There was probably nothing worse than spending Friday night at home. Alone. Not when your best friend was going out with your very recently ex, ex-boyfriend Mikael. Not when it was their first date and he was taking her on the same first date he took you on – watch the sunset, drive up the PCH to Malibu, romantic dinner. The works.

Okay, sure, the dinner would probably not be that romantic. Or that expensive. But there is just something about sitting together, watching the sun set, that makes everything seem so perfect. It adds a magical quality to the entire night.

So what if the Mexican food was greasy. Or the food was served on trays you had to carry back to a sticky table. All you could remember at that point was the feeling of sitting next to each other on the beach, watching the colors light up the sky. Leaning in for that first kiss as the world disappeared into darkness.

It’s why I fell for Mike, who was nothing like the boys I typically dated. And it’s why it made it that much more painful when he left me for my friend Chrystal.

Mikael was a musician. And my typical rule was to never date musicians. Yeah, even at the age of sixteen I already knew that musicians were trouble. But Mike was different. He wasn’t that loud, obnoxious, full of himself kind of boy. He was quiet. Thoughtful. Sexy.

He played electric guitar, but preferred to play classical tunes instead of whatever was popular. He said he liked the challenge. I just liked watching his fingers run up and down the fretboard at lightning speed. His long fingers delicately pressing against the strings and making the most beautiful sounds come out of a glorified hunk of wood.

I never would have ended things with him. But Mike was a free spirit. I think he got bored of me. Or just the sameness of being with just one person. He told me he loved me. That he always would, but that he needed a change.

Unfortunately that change happened to be to my best friend. I don’t think Mike was trying to be mean. I actually don’t even think he knew Chrys and I were even friends. When we were together, he preferred to spend time alone. He didn’t really like hanging out in groups and bailed whenever I suggested meeting up with a bunch of people. Always some excuse about practicing.

But it hurt that my friend, who knew exactly how I felt about the breakup, could just jump on him – and I mean literally, as Chrys was just that willing to do the things that I wasn’t – within a week of us being over.

If I was the type of girl that sought vengeance, or if Chrystal was the type of girl who cared about any of the guys she hooked up with, I probably would have tried to make something happen with one of her castaways. But I wasn’t. And she didn’t.

So, here I sat. Feeling sorry for myself. At home. Alone. With only my computer screen to keep me company. Everyone would be out. Doing something. With someone. Somewhere.

I did not have a lot of friends. Well, I had enough friends. But most of them were guys. And none of them were single. Chrystal was typically my favorite person to hang out with because she didn’t care about the boys she dated. I was never a third wheel. And she always seemed to like having me around in case she found someone better.

And for the brief three-week period I was dating Mikael, which felt like a lifetime to me, I had someone. I didn’t need to be anyone’s wanted or unwanted extra.

I just knew if I ended up sitting at home tonight, though, I’d be watching the clock. Checking for the precise moment the sun would set. Knowing exactly what would be happening between Mike and Chrystal when it did. And it would drive me crazy.

I knew that a bunch of people were going to some party in the Valley. And while I always swore to myself I’d never hit one of those, it sounded better than the pity party of one I was at right now.

I texted my friend Dave who I knew was going and would have plenty of room in his Hummer to fit me in. I was tiny, so I could squeeze in on the floor if I absolutely had to. It wouldn’t be the first time.

He said he’d be around in about an hour. They planned on getting something to eat and go bowling beforehand in Studio City. Wow, an entire evening in the Valley. You’d think we were heading to another planet instead of just going over the hill. Though, I suppose that being in the Valley was like being in a foreign land.

I figured I had just enough time to shower and straighten my hair. If I tried to flatiron it without blowing it out semi-straight, it wouldn’t look right. My hair fought me every time I tried to make it look semi-decent. Having tangled, wavy hair in theory sounded sexy. In reality it sucked.

When I got out of the shower, I heard my phone beep signaling a missed text. Dave was going to be about twenty minutes early. He had someone to pick up down in the Marina and he didn’t want to have to come back just for me when it was easier to swing by and pick me up first.

Crap. There wouldn’t be enough time to blow dry and straighten my hair. I did not want to risk having half a head of perfectly straight hair and the rest be crazy wild. The blow dry would have to do. It didn’t really matter anyway. It’s not like I was looking for a hookup. I just wanted to take my mind off of things.

I tackled my hair as best as I could, though it was still slightly damp. That’s the problem with long, thick hair. It doesn’t dry fast enough. I grabbed a hair tie and looped my hair into a loose knot and ran back to my room to find something to change into.

