The Writer's Voice

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Walls Around the Heart Part Six

by

Nicole Starleigh Yeager

Forty-five minutes later, we had the room back to normal, except for the Monet on the wall.  Its frame was splintered and the glass was cracked, but we hung it back on the wall anyway.  The hotel had already had the doorknob replaced.

I kept walking into the bathroom and looking at the mirror, but there was nothing.  "Come on," I would say under my breath.  "Give me something to work with!"  I half wanted to-- and was half-afraid of-- seeing something there.

"Why do you keep going in there?" Kyle asked after my tenth trip into the bathroom and out again.

"Oh, I uh, I was just checking the mirror.  There's nothing."

"It would help if we could get some information out of this ghost or whatever." He shook his head.  "I can't believe I am actually talking about this."

"Yeah, I never really believed in ghosts.."

He was quiet for a moment.  "Do you... remember which pier you were on?"

"What?"

"When you saw the girl in the water, do you remember which pier that was?"

"I will when I see it," I said.

As he stared at me, I could almost see the wheels turning in his head.

"Am I thinking what you're thinking?" I asked.

"I'm thinking I take you down to that pier, and we see if she shows up."

"Yep, that's what I thought you were thinking."  I took a deep breath. "It's creepy."

"It's necessary."

"Is it?"  I challenged.

"Don't you think so?"

I pondered that for a moment.  That girl knows something.  She has the
answers to my questions.  She knows something about Eric.

Only problem is, she's dead.

Kyle called Lauren and Brett to let them know we had left and locked the hotel room and were headed down to the boardwalk.  The late afternoon sun was warm, and people everywhere were enjoying their Saturday evening.

We took the tram car back to the arcade I had been at earlier that afternoon.

"It's near here, somewhere," I said, scouting around for the French fries Eric had bought me.  I could smell them, but I couldn't quite see the stand just yet.  "Look for a French fry stand."

"You mean that one?" he asked, pointing ahead.

"Yeah.  That's where we got fries this afternoon."

"We?"

"Me and Eric."  What did that matter?

"Where's the pier?"

"Not far from here.  In fact," I said, as we walked past the fry stand and the people on the boardwalk. "There it is over there."

"You're sure that's the right one?"

I looked at the other side of the boardwalk, opposite from the pier. There was the run-down old roller-coaster.  "Yeah.  Positive."  I quickened my pace and he followed me out to the edge of the pier.  Just as before, there was no one else there.

I walked over to the edge where I'd seen her in the water.  "It was right over here," I told him as he joined me.  I pointed down in the water.  "See my reflection?  Hers was right next to mine, except there was no one standing up here next to me."

"Strange," he observed.

"Yeah, I know."

"No, I mean the water.  Reflections generally aren't that... clear... in seawater.  This is weird."

"I never even thought of that."  I looked down again.  I could see my reflection and his, but none other.

Kyle moved to another side of the pier and peered down into the water. "Keri, come here."

I walked over to him and looked down at the water.  All I could see were very vague shadows in the choppy water... no clear reflections.  We looked at each other in awe.  I looked back at the water, then ran back over to where I saw her earlier.  Sure enough, the reflection was nearly as clear as a mirror, only it moved with the little choppy waves.  "What do you think this is, some kind of... paranormal mirror?" I asked.

"I... I don't know, I've never seen anything like this.  Could be something in the water, like oil or something."

"Don't you think it would have dispersed by now?"

"Yeah, you're right."

"Are you seeing a pattern, here?  This ghost likes reflections."

"I just thought of that," he said.  "Do you see her?"

"No," I sighed, disappointed.  I walked over and sat on the bench.

"I wonder if you can talk to her, or if she just talks at you?" he asked.

"I don't know.  I never tried to talk to her.  I only saw her that one time."

"Reflections, mirrors...  What do mirrors have to do with any of it?"

"I don't know, why are you asking me?"

"I'm not asking you, I'm thinking out loud."

"Well, think quietly, you might be scaring her."

"What, by talking?" he asked, defensively.

"Maybe she doesn't like noise."

"Oh, and all that back there on the boardwalk isn't noisy?"

"Just? Shut up, will you?"

Agitated, he walked over to the other railing again to look down at the non-reflecting water.

I stared out into the horizon... there were much fewer boats dotting the sea, now.  Many of them had gone in to port for the day, I supposed.

