eleven years ago
A couple things made that day stand out more than any other: it was my sixth birthday, and my mother was wielding a knife. Not a tiny steak knife, but some kind of massive butcher knife glinting in the light like in a bad horror movie. She definitely wanted to kill me.
I try to think of the days that led up to that one to see if I missed something about her, but I have no memory of her before then. I have some memories of my childhood, and I can even remember my dad, who died when I was five, but not her.
When I ask my brother, Matt, about her, he always answers with things like, "She's batshit, Wendy. That's all you need to know." He's seven years older than I am, so he remembers things better, but he never wants to talk about it.
We lived in the Hamptons when I was a kid, and my mother was a lady of leisure. She' d hired a live-in nanny to deal with me, but the night before my birthday the nanny had left for a family emergency. My mother was in charge of me, for the first time in her life, and neither of us was happy.
I didn't even want the party. I liked gifts, but I didn't have any friends. The people coming to the party were my mother's friends and their snobby little kids. She had planned some kind of princess tea party I didn't want, but Matt and our maid spent all morning setting it up anyway.
By the time the guests arrived, I'd already ripped off my shoes and plucked the bows from my hair. My mother came down in the middle of opening gifts, surveying the scene with her icy blue eyes.
Her blond hair had been smoothed back, and she had on bright red lipstick that only made her appear paler. She still wore my father's red silk robe, the same way she had since the day he died, but she'd added a necklace and black heels, as if that would make the outfit appropriate.
No one commented on it, but everyone was too busy watching at my performance. I complained about every single gift I got. They were all dolls or ponies or some other thing I would never play with.
My mother came into the room, stealthily gliding through the guests to where I sat. I had torn through a box wrapped in pink teddy bears, containing yet another porcelain doll. Instead of showing any gratitude, I started yelling about what a stupid present it was.
Before I could finish, she slapped me sharply across the face.
"You are not my daughter," my mother said, her voice cold. My cheek stung from where she had hit me, and I gaped at her.
The maid quickly redirected the festivities, but the idea percolated in my mother's mind the rest of the afternoon. I think, when she said it, she meant it the way parents do when their child behaves appallingly. But the more she thought, the more it made sense to her.
After an afternoon of similar tantrums on my part, someone decided it was time to have cake. My mother seemed to be taking forever in the kitchen, and I went to check on her. I don't even know why she was the one getting the cake instead of the maid, who was far more maternal.
On the island in the kitchen, a massive chocolate cake covered in pink flowers sat in the middle. My mother stood on the other side, holding a gigantic knife she was using to cut the cake to serve on tiny saucers. Her hair was coming loose from its bobby pins.
"Chocolate?" I wrinkled my nose as she tried to set perfect pieces onto the saucers.
"Yes, Wendy, you like chocolate," my mother informed me.
"No, I don't!" I crossed my arms over my chest. "I hate chocolate! I'm not going to eat it, and you can't make me!"
The knife happened to point in my direction, some frosting stuck to the tip, but I wasn't afraid. If I had been, everything might've turned out different. Instead, I wanted to have another one of my tantrums.
"No, no, no! It's my birthday, and I don't want chocolate!" I shouted and stomped my foot on the floor as hard as I could.
"You don't want chocolate?" My mother looked at me, her blue eyes wide and incredulous.
A whole new type of crazy glinted in them, and that's when my fear started to kick in.
"What kind of child are you, Wendy?" She slowly walked around the island, coming toward me. The knife in her hand looked far more menacing than it had a few seconds ago.
"You're certainly not my child. What are you, Wendy?"
Staring at her, I took several steps back. My mother looked maniacal. Her robe had fallen open, revealing her thin collarbones and the black slip she wore underneath. She took a step forward, this time with the knife pointed right at me. I should've screamed or run away, but I felt frozen in place.
"I was pregnant, Wendy! But you're not the child I gave birth to! Where is my child?" Tears formed in her eyes, and I just shook my head. "You probably killed him, didn't you?"
