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Walls Around The Heart - Part One


Nicole Starleigh Yeager

Keri was going to the beach on vacation with her best friend, Lauren, Lauren's boyfriend Brett, and Brett's best friend, Kyle. Aside from the fact that Keri and Kyle couldn't stand each other, a relaxing, fun weekend was promised to all. That is, of course, until Keri literally runs into a good looking guy on the beach. Eric and Keri get along well and sparks start to fly, but Kyle suddenly starts trouble. While Keri's convinced Kyle is just trying to ruin her weekend, Lauren and Brett know otherwise, and Kyle suspects something fishy about Eric. But the weekend only gets worse... with someone breaking into their hotel room, Keri ending up with a concussion and ghostly messages on the hotel room mirror warning against getting too close to Eric, the four friends find themselves trying to solve a year-old murder that the local police are not even aware of. Will Kyle convince Keri that her new heart's desire is not as innocent as he looks? Can Keri learn to trust Kyle before it's too late?

"Look, you guys go do whatever you want. Keri and me are going down to the beach. Alone." Lauren finished throwing her tanning lotions, towel and blankets into her bag. "Keri, grab some drinks and stuff." I nodded and headed to our makeshift "kitchen" area. I hated when Brett and Lauren started fighting. They could always find a way to drag everyone else into it and make them feel awkward and uncomfortable. I quietly crouched down in front of the little fridge on the floor and pulled out two bottles of water and some juice packs, biting my lip and fighting the urge to put them both in their place.

"What, we can't just hang out on the beach with you guys?" Brett argued.

"No! I told you before we even came down that me and Keri are having time to ourselves! We like to lay out on the beach and we don't want you bothering us while we're out there!"

"What if I want to go into the water or something?" Brett persisted.

"Then go to the stupid beach, I don't care, just leave us alone!" Lauren burst out. I jumped at the tone of her voice, then shut the little refrigerator and stood up.

"Brett, I have an idea," Kyle piped up. "Let them go hang out for awhile."

I hadn't been able to hold a normal conversation with Kyle since we started the trip earlier that morning. I was afraid we wouldn't get along, or we'd start bickering. This was Lauren's birthday weekend... I wanted her to have fun. When I heard him speak, my heart shivered nervously. I could feel him watching me, though, as he said this.

Lauren's blue and purple bathing suit looked really good on her, and I made a point to tell her so earlier when we were getting changed for the beach. She returned the compliment to me. For the first time in my life I was able to put on a two piece bathing suit and not wince in the mirror. Of course, I covered up with a wrap-around skirt and a white blouse for the walk down. That and I didn't feel comfortable letting Brett and Kyle see me like that. The people on the beach would be strangers... and Lauren is my best friend, so they were allowed to see me. (I know... I have issues.)

Brett stubbornly turned and walked into the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him. Lauren threw her arms up in frustration. "I don't know what his problem is. I don't know why I can't just have a little bit of time to myself!"

I packed our little cooler and picked up the portable CD player. "You ready?"


"When are youse guys coming back?" Kyle asked, lying on my bed. Well, our bed. But I still wasn't too comfortable with the idea. As far as I was concerned, it was mine, and I would try my hardest all day to find a way to kick him off of it that night.

"Not 'til like 4:00," Lauren said.

"That's like four and a half hours!"


"Well, can one of you leave your cell phone for us?"

"Why, so you guys can call and bother us?" Lauren sneered.

"What are you pissed off at me for? I didn't do anything," Kyle said.

I picked up my bag, the CD player and the cooler and headed to the door. "Lauren, grab the key," I said, as if Kyle and Brett didn't even exist.

She threw her cell phone at Kyle. It bounced on the bed before he could grab it. "Her number's in there. Don't be calling and asking when we're coming back, either."

"Have fun," he said, sarcastically.

She and I walked out into the hall and headed for the elevator. "We're not going to be fighting all weekend, are we?" After all, we had only just checked into the hotel an hour prior, and Brett had already locked himself in the bathroom, Lauren's attitude had gone sour, and Kyle was being obnoxious.