The conversation I'd had with Eric floated back into my mind just then.  All the things he'd said to me about Kyle...  I looked over at him.  His back was to me as he studied the water below the pier.  An ache burned in my stomach as I realized how much I missed the way things once were with him.

But, the past is the past... Eric was right.  I was afraid to get hurt again.  But I still didn't know what to do.  A strange feeling suddenly came over me, like something was whispering into my soul: go to the water, go to the water over and over and over again.  I couldn't exactly hear it, but I could feel it.  If that makes any sense... I couldn't resist it, so I stood up and walked back to the railing and looked down.

She was there, looking straight at me.  "Kyle," I said.  "Kyle!"  I didn't take my eyes off of her as he ran over to my side and looked down.

She didn't say anything as Kyle looked down at her, then back up and around the pier, just to verify that there really wasn't anyone else there.

"She's standing right here," Kyle said, staring down into the water.  True, she appeared to be standing right between us.  "She looks like you."

"What?"  I took a closer look at her, but she closed her eyes and waved her hand at us to get our minds onto a more important subject.

"I know why you have come," she said, her voice soft, yet empty as an echo through a steel tunnel.

"Talk to her," Kyle said.

"Uh... What's your name?" I asked her, trying not to speak too loud and draw attention from passersby.

"Abby."

"I'm?"

"I know who you are, that's why I found you. You're in trouble."

"What?"

"Trouble."

"Did you....?  Did you leave messages on our mirror?"

She nodded.

"How did she know what room we were in?" Kyle asked.

"Who cares?" I said to him.  "Why is Eric evil?  What's going on?  What don't we know?"

"Eric is evil," she said.

"Yeah, but... why?  What did he do?"

"They killed me," she answered.

I was speechless.  My heart stopped in my throat.

She went on.  "As your friend has noticed, you look a lot like me.  We are a type, you know.  We are the beautiful, blonde-hair, blue-eyed, strong young women that he needs."

"Needs for... what?" I regretted asking.

"I'll never know, for sure.  But... I wasn't the first he'd taken there.  I found that out when I got there."

"Took you where, Abby?" I asked.

"I don't know.  A mausoleum of sorts?"

"Oh, stop, please," I said.  "Oh, God."

"I will spare you the rest.  But you have to get away.  Promise me you will get away from him."

"Abby," I said.  "We have an idea.  My friends and I... we want to go to the police.  But we need something to take to them, or else they won't believe us. Can you tell me what happened to you?  Did he kidnap you? What?"

"He lured me, as he lures you.  The last night before the end of my vacation, he took me to some fancy restaurant.  After dinner, he told me to wait for him right outside while he paid the bill.  So I did.  Three men came out of the dark and surrounded me."

I looked at Kyle, panicking.  I saw his Adam's Apple move as he gulped back some kind of fear.

"I could not see where I was taken, nor do I know how long it took to get there.  They drugged me and I fell asleep.  I was dazed and delirious when I came to, but I remember being somewhere on a concrete floor with concrete walls, and I could hear them laughing and talking, and I could smell cigarette smoke and beer."

"Was Eric there?"

"Yes.  But he left before they killed me."

"Is there any way you can... is there anything you can remember that might help? I don't think the police know that you're dead," I told her.

"No, I'm only a missing person to them.  If I tell you where my body is, will you lead them to it?  So that I can be buried back home... and be able to rest?"

Kyle and I looked at each other.  Then we looked back at her. 

"Yes," we said.

"And will you tell my parents that I'm all right, and I am going to Heaven once my body is buried at home?"

We agreed.

She began to describe a place we had never seen.  She told us there were large buildings nearby, buildings that had been abandoned and partially knocked down.  She said there was an old, dead tree, its trunk so twisted it looked like an enormous knot.  There were old cars-- junk cars-- left in the lot.  Some had no tires, some had no doors.  Some even had no frame. All of them were old and rusty.  There were a lot of rusty, metal beams lying around the property.

She said that no one ever passed through there.  She told us that her spirit lingered there at first, because she didn't know how to control it. In the days that she waited, and the nights, no one came there.  But just a few weeks ago, the three men had been there, digging.  It looked, to her, like a grave.  It is still open, apparently ready for the next victim.

"And that's when I found you.  I don't know how I knew, but you have to trust me.  Eric is going to kill you."

"If we can find her body," Kyle started, thoughtfully, "if we can take the police to her body, that should be enough."

"Abby, you...'' As I looked back into the water, I realized she was gone.

"Oh, no."

Kyle murmured, "No one's ever going to believe this."

