Whoa, it's been a long time since I've updated, huh? XD Sorry, but summer flew by so fast, and now I'm back at school with so much work to do. Anywayz, I was pondering what to exactly put in this chapter…. And well I guess you'll see what I decided. A bit of a warning, the story's going to get a bit darker from now on as Mandie is haunted by someone pursuing her.

THUMP! Mandie felt the sharp smack to her face stinging as she crashed to the ground, her dress billowing around her. As she fell to the rigid cement, she felt no pain, for it was obscured by the shock of the blow.

"Oh, Mandie." There was a deep sigh. "You're too good for your own good. Such a shame…" The dark figure bent down. "But now I get to have you to myself," he whispered. The long spidery fingers cradled her blonde curls, and a scream so shrill escaped Mandie; it pierced her more than his constricting touch.

Furious continuous scratching broke out against her head, and she gasped.

"Meow, meoww." She abruptly blinked at the muffled noises. What...?

Thump. Her vision went black as something slammed down on her hard.

Giggles erupted. "Rise and shine, Mandie! Didn't I tell you I'd get you back?" Celia grinned cheekily above her.

Mandie moaned and squeezed her eyes shut. "Remind me not to get into another pillow fight with you."

"I think that was reminder enough." Sallie laughed.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah."

"Alright, Miss Grumpy, you overslept so you better hurry up and get dressed," Celia informed her.

Mandie peeked at her friends hazily. They were both already donning long elegant dresses.

"Oh, I didn't realize it was so late," she said. She made a move to get out of bed, but Celia immediately widened her eyes.

"Mandie, you're shivering!" She said worriedly. "And you look..."

Mandie looked down at her shaking body and was suddenly aware of how freezing it was. She lifted a clammy cold palm to wipe her sweaty hair out of her face.

"I feel really cold." And empty, she thought to herself.

"But it's so warm in the house," Sallie pointed out.

"Maybe you're sick," Celia said.

Mandie immediately shook her head. "No, no, I just… had a bad night. I couldn't get to sleep," she shared.

"Maybe some breakfast will help," Sallie offered. "We'll wait for you and then go downstairs."

Celia nodded in agreement, but Mandie shook her head again. "Y'all can go ahead. I'll be right there."

Sallie looked concerned. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, don't let Jonathan eat up all our breakfasts," Mandie teased, with a forced smile.

"All right." Both girls threw her skeptical looks on their way out of her bedroom, which she smiled back to assuredly. It was only when she heard their feet pounding down the stairs that she got up and pushed her door close. Taking a deep breath, she went up to her full length mirror.

The sight made Mandie gasp. Her face was shockingly white, but more iridescent than sickly. In contrast to her skin, her lips were puffy and glittering pink and as she rubbed them together she winced. Whenever she had nightmares, she tended to rub her lips together in order not to cry out, leaving them bruised. Her hair looked almost white blonde and fluffier opposed to the tangled mess it usually was when she woke up. What's happened to me? She wondered, her blazing blue eyes unresponsive in the mirror.

A knock on her door made Mandie whip around, to see Joe standing there at the entrance.

He opened his mouth as if to say something but immediately faltered, instead looking stunned. She looked into his dark brown orbs shakily, unsure of herself. Their late night argument seemed to be absent in their minds as they both silently stood there, staring at each other.

It was only then Mandie realized she was still wearing her night gown. Her cheeks burned and she immediately ran up and shut the door in his face, just in time to see him recoil.

"Mandie," she heard him start, then sigh. Only when she heard the sound of him walking away did her breath come back to her. Snowball wandered up to her, his white tail swinging behind him, and she looked at him anxiously.

"Oh, Snowball, what's happening to me?"

Little did she know the same question was going through someone else's head.

"Good morning, sweetheart." Mandie's mother smiled down at her as she entered the dining room. Carol abruptly slipped from her lap, stumbling over his little legs in haste to get to her.

"Manda!" Mandie grinned as he attacked her legs in a hug.

"Good morning, Mother. Carl, what have you been up to?" She hoisted him up and held him against her hip.

"I was eating bread! With Carol!" He exclaimed happily.

"Oh, bread, I see, is it very yummy?"

"Of course!" He rolled his eyes as if her question was a silly one.

Mandie laughed. "Of course! When you have such amazing people to make it for you!" She beamed sideways at Aunt Lou, who was setting the table, but then frowned in confusion.

"Aunt Lou, why isn't Liza setting the table?"

