Chapter Three: Hidden in Plain Sight

'Everybody, everybody, let's get into it.
Get stupid.
Get it started, get it started, get it started.
Let's get it started (ha), let's get it started in here.
Let's get it started (ha), let's get it started in here…'

I shook my head in amazement. "Holy shit," I breathed. It should be said right now that no one – and I mean no one – has ever succeeded in throwing me a surprise party. Well, until now. My mom tried once when I was nine, but I'd found out about it two weeks before the party. When I turned thirteen, she and Adam tried again. I found out the day after they began the planning. Scott was probably the closest – I didn't figure it out until three days before the day of the party. Leah used to say that I unconsciously channelled my namesake, Sam Spade, PI. She even gave me a trench coat and a pipe for Christmas once, when we were twelve. The pipe blew bubbles. I named it Jake.

The pipe, I mean. Not the bubbles.

I mean, honestly, who names bubbles?

But I digress.

"Unbelievable," I muttered in awe. "Unbe-frickin'-lievable." A mere six hours ago, the cafeteria looked like any other cafeteria and I was being pinned against a table because of a bag of Cheerios. Now, the place looked completely transformed. There were three large speakers set up on either side of the room, giving the place surround sound capabilities. The skylight above showed a perfect star-filled sky. There were bunches of colourful transparent balloons filled with glitter all around the room, and large banners hung from the skylight and read 'Happy 17th Birthday, Sam!' When I had a look at the walls, however, I nearly had a heart attack.

Every single school picture that had ever been taken of me had been blown up to large-poster-size and tacked onto the wall. There were also pictures of me with friends and family over the years. From when I was a wee little toddler to the first-day-of-school pictures we always took after classes had ended the day back. I even spied one depicting me in my pink Power Ranger costume.

I was nine. Stop laughing.

"Milady," Ian said dramatically, bowing low. I laughed as he placed a sparkly silver plastic tiara on my head. "For the birthday girl."

"You guys are incredible. How you managed to do all this without me figuring out is beyond me."

"Well, it was kind of easy since all you've been concentrating on in the last couple of weeks is how to survive your History class," Scott shrugged, coming up and giving me a hug.

"Yeah, it was even easier since we didn't do this," Madison added, giving Scott a Look.

"Say what now?" I asked, puzzled.

"Well I mean, we helped, of course. But we were just planning to do a small thing, since you're not exactly High-Maintenance Girl."

"So who-?"

"I mean, once the idea was suggested, we actually kind of shrugged it off, because of your track record with surprise parties." She continued, oblivious to my trying to get a word in.

"Okay, but who-?"

"But he was actually serious about it. A couple days later, we realized he was actually planning the thing, so we pitched in."

'…Lose control, of body and soul.
Don't move too fast, people, just take it slow.
Don't get ahead, just jump into it.
Ya'll here a body, two pieces to it.
Get stutted, get stupid.
You'll want me body people will walk you through it.
Step by step, like you're into new kid.
Inch by inch with the new solution.
Transmit hits, with no delusion.
The feeling's irresistible and that's how we movin'…'

"Madison," I began firmly, "before I chop off all that pretty blonde hair, for the love of God, tell me who."

"'Who'?" She repeated blankly, ushering me towards the crowd.

"Yes. Who. If you guys didn't plan this, then who did?"

"Oh. That who." She let out a nervous little giggle.

"Yes," I replied, starting to become annoyed. Scott and Ian were giving her weird looks and shaking their heads. "That who."

"Well, um, oh… look who's here!" Madison reached into the crowd and pulled out a hand. Attached to the hand was a very familiar head of shiny black hair.

I shrieked. I don't normally shriek or emit any type of high-pitched girly scream, but I did then.

Why?

Very simple.

"Leah! Leah! You're - Leah!"

"I'm aware of who I am, thanks," she smirked, laughing at my reaction.

"No, I mean you're here. Like… here!"

Leah shook her head, her short dark hair swaying with the movement. "For someone so smart, how can you be so slow? Of course I'm here!" She gave me her brightest smile. "This is your birthday party, loser. How can I not be here?"

"But – but – but – it's like a three-hour drive up here! You would've had to have left-"

"Pretty damn early today," she agreed.

