By Ann Herrick


Digital ISBNs

EPUB 978-1-77362-546-1

Kindle 978-1-77362-547-8

WEB 978-1-77362-548-5


Amazon Print 978-1-77362-549-2




Copyright 2011 by Ann Herrick

Cover Art by Michelle Lee



All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


Chapter One




Sometimes being on the social fringe in high school had its advantages.


I mean, it was way better than being a total outcast.


And I could walk down the hall between classes and say Hi to fifty people in two minutes.


Because lots of people knew me, but most not well enough to say anything more than,


Which gave me plenty of time to observe everyone. Ellyce Larkspur, just for example.

I mean, everyone noticed her beautiful green eyes, light brown curls that always look slightly wind blown and that she wore these loose, flowing clothes.

But. I’d never been distracted by actually talking to her, unless you count Hi as conversation, which I didn’t, so I detected something going on under all those loose layers of clothing. Something very in ter est ing. Something that made a certain part of my anatomy snap to attention.

Through intense observation, I realized that Ellyce’s slender hips and narrow waist were nicely topped off by small but jutting boobs, or, uh, breasts, or, I mean, whatever the politically correct term is these days. Anyway, it was only through long term scrutiny that I was able to detect that delicious fact through all those layers of clothes. Which I guess was one advantage of people not totally noticing you—they wouldn’t notice if you’re staring.

“Hey, Wes!” Tony Russo slapped my back, which sent my books flying. I mean, he knew I was holding the books in front of me to hide my reaction to seeing Ellyce. We’d all perfected the school book technique back in junior high, when we developed erections that were still in progress even though we were now sophomores. It seemed like it, anyway.

Tony laughed as a couple of my books sailed down the hall. At six feet, four inches, Tony was an ex wrestler who sometimes forgot just how strong he was.

Then there was me. I made a rake look husky. I wore thick, heavy sweaters just to give myself some bulk, but I didn’t think that it really helped.

“Sorry, dude!” Tony laughed his big, easy laugh again and helped me grab my books.

Just as Tony handed me my last stray book, Jeff Hughes ran up to us. He wiggled his eyebrows under the black hair that almost covered his dark brown eyes. “Hey, guys, I just overheard—”

The bell rang. We ran for art class. Mr. Korman was nice enough, for a teacher, but he reported anyone who was late for class. We all skidded through the doorway and landed at our table just as the bell stopped ringing.

“Just in time, gentlemen.” Korman started teaching at Willamette Valley Regional High last year, right out of college, so he was not that much older than any of his students. He had thick glasses and chubby cheeks, kinda like a chipmunk who stuffed his face with nuts and berries.

“It’s broiling in here,” Tony muttered.

No surprise. The infamous Room Five had no windows and its own peculiar source of heat—some weird appliance with two settings. On and Off. In the winter, it was always either boiling hot or freezing cold.

“Today we’ll work on our charcoal sketches,” Korman announced.

I groaned. It wasn’t that I minded doing charcoal sketches. It was that working with charcoal was a total mess in the unbearable heat of Room Five. For me, anyway.

Thanks to all the budget cuts, I didn’t have a metal holder, so I had to wrap my charcoal in a piece of paper or risk looking like a massive smudge by the end of class. Already, I felt my face turning red. My hands started to sweat. My pits worked overtime. Thank God art class was last period. At least I didn’t have to go around stinking all day.

I picked up the charcoal and hoped it wouldn’t crumble in my fingers. I was doing sketches of my own hands. Gary Irwin, who sat next to me, was doing his hands, too. He stole the idea from me after Korman tore up his first sketch, naked females. The pervert. Gary, that is. Not Korman.

Not that that I, slave to Puberty that I am, didn’t go around picturing naked females. But I didn’t draw them in art class. I mean, I didn’t want to be a pig or a chauvinist or any combination thereof, at least not in public. So, even though I couldn’t help how I felt about girls, I could help how I acted. Or try, anyway.

I glanced across the table at Tony and Jeff. Tony was working on a character sketch of Mr. Glenn, our principal. The mass of wiry hair was totally right, but what seriously impressed me was how he captured Glenn’s ever shifting eyes. The guy could walk down the hall and spot twenty seven school violations in two minutes.

Jeff was sketching, from memory, a setting from the Japanese Gardens in Portland. His work was so finely detailed I felt as if I could reach out and touch the individual pebbles in the hira-niwa, the level ground garden.

“Nice thumb,” Jeff said.

“Thanks.” That got our consulting out of the way.

“I overheard Ms. Tenray talking to Cari Keet, Tiffany Miller and you know who.”

“Oh?” I tried to look all casual. But I knew who was Ellyce. Just thinking about her made me shiver.

“Yeah.” Jeff grinned and rubbed his hand across the back of his head. “I was telling Tony, and he thinks—”

“Yes, Mr. Hughes,” said Korman, who seemed to have beamed down from the ceiling. “What does Mr. Russo think?”


Korman raised one eyebrow. “You can take your seat now, Mr. Hughes.”

