It was the only word that could possibly describe the feeling in my relatives' dining room as we all ate cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and fried chicken with sterling silver utensils on Aunt Cheryl's fine china.

Well, okay, it wasn't only awkward because of the fact we were basically getting crap all over these beautiful forks, knives, and plates. It was also awkward because my relatives had suddenly decided that I was the most interesting thing to talk about at the table. There were eighteen people there – the five members of my family, my five cousins, my aunt, my two uncles, Lauren's boyfriend, and Michael's four friends – and none of them could think of a better topic than me.

"So where are you applying for college, Carrie?" Cheryl asked nosily as Michael's friends began tearing their corn on the cob to bits and pieces in mere seconds. "You must be trying for the Ivy League, right? We Saunders have a long tradition in the Ivy League…"

"I'd love to see another Saunders go to Yale!" Uncle John inserted, referencing his alma mater.

"Daddy, don't try guilt-tripping me about choosing Harvard over Yale for graduate school," Lauren fake-whined, and then burst into giggles.

I nearly threw up. Okay, not really. I was mentally throwing up, though.

"Carrie isn't sure where she's applying yet," my mother said, coming to my rescue. "She was thinking of a smaller liberal arts school, though."

"You can't make a career in the liberal arts," Uncle John sniffed. "Get a business degree, Carrie. You'll make much more money that way."

There's more to life than money! I wanted to say, but I kept my mouth shut.

"We haven't decided anything yet," my dad said hurriedly.

The room fell into an awkward silence. I glanced around the table to make sure that the sudden quiet had been brought on by people eating, not by my parents somehow saying something taboo. Fortunately, hardly anyone even looked up from their plate.

Except for Seth. Who winked at me.

I quickly blushed and looked back down at my hamburger, which I had hardly touched.

"Oh, did we tell you?" Aunt Cheryl suddenly cried. "We're taking a family vacation next month! We're going to Paris. Isn't that wonderful? We plan to see the sights, eat the food, and just relax! Of course, we had to cancel our usual trip to the Bahamas, but we decided it would be worth it, just this once. Carrie, dear, what are you doing this summer?"

Somehow, the conversation had once again shifted back over to me. I almost gagged on the small piece of burger I was chewing.

"Um, working," I managed to tell her.

"That's all?" asked an appalled Cheryl. "You mean you don't get enough allowance to buy clothes with? That's awful!"

"Carrie has plenty of clothes," my mother put in, sounding just a bit irritated. "We buy her whatever she needs. She decided to take the job herself so she could save up for things she wants."

"Where do you work?" my cousin Nate asked randomly. "Do you work somewhere cool like at Gordon's Go-Karts? Because I, for one, would like to have unlimited access to laser tag."

"Dude, that would be awesome!" Michael shouted from across the table, and gave a high five to the random friend next to him.

I would never understand boys.

"No, Carrie works at a pizza place," Seth said out of nowhere. "In fact, it's just down the street from the Pizza Hut where I work! I dropped in earlier today, actually, on some business."

"Oh, so you two know each other already?" asked an intrigued Cheryl. "Well, isn't that nice!"

Yeah, because Aunt Cheryl had been planning to actually have Michael's friends introduce themselves to me at some point later in the night, and now she didn't have to.

"A pizza place?" cried Nate. "That's lame."

Little Sammy, in a highchair Cheryl had obviously just pulled out from the attic (it was that dusty), suddenly began banging on his tray and making whimpering noises.

"I'd better go change his diaper," my mother said.

For once, I was thankful for babies' innate ability to poop at the most inconvenient moments.

With that, the meal ended abruptly. Once my job had been revealed, everyone grew bored with me and pushed their chairs back to stand up. I followed the others, as I didn't have much of an appetite anyways. We all shuffled into the kitchen to deposit our dirty dishes into the sink. Then, my uncle announced a tour of his newly acquired acreage and dragged the remaining members of my family with him. Left alone, I decided to sneak back into the basement to actually start reading. However, my attempts to escape were almost immediately thwarted.

"Hey, Carrie, come with us to the living room!" Lauren said in her feigned friendly voice – yes, everything about her was fake, despite the fact that she was supposedly some sort of intellectual genius. "We're going to watch The Matrix!"