"But – but – but – you skipped school for my birthday party?" Leah never skipped. Leah never even called in sick.

"I would've, if school hadn't closed due to a mysterious virus circulating around the halls," she grinned. Scott took this moment to stop laughing at me stutter to whistle innocently.

I gaped at him. "You didn't."

"Well, how else would Leah and all the rest of your old friends have gotten here?" He shrugged indifferently. "You'd be surprised what a call to the school board by the right people will do."

"You guys are amazing," I grinned, reaching up to give Leah a hug.

"Finally I'm taller than you," she chuckled. At five-foot-four, Leah had always been the short one of the two of us.

"Only 'cause you're wearing four-inch heels. I'm so glad you came."

"Why?"

"Because they can't call me 'Shorty' anymore, of course. Okay, ow, you're not supposed to abuse the birthday girl," I muttered, rubbing my forearm where she punched me.

"Birthday's not till tomorrow," she reminded me. "Don't get gassed."

"You and your weird slang. Say something normal for once."

"Right. Like you don't sound weird when you go into your Buffy-speak."

"But of course I don't," I grinned. "I sound trendy." I noticed that Madison, Scott, and Ian had diverted their attention elsewhere for the moment. I took advantage of the opportunity. "So, um, who threw this whole thing again? Scott was about to tell me, but then Madison pulled you up here and I got sidetracked."

"Um…" she gave me a hesitant look. "You like the party so far, right?"

"Hell yeah. Music's great, the place looks amazing, and the food smells really good. I'm so starved right now."

"Okay, good. You like it. You can't take that back after."

"Why would I?" I gave her a puzzled look.

"Well, I mean-" Ian had come up behind her and clamped a hand over her mouth.

"No fair, Sam," he scolded. "Trying to get Leah to tell you when we're not paying attention."

Leah pulled away his hand. "See, I knew she wasn't allowed to know." She gave me a dirty look. "Scott was about to tell you, right?"

'…Let's get ill, that's the deal.
At the gate, we'll bring the bud top drill. (Just)
Lose your mind this is the time,
Ya'll test this drill, Just and bang your spine. (Just)
Bob your head like me APL de, up inside your club or in your Bentley.
Get messy, loud and sick.
Ya'll mount past slow mo in another head trip. (So)
Come then now do not correct it, let's get ignant let's get hectic…'

I smiled weakly. "Possibly." Then I got indignant. "Excuse me, but why am I not allowed to know who threw me a party? What if I just wanted to thank this person?"

Ian snorted derisively. "Uh huh. And has hell frozen over yet?"

"What? You don't think I'd be grateful?"

Ian and Leah looked at each other, then chorused: "Not really."

"Hey, I'm not some spoiled, unappreciative little rich girl, you know," I replied petulantly.

"Not what we mean," Leah began, trying to pacify me.

I took a breath and waved my hand dismissively. I could get the information I wanted from someone else. I mean, with a guest list of over a hundred people, someone had to know who threw me the party, right?

Speaking of a someone…

'…Everybody, everybody, let's get into it.
Get stupid. (Come on)
Get it started (come one), get it started (yeah), get it started.
Let's get it started (ha), let's get it started in here.
Let's get it started (ha), let's get it started in here.
Let's get it started (ha), let's get it started in here…'

Ian, Leah, and I began to move to the music, forming a small triangle. Obviously, I couldn't be facing every direction at once, so I didn't see David sneak up behind me. He popped a balloon over me, making me jump. Glitter rained down onto me, and he laughed loudly.

"Nice to see you again, David," Leah drawled, giving him a very blatant once-over.

"Oh, the pleasure's all mine, Ms. Green," he smiled, giving her a wink. "How's life in Toronto? God, how I miss the city."

"It's all right. By the way, thanks for arranging for me to come here for the weekend. It's been a good couple of years since I got to celebrate birthday with my one and only best," she grinned, looping an arm around my shoulder. Yes, the gesture was an act of friendship, but it also served an alternative purpose. She was in a prime position to inconspicuously poke me in the side.

"Thank you for bringing Leah here," I told him, being sincere. Also, a little shocked that he would.

