A/N: Welcome all to this year's showing of Nut's Experimental Summer Novel. This will be my project for the next few months, and will be something I can honestly say I've never done - contemporary fiction. Okay, it's not wholly contemporary in that it's about a writer who spends her summer trying to keep her maybe-real, maybe-hallucination physical manifestation of the serial killer protagonist from her stories not kill any real people. So, you know, a combination contemporary story mixed with some psychological thriller/horror.

For the time being, this is where I'd like most of the feedback to go. I think I'll very slowly update the second Nick Tate book, and that's still open for reviews, especially if you're still working on Edgeport, but the link for the full manuscripts of NT books 2 and 3 are on my website that's linked on my profile.

Hope everyone enjoys this little trip of a book.

"We look good, Stell."

I shut my closet door behind me, still self conscious even after seven years of friendship with Quinn Cooper to change in front of him. He stands in front of my full length mirror, the mirror having mysteriously moved to the right of the 127 Hours poster he had super glued to my wall four years before, James Franco looking concernedly at what appears to be the occupant in the mirror, as if the two 2D surfaces are connected in some alternate dimension. The Quinn in the 2D world grins back at him as he put his hands behind his back, admiring his torso he's worked so hard to make what it is. I have never seen someone as devoted to cardio and weights as Quinn, and the results are amazing. It takes my breath away, makes me almost forget how much of a douchebag he looks flexing his subtle muscles.

I smile. "We?"

He nods. "Yeah. I mean, you always look good. The poster child for salads and yoga." He winks. "It's just crazy sometimes, y'know? Obviously, I can't take all the credit T deserves, but it's like a dream. The scars are hardly visible right now." He turns around, smiling like a little kid. "Can you see them?"

In all honestly, his top surgery scars have healed amazingly in the few months of home care since the procedure. He still doesn't have the six pack he wants, but he has a hard, iron board stomach and one would only notice any irregularities with his chest if they bothered to stare for a while. Quinn wouldn't have to worry. The pure enthusiasm he radiates through his smiling face distract most people.

"You look great, Quinn. Don't worry." I grab his hand. "Everyone's probably spinning the rumor mill now. Let's get out there."

We stop physical contact as soon as we shut my bedroom door, partially for the rest of the Harry Potter Club members outside either soaking up the sun or swimming in my backyard and partially for my parents, who have gone on blissfully believing Quinn is a straight male that needs to be watched.

I have told Quinn over the years that they wouldn't ostracize him if they knew, but he is delighted that my parents wholeheartedly deny the existence of a spectrum. I would try to tell him that he's just lucky that they picked the right gender when they deny the spectrum, but he just smiles and says he loved Mr. and Mrs. S.

My backyard is decorated haphazardly without my parents' input, a mishmash of Harry Potter decorations meant for children's birthday parties (complete with many magical birthday puns inscribed on the plates) and actual graduation decorations—the CONGRATS, STELLA AND QUINN banners, University of Miami and Eckerd College memorabilia, the like. In all honesty, it doesn't look good, but no one seems bothered.

"Hey, Stella, Voldemort's pronounced with a silent t, right?" Amy, one of the rising seniors in the Harry Potter club asks as she pulls herself out of the Jacuzzi, freckled face contorted in fangirl passion.

I'm sad to say how relieved I am that this is today's controversy and not something like the character arc of Severus Snape.

"Based on the two words I know in French, the t should be silent," I reply as I check the cooler to make sure every soda is well represented.

"Playing the mortals' stupid games again, poppet?" says the smooth tenor voice, wrapped in the dry English accent I'd come to know so well.

I turn around, settling my gaze on the owner of the voice, Gideon Vaughn. He sits on a bench in the corner of the pool area, the only one that isn't drenched in water or wet towels. True to his ways, he hasn't bothered to dress down for the party, black pants and a wrinkly, white button down not tucked in, and black Oxfords. His tidy black hair isn't at all disturbed by the madness around him, his bit of scruff well-groomed, his sea blue eyes sparkling; can't say I'm not relieved to see him so collected.

