Monday, January 16, 2012

Chapter 2: Sleeping with the Enemy

Week 1 - Monday, Eliza

The girls' house had a rough night - myself, in particular. The rest were lucky enough to crash from exhaustion around 3:00 AM, but I was awake all night. I couldn't stop thinking about the notes we had all found on our beds. What exactly did the author mean by killing us off?

The scariest part was knowing that any one of the girls in the room with me could have been the author.

I didn't know who to trust, didn't know who I could talk to. I wanted to tell Devon how nervous I felt, but...

No. I couldn't think like that. Devon was not the author. He couldn't be...

But everyone here was still a suspect. Except myself. I knew that I didn't write it, but that was about it. Sure, the other girls swore they didn't write it as well, but we were all thinking the same thing: Someone has to be lying.


I didn't get a wink of sleep. There were too many thoughts racing through my mind... I kept trying to fit the pieces together, but nothing seemed right.

I drank five cups of strawberry-and-caramel frappechinos the next morning, desperate to keep my eyes open. Today was the big day: the day we found out our first challenge.

While I was slumped into my chair at the dining table, sipping searing-hot coffee, someone rapped their fist on the door.

Marisol jumped up and ran to get it. I wished there was a window instead of a painting next to the table, so I could see what was happening.

"A conference?" Marisol asked. There was a brief pause, and a low murmur of a guy's voice. "All right. I'll tell the rest, and we'll be there in ten."

"What's going on?" I inquired when she returned.

Marisol cleared her throat to get Maddie and Blair's attention, who were robotically scooping chunks of blueberry waffles into their mouths. They jolted out of their sleepy haze, suddenly alert and interested. "The guys are calling a conference," Marisol explained. "About these notes."

Maddie and Blair slowly put down their forks.

"Well, let's go then," Blair said quietly. Suddenly, the house was alive with girls putting the finishing touches on their makeup and getting on shoes.

I sat down on the couch, my head spinning from the buzz of the coffee.

Maddie and Marisol burst out of the bathroom, lip gloss applied and blush shimmering in the light. Marisol pulled me up from the couch. "Let's go!" Blair hurried down from upstairs, finally changed into her clothes. "All right. I'm ready now." I tugged on my wedges, and we burst out the door in a clump.

The guys had beat us to the patio, and they'd already begun the conference. Devon was yelling something about evidence while Sebastian held Derrick back. Cyrus watched with a slightly amused look on his face.

I could tell that this conference wouldn't end well.

Sebastian was the first to spot us coming. "God, you took forever  to get out here! Devon said you were almost ready when he notified you."

I should have been the one to answer the door. I still needed to apologize for giving him the cold shoulder while trying to sort out personal stuff. The worst part was that there hadn't been any legit personal stuff to sort out...

"Sorry. We said ten minutes," Maddie said icily. "But nevermind that. What's going on here?"

"Devon wrote the note!" Derrick yelled, trying to struggle out of Sebastian's grip.

"Dude! I was there with you when we found the notes!" Devon countered.

"Well, you didn't seem overly surprised to see them!" Derrick scoffed.

Sebastian tightened his grip. "He was drunk, man! What did you expect?"

"Look, do any of you have any actual proof  that he wrote it?" Blair inquired, strangely calm while the rest of us were bristling with suspicion.

Derrick shook Sebastian off him and stepped towards us. "Well, come and join the conference, and we'll tell you."

I looked around at the other girls, whose eyes all revealed the same thought: They have proof?

Maddie took a deep breath and nodded. We slowly migrated to the patio.

No. It couldn't have been Devon. Not him, anyone but him...

"We found the document open on Devon's account. He left the computer signed in to his name," Derrick announced, glaring at Devon.

"That's not proof!" Devon snarled, lunging at Derrick. Sebastian leaped between them and pushed them apart.

"He's right," Sebastian said. "How do we know his account wasn't hacked? How do we know he wasn't framed?"

"Thank you, Sebastian!" Devon huffed. "That's what I've been trying to say! You don't have any real evidence."

Derrick snorted. "This is about the most real proof we've had so far."

"Will the both of you just shut up?" Cyrus complained. "There's no use fighting amongst ourselves. We're not getting anywhere, and in case you haven't noticed, we haven't heard a word from the girls."

I cleared my throat and stepped forward. "I don't know who has done this, but things will be a whole lot easier if someone would just confess."

Sebastian shook his head hopelessly. "No one's just going to come out and say they wrote the notes. We're going to have to figure this out for ourselves."

"Blair, Maddie, Marisol," Derrick said coldly. "You three have been awfully quiet. What do you have to say?"

Blair shuffled her feet. "Well, um, I know that I didn't write it, but that's about it. I know you're not going to believe me until we find out who actually did it... But it's the truth."

"Ditto what she said," Maddie said. "Didn't write it, don't know who did. But I'd really like to know who so I can whack them with my tennis racket..." She grinned devilishly.