What the hell do I wear to a party in the Valley? I figured jeans and a graphic tee would be fine. But, honestly, I didn’t really care who I didn’t impress. And if I was going to be riding on the floor, or sitting in someone’s lap for the ride, jeans would be the safest option.

Dave buzzed at the gate just as I was pulling on my boots. I buzzed him in, grabbed my purse and ran out the front door, making sure the alarm system was engaged. You never can be too careful in a gated community on the Westside. Yeah right.

As I expected the car was pretty full, but there was enough room, at least until the next pickup, for me to squeeze in on the seat.

Everyone shifted over a bit to let me in, said hi, and got back to an argument which my arrival had clearly interrupted. Something about basketball. The Lakers, maybe?

“Hey Stacie,” Dave said over his shoulder as he peeled out of the driveway and back down the hill to Sunset so we could head south.

“Thanks for letting me tag along,” I answered, leaning forward a little so he’d be able to hear me over the argument, which was getting more heated by the second.

“The invite is always open. You know that.”

“Well, thanks anyway. Even if it’s a trip to the Valley.”

He grinned. “It should be fun. Apparently the dude throwing the party just landed a regular part on some new sitcom and he’s going all out.”

“So, who are we picking up in the Marina?” I asked.

“Not sure. A friend of the guy throwing the party maybe? But he asked for the favor, and since I’m bringing along everyone to crash his shindig, I figured I could deal with the inconvenience.”

“Well, hopefully he’s a small guy. I like not having to ride on the floor, especially with how long it will take to go up and over.”

“I’d say you can sit on my lap, Stace, but I don’t think that would be the best way to make it there in one piece.” He winked in the rearview.

I blushed.

***

While it was only a few miles from where I lived to the Marina, the ride took forever. Even taking the back way and avoiding the highway.

It didn’t mind being squished into the back seat, listening to everyone debating about whether our school’s basketball team stood any chance of making it into the playoffs. While I wasn’t that into sports, I knew that Dave was. That his friends were. I was happy to sit quietly and just listen.

I must have eventually dozed off. Because I woke up to the feeling of falling. And not like that feeling you get during a dream that jolts you awake. I mean actually falling. Right out of the car.

I had apparently fallen asleep against the door and when Dave stopped to let in our mystery guest, the door opened and out I tumbled. And not very gracefully.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. Completely mortified as I lay sprawled out on the ground at the feet of this boy. This amazing looking boy. He looked tall. But from my vantage point a pre-schooler would have seemed tall. He had dark hair, an inky black. Long enough that it hung in front of his eyes as he leaned forward to… inspect me? No, that can’t be right, I thought to myself.

But it seemed almost as if he was inspecting me. Trying to figure out who, or what, I could possibly be, aside from a girl who ungraciously fell out of a car. Sport utility vehicle, rather.

Instead of reaching out a hand, he leaned even more forward to stare at me. His dark eyes boring into mine. Almost as if he were trying to read something in them, other than the shock and embarrassment I felt from waking up and falling. I wondered if I had any sleep drool on my face. Or those disgusting crusties in my eyes. UghMortifying.

I tried to inch myself back so that I could sit up without smacking into his forehead. He just moved closer.

“Do you mind?” I asked. “Trying to get up here. You’re not helping things.”

At my words, he seemed to pull himself together. Realizing that his behavior might have seemed odd. Uh, yeah. Before he did, he sniffed at me. Ewwww.

Then he reached out his hand, as if finally discovering his manners, to help me up.

No thanks.

As I tried to stand on my own, a sharp pain pierced my side, causing me to sit back down. Hard. Which didn’t help. At all. Whatever was going on with my right side, the pain was excruciating. Worsening with every breath I took.

I lay down on my back, carefully. Trying to mimic the position I was in before I tried to stand, the one that didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t working. The stabbing pain in my side seemed to intensify.

I couldn’t stop the tears from forming in my eyes or from escaping to slip down the sides of my face. The last time I felt this kind of pain was when I broke my leg skiing in the third grade. I may not be a doctor, but it felt like the same kind of agony. Except this time it might have been a rib.

By this point everyone seemed to notice that my little fall might have been something more. Those closest to my side of the vehicle leaned out to see what could be wrong. Although I had gasped from the pain, I must not have cried out. But when they noticed me still lying there, with this boy hovering above me, they stopped smiling and motioned for Dave to get out and check on me.