I just stared at him.  She just finished telling me that someone was plotting to kill me and that Eric, the guy I had found such a great connection with, was behind it.

"It's... it's going to be all right," he said as I began to tremble.

It was a fear I'd never felt.. but then, no one had ever threatened my life before.  It was so hard to believe... Eric?  Eric was involved?

Kyle pulled me into his arms.  Reluctantly, I gave in and hugged him.  It felt so good to be back in his arms again... but I knew I couldn't stay there.  So I pulled away. I turned and started up the pier, back to the boardwalk.

"What do you want to do, drive around and look at all the junk yards in Ocean City?" He said, catching up to me.

"If we have to."

"Keri, it might not even be in Ocean City.  It might not even be in Maryland for all we know.  It could be in... Delaware or even New Jersey, for that matter.  We could be looking for days."

"Well, we don't have days... we have to find it by tomorrow... when he goes back to New York."

"I say we go to the police right away, tell them what we know and see if they know the place."

I stopped and turned on him.  "Do you know what they'll do to us if we show up giving all these details about where they can find a body?  Think, Kyle, would you?  It'll look like we did it!"

"What?"

"I'm serious.  We have to find the body.  Then, we can call them and say we found it while we were... checking around the junkyard for parts or something.  We have to find the body, first.  If we don't... we could end up on trial.  Besides, we don't even really have anything yet."

"So, we just tell them we didn't do it," he said, as we started walking again.

"Kyle, nobody who goes on trial ever says they did it!  And they'll think we're crazy if we tell them this girl's ghost told us where her body is buried and who killed her!"

"Will they, though?  I mean, why don't we try it?  And if they laugh at us... then we go look for the body ourselves."

"You're hopeless," I told him.  We jumped on the tramcar again and rode it back to the other end of the boardwalk.

We arrived back at the hotel as Lauren and Brett were arguing.  We waited outside the door for a moment, figuring it would pass soon, not wanting to walk in on it.  We looked at each other and waited, but the arguing continued.  "Just go in," Kyle said, sliding the key in the door and pushing it open.

The fighting did not stop as we entered the room and shut the door behind us.  I watched Kyle pick up the bag from the pharmacy and peek inside. He looked up at me and nodded toward the balcony.  I stepped between Brett and Lauren and met him outside.  We closed the door behind us and he sat down on one of the chairs, dumping out the package.

"Are we still doing this?" I asked.

"Yeah," he answered, tearing open the package of the handheld tape recorder. "You know, in case we can't find the body."

"Tonight?"

He looked up at me.  "Well, we can't do it tomorrow."

I started getting nervous again.  "I can't believe this.  This kind of stuff is for the damn cops."

He chuckled seriously.  "Well, maybe you'll get to be famous after all."

"What?"

"You've always wanted to be  on TV, haven't you?"

"How did you know?"

"I know more than you think I know."

"That's creepy, Kyle," I told him.  And I wasn't lying, either.

"It's harmless," he said, struggling with the packaged recorder.  "You and I were pretty close once, remember?"  He finally broke the package completely open.  "Jeeze, they really pack these things good."

I cleared my throat as his words hung in the air between us.  We had been close once.  But that was then...change the subject, Keri!  "I should... I should go call Eric, and invite him... what should I say?  I don't even know what to say."

The door slid open.  Kyle glanced up at me for a second, then looked over at the doorway where Lauren and Brett stood.

"You guys done?" Kyle asked, opening the batteries and putting them in the recorder.

I hated when he looked at me like that because when we were dating, he would give me looks like that and I would know exactly what was on his mind.  Of course, back then, I loved those looks... only this time, I had no idea what it was supposed to mean.

"Shuttup," Lauren said.  "What did you guys find down at the pier?"

"Abby," I said.

"Who?" Brett and Lauren both asked.

"A paranormal mirror," Kyle said.

"Are you mocking me?" I asked him, instinctively on the defense with him because of that look.

"No, I'm trying to explain to them what we saw," he replied sourly.

Oh, here we go.  I brushed him off.  "Anyway, her name is Abby, and she's the one who's been leaving the messages in the mirror."

"Eric killed her last summer," Kyle said.

Lauren's mouth dropped and her eyes nearly popped out of her head.

"What?"

"No, he didn't.  Kyle, shuttup about Eric, will you?" I was annoyed.