"You're welcome," he replied, giving me a crooked grin. "Although, I have to say that the best part about this whole affair was how I got you to come here."

"How did that happen?" Ian asked, raising an eyebrow. David told the story – omitting, to my surprise and gratitude, the very beginning of it – and got the pair of them laughing.

"Which reminds me," I said grimly, fixing him with a deadly stare.

Yeah, I chased him. Again. You'd think I'd have learned from the last time. He stopped and turned around so suddenly, that I crashed into him.

Yes. If I only possessed the gift of foresight.

Or, you know, common sense.

"Why, Sam, I'd love to dance with you," he grinned, putting an arm around my waist, as the song changed.

'To all the ladies in the dance
I lose all control when I see you
Standing there in front of me
Your style, your clothes, your hair
You fair woman, you look so sexy…'

"I – huh – what?" Goddamn him. "Oh, yeah, Sam. Just run blindly wherever he leads you," I muttered to myself, making David chuckle.

"You're a little odd, you know that?"

"I prefer quirky and eccentric," I replied absently, too focused on watching Scott over David's shoulder. Brother dearest was hitting on a girl I remembered from the eighth grade. I'd never liked Ms. Falling Out Of Her Shirt; it figured that she'd get invited, though, especially if they planned the invite list by going through my eighth-grade yearbook.

"Whatcha lookin' at?"

"Behind you." I tentatively placed a hand on his shoulder, swaying my hips to the beat, trying adamantly to concentrate on something else besides the fact that I was dancing with David to that song, of all songs. It wasn't like I'd never danced with a guy before – unless Ian and Scott don't count – but this was different. For one, David wasn't my stepbrother, or one of my best friends. For another, there was that whole 'I violently dislike you' thing that we had going on. Or rather, the apparent absence of it during this… moment.

He spun us around so he could see who I was looking at, and ended up pulling me closer to him. "What am I looking for?"

"The girl that Scott's hitting on," I mumbled, feeling my heart start to beat faster.

'De way you wine and, de way you dance
And de way that you twist and turn your waist
Leaves me wanting, leaves me yearning
Leaves me feelin' for a taste'

"Didn't know you had an eye for the ladies, Sam. Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered for the last three years."

I rolled my eyes. "Loser. I remember her from way back when, and I don't like her."

"Why? What'd she do to you?" He asked, his brow furrowing in puzzlement.

"Dumped her chocolate milkshake on me when I made the cheer squad over her," I replied, shaking my head at the memory.

"You were a cheerleader?" He grinned wickedly. "You had the pom-poms and everything?"

"Not the itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny little skirts, thankfully."

"But those are the best part," he replied innocently, laughing at the expression on my face.

'Before the end of the night
I wanna hold you so tight
You know I want you so much
And I'm so tempted to touch
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I need you so much…'

"You're so voyeuristic," I muttered.

"You're just too easy to piss off. It's so easy, it's almost not worth it."

"Then hey, here's an idea? Why don't you stop?"

"I said it's almost not worth it." He smiled. "You're quite entertaining when you're upset."

"You're such a sadist."

"And you're very cute, too," he added with a wink. I flushed slightly. "Are you blushing?" He asked incredulously, raising an eyebrow.

"No. David, you'd never make me blush." He lowered his head and whispered some – er, inappropriate – things into my ear.

And I blushed.

'…Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I'm inside your clutch
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I need you so much
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I'm inside your clutch'

He smiled, satisfied. "Never say 'never', Sam. I just might want to prove you wrong."

I kind of only noticed just then that he'd completely closed the gap between us.

Huh.

"You know you can hold a grudge for long?" He said absently, playing with my hair.

"Can I, now?" I asked, my voice shaking just the slightest. I noticed he was a good dancer. Well, more like felt it, since we were so close together.

Cripes.

"Yeah." His eyes were really pretty. "There's Ms. Second-String Cheerleader, there's me, there's-"

"You?" I asked, puzzled. "I don't have a grudge against you. Lord knows I probably should, though."

"You're telling me in all honesty that you're not still mad about how we, ah, met?"

