.
He turned around and took a step toward the door. "But until then –" He spun back around and drove his foot against her ribcage.
Sammy wheezed as she doubled over. He calmly took her head within both his hands in a mockingly tender gesture before smashing it again
and again against the wall.
Frank deftly wiped his hands on her shirt before stepping away and letting her fall. Closing the door tight behind him, he left her collapsed in an
unconscious, bloody heap on the floor.

DING DONG!
The maid opened the door and blinked. William stood on the front step, grinning and waving. "Hi there. You look nice. May I come in?"
"Are – are you looking for someone? Might I inquire who you might be?"

"Yes. Will. So can I come in?"
"Um, well, Mr. Westlane doesn't really like unannounced visitors."
"That's okay. You can announce me to him when I'm inside."
"I – don't think so."
"Okay, look. Here's the real deal." He looked around before leaning in to whisper confidentially. "I'm actually an honorary member of the Boy
Scouts and if I don't at least sell a batch of cookies here, I'm going to be, like, un-Scoutitized."
The maid stared at him dubiously. "But you don't have any cookies."
"I have to do my spiel first. Don't you know? Ad presentation before taking down the orders? Reel people's interest in first before bringing in
the big money?"
"I – don't think so."
"Oh, come on. It's really important to me –"
"What the hell's going on?"
The maid paled and William's eyes turned icy as they looked up to find Frank heading down the steps.
Frank narrowed his eyes at Will before blinking. "You?" He snapped at the maid. "Don't you know how to do your job? Close the door. He's not
welcome."
William declared, "Are you sure? It might be in your best interest to hear me out first."
Frank rolled his eyes. "No. I really don't think so."
The maid gave William an apologetic look before shutting the door – that is, it would have closed, had not a hand suddenly slammed against it,
wedging it back open.
Vincent seemed to have suddenly materialized in the doorway. The maid stumbled backward. His lips twisted in a wry, cold smirk as he lounged
against the door with his eyes leveled at Frank. "Oh, but I insist."

Chapter Twenty Eight
"Oh, but I insist." Vincent remarked quietly as he leaned against the doorway. The fingers of one hand rubbed the knuckles of the other in an
almost absentminded way.
William beamed.
Frank blanched.
Tristan appeared next to Vincent. Smiling at the disturbed maid, he suggested, "My apologies, miss. You might want to excuse yourself for the
moment. Something bad and possibly bloody might happen soon."

The woman opened her mouth, blinked rapidly, took a step backward, then forward and finally glanced over at Frank. "Do – do you want me to
call the police, sir?"
"No. Mind your business and get back to work."
"Oh. Well – well then, I see." She nodded. "Then I think I'm going to take sick leave for the rest of the day if you don't mind, sir. Goodbye and,
uh, good luck, sir!" She clasped her hands in front of her, squeezed past Tristan and Vincent, and scurried away from the house before her
employer could utter a word.
Frank gaped. He coughed and straightened up, trying to recover his composure. "I'll have you know that she is still a witness. She'll know that
you bunch were here, making trouble in my house."
Vincent arched an eyebrow. "And what exactly would she be a witness for?"
"I think he's thinking something along the lines of broken limbs, spurting blood, maybe sudden death?" A voice wafted in from outside the
house.
Tristan glanced over his shoulder. "Oh. Jack. Caine. You're still outside?"
Jack grumbled, "Well, we wouldn't be if you two would stop blocking the damn door."
Tristan smiled genially and stepped away, holding his hand out graciously. The two boys filed in and stepped over next to Will.
Vincent didn't budge. Now that there was an opening next to him, his eyes dared Frank. Want to try running for it, old man?
Frank curled his lips and looked away. Vincent smirked, stepped forward and kicked the door shut.
The boys moved away from the lobby and headed off into the living room. Frank followed close behind.
Vincent tucked his hands in his pockets, turning around the room. His eyes glided around, lingering on the coffee table across the room. Frank
twisted his neck around sharply, scanning for what had garnered the boy's attention. His eyes narrowed and in two short steps, crossed the
room and snatched up what could be a very convenient weapon – a nifty antique letter opener in the design of a bejeweled dagger he had
purchased only three months ago. He clutched the handle, his lips twisting in a smug sneer. Oh, no, you don't. "I see my little letter opener has
caught your attention. Unfortunately, it's not for sale."
Vincent shrugged. "Eh. Not my style anyway." He stretched his arms out, yawning as he cracked the knuckles of his fists.
Frank's lips thinned and he tightened his grip on the handle. Brandishing it slowly, he barked, "Listen, you. You're all trespassing right now. Just
because you brought your little group of friends, it doesn't mean shit. You can't frighten me."
Vincent cocked his head to one side. "We can't?" A languid grin undulated across his face. "Good for you." He took a step forward.
Frank stumbled backward. "You – what are you doing –"
"Do you know what I really, really detest? Sniveling cowards who can't do anything but enjoy hurting those who are weaker than them."
Vincent continued prowling forward. "So you know what I really, really enjoy? Thrashing their asses to even the odds out."
Frank's eyelids fluttered rapidly but he scoffed, "Oh, big talk, Mr. Grenford. Truly touching. Please. You say you're some big noble Robin Hood
rescuing the defenseless, but really, we all know you're nothing without your parents and your money. I know all about you. The big bully of
Crestan High with his pack of friends running the whole school. Who are you to say anything about helping the weak? You're just a hypocrite.
You're just like me –"

The boy quickened his steps and Frank stumbled backwards, his words jumbled up in a yelp. Vincent stopped just before the man. "Never ever
compare us. I'm not the perverted kidnapper here."
The man turned mauve as he roared in Vincent's face. "Get out! Get out –"
"Or what? You going to call the police on us?" Vincent growled.
Frank Westlane turned quiet. "And what can you do? You can't do anything to me. Or were you planning to run me over or kill me?" His hands
shook, but he snickered. "Samantha's mine. The whole world knows it. And as a matter of fact, if you force me, I will get the police here. You
think I'm afraid? You think you can get them to somehow search my house while they're here? Idiot. I'll tell you what they'll do. They'll haul you
boys out of here for bothering a good citizen, call up your parents including Mrs. Grenford, and you'll probably get grounded or have some of
your credit cards cut up. And I? I will get a restraining order against you all and take such good care of my beloved niece. Now that - that will be
the end of you bunch. So get out of here before I lose my patience. This is my final warning."
The air was rife with tension. Up to this point, none of the other boys had dared to interrupt. Tristan's face was dark while Jack was trying to
restrain himself from punching the bastard's lights out. Caine and Will had both folded their arms in front of them, but the latter was fidgeting.
The room was silent except for the sound of birds calling, cars racing outside, distant echoes of car doors slamming, footsteps and clicking of
heels against pavement and the moaning of wind.
For a minute, Vincent looked dazed as if he was elsewhere. He stood there, still and quiet, as if taking in all the muted sounds. He jammed his
hands in his pockets.
Vincent's grey eyes were wracked with pain as he slowly lowered his head. Frank radiated with triumph.
Will blinked and he gritted his teeth. Taking a step forward, he snarled, "Screw you! We don't care about your little back up team of corrupted
police! We can take you! We'll find Sammy and run away and –"
"William!" Vincent barked. "Just be quiet!"
The other boy's jaw snapped shut and his eyes widened. "Oh, I don't believe this –"
"Quiet!"
Will's face hardened and he looked away.
Vincent pivoted his head back to Frank. "We mustn't be so rude to Mr. Westlane. After all, he's right on so many points."
Frank's smile vanished, replaced by an air of wary suspicion.
Vincent scrutinized the letter opener in Frank's hand and his voice softened. "I really can't do anything to you, can I? But you're right. In fact,
you're so right, it almost hurts. Because, yeah, of course I always have Mommy Dearest." His eyes flew up in a flash of startling grey.
It happened too fast.
A blur of motion. Vincent pressing forward, arching his fist. Door creaking open. Frank closing his eyes, bringing up his hands. Staccato beat of
footsteps. All the boys jerking to attention.
Vincent stopped short, his fist wavering just before Frank's nose. He heaved a quivering sigh of pain.
Blood dotted along the floor as Vincent stumbled backward with his hand pressed against his abdomen.