She lunged at me, screaming at me to tell her what I had done with her real baby. I darted out of the way just in time, but she backed me into a corner. I pressed up against the kitchen cupboards with nowhere to go, but she wasn't about to give up.
"Mom!" Matt yelled from the other side of the room.
Her eyes flickered with recognition, the sound of the son she actually loved. For a moment I thought this might stop her, but it only made her realize she was running out of time, so she raised the knife.
Matt dove at her, but not before the blade tore through my dress and slashed across my stomach. Blood stained my clothes as pain shot through me, and I sobbed hysterically. My mother fought hard against Matt, unwilling to let go of the knife.
"She killed your brother, Matthew!" my mother insisted, looking at him with frantic eyes. "She's a monster! She has to be stopped!"
Drool spilled out across my desk, and I opened my eyes just in time to hear Mr. Meade slam down a textbook. I'd only been at this high school a month, but I'd quickly learned that was his favorite way of waking me up from my naps during his history lecture. I always tried to stay awake, but his monotone voice lulled me into sleeping submission every time.
"Miss Everly?" Mr. Meade snapped. "Miss Everly?"
"Hmm?" I murmured.
I lifted my head and discreetly wiped away the drool. I glanced around to see if anyone had noticed. Most of the class seemed oblivious, except for Finn Holmes. He'd been here a week, so he was the only kid in school newer than me. Whenever I looked at him, he always seemed to be staring at me in a completely unabashed way, as if it were perfectly normal to gawk at me.
There was something oddly still and quiet about him, and I had yet to hear him speak, even though he was in four of my classes. He wore his hair smoothed back, and his eyes were a matching shade of black. His looks were rather striking, but he weirded me out too much for me to find him attractive.
"Sorry to disturb your sleep." Mr. Meade cleared his throat so I would look up at him.
"It's okay," I said.
"Miss Everly, why don't you go down to the principal's office?" Mr. Meade suggested, and I groaned. "Since you seem to be making a habit of sleeping in my class, maybe he can come up with some ideas to help you stay awake."
"I am awake," I insisted.
"Miss Everly—now." Mr. Meade pointed to the door, as if I had forgotten how to leave and needed reminding.
I fixed my gaze on him, and despite how stern his gray eyes looked, I could tell he'd cave easily. Over and over in my head I kept repeating, I do not need to go the principal's office. You don't want to send me down there. Let me stay in class. Within seconds his face went lax and his eyes took on a glassy quality.
"You can stay in class and finish the lecture," Mr. Meade said groggily. He shook his head, clearing his eyes. "But next time you're going straight to the office, Miss Everly." He looked confused for a moment, and then launched right back into his history lecture.
I wasn't sure what it was that I had just done exactly—I tried not to think about it enough to name it. About a year ago, I'd discovered that if I thought about something and looked at somebody hard enough, I could get that person to do what I wanted.
As awesome as that sounded, I avoided doing it as much as possible. Partially because I felt like I was crazy for really believing I could do it, even though it worked every time. But mostly because I didn't like it. It made me feel dirty and manipulative.
Mr. Meade went on talking, and I followed along studiously, my guilt making me try harder. I hadn't wanted to do that to him, but I couldn't go to the principal's office. I had just been expelled from my last school, forcing my brother and aunt to uproot their lives again so we could move closer to my new school.
I had honestly tried at the last school, but the Dean's daughter had been intent on making my life miserable. I'd tolerated her taunts and ridicules as best I could until one day she cornered me in the bathroom, calling me every dirty name in the book. Finally, I'd had enough, and I punched her.
The Dean decided to skip their one-strike rule and immediately expelled me. I know in large part it was because I'd resorted to physical violence against his child, but I'm not sure that was it entirely. Where other students were shown leniency, for some reason I never seemed to be.
When class finally ended, I shoved my books in my book bag and left quickly. I didn't like hanging around after I did the mind-control trick. Mr. Meade could change his mind and send me to the office, so I hurried down to my locker.
Bright-colored flyers decorated battered lockers, telling everyone to join the debate team, try out for the school play, and not to miss the fall semiformal this Friday. I wondered what a "semiformal" consisted of at a public school, not that I'd bothered to ask anyone.
