“Are you sure about this, Ethan?” My grandmother asked me with a worried tone in her voice as she helped me pack an overnight bag.
“I’m certain, nana.” I said with a forced smile. “With everything that has been going on, I need this. I need the night to be with my friends.”
My grandmother chuckled lightly to herself before she reached over and pulled me into a hug.
“What time do you have to be back at the school?”
“It starts at 7:30,” I told my grandmother. “But, Jenna wants to stop somewhere to eat before we go. She said the food is always good, but there’s never enough.”
“Smart girl,” my grandmother agreed as she set a plate of cookies on the counter. I reached out to snatch one and stuffed it into my mouth. My grandmother laughed and shook her head at me. “Somethings never change.”
“What?” I asked with the best ‘innocent’ look I could muster with a mouthful of cookie. “I’m an angel.”
My grandmother smiled and poured me a glass of milk to have with my snack.
“Thanks, nana.” I told her appreciatively. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Ethan.”
My grandmother came around the island and pulled me into another hug.
“I’m so proud of you, grandson.”
“For what?” I asked in confusion.
“I’m proud of you for being as strong as you have been, lately.” She told me affectionately. I felt myself frown as the tidal wave of emotions that I had been struggling with over the past week began to crawl beneath my skin again. “Remember, if you ever feel like you need someone to talk to, all you have to do is say my name and I’ll be there for you.”
“Do you promise?” I asked, unable to keep the sound of my own worry out of my voice. I couldn’t bare the idea of losing another member of my family.
“With all of my heart, Ethan,” my grandmother replied before she hugged me again and kissed the top of my head. “Go wash your face really quick, and double check that you have everything you need.”
Jenna and Justin were busy making fun of each other as I climbed into the backseat of Jenna’s Jeep with my backpack and sleeping bag. Jenna turned in her seat and smiled at me as I fastened my seatbelt.
“All ready to go?”
“Yeah,” I replied with a grin. “I need this.”
“I bet you do, Ethan,” Jenna agreed before she turned back around and pulled away from my house.
“Hey, beautiful,” Justin said as he turned and smiled at me.
“Hey,” I replied sheepishly as I felt myself beginning to blush. He reached back and squeezed my leg gently and I jumped as a small electrical shock traveled through my leg. Justin looked confused for a moment before he grinned again. I forced myself to keep talking so I wouldn’t lose myself in his green eyes. “Did your old school ever do anything like this?”
“Not really,” he replied. “I mean, they had all of the school dances, but our school was too big for them to pretty much have an all-night party. Hell, what does a DJ for something like this cost anyways? The food alone has to cost a fortune, right?”
“The joys of private school,” Jenna said with a chuckle.
Justin rolled his eyes and I giggled lightly.
We stopped at McDonald’s and loaded ourselves with chicken nuggets and fries to snack on before Jenna finally headed towards the school.
“So, why did we eat if there’s going to be food there?” Justin asked curiously.
“It doesn’t get there until sometime after eleven,” Jenna replied. “That’s when the fun begins!”
“Nah,” Justin said with a chuckle before he directed his gaze at me. “The real fun doesn’t begin until the lights go out!”
I blushed hard.
Jenna parked her Jeep in the student lot before we each grabbed our sleeping bags, and made our way towards the front door. As we fell in line, I went to grab my wallet to pay my way in, but Justin grabbed my hand instead, and held onto it gently. I stared at our connection for a moment before I smiled at him.
“Jenna, do you care if I buy the tickets, since you bought dinner?” Justin asked with a grin.
“Don’t twist my arm,” Jenna replied with a giggle.
“Good evening, guys,” Mrs. Davis greeted us as we stepped up to the ticket table outfront. “How many?”
“Three, please?” Justin requested.
“Thirty dollars, Mr. Hunter,” Mrs. Davis stated with a warm smile. Justin passed over the money before Mrs. Davis handed each of us credit cards with an ID number registered to our school ID. “These are your game cards for the evening. If you go see the cashier, he will give you your chips for the gaming tables. Have fun!”
“Thanks, Mrs. Davis,” Justin said with a grin before he motioned for Jenna and I to follow him.
The entryway of the school was set up like a lounge with several couches and tables sitting off to one side, while someone played a piano lightly nearby. The lights were dim and there was a teacher standing there to show us where to put our stuff. Justin and I put our stuff next to each other, while Jenna had to put her belongings in a room across the hall. We met back up in the hall before we made our way to the gymnasium. That was where the majority of the party was going to be held until the catering team was completely ready in the cafeteria.
“What do you guys want to do, first?” Jenna asked as we gazed out over the sprawling casino that had been setup in the gymnasium.
“Let’s try our luck at the slot machines,” Justin suggested with a grin before he grabbed my hand and pulled me along behind him…
“Let’s go, lover boys!” Jenna said with a giggle.
The entire gymnasium looked like a casino floor, and I tried to take everything in as Justin led me to the slot machines with a grin on his face.