"I send that girl o'er to Abraham to set up de buggy. Mistuh Nolan be wantin' to see de town."

"Oh," Mandie managed to squeak out. "And is there any particular reason he wants to see Franklin?"

"The young man must be curious," Uncle John pointed out. "Coming all the way from Ireland, Mandie, you and your friends should show him around!"

Before anybody could react to his proposal, there were large hacking sounds followed by a thumping of fists on the table. Jonathan's breakfast had apparently gone down the wrong way, and so it took many thumps on the back from Joe for him to finally swallow it down. All while Mandie glared at him, Sallie looked shocked, and Celia seemed torn from helping Joe and burying her face in her hands.

"Mister Shaw, with all due respect, do we have to show him around?" Jonathan finally choked out.

John regarded him with surprise. "Well, I'm not forcing y'all, but I thought you would show our guest some manners. Amanda, what is this about?' He turned towards his niece.

Mandie widened her eyes innocently. "Why, Uncle John, I have no idea. Of course, we would all be delighted with showing Adrian around."

"So it's settled," Mrs. Taft concluded. "Now sit down, for God's sake Amanda. It's impolite to come to breakfast so late."

"Yes, grandmother," Mandie sighed. Some people never changed. Then again, she thought, while glancing Joe. He was eating his breakfast and chatting with Sallie seeming without a care in the world. Has he forgotten seeing me in my nightgown? She wondered to herself, blushing once again at the memory.

Did she really want him to?

"You've really dug yourself in a big hole now," Celia pointed out to her as they strolled outside of the house.

"Thank you for reminding me." Mandie sighed, more resigned than angry.

Celia examined her best friend carefully. "Is Joe still not talking to you?"

"I don't know," Mandie confessed. "I feel as if it's my fault, that if I had come out earlier and told him my feelings, there wouldn't be such a tension between us now."

Celia mused over this thoughtfully. "But what is stopping you from telling him now then?"

"I-I don't understand how to deal with the way our relationship is changing." Mandie stopped to walk up and sit on the porch swing, Celia following behind.

"I can remember how simple it was, he was my best friend and helped me with every mystery I got myself into, even when he didn't have to. I miss that part of him now, what he used to be."

"I think," Celia started slowly. "That it's not the relationship nor Joe who has changed. I don't even think you have changed, Mandie. You were in love with Joe all along, you just couldn't bring yourself to realize it."

Mandie started to protest but Celia put her hand up. "Just let me explain, alright? I know Joe has seemed like he's changed, but he hasn't really. Perhaps all this time waiting around for you and with Adrian showing up, he realized that maybe you don't return his feelings. He's been ignoring you because doesn't want to show how hurt he is that you don't love him."

Celia looked at Mandie expectantly for a reply, but the girl looked conflicted with herself. She opened her mouth twice and then closed it, shaking her head as if in disbelief. "Do you really think so?" She finally asked.

"Well," Celia shrugged uncomfortably. "I don't know anything of love myself, but that's how I think it's working out between you and Joe."

Mandie stared out at the distance, buried deep in her thoughts, and then suddenly stood up. "Celia... I think I'm going to talk to Joe."

She beamed up at her. "I was hoping you'd say that. Hurry up and find him before we have to show that awful Adrian around the town."

She nodded back and gathered her skirts in her hands, but not before turning back to gaze at her friend. "Celia, thank you for everything."

"It's what I'm here for." Celia grinned. "Now go get your man!"

Mandie grinned back and went on her way into the house.

"Were you actually choking back there during breakfast?" Joe raised his eyebrows at Jonathan as they both settled into the parlor.

"Are you actually planning to show that lady's man around town?" He retorted.

"I have no choice, and neither do you. There was no need to ask Mister Shaw, or make a scene of yourself," he said.

"Hey, I was actually choking, couldn't you tell?" Jonathan asked jokingly. "Forget about that, I know you don't like that Adrian fellow any more than me, so why are you putting up with him?"

"I never said I disliked him."

"You're joking, right?" Jonathan demanded, searching his friend's vacant eyes. "Joe, since the day I first met you, you made me out to be your rival."

Joe stared at him, completely baffled. "What are you trying to say?"

"I'm saying that any man who shows the least interest in Mandie, romantic or otherwise, you make sure to show she's yours and not theirs."

Joe studied his friend for a while, before he smirked. "You're smarter than you look, do you know that?"