Tristan was the first to react. "Vince! What the hell?"
Frank trembled, his hands still clutching the makeshift weapon now slick with blood. "I – I don't understand. What –"
Vincent's eyes were closed as he smiled.
Will stammered. "You're bleeding! Are you crazy? Are you committing suicide? Oh my god, is Sammy dead? Are you doing that shit where true
love dies together? Oh god, oh god, oh god –"
"WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HAPPENING?"
Everyone froze.
Vincent's grin broadened as he opened his eyes. Turning around to greet his mother, he waved weakly with his free hand. "Hey, Mom. Perfect
timing." He jabbed a finger over to Frank. "This man just tried to kill your son." He smiled lopsidedly. "So what are you going to do about it?"
Mrs. Grenford's face was stark white as she watched blood pool down at the base of Vincent's feet. She swallowed as her eyes flew to Frank.
Frank stammered, "I – I can explain! It isn't what it looks like! He – he ran into my letter opener!"
Mrs. Grenford's eyes spat fire. "You asshole."
"Don't you see what he's trying to do? He's trying to manipulate you! He's trying to turn you against me –"
"You stabbed my son!"
"I didn't – it was self defense!"
Vincent stumbled over to the couch and sat down heavily. He coughed, "I didn't do anything to you. I couldn't – remember?"
Will sat down next to Vincent and blanched. "Oh god, Mrs. Grenford. The bastard really cut him! He's bleeding all over the place!"
Katherine Grenford's fingers curled. "I am going to kill you, Frank Westlane. Isn't it enough that you can't handle your own niece? Why did you
have to bring my son into this? Why did you have to hurt him?"
"Your son was the one who barged in! I didn't want to hurt him! I –"
"I should never have let you handle this whole mess. I'm starting to feel sorry that I let that poor girl go back to you, you incompetent jackass!"
"It was your son! I didn't mean for any of this to happen –"
Tristan cleared his throat, "Mrs. Grenford, Vincent is really bleeding a lot. It's not an act."
Katherine whirled around to inspect her son. "Oh god." Then she snarled at Frank. "You were never supposed to lay a hand on my children,
bastard! I'm going to make sure you never ever see the light of day, you sick, violent -" She whipped out her cellphone. "But first – first, I'm
going to call the police and have them lock you up!"
Frank shook his head. "No! Don't you see? He wants you doing this! He wants you to get the police here so that he can take away Samantha!
He's just – you can't do this to me!"

Vincent groaned loudly.
Katherine gritted her teeth. "I don't really care anymore about you and your little troubles with your niece. All I know is that my son is now
bleeding to death because of you and he needs an ambulance immediately!"
"He's – he's not bleeding to death – I didn't cut him that badly! I – it's probably just a minor scratch. Listen, why don't you just drive him to the
hospital? It'll be quicker and – and we can forget all this ever happened – I will never go near your children again – I will move away with
Samantha –"
Katherine bared her teeth. "Listen. I might not like Sammy much, but even I know something is terribly wrong with you. Even if my son is that
stupid enough to risk impaling himself on your letter opener for that girl, then I suppose it's just a sign that she's really that important to him
and that he obviously feels you're a serious danger to her. So to prevent any future incidents of my son running after you again and ramming
himself on sharper items, I'm going to resolve this matter once and for all." She flicked open the phone.
Frank lost it.
"Why must you all go against me? Why can't you just leave me be?" He charged forward, still brandishing the sharp letter opener, and
Katherine lurched backward in alarm. "Why? Why can't I just get my way?"
Vincent flew up from his seat. Tristan, Caine, and Jack bounded from across the room. Will threw himself forward and it ended up in an ugly
pileup. Tackling the man to the ground from all sides, the antique dagger clattered and spiraled off against the marble floor. Frank clawed
against the ground, trying to wriggle his way out from underneath the boys. "Get off me! Get off me! Samantha! Samantha! Claire! Claire! Why
James! Why is it always James? Why must you all do this to me? I'm going to kill you all. Kill you all!"
Mrs. Grenford gaped, her hand still clutching the phone. "Vincent! Are you underneath Will or Tristan? Get out from there! You're still bleeding!
Vincent!"
Vincent croaked, "Are you ever going to get around to calling the damn police?"
"Already did, Vinnie. Are you okay?"
The boys arched their necks up to see two other girls step up next to Katherine Grenford. Caine blinked. "Dani? Carrie?"
Danielle was pale and Carrie was twisting her hands together. Katherine glanced in muted surprise over at her daughter.
Danielle tried to smile, but her hands were shaking as they carded through her ruffled hair. "We - we followed you. We guessed you must have
gotten a call from Vincent after you went running from the house and jumping into your car. So we tagged along after you in my car and when
we figured out it was probably Frank's house you were heading, I decided to call the police – you know, just in case. Turns out they're not really
specific about which Ms. Grenford they answer to. They should be heading over here right about now."
Frank was still screaming and buckling against the boys. "Just listen to me! Let me go! I promise you! I won't do this anymore! Just let me go
and get Samantha! Please! You can't do this to me!"
Danielle felt like crushing the heel of her boots into the man's skull, but she ignored him as she picked her way around the group. "Vinnie? Are
you alright?"
"I think my blood is ruining Will's shirt and my stomach isn't feeling too happy. Otherwise, I just need Sammy." Vincent's muffled voice wafted
through.
Carrie wrapped her arms around her tightly. Her voice sounded strained. "Tristan? Jack? Are you two alright?"

"Fine. Maybe you should step outside for a while. You know you don't like blood," her brother suggested.
"But – but Sammy –" Her blue eyes roamed along the ceiling as if she could probe through the walls.
Jack grunted as Frank jabbed him in the ribs. He socked the man with his elbow before adding his agreement. "Yeah, Carrie. Why don't you
head outside and wait for the police?"
Carrie bit her lip forlornly. "I – I guess. I – I'll just be outside then. Call me if – if you need anything?" The girl nodded at Danielle and Katherine
before shuffling outside.
Danielle was trying to pry back Tristan's arm to peek at her brother's wound. "Vince, can you just squeeze out of there and let us staunch the
blood flow? You're really scaring me."
Mrs. Grenford was peering out the windows, muttering to her herself. "Where are the paramedics? Where the hell are the police? What good
can they do if they can't even save someone from bleeding to death? What's taking them so long –"
"Please! Mrs. Grenford, I beg you! Just listen to me!" Frank screamed.
The woman roared, "Just shut up! You don't know how close I am to bashing your brains in –"
"Mom! Vincent's really pale!"
"What?" Katherine scurried forward and kneeled down. Between her and Danielle, they managed to help extract Vincent out while keeping
Frank pinned down.
Vincent coughed and tried to sit up. His shirt was dark and matted with blood. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead and his skin felt clammy.
Katherine moaned and clasped her arms around her son, pushing his dark hair away from his face. "Why did this have to happen? Don't move.
Don't move at all. I – I think I heard that moving is bad for wounds so don't move. Okay, Vincent?"
His smile was frail. "Thanks, Mom."
Katherine shook her head and closed her eyes. "What did I do?"
"For being there when I needed you."
Her face was stark white. "Oh for – I didn't know you would do something this drastic. I – I wouldn't have even been here, if you didn't call and
gave me that stupid message about running off to save Sammy –"
He nodded. "But at least, this time, I knew that you were going to come. That you will finally listen to me and come for me – even if I had to
kind of trick you into following me."
She shook her head, eyes suspiciously bright. "You – oh, Vincent, why couldn't you just –"
Danielle was sobbing now. "Can you two stop this right now? It's really freaking me out. All these little heartwarming scenes always happen
right before the main character dies in the movie – and you!" She grabbed her brother's shirt collar. "You definitely can't die on me, brat!"
He grimaced. "Yeesh, get away from me. You're dripping on me." He sighed. "If I knew that all I needed was you or even some random girl to
phone in and pretend to be '', then I wouldn't have thought up this whole 'getting injured by Frank so that Mother can get the police on my
behalf' plan. It'll be ultimately less painful at least."

Danielle chuckled even as tears spilled down her cheeks. "That's why you should always discuss things with me first because you know that I got
all the intelligent genes."
"Hardy har har," Vincent croaked. He shifted, his face contorting in pain. "There's no way in hell am I going to die here. I still have to have the
reunion scene with Sammy – which reminds me -" He tried to sit up again, but his mother quickly pushed him back down. "Mom! I need to find
Sammy!"
"If you move, you'll probably start up the bleeding again so just let the police come and do the saving."
Vincent shook his head. "So this is why heroes in movies don't bring their mothers along when they rescue their girlfriends." He pressed his
hand against his abdomen and winced. "Mom, I don't know how Sammy is. What if she's hurt? What if she's –"
"You will let the paramedics come and treat you. The police will handle the rest," Katherine said firmly.
Vincent moved and clenched his teeth as another wave of pain wracked him. "Danielle? Can you find –"
Sirens blared in a shrill, surging rhythm. Carrie ran in. "The police! They're here! They're finally here!"
Katherine looked up. "And the paramedics? Is there an ambulance?"
"Yes. Yes, I think so!"
Frank shook his head. "You can't do this. Give up. They – they can't search my house without a search warrant. You can't do this. You all can't
beat me."
Caine retorted, "Shut up, asshole. You're in no position to talk now."
Will sighed, "I can't believe the longest time I've ever spent lying on top of a man is here. Just block it out, Will. Traumatic memories are a no
no."
A group of police officers barreled through the doors then. "What the –"
One thin man with a thick brown moustache stepped forward. "Mrs. Grenford, what's going on?"
Katherine stood up, adjusted her blood stained suit and cleared her throat. "Sergeant Davis, about time."
The officers actually appeared chagrined.
She continued, "My son is hurt. He needs medical attention. As for Frank Westlane –" She paused to shoot the man a particularly nasty glare. "he's the one who stabbed my son and then tried to hurt me with that letter opener over there. Vincent's friends are, uh, currently restraining
him."
"I – I see." Sergeant Davis nodded and two of his men stepped forward to fish Frank out. They handcuffed him while reading him his rights.
Several paramedics filed in through the door then and Mrs. Grenford quickly waved them over.
Vincent shook his head. "No."
"Vincent!"
"Sammy. Get Sammy first. I'm not going to sit here and get bandaged up while Sammy's still alone and frightened in some room in this very
house." He shook his head again while pressing his hand tight against his wound. "Find her first."

