Chapter 1: The Storm (Part 1)

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She'd lost track of time; that was all. It could happen to anyone.

Gabe had driven her up to Gates Pass, pulling into the turnout for the scenic overlook. Gabe Ruiz, who she'd had a crush on since she was a freshman. Gabe Ruiz, who was now a senior and on the varsity basketball team, who looked like a jock but didn't talk like one. Gabe Ruiz with his dark hair and soulful eyes, who'd finally noticed her and asked her out. Elyse Pthan had a feeling her junior year was going to be awesome.

They'd been sitting in his truck, watching the monsoon. White-hot lightning streaked across the sky, over the twinkling lights of Tucson. Of all the things Elyse liked about the desert, the summer storms were her favorite: the prickle of electricity in the air, the smell of creosote, the rush of water down the Santa Cruz as it transformed the bone-dry wash into an actual river, the chaos of flooded city streets. Even though the monsoons were an annual occurrence, people seemed surprised by the strength of the storms. There was always that one foolish driver who disregarded the high water signs and got stranded downtown, in the 6th Avenue underpass. Inevitably, the rescue effort would make the evening news, as a cautionary tale complete with a still of the driver standing on the roof of his or her car, cellphone in hand. Mostly though, Elyse loved the rain, the way it washed away months of dust and made the whole city look clean. Rain made her feel alive.

She'd been talking about the rain when Gabe leaned over and stopped her with a kiss. The next thing she knew, it was an hour past her curfew.

Now she was stealing glances at the clock on the console and bracing her legs against the underside of the dashboard, trying to hide her worry that he was driving too fast and her parents were going to kill her for coming home late. The truck hit a dip in the road and caught air. Heart in her throat, Elyse yelped and grabbed the assist handle over her door.

"Sorry," Gabe chuckled. "Don't worry. This beast has four-wheel drive." He reached over and put his hand on her thigh.

"It's okay," Elyse laughed nervously. Ahead, she spotted a tight curve in the road. It looked awfully slick with rain. Her stomach lurched. She patted his hand. "Both hands on the wheel, please."

Gabe grinned at her. "Yes, ma'am." He took his hand off her leg, gripping the wheel with both hands as he tapped the brakes for the turn. "Sorry about the time. If your parents are awake, I'll apologize to them."

She hid her anxiety with a smile and shook her head. "You're sweet, but it's probably better if I talk to them." She could only imagine what kind of confrontation might be waiting for her at home. She didn't want to scare Gabe off after the first date.

As he pulled into her gravel driveway, Elyse could see the dark silhouette of her mother, standing in front of the living room window with her arms crossed. Yep. She was a dead girl.

Gabe looked from the silhouette to Elyse. "If you're sure...?" His expression was full of doubt. He was probably wondering whether or not she'd live to see the next day.

Elyse shared his concern, but she nodded anyway. "I'm sure. Thanks."

"Well...I hope you don't get in too much trouble. I want to see you again." He cupped the back of her neck and kissed her goodnight. "Call you tomorrow?"

Elyse felt her face break into a wide smile. "Definitely. I had fun tonight. Thanks." She hopped down from the truck, gave him a quick wave as she shut the door, and then tried to replace the grin on her face with a more repentant expression as she hurried up the flagstone walk.

"Sorry!" she called, bursting through the front door. She sat down on the carved wooden bench in the entry and slipped off her moto boots. She placed them neatly in the copper tray under the bench, and then stood to face her mother's wrath.

Staring out the window, her mother scowled as she watched Gabe's truck drive away. "You're almost two hours late."

"Two hours?" Elyse yanked her cell out of her purse and checked the time. 11:28 p.m. She was supposed to have been home by ten. "I'm not that late."

The crease between her mother's eyebrows deepened, and Elyse realized she was only digging a bigger hole for herself by debating the extent of her tardiness. She put her bag and phone on the side table next to the bench. "I'm sorry. We just lost track of time."

"Where were you?" Caroline Pthan asked, her voice icy, her hands on her hips. "Your dad called me from the bowling alley. You weren't there."

Elyse held up the glowing bracelet around her wrist, stamped with the words Cosmic Bowling. "We were there, but when the session ended we drove up to Gates Pass to watch the storm."

"You went parking?" her mom shouted.

"No!" Elyse yelled back. "No, not like that. We were talking. Nothing happened!"

Her mother narrowed her eyes. "Don't you lie to me."

"I'm not!" Elyse pressed her hands to her eyes in frustration.

"The least he could have done is walk you to the door, you know. He brings you home late, and then just drives off. I'm not sure that's the kind of boy I want you dating."

"Mom..." Elyse felt all the good feelings from the evening drain out of her. She was glad she hadn't brought Gabe to the door. Having this conversation with him present would have been humiliating. Then she realized something. She lowered her hands from her face and looked at her mother. "What do you mean Dad was at the bowling alley?"

The scowl returned to Caroline's face. "You didn't come home, and you didn't call, so he went out to find you. For all we knew, you were dead in a ditch somewhere."

Elyse visualized her father asking her friends about her and Gabe. She groaned. Completely humiliating.

"Responsibility, Elyse," her mother said. "Responsibility and respect. That's all we ask."

"I'm sorry," Elyse muttered, swiping her purse and phone off the table, meaning to head upstairs to bed. Caroline stood, blocking the stairs. She held out her hand, an expectant look on her face.

Elyse stopped and looked at her mother, puzzled. "What?"

"Your phone. You're obviously not using it, so I'll be holding on to it for a while."

Elyse thought about Gabe's promise to call, and cringed at the thought of her mother answering when he did. She could forget about that second date. "Please, Mom."

Caroline shook her head. "No arguing. Go to bed. I need to call your father."

Elyse handed over her cell, and trudged up the stairs.

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