The rest of the week passed slowly. Brian managed to ask me out at least once a day, if not more, and on Thursday he managed to ambush me at lunch by having someone "accidentally" knock my books out of my hands. By the time the guy had apologized and I had all of my things, Brian was standing there, a lopsided grin on his face, trusty bouquet of roses in hand. He'd sincerely apologized for paying the guy to do his dirty work, but he hadn't seen any other way to stop me, since I bolted out of physics every day, trying my best to avoid him.

Now you understand why.

By Friday my bedroom was overflowing with flowers, chocolates, cards, and teddy bears. I'd had boyfriends in the past, but none of them had ever spent anywhere near as much money as Brian did when it came to Valentine's Day gifts. Just this year alone, he must've spent a few hundred dollars. And for what? All I'd said I'd do was go to his stupid party, and that hadn't even really been my decision. Gretchen would've guilted me into it if I'd refused, so it was just easier to go along with her. Besides, that way I could keep an eye on her and make sure she didn't get drunk and marry anybody, thus resulting in an explosion of repressed sexual energy. I loved the girl to death, but she worried me sometimes.

It was now Friday night, and I'd just finished ransacking my mother's closet for something to wear. Gretchen had insisted we wear dresses, and it hadn't taken long for me to figure out that I didn't have anything that fit the bill. Almost every other color had been accounted for, but I had a feeling neither a red summer dress, nor a pink ball gown would fit in at Brian's party. He'd said it was supposed to be pretty casual, and I would've been fine wearing jeans and a pink t-shirt, but Gretchen had put her foot down.

"It's Valentine's Day," she'd explained. "We don't have boyfriends, so we have to dress up for something." And then, quiet enough so I almost missed it, she muttered, "Granted, you'd have a boyfriend if you'd stop being so nitpicky."

I bent forward in front of the mirror, carefully applying mascara to my nearly invisible eyelashes. I had no problem with being a redhead, except for the fact that my eyebrows and eyelashes were almost completely nonexistent. Also, I didn't look good in either red or pink, which gave me yet another reason to hate Valentine's Day.

I sighed, pulling back to inspect my reflection. I'd managed to find a red skirt in my mom's closet that didn't look horrendous on me, and had paired it with a simple white v-neck shirt. A tiny silver locket hung around my neck, and I'd secured my ponytail with a white ribbon I'd found on my dresser. I'd gone easy on the makeup; just some mascara and sheer lipgloss, but I looked decent enough. Gretchen would just have to deal with the fact that I wasn't in a dress. I was going – what more did she want?

There was a light knock on the door, and I turned around as my mom poked her head in. She caught sight of the skirt and gave me a knowing smile.

"Dresses again?"

I nodded. "She knows I don't have any red winter dresses! We go through this every year, but I guess she just doesn't remember. Maybe I should just suck it up and buy one."

Mom shrugged. "Personally, I like the skirt much better. I'd put some tights on, though – it's cold out."

"Thanks," I said, glancing out at the snowflakes falling gently from the sky. Then I turned to her, my face screwed up in concentration. "Are you sure I look okay?"

Coming inside, she put her hands on either side of my face and planted a kiss on top of my head. "You look beautiful, honey."

I sighed. "In that case, maybe I should change."

Mom chuckled. "Don't want Brian to get too excited, huh?"

I smirked. "Nope." Unfortunately, I probably could've shown up in a paper sack and he would've still thought I looked great.

It was then that I realized my mother was also dressed up, and in a particularly slinky black dress that revealed more of her than I really needed to see.

"What's that?" I asked, pointing at the piece of cloth she considered a dress.

"A dress," she said innocently, snatching a tube of red lipstick off her dresser and bending down to apply it. I just stood there, gaping. When she bent over, I wondered why she even had the dress on; you could see everything.

"That is not a dress, Mom!" I cried indignantly. "Who's going to be seeing you in that?"

I loved my mom to death, but she had a thing for serial dating, and ever since dad had left, she'd taken the idea to another level entirely.

"Rick and I are going out for dinner," she explained, puckering her lips to check for any missed spots. "You know that new hibachi place on 76th street?"

I nodded. Mom had been talking about wanting to go for weeks, so I was glad she was finally getting her chance. But still…

"You didn't have anything that was a bit more… covered?" I ventured, peering into her closet. I knew for a fact that she had at least ten other dresses that would've been more suitable.

