Chapter 1

"Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts as we prepare to land..." Blearily, Jen roused from her nap, blinking as the seat in front of her came back into focus. She looked out her window to see that the plane had long moved under the layer of clouds, revealing the suburban landscape below.

In a few moments, she would be back in her childhood hometown for one month, sleeping in the house right next to the one in which she grew up in. She felt a tingle of excitement scurry up her spine at the thought of being reunited with her closest friends that she hadn't seen in three years—Ashley, Caitlin, and Samantha. From their IMs, e-mails, and occasional phone calls, Jen knew that her friends had definitely changed since the summer after eighth grade, the summer she'd moved, and so had she. As nearsighted junior high schoolers, they'd expected to enter high school together (with the exception of Ashley, who was a year younger), pass and fail drivers' license tests together, and graduate together, until the day Jen's father put up the for sale sign in front of their house.

After the crying had stopped and the tears were wiped away, the neighborhood ex-foursome continued on with their lives, making new friends and forming new interests, but never once did they forget each other and the precious friendship they shared.

Finally, the airplane slid onto the runway and slowed to a stop. Jen got her suitcase and joined the line entering the terminal.

Steve sat on a bench by the baggage claim, waiting for Jen Eckberg to arrive. His little sister, Ashley, was back at the house, waiting to surprise Jen with a welcome back party and had begged him to go pick Jen up from the airport. Grudgingly, he agreed, but actually, he had wanted to—not that he would let Ashley know. She'd tease him relentlessly.

Then, a dark haired girl wearing sunglasses rolled her suitcase down the ramp. Her nose and mouth looked very familiar... Steve jumped up and went over to her.

"Jen?" The girl turned around stared at him for a moment. Oh, crap, it's not her! He thought, his face beginning to flush.

"Um, do I know— Oh, my gosh! Steve!" The girl took off her sunglasses, her mouth curving into a smile. Steve felt as if his stomach had just melted.

"Ye-yeah, it's me," he stammered, mustering an easygoing grin. He raised his arm halfway, thinking that maybe, just maybe, Jen would hug him. But she didn't. She just stared straight at him expectantly. Realizing how stupid his arm looked, dangling in the air, he reached for her suitcase. "I'll take that."

She shook her head. "No, it's fine, I got it."

"All right then, let's head out." He walked to the glass doors, with Jen trailing behind him, studying him intently. Steve had definitely changed. The Steve Patterson that she remembered was gawky and nerdy, with glow-in-the-dark braces and a passion for video games. The Steve Patterson that she saw walking in front of her was at least six feet tall, somewhat muscular, with shaggy brown hair and sparkling green eyes she'd never noticed before.

As they got to the parking garage, Jen caught up to him, walking side by side, though her considerably shorter legs had to take almost double the amount of steps. "Hey, where's Ashley?"

"She had a quick errand she had to take care of."

"Oh." After a few more minutes of walking in silence, Steve looked over to find Jen staring at him.

"What?"

Jen shook her head and averted her gaze. "Nothing."

"Okay." He stopped in front of a silver SUV, pushing the button on a remote twice to unlock it. He nodded to the passenger seat. "Get in."

As he put Jen's suitcase into the back, Jen couldn't help but stifle a little groan. Since second grade, Steve had been her "arch rival," each trying to best the other in school events: the spelling bee, geography bee, everything. He and his buddies had teased her all through elementary school and junior high. And one thing about Jen hadn't changed much—she wasn't much of a conversationalist, and she didn't feel like talking to him anyways, as good as he looked. Where was Ashley when you needed her?

Steve got in and started the engine. "Hey, Steve..."

"Yeah?" His heart beat a little faster, but he didn't know why. Yeah you do, dumbass.

"Um, I had to get up pretty early this morning; mind if I take a nap?"

"All right." Jen turned toward the window, leaning her head on her propped arm and pretending to go to sleep. When he thought she was asleep, he pushed a button on the CD player and began humming along to his favorite CD. Jen looked over at him through partly open eyes. This was her favorite CD. Soon, Steve plucked up the courage to sing, glancing over at Jen to make sure she was still sleeping. He has a nice voice, she thought. She remained in her position, wanting to hear more. His voice was deep and clear, soothing almost. But finally, she couldn't take it anymore.

"Are you in chorus?" She asked as he reached over to push another button. His eyes became huge and he quickly pulled his hand away, his face flaming a color she hadn't seen since she'd beat him in the geography bee in fifth grade. But this time, instead of gloating over his defeat, she genuinely felt bad, though her laughter wasn't exactly showing it. She couldn't stop laughing, especially as his face grew redder and redder. Finally, she controlled herself enough to apologize. "I'm sorry, your face—I didn't mean to—"

"It's okay," Steve cut in, his face returning to his natural color.

"You're really good."

"A compliment from Miss Perfect?" Steve stole a glance at her.

"Patterson, if it wasn't for the fact that I'm in the car that you happen to be driving, I'd smack you," she replied, danger hinted in her voice.

"Like this?" He gave her a quick whack on her arm.

"As soon as we get out of this car, I'm going to hurt you so bad..." She stopped when Steve started laughing. "What's so funny?" She demanded.

"Nothing." Jen sighed as she settled back in her seat. This was going to be a long month.


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