"As long as they don't piss me off." We were on the seventh floor. We got on the elevator with these two really gorgeous guys, one with dark hair and the other blonde. The dark haired guy was tall and tan, wearing a pair of royal blue shorts and a cool green T-shirt with royal blue print. His sideburns were just right, his face square and slender, yet gentle, and his eyes a beautiful deep brown. He had his eyebrow pierced and I could see the edge of a tattoo on his upper arm under the sleeve of his tee. I have no idea what the blonde looked like; I wasn't paying attention to him.

With a beautiful smile, he greeted us as we entered the elevator. "Going to the beach?" he asked.

"Yeah," Lauren answered. "We need some sun."

"Cool, so are we. We're gonna rent some body boards."

"How much are they?" Lauren asked.

"I don't know, we just got down here today."

"Really? So did we. Where are you from?"

"New York City, you?"

"Pottstown, Pennsylvania."

"Never heard of it."

"It's sort of near Philly."

"All right," my beautiful brunette boy said. "I've never been to Philly."

I just nodded. I didn't know what to say, although I wanted to say something.
Lauren turned to me and said, "Hey, about the fighting all weekend, when are you and Kyle planning on speaking to each other?"

Bad time to bring that up! "Uh... I don't know..." My face burned red with a mix of embarrassment and a little bit of anger. I tried to give her a subtle hint with my eyes.

It didn't work. "Because, you know, you didn't say a word to each other the whole way down here and you won't even talk to him now."

"I just don't have anything to say." As the elevator hit the lobby and the doors glided open, I was so pissed. The beautiful boy didn't even say "bye" or "see ya later" as they (very gentlemen-like) let us get off first.

I walked straight for the front door, trying not to say anything just then, because he might still be back there.

"You wanna wait for me?" Lauren said, shuffling to keep up with me. "Jeez!"

I suddenly wasn't angry with her at all, just bummed about it. When we were safely outside and I couldn't see the boys anywhere, I turned to her and said, "Why'd ya have to go and do that?" in my whiny little voice I picked up from my five-year old cousin.

"What?" she asked, genuinely dumbfounded.

"Say that stuff! That guy was totally into me until you started talking about Kyle! Notice he didn't even say, 'see ya later' or anything." We stepped into the warm sand.

"Oh, oops," she said. "I guess it did sound kinda like..."

"Yeah, it did. See? This is my problem! Every time I get close to getting to know somebody new - a potential boyfriend - Kyle somehow screws it up!"

"I'm sorry!" she said, dripping with apology and a huge smile. "Next time I'll ... think about it before I talk... he was a cutie. But I liked the blonde better."

"You would, that's your style."

"You and your brunettes."

We chuckled. "You know, doesn't it sound kind of funny to call a guy a brunette? I mean, isn't 'ette' a female thing?"

Lauren laughed. "Yeah, I think it is. Guys are... dark-haired."

There were a lot of people out on the beach. "Do you see any good spots?" I asked. She turned around and looked up at the hotel.

"What?" I asked.

She laughed. "Kyle's up there, yelling at us. I think he wants something."

"Oh, wonderful." I looked up seven floors to the only balcony with a big idiot waving his arms wildly. "He better be careful, if he leans over any farther he'll fall off. Can we just go, please?"

"Yeah. I can't hear him anyway."

We turned and walked out on to the beach, away from the hotel and the waving idiot on the seventh-floor balcony.

"You still care about him, don't you?"

"What?" I asked, sarcastically. "What the heck are you talking about?"

"Kyle. I believed you, you know, that you were totally over him?" 

"Lauren, there was nothing to get over. Just a small crush."


"All right, all right. Can we talk about something else?" My cell phone started singing 'Get the Party Started' from my bag.

"Guess who that is?" Lauren laughed.

"I'm not answering it. We need to find a place to put our stuff down first."

She laughed at me. "You know, I think he's just trying to be friends with you."

"What ever," I said. "When I tried to just be friends with him, he avoided me at all costs and was a total ass."