The guys looked a bit taken aback. I chuckled quietly to myself; Maddie might be my annoying stepsister, but she whipped out her dark humor at the most odd times. It made the situation feel a little less tense. Just a little.

"And you, Marisol?" Sebastian asked.

"Well, I think that we should stop worrying so much about this and just get on with our lives!" Marisol said quickly.

The group was quiet. Cyrus raised an eyebrow. "So eager to forget about the incident, huh, Marisol?"

Marisol gulped and looked away.


"That's it, this is hopeless," Devon concluded, throwing his hands up in the air. "This conference is going absolutely nowhere. I'm going for a jog."

I hesitated a moment, but I knew I had to follow him. I had to apologize for the way I had acted yesterday... He had to know why I had been acting so strange. Most of all, I needed to know if he wrote the notes.

I took off.

"Eliza-" Blair shrieked.

"I'll be back in a minute!" I yelled.

Devon ran down the middle of the street, not the least bit concerned about being hit by a car. There I was, chasing him down again.

I sprinted as fast as I could, half asleep and staggering along in my wedges. The straps sliced into my ankles, and my toes throbbed with pain. Jesus, why did I wear heels today?

Devon didn't get far before he stopped abruptly. "I know you're following me, Eliza."

I caught up to him and ripped my heels off, throwing them onto the sidewalk. "I have to know," I panted. "Did you write the notes?"

"What do you think." It wasn't a question, it was an answer.

Thank God.  I let out a long breath.

"Did you?" Devon asked quietly.

"Of course not! I'm not one to stir up drama."

Devon stepped closer to me. "Then why did you follow me? There's another reason you're here, Eliza, and I know it."

My heartbeat quickened. Suddenly, it all just burst out of me. "I need to apologize for the way I acted yesterday! I mean, you're probably all confused because I was so friendly at first, but then you went to meet Marisol and Maddie, and suddenly I was giving you the cold shoulder. Am I right? I knew it. I'm sorry, okay! It's not your fault... It's mine. I'm always kind of paranoid because Maddie is so much prettier than me and famous and all, and then there's me in the sidelines. The thing is, I like you! I know we just met and all, but I felt something for you that first day, and that's why I followed you after your fight with Cyrus. That's why I followed you today. It's crazy, I know, and you probably think I'm a freak now, but I just can't help-"

It only took a second. Devon wrapped his arms around my waist and he pulled me close to him. I sighed and wove my fingers into his hair, enjoying the feel of his petal-soft lips on mine, breathing in the musky scent of his cologne, savoring the moment. "I don't care about Maddie," he breathed. "I care about you."

Just as quickly as it came, it departed, and I was left with a tingling sensation, longing for more.

A ghostly whisper on my lips. My first kiss.


Devon left to return to the estate long before I did. I sat on the hillside, basking in the warmth of the sun, replaying the special moment over and over in my head.

It was insane. I'd known Devon for two days, and I was already falling for him. I'd never felt anything like this before... I wanted him to be mine forever, to kiss me again like he just had, to tell me he felt the same way. There was so much I wanted to learn about him, so many things I needed to know...

Then I remembered: he was my opponent. He was the enemy. I was sleeping with the enemy... Eventually, one of us would have to go - or maybe even both of us. This couldn't last forever; if I won, I would be expected to find someone new in The Bachelorette, to move on...

What hurts the most is knowing I'll never find someone like you again.


When at last I returned to the dorms, I saw everyone pull out their phones simultaneously as I approached the house. I waited for my phone to buzz, but nothing happened. I checked to make sure it wasn't silenced; it should have rung, loud and clear.

Suddenly, discomfort rippled through the group. Everyone turned to look at Maddie, who was flushed a deep red and looked furious. She broke away from the crowd and ran at me, screaming and hysterical.

"Do you think this is funny?  Embarrassing me like this? This is not funny.  This is not mature. You are a b-"

"Hold on, what is going on here?"  I shrieked.

Maddie scowled. "Shut up. Just shut up!  Nobody wants you here, so why don't you just go die in a hole and stop causing us trouble? Your secret's out now, ass hole. Stop playing pretend and give up the game, already!"

Maddie and I fought when we lived together, but not like this. This wasn't normal stepsister drama.

I stared at Maddie blankly, feeling very confused and left out.

Maddie threw her phone at me and marched back over to the group.
I looked down at the screen. There was a picture message from an unknown number pulled up. I immediately recognized the picture: I took it a year ago, right before Maddie and I moved out from home. We'd just turned eighteen, and Maddie and a few of her friends had raided our parents' beer supply. The next morning, she had such a bad hangover that she accidentally walked out of the house with no shirt! I snapped a pic from the bushes and later threatened to post it on SimConnect.

It was immediately obvious why Maddie was blaming me. I was the only one who had access to this picture.

I was framed.


We spent the rest of the day in our separate dorms. The text message signalled the end of the conference. The group had concluded that I was the author of the notes.