I got to my locker and started switching out my books. Without even looking, I knew Finn was behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and saw him getting a drink from the fountain. Almost as soon as I looked at him, he lifted his head and gazed at me. Like he could sense me too.
The guy was just looking at me, nothing more, but it freaked me out somehow. I'd put up with his stares for a week, trying to avoid confrontation, but I couldn't take it anymore. Hewas the one acting inappropriately, not me. I couldn't get in trouble for just talking to him, right?
"Hey," I said to him, slamming my locker shut. I readjusted the straps on my book bag and walked across the hall to where he stood. "Why are you staring at me?"
"Because you're standing in front of me," Finn replied simply. He looked at me, his eyes framed by dark lashes, without any hint of embarrassment or even denial. It was definitely unnerving.
"You're always staring at me," I persisted. "It's weird. You're weird."
"I wasn't trying to fit in."
"Why do you look at me all the time?" I knew I'd simply rephrased my original question, but he still hadn't given me a decent answer.
"Does it bother you?"
"Answer the question." I stood up straighter, trying to make my presence more imposing so he wouldn't realize how much he rattled me.
"Everyone always looks at you," Finn said coolly. "You're very attractive."
That sounded like a compliment, but his voice was emotionless when he said it. I couldn't tell if he was making fun of a vanity I didn't even have, or if he was simply stating facts. Was he flattering me or mocking me? Or maybe something else entirely?
"Nobody stares at me as much as you do," I said as evenly as I could.
"If it bothers you, I'll try and stop," Finn offered.
That was tricky. In order to ask him to stop, I had to admit that he'd gotten to me, and I didn't want to admit that anything got to me. If I lied and said it was fine, then he would just keep on doing it.
"I didn't ask you to stop. I asked you why," I amended.
"I told you why."
"No, you didn't." I shook my head. "You just said that everyone looks at me. You never explained why you looked at me."
Almost imperceptibly the corner of his mouth moved up, revealing the hint of a smirk. It wasn't just that I amused him; I sensed he was pleased with me. Like he had challenged me somehow and I had passed.
My stomach did a stupid flip thing I had never felt before, and I swallowed hard, hoping to fight it back.
"I look at you because I can't look away," Finn answered finally.
I was struck completely mute, trying to think of some kind of clever response, but my mind refused to work. Realizing that my jaw had gone slack and I probably looked like an awestruck schoolgirl, I hurried to collect myself.
"That's kind of creepy," I said at last, but my words came out weak instead of accusatory.
"I'll work on being less creepy, then," Finn promised.
I had called him out on being creepy, and it didn't faze him at all. He didn't stammer an apology or flush with shame. He just kept looking at me evenly. Most likely he was a damn sociopath, and for whatever reason, I found that endearing.
I couldn't come up with a witty retort, but the bell rang, saving me from the rest of that awkward conversation. Finn just nodded, thus ending our exchange, and turned down the hall to go to his next class. Thankfully, it was one of the few he didn't have with me.
True to his word, Finn wasn't creepy the rest of the day. Every time I saw him, he was doing something inoffensive that didn't involve looking at me. I still got that feeling that he watched me when I had my back to him, but it wasn't anything I could prove.
When the final bell rang at three o'clock, I tried to be the first one out. My older brother Matt picked me up from school, at least until he found a job, and I didn't want to keep him waiting. Besides that, I didn't want to deal with any more contact with Finn Holmes.
I quickly made my way to the parking lot at the edge of the school lawn. Scanning for Matt's Prius, I absently started to chew my thumbnail. I had this weird feeling, almost like a shiver running down my back. I turned around, half expecting to see Finn staring at me, but there was nothing.
I tried to shake it off, but my heart raced faster. This felt like something more sinister than a boy from school. I was still staring off, trying to decide what had me freaked out, when a loud honk startled me, making me jump. Matt sat a few cars down, looking at me over the top of his sunglasses.
"Sorry." I opened the car door and hopped in, where he looked me over for a moment. "What?"