I offer him a flash of a smile. "How's the weather, Mr. Patronizing?"

Before Gideon can break his smile and reply, Amy comes out of nowhere behind me.

"What was that?" she asks, blinking hard, the way she did when her contacts act up every other hour

I flush, reminded for about the millionth time in my life that no one can see or hear Gideon but me. Plus, with the swim party, it wouldn't make much sense to stick my prop Bluetooth in my ear.

"Sorry, I was talking to Quinn," I say, his teal and purple swim trunks as he bends into the cooler the first thing I can see.

Quinn comes up to his name, an orange soda dripping condensation onto his hand. "What'd you say?"

Quinn knows the most about Gideon, which means he knows I have an embarrassing habit of talking to myself. Usually, he latches onto social cues like a PR master, but the timing isn't right that afternoon.

I glance at his soda. "Is there enough Crush?"

He glances down. "You're good."

I force a smile, see Gideon snort in amusement in my peripheral vision.

Amy has since left, and I loosen my shoulders. As much as I shouldn't care that these people thought I was a freak, I take a few seconds to realize how close a call that was. I look around to find Gideon again. Even after the four or so years he's been by my side, I still can't convince myself that he can only interact with me.

I feel someone tap me from behind, and find Quinn. He wears his big smile, and motions to his left. There stands Cameron Bent, a fellow recent graduate who just joined the Harry Potter club senior year after apparently going through a ten year boycott of all fantasy. He won't tell us why he finally cracked and read the series, especially considering he's already sorted himself into a House (Ravenclaw) and bought a scarf to go with it. Granted, he's going to college in Vermont, so a scarf would seem a useful accessory regardless, but the guy certainly has his mysteries.

And he's really cute.

Quinn lightly punches my shoulder. "You have to ask for his money for the summer road trip anyway. Throwing a pick up line in there wouldn't hurt," he says.

Quinn, Cameron, and four other fellow super nerd graduates and I have been planning a road trip from our Los Angeles, California beach town over to Florida to finally get a crack at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, hitting as many biggest twine ball, Grand Canyon-like sites along the way. Everything down to stopping at this girl Addie's grandparents' mountain mansion has been arranged, and we're finally ready to collect dues.

I look back to Quinn, who puts his hands on his waist line and moves his hands up. It takes a second, and him muttering (I can't read lips, apparently) "take off your cover up" for me to realize what he's saying. I pull off my cover up, adjust the light blue bikini underneath, and head over to the Jacuzzi where Cameron soaks. He doesn't see me right away, but smiles as I sink in next to him, shocked by the heat but hoping he can't see my grimace.

"Awesome party, Stella," he says. "Which one of you is going where?"

"I'm going to Eckerd, and Quinn's going to Miami," I reply, trying but not trying to remember if and how many times I've gone over this with him. The kid sat with Quinn and I for lunch every day for a solid year.

He nods and pushes his messy brown hair out of his eyes. "Very cool. Eckerd's a LAC, right?" I nod. "Seems like something you'd like—close community and lots of artsy intellectuals, right?"

I light up just thinking about the coming fall. Eckerd is one of the few colleges that has a creative writing major, and I plan to compliment it with a minor in psychology to up the ante on my writing. Plus, with a creative writing club, plenty of sun, and a place on the list of Colleges that Change Lives, I have to stop myself from gushing. "Pretty much. I can't wait to go. At the very least, I should have a new default setting, which should be fun."

"You cool with the heat and dangerous animals?" he asks, a smile forming on his face.

I laugh. "Yeah, I'll survive. What's life if not to battle gators every day?"

He committed to Middlebury College, the writer's dream school that was both too cold for my tastes and rejected me (not exactly in that order). Cameron wanted an internationally focused career one day, and besides their awesome English program, Middbury's huge on foreign language.

"You ready to freeze to death?" I ask.

He sinks lower into the Jacuzzi. "I think so, but I'm sure I have no idea what cold actually is. I suppose I can hope for the not so middle of nowhere dorm."