“I’m going to go find Kevin,” Jenna said. “He’s supposed to be saving a table for us.”
“Good luck with that one, Jenna,” the green-eyed boy teased her. “Kevin gets about as space-headed as you can get.”
“I’ll make sure he knows you said that, Justin,” Jenna replied with a giggle as she walked away from us.
“Come along, gorgeous,” Justin said as he took my hand in his own again. “Let’s go make some money!”
I giggled and followed along behind Justin as we headed for the far end of the gym. I happened to glance to my left, and saw Jenna sitting down with a dark-haired boy that was smiling happily.
“Here we go,” Justin said, snapping my attention back to him. He pushed me into an open seat in front of one of the slot machines, while he occupied the machine beside me. “Just stick your card in that slot,” Justin motioned towards the card slot on the front of the machine. “Then, pull that lever. The rest is easy.”
I grinned and did what he suggested. The machine made a bell sound as I won ten-cents worth of tokens.
“Cheater!” Justin said with a grin before he poked me in my side.
“You’re just jealous that you’re not as good as me,” I said before I pulled the handle and won again.
Justin smiled and shook his head.
“You’re going to have to help me out with your ‘lucky hands’!” He said with a wink, making me blush red in embarrassment.
We played a few more rounds of the slot machines before Justin led us over to the card tables. I stopped at the Blackjack table, and learned after a few hands that I was actually pretty good at the game. Jenna, Justin, and Kevin all went off in different directions, with the intent to come back just before the food was ready. It was almost eleven when Justin came to find me. He gawked in amazement at the stack of chips I had accrued in front of me.
“Jesus, Ethan!” He said in awe. “Are you counting cards, or something?”
I giggled and shook my head.
“No,” I said with a grin.
“Come on,” Justin laughed. “Kevin and Jenna are ready to eat!”
“Help me grab my chips, really quick.”
Justin rolled his eyes in mock exasperation before he smiled and kissed my cheek softly. Then, he grabbed as many of my chips as he could, while I did the same. We took them to the cashier at the entrance of the gym, who looked wide-eyed at the stack of chips we were piling before him.
“Do you have your cashcard?” The man behind the table asked with a shake of his head.
“Here,” I handed the card over as the man started counting all of my chips.
“You should really go to Vegas,” the man said with a laugh as he handed me my card back. “You’re almost two-hundred-dollars richer than when you got here. If you did that in Vegas, it would probably be ten-times as much. Easily.”
“Thanks,” I said, grinning happily at how well I had done.
“Jeez, Ethan,” Justin said as he put his arm across my shoulders, and led me towards the cafeteria. “You’re cute, smart, and you’re great at playing cards. What’s something that you can’t do?”
“Legally drive a car,” I said absently making Justin burst into laughter.
“It’s about time,” Jenna teased us as we joined her and Kevin. “We were about to send out a search party for you!”
“Sorry, Jenna!” Justin replied with a shrug of his shoulders before he motioned towards me. “Mr. Moneybags here needed help getting all of his winnings up to the cashier’s table.”
Jenna’s eyes went wide for a moment before she giggled.
“At least one of us is getting lucky tonight!” Jenna said with a grin.
I couldn’t help but laugh along with the older girl as we made our first pass through the buffet of food with Justin and Kevin right behind us. A DJ was setup in the far corner of the cafeteria, and he was playing music just loud enough for you to hear over the hum of conversation in the room. Kevin pointed towards an empty table, and proceeded to herd us towards it so nobody else could steal it. Once we were all seated, we fell into our own conversations. Kevin kept staring at Jenna as if she was his favorite type of cake, and Justin kept distracting me whenever he would reach under the table and squeeze my leg just above the knee.
After multiple trips to the buffet, Kevin and Justin ran off to see if they could find a spare deck of cards. Jenna decided to use our moment alone to quiz me about our friend Kevin.
“Do you think Kevin likes me?” Jenna asked with a nervous grin.
“Duh,” I said with a roll of my eyes. “He’s been undressing you with his eyes all night.”
Jenna blushed and made me laugh.
“You’re such a nerd, Ethan!” She chided me before she poked me in my side.
“Did you miss me?” Kevin asked as he rejoined us at the table.
“Umm, you forgot someone.” I said as I glanced over his shoulder to see if Justin was anywhere around.
“He suddenly complained about a headache,” Kevin said with a shrug. “It looked kind of painful.”
“Okay,” I said, hoping that he was going to tell me where my boyfriend disappeared to. I sighed and shook my head when I noticed that Kevin’s attention had fixated itself on Jenna, again. I scowled at the older boy before I decided to take action for him. “Kevin?”
“Yeah?” He asked without taking his eyes away from Jenna.
“You could just ask her out,” I said with a smug grin.