"That's because?" she stopped. I looked at her. "You know, I'm gonna shut up, now, because this is how it all started the last time."

"Don't worry, I don't even want to know. I had enough already."

"All right," she said.

The phone stopped ringing. "They can leave a message if it's that important."

"Look, over there," she said, pointing to a nice open spot on the sand.

"Perfect, let's grab it!" I said, laughing, and running ahead of her.

"Hey! Wait for me!"

That was how I enjoyed Lauren. Just the two of us, best friends, with nothing influencing us except the feeling that we could just be ourselves and have fun. We laid our blanket out in the sand, smoothed out the bumps that would prove to be uncomfortable underneath, placed our towels (for head rests) and positioned the stereo and the cooler between us. As we were putting on suntan lotion, my phone started ringing again, still in my bag.

"You gonna answer it?" she asked, with the bottle of baby oil upside down over her leg.

"You kidding? I have lotion all over my hands, I'm not touching my phone!"

She laughed. "You really don't want to answer that phone, do you?"

"If he calls when I am not busy, then I'll answer it. But I'm not going to drop everything just because he wants to call for some stupid reason." 

We let the phone ring out as we finished preparing for our tanning session.

It was nice and relaxing to lie there on the sand in the warm sun. We were listening to the local radio station, not wanting to get sandy scratches on any of our precious compact discs.

"Did you ever check your phone for messages?" Lauren asked, lying on her back, relaxed, sporting her new pair of sunglasses (that I picked out). I'd been on a glam-her-up kick recently. She wore the shades rather well.

"No. Actually, I forgot about it." I was lying on my stomach, letting my back get the first bake.

"Can you get it out, anyway, and set the alarm for a half hour?"

I sighed. "Do I have to check the messages?"

"It would be nice. But, you don't have to call them back. God knows I don't want to talk to them right now, either."

We giggled. I reached into my bag and dug around for the phone. I pulled it out and read: "2 missed calls." I cleared it and it then read: "new voice message." 

"We got a message," I told her.

"See what he wants."

I dialled in to my voice mailbox and entered my secret passcode. It really wasn't so secret if you knew me well. Anyway, it was, after all, a message from our waving idiot. "You know, I don't really want to listen to this, here," I tossed the phone over to her.

"Heh, thanks," she said, picking it up and placing it by her ear.

Curiously, I listened for her reactions to the message and watched her face. It was tough to decipher... her sunglasses concealed her eyes. She listened, I looked down at the edge of the beach where people were wading and swimming and jumping in the waves. Man, that looked like fun. I thought maybe I should wander down there, but was a little hesitant about it. Lauren wouldn't want to go down, and I didn't feel like being there by myself. I would look like an idiot.

Her gasp caught my attention. "What?" I asked, "What happened? Is something wrong?"

She held her pointer finger up to quiet me while she listened to the rest of the message.

Impatiently, I waited. I scanned the shore again to pass the dragging moment. Bingo. My beautiful brunette? I mean, my beautiful dark-haired guy was down there, just about to walk into the water with his blonde buddy and their body boards. "Hey, Lauren! Look who's in the water!"

She waved me quiet again, listened for just a few seconds more, and then deleted the voicemail. "Oh, my god."

"What did he say?" Anger was rising up in me already. I was not going to deal with his crap on this trip.

She didn't answer me right away, just took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes, mumbling, "Oh, my god."

"What? Lauren, you have to tell me what he said!"

"He was just... being Kyle. It was nothing."

"Nothing? What the heck is 'oh my god' if it's nothing?"

"Uh - well, him and Brett were just screwing around. It was funny."

"Why'd you erase it?"

"It was pretty vulgar. Didn't think you'd want to keep it on your phone."

She was hiding something from me. He had called and yelled at me for something or said something asinine; I knew it. I was furious. Lauren was decent enough to save me from it, but I was still pissed. "I'm going down to the water," I said, looking directly at the dark-haired hottie. I was on a mission, and Kyle was not going to screw it up. I wasn't going to let him. I got up so fast, my foot left a sinkhole under the blanket that I would have to smooth out when I wanted to lie down again.