"Good luck with that." Flirting is just about my worst skill next to anything that involves sports, but his hand is right there. Over the year, we've touched while in friend mush piles while watching movies, but just the thought of instigating physical contact has me frozen. I think of Quinn, and if he liked someone, how he wouldn't hesitate, and brush my hand against Cameron's.

Nothing happens. It's as if he didn't even feel it.

I pull my hand back and settle it in my lap.

"Hey Cam, do you have the money for the road trip?" I ask.

The ease slips right off his face, a frown replacing it. "Hey, about that—I don't know if I can go."

In that moment, it isn't even that I can't fail to flirt with him or spit out that I like him on this trip, but that he had talked to his parents, like, three months before that, and confirmed then. He didn't have any busy siblings or needy family that would throw something else on him. Did he already forget that he was the one who offered to drive with his seven-passenger vehicle?

I didn't mean to, but I look past Cameron, and lock eyes with Gideon. There's no smile on his face, but a sparkle in his eyes. I can imagine what he would say to me if he didn't want to watch me respond to Cameron.

"Wait, Cam, what happened?" I ask, keeping my voice as even as possible.

"I was thinking more and more about it, and well, I just don't think I can afford it."

"Did something change financially? My parents love you, and they're already paying for Quinn as a graduation present. Do you want us to do that for you?"

"No, no, I could never accept that kind of money. I'm sorry, Stell. I really did want to go, but maybe it's better that way. It's no time for any of us to get attached, anyway, right?"

There's no way I can argue with him about this. "Right."

The party comes and goes in a blur. Gideon leaves once I start zoning out and I stick to the friends who wouldn't have to hear the news that our huge trip completely fell apart. We can't rent another car, and no one else wants to offer up their cars or take over Cameron's driving shifts.

"So, he just…I don't get what he said," Quinn says as he paces across my bedroom, the clock shining a humble 9:12 pm.

I shrug. "He just said we shouldn't get attached. I mean, he's right, but—"

"That's a really dick way to avoid saying he doesn't like you. He could've just been honest. Who fucking cares? So he doesn't like you. At least you'd know to drop him. Saying it's because you don't want to get attached? What if all you wanted was to hook up? Y'know, Stell, he's never treated you that well. You're better off without him."

We've had this conversation a least twice every year of high school: guys at our tiny independent school aren't good representations of what real guys are like; it's okay that you're eighteen and have never so much as gotten a peck on the cheek or really slow danced with a guy; you're intimidatingly successful, not a slut, etc.

"Quinn, it's okay. We don't need to rehash this. We're going to college in the fall, and it's all good. Maybe I'll find someone there."

He stops walking and sits down next to me, puts his arm around me. "If it's any consolation, I'm never gonna get laid until the final surgery, and we've both been banished to the love dugout. Trust me, teen guys aren't worth it, and you're beautiful."

I smile. "Thanks, Q. Did you have fun?"

He nods. "I mean, no one commented, but I can still feel the stares." He shakes his head. "Damn, you can't wait to meet new guys? I can't wait to be somewhere where I can just pass, and no one remembers when my mom put me in dresses or slips up on the pronouns." He smiles. "God, it's gonna be amazing. If only Cam didn't have to be a dick and ruin our summer plans."

"Quinn, he has values. It's fine."

He rolls his eyes. "Natural, for the daughter of the friendly neighborhood conservatives. No charity." He tries to hold the serious face, but bursts out laughing. "Sorry, no, it's fine. Whatever. Let Cam work his jobs and not go on vacations. Now, what're we gonna do?"

Before either of us can come up with anything, Quinn's phone rings, playing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles, indicating his mother calling.

He makes a face and answers the phone. "Hey, Mom. Yes, Mom, no, I—you gave me your new number! No. No, okay, fine, I customized your ringtone. It's not bad. No, it really isn't. It's a Beatles song." There's a pause. "Yeah, sure, I'll be right there."