"You looked nervous. Did something happen?" Matt asked, and I sighed. He took his whole big brother thing way too seriously.
"No, nothing happened. School sucks," I said, brushing him off. "Let's go home."
"Seat belt," Matt commanded, and I did as I was told.
Matt had always been quiet and reserved, thinking everything over carefully before making a decision. He was a stark contrast to me in every way, except that we were both relatively short. I was small, with a decidedly pretty, feminine face. My brown hair was an untamed mess of curls that I kept up in loose buns.
He kept his sandy blond hair trim and neat, and his eyes were the same shade of blue as our mother's. Matt wasn't overtly muscular, but he was sturdy and athletic from working out a lot. He had a sense of duty, like he had to make sure he was strong enough to defend us against anything.
"How is school going?" Matt asked.
"Great. Fantastic. Amazing."
"Are you even going to graduate this year?" Matt had long since stopped judging my school record. A large part of him didn't even care if I graduated from high school.
"Who knows?" I shrugged.
Everywhere I went, kids never seemed to like me. Even before I said or did anything. I felt like I had something wrong with me and everyone knew it. I tried getting along with the other kids, but I'd only take getting pushed for so long before I pushed back. Principals and deans were quick to expel me, probably sensing the same things the kids did.
I just didn't belong.
"Just to warn you, Maggie's taking it seriously," Matt said. "She's set on you graduating this year, from this school."
"Delightful." I sighed. Matt couldn't care less about my schooling, but my aunt Maggie was a different story. And since she was my legal guardian, her opinion mattered more. "What's her plan?"
"Maggie's thinking bedtimes," Matt informed me with a smirk. As if sending me to bed early would somehow prevent me from getting in a fight.
"I'm almost eighteen!" I groaned. "What is she thinking?"
"You've got four more months until you're eighteen," Matt corrected me sharply, and his hand tightened on the steering wheel. He suffered from serious delusions that I was going to run away as soon as I turned eighteen, and nothing I could say would convince him otherwise.
"Yeah, whatever." I waved it off. "Did you tell her she's insane?"
"I figured she'd hear it enough from you." Matt grinned at me.
"So did you find a job?" I asked tentatively, and he shook his head.
He'd just finished an internship over the summer, working with a great architecture firm. He'd said it didn't bother him, moving to a town without much call for a promising young architect, but I couldn't help feeling guilty about it.
"This is a pretty town," I said, looking out the window.
We approached our new house, buried on an average suburban street among a slew of maples and elms. It actually seemed like a boring small town, but I'd promised I'd make the best of it. I really wanted to. I didn't think I could handle disappointing Matt anymore.
"So you're really gonna try here?" Matt asked, looking over at me. We had pulled up in the driveway next to the butter-colored Victorian that Maggie had bought last month.
"I already am," I insisted with a smile. "I've been talking to this Finn kid." Sure, I'd talked to him only once, and I wouldn't even remotely count him as a friend, but I had to tell Matt something.
"Look at you. Making your very first friend." Matt shut off the car and looked at me with veiled amusement.
"Yeah, well, how many friends do you have?" I countered. He just shook his head and got out of the car, and I quickly followed him. "That's what I thought."
"I've had friends before. Gone to parties. Kissed a girl. The whole nine yards," Matt said as he went through the side door into the house.
"So you say." I kicked off my shoes as soon as we walked into the kitchen, which was still in various stages of unpacking. As many times as we'd moved, everyone had gotten tired of the whole process, so we tended to live out of boxes. "I've only seen one of these alleged girls."
"Yeah, 'cause when I brought her home, you set her dress on fire! While she was wearing it!" Matt pulled off his sunglasses and looked at me severely.
"Oh, come on. That was an accident and you know it."
"So you say." Matt opened the fridge.
"Anything good in there?" I asked and hopped onto the kitchen island. "I'm famished."
"Probably nothing you'd like." Matt started sifting through the contents of the fridge, but he was right.
I was a notoriously picky eater. While I had never purposely sought out the life of a vegan, I seemed to hate most things that had either meat in them or man-made synthetics. It was odd and incredibly irritating for the people who tried to feed me.