They think that  I'm the ass that's causing all this drama, I thought glumly, stepping into a hot bath. Tears welled up in my eyes; I had never felt so alone in my life. Everyone here hated me at the moment, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I stayed in the bathroom for a full hour, crying my eyes out and wishing I could leave this hellish place. I knew there would be drama, but I didn't think I would be caught right in the middle of it.

Blair knocked on the door. "Eliza, there's someone here to see you," she said, her voice shaking slightly.

She's afraid of me.

I pulled on my clothes, wiped the streams of mascara from my cheeks, and ran outside of the bathroom to open the front door.

Devon stood in the front doorway, smiling weakly. "Come on outside, and we can talk."

He's going to tell me that he hates me. He's going to tell me I'm a lier and he never wants to see me again. This is it, this is the end. I'm leaving after tonight.

Night was falling on Queenstown; I hadn't realized I had skipped lunch. Maybe that was part of the reason why I felt so empty inside... The absence of food, the absence of friends, the absence of hope.

Devon pulled me over onto the bench and slid his arm around my shoulders. I put my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes. "Everyone here hates me," I whispered.

A light flicked on upstairs, and I heard music playing. Laughter sounded, and the shadows of dancing people fell on the ground in front of me. The other girls were celebrating. They were celebrating because they knew I was leaving, the author of the horrible notes was leaving, the one that everyone hated was leaving. They were partying without me. I could never be one of them... Not knowing who I was.

Just look at yourself, Eliza, you're actually starting to believe what everyone else thinks.

I hated myself.

Sobs wracked my body and hot tears streamed down my face. Devon pulled me closer to him, and I curled up against his chest, listening to his heartbeat. Right then, he was the closest thing to a friend I had.

I can't tell how long I stayed there, curled up in Devon's arms. Devon rubbed my back and whispered sweet nothings to me. Soon, my tears ran dry, and I just sighed and drifted into a half-dreaming, half-awake state.

I felt a kiss on my lips, soft as satin, and then I slept.


Marisol pried open the small crate hurriedly and everyone leaned closer, anxious to see inside. Marisol picked up a note, a CD, and a disco ball.

The guys pumped their fists in the air. "Woot woot, dance party!"

"Hold on a second," Blair said suspiciously. "What's that CD called?"

"Best of Slow Songs."

The mood shifted. "Oh damn," Derrick said.

"Holy crap..." Cyrus moaned.

The other girls looked pretty pleased with themselves.

Marisol shushed the group and read the note. "Ladies, whip out your best dresses, and men, have your suits ironed, because Saturday is your second prom! Enjoy a fun night of dancing, delicious food, and romance. Your task is to prove that you can be romantic and give strangers a chance at love. Couples will vote on the best couple, who will automatically be safe from elimination! Remember, you're not falling in love, you're simply testing if you can open up to a stranger. This will be important when meeting people in the The Bachelor  or The Bachelorette."

Everyone turned to look at me. I knew what they were thinking: Who would want to go with her? Little did they know about my secret relationship with Devon...

"Anything else?" Sebastian asked.

"The party will start at 8 PM and continue until 1 AM," Marisol continued. "There will be a buffet dinner for all, and couples are expected to share at least one dance together."

"This is bullchiz," Cyrus complained.

"This is Clash of the Houses," Maddie said darkly. "Deal with it."

Derrick cleared his throat. "We can't change this now, anyways. What's done is done."

I sighed. At least I wouldn't be the only one sleeping with the enemy.


After a light dinner of autumn salad back in the dorms, I walked outside onto the deck, waiting for Devon to appear. Surely he would meet me here again tonight and ask me to the dance?

I sat down on the bench and waited. Then, I spotted Devon appearing from the gloom, smiling and waving to me. I stood up and waved back, and was about to run down to the sidewalk and throw my arms around him when I was nearly knocked over by...


"Blair! Thank God you're here," Devon said.

What? Why was Devon meeting Blair?

Blair giggled. "So you wanted to ask me something?"

Ask her w-

"Blair, will you be my date to the dance?"

No. No. This was not happening.  I was dreaming, I was asleep, this was not happening, this was not real.

I bit my hand as hard as I could and stiffled a shriek when pain shot through my palm.

I was awake.

"Of course I'll go with you," Blair said, batting her fake eyelashes. What a flirt. Why would Devon ask  her instead of  me?

Devon leaned closer and pecked Blair on the lips.

I wanted to scream and throw a fit. I wanted to hurt someone, to break something, to run away. I couldn't believe Devon would do that to me! Maybe it was my fault. Maybe he had decided I was too much of a drama queen. Blair was more beautiful than me, more eye-catching, the lovely blond with a bubbly personality. I was the souless ginger...

That was how I felt at the moment. I felt like I didn't have a soul, like I couldn't feel anything but pain and hatred.

This is the sting of heartbreak.

I pulled out my cell phone.

"Can a cab be here in five?" I hissed.

Through all my rage and vengeful feelings, I heard one thought: I'll make Blair regret ever laying a finger on Devon if it is the last thing I do.