He hangs up the phone. "Sorry, Stell. Mom wants me home." He shakes his head. "You know what that woman asked me to do? Change Stacey's ringtone for Mom to 'Stacey's Mom.' Like hell I'm encouraging her to feel like a MILF. Why can't I have normal, technologically backlogged parents?"

"Appreciate your parents, butthole. I'll text you later."

"Sounds good."

I walk him to the door, we hug, and I let out a sigh of relief, the party having drained me. I thank my parents again for letting me host the party and close the door behind me as I reach my room.

Guess Cameron really did shoot down the only major plan the group had down for summer. So much for making it memorable and solidifying our friendship. Huh. Maybe it happened for a reason; know who's really the reliable ones and all that.

Gideon's taken up shop on the overstuffed chair across from my bed, same white shirt and pants, but with new wrinkles in the button down. "Humanity, huh," he says as he catches me staring at him.

A chill runs down my spine. "You don't exactly have the everyman approach to humanity, Gid."

"Does that mean it's wrong?" He sits up, runs a hand through his hair. "Especially the young ones. Fickle is about all they can do right. You and Quinn are miracles to have gained as much common sense and decency as you've got."

"Common sense and decency aren't exactly Quinn and my fortes."

"Imagine what that says about the rest of your age group." He plucks a pair of scissors off the side table near him. "Suppose Cameron's lucky he cancelled. The temptation might've finally been too much for me." He smiles. "Can't have anyone breaking your heart." He opens up the scissors, examines the blade. "I would have to take his heart to even out the score."

God, I hate it when he talks like that. It's bad enough when he's saying it as a joke, but right now, I can't tell his intentions. "Gross, Gideon."

"Can you expect any less from me? Honestly, that trip was destined to be a mess. Who wants to spend a week or more with the same obnoxious, overly sensitive children? No one would last ten minutes with them, let alone drive across the country and endure a sticky, flaming hell of a theme park in Florida in the summer. You'd kill them without me saying a word."

I move from craning my neck lying on my back on my bed to lying on my stomach, closer to him. "Why do you like Quinn so much more than my other friends? My family?"

He smiles. "Because you do."

Another chill. "You're toying with me again. What do you want?"

He gets to his feet, swaying back and forth before moving to me. He goes from his feet to his knees, right at eye level with me with those piercing blue eyes, the color I only wished my mud brown ones were. Like a stone thrown into a pond, his touch on my cheek sends a bolt through my entire body, but I can't tell if it is laced in pleasure or fear.

"I want nothing from you," he whispers, his voice dipping a couple bars lower than usual, sounding almost like a growl. I open my mouth to say something, but no words come out. His eyes boring into me, he pulls away, my body following his like he stuck a magnet in each of our shirt pockets. He smiles as I pull back, blushing, as if he was really someone to get flustered over. "Addiction feels pretty good, doesn't it?"

I run my hand through my hair a couple times, letting my heart settle. "I'm not—not addicted to you." I straighten up. "Stop doing that. I'm not and never will be your accomplice. You are mine. You can hate my friends as much as you want, but that shit's for someone else to hear. Okay, I'm not going on the road trip. I don't really think you could've caused that, so gold star for luck for you." I sigh. "If your advice involves me killing or maiming someone to solve my problems, keep it to yourself."

He shrugs with a look of aloofness written into his strong features. "Whatever you say, poppet."

He's like a rabid dog, and there are often times when I don't know what I'm going to do with him. A danger to me and those around me, I always think. It'd be dumb to think I'd actually be able to wrangle him in, no matter how loyal he is to me.

It also doesn't take a genius, or even someone who has known Gideon for as long as I have, to know he just lied through his teeth, enjoying every second of it.

A/N: Well, there's that first chapter! Generally, I'll offer guiding questions at the end of the chapters to see if everything's going in the right direction, but honestly, even something like "update soon" is good enough for me. I just love hearing from my readers. :)

How was the beginning? Was it engaging? I'm just trying to figure out how this whole plotting thing works when it's not necessarily a hugely external conflict, but still maintain interest and suspense.

(also, this is my first story written in present tense, so if there's some past tense slips, feel free to tell me)

Thanks for the read!