Kevin’s jaw fell open when he realized what I had said, and he turned to stare at me in disbelief. Jenna snorted before she burst out into laughter. Kevin’s face went red in embarrassment as I giggled at him. It took him a few minutes to regain his composure before he finally smiled and laughed at me.
“You’re definitely Evan’s little brother,” Kevin said with a shake of his head. Then, he looked at Jenna with a smile. “Since I haven’t been as subtle as I thought I was, and the cat is sort of out of the bag, would you be willing to go the movies with me tomorrow night?”
For a moment, I thought Jenna was going to tease him, but she finally smiled and nodded in response.
“Okay,” she said with a smile.
“Okay,” Kevin grinned.
“Good,” I said, happy that the matter had been settled. “Now, where’s Justin?”
“Oh,” Kevin said apologetically. “I think he said he was going to his Uncle’s classroom to see if he had any aspirin.”
“He was fine when he left,” I said absently.
“I know,” Kevin said suddenly. “It was really weird. One second he was fine, and the next, he was almost doubled over in pain.”
I frowned and immediately got up from my seat. Jenna saw the look of determination in my eyes, and got up to follow me.
“Save our table, Kevin,” I heard Jenna say as I started to walk away. “We have a date to plan.”
Jenna caught up to me just as I left the cafeteria and entered the hallway. The lights were already dimmed down for the night, and the majority of everyone was in the gymnasium or the cafeteria. I turned down one of the hallways that led towards Mr. Hunter’s room. Jenna and I were alone now as we turned down another hallway. Only one or two ceiling lights lit the path in front of us, but the hallway was mostly dark. There was a set of stairs halfway down the hallway, but we didn’t even make it there when the glass double doors at the far end of the hallway opened slowly.
“Ethan, wait,” Jenna said cautiously as she put her hand on my shoulder, making me stop and notice a man stepping through the doors. “Come on…”
Jenna started pulling me back towards the way we had come.
“Hello, Ethan,” the man said as he sauntered slowly towards us with a malicious grin on his round face. I felt a chill go down my spine at the sound of the man’s voice.
“What do you want?” I demanded as Jenna continued to pull on my arm, but I refused to back down from the stranger. “How do you know who I am?”
The man’s grin broadened.
“It’s not what I want, Ethan.” He said. As he grew closer I noticed that his eyes were silver in color, and they were almost glowing. “The person I work for has a very keen interest in your family. Especially, when it comes to you and your brother.”
“You’re a little late, fella’.” I said with a snort. “Evan’s dead, and he has been since January.”
“Is he now?” The man asked as if he expected me to give him a different response. I felt my heart skip a beat at the possibility of my brother still being alive, but in my heart I knew it couldn’t be true. “That doesn’t matter, anyways. You and I have somewhere we need to be. . .”
“Let’s go, Ethan,” Jenna said nervously as she pulled on my arm again.
“She’s right. It’s time to go, Ethan,” the man said. Suddenly, he was standing right in front of me and I hadn’t even saw him move. He grinned at the blatant confusion on my face as I stepped backwards. Then, he gave Jenna an evil grin. “You’re in the way, girl. Piss off!”
The man swung his arm and backhanded Jenna hard enough to send her flying into the lockers with a resounding crash. She blinked in surprise as her body crumpled to the floor, leaving a bloody streak on the shiny lockers behind her. I looked on in horror as her brown eyes slowly closed in front of me. My friend was lying in a puddle of her own blood that was slowly growing.
“Jenna?” I said her name in a whisper of disbelief as my hands began to shake.
“Time to go,” the man said suddenly before he grabbed my arm and started dragging me down the hallway.
“No, no, no,” I muttered as I struggled to break the man’s grip on my arm.
“You’re a feisty one,” the man said with an evil chuckle before he effortlessly slung me over his shoulder.
My whits slowly started coming back to me as I watched Jenna’s body get further away. The idea that I was getting kidnapped slipped into my mind, and I couldn’t help but to start to scream out in panic. There was only one person I could even think of to yell for.
“Justin!” I screamed out as loud as I possibly could. “Help me, Justin!”
The next I knew, we were outside in the student parking lot. I saw Jenna’s Jeep, and my heart sank as the image of her sliding down the wall of lockers flashed to the front of my mind. As far as I knew, Jenna was dead. I would never see her again. I had no idea where the man was taking me, or how long they were planning on keeping me alive. I decided I wasn’t going to go without a fight.
“Put me down!” I screamed as I began to kick and hit my fists against his back. “Justin! Help!”
“Stop struggling, ya’ little piss ant!” The man growled at me, but I refused to give up.
I continued to fight as hard as I could. I was hoping he would either drop me, or someone would finally hear my screams of terror. The man had other ideas, though.
“Fine!” He muttered with a growl before he slammed me against a car, making me gasp out on pain. “We’re just going to have to do this my way!”
I glanced up in time to see the man’s fist swinging towards my head. There was an explosion of pain in my head, and I saw a flash of white light before everything went dark around me.