Maggie appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, flecks of paint stuck in her blond curls. Layers of multicolored paint covered her ratty overalls, proof of all the rooms she had redecorated over the years. She had her hands on her hips, so Matt shut the fridge door to give her his full attention.
"I thought I told you to tell me when you got home," Maggie said.
"We're home?" Matt offered.
"I can see that." Maggie rolled her eyes, and then turned her attention to me. "How was school?"
"Good," I said. "I'm trying harder."
"We've heard that before." Maggie gave me a weary look.
I hated it when she gave me that look. I hated knowing that I made her feel that way, that I had disappointed her that much. She did so much for me, and the only thing she asked of me was that I at least try at school. I had to make it work this time.
"Well, yeah...but..." I looked to Matt for help. "I mean, I actually promised Matt this time. And I'm making a friend."
"She's talking to some guy named Finn," Matt said corroborating my story.
"Like a guy guy?" Maggie smiled too broadly for my liking.
The idea of Finn being a romantic prospect hadn't crossed Matt's mind before, and he suddenly tensed up, looking at me with a new scrutiny. Fortunately for him, that idea hadn't crossed my mind either.
"No, nothing like that." I shook my head. "He's just a guy, I guess. I don't know. He seems nice enough."
"Nice?" Maggie gushed. "That's a start! And much better than that anarchist with the tattoo on his face."
"We weren't friends," I corrected her. "I just stole his motorcycle. While he happened to be on it."
Nobody had ever really believed that story, but it was true, and it was how I figured out that I could get people to do things just by thinking it. I had been thinking that I really wanted his bike, and then I was looking at him and he was listening to me, even though I hadn't said anything. Then I was driving his motorcycle.
"So this really is gonna be a new start for us?" Maggie couldn't hold back her excitement any longer. Her blue eyes started to well with happy tears. "Wendy, this is just so wonderful! We can really make a home here!"
I wasn't nearly as excited about it as she was, though I couldn't help but hope she was right. It would be nice to feel like I was home somewhere.
"if you leave"
Our new house also supplied us with a large vegetable garden, which thrilled Maggie endlessly. Matt and I were much less thrilled. While I loved the outdoors, I'd never been a big fan of manual labor.
Autumn was settling in, and Maggie insisted that we had to clear the garden of its dying vegetation to prepare it for planting in the spring. She used words like "rototiller" and "mulch," and I hoped Matt would deal with them. When it came to work, I usually just handed Matt the necessary tools and kept him company.
"So when are you hauling out the rototiller?" I asked, watching as Matt tore up dead vines. I'm not sure what they used to be, but they reminded me of grapevines. While Matt pulled things up, my job was to hold the wheelbarrow so he could throw them in.
"We don't have a rototiller." He gave me a look as he tossed the dead plants into the wheelbarrow. "You know, you could be helping me with this. You don't need to physically hold that at all times."
"I take my job very seriously, so I think it'd be better if I did," I said, and he rolled his eyes.
Matt continued grumbling, but I tuned him out. A warm fall breeze blew over us, and I closed my eyes, breathing it in. It smelled wonderfully sweet, like fresh-cut corn and grass and wet leaves. A nearby wind chime tinkled lightly, and it made me dread winter coming and taking this all away.
I'd been lost in the moment, enjoying the perfection, but something snapped me out of it. It was hard to describe exactly what it was, but the hair on the back of my neck stood up. The air suddenly felt chillier, and I knew somebody was watching us.
I looked around, trying to see who it was, and this weird fear ran over me. We had a privacy fence at the back of the yard, and a thick row of hedges blocking our house on either side. I scanned them, searching for any signs of crouching figures or spying eyes. I didn't see anything, but the feeling didn't go away.
"If you're gonna be out here, you should at least wear shoes," Matt said, pulling me from my thoughts. He stood up, stretching his back, and looked at me. "Wendy?"
"I'm fine," I answered absently.
