Chapter 1

"Hey baby," he called out.

She took his hand in hers as she approached him.

"How many times do I have to tell you," her lips moments from his, "Don't call me baby."

He smiled, a dazzling smile, and moved his lips gently against hers.

They walked hand in hand towards the senior parking lot.

"It's such a beautiful day... don't you think?" She removed her gaze from the sky, and fixed her bright green eyes on his expression.

"It's minutes from raining, possibly storming." He looked up at the sky for assurance.

She smiled, breathing in deeply, taking in her favorite scent greedily. The scent of the surrounding air let her know that it would, in fact, storm. She could smell the electricity.

He laughed quietly, "Prefer to walk?" he said while removing the keys from his almost too baggy jeans, and unlocked the doors to his 2006 Vista Blue Mustang GT.

"Only if you walk with me." Her lips curved into a smile, her eyes pleading silently.

He sighed lightly, trying not to disappoint her. "Maybe we'll take a walk after dinner tonight, okay?" he bargained.

"Oh, I understand." She removed her hand from his and began walking to the passenger side of the flawless Mustang.

Confusion surged through him, "You understand what?" His door was already open, one leg in, looking over the top of his car to see her.

"You're scared of storms." She tried to hold back a smile.

He looked shocked, pausing for a moment, "How did you know?"

With an apprehensive half-smile, she whispered "I didn't." Her sarcastic gaze drifted into curiosity.
He smirked. "Mind-reader."

She smiled fully, and they both slid into the leather seats.

Michael Conners pulled into his girlfriend's driveway, and quickly parked. He looked over at her, with his irresistible eyes.

"I'll see you at 8?" He leaned closer to her. She could smell his cologne clearly now.

"You will." she said while smiling, leaning in to meet his lips. She only stayed there long enough for a simple brush against him.

Before she closed the door, she poked her head back in to ask, "Oh, and where are you taking me tonight?"

"It's a surprise, of course."

It was always a surprise, and Elizabeth Vine especially hated them.

"Well, can you at least tell me what I should wear?" she urged, not wanting to dress too casually or too formally.

"Wear that red dress you wore for my birthday last month." He smiled cunningly, remembering the awfully revealing dress she'd worn specifically for him.

"So, it's formally slutty then?"


She rolled her eyes and blew a kiss towards him, then walked briskly into the house, dancing through the drizzling rain.

"Elizabeth, is that you?" A distant, yet remarkably loud voice called out from the kitchen.

"Who else, Mom?" She threw her over-sized purse, containing school work and personal materials, onto a green plaid chair next to the front door.

"I have friends too, you know!" she yelled back, in a playful voice.

Elizabeth smiled and walked into the living room, plopping onto the couch, grabbing the remote on the way down.

"So how was school?" her mom asked, walking into the living room holding a large mixing bowl, continuously stirring.

"Same as the last 4 years. How was your day off?" She was still flipping through channels, seeing if there was anything worth watching.

"I've been making cookies!" She gestured to the bowl she was holding. "Your favorites."

"I don't like cookies, Mom." That was an understatement.. She couldn't stand them. Or much of any other sweets.

"What? Since when?" Her voice sounded irritated, almost angry.

"Since I was about 6. And I threw up all over Ronald McDonald after that ridiculously sweet cake layered with that murderous frosting." She remembered that day quite well. No one ever let her forget it.

"That was over a decade ago, Elizabeth. I honestly don't know how you're surviving." She walked back into the kitchen, mixing a bit more roughly than when she entered.

She had been trying to get Elizabeth to eat sugar for the longest time. Who knows why, mothers can pursue the strangest things.

Nothing was on TV. She clicked the remote, and headed up to her bedroom to decide on a dress. She already knew she wouldn't wear the red one again. It was very short, and had criss-cross strings all the way up both sides of it. She either had to wear no underwear, or red bikini string underwear. Plus she didn't want to be 'That slut sitting over there' all night long.

She went to her closet and pulled out all her dresses, and threw them on her bed.

After about she went through the entire pile twice, she decided on a long dark green satin dress. There was a slit going up her left leg, reaching up to her underwear line. It had spaghetti straps and a v-cut, not revealing too much, or too little. She had bought the dress last month, for an occasion like this. Her mother had insisted on her purchasing the dark green one rather than the black. She said the green really brought out her eyes, even though her eyes brought themselves out all on their own.