"What's the point, if it's just going to come off?" she asked innocently.

I cringed, covering my ears. "I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear that," I muttered, hurrying out into the hallway. Behind me, I could hear my mom's tinkling laughter as she watched me go.

I ran through my extensive wardrobe in my head as I made my way back to my room, but was stopped when the doorbell rang. I could hear the stereo blaring from Gretchen's car and sighed. I had wanted to find another outfit, especially after having seen what my mother was wearing, but I was out of time.

Grabbing my jacket and purse, I leaned in to kiss my mom's cheek.

"Have fun," she said, shoving me towards the door with a wink. "Don't stay out too late."

"Bye," I groaned, trudging out into the snow in my knee-high leather boots.

"Hi!" Gretchen cried in excitement, following me back towards the car. "Your hair looks great." Then she glanced downward.

"Where's your dress?"

"Didn't have one."

"Yes you do," she said, her brow furrowed in concentration. "That really cute red and white polka dot summer dress."

"Summer dress," I repeated with emphasis. "It's February. Besides, you got me to go to this stupid party in the first place. Isn't that enough?"

Gretchen seemed to consider that for a moment, then shrugged. "True enough. You win."

"Thanks," I said graciously, turning the heat up. Gretchen tended to forget about the temperature inside her car pretty frequently.

The drive to Brian's house wasn't long. Rice Lake wasn't that big of a city, and nearly everyone who went to Rice Lake East lived within a ten-mile radius. Brian's house, along with half our school, lived along the lake itself, in a massive two-story house that could rival almost anything in Architectural Digest. I'd been there numerous times for birthday parties and last year's prom after-party, but I'd never seen it look the way it did now.

The massive driveway was lit with tiny electric candles planted in the snow. The light posts were wrapped in twinkling white lights, and the front porch sparkled with glitter. Red and pink ribbons were alternately wrapped around four huge Corinthian columns, and I had a feeling Destiny, Brian's younger sister, had had some say in the decorations. This was, after all, her party, too.

We found a parking space, which I found surprising, considering half our school was probably here. It was too cold for anybody to be out on the porch or the balcony, so I wasn't surprised to find the interior packed wall-to-wall with teenagers. Brian and Destiny were standing close to the door, so that they could greet people as they arrived, but Brian left his place immediately when we walked in.

"Ladies," he greeted us, flashing a smile. "Can I take your coats?"

I was always thrown off by how polite he was. "Um, sure," I replied, sliding my arms out of my peacoat and handing it over. Gretchen did the same. "Hi, Destiny."

"Hi, guys! It's so awesome that you could come! Um, food and snacks are in the kitchen, if you can get to it, and soda, water, and juice are in the coolers along the wall."

Gretchen leaned in conspiratorially. "Any booze?"

Destiny glanced over at her brother, who just shrugged. His mind clearly was somewhere else, and from the way he was looking at me, I had a good idea what he was thinking about. "All I can say is that we didn't supply any. But I'm sure there's some here."

"Great. See you later, Mags!"

And before I could even think to reach out and pull her back, she'd disappeared behind the wall of people.

Brian seemed to have realized my concern, and as I followed him towards the pile of coats and shoes, he remarked, "I thought Gretchen was a good girl."

It was my turn to shrug. "Carnally, yes. But she does love her Captain Jack." I smiled fondly as memories of one drunken summer night came to mind.

He laughed, and despite how much I disliked his stalking, I couldn't ignore the fact that his smile was contagious.

"You look really beautiful, by the way," he added, glancing appreciatively at my skirt. To his credit, he didn't seem concerned that I had exposed my cleavage more than was necessary.

I smiled self-consciously, my cheeks flaming. "Um… thanks." I shot him a quick glance. "You, uh… you look… nice, too."

It would've been rude not to return the compliment.

And I was being honest, too. In dark wash jeans and a red sweater that clung to his muscular chest, he looked pretty handsome. He'd just washed his hair, because the ends were still damp, and curling around his ears. Black leather shoes and a white tie finished off his outfit, and I nodded in approval. The boy knew how to dress, I'd give him that. It still didn't make me like him any more, but I could acknowledge a good-looking guy when I saw one. Even if he was my stalker.

"So, can I get you anything to drink?"

Turns out he was a rather charming host, too.