I thought I saw movement around the side of the house, so I went over there. Matt called my name, but I ignored him. When I rounded the house, I stopped short. Finn Holmes stood on the sidewalk, but oddly enough, he wasn't looking at me. He was staring at something down the street, something out of my sight.
As strange as it sounds, as soon as I saw him, the anxiety I'd felt started to subside. My first thought should've been that it was him causing my uneasiness, since he was the one who always stared at me in such a creepy fashion. But it wasn't.
Whatever I'd felt in the backyard, it wasn't because of him him. When he stared, he made me self-conscious. But this...this made my skin crawl.
After a second, Finn turned to look back at me. His dark eyes rested on me a moment, his face expressionless as always. Then, without saying a word, he turned and walked off in the direction he'd been staring.
"Wendy, what's going on?" Matt asked, coming up behind me.
"I thought I saw something." I shook my head.
"Yeah?" He looked at me hard, concern etched on his face. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine." I forced a smile and turned to the backyard. "Come on. We've got a lot of work to do if I'm gonna make it to that dance."
"You're still on that kick?" Matt grimaced.
Telling Maggie about the dance may have been the worst idea I've ever had, and my life is made up almost entirely of bad ideas. I hadn't wanted to go, but as soon as she'd heard about it, she decided it would be the most fantastic thing ever. I'd never gone to a dance before, and she was so excited about it, I let her have this small victory.
With the dance at seven, she figured she had enough time to finish the coat of paint in the bathroom. Matt had started to voice his complaints, mostly about my interacting with opposite sex, but Maggie shut him down. To keep him from getting in her way, she ordered him to finish the yardwork. He complied only because he knew that there was no stopping Maggie this time.
Despite Matt's attempts to slow us down, we finished the garden pretty quickly, and I went inside to get ready. Maggie sat on the bed and watched me as I rummaged through my closet, offering suggestions and comments on everything. This included an endless stream of questions on Finn. Matt would grunt or scoff every now and then at my answers, so I knew he was listening nearby.
Once I had decided on a simple blue dress that Maggie insisted looked amazing on me, I let her do my hair. My hair refused to cooperate with anything I tried to do it, and while it wasn't exactly obedient for Maggie, she outwitted it. She left some of it down, so the curls framed my face, and pulled the rest of it back.
When Matt saw me, he looked really pissed off and a little awed, so I knew that I must look pretty awesome.
Maggie gave me a ride to the dance, because we both weren't convinced that Matt would let me out of the car. He kept insisting on a nine o'clock curfew, even though the dance went until ten. I thought I'd be back well before that, but Maggie told me to take all the time I wanted.
My only experience with dances was what I had seen on TV, but reality wasn't that far off. The theme appeared to be "Crepe Paper in the Gymnasium," and they had mastered it perfectly.
The school colors were white and navy blue, so white and navy blue streamers covered everything, along with matching balloons. For romantic lighting, they had strung everything with white Christmas lights.
Refreshments covered a table on the side, and the band playing on the makeshift stage under the basketball hoop wasn't that bad. Their set list appeared to include only songs from the films of John Hughes, and I arrived in the middle of a "Weird Science" cover.
The biggest difference between real life and what films had taught me was that nobody actually danced. A group of girls stood directly in front of the stage swooning over the lead singer, but otherwise the floor was mostly empty.
People sat scattered all over the bleachers, and, attempting to fit in, I sat in the first row. I kicked off my shoes immediately, because for the most part I hate shoes. With nothing else to do, I resorted to people-watching. As the night wore on, I found myself feeling increasingly lonely and bored.
Kids actually started dancing as the gymnasium filled up, and the band moved on to some kind of Tears for Fears medley. I decided that I'd been here long enough, and I was planning my escape when Finn pushed through the doors.
Wearing a slim-fitting black dress shirt and dark jeans, he looked good. He had the sleeves rolled up and an extra button undone on his shirt, and I wondered why I never realized how attractive he was before.
His eyes met mine, and he walked over to me, surprising me with his direct approach. As often as he seemed to be watching me, he'd never initiated contact before. Not even today, when he'd walked past my house.