"She wants us to find her body so it can be re-buried back home," Kyle said, ignoring the fact that I had even said anything.  That was the whole reason I couldn't stand him anymore; if something didn't go the way he wanted it to go, he'd put up a wall and an attitude against the person who'd pissed him off.

"Oh, I think I need to sit down," Lauren said, backing into the room and sitting on the end of my bed.  "You kiddin' me?" she asked.

I looked at her through the glass, never more serious in my life. "Oh, crap.  Oh, crud."  Her breaths quickened as she realized what was going on.

Brett came out onto the balcony to get more details from Kyle.

"I have to call Eric.  I guess we still have to do this," I said to her as I went inside and sat next to her.

"This? This isn't freaky to you?  This isn't creeping you out?" she asked, turning a little white in the face.

"Yes, it's crazy, Lauren.  I can't believe I just had a conversation with a dead girl.  I am completely freaked out, but we don't have time for that. We have to... find this body and get... get Eric to confess to something on tape so we can... so we can go to the police."

"How the hell are you staying so calm?"

"I'm a theatre major, remember?  Now, will you quit before I lose control, too?"

"When are we supposed to find this body?  Where is it?" she asked.

"I don't know.  If we knew we wouldn't have to go find it.  I can't believe we got caught up in this."

She was quiet for a minute, and I could see her looking at me out of the corner of my eye.  I turned and looked at her.  She said, "You don't want to turn him in, do you?"

I didn't know how to answer.  For a second, I just studied her face... for what, I don't know.  I looked at the floor.  Why was it I felt so defeated at that moment?  "No, I don't."

"You don't believe he's done all this stuff, either, then."

I shook my head.  No matter how much I was finding out from Abby or whatever Kyle thought about him, I just couldn't imagine him hurting me... or anyone else.

She let out a heavy sigh, frustrated, probably, that I wasn't keen on accusing Eric of Abby's murder.  Abby told us that Eric left before she was killed.  Then again, it doesn't make him totally innocent, because he was involved...

I looked at my phone and was about to page through my numbers when it started ringing.  Thud-thud.  My heart beat heavy against my chest.

"Oh, it's him," I said, staring at my phone as if it might bite me.

"Answer it!"

"What do I say?"

"Invite him to come out with us!"

"What time?"

"Eight o'clock, in the lobby."

I picked up the phone.  "Hello?"

"Hey, make it back all right?" he asked, sincerely.

I wanted to tell him about the three guys tailing me, but held my tongue.

"Yeah, I did."

"Get any thinking done?"

"Um, yeah.  A lot."

"Great, so...?"

"So?  Oh!  You know, I'm really... uh... glad you called... my friends and I are going out tonight and... well, we'd really like it if you came with us.  If you don't have anything else to do, that is."

"Sounds like you have things under control again.  Okay.  Where do I meet you?  Want me to come down to your room?"

"Um... no, just meet us in the lobby around eight."

"Where are we going?"

"Where?  Uh... there's a nightclub we wanted to check out.  Maybe a couple of them.  You know, drinks, dancing... fun stuff."  My heart was racing.

Please don't see through me

"Right on," he said.  "Eight o'clock, then."

"Great.  Bye," I said.

"Later."

I hung up the phone and slid off the bed, collapsing on my weak knees.

"I did it.  He's coming.  Oh, God.  Oh, God."

"Can't we just get the cops involved now?" Lauren called out to the guys on the balcony.

"No," Kyle said, following Brett into the room.  "I just figured out the deal with the mirrors."  He looked straight at me.

"What?" I asked, actually curious, as I lifted myself back onto the bed.

"You look exactly like her."

"So?"

"You're her mirror image.  It's how she found you."

I stared in awe.  "Oh, my God."

By seven-thirty we were all dressed and ready to go out.  They made me wear the little blue sundress I had brought down to wear out to dinner.  Kyle said Eric would be more interested in talking to me if he was more attracted to me than usual.

"Well, hell, why don't I just wear my damn bathing suit?" I asked bitterly, not really wanting to go through with this.  It felt like a cheap trick.  Why did I feel like I was betraying Eric?

"That'd work, too," Kyle mumbled under his breath.

Lauren chucked a pillow at him and I glared in his direction before locking myself in the bathroom to brush my teeth.

"Keri, are you going to be okay with this?" Lauren asked me through the door.

"Do I have a choice?" I asked squeezing toothpaste onto my toothbrush.

"Why am I brushing my teeth?  I don't want him to kiss me."