She put her clothes back in her closet and picked out a pair of black, open-toed heels. She lay her outfit onto her beige comforters, and headed into her bathroom to shower.

Her beautiful voice filled her bathroom, drowning out the roaring thunder. She loved to sing, as well as create her own songs. Although she never shared them with anyone, other than her shampoo bottles. She'd often hum them in Michael's car, since he was absolutely terrible at holding a conversation while driving. He never asked her about it. She was glad.

After her shower, she towel dried herself, and put on moisturizer. She put her hair up in a towel and put on make-up while it dried. It would take a little over an hour for her hair to dry. She had thick, dark chestnut hair that reached down to the middle of her back. And she would never use a hair-dryer, she liked her hair better when it dried naturally.

She applied a little blush to her pale cheeks. Her skin was a very fair, light ivory. And she couldn't tan, the sun burned her so quickly, and she wasn't quick to get skin cancer. She used mascara, a thin line of black eyeliner, and a light lip-gloss that went with her skin tone. She sprayed a small amount of perfume on her neck. She normally didn't like wearing perfume, she liked the smell of her shampoo. But, Michael had bought her an expensive perfume, imported from France. He insisted that she wore it tonight. The scent was beautiful, but too much would easily be overwhelming. Michael said it was exotic, and sexy, just like his girlfriend. He was full of corny lines like that.

She picked out a pair of lacey green under-wear and a lacey green strapless bra to match. She knew Michael wasn't going to see them, but that didn't matter. She couldn't sit through an evening with her spider-man briefs on. She had to feel sexy in order to be sexy.

She let her hair fall out of the towel, and it tumbled down her slender back. She combed it straight, it wasn't dry yet, so she pulled out her laptop and lay on her bed. She figured she might as well spend her time writing her final research paper of her high school career. She spent longer than she anticipated on her paper, her hair was dry, and it was almost 8. She combed through her hair once more, then slid her dark emerald dress on, then her shoes. She picked up a small black purse, and went downstairs to transfer some of her personal things from her large school purse into it.

"Hot date?" An unfamiliar voice said smoothly from behind her.

She turned around quickly; ready to whip out the pepper spray. She'd never seen the man before, he was wearing a black suit, had stunning features, and he looked about 30, give or take.

"Uh..." was all she could manage.

"I'm terribly sorry. My name is Dominic Mitchel. I'm waiting for Heather, your mother I presume." He held out his hand. She shook it reluctantly, and he bowed his head to place a kiss on her smooth skin. His lips were cold against her hand; it sent goose bumps crawling up her arm.

Heather hadn't dated in a decade, since her second husband Luke died. And to make matters even worse, her first husband, William (Elizabeth's father), had also died; only days after Elizabeth was born. Heather had been widowed twice before she was even 30. Dating had seemed like a distant memory for her, and she had been off-limits for 10 years now.

Elizabeth stood confused, but she managed to put on her best pleased-to-meet-you smile and greeted him "Well, hello Mr. Mitchel."

"You can call me Dominic." He flashed his white teeth.

She smiled back.

Heather walked down the stairs, digging through her purse for something before she looked up to see Elizabeth standing across from Dominic. She was wearing a little black dress that really helped accent her curves, without looking skimpy. "Oh, honey, you look beautiful! This is Dominic Mitchel, I forgot to tell you. He's new to the firm, just moved here from uh... somewhere up north...that place grandma lives..." She looked over to Dominic for the city.

"Cape Elizabeth." Dominic and Elizabeth both said at the same time.

They'd never been to Cape Elizabeth before, Elizabeth's Grandma (William's mother) had always insisted on taking the 41 hour cross-country trip to Flagstaff, Arizona. She always visited them once a year, on Elizabeth's birthday. This means they would see her in a couple months, July 7th to be exact.
"Oh, did you know her? My grandmother." Elizabeth asked.

He met her eyes, and almost too softly spoke "I didn't."

His eyes seemed to turn black, pure black, as if his pupils consumed all the color. Did she imagine that malevolent look in his eyes?

"Oh, well, don't stay out too late, kids." she teased as Dominic wrapped his arm around Heather's waist and guided her out the door. They laughed and Heather called out behind her "Tell Michael I said hi! And to drive safely!"

"I will!" Elizabeth called back, shutting the door afterwards.

She stood leaning against the door for a few minutes, taking in the sudden change of her mother. Dating? She never thought her mother would be up to it again. It took her so long to even smile after Luke passed away, and not to mention William. Her true love.