Where is Eliza going? Why did Devon ask Blair to the dance instead of Eliza? What drama will tomorrow bring? Find out in Chapter 3!

There are still 6 possible suspects as the author of the note! Who do you think wrote it? Leave a comment telling me your opinions!

Remember to leave your feedback in the comment section below! I'm hoping to get more feedback on this chapter. Please, don't hesitate to tell me what you love and what needs improvement! New visitors, remember to click Join This Site in the right column - I'm always looking to pick up new followers! Clicking a few buttons will bring me one step closer to reaching my goal of 25 followers.

Thank you to everyone who is reading my blog! You all are amazing, and I'm lucky to have such wonderful readers. :) I was overjoyed when I checked my pageviews and found my story had hit the 1,000 milestone! That's fantastic, considering I'm only on my second chapter! I guess I'm doing this right, huh?

Anyways, thanks for reading Chapter 2!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Notice/Preview #3: Where's Chapter 2?

So some of you are probably wondering what's happening with Chapter 2, am I right? Well, the thing is, I haven't had a minute of free time in the past two weeks. I'm not making excuses, it's the truth. The homework load is out of control, keeping me up until 11 PM most nights! It's just been overwhelming, and I have had next to no time to work on Chapter 2. The story got finished in the first week since Chapter 1 was released, but I haven't had any time to take pictures. This weekend is my first shot at taking photos, and I'm hoping if I go really hard-core, Chapter 2 will be finished by Tuesday.

Anyways, while you're waiting on the edge of your seat for the big second chapter, why not read a little preview? Can you guess who's narrating? Enjoy!


He's going to tell me that he hates me. He's going to tell me I'm a lier and he never wants to see me again. This is it, this is the end. I'm leaving after tonight.

Night was falling on Queenstown; I didn't realize I had skipped lunch. Maybe that was part of the reason why I felt so empty inside... The absence of food, the absence of friends, the absence of hope.
He pulled me over onto the bench and slid his arm around my shoulders. I put my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes. "Everyone here hates me," I whispered.

A light flicked on upstairs, and I heard music playing. Laughter sounded, and the shadows of dancing people fell on the ground in front of me. The other girls were celebrating. They were celebrating because they knew I was leaving, the author of the horrible notes was leaving, the one that everyone hated was leaving. They were partying without me. I could never be one of them... Not knowing who I was.

To be continued...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Chapter 1: We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Week 1 - Sunday, Devon

I climbed out of the taxi cab slowly, doubting whether the taxi man took me to the right place. I turned back to look at the man in the driver's seat. "415 Southwind Lane?"

The driver nodded, winking. I took a deep breath, closed the door to the yellow cab, and watched the taxi take off along the road in a cloud of fumes. Only then did I open my eyes and look over my shoulder.

"Holy crap."

I thought back to the tiny apartment I grew up in, cramped into a bedroom with my parents. I remembered the dying front lawn, a pitiful brown square sprawled in front of a stained white building. Peeling paint, crumbling roofs, smashed windows, doors barely on their hinges. The cold of the winter creeping in during the night... That was the home I knew. This was the home I dreamed about.

Here, in Queenstown, California, there will be no frostbite. The sun is shining, the sky is clear... It's very different from Maine. I won't miss the snow one bit this winter, nor will I miss my parents, and I definitely will not miss that house.

I was the last one to arrive. The others were already gathered farther down the sidewalk in a clump, introducing themselves and making friends. They looked like they were having a pretty good time... I guess I was the odd one out again.

But not the only odd one out.

"Hey! You're Devon, right?"  a guy across the street called, waving.

I guess I wasn't invisible to everyone here, after all.

I jogged over to the guy, smiling. "Yeah, I'm Devon," I called. I stopped in front of him, and my smile disappeared. "Um, I feel bad because I don't know your name..."

"Hey, don't worry about it. Not all of us are stalkers," he said, laughing. "My name's Cyrus."

I grinned and looked back at the estate. "So... This is pretty crazy, huh? Out of thousands of people we're the ones that end up here... I guess I won't believe it's happening - "

" - until the challenges start. Until people get sent home, when everything gets crazy, when all the drama starts."

"My thoughts exactly..."

"So you said you're a stalker. How so?"

Cyrus put on a smug expression. "Well, I figured I might as well get to know my teammates and opponents - you know, find out everyone's strengths and weaknesses. I looked you all up on SimSearch."

"That's not entirely stalkerish... It's actually kinda smart. You're ahead of the game already! I'm just glad you're on my team and not the girls'..."

"I'm a guy, aren't I? And the guys' team is gonna kick ass," Cyrus said ambitiously.

"For sure, " I chuckled.

A blond girl broke away from the clump across the street, noticing Cyrus and I standing alone in the shade. She strolled across the road, her wavy hair shining under the morning sun... She was beautiful, in a young and spirited way.

"Hey guys! Why aren't you over here with the rest of us?"

"Um..." I looked down at my feet.