Frank shook his head and sniggered darkly. "Samantha's dead."
If it was even possible, Vincent's complexion turned even more white. "What the hell did you just say?"
Frank laughed. "If she's not dead, then she should be close to it. I hope she ends up like her damn brother. If not, then – then I hope she ends
up a raving lunatic. I hope she will remember this always and never forget the pain and the knowledge. Reality! So bitter! So red! Her hair! Ah,
her hair – her blood. Beautiful Samantha. Beautiful Claire. Then where will you be, huh? Where will you be, James? You will never save her from
me. You will all die. You –"
Vincent shot up from his seat on the couch and slammed his fist into Frank's face, crushing the words back into his throat. He continued
pummeling and pounding until two other officers finally managed to pull him off. Frank hung limply in the grip of Sergeant Davis, blood dripping
from his nose. Still, Vincent strained forward.
Katherine frantically spoke, "Vincent, please! You're going to hurt yourself!"
Frank mumbled feebly, "I should have bashed her head in more, had I known all this will happen."
The sound of blood roared in Vincent's ears and he shrugged off the officers. This time, instead of reaching for Frank's neck, he turned around
and ran out of the room.
"Vincent!"
He ignored it all. Slipping and sliding across the marble floor that was now polished with Frank and his blood, he ran. Through the lobby and up
the stairs, he knew he left a trail a crimson blood behind – like gingerbread crumbs. Sammy once told him that she didn't like the story of
Hansel and Gretel – that she felt it was too gruesome for children.
He scrambled up the stairs, taking them by two. He stumbled and tripped at certain points so he half crawled, half hopped the steps. His fingers
grasped the steps before him as his legs pumped behind. It reminded him of how he went up the stairs as a child, darting up the steps. He had
always felt so fast, his hands slapping against each step as he propelled himself forward. So how come now, he felt so very slow?
"Vincent!"
His breathing was in short gasps and he wondered why. He was never in such bad shape. He could probably have picked up Sammy and ran up
and down the steps without so much as heaving a breath. Sammy. Chills ran up his spine. Sammy, you're too light. You're too thin. You're too
small. You're too fragile. Frank is wrong though. You're okay. You're okay. Sammy.
He bounded up the steps and found himself facing a long hallway. Doors. So many doors. But they didn't feel right.
His eyes brushed past them and he found that there was another set of stairs. Third floor? Yes.
"Sir! Please! Let's stop the bleeding first!"
"Vinnie! Stop this! You're being childish!"
Childish? Spoiled. Sammy called me spoiled, but I'm trying. I'm trying to be better. Sammy.
He ran up the steps and turned around at the final landing. His hand clung to the railing as he gasped. Once again, there were several doors. But
it was the one all the way down the hall that drew his attention.
His smile quavered as he staggered forward.

"Of course I return your . . . feelings. You - you like me, too?"
"So . . . we're together then."
"Guess so."
"Cool."
"Yup."
He raised his hand toward the doorknob.
She laughed. "You're so contradictory."
"And you're being a tease. What happened to my blushing, shy Sammy?"
A soft smile touched her lips. "Still here - even though you can be such a bad influence."
His hand closed around the knob. Sammy. Sammy. Sammy. The knob twisted and – didn't budge.
Vincent closed his eyes. A sudden desperate urge to laugh pounded through him. Of course it would be locked. He shook his head and then
backed up a few paces before kicking the door. Pain jolted through his foot and his teeth chattered. The door was immobile. Damn. Not as easy
as it looks in the movies. He heaved a breath, resting against the wall for a moment.
"Sir! Please! Just wait a minute!"
No time. He backed up again and went for another round. This time, the door creaked and crashed open. He grinned wearily.
A hand grabbed at his sleeve. "We have to stop the bleeding –"
He shrugged the paramedic off. "I'm fine. I'm okay. There's no more pain."
He stumbled through the doorway and for a moment, couldn't see anything. Too dark. As his eyes grew adjusted, he stared as the details of
what seemed to be a crumpled heap in the corner delineated in front of him. Tiny. Fragile. His heart clenched. Sammy.
He staggered over, dropped to his knees, and peered closely. She was resting on her right side, just like the way she always sleeps. Her lips were
cracked and her skin splotched with purple contusions. Sammy. "Oh, Sammy. I'm so sorry." Sorry. Sorry. He trailed a bloody finger along her
bruised cheek. "Sammy. I'm here now. You can wake up." She didn't respond. He leaned forward to press his cheek against hers. "Are you
cold?" Her eyelashes were fans against her pale skin and her red hair was stringy and matted with dried blood. She was so quiet, so serene – it
scared him. It terrified him.
He hiccupped and he realized that he was crying. Shuddering sobs that reverberated throughout his body.
He turned around and snarled at the paramedics, "What the hell are you standing around for? Can't you see that she's hurt? She's hurt, right?
She's hurt?"
His eyes were intense as a paramedic bent down and checked Sammy. The man straightened up and nodded, "She's unconscious, but her pulse
is still strong."
Vincent nodded. "I knew it. She's hurt. She's hurt. But she'll be okay."

The paramedic nodded and then said, "But sir, we should probably check you –"
The boy waved him off. "I'm alright. I'm not the one who's unconscious. Get your priorities straight. Sammy's hurt."
Vincent watched the paramedics load Sammy onto a stretcher because he had to make sure she's okay. They have to be careful. "Be careful!
She – she's hurt."
A hand settled on his shoulder and he looked up to see Danielle. Her eyes were teary and he thought she must be crazy since everything's fine
now. Sammy's okay. She spoke, "Vinnie, you found Sammy now so you can stop worrying and get help, okay?"
Vincent arched an eyebrow. "Well, of course – but I have to make sure Sammy is okay and watch her wake up. I have to explain to her that
everything's okay now."
Tristan interrupted. "Vince, you're acting really freaky now. You've lost a lot of blood. Why don't you let the medics tend to you so that you're
refreshed and not on death's door when Sammy awakens?"
Vincent shook his head. "Guys, I'm fine. There's no pain anymore. It's just a small scratch. I was just putting on an act for my mom. I'm okay.
Really. You're all acting weird. Sammy's the one who's hurt. We have to see to her first. Why are you all fussing over me?" He watched the
paramedics lift Sammy up and walk toward the door. He stood up. "Now if you'll all excuse me, I want to ride with Sammy in the ambulance."
He managed two steps.
He swallowed as a spasm of pain coursed through his body and throbbed in his head. Spots of light danced before his eyes as he swayed. He
closed his eyes.
"Ah hell."
"Vincent!"
Darkness finally overtook him.

Chapter Twenty Nine
It was twilight. The time of day when horizon is held suspended in a moment of ambiguity. Hovering between day and night, light and dark, life
and death, twilight gloried in its very imprecision.
The mauve glow of the sky outside tugged at Danielle's heart even as she steeled herself. For the first time in her life, she didn't raise a racket
about Caine's arm around her shoulders, feeling rather small and safe in the crook of his arm. She remained expressionless, staring at the
number 231. Room 231. Vinnie's room.
As Caine leaned down to press his lips against her hair in a whisper of comfort, she closed her eyes. Stepping forward, she could already feel the
tears well up in her eyes. Her hand closed around the doorknob and she turned it, letting the door creak open.
Her eyes immediately fell upon the lone prostrate figure on the bed. Her breath caught in her throat before lashing out in a harsh shuddering
sob. "Oh, Vinnie! Why? Why did you have to do that?" Tears spilled down her cheeks. "Vinnie!"
Caine pressed his hand against her back. "Hush, Dani. There's nothing we could have done. We'd just have to let him rest in peace."
"Vinnie! You stupid idiot! You stupid, stupid, stupid –"

"Oh, for crying out loud – I'm not dead! When are you going to stop crying already?"
From his reclining position, Vincent bent his head slightly toward his sister before slowly rolling his eyes back to blink up at the ceiling. He was
too pale, as if he had somehow leeched the severe color away from his hospital sheets, and his rumpled hair was a dark shock against his
features. His dried lips parted again. "Do you have a reservoir of tears saved up or something?"
"Oh, excuse me. I just can't help it. The tears just come naturally whenever I think of my brother's utter stupidity."
"Where's Sammy?"
"Any reasonable person would have just let the police do their work, but no, you had to sprinting around the house like a maniac –"
"Why weren't we put in the same room?"
"If I could have just tackled you and strangled you myself, you wouldn't have –"
"Danielle."
"What?"
"I'm fine."
"I know." And the tears started again.
"Mother already gave me the same spiel, only with no tears – thank goodness."
"I know." She scrunched up her nose and reeled around to Caine, slapping his shoulder with the back of her hand. "What's wrong with you?
Can't you see I'm crying? Stop mauling me and give me a tissue. My nose is running!"
As Caine fished through his pockets for a napkin, Vincent sighed. Leaning back against his pillow, he croaked, "Shit, it's freaking embarrassing
fainting like that."
Danielle snatched the tissue from Caine's hand and blew her nose. Caine watched her carefully while responding absentmindedly, "Yeah, now
that you mention it, retrospectively, it was kind of funny –"
Vincent's bloodshot eyes pierced him, his teeth bared.
Caine added hastily. "- I mean, in a totally horrific, fearsome way, of course. The force of your body's impact against the floor sent a tremor
throughout the house. You were really, truly scary unconscious."
"Oh, shut up." Both of the siblings retorted.
Danielle spoke, "The doctor said that while it was a deep gash, it was fortunate the knife hadn't gone clear through your stomach. If it had, you
would have –" She choked on her words. "Oh, for –" She turned away.
Caine took over. "Basically, if you had gotten impaled, your innards will be bathing in digestive acids. Sizzle sizzle, there goes Vinnie's organs.
You'd basically be –"
"DEAD! Dead! You idiot!" Danielle jabbed a finger at her brother, her eyes red again.