"Where are you going?"

"To cool off!" I said, trying not to sound too angry.

"Oh, jeez," I heard her mumble. Before I knew it, she was right next to me, walking down toward the water. "Are you pissed?"

"About what? That he and Brett were being 'vulgar'?"

"All right! All right! You caught me, that wasn't what it was... but I just didn't want you to hear it. I don't want to deal with this thing... I don't want you to deal with this thing, and I'll talk to him when we get back."

"He was being an ass, wasn't he? What did he say?"

"You know, I'm not even going to tell you. He's a true ass hole, we know this. Just stay above him."

"I could kick him where it hurts!"

Lauren laughed nervously. "Now, that would be a blessing to all of us, but I wouldn't recommend it."

She did it. She always does. I started laughing and couldn't hold onto the anger anymore.

"See? It's all good. Why are you really down here, anyway?" 

I pointed out into the water. "Is that...?"

"Yep, and his blonde buddy, too."

"I'm not messing around with this." She turned to head back.

"Lauren, wait!" I turned and grabbed her arm. "Just stay with me down here for a little, to see if we can get their attention! I'll look stupid if I'm down here by myself!"

"I hate the water..."

"Please? This is your chance to make it up to me."

"Make what up to you?"

"Blowing my opportunity in the elevator!"

"You weren't even talking to the boy!"

"Because you were doing all the talking and I was in total amazement of his hot-ness!"

She looked at me inquisitively. "All right, fine. But I don't want to get wet."

Feeling mischievous, I took off to the water's edge and waded out as a wave rolled in. I was nearly knocked over.

"I'm not going out that far!" Lauren yelled over the noise of the people and the waves as she came in behind me.

I turned around and kicked water up at her.

"Aeh!" she shrieked, trying to deflect the water. "That's it!" She crouched and dipped her arms into the moving shallow water and lifted an armful up into the air, all over me.

I laughed and splashed her again, then moved further out into the water. She reacted with another armful, laughing hysterically and chasing after me, determined to get me back. All of a sudden she stood up, face stricken of glee, and screamed, "Watch out!"

As I turned around, I caught a mouthful of salty water and collided with somebody riding the wave. I went under, a little dizzy, having hit my head on either a shoulder or a knee. The wave itself had been huge and quite strong. As I gathered my senses and tried to stand up, the undertow grabbed me and rolled me along the sand on the bottom. By the time it stopped, another wave had come in and I had lost all sense of direction. I began to flail my arms in desperate attempt to find the surface. I was choking on salt water and beginning to panic. Somebody just help me, please!

Next thing I knew, a pair of hands grabbed me around the waist and began to pull me down... which actually turned out to be up. I came up out of the water, choking and gasping. I couldn't see - my eyes were stinging. I could hear Lauren yelling from somewhere farther away than before. I clung my arms around the neck of my rescuer as he held me up out of the water.

"I'm sorry," he kept saying. "Are you okay? You all right? I'm sorry, I couldn't steer it."

All I could do was nod... after all, I understood the strength of the waves. If you had no experience, they were not a force to be reckoned with. I certainly didn't.

We must have been pretty far out, because it seemed to take forever to get back in to shore. I could hear Lauren's voice getting louder. She had been trying to make her way over to me. We had to stop a few times as he braced himself against another crashing wave so we wouldn't be knocked over. I could feel his heart beating as quickly as mine. All I could do was hold on, and try to breathe.

Lauren reached me, all freaked out, asking over and over again if I was okay. My rescuer told her I needed to catch my breath before I could talk. She said something about 'bleeding' but I hadn't caught it. I heard him ask her a question and she answered, "Up there."

He carried me all the way up to the blanket and set me down. I lay on my back, but he pulled me up on my side and wouldn't let me lie back. "Cough out the water," he kept telling me. 

After a few good, deep coughs, the little bit of water I had swallowed came out. He let me lie back then, and collapsed on the blanket next to me. 

Lauren was wiping the top of my forehead with a tissue. "Oh, I hope you don't need stitches..."