I heard Lauren chuckle.  I hadn't meant for it to be funny, but I guess we needed a little humor to keep from going berserk.

"So, what's our plan?" she asked.

I shrugged, my mouth full of minty foam.  Why was I so torn between defending and trapping Eric?

"We'll order a few drinks, maybe get something to eat, then you and Brett go out and dance.  After a few minutes, I'll go up to the bar.  You two stay where you can see him, but make sure he can't see you," Kyle explained loud enough for me to hear him.

Spit.  Rinse.

"But stick around until he starts getting a little sloppy.  We need him to let down his guard."

I wiped off my mouth and glanced in the mirror for any leftover toothpaste. Clean.  Good.  "And when he does that," I said, as I opened the door and stepped back out into the hotel room, "You guys are going to come back and get me and we can leave, then, right?"

"No."  Kyle was fixing his shirt.

"Why not?"

"Because that might make him suspicious."

"He'll be drunk, Kyle, he won't know a freaken thing."

"You don't know that," he said, glancing in the mirror above the dresser before turning back to me.  "He might get violent if he gets suspicious when he's drunk."

"Bull," I said.  "Drunk people try to get violent but they never hurt anybody but themselves."

Kyle advanced toward me menacingly and stared me in the face.  "You don't know what the heck you're talking about, so I suggest you shut the hell up and just go with it!"

"I don't even want to do this!  This whole thing is way too screwed up! I don't want to do this!" I yelled back, pushing against his chest to get him away from me.  I flipped.  I had tried to keep my calm, but I couldn't any longer.  "I have people trying to beat the crap out me, trying to break into every freaking room we stay in, following me down the freaking boardwalk, ghosts telling me to go find their freaking dead bodies and --- and the most perfect guy I have ever met is going to kill me!  I can't deal with this!"

The room was quiet for a moment as the three of them stared at me. I knew, right then, that I had shoved my foot in my mouth when I saw the look on Kyle's face.  Oh, I shouldn't have called Eric the most perfect... oh, why do I care?

"Where did that come from?" Lauren finally said.  "I thought you had control."

"I... I don't know," I said, pacing in a tight circle.

Kyle reached out and grabbed my arms and turned me to face him.  I fought back the sudden urge to weep.  "Listen," he said, sympathetically.  I could have sworn I heard his voice break at the end of the word.  "We have to go through with this.  The only reason it has to be you is because he's got some sick plot in his head and you can play into whatever it is to get some information.  But he's not going to hurt you, we won't let him.  We're going to stop him.  We're all scared; it's not like we ever expected anything even remotely close to this to happen to any of us.  We can't let him do this to anybody else.  We have to keep him from coming after you."

I looked at Lauren.  She was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding her breath, waiting for me to react.  Her eyes were wide, she was scared.  I wasn't the only one.  We were all scared.  What if it didn't work?  What if we couldn't get him to tell me anything?  What if I didn't get anything on the tape?  Or worse, what if he really was everything Abby said he was... and found out what we knew?  What would he do to my friends?

I sat down on the edge of my bed and stared at the floor.  "I... I'm not cut out for this.  I mean, yeah, I can write about it or act it out on stage, but... this is real.  I can't do this.  I've never been this scared.

Why is this our problem?  Why do we have to deal with this?"

"We're all scared," Lauren said.  "But, like Kyle said, we have to do this. If not for you, for Abby, and the next girl.  You know?"

"Nothing's going to happen to you, Keri," Brett said.

"What about you guys?  What if something happens to one of you guys?" I asked.

None of them were ready for that question, I could tell by the hesitation on all of their faces.  "Uh... us?  You're worried about something happening to us?" Kyle finally asked.

I just nodded.

"Keri," Lauren said, trying to retain her own courage, "nothing will happen to us.  The way he sounds, he's only got the brains enough to go after one person at a time."

"Yeah.  What would he do with four bodies?" Brett said.

I looked up at him, disgusted.  If that was his idea of reassurance, he had a lot to learn.

"Oh, nice, Brett," Lauren scolded him after seeing my face.  "Real nice."

"All right, look," Kyle said, sitting down next to me.  He covered my hand with his.  "We have to be downstairs in five minutes.  If you really can't do it, stay here, we'll see if he'll want to just go out with us."

"He won't, he'll probably try to come up here with her, then," Lauren said. "He's not interested in any one here but Keri."

Kyle sighed.  He looked at me, unsure of what else to say.

I searched each of their faces as well as my mind for something, anything that would get us out of this situation.  I found nothing.

