"Ooh, let me guess." Trista swiveled her head to peruse the whole coffee shop.
She didn't look at me but stuck out her index finger. "No. Someone made your eyes sparkle when we walked through that door and I'm gonna find him."
I rested my chin on my hands, content to watch her twirl her blonde curls. She always did that when she couldn't figure something out.
I leaned back in my chair smiling to myself. Trista would never guess who I was crushing on. He wasn't my normal type.
If she didn't guess, there would be no embarrassing laughter, or twitterpated eyelash flirting, or her whispering in my ear every time she saw him. That meant I might have a chance before she scared him away with her ... excitement.
The sound of nails clicking against the formica brought me out of my daydream.
Trista rolled her eyes. "What are you smirking at."
"You'll never figure it out."
She leaned over the table. "You know, best friends are supposed to confide in one another."
"Yeah, and if you hadn't chased away my last three crushes, I'd confide."
She slumped back in her chair. Then her blue eyes got all round and that famous pout that always worked on her father found a way to my heart.
She was my best friend. I didn't want to hurt her.
"Please, Cassidy? I promise I'll be good. I won't say a word." She crossed her heart. "I'll just ..." her eyes lit up. "I'll text you! You know like secret codes and stuff? We'll come up with a whole code list!"
It sounded less harmless that her typical excitement, and her eyes were so hopeful.
I smiled. "Sure."
"Really?" She squeaked. "Okay. Tell me." She sprouted a goofy grin that showed off all of her perfectly straight, brilliantly white teeth.
My eyes darted to the counter.
In that one second I took in his muscular shoulders in that tight polo with the Java House logo on it. He looked so good in teal. I could never tell what color his eyes were. Sometimes green, sometimes blue. His name tag was always crooked in a my-pecs-are-too-big-to-wear-this-thing-right kind of way. And it read: Nick. My tummy flipped.
When my eyes darted back to Trista her big smile was gone.
She sat there with her mouth open and actually dropped her phone. No fun secret code text vibrated my back pocket.
Trista shook her head slowly. "No. No, no, no."
"What? I have to get permission to like someone?"
Her eyes skirted around the coffee house, this time there was nothing flirty in her gaze. "Come with me?"
"Cass, this is important." She picked up her pink bag and her latte and headed out the front door.
I followed her. Outside I grabbed her arm. "What was that?"
She turned to face me and her glossy eyes sent a cannonball crashing into my stomach.
"He's bad news, Cass."
"You know him? I thought he was new in town."
She shrugged her eyes on the sidewalk.
"What aren't you telling me?"
Trista told me everything. Sometimes I tuned out her voice.
"I've seen his picture in ... in my brother's things."
Oh that was bad.
Her brother was the only subject forbidden from discussion. All I knew was that he was in a gang, and he got out, and then someone killed him. That was enough.
I linked my arm though Trista's and started walking toward her house.
Very unlike Trista, she was quiet for a long time. But she hated to cry, so I just walked with her. Arm in arm. When we were a block from her house she looked at me.
Her stare was serious--also unlike Trista. "Promise me you'll stay away fr--"
She smiled, though her eyes were a little dewy. "So, I was thinking maybe we could still do operation secret code with the texting. We just need to find you a new guy to gush over."
A smile warmed my face. "Sounds like a plan."
She waved at me before she went inside. I caught the time on the huge hands of the grandfather clock in the front foyer. Ten? Yikes.
I stuck my hand in my back pocket to text my mom and let her know I'd be home soon. She got worried if I wasn't home by ten on a school night. No phone.
Crap. It must've fallen out of my pocket. My first thought was to go into Trista's house and use her phone to call my mom. But my phone was probably where I'd last used it--the coffee shop. And I didn't want to explain to Trista why I was going back there.
Jogging, I retraced my steps. They took me all the way to the coffee shop, which was closed.
I pressed my face up to the glass. There was some scrawny guy taking out the trash and a girl grabbed the register drawer. I had to get inside. My phone was like ... like my connection to the world. I banged on the glass, but no one seemed to care.
I raced around back hoping to catch scrawny at the dumpster.
"I don't know." A shaky voice rounded the corner.
I raced around the building and stopped. A chill spread through my body freezing every vein.
A man stood towering over scrawny with a fist in the air. Blood dripped out of Scrawny's nose and spotted his teal Java House polo.
He saw me. His hand reached out all limp and helpless like Adam's hand on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. "Help me."
The big guy punched Scrawny again, leaving him slumped against the brick wall, then he turned to face me. A freaky yellow-green gleam flashed over his eyes.
A scream rose in my throat and I fought hard to keep it in.
Exhaust filled my nostrils.
I tore my eyes from big guy's lumbering form. Nick sat in a black car waving for me to get in.
Nick? This was very bad. I ran.
An engine revved.
I kept running.
Footsteps hit the hard asphalt behind me.
My lungs burned. My tired legs wobbled.
I jolted backward. Strong arms wrapped around my waist and pulled me off my feet. I flailed and kicked. I reached behind me. My fingernails found flesh and I scratched.
And then everything went dark.