Chapter one! ____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________ Where am I? I don't recognize this place; an extravagant house in a rich neighborhood. I don't recognize these people. It appears that I'm at some sort of party, but who's? How did I get here? I keep wandering, searching the crowd of people for a familiar face, but coming up empty-handed. I walk up the staircase, in hopes of finding someone I know. How long have I been here? It feels like hours. I keep wandering and searching, searching, searching, searching. Then I wake up. Oh. It was just that dream again. Every night, for the past three months, I've had the same re-occurring dream: I'm at a party, surrounded by people I don't know, in a house I've never been in. The whole time I'm just wandering around, trying to find someone I knew. But I never do. I hear someone banging around the hallway, clambering up the stairs. "Milli, wake up!" my mom screeched in her shrill voice. "Coming!" I called back. My name is Millicent Grace Johnson, though I just prefer "Milli." I have auburn colored hair and rich, deep brown eyes. I'm 5'2" and average sized. I'm just your regular 17 year old girl. Another face to blend in with the crowd. From the outside, I'm just another happy-go-lucky teenage girl. But looks can be deceiving. Two years ago, I was the victim of a horrific crime. A crime that only I, and the one who carried it out, know about. Two summers back, I was just a care-free girl. I was loving life, and didn't have a problem in the world. I was at the beach with some friends, enjoying the sun, the water, the overall atmosphere. My friends went off and made their way down to the snack bar, while I walked the opposite direction to the bathrooms. It was at this point where my life was changed forever. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone standing behind the bathroom building. Not really knowing why, I walked up to the edge of the wall, peeked around the corner, and right there, out in the open, in broad daylight, I witnessed a murder. I gasped aloud. The murderer saw me, and I had no time to run. I was frozen with shock and fear. He started strangling me, so I wouldn't be able to scream. I flailed my arms and legs, hoping that somehow, I'd be able to hurt him in some way. Unfortunately, I didn't do any damage. I prayed with all my might that he would kill me quickly, that I wouldnt have to suffer. I felt sharp blows to my head, my back, my face, everywhere. I could feel the searing pain as a knife went through my forearm. In that instant, adrenaline kicked in, and I managed to kick him in the gut and deliver a sharp blow to his face. He could tell I wouldn't go without putting up a fight. He saw that there might be a chance of me getting away. He managed to pin my arms to my side, long enough to say, "Look here, girl, I know who you are, and I know where you and your family live. If the authorities find out about this murder, I'll know it was you who snitched. You're the only witness. You tell them it was me, and I'll come back for you, for your friends and family as well. You say one word about this to anyone, and I'll make your life hell." He then pushed me down to the ground, lunging at me, with his knife aimed for my chest. I managed to roll over just in time to avoid being stabbed again. He had just fallen to the ground when I got to my feet. After one hard kick to his head, I took off running. I heard my mom yelling at me once more, bringing me back to the present. "Milli, if you don't get up RIGHT now, then so help me I will, " But I didn't bother listening to the rest of my mom's threat. I rolled over on my bed, picked up my MP3 player, put it on Karate High School (my favorite band), and tried to tune her out. My mom and I had always had a good relationship, up until 2 years back. When I got home from the beach that day, covered in bruises and blood, looking abashed and completely frightened, no doubt, she continually asked me what was wrong, and what had happened. I felt bound and compelled to keep what had happened a secret. I didn't want to tell anyone what happened. The guy said that he knew me, so I assumed he lived around this area. I knew that if I snitched, he would find out, and he'd come after my friends and family, and me. I wasn't worried about myself, necessarily, but I couldn't bear to know that I had a hand in the death of my friends and family. I told her part of the truth; that I had gone to the bathrooms by myself at the beach, and someone jumped me. I never told her about the murder I witnessed, about narrowly avoiding death, or about the threats. Every time she broached the subject, I started talking about something else. My evasiveness ticked her off, made her suspicious. She started to assume that I had gotten into drugs, or drinking, and that someone had attacked me because I ripped them off on a deal. How she came to that conclusion, I have no clue. She should know me better than to think I'd get mixed up in anything like that. Ever since then, we didnt talk nearly as much, drifting farther and farther apart. Mom had recently remarried; my dad disappeared when I was a little girl and has never been heard from since, Ever since mom married John, our relationship has gone from bad to worse. John thought I was the most miserable excuse for a human being, didn't want to have anything to do with me, and tried to talk my mom into throwing me out of the house. She wouldn't, of course, but she might as well have. My step-dad's negativity towards me rubbed off on my mom and she started to act and think the same way as him. So now, according to them, I was nothing. I was worthless. The only