"What?" I asked, slowly opening my burning eyes and looking at her. She pulled the tissue away to get another and I gasped. It was completely red. I put my hand up on the cut, feeling the pain for the first time. I tried to sit up, but dizziness wouldn't allow it.

"I have to get her back to the room," Lauren said, starting to pack things up.

"I'll help you take her back. Let me get my buddy to help carry this stuff for you," my rescuer said as he got up and ran down the beach.

"Well, Keri," Lauren said, gathering our things. "You wanted to meet the guy."

"What?" I asked, confused.

"Never mind, I'll explain later. I'm gonna call Brett and Kyle and let them know what happened."

"No," I groaned. "I'll like it better if they aren't there."

"Ok," she said. "But we're coming out early tomorrow to make up for this, I hope you know."

She did it again. I smiled. "Okay." I just laid there with my hand over my forehead and my eyes closed. I was so tired.

I woke up around 4:30 in my bed, with Lauren relaxing on her bed, watching the TV. As I sat up, I had to gather my thoughts. It took a few moments to figure out that I was back in our room, on my bed.

"How's your head?" she asked.

"Achy," I said. I reached up and felt a Band-Aid. "Thanks." 

"Don't thank me," she said. "Thank Eric."


"Remember your brunette from the elevator?"

My mouth dropped. "That was him??"

She smiled. "Yep. He felt so bad, too."

"Eric, huh?"

"Yeah, but I don't know his last name. And the blondie is Jeremy. He helped me carry all the stuff back up here."

"I don't remember walking back to the room."

"You didn't. Eric carried you."

"What? Are you kidding?"

She chuckled. "No. You should have seen him, Keri, he felt so bad. As soon as we realized you went under he went back for you."

"Really? He came back to save me?" A warm feeling rushed over me. I was flattered.

"Oh, and he asked if he could come back later and check on you, to see if you were alright. He said if we needed a lift to the hospital to let him know."

"He left you his number?"

"Cell phone number."

"No way."

"Yes, way."

"You told him yes, didn't you?"

"For what?"

"To come back later."

"Oh, heck yeah," she nodded her head once. "Don't worry, I was looking out for ya."

"When's he coming back?"

"Well, he already did, about an hour ago, but you were still passed out."

"Oh! I missed him?!"

"But, he's coming back later."

"Did he recognize us from the elevator?"

"Yeah. He apologized for ruining our day at the beach. I told him it wasn't his fault, stuff happens."

"Oh, no, I have to get dressed... he's coming back!"

She giggled. "You feeling okay?"

I got out of bed and stood for a moment as my head throbbed. "How exactly did I hurt myself?"

"His knee."

I gave her a quizzical look.

She shrugged. "We couldn't figure it out, either."

My head finally cleared. "We have any ibuprofen?"

"Check the bathroom, I think I put it in there."

I headed for the bathroom. "What milligram is it?" I asked, picking up the bottle but in too much pain to read the fine print.

"500, I think."

I dumped four into my hand. I took 2000 milligrams on a monthly basis anyway. And this headache was far worse. I used one of the complimentary plastic cups on the sink to take my pills with water. I walked back out into the hotel room. "Rescued by a gorgeous guy. It can't get any better than that!" We laughed, and I set my head to throbbing again, so I laid back down on the bed for a few minutes.

The door opened, then, and Brett and Kyle walked in, laughing at something they were talking about. "Why do you guys look as pale as you did this morning?" Brett asked.

"We came back early," Lauren answered.

"What the heck happened to you?" Kyle said, catching a glimpse of the bump and Band-Aid on my head.

"There was a minor accident," Lauren answered for me. My head hurt too much to think. "We were out in the water around one, and we were messing around and this guy on a body board slammed into her."

"How'd you get a bump like that?" Brett asked.

"Yes, please, everybody just come over here and stare at me, that'll make it all better!" I snapped.

"Sorry," Kyle mumbled. I swear I could hear the sarcasm dripping in his voice.

"Why didn't you call us?" Brett asked.

"Why would I?" Lauren said.