'To all ma ladies in the dance
I don't even know your name
Little woman I don't even know your age
But there's something about you girl
When I see you wining in front the stage…'

"No. It's actually kind of funny, when you look back on it." I shook my head. "But no, I'm Non-Grudge-Holding Girl. I mean, you were what, fourteen? Not your fault – exactly – if you thought with down there instead of up here." I lightly tapped my knuckles on his forehead, my hand grazing his hairline.

He has soft hair. …Oh goodness, what the hell is wrong with me tonight?

You're just getting caught up in the moment. You can't be completely faulted – there's dim lights and seductive music, and his cologne smells really nice. But… stop. Just stop. No more getting caught up. Gotta stick with a clear head, slugger.

"Oh, I just thought you still did, because-"

"Of course, you're still thinking with the wrong part of your anatomy, so…" He scowled. I smiled sweetly. "Why? You care if I was mad at you 'cause of that?" I cocked my head to one side and studied him.

"I was just wondering why you're always riding me."

"Gee, it couldn't have anything to do with the way you act now, could it?" I said sarcastically, shaking my head.

'…Please forgive me, please excuse me
But there's nothing else that a man can do
I can't help myself little woman
I just need to be next to you'

"Is it my fault if you're so amusing?"

"Is it my fault you're such a jackass?"

He scowled. "You're very ungrateful, you know that?"

"Excuse me?" I was incensed. "I'll have you know that I'm plenty grateful. Did I not tell you thank you for fixing it so Leah could come here? Didn't I thank you?"

He opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it.

"No, say it," I challenged. "Whatever it is you were gonna say, say it."

He stared at me for a while, his eyes glinting with gold. He took a deep breath, and shook his head. "Forget it. Just – forget it. You know, someone obviously likes you a lot to do all this for you." He gestured to the whole room.

Meet the master of topic-changing, ladies and gentlemen.

"You, ah, wouldn't happen to know who that was, would you?" I asked hopefully. He gave me a look, then raised his eyebrows.

"Madison told you, didn't she? Or was it Leah? I bet it was Leah, she tells you everything. You women and your stupid 'girl code'-"

'Before the end of the night
I wanna hold you so tight
You know I want you so much
And I'm so tempted to touch
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I need you so much
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I'm inside your clutch
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I need you so much
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I'm inside your clutch'

"You do know," I smiled triumphantly. "Tell me? Please? I promise, I won't tell anyone or make a scene or anything. I just want to know."

David gave me another look, something akin to amusement. "No, I will not tell you. Hasn't it occurred to you that maybe your mystery admirer has a reason for staying hidden in the proverbial shadows?"

"Please, David?" Yes, I was begging. Begging David, of all people.

Stupid mystery admirer.

He better be a hottie of Angel proportions, I thought sulkily, as David gave me a firm 'no'.

"I wouldn't be so anxious to know. He's obviously touched in the head if he likes you."

I scowled. "Any girl who'd like you would have to have had a lobotomy first."

"Oh, touché." I was surprised to see that he wasn't mad. He just looked… entertained. "So even though I'm not going to tell you, have you given any thoughts as to who threw you the party?"

'I wanna feel you, I wanna squeeze you
I wanna hug and kiss and caress you
I wanna love you, I wanna touch you
I'll place no one else above you…'

"I bet it was probably Scott."

"Isn't that incest of some sort?" David asked, raising an eyebrow. "Or are you one of those girls who harbours a secret crush on her older stepbrother?"

I stared at him in horror. "No! I mean, I bet he did the whole secret-admirer-thing to make me feel better."

"Better about what?"

"I – nothing," I said quickly, avoiding his eyes. I was not going to tell him that Scott caught me watching The Notebook for the third time straight and figured out I was sad because I was lacking in the guy area.

Hey, you go seventeen years without getting any action, when all your friends have already made it to second base. See how happy-happy joy-joy you'd feel.

"If you say so," he shrugged, twirling me around and holding my hands as we moved to the music.

'…I wanna feel you, I wanna squeeze you
I wanna touch and kiss and caress you
I wanna love you, I wanna hug you
You know woman I wanna wings of a dove you'

"Maybe it was Ian," he mused aloud.

I choked. "That is incest of some sort! Ian's my friend, David."