Cyrus jumped in to save me. "We're admiring the estate from afar. Looking at it like a painting. Devon's an artist, you know."

My face flushed. "Okay, now you're officially a stalker."

The blond girl laughed. "You guys are funny! I'm Blair, by the way."

"Cyrus Harrell, your personal jokester," Cyrus said, bowing extravagently.

I cleared my throat awkwardly, feeling like I was interrupting something. Like I was out of place. "And, uh, I'm Devon, but you already know that because Cyrus told you earlier. So...yeah."

Blair smiled. "Hi, Devon."

"So, are we opponents worthy of competing against?" Cyrus asked in a silly voice.

Blair faked thinking for a moment. "Hmm... I think so. But the girls will still cream you!" Blair stuck out her tongue and took off down the road, with Cyrus hot on her heels. I was alone.

Even after making the first friends I'd had in my life, I was still the odd one out. I always would be.


I sat alone in the shade for awhile, watching Cyrus chase Blair around, yelling all the way that the boys' house was boss and the girls would be the ones getting creamed.

I noticed a girl with flaming auburn hair watching me from the clump of people. I tilted my head, trying to get a better look at her.

"Ah, I see you've got a crush on Eliza," Cyrus said in my ear.

I whipped around and scrambled to my feet. Cyrus stood behind me. Of course, this Eliza girl hadn't been looking at me... She had been looking at Cyrus.

"I thought you had a thing for Blair?" Cyrus asked.

"W-What?" I blinked, my thoughts scattering. "I don't have 'a thing' for either of them!"

Cyrus raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure of that?"

"Yes! Well... I don't know."

Cyrus rolled his eyes. "What do you mean, you don't know? It must be obvious."

"I don't know because... Because I've never been in love before."

"Jesus, Devon, don't play with me."

"No, I'm serious!" I protested.

Cyrus's brow furrowed. "You really are telling the truth..." I nodded impatiently. "Well, I think you're falling in love... And possibly with both of them," Cyrus concluded.

"Dude, you can't just jump to conclusions like that. Look, whatever, just don't try to set me up with them or crazy chiz. They're our opponents, remember?"

Cyrus shrugged. "There's no rule saying you can't have a relationship with them."

My eyes bugged out of my head. "With an attitude like that, people are going to get hurt!"

"Hey, I never said I was going to be the one dating."

"Well I'm not going to hook up with them, either!" I said, exasperated. "Besides, they wouldn't be interested in me, anyways... You're always stealing the spotlight from me."

"I'm not trying to! But you never say anything! What am I supposed to do, stand there awkwardly, waiting for someone to speak? It's in my nature to talk a lot!"

I crossed my arms. "If you want me together with one of them so badly, then back off."

"Dude, what the hell? I'm not trying to steal them from you - trust me!"

"You really expect me to trust you? The guy that SimSearched us all, to learn how to break us down? Because I honestly don't think I can." I started to walk away. Where I was going, I didn't know.

"How is our team supposed to hold itself together if we're fighting?" Cyrus called after me.

I turned back and glared at him. "I don't know. Maybe you should figure it out, seeming as you know everything."


I stormed away, walking alongside the road to nowhere.


There was Eliza, running after me. So she had been watching me, after all...

"Where are you going?" she asked, panting. Her eyes glittered with concern... Genuine concern.

"You wouldn't care," I snarled, although I didn't know why I was acting so nasty. I didn't want to lash out at her, but something inside me forced me. "Nobody cares about me! I'm the invisible one. I'm the poor kid from the run-down neighborhood, the odd one out, an outsider. Don't bother following me."

"I don't care what other people think of you." Eliza grabbed my arm and pulled me closer. I tried to pull away, but she held me tight. "I saw what happened with you and that other guy."

Her deep emerald eyes calmed me; I could speak without losing my temper for a moment. "Yeah? And?"

"And I think you need to come back to the estate. You can't give up on the first day just because some guy is acting like a jerk." I couldn't believe what I was hearing... I had barely met her, and yet she was showing me sympathy. There was something soothing in her gaze, something that took me to a place I had never been before.

I took a deep breath. "It's not even lunch yet... I don't want to go back there, but I think you're right. I...I can't let Cyrus drive me out of this competition." I grimaced. I wanted to believe the words I spoke, but I didn't have that much confidence. These weren't my own words, this wasn't the decision I would make. Her eyes... They were green. Full of life and confidence, full of reassurance and encouragement. Influential.

Eliza looked into my eyes. "Who are you?" she breathed.

"Devon. Devon Wilder."

"Devon..." Eliza took my face in her hands, stealing my breath away. I couldn't make sense of this feeling... This feeling of falling. I'd never felt anything like it before. It was a welcome change from so many years of anger and depression and hopelessness... So many years of darkness. I felt like I was living for the first time in my life. Here, under the warm California sun, in the arms of a girl I had just met. This was real, this was all real... Now I could believe this was all happening. Eliza made everything crystal clear.