It was strange, Heather dating all of the sudden, but she did seem happy, and Elizabeth always liked her mother better when she was in blithe spirit.

She could easily see why her mother had chosen Dominic; he was handsome, very handsome, in a sort of dark, mysterious way. He looked younger than Heather, but Heather looked younger than her age too. She was 38, although she could pass easily as Elizabeth's sister. He was also a perfect gentleman, a rare find. But still, after 10 years, why now?

"Now she's going to expect me to eat a cookie..." Elizabeth muttered under her breath, glancing up at the clock. Michael should be here soon.

And as if she could predict the future, the doorbell rang. She jumped away from the door, checked the mirror once more, grabbed her little black purse, and opened the door.

Michael stood on her porch, a dozen roses in his arms, smiling that beautiful smile.

"These are for you." He handed Elizabeth the roses, and took a step closer to her. "You're breath-taking." His eyes focused on her face, and her lips turned into an appreciative smile. She looked down at the roses, biting her lip to keep from smiling even more.

"You look pretty good yourself." She eyed him up and down, smiled seductively and gazed alluringly at him. "Come in," She gestured forward. "I'm going to go put these in water before we leave. Just one second." Their eyes held onto each other as long as they could before she turned towards the kitchen. There was an empty vase on the table, she quickly filled it with water and placed the roses in it carefully, inhaling their sweet scent before turning back to Michael.

"Let's go."

The car ride was full of soft music, not much conversation. Elizabeth asked once more where Michael was taking her, not expecting him to tell her, but just to keep him amused. She could tell it worked.

He smiled delightfully. "You'll see."

She already knew where they were going though. Not exactly where, but Michael was predictable. He was taking her to an expensive restaurant, particularly romantic, of course, but also traditionally cliché. She was tempted to guess, but she was too scared she would guess correctly and ruin his fun.
After what seemed like hours of driving in forced anticipation, Michael parked the car in a small parking spot, underneath a large willow tree, its branches reaching far over the shiny Mustang. No restaurant in sight.

"Um... where are we?" She looked out the windshield and squinted her eyes trying to recognize anything familiar. It was difficult in the dark, even though she had excellent eyesight.

"I figured we'd walk from here." He half-smiled.

Oh God, she thought. A nice moonlit walk... in high heels and a satin dress dragging in the residue left from the earlier storm.

She could only hope Michael had a quiet, candle-lit dinner set up in a secluded gazebo. But Michael wasn't that type of romantic. Romance, to him, was spending a large amount of money. Elizabeth didn't mind that, but she did mind how he failed to think things through all the way. Like this treacherous walk that she would normally enjoy, if she didn't have to look presentable by the time she got to the elegant restaurant the walk would surely lead to.

Disappointment was clear in Elizabeth's eyes, not showing on her expression. No one has been able to read Elizabeth's eyes, not even herself. If they were to notice, they would see various shades of green on a day-to-day basis. As if each shade represented a different emotion. Elizabeth only vaguely noticed sometimes, but never thought anything of it, always blaming it on the lighting.
Disappointment made her bright green eyes dim.

"Mike... um, I'm in heels. And my dress drags on the ground. I don't want to ruin it." She tried to sound as apologetic as she could manage.

"Oh... yeah," The embarrassment was clear on his face, Elizabeth read it easily. "I'm sorry; I'm not all that great with being spontaneously romantic." he apologized, trying to smile heartily.

"It's the thought that counts, right? It's not like your intentions were to lure me out into the darkness and laugh as I tripped over everything in these death traps." She glanced down at her heels.

He laughed, regaining his dignity. He started the car up again.

"Well, I'd still like to surprise you." He looked over at her eagerly. "Close your eyes."

She groaned, it held a hint of sarcasm. "I'll peek. You know I will."

"I trust you." he whispered, his eyes still eager.

She sighed in defeat, and shut her eyes.

The car came to a stop. "Don't open them yet!" He quickly got out of the car and got to the passenger's side. He carefully helped her out of the car, her eyes still shut.

"You didn't peek, did you?" His voice sounded almost nervous.

"I thought you trusted me, Mike."

A smile spread across his face. He turned her around to face the restaurant, and leaned down to press his lips against her ear. "Open." he whispered, his warm breath lingering by her neck.
She smiled enthusiastically, "Mike! How did you know? I've always wanted to come here!"

"I can read minds too." He whispered, his head still resting on her shoulder, arms folded around her waist.