"We could have helped you guys get back up here instead of having her carry stuff and try to walk up here," he answered.

"You know your swim suit top has blood on it?" Kyle asked me.

I ignored him. Don't ask me asinine questions. I'm not in the mood.

"We had help. The guy that ran into her pulled her out of the undertow and carried her back here. His friend helped me carry our stuff back," she explained.

"Why does she have blood on her top?" Kyle asked.

"Because, his knee smacked into her head when they collided. It split the skin a little."

" A little?"

"She's fine. The only reason she bled so much is 'cause she has really thin blood. She always has. The bump should be gone by tomorrow."

Shuttup, Kyle, was all I could think. Like you even freaking care, anyway.

"Well, you still could have let us know you came back. We would have come back, too," Brett said.

"That's exactly why I didn't call. She needed to sleep and wanted to be alone."

I slid out of bed again, much slower this time. Still exhausted, I made my way to the dresser Kyle and I were sharing. At least he gave me the top two drawers. I started pulling clothes out and went back into the bathroom to change. When I looked in the mirror, I realized that Kyle and Brett had just seen me in my bathing suit. Oh, god... oh well. I guess what's done is done.
The medication had already begun to kick in by the time I emerged from the
bathroom wearing my new lo-rider jeans and a pink baby tee. I put my swimsuit back into the dresser as there was a knock on the door. I grabbed my makeup case and ran back into the bathroom. "Lauren, get that!" 

I decided the abrasion on my forehead didn't look that bad, considering he'd seen me when I had blood running down my face and looking like a drowned rat. I quickly threw on some foundation, pink eye shadow, powder and mascara. I ran my brush through my hair quickly before tucking the makeup bag on top of the medicine cabinet and flushing the toilet to make it look as though I were relieving myself and not rushing to get ready for him.

When I came out, Eric was standing in the doorway, smiling and laughing with Lauren. I caught a glimpse of Kyle and Brett both just staring, from their distance. He looked over at me and blushed a little. "Hi, I'm Eric," he said, extending his hand.

I walked over and shook it. "I'm Keri."

"I know, Lauren told me earlier when... Well I just -- I wanted to see how you were doing... we had a pretty nasty spill. How's your head?"

"Better," I answered.

"You can hang out if you want to," Lauren said, inviting him in to sit down. He was about to answer but looked directly past me, then seemed to change his mind. "No, you know, I gotta get going."

I turned and looked behind me to see what he saw. Kyle was standing with one hand on his hip and the other scratching behind his ear as he looked at the floor. Jerk.

I looked at Eric again. "Listen, no hard feelings, okay? I mean, it was an accident. Completely understandable. Thanks, you know, for pulling me out of the water. I was seriously scared."

"Hey, no big deal. It was the least I could do. Thanks for... being so cool about it." His eyes were incredible. "I just feel so bad. I'm real sorry."

"It's okay, really," I said, trying to reassure him. I smiled my best smile.

"You know, I'd like to make it up to you, if that's okay," he glanced behind me again.

"Of course it's all right, but you don't have to," I answered.

"No, I want to. Feel up to a walk?"

"Right now?"

"Yeah... or later." He glanced past me again.

"Sure." I looked at Lauren. "Where's my cell?"

She handed me the phone as I grabbed my windbreaker from the chair by the door.

"You gonna be back for dinner?" I heard Brett ask.

I turned around. Kyle was staring at me. "I don't know. Don't wait for me, though, if you get hungry. Call me if you need me."

"Have fun!" Lauren said.

Eric smiled nervously but held the door as I walked through. "See you guys in a little while," I said.

"Bye," Lauren and Brett said.

Once we were safely outside the room, Eric said to me, "Is your boyfriend okay with this?"

I chuckled. "My who?"

"That guy in there, with the dark hair, isn't that your boyfriend?"

"No, he's just a friend. Well, a friend who likes to make my life a living hell."

"Some friend," he joked.

"Yeah, right!"

As we reached the elevator, we heard a door slam. Looking down the hall, I could have sworn I saw the last part of Kyle as he flew around the corner. What the heck is his problem?

