Who am I?
Where am I going? What am I doing?
One moment you feel like you have the answers to everything. A per- fect life. Knowing what you are doing, where you are going, and what the future holds. But then everything can change in the blink of an eye.
You start questioning everything you have ever known.
Living in a small town is supposed to be safer, right? Then why do I feel like everything I have ever known is wrong? When didn’t my safe, normal life get flipped upside down?
What is real and what is a lie?
Am I even real? Or have I been living a lie myself?
I thought I had it all figured out. My life was perfect. I had worked
very hard for what I had achieved, then a mystery man came into my life and everything changed.
Six MonthS EarliEr
I agreed to go to the party. My friends wouldn’t shut up. I had a lot of homework to do, so I relented to their hounding. I figured, why the hell not? I’ve already gotten into college, and you’re just supposed to coast through the last semester of high school anyways. Plus, I deserve to have a little fun!
Parties are the normal for most of the teenagers in my town, as there isn’t much else to do in a town of three thousand people. Up until this point, I’ve always fought against going, figuring I could use my time for more important tasks, such as studying to get into a good college. This will be my first party, and I’m upset to find myself nervous. Nothing scares me. Why should this?
There has never been enough time. Between school, sports, and pre- paring for the future, there just hasn’t been time for fun. But I also like to stay in control. Everything I do is planned and thought through. I have no idea what I’m getting myself into, and I don’t like it.
The day of the party has come. I’m feeling even more uncertain about my decision to go. Just as I’m about to text my friends with an excuse, I hear my phone ding.
I read the text message from my friend Alex: No backing out! You promised me on Wednesday, and I am holding you to it as your best friend. It will be fun!
It’s like she can read my mind! I guess when you’ve been friends with someone your whole life, the two of you know each other pretty well. Alex and I have known each other since diapers, sharing all our challenges along the way.
I take a deep breath and tell myself it’s a party; how bad could it be? I start getting ready, trying to figure out what to wear.
I tell my parents I’m staying at Alex’s house for the night. I’ve never lied to them before. And now I feel even more guilty about going.
While finishing up getting ready, I begin to mentally prepare for my first party.
My parents are happy I’m doing something fun and relaxing a little.
They have never understood where I got all my determination. They’re always trying to get me to relax. Act more like a teenager before I burn myself out at eighteen. They have never realized that I feel like I need to make up for their lack of organization. There never seems to be a dull moment in our household, and it drove me crazy growing up. It’s always been one crazy adventure or idea after another. Why can’t they just see that I like things to be ordered?
Well, they want me to have more fun, and that is what I am going to do. I don’t think they would approve of what I’m doing tonight, but what they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? I’m a teenager. I’m supposed to be crazy and disobey my parents. I just have never done it before.
Once I arrive at Alex’s, she says I need a makeover. Apparently, the clothes and makeup I have chosen are not “party ready.” We spend an hour pick- ing out the right outfit and agree on one. After changing my hair ten times and putting on way more makeup than I am used to, we jump into my mom’s ’04 Subaru and head out to pick up Kabs, our other best friend.
Alex has been my best friend since kindergarten. Or at least most of the time. Just like most friends, we’ve had our fights and declared the friendship over on multiple occasions. But we always find ourselves friends again within weeks. Alex says it’s because of our limited options that we have stayed friends. I know she’s just joking, but she isn’t totally wrong. Our class is only twenty-five kids, which is similar to the size of most of the classes in our town. With so few people, you don’t have that much of a choice. This has always been a concern in terms of guys. Personally, I think we balance each other, being so opposite. Having grown up in the small town of Nederland since birth, we share an upbringing very different from most people. For whatever reason, we are friends, and I’m glad we are. I love my boy-crazy, fashionista friend. She keeps life interesting.
Kabs said she would be driving us back tonight, since she won’t drink—or at least not much, according to her. This is mistake number one of the night. Never depend on someone else to get you home. “Not much” can turn into a whole hell of a lot very fast.
