CHAPTER 1

I was furious. No. I take that back. I was livid.

livid |?livid|

1 (of a color or the skin) having a dark inflamed tinge : his face went livid, then purple.

2 (informal) furiously angry

All right, so maybe I wasn't literally livid, if by livid one means to imply I was a giant bruise.

(PLOT POINT: important bruises would come later.)

But I was furiously angry. I think what I was so angry about was not that they had told me 'no', but that they had had no good reason to back it up. To be honest, I'm not even sure why I asked. The Old Jenna coming out, I suppose.

Claire sat in the kitchen in the Netbook, morning light splaying through the blinds like warm fingers on the table. Father was getting himself some orange juice, then returning to the paper.

It had taken me exactly a week to decide that I was really going to ask them, to gather up the courage it would take to ask one's parents such a question. This was Old Jenna for sure. But on the other hand, I'm not sure Old Jenna would have managed the courage to ask. Maybe this was a combination of both of us.

Anyway.

Lily was in her greenhouse. I was leaning on the table after taking my vitamins. Father had taken a weekend off and Claire was happier for it. The house was composed; it was strangely relaxed. The timing, I thought, was perfect. So I asked.

"Mother? Father?" I threw in 'mother' for extra luck. Neither one looked up.

"Angel?" Father asked from his paper.

"You know the field trip we're taking in school? How we have to be up at four am the morning before?"

"Sure." They knew. We had debated for severals days about whether or not I could go, my first real overnight trip. I had won, with Lily's help.

"Well, since Ethan's going to drive me anyway, I was wondering if I could spend the night at his house."

The house tensed. The air stilled like glass and I couldn't have breathed if I wanted to.

Then, everything exploded.

Father first. "Absolutely not!" He slammed the orange juice glass down on the counter. "Jenna Angeline Fox, that is completely out of the question!" He was shouting, having stood from his seat. "Do you know the dangers you could put yourself in? We have no idea what that kind of physical stress could do to your body!"

Skipping over the part where Father had assumed by 'sleep over' I meant 'have sex', I felt a fury rising in my gut, the color of orange and the taste of bile. "What do you meant? You mean I can't ever-"

"It's not that, Jenna, it's just that these things need to be tested first." Good old Claire, trying to just smooth things over. If I had guessed before hand, I would have said she'd be the one to hit the roof. I guess she found the need to balance things out.

"Tested?" I balked, eyes widening. "By whom?" I gestured around to all the invisible people in the room. "By all the other genetically created freaks? By Allys, being 'made' as we speak? Who's going to test it, if not me?"

"It is out of the question." Father said, ending the discussion. Then, perhaps as a last little jab, he added, "Go to your room. Your mother and I need to discuss if going on this field trip is a good idea after all. Clearly it's causing you significant mental stress."

I ran upstairs, thumping each one extra loud. I slammed the door to my room. Clearly my father was insane! It had been getting so much better, too! Why hadthis been the trigger? Did normal parents flip out like this when they heard their daughters wanted to spend the night with their boyfriends? I couldn't fathom it.

I collapsed onto my bed, grabbing the phone from the bedside table and dialing Ethan immediately.

(CLARIFICATION: at this time, I was angry. I was even furious. But I was not yet 'livid'. That comes after a brief phone conversation and a short but emotionally-charged argument.)

"Hello?"

I unloaded the whole story to him, my building apprehension, the unreasonable reaction of my parents, the ridiculous notion of 'testing it out'... When I'd reached the end and was breathing slightly more regularly, I waited for Ethan's own outrage at my situation. But it didn't come.

"Ethan? Isn't this unfair?"

Pause.

"I don't know, Jenna." I couldn't believe it. If my mouth hadn't been so dry from talking and blatant surprise, I would have cut him off right there. He continued. "Your parents might have a point, about the whole stress-thing. We don't know what it would do to you. And..."

"And?" I prompted, my anger in my breath.

"And," he sighed, "Imean, how can I blame them? I'm a criminal. Would you want your daughter sleeping with a guy who's almost killed a man?"

(A LIST:

1. It hadn't, until my parents reaction, really been about sex. Maybe it had been about fooling around. Maybe even some experimenting. But I certainly hadn't planned on jumping in head first to the teenage lust-parade.

2. What kind of boyfriend doesn't want his girlfriend to sleep over? Parents' approval or no parents' approval? Could he really be that self-deprecating that he believed, as he had implied, that he wasn't good enough for me?

3. I was nearly livid.)

"Are you joking." I had to ask it, even if it came out as more of a statement than a question. All my neurochips were firing angry messages at once. I wasn't even sure who to be angry with anymore.

"I'm sorry, Jenna. Maybe the timing just isn't right."

"Yeah?" I could tell I was going to say something I would regret. Just by the tone of my voice, I could tell. "Well maybe the timing will never be right. Maybe my parents will always say no, and they'll never test it out. Then what? Then you get bored of a girl you can't touch and I get tired of a boy who won't let me... let me..."

What word? What word?

"Jenna..." the tired sound of his voice tipped me right over to the 'livid' point.