"So? Maybe he likes you. Feelings develop between friends."

"Not all the time," I argued.

"Can you honestly tell me you don't like Ian in that way?" He gave me another intense stare.

I didn't even need to think about it. I doubted Ian had a crush on me, but even if he did, my feelings for him were strictly platonic. I didn't tell that to David, though. "Why do you care?" I asked suddenly. "Got a crush on me? Trying to figure out if you've got competition?"

"Don't be stupid," he replied smoothly. "I only like your body." I choked again. If that kept up, I wasn't going to live to my eighteenth birthday. "What? If you find someone physically attractive, it only means you have eyes, right?" This time I was the one who was on the receiving end of the sly look.

"Right," I retorted steadily. "Absolutely right."

'Before the end of the night
I wanna hold you so tight
You know I want you so much
And I'm so tempted to touch
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I need you so much
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I'm inside your clutch
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I need you so much
Tempted to touch, tempted to touch
Little woman, man I'm inside your clutch'

The song ended, and I disentangled myself from his arms. "You're a pretty good dancer, you know," he said appreciatively.

"Um, thanks," I muttered, scanning the crowd for Leah. She saw me with David and raised an eyebrow; I waved at her. "Um, gotta go," I called, as she motioned for me to come over.

"So, I just checked my voicemail," she smirked. "And now I see you dancing with David to that song, of all songs, and is it just me, or are you actually out of breath?"

"He's a good dancer," I replied defensively.

"I bet he's a good something else, too," she grinned. "Okay, ow, don't hit me."

"Don't be stupid, then."

"I'm not being stupid! Tell me you don't think he's gorgeous." Off my silence, she smirked. "See?"

"All that means," I began wearily, "is that-"

"You've got eyes? Yeah, I've heard it already. Let me ask you something."

"Ask away." I crossed my arms over my chest.

"I – why are you wearing your comfy clothes to your birthday party?" A puzzled frown appeared on her pretty face.

"I was just planning on reading or something before going to bed. Next thing I know, I'm chasing David into Party Central. Is that what you wanted to ask?"

"I – huh. No. What I was want to ask you is… how come you and David don't get along?"

"'Cause he's an ass."

"Isn't Scott the exact same as David?"

"Not the exact same." Off her look, I added, "Okay, so he, uh-"

"Sleeps around a lot?"

"Well, yeah. But Scott's a generally nice guy."

"Except for the sleeping-around thing."

"Um…"

"And David's not a generally nice guy?"

"Not to me. Maybe to everyone else-"

"Definitely to everyone else-"

"Look, we just don't get along, okay? I mean sometimes – like once in a blue moon – he's actually normal and nice, and I can be civil. But usually he's just so… argh!" I let out a frustrated sigh, and shook my head. "Look, this is my birthday party, right? And I'm supposed to be having fun, right? So I don't wanna think about David or my detention tomorrow morning, or anything else headachy, okay?"

"Fair enough," she replied, then gasped. "You have a detention tomorrow morning? How in the hell?"

I sighed again. "That falls under the 'headachy' category. I'll fill you in later."

Six hours, one rousing chorus of 'Happy Birthday', two spars with David, and one gigantic clean-up session later, the guys were helping Madison, Leah, and myself take all my presents back to our dorm room. When I'd seen the pile of boxes, I'd almost fainted. I was surprised that so many people actually got me something.

"I guess people are nicer than you give them credit for," David shrugged, which made me squirm inside.

"Let's open them!" Madison squealed excitedly. I gave her a Look. I was wiped, and I had to get up in three hours. "Oh, it's not my fault you got detention. Come on, let's open some of these, Sam! You'll feel better!"

"If only to stop the chipperness," I conceded, sitting up against the headboard of my bed. Ian separated the presents that were from my friends, and he tossed me the first box. It was wide and wrapped in black paper with silver moons and stars.

"That one's from me."

"Clothes?" I asked. He smiled and shook his head. I shook the box and heard clattering. Raising an eyebrow, I peeled off the wrapping paper. When I saw the box, I gasped. "No way. They – they don't even make these! At all!"

"They don't make what?" Scott asked. I showed him the box and his jaw dropped. Everyone laughed at our reactions. "No fucking way," he gasped.