As we approach the house—or more like a large garage with an apart- ment upstairs—the nerves really started to set in. What was I thinking? This is not me. I should be using this weekend to get ahead for the calculus test I have next week, or maybe get an extra training session in. Why did I say yes?
It’s too late now, and I find myself being dragged inside by Kabs. I mentally reassure myself. Nothing scares me; I am Seryna, and I can do anything, even a high school party. Terrified but determined to have a good time, I take a deep breath and enter. I’m immediately hit with the smell of stale beer and loud music. I remind myself that this is fun and that I should relax. I know all these people. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Going through the motions, I follow Kabs to the keg, get a beer, take a sip, and try not to show on my face how bad it tastes. Why do people drink this stuff? It’s disgusting. Plus, who knows what I’m putting into my body? Looking up, I realize Kabs and Alex have both ditched me already! They promised they wouldn’t!
After I’ve been standing awkwardly in the corner for a half hour, Rutty, one of my fellow seniors I’ve known since he was in diapers, calls me over. From the color in his cheeks, I can tell that he has had quite a few cups of this disgusting beer. Having nothing else to do, I head over to talk to him. Nice guy, but not the smartest tool in the tool box.
“Hey, Seryna. You ever played beer pong before?”
I know that drinking games are a bad idea, but both Kabs and Alex are nowhere to be seen. I don’t even know where they went. I think I saw them head upstairs with Sam. Since when have they been friends?
I head over to the table because I have no good excuse not to. Every- one already knows me as the crazy freak who acts way too serious, and I don’t want to give them another reason to think I’m weird. Normally I don’t care about how I appear to my peers, but I’m also really bored.
As I walk up to the table, I watch the players. It seems simple enough— throw the ball into the other team’s cup across the table, and then they drink. I can do this.
I get handed a ball. Rutty goes first, missing by like two feet to the right. Maybe he’s had too many beers. I line up my arm, flick my wrist, and sink the ball into the center cup, which I quickly learn is called the “bitch cup.” Both the boys on the other team, Sam and Mike, quickly take their shirts off as I gasp. I turn to Rutty, not that he’s sober enough to notice that the guys we’re playing with are half naked, and ask, “What’s happening?”
“Looks like I got myself a ringer, boys. Hits the bitch cup on her first shot!” He grabs another drink he has sitting on the table, takes a sip, and then hands it to me. Seeing the confusion on my face, he explains. “Mid- dle cup is the bitch cup, meaning they have to take off a piece of clothing, which they don’t get back till they win.”
Taking a small sip of what he handed me, I nod like I understand this bizarre rule. I take another swallow, since it tastes really good, unlike the beer.
“Rutty, what am I drinking? It actually doesn’t taste that bad.” I take a long pull of the drink.
“My famous apple-pie drink. You like?”
“Keep it. I like the beer better anyways.”
The rest of the game goes about the same—Rutty missing, me hitting
every cup, the other team occasionally getting a cup. I switch off drinking the cups that are hit with Rutty. Within ten minutes we have won, and then we move straight into the second game. By this point I’ve gotten extremely into it. Apparently I can’t turn off my competitiveness, even at a party. Knowing the rules now, I aim and hit the bitch cup first try, leading to Mike and Sam taking off their pants, leaving them standing there in their boxers, not that they seem to care.
Halfway through the second game, I start getting really giggly, and Rutty starts brushing against me more. I’m having fun, so I just keep play- ing. After winning the second game, we feel pity for our opponents, so we let them go first. With a flick of the wrist, Matt sinks the first ball into the middle cup. By this point I’m really starting to feel the alcohol, so it takes me a minute to realize what that means. Next to me Rutty is pulling his shirt over his head. Damn, he has nice abs; never noticed that before.
Where did that thought come from?
“Like what you see, Seryna? Your turn.” He reaches over to tug at the hem of my shirt. Instinctively I hold it down. There is no way I am taking off my shirt in front of half the school!
