I try not to think about the club incident again. Because when I do, I feel like a coward. Why did I run? Julian had barely touched me.
I can’t fathom my strange reaction. I had been turned on, but ridiculously frightened at the same time.
And now my nights are restless. Instead of dreaming of Jake, I often wake up feeling hot and uncomfortable, throbbing between my legs. Dark sexual images invade my dreams, stuff I’ve never thought about before. A lot of it involves Julian doing something to me, usually while I’m helplessly frozen in place.
Sometimes I think I’m going crazy.
Pushing that disturbing thought out of my mind, I focus on getting dressed.
My high school graduation is today, and I’m excited. Leah, Jennie, and I have big plans for after the ceremony. Jake is throwing a post-graduation party at his house. It will be the perfect opportunity to finally talk to him.
I’m wearing a black dress under my blue graduation gown. It’s simple, but it fits me well, showing off my small curves. I’m also wearing my four-inch heels. A little much for the graduation ceremony, but I need the added height.
My parents drive me to the school. This summer I’m hoping to save enough money to buy my own car for college. I’m going to a local community college because it’s cheaper that way, so I’ll still be living at home.
I don’t mind. My parents are nice, and we get along well. They give me a lot of freedom—probably because they think I’m a good kid, never getting in trouble. They’re mostly right. Other than the fake IDs and the occasional clubbing excursions, I lead a pretty sedate life. No heavy drinking, no smoking, no drugs of any kind—although I did try pot once at a party.
We arrive and I find Leah. Lining up for the ceremony, we wait patiently for our names to be called. It’s a perfect day in early June—not too hot, not too cold.
Leah’s name is called first. Luckily for her, her last name starts with ‘A.’ My last name is Leston, so I have to stand for another thirty minutes. Fortunately, our graduating class is only a hundred people. One of the perks of living in a small town.
My name is called and I go to receive my diploma. Looking out onto the crowd, I smile and wave to my parents. I’m pleased that they look so proud.
I shake the principal’s hand and turn to go back to my seat.
And in that moment, I see him again.
My blood freezes in my veins.
He’s sitting in the back, watching me. I can feel his eyes on me, even from a distance.
Somehow I make my way down from the stage without falling. My legs are trembling, and my breathing is much faster than normal. I take a seat next to my parents and pray that they don’t notice my state.
Why is Julian here? What does he want from me? Taking a deep breath, I tell myself to calm down. Surely he’s here because of someone else. Maybe he has a brother or a sister in my graduating class. Or some other relative.
But I know I’m lying to myself.
I remember that possessive touch, and I know he’s not done with me.
He wants me.
A shudder runs down my spine at the thought.
I don’t see him again after the ceremony, and I’m relieved. Leah drives us to Jake’s house. She and Jennie are chattering the entire way, excited to be done with high school, to start the next phase of our lives.
I would normally join in the conversation, but I’m too disturbed by seeing Julian, so I just sit there quietly. For some reason, I hadn’t told Leah about meeting him in the club. I only said that I had a headache and wanted to go home.
I don’t know why I can’t talk to Leah about Julian. I have no problem spilling my guts about Jake. Maybe it’s because it’s too difficult for me to describe how Julian makes me feel. She wouldn’t understand why he frightens me.
I don’t really understand it myself.
At Jake’s house, the party is in full swing when we arrive. I am still resolved to talk to Jake, but I’m too freaked out from seeing Julian earlier. I decide that I need some liquid courage.
Leaving the girls, I walk over to the keg and pour myself a cup of punch. Sniffing it, I determine that it definitely has alcohol, and I drink the full cup.
Almost immediately, I start to feel buzzed. As I had discovered in the past few years, my alcohol tolerance is virtually nonexistent. One drink is just about my limit.
I see Jake walking to the kitchen, and I follow him there.
He’s cleaning up, throwing away some extra cups and dirty paper plates.
“Do you want some help with that?” I ask.
He smiles, his brown eyes crinkling at the corners. “Oh, sure, thanks. That would be awesome.” His sun-streaked hair is a little long and flops over his forehead, making him look particularly cute.
I melt a little inside. He’s so handsome. Not in the disturbing Julian way, but in a pleasantly comfortable sense. Jake is tall and muscular, but he’s not all that big for a quarterback. Not big enough to play ball in college, or at least that’s what Jennie once told me.
I help him clean up, brushing some chip crumbs off the counter and wiping up the punch that had spilled on the floor. The entire time, my heart is beating faster from excitement.
“Nora, right?” Jake says, looking at me.
He knows my name!
“That’s really awesome of you to help, Nora,” he says sincerely. “I like throwing parties, but the cleaning is always a bitch the next day. So now I try to clean a little during, before it gets really nasty.”