"It's just Monopoly, Scott," Madison giggled.

"But it's Buffy Monopoly," we chorused. He jumped onto the bed beside me.

"How?" He asked Ian, amazed.

Ian shrugged. "My mom's friend works for a guy who knows a guy who's an executive at Milton-Bradley. I suggested the idea for the game way back when, and I got a copy of it to play for myself. They're going to come out around Christmas time."

"Wow," I said in awe.

"I'll play you," Scott said, starting to tear off the plastic wrapping. "Right now. Let's go."

"She still has a whole pile of stuff to open," David pointed out.

"Exactly. So hands off, buddy." I put the Monopoly box in my drawer and gave Ian a hug. "Thank you."

He ruffled my hair. "Happy birthday, Sammy."

"Seriously, you're amazing."

"Well yeah, I know that."

I grinned and picked up the next box. I tore off the red-and-purple-striped wrapping paper to reveal a box from Stitches. "Leah, you rock," I beamed, pulling out the jeans and shirts she'd gotten me.

"Duh, darling," she smiled.

I'd gotten a bunch of jewellery from Madison, a year-long movie pass to Silvercity from Alan, a digital camera from Scott, and I was surprised to see, I'd gotten something from David, too.

"More clothes?" I asked, picking it up the hand-wrapped package.

He grinned wickedly. "I saw it and I thought you'd look good in it."

I peeled off about an inch of the paper, before I remembered who, exactly, the gift was from. "What kind of clothes are these?" I asked suspiciously.

His smile widened. "Open it and see." Narrowing my eyes, I tore enough of the wrapping paper away to tell what kind of 'clothes' he'd given me. My jaw dropped. "Like it?"" I looked from the slinky pile of black lace and see-through fabric in my lap, to David, who was trying not to burst out laughing, then back again to my present.

"What is it?" Leah asked. I shook my head and passed the box to her, and clamped a trembling hand over my mouth.

No, I absolutely refuse to laugh. It's not funny! It's – well, it's perfectly David, that's what it is, and I won't laugh! No, seriously, it's not funny. I think the impending laughter is stemming more from hysterics than actually humour. God, I can't believe he bought me that!

"Are you serious?" Leah asked, raising her eyebrows, then looked to me. I couldn't help it. I laughed. The three of us were dying of laughter, but whereas David's and Leah's were of the 'Ha ha, this is so funny' variety, mine were of the 'Oh my God, this is insanely weird' hysterics.

"You like it?" David asked again, his eyes shining. I threw a pillow at him, still laughing, trying very hard, but not succeeding in stopping.

"You loser," I choked out through one last shaky laugh, refusing for the moment to think about what it exactly meant.

"What the hell?" Scott plucked the scrap of cloth by one lacy strap from Madison, who was laughing, too. Figures she'd find it amusing. "You gave my sister lingerie? What the hell, man?"

"I'm not planning on using it," I assured him, putting it away with the Monopoly box.

"She says that now," David winked, which earned him another pillow at his head, this time from Scott.

"Only you," I muttered, picking up the last box on the bed. It was small, no bigger than my fist. "Doesn't this belong in the other pile?" I asked. "You guys already gave me your stuff."

"Might as well open it," Scott shrugged.

"Eh." I unwrapped the silvery paper and found myself with a small jewellery box, the kind rings came in. The silly atmosphere quickly evaporated, and everyone was looking at me.

"What are you waiting for?" Ian asked. "Open it, why don't you?"

I bit my bottom lip and lifted the lid. Madison squealed. "Oh! It's so pretty!"

"Yeah, Sam," Leah agreed. "You've always wanted one of these, haven't you?"

"Yeah…" I plucked the silver ring out of the box and slipped it over the ring finger on my right hand. It fit perfectly. "Huh."

"Look, there's a note." Scott carefully unattached the small piece of paper from inside the bottom of the box.

"'Happy birthday, Samantha. I hope you liked the party. Hope you like this, too. I assume you know what it means'," Madison read over my shoulder. "Huh. What does it mean, Sammy?"