"I didn't peg you for the dancing kind," Finn commented when he reached me.
"I was thinking the same thing about you," I said, and he shrugged.
Finn sat down on the bleachers next to me, and I sat up a bit straighter. He glanced over at me but didn't say anything. Already he looked annoyed, and he'd just gotten here. An awkward silence settled over us, and I hurried to fill it.
"You arrived awfully late. Couldn't decide what to wear?" I teased.
"I had stuff with work," Finn explained vaguely
"Oh? Do you work somewhere near my house?"
"Something like that." Finn sighed, clearly eager to change the subject. "Have you been dancing?"
"Nope," I said. "Dancing is for suckers."
"Is that why you came to a dance?" Finn looked down at my bare feet. "You didn't wear the right shoes for dancing. You didn't even wear the right shoes for walking."
"I don't like shoes," I told him defensively. My hem landed above my knees, but I tried to pull it down, as if I could get it to cover my bare-feet embarrassment.
Finn gave me a look I couldn't read at all, then went back to staring at the people dancing in front of us. By now the floor was almost entirely covered. Kids still dotted the bleachers, but they were mostly the headgear kids and the ones with dandruff.
"So this is what you're doing? Watching other people dance?" Finn asked.
"I guess." I shrugged.
Finn leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and I moved so I was sitting up straighter. My dress was strapless, and I rubbed at my bare arms, feeling naked and uncomfortable.
"You cold?" Finn glanced over at me, and I shook my head. "I think it's cold in here."
"It's a little chilly," I admitted. "But nothing I can't handle."
Finn would barely look at me, which was a complete 180 from his constant creepy staring. Somehow, I found this worse. I don't know why he had even come to the dance if he hated it so much, and I was about to ask him that when he turned to look at me.
"You wanna dance?" he asked flatly.
"Are you asking me to dance with you?"
"Yeah." Finn shrugged.
"Yeah?" I shrugged sarcastically. "You really know how to sweet-talk a girl."
His mouth crept up in a hint of a smile, and that officially won me over. I hated myself for it.
"Fair enough." Finn stood up and extended his hand to me. "Would you, Wendy Everly, care to dance with me?"
"Sure." I placed my hand in his, trying to ignore how warm his skin felt and the rapid beating of my own heart, and got to my feet.
Naturally, the band had just started playing "If You Leave" by OMD, making me feel like I had walked into a perfect movie moment. Finn led me to the dance floor and placed his hand on the small of my back. I put one hand on his shoulder while he took my other hand in his.
I was so close to him I could feel the delicious heat radiating from his body. His eyes were the darkest eyes I had ever seen, and they were looking at only me. For one unspoiled minute, everything in life felt perfect in a way that it never had before. Like there should be a spotlight on us, the only two people in the world.
Then something changed in Finn's expression, something I couldn't read, but it definitely got darker.
"You're not a very good dancer," Finn commented in that emotionless way of his.
"Thanks?" I said unsurely. We were mostly just swaying in a small circle, and I wasn't sure how I could screw that up, plus we seemed to be dancing the exact same way as everyone else. Maybe he was joking, so I tried to sound playful when I said, "You're not that great yourself."
"I'm a wonderful dancer," Finn replied matter-of-factly. "I just need a better partner."
"Okay." I stopped looking up at him and stared straight ahead over his shoulder. "I don't know what to say to that."
"Why do you need to say anything to that? It's not necessary for you to speak incessantly. Although I'm not sure you've realized that yet." Finn's tone had gotten icy, but I still danced with him because I couldn't come up with enough sense to walk away.
"I've barely said anything. I've just been dancing with you." I swallowed hard and didn't appreciate how crushed I felt. "And you asked me to dance! It's not like you're doing me a favor."
"Oh, come on," Finn said with an exaggerated eye roll. "The desperation was coming off you in waves. You were all but begging to dance with me. I am doing you a favor."
"Wow." I stepped back from him, feeling confused tears threatening and this awful pain growing inside of me. "I don't know what I did to you!" His expression softened, but it was too late.