I took a deep breath and stood up, blotting my eyes with the back of my hand and forcing a smile.  "I guess we better get down there, then."

Eric was already in the lobby by the time our elevator reached the ground floor.  I tried to control my shaking.  I clutched my purse to my side, afraid he might see our contraption.  The feeling of betrayal just wouldn't go away.  What was I doing?  Kyle had done a good job in camouflaging the microphone and its wire in my purse strap, but I was still nervous.  I'm not sure, though, if it was more because I was afraid of Eric now, or because I was afraid of him finding out that I didn't trust him.

Eric smiled at me.  Reluctantly, I smiled back.

"Hey, Eric, how's it going?" Brett said, with such confidence I wanted to nominate him for an Academy Award.

"Hey," he replied.  "I hope you all don't mind, but I rented out a limo for the evening.  I figured we could all pile in and enjoy the ride, get as drunk as we want and won't have to worry about a DD."

We were all shocked.  I felt a bit more secure, then.  See how sweet he was!

"You didn't have to do that, man, that must have cost a fortune," Kyle said to him.

"It's nothing," he said, still smiling.  "Really.  It's right out front. Shall we?"  He led the way out the front doors.

My heart warmed up to him, but just a bit.  I still had the latest convictions in my mind... but actions speak louder than words.

We kept a subtle distance as we followed him out the door.  I felt Kyle's hand on the small of my back (and a strange chill up my spine) as he leaned over to whisper, "Try to act natural.  He really likes the dress.  You've got to try to act natural, or he'll know something is up.  All right?"

I just nodded.    He held the door open for me as I followed Lauren and Brett out to the front of the hotel.

The limo he had rented was huge.  It was black, sleek and looked brand new.

Our driver was waiting with the back door open, smiling.  "Good evening, everyone.  You ladies look wonderful tonight."

Eric was being so polite and sweet that I had begun to forget my fears. How could a person like Eric do anything so evil?  I mean, look at the limo driver, even.  There was nothing sinister or evil about him.

Lauren and Brett had grabbed a long bench running the length of the limo, right next to the bar.  Eric was sitting on the back seat, over by the window.  As I climbed inside, he smiled innocently and patted the seat next to him.  I figured it would be all right to sit there.  So, next to him, I sat.

Kyle climbed in, looked at Eric, then headed all the way up to the front of the limo, to sit on the bench facing ours.  He seemed so far away.  It was strange how vulnerable I felt, even though I had begun to distrust our own accusations against Eric, with Kyle's protective influence so far away from me.  I took a deep breath and looked around inside the limo.

The driver spoke over the intercom.  "Where to, this evening?"

Eric looked at me.  "Where did you say you wanted to go?"

"Secrets, I think, right, Lauren?" I asked her.

"Yep, that's the place," she said, smiling nervously.

"You got it," replied the driver.  "My name is Johnny.  Sit back and enjoy the ride, and help yourselves to the bar."

"Thank you," we muttered.

"Would you like a drink?" Eric asked me, leaning forward to approach the mini bar.

I could see Kyle through my peripheral vision trying to subtly get my attention.  He didn't want me to take any drinks from Eric, and I knew it.

But I suddenly had the urge to prove him wrong.  I smiled.  "Sure.  Rum and coke would be nice."

"Good choice," he said and crawled over to the bar.  "Anyone else?" As they each politely declined the offer, I examined their faces. To an outsider, like Eric, they seemed comfortable enough, but to me, the best friend, I could see right through them.  I realized, then, that I was the only one who had gotten the chance to spend time with Eric, to get to know his sweet side.  He was so kind and generous, and he had the most beautiful eyes and his smile was gorgeous, that all of the stuff we had found out about him just seemed so irrelevant.

He was genuinely apologetic for running into me in the water... he even carried me back to our room and stopped in to check on me.  How could he be such a horrible person?  He met me on the pier, listened to my problem, bought me fries and tokens for the arcade and gave me a big stuffed dog.  Which reminded me... what had I done with that thing?  I didn't remember taking it back to the hotel... oh, that's right, I dropped it on the boardwalk.  I wondered it Eric knew about that?

There must have been a mistake.  Abby had to have him mixed up with someone else.  Those men on the boardwalk? I never saw them with Eric. How could I be so small-minded as to think he sent them after me?

While Eric's back was turned toward me as he mixed our drinks, I reached into my purse and switched off the recorder.