She held back a snicker, and smiled delightfully. She knew Jessica had tipped him off. His whispers couldn't have been anymore obvious to her delicate ears.

The restaurant was L'amour. It was relatively new, and infamous for its romantic atmosphere and delectable François meals.

They walked into the restaurant, Michael's arm around Elizabeth's waist.

"Conners." he said to the hostess.

She checked the reservation, and smiled up at Michael. "Right this way."

She led them towards their reserved table. "You will be dining in the Crystal Room; tonight we have one other party in the room as well. A party of two. I know you asked for your evening to be as secluded as possible, as did they. So we can assure you no one else will be joining."

The doors opened, and the room was shimmering. Lit candles were placed all over, gleaming off and through the translucent crystal. Two tables were set up on opposite sides of the room. Both were empty. Soft creamy white linen tablecloths covered them, and rose petals were scattered along the grayish white marble floor. The ceiling of the room was clear glass. If it weren't for the silver bars crossing through the center, and the comforting warmth of the room, you would have thought the room had no ceiling.

The sky was dark, clouds still lingered from the storm. A few stars peeked through, but the moon was lost beneath the mass of gray. Michael imagined how the sky could be much more scenic, much more romantic. Elizabeth sighed dreamily. To her, the sky couldn't have been more gorgeous. If only she could see the moon. That was her only request.

"Oh, Mike..." Her eyes danced across the glimmering room.

"Do you like it?"

Her eyes widened. "It's gorgeous...I love it!"

The hostess smiled and gestured towards their table. "Your waiter will be with you in a moment."

A bottle of wine sat in a silver ice bucket on the table.

"How did you pull that one off?" Elizabeth glanced toward the bottle of wine, then back up at her 18 year old boyfriend.

He pulled her chair out for her, and leaned in close to her face. "I'm kind of a big deal..." He smiled mockingly, and kissed her softly on the cheek.

"Oh, really?" She held back a smile that begged to be let out.

He sat down at the other end of the table. "That's right, baby."

Just as she was about to protest the pet name, the waiter walked in through the large double doors.
"Good evening." He looked down at the wine bottle. "Here, let me get that for you."

The evening went perfectly. The wine was wonderful, the food was fantastic. It wasn't until the final course of their meal, dessert, when the other party had shown up. That's when the perfect evening began to plummet.

Elizabeth recognized them immediately, even with the lack of light. Thank God the wine was gone, she thought.

Michael played it smoothly. "Well, hello Heather." Heather hated being called 'Ms. Mulvenna', it made her feel old, and it reminded her of Luke, which reminded her of William. It was sort of a domino effect.

"Michael! Elizabeth! What are the odds!?" Heather yelled out excitedly, making her way over to their table, Dominic's arm fastened around her waist. Same as it was when they left.

Really, what were the odds? Michael surely had to have this reservation made at least a week in advance, had Heather known Dominic for a week already? Why didn't Heather tell her before?

"Wow, this is crazy." Elizabeth agreed. Then it hit her. Dominic and Heather had left before Michael had even picked her up. They even wasted time at a park before showing up to the restaurant. What took Heather and Dominic so long?

"Wait, where-" Elizabeth began. Dominic cut her off.

"Well, it looks like you two are nearly finished. We won't have to disturb you much longer." He forced her eyes to lock to his. They turned to that cold, black color again. That malicious stare that no one else seemed to notice.

She shivered, and didn't complete her sentence.

"Nonsense, this is hardly a disturbance." Michael happily replied. "I'm Michael Conners." He held out his hand for Dominic to shake.

"Dominic Mitchel."

"Sweetheart, isn't this room just gorgeous?" Heather asked Elizabeth eagerly.

She nodded, and smiled slightly. She felt awkward sharing such a perfect moment with her mother.

"Michael, I think I'm finished." Elizabeth dabbed her napkin against her lips and stood up quickly. Dominic eyed her carefully.

"It was wonderful seeing you again, Elizabeth." Dominic said.

She didn't like the way he said her name. He carefully accented each syllable, in a very subtle sound, but it still bothered her. She couldn't understand why.

"And nice to meet you, Michael."

"You too, sir."

"Bye, sweetie. I'll see you at home." Heather said gently, picking up on the irascible situation.

Elizabeth smiled gratefully, allowed Michael to wrap his arm around her waist, and left her perfect evening in the shimmering room, for her mother to experience.

