My grin widens further, and I nod. “Of course.”

That makes total sense to me. I love the fact that he seems so nice and thoughtful, so much more than just a jock.

We start chatting. He tells me about his plans for next year. Unlike me, he’s going away to college. I tell him I’m planning to stay local for the next two years to save money. Afterwards, I want to transfer to a real university.

He nods approvingly and says that it’s smart. He’d thought about doing something like that, but he was lucky enough to get a full-ride scholarship to the University of Michigan.

I smile and congratulate him. On the inside, I’m jumping up and down in joy.

We’re clicking. We’re really clicking! He likes me, I can tell. Oh, why hadn’t I approached him before?

We talk for about twenty minutes before someone comes into the kitchen looking for Jake.

“Hey, Nora,” Jake says before he goes back to the party, “are you doing anything tomorrow?”

“How about we go see a movie?” Jake suggests. “Maybe grab dinner at that little seafood place?”

I grin and nod like an idiot. I’m too afraid to say something stupid, so I keep my mouth shut.

“Great,” Jake says, grinning back at me. “Then I’ll pick you up at six.”

He goes back to being the party host, and I rejoin the girls. We stay for another couple of hours, but I don’t talk to Jake again. He’s surrounded by his jock friends, and I don’t want to interrupt.

But every now and then, I catch him looking my way and smiling.

I’m floating on air for the next twenty-four hours. I tell Leah and Jennie all about what happened. They’re excited for me.

In preparation for our date, I put on a cute blue dress and a pair of high-heeled brown boots. They’re a cross between cowboy boots and something a bit dressier, and I know I look good in them.

Jake picks me up at six o’clock sharp.

We go to Fish-of-the-Sea, a popular local joint not too far from the movie theater. It’s a nice sit-down place, not too formal.

We have a great time. I learn more about Jake and his family. He asks me questions too, and we discover that we like the same types of movies. I can’t stand chick flicks for some reason, and I really enjoy cheesy end-of-the-world stories with lots of special effects. So does Jake, apparently.

After dinner, we go see a movie. Unfortunately, it’s not about an apocalypse, but it’s still a pretty good action film. During the movie, Jake puts his arm around my shoulders, and I can barely suppress my excitement. I hope he kisses me tonight.

When the movie is done, we go for a walk in the park. It’s late, but I feel completely safe. The crime rate in our town is negligible, and there are plenty of streetlights.

We’re walking and Jake is holding my hand. We’re discussing the movie. Then he stops and just looks at me.

I know what he wants. It’s what I want, too.

I look up at him and smile. He smiles back, puts his hands on my shoulders, and leans down to kiss me.

His lips feel soft, and his breath smells like the minty gum he was chewing earlier. His kiss is gentle and pleasant, everything I hoped it would be.

Then, in a blink of an eye, everything changes.

I don’t even know what happened or how it happened. One minute, I’m kissing Jake, and the next, he’s lying on the ground, unconscious. A large figure is looming over him.

I open my mouth to scream, but I can’t get more than a peep out before a big hand covers my mouth and nose.

I feel a sharp prick on the side of my neck, and my world goes completely dark.

I wake up with a pounding headache and queasy stomach. It’s dark, and I can’t see a thing.

For a second, I can’t remember what happened. Did I have too much to drink at a party? Then my mind clears, and the events of last night come rushing in. I remember the kiss and then . . . Jake! Oh dear God, what happened to Jake?

What happened to me?

I’m so terrified that I just lie there, shaking.

I am lying on something comfortable. A bed with a good mattress, most likely. I’m covered by a blanket, but I can’t feel any clothes on my body, just the softness of cotton sheets against my skin. I touch myself and confirm that I’m right: I’m completely naked.

I use one hand to check between my legs. To my huge relief, everything feels the same. No wetness, no soreness, no indication that I’ve been violated in any way.

For now, at least.

Tears burn my eyes, but I don’t let them fall. Crying wouldn’t help my situation now. I need to figure out what’s going on. Are they planning to kill me? Rape me? Rape me and then kill me? If it’s ransom they’re after, then I’m as good as dead. After my dad got laid off during the recession, my parents can barely pay their mortgage as is.

I hold back hysteria with effort. I don’t want to start screaming. That would attract their attention.

Instead I just lie there in the dark, every horrifying story I’ve seen on the news running through my mind. I think of Jake and his warm smile. I think of my parents and how devastated they’ll be when the police tell them I’m missing. I think of all my plans, and how I will probably never get a chance to attend a real university.

And then I start to get angry. Why did they do this? Who are they, anyway? I assume it’s ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ because I remember seeing a dark figure looming over Jake’s body. Someone else must’ve grabbed me from the back.