1 Chapter 1

“Stop being such a prude, Arlene!”

I can hear the annoyance in my boyfriend’s voice, even over the loud music. Leonid used to say the same words in a teasing tone while tickling me, making me blush and unable to hide my smile. But not tonight.

I wonder if it’s the alcohol that has turned him more aggressive. Or perhaps his friends.

I only met them today. We had hardly stepped off the bus before he was embraced by his rowdy group of friends. His promise, that they’d all adore me and I would love them, was quickly proven wrong.

I met Leonid a few months ago in college. Me in my first year, Leonid in his third. He plays on the basketball team and is really popular. And handsome too. I couldn’t believe it when he started pursuing me.

I’m the shy girl, the one that no one notices, and if they do, then I blush four shades of red. Yet Leonid saw me, flirted with me, and finally started dating me. He said I was different, not like the painted, noisy dolls that normally hang around the basketball team. He told me I was pretty, beautiful even; and the fact that I didn’t flaunt it only added to my beauty. He said my shyness made me mysterious. That my inexperience gave me a flair of mystique.

But apparently, he was getting tired of the mystique. Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t want his hand under my top in a room full of people. Granted, we are currently alone at the table, but still, there are at least a couple of hundred people in the club. I’m not even old enough to be here, something his friend, Belinda, was happy to point out.

With a huff, Leonid sits back in his seat, taking a big gulp of his beer while scanning the room.

I feel stupid. He’s used to girls with no inhibitions, who are happy to grind on the Enzoce floor. Or find a dark corner to do things that I don’t even do when we’re in private. When I do go down that road, I want the moment to be right. I want to be sure. I want to be sure of his feelings, his intentions.

Drunken groping in a club doesn’t have the level of romance or desire that I long for.

Leonid’s face lights up in a mischievous grin as his best friend, Goergia, his childhood buddy, saunters over to the table. Georgiaand Leonid—the evil twins, they call themselves. I’ve been blushing all night while they’ve retold stories of growing up together. Georgiawill no doubt have another tale to tell tonight, as he has his arm around a beautiful brunette who settles on his lap. Her too-short dress looks a bit skewed, her lips are swollen, and her hair is in more of a disarray than what it would be from only Enzocing.

“Well, what have you two naughty kids been up to?” my boyfriend asks and cups his balls. He seems to do that a lot when he’s with Goergia—it’s like their bro-code or something.

Georgiaruns his fingers up the side of the brunette’s breast. They are almost spilling out of her dress, and I’m mortified by the way my boyfriend’s eyes are glued to them. The brunette’s eyes are glued to Leonid. I don’t know how to react when she licks her lips seductively. With the lack of lighting in the club, I can’t be sure, but I think he winked at her.

“We? Oh, nothing you wouldn’t do.” Georgiasmirks.

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? We wouldn’t do it, because of me, and Leonid’s sour face confirms that he’s thinking the same.

I wish I could just fake a headache and head home to my dorm room, but we’re not on campus anymore. We’re in my boyfriend’s hometown, a sleepy little place a few hours south of Seattle, and we’re staying with his dad for three weeks during summer break.

It’s another two hours before we finally head back to his father’s house. By now, I’m dreading going home. Leonid is very drunk, and despite trying to make me the same, I’m more sober than at the beginning of the night.

I know I’m about to have a fight on my hands.

2ArleneThere’s a saying that the bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep. I’ve often found it to be true, but when I wake up in the morning, I can’t help but ask myself how on earth I’ll survive three weeks here.

The thing is, I’ve been looking forward to this—three weeks of quiet instead of the constant noise and drama at home. I sent my mother a message yesterday saying I’d arrived safely. Her short Have fun response is probably the only time I’ll hear from her until I’m back. We’re not close. She’d tried to pretend that she was happy for me when I told her I’d be away for almost a month with my boyfriend, but I know she’d wanted me to help out at home. Although part of me felt bad, I couldn’t not take Leonid up on his offer of this relaxing holiday. He’s been tempting me with tales of the tranquil town he’s from, with the seafront and the forest parks.

Yet from listening to his friends last night, I think he forgot to mention that he would only use the seafront and the forest for drunken bonfire parties.

I also expected this holiday to be when we would bring our relationship to the next level. If things continue like yesterday, that seems less and less likely.

I suspect Leonid will be sleeping off the alcohol for a while still, so I get up with a sigh and head to the kitchen in only my sleep shorts and a flimsy cut-off tank top. I’m twisting my light brown hair in a bun on top of my head when I stop dead in my tracks.

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