I would have refused… but I knew leaving would only result in everyone mocking me behind my back. Besides, I'd never seen the movie they'd picked, despite its popularity and the fact that everyone I knew always talked about it. I decided I might as well watch with them. It would make my time at the cursed house of doom go quicker, anyways.

So I followed Lauren into the living room.

I immediately realized my mistake.

Nate and Elliot had taken over the comfy-looking recliners. Lauren and Frank were plopping down on the so-called 'loveseat' couch – and I could tell by the way they were looking at each other, it was about to become a real Loveseat. Another small couch had been taken over by Michael and one of his friends. The only seat left was next to Seth on the biggest couch, where the remaining of Michael's friends was sitting on like they owned the thing.

I reluctantly sat down, nearly clinging to the arm of the sofa. I was as far away from Seth as it was humanely possible to be in the situation I was in. He smirked as he saw me inching away from him.

"You know, there's someone named Carrie in this movie," he informed me. "Carrie Anne Moss. She plays the main girl character. She can do these gravity-defying martial arts moves."

I turned red again. Why did he take such pleasure in talking to me for no apparent reason?

"So," Seth went on, raising an eyebrow at me, "I guess the real question is… Can you defy gravity, Carrie Saunders?"

I stared at him blankly, wondering if perhaps he had some sort of unfortunate mental defect. Or maybe it wasn't him, maybe it was me. Either way, I decided to just ignore him, and I turned my head to the television.

After getting the crap scared out of me during the first half hour of the movie, I fled the room claiming I needed a bathroom break. I wasn't the only one to leave. Frank and Lauren had also snuck out, probably wanting some privacy. I decided to go sit at the kitchen counter and finally get some good book-reading in. However, once again, my plans were foiled.

"You couldn't handle it?" asked a smug Seth as he trailed after me into the kitchen.

"I decided I wanted to read instead," I said flatly.

He shrugged. "Suit yourself."

Then he stood there staring at me.

"What are you doing?" I asked uneasily.

"I've seen that movie so many times, I could recite it in my sleep," he explained. "So I decided I would come in here, see what you were up to, and then maybe get you to spill a few of your deepest, darkest secrets to me."

"I'm really not that interesting," I said, blushing. "I don't even talk that much."

"'Brevity is the soul of wit'," he responded.

"Isn't that from…?" I asked, wide-eyed.

"…Hamlet?" he finished for me, and then grinned. "Of course! I make a point to save all of the literary allusions I know for bookworms like you."

Now I was officially freaked out. He was hitting on me more than ever, and…

a.) I had no idea why, considering I was not pretty or interesting, and I had just met him today.

b.) I in no way reciprocated any sort of interest he had in me. At all.

I mean, sure, Seth was cute – he scored a nine and a half on Hayley's and my made-up "hotness" scale – but so what? A lot of guys were good-looking, and it never meant anything. First, we were completely incompatible personality-wise. And second, I may have read a lot of books, but I knew those fairy tale endings where the hero and the heroine fell in love at first sight and lived happily ever after weren't real. After seventeen and a half years, I had come to terms with the fact that I would never be That Girl – the one who got all of the guys. So when a guy came out of the blue and showered me with attention, I was going to get suspicious.

"So what's your favorite book of all time?" Seth wanted to know, taking a seat across me at the counter.

I shrugged uncomfortably. "I don't know."

That was a lie. I did have a favorite book.

"You have to have at least one favorite," Seth said. "Even I have a favorite book!"

"You do?" I asked unbelievingly.

"Sure," he said with a smile. "I mean, who doesn't love Harry Potter? Don't tell me you haven't read Harry Potter."

"I've read Harry Potter," I conceded. "But it isn't my favorite."

"Fine, then it's probably some famous classic like Pride and Prejudice," Seth went on. "All of the girls in my senior class wanted to marry that guy in the movie version of that."

"…Colin Firth?" I asked softly, being a Colin Firth lover myself – after all, how could you not love him?

