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"Ashley," Eric said suddenly, grabbing her by the shoulder just as she was about to exit the car. The quiet, serious tone of his voice (she had never once heard him say anything serious) and the feel of his hand on her shoulder almost made her shudder. Had she been wrong?Was Eric no better than any of the other boys she rode the bus with?

She turned slowly, certain she would look into his stormcloud blue eyes and see nothing but animalistic, naked lust in them. What she did see shocked her.

He wasn't horny. A tear was rolling down his cheek.

He rubbed it with his thumb, then touched it to her forehead. For some reason, the sensation of it made her burn.

"There are shadows in the world, Ashley, and there are lights. You are one of the lights." His voice was deep and somber,and his thumb made practised moves on her head, tracing some arcane symbol. For an instant, she swore that a glow was emanating from her forehead.

"So, meet me out here after class?"

Ashley blinked a few times and stepped out the open door. "Right. Thanks, Eric, it means a lot to me." He simply nodded, looking down at the floor.

"Anytime, babe."

Ashley frowned as she walked over to her friends. She scratched her forehead idly, hoping she wasn't developing a zit. That must have been the first time she had ever seen Eric in something resembling a serious manner. She hoped he wasn't mad at her. He was such a nice guy.

Just then Danny walked by, erasing all thoughts of Eric, and just about everything else, from her head. He was cute, definitely one of the cutest boys in school. They had gone out a few times, nothing serious, but lately Ashley found herself liking him more and more. They had been lightly flirtatious with each other, but she was hoping he would ask her to go steady soon.

"Ashley!" he said, reaching out to hug her. Before his arms linked around her, though, he stopped.

"Whose jacket?" he asked suspiciously, drawing away from her.

"Just a friend's. I didn't have one, so he lent it to me. What's the matter, jealous?" Ashley asked, a mischievous smile stealing onto her face. Maybe now he would ask her out.

Something passed in his eyes. Danny touched her forehead at the same spot she had scratched earlier, and she froze. Had it become a zit already?

"One shouldn't traffic with such... people." With that he spun and walked away.

Ashley's heart sank. What was that all about? Just because she was wearing Eric's jacket. Well, if he was going to be petty about something like that, why should she like him anyway?

Her spirits brightened. It was as if the crush had been lifted almost instantly, instead of having to go through the usual process. Maybe she hadn't liked him as much as she thought she had. She'd have to thank Eric for showing her that.

Strangely, he wasn't in first period. Ashley was curious about that. She supposed he could have skipped class; he was no great fan of P.E. She hoped he hadn't lied about taking her home that day, and realized that lying was not in Eric's nature.

As the school day drew to a close and Ashley walked to where Eric had parked, sure enough, his car was there, and he was leaning against the side, his arms crossed and his brow drawn together as if in deep concentration.

Part 2   Part 4