When I looked up, Kyle was staring at me.     Why did his gaze burn into me the way it did?

The night seemed to go rather well... for me at least.  Kyle's plan had gone totally off-track. Eric and I were out on the dance floor half the time, leaving the three of them at the table.  They couldn't see us from where they were, but we could see them. 

I was having so much fun.  I wasn't afraid of him anymore.  I convinced myself that the ghost chick had the wrong Eric and that he had nothing to do with the attack or the break-ins or the three men who followed me on the boardwalk.  We stayed in the middle of the crowd of dancers for the most part; I didn't want my friends watching me dance and grind with him.  They were all still sitting at the table, sipping their drinks and not looking very happy.

"Aren't your friends having fun?" he asked me, loud enough so I could hear him over the music.

"Sure they are," I said quickly.  "They're just not big dancers, that's all."

"I see," he answered.

A minor brawl broke out beside us and one of the guys was shoved into the crowd, knocking me and about three other girls off balance.  A glass shattered on the floor; Eric caught me as soon as he figured out what was going on, put his arms around me and walked us out of the crowd.

"I think we'll be safer over here," he said, once we reached the wall on the opposite side of the dance floor.

I will admit, I was feeling a bit tipsy... the alcohol I drank was running contently through my veins.  We watched as two very large bouncers quickly broke up the fight and both guys were thrown out of the club.

"You all right?" he asked me.

"I'm fine," I said.  "It didn't hurt, it just surprised me a little."

"You get hit with any glass?"

"No, I don't think so."

He smiled.  "How are you feeling?"

I smiled back, the butterflies stirring up in my stomach.  His eyes looked deep into mine, though mine were a bit unsteady, and he never looked so handsome as he did at that moment.  I felt like I had known him forever right then, and had only just fallen in love with him.  "Never better," I said, flirting.

He surprised me with a passionate kiss, right there against the wall.  He took my face in his gentle hands and drew me nearer.  His tongue danced gracefully around in my mouth as he put his arms around me and pulled me against him for the first time since we'd met.  It was as though he'd wanted to do that for awhile, but was waiting for the right moment.  It was the most perfect kiss from a most perfect guy...

For the first time that night, a slow song was played in the club.  They never played too many slow songs in the clubs because most people went there to dance... but once in awhile they treated the couples and the dates with a slow song.  Eric pulled me back out onto the dance floor and we began to dance.  At first, all I wanted to do was look into his eyes, but it was a little difficult to do that after three Malibu Bay Breezes and two Sex on the Beaches, so I rested my head on his shoulder.  I felt his chin gently on the top of my head.  I liked having someone in my arms.  I liked being in someone's arms.  Especially someone like Eric.

"I'm having a lot of fun with you," he spoke into my ear.

I looked up at him.  "I wish you weren't going home tomorrow."

"Well, Jeremy and I were going to leave tomorrow afternoon, but maybe I can convince him to stay until tomorrow night."

"You would stay?"

"If I can see you again."

I smiled.  "I'd like that."

"Then, I'll talk to him."

I smiled and lay my head back on his shoulder.   I felt his hand rub up and down my back, tenderly, slowly.  I tightened my grip around his waist. The song was over before we knew it, having danced the rest of it in silence.  "I need a drink," I told him.  "Let's go back to the table."

"All right," he answered, and we made our way around the crowd at the edge of the room all the way to the other side, where my friends were. But they weren't. 

"Where'd they go?" I asked, looking around for a glimpse of them anywhere in the club.

"I don't know, maybe they are dancing?"

We found my purse still on the seat.  "I can't believe they just left my purse here!"

"Real responsible," he sneered.

"Wait a minute," I said.  "Lauren would never leave my purse... maybe they are still here somewhere."  I looked around.  "Do you see any of them?"

"No... Want to just hang out here until they come back?"

"Yeah, I want to make sure everything is all right."

"I'll get us some drinks... want another bay breeze?"

"No, get me a sex on the beach, and here," I handed him a ten dollar bill.

"Nah, I got it."

"Eric, you bought the last two!"

"So?"  He walked away, taunting me with that sexy smile of his.

Defeated, I put the money back in my purse and looked inside for my compact.  I pushed the tape recorder aside to get a better search when I realized it was running.  I tried to recall turning it back on, but I couldn't.  I never did turn it back on.  The only person who knew I had turned it off...

"Hey, having fun?" Kyle asked as he sat down across from me.

I glared at him.

"What?" he asked, as if he didn't know what I was giving him that look for.