Vincent tried to smile. "Well, it's good then that my stomach only feels like it's seared by fire and not actually being liquefied inside out, isn't
it?"
Danielle ignored him. "And not to mention all the blood you lost! Were you trying to kill yourself in every way possible? What kind of a stupid
plan was that, huh? I mean, sure, you got lucky, but if Frank had actually just – I – you're so stupid! Did you think putting yourself in danger
would have made Sammy feel any better –"
"Where's Sammy?"
Danielle sighed. "You're never going to listen to me, are you?"
"Where is she? Is she okay?" Vincent insisted.
She burst into tears again and Vincent panicked. "What? What's wrong with her?"
Danielle turned to Caine and threw up her hands helplessly. "I don't know what's wrong with me. In one day, I've cried more than I've done in
all my nineteen years."
"Where's Sammy?"
Caine shuffled his feet and Danielle looked away.
Vincent's heart failed. "She's not dead, is she? Is she?"
Danielle blinked. "Oh god, no! Of course not. No!"
He calmed down a little, but his heart was still pounding hard in his chest. "Then what? Is she in a coma?"
Caine shook his head. "Doc said she had a Grade 3 concussion, what from Frank bashing her head against the wall and all."
Vincent's fingers whitened in their grip on the bed sheets.
"Said she might have a hard time awakening and when she did, she might experience some memory loss –"
"So did she –"
"She woke up this morning while your mother was in here talking to you."
"So does she –" If possible, Vincent's face turned whiter, agitated.
"Yeah. She remembers." Danielle's eyes were anguished. "She remembers everything."

Sammy watched the ceiling, her green eyes unblinking and her red hair half hidden underneath white bandages. Her lips opened and closed,
murmuring silence.
"Sammy? Are you okay?"
"Sammy? Are you okay? Oh, sweetie, you got a fever again?"

She rolled over in bed, burrowing herself underneath her covers. She kept her eyes closed and mumbled something indistinct.
Her mother perched herself on the side of the bed and felt Sammy's forehead, her hand cool against the heat. "Just get some rest, alright? I'll
make your favorite chicken soup and bring up some medicine later, okay?"
"Jack, She's been like this for a while. Why isn't she responding anymore? What did the doctor say? Why is she like this?"
"Calm down. She'll be fine. I'm sure she will. Please stop crying, Carrie."
"Sammy? Sammy? Come on, you sexy girl. Come back to Will. Please? I'm going to be hurt if you keep ignoring me like this. Sammy?"
"I think you need a nickname."
"Oh, I do, do I?"
"Yeah. So I hereby dub you Sammy of the Great Westlanes!"
She wrinkled her nose. "Sammy? What an awful name."
Terry rolled his eyes. "Well, so is Terry, but you don't see me complaining."
Their mother protested, "What's wrong with Terry? It's a perfectly fine name."
"It's just not very macho, Mom."
"Macho? Like what? Fabio?" James teased.
Sammy laughed. "Alright then! Terry, I hereby dub thee Fabio Westlane!"
"Oh, come on!"
"You asked for it!"
"No, I didn't! You must be crazy!"
"What's the matter, Fabio? Pouting isn't very macho."
"Don't call me that! And I'm not pouting! Sammy! Sammy!"
"Tristan! Just what in the hell is wrong with her? Did the doctors mention anything about this?"
"She's having a tough time dealing with … everything. You should have seen her when she first woke up. You could tell when she started to
realize – when she started to – she started to cry and – She's tired herself out. She's very confused right now and – oh god, I just wish – Sammy,
please, talk to me. Please, Sammy? I'd rather you cry and scream at me."
"That's it! Cry! Scream all you want!"
Samantha jerked back and kicked. She felt herself crash down against the floor, a heavy weight pinning her to the ground.
"You think you can simply ignore me? You think you can treat your own uncle like that?"

She struggled, her teeth snapping, trying to tear into his flesh, hurt him.
"Like you'll ever escape me. You should have known. Your life is mine."
Her head jerked slightly to the side, her eyes wide and her mouthing grew frantic. She felt numb, too weary to think about anything. She didn't
care. She didn't want to care. She just wanted to fade away. Mist. Mist. Foggy mist. Take me away. Far, far away.
"Sammy?"
"Sammy!"
"Samantha."
"Sammy?"
"Sam?"
"Sweetie."
"Sammy?"
"Sammy!"
"Sammy, please."
Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Everyone just leave me alone. Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Everyone just leave me alone. Leave me alone.
Leave me alone. Everyone just "Vincent was hurt."
- leave "They stitched him back up. He's too hardy to ever let himself die anyway – at least not before he sees you. But you knew that already, didn't
you?"
- me "Don't you want to see him?"
- alone.
No.
Wait.
Don't.
She saw him across the ballroom floor. Decked out in a midnight black suit, his dark jacket clung closely to his physique and his light gray eyes
emanated an aura of smoky mystery behind his mask. His hand reached up to remove the black velvet mask and he smiled then, a weary
lopsided grin.

And she, in turn, slowly slipped off her own green mask and started toward him.
He met her halfway.
No facades were ever needed between them.
She should have known.
"Sammy? Do you want to see Vincent?"
She resurfaced, breathing in the cold hospital smell and feeling the warmth of Tristan's hand on her own. She relished the throbbing pain that
resonated throughout her body and her head, declaring that she was alive.
She turned her head, her eyes soft, and said, "Yes, please."

"I want to see her."
"Well, you can't."
"Why the hell not?"
"Remember the nasty gash running across your abdomen, Vincent?" Katherine Grenford calmly arranged the flowers in the vase by his bedside.
"You're too hurt."
"Like hell I am. I can still get up." He winced as he tried to prop himself up on his elbows. "S – see?"
"Lay back down before you hurt yourself," Katherine snapped. "Doctor's orders are that you remain in bed. You go prancing off and you'd likely
tear out all your stitches."
"I'll just be careful. You can get me a wheelchair and I'll just roll myself down -"
"For the last time, Vincent, no. Don't make me have the nurses strap you down."
"What's wrong with you? Sammy's hurt and all you can think about –"
"- is you. My son. My son who got diced up by a lunatic and bled himself into a faint. Now tell me, is there a reason why I shouldn't worry?"
"I'm fine now, Mother."
"Well, you will be even better once you get ample rest and healed a bit. Samantha Westlane is not going anywhere so rest assured that you'll
see her sooner or later."
The door opened then and Tristan stepped in. His blond hair was ruffled and he looked exhausted, his shirt wrinkled and his eyes straining
against the light. He stuffed his hands in his pocket and cleared his throat. "Am I interrupting anything?"
Vincent responded, "No."
"How are you feeling?"

"Fine. Did you just come from Sammy?"
"Yeah."
"How is she? Danielle's too busy sobbing to tell me anything. Caine is trying to hug her. Carrie won't even look at me. Jack said Will will tell me.
Will, well, he just kind of petted me. So will you please just get straight to the point and tell me if Sammy's alright?"
Tristan nodded slowly before sighing. "A few of her ribs were broken, which the doctor said should take around six weeks to heal. She just woke
up from a concussion so she was still a bit woozy. She started to cry a lot at first, but then she kind of drifted off –"
"Drifted off? What the hell does that mean?" Vincent's voice was sharp.
"She wouldn't respond to anyone and just kept staring off into space."
"What? Why? What's wrong?" Vincent almost sat up, features drawn.
"I think – I think she just needed some time alone to think – or well, to stop thinking."
Vincent stared at him blankly, eyes moving around the room restlessly.
"She asked for you, you know." Tristan looked away. "You should see her."
"I am going to see her."
"Vincent . . ." Katherine warned.
"I know!" Vincent glared. He turned back to Tristan. "The only problem is the matter of getting to her room." He glanced over at his mother
again. "Can't you arrange for me to transfer over to her room?"
Katherine narrowed her eyes. "I don't think that will be very proper, Vincent."
"Oh, come on! What do you think we can do? Unless I manage to roll myself off bed, across the floor, up into hers, I doubt we can do more than
–"
"Alright, quiet!"
Vincent ignored her and turned back to Tristan. "Then maybe you can carry me over to Sammy's room."
"Excuse me?"
"I'm just kidding!" Vincent's smile turned serious. "You, Jack, Will and Caine can all carry me."
"What?"
"It'll work! I'm not that heavy."
Katherine threw up her hands. "Alright! Alright!" She folded her arms. "I'll get them to arrange a bed and move you over to Sammy's room as
soon as possible, but I'll have you know, Vincent, that this is the absolute last time that I'll ever give in to your wish. I've really been spoiling you
too much."