"It's a Claddagh ring. I always thought these were so cool, after I saw that episode of Buffy. The crown represents loyalty, the hands mean friendship, and the heart stands for, well, love. There's a bunch of different ways you can wear it, too," I explained distantly, running a finger over the crystal heart. "If you wear it on your right hand with the crown turned inwards, it means you're unspoken for. If the crown is turned outward on the right hand, it means you're considering someone. And if you wear it on your left hand with the crown outward, it means your heart belongs to someone. What?" I asked off their looks.

"Angel didn't tell Buffy all of that," Scott said with a raised eyebrow.

"I told you, I thought it was a cute gesture. I read up on the symbolism of it all afterwards."

"Damn, you really are a Buffy freak, aren't you?" David asked.

I gave him a dirty look. "Shut up." He glared at me.

"So, Sam," Madison said quickly, before we could start a full-fledged yelling match, "how are you going to wear it?"

"'Wear it'?" I echoed. "I – I'm not sure. Should I even wear it?" I looked around the room.

"Thought you liked it?" David muttered. "Women, so indecisive."

I stuck out my tongue at him. "I do like it. It's really pretty. But… I don't even know who gave this to me. What if it's some crazed psycho stalker or something, and I wear the ring and give him the wrong message?"

"He's not a crazed psycho stalker," Madison, Scott, and David said in unison. I'd forgotten that they knew who my mystery man was.

"Here," Leah said, rifling through my jewellery box, "put the ring on this." She handed me my fine silver chain. "Wear the ring around as a necklace. It shows you at least like it and appreciate it."

"True," I said slowly, trying to fasten the chain around my neck. My fingers kept slipping on the clasp, so I turned to David, who was nearest to me. "Help me, please?"

"Hold this," he instructed, gathering my long hair into a ponytail, his fingers brushing the back of my neck. I held my hair out of his way and in two seconds, he got the clasp to work.

"Thanks."

"Uh huh," he muttered, raking a hand through his hair, his eyes trained on me. If I didn't know better, I'd say he was staring at the necklace, but it was more probable that he was staring at my chest.

"It looks nice on you, Sam," Ian smiled.

Could David actually be right? I mean, there is a first time for everything…

"Really?"

"Yeah. I mean, I don't think you should be wearing it at all, seeing as how you don't know who gave it to you, but… eh. Your call."

Okay, it's not him. Thank God. If it was him, he'd want me to wear it, right? Exactly. Who gives someone a ring like this and prefers you to keep it hidden away?

"What do you think, Scott?" I asked. I no longer thought this whole thing was a Scott Manning scheme.

"Wear it. It looks nice. Your opinion, David?"

David shrugged. "Do whatever you want. I, however, have to go get my stuff." Off my confused look, he pointed to my clock. The time was four-forty. I groaned.

"You've got to be kidding me." I reluctantly got up and threw away the wrapping paper.

"Get your gym clothes or something," he advised me. "She's probably going to make us run laps or something."

"Can she do that?" I asked, aghast.

"Can who do what?" Madison asked, confused.

"Yeah, she's the cheerleading coach this year. She's got access to the athletic department," David replied, while I rooted around my closet for my track pants and a shirt.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," I muttered, pulling out an old form-fitting black sleeveless shirt and an Angel baseball cap, as well as my track pants.

"You've got detention, too?" Scott frowned.

"Yeah…" I rushed into the bathroom to change.

"David, walk her down, please?"

"Why?"

"Because I don't want her to get jumped, that's why."

"I won't get jumped," I called out from the other side of the door. "David, go if you want to." I pulled off my tank top and pulled the shirt over my head, careful not to pull the chain off.

"Oka-"

"David, stay," Madison ordered. I slipped my track pants on.

"If she doesn't want me to-"

"David."

"Okay. Okay, I'll play bodyguard to her Royal Pain-in-the-Ass."

"I am not a pain in the ass," I sniffed, coming out from the bathroom and pulling the baseball cap over my ponytail.

"How in the hell did you get detention?" Leah asked me. "You still haven't told me."

"Check your voicemail again," I muttered. "…Damn Cheerios." David chuckled. I slipped my feet into my sneakers, and followed David out the door.

I was about to spend hours on end with His Unholiness and the Bitch from Hell.

Oh joy.