"Why'd you turn it back on?"

"In case you forgot why we were here."

I turned it off.  "He's not... he's not like that, Kyle.  He can't be. There's not an evil bone in his body."

"How much did you drink?"

"What?"

"You're drunk."

"I am not, I'm just tipsy.  Where's Lauren and Brett?"

"Dancing.  Yes, you are too, drunk."

"Kyle!  So help me if you start ?''

"Everything all right?" Eric asked, setting my drink in front of me and sitting down next to me.  He and Kyle stared each other down for what seemed like forever.

"Everything's fine," Kyle said, forcing a smile.

I wanted Kyle to leave us alone.  I wanted him to go away.  All he ever did was try to fight with me and make me miserable.  He would probably never change.  So, I moved closer and slid my arm around Eric's waist.  Just as I had planned, he lifted his arm and let it drop around me.  I nestled into him and took a sip of my drink.

Kyle sat for a few more moments, then said, fiercely, "I'm gonna go chill at the bar.  See you guys later."

"Bye," I said.  Success.  I followed him with my eyes.  He walked straight over to Lauren and Brett, who were dancing out on the floor, and started talking.  I could tell we had pissed him off because of his body language and the gestures he was making.

"I suppose you haven't told him yet?" Eric said.

I sat up, my head spinning as I moved.  I stopped to gather my sight again.

"No, not yet."  Jeeze, who would have thought five drinks could do this to a person?  Especially to someone who could normally drink so much more than that...  "They must really make their drinks strong, here."

"I've heard that, I think that's why everyone comes here."

I smiled and grabbed for my drink.

"You sure you're all right to drink that?"

"Me?  I'm fine," I said, taking the cup and guzzling the cool beverage. Dancing really takes its toll on a person in the middle of the summer.  I was so thirsty, I couldn't remember the last time my mouth had felt that dry.

"Thirsty?" Eric asked, chuckling.

I nodded.  "Yeah," I set the empty cup down.

"Do your friends... not like me, or something?"

Whoa.  Totally unexpected question.  Before I knew it, my mouth was running and I was telling him things I shouldn't have told him.  "No, they don't really trust you, actually.  They think you have something to do with the things that have been happening the past few days.  You know, the break-ins and all."

"Well, to be a stranger among a group of close friends is never easy," he said.

I smiled.  "Well, I think you're doing a great job.  It was really cool of you to get a limo for everybody."

"I'm just trying to show them that they have nothing to worry about.  I really like you, and I think it's important to you that they like me, too."

"It is, how did you know that?"

"You seem like that kind of person."

"I do?"

"Yeah."

"Huh.  But... you know, they're skep... skepcal...skeptical." I laughed, realizing I had been stuttering over one of the easiest words I knew.

He laughed with me and finished the rest of his drink.  "Shall we dance?"

I sighed.  "I think I need to rest a little bit, " I said, the drunkenness beginning to overwhelm me.  "I need to relax a little."

"All right.  We can do that."  He leaned toward me and kissed my forehead.

"You weren't, uh, upset...?"

"About what?"

"I know it was kind of sudden..."

"What?  What are you talking about?"

"The kiss."

"What- oh."  I had forgotten already that he'd kissed me.  How could I forget the most wonderful kiss in the world?  What was wrong with me?

"Oh?"

"Oh, I just meant, oh, I forgot... but you know what, it was the best kiss anyone ever gave me."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really."

"In that case, would you mind if I kissed you again?  I just... you're so pretty and I just... I can't help it."

I smiled and tried to steady myself.  "You know, I really wish I was sober, right now, so that I could fully enjoy this."  I laughed.  "How the heck did I get so drunk?"

He laughed.  "Maybe you drank them too fast."

"Tell you what... save that kiss for later, okay?  I want to remember it."

"Okay.  Will do."

"I wish you lived in Pennsylvania, so we could keep in touch."

"We can keep in touch, at least, I was hoping to."

"But, it's so hard, and this is... this is like a summer fling, sort of, you know what I mean?"  I found that my eyelids had become heavy and difficult to keep open.  "I like being with you, Eric, I don't care what anybody says about you."

"Should I ask what they say about me?"

"No, no you shouldn't.  Just forget that I said that."

He laughed.

I don't remember much else after that point.  All I can recall is Lauren and Brett and Kyle all meeting us at the table... or was it outside?  I don't even remember saying goodbye to Eric or going back up to the room.

Part 7

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