"Aha!" Jonathan exclaimed triumphantly. "I got you to admit it! You're jealous!"

"Well, I wouldn't exactly say-"

"Yes! Jealousy! You're jealous of whatever man lays eyes on your Mandie; including Adrian, Tommy, Dimar, and me!" His eyes glinted mischievously.

"Of course not all of you-"

"Although I can reassure you, I'm not after Mandie. Never have been." Jonathan nodded his head confidently.

"Oh, really?" Joe's eye flashed dangerously. "I know those looks you gave her, Jonathan. There were even times I wanted to shoot you for them."

"Then why did you befriend me?" He grinned. "It's because those looks stopped, am I not correct?"

Joe look annoyed. "Yes, fine, you're correct. Now stop being so arrogant and-"

"As I was saying, those looks were never genuine," he interrupted him once again.

"Really?" Joe questioned suspiciously.

"Of course not! To tell you the truth, I was trying to get over someone, and I thought... well, if I forced myself to be attracted myself to someone else, the pain would stop, but it didn't. It became worse." His voice took on a dejected tone. Joe was taken aback by his sudden behavior change, and gazed at him questioningly, before sighing.

"I feel you're telling the truth, Jonathan, which I hope is true for your sake and mine." He gave him a meaningful look. "But I'm not jealous of anyone."

Meanwhile, Sallie was wandering the house, and very confused. All her friends had disappeared without a word. She was immediately relieved to hear the chatter of Joe's and Jonathan's voices coming from the parlor. She didn't intend to spy, but the conversation had perked her interest, and as she peeked in the room, she could see the two men had been arguing.

"But you just admitted to being jealous!" Jonathan cried out loud.

"No, I did not."

"Yes, you did, you admitted it! Even right now you're jealous, of Adrian!"

His eyes narrowed. "I don't like him, but I'm not jealous."

"God." Jonathan rolled his eyes. "With your and Mandie's stubbornness, I have no idea how you'll end up together."

Sallie widened her eyes at this. Such an interesting conversation she was definitely going to share with Mandie.

"What makes you think we'll end up together?" Joe asked bitterly.

Now both Jonathan and Sallie's eyes widened. "Well, let me see here, perhaps because you asked her to marry you?" he said incredulously.

"So? Just because I want to marry her doesn't mean she wants the same as well." Joe snapped. "I have to go study. See you at lunch." And with that he strode out of the parlor, nearly catching Sallie who had to quickly jump behind the corner.

Jonathan came out next, his hands running through his black curls, looking puzzled and frustrated. She watched Joe go upstairs to his room, while Jonathan headed towards the kitchen, no doubt to check if the food was ready. Still taking in their words, she turned around to almost bump into Mandie.

"Oh, Sallie, I'm so sorry, I didn't see you there." She gave an apologetic smile. "Do you happen to know where Joe is?"

"He went up to his room, but I don't think he wants to be disturbed," Sallie cautioned, recalling how he had just stormed off.

Mandie frowned. "Well then, I'll talk to him after lunch."

"Amanda, honey, remember you and your friends have to guide Adrian around town. He wants to buy some souvenirs," Mandie's mother reminded her as she walked by. "And lunch is in half an hour, so be prepared and inform everyone."

"Oh, alright, mother," Mandie said with as much enthusiasm she could muster. She then turned to Sallie. "Why is it every time I want to confess to Joe that I want to be with him, something gets in the way?" she grumbled.

"You're going to confess?" Sallie asked.

She rolled her shoulders back confidently. "Yes, I am, when we get back from giving that no-good womanizer, I will talk to Joe, and I will confess."

Sallie raised her eyebrows at the aggressiveness in Mandie's tone. She had never heard her be so assertive. Nevertheless, she replied, "I think that's a very good idea, and wish you the best of luck. After all these years, it's a wonder you both haven't gotten together."

"Yes, perhaps that was all my fault," Mandie admitted. "I knew I was in love with him, I just didn't want to admit it."

"Well, you and Joe are incredibly stubborn," Sallie mused, recalling what Jonathan had said earlier. "I have a feeling that things are going to get rough before they become smooth."

Yes, I know, boring chapter . I was actually going to make this an exciting chapter, but I felt as if the excitement I planned would be too soon, so that will come in next chapter I suppose. I was very scrambled and uninspired when writing this chap, so PLEASE tell me how to improve it because I know it's terrible, I just wanted to get a chapter out because you guys have been waiting for so long. As always, I appreciate the reviews!