"No, I think I'm okay." I had to get away from him before I decided he wasn't Satan's spawn. "I'd better go find Gretchen and make sure she doesn't do anything stupid."

"All right. I'll come find you later."

I tried to be nonchalant. "Whatever."

Brian just smiled after me, shaking his head, as I shoved my way through the crowd, waving at people I knew, and shouting back to those who said hi. I was surrounded by a sea of pink and red, and found that it was much harder to find someone when everyone was in uniform color. The fact that half the male population was decked out in pink was also disconcerting.

Finally, fifteen minutes later, I spotted Gretchen, along with a few of our other friends, huddled in a corner, taking shots out of red plastic cups. As expected, she'd found her Captain Jack.

"Hey, guys," I called, sidling over and taking a seat.

"Hey, Maggie!" Lauren cried, perhaps a little too cheerfully. "Brian try to jump you yet?"

The group let out a raucous laugh.

"Nope," I replied, shaking my head and picking up a cup that smelled strongly of rum and Coke, tossing it back easily.

"Don't worry," a male voice said. "He will. It's still early."

I shot Dan an evil look.

"I'd jump him," Gretchen crowned, giggling furiously.

Dan gave her a blank stare. "Of course you would. You'd jump anything that moves."

"So long as I was married to it," she corrected him.

I smirked. At least she still had some sense after consuming god-knows-how-much alcohol. Leave that girl alone for fifteen minutes, and there's no telling what she'll do. The bottle she was trying to hide was already half empty, and I couldn't be sure if that was her own doing, or if she'd just gotten it that way. Compared to the rest of the group, she definitely seemed to be the furthest gone.

Lauren, who was a pixie compared to everyone else, stood at 4'9", and couldn't hold her alcohol at all. She seemed fine, and it looked as if she had already switched to water. Smart choice, I noted.

Beside her, Greg was busy refilling his cup with a flask he'd tucked into his pocket. We all liked to tease him that he was going to turn into an alcoholic someday, but he completely denied the fact that he had a problem. He'd already ruined two computers by throwing up on them, but he just kept telling his parents he was a klutz and had spilled water on them. We knew better, and would've done something about it if it weren't so damn funny.

Dan had a cup in his hands, but it looked as if it hadn't been touched. He wasn't much for drinking – or parties, for that matter – but he was good friends with Brian, since they were both on the swim team, so he could usually be found at the Deacon's parties. He was pretty quiet, and liked to keep to himself, but he was a nice enough guy, once you got to know him.

Me, I wasn't a huge fan of drinking, but just being here made me want to kill myself, so I figured it'd be best to make sure I didn't know where I was. If that meant doing shots of Jack, then I'd do it.

I poured myself a shot and downed it, scrunching up my face as the alcohol hit the back of my throat and began to burn. When I opened my eyes, Greg was staring at me. Or, rather, he was staring at my chest.

"Shit, Maggie. I don't think I ever realized you were a girl," he joked. "Those are…" He whistled. "Wow."

Callous, as always. But, oh, how we loved him.

"Thanks, Greg. You can stare at something else now."

But he wasn't done. "Are you kidding me? When was the last time you showed up to a party with those on display?"

"Never," Gretchen replied for me, laughing.

I folded my arms across my chest, in a failed attempt to cover myself up. How my mother could do this, I had no idea. "And now you know why."

But an hour later, I didn't really care that people were staring at my chest. I was feeling pretty good, and decided it was time to find some munchies. Gretchen was rolling around on the floor, laughing at something Greg had said, and Lauren was sitting in her chair, snorting. Dan looked like he could take care of them, so I got up on wobbly legs and headed towards the kitchen.

I was deciding between nacho cheese Doritos and regular potato chips when an arm slid around my waist, and warm breath tickled my ear.

"Margaret Beckett, you are drunk."

I whirled around, which probably wasn't the greatest idea, because my head began to spin, and I lost my balance, nearly falling over. Two hands caught me and held me up, and I giggled furiously.

"Hi, Brian," I cooed, throwing my arms around his neck. "Great party!"

"Yeah?" He sounded surprised.

"Yeah!" Even to my own ears, I sounded overly enthused, and yet I didn't care. I didn't even care that it was Brian Deacon I was holding onto. All I knew was that I was drunk, I was happy, and nothing else really mattered.