She held my gaze for a long time, not saying anything. She didn't need to - I read it all in her eyes. Not a word was said as she took my hand and led me back down the road, retracing our steps.

I think this is what love might feel like.


Eliza came with me when I met the other girls, Marisol and Maddie. Those two seemed to be getting along well...

"I saw her on the news, Devon!" Marisol told me excitedly. "She was a famous tennis champion at one point, and a pop singer in high school!"

"What was your name, again?" I asked Maddie.

"Maddie Swafford. Ring any bells?"

I recognized the name - my parents watched all of her games on television. I never watched them, because I thought athletes were stuck up and over-emotional...

"So why did you leave tennis and singing?" I asked curiously.

Maddie sighed. "The fame was starting to get to my head. I was pulling farther away from my true self... I woke up one day, looked in the mirror, and said, 'This isn't me anymore.' That was the day I decided to quit."

Marisol frowned. "It's a shame you did. You were so good at both! I bought all your albums," she added.

Maddie shrugged. "Don't get me wrong, I loved tennis and singing. I didn't want to leave them, but...I had to."

"What changed about you? Sorry, I know I'm prying," Marisol said apologetically.

"It's okay," Maddie reassured her new friend. "It's just..." She looked at me, and I knew it was my signal to go. I wanted to know what happened, but I'm not a girl, so I don't get to be included in the girl talk.

As I mumbled a goodbye and broke away, I realized Eliza hadn't said anything this entire time. I pulled her over under a tree, trying to read her thoughts. "Eliza? What's wrong?"

Eliza stared blankly at me for a moment, buried in her thoughts. "O-Oh! Um, nothing. I'm fine, sorry."

I shook my head. "No, you're not fine. What's going on?"

Eliza looked away. "It's really nothing, Devon. Don't worry about it."

I decided not to push her any further. She would tell me when she was ready, if that time ever came.

"I'm going to go talk to Blair," Eliza said quietly, wandering away and not meeting my eyes.

I decided to get up the nerve to introduce myself to the other guys. So what if they ended up not liking me? They should at least know my name. I wanted to be strong and show them that I'm not invisible.

"Hey guys," I said, approaching Cyrus and the other two guys. As soon as Cyrus saw me, he scowled and walked away to join Blair and Eliza. I rolled my eyes and sighed.

The brown-haired guy stepped toward me. "Devon, right?" He held out his hand for me to shake.

"That's me," I confirmed, shaking his hand. He introduced himself as Sebastian Wang.

"And I'm Derrick," the other guy said, giving me a fist pound.

"So tell us something about yourself," Sebastian said.

I groaned. "Hasn't Cyrus told you everything you need to know already?"

Derrick shrugged. "Eh, he had some pretty strange things to say. I find some of them hard to believe."


"You slept with a teddy bear until you were fifteen," Derrick replied.

My face reddened. "What the hell?!"

Derrick couldn't keep a straight face any longer, and burst out laughing. "Dude, I'm so kidding! Ha, you should have seen the look on your face!"

"That is so not funny! I thought you were serious!" I said angrily. "Okay... It's kinda funny." I doubled over in a laughing fit, and Sebastian laughed so hard he lost his voice.

Sebastian frowned, then brightened and started motioning with his hands. "What's he doing?" I asked Derrick.

"Sign language," Derrick replied.

I smiled. "Oh, duh. I didn't know you knew sign language! That's awesome."

"Well, we don't really know anything about each other, do we?" Derrick said thoughtfully. "Except for Eliza and Maddie."

I perked up, realizing there was something important lying under his words. "Wait, what do you mean?"

Derrick looked surprised. "You don't know? Eliza and Maddie are stepsisters."


Lunch rolled around, and we separated into our dorms. Derrick whipped up some mac-and-cheese for us, burning it in the process. He claimed he took a few cooking classes in high school, but the amount of salt in the pasta suggested otherwise. Nevertheless, Derrick became the designated cook for the guys' dorm.

Over mac-and-cheese, we talked about our lives before we came here. Derrick had a lot to say, having traveled the world for soccer tournaments. He had stories to tell from England, China, Russia, Australia, Brazil... It seemed he knew everything about this world we live in.

Hearing about Derrick's life brought a strange feeling. This was the life I could have had, if I had listened to my parents and done what they asked... I could have been the guy with all the stories to tell, the guy who was the star forward of the USA team. I could have had everything.

"Devon? What do you do for a living?" Derrick asked.

I cleared my throat nervously. "Um, I paint."

The guys hesitated a moment before nodding and mumbling their opinions half-heartedly. "Painting... Cool... Yeah, art is cool. Sounds fun..."

"How about you, Sebastian?" I asked quickly. Sebastian, who was sitting next to me, gave me a smile only I could see. He got the hint and launched into a story about his band, Desert Thunder, and how they got their first gig.