“What the hell?” Dave asked. “Are you okay?”

I shook my head no. The tears were still streaming down my face, and I’m sure by now they were leaving dark tracks of mascara in their wake. Normally I would have cared. With the amount of pain I was feeling, and the problem I was having sucking in each breath, I just didn’t give a crap.

Holy wow, I thought. There is actually something worse than sitting home crying over Mike.

“Can you move? Should I move you? Do you need to go to the hospital?” he asked, then came to a decision without awaiting my response. “I’m going to call an ambulance.”

“Okay,” I gasped. I closed my eyes. Dave looked scared. He was making me scared.

“Don’t be.” I heard a deep voice whisper in my ear. One I didn’t recognize.

Huh? I opened my eyes to see this new boy crouching down next to me. I knew I was out of it, but I didn’t think I said anything that would merit his response. Maybe he just knew I needed reassurance. I guess I must have looked scared or something. I know I felt scared.

“You do,” he said. “Look scared, I mean.”

Again, he answered a statement that I hadn’t made aloud. One of my thoughts. Unless, of course I was delirious and I didn’t even realize I was speaking aloud. Which was highly possible. With each breath getting shallower, more painful, I was starting to feel like I might pass out.

“Let me help,” he said.

I really couldn’t figure out how he could possibly help. Besides, after his lack of an offer to help before, I wasn’t sure just why he was offering to help out now.

“You’re in pain. I can help. Trust me,” he said.

I looked at him again. And he did look concerned. Whatever strangeness that was in his gaze before was gone. Now, all I could see were his beautiful dark eyes looking back at me. Mesmerizing me. Calming me.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his. Even as I heard Dave call my name. It’s as if his eyes were magnets, pulling me in. As I stared at him, I couldn’t see anything else but him. The rest of the world dissolved around us. It’s as if there was just the two of us.

“I can help you,” I thought I heard him say. But it almost seemed as if it was coming from inside of my head. I didn’t see his lips move, but it wasn’t his lips that I was transfixed by. It was his eyes. Which seemed to have a fiery glow from deep within.

I could have sworn his eyes were the darkest of browns, black maybe. But now I could see red within their depths. And they were deep. Endless pools of darkness illuminated by this dancing, flickering red light. I felt as if I were drowning in them. But it might have been simply that I was losing my battle to breathe and my hold on life that made me feel that way.

And yet, now that I was staring at him, locked in his gaze, I didn’t feel any pain. The burning, stabbing, intense pain I had felt in my side was gone. Had he hypnotized me? Was I dead? Or was I simply too far gone that I couldn’t feel my body any longer.

“I can help you,” he said again. “But I don’t have much time. You don’t have much time.” He tore his gaze away from mine, as he said this, looking almost as if it was as difficult for him to do it as it would have been for me.

He shifted from his crouch, at first kneeling next to me, then lying down beside me. Curling his body next to my uninjured left side.

“What the f–” Dave started to say, but was interrupted by whoever he was speaking to on the other end of the line. “No, I’m still here. I said we need an ambulance, now, at the corner of Via Dolce and Lighthouse.”

This strange boy, who had somehow maneuvered himself so that he was completely pressed up against my side, his body contoured to mine, brought his lips to my ear and whispered, “Make your choice. You only have a moment. Choose to let me help you or choose to say goodbye.”

If I hadn’t been fighting so hard to take in each spoonful of air that let me live for just a fraction of a minute longer, I might have asked him how he planned on helping. How he could help. But I knew I had little time left. And now that I wasn’t enchanted by his eyes, lost in his stare, all the pain I thought had left me for good, was back, full-force.

I tried to answer to tell him, Yes. Yes I want you to help. But I couldn’t even gasp the words out. Yet he heard me anyway. He heard my thoughts.

I could feel his lips move from my ear, to a place just beneath my jaw, along my neck. I could feel them part as he kissed me. I could feel the beat of my pulse beneath his lips, once strong and slow, but now fast and fluttery as I struggled to remain conscious.

Yet even through my pain I could feel just how soft his lips were as they pressed firmly against that tender spot on my neck. Incredibly soft. Incredibly cold.

I vaguely wondered how a kiss would keep me from dying. But then I felt his teeth pierce the skin along that sensitive part of my neck and I felt my pulse quicken from fluttery to erratic as my life’s blood began to flow out of the puncture wounds he’d made.

Oh, was all I could think. And then nothing else mattered.