Vincent tried to shrug in his reclining position, but it just scrunched up his pillow. "There, there, Mother Dearest. Now please hurry."
Katherine's lips tightened, but she spun on her heels and walked out of the room.
There was an awkward silence as Tristan walked over to sit by Vincent's bed. "So you're really okay?"
"Just fine."
"Good. Good."
"So what happened to Frank Westlane?"
"The police came and locked him up. From his state when he got hauled off, it seems like he finally went off the deep end. I expect his lawyer
will plead insanity or that he's mentally incompetent to stand trial. If he does use the insanity defense and they rule that he's not guilty by
reason of insanity or that he's guilty but mentally ill, then he'll most likely be committed to a mental institution. Either way, I don't think he'll be
getting out any time soon." Tristan folded his arms and leaned back in his chair.
The other boy's face was stony. "Whatever. He deserves to burn in hell anyway. Being locked up forever is lucky for him." He gritted his teeth. "I
don't want to talk about him anymore. My stomach aches just thinking about that -" His fingers curled. "Wished I could have just ripped that
moustache off his lip and kneed him a couple times more, disembowel him with my own bare hands, throttle him with – oh, ow. Ow." He
pressed his fingers gingerly around his wound.
Tristan smiled wryly. "Don't we all? But you have to start thinking before you act, Vince. One of these days, your impulsive nature will get you
hurt – well, actually, it's already gotten you hurt, hasn't it?"
Vincent groaned. "Not you, too. Everyone's already nagged and prodded me about this already so alright, I promise to be more reasonable and
patient in the future."
The two boys stared at each before Tristan snorted. "No, you won't."
"No, I probably won't." Vincent agreed. They grinned at each other before Vincent blinked as if remembering something important. Jerking up,
he immediately fell back against his bed in pain.
Tristan furrowed his eyebrows. "Whoa there! What's wrong?"
"Almost forgot, but the police just stopped by to ask some questions before. Did anybody bother Sammy?"
"Both the police and several reporters came by a few times, but Mrs. Grenford gave them the evil eye and told them to come back when
Sammy is in a better shape to talk."
There was a knock on the door then and a nurse stepped in. "Mr. Grenford? Are you ready to be moved to your new room?"
Vincent grinned and he suddenly seemed much rosier than just minutes before. Tristan's lips twisted in a dry smile as he clapped Vincent
against the side of his shoulder. "Well, I guess your lady awaits you."
The black haired boy reddened slightly, but he turned back to the nurse and nodded. "Yeah."

"Okay, Sammy, how many fingers am I holding up now?"

Sammy smiled wanly, but she played along. "Three, Will."
"What is our high school's name?"
"Crestan."
"Crestan what?"
"Crestan High School, Will."
"Oh, you're smart. You're very smart."
"Will."
"Wait. Wait. One more. When was our first kiss?"
She arched an eyebrow tiredly. "First kiss?"
"Yes."
"We never had a first kiss."
"Wrong!"
"Oh, come on, Will. When did we ever –"
He leaned forward and pecked her quickly on the lips before leaping backward in triumph. "Now! Hah! And Vincent will never know!"
Sammy broke out into a smile despite herself. "Will, you're such a kid."
Will's beam softened into a light grin. He wrapped his fingers around her hand, lightly tracing her skin. "It's good to have you back, Sammy. The
real you and not the crazy, silent one who kept trying to wrap herself into a burrito with the covers."
Sammy whispered. "Thanks, Will."
Will darted a look over his shoulder. "Okay, Vince might pop in here anytime and he'd probably launch himself at me, bloody injuries not
withstanding, if he sees me like this with you – but oh well. Can't resist. Besides, in his state, I can probably take him." He nodded. "Maybe." He
shrugged. "Alright, I should go – but how about one more for the road?"
He leaned down, puckering his lips, when the door opened.
"Is Will there? I heard his voice! What's he doing to Sammy?"
In the doorway, Vincent was sprawled on his back on a wheeling bed with his feet toward the hallway. Sammy caught sight of a black tuft of
hair protruding above the pillow and her heart pounded. He tried to twist his head around to catch a view of the room, but the nurse promptly
pushed him back down. "Please don't overexert yourself, Mr. Grenford."
"I can't see shit! Roll me into the room and turned me around so that I can see Sammy. Tristan, is Will in there?"

Tristan stood outside the door, peering into the room. Will shook his head frantically, cutting his hands through the air in front of him while
mouthing "No! Tell him I'm not here! I'm too young and sexy to die!"
Tristan chuckled. "I thought I saw Will attempting to kiss Sammy, but I guess not. He wants to inform you that no, he's not here."
A growl rifted through the room and Will backed toward the wall, inching along it as the nurse rotated the bed around. Will curled his lips at
Tristan.
"And oh yeah, he believes that he's too young and sexy to die."
Will threw up his hands.
"I'm going to show him young and sexy, that little pervert – Sammy." The words melted away.
Now that his bed was turned to the proper position with the headboard against the wall, he saw that Sammy's bed was just a few feet away to
his left. Sammy nestled her cheek against the pillow and smiled. She was black and blue, obviously exhausted and drained, but she was right
there in front of him. Smiling. "Hey there."
"Sammy."
Will had already tiptoed out of the room and after the nurse stepped out, the door was gently closed. Neither of the room's patients noticed.
Sammy murmured, "So I heard that you rammed yourself into a knife for me and fainted from the loss of blood after running around the house
like a banshee to look for me."
"Who the hell told you I was like a banshee? Freaking bunch of bad describing liars."
She smiled even as tears welled up in her eyes. "Oh, Vince."
To his horror, his eyes tingled suspiciously and his vision blurred. "Don't cry, Sammy. Too many people have already cried and – ah hell, you're
going to make me –" He cleared his throat. "What's this I hear about you not speaking to anyone?"
Her eyelashes fluttered close and a tear spilled out from the corners of her eyes, trailing down toward her temples. "Too many things have
happened already. Too many secrets have come out into the open – some I – everything's just too painful."
He kept silent, watching her.
"Frank went too far. Too far. He – my parents – he –" Her eyes opened in a shocking blaze of anger and regret. Vincent blanched. "I want him to
die. I want him to pay. He should have died. He should have." Her chest was heaving and he saw that her hands were quivering.
"Sammy, calm down. Calm down. He's gone."
"I know. I just can't –"
"He can't hurt you anymore. He'll pay. He'll pay. Just don't torture yourself by remembering this anymore, alright?" he persisted. "How about
we just put this behind us? Let's move on, Sammy –"
"Just how the hell can I move on, Vincent?" Her voice lashed out into the air. "He killed my family. He's the one who made me live in absolute
terror for so long. Move on? I don't think I can. I can't. Don't you understand? It's impossible." Sammy turned her head back to the ceiling and
gnashed her teeth. "It's not fair. He should die. He should have." Her hands were tightened in fists, her thumbs along the outside.

Vincent suddenly recalled their Training classes together, where she learned how to defend herself. "You could break your thumb if you tuck it
under your fingers like that." Had Tristan or he taught her that? Eons ago. He no longer remembered.
He clenched his jaw and his eyes fell away from her, tracing the pattern of shadows along the wall. He whispered lowly, "Had I known you
would be in so much pain, I would have prayed –" He swallowed hard. "I would have prayed that you would have forgotten everything."
Her eyes flew toward him, startled. He maintained his stolid gaze on the ceiling above him. Her eyes softened with tears and her words tumbled
out in a jumbled mess, "Vincent. Vince. Oh, when I first woke up and realized – everything – it was so overwhelming. I did – I did almost wish
that I had amnesia – or something - anything. I wished – wondered why it didn't happen like the movies – like the books – why I didn't slip off
into a coma or – or forgotten everything – why I was cursed to remember every single detail so vividly, so – so right there – clear in my mind.
Vincent. All I wanted was to just forget."
Vincent closed his eyes tightly and his voice was hoarse. "Sammy."
"But – but then I realized … that had I actually forgotten what had happened, then there might have also been a great possibility that I would
have lost all memories of my escape – of you. You and your violent tendencies."
Vincent swallowed and smiled weakly even as he blinked frantically, willing himself not to bawl like his sister. "Gee, thanks."
She smiled back through her tears. "The point is – is that perhaps it was a blessing after all. Had I – had I forgotten you as well, then – I – then –
well, that wouldn't have been a good thing, would it?"
His lips parted and he looked away for a minute, licking his lips and pressing his fingers against his eyes. The corner of his lips tipped up in a
lopsided grin when he finally glanced back at her. "No," he murmured. "No, that wouldn't have been a good thing at all."
She laughed and cried at the same time while he cursed fluently. "Damn it! I can't even get myself up into a vertical position. Maybe – maybe if
I just roll myself off the bed – and you kind of leaned down?"
She knitted her brows. "What? Why?"
He sent her a feral grin. "Eh. I just really want to kiss you right about now."
She turned pink, but she pressed her lips tight to prevent a smile. "Oh. Is that all?"
"What do you mean, is that all? It's a very important all."
"What? You're not making sense again."
"I make perfect sense. All's important in kissing you."
She blushed hotly. "Stop it."
"You know you like it."
She covered her face. "Stop making me laugh. My ribs can't handle it."
"Oh. Speaking of ribs, I'm kind of hungry."
"Excuse me?"
"What? I haven't been eating much in a while since I was too busy worrying about you."