Finally, it came Cyrus's turn to tell his story. "Well, I'm an adventurer and an inventor. Right now, I'm trying to create a robot capable of multitasking. I have all the blueprints drawn, I just need to find some of the pieces. As for adventuring... Well, I've traveled to Egypt quite a few times, and I actually got to venture inside the Great Pyramid in the summer. It's riddled with traps and tricks, and at one point I doubted whether I would make it out alive. I'd consumed all my food and water and had a nasty gash in my arm. Then, just as I was about to turn back, I spotted a room full of gold. I was lucky that I tossed a quarter in before I entered, because half the floor dropped away into the ground! I managed to grab everything I could carry in my backpack as the roof started to inch down from above, and made it out just in time. That had to have been one of the most exciting moments of my life. When I got back to the US and brought my findings to a museum, I found out I had grabbed a long-lost artifact that had been mentioned in Egyptian legends. The museum paid me $500,000 for it!"

I smiled sourly at Cyrus. "Well, it sounds like you're not in this competition for the money. So why are you here, Cyrus?"

Why not give the money to someone who really needs it? Someone like me?

Cyrus grinned, hostility glinting in his eyes. "I don't know. I guess I just want to make friends and have a good time."

And stir up trouble.


The day dragged on. Sebastian and I played video games together while Derrick went on SimConnect and Cyrus hung out with Blair out back.

When I looked out the window, I saw Cyrus whipping up drinks for Blair at the bar. Blair sat on a stool, laughing as juice sloshed everywhere. At least...I hope it was only juice.

"You like her, don't you?" Sebastian asked, appearing behind me.

I shrugged. "I don't know. I thought I was in love with Eliza... But I think I still have a crush on Blair. I think I have a crush on both of them. Is this normal?"

"Absolutely," Sebastian reassured me. "Don't think too much about it, though. You'll know which one to pick."

"Cyrus already has Blair in the bag... I think Eliza is the only one I can pick."

Sebastian shrugged. "I wouldn't be too sure about that. You never know with Cyrus... He might just be leading her on. If he breaks her heart, she'll have you to fall back on."

I looked at Sebastian curiously. "How do you know Cyrus would do that?"

"Well he might not do it on purpose. I don't think he even knows she likes him... All I know is he definitely doesn't like her."


"Believe me, I know."


After Cyrus came in from drinking who-knows-what with Blair, I constantly caught him glaring at me. Every time I turned my head, Cyrus was there, a sour look on his face. Had he caught me spying on him and Blair?

I tried to take my mind off girls, but I just couldn't. This was the first time I had met rich, beautiful girls, and this wave of emotions was a bit overwhelming. Guys aren't supposed to feel this much, I told myself over and over, trying to take my mind off Blair and Eliza. However, I couldn't help remembering all the times I had seen Blair and Cyrus together and felt jealous. But I had Eliza...

Love is a complicated thing. I wasn't even sure if I was in love, yet I got caught up in all this madness.

I didn't see Eliza until dinner. We sat at opposite ends of the banquet table on the patio, miles away. I offered Eliza a seat by me, but she simply shrugged and walked away. I just don't get her. Earlier that day, she was all warm and fuzzy, but by dinner she was fading away already.

Maddie chattered on and on about the most random of subjects. I couldn't focus on whatever she was rambling to me, so I nodded my head and smiled. Nod, smile, nod, smile, nod, smile... Eliza...

I kept catching Eliza's eye, but she would never hold my gaze for longer than a second. Dinner lasted an eternity.

After the huge meal, we broke up and hung out in the backyard.

Cyrus hung out with Blair and Eliza in the hot tub.

Sebastian and Maddie roasted marshmallows at the fire pit.

Derrick and Marisol had a few drinks at the bar.

I stood alone.

Eliza smiled at something Cyrus said, looking slightly uncomfortable but trying to enjoy herself. I knew from the way she blushed that Cyrus was flirting with her... With Blair sitting right next to him.

I clenched my fists, feeling my temper rise. Deep breaths... I marched over to the hot tub.

"Cyrus!" I barked. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

Cyrus raised an eyebrow. "All right. I'll be right back, B," he told Blair as he stood up.

He followed me into the shadows, his expression changing. "What do you want?" he hissed.

I stepped closer to him until our faces were inches apart. "What game are you playing?" I spat angrily.

"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes you do, don't lie! You're leading the both of them on."

Cyrus shook his head. "No, I'm not. I'm just getting to know them."

"Yeah? Then what's with the pet names? 'I'll be right back, B,'" I said, imitating his words.

Cyrus sighed agitatedly. "I don't think 'B' counts as a pet name. Besides, why does it matter? I'm not interested in her, or Eliza."

"Yeah, but you're getting them interested in you!"

"Look, I'm not out to hurt anyone!"

"Well, you're acting like a total ass, if you ask me!"

Everyone fell silent and turned to look at us.

Cyrus stabbed a finger into my chest. "Devon, you cause more trouble than you're worth!" He left to rejoin the girls in the hot tub.