I slammed the phone down on its hook. I stormed down the stairs, through the kitchen, ignoring my parents protests, then tore outside. I almost paused at the greenhouse, but a fear snagged me. What if Lily said the same thing? I didn't think I could handle that. So I kept running, charging passed the pond and towards the woods.

(HINDSIGHT: I shouldn't have kept running.)

What would Kara and Locke thought of all of this? That I wasn't allowed to have sex. Had the Old Jenna been allowed to have sex?

A question struck me.

Was I a virgin?

Up until this point, it hadn't seemed to matter much. I had been happy with kisses and the warm tingles they brought. I had been happy with Ethan. I was, I suspected, falling in love. And I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that one stupid fight wasn't going to change that, that eventually we would figured all of this out. But right then, none of that matter. What mattered was that my parents, once again, didn't trust me or who I was. And this time, neither did Ethan.

Once in the woods, I slowed to a walk. My breath calmed. My mind cleared somewhat. My fists unclenched. But when I heard the voice, everything really stopped. Of course, maybe I had expected that voice the whole time, even hoped for it. Maybe that's why I chose the woods. I can't ever be sure.

"Hey there Sweetheart." Dane's voice. To be honest, we had been getting along better at school. Ethan hadn't liked it, but since Allys had stopped coming to classes, the group was down one-fifth of its membership. And I had managed to push that one woods-incident to the back of my mind, squashing it successfully into a far corner. Jenna Fox (Old or New) didn't keep grudges, right?

"Hey Dane." My voice sounded, to my surprise, not angry. It just sounded tired, like Ethan's on the phone. Was I giving up, like he had? The thought repulsed me.

"What are you doing out here? I thought your parents didn't like you in the woods alone." Dane glanced around, checking, perhaps, for a golf-club wielding neighbor. But I knew Dane wouldn't try anything club-worthy again. He appeared to be on his best behavior.

"Screw my parents." I spat. There. Less tired now.

Dane raised his eyebrows over those dead, blue eyes. The color of Nursing House paint. "Why?" He approached from the tree he stood near to a few feet from where I stood.

"They..." I couldn't tell Dane. No matter how livid I was, I couldn't tell Dane that. "They're just jerks sometimes." I wanted a different subject. "Why do you come out here so much?"

Dane glanced up at the branches above us. "It's quiet." He said. "It's away from my dad." He met my eyes, and with a challenge. Dare, they told me. Dare to ask. I saw the purplish mark on his collarbone, creeping up from beneath his t-shirt. Livid.

I didn't ask, though. I was afraid.

"If you think birds are quiet." I said instead, beginning to walk, slowly, deeper into the woods. Dane followed me, matching my pace with his own lazy one.

"There's one other reason." He said.

"What?"

He looked me over. He grinned. I (and this is really embarrassing) blushed. I looked down at the dirt and ferns under my feet.

"So are you just mad at your parents?" He asked causally.

"You mean, am I mad at Ethan, too?" When he looked over at me, I smiled a little. "I'm a smart girl, Dane." Millions of neurochips smart, but Dane didn't know that.

(REALIZATION: Dane didn't know that. Also, the last time Dane cared what my parents thought was probably around the last time he felt brotherly feelings towards Ethan. All important considerations from here on in.)

I turned to him, sizing up my options. Was I still livid at my parents and Ethan? Yes. I licked my lips, deciding. Dane, apparently oblivious to my thought-process, continued walking and talking.

"I've know that since you picked Ethan over me."

That made me stop. Dane didn't realize it right away, and he had to turn back to face me.

"What do you mean?" My eyes narrowed. "How does that make me smart?"

Dane laughed again, tilting his head back. His hair, light and feathered, shown in patches of sunlight. But when his eyes re-focused on me, they were as dead as ever. "I'm joking, Sweetheart. You're a complete dumbass to date that psychopath."

Psychopath. I was pretty sure it didn't describe Ethan. But did it describe Dane?

"C'mon," he caught hold of my hand. "Did you know there's a stream up here?" He pulled me along until we reached the stream. He knelt down by the bank, looking into the bubbling water, watching our reflections, mine standing over his.

He stood.

He was close. Inches away from me. I had to look up into his face to see those dead eyes.

"You glad you're in the woods with me and not Ethan?"

Jealousy. Anger. They go hand-in-hand, like death and war. They feed off of one another, like human lips feed off each other.

Dane reached down. He cupped my face in his hand. He pressed his lips against mine. I had expected them to be cold, like his eyes. They were warm. He kissed me again, pressing his tongue against my lips. They parted, voluntarily or not. My eyes remained peeled wide open, staring into his. It was probably because I didn't trust him. He backed off. He laughed.

"God, Jenna," he rubbed the back of his head. "Can't you shut your eyes?"

We tried again. My eyes slipped shut. It was nicer this way, and when it got faster, hotter, I didn't imagine it was Ethan. I clutched the back of Dane's t-shirt, then his shoulder, then felt around his collarbone area, pressing my palm up to where I had seen his bruise. He flinched, but didn't break away. My whole body tingled, felt warm, and excitement and danger and fear and premature regret all combined into a fuzzy ball in my stomach.

But of course, I didn't have a stomach. That was the problem, wasn't it?

(UNDERSTATEMENT: this isn't the end of my regret. It's the beginning.)