"That's what the IV bag is for!"
"What? This little bag of fluid?" He scoffed. "At least give me the jumbo size or something. Hey, do you think I could call the nurse and ask her
to maybe super-size it?"
"You must be joking. It's not McDonalds, Vincent."
"Well, I can't help it. It's not working for me. I'm still dreaming about a nice juicy cheeseburger, crispy French fries, velvety chocolate cake, pizza
with everything on top, and oh! Oh! Sushi. Haven't had that in a while."
"Stop it. You're giving me cravings now."
"Cravings, eh?"
She narrowed her eyes. "You've been hanging out with Caine too much, haven't you?"
"Yeah. Sorry."
He smiled at her, then reached his hand out toward her.
She eyed him weirdly. "What?"
"Well, if I can't hold you, I'll just have to be satisfied with holding your hand instead, right?"
She turned pink again, but reached out to slip her hand into his. He entwined his fingers through hers and pressed their palms together. Their
hands dangled in the space between their beds as they stared up at the ceiling.
Vincent sighed. "Okay. Not working at all. Now I'm half tempted to just yank you out of bed."
"What?" She tried to wrench her hand out of his and he snickered, tightening his grip.
"Kidding, kidding." His voice rumbled low in his chest, lilting softly. His fingers caressed her knuckles and she settled down, still eyeing him out
of the corner of her eyes. Then she started with a loud gasp, pulled her hand out of his, and tried to sit up, clapping her hand to her forehead at
the same time. "Oh -! Owow!" She fell back in agony.
"Wha -? Ack!" Concerned, he jerked up as well before promptly collapsing backward, clutching his stomach in anguish. "Shit, mother–"
She heaved between breaths of pain. "How could I have almost forgotten?"
"What? That your ribs will puncture your insides if you try to sit up? Yeah, same goes for me and my stupid cut." Beads of sweat dotted his
forehead as he checked to make sure he hadn't completely split his stomach wide open.
"No. Terry."

Chapter Thirty

"Red." Frank Westlane's head lolled back and forth. He rubbed his cheek against the wall. "Red. Red. Red. Red." He tried to tug his arms free,
but the shirt they gave him didn't seem to have any openings. His limbs felt like an entangled mess. The red swept over him. He jerked his head
back and gurgled. "Get it off me! Get it off! I'm suffocating!"
Keys jangled and the door flew open. A man in all white stood in the doorway while two others rushed in and tried to hold Frank down. Frank
thrashed. "Help me! The red!"
The man didn't blink, merely clasping his hands in front of him. "Mr. Westlane, take a deep breath and calm down. The room's all white. Your
clothes are all white. There's nothing red."
Frank's eyes darted around and he craned his neck, swallowing hard as he scrutinized his clothes. They were spotless. "But – but it was just here
a second ago. I –" His eyes burned and he squinted. The glare of the white walls, his white uniform, the man in white – it was blinding. Whining
softly, he squeezed his eyes shut.
"Father, you won't believe how much I made for you –"
"Claire gave birth today. James is the father of another beautiful baby," Terrence Westlane beamed from his desk.
"Oh. Well. Congrats to the happy little family. Now Father, did you know –"
"They named him Terry – after me. A little twist on my own name. Frankly, I've always thought having multiple names running through
generations is kind of old-fashioned and corny, but they said they really wanted to call him Terry so of course, I had no choice but to give in to
their wishes." He coughed gruffly, running his hand over his reluctant smile. "Though if they really wanted to name him after me, they should
just take Terrence. I think it's a much more solid name than Terry, don't you think?"
Frank forced a smile. "Well, then when I have a son, I'll name him Terrence –"
"Nah, that won't do. There's already Terry. It'll be confusing –"
"But I want to, Father."
"It's a small matter, Frank. Just pick another name. You don't have to copy your brother all the time."
"Me? What are you talking about? Oh please, Father. If anything, it's James who's always – hell, he even took Claire away from me!"
"Now you're being delusional."
"I'm not delusional! Why must you always take his side? Why can't you ever smile at me? Be proud of me? What does James have that I don't?"
Terrence stared at Frank. "It's not a matter of picking favorites, son. James might not be as ambitious as you or as rich as you, but if you're
talking about happiness and about truly living life, then James has always had his priorities straighter than you do."
"So what? Are you calling me a failure in life?"
"For crying out loud, I'm not saying that –"
"I'm a failure. That's right. The idiot son who blindly slaves away for you while James frolics away, making babies and kissing your ass."
"Frank –"

"If you love them so much, why don't you just up and die and leave them all your money then? Give good little James and his brats all the money
you've hoarded away – that I helped you work for! I certainly don't need you! I don't need anything from you!"
Frank's hands jerked in a spasm, his palms sweaty in the enclosure of his shirt. "Wait, no. I need the red. I need it. It's mine. I need it."
The man in the white stared at him. Frank swallowed as he looked around the room. No color. Nothing.
"What did you do to me? Where's the red? Where is it? Why did you take it from me? Why did you leave me –" Beads of sweat dotted his
forehead as he tried to jerk free from the men's grasp.
The man in the doorway spoke calmly. "Mr. Westlane, why do you want the red?"
Frank blinked and he tried to lean into the wall, his legs curling and folding underneath him. "Because it's the only thing I've ever had." Shakily,
he pressed close into the soft walls. "It's the only thing he's ever given me."
"Who? Mr. Westlane, who are you talking about?"
Terrence Westlane stared at him in shock and blatant disgust. "How can you even say such a thing? You're starting to be right, Frank." He shook
his head. "You've become such a disappointment."
"Red. Red. I hate it. I hate it so much. But – but -"
"But?"
"But I need it. It's mine. Only mine." He slammed his forehead against the soft padded walls and started screaming again. White melting into
red, red seeping into white.

"You have to be careful. Don't walk so fast. Take it easy."
"We know, Dani. Now for the last time, stop holding onto my arm. I'm not going to speed off." Vincent brushed his sister off and turned to
strengthen his grip around Sammy's shoulders, trying to press her into his side and hold her up at the same time. "Are you okay? Do you need a
break?"
She smiled in amusement. "It's just down the hall. I think I can manage these few crucial steps." But her face was sheet white and her fingers
fumbled to clasp Vincent's hand.
Danielle spoke up again. "You two just couldn't wait until you got better to visit Terry? I mean, I understand your worries, Sammy, but we could
just visit him for you and tell him what's going on. It won't do anyone any good if you two collapsed right now."
Sammy shook her head. "I'm fine. I'm just – just a little nervous. I mean, I haven't seen him in such a long time and –" Tears started to fill up her
eyes. "- and he was in a coma and what if he's all different now?"
Will patted her back. "Don't worry, Sammy. The nurses said he's making great progress." He bounced on his heels. "Gosh, but I'm still pretty
nervous too. I mean, from your pictures, he did seem really cute."
Vincent arched an eyebrow over the top of Sammy's head at Will. "What the hell?" he mouthed.
Will beamed. Vincent rolled his eyes. "I kill you later," he added silently.

They resumed their path down the hallway and they stopped in front of the room the nurse had pointed out to them. Sammy swallowed hard
before turning to Vincent and the others. "Do you mind if I talked to my brother alone first?" She squeezed Vincent's hand.
He murmured. "You sure you don't need me with you?"
"No, I think I should talk to him first. Just the two of us. I don't want him getting scared by a large group of people suddenly trampling into his
room. Just – can you just wait for me outside?"
Danielle smiled and hugged her gently. "Of course." Vincent nodded.
Sammy turned back to the door and twisted the doorknob.

She stepped into the room and let the door close behind her. Nearing the bed with soft, hesitant steps, she bit her lip and tried to calm herself.
"Terry?"
She watched as his eyes fluttered open, his gaze dazed and unfocused. She heaved a quivering breath. "Terry? It's me. Sammy."
Terry's matching green eyes were fixated on hers. She lifted up a hand, trailed her index finger against his arm, and tried to hold his hand
without accidentally yanking out any tubes. "You're – you're so thin now. What happened to Fabio, huh?" Her eyes were blurry and she tried to
stop sniffling.
She turned back to him. His eyes never left her face. "Terry? Are you okay? What's the matter? Can you talk?" She looked around the room,
now wishing that she had someone else in there to ask. "Terry? Can you say something?"
The tears welled over. "I'm – I'm sorry. I – Terry, can you even recognize me? It's me. Sammy. Your sister. You know, your – your older sister.
Well, your only sister, actually." A harsh laugh tore through her tears. She pressed her lips together until they whitened and turned numb.
Lifting her other hand, she pressed the heel of her palm against her eyes and shook her head. "You're going to call me a crybaby again, even
though you shouldn't because I'm older. You're such a brat." Suddenly, she was on her knees besides his bed and her arms were around him,
holding on tight, so tight. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"S - sammy." His soft whisper threaded through the air.
She looked up and his eyes, soft and bright, met hers. "Yes. Yes." The tears never stopped.