In my head, I’m trying to figure out what to do. Refuse and become the school nun on top of nerd, or take it off with half the school watching? Looking around, I notice that nobody else is paying attention to us.
Maybe this won’t be so bad, right?
“Come on, Seryna. We don’t want to have to forfeit because you won’t
take off your shirt. It’s not like you’ll be naked. Just do it.” Rutty grabs a beer and takes a drink.
Dammit, why do I have to be so competitive? All right, I can do this. I did wear my best bra because Alex told me to. She totally knew this would happen! I’m going to kill her later for not telling me. Plus, I feel really warm, so why the hell not? I reach down and pull the hem of my shirt up and over my head.
I look over at Sam with full confidence and a hand on my hip. “That’s the best you got? Let’s keep playing. You’d better watch out. You have less clothes to lose than I do.” Where the hell did that come from? Maybe I’ve had more to drink than I realized.
After sinking the last ball of the fourth game, I start to feel a little wobbly. Rutty notices and makes an excuse for us to be done. “Hey, guys, I’m trashed. I think I’m done playing for tonight.” He turns to me. “Ser, you want to go grab some fresh air?”
Fresh air, yes, that sounds nice. It’s gotten really hot in this garage. I grab my drink, and as I head for the door, I see him. Tall, with dark-brown hair and piercing blue eyes. Immediately I feel the pit of my stomach clench and warmth gathering between my legs. His tight Levi’s and leather jacket only add to his hotness. Where did he come from? I don’t remem- ber seeing him before. I freeze as our eyes meet, his extremely blue eyes making me speechless. His eyes slowly drift down my body, checking me out as I look at him. Then his eyes travel up and over my shoulder just as Rutty puts his hand on my shoulder to turn me around.
“Missing something?” he asks as he holds up my shirt.
My cheeks instantly become warm as embarrassment creeps up through me. No wonder the mystery man—yes, man, not boy; he’s too well defined to be in high school—was checking me out. I’m still in my bra!
I’ve definitely had too much to drink. I set my cup down on the table next to me, grab my shirt from Rutty, and pull it over my head as quick as possible.
I turn toward the door, wanting to get a better look at this mystery man. I scan the area where he was, but he’s gone. Hoping that the cold will diminish the heat in my cheeks from the embarrassment, I walk quickly toward the door, desperate for the cold bite of the winter air.
Holy shit, what just happened? I basically melted to the floor after looking at this random, strangely attractive guy I’ve never seen before. And to top it off, I walked across the entire room without a shirt on. I might have been hidden in the corner during the game, but now there is no chance that every person in that room didn’t see my new lacy black bra.
I can never show my face at school again, I think, placing my face in my hand and shaking my head. What have I done? First party, and I have made a fool of myself.
But I can’t think straight. I still feel warm even though it cannot be more than twenty degrees outside. As I’m trying to make sense of the rubble that is my brain at the moment, Rutty comes out. “Hey! There you are. I got you a new drink.” He hands me a full glass.
I look skeptically at it and then take a drink. It tastes like apple juice. Maybe he realized that I should switch away from alcohol. Extremely grateful for his thoughtfulness, I take another, longer sip.
Rutty turns to me. “Having fun?”
Am I having fun? Do I even know what is going on? I have laughed more tonight than I have in as long as I remember. But am I having fun?
Stop overthinking everything, Seryna. I chide myself that even in my very intoxicated state, I can’t seem to turn off my brain. Music—music always helps. I need to listen to music. I turn to Rutty. “Hey, got your truck here somewhere?”
He takes a second to process what I said; he must be just as drunk as I am. “Yeah, right over there. Want to go in and get warm?”
Following him to his truck, I don’t realize the invitation I’m present- ing him until it’s too late.
Sliding into the passenger seat, I talk another long pull from my drink, thinking how delicious it is. I’ll have to ask what brand of apple juice they bought. Rutty hops into the driver’s seat and starts the truck up with a loud rumble. As I reach over to turn on the radio to my favorite station, I hear Rutty talking. It takes me a second, but I realize he’s talking about his truck.