The dark blue Mustang sat in the small parking spot, under the willowy branches. Michael and Elizabeth were still inside. The awkward small talk was over. They were now kissing passionately in the fogging car.

Elizabeth had positioned herself so she was on Michael's lap, straddling her legs around him. Michael's hands clutched onto her waist as she twisted his shaggy blond hair between her delicate fingers. She had unbuttoned his tuxedo jacket, and threw it in the backseat. She liked being able to feel his muscular build through as little material as possible.

She always thought Michael looked like a Ken doll, to the final plastic facial feature. It was creepy. Elizabeth wouldn't rip his head off in frustration though, as she often did when Ken's shoes wouldn't fit. Michael had no trouble getting his shoes on.

The passionate kissing ended abruptly when Michael began unzipping the back of her dress. That was crossing the line. Although she sometimes acted like what would be classified as a slut, she wasn't. Simply a tease. She had morals and values that she stuck to. This was one of them.

She pulled away quickly, and then leaned her head against his shoulder and whispered into his neck. "Michael... not yet."

"I love you." he whispered back, kissing her hair, still trying to unzip her satin dress.

This was the first time he'd said the three words. The Finale, Elizabeth called it.

She has had countless relationships, every one ended with a tragic Finale. The words she'd never been able to return.

She took a deep breath, and removed herself from Michael's lap, zipping her dress up as she slid into the seat next to him.

She took his hand in hers; it was time to say the words she's said too many times before. These words would make the next few days awkward, until Michael would finally break up with her. That's just how it went.

She really liked this one too, other than all the surprises. And how he reminded her of Ken, and that way he played the music too softly in the car, and how he'd call to talk on the phone for hours at a time. How could he not like thunderstorms? How could she be with someone who's scared of a little water, noise, and electricity mixed together? As she thought about it more, she realized how much better off she would be without him. They were not meant to be together, and it was all becoming more obvious.

The least she could do was let him break up with her, let him keep his dignity. That's how she liked to end it.

"Michael, I love spending time with you." Her voice was soft with anguish.

He sighed heavily, already knowing what was happening.

She fought to hold eye contact, but lost. Her eyes drifted to her hand that was safely entwined in his.
"We're not... at that point... yet." She realized the hope that lingered in that statement. She regretted it instantly.

Michael's eyes were sulky, but obviously clung to the phrase. Quickly she altered her diction.
"I don't love you, Michael. Not like that." The words just spilled out, she couldn't remember deciding to say them.

He pulled his hand out of hers slowly, his eyes brimming in despondency. He put his hands on the steering wheel and just stared into nothingness.

It was all so routine. She'd done this so many times before, she felt like she was part of a movie. She had the lines memorized, and she could say them with such emotion, even though she hardly felt anything. Was it supposed to be like this? She never thought life was supposed to be so... numb.
After what felt like an eternity, he met her eyes again.

"I'll wait." He said calmly.

That was not in the script.

"I know you love me. You will. We're... I'm... I love you. I've never felt this way before. That has to mean just... it just has to." His voice was still calm, but Elizabeth easily traced the hint of pleading and hindrance in it.

Outtake! Take two! He has his lines wrong. He's supposed to say:

'I understand.'

Two simple words that really mean 'I'll act like I understand, then find a reason to leave you over the next four days.'

There was no take two. He actually thought that she loved him. Love. Of all emotions, was that truly the most fitting?

Who was he to decide that she loved him anyway? Animosity began boiling beneath her skin. Then she thought, who was she to decide she wasn't in love? How did she know what love felt like, she's never been in love. Or has she? What if this was love?

It wasn't as magical as fairy tales made it seem, she knew that. Her mind wasn't so credulous to the timeless tales of romance. So, what if this was it? This was her chance with love, and she was just letting it go. Like wind through the leaves on the willowy branches.

He was even fighting for her. He would wait... maybe she needed time. She always thought love was just supposed to hit you, and in that instant you would know. How puerile, she thought.

Elizabeth's mind fluttered with confusion, trying to find the words her mouth would speak.

Michael beat her to it.

"I'll take you home." he whispered.

She didn't argue, and the ride home was silent.

As they pulled up onto the street Elizabeth lived on, they saw flashing red lights. She peered down the street scrutinizingly, and then they were finally close enough to distinguish what their eyes had been immersed in.

Elizabeth gasped in horror. Michael grabbed her hand on instinct, she didn't object.

Her house had caught fire.