The door opened and Vincent leapt to attention. Sammy shuffled out, sheepishly rubbing her swollen eyes. His hands hovered around her
shoulders. "You were crying."
"Yes."
Danielle came over. "Oh Sammy, now your eyes are all red."
"No more than yours were, Danielle."
The other girl snapped her mouth closed. "Hey, that was a one time deal. I'm never going to cry over that idiot again."
Her brother glared. "The idiot will appreciate it if you'll just shut up."

Sammy smiled before reaching out to tug on Vincent's sleeve. "Hey, I want you to come meet him."
Vincent gaped at the open doorway. "Now?"
"No, sometime in the next century, genius." Danielle coughed.
The dark haired boy bared his teeth. "Thanks, sis."
"Anytime, bro."
Vincent turned back to Sammy, his eyes slightly apprehensive. "Are you sure he's up for it? He's not too – tired?"
"Well, considering the fact that he spent most of his time lying around in bed –"
"Alright, alright." He licked his lips. "So you had your talk already and explained everything about the, um, everything?"
"Yes, Vince."
"Alright. Okay. Good. Good. So, uh, do you think he'll like me? Wait. No, I – I was just kidding. Yup. Alright. This is funny. This is good. Let's do
this."

Vincent jammed his hands into his pockets and rocked slightly back and forth on his heels. His gray eyes darted around the room before landing
on Terry. "Hey there, uh, Sammy's little brother. I mean, Terry. Hey, Terry."
The boy lying in bed had brighter hair than his sister, but their eyes were definitely the same shade of forest green. Dark, compelling, and for
some reason, strangely menacing now. Vincent chuckled nervously. "So the Bastard's gone and everyone's safe. How are you? The nurses said
you're recuperating nicely."
The eyes pierced into him. No blinking.
"Yup, they said you'll be back to full functional mode soon – or um, sooner or later. But don't worry, I'll take care of your sister for you until we
can all be together again."
If eyes can quirk an eyebrow without moving a muscle, then Terry just did it.
"I mean, she'll be able to retrieve her inheritance soon on her birthday and then she can relax without worrying too much about financial
problems. But you know, even if she had any problems, I'll always be more than happy to help her out because – because she's my girlfriend. I
mean, because I like her. I mean, because I kinda more than like her. I mean, not kinda – I more than like her -"
"Alright, Vincent. I think he gets it." Sammy's cheeks were a nice shade of pink now and she refused to look over at the flustered boy. "Terry,
soon, once you're all better, we'll be able to get a place for ourselves with the money Grandpa, Mom, and Dad saved up. You'll go back to
school and I'll work while studying. We'll make do." She smiled. "Just you and me."
Vincent nudged her lightly with his shoulder. Sammy returned his bump, but resolutely ignored him. A hint of a tiny grin played on her lips.

"Hey, Terry. You don't know me, but I know you. In fact, I think I know you extremely well."

Terry's green eyes were bright with what appeared to be alarm.
"Oh, don't look like that. Unless you're just taken back by the adorable, gorgeous vision before you. Then you should know that this vision is
named William Carter. You can call me Will."
Terry darted his eyes to the door.
"Yes, I walked through that door. No, I didn't appear out of thin air like some angel. I am one hundred percent physically male yumminess." Will
licked his lips. "Yumminess, indeed."
Terry blinked frantically and squinted at the door.
"You know, I had a major part in saving your sister. She was Sleeping Beauty and I was Prince Charming – oh wait, was Prince Charming only for
Cinderella – oh please, they're all the same princes anyway - okay, I was Prince William, come to save her from the evil hag – that will be your
ugly uncle. Okay, so there I was in your uncle's house." Will threw out his arms, stretching them toward an imaginary target. "Vincent was
groaning and down, pretty much useless. His mom and his sister are attending to him. And then Frank makes a play for Vincent's mom – not a
sexual play, though if you think about it, ew – but a play of utter demented violence with a sharp knife glistening with the blood of his first
victim – or Vincent." He clasped his hands to his cheeks and shook his head, his mouth falling open in a silent NO!
"So without any thought of my own safety and with the help of my lightning fast reflexes, I leapt forward!" He bounced two steps and extended
his arms forward, his mouth twisting in a battle cry. Terry's eyes widened and if the boy could press backward, he would have done so. "And
BAM! Down goes The Bastard! The crowd goes wild! Seriously, Mrs. Grenford yelped like those little curly haired poodles. The monster was still
struggling and bucking, but I have super strong legs and managed to lock him in place and pin him down!"
Will pumped his hands into the air and his body undulated. "While I'm wrestling with the crazed lunatic who's practically frothing at the mouth
and trying to pull a Mike Tyson on my beautiful ears, the other boys finally come out of their shocked states. They blinked and were all like Oh
no, you didn't!" Here, Will swished his hand out and snapped his fingers twice. "The Bastard! Only I can chomp on my William's perfect
ears! and then they all jumped in on top of him. I had it all under control of course, but no hero is complete without good sidekicks – and
besides, I have the notion that they kinda wanted to feel up my hot little bod while they're at it, using Frank as an excuse – but no matter, I'm a
generous, free spirit made for loving. It's only natural that they can't resist -"
"Well, I don't think I can resist not throwing you out the window."
Terry glanced over at the door in relief. Will stiffened before turning around to grin happily. "Hey there, dudes and dudettes! I was just regaling
little Terry here with some tales of our famous escapades."
Jack scoffed. "Oh yeah, that's right. The Tale of William and His Little Sidekicks Who Protected the Perfect Ears, was it?"
William's lips were stretched from ear to ear. "Exciting, wasn't it?"
Tristan leaned his forearm against the doorway and responded archly, "Oh, very, especially the part where – what was it? Oh yes, when we
jumped in after we shrieked Oh no, you didn't!"
Caine's lips curled in disgust. "And felt your body up while we were at it? Please, you must have swapped points of view in your story. As I
recall, I distinctly remember a hand on my ass that never seemed to lose its place even when I tried to elbow it off."
"Uh – I don't know what you're talking about -" Will jabbed a finger at Jack. "I can't believe the nerve of you, Jack! Whatever will Carrie say?
Molesting Caine in such times of peril! I'm ashamed to call you my friend!"
"That's it." Jack rolled up his sleeves. "Let's kill him now and end it all."

"No, don't!" Vincent stepped in.
Will threw open his arms. "Vinnie!"
"It's a freaking hospital. He'd get sewn up in two minutes and be back in our lives again. I say we drive him to the ocean and drown him."
Will's smile turned upside down. "Vinnie!"
Sammy was too busy laughing as she moved next to Terry's bed. "They're all thrilled to meet you, Terry." Terry rolled his eyes, though they
twinkled with amusement.

Three Months Later
"Mr. Sam Westlane." The headmaster of the prestigious Crestan High School peered over his frames imposingly at the small girl sitting in front
of him. "Or rather, Miss Samantha Westlane, isn't it?"
Samantha Westlane kept her eyes cast down. Her shiny red hair had grown out into soft layers that framed her face. Sitting there before him
now in Carrie's clothes that fit her form, she was undeniably a young woman. Finnigan now wondered what possessed him the day he mistook
her for a boy and allowed her to step into his school.
Her knuckles turned white as she tightened her folded hands. "Sir, I'm so sorry about this whole mess, but I had no other choice then. I did what
I thought was best and –"
He interrupted, his voice stern. "That may be so, Miss Westlane, but do you know just how much trouble you've caused our school – not to
mention, myself?"
"No – no, sir," she whispered.
"I understand your dilemma and believe me, I empathize with you. You were extremely brave in trying to take matters in your own hand and
while I'm not sure how successful your plan was, I'm glad you and your brother are nonetheless safe now."
"Thank you."
"The school is – oh, how can I put this – it was calmer during the period you were in attendance, even though in the aftermath of your
kidnapping – yes, that's a whole other matter. You've certainly distracted the attentions of young Vincent Grenford and his friends –" Samatha
blushed. "- and the rest of the students had a great year. You weren't completely detrimental to our school."
She looked up. "Then –"
"Still, don't forget about the media who has been absolutely relentless in camping out on our front lawn. Not to mention, all the phone calls I've
received from angry parents. In all my years here, I've never had so many problems – from worrying about my students running away to being
questioned about my responsibility and judgment – Samantha Westlane, what do you have to say for yourself?" Headmaster Finnigan's laced
his fingers together and furrowed his brows.
"I am so sorry about everything. I never imagined – I mean, Headmaster Finnigan, I'm so sorry and I'll take full responsibility for causing all this
trouble. I just – can you just give me a bit more time so that I can arrange to be transferred into a new school? Please, if you throw me out now,
I don't think I can –" Samantha's stammering subsided and she swallowed. "I'm so sorry."