“Yeah, Mike and I replaced the engine with a Cummins diesel last summer, and we just added a four-inch lift a few weeks ago. I’m hoping to outfit it with new tires as soon as I have the money...”
I lean back into my seat with my cheek against the cold window, listening to the radio. My favorite song comes on, drowning out Rutty. Boys and their trucks...it never stops. Feeling the bass as the song hits the chorus, I think one of those modifications must be a decent-sized sub.
Finally feeling myself relax, I start to smile. I did it! I went to a high school party and had fun. Feeling as if this is a bigger accomplishment than getting into college, I start to hum to the music.
As I lie there, I start to daydream about the mystery guy I saw stand- ing at the door. Who was he?
Why was he here?
Where did he go?
After lying there for a few more minutes daydreaming what it would
be like to see him with his shirt off, I feel a finger running along my thigh. Oh, what it would feel like to have his strikingly blue eyes rake over my body as he explores it with his hands, as I moan with pleasure.
He slowly moves his hands all over my body, brushing against my breast, slowly teasing the hem of my shirt. His rough hands rub against my stomach as he slowly works his way up. Arriving at the top of my bra, entering with his fingers.
The next thing I know, I’m slammed out of my daydream by a mouth crushing against mine and a large hand squeezing painfully at my breast. Opening my eyes, I’m staring straight into Rutty’s brown eyes. I try to squirm away from him and catch my breath, and he scoots closer and pulls me onto his lap.
“What’s wrong, baby? You were enjoying it a second ago.” His other hand starts to work at the button on my jeans.
“You’re hot, Seryna. I have had a crush on you since like sixth grade,” he slurs as he squeezes my breast tightly and keeps working at the button on my jeans. “I have wanted to do this since you took your shirt off inside. Damn, girl, you’ve been hiding that hot body of yours from everyone.”
I struggle to get off his lap, but it seems to just be turning him on more. Starting to feel extremely light headed, I worry I might pass out. I take a few deep breaths and try to think.
“Damn, your body is so fine. We should have done this ages ago.” He starts to get more aggressive with his rough hands on my jeans, pulling thezipper down and sliding his hand into my underpants.
My brain is spinning, and I can’t think. Where am I? What’s happening? Rough hands are pulling at my shirt. When they aren’t successful in
pulling it off, they just rip it in half.
I think I’m going to be sick.
A hard mouth slams down onto mine again. I try to squirm away, but
his hands are too strong, and I can’t move.
Before I can panic, the door behind me flies open and strong hands,
much softer than the ones that were just touching me, pull me out of the car.
“What the hell, man? We were busy! What the fuck are you doing?”
I’m expelled from the vehicle and left standing as the damp cool of the night penetrates my skin.
I hear the smack of a fist hitting flesh and a loud grunt behind me. Trying to figure out what’s happening, I look around, becoming dizzy. Shit. I’m going to be sick.
I turn around and bend over a bush, and before I realize what is hap- pening, I’m throwing up everything in my stomach. After a few minutes, I feel someone come up behind me, but I can’t do more than acknowledge him before I bend over to start puking again. I feel the soft hands reach over and collect my hair away from my face.
Once the nausea passes, feeling extremely embarrassed, I stand up and wipe my mouth on my arm. Trying to compose myself before I turned around, I take a few deep breaths.
What the hell just happened?
Slowly I turn around to face the person with the soft hands that saved me. As I turn around I think, not boy, man. It’s him, the mystery guy from inside. What is he doing here? Now I’m really embarrassed, standing here puking my guts out after almost being raped in my friend’s truck. Would a friend really do that? How could I let this happen?
“Are you okay?” asks the mystery man.
Am I okay?
“Yeah, thank you. Not sure what came over him. He’s normally a big teddy bear.” I remember the hard smack I heard earlier. “Oh, shit. Rutty—is he okay?” I turn toward the truck, trying to spot him. I locate him passed out in the front seat of the car and start to run toward him.