I looked at the clock. Nineteen more minutes until I could find out what Jeff had to say about Ellyce. I tried to think. Ms. Tenray was an English teacher who also coached the cheerleaders. Ellyce, Cari and Tiffany were all sophomore cheerleaders, new to the squad this year. I tried deductive reasoning, but it went nowhere.

The girls were all in the upper echelon of Unattainables. Jeff, Tony and I were all at the top of our class as far as grades went, but other than that we were merely part of the common masses who watched the Unattainables across a distant gulf.

Only yesterday Tony had said, “You know, we’ve gotta stop just being horny and work our way up to having an actual conversation with somebody besides each other. Maybe it’ll lead to something.”

“‘Somebody’ meaning girls, I assume,” I said.

“And ‘something’ meaning action?” Jeff said. “It sounds good. Any great ideas how we accomplish this miracle?”

Prolonged silence.

I sure didn’t have any ideas about how to overcome this particular deficiency. Saying Hi to a girl was about the extent of my repertoire. For one thing, I could never think of anything else to say.

Worse, I figured no girl would want anything to do with me if she knew my secrets. I wasn’t even sure about Jeff and Tony, if they knew, which they didn’t.

Tony had sighed and shook his head. “For three guys with enough brain power to fuel the entire sophomore class for a year, we are one sad case.”

As I tried to sketch a decent looking thumbnail, I thought about yesterday’s conversation and wondered if what Jeff had overheard had anything to do with that.

I glanced over at Tony. He’d charcoaled in a moustache and thick eyebrows on himself, which actually worked okay with his dark curly hair and a face that looked as if it belonged on an old Roman coin.

He hummed to himself. I knew he usually fantasized when he hummed. Tiffany Miller was the star of his latest fantasy. She was kind of plump, but mostly in the right places.

Unlike Ellyce, Tiffany wore tight clothes. The going estimate on her bra size was thirty eight D. Also, it was agreed, tight jeans and her butt were made for each other. Not that I was one of those guys who went around actually making crude remarks in the locker room, but I heard stuff.

Jeff had a thing for Cari Keet. She came maybe up to my armpit (not my best feature), had big round eyes and flitted around like a nervous sparrow. With her springy red hair and little pink flower of a mouth she pretty much defined the word cute, but she usually walked around with a worried look on her face.

Jeff was even more flustered around girls than me and Tony. Our experience with girls was basically speculative, but, usually, like us, Jeff could manage to at least say Hi. Not to Cari, though.

Once, he had his mouth open and actually managed to sort of breathe out when he was sitting across from her on the bus. But he froze, and all that came out was a little puff of air.

I checked the clock. Eleven more minutes. The time really dragged on Friday afternoons.

“Attention, class.” Korman rapped his desk with a ruler. He noticed Tony’s “moustache,” but chose to ignore it. “I’d like you to clean up early today and then I’d like to ask for some volunteers to help me do inventory in the art room tomorrow morning.”

I was more than happy to knock off early, but some other sucker would have to volunteer to help Korman. Saturday mornings were for sleeping in, not slaving away in a sweltering dungeon.

Just as I finished putting everything away and wiping the last of the charcoal off my hands, Korman continued his pitch. “It’ll take about three to four hours, so I’d like you here at eight a.m.”

Eight a.m.? Good luck. At eight, I hoped to still be having wild dreams about Ellyce.

“I can’t pay you, but there could be some extra credit.” As Korman smiled, his chubby cheeks dimpled. “Now, who’d like to volunteer?”

My eyes almost rolled out of my head when Jeff’s and Tony’s hands shot up.

“Very good!” Korman said. “Anyone else?”

“Wes volunteers, too,” Tony announced.

“He does?” Korman eyeballed me.

“I do?” I said.

Tony and Jeff bobbed their heads so fast I was sure one of them would fall off, roll across the floor and land at my feet. Fascinated, I found myself nodding in unison with them.

“Very good!” Korman said. “I’ll see you three tomorrow morning at eight sharp.”

I was still mindlessly nodding when the bell rang.

“Class dismissed,” Korman said.

Tony and Jeff each grabbed an arm and escorted me out of the room.

“You can stop nodding now,” Jeff said.

I snapped out of my trance. “Why was I nodding in the first place?” I shrieked. “Why did I ‘volunteer?’ Why

“Whoa. Easy,” Tony said. “You’re getting hysterical.”

“Yeah.” Jeff looked around as if he expected men in white coats to show up and haul me away.

As if anyone in this school cared how we acted! I mean, Tony still had his charcoal eyebrows and moustache, but nobody even blinked. We might as well have been invisible for all the attention we were not getting.

“I’ll cool down,” I said, “when you give me one good reason for giving up several hours of dreamland!”

One? Ha!” Tony said. “We’ll give you three.”


“Cari. Tiffany. Ellyce,” Jeff and Tony said simultaneously.

Suddenly, I was interested. Worried, but interested.



Chapter Two



I quickly positioned my books in front of my gonad region. “El Ellyce Larkspur?”