Finnigan nodded and with a sigh, pushed back from his desk. Leaning back in his chair, he looked down as he tapped a finger against the
mahogany surface. "I'm sorry about this, but even you must understand that you can't remain here in an all boys school."
Her heart sank. "Yes, I know."
"So I suppose there's no other way about it. Get your things ready as soon as possible, say your goodbyes –"
"Yes."
"- and prepare to leave within three months."
She blinked. "Excuse me?"
He coughed, flustered. "Now, don't look at me like that. Three months is a very long time."
"Yes, yes, I'm absolutely grateful for this and I think I should be able to get a response from other schools soon, but –"
"Mrs. Grenford has kindly offered her assistance in this matter."
"Wh – what?" She almost swallowed her tongue.
"During the last couple of months, she's been an absolute pleasure –"
Again, her tongue lodged in her throat.
"- and she's helped out with fending off the media and irate parents, not to mention that she's asked on your behalf to offer you a temporary
space here until you could make proper arrangements."
Samantha gaped at him.
"Yes, Miss Westlane?"
"Mrs. Grenford, as in Vincent's mother?"
"Yes, Mrs. Grenford. I think I'm quite aware of who I'm dealing with."
"No. No, I mean I'm just a bit, um, shocked."
"Yes, well, you do realize that this doesn't mean you've been given complete free reign here. You'll attend your classes as usual, but you're to
stay away from the boys' bathroom and locker room and you must immediately move out to another room that will remain secluded from the
boys - even Vincent, understand?"
She flushed. "Yes, of course."
"Alright then, now before you go, Mrs. Grenford asked me to pass along a message for you."
"Yes?"
"For now."

"Um, what?"
"She said to tell you for now and said that you should know what it means. Do you?"
Samantha sat there in the seat, blinking for a moment before dipping her head down to hide a smile. "I, uh, I think so. Yeah." She straightened
up in her seat and nodded. "Thank you so much, sir. I'll be extra careful for the next three months."
He cleared his throat gruffly. "You do that. I'll have someone take you to your room now."
The girl flashed a smile before stepping out of his office.

"Hey, you! Stop right there!"
The clamor in the hallway immediately died down and everyone stopped what they were doing, leaning in close to their lockers. A boy with
shaggy auburn hair halted in his steps and looked around, perturbed. "Me?"
Will crossed his arms and jerked his chin forward. "Yeah, you. I've had my eye on you for quite a while."
The other boy swallowed hard. "Wh – what?"
Will nodded in a slow, leisurely manner. "Yeah. Don't think you can fool me though. I know your secret."
The redhead gaped and tried to back away. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Will took a step forward. "Yeah, you're a girl, aren't you?"
"What?"
"You're a scared little girl running away from some mysterious horror in your past and you've chosen to enroll yourself in an all boys school so
that you may finally find some hunk – preferably your roommate - to rescue you from all your troubles! Well, look no more! I am your hunk!"
"What?"
Will threw open his arms and shook his head, sending his wavy locks to curl across his forehead, shadowing his eyes. "My lady, I am at your
service."
"I don't need no freaking service! Man, I'm no lady!" The terrified boy started to sprint down the hallway.
"Don't be shy, baby! Don't lie to me! I don't want to be forced to perform a strip search! Come back!" Will started to give chase when a hand
caught the hood of his sweatshirt and yanked him back.
Vincent's eyes were squeezed tight as he rubbed his temples with his other hand. His tongue darted out to lick his lips slowly before he sighed.
"Will –"
"You're so sexy."
"Will! What the hell is wrong with you?" He throttled the other boy. "This is what – the seventh time you've done this this month? Are you
trying to molest everybody here?"

Will turned up his nose primly as he retorted, "Big talk, Mr. I Found My Sexy Crossdresser. Not everyone is as lucky as you. Some of us actually
have to work hard to find their own Sammy."
Sammy looked pained. "Will, um, I doubt every other person in this building is a girl in disguise."
"According to statistics, there are hundreds of girls enrolled in all boys school."
Caine looked interested. "Really?"
"That's because he compiles his statistics from the fictional romance novels he reads online, idiot," Jack snapped.
Will escaped Vincent's clutches and hugged Sammy. "Happy Birthday, Sammy!"
"It's not my birthday."
"It will be."
"In three weeks, Will."
"Celebrations are never too early."
Vincent wrapped an arm around Sammy and steered her down the hall. "Bye, Will."
"Wait, where are you going?"
"Somewhere that has no you or anybody else. I have to talk to Sammy alone."
"Stingy hog."

Vincent led Sammy down the steps into a quiet alcove away from the din of the hallways. He turned around, leaned against the cool marble
wall, and held her hand.
She stood before him with her eyebrows furrowed. "What's going on, Vincent? We have class in half an hour."
He pulled gently, drawing her near him. "Nothing. I just felt like I haven't really been around you much ever since you moved out."
"Headmaster Finnigan was really generous – and from what he told me, your mother had a lot to do with it."
"Guess she finally saw how wonderful you are."
"Um, maybe. But she also told me for now so I guess that's exactly what it means. For now, we'd just have to be content with what we have."
He arched an eyebrow before pressing his forehead to hers. Her head dipped backward. He grinned, "Like I'd ever let this just be it."
"Oh? And what exactly do you have in mind, Young Master Grenford?"
"If I can think up of something that got me stabbed, then I think I can think of – okay, that sounded wrong."

She rolled her eyes. Turning around, she leaned back against his chest while keeping his arms wrapped around her shoulders. His chin came
down to rest in the crook of her neck. For a moment, they just stood there, her fingers trailing circles on his arm while he pressed his cheek
against hers. "Say, where did Tristan go these couple of days?"
"His father called him home for some reason," he mumbled absentmindedly.
"Is it something bad?"
"Nah, he said it was just a nuisance he had to take care of."
"Do you think he'll be back soon?"
"Yup."
"He'll be okay?"
"Maybe. Maybe not."
"Huh?"
"His dad is pretty stubborn. The problem might not be solved as easily as Tristan might expect."
"Oh."
"Yeah, Mr. Harland's a good father."
"You think so?"
"Mmhmm."
"What about your father?"
"Have you been using perfume?"
"Never. What about your father?" She twisted her neck around to eye him.
"He's alright. You'll meet him soon, I think. So what do you want for your birthday?"
"What?"
"Celebrations are never too early."
"I don't mean that. I meant, what do you mean I'm going to meet him?"
"It'll happen sooner or later." He pressed a kiss to her temple. "Don't look so worried. He's, um, just weird."
"What?"
"I said, not to worry. When it comes, we'll deal with it. Until then –" His hands touched her waist and he turned her around, encircling his arms
around her. "- I have a big important question for you."

"Uh huh. I see." She gave him a wary look. "Well, what is this all important inquiry?"
"Well, you see," he mused. "I've always wondered, who did I really fall for? Shy little Sam Westlane or was it the mysterious Samantha - well,
Samowa - in the green mask?"
She closed her eyes and chuckled in disbelief.
He leaned forward and murmured in her ears. "And who exactly am I holding now? Sam or Samantha?"
She shook her head and tongue in cheek, she looked up. "How about Sammy?"
"So what? A hybrid fusion?" He grinned, his fingers caressing her hips.
"Just Sammy." Her arms came up to wrap around his neck as she leaned up on tiptoes. "Your Sammy."
And there was no need for any other words.
The End

The chair creaked as the boy leaned back, stretching his arms. He yawned loudly as he twisted his neck. His hazel eyes were illuminated eerily
by the blue light from the computer screen before the corner of his lip tipped up. "My precious …" he crooned.
The lights flickered on and he jerked back, cowering in his chair and holding his hands to his eyes. "I'm blind! I've been blinded!"
"Will, what are you doing?"
William blinked blearily in the sudden brightness. Jack strode across the room, his eyes trained on his friend in suspicion. "What are you doing?"
he repeated.
Sammy peeked into the room, followed shortly by Vincent and Tristan.
Caine stepped in and plopped down onto the bed. "What's happening, manwhore?"
William took a deep breath and clapped a hand to his chest. "Good. You're all here! Just in time to share with me my proudest moment! I,
William Carter, have taken the liberty to recount Sammy and Vincent's moving tale of love and passion to the world!"
Caine arched an eyebrow. "You blogged it?"
"No! Even better. After months of reading stories online, I've decided to take the plunge myself. I wrote a novel!"
There was silence and then, "You?"
"I'm very good with words and I assure you, my fans love me!"
"You have fans?"
Will frowned at his friends, disgusted. "What's that supposed to mean?" He sniffed. "Well, good thing not everyone is as tasteless as you
guys. Someone appreciates me out there."

Tristan cleared his throat. "I, um, just didn't know you had so much stamina to complete such a big project."
Will winked lasciviously. "Oh, I'm always good with stamina. Want me to sh-"
"No."
Sammy laughed nervously, leaning against Vincent as he looped an arm around her shoulders. "Well, that's great, Will. I'm happy for you.
You've found a much more productive hobby than, um, tackling random guys in the hallways."
"Oh, it's very fun, and even though the focus was on Sammy and Vince, I especially enjoyed including the tales of everyone's number one
favorite character: me!"
"You wrote about yourself?" Jack gaped.
"I also wrote about you," Will waggled his brows. Jack turned green.
Vincent eyed the computer suspiciously. "I just don't know why you wrote about me and Sammy. Why not someone else like, uh –" His grey
eyes roamed the room and fell on Tristan. "- Tristan and -" The blond boy narrowed his eyes at his friend and Vincent snapped his mouth shut.
A slow grin swept across the vivacious author's face and he started making a thoughtful sound in his throat that sent chills crawling up the other
boy's spine. Tristan refused to meet Will's steady scrutiny, but his features paled.
Will beamed in a flash of white teeth, his right eyebrow snaking upward. "Well then, that's just a whole other story, isn't it?"

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