"Well, I'm glad," he replied, grinning. "I was afraid it would be too girly, since Destiny did most of the work, but nobody really seems to mind."

"The invites were very girly," I admitted, shoving a carrot stick into my mouth. "Gretchen said she wants wedding invites that look just like them."

Brian groaned. "I told Destiny not to get those ones, but she insisted. I probably should've clarified before handing them out."

I just grinned.

"So," he asked conversationally, leading me back towards my friends, "where did you get the booze?"

"Gretchen found some," I supplied, nearly tripping over a snag in the carpet. "She's really wasted," I added, recalling her rolling around on the floor. You knew Gretchen was drunk when she couldn't stay upright anymore. Then I laughed. "I think I am, too."

Brian was trying to contain himself as he supported me. His eyes twinkled with merriment, and when my dulled ones met his, he burst out laughing. "I think you are, too. Otherwise, you'd be trying to run away from me."

I had to think about that for a minute, and was saved from answering when Greg caught sight of us.

"Brian!" he called, waving emphatically as we entered the room. "Bro, how's it goin'? Awesome party!"

Brian didn't seem surprised to see most of our friends practically falling out of their chairs. The Jack Daniels was already empty, and the rum was quickly disappearing.

"Thanks, man." He pointed to the bottle of rum. "Feel like sharing?"

Greg tried to pour him some, but ended up spilling, so Dan took it from him, filled a cup halfway, and handed it over. I was expecting Brian to pour in some Coke, but he just downed the stuff and sat back, letting the burning aftertaste slowly fade. When it was over, he poured himself another, and another, until the bottle was empty.

Then, out of nowhere, Gretchen shouted, "Spin the bottle!"

Lauren clapped in excitement, and reached out to pull her back onto the couch. "Good idea! Guys, you in?"

Greg nodded eagerly, and Brian agreed. Dan didn't say anything, which we took for his consent.

Eagerly, I reached for the bottle. "Me first."

The first time I landed on myself, which, according to Gretchen's rules, meant I had to wait until my next turn. "No re-do's," she demanded.

So I watched as Greg kissed Lauren, Lauren kissed Dan, Gretchen kissed Lauren, and Brian kissed Greg. I wondered if Brian knew he was kissing a guy, especially since Greg's hair was long enough to make him look like a girl from behind, but I was too drunk to really think about it.

Finally it was my turn again, and I eagerly spun the bottle, praying I wouldn't land on myself again.

I didn't. The bottle landed on Brian, whose eyes lit up like fireworks on the Forth of July. Clearly, he'd been hoping this would happen, which is probably why he'd agreed in the first place.

It's testament to the fact I was so drunk that I didn't even hesitate. I just leaned over and planted my lips on his. He seemed so surprised at first that he didn't even respond. Then, as I began to pull back, he reached out, cupped my face in his hands, and drew me back in for a kiss so searing, so hot, that I felt my head begin to swim. Maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe it was Brian's kissing expertise, I couldn't tell.

His teeth lightly skimmed my lower lip, and I felt a shudder run though me. His hands were in my hair, on my neck, tracing delicate patterns along my skin. His lips pressed against mine forcefully, but not because he wanted anything more. It seemed as if he was perfectly content doing what he was doing; hell, he'd probably envisioned this moment more times than I could count. The pressure, I'm sure, was due to the fact that he wanted to keep this up for as long as he possibly could.

And as much as I wanted him to stop, I couldn't seem to pull away. The others were all oooh-ing and aaah-ing at us, but Brian's breathing drowned them out. My nose filled with the scent of his cologne, something sharp and wood-like, and I pushed myself closer to him, eager for more. The taste and smell of him combined were enough to set my nerve endings on fire.

And then, just like that, the haze wore off, and my eyes flew open. Brian's face was so close to mine, his lips still trailing kisses along my jaw. My skin was tingling, but I was suddenly hyper-aware of what had just transpired between the two of us. Warning bells went off in my head, and I hurriedly pushed him away, nearly tumbling over in the process.

Brian stared at me in surprise, his cheeks flushed. A smile lingered on his lips as we stared at each other, breathing hard.

"Uh oh," I whispered, eyes wide.

"Uh oh is right," he replied quietly. "I won't be forgetting that." It sounded like a promise.

I groaned. What had I gotten myself into?