Eric and I ended up walking two blocks down from the hotel to the boardwalk. There was a nice, warm breeze and a lot of people were out enjoying the afternoon.

"You come down here a lot?" he asked as we walked up the steps to the boardwalk entrance.

"No, this is my first time here. We came down for Lauren's twenty-first birthday," I answered.

"When is her birthday?"

"Well, it was actually June thirtieth. This was the first chance we got to come down."

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-one. My birthday is in April."

"Do anything special for your birthday?"

"My aunt and one of her friends took me to Atlantic City in a limo. It was sweet."

"Nice." We walked past the first set of stores. "So, you sure you're okay?"

I laughed to reassure him. "Yes, I swear. I've been through worse. I'll be back to normal by tomorrow."

"I just feel so bad."

"Don't, it was half my fault."

"How's that?"

"Well, you figure I was out there messing around, not paying attention."

"That still doesn't make it your fault."

"How can I get you to feel better about it if you keep blaming yourself? It was an accident, Eric, really. I'm gonna be fine." My last sentence ended in a reassuring laugh.

"Okay, okay," he said, returning a smile. "I'll let it go. But if you, like, faint or anything on me, then, you know, it's all on again."

I just laughed at him. I couldn't help it. He was so sweet and it was cute.

"So have you been down the boardwalk yet?"

"Nope," I answered. "Is it any good?"

"What do you mean?" he asked with a chuckle.

"Well, some boardwalks just all around suck, like the one in Sea Isle City - you ever been there?"

"Yeah, and you're right, that boardwalk sucks."

"So? How does this one rate?"

"This one is ten times better, I promise you."

"So you know all the good stuff?"

"Yeah, I love it down here."

"All right, then let's skip these little shops and go straight for the fun stuff."

He smiled at me. "Right on," he said as he held his hand out to me. I took it, smiling. The butterflies stirred in my stomach and high into my chest. His eyes were really beautiful. He led me through the condensing crowd of people, straight toward the Ferris Wheel out on the pier.

My cell phone didn't ring until we were right outside the hotel again. I stopped to answer it, in case of losing service in the building. It was Lauren. "Where are you?" she asked.

"Right outside, on my way back up, why?"

"Oh, we were just wondering. You were gone for awhile and I just wanted to check and see if you were okay."

"I'm fine. Eric and I went down to the boardwalk, he showed me all the good stuff," I said, looking at him and laughing. He smiled.

"All right, well I guess we'll see you when you get in here. Did you eat?" 

"No, did you?"

"Not yet."

"I told you not to wait for me."

"We weren't really hungry until now."

"All right, I'll be up in a bit."

"Okay, bye."

"Bye," I said, and hung up the phone.

"Are they checking up on ya?" Eric asked, smiling.

"Yeah, they're hungry. They haven't eaten yet."

"Hey, listen, before we go in... can I see you again tomorrow?"

"I thought I convinced you it wasn't your fault?"

"You did."

"You still feel bad? I thought I took care of that, too."

"You did." He just stared at me.'

I stared back, curiously, and smiled.

"But I had a lot of fun tonight and was wondering if you'd let me see you again."

The butterflies stirred again. This time, so much so that I became a bit dizzy. "Um, yeah, sure. I would love that."

He smiled. "Great."

I gave him my cell phone number and he gave me a sweet little hug and a kiss on the cheek. Then we walked back inside and got on the elevator.

"Listen," I said, as the cubic vehicle moved up to the seventh floor.

"Don't let Kyle bother you. He's a hard person to take at first, but just, you know. Don't let him get to you."

"Will he try?"

"He might. We never know what's on his mind."

"I'll remember that."

The bell went off, signalling our arrival. "You on this floor, too?"

"No, actually, I'm up on nine, but I'll walk you to your door."

"Oh, thanks."

Once outside the door, we stopped. "Are you positive it's all right?"

"Oh, my gosh, yes!" I said, laughing, trying not to be too loud. "Really!"

"Okay, well then, I'll call you tomorrow."


He leaned over and kissed my cheek again. "Goodnight."