"No!" I cut him off. Everyone nearby had stopped dancing to stare at us, but I didn't care. "You are a total dick!"
"Wendy!" Finn repeated, but I turned and hurried through the crowd.
There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to get out of here. Patrick, a kid from biology class, stood by the punch bowl, and I rushed over to him. We weren't friends, but he'd been one of the few kids here who had been nice to me. When he saw me, he looked confused and concerned, but at least I had his attention.
"I want to leave. Now," I hissed at Patrick.
"What—" Before Patrick could ask what had happened, Finn appeared at my side.
"Look, Wendy, I'm sorry," Finn apologized sincerely, which only pissed me off more.
"I don't wanna hear anything from you!" I snapped and refused to look at him. Patrick looked back and forth between the two of us, trying to decipher what was going on.
"Wendy," Finn floundered. "I didn't mean—"
"I said I don't want to hear it!" I glared at him, but only for a second.
"Maybe you should let the guy apologize," Patrick suggested gently.
"No, I shouldn't." Then, like a small child, I stomped my foot. "I want to go!"
Finn stood just to the side of us, watching me intently. I clenched my fists and looked at Patrick directly in his eyes. I didn't like doing this when people watched, but I had to get out of here. I kept chanting what I wanted over and over in my head. I want to go home, just take me home, please, please, just take me home. I can't be here anymore.
Patrick's face started to change, his expression growing relaxed and faraway. Blinking, he stared blankly at me for a minute.
"I think I should just take you home," Patrick said groggily.
"What did you just do?" Finn asked, narrowing his eyes.
My heart stopped beating, and for one terrifying second I was certain he knew what I'd done. But then I realized that'd be impossible, so I shook it off.
"I didn't do anything!" I snapped and looked back at Patrick. "Let's get out of here."
"Wendy!" Finn said, giving me a hard look. "Do you even know what you just did?"
"I didn't do anything!" I grabbed Patrick's wrist, dragging him toward the exit, and, much to my relief, Finn didn't follow.
In the car, Patrick tried to ask me what had happened with Finn, but I wouldn't talk about it. He drove around for a while, so I was reasonably calm by the time he dropped me off, and I couldn't thank him enough for it.
Matt and Maggie were waiting by the door for me, but I barely said a word to them. That freaked out Matt, who started threatening to kill every boy at the dance, but I managed to reassure him that I was fine and nothing bad had happened. Finally, he let me go up to my room, where I proceeded to throw myself onto the bed and not cry.
The night swirled in my head like some bizarre dream. I couldn't get a read on the way I felt about Finn. Most of the time he seemed weird and bordering on creepy. But then we had that glorious moment when we danced together, before he completely shattered it.
Even now, after the way he'd treated me, I couldn't shake how wonderful it had felt being in his arms like that. In general, I never liked being touched or being close to people, but I loved the way I had felt with him.
His hand strong and warm on the small of my back and the soft heat that flowed from him. When he had looked at me then, so sincerely, I had thought...
I don't know what I had thought, but it turned out to be a lie.
Strangest of all, he seemed to be able to tell that I had done something to Patrick. I didn't know how anyone could know. I wasn't even sure that I was doing it. But a normal, sane person wouldn't even suspect that I could do that.
I could suddenly explain all Finn's odd behavior: he was completely insane.
What it came down to was that I knew nothing about him. I could barely tell when he was mocking me and when he was being sincere. Sometimes I thought he was into me, and other times he obviously hated me.
There wasn't anything I knew about him for sure. Except that despite everything, I was starting to like him.
Sometime in the night, after I had changed into sweats and a tank top, and after I had spent a very long time tossing and turning, I must've finally fallen asleep. When I woke up, it was still dark out, and I had drying tears on my cheeks. I had been crying in my sleep, which seemed unfair, since I never let myself cry when I was awake.
I rolled over and glanced at the alarm clock. Its angry numbers declared it was a little after three in the morning, and I wasn't sure why I was awake. I flicked on my bedside lamp, casting everything in a warm glow, and I saw something that scared me so badly, my heart stopped.