It looks like he is going to have a nice shiner, but he’s still breathing, so I take a relaxing breath.
I turn toward the mystery man. “What did you do to him?” I stand with my hand on my hip looking at him with suspicion.
“A thank-you would be nice. I did just save you.”
Who does this guy think he is! Other than really hot—damn, outside in the shadows, he looks even sexier. Seryna, focus. This guy just knocked out your friend, and you’re standing outside in the freezing cold with him.
Shit, it is really cold out here. Wrapping my arms around my body, I realize my shirt is ripped in half.
Squealing, I wrap my arms tighter and turn around as heat enters my cheeks for what feels like the tenth time tonight. I’m standing outside in the middle of the winter covered in vomit, my shirt is ripped in half, and I’m with a complete stranger—an extremely sexy stranger, but that’s beside the point.
I feel something touch my shoulder, and I flinch away. Great, Seryna. You don’t know this guy, and you turn your back to him. This is how you get murdered.
“It’s just my jacket. Take it. You must be freezing. And about your friend, I punched him because I don’t like guys who take advantage of girls. The alcohol is what made him pass out. I didn’t hit him hard enough to knock him out, even if he deserved it. And don’t worry. I turned the truck off and covered him with a blanket. He’ll be fine. Just needs to sleep it off.”
Still skeptical but with no other choice, I grab the jacket from the stranger—savior? He did save me. Sliding the jacket on, I think about everything that just happened...all of it comes back and hits me. I almost just got raped. My knees become weak, and I collapse.
Before I hit the ground, a pair of soft strong hands catches me. “Seryna, you okay?”
Why does he keep asking me if I’m okay? I’m fine. I just need to sleep this off for a minute. I let my eyes close and succumb to the darkness. The last thought to leave me is, Who is this guy?
The next morning, I wake up in my bed, still fully dressed, with the world’s worst headache. I flip over to my side and pull my pillow over my head to block the sun streaming through my window.
I take a moment to think through the events of last night. The drink- ing. Winning beer pong. Rutty. I’ll have to deal with him later. And the mystery man who saved me. Last thing I remember, I fainted, and he caught me. And now I’m waking up in my bed. He must have brought me home, but how did he know where I live?
Pulling the pillow off my head, I look at the table next, looking for my phone, which isn’t in my pocket any longer. To my surprise I find a glass of water with two Advil sitting next to it and a piece of paper.
I pick up the Advil, drain the water, and grab the note.
Wanted to make sure that you made it home safe. Please be careful.
No name or details. I’m glad to be back home but equally confused about who that guy was, and I wish I knew when I could see him again.
I don’t know what it was about him, but I felt something deep inside myself when I saw him the first time. I have never felt that way about anyone else, and I don’t even know this guy.
Deciding not to dwell on it, I get up to take a shower and change my clothes, which are dirty from last night. During my shower, I can’t keepmyself from thinking about the mystery guy. Who was he, and why was he at that party?
Monday rolls around. After everything that happened at the party school was the last place I wanted to be. I had so many thoughts and concerns coming back,
Would people mention the fact that I didn’t have my shirt on for part of the night? What about Rutty?
Other than my friends checking in to see where I went. I haven’t talked to anyone. More nervous than I have ever been, even for a big test, I make myself get dressed and head to school.
My fears quickly faded when nobody mentioned anything. Appar- ently some girl from Gilpin, the next closest high school to us, got on a table and stripped naked. I don’t know her but I mentally thank her for taking the spot light away from me.
For the next few months, I try to attend every party with the hope of getting a look at the mystery guy again. I even ask my friends about that night, but nobody saw him but Rutty and me. And Rutty barely remem- bers anything from that night. He felt horrible when I told him what hap- pened, and he has apologized every day since. He even asked me on a few dates, which I denied because all I could think about was the mystery guy.
Nobody seems to have seen him but me. Who is he?