He stepped away from me, backwards, smiling, as I opened the door and entered the room. I shut the door, looked at Lauren, and sighed.

She laughed at me. "That good, huh?"

"He's calling me tomorrow!" I told her.

"What the heck for, he made it up to you, didn't he?" Kyle said.

I turned and sneered. "He wants to see me again, is there something so wrong with that?"

"What about us? I thought we were hanging out this weekend," Lauren said.

"We are. It's early yet tonight, and I'll make sure I go out with Eric early tomorrow so we can go out tomorrow night."

"Can we go eat? I'm starving," Brett said.

"Yeah, let's eat," I agreed. "I'm hungry, too."

"Why don't you guys go ahead and get a table," Lauren said to Brett. "I want to talk to Keri."

"All right. Give me your cell phone, though, in case you start to take too long." He took the cell phone and he and Kyle left.

"Where are we eating?" I asked.

"Downstairs in that restaurant we saw when we came in," she said. "I need to talk to you."

"About what?" I didn't like the tone in her voice.

"I think maybe Kyle's right... I'm not sure I like this Eric guy."

I was furious once again. "What? What the heck is Kyle saying, now?"

"He just - Kyle has very good judge of character, and he doesn't feel right about Eric. Don't get mad."

"No, Lauren, he's just trying to make sure I have a miserable time on this trip. You know that as well as I do!"

"You need to talk to him."

"About what?"

"Tell him you don't want any of his crap."


"I'm sorry, I know, I know, but..."

"But, nothing! We agreed to drop it, I dropped it, it's over, he needs to get over it! I'm not dealing with this! I shouldn't have to tell him anything! I am having fun this weekend, with you because it's your birthday. That's it. End of discussion, I don't want to hear about it again."

Lauren sighed. "All right. All right. Let's go eat."

"I need to go out onto the balcony for some air. I'll be down in a minute."

"You want me to wait for you?"

"No. It's okay. I just need to blow off some steam."

"All right, I'll see you down there."

I heard the door close behind her as she headed down to the restaurant. I slid the door open to the balcony and stepped outside into the evening breeze. The ocean was dark, yet calm. The waves rolled in one after the other, crashing to the shore and rolling back out again. I took a deep breath and tried to control the urge to shake. The more I looked out over the ocean, the more I calmed down. If I had gone right to dinner with Lauren, who knows what kind of scene I might have made. I took another deep breath and contemplated sleeping on the floor, just to avoid the argument I would get into if I made him sleep on the floor. I still wasn't looking forward to sharing the bed with him.

"What right... what place does he have to say he doesn't trust Eric?" I said aloud, into the breeze. "He's such an ass! Aug! I can't stand him!" One more deep breath and I figured I had better get downstairs to the restaurant before they had to wait too long. I walked back into the room and slid the door shut. 

I stopped, thinking I had heard something in the room. "Lauren?" I said, hoping she had forgotten something and come back for it.

There was no answer. "What an idiot," I said to myself. "It was probably the people next door." I laughed at myself and walked over to the chair where my purse lay. I tucked my cell phone inside and was turning for the door when I heard another noise.

I froze. It was definitely in the room.

My hands shaking in fear, I said, "Hello? Lauren, I thought you went down already." My voice shook as much as the rest of my body. There was a dead silence. Too quiet, I thought. "Whoever's in here, um, I think you're in the wrong room. And if you don't leave I'm going to get security."

I didn't hear anything. Was I imagining things? I had taken a pretty hard hit that afternoon. Maybe my head was just playing tricks on me. I decided to make a break for the door and get out of the room as quickly as possible. But just as I grabbed the doorknob, I was bashed in the back of the head.
That's the last thing I remember.

I woke up as someone was carrying me. I opened my eyes... my head was in searing pain. Through blurred vision, I thought I could make out the underside of Kyle's chin. I could hear Lauren's voice, frantic and panicky. I could hear Brett somewhere in the room, talking to someone, perhaps on the phone. The pain was too much to handle, so I closed my eyes and blacked out again...

Part 2

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