"Maybe," Seth said with a shrug. "How should I know? Anyways, all I know is that the guy they all love is pretty much the same age as their parents. Which is kind of gross, isn't it? But never mind that. You're definitely the type to like that book. I can tell just by looking at you. So fess up!"

"That's not it," I said dully.

"Please don't tell me it's some sort of chick lit," Seth said. "That would probably disillusion me for life."

"Chick lit?" I asked, shuddering. "I hate chick lit."

Well, okay, hate was a strong word. Not all chick lit was bad. But the chick lit I was always getting as gifts from various family members and friends always sucked. It had a stupid female character looking for love and somehow landing some hot guy she had nothing in common with. Then, the two of them proceeded to have an entirely physical relationship because they had nothing in common and therefore nothing to talk about. It was stupid and made me fear for future generations.

Of course, some chick lit was cute. I read it sometimes. But only as a guilty pleasure. And I was very selective.

"Good," Seth said, almost sounding relieved. "Well, then what does that leave? Science fiction? Mystery? Thriller? Harold and the Purple Crayon?"

"Fantasy," I added.

He raised an eyebrow at me. "Ah, the silent girl finally speaks."

"I like fantasy," I repeated, my face once again turning red.

"I do, too," Seth agreed. "Oh, wait – what kind of fantasy were you talking about?"

I did not smile at this joke, which he obviously thought was very clever. He was probably referencing the "daydream" type of fantasy. Of course, I liked daydreaming, but not the type Seth was probably talking about.

"Oh, are you a Lord of the Rings fanatic?" inquired Seth, looking fascinated. "Or no, wait, don't tell me – you're obsessed with Eragon? Narnia?"

Slowly, I shook my head. I had read the entire Lord of the Rings arc, both of the Eragon books, and all seven Chronicles of Narnia. They were all good, but none were my favorites. Besides, what kind of bookworm would I be if I had the exact same favorite book as everyone else?

"Then I give up!" Seth cried, throwing his hands in the air. "You're impossible. The last bookworm I did this to revealed her obsession with The Fellowship of the Ring within seconds. So why don't you just tell me?"

I shrugged. "It's… Well, it's kind of a kids' book."

"You think I'll make fun of you?" asked a surprised Seth. "For liking a kids' book? You're talking to the guy who still has a huge collection of Animorphs books in his room."

"Really?" I cried. "You read Animorphs?"

"They were like a drug to me," he admitted soberly. "For years. You know, in the same way most girls read The Babysitter's Club in middle school. I still can't bring myself to throw them away."

"Oh," I said, legitimately shocked by this information – I never would have guessed. "Wow."

"Yep," Seth said. "So, I told you my big secret. Now tell me what your favorite book is!"

I sighed. He wasn't going to let up, or so it seemed. I was just going to have to tell him.

"My favorite book…" I said slowly. "…Is Ella Enchanted."

That book had it all – likable heroine, charming hero, strange fairy spells, magic objects, a happy ending... Oh yes, and gnomes. I couldn't forget the gnomes. I paused and waited for Seth to react.

He didn't.

"I've never head of that book," he told me.

I stared at him open-mouthed.

"Sounds intriguing, though," he went on. "Is Ella – I'm guessing she's the main character – is she supposed to be hot?"

Okay, now that was just irritating. I narrowed my eyes at him. After all of that, he just wanted to know if the main character was hot? That just offended me.

"No," I snapped. "Now please leave me alone."

Then I got up and marched out of the room, feeling like a wicked little rebel.

As I fled upstairs to search for my mother, I wondered what exactly had gotten into me. Seth's sudden appearance in my life was certainly not a good thing. For one, he was slowly making me go insane. And two, he was making me doubt myself and my taste in books. I had every right to love whatever book I wanted. But then again, was it really okay for me to read books that always left me trapped in fantasyland? Now that I was supposed to be living in the real world, should I put the fantasy down and pick up some non-fiction so I could actually talk to other people about what I had read?

Stupid Seth. My new dilemma was his fault. I just wanted to avoid him from then on. He was the type of guy who would've laughed if I'd told him about the gnomes – the type of guy who was exactly wrong for me.

So why did I get the feeling I'd be seeing a lot more of him?