interaction we have now is when she's yelling at me to clean the dishes, or do her laundry, or go run errands for her. It was like I was her own personal slave. "MILLI!!!" I heard my mom call from downstairs. Not wanting to put up with her today, I rolled out of my bed, dressed swiftly, ran my fingers through my hair, and quickly applied a bit of eyeliner and chapstick. I snuck out of my window, agilely climbing down the tree that was right next to the side of the house. I wasn't sure where I was going. I was just happy to be out of the house. Away from my mother. I walk down the street, grateful to be away from home, if only for a little while. I put my iPod on Mae, another favorite band, enjoying the calm and serene atmosphere. I tilted my head back and stared up at the sky, letting the warmth of the blazing Texas sun soak through my skin. I decided I'd go visit my best friends, Alex and Bo. Alex was a smart, good-looking guy, who had black hair and bright blue eyes. He was tall, and always wore a dazzling smile. He was into music, reading, and playing guitar. Bo was athletic, tall, and husky, with blonde hair and green eyes. He was the kind of guy who was loud and obnoxious, but you couldnt help but love. Bo was mainly interested in sports, fast cars, and girls. I never seemed to fit in with any of the girls my age. I was more of a "spend the day having belching contests and playing video games" than "spend the day shopping, gossiping, and gushing over hot guys" kind of girl. And not even Bo and Alex, my best friends of about 4 years, knew my horrible secret. I sent Alex a text, asking him if they wanted to hang out. He replied quickly, seeming eager and accepted the invite. I was overjoyed by his eagerness, but I would never let that be known to anyone. "Hey Bo! Hey Alex!" I called when they came into sight as I was walking down the sidewalk about five minutes later. "Hey Milli! You look nice today." Alex had said, flashing a brilliant smile, only to be made fun of by Bo, shortly after. ("Got yourself a girlfriend, eh, Alex?") I could feel my cheeks turning pink. The relationship between Alex and I was more than just your average friendship. He was my best friend. I could talk to him about anything, at any time. He was always there for me, as I was for him. And each and every day I found myself falling more and more in love with that boy. "Thanks, Alex." I had said, ducking my head to hide my embarrassment. "So, what's on the agenda for today?" Alex had asked. "Let's go toilet-paper someone's house, or egg someone's car!" Bo suggested. He was always up for anything that would most likely get us in trouble. "How about we just go back to my place and chill?" Alex said. "That sounds good to me." I agreed. I was up for anything Alex wanted to do. So we stayed at Alex's house, playing video games and listening to music, eating junk food and talking about "the good old days." We were all laughing and having a good time, and everything was going fine until Alex said, "Hey, whatever happened to you that one day at the beach? We all looked for you after we got back from the snack bar, but we couldn't find you anywhere." I could feel the color drain from my face; I didn't know what to say. None of my friends ever mentioned my sudden disappearance that day. Why would he bring it up now? "Uhmm, my mom had called me. She wanted me to come home quickly for some reason, but I can't remember why." I lied quickly. "But you didn't get a cell phone until about 6 months ago, how did your mother call you at the beach?" Bo pointed out. I started mumbling something about payphones, knowing that what I was saying didn't make any sense. I got up quickly and said that I needed to get going. Bo thought nothing of it, but Alex could tell something was up. In my haste to get out, Alex stopped me, grabbing me by the wrist, spinning me around, and putting his hands on my shoulders, momentarily making me lose my train of thought. "Okay, what's going on here?" He asked, his face stern. I just gazed back into his ocean eyes, seeing nothing but concern for me in them. "Nothing," I retorted. "C'mon Milli, don't lie to me like that. I know something's up, or you wouldn't have reacted that way. I know you too well. Now spill." "Look, I've really got to go, before my mom finds out where I've been." And that really wasn't a lie. I quickly made my way back home, feeling jumpy and nervous. Them bringing up the subject of that day at the beach made my buried memories of what happened come back to the surface of my thoughts. I was thinking of the murderer. Thinking of the guy he killed, lying on the ground, blood spilling from his chest. Thinking of him attacking me, and the threats he made. I was feeling anxious the whole time I was walking home. I knew it was ridiculous for me to have reacted that way when they asked me what had happened. Why did I freak out that way? It wasn't like me to lose my head like that. Why couldn't I have just created a simple lie and convinced them it was nothing? What happened two years ago was something I tried very hard to not think about. The very thought of it always made me jumpy and nervous. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I always feared that that man would come back for me. That he would come back to finish off what he had started two years ago. I was almost certain he was never caught. I watched the news often to hear if they had ever caught the guy in the case of "the murder at the beach", but they never did. I thought, or hoped, really, that maybe he was caught somewhere else. That maybe he had committed a crime elsewhere, and that he was put away for that. But I knew that it was a vain hope.