“And Cari Keet,” Jeff said.

“And Tiffany Miller,” Tony added.

“So? What about them? I mean, what do they have to do with taking inventory in the art room?”

“You’d better explain,” Tony said, giving me a shove in Jeff’s direction. “I’ve gotta catch my bus.”

“Okay,” Jeff said.

We slogged our way through the steady Oregon drizzle toward our own bus. Though the three of us were all finally sixteen, none of us had our licenses. Not that having them would’ve mattered. None of us could afford a car anyway.

We’d almost rather walk to school, which was at least one step above the lowest form of transportation, that being, of course, the bus, but we all lived several miles from school. About fifty years ago some rich couple donated the land for Willamette Valley Regional High School. It was a generous gesture, I guess, but so remote that cell phones were useless, a major shortcoming in the minds of the many (teachers not among them) who owned cell phones, but a source of comfort to those who hated overhearing one sided conversations and/or didn’t have a cell phone. What passed for the centers of the three towns that made up the school district were all miles away.

I slumped down on a window seat on Bus Seven, where I had a good view of Matt Cummings helping Ellyce Larkspar into his silver SUV. He could practically ride up the side of Mount Bachelor in that thing. I sighed. What chance did I have with Ellyce when Matt Cummings was almost always pasted to her side? Not only was he tall, wide shouldered and handsome in a tough guy way, he was also a star of the football team, which didn’t hurt his image.

I would’ve liked to work up a real hate against him, but, trouble was, he was a pretty nice guy and fairly intelligent too. Not as smart as I was, of course, but no dumbass, unfortunately. At least then I could’ve felt superior on that count.

I spotted Tiffany Miller riding off in Derek Hogan’s sports car. Now, Derek was a dumbass, but I wasn’t turned inside out by Tiffany, so I didn’t care. Besides, since Tiffany arrived at WVRHS in September, she had a different boyfriend every month. She was always wearing a T shirt with some guy’s name on it. The rumor was that she had a drawer full of them at home.

The bus lurched forward. I realized Jeff was not filling me in on the connection between Ellyce, Tiffany and Cari and doing inventory in the art room.

I turned to him and started to say, “Hey—” But when I saw he was staring straight at Cari Keet, across the aisle and one row up, I waited. I figured, let the guy fantasize for a minute. After all, fantasizing was one of the few pleasures in life I could count on most days, so why deprive Jeff of the pleasure.

Soon enough, the bus squealed to a stop. Cari got off. As she trotted up her driveway and out of view, Jeff started to return to earth.

“So. Why are we going to the school tomorrow morning?” I asked.

Jeff shook himself out of his reverie. “I overheard Ms. Tenray telling the girls that since they were new to the squad, they’d need extra practice,” Jeff said, as if that explained everything.

I stared at Jeff and waited.

“I was trying to figure out how to take advantage of that, when Korman asked for volunteers.”

If you could really burn holes in someone with your eyes, Jeff would have spontaneously combusted.

Jeff sighed, and spoke in a be patient with him voice. “We’ll be at the school tomorrow morning. The extra cheerleading practice is at the school tomorrow morning!”

My eyes cooled down to body temperature. “What good will that do us? We’re in school with them every day anyway.”

“It’ll be just the six of us,” Jeff said, as if he was explaining how to tie your shoe to a two year old. “No distractions! No competition!”

“I dunno, I’m not sure that’ll do us any good.” I tried to hang on as Henry, the bus driver, roared around a hairpin turn. Henry was one of the more exciting drivers, if you considered fearing for your life exciting. “It’s not as if we’ll be marooned on a deserted island with them.”

“Think positively.” Jeff grabbed the seat in front as we flew around another curve. “We’ve got until morning to think of some way to make good use of our time and connect with the girls.”

“If I were good at thinking up ways to make it with girls, don’t you think I’d’ve done it by now?”

“Think of the opportunity!” Jeff pointed his finger toward the sky, as if answers to everything were up there. “Just us and them. You’ve got ‘til seven thirty tomorrow morning. We’ll pick you up then.”

“Okay,” I said, grateful that at least we’d get a ride to the school. During the week, Jeff’s parents worked in Eugene, but on weekends they’d drive us anywhere, any time.

The bus’s brakes screeched, signaling my stop. I squeezed past Jeff. “See you tomorrow.”

“Remember.” Jeff tapped the side of his head. “Think.”

“Right.” As I stepped off the bus, I shrugged my shoulders up to my ears. I’d worn just a thin cotton jacket. Not that I had much choice. It was my only jacket. I couldn’t afford one of those big, water resistant parkas that were perfect for the wet Oregon winters.

I tried to avoid the puddles forming in our dirt driveway as I hiked through the woods to my house. The way was marked with old Hudson cars in various stages of deterioration. Dad collected them. He said that fixed up they’d be worth thousands of dollars. Trouble was, he never got around to fixing them up. He never got around to much of anything since Mom left.

A snowflake drifted in front of my face. Then another. Though it was mostly still raining, I started to worry. I knew Dad would not be home yet.