The night lasted forever. All around me, laughter sounded, and everyone had a really great time... Everyone except me. I drank and drank at the bar until I could hardly walk straight, drowning my sorrows and stress in pina coladas.

Eliza never said a word to me.


"Come on, you can make it up the stairs," Sebastian said, practically dragging me upstairs. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears, and I felt sick to my stomach. Everything was blurry and spinning, surreal... Dreamlike. So very different from how I had felt that morning, in Eliza's arms. I'd had way too much to drink.

"I'll just go to sleep here," I slurred, crumpling into a ball on the spiral staircase.

Sebastian sighed. "Derrick, can you give me a hand?"

Derrick climbed up to where I was lying and helped Sebastian lift me up and carry me the rest of the way up the stairs. They stood me up on my feet at the top, pointing to the beds. "You should probably lay down now," Derrick said.

"We'll have to make sure he doesn't get into the drink supply next time," Sebastian whispered, but I was too drowsy to defend myself.

I stumbled sluggishly over to the other side of the room. I was about to slump onto my bed when I saw blurry white squares on the orange and brown sheets. They were fuzzy and bright and almost...glowed. "Haha, there are glowing white squares on the beds," I mumbled drunkenly.

Sebastian and Derrick walked over to me. "Okay, now you really need to lie down," Sebastian said, dismissing the "glowing white squares" as hallucinations.

Derrick, however, had a look at the beds. "Wait a second... There are folded papers on the beds."

"Probably just notes from the people running this competition," Sebastian decided.

Derrick picked up a paper and unfolded it. Through the dreamlike haze, I saw his eyes widen. "Um, I think you'll want to take a look at this."

Sebastian stepped closer. "Why? What is it?"

Derrick read the note aloud, his voice heavy with suspicion. "I'll kill you off one by one until I'm the only one left standing."

No one spoke. We just looked at each other, our eyes wide. "It's...probably just a joke," Sebastian said quietly.

"Yeah, it's probably just the girls playing around," Derrick murmured. "We shouldn't worry too much about this."

The doorbell rang.

I looked out the window. The four girls stood on our doorstep.

Sebastian hurried downstairs, Derrick dragging me along behind him. Sebastian flung the door open.

"Is this some kind of joke?" Blair shrieked, thrusting a note in our faces. I tried to read the writing over Sebastian's shoulder, but the letters floated around and I couldn't comprehend what I saw.

"It's the same note," Sebastian whispered, and looked back at Derrick.

"What do you mean, it's the same note?" Maddie asked, her voice shrill. "Wait... Do you mean you also got notes like this?"

We nodded slowly, examining their expressions. I knew then that the notes weren't from them.

"Wait... Where's Cyrus?" I whispered.

The girls inched closer to us, looking around anxiously.

I had the most discomforting feeling that we were being watched.

Eliza met my eyes for the first time that night.

Suddenly, Cyrus emerged from the shadows of the road in his workout clothes, returning from a midnight jog. Everyone stiffened, and the world suddenly grew crystal clear. For a second, I broke out of my drunken state and could think straight. All the pieces fell together.

Cyrus had SimSearched us all. He knew all our secrets, our weaknesses, all the things he could use against us. He had access to the most powerful information of all in this competition, and he seemed like the kind of person who would be more than willing to use it.

I pushed through the crowd and stumbled down the steps and onto the road. I threw a punch at Cyrus, yelling anything I could think to say. "We know what you did! 'I'll kill you off one by one until I'm the only one left standing?' Who do you think you are, running around stirring up trouble? You don't belong here! You'd better sleep with your eyes open tonight, pyscho-"

Cyrus shoved me away from him. "What the hell is all this chiz you're throwing at me? The pina coladas have gotten to your head, bro!"

I grabbed Cyrus by his shoulders. "You know what I'm talking about!"

"Dude! Can you at least explain to me why you're trying to beat me up?"

Derrick tossed one of the notes to me, crumpled into a ball. "This is what I'm pissed about."

Cyrus took the note, uncrumpled it, and read it, his eyes widening. "Who wrote this?"

I aimed another punch at his face.

"Wait!" Sebastian yelled, running out of the house. I hadn't noticed him go back inside. He ran down onto the road, pushing us apart. He looked at me and said, "There was a note on Cyrus's bed, too."

"We're too smart to be fooled by a pitiful cover-up like that!" I snarled.

Cyrus shook his head. "Look, I may not like you, Devon, but I'm not lying when I say I've never seen this note before."

I had no reason to believe him, no reason to ever trust anything he says. But something in the way he said those words told me he didn't do it.

I knew he was telling the truth.


If Cyrus didn't write the note, then who did? What is Eliza hiding from Devon? How will the author of the note target the contestants? Chapter 2 is coming soon, packed with more drama and surprises!

You can now vote for your favorite contestant, but I suggest you wait until later in Week 1 - there will be a few shocking surprises that could change your vote. ;) If you liked this chapter, remember to follow my blog by clicking Join This Site! I also love comments. :)

Last but not least, happy holidays, everyone!